Mages, ten-man raiding, and other things that are awesome.

The Hybrid’s Dilemma

With Wrath winding down and Cataclysm just on the horizon, everyone’s mind is on the future – fresh new raids, leveling, and this strange broken Azeroth we all inhabit now. We’ve been focused on making sure our roster is “set,” and it pretty much is. We have some player shuffle; no one is leaving but several folks have switched characters. We have a druid migrating to a warrior, a hunter becoming a shaman, a paladin becoming a rogue, and a moonkin becoming a mage (that’s me).

What you might observe there is a distinct lessening of hybrid classes. We’ll lose a healer who could also DPS, and a DPS who could also heal. Especially in a ten-man setting, these hybrids can be crucial. Being able to off-heal for our group was the major motivating factor behind my switch to Moonkin – I’d actually planned to be more or less full-time resto, but it so happened that we recruited an awesome resto druid that week. Three resto druids isn’t exactly a stellar combination, so mostly I was an owlbear. And it was okay. (I did enjoy the “forest for the trees” jokes, though). But there were many things that were less fun about it, and I’ve been thinking about why I’m more or less okay with our group losing some hybrids.

"What, there's a dragon behind us? Never noticed."

Jack Of All Trades, Master of None…

For some people, not excelling at any one role wouldn’t really be a problem. They embrace their versatility (and it’s wonderful). Don’t get me wrong, I flatter myself to think I was a decent hybrid player. When I healed, I wasn’t standing in fire. I did the best I could. But I could never quite match our “regular” healers. Even though they didn’t think so, I always felt that I was a handicap and that we’d do better if we had a “real” healer for that night. I know, it’s a mental obstacle – but it was there.

Likewise, when you are a hybrid that plays both your hybrid specs, it can start to affect your play in either role. I felt that my DPS always lagged behind where it could be on many encounters. It was just never quite there. Keep in mind, I’m talking about raiding when it was actually still tough (before the thirty percent buff was finished rolling out, and while we were still working on heroic modes we hadn’t yet downed). Every point of DPS counted, every HPS could be crucial. I was actually healing for our guild’s first Sindragosa kill, and that was pretty fun. I healed it for a few weeks – and the first time I DPSed it I didn’t know exactly what I was doing.

Yes, I knew my rotation – but it’s the subtle nuances of a fight that are hard to remember when you aren’t in it that make the difference. Can I use my Treants at the very beginning and have them ready again by the time we use Heroism? Should I put a DoT on the iceblock while I’m dodging (the answer, by the way, is no… At least it was that time we narrowly avoided being blasted into oblivion by a block that broke a bit early). It turns out I was also meleeing it with my staff. Don’t judge me.

The Landscape of an Encounter

I was trying to explain this to Voss the other day and I hit upon a metaphor that really works for me. Imagine that each encounter is a landscape with specific challenges. Perhaps they are hurdles you have to jump over. As a DPS player, you approach that encounter from the perspective of: “Anything that causes me to stop casting at any moment is the enemy.” So movement is your hurdle, as well as other mechanics. Depending on the encounter, you might have specific tasks, and there are things that will force you to move. Let’s take heroic Blood Queen Lana’thel as an example.

DPS: We arrange ourselves in a loose circle, with the center area being reserved for folks who are linked. Don’t stand too close to someone else because of the proximity damage. Perform your rotation as hard and fast as you can because this is a DPS race. Your obstacles are:

  • Movement: Plan ahead for what you can cast while running to another player if you’re linked. Make sure you have an eye for where your shadow flames will go if you get the debuff for those (if you’re a druid, keep a cat-dash macro handy).
  • Planning: If you are the first DPS bitten, you’ll need to make sure you know where the next DPS is standing and not be too far from them. If you are to be bitten, try to get near (but not too near) to the bitten person.
  • Be ready to scatter when she flies up in the air and casts her fear. Don’t be near anyone else. Hit it like you mean it.

That’s the fight from the perspective of a DPS player. If you’re following along with my simile, picture it as a tophographical map with mountains you have to jump over, and valleys you have to avoid stumbling in. You’re running over the ground and those mountains and valleys fall at fairly predictable places. You know them. You don’t have to look to keep your footing. Suddenly, the healer is unavailable for that night. Guess what, hybrid with the gear to do it? You’re healing! Here’s the fight from that perspective:

Healers: We still arrange ourselves in a loose circle and don’t stand too close to anyone. Depending on your assigned role (are you tank healing? raid healing? HoT spamming?) your focus will be different. Let’s assume you are a raid healer. AoE damage is crazy in this fight – something I really didn’t know until the first time I healed it. So you have your own topographical map… Let’s say the healing version has boulders being thrown at you from above, which is really what it feels like the first time you heal a fight you don’t know. I knew there would be boulders hurting the raid. Did I have any idea where they’d come from? Not a clue.

