I'm nearly prepared to talk about the last big raid of TBC and sign-off for the last time. But one thing I was very interested to record for posterity, was raid composition in TBC.
We've moved past 40-man raids with eight tanks, six of which are fury-prot and bosses with 20 debuff slots. This article will be focusing on 25-man content, as that is the vast majority of raiding you will do, and neither of the 10-man raids are particularly challenging unless your gear is crap or your players sniff glue.
As a preface, get used to the idea of certain classes being mandatory, and often in multiples. Classic might have moved on to Wrath and the design philosophy of bringing the player, not the class, but here, in this blog post, and nowhere else, we're very much in TBC and some classes just will not function without the right raid support.
On the subject of support classes, you should also know that some players and classes are there because they provide support. This is at an individual DPS loss, for the sake of a raid DPS gain. Your guild's ability to put the right support classes in place around a solid core of damage dealing classes, is a significant factor in the success or failure of your raid.
As Pumpy, my previous guild leader, told me, some classes and players are recruited because they need to carry the raid. If they cannot, with all the support they require, that's your cue to tell them to hit the pine. Yes, it's cut-throat, yes, it's hard, but if you wanted to be part of the tiny number of guilds on your server that cleared "Dante Must Die" levels of raid difficulty, that's the decision you had to make.
Absolutely, content in later expansions can be difficult, perhaps even moreso than TBC's raids. But pre-nerf content in this expansion is no joke - it's tuned extremely highly, and a poorly put together raid with badly performing players will end in disaster.
Anyway, enough posturing - let's begin with the front row, shall we?
Composition Guide - Tanks
Protection Paladin: 1-2
Protection Paladins are the best tank in TBC, not close. With abilities like holy shield and consecration, a paladin can hold threat on an unlimited amount of trash. This becomes critical in raids like Mount Hyjal, where you have to deal with waves of 12 or more mobs, and it becomes impossible for druids and warriors to come anywhere near that consistent threat generation.
Paladins also bring a wide variety of powerful raid buffs, which increase in power multiplicatively. Protection Paladins are normally responsible for the second paladin buff, which is the protection-specific blessing of kings.
All that power comes at a price, however.
Paladins are by far the squishiest of the three tank classes, often having to choose between mitigation and threat, as Paladin abilities scale with Spell Power in TBC. It is certainly possible to pile on mitigation gear and tank hard-hitting bosses, however you are nullifying one of the Paladin's strengths at that point.
In addition, even wearing mitigation gear, a Paladin cannot stand up to genuine "tank-buster" bosses, such as Serpentshrine Cavern's Morogrim Tidewalker (#thegirlwasright) and Sunwell Plateau's Brutallus. In almost all cases, it's impossible.
Feral Druid - 1
Feral Druids (or "Bears" as I will be referring to them) are the thickest tanks of TBC. They have high health, high armor and high dodge. They generate the highest single target threat, and when a raid boss hits like a runaway ice-cream van, that's when you turn to your bear.
Bears also have very low gearing requirements, needing 415 defence rating to be uncrittable instead of 490, which gives them a lot of flexibility in gearing. A great bear player will use PvP gear, further reducing their requirement to use items that are only focussed on mitigation.
Regardless of their itemisation, Feral Druids also have monstrously high dodge. At the end of the expansion, it's not uncommon to see Druids with upwards of 70% dodge. The entire reason bosses in Sunwell Plateau have an additional 25% chance to hit is because if they didn't, Bear tanks would get to live in the instance rent free.
Feral druids also give you situational access to an innervate and a rebrith. Both of these take you out of form, so can only be used when you're not actively tanking, but it's nice to have when you can use it.
Feral druids have two key weaknesses. The first is that their low defence stats (block, dodge, parry) mean they are very susceptible to crushing blows. A bear relies on a huge health pool and high armor to soak crushing blows, rather than trying to have the defensive stats to make them a non-factor. This is particularly relevant on bosses like Morogrim, who can hand out three crushing blows in just over two seconds.
Crushing blows were removed as a mechanic halfway through TBC, however, meaning this weakness is only really relevant through phase two. Some bosses can still crush in later raids, but those encounters are a threat to a bear tank for different reasons.
