Last Friday my guild kindof disbanded, the word being passed around was that we accidentally disbanded, the MT got drunk, logged on the GMs account and disbanded us because someone said he couldn't. Its a great story, but alas untrue, in truth we disbanded due to a hiccup in progress, a stalling and recruiting phase which disappointed some of the truly hardcore raiders, in response the GM disbanded the guild to allow them to move on to where they wanted to be without feeling a loyalty to the guild was holding them back, he sacrificed himself and the guild to allow the players to make a choice.
We attempted to reform a little, however the number of people remaining with the intent to raid was low, and those we could recruit would not allow us to return to Black Temple, instead we were struggling in Zul'aman, an instance we farmed for Bears. The guild started again to lose people, even those who wanted to stay, to make it work couldn't see the point in time where we could raid again before WoTLK.
So the guild basically ended fully, it still exists, and in Wrath it may be revived hopefully, I know people want to push progress, to truly become a progression guild and to motivate ourselves to push onwards into content. For now however I was left guilded but effectively guildless, pugging Karazhan, so I made a hard choice, I decided to move servers, looking around I moved from Lightbringer, which has been my home for the last 15month or so to Silvermoon.
Being honest, I was kindof disappointed that the server was the same, moving and nothing changed, I even logged in in the same place I logged out, mentally I know the servers are identical, just the population is different, but I had deep down wanted something to be different.
What struck me though was that people were talking, I decided to be silly and say good evening in /2, of course the usual people making the "lulwut" jokes were there, but people said Hi back, and I got a few whispers, people running past would inspect me and wonder why I wasn't guilded at the moment. I even got whispers from a member of Silence (the #3 ranked guild on the server, sitting with KJ at 16%), we talked a bit and he suggested I apply even though undergeared, said it was possibly a hard sell but that I might stand a chance.
Its a hard choice to make, I left friends and people I have known for the last 15months to go and play on a different server, mostly because there was at the moment no place on Lightbringer for me, Protection Paladins, like a lot of Tanks, are in that unenviable position of being one or two in a guild, with the tank population of the top guilds on our server (we had 5 Guilds at 4/5 4/9 or beyond, only 3 in Sunwell) being stable there was really no chance to go anywhere. I like raiding, and while I could maybe pass the time till WoTLK doing not a lot, it seemed to me more likely that I would tire of the game and simply stop playing, after all if you aren't doing what you enjoy why bother doing it.
Silvermoon is an older server than Lightbringer, with a much higher population, rather than 5 Guilds there are 39, and several of them with Tank openings for BT and MH level content, heck even possibly Sunwell content, a place I really didn't think I would see before WoTLK even if I was lucky.
So is there something interesting about this?:
Yes, most definitely, the difference in server populations is huge, Lightbringer and Silvermoon are both classes as high population servers, yet on one there is a huge raiding population while on the other there is not. Comparing the differences in the economy, the type of player, and why we have what appears to be a raiding server vs a casual server, how this filters down through the rest of the population.
Perhaps its something Blizzard needs to look at, letting players know about the population of a server more than just Low, Medium and High, telling us what sort of people they are and how the end-game looks for those of us interested in it. Its an adventure in a new identical land, I get to see the differences between what appears to be a hardcore server and a casual one, and I get to start afresh. Its something that intrigues me if nothing else.
Do we care?:
Possibly not, but I wanted to say why I might not be having insightful posts about raiding for a bit, because I felts like I wanted to say something, and because maybe it will make a good series of posts. People have been lost between the Moon and New York City, well this time its my turn to be lost on a new server, and to try and find a home, some place I can have fun and enjoy the part of the game that appeals to me.
So like many bloggers, intersted people and the wider WoW community, I took the plunge and started referring accounts for the Refer a Friend program Blizzard just started. Or rather I referred a "friend" since I decided to dual (*ahem*) box multiple characters to level 60. The programme links together two accounts, one existing and one new for upto 90 days, during those days while partied (and within a few levels of each other) you gain certain bonuses, the bonus XP is lost at level 60, but only for those characters. You gain:
3x XP gained for Quests, kills while together, in a party and of similar level
10% extra XP gained from Kill reputation (rep for killing mobs)
In addition assuming you actually purchase the accounts fully (so you can get past the level 20 cap) and buy a months gameplay you get:
1 Month free on the referring account
1 Free Zhevra mount on the referring account
To make it more interesting, linked accounts, the referred person can donate 1 level for every 2 they make (so 29 levels total from 1 to 59) to promote one of the referring account's same faction, same server characters. This means if you level together you can promote a level 30.95 character to level 59.95 and ding 60 easily with a second character. The only limitation is you must be a higher level to do this, so if you want a 2nd level 60 you need to hit 60 together. Essentially this is designed to allow the referred player to keep the referrer up to date (since the referred player is likely to play their char, while you play your higher level character). Instead it can be used to power level characters easily.
Whats more interesting though is that you can do it multiple times, and you can count as your own friend. Yup, you can use this to effectively level with 3x XP for the duration of 90 days to boost characters. I am not going to get into the costs of it, since if you want to do this its likely a very minimal expense (for me doing 4 accounts its cost me effectively around the same as a weekend out, or a meal with friends at a nice restaurant). So I have a small army of Horde characters at the moment well on their way (level 40 inside a week, ~ 2 days played, far from a record but it is one for me :P), its let me see the other side, and get a good basis for exploring other classes.
What I do want to talk about is how it affects you, and what use it is, since it at first does seem like a big joke, its not accessible to new players without an experienced friend, nor is it open to recently opened accounts, has no in game equivalent etc. One thing I will say is just level, and log out in an inn, there are people talking about blowing your rested XP so you get "twice the rested XP", but rested XP is strictly worse than this RaF bonus, so just log out in an inn and build up the max rested bonus for level 60 when you hit Outlands.
What do I lose?:
You lose time, simply put you don't spend the time in an area to gain rep, you don't farm materials or kills, the normal things that keep you in cash and in gear are simply not on the time sheet for this type of play. If you are farming and suchlike you aren't maximising the effectiveness of this offer. You out level your gear very quickly, and you out level areas, assuming you are actually multi-boxing its a real pain to skip every gather quest that exists simply because doing it on multiple accounts is a time consuming nightmare.
What do I gain?:
You gain time, you can push 5 levels a night easily, 3-4 quests will level you up, you can push to 60 and Outlands very quickly, you will be undergeared, and likely under-professioned and poor, but these are easy to solve in a world where we regularly power level professions and characters. It gives you the chance to see those other classes, and the bonus levels let you skip large parts of the game on a 2nd character, so if you have a high level Paladin one side, and want to see a Priest on the other, level the Priest, then ding a Paladin up to give you an option.
This is hard, actually thats not quite true, you can set it up like I have and it is hard, most of my boxes are essentially damage dealers throwing one or two spells at my target, there is a lack of control for healing and precision. I suppose if I spent the time to get it setup fully and learned to multi-box properly I could solo instances with healer, tank and dps, however from my perspective the goal is to get to 60 (70) so that I can play, the multi-aspect of the levelling is a means to an end.
Of course it makes quests easy, you can challenge red quests, mobs that you should flee from, and win, but a real player can see that you have limited control and abuse this (we tried pvp, its hard to move multiple characters and avoid a really active movement fight). At least in my mind you are limited to PvE for the full experience. It does let you level the classes up quickly, and with sufficient referrers you can power level multiple other characters to 60, which for someone interested in trying other classes is a major bonus.
Mine has been simple, I have a friend helping me out, but essentially its the same strategy as if I was alone. We hit kill quests, travel quests and 1-2 item pickup quests, no gathers at all (so Arathi Highlands... just no), once we have the majority of quests done we move on (you quickly out level the area), we do orange and red quests if they are handy, otherwise they get left, we might come back to an area such as STV more than once.
