Welcome to “Improving your DPS: Revisited”. Some of you may remember the “Improving your DPS” guide that Quetzie wrote during Uldir to help us improve as we moved into harder fights (remember dipping our toe into Mythic for the first time? Ah, nostalgia!). Consider this the successor guide as we move into a brand-new expansion and hope to hit the ground running as a more well organized group. This guide is co-written by Quetzie (Mythic Raid Lead and Person-Who-Thinks-Alts-Are-For-Suckers) and Tiraffe (Mythic Raid Lead and person-that-did-every-Balance-of-Power).
In the first guide, Quetzie spent most of the time focusing on those who might be new to raiding or who were aware of their faulty DPS. In this guide, we revisit some of the tips that can help new players, but we also want to drill home that every level of player can find a place to improve. Even on the mythic team, nobody is perfect. There are always rotation gaps, mechanical failures, and basic preparation that can be improved upon.
Here are the topics this post will discuss:
- Streamline & Optimize
- Rotation & Opener
- Pre-Combat Preparation
- Class Resources
- Shadowlands Optimization
- Asking and Receiving Help
Streamline and Optimize
Before we get into anything complicated, like external sites or addons, ask yourself: are you making the game harder than it needs to be?
Disclaimer: Most of this post will discuss using the default keybinds. If you have changed a lot of keybinds you may need to find the ones we refer to here.
If you click your abilities on your action bar with your mouse button, you’re already setting yourself up to be at a disadvantage. Keeping your mouse (and eyes) glued to the bottom of your screen will make it harder to dodge mechanics or see when you need to take specific actions.
Clicking some abilities isn’t necessarily an awful thing. A lot of classes have abilities that get activated on 3 or 5 minute cooldowns. Tossing those at the end of an action bar and clicking on those isn’t going to affect your DPS in a significant way. However, your main rotation should never be click-activated.
Action Bar Arrangement
Consider which spells are the most important spells in your rotation. Which ones do you cast the most? Put those spells farthest to the left on your action bar, OR wherever is most convenient for your hand. If you’re not sure which spells you should be casting the most, scroll to the Opener & Rotation section to see what you should be prioritizing.
For example, I (Quetzie) put my most “spam” abilities, in this case Wrath and Starfire for balance druids, on the ‘3’ and ‘4’ keys on a QWERTY keyboard, since that’s closest to my pointer finger. The Moonfire and Sunfire DoTs that balance druids have would be placed on the ‘1’ and ‘2’ keys, since while they are spammable for aoe, they only need to be hit occasionally in single target using the ring/middle finger.
Also, consider grouping spells with similar purposes nearby one another. A troll balance druid has two 3-minute cooldown damage buffs: Berserking and Celestial Alignment. Keeping them right next to each other on the action bar makes it easy to remember to use them both at once for extra damage. (If you have an on-use trinket, I’d put it next to them as well.) If you happen to play multiple specs or classes, consider having similar spells attached to the same keybinds as well, as that will also make it easier to switch around.
Remember that your other actions bars have keybindings available, but they’re not enabled by default. You can set your extra actions bars in the “Keybindings – MultiActionBar” setting. Consider “shift+1” or “ctrl+1” and onward for these other bars, as some specs have a high amount of spells in their rotation and the 1-6 keybinds may not cover them entirely.
After you’ve rearranged your action bars, find yourself a target dummy and just sit there. Take your hand off your mouse! Lean back and just get used to pressing your keyboard buttons for damage. Start small. Start by getting used to casting 2 spells using your hand, and then work your way up from there. Repetition is key to developing muscle memory, and you’re going to be relying a lot on that muscle memory during hectic boss fights! Speaking of which, it’s easier to have a default hand position on the keyboard to return to, as this will help make sure you don’t lose track of where your hand is and end up pressing the wrong button.
When you practice, avoid looking at your action bar. You want to commit this to muscle memory. If you have to, cover the bottom portion of your screen with a piece of paper or something. The point is to keep your eyes up. It’s a bit like driving – you need to watch the road, not your speedometer. Eventually you’ll become comfortable enough with driving that you only needed to glance down once in a while to reassure your speed. The same thing goes for your rotation, you only need to glance down to react to procs and the occasional cooldown. Keep your eyes in the middle and you’ll see incoming mechanics and boss spell casts!