  • Movement. You still have to run to linked players, but you also have to heal yourself while you’re doing it, or hope another healer is covering you. Likewise, if you are tank healing and you get the shadow flame debuff… nobody is healing those tanks while you’re running unless the other healers know to do so (they’re dropping boulders on the taaanks!)
  • Planning: Like the DPS, you will always be casting, but you’ll be HoTing the heck out of the raid. Suddenly, you can’t just ignore the people who are linked if they aren’t you – they need healing now!
  • Still be ready to scatter when she flies, but also be ready to heal everyone because damage from this phase is heavy.

The first time I healed this fight to fill in for a missing healer was, to say the least, intense. I don’t know how the healers were doing it with just two at that gear level, and I understood why it was so hit-and-miss. We pulled it off, I’m not saying “I wiped the raid!” The learning curve was steep. That’s just one fight, and yet the mechanics affecting a DPS or healer are in some respects completely different. It’s a different mindset – a different landscape, if you don’t mind my tortured metaphor. You can learn to navigate both landscapes and even switch mindsets if need be, but it’s a rare player who can pull each one off seamlessly or as well as someone who knows that landscape intimately. I’ve caught myself bracing to throw HoTs in a heavy-damage phase only to remember “Duh, you’re DPSing right now,” or preparing for heroism only to think, “…You don’t do anything special for heroism, you’re healing. Keep healing.”

You will have players who thrive on this challenge – the multifaceted challenge of knowing an encounter from more than one perspective, but it’s not easy. Some fights present less of a challenge than others, but switching mental gears (at least for me) was the largest obstacle.

This was the second largest obstacle.

Can I Have That For Offspec?

In our raid, everyone is expected to have and gear a respectable offspec. Even the pure players have two viable PvE specs that might be better suited to different encounters. I know our other mage is itching to go Frost for Cataclysm, and that’s fine. He’ll probably keep another spec. There are some differences between spec gear priorities that can crop up for pures, but it’s nothing compared to what it used to be like for hybrids. We’ll have to wait and see how that shakes out for hybrid classes in the expansion, with spirit to hit conversions and etcetera. Even with that in mind, though, hybrids will still have a “main” spec, and it takes time and many drops to adequately gear up an offspec properly. I have teased Voss because the one night he had to possibly switch from tanking to DPS he was “not prepared.”

Later that night, he shamefacedly admit that he hadn’t gemmed his DPS gear for a pretty good reason. He needed nearly twenty cardinal rubies to do it! As someone who has kept two sets of gear “raid ready” I sympathize with this wholly. Having plenty of alchemists and jewelcrafters I could afford it, but it’s still a considerable expense that other folks might not incur to the same extent. By the end of Wrath, my moonkin’s two gear sets were equally awesome – more or less equivalent to other folks in either role – but of course I was never going to take gear from “main” spec healers in order to do that. (Our healers were very generous with me, though, and so this is no gear complaint. They’d say, “It’s a sidegrade for me, give it to Shae,” and the cooperative spirit was a big part of the reason I was able to be so well-geared for when we needed it.) Still, things like trinkets are rare enough for main specs – it takes a long time and great fortune for an off-spec to even sniff them, which is as it should be. But it’s part of the hybrid handicap that prevents us from being as good as main healers when we need to be. Your gear can be “the best you’re able to get,” but it will probably still fall a bit short in one spec or the other until the content has been on farm for quite a long time.

Neither Fish, Nor Flesh, Nor Good Red Herring

Ultimately, the burdens and rewards of being an excellent hybrid player depend on the individual. Some people might thrive on the challenge and not mind the confusion and gear lag. In my case, I loved being a resto druid, and I loved being able to help the raid when it was needed. Unfortunately, I just didn’t love being a moonkin. It was tough for me to admit that to myself (and my fellow raiders, who had put the time and effort into gearing a character I no longer wanted to play at the end of the expansion). I still regret that and worry that folks may have seen it as selfishness on my part or a desire to gear a character then move onto another. I had concern that two mages was less useful for the raid than a moonkin and a mage – and in a way, that’s true, but what is most useful for the raid is people playing what they love. I’d rather have ten people truly passionate about their class and role – with less raid flexibility – than a few hybrids who really don’t want to be where they are but will do it “for the good of the raid.”

