Welcome to our Ultimate DPS Guide for World of Warcraft. This guide applies to all classes as each of them has one or more specs focused specifically on fulfilling a DPS role, so if you want to learn how to be better at dealing damage then this is the guide for you. Were going to go into every detail you need to know which will help you outperform everyone else even if your gear isnt nearly as good.
Chapter I: Movement & You
The first rule of doing damage is that movement is everything. Movement can affect your DPS both positively and negatively and its one of the biggest game mechanics that players mess up on. For melee DPS you have to be within melee range (i.e. close) while ranged need to remain within the maximum reach of their skills. If youre out of range then you will automatically do 0 DPS.
Lets use a scenario in order to flesh out the concept a little bit better.
Say youre in a group or raid thats fighting the Lord of All Murlocs, when the tank walks him from one side of the room to the other to get him into a better or more specific position.
If youre a melee class and do not follow the tank while hes moving the boss then youre going to do 0 DPS during the duration of the move because youre out of melee range. Likewise, if youre a ranged class and the boss moves out of your range then youre going to be doing 0 DPS as well. Ranged DPS classes also have the problem where they cant typically cast anything other than instant spells and abilities while moving. So movement for a caster would also cause 0 DPS apart from and ticks of periodic damage which occur in the meantime.
Knowing this you can minimize the negative effect of movement by being smart and staying alert to what the tank is going to do. Ranged DPS can stay fairly close to the battle without getting AoEd to death while melee can keep moving and as long as theyre within range it wont be that bad (since nearly all melee abilities are instant or on next hit).
A word should also be said about chain pulling in heroics. Tanks, especially ones that are overgeared, will often chain pull packs of enemies with no downtime in between pulls. Sometimes theyll move forward and pull another pack before the current one is dead. Thats because they assume itll be finished off before they reach the next pack. In scenarios like this you dont need to worry about anything but staying with the group.
During boss fights, many encounters require a fair amount of movement to avoid AoE or environmental damage effects, so a lot of this applies to retaining high DPS while also avoiding damage. We have a section about doing DPS while staying alive below that goes into this in more detail.
Chapter II: Activity
Being active is the most important thing you can do while in combat. More often than not a lot of players who are properly geared but not doing very good damage are just not being active. Youll see seconds between the time one ability finishes and they start casting/using the next one. The most important thing is to have the next skill in your rotation ready to be mashed as soon as the current skill is used. You should never worry about your resources, unless you need to save some for key interrupts.
Your available resources are like liquid damage. Mana, runes, energy and rage are like reserved damage that you convert into DPS when you use an ability. As long as you still have those resources then you have DPS saved in reserve. The only things keeping you from using all of your resources at once are the global cooldown, cast times, and ability cooldowns. Thats why you will always want to be casting, attacking or button mashing no matter what.
You may be scared that youll run out of your resources, but you should look at it this way. If you spend all of your mana in 1 minute or in 5 minutes you will still have spent the same amount of mana to do the same amount of damage. The only difference is that its spread out between 1 minute, or 5 minutes. The longer it takes you to do the same amount of damage then the lower your DPS will be. Simple, huh?
Energy works a little bit differently. Energy is wasted only if youre at your Energy cap (normally 100, but this can be extended with talents). If your Energy regen is being wasted then youre wasting gaining more potential damage. So you have to always keep your Energy regenerating, even if you need to conserve a bit of it for interrupts.
In Cataclysm, Hunters were given Focus which works very similarly to Energy (it just has a longer regen time). Hunters need to be aware of the skills to use to regenerate Focus and which skills are used to deal the most damage with their spec.
The next time youre in a fight try to never have more than half a second between the time you use one ability to the next and see how it affects your DPS. A popular tactic is to spam the hotkey for the next ability youre going to use. That way the ability triggers the second youre capable of using it. If you use channeled spells like the Shadow Priests Mind Flay then there are macros that will keep you from interrupting your Mind Flay while you spam the button for the next spell or ability in your rotation.
Various DPS meters like Recount can be used to record details on activity. Take a look at it sometime and see where you stand. You should aim to be as active as possible in a fight.
Check out out page 2 for more information on resources and managing them..
Chapter III: Positioning & Death
Even at lower levels you should never be below the tank in DPS. As you can see in this example, using these tips I was able to get #1 at level 72 while others were lagging far behind the tank.
How much DPS does a dead person do? Zero. (the impending zombie apocalypse not withstanding) Thats another key rule to doing DPS. You need to be alive in order to beat something with your stick (or axe or hammer or fiery magic or whatever). How can you stay alive? By not standing in damaging environmental effects, or in front of bosses in other words, being constantly aware of your surroundings.
