I've mentioned before that I'm a huge fan of Brian Wood's post Skill vs. gear. You should take the time to read through it if you haven't. However, in review, the basic premise of Brian's argument is that the largest DPS increases available to your raids are not directly based on gear. Instead, things like good rotations, talents, and ye-old "knowing your class" tend to have more to do with your damage than your gear.
Brian takes it to another level, however, and points out the overwhelming effect your raid buffs will have on your damage. The same can be applied to healers and tanks. (The difference between an unbuffed tank and a tank who's sporting Commanding Shout, Fortitude, Gift of the Wild, and Kings is absolutely amazing.) With all that being said, hopefully everyone's got faith in the premise that "your raid buffs really, really matter."
One of the fundamental design principles espoused by Ghostcrawler is that you should bring a player for their skill, not for their unique snowflake buffs (shaman have gotten a pass so far for Heroism, with a few different explanations). Most key buffs, debuffs, and such have duplication among multiple classes. Let's jump behind the cut and start looking at which vital buff and debuff.
This week, we're focused on the core buffs that almost every raid will have. Even PUGs don't tend to do so much as Vault of Archavon with out these buffs.
Okay, Replenishment isn't a buff as most people think about it. However, the Replenishment effect is considered absolutely essential to raids. It's not quite enough make Replenishment classes into "Hybrids," but most of the specs who provide Replenishment suffer some small DPS loss compared to their raiding counterparts. A notable exception to that is retribution paladins and shadow priests, of course, since their replenishment comes from their only available DPS spec.
Each class has only one talent that empowers Replenishment, forcing the player to actively choose to provide it to their raid. The five classes that can supply the effect are hunters, mages, paladins, priests, and warlocks. Hunters provide Replenishment via Hunting Party, a talent deep in the Survival tree. Hunting Party requires the hunter to crit in order to kick off. That sounds like it might not be universal, but Hunters are rocking so much critical strike chance nowadays that you can rely on a constant stream of mana. Mages pick up Replenishment from Enduring Winter, which forces them to spam Frostbolt. Warlocks provide Replenishment with Improved Soul Leech, and Vampiric Touch mirrors the effect for warlocks. Retribution paladins merely spam their judgement ability to provide Replenishment with Judgements of the Wise.
Only Power Word: Fortitude provides raw stamina, and only priests can get you there. (I idly wonder if anyone would believe me if I claimed that it comes from rogues.) While Fortitude is pretty awesome, Blizzard perceived and agreed that it was becoming too much of a 'mandatory' buff. So, they supplied us the glorious Runescroll of Fortitude. The runscroll can't be improved by talents, of course, but having the runescroll sure beats not having anything.
Blessing of Kings
One of the paladin's most powerful buffs is the Blessing of Kings. Not only is its 10% bonus to your stats awesome based on its scalability, it has the virtue of being a no-brainer. All else being equal, noone's going to scream "Oh my god, not 10% more stats!" They might prefer another blessing, but it's not like 10% is bad.
Like Power Word: Fortitude, however, Blessing of Kings became almost mandatory during the time of Ulduar raiding. Also like Fortitude, Blizzard provided another method for raids to obtain this vital buff. Leatherworkers can create the Drums of Forgotten Kings.
Gift of Wild
The last of the "do or die" buffs, Druids bring their raids the nearly indispensable Gift of the Wild. It increases your raw stats, provides a little extra armor, and provides the most spell resistance most characters will ever have in Wrath of the Lich King. It used to be called "the best buff in the game." While I'm not sure that's quite as true nowadays, Gift of the Wild is still a pretty core buff.
And, just like Fortitude and Blessing of Kings, it was a "mandatory" buff for raiding. Blizzard knew that, and they provided an alternative. Leatherworkers can lay down the Drums of the Wild. Again, it can't be improved with talents, but the Drums will get you by if you don't have a druid on hand.
3% Damage Buff
The 3% Damage buff isn't usually considered a core raiding buff, probably because of how relatively rare it is. However, when you consider how much damage 3% can be across 25 people, I always try to make sure I have it on hand.
Only two classes provide a raw, 3% damage buff to the raid. The first is retribution paladins, whose Sanctified Retribution means that anyone affected by the paladin's aura will pick up the 3% extra damage. The catch here, of course, is that you have to be within range of the paladin's aura. It will mostly be melee (and the occasional very brave healer who wanders up close) to pick up the benefit from a retribution paladin.
Beastmaster hunters are the other class to provide the raw 3% buff. They do it via Ferocious Inspiration. In patch 3.3.3, this buff will be active at all times for a beastmaster. That's a pretty important buff for two reasons. Ferocious Inspiration requires that the hunter's pet scores a critical hit. The critical hit part isn't too bad, but in many fights, it's too easy to lose a pet. Dead pet means no buff. The hunter version of the buff has the benefit of affecting the entire raid, it also has the limitation of only lasting 10 seconds. (Of course, if your pet is active and nomming the boss, you probably won't have much trouble getting one crit every 10 seconds out of the pet.) Beastmaster hunters are not reknowned for huge damage, however, so cherish the beastmaster who provides this buff to your raid.
Edit: With apologies to Christian Belt, I missed Arcane Empowerment, which is also a source of the 3% buff.
Of course, these aren't even a half-dozen buffs. There are a few dozen more available buffs, which we'll break down in much more detail next week. It's important that we start with these major buffs, since they are all considered more or less mandatory. (The 3% damage buff notwithstanding.)
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