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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Guild Wars: PvP Beginner's Guide

Who this guide is for

This guide is intended for Guild Wars players who have Ascended at least one character in the PvE portion of the game.
Preferably, you've made it past all the storyline missions and unlocked almost all the skills for at least 2 professions. You may have played a little bit of Arena and got beaten senseless. I'm going to assume you have enough clue to look up what a skill does if you don't know.

If you just bought Guild Wars and were hoping to be able to jump right into PvP as soon as you open the box, you're going to be disappointed. Go play the PvE part of the game to get the hang of it. Don't bother doing missions with only xp rewards, concentrate on skill unlocking.

Update: while you can now buy "PvP editions", I wouldn't recommend it for a beginning player. Instead, I'd buy Nightfall and then buy either the PvP editions or the combination editions for the previous chapters if you like the game.


If you're not used to the tons of jargon which comes with any MMO-type game and will certainly show up in this guide, you may want to consult a glossary. Additional common terms you may see in-game not featured in that glossary:
  • HA - Heroes' Ascent
  • Kiting - running from an attacker (so they follow like you're flying a kite)

PvE characters

You may well have been thinking that you were going to play that same PvE character you've been playing for the last zillion hours. Don't. For this reason, always keep 1 character slot for PvP characters.

There's some cases where PvE characters will be better than a PvP character you created inside 5 minutes. However, it's normally going to involve a horrendous amount of grinding to get there. The result will usually be that the advantage you gained will be lost in the next month or two when the items in question are rebalanced.

Update: After the introduction of armour insignias in Nightfall, this is even more true.

Types of PvP

The "high-end" of PvP is Guild vs. Guild and to a lesser extent, Heroes' Ascent, both of which are 8v8. You won't be ready for those for a while. Concentrate on building up your skills as a player first. It's much better to learn to walk before you run.

There are 5 areas of "low-end" PvP, all of which are 4v4. I'll be talking about all of these except the low-level arenas in more detail later.

  • The Training Arena and Zaishen Challenge/Elites. These areas aren't actually PvP since you're fighting against NPCs but they should give you some practice for some of the basic techniques you'll need to do well. Teams are preassigned. Feel free to bring henchmen. Winning each round of Training Arena unlocks the Zaishen Challenge. Winning 5 rounds of the Challenge unlocks the Elites.
  • Competitive Arena, also known as Random Arena. Teams are randomly assigned. 5 consecutive wins unlocks Team Arena.
  • Team Arena. Teams are preassigned. You'll notice that there are henchmen that you can bring. Don't. 5 consecutive wins unlocks Heroes Ascent.
  • Low-level Arena (e.g. Ascalon Arena). Only PvE characters can play in these. Don't bother - there are too many griefers and the game balance isn't great under 20th level.

Building a PvP character

Pre-made characters

Update: Previously, pre-made characters were fairly worthless. While not as good as the premade characters from Esoteric Warriors (EW), the default templates are playable but not great (see the article on the official GW site for more).

I'll also give a few example character builds here at the end of this guide but due to skill rebalances they will probably be outdated quickly, so take them with a pinch of salt.

Skill choice essentials

Take a long hard look at a skill before it makes it onto your bar. What's the recharge time? How much does it cost? Take into account how it plays into your profession. Shatter Enchantment is a good skill but it's pretty terrible on a Warrior because it costs too much for them. Leave expensive spells to the casters with 4 energy regen.

If when playing your character you find yourself unable to use skills because of a lack of energy your build is probably in need of work. Casters normally need a skill or two devoted to regaining energy. Warriors absolutely require a speed boost skill or they'll spend all their time chasing sniggering monks in circles, as well as an attack speed boost to help gain adrenaline.

Don't try to defend against everything in your build - being a threat is much better than being unkillable. Warriors especially should not be carrying significant defense since they'll typically be one of the last targets chosen. "Tanking" does not work in PvP.


When choosing armour, read what it does carefully.

When choosing weapons, there are some easy choices and some others that are more dependent on personal choice. At the time of writing, the Staff Wrapping of Enchanting is a must-have for any character with key enchantments (e.g. Elementalists with Ether Prodigy or Attunements).

Don't use more than 1 Superior skill rune - the health penalty is too painful. There's no reason not to use a superior rune of vigour. Warriors will also usually want an absorption rune. Use minor runes where the extra point will help and vitae runes where it won't.

In general, I think a decent rule of thumb is that health is good. If in doubt, pick +health equipment.

