The team design in WoW stands on three legs. The tank is the frontman/woman who takes the attention and punishment of the enemy and protects the rest of the group. The healer helps counteract the threat of the enemy that is not or cannot be avoided, and preserves the team’s lives. The third leg is that of the work horses, the damage dealers. Just because your tank can take the beating well enough for the healer to prevent his death, does not mean you will be able to sustain that forever, nor do you want to.
The requirement of the damage dealers? Take down your opponent! In order to do so there are a few essential things you need to accomplish:
1.) Survive! A dead character deals no damage. It is in your best interest to avoid what hurts you to spare the healer’s efforts on you, and allow him to focus on the tank more. Every player is responsible for their own survival before anyone else is, it is not healthy to rely on someone else to keep you alive without condition. Sometimes it is not a reasonable request.
2.) Threat management. The tank is prepared to take the beating for you, and they invested heavily in being able to do so. Respect the tank’s central role in protecting you: threat. While defeating your opponent it is essential to keep your threat behind that of the tank, otherwise you run the risk of taking the attention of the opponent, which in turn usually leads to responsibility #1. Damage Dealers have limited ability to survive direct attention, and you should never take that attention provided you pay attention to your threat.
3.) Destruction! At the end of the day you are *the* backbone of the group in determining how long the fight lasts and how easy it is on your counterparts. Tanks are prepared to survive as long as they can manage, and healers are prepared to keep people alive for the same, but you will determine how long that will be. It is your responsibility to fell your foes.
How do you kill a dragon?
Every class is designed to use a semi-unique combination of elements to ply their trade, and for damage dealers there is a fair degree of variation, much more so than tanks or healers. All tanks have in common that they are predominantly up-close fighters with heavy defenses. All healers are casters who mend their allies at a distance with spells. Damage dealers come in many shapes and sizes, and even within each class different specs will vary in how they apply their skills from subtle variations to vast differences. Let’s first look at the classifications by which we can sort damage dealers:
Physical Damage vs Magical Damage
Every damage dealing class/spec will fall somewhere on the scale between 100% physical damage and 100% magical damage. Most class/specs will deal a mixture of the two. In the most interesting of encounter designs this becomes important to identify as some things will be more vulnerable to one form or the other. In the past this has been used very little, but as the game grows and changes, this door could be opened wider still. This element will always be very meaningful in illustrating the nature of your character, though.
Melee vs Ranged
Each play style is characterized by whether they beat on their target at close range with their hands and weapons (melee), or attack their enemy from a distance with physical or magical projectiles. Often times the distinction is not that ranged attackers must be at long range, only that they can be, but the Hunter class has often played the typical element of the ranged combatant who is unable to function well at close range, or is at a significant disadvantage.
Burst vs Burn
A less common distinction to be discussed in such terms is the distinction of damage delivery style. Some class/specs specialize in strong smashes, while others rely on a barrage of smaller elements. Some build up to stronger single hits, while others build up to a mantle of painful gradual damage elements (Damage over time, or DoT effects). The distinction is not always obviously important, but it can be very significant depending on the challenge you face.
Each class/spec will fall somewhere on each of these scales. I won’t discuss each and everyone here, but it is worth remembering this for future articles.
The Art of Destruction
The artistic touches of a skilled damage dealer are subtle and tricky, more so than you might think. Many will tell you that dealing damage in WoW is a science, that if you can perfect your rotation, remove your human hindrances you can match that perfect model of damage that the computer says you are capable of, if you do it all right. I disagree. The system is full of nuances, delays, and there are key elements that will never allow you to be perfect in form to that “perfect rotation.” While understanding that “perfect” pattern may be useful, it is only a guiding light in the real and malleable mush. What is more, while it is important to defeat your opponent, and it is rare that faster does not have its advantages, sometimes it is better to be slow and well-executed, than fast and sloppy. In finding the most effective way to do your job, you need to be aware of the bounds within which you are working, and know where you can test them, and where you can slip through.
