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!"