Oct 112013

By Geldarion


Welcome to the war, comrades. You have been selected to receive the latest training and tactics fresh from the warfront. The tried-and-true strategies you are about to hear are extremely effective and CLASSIFIED. Let’s get to the briefing. Today, we discuss some higher-level strategies for Arenas.

More after the Jump…


After last week’s introduction to the concept of Arenas, I thought I would get more in depth about strategy. Specifically, I want to talk about meta-strategies, i.e. strategies that transcend class balance, rotations, and which mark to use. Meta-strategies are philosophical in nature; they are more general, and thus more applicable to many situations. I will be taking examples from two real-world areas where strategy is paramount: chess and fencing.


“You may learn much more from a game you lose than from a
game you win. You will have to lose hundreds of games
before becoming a good player”
Jose Raul Capablanca

The first thing I was told about PvP by the wise officers in my guild in Lord of the Rings Online was, “You are going to die a lot…and that’s okay!” This has stuck with me to this day. When I lose a game, I keep on trying. I learn from it. I look at the game as a whole and think “What could I have done better? Was there a better strategy? What did the other team do that made such a difference?” Being willing to learn from lost games, or getting upset about -16 points to your rating, will make or break you as a player.

Strategy requires thought, tactics require observation
Max Euwe

When I set up a strategy at the beginning of the Arena, it follows a certain train of thought (which guy is the healer, are there any players in PvE armor, any players with low health, is there a particularly painful DPS class, etc. etc.). This is based on what I know of the mechanics of the game, the classes, and general strategies. If I lose the first round miserably, then I think about what I noticed. Do the enemy players spread out? Do they cluster up? Do they stand near walls? Near railings? Does the tank switch guard well? Do the DPS focus well? I think about all the possible things they do, then I form counter-strategies, keeping in mind that they are doing the same thing.

“The winner of the game is the player who makes the next-to-last mistake”
Savielly Tartakower

This is a famous saying among chess players, and for good reason. Think about it for a minute. It doesn’t say, “the winner of the game is the player that plays perfectly,” because of course, that is impossible. It doesn’t even say, “the winner of the game is the player that makes the fewest mistakes.” It says, “next-to-last mistake.” Ask any player what the objective is in an Arena, and they will probably say, “to kill the other team.” Even I said this in the last article I wrote. A rephrase of this, which in some ways is more true, is to say, “the objective in an Arena is to be the team that survives the longest.” You don’t have to win the game in 30 seconds. You just have to win the game by being alive when they aren’t. Yet, I have played over 40 Ranked Arena matches, and not one of them has reached the sudden death round. Attrition, not speed, may be the best strategy, but no one seems to be using it.

“Chess teaches you to control the initial excitement you feel when
you see something that looks good and it trains you to think
objectively when you’re in trouble”
Stanley Kubrick

This quote reminds me of two things that are really difficult about Arenas: not overextending, and keeping cool under fire. The former is important, more important than people realize. The number one thing you can do to get yourself killed is to overextend, which is where you push an attack too far and cut yourself off from your allies. You have to control your instinct to tunnel-vision and keep pushing the attack on a vulnerable target. You might not get the kill, but your team would be down a player if you got caught behind enemy lines.

The second thing, keeping cool under fire, simply comes with practice. When muscle memory and defensive instincts kick in, you go into autopilot preventing incoming damage, while simultaneously thinking about other things, such as a counterattack. Some basic tips to help yourself learn to react to difficult situations:

  • Play as many duels as possible.
  • Allow yourself to get to 20% health against a really difficult elite, then attempt to kill him. Allow your health to get even lower as you improve.
  • If you are DPS, play a healer in regular Warzones. Nothing teaches you how to avoid focus fire like playing a healer.

“I prefer to lose a really good game than to win a bad one”
David Levy

This is a good attitude to have about close games. Be sure to always have good sportsmanship and offer a “gg” in /say or /general for a close match.

“You need not play well – just help your opponent to play badly”
Genrikh Chepukaitis

This leads into our discussion on fencing, but you want to make it easy for the other team to do things I have told you to avoid doing, like overextending, pushing the attack, trying to win quickly, etc.



There is a concept in fencing called “intention.” It is a basic measure of how far ahead you are thinking. It basically boils down like this:

  • First intention: A basic attack. The intent is to hit the target.
  • Second intention: A strategy composed of an initial feint designed to draw a response, which is anticipated and countered with a second attack that succeeds at landing.
  • Third intention: A strategy composed of two feints, for which the responses are anticipated and countered, based on observations of reactions to similar situations. The third attack is meant to land.
  • And so on…

Truly excellent fencers think several moves ahead, in a similar fashion to chess players. A good fencer takes note of movements and responses of the opponent to stimuli, whether it be a feint attack, or a simple step forward. The fencer uses this to construct a series of feints and responses that ultimately result in a successful attack. I have witnessed true brilliance on the national scale with fencing, even watching one of my clubmates pull off a fourth intention attack. It was truly a beautiful sight.

So what does this mean for Arenas? It means taking a longer view of the Arena. It means planning out moves in advance. You don’t have to kill the healer the first time you attack them. Maybe all you want is to make them burn all of their cooldowns, while maintaining a healthy distance and escape route. Get in, make them react, get out. Let them make the next mistake, this time without cooldowns to save them.


