With the surprise announcement of WoW Cataclysm Classic at Blizzcon 2023, now is a great time to talk about DPS classes. Many consider Cataclysm to be the first 'current-age' WoW expansion, and with that marker came a different philosophy on DPS class design.
Here's a productive tier list of every DPS class in Cataclysm so you can be ready for when the classic version launches.
WoW Cataclysm DPS Tier List - Best Classes
|Fire Mage, Survival Hunter, Marksmen Hunter, Shadow Priest, Affliction Warlock, Unholy Death Knight
|Retribution Paladin, Demonology Warlock, Frost Death Knight, Elemental Shaman, Assassination Rogue, Balance Druid, Arcane Mage,
|Combat Rogue, Arms Warrior, Enhancement Shaman, Feral Druid
|Fury Warrior, Destruction Warlock
|Beast Mastery Hunter, Subtlety Rogue, Frost Mage
Best DPS Classes in WoW Cataclysm
Generally, the best DPS classes during WoW Cataclysm have access to every type of tool necessary for solid PvE performance. Cataclysm raid content was made considerably more difficult compared to Wrath of the Lich King. This is why the best classes have strong AOE, consistent damage up-time, and significant survivability.
Best S-Tier classes in WoW Cataclysm
WoW Cataclysm Classic will begin life on Patch 4.3.4, a time when the Fire Mage was considered the strongest DPS class and spec of the entire expansion. With utterly devastating single-target and AOE damage, coupled with its utility, the Fire Mage reigns supreme over all others.
If Fire Mages didn't exist, the Survival Hunter would easily be the strongest class in Cataclysm. All Hunters received a resource overhaul, with Mana being removed in favor of the new Focus system, effectively removing their resource limitations as a ranged class. Survival Hunters, in particular, received so many upgrades to their core gameplay that they were largely considered to be overpowered for most of the expansion. If you're looking to be at the top of the DPS meter, pick this class spec to play.
It was in WoW Cataclysm where the Hunter class had Mana, as a resource, removed in place of Focus. This was a massive win for all Hunters, and it was especially so for the Marksmen Hunter due to how much of a Mana guzzler it was. Without the limitation of a limited resource, the exceptionally high-damage Marksmen Hunter has no trouble dishing out pain at the safety of long-range.
Throughout WoW's history, Shadow Priests have always been an extremely strong class spec, and that is no different in Cataclysm. Shadow Priests during Cata have a tool for every job, and it is this insane versatility, coupled with their high damage in every scenario, that puts the class on the top of the food chain for DPS.
Coming from Wrath of the Lich King, Affliction Warlocks maintained their exceptional combo of having high single-target damage along with ease of damage up time due to a focus on DoT (Damage over Time) spells. While the class doesn't have the strongest AOE, it is still able to contribute a solid amount through manual DoT spread. Affliction is, however, difficult to play at a high level due to the complexity of DoT management and cooldowns.
Unholy Death Knight
Introduced as basically gods in terms of gameplay balance in Wrath of the Lich King, Unholy Death Knights maintain their enchanted status as a significant DPS with the advantage of ease of play, plate armor, strong sustainability, and utility through the use of Deathgrip. Additionally, the Unholy Death Knight is one of the best scaling DPS classes when it comes to gear upgrades, second only to Fire Mages.
Best A-Tier classes in WoW Cataclysm
In WoW Cataclysm, Retribution Paladins received a resource overhaul that is still controversial to this day. The addition of Holy Power changed how the class spec functioned despite it retaining its powerhouse status (like Death Knights) spawned from Wrath of the Lich King. Even so, the Ret Pally has top-tier survivalability, utility, and burst DPS where it counts. Being a cooldown-focused class, the Ret Pally can suffer a bit in the sustain DPS department if fights last too long or are too short. Funny that this factor remains true even to this day.
Warlocks received a massive class overhaul in Cataclysm, with Demonology receiving the most significant changes of all, for the better. With the rework, Demonology Warlocks shot to the top of the list for top-tier DPS due to how much easier it became to play. With top-tier DPS and standard warlock sustainability, the Demo Warlock is a solid pick. Looking at it in hindsight, it was this rework that set the stage for the current iteration of the spec in current Retail WoW.
Frost Death Knight
The core of the Frost Death Knight does not change much at all going into Cataclysm from Wrath of the Lich King. Instead, the class spec received some well-received quality-of-life improvements to its flow, with spells like Howling Blast losing its cooldown. However, some of these quality-of-life improvements became determents in the hands of an unskilled player. It was not always ideal to spam Howling Blast in AOE situations, for example. So while the spec is still extremely strong, it is harder to play than its Wrath of the Lich King counterpart.
Elemental Shamans were a strong class in Wrath of the Lich King, but their power came in the form of buffs for the raid rather than direct strength themselves. While they were no slouch in the DPS department, rarely could they compete against the heavy hitters. That changes in Cataclysm, where the class spec received massive buffs to just about their entire kit. Their greatest detriment is the addition of Time Warp for Mages, which acts like a Bloodlust for the raid. This addition reduced the need to have a Shaman in the raid beyond just having another DPS class.
