TenTonHammer's Ultimate Guide to Grouping

Many of my loyal readers have listened to me rant over the last few years of how I feel that WoW leaves too much ability to solo and therefore players don't learn how to group or what they should do in a group. It finally dawned on me that maybe no one ever let you know how players should group, how they should behave, interact and cooperate. Well, have no fear, I am here to explain all!

As anyone who has done any grouping has learned, the success or failure of the group depends largely on everyone working together. I have been in many groups that have walked through high level instances with nothing but green and blue items and done it with ease. I have also been in an equal number of groups that have gone through in all epics and wiped, because they lost focus on what they should be doing or thought they were too good to have to worry about it. What do these examples teach us? I believe they teach us two things...

  • Success or Failure is not always level or equipment dependant
  • Success or Failure largely depends on skill, communication, working together, and knowing and understanding each others roles.

I ranted recently that Blizzard does not do a good job of teaching players about the things that will help them succeed in a group. At the time I didn't offer many solutions though. Having had time to think about it, this is my solution. I have created what I believe is the definitive guide on grouping in small group instances. By small group instances I mean 5 man instances. Much of what is discussed does transfer up to 10, 20 and 40 man instances, however some of the requirements change slightly. I will keep it up to date and change it as required. I will also accept any constructive comments or thoughts and add them to the guide and credit the author.

Ok, on to the guide itself. I have broken it down into sections detailing the basics of group combat, roles in a group, and more.


Roles in a Group

Let's start right at the beginning. Let me explain all the roles in a group and which classes can fall under which of the roles.


The leader is the person that controls the group and its pace through the instance. This is normally the person that started the group, however it is not unheard of for it to be passed to someone else to manage. Many times it is pass to the tank or puller (if different than the tank) so that they can control the flow of battle.

The leader will normally determine which route to take through the instance, which bosses or quests are being completed, how loot is distributed, and much more. Basically all the administrative details of the group are up to the leader.

Obviously, every group needs a leader. While I say obviously, sometimes people don't realize how important a leader really is. Without someone directing, giving orders, and taking control, even the most experienced group can fall apart. This is because its human nature to do what you think is best for yourself, which may or may not be best for the group. Not having a single person in control is just asking for issues.


The tanks job is to hold aggro. As a tank, you should not worry about doing damage (you will do a little, but that's secondary), or much of anything else. Just worry about having everything attacking you and keeping control or them. You should watch for anything that runs off to attack another target (especially your healer or other cloth wearers) and pull them back to you.


The off-tanks jobs is to be second on the aggro list so that if anything happens to the main tank, the MOBs will start attacking him. Off -tanks can be used in two almost completely opposite ways. The first is to hold aggro of single or groups of MOBs to be dealt with later. More the off-tank is also the one that holds aggro on the current "to be killed" target, and is some times referred to as the main assist because of it. The second is the one that I use as my definition in all descriptions of the off-tank unless specified otherwise.


The healer is the person that heals all of the other players. Your job is to keep everyone alive so that they can deal with the MOBs. Your secondary job is rezzing anyone that dies, which can not always be avoided. Your healing priorities should be yourself, the tank, and then whoever you most need at the time. Being aware that cloth wearers will obviously die faster than anyone else once they have aggro on them.

There will usually be some sort of backup healer in most groups as well. These do the same thing as a healer but usually only step into the healing role if there are lots of MOBs attacking and the main healer can not keep up, of if the healer is out of mana (oom).


The puller is the part member that draws in each new group of MOBs that you will be fighting. While almost anyone can be a puller the best two classes to pull are a Hunter or Rogue. Warriors and Mages also make decent pullers due to ranged attacks and the popular "sheep pull". In undead instances priests can sometimes pull using a "shackle pull" or in live instances a "mind control pull".