So we’re going to be a bit less flexible when we start raiding in Cataclysm, and we’re going to have to lean more heavily on our full-time healers. I hope that it turns out fine – and if we’re coming up short, we’ll recruit, because I’m confident in my character choice. I could be a hybrid, but at the end of the day I just don’t want to – and I think that’s okay.

Whenever I'm tempted to be a hybrid "for the good of the raid" Voss yells, "NO. Now, we're short on healers, what do you do?" "Well, I have a paladin that..." "NO!"

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Comments on: "The Hybrid’s Dilemma" (23)

  1. Ironically, I am going from straight Holy Pally to resto/boomkin. This is partly because we had a major shuffling of heals to other classes and partly to give my Pally Mapes a rest. Ah the fun of expansions!

  2. I have tanked, dpsed (as moonkin), and healed every heroic fight in ICC, mostly because I’m pretty good at filling in for missing roles. It’s handy to have that experience as a raid leader, but it was wearing me out by the time we stopped raiding.

    My healing lead wanted me to make the switch to resto for Cata, but I need my moonage. It means we may have to recruit a healer for Cata, but I’m fine with that. I want to play what I want to play.

  3. I guess I look at things differently.

    Sure, I like playing Neve, but she’s….brittle. If more than one enemy closes on her, she’s toast. Especially if she can’t sheep someone in time.

    But with a Pally, even specced as Ret, you can be out questing for ages without needing to drink or come back to a capital city. And in an instance, a jack-of-all-trades shines when the crap hits the fan. Lose the tank? You can tank in a pinch. Lose the healer? Step back, slide Healbot (or Vuhdo, your choice) into place, and start healing. Mobs running away toward ranged DPS? Use your abilities to peel them off of the Lock or Mage so that the tank can reacquire threat.

    Of course, none of that is the same as filling raiding needs. The class is the same, but the window looked through is different.

    • Oh, I’m definitely not oblivious to the value of hybrids. I love their versatility. I may have even been known to say, “Why would someone play anything other than a hybrid?” (Yeah, I know). I just…don’t like any class to DPS with quite as much as I like the mage, that’s all. If I had lots of players happy to be a hybrid and they fit in with raid comp, I’d be happy to have them! I just don’t want to make anyone do it who isn’t in love with it, the way you clearly are with Quint. :)

  4. The being able to switch roles is part of my problems with melee dps – I’ve tanked for so long (and dpsed so little) that I have a lot of trouble switching to melee dps where things don’t follow me.

    The switch from tanking to healing is generally a significant enough change that I don’t have as much trouble adjusting (although last time I healed a 5 man dungeon I died to the fire because I was so focused on grid). I know I’m not as good a healer as I am a tank however. A lot of that is practice certainly – and I don’t quite have the same passion towards healing as I do tanking…

    However I really love the versatility of having a healing offspec. And it was one of the final deciding factors in me going down the paladin line come Cataclysm (sorry Voss!) as I wrote on the wow forums just yesterday – I actually prefer the style of play in terms of warrior tanking (but I’m a better paladin tank for a number of reasons) but all other things being equal there is greater value in me having an offspec I’m actually viable with, than one that I’m not – and particularly it being a healing offspec. Oh… and being less likely to wake my wife when tanking on my paladin helps too – my heroic strike/cleave setup has always been quite noisy (its a weird keybinding, but I’m so used to it now).

    Our guild is small and to just get things started I’ve often had to heal. I’m happy to do it and within the core players at the moment a number of them have an interesting in tanking – and so me being able to heal at times (for 5 mans as well as raids) – there is great value in that.

    Gearwise I understand that problem – I don’t have a lot of time to gear up two specs, and my healing gear has only been as good as it is because I was initially main specced heals. That said, I’ve also been fortunate that we haven’t had any other pallies specced for healing – so holy plate has been mine – but keeping up with the trinkets has been more work.

    But I completely agree with the “playing what they love” philosophy – we’re in the process of recruiting to make up a solid 10 man team. So I approached all our players with the simple question – what toon are they leveling first (and secondary what spec did they want to play)? This will mean we’ll be running with 2 warlocks and we’re looking for more healers as a result – but they’ll be happier for it, and I believe it will work out better in the long run.

  5. Yes but obviously you were hitting it with your staff because you were trying to get mana back, so it’s totally ok ;-)

  6. Great post!

    I’ve always been a huge fan of hybrids, having raided with a paladin, shaman, and now my druid. I have to agree though that when it comes to dps’ing I <3 my mage above all else.

    I don't mind switching roles on any of my Hybrids if it is at least a semi-regular thing. I always run into trouble though when its been a month or more since I played one of my off specs, especially with the frequency of change in the last expansion.