Play to win

Don't pick skills or use tactics based on the assumption that your opponents will be bad. They may well be but then you'll win anyway. Worry about the cases where you'll face someone who knows what they're doing.


Location, location, location

The single biggest difference between PvE and PvP is probably that positioning matters. You can get through the whole PvE game and never move when monsters are beating on you. This is not the case in PvP.

If there's a warrior about to hit you, you probably want to run away. If they're already hitting you and you weren't casting anything a second ago, you already made a mistake. If there's a ranger shooting you, put a wall between you and them. If an Elementalist is zapping you, they can't do it if you're out of range. In short, watch the battlefield. If someone's running up to you it's probably not to give you a hug.

If you run out of healing range of your monk, they won't be able to save you if you're in trouble. Be aware of where your monk is. You can use this against your opponents too - if you can draw an opponent away from his group they may well be easy pickings.


You can get away with poor communication a lot in PvE. This is crippling in PvP - you don't have time to sit around typing at each other. Before you start playing Team Arena, get Ventrilo or Teamspeak for voice chat as appropriate depending on what your group is using. If you're joining a pick-up group, have both installed and set up ahead of time. When using voice chat, only say things that are relevant or noone will be able to hear important calls.

Don't rely on people recognising your voice - even using your name isn't ideal. A better method is to use the position you're in in the team - so instead of saying "I've got Spiteful [Spirit] on me!" or "Spiteful on Clamatius!", say "Spiteful on 2!" (if you're second in the party window list). The reason is that normally you're talking to someone who'll remove it and it saves them from having to look through the roster to find you. You can use the same tactic when talking about the opposition - e.g. "3 has Blackout". That's a good habit to get into that will be rewarded when you're playing against teams that don't share your alphabet.
Useful thing to say: "Migraine on 3!"
Not so useful: "I totally owned that dude!"

Attack timing and coordination

It doesn't really matter in PvE what timing you're using when attacking. It can be critical in PvP. Try to coordinate your attacks to overwhelm the cast time, energy and response times of the opposing players. This is known as "spiking". See the Eternum Pariah spike videos for examples of this. Note that the countdown to the attack is 3-2-1, so a 1 second spell starts casting at 1, a 2 second at 2, etc. If a spike is called, don't switch to that target immediately and start attacking them because it's a dead giveaway.

Also see my previous article on spikes vs. pressure.

In Random Arena, all this is irrelevant since your team won't have enough coordination. Instead, just make sure that a target is called and you all attack that target. 4v1 can still make short work of someone pretty fast.


Be aware of what all the conditions do. In PvP, here are the conditions that really matter:
  • Cripple. Remember, positioning is important. If you're a warrior being crippled means you can't catch a running target. Similarly, if you're on the receiving end of the damage, if you're crippled you can't run away.
  • Deep Wound. This does a bunch of damage when inflicted but also reduces the healing on the target.
  • Blindness. The single most incapacitating problem for Warriors and bow-based Rangers.
  • Weakness. Not as bad as Blindness but very irritating for Warriors and bow-based Rangers. Casters don't care about this.
  • Dazed. Uncommon but very irritating for casters - get it off ASAP.
  • Disease. Not a big problem on just you but can get ugly if the whole team gets it. Try to stay away from the rest of your team if you have it.

Useful thing to say: "Blind on 2!"
Bad thing to say: "Bleeding on 2!"


Like conditions, you should know what the notable hexes do. In particular, you should be very aware of hexes that are potentially incapacitating like Backfire, Migraine and Spiteful Spirit. In a coordinated team, tell your team if you have a hex that screws you but don't worry about hexes like Conjure Phantasm or Parasitic Bond unless they're on top of the incapacitating hex. In Random Arena, there's a good chance that noone on your team can remove the hex for you so unless you have your own hex removal you're out of luck.
Useful thing to say: "Backfire on 2!"
Bad thing to say: "Rust on 2!"


Be aware that relying on enchantments can be risky - a good team will see that Elemental Attunement and strip it off you. Similarly, watch enchanters on the opposing team. Stripping a Vital Boon might not be very useful but getting rid of that Life Bond may well be.


