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WoW: The DPS Guide to Instances and Raids

Updated Fri, Jan 14, 2011 by Xerin

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. We’re going to go into every detail you need to know which will help you outperform everyone else even if your gear isn’t 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 it’s 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 you’re out of range then you will automatically do 0 DPS.

Let’s use a scenario in order to flesh out the concept a little bit better.

Say you’re in a group or raid that’s 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 you’re a melee class and do not follow the tank while he’s moving the boss then you’re going to do 0 DPS during the duration of the move because you’re out of melee range. Likewise, if you’re a ranged class and the boss moves out of your range then you’re going to be doing 0 DPS as well. Ranged DPS classes also have the problem where they can’t 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 AoE’d to death while melee can keep moving and as long as they’re within range it won’t 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 they’ll move forward and pull another pack before the current one is dead. That’s because they assume it’ll be finished off before they reach the next pack. In scenarios like this you don’t 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 inactive in some fights hurts everyone, especially in high level content.
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. You’ll 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. That’s why you will always want to be casting, attacking or button mashing no matter what.

You may be scared that you’ll 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 it’s 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 you’re at your Energy cap (normally 100, but this can be extended with talents). If your Energy regen is being wasted then you’re 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 you’re 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 you’re going to use. That way the ability triggers the second you’re capable of using it. If you use channeled spells like the Shadow Priest’s 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) That’s 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 that’s designed to be absorbed only by the tank.

However, you shouldn’t fret if you’re 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 it’s unavoidable then it’s the healer’s job to deal with it, not yours. Unless you’re about to die in which case it’s 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 it’s always best to attack from behind. That is unless there isn’t a behind to attack from (like Kologarn) which is why you have Expertise.

As discussed earlier, for ranged you’re going to want to stay in a spot where you’re close enough that minor movement of the boss isn’t going to shove him out of range but also far enough away that you’re not going to get cleaved or hit with any kind of close up AoE that bosses do.

Chapter IV: Hotkeys & Reaction Time

In heroics the bar is set much lower, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't do your best.

I’m going to be honest to you; a lot of DPS can be lost to reaction time. Let’s say you need to mash Ice Block within the next 2 seconds or you’re dead. You’re pretty much going to die on the next hit and the tank isn’t going to make it to save you in time. If you take too long to hit your survival button then you’re 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.

I’m 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, I’m 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 don’t 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 they’re 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 you’re 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 you’re 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 don’t use your skills in a proper combo with one another then you’re going to be really ineffective in combat. Everything we’ve 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.

It’s equally important that you also learn how to become flexible with your rotation once you’re 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 you’re 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 it’s applied then you’d 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.


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