The second, and more important flaw, is having no native defensive cooldowns. Furtermore, anything other than a trinket, such as a potion, takes you out of bear form, meaning certain death. Feral druids are incredibly binary when it comes to tanking - either you have the health pool, armor and healing support you need to suffer the hammering the boss will give you, or you don't, and you won't.
Protection Warrior: 0-1
Ah yes, the red-headed stepchild of TBC.
I played a warrior, and let me tell you - I loved it. But, as far as tanking goes, it's easily the worst of the three tanks.
Warriors have capped AoE that doesn't scale with attack power, so their AoE threat is junk, relative to a paladin. Their single-target abilities generate threat because of their base values, not because of your gear, so meaning they generate poor threat relative to a bear.
The class also sits in the uncomfortable territory of being tougher than a paladin, but squishier than a bear, meaning they'll get similar tank assignments, but the encounters have been designed for a druid (see, Sunwell Radiance). It is possible for a warrior wearing full mitigation gear to stand up to tank-busters, but it's stressful and a much higher drain on your healing group's resources.
Warriors are also quite difficult to play effectively, often having six or more abilities in rotation at any one time, which can be difficult to juggle whilst tanking. But this means the class is rewarding to play well, and has a high ceiling.
Where a warrior excels is in the flexibility of the class. Bosses like Archimonde that routinely fear can be handled with Berserker Rage. Bosses that deal high single-target damage through spells, such as Gathios the Shatterer can (sometimes) be handled with Spell Reflect. And of course, Shield Block is a six-second ability that completely nullifies Illidan Stormrage's shear.
Warriors also have access to a number of defensive cooldowns which can be very handy when progressing on a new boss. Last Stand and Shield Wall are excellent and when used right, can often turn an encounter by giving the healers breathing room, or DPS just a little more time to close out a boss.
Overall, there's no wrong composition to your tank lineup, except for not having a paladin. You need at least one protection paladin in your rotation for trash and a blessing. My guild used 1-1-1, which worked well, others used 1-2, or 2-1.
So that's tanks - but how do we keep them alive?
Composition Guide - Healers
The amount of healers in a run varies on your raid's gear and the difficulty of the instance. Most of the time, five healers was sufficient, however when the tuning level goes up, such as in SWP, you had to go to seven, or sometimes even eight (or seven with a DPS offhealing.)
A quick note on healing in TBC. You need a balance of strong single-target healers (Restoration Druids, Holy Paladins, Discipline Priests) and AoE Healers (Holy Priests, Restoration Shamans). Classes here are evaluated on how they fit into a healing composition as a whole, alongside their individual use-case strengths (i.e, it's unreasonable to judge a holy paladin based on their ability to heal multiple players.)
Holy Paladin: 1
As mentioned above, holy paladins are single-target healers. They are, bar none, the best in the game at this role. (Are you sensing a theme? Paladins are excellent. Bring them.) A good healing composition starts with a holy paladin and tasking them to sit on the main tank (or tanks) and never stop casting. They get especially nutty in the second half of TBC where spellhaste starts to become a factor, and so flash of light gets upgraded to holy light, massively increasing the single-target output.
Holy Paladins also bring raid utility through another blessing - nominally the third one, which will be wisdom for spellcasters, or might for physical DPS. Both of which are significant raid DPS increases.
Where Holy Paladins struggle is anything beyond the main tank, and they do not work well in multiples. Nothing in the Holy Paladin toolset works beyond a single target. Even single-target focussed classes, such as druids and discipline priests have tools that allow them to keep multiple plates spinning. With Paladins, it's one button, non-stop, with no flexibility.
Restoration Druid: 1
Resto Druids (or "Trees", as their healing form is called "Tree of Life") are an interesting class in TBC. Tranquility is only party wide and on a big cooldown. Their main role is to keep healing over time effects (particularly lifebloom) stacked up on key targets, such as the main tank, off-tanks, and anyone else who might have to take repeated damage.
Druids work especially well dealing with bosses that have periodic silence due to the strength of their healing over time, and also bring two big raid cooldowns in rebirth and innervate to the raid. Because of how mana efficient druids are, they almost never require their innervate, so the player can hand it out to top off a healer or fuel an arcane mage.
