How PvP Can Make You a Better Raider
Imagine a raid in which you face a boss whose abilities change every time you wipe to him, who can predict your next move just as well as you can predict his, who can’t be tanked because he doesn’t have a threat table, and who has a counter for nearly every spell or ability you use on him. Sound like fun?
Well, no, of course it doesn’t. It sounds like a broken, annoying, chaotic mess of an encounter, right? Now multiply that by 2, or 10, or 40 – and that’s basically what you’ll experience every time you step into an arena or battleground.
Raiding is about predictability and flawless execution. We read through boss abilities and watch strategy videos before we attempt an encounter for the first time so that we know what to expect. PvP … just isn’t about these things. In time (and after many, many deaths) you may learn enough to be able to anticipate certain strategies from certain classes or compositions, but this really isn’t something that can be distilled into guide form. So instead, and especially at the beginning of your PvP experiences, stepping into a battleground is going to be about dying a lot and trying to learn what went wrong. That part, at least, should sound a little familiar to progression raiders.
Last spring, WoW Insider’s Dawn Moore wrote an introductory article about priest PvP. She compared the difference between raiding and PvPing to the difference between playing chess and checkers:
“PvP is an entirely different game than PvE. It’s like the difference between playing chess and checkers. To be good at chess, you can’t just react. You have to know where you’re going and what you’re doing well in advance. To be good at checkers, you only need to respond to your opponent and stick to a basic strategy.
So now imagine if you had a chess master play checkers.”
Even if you hate PvP, even if you think you’re completely terrible at it, and even if you actually are completely terrible at it, the big bad world of battlegrounds still has plenty to offer any raider who is looking to improve her performance.
Did I say battlegrounds? Well, I somewhat lied to you, then. Battlegrounds are an important and necessary first step in learning to PvP. They are more forgiving than arenas because they tend to attract more casual PvPers, and because there are way more potential players for the opposing faction to target instead of the 2-5 players on your arena team. Battlegrounds are also essential since they reward you with Honor Points, which will help you buy the initial resilience pieces you need in order to survive longer.
The problem with learning to PvP in battlegrounds, though, is that they can be complete bedlam. Games like Isle of Conquest and Stand of the Ancients are particularly useless because a lot of the focus in these BGs is on protecting or killing vehicles (and learning how to use them correctly). The other maps at least remove the vehicles from the equation, but it can still be very overwhelming for a new PvPer to step into them and try to figure out just exactly how they can contribute to the game’s objective. Take the chess and checkers analogy from above. Going into a random BG is something like having a team of people, some of whom are chess masters and some of whom can’t even win a game of checkers, who must all work together to win a chess match. There can be as much bickering, name-calling, and overall disaster as you’d expect.
Arenas, on the other hand, have a very clear objective: Kill the other team before they can kill you. That said, they also require much more coordination than your PuGed BG (the new rated BGs, I’m sure, are much different). They require that you be aware of the health and mana of your opponents, as well as what they’re casting and if they’ve used their cooldowns. Arena players need a heightened sense of awareness of everything that’s going on around them, and quick reflexes to be able to respond.
Heightened awareness and quick reflexes are some highly desirable traits to have as a progression raider, and particularly as a healer. Healers already tend to be more conscious of what’s going on (and what’s going wrong) in an encounter because our UIs allow us to have a lot of information at the ready. Honing these talents through PvP can help us be better PvE healers in several ways:
- Increased attention to buffs and debuffs: This is particularly helpful when you are learning a new boss for the first time. Being accustomed to memorizing the graphic of a debuff and looking for whether you have it, or if it’s showing up on your healing UI on another player in your group can help you react faster. Whether you need to dispell it, group up, spread out, or have the targeted player move to a designated area, you’ll get it done faster if you already have yourself trained to be looking for these things.
- More attention to your own health: It’s a pretty common error among new healers to forget to heal themselves. By the time you’ve worked your way up to progression raiding, you’ve probably lost most of this tunnel vision. Still, when a lot of raid damage is going around, it’s possible to lose focus and forget to throw yourself a heal. If you’re used to keeping a very close eye on your own health, this is less likely to be a problem.
- Greater spatial awareness: If you ever wanted to learn more about Line of Sight mechanics and how to use them to your advantage, just try healing an arena or two. There are plenty of dungeons and raids where it pays to know how to move in ways that will keep you in sight of the people you need to heal, and out of sight of the things that want to kill you.
- Knowledge of other classes’ abilities: In my mind, there are only two ways to really learn the ins and outs of every class in the game – which is something that can be extremely helpful for any raider, and especially raid leaders. The first is to spend a lot of time alting. The second is to PvP.
- Getting to know your spellbook: When you PvP, you’ll be using a lot more spells (and usually many different spells) than when you heal the average dungeon. Now that CC is back in a big way, you may be more familiar with some of those spells than during Wrath, but you’ll find yourself using them much more often in PvP than in a dungeon. You also be able to get used to using your offensive dispells and knowing what sorts of buffs you can remove from enemy targets. Soothe can be a lifesaver when used against a warrior, druid, or DK. For druids, a lot of getting to know our spellbook also means spending time in our other forms so we can learn what abilities might just save us in a pinch.
- Learning to heal on the run: Druid healers should already know a lot about this, given that we didn’t spend very much time casting during Wrath. Now that we actually do have to stand still to heal (sometimes), it’s really important to learn when to use your HoTs as you’re running, and when it’s time to stop and cast.
- When to use cooldowns, and when not to use cooldowns: Proper use of cooldowns can mean the difference between a good and a great player. In PvP and especially in arenas, it’s essential to time your strongest cooldowns so that they will help you and your team, but not be easily negated by your opponents. PvE is similar. The first few times I healed the Halfus Wyrmbreaker fight, I accidentally ended up losing a significant portion of my Tree of Life CD because I would use it too close to when Halfus would use Furious Roar. Losing 6 seconds from my strongest healing CD because I’m stunned basically meant that I wasted it. It’s also important to learn when it’s best to use an throughput CD (like Tree of Life), when you’d be better off using a defensive CD (barkskin), and when you need to use the two together.
Should you decide to take up arms and head for the battlegrounds, it’s best not to go unprepared. Talking to someone who understands PvP (even if they’re not your class or role) can go a long way to getting into the right mindset. Convincing that helpful soul to go along with you is even better, especially if you’re going to PvP with a healing spec. There are also plenty of PvP-centered guides and blogs out there that can help. I’ve recently become a huge fan of Oombulance, whose guides on every aspect of resto druid PvP have been a lifesaver as I’ve stepped back into arenas in Cataclysm.
Above all else, remember that there’s nothing wrong with PvP being a learning experience. Though healers especially get frustrated when they or their teammates die, we have to remember that it’s possible to die many times and be doing a lot of things right – that’s just the nature of battlegrounds. Good luck to you, and always remember … Cyclone FTW!