I believe that when possible though a Hunter or Rogue should always be the puller. This is because they have methods to drop aggro and get out of a bad pull if needed. A hunter can either pull with their pet and allow it to die if things go wrong, or feign death, while a rogue can vanish to abort the pull. Many groups make the main tank the puller by default, which I don't believe in as they have no way out of a pull once it has started.

Once a pull has started the puller should move towards the tank and allow them to get aggro off of them and control the MOBs. The puller can then fall back into their normal role (usually melee or ranged DPS).

Damage Dealers (DPS'ers)

The DPS'ers are the players whose job it is to actually kill the MOBs that get pulled. The key caveat to that statement is that you must kill them without pulling aggro. Pulling aggro is bad because it makes the healer waste mana healing someone other than the main tank, makes the main or off tank waste time getting control of the fight again, and could get you killed. DPS is often referred to by the two main types, ranged and melee.

As a DPSer you should always have a macro created that auto targets you onto the newest "to be killed" target. This will usually be a macro that targets you on the main or off tanks target, but could be someone else if your group is having someone else pick out the kill order. The macro should be something like:

/assist [character name to be assisted]

Usually the kill order for the first two or three MOBs will be determined before the fight begins, however near the end it will be semi-random. It is important to use the macro to find the newest target as you go through the fight.

Some groups have a hunter pick the target and mark them with their hunters mark, and this completely valid as well. However I would suggest that the off tank pick the target and then the hunter mark it immediately after. This allows the off tank to gain aggro for a few seconds before everyone is attacking the target.


The AOE'ers (Area of Effect) job is to kill massive groups of low power MOBs as quickly as possible. This is a completely secondary role as most instances do not have large numbers of MOBs that need to be AOE'ed down. Usually this is done by Mages or Warlocks, however there are other options. If the MOBs are really weak or if you have a few of the following you can get away with Paladins consecration, Priests Holy Nova and Hunters Volley. None of these are ideal though and you need 2-3 to replace a single true AOE'ers abilities. In a pinch though they will work.

Crowd Control

The job of a person performing crowd control is to control the number of MOBs that the group must fight at any given time. This can be accomplished in a number of ways. The main two forms of crowd control though are polymorph (sheeping) and sapping, done by mages and rogues respectively. There are other more limited forms of crowd control as well though, they are a hunters ice trap, a priests mind control and shackle undead and a warlocks banish. Depending on the situation all can be very useful.

The most common tactic though is to have a rogue sneak up and sap one of the MOBs in the group you are next going to fight. Have the puller pull the group, have the mage sheep one of the incoming MOBs and then have the tank gain control of the rest. If done on a 5 MOB pull you are down to dealing with 3 instead of 5. Normally you can have them all dealt with before the sap expires and then re-sheep the other one and deal with them 1 on 1.

Class - Role Chart

Role Primary Classes Alternate Classes
Leader Any  
Tank Warrior Druid, Paladin
Off-Tank Warrior Druid, Paladin, Hunter or Warlock pet in some circumstances.
Puller Hunter, Rogue Warrior, Mage, Almost any class under certain circumstances
Healer Priest Druid, Shaman, Paladin
Crowd Control Mage, Rogue Priest, Warlock under certain circumstances
AOE Mage, Warlock Paladin, Priest, Hunter - all in very limited ways
Melee DPS Rogue, Warrior Shaman, Paladin, Druid
Ranged DPS Hunter, Mage, Warlock Shaman, Priest

What is the Ideal Group?

Ok, so you know what all the different roles in a group are. How many of each do you need? How do they work together? What really makes up the ideal group? All is explained here.

In an ideal group you will be able to cover off each of the above tasks. Sometimes multiple tasks will fall onto one person. That's fine as long as they know about it up front. In fact with 9 different roles that need to be filled and only 5 spots in a normal instance, it would be impossible to fill each role with a different person.