A side note here, innervate scales off of spirit, so it's best used on a player with high spirit, like a holy priest. Needs must, but don't be surprised if you restore very little mana to a shaman or a holy priest.
In terms of weaknesses, Druids lack powerful spot-healing. They're the inverse of a holy paladin. Resto druids keep lots of plates spinning with lifebloom, but a single target getting smashed will be a challenge for a druid. Healing touch just doesn't have the oomph needed to keep a tank from keeling over under sustained pressure.
Discipline Priest: 0-1
Discipline is an interesting spec in TBC. It doesn't do enough healing on its own to justify its position in a healing team. It manages spinning plates with shields, and healing over time, like a druid does, but it just doesn't stack up against a holy paladin. As for AoE healing, forget it. No circle of healing, no chance.
So what does disc do? Well, it's a raid support class in a healing slot. Disc does three things for the raid that are utterly unique. If you can fit one, you'll want one.
Firstly, discipline has access to improved prayer of spirit. Adding a chunk of spirit, it also adds a scaling spellpower buff. Even on classes that don't care about spirit, like Elemental Shamans, it's good for about +40SP, which is massive. It gets a lot better on classes like mages, which have natural synergy with spirit and spellpower.
Secondly, disc has access to pain suppression, a defensive cooldown which significantly reduces damage taken. When progressing on really hard-hitting bosses like Brutallus, this is invaluable, as it covers the key weakness of bears and paladins - that they don't have cooldowns of their own.
Lastly, the big one - Power Infusion. This is why you're bringing a disc priest. A big DPS cooldown which increases spell haste and spell power, whilst cutting mana costs. Putting this on a warlock is incredible - it's a massive raid DPS gain, particularly when timed with other offensive cooldowns, such as potions, bloodlust, and trinkets.
Despite all these benefits, the loss in raid healing is just too great. Pain Suppression is not great when you don't have to progress on a boss, and Warlocks and Mages get plenty of support elsewhere without having to pick the pocket of the healing core. If you have an excellent discipline priest who can maximise their output, you might be able to get away with it (like Milk Puff, OnyFans and the Senate on Remulos), but it's a big risk to take.
Holy Priest - 1-2
The first of the two pillars of AoE healing. Holy Priest has a wide and varied toolkit, including shields, healing over time through Renew, Prayer of Mending, and of course, Circle of Healing.
Holy Priests also have access to a number of utility spells including mass dispel, which is very useful, almost mandatory, on bosses like Felmyst and M'uru.
There's also Mind Control, which has some pocket uses, and if your raid allows you, Holy Nova for some extra damage on trash.
Circle of Healing, however, is the peak. A party-wide healing spell, Holy Priests can pump out AoE healing like nobody's business, which is absolutely critical from the start of the expansion to the end. It only gets better with spell haste and together with restoration Shamans, they form the backbone of any healing team.
Where Holy Priests fall down is raid utility. If your raid is setup right, a shadow priest will end up getting all the mass dispel and mind control jobs, meaning a holy priest's job is just to heal. That's not a bad thing, but something to be aware of when building your healing team.
Holy Priests also have a glass jaw, and put out a ton of threat. This dangerous combination means that fights like Morogrim Tidewalker, M'uru, even some of the Hyjal fights can be a problem. Holy priests must get comfortable with the idea of trying to throttle their healing during encounters that spawn waves of adds, or get used to tanking the floor.
Restoration Shaman: 1+
The king, the emperor, the grand poobah of TBC healing. If you want a spot in a raid, any raid, you spec resto shammy.
Resto single target healing is serviceable, but not great. The real winner here is Chain Heal. Healing up to three targets, it has built in AI that prioritises low-health players, and goes across groups. It has a low cast time, it's spammable, and mana efficient. Bar none, a restoration shaman can output a huge amount of healing with minimal effort, whilst being flexible enough to cover single targets when needed.
The real winner here, though, is the raid support. Whilst disc has some situationally good cooldowns, access to flexible totems depending on the group the shaman is placed in means that they will always be relevant. Caster DPS get access to mana spring and wrath of air, physical dps get windfury and flametongue and everyone gets tremor totem, which is mandatory on fights like Archimonde, and Kael'Thas' P1 and P3.