The concept of covering applies to conditions, hexes and enchantments. In summary, what covering means is taking advantage of the stack mechanic they all use. If an enchantment is important to you or hard to re-cast, it might be a good idea to have another enchantment on top of that one so that the less useful one gets stripped first by a single enchantment removal. Similarly, if you are going to cast something nasty and relatively expensive on your opponent like Spiteful Spirit, it's probably a good idea to immediately follow with a cheap cover hex like Parasitic Bond. With conditions, a good example is Crippling Shot + Apply Poison - the dangerous Cripple condition gets covered up with the less scary Poison. If you have covered conditions or hexes on you and you want to tell your team about the scary issue, make sure you say it's covered so they can judge whether they will be able to remove the whole condition or hex stack.
What to say: "Covered Spiteful on 2!"
What not to say: "Parasitic on 2!"

Watching your opponents

Try to understand what your opponents are trying to do with their build. If it's something relevant, you probably want to tell your team. For example, if you see a Blessed Signet you know that they have maintained enchantments and probably a bunch of them, so you may want to have an interrupter watch that opponent to mess up their energy. Do not bother if it's something irrelevant.
Useful thing to say: "Mark of Protection on 2!"
Bad thing to say: "Eviscerate on 3!"


If a resurrection skill isn't on your bar, you'd better have a really good reason for it. As a beginner, you probably don't have a good enough reason. You almost always want Resurrection Signet.

If the resurrection skill you're bringing takes 6s or longer, don't bother. You have a huge bullseye on you and someone will just interrupt it.

Watch your team health. If someone's dead, bring them up as soon as possible. Call it out when you do it (default key is ctrl+skill) so you don't have your whole team doing it.

Target calling

In Team Arena, if possible leave target calling to someone with more experience. It's a subject worth a full article on its own. In Random Arena, if noone else is calling targets, go ahead and do it - even a bad call is better than no call at all.

How to call and follow targets? You should already know from PvE. Just in case you don't, you call a target via called attack (default key is 'ctrl-space') or called targeting (default key is 'ctrl-shift-space'). You select a called target with the target key (default 't').

So who to call? In a nutshell, the biggest threat to your group. This may be the opposing team's monk but often it's their disruption elements. Might be the Mesmer that's shutting down your monk or the Air Elementalist that's blinding the rest of your team. If the opposing team has a monk, hopefully you have someone with some disruption to screw up their healing long enough to take someone out. In general, the fastest you can get one of their team taking a dirt nap the better.

Bear in mind who's vulnerable to what kinds of damage. In general, Warriors make bad call targets because they have so much armour. If your team does mostly elemental damage, Rangers are a bad call because their armour has fabulous boosts against it. Blood Necromancers can be a bad early call because their life drain means it takes longer to take them out.


Faction is a reward you get in PvP akin to experience in PvE. You can cash in Faction to unlock skills or items for your PvP items. The most efficient way to get faction later on is to play guild vs. guild or Heroes' Ascent but right now for you as a beginner it's probably playing in the Training Arena. Note that you can obtain a max of 1k Faction per day playing against NPCs.

Training Arena

The Training Arena is useful for getting the hang of PvP basics. You should not be losing in here unless you are playing very badly or you have totally screwed up your build. To get to the Training Arena, go to the Nameless Isle next to the Temple of Balthazar.

Zaishen Challenge/Elites

This gives you some Team Arena-like practice against actual builds as opposed to henchmen. It can be useful to work out whether a character build is working since you can bring a supporting Monk player or henchman. You unlock the Zaishen Elites area after beating 5 different Zaishen Challenge teams. The Elites area is exactly the same except that it's always random opponents and each round adds one more opponent (4v4, then 4v5, 4v6, etc.).

Random Arena

Due to the random team selection, success in this area is mostly up to whether you get dealt good players on your team and a good mix of characters or not. To put it politely, you see a wide range of player skill in this arena.

Since you can't rely on having a monk on your team, the best characters to play in RA are generally either:

  • Monk: that way you have a monk on your team, since you are one.
  • Warrior: good armour. Take Healing Signet.
  • Ranger: reasonable armour plus you can stay at a good distance from the opposing warriors. Bring Troll Unguent.

People will sometimes trash-talk and be obnoxious, like every other online game. Turn off the All chat channel and switch your state to away on the friends screen if this bothers you.

It's fun for a quick jump-in-and-go game but shouldn't be taken too seriously. If you win in Random Arena, you get to play again with the same team. Win 10 times in a row and you'll start playing against Team Arena teams. Note that if you're on a win streak and you need to leave, you should quit at the end of a round but before the next round starts - you'll be replaced with another player from the lobby.

Team Arena

The aim of this guide is to bring you up to the point where you feel comfortable in this area.