There are a few things that every group needs. The basics are a Tank a Healer/Rezzer and some form of DPS/Crowd Control/AOE. When it comes to classes this generally means that the perfect three classes to form the core of every group are a Warrior, Priest and Mage. This is because a Warrior is the best tank, the priest the best healer/rezzer and a Mage covers all three of the other requirements. While this is the strongest core you can substitute other classes in as long as you realize you will need to make up for weaknesses with the other 2 open spots.

Knowing that a tank is a requirement, know your options ahead of time. A Warrior really is best, and a warrior that is protection specced, not fury specced. For them to hold aggro they really need to be in defensive stance all the time, with a weapon and shield. If a Warrior is not available a feral druid can cope quite well when geared and specced correctly and is a valid substitute in all but the hardest encounters. In undead instances a Paladin can also work quite well, however due to the lack of taunts (until the expansion) they are not able to hold aggro as well.

For your healer / rezzer, a Priest is best simply due to their healing ability and constant rezzing ability. While Paladins, Shamans and Druids can all rez and heal, they all have different limitations and while it can be argued that a Druid can heal better situationally that a Priest, a Priest really is the best all around healer / rezzer in the game. If one is not available though, a Druid is your next best choice (and not by that much!). If you decide to take a Paladin or Shaman as your main healer, ensure you have a secondary just in case.

To fill the other roles required in a perfect 3 some, the Mage really is the best fit. A Warlock does a great job at DPS and AOE but really has limited crowd control unless you are fighting daemons or have the succubus out. They are a solid second choice though due to bringing soul stones, possible off tank, minor crowd control, stamina buffs and more. Anything that is missed from this third person in the group needs to be covered in the remaining two party members.

OK, so we have discussed the core 3 in detail. What about the other 2 spots in a group? What do we need? This really comes down to the instance, play style and what the first three members of the group are. However, you will be looking to make sure you have a valid off-tank, and a backup healer as a minimum, while additional DPS to move through the combats is always nice too.

If we assume that we have the perfect three to start with (warrior, priest, mage) then I would suggest that you fill the last two spots with a Paladin, Druid or Warlock and a Rogue or Hunter if you are Alliance. If you are a Horde player I would go with a Shaman, Druid or Warlock and a Rogue, Hunter or Shaman. Again this is ideal, you can duplicate classes if you need to, but to keep loot arguments to a minimum and expand your options as much as possible, I always try to have no duplicate classes in a group.

Having played through to 60 multiple times as both a Horde and Alliance player my ideal groups would have to be:

Alliance: Warrior, Priest, Mage, Rogue, Paladin

Horde: Warrior, Priest, Mage, Rogue, Shaman

While this is ideal and covers all the basses, I have also had some very strange groups that have worked, including: Druid, Shaman, Warlock, Hunter, Rogue and a even stranger Paladin(tank), Paladin(healer), Rogue (dps), Paladin (alt healer/alt tank), Hunter(puller/dps). Both groups while very odd worked very well because everyone did what they were supposed to do for their role (that and the Paladin group was in UD Stratholme full of undead).

In short I am trying to explain that you should not discriminate against any class as long as you require a role that they can provide (and are willing to play). Sometimes you will be pleasantly surprised.

The Cunning Plan (Combat)

Ok so you have a group now and are actually in the instance. How do you handle combat? What is the correct order to do things, who does what, why and how?

To make this whole section easier to work through, I will setup an example combat using our perfect group from earlier and walk them through a combat. For this example lets assume a fairly standard high level instance pull of 5 MOBs. The group will consist of 2 elite tanks, 2 casters and 1 DPSer.


Before you move into any fight you should make sure that everyone is ready and knows what is going to happen. This can include setting a kill order, know who is pulling, tanking, etc. Much of this will be set for an instance, not an individual fight, but if it changes for any reason it is critical to let everyone know.

It is also important to make sure the group knows where they are going to fight the MOBs. Sometimes it is left unclear and they group will charge forward and fight between other groups and then aggro them or let a runner get to them, bringing them into the fight. If any of the MOBs are runners, can cause fear, or if you will be using fear, then preset the fight location and stick to it.

