Or are they? I'd hazard a guess that most players don't have the Armory on quick dial, and yet all players still encounter different specs of classes every single time they play. In an Arathi Basin, by the time you've looked up the other guy's spec on the Armory, the game is over.
So it's still valuable to know specs just by glancing at the spells players are casting, and this is a guide to help you do that. Want to know at a glance whether your main tank laying down Mortal Strike is really specced Protection as he says, or if he's got a few extra points in Arms than he should have? Want to know if that Warlock who sent a Felguard after you in the battlegrounds is specced Demonology or Destruction?
I've put together a handy guide to spotting specs of classes that aren't yours-- there are a few telltale spells in each class that will giveaway a player's spec at a glance, and save you the momentary trouble of having to punch their name into the Armory. I've also given you a short brief on what each spec can and can't do for you (so you're not asking priests in Shadowform to buff you with Divine Spirit). To check it out, hit the link below.
Before we begin, a quick note, because I know someone will say it. Yes, I know these are not all the specs in the game. Yes, I know these are broad, sweeping generalizations, and that not all Ret Paladins are retnoobs, and Balance Druids can, on occasion, heal. Remember, these are specs for classes that aren't yours-- pretend you're in a battleground, and an player has just run past you. This is a guide to give you a quick insight on just what spec that player might be, and how you can get help from or hurt them. Yes, these are broad generalizations and people choose to play their class for all kinds of reasons, but any Mage that Iceblocks does have a lot of points in Frost, and any Paladin that Crusader Strikes has most of their points in Retribution. That kind of identification is what we're talking about here.
How to Spot: Most likely dual-wielding and in Berserk stance. Also keep an eye out for Rampage, an ability that pops up after they hit a crit-- it increases their attack power for 30 seconds, and is stackable up to five times.
They Can: Do damage, and lots of it. Fury warriors are almost like Rogues in plate.
They Can't: Tank as well as a Protection warrior. And as a healer myself, don't ever let a warrior, of any spec, tank while dual-wielding.
How to Spot: Mortal Strike is the big one-- it's an ability they can put on a target that causes all healing done to that target to drop by half. Arms warriors also get specializations for two-handed weapons, so if you see a warrior running around cutting people apart in PvP with a Cloud-style megasword, you're probably looking at an Arms warrior.
They Can: PvP, and well. That Mortal Strike is a killer, and combined with Improved Rend and Deep Wounds, they are the kings of scary status effects.
They Can't: Hit a lot. With a two-hander, it's all about power, not speed. But when they do hit, they hit like a truck.
Protection (a.k.a Prot)
How to Spot: They're usually wearing a shield and tanking-- Prot warriors can take damage, but they're not so much at dishing it out. Concussion Blow (or "conc blow") is another tell-- a 20 point talent that stuns for 5 seconds, and is perfect for stopping a mob headed for the clothies in its tracks.
They Can: Tank! Prot warriors are the best tanks in the game.
They Can't: Do much else. They're big on creating threat and controlling mobs, not doing damage, so prot warriors usually have a tough time soloing, and they stay away from (or just respec-- it's easier) for PvP.
How to Spot: If they're in Bear or Cat form when they cast Faerie Fire on you, they're Feral. Leader of the Pack is another tell (and a great buff to have-- it ups your critical chance, and Improved LotP now gives a chance to heal when you crit).
They Can: Tank, more than respectfully. In cat form they can churn out the damage now, too-- Mangle, the 41-point talent, is a scary little ability that can rip you apart.
They Can't: Heal as well as other Druids. Feral druids tend to spec deep into Feral-- they play the class so they can be an animal, rather than a Tauren or a Night Elf, so you'll rarely see them out of animal form.
Balance (a.k.a. Doomkin)
How to Spot: They're in Moonkin form, and shooting lasers (a.k.a. Starfire) like mad. Unlike Cat and Bear forms (which all Druids can do), only Balance Druids can be Moonkin.
They Can: Spurt out damage like nobody's business. Moonkin, formerly called oomkin for the fact that they burn through mana, are now called Doomkin and can top damage meters in both PvP and PvE.