So far its working, < 2 days played and 5x level 40 characters, typically this takes me 10days or so played because I grind a lot when solo. This really does encourage you to quest and to party up, simply its not worth the grind when you can be together, this is what partying up should be like (or perhaps slightly slower), to really encourage team play in the early game.
Does it work?:
Being honest, the program is probably a failure, its more open to existing repeat customers and multi-boxers, but as a test for a future way to level its brilliant. The game is going to have problems moving from 1-80, or 1-90, 1-100, by offering fast levelling (and tweaking quest XP) you can move quickly through the game, still learning your class (albeit being poor while you do it :P) and not be put off by "60 levels till you can even think about playing with friends".
Its probably not a response to open quests / groups, and it highlights the flaw of gather quests (perhaps gathers should really be n+n/5 per player so its slightly longer, but not 5x as long for a party to gather items), but it is a start. It makes grouping up worthwhile and it makes the whole process more viable.
So the future?:
Yes, I would like to see it, I would like to see open groups and quests a bit like LFG, encourage people to play and level together, encourage friends to stay together and to help that random guy. Make it inclusive, make it completely transparent to the player, no referring, or multi-boxing, but simply an encouragement to level this way. I think Blizzard may be smarter than many of us gave them credit for, as a test bed this is a great tool, they put into the world something thats limited and restricted, yet open to all, and the feedback they can get from it to make levelling easier is likely to help them in the future since they cannot neglect the old world unless they allow us to Death Knight all characters (level 55 start... yes please). If they did neglect it then why not just remove it, the old world has to be viable and useful for the world to make sense, so we must find challenges and ways to keep us in it.
Its long been a contentious issue, the difference between a hardcore and a casual raiding guild, especially when some casual raiding guilds are raiding 7 nights a week while the hardcore guild raids for 3. Clearly these words really have no meaning, hardcore, casual etc are just terms we apply typically to people more hardcore than us (or we believe them to be so) or more casual than us, we might classify ourselves into a group to feel like we belong, or we might do it to not associate with the other group (hardcore raiders having the reputation of being quite standoffish and elitist, casuals being treated as noobs).
This applies to your guild as well, there are casual guilds, progression guilds, levelling guilds, raiding guilds etc, however at the heart of every guild that can manage to raid in the 25 man arena there is a core of players who drive it onwards. This core of players is often in the 10 - 15 people mark, they want to raid, enjoy raiding and want to push for new content, in fact many of these players could be taken from any guild, geared up and dropped into much higher level content and hit the ground running. However as they are in a lower tier guild they do not progress at this rate (nor is there an easy way to test this unless someone has a handy population of core raiders from a Kara guild I can steal, and a guild willing to loan me their accounts in BT / Sunwell).
My theory currently is, that outside of the top raiding guild, which I will cover later, there is a core of players in every raid capable guild of between 10 and 15 players that are truly what you would class as your raiders. These players are typically the ones who are well geared, fully enchanted, know the fights, come up with your strategy and support the raid. In low tier content they shoulder the personal responsibility (this is actually detrimental later on, but aids progression at the lower end of raiding) and make sure the raid works. In contrast you have the remainder of the raid, which will go from nearly as competent, to those that turn up on the night because you needed extra bodies to fill your raid. Commonly loot distribution systems favour the former, and in so doing harm the raid.
Yup, you read that right, pushing forward your core raiders, actually harms your progression, while they will take on the majority of the roles in a group, and through Badge and PvP gear can probably pull through victories where non would exist, gearing them up and maximising their dps adds a small amount over time, in contrast gearing up someone who is at the lower end of your gear / raiding scale will likely make a larger difference, helping them with rotations, optimal builds similarly. Its not to say that anyone not raiding is a bad player, there are many people that simply dislike raiding, however typically your non-core players will have spent less time than your core optimising for the raid. Optimising and helping your "worst" players makes you much less likely to wipe, everyone knows someone that has a tendency to die in fires, that never notices things, yet you can help them, and in so doing make your raid better by upto 4% (their individual contribution to the overall fight should be something like 1/25th).
Taking an example, lets say we have a 10 minute fight with no movement or suchlike involved (so its an easy bit of maths):
In other words if you can improve any player's dps by 20 you reduce the fight time by 12,000 damage (roughly 10s at T4, 2.5-7,5s at T6 for a single player), if you can do that for the whole raid, for 10 DPS classes, thats 120,000 damage over the fight. From what I know of the Hunters, they made between 100 and 200 damage each from the changes in their rotations, that is 60,000 to 120,000 extra damage each over the course of that fight, and that is a massive difference, and its a lot easier to do with the players who are slightly unoptimised than it is to do so on those who have their casts down to the last millisecond and their gear close to the limit for that progression level.
Sometimes it can be hard to see this, its easier to assume they simply suck, that they are incompetent but you need them to fill the raid, rather take the time, talk to them, look at their gear, talents, their play style and try to help, I know many good Hunters that were improved massively when one of ours took the time to go through shot rotations, clipping, optimal talent specs for each of their gear levels, they were all good Hunters, could trap and knew their role, but a small optimisation made a huge difference. This kind of thing might seem like its up to the raid leader or officers, but take it on yourself, if you see something wrong or you think is go talk about it, one of you might learn something.
I mentioned personal responsibility, often it seems easier to simply assign a role to someone from the core, someone you know will manage to click that cube even if they need to get their warlock through the cleave path of Magtheridon, avoid the curiously complex pattern of fires, survive the stone falling, and the earth quake threatening to undo their progress. In the short run this is more effective, after all you see progression because you restrict what the people who are less experience and comfortable do. This however harms you later on, most guilds have people they "carry" through content, then you hit Teron, Bloodboil, Archimonde, fights where you cannot reassign the role, fights where you need everyone on the ball and ready. Spending the time earlier on to make people comfortable with responsibility, with multiple roles in a fight and with paying attention to multiple tasks will speed up your progress through these fights, and make farm status actually achievable.
Also giving people responsibility is a great feeling, a lot of our non-core raiders hated the idea of constructs, fearing they would wipe the raid, mess up, be yelled at or blamed, yet once they got the constructs, once they saw how it worked and how it worked they wanted more, they were confident and went into the fight ready and willing, in short we improved the raid as a whole by making sure that the people we least wanted to get constructs were now confident enough to take them. I would also say it made them better players, they willingly took on responsibility and the role of wiping the raid if they failed, and they survived, they felt better, Teron turned from a fight they had to go to to something they want to do, they want to see him lying on the ground surrounded by a pile of constructs.
This aspect is noticeable in even relatively hardcore guilds, there is still a core, the non-core group is more competent as a whole, most of them want to raid and want to progress rather than being asked to come along simply to help. It does still exist however, the quiet person in the raid, the Healer whose healing seems out of line with the others, the Tank that drops on every fight, spend the time to know these people and help them, its often a simple matter to make them into a core member. We had a healer who could simply not achieve more than 30% of our top Paladin's healing scores, when one of the Healers looked at him he realised that he was casting, leaving a gap, then casting, or casting in reaction (and not weaving Holy Lights for the reduced casting speed in an emergency). Simply teaching him to not-reactive heal and to keep a heal in the pipeline took his healing from truly atrocious, to the highest in the raid eventually, letting him know what worked and why took a player we had to consider a liability into one of our best raiders. Never write someone off, a raid isn't just the hardcore, its not about trying to optimise one small aspect, but rather about optimising all the links in your chain, otherwise that one weak link if hit can send you spinning.
Hardcore Progression Guilds:
As I said, I would look at these, I haven't been in one, however I have known several, and I still see the same aspects inside them. Their non-core members are much more competent as a whole, they would be core members in any other guild, they don't mess up in general, however there is still a differentiator between the core and non-core players. However we can learn from these guilds, they take the time to make sure that even their worst members are prepared and ready, know the fights and don't go in without understanding what is needed. This level of support is very admirable and needed, in my mind any guild could achieve the goal of killing Illidan, they just need to make sure that when they go in, they go in prepared and with everyone confident and happy in their roles, if not the loss of morale is more likely to kill the raid than any gear or skill ever could.