    • Thanks! And you make a good point – in a way, not using hybrids makes it even harder to be a hybrid. I know I had to heal fights where I realized I had simply never done it because I hadn’t needed to heal in so long. Like riding a bike, it comes back – but there’s a definite learning curve.

  7. I love the idea of hybrids! It’s just unfortunate that I don’t like playing any of them. Like you, I loved being able to heal or dps on my druid, but never loved the boomkin side of it. My druid was a passable boomkin but I never liked the feel of it. Sure, I’d go Laser Turkey if we needed that healer-on-some-fights, dps-on-others utility, but it was never my first choice. I didn’t hate it or anything – I just preferred to rather be tree healing, or be on a different character altogether.

    Speaking of the landscape of an encounter, I’ve gone through quite the crash course in fight awareness lately, having switched from a ranged class (hunter, priest, tree/balance druid) to my first melee class (DK) EVER in my WoW career. I feel so dumb asking “So, uh, anything special for melee on this boss?” when it’s a fight we’ve done dozens of times, haha. At least we started off nice and slow and WTF LICH KING ON MY FIRST ICC RUN EVER what do I dooooooooo aaaghahghhhh

    I’ve also run into a similar, amusing problem when I’ve been using the core hound and it’s bloodlust ability. I have no idea when you’re supposed to bloodlust in a fight! Sometimes I forget completely. ._.

    As for the other hybrids? I won’t ever love paladins until their spellbook is something other than every thesaurus entry for “righteous”. Priests, Shadow’s never done it for me (though Shadowy Apparitions are…amazingly tempting). Perhaps a shaman! I do plan on leveling one in Cataclysm. Goblins have the BEST totems. :D

    • Haha. You illustrate my point perfectly – there are entire sections of a fight about which we know SQUAT. Tank a fight I’ve done 20 billion times…um? Melee DPS? Errr.

      I’m more in tune with calls for Heroism since I used to have to time them with my Treants – I learned VERY well when Heroism was scheduled to come, and also worked with our shaman to have him warn me three seconds in advance (he still does it, though we don’t have a moonkin anymore). It’s funny what makes you learn specific things.

      You might enjoy shaman! I really liked leveling one but have not played very much at 80.

  8. I always felt that the whole hybrid concept is very poorly implemented in WoW – the more classic definition is indeed a character or class, that is master of no trade but will have access to several different playstyles/roles at the same time, making it a flexible player to use in encounters.
    in WoW however, hybrid classes don’t actually play like hybrids: you’re not tanking, dpsing and healing in the same fight or even the same raidnight usually. sure, that retri-pala can offheal a little and that resto-druid can moonfire, but that’s not really the point. WoW hybrids come down to choosing 1 of their specs and then just doing that, like a pure class would. a resto-druid would stay in treeform (r.i.p) for the entire duration of a raid, he wouldn’t suddenly grab that lose add off the melee.

    WoW hybrids come down to having 3 classes in one char, so what it basically does is save you to relog to your alt.
    part of this is of course, that hybrids have really bombarded blizzard with whining for years because they wanted to ‘excel’ at something and ‘do the same numbers’ as their fellow pure classes (of which there isn’t so many left anyway now). that led blizzard to giving them the same powers but at the same time it killed the hybrid concept. personally I think it’s a shame because the fun of hybrids is versatility.

    • I agree with your comments here for sure. I always found the idea of the “restokin” intriguing – a character specced to both heal and DPS, but the end result was a character too weak in both to do either successfully. I actually experimented with this during some of our ill-fated H Sindragosa attempts – DPSing for the first phase and then off-healing for the last. My DPS was so inconsequential. We kept hitting the enrage. There was just no way to have my cake and eat it too.

      • Indeed. the issue of feeling too weak is really also a flaw in blizzard’s encounter design – if they wanted hybrid classes to work like hybrids and be ‘useful’, they would’ve needed to balance the game around that. nobody wants to play a hybrid if every raidguild rather replaces them with a pure healer or pure dps or tank.

        so from that PoV they really haven’t done a good job to start with and that’s probably why it was easier to ‘fix’ the situation by making hybrids ‘triple’ pure classes, rather than re-designing and re-balancing everything to make true hybrid playstyles needed.

      • Pre 3.0, I was our top 40 and 25-man raid healer with a non traditional druid spec that didn’t go all the way down the resto tree and instead had most of the mana regen talents from the balance tree. Her DPS was nothing to write home about but it allowed me to easily do my dailies while still rocking my raid role. Post 3.0 however, that was simply not viable.