You can help yourself get used to not looking at your action bar by adjusting your UI with specific addons and weakauras. There is a delicate balance to this. On the one hand, you want your UI to show you important cooldowns and actions happening on the fight. The closer to the center of the screen you have your UI elements, the shorter the distance your eyes have to travel. On the other hand, make sure your UI isn’t too cluttered, and that all the information you can see on-screen is actually important – make sure you can actually see what’s going on.
Moving away from clicking your abilities is going to be weird and it’s going to take time. Using keybinds instead of clicking will increase your actions per minute, and saves your mouse for moving your camera and/or character, allowing you a faster reaction time for mechanics. You won’t like it at first. In the short term, your DPS will drop, because it’s new and you’re fighting old habits. But it will grant you with significant improvements in the long term, we promise!
Keyboard turning is the term for when you turn your character using the A and D keys. If you have to turn your character model or run away from something, pressing forward and left or right is a painfully slow way to go about doing it. More often than not, you’ll fail the mechanic and potentially wipe the raid or dungeon in the process.
The proper way to dodge mechanics is either by strafing (Q and E by default), or by turning your camera and running (right-click your mouse and drag by default). You can also hold down both the left-click and right-click on your mouse to run, allowing you to do your rotation using keybinds on one hand and steering on the other.
Practicing turning and dodging in combat
Target dummies can be found in most major cities. I find the target dummies in Dazar’alor very useful for practicing turning around quickly, whether to target newly spawned enemies or to get used to mechanics that require you to turn quickly. Go to Dazar’alor and go to the target dummies (yes, target dummies are in Dazar’alor! This video shows one path to get to them). Position yourself in the middle of the room, facing the Raider’s Training Dummy. Start casting spells. Then, right-click your screen and drag it to do a full 180* turn, so you’re facing the regular Training Dummy. Target the basic dummy, and continue casting. Repeat this often and you’ll see how much faster it is than pressing A or D to face a new target!
For a real-life application, think about Merektha, the large snake boss from Temple of Sethraliss. You have approximately 2 seconds to turn away from her Blinding Sand before you become disoriented. Keyboard Turning is not going to turn you fast enough. Right-click-dragging will save you in less than half a second!
Strafing is another easy way to dodge mechanics. Think about the heroic N’zoth fight. We group up tightly and then move sideways via strafing on the count of “ONE” to drop the corrupted puddles on the ground. If you’re relying on keyboard turning, you’re taking too long to dodge mechanics and may take excessive damage.
In front of the dummy, get used to strafing during your rotation. Cast 5 or 8 spells, then press and hold Q or E. Cast a few more, then hold Q or E to get back to your normal position. Rinse and repeat.
If you’re REALLY struggling with the strafing habits, unbind A and D from left and right altogether (Key Bindings – Movement Keys). Rebind them as your left-strafe and right-strafe. Some people prefer this setup!
Generally speaking, clicking an enemy’s healthbar or model to try to cast spells is going to be a problem. Often they will be surrounded with allies, and unless you have a specific setup so that you can click through allied healthbars and bodies, you’re going to click on them from time to time. By default, press Tab to cycle through enemies in front of you. (There are other addons and setups that may be more accurate, but if you click enemies as a rule, this is a good base.) Especially in a fight where you have to cycle between a small number of targets, tab-targetting will help you immensely. It does lose its value when you have tons of add spawns (think Hivemind with the little bugs). Feel free to repeat the previous exercises in the Keyboard turning section using tab-targeting.
Right-click-dragging and left-click-dragging will both reposition your camera. However, right-clicking also repositions your character model. Left-click-dragging only moves your camera. While casting spells at the dummy, left-click-drag your screen so you’re facing your character. You haven’t moved, but now you can see the angry face that your character makes when it attacks or casts spells. Left-click-drag will give you a good vantage point for mechanics in some fights or dungeons. Consider the orb-maze in Temple of Sethraliss or the lasers in Heroic Taloc. Moving your camera without moving your character will help you successfully execute these mechanics.