They Can't: Heal in Moonkin form. While Moonkin form does give them a nice armor boost (not enough to tank, but enough to stay alive when they pull aggro), in Moonkin form they can only cast Balance spells.
Restoration (a.k.a. Resto)
How to Spot: Tree of Life (Treeform) is the most obvious, since it's a 41-point talent in this tree-- in that form, the Druid can only cast mostly healing spells, and they get a bonus to the healing and the mana cost. Omen of Clarity is another Resto talent, though not as deep-- it's a buff you'll see Druids put on themselves.
They Can: Heal, baby, heal. They can also do that funny dance.
They Can't: They can actually do Druid stuff just like other Druids (no Moonkin, obviously), just not as well.
Beast Mastery (a.k.a BM)
How to Spot: Their pet is gigantic and red. This is a result of Bestial Wrath, a talent that temp buffs their pet when used. You'll also see a Ferocious Inspiration buff show up on you when grouped with them-- it ups your damage when the pet scores a crit.
They Can: Kill stuff with their pet-- a BM Hunter's pet is a killing machine, not least because of Intimidation, a talent that allows the pet to actually stun its target for a few seconds. They can also solo like no one else-- a BM Hunter might be the best solo class in the game.
They Can't: Raid quite as well as other Hunters-- since most of their strength is in the pet, and their pet doesn't do well under AoE (which lots of raid bosses use), they're at a disadvantage in groups.
How to Spot: Trueshot Aura is the best tell-- it's a groupwide buff that ups your Attack Power. Silencing Shot and Scatter Shot (man I hate Scatter Shot-- it disorients you for a few seconds) are also Marks Hunters only.
They Can: Break out the ranged DPS. Unlike BM Hunters, their power is in their ranged attacks, which makes this a nice class for PvP, although abilities like Silencing Shot and Scatter Shot work well in raiding situations also.
They Can't: Do much to you if you close into their dead zone or melee range. They can shoot you down, but if you survive their barrage, their bag of tricks consists of trapping you until they can get to range again.
How to Spot: Survival is probably the most unpopular Hunter spec, since it has lots of melee-related abilities (and it's for a class you'd be crazy to melee with). Still, since the expansion, Survival has gained a lot of ground in raiding, especially with Expose Weakness, a shot that increases attack power against the target for the whole raid.
They Can: Do crowd control. Nobody does Hunter CC better than Survival Hunters, since their traps all get boosts.
They Can't: Do any of the other cool stuff that Hunters can do-- frankly, the Survival tree needs work.
How to Spot: As one of my guildies put it, Mages are very patriotic-- their hands are either red, white, or blue. Arcane-specced mages' hands are usually flaring white, as they often cast Arcane Missiles. Slow is the highest talent in this tree, but you hardly ever see that cast-- most Mages, even if they spec Fire or Frost, will go up to 21 points in this tree just to get Presence of Mind (POM), which makes the next spell cast an instant. Pyroblast is actually a Fire talent, but lots of Mages love to cast it with POM, so if you see a big fireball coming at you instantly, you're looking at a half-Arcane, half-Fire mage.
They Can: Conserve mana. Arcane mages have the best mana usage rate out of all three trees.
They Can't: Blow stuff up like Fire mages. Arcane mages are the nerds of the mage community-- they get nice bonuses, but they aren't as flashy as the other specs.
How to Spot: They are blowing you up. Pyroblast, Blast Wave, Scorch, Dragon's Breath and Combustion are all Fire Mage talents, so if you get hit with any of those, you're looking at a Fire mage.
They Can: DPS like a mofo. Mages spec for Fire to do damage, and they don't care who knows it.
They Can't: Control their threat. Fire mages like to pull aggro in raids, and their talents (especially Dragon's Breath, with its Disorient factor) are a little more suited for PvP. It's not that a good Fire mage can't control threat well, it's that most of these guys are pyromaniacs, and they can't really be bothered.
How to Spot: They're Iceblocking-- that's a 21-point talent in this tree. Frost mages also love Blizzard, as it not only does damage, but provides all kinds of nasty status effects to their targets. And if you ever see a mage with a Water Elemental, you're looking at a Mage heavily specced Frost.
They Can: AoE-- their CC bonuses make them perfect for handling all sorts of mobs in large numbers. They're also good raiders, as the threat problems that Fire mages suffer from are easily handled by Iceblock.
