We all know that you should do heroic 5-mans before you start raiding. It's more than just a maxim or saying; you need the gear, experience, and practice. But a reader recently mailed me and asked:
I've only been trying to do endgame for the last few months, since I didn't have time while working a full time job. Now, I am trying to learn how to raid by doing heroic dungeons. It's going pretty rough and I'm getting some pretty good gear but I have a question.
Ignoring the gear itself, what am I getting out of these dungeons? Do raid bosses actually work anything like heroic bosses?
It's a fair question, and I can see how someone new to the endgame might feel frustrated at not being in the "real" game. The bad news is that raid bosses often do work a little differently; some tactics and maneuvers that exist in raiding have no correlation to 5-man dungeons. For example, you never swap tanks in 5-man instances because you only have one tank at a time.
But all is not lost. It might actually surprise you how many raid boss tactics mirror 5-man encounters. Let's take a look at some of the T11 bosses and which 5-mans might help prepare you for them. (We're looking at T11 bosses because, admittedly, you shouldn't go straight from 5-man heroics to the Firelands.)
Don't stand in fire
I'm not going to list "don't stand in fire" for every boss in the game. We joke about not standing fire; it's gone from a clever in-joke to a cliché to a tired, miserable regret. Seriously, at this point people, don't stand in fire. You should know that.
It is, however, perfectly reasonable to ask how you can practice getting out of dangerous zones. The best way to do that is PVP. (I know, it seems crazy.) This is because PVP stretches your situational awareness way beyond anything in PVE, and you can never know ahead of time when an enemy effect will spring up under your feet.
As a general rule, if you can stay out of fire in PVP, staying out of fire in PVE will be no problem at all.
During the fight with Magmaw, someone has to climb up on the worm's back and use a vehicle ability to chain him to the ground. While this doesn't seem analagous to anything in current 5-man content, the dynamic isn't totally alien, either.
In the Halls of Origination, the party must be prepared to stop DPS and deal with Temple Guardian Anhuur's special ability. At least two people must jump down to the ground and flip levers before you can resume DPS on the boss.
While the details are a little different, the basic idea is the same: Stop what you're doing and deal with a special mechanic, then get back together, pull into a coordinated group, and resume DPS on the boss.
Maloriak has an interesting correlation with Lord Walden. Both bosses go through color-coded phases that require you to react quickly and immediately. The exact nature of the reactions is different, of course. Your raid group needs to stack up for Maloriak, while your 5-man group needs to keep moving or hold perfectly still for Lord Walden.
The point is that you need to react and act differently according to the color phase. If you can nail Lord Walden perfectly, then you you'll find Maloriak at lot easier.
One of the most interesting parts of fighting Nefarian is when the floor fills up with lava. Your raid has a relatively short time to quickly climb one of three pillars. The pillars are notoriously difficult to get onto, and this phase can prove disastrous if anyone's delayed getting in position.
Asaad's encounter features something similar, even if it's not exactly the same. He will periodically draw a triangle on the ground using lightning. When he does that, everyone in your 5-man group must quickly get inside the triangle.
While this triangle isn't exactly the same as jumping on a pillar, the idea is about the same. Everyone must get to the safe spot quickly, or your group will die.
Other analogies exist
These aren't the only examples of raid/5-man similarities, of course, but you should see how the analogies are drawn. A lot of encounter mechanics in WoW boil down to "get here" and "get away from there," coupled with a healthy dose of "handle adds" or "press a button quickly."
Remember that when you're doing 5-man instances, you're learning skills that will build over time and help you in your raiding time. Keep practicing, and remember that perfect execution is the goal.
Visit the WoW Rookie Guide for links to everything you need to get started as a new player, from how to control your character and camera angles when you're just starting out, to learning how to tank, getting up to speed for heroics and even how to win Tol Barad.