Are typically seen as a damage class, and in some content this is primarily true, however in early content, and indeed late content Mages are much more of a utility class than a DPS class due to their very strong control abilities. Mages appear to dominate early on as the King and Queen of Crowd Control for a reason, Sheep. This is a reliable (with max hit rating it has something like a 1% chance to break each tick, but the exact mechanics appear to be a bit fuzzy) effective and long duration control method that can be reapplied at any time.
Mages are not solely restricted to this role, typically coming in as the third highest DPS, and second highest AoE DPS class (though potentially the highest in high mobility fights). Their DPS role however is more complex than a Warlock's, relying on a rotation of abilities to apply debuffs / buffs to maximise DPS. Certain abilities, primarily snares / roots, can be harmful to the Tank's ability to Tank.
Mages offer two primary benefits to a party, firstly is an intelligence buff, typically applied to all Mana using classes to increase the buffer / DPS time without reliance on external sources such as Mana pots (and yes even a few hundred Mana can make a huge difference in rotations if it pushes you over a repetition point in your cycle, interrupting a cycle is a lot more harmful than it seems). This buff is however not the major benefit Mages bring to a group.
The table, or creation of stacks of water and food, assists a party greatly, it significantly lowers the running costs of a group at the expense of annoying the Mage to make it. Typically for a level 70 party the food / water costs for a Paladin Tank can hit 8G (4 stacks of Food / Water is doable in longer instances when you don't have the ability to chain pull groups easily) / instance while running, assuming at least the Healer also makes use of similar numbers that is 16G per instance saved. Pre-level 70 this ability creates stacks individually and can be annoying to apply, however creating a minimum of 2 stacks of Food / Water for the Tank and Healer (of course no Water for a Warrior or Druid :P), and Food / Water for the DPS as appropriate.
Mages should always have their Mana gems created and ready for use, this allows them to maintain a much better DPS rotation without additional External resources, effectively doubling the MP5 gained from a potion (since a Mana Gem can be used to offset the 2 minute cooldown). Many Mage specs are very mana intensive, and their itemisation does not support Int / Spirit typically (or rather it is sacrificed by choice) meaning reliance on a Shadow Priest or Shaman which cannot be guaranteed in non-raid situations (and often not there).
Mages are an interesting class to assign groups too, they are 100% consumers of group buffs, however provide no buffs in return. Mages typically prefer to be in groups with Shadow Priests (for the mana return), or a Shaman (Wrath of Air Totem for bonus spell damage), however both of these are more beneficial to Warlocks (at least in the short term while Mana Gems last as Life Tapping significantly drops a Warlock's DPS).
As such Mages should typically be assigned in a similar way to Hunters, filling in slots in Shadow Priest, then Shaman, then Hunter groups (Beast Mastery) where possible. Ideally shifting Mages into a Shadow Priest group in place of Warlocks later in the fight (once the 3 Mage Gems have been used), should act as a DPS boost as the Warlocks can maintain their DPS at a reduced rate, however the Mages remain viable DPS rather than running out of Mana, thought typically this should only come up in longer fights, or chain fights such as Zul'aman trash.
Mages are thankfully easy to Bless, for short intensive fights like trash Kings should swap position with Wisdom. As with Hunters some Mages prefer Kings to Wisdom, listen to your Mages as they should know their spec better than you and some specs prefer one over the other.
Blessing of Salvation
Blessing of Wisdom
Blessing of Kings
Blessing of Light (if multiple Paladins present)
Blessing of Sanctuary
Blessing of Might
Mages provide one main form of Crowd Control (which is typically the gold-standard of crowd control), Sheep, however can additionally slow, root and kite targets, however only the former is in regular usage.
Sheep is a 1 minute long buff (with no cooldown, so it can be applied at any time), with a minimal chance to be broken (1% per tick roughly for a Hit capped Mage). The Sheeped target moves in a small area, and is vulnerable to all DPS, being broken by AoE, DoTs or any similar effect. Sheep cannot be reapplied effectively while the target is DoTted, doing so wastes Mana and DPS time, if this situation occurs the target needs to be controlled in another manner.
As with Hunters this control should be applied first, typically a Tank pulls and as the mobs start moving sheep is applied, doing it half way towards the Tank such that the Mage can remain behind the Tank / out of melee range of Tanked targets and still reapply it. Awareness is important, while Sheep can be applied repeatedly (chain sheeping) this is typically not a useful benefit as the Sheep has the same chance to resist and break the Sheep irrespective of when cast, it simply reduces the chance the target gets free without a Sheep being cast on it. An aware Mage could be applying DPS to another target rather than performing the "chain sheep lol" manoeuvre.
One situation Sheep can be used in as a different form of control (while the target is tanked or under the effect of DoTs / AoE) is to interrupt a channelled effect such as the Arcane Whirlwinds cast by enemies in the Tempest Keep instances The Eye, and The Botanica. This interrupts the cast effectively (some are immune to interrupt, but not to control), and the Tank / DPS's next attack will break the sheep giving minimal interruption except to a typically massive Raid / Party damage ability.
Control can also be applied using tools such as Frost Nova, Cone of Cold and disorientate effects allowing Mages to effectively Kite targets. In small areas such as Shattered Halls a Mage can be more effective at this role than a Hunter due to being able to Blink through the target reducing the chance of being hit. These control abilities should not be underestimated as they present at least 2 and potentially more abilities (for example Dragon's Breath from a Fire Mage) to control a large group of targets for a short while. These abilities can be used very well in conjunction with a Paladin tank to gain initial threat on targets that would otherwise move quickly through a Consecration by stunning them inside the consecration area.
Combat and Utility:
Mages come in 3-4 main flavours, Fire, Frost, Arcane+Fire/Frost. Typically Fire is a crit-based spec, with a massive DPS boost on targets below 20% health, Frost is more reliant on freezing a target (though has talents that allow instant refresh on all cooldowns making it ideal as a PvP build) and Arcane+ is a highly Mana intensive, high threat, high damage build. From a Tank's perspective this makes little difference overall, they all do respectable damage when played correctly and have access to their control abilities.
In combat Mages should be expected to lose 2-10 global cooldowns per minute for control abilities due to Sheep being broken, or being reapplied, on a Boss fight their cooldowns can be more strictly applied to DPS, however Spell Steal and Counter spell should take precedence to DPS when required, as with Tanking the focus is not on damage and topping the meters but rather on making sure that your utility is correctly applied to the situation as that Counter spell or Spell Steal is likely saving the Tank a lot more hurt than killing the target 1 global cooldown earlier would have done. In situations such as Zul'aman Spell Stealing the debuffs from the Flamecasters can result in massive increases in damage, so its not all doom and gloom.
Mages have an ability Evocate that stops them moving / DPSing / Controlling for a short period however massively increases the Mana regeneration for that period allowing them to recover from a Mana drain, or simply being in a sub-ideal group that cannot provide an external Mana source such as a Shadow Priest or Shaman.
Mages have a potentially complete threat drop in Invisibility, allowing them to become inactive for a short period as their threat drops, and eventually fully dropping their threat. Mages typically do not like using this ability due to requiring to remain inactive while it is in progress, however with threat sensitive fights such as Void Reaver, Gurtogg Bloodboil or Teron Gorefiend the lost DPS time is less valuable than being able to really push DPS for the remaining time.
Both of these abilities go against the idea of maintaining steady DPS, however as with all things its better to be in a sensible position for the fight than to go all out and find yourself short in an emergency. Take the time needed to use these abilities at the right time and don't run empty because the situation when you need it may not be appropriate to allow these their full effectiveness.