The bounds? Threat, survival, attention, time, and the nuances of each class/spec’s style and spells. If you could hit with a massive hit in the first moment of the fight, but you would tear threat off the tank and die and possibly cause chaos for everyone else, it is not worth it when you could instead do gradual damage over time for a much longer period. Similarly, if you could do a massive hit, but would have to stand in a fire and hope the healer(s) can keep you alive, that may not often be the right choice. “Better to run away,” says the adage. There are elements that will require your attention to accomplish both the threat dance and the act of survival, and these things will distract from the more complicated elements that are involved in the execution of your skills. You cannot plan hoping that they will not, instead you need to be ready for them to and develop reflexes and trained responses to allow you to function well while you respond to unpredictable circumstances. Finally, most encounters are designed with their own external elements that will create time frameworks. These will be your windows to ply your trade. This may be an overall timer like an “enrage” point where your opponent will decide he’s had enough of you and will just start destroying you, or it may be more phase-oriented actions, like a period of time where you cannot attack without dying or taking overly dangerous amounts of damage.
The best damage dealers know how to use these requirements to create a rhythm, a dance in which they can knock their enemies down in. Boxers will refer to this as the “stick and move.” Know when to bob, know when to weave, and know when to land that haymaker, over the top, hard right fist to the jaw.
There is plenty of room for artistry beyond the simple act of hurting your opponents though, and often that is found in utility and support. For example:
This is not the exclusive domain of the damage dealers, but it is often easiest for the damage dealers to provide this service. Crowd Control (CC) is the act of taking an opponent out of the action for a period of time, or rendering them ineffectual. Many class/specs can provide functions like this in various ways, but it is of great aid to the healers, and sometimes to the tanks to do this. Disabling some of your opponents may open up weaknesses for the others, or it may just simplify the challenge your team faces making it easier to accomplish. Knowing when it is appropriate to do so is important, and being able to communicate that you are to the rest of your team, quickly and concisely, is important to functioning as a team.
Protection, Buffing, Debuffing
The damage dealers will make up the bulk of the head count on your team, and they will bring as many, if not more abilities to the table that will improve the performance of your whole team. This is accomplished through buffs and debuffs. Many of these buffs are of great personal significance, and so are easy to bring without a second thought. The best damage dealers appreciate the values that they can offer in the bigger picture of how they help the whole team. Some may offer a way to make the tank take less damage, some may offer a boost to the healers healing power, or offer a way to reduce damage the group takes. Some will offer buffs/debuffs that improve their own damage but also increases damage dealt by others, and some (albeit a less common trait) will offer buffs that will not improve their own damage, only others. Understanding and offering the best value to the team you can is an important aspect of playing the game well. Maybe using an ability will cost you something of your own performance, but if it can improve your team mates’ performances by a greater sum than what you lost, it is usually worth it.
This is a complex task that great damage dealers do, often without thinking about it. I’ve never had a good concise way to relate this action, but I have given it a name: “Threading.” Threading is the act of slipping elements into the cracks created by your regular rhythms and those of the external stimuli. For example, if you had your way you may normally fire Spell A 3 times, then Spell B for a big burst. Perhaps the given encounter however doesn’t give you time to repeat the whole sequence twice, so what do you do in the second space? If you were to just cast A twice maybe you wouldn’t do as well as if you were to cast A once then B. Maybe a different spell or combination of spells fits that window better. If you are looking to be most effective you want to know the value of every element in your toolbox and how to fit them into windows. It is hard to describe this without using class/spec specifics, but watch for this term in the future as I will use it to describe such tactics.
Fast Switch Role Versatility
Some class/specs are capable of covering for their teammates in case of an emergency. For example, one class/spec may be able to grab their shield, swap their stance, and take a beating like a tank for a short period. Perhaps another class/spec can provide some weaker healing in moments where the healers are taxed or obstructed. Generally, people will want to preserve the pure focus of a single role in their spec and gear design, but it can be a very powerful thing to be able to address the needs of the team in the moment it is needed most. Flexibility never hurts you, so long as you are careful not to exercise it when there is no need, or more accurately when there is no counter-need. In plain English, if you decide to start healing when, if you don’t add your damage to killing your opponent immediately you will all die, then you are not actually helping. This is an amorphous need as much as any other, being able to identify it, and then communicate clearly to your team what is happening, is what is most important to the strongest function of a team.
The damage dealers will make up the largest portion of the team, and in that there is the most flexibility. The strongest group plays and plans together. The strongest group knows where to support the group, and knows where they can be supported by the group.
Next: the final chapter, “The Grand Triangle.”