Right-clicking is better used for mechanics where the direction your character is facing, not the direction of your camera, affect the mechanic. Volleyball and soccer mechanics as seen on Zek’voz, Ra-den and Xanesh all rely on characters facing the correct direction to make the successfully complete the mechanic.
We have no idea how, but some people play the game without sounds enabled. You people are a mystery. The game has constant buzzings, warnings, and other effects when things are going on around you. “But those are annoying!” Well…that’s kind of the purpose, isn’t it? Game sounds tell us when we need to dodge mechanics, when an enemy is powering up, when we’re out of range, when spells are uncastable, and so much more.
For example, it’s far more difficult to catch that an enemy player spam-purging your buffs away by staring at your buffs disappearing than it is to hear the loud sound effect from them casting Purge/Dispel Magic repeatedly. It’s harder to catch the boss saying he’s casting the easy-to-avoid area attack in chat, but hearing the boss shout it through your speakers can’t be missed.
If you’re struggling and have your game sounds disabled, please turn them on. Across the board, people will react to sound cues faster than visual ones. You don’t need music, but sound effects will make your life significantly easier.
Rotation & Opener
Now that you’ve moved your spells and downloaded some add-ons it’s time to make sure you’re actually casting your spells in the right order. Hopefully, you’ve been doing that all along. If you’re grey parsing regularly, chances are you’re not. So, let’s try to fix it!
First, check the resources at the bottom of the page for your class discord, websites, etc. They’ll often list openers and rotation priorities for you.
Usually, raids will start a timer of some sort in order to make sure everyone starts hitting the boss around the same time. Members of the raid have the option to precast on a boss, by starting a cast and then having that cast finish after the timer hits 0. Different classes will have different ways to begin the pull, but so long as you don’t pull early and get someone killed, you’ll be fine. It’s possible that someone has already taken note of the “perfect” opener and rotation of spells and wrote down exactly what you should do.
Let’s take a look back in time at the Destruction Warlock opener one would have used historically for Taloc, which is a single-target fight (openers may change for multi-target fights), during patch 8.1.
- Pre-pot and cast an Incinerate when there’s 3 seconds left on the pull-timer
- If you’re talented into Cataclysm use this to apply Immolate, if not then manually cast Immolate to land as the boss is pulled
- Cast your Summon Infernal and Dark Soul: Instability aswell as any on-use trinkets you may have
- Cast Chaos Bolt
- Cast Channel Demonfire if talented
- Cast Incinerate
- Cast Conflagrate
- Cast Chaos Bolt
Here is an old timeline sample from a Warcraftlogs fight of a Destruction Warlock on heroic Taloc. Let’s take a look to see if this is lining up with the “perfect opener” above!
(Not sure how to get to the timeline? TLDR: Open a log, click the boss name, click the name of the person you’re looking for, and click “Timeline” in the upper right. You can find more information on navigating Warcraftlogs in the “Warcraftlogs for DPS” post, though it’s a bit old and outdated in its actual analysis.)
Uh oh. Looks like some things aren’t lining up. Immolate was cast very late into the opening rotation, not as his second cast. Chaos Bolt didn’t follow Conflagrate. Incinerate wasn’t cast next, either. And there’s a lot of empty time with no spells cast in just the first 15 seconds. Now some variation is expected of course, but it’s possible that this person needs to take another look at their opener on this sort of fight.
Different classes have different requirements for openers. Some classes have openers that don’t change based on the fight style, where others (especially “ramp” classes) are incredibly dependent on a performing a specific opener to set the pace for the fight.
Standard rotation is again going to vary based on class and on the fight. Some classes are “priority spell” based, especially if classes are proc-based or receive procs as part of their rotation. Others are pretty easy “Cast spell 1, spell 2, spell 3 in order”. Again, check resources for your classes!
For example, here’s the BFA Shadow Priest rotation for single-target fights:
- Out of Void Form
- In Void Form
Note that BFA Shadow Priest is very “spell 1, spell 2, spell 1, spell 2, spell 3, repeat”, except for refreshing your DoTs and the occasional cooldown. The rotation for Shadow Priest in Shadowlands is much more involved than its BFA iterations and should not be clicked through at all. The focus is still on maintaining all 3 DoTs (including the returning Devouring Plague) and maximizing Void Bolt/Mind Blast casts, but SL Shadow Priest now has procs from Dark Thought and Dissonant Echoes to manage. Combined with a less-rigid talent tree, your rotation will also change drastically for aoe, dungeons or pvp.