Area of Effect:
Mages are the second main AoE class, having three different AoE spells, Arcane Explosion (a 10 yard - melee range - spell with a damage cap), Blizzard (their Frost AoE, second most efficient damage wise) and a fire version. Yes I am ignoring the last one, if a Mage casts it its a waste of a cooldown, its much less efficient in terms of damage than the other two even on a Fire Mage (extensive testing in Hyjal, Mages doing this typically got 50-70% of the DPS of Mages doing the other two, might be wrong but my personal opinion is this is a bad plan). While a Mage is unlikely to match the Damage output of Seed of Corruption using these abilities there is no other class that can match this damage potential (other than perhaps a paladin with > 100 targets on them, as Consecration has no damage cap :P, but that situation doesn't exist in game).
Mage's AoE often has secondary functionality such as slow, freeze or disorientates and should be applied carefully in situations where this might cause hardship to the Tank. Care should of course be taken to watch aggro on AoE pulls, and a tool such as Omen in AoE mode will handle this beautifully, remember that the threat in an AoE pull is actually the lowest threat on any target in the pull rather than the highest so watch the meter carefully, a Paladin on a high number of targets will still threat cap you massively as they have to rely on consecration and reactive threat, and cannot easily target through all targets in a pull (though again situations such as this are rarer, and the damage cap on AoE abilities makes it unlikely to be a major issue).
Roots and Snares:
There is also an AoE CC, Frost Nova. This ability is great on pulls that can be killed fast (before it runs out), as an emergency save when a tank dies, or as an emergency button when a Healer / DPS is in trouble while moving. The last part is vital... while moving... Frost Nova locks the mobs in place, but does not stop them attacking, if not ranged they will attack the closest target to them. This means that a Tank cannot gain aggro on the target without being close for the duration of the Nova (they may have aggro, but its being ignored till the mob can move). This means players not moving out of range will die horribly, additionally to Tanks are typically moving to stop the AI spreading mobs into our back arc (can only dodge, parry and block in the front 180 degrees), this means if the mobs are frozen and we are required to move for some reason they will likely enter the rear arc in a way we cannot control. This should be a last ditch ability, using it in any other situation is likely to annoy the Tank as it fully removes control of the fight from us.
Ice Nova and Roots should not be applied except in an emergency, while most Tanks won't notice, and indeed won't realise how annoying it is as its simply a "fact of life", and most Mages without a Tank-alt feel its great, its not. Losing control of a pull and restricting what the Tank can do is a bad thing to do on any pull, in the typical AoE situations this is used in losing control can turn a situation with manageable damage and threat generation into something that will threaten the Tank and Stress the Healer. Thats not to say that you can't use it, or that using it at the right time is a bad thing, but rather than using it in all situations is more likely to be a bad thing than good, as with Hunters you can tell the difference between a good Mage and a bad one through their use of these abilities, a good one supports the Tank using them, a bad one gets you killed.
While Warlocks are typically static DPS classes, by preference they do not move to maximise their global cooldowns spend on damage, Mages can maintain damage abilities on the move, and indeed often prefer to move allow the use of short range cone or AoE effects. This does not mean that moving is a good thing for a Mage, strictly it tends to reduce their damage as standing still casting high damage spells (in a similar way to Warlocks) gives maximal use of time. But being fluid gets you into a good state of mind to use Blink, and lets you use abilities such as Dragon's Breath or Cone of Cold which would otherwise just look pretty.
A Mage being mobile must be concerned with the positioning and movement of the Tank and group and predict movements, often applying a snare or damage to an off-target can result in them becoming a target and being unable to be helped by a Tank. Controlled use of Blink allows Mages to reduce fall damage, avoid snares, environmental damage and similar. While a typical 5 man instance will give you few opportunities to test this its a very useful skill as it allows rapid movement and the ability to survive otherwise deadly situations (blinking out of fires for example on Supremus, Archimonde... actually many bosses).
Spell Steal, Counter Spell and Dispelling:
I can't really say a lot about these abilities, their use is situational, however very important, and a Mage that cannot use these abilities in combat, and more so know which abilities to Steal or Counter is a liability in fights which demand them. Spell Steal is typically the more situational, coming up in High King Maulgar, the Illidari Council, Zul'aman and a few other spots with well defined buffs that are required.
Counter Spell is much more of an art form, the spell lock out makes the caster move towards the current aggro target (good if the Tank has aggro, bad if that Tank is you) so can be used to effectively pull Casters into AoE and melee range. Its rarely bad to counter a Spell since it will reduce the incoming damage significantly however its likely to go unnoticed and unthanked, however doing it and making the difference between Tank life and death is a major thing (I like being alive tbh, its more fun than waiting for resses :P).
Dispelling is a very important Mage ability (and part of why they get dragged into Sunwell kicking and screaming), they are one of only two classes that can remove curses (the other being Druids, but doing so pops them out of Tree form so typically requires a Boomkin to perform). This is a minor benefit typically in the early stages of raiding, however becomes VITAL in later stages, if the curse isn't removed it causes more damage and raid hardship than anything else as its persistent. Learn to decurse, get an addon and be aware of this role, we don't need a dead dps when a live one will work.
Tier 4 Level:
This level of raiding and experience benefits Mages a lot, Paladins Tanks (and Warriors / Druids) have not yet reached the Gear level where they can Tank instances without CC and removing Healing targets from pulls (or MC / high damage) is very beneficial).
At this stage expect to make full use of your abilities, there are instances with environmental damage (Blink), Control (Sheep, Novas), AoE, Curses, and even High King Maulgar himself, who to Tank the Mage essentially requires a Mage with Spell Steal (at later gear levels the pull can be close to solo tanked, however its not really recommended as the Mage hurts).
Mages should perform very well on Damage at this level and gain good advances in gear through the Tailoring items giving them a very effective head start on raw damage.
Tier 5 Level:
In terms of instances rather than Raids at this level and above, the primary reason to bring a Mage over another DPS class (since any good Tank in this level of gear can AoE tank every instance in the game, there is no pull in SSC/TK as of 2.4 that cannot be AoE Tanked though not doing so may be easier) is the creation of a Mage Table (well as well as Curses, AoE, Survival... :P). Again your abilities see a lot of use with Counter Spell being used to setup Kael'thas Sunstrider to pull to the Tank (remember the spell lock out and go beat the Tank plan). Typically control is less of an issue at this level, however many guilds prefer to control 2-4 mobs on each pull to make it simpler and less risky. Again Mage Control is preferred to most other classes here due to its reliability and ability to be reapplied instantly.
At this gear level a Mage's DPS is on par with other main DPS classes and the Control requirements on the instances are much reduced allowing them to spend more time performing their DPS role. At this stage the lack of survivability of Mages in tailoring gear may become more apparent and acquiring a set of PvP or high Stamina gear is recommended for some fights and later Tiers.
Tier 6 Level:
In Tier 6 content (and Tier 6.5) Mages performing their secondary roles becomes vital, controlling Curses and important enemies becomes vital to a pull while their DPS drops compared to that of Warlocks and Rogues due to the greater Synergy these classes have.
Many fights at this level will press the Mages on threat, or survival (Bloodboil has an annoying habit of selecting Mages as his target, and alas they are the only class that does not have a self-heal, avoidance or similar, and Ice Block wipes the raid). Be careful and use your abilities to the maximum, at this stage in the game no Raid Leader should need to tell you to Counter Spell or Dispel it should simply be part of the role in the same way a Tank doesn't allow a free target to run around (unless its about to be Sheeped, in which case we cannot hit it).
As with Hunters a Mage is rarely a bad choice for a slot at this level, their utility is still very high, and their DPS still impressive. Try to maximise your effectiveness with group setup (Shamans, Shadow Priests, Boomkin, Hunters) to really get DPS up, and co-operate on Spec to maximise group DPS / application and reapplication of Scorch.