The best way to find a group for Team Arena is to be in a guild that has a bunch of active PvP players. You may well be in a small guild of your friends who aren't so interested in PvP and you don't want to leave. I'll warn you that the fastest way to get better at the game is to play with people who are better with you, so if you're serious about getting better you may want to to explain the situation to your friends and find a guild that will work better for you. Don't bother applying for membership of one of the top guilds you've seen on Observer Mode - you're just wasting your time and theirs.

If you really want to stay in your guild and they aren't playing PvP, you can find pick-up groups but generally the quality will be fairly random. If you go this route and happen to play with people that you like, make sure you keep them on your friends list and build up a list of contacts.

Be flexible with the build you play - you are filling a role in a team and if your character doesn't fit in your team will not do as well.

Conclusion: starting out

Go create your PvP character. You'll start in the Nameless Isle, next to the Temple of Balthazar in the Battle Isles. Go talk to all the Masters in the Nameless Isle and read what they say - there's a lot of detail there I'm not covering in this guide.

Once you're done, go talk to the Master of Paths and play a few rounds in the Training Arena. The world is now your oyster. Find a playstyle that suits you and keep unlocking those skills!

Appendix: Example PvP builds

I won't go into too much detail of the ins and outs of each build except for the important points. Note that these may be somewhat outdated due to skill rebalances but they should be somewhat useful as a starting point.


Strength 9 + 1
Axe Mastery 12 + 1 + 3
Tactics 9 + 1
Executioner's Strike
Plague Touch
Bull's Strike
Healing Signet
Resurrection Signet

If you're targeted when you have Frenzy up, immediately hit Sprint to get rid of Frenzy. Also use Sprint to chase running targets and follow up with Bull's Strike to bring them down. Don't hit the Strike till you're right on top of them or you're giving your target a good chance to stop and avoid the knockdown. Bring a Vampiric Axe and a spare Axe (doesn't really matter what type) - switch away from the Vampiric Axe to the spare when you aren't actually hitting things. Use Plague Touch to transfer away irritating conditions like Blindness.


Curses 12 + 3 + 1
Inspiration Magic 11
Soul Reaping 6 + 1
Spiteful Spirit
Parasitic Bond
Desecrate Enchantments
Inspired Hex
Drain Enchantment
Resurrection Signet
This is the "Blacklight Necro" from the iQ boards. Its purpose is chiefly to partially shut down opposing Warriors and Rangers. See the iQ post for more details on how to play this one.


Divine Favor 12 + 3 + 1
Protection Prayers 8 + 1
Inspiration Magic 10
Mend Ailment
Reversal of Fortune
Contemplation of Purity
Inspired Hex
Mantra of Recall / Energy Drain
Divine Boon
Resurrection Signet
This is a standard boon-prot monk, using Mantra of Recall or Energy Drain over Offering of Blood after the latest skill rebalance. I wrote about this previously. You can use either Mantra of Recall or Energy Drain - both are a little fiddly to use and the one you pick is mostly up to personal preference.
Sarus' excellent guide video is must-view material before you play this type of character. Note that Offering of Blood is worse since that video was made.


If you liked this guide, you may be interested in my other ramblings. This is my latest Guild Wars content, according to Google's blog search. Google says this is everything I've written about Guild Wars so far.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Truly well written. My compliments to you! I have been playing PVP for quite some time now but there are still some good points that I learned about in there. Thanks again for taking the time to write this.

3/09/2006 01:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very helpful, but you forgot to ad the description for Bleeding and Poison in the conditions description section.

3/17/2006 12:36:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice guide. Will link to it in my clan:D

You might want to add something about cover hexes and enchants. Oh, and it is generally a bad idea to use Healing Signet without first using a skill such as "Watch Yourself!"


3/17/2006 06:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

lol , i love your guide. You write well and your even funny. Thanks

4/08/2006 07:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey bud, nice blog.

but i'd like to make a suggestion if you're playing team arena.

you know under the skills for the warrior/monk bit? you could change sprint to charge 'cause it helps your whole team, and it helps them a WHOLE LOT.

9/19/2006 03:08:00 AM  
Blogger Clamatius said...

Actually, I'm not a huge fan of Charge in TA - I'd rather have a damage spike skill or a knockdown.

Now, if you'd been talking about Alliance Battles instead, then I'd agree. It's fantastic in that format since team mobility is so key.

9/26/2006 03:07:00 PM  

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