This will just be a rough list of things to keep in mind when doing your rotation:
- Try to avoid capping resources. Most specs have a maximum amount of resource they can hold at one time. Be sure to spend it before any more resources you generate are wasted.
- Make sure to cast your spec’s damage cooldowns. Some specs are really reliant on their damage when their cooldown is active to make up for damage when it isn’t. These tend to be long, 2-4 minute cooldown spells, and most specs have at least 2, not counting any on-use trinkets.
- Make sure to use your regular abilities on cooldown if you aren’t pooling resources for a big cooldown.
- For stuff on shorter cooldowns that require resources, make sure to hold onto those resources so you can cast the cooldowns when they come up.
- Certain specs will have “mandatory” downtime due to how the spec functions (Feral Druid, DK Runes) where you have to wait and pool resources before you can cast another spell or ability
- ABC, or “Always Be Casting”.
- Getting targeted with a mechanic is not an excuse to do nothing
- If you have to move, almost every class has an instant-cast ability, even if it’s something like a shield that does no damage
- Do what you can to stay in range of targets and allies – normally, if you’ve gone out of range, you’ve gone too far
In short, wasting resources = bad. Cooldowns themselves are resources. Use all of the tools in your spellbook when appropriate.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Download a damage meter while you practice. We recommend using Details! Don’t watch the meter during combat, but set yourself a timer (3 minutes, 5 minutes) and start your rotation. After the timer stops, look at how you did. Keep practicing until you see those numbers go up. Any spec that has pets needs to set their pets to passive when your timer ends so that combat ends around the same time and you’ll get more accurate numbers.
You can also use the damage meter to compare your performance to a sim. That said, nobody pre-pots on target dummies, so don’t worry about matching your sims. You can read more about simming in our quickguide to simming.
There are several different categories of racials. If you find yourself forgetting to use them, consider putting them near other spells of a similar type on your action bar.
These racial abilities can be used if you have to move or fill in mandatory downtime and want to ABC:
These racial abilities remove CC:
- Undead racial Will of the Forsaken removes fear, charms, and sleep effects
These racial abilities provide DPS, HPS, or other “steroid” increases:
These racial abilities can heal either the character or someone else:
These racial abilities provide extra mobility:
These racial abilities provide extra CC:
- Tauren War Stomp
- Pandaren Quaking Palm
- Highmountain Tauren Bull Rush
- Nightborne Arcane Pulse slows enemies
- Blood Elf Arcane Torrent is an aoe offensive dispel.
Also covered in the Introduction to Raiding guide. Things to know before you start a fight include:
- Knowing your spec’s rotation based on the style of the fight and your available gear/talents/traits
- Knowing your spec’s preferred stat distribution
- Some specs have multiple builds, often with very different stat distributions
- On that note, make sure your build matches your playstyle
- Simming your gear/talents/etc. for damage output
- Selecting the right talents, based on the fight
- Selecting a good tmog, druids too
- Making sure you have the right sockets/enchants on your gear, based on the stats needed.
- For the following specs/classes, make sure your higher item level weapon is in the main-hand slot: Rogues, Fury Warrior, Enh Shaman, Frost DK, BM/WW Monk, and Demon Hunter.
- This will cause you to do more damage. The only time this changes is if you have a weapon that can proc an effect from on-hit, which means it goes in the main-hand slot, provided that it does more damage despite the loss in item level. This is where you’ll need to sim which piece to put in which slot.
In addition, it’s a good start to have the following:
- Personal health potions
- Flasks (An alchemist in the guild usually prepares a cauldron for raid.)