Raid and Party Responsibilities:
It has been said by multiple Mages that they do not like dropping a Table or Portalling people because it uses reagents, it should be a nice addition to a group however not something that is expected of them. After all its not like a table really gives anything to the group, its not a buff or something that can make the bosses die faster.
This attitude is wrong, a Paladin that does not buff the group hurts its capabilities, a Warlock that refuses to Soulstone a wipe-recovery class or refuses to make health stones is also wrong, and likely would not be tolerated. While the creation of a Table or Portals does appear to not be in the same league (direct combat effectiveness) it is directly related to the expenditure of the group (8G was a typical figure for me in early Heroics, where I had to drink between every pull, reapply buffs etc to make sure I was at full Mana to maximise my threat for the pull), and to the speed at which they can go through an instance. Ensuring the raid or party has a table means that there is no excuse to not have full Mana and Health on each pull, it means everyone can take part in that 10-15s break without worrying about wasting food and water (ever start to eat/drink, get attacked and have to restart?), in short it makes the run much more pleasant to be in because its one fewer worry.
This is primarily a personal view, and especially given that in many instances the level of gear I have, and my regular Healers / DPS have is such that we can 3 man instances. In short having the gear to do these instances without control, and indeed without a full party means that we can afford to be picky and kick people who don't play nice, my repair bill is high irrespective of wipes or not because I take damage, if we wipe my repair will be higher than a cloth class. Every class has benefits and should apply these to a party, it doesn't matter if its the worst PuG in the world, you still apply the 30 minute Paladin buffs that use reagents because it makes it easier for the group. Its part of personal responsibility really, and taking responsibility to maximise what ever benefits you can for the group, you rarely see a Tank asking to be recompensed for the armour repairs they pay irrespective of wipes, or a Paladin asking for the 1S per blessing he had to cast so the cost shouldn't be an issue.
While I haven't directly kicked someone for failing to make a table, I have asked for a Mage that would make a Table (he got 7 badges of Justice, a Primal Nether and 3 Primal Water's for his trouble). Being nice and providing those additional benefit that your class has is what makes instances go well, people trying their best irrespective of what their best is. Never go into an instance thinking its routine and dull, that its not worthy of trying because doing so might dull you to the point that you make a mistake in something that does count.
Hunters are a hard class to really describe due to one key factor, there are many good Hunters and for every one of them there are 5 bad Hunters. Its amazing the number of Hunters that reach level 70 not realising the benefits, flaws, and potential of their pets and traps, unfortunately when Pugging you are likely to encounter many of these and are likely to come off with a bad experience from the class. Its not true though, Hunters can do some really amazing things and can really make or break a party as they should be counted on to do a lot of things. Breaking down Hunters is relatively simple, their Pet is a good dps, can be used for misdirections to pull mobs away from the Tank to tank / CC the mob or can be used straight up as an off-Tank, in the latter role a Beast Mastery Hunter is much better equipped for this than the other forms of Hunter, you can effectively use a Hunter in any role, DPS, Tank, CC (or the infamous Resto-spec Hunters) and they will perform well.
Hunters tend to complain about not getting buffs, about not getting an ideal group setup, about basically anything they can, its a bit of a game really as people tend to assign buffs and groups wrongly to hunters. Hunters don't really offer any buffs to the party directly, its passive abilities and in-combat marks that allow them to really shine.
Hunters are very self-synergistic, depending on spec they can boost the dps of their party by 3% (stacking!), offer improved marks, etc. Typically place hunters to fill slots where needed, a caster group won't really benefit a hunter (barring the shadow priest), but if he has the dps buff he does benefit the caster group. Aiming for a Shaman with an agility totem will also help Hunters a lot, and some kind of mana source if possible (never above casters) will allow them to maximise their dps. They don't really fit into a melee group due to wanting different totems (and the melee group typically being quite full), so in preference they go into:
Crit Bear Groups
Stacked Hunter Groups
Caster Group with Mana Regen
Basically give the Hunters as much benefit as you can, and assign their buffs to help others, but place other more beneficial classes first, don't drop a Retribution Paladin from a melee group for a Hunter who will benefit less. This is a kindof misunderstood aspect, since Hunters are very capable DPS, however as both Warlocks and Rogues are likely to be higher DPS overall you must consider this, and stack groups preferentially for those classes first, meaning that Hunters will tend to be used as a filler class (which is ok, as they are self-synergistic and benefit beautifully from being in a group with a Druid tank).
There is an issue of contention about Hunters, the correct order for Blessings is:
Blessing of Might
Blessing of Kings
Blessing of Wisdom
Blessing of Salvation
Blessing of Light (if multiple Paladins present)
Blessing of Sanctuary
The first two are typically interchangeable and depends on your Hunter's preference, I won't discuss why since I don't really know or for that matter care since they both increase DPS. The ordering of Salvation though is under debate, and frankly shouldn't be, it can be applied for the first 30s or so of a fight then swapped out if needed, however the use of Feign Death allows Hunters a full aggro-wipe every 30s (if not resisted) meaning its a bad tank that can't keep ahead of a good Hunter, or rather a good Hunter can easily stay below a bad tank. If you have a Hunter demanding Salvation ahead of DPS increasing buffs (and yes Wisdom does increase DPS as it reduces the need for mana stings, pots etc), you need to look at the Hunter carefully, a good Hunter doesn't want it in preference, and a bad Hunter will over-aggro anyway (even if it means breaking cc to do so :P).
There are situations where Salvtion is more important, the first 30s or so of a fight where the tank is building up a threat lead, fights like Void Reaver with aggro-dumps and tight limits, however these are not your regular situation, as a rule of thumb Salvation is the 3rd dump Blessing for Hunters, use common sense and get good Hunters (and yes I met some that didn't use Feign Death because it dropped their DPS... apparently more so than being threat capped and not doing anything anyway). Salvation is a tool, never see it as something Hunters shouldn't get, but consider first Feign Death and the tank's TPS curve, if thats ok then Salvation drops a lot down the list.
Hunters are a crowd control class, they have multiple forms of crowd control, Traps (slow or freeze), kiting (slow + aggro the mob in a big loop), and Pet Tanking, all 3 are very useful and should not be underestimated. Firstly traps, typically these can be used in two ways, firstly pulling a specific mob to the side of the pull line (or running up to a caster and dropping it under them) and trapping there, or placing the trap in the pull line, and letting Lady Luck decide what gets trapped. Both are valid methods of trapping, and the key here is to make sure the tank can see the trap, and can act on it if the trapped target breaks early or avoids the trap (on a non-specced Hunter the trap cooldown and duration are similar making chain trapping slightly riskier without acquiring aggro on the target, eg: the side pull). This form of crowd control is very reliable and should be assumed to function a lot like a sheep, a good Hunter can maintain their trap and not lose much personal DPS (if your Hunter runs out of melee, traps, then runs back in to hit things with his swords, he is losing a lot of DPS, but at that point his DPS probably isn't high anyway). Traps are very versatile, however only a single trap can be used at a time, so you must determine if its more important to freeze an enemy in place, or to slow a group of them and have the Hunter kite the target until his trap is up again. Traps are broken by AoE damage, meaning trapping within the tanking area will cause it to be broken.
Kiting is used on targets that cannot be controlled, instead the Hunter builds sufficient aggro on the target to make sure if follows them, then applies slowing shots and disorientates to make sure the target follows the Hunter but does not damage them. This technique will typically take the Hunter out of the fight from a DPS perspective, however will relieve a lot of pressure on the tank and healer as one more target is fully removed from combat. Using this technique should be easy for most good Hunters, its something they can easily practice as with chain trapping and it is a powerful solo ability as well. Unfortunately this requires a reasonably large space to be performed (the mob must remain beyond its hit range at all times and the Hunter capable of damaging it to maintain aggro), meaning that small cramped instances such as Shattered Halls can make this ability less useful (though you can use the length of the instance there instead if required).