Assassination Rogues have always been known as the go-to single-target DPS spec for the class, which remains true in Cataclysm. The class spec received a significant boost to damage with the rework of several of its key damage talents, further boosting its already stellar performance. The same can't exactly be said about its AOE or Cleave, but that isn't to say it is weak in those departments. There are just many better choices for it.
Balance Druids were the ultimate AOE class in Cataclysm, easily able to contend with or exceed the Unholy Death Knight and Fire Mage. Their single target was also rather on the strong side of the spectrum, and Moonkin being a semi-tanky form made it easy to survive with as well. Where they lacked a bit is in their scaling and dependency on gear upgrades to exceed. An undergeared Moonkin felt awful to play just as it did in The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King.
Arcane Mages in Cataclysm were known for their extremely high single target DPS through spamming Arcane Blast; a literal single-button rotation. However, the class was also notoriously difficult to play because that DPS came at the cost of needing to manage Mana so that you didn't run out within 30 seconds of a raid fight. Arcane Mages are also hilariously bad at dealing with AOE damage as an additional trade-off. Still, when played at a high level, it wasn't uncommon to see Arcane Mages topping the damage meter over all other classes on this list, including Fire Mages.
Best B-Tier classes in WoW Cataclysm
Combat Rogues were strong in Cataclysm in terms of overall DPS(Single, Cleave). However, they were made much harder to play compared to its Wrath of the Lich King iteration, and they generally performed better during Cleave fights rather than single targets. Still, a skilled Combat Rogue sat at the top of the DPS meter while also bringing huge general PvE utility (Sap, Stuns, Blinds, Disarms, etc...). Thus, the class spec sits at the top of the B-tier list.
Arms Warriors spend an entire expansion (Wrath of the Lich King) as a joke class spec, overshadowed by the likes of the Retribution Paladin and Death Knight. In Cataclysm, they made a massive return to form with a huge buff to their overall kit and damage. However, Arms Warriors were still very gear-dependent, especially for weapons, meaning this class may not be the best class spec to begin Cataclysm Classic with.
Since the beginning of WoW's life, I've always considered Enhancement Shamans to be the dark horse of DPS specs. An odd class to be sure, Enhancement Shamans saw some strong success during their rework in Wrath of the Lich King. However, their DPS was lackluster and they were generally being brought to raids for Windfury and a powerful innate haste buff. In Cataclysm, honestly, not much changes for the spec. It did receive changes to its rotation with additional spells to use during it. However, the class was mediocre by most metrics, even played at a high level, and is extremely gear-dependent like Arms Warriors.
When Feral Druids were reworked in Wrath of the Lich King, they were an absurdly overpowered DPS class with very high sustain damage and extreme burst damage. It was a very easy class to play and deal a lot of damage with. Unfortunately for the spec, Cataclysm introduced a number of mechanics that made the overclass much harder to play. The spec's biggest issues are its high skill cap and high dependency on gear for only a solid performance. Oh, and it also lacks big on AOE, which is not a great thing during a raid. Personally, I don't recommend this class for Cataclysm Classic at all.
Best C-Tier classes in WoW Cataclysm
Destruction Warlocks came off a massive high from Wrath of the Lich King when Cataclysm launched. In Cataclysm, Destruction Warlock were widely considered to be painfully middling when it comes to all forms of content. They exceeded nowhere and did nothing exceptionally better than any other class. This is partially because every other class basically received major buffs or overhauls for the better. While all Warlocks received a resource overhaul, the Destruction Warlock came out of it painfully average. It is this stature that lands the class spec so far down this tier list.
Fury Warriors suffer many of the same problems that Arms Warriors had in Cataclysm, except worse. There are two core issues I'd like to focus on for the spec. The first one was its heavy reliance on proc-based gameplay. Depending on your luck, you could completely smash in your foes, or tickle them for several proceeding seconds. This fluctuation of gameplay showed overtly on damage meters, leading to the misconception that Fury Warriors could not deal damage. This was frustrating to a lot of Warrior players, with most making the jump to Arms or another class entirely.
The second problem is that Fury Warriors were the most gear-dependent class in the expansion. Titan Grip required Fury Warriors to have two high-end two-handed weapons to function at a core level. Couple this with all the other gear requirement issues Warriors in general had, and you get a recipe for disaster.
Best D-Tier classes in WoW Cataclysm
Beast Mastery Hunter
Beast Mastery Hunters went through quite a cycle in the expansions leading up to Cataclysm. In The Burning Crusade, it was an AFK DPS class that sat at the top of the meters. In Wrath of the Lich King it became a bit more involved but took a hit to its DPS to bring it in line with all the other classes and specs. In Cataclysm, Blizzard turned it into a leveling spec that was almost useless in high-level PvE content. The damage of the class was poor, and it didn't offer anything beyond standard Hunter utility (Traps, for example).
In Cataclysm, the Subtlety Rogue was primarily a PvP class spec due to the other two Rogue specs overshadowing it entirely. It suffers from numerous issues (spec identity compared to Assassination, Energy problems, etc...), and it had very few redeeming qualities that would be considered useful in a raid if you didn't have a Feral Druid or Arms Warrior present.
Considered the absolute weakest class in Cataclysm, the core problem is that the spec focused heavily on slows and freezes against enemies that were immune to both. Frost Mages relied on these status effects to deal any meaningful damage, so it was extremely poor in PvE for the entire expansion.
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