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State of the Game—December 11, 2006

Winterfest Tournament Trends

By Harold J. Chow

Special note: Each State of the Game article presents the opinions and insights of one game observer. These observations are personal in nature and do not reflect the opinions of ArenaNet. While ArenaNet does review each State of the Game article to assure that it offers content that is respectful of all players, we intend to allow our reporters the freedom to inject some personal opinion into descriptions of the current atmosphere of competitive play in Guild Wars, and to express views based on their experience and observation.


With the Winterfest 2006 Ladder Season coming to a close, let 's look ahead to this weekend's playoffs.

Field of Thirty-Two

This season's playoffs feature the most guilds ever vying for that permanent Gold Cape trim. Top-tier guilds have a little more leeway to take losses on their way to secure spots in the playoffs while guilds that barely missed out on previous playoffs get a chance to prove themselves in a tournament setting. Hopefully, smooth playoffs this weekend will lead to future tournaments that allow more guilds into the competition.


Swiss Format and Rotating Maps

The Swiss Format and predetermined guild hall maps make a return. One concern about last season's Swiss Format came from the lack of incentive to play every round of the tournament, leading to the possibility of poor tiebreakers for guilds that could otherwise have moved on to the single-elimination rounds. This season, a more staggered prize structure addresses that concern. While the rewards may not seem great to some, the implications they have for future tournaments makes this development quite exciting.

The predetermined guild hall maps for each Swiss round worked well last season to level the playing field. Both teams in any given match could tailor their builds to take advantage of that map or could anticipate any so-called gimmick builds that could be used against them, so neither side had an advantage solely due to map selection.


Limited Skill Selection

The most exciting change for this playoff season comes from the restriction that teams may only use Core and Nightfall skills. Many of the builds seen during the ladder season simply will not work in the playoffs. Popular skills such as Eviscerate, Ether Prodigy, Crippling Shot, Blessed Light, Shadow Strike, and Blackout must go unused. Dagger-based Assassins will likely sit this one out as well, with only one dual attack (an elite skill) available in the Nightfall campaign. Primary Ritualists share a similar fate, as they require the use of their Factions skills for maximum effectiveness.

Shadow Prison
Shadow Prison
Shadow PrisonShadow Prison [Elite]
Assassin - Deadly Arts - Hex Spell
Energy: 10
Activation: 0.25
Duration: 1..10
Recharge: 20
Hex Spell. Shadow Step to target foe. For 1..10 seconds, that foe moves 66% slower.

However, Assassins may still show up as secondary professions, as the Shadow Prison Warrior/Assassin has become quite popular this season. The ability to snare a target and deliver a Dismember-Critical Chop damage combination without having to walk to the target makes this character a huge threat on the battlefield. Adding Disrupting Dagger to the arsenal allows this Warrior to interrupt at range as well. Elementalist/Assassins have recently enjoyed the use of Feigned Neutrality in conjunction with Deadly Paradox. Since Deadly Paradox reduces the recharge of the armor-boosting, self-healing, Feigned Neutrality, Elementalist/Assassins can split off to eliminate opposing NPCs while having a much higher chance of surviving long enough to get back within healing range of their Monks.

Remedy Signet
Remedy Signet
Remedy SignetRemedy Signet
paragon/No Attribute - Signet
Activation: 1
Recharge: 4
Signet. You lose 1 Condition.

Warrior/Monks have also experienced resurgent popularity this season thanks to the ability of Mending Touch to counter the rampant use of "You're All Alone!" and Blinding Surge. Warrior/Paragons running Remedy Signet in place of Mending Touch may also find their way into the playoffs, as both of these Warrior builds can alleviate the burden on the midline and backline characters to clean up Blinding and Crippling conditions. Both Remedy Signet and Mending Touch share the same recharge as Blinding Surge, and Remedy Signet costs no Energy to use. The recently popularized Steady Stance Warrior, however, will see no use because Desperation Blow, Drunken Blow, and "Fear Me!" are not Core or Nightfall skills. And while Warriors could get eight seconds of Sight Beyond Sight on adrenal spikes by using a Ritualist secondary profession, the utility offered by other secondary professions seems greater.

Avatar of Grenth
Avatar of Grenth
Avatar of GrenthAvatar of Grenth [Elite]
dervish/Mysticism - Form
Energy: 15
Activation: 2
Duration: 10..45
Recharge: 30
Form. For 10..45 seconds, whenever you use an attack Skill, you also remove 1 Enchantment from your target, and your attacks deal cold damage. This Skill is disabled for 120 seconds.

Dervishes will likely come into play quite a bit thanks to the power of Avatar of Grenth. With the ability to remove Enchantments with attack skills, these Dervishes can quickly knock off such important Enchantments as Shield of Absorption and Protective Spirit. Likewise, Ebon Dust Aura means Dervishes can play somewhat of a "linebacker" role and reduce pressure on Monks by repeatedly Blinding enemy melee characters that venture into the backline.

Rampage as One
Rampage as One
Rampage as OneRampage as One [Elite]
Ranger - Beast Mastery - Skill
Energy: 25
Activation: 0
Duration: 3..15
Recharge: 10
Skill. For 3..15 seconds, both you and your animal companion attack 33% faster and run 25%% faster.

Although the Crippling Shot Ranger has diminished in numbers this season, Rampage as One Rangers have become a popular archetype for melee characters. Using this skill, hammer-wielding Rangers charge up knockdown attacks such as Hammer Bash more quickly, while the Expertise attribute lets them use Energy attacks like Irresistible Blow more frequently. Bow-wielding Rangers will still have access to both Savage Shot and Distracting Shot, however, and can deal damage with Burning Arrow, which would have quite a bit of synergy with Searing Flames Elementalists. Rangers with Smoke Trap have seen limited play this season, but could prove quite a force in the right team, particularly with Monks limited to skills such as Purge Signet, Remedy Signet, or Antidote Signet for non-spell Condition removal that can get around the effects of Dazed.