In fencing, there are two types of bouts. There are “pool bouts,” which pit fencers against each other in a rotation, where you fence everyone in your pool to five points. Then there are longer “elimination” bouts. These bouts are to 15 points, with three periods of three minutes each, with a one minute break in between periods. You have nine minutes to score the 15 points, yet some green fencers try to score as many points as possible in the first period. More experienced fencers let noobs burn themselves out to make it easier later.

In Arenas, we are given five minutes and plenty of running space. There is no reason to continually pressure the other team irrespective of your team’s health and situation. I have actually seen a team kill a healer, then continue pressing the attack when they are low on health, only to die one-by-one because they didn’t stop to let their healer fix them before they renewed the attack. Develop an awareness of the time you have, and use it to better strategize against your opponents. Remember, strategy requires thought, but tactics require observation. Tactically assess the situation, and change your strategy to suit it.


Hopefully these tips help push your game to the next level! Does this help you think more broadly about Arenas? Let me know in the comments!

  5 Responses to “Tactical Strike: Meta-strategies in Arenas”

  1. That was a rather long piece to basically say….”Don’t overextend.”

  2. First, thanks for reading and commenting!

    I’m sorry that it came across as homogenous as that! I would point you at some of the other things I talk about in this post! Here is a summarized, bullet-point list:
    -Don’t take defeat so seriously
    -Change up your strategies (don’t get attached to the plan)
    -Don’t feel like you have to push. Be patient. (As a group, though I could see this being conceived as “don’t overextend,” which I consider a more individual-based problem)
    -Don’t overextend, learn to use your defensive cooldowns and to stay calm when crap hits the fan
    -Be a good sport
    -Make your opponents make mistakes
    -Think about triggering certain responses from your opponent, so you can plan for them
    -Be aware of your time, and use it all if necessary

    As you can see, I touched on a bunch of topics. Maybe I could have been a bit clearer on what the points were or something like that, so thanks for pointing that out.

    The big thing is I wanted to introduce the idea of “intention” because I plan to use this terminology in future articles. Hope you will comment on those as well, to help me see the need for clarification! 🙂


  3. Good stuff Drew. Not too long. Not homogenous. Just what I’m looking for and a lot more than just “don’t over extend”. It’s a revelation to me. I already perform most of these tactics in my real world arena as a UPS delivery driver. You’ve drawn some interesting parallels in both posts to my Defensive Driving and Seeing Habits training. Some of the drill points are as follows: Aim High in Steering/Find a Safe Path Well Ahead (focus fire, focus fire, focus fire – agree on a single primary target before the match starts); Get The Big Picture/Stay Back and See it All (back the camera out – be aware of teammates in trouble or a fast waning enemy); Keep Your Eyes Moving ( don’t have tunnel vision – survey the whole battle field); Make Sure They See You (as a tank I often want to draw fire off my guarded ally); Leave Yourself an Out/Adjust to Changing Conditions (just like you said don’t overextend – analyze a loss – learn from mistakes). Your post hits home for me anyway.
    The Intention philosophy is really interesting. I believe though that it can only be effective if you Know Your Enemy and how they may proceed and respond. You form strats based on your class knowledge. This is my first mmo, I’m a loner due to time constrants soloing every aspect of the game since start, so I’ve missed a lot of the finer points. I don’t play my alts a whole lot and haven’t paid much attention till now to the Imp abilities. I hope you elaborate in the future on class abilities and common enemy strats. And a question to end: How do I inspect and enemy before a match for gear and hp and how do I know if another player is guarded? An eager student, Spero

  4. Thanks for reading and commenting, Spero! 🙂

    I was not even aware those parallels existed with UPS driving! That is awesome! It is interesting how many parallels one can find between chess, fencing, and life. One might even say that “chess is life”… oh wait, Bobby Fischer did! haha

    I have been contemplating doing some class-countering strategy posts. I think I may have to have someone else do the Gunslinger one, because I am very biased, and I don’t want you guys knowing how to beat me LOL. Just kidding. I will see what kinds of things I can do to help people understand how to beat other classes, because that is at the very center of long-term gameplay, figuring out and predicting what the other class will do.

    I know you said you haven’t done much with alts, but that is seriously the best way to learn it. I will attempt to facilitate that with guides, but the alts are where it’s at. Because of my 8 level-capped characters of the various advanced classes, I feel I will describe them all pretty well, but it is no substitution for actually playing them all. I know from experience that when I finished all the classes, I was practically unbeatable in 1v1s. I just knew what they were going to do before they did it. It is the ultimate power LOL! Ok now I sound like I am bragging, but the point is, if you find a certain class particularly difficult to beat, play it to level cap, in PvP. Learn what other classes do to beat you, then make that happen on your main. Use the guides for the rest of them 🙂

    On the gear inspection question, you can’t actually “inspect” the enemy players, unless you are in the same faction and just happen to do it on the fleet or something in between matches. The way I see if someone has mostly PvP gear on is by looking at their health. A DPS/healer class like a Gunslinger, Sentinel, Sage, what-have-you should only have about 31k health if they are in PvP gear, maximum. Maybe 32k if the Slinger is in the middle tree and taking the +4% endurance talent or something like that. Tanks will have about 34k-35k. In PvE gear, your stats are much better because you don’t have expertise, so you see 34k-35k DPS/healers and 37k-40k tanks. They tend to melt like butter, so they are a good first target. That is about all you can do with gear inspection in arenas, unless you keep a catalog of players from inspections on the fleet (which is kinda creepy…but I have seriously thought about doing this LOL). Hope that helps! 🙂

  5. Yes, helps a bunch. I’ll spend some time with my alts while awaiting the guides. Thanks for your prompt response, Spero

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