Many bosses will place down void zones (glowing circles of death), fire, or things like desecration. Standing in these will hit you for a ton of damage and can easily be avoided by moving out of them. You need to be aware and alert of your surroundings and be ready to move, even if it DOES cost you DPS (as we learned earlier). You have to weigh the lost DPS of moving vs. the lost DPS of you being dead. Melee classes have to be extra careful not to stand in front of bosses because they will often have a cleave or some kind of AoE frontal cone attack thats designed to be absorbed only by the tank.
However, you shouldnt fret if youre taking residual AoE damage from the fight. A lot of times bosses will just AoE everyone or throw around various ranged attacks designed to do damage to DPS classes. If its unavoidable then its the healers job to deal with it, not yours. Unless youre about to die in which case its time to utilize your survival cooldowns like Ice Block, Fade, Feign Death, Survival Instincts, or whatever you have available to you. In Cataclysm it has become a little less trivial taking random damage in a fight. Continue to page 2 to learn new survival tactics and to understand how a little bit of health loss can be a bad thing.
Positioning is also important for melee classes. Attacking from the front not only puts you in danger of cleaves, breaths, etc. but also puts you in a position where you can be blocked, dodged, or parried. Expertise mitigates this, but its always best to attack from behind. That is unless there isnt a behind to attack from (like Kologarn) which is why you have Expertise.
As discussed earlier, for ranged youre going to want to stay in a spot where youre close enough that minor movement of the boss isnt going to shove him out of range but also far enough away that youre not going to get cleaved or hit with any kind of close up AoE that bosses do.
[protip]If you've never been in an instance before BE SURE TO READ UP ON IT!!! You can make yourself into a hero by knowing what the instance is ahead of time. A lot of players do not do this, but every little bit counts.[/protip]
Chapter IV: Hotkeys & Reaction Time
Im going to be honest to you; a lot of DPS can be lost to reaction time. Lets say you need to mash Ice Block within the next 2 seconds or youre dead. Youre pretty much going to die on the next hit and the tank isnt going to make it to save you in time. If you take too long to hit your survival button then youre going to die, even if you make the commitment to hit it but get tangled in searching for it or moving your mouse around to click it.
Im talking about skill clickers vs. people who use their mouse for movement and their keyboard for skills. I know very few people who click their skills and do near comparable damage to others in their class. As a matter of a fact, I have never seen anyone excel at DPS by clicking their skills. Of course, Im not ignorant enough to assume that everyone cares enough or has the time to learn WSAD and how to use SHIFT, CTRL, ALT plus FVCXZTR123456 for their skills.
If you are a skill clicker then you need to make sure your skills are easily accessible to you. I can also recommend getting a mouse with additional buttons and binding some of your key skills to those buttons on the mouse so that you dont have to rely on clicking so much. You can also trim a lot of the fat off your hotkeys by removing or condensing the skills you rarely use and using a bar addon to resize the skills you constantly use so theyre bigger and easier to click.
Reaction time is also important. You need to be alert and aware. Some players do not need additional addons to help with telling them important things, though players do. If youre one of the later (like me) then be sure to research and look into redesigning your U.I. so that it helps keep you aware of when youre losing health or when your buffs/debuffs are about to expire.
Chapter V: Rotations
Rotations are a complicated subject, but also the most important thing for every damage dealer out there. If you dont use your skills in a proper combo with one another then youre going to be really ineffective in combat. Everything weve learned so far has led us to this key point.
You know that moving around improperly will negatively affect your DPS and that dying will negatively affect your DPS. Standing in the wrong spot will as well and your reaction time can hurt too. Using the wrong skills can hurt even more. Our individual class guides can be an excellent resource for those of you looking for more detailed information on the best rotations for your particular class and spec.
In addition to rotations, there are some classes that use "priority lists," which is a list of skills where the skills at the top should be used unless they are on cooldown (or you have the buff) while the skills lower in the list are filler skills. This works for some classes that don't rely on specific rotations (like use X 3 times, then Y, then use Z 2 times, then repeat) and instead works similar to: use X if Y is down, use Z if X is down.
Its equally important that you also learn how to become flexible with your rotation once youre comfortable and familiar with the basics. Some players will lose their rhythm the second they have to move and all of their debuff/buff timers become unaligned. You need to learn why hitting those buttons in that order is what produces the most damage. If you can understand what each of the skills do then you can understand how to become flexible with them.
In WoW: Wrath of the Lich King rotations were a bit different:
For instance, if youre a Feral Druid and your Savage Roar and Rip expire then you might not know which one to use first. Well, if you know that Savage Roar increases the damage of Rip when its applied then youd know to gain 2 combo points, Savage Roar, and then gain 5 combos points to Rip. Then gain 5 combo points and do a proper Savage Roar. Flexibility at its finest.
