The Value of Damage

When comparing the value of damage dealers in raiding, it is obviously the damage they deal that people look at first.  It’s not difficult to find comparison tools and sites that aggregate data and give you the ability to compare on a fight by fight basis or overall, or a stack rank of how each spec simulates on a single target using SimulationCraft.  These tools can be useful and valuable, but there’s a lot more to a real class balance comparison than what these tools show you.  I’m going to make a few statements you may or may not agree with, but I’ll explain my reasoning.

1. Single target damage is more valuable than area damage.

There are a few reasons I say this.  Every raid encounter ever to exist has a single-target damage requirement.  Whether it’s the most purely single target fight like Ultraxion or a very AoE-heavy fight like Mythic Imperator Mar’gok, single target damage is vital to success.  During Imperator, one of the most AoE-heavy encounters ever, single-target damage is still what results in a kill.  Finishing phase 3 (which is the most challenging part of the encounter) before mines leave you with no room to deal with other abilities relies heavily on the raid’s ability to damage the boss – not damaging the dozens of adds that spawn throughout the phase.

Killing them is important, people will start dying and healers will be drained of mana if they are left up too long, but damage dealt to them should be compared to utility like using a healing cooldown rather than compared to boss damage.

Needless to say to anyone who progressed on Mythic Imperator, Enhancement Shaman were almost always at the top of DPS charts by a pretty wide margin, and many guilds used Enhancement Shaman to take care of all the small adds almost entirely on their own.  The reason for this is efficiency.  No spec in the game can kill them more efficiently (with minimal loss to primary targets) than Enhancement, and it even results in a sizeable damage increase to the boss for the Shaman.  And that’s the point.  Enhancement’s contribution to the fight is not truly represented by the AoE damage they did – it’s represented by the raid’s boss damage gained due to utilizing that efficient AoE.  Single target damage is the real reason Enhancement was so valuable on that fight.  This is nearly always true when there are significant AoE components to encounters.

2. Not all area damage is created equally.

Needless to say, any addon or website that shows damage done in an encounter will report each point of damage done as being of equal value.  There is no modifier on damage done to irrelevant targets or high-priority targets or critters that might walk too close or Stackable Stags that might somehow get splashed by players (yes, it happened).  Regardless of where that damage went, one point of damage equals one point of damage when reported.
I’m going to step out of real encounter examples and make up a scenario.

Example 1:
Every 30 seconds, a group of 10 adds spawn that deal a combined 50k damage per second to the tank and are tuned to survive for 20 seconds at 660 item level with efficient AoE only from a balanced raid composition.

Example 2:
Every 30 seconds, a single add spawns that deals 50k damage per second to the tank and is tuned to survive for 20 seconds at 660 item level with only efficient cleave from a balanced raid composition.

This group of 10 adds and this single add have roughly the same level of threat to your raid – the single add will deal spikier damage to the tank, the add group will be a little harder to pick up, but beyond that, there is no difference.

Example 1 will yield a higher raid DPS increase.  Damaging 11 targets for a specific amount of time results in more total damage than damaging 2.  Example 1 will see more points of damage done than example 2, meaning that the value of each point of damage in example 2 is higher than example 1 because that lower amount of damage neutralized an equal threat.  While real situations aren’t as easy to compare, and some situations will demand varying levels of focused DPS, the concept still applies.

In these examples the value to the raid for encounter completion, relative to boss damage, might be something like .1 value per damage in example 1 and .5 value per damage in example 2, but sites and add ons will report it as having a value of 1.

Where Enhancement stands.

Enhancement’s capabilities in Warlords are well documented.  We’re the AoE kings.  We destroy everything in a wide area with the ability to do so on the move and can do so a great distance from the targets we’re damaging, and even gain a substantial single target gain from it by replacing Frost Shocks and empty GCDs with Fire Novas.  We’ve been near or at the top of the charts on a number of AoE-heavy encounters this expansion, tens of thousands of DPS higher than the average in some cases, and averaging out to be very high across all encounters.

Some might look at those rankings in an envious way, but when it comes to raid value, AoE heavy specs are nowhere near that valuable, and unlike strong single-target specs are very replaceable on encounters that don’t have significant AoE components.  Adjusting the value of everyone’s add damage in every encounter using modifiers similar to those suggested above would likely see Enhancement at the bottom on more than their share of fights and merely competitive or slightly above average on those with heavy AoE components.  We not only sim abysmally low, we’re actually already performing very low in practice on several of the more notable fights.

Added to this, we seem to be in a pretty unique situation in where we’re unable to easily respec for much better single target.  Everyone else near our single target capabilities can simply hit the respec button and magically do more and fit the damage requirement pattern of a wider variety of fights.  To go Elemental, we need eight pieces of gear including a weapon and trinkets and therefore do not reasonably have that as an option.

We may not be the worst spec in the game, but AoE’s value being inflated by damage reporting methods and high Heroism and Primal Elementalist inflating it on short fights is a facade, hiding the fact that we’re really very weak outside our mass AoE niche

Single target damage is not a niche that can be balanced around.

Put simply, a class balancing plan that has significant variance in single target damage potential is inherently imbalancing.  Single target damage is always valuable.  It’s valuable on every encounter ever made.  The same cannot be said for AoE or cleave damage, and replacing single target damage with an AoE niche is encounter and situation dependent, not something that can be relied on to provide meaningful value or any value whatsoever on a consistent basis.  There are situations in which a limited amount of AoE damage can be more valuable than single target – such as Enhancement’s abilities on Imperator Mar’gok – but a raid full of that type of damage is pointless.  It’s like adding a healer when your raid isn’t dying.  There’s always a finite amount of it needed.

By contrast, you can never have too much single target damage.  Meeting the vast majority of real DPS checks more easily allows players to put more effort and attention into other mechanics such as interrupts, avoiding fire, or whatever the encounter has as well as greater potential to beat some of these events entirely, including AoE periods.

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