- Personal stat food (If you have access, you can pull these from the guild bank)
- Reference your specs/build’s stat distribution for if you need stat food or if you need to wait for the raid to put down a feast for mainstat
- Make sure any on-use trinkets are on your bars
- Feel free to combo these trinkets with any damage/healing cds
- The same goes for any active talents, make sure they’re on your bars
- Make sure to actually use these too
- You know what, put everything on your bars
- You can enable additional action bars under Interface -> Action Bars with the default UI, if you need more room
- You know what, put everything on your bars
- Make sure to actually use these too
- If you’re Hunter, make sure to have one pet of each specialization
- If you’re a rogue, make sure your poisons are applied to your weapons
- Warlocks and Hunters should summon pets before a fight
There a lot of resources for each class and specialization available. These resources cover talents, rotation, legendaries, soulbinds, conduits, and more. You can look into the various class discords for the most up-to-date information. These discords should have a frequently-asked-questions section available as one of their text channels, though some of them may be incomplete.
Some of these discords also have specific websites that can be visited, such as:
- Warlocks: https://lockonestopshop.com/
- Priests: https://warcraftpriests.com/
- Holy Paladins: https://wingsisup.com/
- Druids: https://www.dreamgrove.gg/
- Rogues: http://www.ravenholdt.net/
- Monks: https://www.peakofserenity.com/
- RSham: https://ancestralguidance.com/
- EleSham: https://stormearthandlava.com/
- Mages: https://www.altered-time.com/forum/
Note: for some of the ones that aren’t listed, make sure that the information you’re looking at is actually up to date.
You can also check out the class guides available on Wowhead or Icyveins. Many of these guides are spec-dependant – they may be just as good as the discords, or may be a few patches out of date, but still usable.
We personally do not recommend following the guides from Noxxic or Wowmeta due to them being either very out-of-date or incorrect. There are several other sites that are inaccurate as well. If you find one not mentioned on the list, be cautious and vet the information before using it.
The Mandatory Section About Class / Spec / Covenant / Soulbind / Conduit Choice and Optimization
It doesn’t really matter what class or spec you play, or what covenant you use for normal and heroic, so long as you are still playing to the best of your ability. We likely won’t ask anyone to switch covenants or soulbinds or conduits for normal or heroic progression. Likewise, the raid leads similarly don’t take responsibility for people’s class/spec choices, so long as you try your best with what you picked. If you do well at a “subpar” spec you have fun with, you will be doing better than if you do poorly with an “optimized” spec you don’t enjoy.
Asking for and Receiving Help
So you’ve read the guides and realize that you need help. That’s awesome!
Asking for Help
Tiraffe and Quetzie are generally always happy to help those who ask. Each one has different strengths and weaknesses, as well as availability. Feel free to ping them in the DPS channel to set something up, even if you would rather the conversation move to private Discord PMs after.
However much time you want to spend on improving is up to you, but if you want us to invest a lot of time, be prepared to invest a lot of time in turn. If we send you multiple discord essays, and then you come back a few days later asking us a one-liner question we already answered, don’t expect us to do much more than copy & paste the same message back. You will need to spend the time reading what we wrote – don’t expect a tldr. We may spend several hours poring over DPS logs, making charts, comparing and contrasting between you and others, researching specs we don’t play, and more, all in the interest of helping you out. Please respect the amount of time we spend on you.
You may also want to set up a time to talk in Discord. We will likely ask you to stream so that we can see how your keybinds are set up, what your UI looks like, and if there’s any glaring issues that can’t be tracked via damage meters (like clicking abilities or keyboard turning).
While we trust our raiders to be mostly self-sufficient, we often take note if someone is under-performing in certain metrics. If it continues over multiple weeks, the Raid Leads may reach out to talk with you. This isn’t an insult – it means that we’ve spotted a potential problem and believe it is within your capability to resolve it.
We realize that unsolicited advice from non raid leads may be upsetting, but most advice is coming from a place of good intentions. You can always take unsolicited advice and discuss it with Quetzie or Tiraffe to see if it is a good strategy, or if the other person was unwarranted.
Streamline and optimize; practice, practice, practice; prepare yourself. And stay motivated:
“Matsuoka Shuzo [松岡修造 ] – あきらめかけているあなた (NEVER GIVE UP!!) [English]” Youtube,
uploaded by Ryuujin131 on 25 Jun, 2010, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KxGRhd_iWuE
“I believe in all of you” Youtube, uploaded by A. L. G. on 28 Sep, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l1Rk2OFddZs