Basic Raid Strategies - The Complete Guide

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Many players raid or aspire to raid in World of Warcraft since it is viewed as the reason to get to the endgame in an MMO. To be successful in a raid as a player you need a few prerequisites such as gear, coordination, and an understanding of the basic strategies and tactics used in a fight. While many players use the terms Tactics and Strategy to mean the same thing, and really they are very close in meaning, there are some differences. Before going further letÂ’s take a look at how I define tactics and strategies.

Realize up front that when I say that everyone uses the terms interchangeably, I mean even myself. Notice that almost all the guides out there for raid boss fights are called Boss Strategies? That is because of the similarity in definition and in most cases they can be used interchangeably. For this discussion though I want to get specific.

Both words come from a military background can be summed up as follows:

Strategies – Based on the General, and referring to the overall goal.  The “what” that needs to be accomplished.

Tactics – Based on arranging for, maneuvering during, and fighting specific battles. The “how” to win a given situation.

Therefore when referring to strategies they are more of an overall view of things, the basic overall plan used to achieve a goal. Tactics will vary on a fight-by-fight basis as they change depending on the individual boss’s abilities and mechanics. This means that really when we are talking about boss strategies they should be called boss tactics since they are an example of a well defined “how” to deal with a single fight.

So knowing all of that, when you look at raiding there are actually a very limited number of overall strategies used, and they tend to be very similar from encounter to encounter. This occurs because the number of possible “what’s” you need to accomplish is very limed, in that there are not that many different strategies to work from. Which are used will depend on the boss and its abilities but then that becomes the tactics of the fight.

A great little write-up about the differences can be found here: The Major Differences Between Strategies and Tactics, and How to Avoid the Risk of Interchanging Them. It is by Tom Varjan and talks about them in a business sense, but demonstrates the differences and ideas very well.

Back to the main point now, many players get into raiding and may not even have a basic understanding of what they should be watching for in a raid. What can make this even worse in WoW is that there are a large number of players that started raiding in the WotLK expansion that learned to raid through brute force and overpowering encounters. There are also those players that are just starting to raid that do not know the basic strategies used for raiding simply because they have not raided in the past. Lastly, there are seasoned raiders that can probably explain every single tactic for each individual boss in the game in detail.

No matter where you fit in, beginner – WotLK overpower – Raid Veteran, a refresh of the basic raid strategies used in World of Warcraft is a good idea every once in a while. In fact the basic strategies found here can be used in almost any MMOG since they tend to be extremely similar from game to game, with only fine details changing the exact tactics you need to use in a fight based on the boss or the game you are dealing with


Basic Strategies

Before going into the basic strategies for raiding, there is one overall thing that needs to be kept in mind.

Many players get so focused on what they are currently doing whether that is tanking, healing, or DPSÂ’ing, that they forget to watch what is going on around them. While being able to focus on a task is a great ability, doing so in a raid very quickly means your death. Pretty much every strategy revolves around you actually paying attention to the environment and having good situational awareness and reacting quickly to changes around you.

Remember that no matter what role you fill in a group, when you are dead you are not filling it. DPS players especially need to remember this as they have the worst reputation of any class type of trying to stack fight statistics (DPS numbers) instead of moving to avoid incoming damage or effects. Dead = 0 DPS!

[protip]

Assist

While this is not unique to Raiding, far too few players actually use it. When doing any fight as DPS you really should not select your own target, it leads to the possibility of hitting an incorrect target and pulling aggro. Instead what you should do is create a macro that picks up a target from either your tank or defined main assist player, which really depends on your group's preference.

A common assist macro that I use for my Hunter is as follows:

/assist PlayerName
/script AttackTarget();
/script PetAttack();

For players without pets you can simply remove the last line, and for players that are casters you should add a /cast SpellName line.

You could also change up the first line to /assist focus, however I like using focus for other things in the game and donÂ’t want to tie it down to just setting my assist target. If I did that then it would not be as simple to keep traps, slows, or other debuffs up on a secondary target.[/protip]


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DonÂ’t Stand in the Fire!