And that's without mentioning Mana Tide Totem, which functions as a baby innervate for an entire party, and allows a resto shammy to effectively support a thirsty arcane mage AND his shadow priest friend.
Finally, there's bloodlust. In TBC, Bloodlust is party wide, but doesn't trigger a debuff preventing repeated uses. For clever raid groups, that opens up scenarios where high performing DPS groups get more than one use of the spell. Particularly in instances like Sunwell Plateau where you'll have more resto shamans than groups, it can make DPS races like M'uru and Kil'jaden a lot easier to handle.
Make no mistake, your raid team needs at least one, if not many more, resto shamans.
Healing compositions vary as there's plenty of moving pieces. Generally you'll want one or two single target healers - nominally a resto druid and holy paladin - and AoE healers fill out the rest of the sheet. If you don't have enough shamans and holy priests, you'll need to increase the number of single target healers. This is very "square hole, round peg", however.
Adding healers is always a double-edged sword. Remember, that the more healers you pile on, the more DPS you're taking out of the pool. With how highly tuned the raids are, you need all the power you can get. I can still remember progging Gruul with eight healers, and failing to kill the boss thanks to the DPS running out of steam. It can and will happen to you if you try and bodge a healing composition.
For this next part, I've split the DPS into two segments - physical DPS and spellcasters.
Composition Guide - Physical DPS
I don't know physical DPS that well, mostly because I tanked and only played a rogue very late in the piece. So a lot of this knowledge is second hand.
This is where we start to get into the "support class" versus "carry class". Hunters and Fury Warriors don't do so much damage without help and whilst everyone wants to be the big chad bringing home the bacon, it takes a team of champions to make a champion team. Even the support classes, in turn, find themselves requiring support classes to do well.
Retribution Paladin: 1
Retribution paladin is a raid critical piece, providing support to the raid, instead of just physical DPS. It's also very tricky to play, requiring the use of a mechanic called "seal twisting" to maximise damage.
If your ret paladin doesn't seal twist, it's a significant individual DPS loss, but even not knowing how to do it, bringing an inexperienced retribution paladin is probably worth it anyway.
Retribution paladins handle the first, and most important, buff of TBC - Salvation. A threat reduction blessing, this is not optional. Every raid starts with salv - if you have one paladin, you get salv. Two, kings and salv, and three, the holy grail, wisdom / might, kings, and salv.
Get it? Everyone always gets salv. I cannot overstate how important threat management is in TBC, particularly in 25s with supercharged and correctly optimised DPS groups. Salv is mission critical - do. not. skimp.
Apart from the difficulty of seal twisting and the paladin blessing, Retribution paladins also have access to crusader strike. This ability refreshes all current judgement debuffs on the boss. These include judgement of the crusader for physical dps, and judgement of wisdom for caster dps - both of which are significant raid benefits.
It's not all good news, though - a retribution paladin doesn't have any area of effect abilities, apart from consecrate, which doesn't scale with any of their stats - which means you'll feel useless on trash. The difficulty involved in paladin blessings and seal twisting also makes it an unpopular class to play. This also keeps demand high, though, and a good retribution paladin is a huge boost for any raid team. You will absolutely notice when you don't have one.
Arms Warrior: 0-1
Another support class, arms is an interesting spec. Instead of seal twisting, your rotation involves slam-weaving - which can make the class feel like a melee spellcaster. There are variations of the spec with two one-handers - referred to as the "kebab" spec - which is different to play and achieves the same outcomes, but your DPS will always be lacking compared to fury.
Arms comes along for Mortal Strike, a healing debuff, and Deep Wounds, a physical damage debuff. Deep Wounds is the real moneymaker here, adding a big chunk to your entire melee and hunter core. Arms is also responsible for sunder armor and thunder clap when you don't have a protection warrior, which can make the class feel a little bit sad to play.
This can be compounded when, as a support class, you aren't given access to tools your fury warrior is given, due to your role supporting the raid and his role carrying the raid. Depending on raid recruitment you'll often miss out on key buffs like windfury and unleash rage, which would help you do relatively well, if still very much short compared to other stronger classes.