Pet tanking is a highly subjective role, it can be useful as a backup to the actual tank in a 5-man instance, or in the case of tank death it can buy long enough to finish the fight. Typically however most Hunter pets are DPS based, and do not have the health and armour to survive long (its like using a Restoration Druid to go Bear form, it works, but isn't advisable in the long run). Many pets have an ability known as growl, which functions a lot like a taunt / aggro generation mechanic, while soloing this allows Hunter Pets to hold the target at a distance allowing it to be shot, in a tanking situation this allows the Hunter Pet to die horribly very quickly, slow the actual tank's threat generation and generally upset the group. Pet tanking should not replace the tank, but rather work in concert to provide DPS or the seconds needed to recover from a bad situation. One good aspect of this is that a Hunter can leave their pet far behind the group and misdirect to it, leaving one target running far from the group and while the pet is likely to die, the target is "controlled" for a reasonable length of time.
Combat and Utility:
The bread and butter of your Hunter, and here the spec of the Hunter makes the largest difference, typically Hunters stand at range ( > 5 yards) and maintain constant bow / gunfire at the target, more than any other class Hunters are defined by their weapon. Typically a pet will also be employed as a melee combatant and should be watched by the melee healers if possible as it will contribute 10-30% of the Hunter's overall damage (especially if Beast Mastery).
The typical raiding spec is Beast Mastery as it suffers from threat problems less due to splitting the damage more evenly between Hunter and Pet, and gives every party member a 3% damage bonus while the pet is active, Marksman gives a 125attack power buff to the party on a critical hit, and Survival a 25% of their Agility to attack power for the whole raid on a crit. This means that typically it is best to stack Beast Mastery Hunters with a single > 500 Agi Survival Hunter in the group (at lower than this the Marksman ability gives more AP to the group), again the benefits of a stacked Hunter group become apparent, 5 BM Hunters give their party +15% damage, a bonus rivalling that of Improved Shadow Bolt, except with guaranteed uptime.
In most raid situations Hunters will not perform their crowd control role, and will instead be simply a DPS class, they have a very weak AoE ability or two, however can hit multiple targets at once using multi-shot (3 targets). A good Hunter should however be on the ball and prepared to utilise their control abilties and pets to maximise the survival chance of the raid when something goes wrong.
Feign Death will allow Hunters to survive a wipe, though being to pre-emptive on this can turn a very narrow victory into defeat, Hunters must be careful to use this survival technique only when needed rather than trying to ensure their repair bill is lower than it would otherwise be.
Misdirection and Feign Death:
Good Hunters can be identified readily by their use of these abilities, Misdirection adds the Hunter's threat to the targets for a short period, and Feign Death, if not resisted, results in a complete Threat reduction on the Hunter, and can be used to save them from a wipe. Misdirection allows a Hunter to open a pull at its full potential as the threat is initially applied to to the Tank (or an unsuspecting DPS / Healer if they are cruel), or can be used mid-fight (on a 2 minute cooldown) to give a slight TPS boost to the Tank. Using Misdirection as a Threat boost works very well in Off-Tank situations where the Tank may be Rage / Mana starved, or have suffered a knock-back in threat, this means it is not directly a threat booster but a threat leveller, which is the intention of fights like Void Reaver, Gurtogg Bloodboil etc. In a single Tank situation it is typically applied as a direct Threat boost.
Misdirection pulls are used within Tier 5 and Tier 6 instances to allow for better positioning of bosses (who may otherwise force the tank to move, potentially opening up their back if the AI interprets a move as too long resulting in high damage / crushing blows), or for ranged pulls. An example of a ranged pull can be found in the initial parts of Tempest Keep where Falcons and Falconers wander in Al'ar's room, Misdirecting to a Tank gives initial aggro (and pulls them down the corridor) while a Feign Death immediately afterwards moves the Falcons aggro onto the Tank as well, pulling the group with no deaths and no risk of a bad knockback.
In boss fights with Adds it is also beneficial often to save the Misdirect as an additional pulling tool to move targets from Healers / DPS onto a positioned Tank (again the Al'ar fight is a good example). This ability allows a Hunter to save an overaggroing healer by moving their attackers, or indeed simply boosting the threat of the Add tank in a multi-target way. As with many abilities the potential of this skill is in the hands of the Hunter, and it can save many wipes and heart attacks as things go wrong due to its long ranged nature, and reasonable cooldown.
Tier 4 Level:
At this level Hunters are a great spot in any group or raid, they provide solid damage and their CC abilities and pet make them very valuable. Typically their damage will be reasonable at this level, however due to the early availability of crafted epics for Tailors, the cloth damage classes are likely to be higher. Encounters such as Magister's Terrace are very well suited to having Hunters in the group as they provide a backup crowd control source (or a primary one), yet retain enough armour and avoidance to survive should targets get loose.
Tier 5 Level:
Hunters typically at this level start to become one of the Higher DPS classes, having gained a good amount of gear and a much better weapon they can maintain it for an almost infinite period of time due to low relience on external sources of mana and consumables. Muiltiple fights at this level are not Pet friendly however and can result in a DPS drop from the Hunters, typically a good healer will manage to maintain their pets sufficiently to keep up damage.
Tier 6 Level:
Hunters drop down the damage tables here as Warlocks, Mages and Rogues really come into their own again. Hunters are still a very good class to bring along, and not much can really be added to the list. Essentially, if in doubt, a Hunter isn't a bad choice for any tier or instance, their health and armour make them survivable in fights like Naj'entus and their ranged DPS capability makes them good soakers for Bloodboils.
Tier 6 fights begin to become very aggro and threat dependent, meaning efficient use of Misdirection to the Tank or Off-Tanks becomes a very beneficial raid-wide utility (thought they should have used it in prior tiers, at this stage it becomes very valuable), and Feign Death becomes virtually required on many fights such as BloodBoil where it allows Hunters to keep up a near full threat rotation even through knockbacks and requiring multiple tanks to stay above the DPS with little incoming damage (Warlocks for example are much more threat limited here).
As with previous Tiers there is no reason a Hunter is a bad choice at this level, they have high DPS potential and good backup abilities in their crowd control and synergistic buffs. Stacking Hunters within a Tank group can become beneficial to the Tank due to these buffs giving an additional threat boost (and finding a very beneficial group for them). Typically at this stage a Warrior maintaining sunder or a Rogue using Improved Expose Armour is very beneficial to their DPS, with a single Hunter being nearly capable of offsetting the Rogue DPS loss to apply the IEA debuff.
Trapping is an art form, in general there are keys to it:
Trap in front / to the side of the Tank
Pull Early, pull efficiently
Learn to kite the mobs
Be prepared to sacrifice a trapped mob to save a healer
Trapping is one of the most "independent" actions in a party, typically the Tank begins the pull and the Hunter pulls from the tank towards a trap, this should be maintained in front of or to the side of the tank to allow them to keep an eye on it in case it breaks. Traps are very reliable, they can be replaced, repositioned and the Hunter can kite the mob if it cannot be re-established in time. Care should be taken to kite around and back to a good position if the target is breaking. Let the tank know whats happening, if you save the Healer and your other trap gets free we will be upset (and happy) because we can't see everything, a quick heads up lets us acquire the trapped mob for at least the duration of saving the healer. Take the initiative here, if its marked do whatever is needed to keep it for the duration and be careful to make sure that its not in range of AoE attacks.
A typical pull can be described in terms of a) Pull Corridor, b) Minimum Control Zone, c) Tanking Area, d) Kite Path. The pull corridor is the distance in a straight line between the target and the tank, this is the path that targets will take towards the puller and as such is safe for trapping in to guarantee one mob trapped, typically if a target is to be trapped it is best to do it to the side of the pull corridor initially to make sure that a failed trap can be pulled into the Kite Path rather than into the Tanking Area. The remaining zones can effectively be described as concentric circles, the Kite Path, then the Minimum Control Zone (where AoE tanking won't hit controlled targets) and the Tanking Area itself, typically the Healers are positioned in the rear 120 degrees of the pull directly away from the pull corridor, and the Minimum Control Zone. As the most mobile of control classes Hunters should pay attention to this idea and follow it, a target a Tank cannot see is one the Tank will likely try to find and engage, effectively stealing the controlled mob, keep targets that aren't being kited in the line of sight of the Tank and keep talking, let people know where you are, and what state the enemy is in.
