By Harold J. Chow
As if the off-season skill rebalancing and changes to Victory or Death did not do enough to shake things up this season, the Autumn Season Playoffs utilized a revamped tournament scheme. Between the Swiss-style playoff rounds, the fixed maps, and the noticeable absence of the Korean guilds, the playoffs provided quite a few new looks to Guild Wars tournament play. Congratulations to Idiot Savants [iQ] for overcoming all of these challenges and defeating some very tough opponents to claim the Autumn Season Championship!
The American region represented half of the field, so not surprisingly, three American guilds survived the Swiss rounds to advance to the semi-finals. With the relatively low ladder activity among Korean guilds this past season, European and Japanese guilds earned the remaining eight slots. Although the top European guild, Team Everfrost [eF], formed during the season and could not qualify for the playoffs, Peace And Harmony [PnH] represented Europe admirably. In addition, several guilds made their first appearance in seasonal playoffs, including the Japanese guild Free Will [FW] and the American region's Forlorn Savior [FS], famous from Heroes' Ascent.
People had low expectations for certain guilds perceived to have earned playoff berths solely due to the use of spike builds. While some may point quick fingers at the final standings as confirmation of these low expectations, remember that experience plays a key role in any tournament. True, some of the guilds new to the tournament scene may have turned in lackluster performances, but expect them to come back stronger next season.
A lot of confusion arose over the use of Swiss-style scoring for the first day of the playoffs. Although seeding determined the first round pairings, the Swiss format used for this tournament randomly paired up teams of identical or similar records for later rounds. In practice, this new pairing method meant that teams had little time between rounds to prepare for their next opponents. Over on the Guild Wars Guru forums, Kontra from Slash Rank [DeeR] explained that their confusion over the pairing system forced them to swap to a spike build after having prepared a Migraine-based build in anticipation of a different opponent.
The random pairings also meant that the top seed, Team Quitter [QQ], had to defeat some pretty stiff competition in the Swiss rounds, including semi-finalist Peace and Harmony [PnH] and eventual winner iQ, to earn the top seed in the Finals.
Another drawback of the Swiss system lies in the fact that a guild with an identical record to those that make the single-elimination round may find itself losing out on tiebreakers. Some guilds ended up running a number of henchmen for at least a few rounds, causing some of the results not to reflect the efforts of two guilds playing to their fullest potential. With no difference in prizes between fifth and sixteenth place, some noted that guilds had little incentive to play for standing after accumulating two losses. While real-life constraints understandably can cause teams to run with some number of henchmen, the system will hopefully see some adjustments to reward those who give their best effort from start to finish.
Overall, though, the new format allowed a sizeable number of guilds to participate in a very short timeframe. In previous tournaments, playoffs spanned weeks instead of one weekend. In addition, this system forced teams to prepare for a variety of opponents to earn their spot on Sunday.
The other new wrinkle for this playoff season came in the form of fixed guild hall maps for each round. With each guild knowing the terrain going into the match, some expected guilds to bring builds specifically designed to take advantage of certain features of each map. Several felt that it would at least eliminate any home field advantage and force participants to demonstrate tactical mastery of the different isles.
Despite the fixed maps, guilds tended to base their build decisions more on their opponents rather than on where they would play. Bringing Migraine or "Shields Up!" made sense for teams looking to counter guilds known for running certain spike builds.
Of interesting note, QQ used the once-popular Bunny Thumper Ranger/Warrior build in some of its matches. With the reduced efficiency of Irresistible Blow and Tiger's Fury, many thought that this type of character, which features a hammer-wielding Ranger attacking in conjunction with a ferocious pet, would no longer see high-level play. Yet in QQ's team build, the Thumper did not miss a beat on QQ's drive to the Finals.
Another interesting build decision came from eventual champions iQ. Instead of running one or two Monk/Mesmers with access to more Energy management options, iQ ran dual Monk/Assassins, which typically have a disadvantage at VoD due to their lack of Energy management (and subsequently reduced raw healing power, especially at VoD where damage is higher). This surprised many, because iQ had a team build designed specifically to play for VoD, and these Monks did not seem to fit.
However, given the types of builds QQ runs and iQ's inclusion of Nature's Renewal and Tranquility in its own build, Monk/Assassins, with their survivability through the use of Dark Escape and Return and reduced dependence on the presence of Enchantments and Hexes to gain back Energy, provided the stronger alternative.
A Controversial Finale
In the Finals, Idiot Savants changed its build from the one it ran against Team Quitters during the Swiss rounds to the one that sealed its victory over PnH in the semi-finals. Focused more on winning during Victory or Death, Idiot Savants survived to the twenty minute mark in both games with few casualties despite heavy pressure from Team Quitters. VoD then gave Idiot Savants the opportunity to wipe out most of Team Quitters' NPCs at the flag stand with a Meteor Shower powered by Glyph of Sacrifice.
Many recognize this tactic from Idiot Savants' upset victory over EvIL in the Guild Wars Factions Championship. The key to this tactic lies in the fact that the Archer NPCs tend to bunch up when they reach the flag stand area at VoD and they do not run away from area spells like Meteor Shower.
While many have mixed feelings over Idiot Savants' use of this rather effective tactic, Idiot Savants did an excellent job of making Team Quitters play the game the way Idiot Savants wanted to play. Although Team Quitters played without any of the skills that JR on The Guild Hall Forums suggested afterward as possible counters to Idiot Savants' VoD ploy, such as Ward of Stability, Team Quitters' build gave the team some opportunities to split in order to even up the NPC numbers for VoD. Unfortunately for Team Quitters, Idiot Savants countered Team Quitters' Assassin gank squad and forced Team Quitters into making questionable plays as a result. Team Quitters almost killed Idiot Savants' Elementalist just before he got into position to cast Meteor Shower, but Idiot Savants' Monks made a great save to put Idiot Savants back in the proverbial driver's seat. The Finals truly came down to a showdown of player skill and strategic execution.
The results from the Autumn Season Playoffs show that, in the ever-evolving game of Guild Wars, teams must learn to prepare for a variety of circumstances if they expect to walk away with a gold-trimmed guild cape. Guild Wars Nightfall promises to introduce yet more skills and guild halls to Guild Battles, so guilds must exercise extra diligence in preparing for the next ladder season.