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Damage dealers, as the name implies, are players who are responsible for dealing damage in the group. It is almost always abbreviated as DPS (Damage per second) or DPSer in-game. All of the ten classes can play as DPS with the right spec in the right gear. Their importance should not be neglected because without reasonable DPS it may take a long time to kill the mobs. The difference between good DPS and bad DPS is the most obviously seen in encounters where the mobs must be killed within a certain time for various reasons.
As mentioned above, all of the ten classes can be DPS. Among these, four classes are exclusively pure damage dealers no matter which specs they choose: hunter, mage, rogue, and warlock. Nevertheless, each of their specs has different damage dealing potential and function, so it is still important for players of those classes to choose the right specs.
Of the remaining six classes, they can be DPS with the right specs: shadow priest, balance/feral druid, elemental/enhancement shaman, fury/arms warrior, retribution paladin, windwalker monk and death knight of any spec with dps talents.
Types of DPS
- Caster: Most of their damage is spell damage: mage, warlock, shadow/discipline priest, balance druid, and elemental shaman.
- Melee: Most of their damage is physical damage dealt within melee range: rogue, fury/arms warrior, retribution paladin, enhancement shaman, feral druid, windwalker monk and death knight.
- Ranged: Most of their damage is physical damage dealt from a distance: hunter.
For the sake of simplicity, hunters and casters are often collectively called ranged DPS in contrast to melee DPS. It is not necessary for casters to stay at range during a fight, although it is usually advisable to do so.
Primary function of DPS
The primary function of DPS is dealing damage to the mobs. Good damage dealers help the group to run smoothly by killing the mobs in a short time. Running instances with a group full of bad DPS means prolonged time will be needed for the fighting and completing the instances. The risk of the need to deal with respawn will also be higher. Besides, prolonged fighting increases the risk of the healers becoming out of mana, resulting in wipe of the party. Furthermore, some boss encounters must be completed within a certain period of time before the bosses enrage (e.g. Mechano-Lord Capacitus, Netherspite), and some encounters will become harder and harder to handle as the fights go on (e.g. Kargath Bladefist, Gruul). If the rate of damage output is too low in these situations, the party is going to wipe when the bosses enrage or the bosses/adds are too difficult to handle eventually.
Secondary Functions of DPS
Many DPS classes can also perform secondary functions in the group:
- Crowd Control: Some of the DPS classes have good crowd control abilities, such as Sheep, Freezing Trap, Sap, Seduce, Hibernate, etc.
- Off tanking: Ideally, the tank should be tanking the mobs that need to be killed first and everything else are crowd controlled. However, sometimes the CC'ed mobs break free prematurely, or someone aggros adds. Those mobs should be CC'ed or picked up by the tank immediately but if that is not possible, DPS with high armor or avoidance should try to get aggro from them, so that they will not kill the healers in two hits.
- Healing: Normally, healing is exclusively the job of the healers. However, if the healers are killed, or the healers cannot keep up with all the healing job due to exceptionally high damage or AOE damage from the mobs, the DPS classes that can heal should help healing in order to save the party from a wipe.
- Dispelling: There are numerous mobs in the game that can cast debuff on the players. Some of them can be fatal if not removed immediately (e.g. Maiden of Virtue's Holy Fire). De-cursing becomes the top priority for the healers and DPS in such encounters, before healing and dealing damage respectively.
- Buff/debuffing: Alongside those longer buffs such as Fortitude or Blessing of Kings that should be casted before the fight, some DPS classes have beneficial buffs to the party during fight, such as shamans' various totems, beast mastery hunters' Ferocious Inspiration, etc. Some classes can cast debuffs on mobs to weaken them or increase the damage they receive. Warlocks' various curses, warriors' Thunder Clap and Demoralizing Shout, and retribution paladins' Heart of the Crusader are some examples.
- Mana Regeneration: shadow priests are famous for their mana regeneration ability Vampiric Touch to mana users in the party. Having a shadow priest in the group means there will be less down time for drinking. Survival hunters' Hunting Party is another group mana regeneration talent added in WotLK. Paladins' Judgement of Wisdom and shamans' Mana Spring Totem also help the group's mana regeneration but to a much lower extent.