As a reasonable explanation of the pull itself I present my own home made graphic, hopefully this gives some better idea of what I actually mean by the pull corridor and where it is safe to CC and stand.
While this diagram is crude and not to scale it shows the general idea behind the theory, the Tank is in control of their AoE area, and to reach a Healer or ranged DPS class not involved in kiting a target must go through this area, becoming vulnerable to melee range abilities and taunts. Sheep and other ranged Crowd Controls can be reapplied by stepping into the Tank AoE area, reapplying, then stepping back, or if in the minimum range area by simply reapplying it.
Hunters can easily trade blows with ranged classes using this technique by standing in the Ranged / Healer area, however may find it beneficial to be inside the control zone, or the kite zone to allow reapplication of traps and suchlike to require less movement. Again the reasonable armour and kiting capability of the Hunter class means that they are typically not watched as closely by the Tank as they should survive / Feign Death / Trap / Growl their way out of a threatening situation at least for a short time, meaning a Tank can focus on them only if needed rather than having to be as proactive as on cloth based DPS classes.
This class is highyl interesting, it is the most fluid of all the hybrid classes in that it can perform any of its roles to some extent without a gear change or talent respec in between changing those roles. This is not to say its effective, a Feral Druid isn't going to be the best Healer in the world, however a spot heal even if its weak, can make a massive difference when needed. Druids offer a very versatile class to a tank, in their Healer form they have the ability to keep HoTs on many targets and so keep multiple people standing through reasonable AoE damage, in their Feral forms they do good damage, have ok to excellent mitigation and can act as an off-Tank as needed. Finally the "Boomkin" form they are an excellent boost to a spell caster heavy party, however can have significant Threat isssues as they lack threat scaling talents commonly found in most other damage builds.
Druids provide a small variety of Buffs to the party, primarily Mark of the Wild (with group and individual versions) which boosts all statistics and resistances, and thorns (primarily a Tank buff) that does damage to attackers giving a threat boost.
Most Druids don't really know they have Crowd Control, however they have several useful abilities, firstly Roots, this ability (usable outside at the moment) will lock a target in place for a few seconds, and is not broken by damage. This means it can be used to tie up a running target for the Tank, or it can be used pre-emptively on targets which should not be allowed to get close such that the ranged DPS can full out attack the target gaining a few seconds before it approaches the group.
Secondly there are the abilities which function on Beasts, that is Soothe Beast, and Sleep, Sleep triggers combat and otherwise performs like Sheep, typically it is less reliable as Druids other than Boomking will not approach the Hit Rating cap and so will get a larger number of resists. The first is a very situational ability, it reduces the Aggro range of a target significantly for a 15s. This means that if a target is positioned correctly it can be used to skip pulls, such as the first pair of bears in Zul'aman. Both of these abilities are highly situational, however if used correctly are as powerful as Sheep.
Combat and Utility:
Druids have a lot of utility in combat, obviously the biggest is their primary roles which I cover below, however the ability to switch between these in a clutch is a major benefit (and a last minute tranquility or heal has saved me more than once), and can be counted on, Druids know their forms and should try and maximise their potential at any time. Next we have the two reasons we really love Druids, Innervate and Combat Res, the first of these is an ability which increases mana regeneration by 500% for a short period of time, since Regeneration is based on Spirit this is best cast on Priests, then other caster classes and Healers, and finally in a last ditch on a Paladin, Paladins do not stack Spirit so gain very little from this. Typically this is used as an emergency tool on the Healer, though in long fights that are DPS sensitive it can be moved to them.
The Combat Res is a life saver, it is usable once every 30 minutes, and can only be used while the Druid is alive (yes, this means if you are Ressed and the Druid dies it was wasted, pick a time when there is no splash damage and accept it, then get back into the fight). This ability is again typically used to restore party or raid balance and to get a key player / class back into the action, typically you will remain dead for a period until the fight can be gauged as winnable or not, and if it looks good you will be brought back in, typically in the order of Healer > Highest DPS > DPS Least Likely to Die > Tank. Actually the last target on that list is really there as a joke, in anything but a fight with a tauntable boss (Nalarokk, Halazzi, Brutallus, Kalcegos, etc), or phase swaps with Aggro resets (Reliquery of Souls, Hydross the Unstable) do not waste it on a Tank, we will not build sufficient threat in a short period to regain the Aggro position, nor will we add significant buffs to the group compared to getting a Healer or DPS back in the fight. This ability is normally not in the Druid's control, but rather the party leader or the Raid Leader's, that is to say typically do not take the initiative and just use it, ask, or wait for someone to ask otherwise if a key class goes down and it was used on a less viable target it hurts the raid (and for a wipe situation we would like it for the next attempt instead).
Druid Healers are essentially Heal over Time based (HoT), they stack Buffs on the target that restore health over time, this makes them the ideal Healer to deal with regular damage spikes because the next Heal is only a tick away, and requires no interaction further from a healer (so no cancelling a Heal and frantically casting). In their Tree of Life form the Druid gives bonus healing to their group, thus stacking a Druid Healer within the Tank group is often seen as a very useful tactic, though they may get shifted out of this to allow for a better threat group (such as the additon of a Feral Druid). Direct Heals cause the Druid to leave the Tree of Life form and the benefits it granted them, this means that where possible the Tank should ensure that there will not be a requirement for massive continual spike healing (such is more suited to a Paladin with efficient low cast time heals) as it is highly inefficient to force the Druid to leave this form. Druid Healers do however have a very effective fast healing combo of Nature's Swiftness > Regrowth > Swiftmend making the Regrowth an instant cast. There are many tricks to Druid healing, I won't cover them as thats a different post, but don't worry about a Druid not being able to keep you up through a damage spike.
From a Tank's perspective this is the most interesting form, Cat form allows for good dps and dots (bleeds) to be applied to the target, yet they retain the majority of single target tanking skills as the melee combat and tanking talent trees are combined. This means that a Feral Druid can (though remember their armour is no where near the same as in their Tank gear, nor is their health) shift into Dire Bear form and tank 1-2 mobs if needed. This is essentially a great backup Crowd Control form, or can be used to allow you to shift "safe" enemies to the Druid while you deal with a new pickup. Druids in this talent spec are very valuable and often highly proactive in switching forms to provide safety for a Healer or other DPS class, typically it is best to run with their form changing and let them perform pickups as needed, as a form of Crowd Control a backup Tank is unmatched.
In terms of raid utility Feral Druids make the ideal 3rd+ Tank and off-Tank as they can perform good DPS while not tanking, and maintain a good rage generation while off-tanking in a way Warriors and Paladins find hard to match. As their avoidance will be strictly lower than a Warrior or Paladin in most content they do not suffer from a soft-avoidance-cap for Rage / Mana regeneration meaning they can tank even lower levels of content acceptably in high end gear that would push a Paladin or Warrior to a very low threat threshold.
The Balance form (Boomkin) is a Caster DPS type which boosts the other spell casters significantly, they should be assigned to a caster group where possible, however are unfortuantely rare as they at current suffer from Mana and Threat control problems.
Tier 4 Level:
Tier 4 content provides Druids with a lot of their potential, from a non-raid Tank's perspective this is where having the ability to off-Tank or spot-any role as needed is really vital to the party. Druids come into their own and learn to rapidly switch, control and recognise situations in fights at this level. Typically the lack of indoor / non-beast crowd control is a penalty to very early Tier 4 instances, however as the progression into the tier continues and less than full CC is utilised a Druid provides a very solid stepping point between the "Tank, Healer and 3 CC" and "Tank, Healer and 2CC / 1CC" range of ability levels.