Combat Rogue - 0-1
A powerhouse that drives all before them... in PVP. In PvE, Combat Rogue is a halfway house between a carry and a support class. Right the right gear funnelled to them, they eventually do respectable damage, but for the majority of the expansion, combat comes to a raid for one reason - improved expose armor.
Improved expose armor is an upgrade over five stacks of sunder armor - particularly if you don't have a protection warrior. It is an individual DPS loss, however, to sink five combo points into IEA instead of, say, a spell that does damage.
That isn't to say they have nothing up their sleeve, warglaives are correctly itemized for rogues, not warriors. They also have plenty of handy raid tools, such as distract, cloak of shadows and evasion, which all have uses at different points - evasion when progging on Reliquary of Souls is very handy, for example.
The issue is that even when a rogue has all the gear they need and the right support, they function like a worse fury warrior.
Not to mention that if your rogue doesn't bother to bring IEA, they're riding the bench.
Feral (Cat) Druid: 0-1
I'm including kitty here for posterity's sake, but kitty is not carried as a physical dps class in any proper raid composition. Reason being is that their benefits - such as providing a critical hit bonus, an innervate, and a rebirth - does not offset their almost comically low damage.
Part of the reason for this, is that feral has to use a rare level 40 item which provides them with 20 energy when they shift into feral cat form. This is called "power shifting", which is quite mana intensive, and the only way a kitty can generate enough energy to do their rotation.
Having to trade a proper level 70 item (and your meta socket) in order to play your spec is just as bad as it sounds. That should give you an indication of just how awful feral druid DPS is in TBC. Only if you adore the spec, your raid is particularly desperate for spots on the bus, or your raid doesn't use a bear, should you bother.
Enhancement Shaman: 1-2
Speaking of halfway houses, the Enhancement Shaman is also a mix between support and carry - the difference being Enhance does a more damage and offers more raid support. Enhance is arguably the most desirable "support" class for physical DPS of any stripe.
I've hinted at it, but Windfury is the most powerful single buff in TBC. For some classes it is a 20% or more DPS buff - it is near mandatory as a retribution paladin and non-kebab arms warrior, and not far behind on pretty much every other melee DPS class. Enhancement has an improved version of the totem which comes with an attack power increase as well.
That's not all - Enhancement also has access to Unleash Rage, a powerful attack power bonus which stacks multiplicatively.
This buff also increases hunter pet damage, as they will be close enough to receive the bonus. It's win-win-win all the way through. The spec is also pretty fun, apart from needing to twist between grace of air and windfury totem for maximum pump.
And of course, Enhance is also a source of Bloodlust. Suffice to say, every physical DPS group wants one, and they work in multiples, stacking bloodlust and increasing unleash rage uptime.
Survival Hunter: 0-1
Anyone who did their research before jumping into TBC knows that Hunter is one of the premiere classes. High raid damage, easy levelling, low skill ceiling (maybe.)
However, behind every great hunter team, one player needs to take the L in order to benefit the raid as a whole. That person is playing survival.
Survival does healthy damage, though nowhere near the output of beast mastery, and they need to work harder to achieve it, by melee weaving. It's a difficult class to play, and made even less desirable when the next block over, people are playing beast mastery, doing all the damage and getting all the e-cred.
Survival sits close to the top of the pyramid as a support class, however, because of the power of their buffs. Expose weakness, triggered on critical hits, adds a chunky attack power bonus to your physical DPS group, along with the bonuses from their hunter's mark also applying for melee.
The good news is, apart from the melee weaving and doing the same thing beast mastery does, but slightly less effectively, it's very rewarding to play the spec well. There's fewer good chemicals in this world than playing a support class like survival that really allows your physical dps classes to rip the lid off.
Furry Warrior: 0-1
Furry Warrior is the reward for recruting and layering all those physical DPS buffs. A fully loaded and supported furry warrior can go toe-to-toe with a beast mastery hunter. They are the best glaive user, and will make the most (again, barring beast mastery) out of high demand trinkets like the Dragonspine Trophy.
They also have some solid raid buffs when spec'd into them. Improved demoralizing shout is excellent for reducing physical damage for heavy hitting bosses, and improved battle shout feeds more attack power bonuses into the unleash rage algorithm.