They Can't: Make things go boom like Fire mages can. Frost mages can do terrific DPS, but a great Fire mage will always beat a great Frost mage with the same gear.
How to Spot: They're not fighting. It sounds silly, but Holy Paladins are the best healers in the game, and so even though they're wearing plate, they're at the back of the raid tossing heals and blessings.
They Can: Heal, and conserve mana like nobody's business. Holy Pallies don't have anything really flashy that's just theirs (those blessings are available to all Pallies). But they can heal a whole instance without ever dropping below half mana.
They Can't: Dish out damage. They're there to keep you up, not kill stuff.
How to Spot: Avenger's Shield is a big one-- if you see a Paladin throwing a shield at someone that bounces around, they're probably heavily Protection. Blessing of Kings (that tasty buff that gives you +10% to all stats) is also in this tree, but not that far down.
They Can: Supposedly tank, but in my humble opinion, a Paladin tanking is a lot like that fight your friends got in last night at the bar-- it's fun to hear about afterwards, but you're kind of glad you weren't there.
They Can't: On the other hand, they do everything else just fine. Healing isn't as good as Holy, but it's respectable.
Retribution (a.k.a. Retnoob, DPSadin)
How to Spot: Ah, the Retribution Paladin-- what you get when you cross a class meant to be defensive with a player who wants to do damage. These guys are out there carrying around two handers, and Crusader Striking the heck out of anything they see. If you're in a group with one, you might see Seal of Command on them, and the Sanctity Aura on yourself.
They Can: Do enough DPS to take out half the defenders in AB, bubble, heal themselves up, and then take out the other half.
They Can't: Heal anyone but themselves while bubbled. I'm sure some Ret Paladins remember that they're given a few healing spells, but the majority of them try to hit stuff as fast and hard as possible.
How to Spot: They're usually healing the Main Tank-- with Power Infusion, improved Divine Spirit, and a reflective Power Word: Shield, raiding Priests usually have a few points in the Disc tree.
They Can: Be a terrific support class, as well as buff themselves bigtime. Mana conservation is also a big plus for this spec-- these guys can pour out heals forever, but they're not as big as the Holy Priests.
They Can't: Do the big heals-- their healing just doesn't get as big a bonus as..
How to Spot: LOLightwell, so called because Blizzard's big idea (to let Priests create an altar of healing) never really panned out to their expectations. Holy Nova is also a holy talent, but the big tell here is that Holy Priests don't really die-- they just turn into a big ghost and keep on healing.
They Can: Heal, so much so that they pull aggro. Why else would they have a spell that buffs them only after they die?
They Can't: Lay out the DPS like...
How to Spot: They're in Shadowform, which makes them all dark and buffed, but unable to cast any Holy spells. Also, they've got two spells that raids just love: Vampiric Embrace and Vampiric Touch. One gives back health for Shadow damage, and the other returns mana. For this reason, not only are Shadow priests some face-melting mofos, but raids love them for DPS, too.
They Can: MELT UR FACE!
They Can't: Heal. Well, they can (a good Shadow Priest can put on healing gear and heal a regular instance), but I wouldn't want one mainhealing a Heroic.
How to Spot: They're not wielding a dagger (although there is a Combat Daggers variant of this build). Rogues get special skills that require a dagger, and some Rogues eschew those skills for more steady damage (rather than burst damage). Another indicator is Blade Flurry, and Adrenaline Rush, if you can spot it through all that stabbing is another tell.
They Can: Fight you a lot, and raid. Stealth isn't as important to these guys-- pushing out constant damage is.
They Can't: Do any of the really nasty Rogue things-- no Backstab, and no Ambush.
How to Spot: So named because of the 41-point talent in the Assassination tree, these Rogues are probably best suited for soloing. They're big fans of poisons, and are extra good at laying down combo points and dropping finishing moves.
They Can: Poison you, and then use the poisons on you for all kinds of nasty things.
They Can't: Move away from one target for too long-- these guys are great at killing one thing slowly.