- Pulling: Hunters' Misdirection is a great skill in raid. It gives a good initial preload of threat to the tanks. Furthermore, in some encounters, it allows the tanks to stay at their desired tanking position and the hunters can misdirect the mobs straight to them. This makes some difficult pulling, like that of High King Maulgar fight becomes much easier.
In conclusion, dealing damage is unquestionably the primary job of DPS in group. However, their secondary functions should not be forgotten. No matter how good their damage output is, a hunter who does not know how to trap or misdirect, or a mage who always forgets to re-sheep does not deserve a spot in a raid.
Improving Damage Output
Despite the fact that damage dealing is the primary job of a DPS class, people who join PUGs a lot, or join casual guild raids, know there are a lot of damage dealers with low damage output. Despite this, it is very easy (and common) for the DPS as well as their groupmates to be unaware of their poor performance. In a 5-man instance group there are (usually) three DPS. If the other two DPS are doing excellent job, the group can still clear the instance without any problem. (The same is true in 10-man or 25-man raids. The low damage output of an individual is not easy to notice, unless someone has damage measuring addons installed (e.g. Recount (Addon), etc.). Any DPS who care about their own performance, as well as the raid leaders who want to check the performance of everyone should have at least one of those addons installed.
Nevertheless, the interpretation of the result of those addons should be careful. Depending on the design of the addons, damage output can be underestimated significantly. For example, if the addon does not record pet damage of a beast mastery hunter, his reading can easily drop to the last of the DPS, despite the fact that he and his pet may have actually done the most damage. Moreover, some classes/specs are not meant to do as high damage as the others, yet they are still valuable to the group for their utility (e.g. Replenishment, raid-wide damage enhancements, debuffs on mobs).
In order to monitor damage output it is important to install one of these addons to see how one is doing and what sort of improvements are working. There are many things a DPS can do to increase damage output:
Hybrid classes need to focus their talent points on talents that helps their job as damage dealers. Even for the four pure DPS classes, some talents are good for PvP but useless in PvE. You can refer to the individual class guides for optimized talent builds. Inspecting the talent builds of more experienced players, or asking for the others' criticism of your build on the class forums are also useful.
By itemization, it does not mean trying your best to get yourselves more epic gear. It means the way you gear up yourselves. For example, I have two chest pieces of the same quality and similar item level. Which one will give me more damage improvement? What should I enchant/gem it with to give the best outcome? Such questions are frequently ignored by new players, as they usually think they will be better once they have more epic gear. This is only partially true. It is possible that an epic gear does not have the best stats for damage, so a good blue gear concentrated on damage stats will be a better choice. It is even harder to decide when both of the items are epic from sources of similar level. In that case, knowing the damage stats priority of individual is important.
- Main article: Spell hit
It is EXTREMELY common to see new or casual-player casters neglecting the most valuable damage stat: hit rating. For any casters joining raids, their spells have 17% chance to miss the bosses (i.e. level-based misses as bosses are always treated as 3 levels above the player, not elemental resists). 17% of extra hit from talents and gear is needed before reaching the "hit cap". Hit rating is normally the most valuable damage stat because each point of hit rating produces more increase in overall damage than each point of critical strike rating or spell power before the hit cap. (As a side note, DPS classes usually should max accessible talents that improve the hit chance of their primary type(s) of damage, unless they have very good gear that provides enough hit, or a talent budget is so tight that you need to sacrifice hit talents for other vital talents.)
For casters with zero extra hit chance from talents, 447 hit rating is needed to reach the hit cap at level 80. This is very unlikely for any newly level 80 players to reach such value. Fortunately, most DPS classes have talents that improve their hit chance. For example, a mage's Elemental Precision provides 3% to hit with frost/fire spells, so they only need 368 hit rating to reach the cap. Draenei fire/frost mages' Inspiring Presence (racial trait) and Elemental Precision give them 4% hit chance altogether. Therefore, only 342 hit rating is needed to reach the cap.
After the hit cap is reached, generally haste rating, spell power, and critical strike rating are the stats to stack next. Intellect indirectly improves damage output by increasing spell critical rate. Also, with certain class talents such as Mind Mastery or Spiritual Guidance, intellect or spirit can also increase spell power. Which one of the above is more important depends on the class and spec in question. Please refer to the respective class guides for details. Spell penetration is normally not very useful in PvE.