But, just in case you missed the obvious telegraph, furry's greatest weakness is needing to be funnelled gear and raid buffs, and there's no upper limit to what a warrior needs in order to excel. When support classes are thinly spread, furry will demand those buffs, or wind up doing no damage all.
These requirements also mean there's not a lot of room for anyone else. A single furry warrior is about all you can fit - both for gear and raid support.
Beast Mastery Hunter: 1+
From day one, until your last day in the sunwell, beast mastery (or BM) hunter is the best physical DPS in any raid. It is arguably the best DPS class in TBC. The class does require a non-zero amount of skill to play properly, particularly when timing steady shots. But the class performs well on its own, or in multiples, and has healthy output even with little to no raid support.
Beast Mastery also comes with plenty of helpful tools of its own. Misdirect, particularly in TBC, is a very powerful tool used early and often. Freezing trap, frost trap and snake trap all see varying degrees of use. And if that wasn't enough, they have a powerful percentage-based damage buff which stacks.
Ferocious Inspiration, the damage buff, provides a flat 3% increase per hunter, per stack. Assuming you also add a druid for increased critical hit chance, and an enhancement shaman for increased agility, each hunter will almost permanently have an extra 9% increased damage. This buff is also applied to other members in the party - so your enhance and feral druid are also receiving the same bonuses.
Hunters aren't perfect, however, and playing the class well takes skill. You need to have effective pet control, as it's a big part of your damage. This includes using an item called a "steam tonk controller" to dismiss your pet and resummon it to protect it, and knowing when it's safe to send it in on the boss.
A good hunter will also make use of weakauras and other addons to help them determine when they should be weaving in steady shot (or aimed shot, or whatever else) to maximise their damage. There are plenty of rubbish hunters in TBC who are more than happy to demonstrate what it looks like when the class is played poorly.
As one of the primary sources of raid damage, it's on you to lead the way. If you can't do that, it's time to reroll or respec and let someone else have a go. But you'll definitely want as many beast mastery hunters as you can afford in your raid.
As you would've just read, physical DPS does not mean "all melee, all the time". In fact, being tubby on melee can cause you plenty of problems, especially on fights like Mag'theridon, Naj'entus and Azgalor. At least one hunter group, for both the damage, raid utility and ranged flexibility, is ideal.
We've had a look at physical DPS, now let's cross to the other side of the fence.
Composition Guide - Spellcasters
Shadow Priest: 1
Shadow Priests, to me, are symbolic of the entire expansion. Your individual DPS might be so low you may as well not contribute at all, but you contribute in other ways to make up the difference.
Shadow Priest has plenty of utility as a class, irrespective of support. Mass dispel, mind control, power word fortitude so the healers don't have to do it. In a pinch they can drop out of shadow form an off-heal, and put shields on themselves or other players. Every raid needs a good shadow priest.
Shadow Priests also provide a flat 3% damage increase for spell casters. The real deal best part of the shadow spec is vampiric touch, a damage over time spell which restores mana (and can be upgraded to restore health) to players in the party. This is an incredible party buff to bring to the table, and makes arcane mage a viable spec in TBC - more on that later. Depending on how your groups are setup, you can also rotate in healers to receive mana for battles of attrition, such as Illidan, Brutallus and Eredar Twins.
Where shadow falls down (but not to the point where you would ever consider dropping one out of the lineup) is pretty simple. Low raid damage, and high threat. Due to how threat is calculated, shadow generates threat for restoring health and mana. It also consumes stacks of improved shadow bolt, meaning more than one is a huge raid DPS loss for your warlocks - again, more on that later.
Elemental Shaman: 0-1
This is me, all told, I will not apologise for bias.
Elemental is what you bring when resto is too boring and enhancement is too hard. The spec's unique draw card is totem of wrath, which improves spell hit and spell critical chance by a reasonable chunk. The hit increase is very relevant for warlocks, so expect to spend most of TBC hanging in the warlock group, pretending your lightning bolts are shadow bolts.