"Incoming!"
"Incoming!" [Elite]
paragon/Command - Shout
Energy: 10
Activation: 0
Duration: 1..3
Recharge: 20
Shout. For 1..3 seconds, all party members within earshot take 50% less damage.

Paragons should mesh well with teams this weekend as well. Their ability to supply defense and healing while packing an offensive punch make them very powerful allies. Even with the recent reduction in its duration, "Incoming!" still makes for a powerful anti-spike measure. "Go for the Eyes!" should find its way into adrenal spikes, either on primary or secondary Paragons. With the inability of Elementalists to carry the popular Glyph of Sacrifice-Resurrection Chant combination this weekend, look for Paragons to equip the reusable Signet of Return.

Blinding Surge
Blinding Surge
Blinding SurgeBlinding Surge [Elite]
Elementalist - Air Magic - Spell
Energy: 10
Activation: 0.75
Recharge: 4
Spell. Target foe is struck for 5..50 lightning damage and Blinded for 2..8 seconds. If that foe is under the effects of an Enchantment, all adjacent foes are also Blinded for 2..8 seconds. This Spell has 25% armor penetration.

With or without reusable resurrection skills, Elementalists have enjoyed a huge resurgence this season as the combination of Searing Flames, Glowing Gaze, and Liquid Flame turned Fire Magic into a fearsome force. Most of the skills that these fire mages carry qualify as either Nightfall or Core skills, so expect to see them in full force. Air Elementalists should also make an appearance this weekend. Skills like Blinding Surge and Storm Djinn's Haste have proven invaluable, even if used by other primary professions, while some teams have recently begun experimenting with spike offenses using Invoke Lightning. Glyph of Lesser Energy should power quite a few primary and secondary Elementalists as well, as it allows a character to cast costly skills such as Heal Party twice in a row virtually for free.

Wastrel's Demise
Wastrel's Demise
Wastrel's DemiseWastrel's Demise
Mesmer - Domination Magic - Spell
Energy: 5
Activation: 1
Recharge: 8
Spell. Target foe takes 5..30 damage. If that foe is not casting a Spell, that foe takes an additional 3..7 damage for each equipped Spell.

Expect to see Mesmers using the offensive power of Nightfall's Spiritual Pain and Wastrel's Demise in conjunction with the Core skills Energy Surge and Energy Burn. Mesmers this season have used a variety of secondary professions, including Elementalist for Blinding Surge and Glyph of Lesser Energy, Paragon for "Fall Back!" and "Incoming!", and Monk for Draw Conditions and Remove Hex. The amazing flexibility of this class and the high number of Nightfall and Core skills that Mesmers used during the ladder season should make this profession quite popular in the playoffs.

Reaper's Mark
Reaper's Mark
Reaper's MarkReaper's Mark [Elite]
Necromancer - Soul Reaping - Hex Spell
Energy: 5
Activation: 1
Duration: 30
Recharge: 15
Hex Spell. For 30 seconds, target foe suffers -1..5 Health degeneration. If that foe dies while Hexed with Reaper's Mark, you gain 5..15 Energy.

Necromancers have seen sporadic play this season, but played pivotal roles in certain team builds. Core skills Tainted Flesh and Rotting Flesh can provide Condition pressure in an environment where Monks cannot use Prophecies' Restore Condition. Likewise, Reaper's Mark could play a central role in a Hex stack build, although the availability of Divert Hexes may temper its use.

Zealous Benediction
Zealous Benediction
Zealous BenedictionZealous Benediction [Elite]
Monk - Protection Prayers - Spell
Energy: 10
Activation: 0.75
Recharge: 4
Spell. Heal target ally for 30..180 Health. If target was below 50% Health, you gain 7 Energy.

Monks will have to worry about their secondary profession choices more than their elite skills. While Monks cannot use Factions' Blessed Light in the playoffs, several guilds have already switched to a two-Monk backline where one uses Zealous Benediction and the other uses Divert Hexes. More importantly, Monks accustomed to using an Assassin secondary for Dark Escape and Return will have to find alternative escape skills. However, Monk/Warriors will have access to Shield Bash and Balanced Stance. Some Monks have also experimented with running Paragon skills. "Make Haste!" allows Monks to aid another ally's attempt at kiting away from opponents. Still, many Monks may settle on the Energy managing power of the Elementalist's Glyph of Lesser Energy.

Light of Deliverance
Light of Deliverance
Light of DeliveranceLight of Deliverance [Elite]
Monk - Healing Prayers - Spell
Energy: 5
Activation: 1
Recharge: 5
Spell. All party members under 80% Health are healed for 5..80 Health.

Monk/Elementalists have also seen action as flag runners thanks to Storm Djinn's Haste and Light of Deliverance. This elite version of Heal Party allows Monk/Elementalist runners to contribute to the party's healing capabilities while separated from the rest of the team. The team then has three Monks available for Victory or Death to keep the team and NPCs alive.


See You This Weekend

This weekend's playoffs really have something for everyone. For those who enjoy watching lots of high-level matches, the Swiss rounds should provide plenty of action on Observer Mode. For those who enjoy seeing what guilds do with a limited pool of skills to work with, the limitation to Nightfall and Core skills should give people a look at some different builds. For everyone else, the Wintergreen Challenge held by the Xunlai Tournament Agents should keep players rooting for the team that will bring them the (winter)green!


Harold J. Chow is a freelance Guild Wars reporter. His in-game name is Guild Informant.