This is so basic I shouldn’t even have to mention it. Yet, for some reason I do. In many fights there will be some form of Area Of Effect (AOE) damage that can either severely hurt or outright kill players off. Traditionally this is in the form of areas of burning flame, however it can also be void zones of shadow damage, freezing cold areas, or even areas marked where rocks are falling from the ceiling. Basically anything that has a marked AOE on the ground that can cause damage to players standing in it, can be referred to by the “Get out of the fire!” strategy.

No matter the exact type of damage being caused these types of effects generally appear in two ways. In the case of lingering fire type effects they spawn on a point and start ticking for damage very shortly after on anyone that remains in the AOE. For the full damage effects the spot they will appear and then a few seconds later when the damage effect occurs, rocks falling from the ceiling for example, anyone standing there will suffer a huge amount of damage all at once.

So, the very simple strategy and rule is: DonÂ’t stand in the Fire!

Positioning

Positioning in a raid fight is often critical.  It is a fairly big basic strategy though and involves talking about many different sub components, therefore for this section we will just focus on position in the bosses room or relevant to the boss and deal with other types of positioning separately later on.

First up is position relevant to a boss.  The basics here are making sure that if you are a tank you are in front of the boss so it can beat on you (big surprise, eh?), if you are DPS you are generally behind the boss, and if you are healing you are someplace safe. 

DPS should almost always be behind a boss for a few reasons, the first being to remove the bosses chance to parry your attacks and the second being to avoid cleave and frontal cone damage.  This holds true on most bosses, however you need to be aware of bosses with rear effects such as dragons and their tail attacks or bosses that can turn to face and launch cleave or AOE attacks.  For these types of bosses you either spread out around them, or stand to their side.

Next up positioning in the bosses room plays a big role in many fights.  To understand the positioning required for each boss an understanding of the specific tactics for that boss are required.  Some simple basic overall strategies however are as follows:

  • For bosses with knock backs the tank should plant against a wall or pillar.
  • For bosses with LOS effects you should stay near a corner or pillar.
  • For bosses that summon adds the off tank needs to position between the add spawn point and the healers.
  • For multiple boss encounters they generally need to be separated to be dealt with, so preset locations help.  Healers should position between the multiple tanks. 

One extremely helpful tool for dealing with positions in a room is the Raid Mark tool.  A raid leader can help everyone out by marking the locations in a room where players of each type are expected to stand.  This is useful for all players but especially for new raiders, or raiders new to a specific fight.


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Line of Sight (LOS)

This is an extension on the position types talked about above.  There are many fights that have an LOS component to them that need to be dealt with. 

The first very common LOS effect is a long cast time nuke that kills anyone that is still in LOS of the boss when it finishes being cast.  The other common LOS effect is a shorter cast time effect that freezes, debuffs, or traps anyone left in LOS of the boss when the ability is finished being cast.  Both are generally deadly to the raid and must be avoided at all costs.

To avoid these effects players need to be aware of all the elements in the environment that can break LOS to the boss.  This could be corners in the room, pillars, or even summoned elements such as ice blocks or giant rocks. 

The overall strategy here is that the tank should position the boss in such a way as to ensure everyone can gain access to a LOS breaking element.  DPS and healers have the responsibility of finding and getting behind these elements in time each and every time a LOS effect is cast.

Group Positioning

The position of the group relative to everyone else in the group is another positional based strategy that has subcomponents.  The two basic group structures are collapsed and dispersed, although dispersed is generally called spread out since itÂ’s easier to get people to acknowledge a yell to “Spread out!” over vent.

Collapsed

At many times in boss encounters it is required that players collapse into a tight group.  When a group is collapsed it allows the group to do a few things better than when they are spaced out.  For example it is easier for a tank to use their AOE taunt to get aggro on a large number of adds that have spawned, it allows for more effective AOE healing, AOE damage, and to get everyone out of or into an effect all at once.

While many times a collapse is called for to get everyone close together for AOE or adds it can also be called for due to boss mechanics.  Collapses are also very often required due to environmental effects such as waves of fire, collapsing roofs, or other AOE effects. 