Elemental is also the best spec for ranged interrupts, due to having access to Earth Shock, which needs spell hit, on a short cooldown, alongside other benefits that overlap with other shamans - bloodlust, totems of various flavors (particularly wrath of air and tremor,) and purge.
It stops being relevant later, but Elemental is pretty mobile for a caster as well. They have low cast times (even lower with spell haste), and access to an instant cast slow in frost shock. I went into some detail on this in SSC and TK, but this skillset makes elemental perfect to draw aggro on untankable mobs and kite them (the two examples being striders on the Lady Vashj encounter and phoenixes on Kael'thas.)
When the screws are turning and the healing requirements go up, Elemental is one of the first to drop out in favor of a restoration shaman. Whilst the benefits from totem of wrath are nice, they're not as impactful as you'd like to believe and it's not hard to see a restoration shaman who provides nearly as much benefit and pumps out AoE healing as a much better option.
My guild had my back, and for that I will forever be grateful. But plenty of other guilds told their shamans to either hit the pine or respec.
Balance Druid: 0-1
Balance Druid, also known as moonkin, boomkin, boomy, and chicken, is another support spec, this time for casters. It brings with it a native critical strike chance buff for spellcasters, as well as an innervate and a rebirth (battle resurrection).
Boomies also bring with them improved faerie fire, which improves the hit chance of physical DPS. Much like the elemental totem of wrath, this means that your physical DPS classes (in particular rogues, hunters and warriors) have to gear a significantly lower amount of hit, meaning more power, and more damage. Boomkins can also offheal effectively with healing over time spells, which don't break the moonkin form.
The reason a boomkin isn't an auto-include are very similar justifications to the elemental shaman. Their individual DPS can be low, making it a net raid loss, even with the bonus to critical hits. A bonus to the hit rate of physical DPS is nice, but depending on what phase you're in, it may no longer be relevant. On balance (geddit), faerie fire is less likely to be irrelevant than totem of wrath, but it's far from an impossibility.
Fire Mage: 0-1
It would be remiss of me not to mention the favourite spec of long time reader and friend of the blog, Blackend, the Rain Man of fire mages.
Let's start with the good - mage, as a class, has a lot of relevant utility and you will always want at least one. Arcane intellect is very strong, adding mana and critical hit chance (and often spellpower scaling with talents). The mage table, an ubiqitous part of any raid, is something I would consider to be mandatory in any 25-man team. And of course, there's reliable ranged targeted crowd control in polymorph.
The particular draw for a fire mage is a debuff placed on the boss which increases fire damage taken by a significant amount. This synergises with destruction warlocks, who have access to fire spells, thus providing a consistent, flat damage increase, along with flame shock for shamans of all stripes. Fire mages can also use Flame Caps, an item which increases the damage of fire spells.
The problem with fire mage, is that destruction warlocks do more damage by default in shadow. I keep coming back to the concept of raid DPS, because it's important. The damage you lose by onboarding a fire mage is not made up for by having your warlock core switch to fire spells and Flame Caps.
And that's without mentioning that once phase 2 drops and arcane gains access to the T5 2-piece bonus, arcane puts fire in the dumpster. It's not close.
That isn't to say it was never done, though. Desperadoes, one of the guilds on Remulos, ran a triple destro fire core with another long time friend of the publication, MrNaCl, tucked away in the heal group to stack scorches.
Affliction Warlock: 0-1
Affliction is the Warlock support class. You bring an affliction spec warlock for two reasons - a big physical damage reduction, and improved Curse of the Elements, which increases the target's spell damage taken. The physical damage reduction is important when handling bosses that hit hard and often, particularly at the start of a phase. These include Mag'theridon, Morogrim Tidewalker, Azgalor and Archimonde, all of which hit hard and fast, and will plough through an undergeared tank.
The reason you wouldn't bring an affliction warlock is simply because your raid has progressed past the point where the physical damage reduction is required. Affliction's individual damage is the lowest and the raid increase from Curse of Elements is actually quite narrow, any only benefits other warlocks (and shadow priests.)
The good news is that a good warlock is still a good warlock, and so it's common, almost expected, for the affliction warlock to respec and continue to be part of the raid team.