  9. Now I’m going to leave you some dumb unsollicited advice on how to deal with heroism as a healer. Because there’s not that MUCH you can get out of it, but you can get some benefit out of it.

    Avoid using short-cast or GCD spells. Remember, those stupid things are capped so you are still left waiting around for the hard-cap and don’t get much out of it… well NOW you get an extra hot tick for hots, so that’s OK…

    I use Heroism, however, to catch up on healing using long-cast-time spells, so I don’t butt against the GCD limits. Those spells can pack a powerful punch, but usually the long cast time is prohibitive. You can even use your mana-saving heal, since it will be about as effective as a fast-heal when you’re augmented by haste.

    On hybrids – it’s hard “changing gears” and gathering 2 sets of loot on the same toon, especially since (1) you are capped by how many justice points you can get in a week (whereas with 2 toons, you just run the daily twice) and (2) you are still limited by ONE lockout for your two roles. I’m starting to appreciate the flexibility that ALTS give rather than offspecs for those reasons. Is it better to have a dps SPEC or a dps ALT (they gobble up the same amount of lewt)? Which is easier? Which is better for the guild?

    • That’s good Heroism advice. The last time I healed in a raid I was healing H LK, stupidly (meaning I was the best option, not that I was doing it stupidly…I hope) and heroism during P 2.5 coincided with my tree form CD. Hence, it consisted of “instant regrowthregrowth lifebloom lololol,” which may not have been ideal but was certainly enjoyable.

      As to the question of hybrids with specs vs other spec alts, I lean heavily towards main characters with off-specs simply because in order for the alts to get loot they need to be in the raid or else we need to be running two raids. Almost invariably swapping other characters in hurts progression, unless there’s something we absolutely can’t do without a character we just don’t have. (We had this problem with healing H Saurfang initially, the paladin healer was not very optional). For awhile we did run a fun “alts on Sunday” thing and geared at least ten more alts significantly. Our rule is actually main spec > off spec > trial members > alts, so even an alt in a main raid won’t be getting much unless it has absolutely no use for any main characters – whereas folks who are always there will tend to get decent stuff for their off-specs. I think that’s a guild culture thing, too, as I know I’ve raided with other guilds that enjoyed bringing in many alts and having people swap around to whatever they felt like playing at the time.
      It’s true you can’t spend as many justice points on your offspec but drops tend to fill that gap pretty quickly. My druid had a full 264 resto set without spending a single emblem, just from non-set leather pieces the other druids didn’t need because they didn’t want to break their set bonuses. Later, when I had points to spare (and tokens) I purchased resto T10 and started swapping it out. Gear wouldn’t really be the problem… if only I liked being a moonkin, alas. :(

      • True… the other side to the gearing coin is that you are THERE as your main spec to soak up gear for your off-spec that nobody else wants. Provided that your offspec is something easy to get “default gear.” A holy priest trying to gear as shadow will have a hard time of it, since cloth dps gear is in high demand. However, resto/ele shaman pretty much have their pick. “oh noes, dps mail? I guess I’ll take it since nobody else can use it. Snicker snicker.”

  10. I think I’d love to play a hybrid if their DPS spec was anywhere close to my mage, but none of the hybrid classes feel right to me in that regard, even if there technically are many similarities between moonkin, shadowpriests, elemental shaman and mages. If it was possible to play something like a battlemage, an arcane and not nature (or elemental) based hybrid caster/something (tank, I guess?), I probably would. I really like the luxury of switching roles when needed (although I agree that the luxury can easily become a burden and the gearing apsect can be tedious).

    I also agree with what Syl said about the somewhat poor implementation of hybrids in WoW. Not that I necessarily have a better idea of how to fix things, but I do rather love the concept of a true hybrid class being able to switch roles during an encounter rather than having hybrids basically being two to three (to four) ‘pure’ characters in one, yet constricted by their talent spec in what role they can viably perform. Its unsatisfying for both hybrids and pures in that regard.

  11. [...] The Hybrid’s Dilemma – Vidyala’s guild is preparing for Cataclysm and some of their members are changing characters for raiding. That includes Vidyala, who’s changing from a hybrid-capable druid to a single focus mage. She’s thought long and hard about it and recounts tales from her Wrath raiding experience of how being a hybrid has affected both her group and her own playing fun. She discusses with us why she’s made the choice to move away from the flexibility of being a hybrid character and is comfortable with that – great read. [...]

  12. [...] back when, in the ICC days, I wrote about the troubles I faced as a hybrid player. At the time, I was playing a moonkin with a side of resto. You can read that post first if you [...]

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