Wowhead's Not a Tier List - Why It's Still Too Early to Decide the Best Class in Shadowlands
releasing on November 23rd
, players everywhere are wondering which class they should play in the new expansion. Which spec will be the strongest in Castle Nathria, and what they can do to be as competitive as possible? The burning need to prepare early pushes players to categorize and rank the performance of classes against one another, often times well before it's even proper to do so.
Tier lists are the result of this desire; ordered rankings on the mathematical or perceived performance of various specs. These lists are immensely popular, but that popularity often works against them, as some of the methods used to create those lists are scientific and based on demonstrable evidence... while others are anecdotal at best. They're particularly popular on the eve of a new raid tier or expansion, as many players are interested in what the new metas will be, but this is also the time in which they're most volatile, as frequent tuning changes cause them to become outdated very quickly. Even with the best of intentions, no list is perfect - arguments still break out over
class rankings in Classic WoW
, despite being a 15 year old game with years of testing and evidence behind it.
Despite mountains of evidence, players still debate endlessly over performance metrics in Classic WoW.
Bugs and Tuning
What we're presenting is not a tier list - it's simply too early for one to be useful to anyone. Instead, we're highlighting how these lists are only temporary glances and why current perception may not match up with reality once the actual expansion goes live. Players are often misled by videos or website rankings which tell them "look how strong this class is right now!", without realizing that it's a temporary condition. For example:
Fury Warriors were widely thought of as one of the stronger melee specializations during early raid testing. Unbeknownst to most players,
was dealing 30% more damage than intended due to an innocuous bug in which
incorrectly affected both spells. Few players would know that though, as it isn't something that normally shows up in spell diffs. Since fixing the bug, Fury is now considered one of the worst specs, despite no obvious tuning change explaining the drop. If you're not in the know, it's almost completely unexplained.
Unholy Death Knight looked amazing when Pre-patch went live, until a
stopped the azerite trait
from double dipping (benefitting twice from) mastery. On the other hand, the new
execute talent didn't scale with mastery as intended, making it much worse. This is also a great example of why Pre-patch performance is in no way indicative of what balance may look like at level 60.
Frost Mages were performing extremely well earlier in the beta due to the
legendary effect not properly fading after
was finished dealing damage. They've also recently undergone a lot of tuning, with wide swinging buffs and nerfs over the last few weeks, so players who aren't keep up week to week will very quickly end up working off old information.
Tuning is one thing, but some Covenant abilities have been
, such as the Rogue Venthyr ability
being replaced by
was widely considered one of the best legendary powers, BiS nearly across the board, which just last week lead to a significant redesign and resulting nerf. That's just one of many major recent tuning changes which will ultimately dictate performance.
Tier lists made in between these events will be skewed by them, and while bugs will always be a thing, it's important to recognize the dangers in trying to qualify or make hard determinations too early in the process. Everyone wants to know what the next great spec will be, but after more than a decade we also know that tuning happens very late in the development process - even past launch, as Heroic and Mythic week raid tuning has been standard over the last several tiers.
Therefore we aren't making a tier list because it's simply too early to do so. Telling you to play Shadow Priest and avoid Havoc Demon Hunter because one is doing well and the other poor
would be disingenuous, because even though it seems like there isn't much time until expansion launch, there are still a lot of changes being done. There's every reason to believe that more specs will get nerfed, others will be buffed, with more changes in between, but nobody knows what the final numbers will look like until we get there. We've seen some type of tuning with nearly every weekly beta build and that's likely going to continue even after launch.
The only way to truly "play the best" is to prepare everything and be ready to switch on a whim, otherwise you're just gambling. Ele Shaman may be doing reasonably well with no indication of being the best, but it doesn't even need significant buffs to get there, a few other specs just need to be nerfed. Likewise, encounter mechanics and evolving strategies will influence metas over time - as we've seen all too often with the shifting tank metas:
Vengeance Demon Hunters have rather poorly tuned damage and self-sustain, but perform amazingly well on the Beta due to how kite-friendly Mythic+ dungeons are. The synergy between Elysian Decree and Razelikh allows them to pop two decrees within 8 seconds, then jump out of harms way, but a nerf to either of those bonuses will drop them like a rock.
Brewmaster Monk covenants have received considerable tuning over the last several weeks, more than tripling the value of
, and halving-then-reverting the nerf to
. As a result, Kyrian went from middle of the pack to the overwhelming #1 single-target pick, while Necrolord went from worst to best in AoE, and Night Fae dropped from best to worst virtually overnight.
Early Decisions are Subject to Change
It's important to distinguish optimization and viability. Many players will tell you that tier lists and rankings don't matter if you're not a world race competitive player or that virtually any class/spec combination can clear any content in WoW, but it's even more important to remember that tuning is a revolving door - a class will be considered great one moment and terrible the next, but it always comes back around. The most important aspect has always been to
play what you enjoy
, as a good player on an underperforming class will routinely outshine inexperienced players on overperforming ones.
The takeaway is that tier lists can be very useful, but it's also important to make sure they're backed by proper data, not a handful of random boss pulls on beta, subject to bugs, or missing the most recent tuning changes. Many players want to know what will be the best class or spec to focus on in Shadowlands, but there have been numerous examples of a class looking extremely strong during testing only to fall to the nerf hammer shortly before content goes live, and the last thing you want to do is invest too early.
It may be too early to say what will be best, but we can help you stay up to date in order to make informed decisions. As always, our goal is to bring you quality information, so we'll be starting up our
State of the Class
series soon, as well as continuing to update our Best Covenants and Best Legendaries for each class guides. Finally, our class guides will be updated shortly before expansion launch on
, to ensure they contain all the info you need for making your way to level 60 and get into end-game content in
The State of Classes Going into ShadowlandsBest Covenant for Each ClassBest Legendary for Each Class
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