Destruction Warlock: 1+
Destruction Warlock is the king of caster DPS in TBC. Much like beast mastery hunters, there's a solid argument that destro lock is the best class and spec in the game.
There's lots of similarities between the two classes. Both classes work well with, or without, raid support. As mentioned when discussing beast mastery, you should reinforce your strengths with raid support, but when the chips are down, a raid stacked with destruction warlocks with minimal support will still produce respectable DPS. They're also self-sufficient, being able to Life Tap to restore mana.
As a class, Warlock brings a lot of utility to the raid, provided your warlocks communicate with one another. Each warlock brings a health stone to the raid, in addition to a warlock summon. TBC allows players to carry and use more than one healthstone, provided the amount of health restored is different, which is very relevant on long fights such as Lady Vashj, Kael'thas, Felmyst, and Kil'jaden.
Warlocks also bring a certain amount of raid utility in curses. Recklessness increases physical damage taken (although it comes with a hefty increase in phyisical damage, so make sure your tanks can handle it), Tongues slows casting speed, and Elements increases spell damage taken (as mentioned above, affliction does have a better version of this, but destro can still use it.)
Just like beast mastery, destro warlocks also have access to a stacking, multiplicative damage buff. In this case, it's Improved Shadow Bolt (or, ISB, as it's sometimes called). This gives the next four sources of shadow damage a big increase in damage after a critical strike. Because it's applied on the boss, not the party, it's raid wide, so multiple warlocks in multiple groups will all benefit from the boost.
Just like beast mastery, you want as many warlocks as you can fit into your raid - accept no substitute!
Arcane Mage: 1
Arcane is a very interesting spec in TBC. It revolves around using arcane blast, which deals more damage the more mana is missing from your mana pool, and has a cast time reduction when used in succession.
Hunters and Warlocks sit on the dual thrones of TBC - provided you only look at the gear available at the end of the expansion. But the grimy middle in phases 2 and 3, is where Arcane is almost in a league of its own. The tier 5 bonus gives Arcane Blast a monster increase in damage, along with an increase in mana cost, which synergises with what an arcane mage wants to do - which is ride on the edge of having no mana, smashing out powered up arcane blasts.
As mentioned in the fire mage section, arcane also functions as a vending machine providing conjured food for the raid and reliable, effective crowd control in polymorph. It's what mage did, does, and will continue to do.
The weakness of arcane is that it is totally dependent on other classes. A shadow priest is mandatory (although that's pretty close to mandatory anyway...) and at least one innervate from a druid is highly desirable. Much like a fury warrior, there should be only one, as the support required to keep multiple arcane mages operating can (not always) warp your raid and deprive your healers of resources.
Ducks did run two all the way through TBC, though. So it's not impossible.
Sample Raid Compositions
So you can visualise what some of this knowledge looks like in practice, here are some historical 25-man raid comps run by the Ducks.
The first composition is a lower healer count - this is suitable for anything up to and including Black Temple, though you could easily go for a sixth healer depending on gearing. Note the two arcane mages, which is not optimal, but both players were high performers, and had very much earned their spots (and were comfortable with one or neither getting an innervate.)
This second composition is for the Sunwell. The healing requirements jump up significantly, and so the numbers increased from an average of five healers to seven. Not to mention that Ramiel / Zeruel had healing gear available for her boomkin to offheal where possible.
In subsequent expansions, most buffs became party wide, and overlapping buffs were no longer allowed to stack (such as might and battle shout.) The strategy of building a "metaslave" raid composition disappeared. I don't have an opinion on that design decision, as both have their merits.
With Remulos being the small server that it was, trying to put together an optimal raid composition became progressively harder as the playerbase dwindled. At times, the ducks had to make do with whatever 25 players they could put on the table. Even the premier guilds like Parseholes, Luciform and Drop Bears encountered their own problems with player attrition - some eventually choosing the green pastures of Arugal to try and recruit more players.
Big guilds ate little guilds until they became little guilds, then got eaten. The skilled and determined players remaining found spots, and learned to make do with the resources they had.
In closing, I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into TBC raid composition. It's a fascinating subject, and one that I feel deserves to be preserved. It truly is a thing of beauty to see a fully optmised raid group take the field, to see all the different elements working together.
Catch you next time,
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