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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Art of War(craft): A Resilient Argument Part I

If you're interested in PvP in any way whatsoever, you've probably heard of a little statistic called Resilience. Introduced a little before The Burning Crusade was released, Resilience reduces the chance a player will be struck by critical strikes from spells or attacks. It also reduces the damage taken from critical strikes and Damage-over-Time (DoT) spells. It is a landmark change in PvP mechanics, qualifying as the most important improvement to World of Warcraft PvP since the game was launched. With the introduction of this new item property, PvP became less a matter of damage output -- although that's still important -- and more a matter of survivability or, well, resilience.

Battles are now intended to last a little longer, Resilience greatly reducing the chances of frustrating (for the recipient, anyway) instagibs. Prior to Patch 2.0, the premiere PvP stats used to be Stamina and Spell & Attack Critical Strikes, which were abundant in PvP-obtained items. However, both item properties were often also useful in PvE, which made many PvP items desirable even outside of PvP. Conversely, the sheer strength of PvE raid items were dominant on the PvP front, in many cases overpowering Stamina. This changed with the introduction of Resilience, which drew a defining line between PvP and PvE gear. With the new mechanic, in order to PvP more effectively, one had to wade into the thick of battle and earn Honor or Arena points. All players will start off with no Resilience, and it takes a conscious effort to accumulate the gear for it. Before undertaking such an endeavor, let's take a look at other forms of damage mitigation that are more accessible in the beginning stages of acquiring Resilience gear.

Hardening up for battle
Resilience takes up valuable item points which, in a PvE situation, might be better served for other stats such as raw Spell Damage or Attack Power. Where Resilience truly shines is in PvP, where damage mitigation is the name of the game. The current PvP environment has a slightly defensive mindset, where battles are designed to last longer. Each class has key talents and abilities that are designed to mitigate damage. When speccing for PvP, it might benefit some players to take those talents, particularly when only beginning to accumulate gear with Resilience. It might be good practice to be familiar with some forms of damage mitigation to start. Understanding how to soften your enemies' blows will ideally help you outlast your opponents or at least stay on your feet a tick or two longer.

Personally, I find that lasting longer during an encounter opens up more opportunities for creativity, forcing the use of more abilities and talents, item cooldowns, and consumables. That's when PvP becomes interesting and ultimately, for me, enjoyable. The legendary Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi advocated the use of every available tool during an encounter, be it a chair or a bucket, and not just one's swords (or whatever weapon one might be wielding). So, how does one harden oneself for war?

Perhaps the most basic form of damage mitigation is armor. All classes have armor to varying degrees from their equipment, as well as some spells that increase it, such as a Priest's Inner Fire or a Warlock's Demon Armor. Some classes have talents that increase the armor bonus granted by items, such as Thick Hide for Druids and Toughness for Paladins and Shamans. There are also consumables and item enchantments that increase armor like Elixir of Superior Defense and the various lower-level armor kits crafted through Leatherworking. Armor only mitigates physical damage, granting no defense against spells or other magical effects.

Resistance is the attribute that mitigates magical damage, divided into different schools. Used mainly for boss fights where certain schools of magic are dominant, such as Fire Resistance for Ragnaros, resistance isn't a particularly useful item property to stack in PvP, where opponents' attacks are from different schools. However, it used to be a strategy in Arenas where some players would swap into a specific set of Resistance gear upon finding out their matchup. The ability to swap gear during an Arena match has since been disabled, although many classes have abilities that mitigate spell damage, such as Mages' Dampen Magic or resistance auras such as a Hunter's Aspect of the Wild or a Paladin's Shadow Resistance Aura.

One form of damage mitigation that can affect both physical and magical damage are absorb effects. Spells such as Priests' Power Word: Shield and a Warlock's Sacrifice absorb a set amount of damage from all sources while some school-specific spells or consumables such as various protection potions from Alchemy. Absorption, unlike most other forms of damage mitigation, is not a persistent effect in that it only works until a certain damage threshold is reached whereupon the effect must be recast or reapplied.

A talent for taking a hit
Of all the forms of damage mitigation mentioned above, nonesurvival mitigation work quite the same way as Resilience. Certain classes have talents that mimic an aspect of Resilience, however, in that they provide a baseline reduction to damage taken from physical attacks or spells or reduces the chances of a critical strike. Druids have the Feral Talent Survival of the Fittest, which increases all attributes by 3% at max rank (3/3) and reduces the chance the Druid will be critically hit by melee attacks by 3%. Coupled with the Feral tree's high armor (Thick Hide 3/3 and specially Dire Bear Form), Druids are a damage soaking nightmare for melee classes.

The aptly-named Survival tree for Hunters possesses numerous talents for damage mitigation and defense (dodge, parry, etc.). For purposes of this article, we'll be going over persistent talents (e.g., Deflection) as opposed to activated abilities (e.g., Deterrence). The 5th tier Survival talent Survival Instincts reduces all damage taken by 4% at max rank (2/2) in addition to increasing the Hunter's Attack Power by the same percentage. Hunters also have Thick Hide in the Beast Mastery tree, which increases the armor bonus granted by items by 10% at max rank (3/3).