For DPS classes dealing mainly physical damage, weapon is the most important determinant of the damage output. First of all, you need to make sure you have the correct type of weapon! Rogues are always dual-wield. Those invested heavily in Assassination Tree want daggers, while combat rogues usually use swords or fist weapons according to which weapon they are specialized at. Arms warriors usually use 2-hand weapons they specialized at and fury warriors dual wield. (Note: mace specialization of both rogue and warrior is for PvP in general, so PvE players normally do not spec it.) Ranged weapons for rogues and warriors are mainly chosen for their stats, so any ranged weapon with good damage stats will do. Enhancement shamans typically dual-wield because it gives much better damage output than using 2-hand weapons. Retribution paladins will be fine with any 2-hand weapons. For hunters, any bows, crossbows or guns will do. Their melee weapons are chosen for their stats. Generally, the overall stats of a 2-hand weapon are better than the sum of two 1-hand weapons. Death knights can use 2-hand weapon or dual-wield for damage dealing depending on their specs. Lastly, humans, dwarves, orcs and trolls have some small benefit from their racial trait for specific types of weapon.
Having chosen the right type of weapon, the next step is to look at the details of the weapons. Damage per second (dps) of the weapon is usually the most important factor. However, some specs benefit more from faster weapons, while others need slower weapons. Besides, for dual-wielders, it is preferable to use the one with higher dps with the preferred speed on mainhand. If both weapons have similar dps and speed, the one with proc should be mainhand and the one with only +stats offhand.
Concerning other stats of weapon as well as other gear, expertise rating, hit rating, armor penetration, haste rating, critical strike rating and attack power (and ranged attack power for hunters) are all important. Some classes/specs also need strength and/or agility. Their priority of important is different for different classes/specs, some of those still remain controversial. Therefore, please refer to the specific classes guides or forums for details.
There are at least five to six damaging skills for each DPS classes/specs. If one only uses those skills randomly or in a suboptimal order, he is probably doing lower overall damage than his full potential. Every class/spec have their own optimal attack/spell rotation. For example, a fire mage spell rotation against bosses is typically: Scorch x 5 > Fireball x 7-8 > Scorch x 1 > repeat Fireball and Scorch. For a beast mastery hunter with attack speed of 2.0 or less, simply spamming Steady Shot and refleshing Serpent Sting occasionally is enough. On the other hand, marksmanship hunters need to add Chimera Shot in their rotation to produce the maximum dps.
Positioning is very important for melee classes but unfortunately many new players do not know this. Melee DPS should attack from the back of the mobs whenever possible. It is because the mobs cannot parry or block attacks coming from their back. Besides, it also helps your tanks because if you attack from the front and the mobs parry, their next attack will be faster. During boss fights, if several melee DPS attack from the front, the combined increase in boss damage to the tanks can be significant! It should be noted that when fighting bosses with the ability tail sweep, typical those dragon bosses, people who stand directly behind the tail of the boss will be hit frequently by the ability. Fortunately, you are considered as "attacking from back" as long as you are within the 180 degree half circle behind the bosses, so when fighting those tail sweeping bosses, melee DPS can safely attack the bosses standing at left or right side of the tail.
For caster/ranged DPS, usually staying out of melee range is advised. This not only helps to reduce the chance of being affected by the mobs' AOE abilities, but also potentially improves damage output. The reason is a player in melee range will pull aggro from tank when his threat is greater than 110% of the tank, while one outside melee range will need more than 130% of the tank's threat to pull the boss. See next subsection for how threat can affect damage output.
The above few subsections only talk about the potential damage output possible in theory. In reality, this can be limited by another important factor: threat. All the damaging abilities generate threat. If the threat produced by a DPS is so high, the mob will turn to attack that DPS instead of the tank. Aggroing the mob from the tanks must be avoided as much as possible, as this frequently means death of that DPS. Even if the healers can spam healing to keep that DPS alive, they will need to spend a lot more mana doing so. Without any help to reduce threat generation, out-threating the tank will be common, which means the DPS will need to reduce their damage output or even hold back their attack in order to avoid this.
Fortunately, DPS classes have many passive talents as well as active abilities to reduce threat generation. Usually it is good to max the passive talents that reduce threat generation of your primary damaging abilities. For active abilities, some remove the players from mobs' aggro list temporarily (e.g. Divine Shield, Blessing of Protection), some reduce the players' threat temporarily (e.g. Fade) and some reduce threat permanently (e.g. Feign Death, Vanish, Invisibility, Soulshatter, Feint, Cower). Those temporary abilities should only be used when the DPS players have already aggroed.