Grouping up in this way also has some serious downsides, such as having the whole raid nuked all at once by a boss or environmental ability.  Therefore most collapses are to set positions, or onto a set player (usually the tank or a healer), and then very quickly afterwards the group reverts to itÂ’s former positioning.

Dispersed (Spread Out)

The opposite of a collapse is a dispersal of players.  This is where players need to spread out to a certain distance from each other to avoid damage or debuff effects.  There are some common distances that you need to be away from another player such as 10 or 15 yards, although different fights have different measurements. 

Dispersal (or spreading out) is used in any encounter where there is proximity based damage or debuffs.  For example a DOT that hits the player and anyone nearby, or a slow debuff that spreads to anyone within a certain range.  Another example is a chain lightning type ability that hits a target for damage and then continues to bounce to anyone in range after them.  Sometimes these effects are mild, sometimes being caught in them can cause a certain wipe.  On first encountering this type of effect, be cautious as even mild damage can quickly run your healers out of mana.

It is important to learn how distance is displayed in WoW so that you have a rough idea of how far apart you are from a player.  The easiest way it to find one of your abilities that has a short range, like 10 yards, and move around a target dummy or a player and learn where that distance is.  You can also get several different add-ons that grey out playerÂ’s frames when they are outside a preset distance, but it is important to learn a rough measure of distance for yourself as well.

[protip]Another very common time for collapse is when a boss is stunned or subjected to extra damage.  By getting everyone in close quickly raids are able to put out maximum damage as fast as possible on the boss.
The same applies for dispersal when a boss does an AOE ability.  Players that are in melee range need to quickly disperse away from the boss to avoid taking as much damage as possible. [/protip]


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Kiteing

While not a common strategy any more, this was one of my favourites and worth mentioning in case it makes a come back.  There were several fights where either ADDs or a boss, usually in the case of multi-boss encounters, had to be run around to avoid big hits or debuffs. 

Kiting involves making sure that a player has aggro on a boss or add and then keeping far enough away from them to avoid being hit.  This usually means that players need to coordinate slow effects such as traps, hamstrings, and more to keep the target slowed enough that the kiting player can stay ahead.

My personal favourite kiting encounter was the Gluth fight in Naxxramas, back in WotLK.  In this fight players had to aggro and kite the Zombie Chow around the room so that Gluth couldnÂ’t eat them to gain health and so that the tank did not get hit and suffer the Inflicted Wound debuff.  These types of fights are entertaining and challenging as they often have non-tank players fulfilling tank like roles and providing additional challenges to them.

Aggro Swapping

Some fights require that two players, generally two tanks, swap aggro back and forth.  The more complicated fights that involve this even make you do it without taunts by making the bosses immune to taunts. 

When boss abilities or debuffs stack and make an encounter seem impossible to finish without a tank being killed, it more than likely means that a tank swap is required.  Some effects that necessitate this are healing debuffs such as a stacking -25% healing received, or an armour debuff such as -50% armour, but there are many others as well.
Players need to watch for the debuffs and react accordingly, having a second tank either right behind the main tank in aggro, or having a taunt available depending on the boss mechanics. 

There are even some fights that can occasionally involve a DPS pulling aggro and switching to a kite mechanic while the tanks debuff clears.  There have even been a few where it was possible for two ranged DPS players to essentially “tank” a boss by trading aggro at range and never letting the boss get to either one, essentially playing ping pong with boss aggro.


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Kill Order

This applies for any encounter where there are multiple bosses or where there are adds to deal with.  Establishing kill orders are critical so that players stay on the correct target at the right time. 

The kill order will be determined by the raid leader and marked appropriately however there are some common conventions that are used, so watch for them.  If you are unsure always ask!

