It should be clear at all times that there is no "best" solution for anything in this game. The greatness of WoW is that there are many number of approaches to any goal. Just as there is no "best" race for each class, there is never a "best" build for each class. Everything is a tradeoff - an increase in Efficiency in PvP usually means a decrease in PvE or endgame instances, and vice versa.
Of course there are certain basic truths, such as "a mage is a DPS class", "Hunters are good pullers", which are widely accepted, and some talents are considered "bread and butter skills". There are also simple and natural ways to achieve things - if you want to play your priest solo, it's much easier if you skill him as Shadowpriest. By no means should this be taken as "Disc/Holy Priest cannot play solo" - of course he can, it's just harder.
The idea of this page is to focus on these essentials, to name a few key talents for each class. Many builds have catchy names (such as "Deftank"), and here they should be explained in principle, not in detail.
Most builds are identified by the names of the talent trees, with the tree with the most points named first. A "disc/holy" priest has 31 points in the discipline tree and 20 in the holy tree. Usually no more than 31 points are put in a single tree, because that's the required number for reaching the highest talent. There are exceptions though, there are builds with 40 or more points in a single tree.
Usually, mages are used as a ranged DPS class. In groups, they deal high amounts of damage to their targets, while generating a great deal of threat from monsters. They excel at doing Area-of-Effect damage (doing damage to multiple mobs at once). Mages have the greatest AoE capability of any class currently in the game. In addition, they are the weakest class at surviving having damage dealt against them. Because of this, it is advisable that another group member tanks while the mages do their thing. Mages have strong control mechanisms, such as snares, roots and crowd control. Frost mages enhance these control abilities, while fire mages specialize in sheer all-out DPS. The arcane tree remains a powerful utility tree providing strong burst DPS.
See: Mage builds for a full list.
The primary role of a Priest is of course to heal, but Priests can also dish out significant single-target DPS if shadow specialized. While the traditional role of a Priest is healing, shadow Priests are quickly becoming a common sight for end-game raids. In addition to powerful healing and single-target damage, Priests can also supply players with extremely crucial buffs.
Interesting statements from several forum discussions:
- Discipline helps the mana household, thus it matches with both, Holy and Shadow
- Holy and Shadow are mutually exclusive, as Holy spells cannot be cast in Shadowform
- Still Shadow/Holy builds are possible for maximum versatility (can solo and heal in a group)
- Critical Heals are not thought to be particularly useful, since one can not rely on them while trying to keep the target alive.
See: Priest builds for a full list.
A rogue's main purpose, either solo, in small groups, or in a raid, is maximum DPS. Most in-combat abilities are better with slow weapons, as with a fast weapon the effect is smaller for the same amount of energy spent (Note: this has been changed as of patch 1.7; weapon speed is no longer a factor in normalized instant attacks such as Ambush, Backstab, and Sinister Strike. Weapon DPS and type (ie. dagger) is the only stat used in damage calculations). Unfortunately, there are some abilities which require a dagger (notably Ambush and Backstab). Most rogues agree it is best to spec swords while leveling and until you pick up a good dagger. Then again, it is technically possible, albeit difficult, to quickly switch weapons by macro or UI mod.
See: Rogue builds for a full list.
In the endgame instances, the primary job of a Warrior is to tank. Warriors have a variety of abilities that give them strong aggro management and damage mitigation. Warriors also scale very well with gear. A Fury-specced warrior that dual-wields weapons is among the top damage dealers in the game. With the continuing addition of better gear, it is becoming more common to see warriors in raids whose sole purpose is to DPS. In solo and PVP play, aggro management is irrelevant, and melee DPS becomes more important. The interesting challenge for each warrior is to find his personal compromise between these two goals.
See: Warrior builds for a full list.
Druids are a hybrid class. In their humanoid form, they are similar to priests, able to damage their enemies with spells, buff themselves and their allies, and heal people. They also possess the ability to shapeshift, however, which grants them much greater versatility. The cat form is geared towards stealth and melee DPS, while bear form allows them to tank. Druids with sufficient points in the Balance talent tree have Moonkin form, designed for ranged magical DPS similar to a mage. The downside of this multi-class nature is that they are generally worse at a specific job than a class whose primary function is that role. Druids tend to specialize in either healing, their melee forms, nuking or some hybrid thereof. Itemization is particularly important to the druid class and can make or break a specialization.
See: Druid builds for a full list.
The Hunter is known for his pets, his long-range DPS, and his traps. Each of his talent trees focus on improving one of these aspects. Depending on your playstyle, you may focus on one of these alone, or follow a hybrid build.
See: Hunter builds for a full list.
The Paladin class is based on not dying, and keeping allies from dying. A Paladin comes loaded with heals, defensive buffs, offensive buffs, and complete damage immunity; the talents you choose will augment all these skills in a certain way. Holy will increase your holy damage and heals, as well as making them uninterruptable; it is a great PvE and raid build. Protection will basically make it so you can't die; it is also one of the best PvP trees. Retribution, all in all, gets things to die faster; it is the second best PvP tree, and ties with Holy for best PvE tree.
See: Paladin builds for a full list.
As Shaman is a very versatile class, and thus it is hard to currently define a role for them. In endgame instances their main role is buffs, cures and heals, thus Restoration is chosen by many. Restoration is also helpful in many cases, as it is generally hard to have an overabundance of healers in a raid. Shamans also have lower sustained DPS than the non-hybrid classes, thus making healing a more attractive role to fill. For PvP both the Enhancement and Elemental trees are good choices and provide a lot of DPS. If you prefer to stand back and nuke for high damage the Elemental tree will be good for you, but if you want in-your-face combat the Enhancement tree provides talents for good melee DPS and survivability in the front lines.
See: Shaman builds for a full list.
Warlocks are versatile in the fact they can play a variety of ways. Affliction increases the power of the warlock's curses and damage over time spells. Demonology will help the warlock himself have higher endurance, by splitting damage taken with pets and better buffs from their pets, by either keeping it active or sacrificing it (the buff on activation or sacrifice of different pets are very different and allow for different play styles). Finally, destruction allows for a mage-style of play improving the direct damage spells. Warlocks are widely considered to be one of the, if not the best 1-on-1 PvP class in the game.
See: Warlock builds for a full list.