Wrath of the Lich King did something (of many) very different than it did in the two previous versions of World of Warcraft. WOLK allowed hybrid DPS classes compete with the pure DPS classes directly in terms of how much damage they can push out. This was unheard of in Vanilla and Burning Crusade. I think the WoW community loved this change, myself included, but going into Cataclysm, I feel that it may be time to bring our friend “The Hybrid Tax” back in some form. The next few posts are going to be an exploration of the Hybrid Tax, how it shaped this expansion, and how it will affect the World of Warcraft going forward into Cataclysm.
History of the Tax
Every class in the World of Warcraft has the ability to deal damage to creatures, and by extension gain experience and complete quests via the killing of these creatures, but some classes are more effective than others. The gap in the damage throughput between pure DPS classes (Rogue, Mage, Warlock, Hunter) and hybrid classes (Priest, Druid, Shaman, Paladin, Warrior, Death Knight) is affectionately known as “The Hybrid Tax.” The hybrid tax is Blizzard’s sneaky way of hinting to you that while your character has the ability to deal damage to level up and quest, it could be more effective and useful by filling a different role while interacting with other people at max level in the world (of warcraft).
In Vanilla WoW, hybrid classes (Paladin/Shaman, Druids, Priests and to an extent Warriors) were expected to fill different roles if they wanted to raid and do dungeons. All the hybrid classes were expected to do something completely different compared to what those classes were learning to do from leveling 1-60. This came as quite a shock, given that they spent a significant chunk of time learning how to effectively kill monsters and quest.
The vanilla raiding game was vastly different from what it is today; Hybrids were expected to heal or tank, resistance gear was common depending on which instance you were raiding, and if you were a shadow priest, retribution or protection paladin, DPS druid, or DPS shaman: you were at the bottom of the list in terms of people that were able to be invited to the raid. Not only was your DPS incredibly low, but you had very little ability to sustain your mana, and therefore not able to DPS as long as fights would last; don’t even think about respeccing constantly either since 50g per respec is a scary chunk of gold at the time.
The Burning Crusade opened the door to hybrid DPS as a viable raiding spec. Shadow priests took front and center as the most popular and most important hybrid DPS support class in raids; while shadow priests DPS was not very close to what pure DPS classes could deal, they provided a very important resource back to healers and caster DPS: mana. The shadow priest returned mana to their party based on a percentage of their damage done.
The other hybrid DPS classes had a place as well in the new raiding machine, again not in terms of DPS throughput but by the buffs they brought to the raid to enhance the total overall DPS output of the rest of the raid:
* Feral Druid: DPS/Tank that could shift roles in combat and group wide critical strike buff (Leader of the Pack)
* Balance Druid: Melee hit boss debuff and group wide spell critical strike buff (Improved Faerie Fire and Moonkin Aura)
* Enhance Shaman: Melee group buffs (Windfury/Agility totem twisting and Bloodlust)
* Elemental Shaman: Caster group buffs (Totem of Wrath, Wrath of Air, and Bloodlust)
* Retribution Paladin: Group wide damage buff, boss debuffs: critical strike bonus, health/mana return (Sanctity Aura, Judgement's of Crusader, Light, and Wisdom)
* Protection Paladin: AoE tank that could hold threat on many targets simultaneously, Blessing of Sactuary
As an extension of the hybrid tax, feral druids and protection paladins, while viable tanks, were not the go to tank for Burning Crusade. Many of the encounters in the expansion were tuned for warrior tanks, and warriors alone possessed tools in their arsenals to counter specific encounter mechanics that would have left a paladin or druid out of luck (i.e. Reliquary of Souls’ Deaden, and Illidan’s Shear)