The last element of the setup is part of your crowd control. If you are using sap then the Rogue should proceed to sap the chosen enemy. Also if you have a hunter that is using traps, place them now too.

To use our example MOB and player groups from above, the rogue would sap one of the elites, and then get set to pull.


Now you are all ready to start the fight, it's time to pull. The puller should try to pull a MOB from the edge of the group to attempt to get as few as possible. As soon as the MOBs are on their way the tank attempts to pick up all aggro and hold the MOBs at the designated spot. Also at this point you perform any other crowd control being used, shackle, sheep, or banish.

The tank then takes a few seconds to build aggro on the MOBs so that they will not get pulled away by the first bit of damage to them, or healing done to the tank himself. Once this is set, the either the group can assist the main tank to kill his target or an off tank can pull one of the targets off to be dealt with.

For our default group this means that the Rogue then pulls the other 4 MOBs back to the tank. As soon as they are pulled the Mage would polymorph (sheep) the caster, and ensure it remains sheeped throughout the fight. The tank would collect aggro on all the incoming MOBs but primarily the other elite.


Once combat starts, everyone should fall into their role as described previously. The Tank or off tank picks the targets and DPSers work on killing them without drawing aggro. If the casters or cloth wearers draw aggro, it must be pulled back to the tank or off-tank as quickly as possible.

The group then moves through the up targets and then moves onto the sapped target and ends with the sheeped, banished or shackled MOB.

Our default group would kill the Elite, then both non-elites, then break the sap on the other elite and kill it, and then deal with the caster.

Remember that fighting through an instance is not a race. It is best to have a plan and move slowly and steadily without taking chances and working together. Not wiping ends up being much faster (and cheaper on the repair bill) than rushing too much and dieing a few times.


After a battle is over there are still several things that need to be worried about. The most important thing to worry about is to ensure that everyone is alive (rezzed if required), healed and full of mana before moving on. Next in priority is loot distribution, and lastly is activating any quest items that need to be done.

While all very simple things to do, I am sure everyone has seen someone run ahead and start a pull while the Priest has just sat down to drink and has almost zero mana, or where the DPSer is still dead, or has left half the group behind arguing about loot. Make sure the simple things in your control, are handled. It's really silly to wipe because your whole group isn't there or ready.

Detailed Role Descriptions


What Not to do in a group

There are many things that you need to watch for while in an instance with a group.

  • Do NOT run away from the combat or the Tank if you are being attacked! This is almost the worst thing you can do in a fight for two reasons. First, MOBS never give up chasing you in an instance, so you are not going to get away unless you are very close to the entrance. Secondly, moving away from the group means that the tank or off-tank will not be able to reach you to pull aggro off of you, nor will the healers be able to reach you with heals unless they follow you and stop healing the tank.
  • Do NOT advance ahead of the main group or go wandering off alone. If you are ever ahead of the puller in the group you are in the wrong spot, move back.
  • Do NOT touch! Remember being yelled at as a kid for touching something that wasn't yours? This applies to all ussable items in an instance (doors, levers, boxes, buttons, etc.) and any NPC's that you may run into. None of the stuff in the instance is your's either! So don't touch anything until you have been told to. Touching some of these items may start scripted sequences or release MOBs or traps that the group is not ready for.

if you picked up an add or gained aggro, do not run. it makes it harder for someone else to get the aggro off of you. if anything move towards the main or off tank.

Have comments or suggestions? Thought of something that has been missed? Found an error? We would love to hear from you! Please email me at [email protected].

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Last Updated: Mar 13, 2016

About The Author

Byron 1
Byron has been playing and writing about World of Warcraft for the past ten years. He also plays pretty much ever other Blizzard game, currently focusing on Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone, while still finding time to jump into Diablo III with his son.


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