In raiding content at least one Druid is beneficial for the Combat Resurrection at a minimum as it allows for longer learning attempts and recovery from simple mistakes. The ability to maintain HoTS or adapt to any role makes the Druid a solid choice for any instance or raid. The flexibility on Gruul and Magtheridon which require a variety in Tank numbers makes them the ideal choice in the third-fifth Tank slots without sacraficing as much raid versatility as you would taking more than two Protection spec Tanks.
Tier 5 Level:
Non-raid content at this level can typically be run with limited or no crowd control, and as such the versatility of the Drudi comes into play again, no major pros or cons to taking a Druid beyond the obvious combat res again.
Raiding again makes great use of Druids at this level, many encounters start to introduce high raid wide splash damage in fights such as Leotheras the Blind, Al'ar, Void Reaver or even Lady Vashj, the ability of a Druid Healer to maintain multiple targets and cover spike damage quickly makes them ideal for at least one slot in this tier level if not more. Once again the off-Tank off-DPS capability of Druids shines and makes them ideal in the third-fourth tank slots in this tier, typically there is not a fifth tank in this tier level. As with lower tier content Druids tend to be pushed towards their off-roles due to the inflexibility of the Protection specced Tanks, there is no fight that cannot be tanked by a Druid at this level with perhaps the exception of Kael'thas Sunstrider due to the lack of a way out of the third Pyroblast.
Tier 6 Level:
Tier 6 content is quite harsh to Druids, dropping the fourth tank slot in most fights and with a preference for Warriors in many of the boss-level encounters. This is not to say that a Druid Tank is not needed, again the flexibility to change their role makes the third Tank slot ideally suited to a Druid since many of the fights are close to single Tank affairs. This tier continues to be beneficial to involve at least one Druid healer, as spike damage becomes more common and small splash damage very likely (though quite predictable so highly benefitting from HoT type healing).
The Tank has a unique and interesting role in most raids and instances, they tend to take on the role of leader, being responsible for the tactics employed, the marking and control of each pull within, as such they have a perspective on each class and how it should be applied to their level of content. This role though is often stressful and error prone, a Tank is unlikely to know your class inside and out, nor to make decisions 100% correctly each time, in fact they are likely to care far more about your classes generalities than your specifics, that you can control a mob for the duration of the pull is more important than whether that target is made immobile, or is simply juggled between two dps classes until it dies. This is the fine art Tanks apply to a party, providing the expertise and knowledge of instances and pulls such that people that know better can make the low level decisions, simply, we don't care how you do it, as long as you can do it.
Of course our control and experience matter little once the fight starts we tend to lose the fine oversight of the fight we had from the static pull position and become more concerned with achieving a full threat rotation, watching our health and ensuring that our active threat rotation is within the limits of our rage or mana regeneration capabilities. This means that our plan must survive contact with the enemy (in contrast to Sun'Tzu's), and that we must see enough and learn enough from people talking to us during the pull to make decisions as to what needs to be altered and what we can safely add to our "tanked" pool. In short, once we pull we often need the DPS and Healer roles to go onto automatic, with only the occasional suggestions offered, however when we give these its rarely a "in 5 minutes could you" situation but rather a "if you don't my life in the next 30s is going to get so annoying". This means that each class needs to have the intuition as to what the Tank beleives you do, and what the tank themselves is going to do, the latter is a lot harder, but the former can be summarised because as I said above, we don't care how you do it, as long as you do it, and talk to us.
The first thing to consider in a generic way is crowd control, that is any ability that takes one or more enemies from the pull, and removes them from the need to be tanked. This can take any form, a Mage's Sheep, a Hunter Trap, or a Warrior Hamstringing an enemy and running around with it chasing him, in short, do what is needed to make the pull a success, it doesn't matter if your DPS drops for the duration of that pull, paying attention to meters is more likely to get the Tank killed than to be effective. Controlling in front of the Tank means that we can simultaneously watch your controlled target and the currently Tanked targets at the same time, this means we are not reliant on a startled cry when a Banish of Sheep breaks early (yes, even a hit capped Warlock or Mage can lose their Control target), and can react to this (typically it will move towards the healer). Furthermore announce the expected break time on a target, there are cases where you cannot maintain control, giving us two seconds to prepare is a lot worse for the group than letting us know ten seconds in advance because there might be a backup plan.
Now that we are on the same page as to what I mean lets discuss where crowd control takes place, and that is in front of, or to the side of the Tank. It might be really cool and effective for you to make the enemy run through the tank group, or pull it behind the Tank, but thats a horrible place, if something goes wrong the Healer is between the enemy we don't have threat on, and us. Turning around to deal with a target behind us opens up our back, and we lose all of our avoidance, this means our damage spikes hugely (typically moving from 40-70% damage taken, to 90-95% taken). If possible tank in the line of the pull, this means any target that will break has to move through the tank group, and additionally gives the Tank a known place they can move to to perform Area of Effect abilities (which break crowd control). As a Paladin I will Consecrate to hold Aggro from the enemies, this means a 16 yard circle on the ground is denied as a crowd control area, I can move backwards easily Consecrating as I go if needed to maintain crowd control, if enemies are behind me my movement is restricted.
There is one exception to this rule, and thats Kiting,often a target being kited needs a large area of space to be kited through, moving in a circle around the Tank is a typical path and acceptable provided the Kiter informs the tank when things look iffy such that the Healer can be repositioned away from the target. Ideally in the case of Kiting the Healer should move through the Kited enemy such that there is a larger gap between the Healer and the Kited target. This should ideally palce the Kited mob on the oppositte side of the circle from the Healer at all times, however due to the nature of the pull setup simply giving a little distance is fine.
Clearing up a well known fact:
Paladins are the multi-tanking class of choice, Consecrate will, on its own hold from a reasonable AoE DPS, or a low level direct targetted damage (so a Karazhan Warlock can likely nuke any target on a pull with minimal chance of pulling), however this is not to say that a Warrior or Druid cannot achieve the same feat. It is well known that a Druid can hit three targets with one of their main Aggro generation abilities, and a Warrior one, what this means in reality is that if you give a Druid or, especially, a Warrior a little time they can maintain sufficient threat on off-target enemies such that the Healer will not pull from them, and their Main target can be single target focused down with a little care (because they are spreading their Aggro generation). This is the same as a Paladin, you cannot expect to focus and go full out on a target we are not targetting in anything beyond the lowest level of content, give the Tank the time needed to secure the pull (unless you are confident you can handle any target you pull without assistance, because the Tank will likely let you keep it) and anyone can "AoE" or "CCless" Tank instances. This does mean that a Warrior can Tank Shattered Halls without a single Crowd Controlled target, you just need a good Tank that knows their class, and a group willing to give them the chance to prove it, you won't get it right off the bat as it does take effort but your Tank will be much better for allowing them to learn.
The Classes from a Tank's Perspective:
Now to the real issue that this topic was meant to address, what is it about classes that a Tank truly knows, focuses on, and expects you to be able to do. This list changes with the Tank's gear level and quite often this reduces the expectations on the classes from their full potential, however as I noted a Tank doesn't care how you do it, as long as you do it, use your abilities to their fullest or don't, but don't expect to skip the basics. The Tank will often assign tasks in a fairly generic way, such as "Sheep Moon", what this typically means is Crowd Control your target and don't let it kill you, or the Healer (since they will build threat on it due to the way Healing Aggro works), this doesn't specifically mean you need to Sheep your target, if you want tell the Tank that you can handle it and deal with it in another way, for example in Hellfire Ramparts the Shadow Casting targets can often be dealt with by a Warlock or Mage simply by attacking them, your soloing a target is both Crowd Control and damage dealing.