On the other hand, classes with permanent threat reduction abilities can use them immediately when aggroed, but during boss fight, it is more preferable to use them before drawing aggro. In the old time, when to use them was mainly guess work. Now we have a few addons that give fairly accurate estimation of the threat generated by everyone: Omen or KLH Threat Meter. During boss fights, rogues, mages and warlocks should watch the threat meter closely and cast Vanish, Invisibility and Soulshatter respectively when their threat is high. With the best threat reduction talent in the game, hunters may want to use Feign Death earlier and whenever its cooldown ends, until it is certain that the threat will not catch up with that of the tanks for the rest of the fight. For the rest who do not have any of the above threat reduction abilities, temporarily lowering the damage output when the threat is high is the only choice.
Lastly, as mentioned in the last subsection, caster/ranged DPS should try to stay out of melee range whenever possible so that they will not pull aggro unless their threat is more than 130% of that of the tanks (compared with 110% if within melee range).
Mana management is important for mana-using DPS classes. Mana should not be a problem during trashing clearing if you ensure good amount of mana before every pull. However, during long boss fights, running out of mana (oom) can be a problem. The damage output of most of the mana-using DPS classes drops drastically when oom, so we should try to avoid this. Use abilities like Evocation or Aspect of the Viper when needed. Always bring some mana potions to boss fights. Having a reasonable amount of mp5 (or spirit for some classes) from the gear is important. How much is enough varies among classes and specs. You will probably need some trial and error before finding out the amount you need.
A dead DPS produces zero damage. To maximize your total damage output, the important of staying alive cannot be emphasized enough.
First of all, make sure you have reasonable health for the particular fight. This is especially important for fights that everyone is certain to receive some damage (e.g. Shade of Aran fight).
Second, walk out of danger ASAP. Many bosses have AOE abilities that do high damage (e.g. Keli'dan the Breaker) or cause instant death (e.g. Prince Malchezaar's Enfeeble and the AOE followed). Melee (and sometimes caster/ranged) DPS need to learn what emote/debuff to look for and run out immediately. There are also many fights that circles of damaging zone forms under the feet of random players regularly (e.g. Grand Warlock Nethekurse, Nightbane). Make sure you run out of it right away, even if this means canceling a spell you are casting.
Third, don't be cheap and drink a healing potion if your health goes too low. Sometimes your healers maybe busy enough at healing the tank, so use your bandage as well if you know you are not getting any healing soon. Hybrid DPS such as Enhancement/Elemental Shamans or Retribution Paladins should also heal themselves if possible, both for survivability as well as eliminating the risk that the healer draws aggro from casting a heal on you.
Although not much can be done for a 5-man instance group, synergy between different classes in raid can produce significant improvement in performance. For example, melee DPS love to have a enhancement shaman inside their group because of the Windfury Totem; Balance druids (moonkins) have an aura that gives 5% increase in spell critical chance to group members. Concerning the whole raid, if there are a lot of mana-using DPS, having a shadow priest help a lot with mana regeneration; if the group is melee heavy, warrior's Sunder Armor or rogue's Expose Armor debuff helps a lot.
Above is just a general overview of DPS classes. For details about specific classes/specs or specific fights, please refer to the respective articles or forums.
- Now it is so easy to collect a full epic set by grinding battlegrounds, it is not uncommon to see people raiding in PvP gear. Although PvP epics are usually better than their blue counterparts, they usually spent a lot of item points on stamina and resilience, so the damage stats may not be as good as the PvE epic counterparts. Furthermore, the PvP epics typically lack in mana regeneration stats, so mana users in full PvP gear may find themselves oom frequently, especially during prolonged boss fights.
- There are many fights that AOE damage is important, such as Shattered Halls gauntlet event, or Jan'alai. Mages and warlocks are the best AOE DPS. Several other classes also have AOE damage skills but the effectiveness is lower. Group/raid leaders should bear this in mind when picking DPS for a fight known to require heavy AOE. Hunters and Balance Druids also have pretty good AOE attacks.
- Although not strictly necessary for DPS, it is better for you to have read something about the fight before you attempt it. This gives you some idea of what to expect as well as tips to handle them.