In Cataclysm however each class was changed drastically, changing the way a lot of rotations work. For a Feral Druid now there is a whole lot more to try and attempt to understand. For instance, Feral Druids can now use Stampede to Ravage out of stealth at the start of the fight and can refresh rip on targets below 35% with Ferocious Bite. As a simple example, the rotation now works where you Feral Charge, Mangle, shred to burn Energy, Tiger's Fury, Rake, then Ravage, then Rip, then shred to 5 points keeping Rake/Mangle/Faerie Fire up then use Rip if it is down, then Savage Fury, then Ferocious Bite. There is a lot more to it, but understanding the entire process can really boost your DPS.
Don't stop, continue on to the next page for some excellent pointers about DPS in Cataclysm.
Addendum I: Avoiding Damage at all Costs
In Chapter III I spoke heavily about not dying which remains true to this day. However, with Cataclysm we are in a situation where damage is nearly as bad as dying. While taking damage doesnt decrease your ability to do DPS (unless it leads to your untimely death), it does drain your healers mana which will result in either your death in the future or a wipe giving the way mana regeneration works for healers in Cataclysm. Therefore its important that all DPS are more wary about taking even the slightest bit of damage.
Geared players doing lower level content do not run into this problem so much, but for everyone else it is important to keep an eye on your health bar and use any abilities that you can to try to keep your health up yourself (like Recuperate or glyphed Evocation). Non-fatal damage may not be much of an issue, but it does consume healer mana and it may lead to your death later on whenever you continue to take damage over and over again. So its important to try and stop any damage that you could take and then try to handle your health as much are you are capable of doing.
The first step is to just outright avoid damage. Its much better to do less DPS now and not take damage then it is to cook in the fire and waste your healers mana trying to keep you alive. Staying alive revolves around the basic tenants of not standing in anything that you shouldnt (fire, void zones, etc.) and following the encounters mechanics to stay alive. Interrupts, when necessary, are also a great way to avoid damage.
There is usually a lot of concern with DPS classes when it comes to moving around to avoid damage. Its true that for many classes movement greatly hinders DPS whenever they are out of range or unable to cast. Yet, it is much more important to give your healers a break and keep your health up then it is to constantly do DPS. One trick before you start moving is to refresh any DoTs on the target so that youll continue to do DPS even if youre not within range.
The second step is self-recovery. There are a lot of abilities that DPS classes have to keep themselves up. Obviously you shouldnt spend a lot of time casting heal on yourself, but Recuperation, Glyphed Evocation, or even a Flash Heal wont hurt anything. Not to mention using spells like Divine Hymn can quickly bring yourself and your allies up at the cost of your mana (although, depending on the encounter and the event, using a lot of mana to heal yourself may not be the best course of action, however in Heroics I would never say anyone did anything wrong throwing around a few extra heals). Potions are also a viable boon to saving your life (and your healers), along with healthstones, bandages, and similar items can be of great help.
Addendum II: Crowd Control
Crowd Control is the direct opposite to damage dealing. Its the act of preventing damage by keeping something under your direct control. Its like running up to an enemy and screaming STOP, IN THE NAME OF THE KING, AND WAIT FOR US TO KILL YOUR FRIENDS! It has the unique advantage of making many pure DPS classes attractive in a group since they bring the ability to stop large swaths of damage during certain pulls and encounters.
Using Crowd Control can either help, hurt, or do nothing to your DPS but it is always important to do it nevertheless. A Rogue with Sap will not suffer based on the fact that its done out of combat while a Mage will have to take the time out of casting their death dealing magic to reuse Polymorph on an enemy. Shadow Priests have the unique ability Mind Control which lets them take over certain enemies and utilize their spells instead of their own. This can either do massive damage, provide powerful debuffs/buffs, allow a Shadow Priest to do large amounts of healing, or just take an enemy out of combat for a while.
Addendum III: Resource Management
In Chapter II we talk at length about how you should use all of your resources as fast as possible, which is true. Mana, Energy, Runes, Focus, and Runic Power all act as liquid DPS that is sitting waiting to be used to deal damage to the enemy. When youre out then you either do nothing but white damage for Melee and Hunters or do nothing but wand damage for casters (which is rather poor). In some encounters it becomes very important to save some of your resources for interrupts, whenever an enemy is weaker, a large wave of adds, or for Heroism/Bloodlust/Time Warp/etc.
So it may be important for you to start being a bit more aware of your current resources and adjust your rotation/priority list to insure youre capable of continuing to DPS whenever its important. Resource recovery abilities shouldnt be saved for when youre almost out, use them whenever you will not overuse them. Say if something restores 30% of your mana then it may be a good idea to use it when youre nearing half. That way the cooldown starts earlier and you may get a second use out of it in the same fight.
The only exception to this is Hunters and Rogues, who should still keep an eye on their resources, but understand that they have a bit more freedom to work with. Instead of trying to manage how much you use and how often you use it, you have to do a bit more planning ahead understanding how your resources regenerate and when you'll have enough to use your next ability.
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