The most common Kill Order / CC Marking System is generally:

Skull – First Kill
X – Second Kill
Circle – Sap (Third Kill)
Square – Trap (Fourth Kill)
Triangle – Druid Root or Shaman Hex (Fifth Kill)
Diamond – Warlock Banish (Sixth Kill)
Moon – Sheep (Last Kill)

While the above is not universal it is very commonly accepted standard.  The order is also fairly standard as you will want the CC that is not re-usable cleaned up first and the ones that can be reapplied with as little difficulty as possible kept up the longest.  While the CC component is generally not needed in a raid at a boss fight, the marks are used to determine kill order the same as they would be in 5 player content or for trash pulls, just so that there is little confusion and not two marking standards.

Add-ons

Add-ons are a so common in WoW that they have to be considered a raid strategy all by them selves.    While there are more add-ons that you could use than I can talk about here, there are very few that I require a necessity, most are just nice to haves.

The ones that every raider needs to have installed are as follows: Deadly Boss Mods (DBM), a threat meter such as Omen, Decursive if they can remove debuffs, a voice chat utility like Ventrilo, and of course PlayerScore if you are pugging a few players.

The reasoning for the above should be pretty self explanatory to established raiders, but is not always clear to new raiders. 

DBM is required so that you are notified about effects and mechanics in the fight that you may miss.  It doesnÂ’t really tell you much that you can not watch for yourself, but when new to a fight, a reminder is very helpful as you tend to be busy and flustered trying to learn the fight and not paying as much attention to little things as you should.

Omen is required so that you know where on the threat list you are and when you should lower your threat if you are DPS, or when to try and boost it if you are a tank.  Decursive is a must if you can remove debuffs even if you are not the healer, just so that you can help out whenever required.  Sometimes a healer will get behind, and the choice is remove a debuff or heal the tank, at those times you can help out and potentially save a wipe.

Notice how a DPS meter isnÂ’t listed?  While your DPS as a damage dealer is important, it is not critical when starting to raid.  Much more critical is knowing what you are doing in the fight and living through it or until the group wipes.  Focussing on your DPS during a fight that you are learning is a recipe for disaster.  If you must know your DPS run a parser on your log after you are done with the raid, or have an experienced raider in the group let you know how you did after the run.

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The Last Word on Raid Strategies

Remember that everything talked about here is considered basic raid strategy.  These are the things that are common between many different fights and that players should always try to remember.  Even though most fights are fairly complicated, they tend to be based around these very simple basic strategies.  They are just put together and combined in various different ways to create different effects.  Combine these basic strategies with the numerous and varied boss and environmental abilities that cause you to require to use them and there are innumerable specific boss tactics (or boss strategies) that need to be employed.

By understanding the basic strategies first, it makes it far easier to break down any new fight no matter how simple or complicated to its base components.  Once you understand the base components then you can start looking at and adjusting to the more complicated mechanics that are specific to the fight.

This process is what all the top raiders in any game do when they are trying to beat an encounter that there are no published strategies for yet.  They start the encounter, look at and record the abilities used and what is happening in the environment, and then start trying to fit together the basic strategies that make seem to fit in and make sense.  They then try the fight over and over again, refining the basic strategies down to specific boss tactics over time.
In fact that exercise is something I suggest ALL raiders do at some point in their time raiding.  As a group decide that no one will look up any information on a set boss or raid.  Then work your way through learning the fight with no help at all.  Sure, it can be frustrating after being spoon fed for so long.  Sure, you wonÂ’t down many bosses on the first night. However, you and your group will learn a ton about how strategies and tactics work, and how to adjust to different situations. 

Doing this “learn the hard way” method will make the whole group far better as players and allow you to complete new encounters far easier later on, because you will be able to understand more about the suggested strategies and tactics you read about for that new boss, since you have gone through learning by experience yourself.  Better yet, when you read a new strategy or tactic you will be far more likely to be able to adjust and do something different when it just doesnÂ’t seem to be working or doesnÂ’t seem to be the right thing to do. 

Remember also that many times when a new raid comes out, the available strategies and tactics available are from the PTR or Beta servers.  The fight may have changed substantially since then due to tuning by Blizzard.  Also the fights that are talked about from PTR have far less known about them since fewer players complete them, so there is a bigger chance something was missed or misunderstood.  Learning to second guess written information and adapt to what feels right, or works better, is a great ability to have.


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