How to Spot: Heard that stealth sound in PvP, and then find yourself incapacitated while a Rogue tears you apart? You're the victim of a Stunlock rogue, who combine the Assassination and Subtlety trees to Ambush a foe, rack up tons of combo points, Vanish, Cheap Shot, hit Preparation, and then Vanish again. If a skilled Stunlock Rogue gets his hands on you without you knowing, you're dead.
They Can: Do everything twice-- Seal Fate, from the Assassination tree, gives them 2x the combo points, and Preparation wipes all their cooldowns and lets them ambush you yet again.
They Can't: Handle more than one foe-- Stunlockers tend to be PvP, and will Vanish rather than face multiple foes.
How to Spot: So named for the talent in the bottom of the Subtlety tree, these Rogues are masters of stealth, and consequently PvP. This is a tough one to spot, because the big feature of it is Shadowstep, which the Rogue can use to automatically appear behind a target while stealthed, but because the Rogue is stealthed, you won't always be sure what happened. None of the other talents associated with this build are really obvious (Hemo and Premeditation are high enough on the tree to be parts of a combo build), so it's probably best spotted by what it's not than what it is-- if the Rogue you're fighting uses daggers, but doesn't use Cold Blood or Mutilate, you're probably fighting a Subtlety Rogue. How interesting that a talent build built around Stealth is hard to recognize.
They Can: Sneak up on you, and finish you before you know it. They're also good survivors-- able to dodge some AoE, and they have an annoying Cheat Death talent that allows them to duck any attack that would otherwise kill them.
They Can't: Fight multiple enemies for very long. Leather armor on a melee class means Rogues rely on stealth and deception, not strength and stamina.
How to Spot: Totem of Wrath is the big one-- it's a totem that gives a crit buff, and can only be laid by Ele Shamans. Shamans who get the Clearcasting buff also have a few points in Elemental, if not all the way down.
They Can: Break out the spellcasting DPS, and churn out lightning bolts like nobody's business.
They Can't: Get hit in the face. Even though they still wear mail, Elemental Shamans are casters, not melee fighters like..
How to Spot: They're carrying two weapons, as Dual Wield was given to Enhancement Shamans in 2.1. They also drop a debuff called Stormstrike periodically on mobs, and if you're in a party with a Shaman who periodically gives you a buff called Unleashed Rage, it's coming from their Elemental tree.
They Can: Melee it up. Much like Retribution Paladins, this is the offensive side of the hybrid class.
They Can't: Heal or cast spells. Enhancement Shamans wear agility gear, not spell damage gear. They'd look at you funny if you asked them what their Lightning Bolt spell crit at, because they barely use it, except maybe to pull.
Restoration (a.k.a. Resto)
How to Spot: They cast Earth Shield on you-- it's the closest thing Shamans have to a heal over time, and only Resto Shamans have it. They also get a nifty Mana Tide totem, which OOM casters love in the middle of a raid.
They Can: Do huge heals, although their mana pool suffers a bit more than Holy Paladins or Holy Priests. They can also put the Ancestral Healing buff on you after one of their heals crits, which ups your armor immensely.
They Can't: Get hit, and while a resto Shaman with spell damage gear on can churn out DPS, it won't be near as much as an Elemental Shaman.
How to Spot: They're casting Siphon Life, which sucks life from the target to the caster. Curse of Exhaustion is another Affliction-only spell.
They Can: DoT it up and let it go-- Affliction casters throw down DoTs and lay down the fear as much as possible, waiting for the Damage Over Time spells to do away with their targets' health.
They Can't: Count on their pets, except to pull mana off of them.
How to Spot: This one's hugely popular, because the top talent in this tree gives you the Felguard (and we've all seen those, right?). This tree also features Soul Link, which is when you hit the Warlock, and, to your consternation, only their pet feels it.
They Can: Solo, and drive you nuts with that Felguard.
They Can't: Break out the DPS as well when their pet's not around.
How to Spot: Hellfire is a favorite of these guys, as it grants a chance to stun when it hits, but Confraglate is probably the easiest tell-- once a target has been Immolated, they can throw down a spell that consumes the DoT for burst damage.
They Can: Do burst damage-- these guys don't wait for DoTs, they'd rather crush you right away.
They Can't: Pull out a Felguard, but who cares when you're doing those crazy Shadowbolts?