Mages have excellent damage mitigation talents in the Arcane tree, such as Arcane Fortitude, which increases armor by 50% of the Mage's intellect. It's a negligible increase, but the D&D-reminiscent Prismatic Cloak complements Resilience by reducing all damage taken by 4%. The Frost talent Frost Warding increases the effectiveness of Frost and Ice Armor, while the higher tier talent Frozen Core further provides a thematic 6% damage reduction against Frost and Fire spells.

The hardy Paladin class has damage mitigation in all three trees, from the 7th tier Holy talent Blessed Life, which is an interesting complement to Resilience. Blessed Life grants a persistent 10% chance for all attacks to cause half damage, although proc-based abilities aren't as desirable as consistent damage reduction. In the Protection tree, there's Improved Righteous Fury, which reduces all damage taken by 6%. It's an activated ability, but Paladins who PvP should have it up most of the time, anyway, to provide a buffer against dispel abilities. The Protection tree isn't ideal for PvP, but the talents Blessing of Sanctuary and Ardent Defender, and even Spell Warding make Protection Paladins annoyingly difficult to take down. Finally, the Retribution tree offers Divine Purpose, which give further reduction against melee and ranged critical strikes.

Priests are the masters of damage absorption, with Discipline becoming highly desirable in Arena play because of Pain Suppression. The Discipline tree also improves on Power Word: Shield and Inner Fire, the former being a key spell to consistent damage mitigation in PvP. The Holy tree has the 2nd tier Spell Warding, which reduces all damage taken from spells by 10% at max rank (5/5). Shadow Priests have access to Shadow Resilience which -- like Resilience -- reduces the chance to be critically hit, albeit only by spells by 4%; and Shadowform, which grants an inherent 15% reduction to physical damage.

While not particularly inclined towards damage mitigation, Rogues are truly masters of, to put it uncreatively, cheating death. Sleight of Hand reduces the chance to be critically hit by melee or ranged attacks by 2%, which isn't much but only costs 2 talent points and is available low in the 2nd tier Subtlety tree. This coupled with the Assassination talent Deadened Nerves -- in addition to their defensive abilities -- make Rogues frighteningly enduring in melee. A particularly interesting Rogue talent is the apropos Cheat Death, which makes Subtlety Rogues virtually unkillable once every minute and, because of the 90% reduction to all damage taken, three seconds after. Because the baseline ability Cloak of Shadows also operates on a one-minute cooldown, opponents must basically kill a Subtlety Rogue between minutes.

Shamans have little by way of persistent damage mitigation, with only the thematic Elemental Warding providing a base 10% reduction to Fire, Frost, and Nature damage. The 41-point Restoration talent Earth Shield isn't technically damage reduction as damage will still go through before the healing effect procs. The enhancement tree has Toughness to increase armor, but otherwise, Shamans must rely on their plethora of totems for mitigation. Unfortunately, there are far more useful PvP totems in each element than those for mitigation. The little-used Windwall Totem, for example, shares the same element as the indispensable Grounding Totem; the Hemorrhage-stanching Stoneskin Totem is an Earth totem like Tremor and Earthbind. In this way, Shamans ironically have both versatility and limitation.

Demonology provides Warlocks with the dreaded 31-point talent Soul Link, an awesome spell that, coupled with high Resilience and, ahem, Demonic Resilience, makes Warlocks tremendously fearsome in PvP. Soul Link transfers 20% of all damage taken to the Warlock's pet while Demonic Resilience reduces all damage the demon takes by 15% in addition to a reduction in the chance the Warlock will be critically hit by melee attacks or spells. I can almost hear our resident Warlock and Arena expert Vims laughing maniacally at the whole concept.

Lastly, we have Warriors, who are loaded with defensive abilities and inherent damage mitigation, but little talent to show for it. I mean that literally, as the only persistent damage mitigation talent warriors have is Improved Defensive Stance, which conditionally reduces all spell damage taken by 6%... in Defensive Stance. Naturally, most of a Warrior's damage mitigation is available in Defensive Stance, such as Shield Wall. The irony lies in the fact that the Protection tree (and sometimes Defensive Stance) isn't always optimal for PvP. Fortunately, Warriors have inherently high Stamina and Armor, which can be complemented with a wide array of Resilience gear.

Onward to resilience
With a passing familiarity with most of the forms of damage mitigation, we can now turn our attention to gear. As mentioned above, there are no talents or spells that grant Resilience. It is a purely item property and all classes and races begin with 0 Resilience. In addition to equipment, there are gems and a few consumables and enchantments that grant Resilience. Next week, we'll go over the effects of Resilience and how much damage mitigation it provides, as well as the required Resilience rating to fully optimize on PvP gear. We'll also look at the sources of Resilience gear -- as you might have guessed, Blizzard's insistence on mixing PvP and PvE have led to some curious gear dropping from the most unlikely places. Until then, I highly recommend visiting the Battlegrounds. I hear the weather's lovely these days.


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