Shadowlands DPS Rankings: A Castle Nathria Tier List
World of Wacraft has never been perfectly balanced, and Shadowlands is no exception. Some classes are better than others at the high end for raiding, and inevitably, a meta will exist. This ranking is based on the viability and strength of the various DPS specializations for the first raid tier of Shadowlands, Castle Nathria.
This list will be updated as new tuning and class changes come out leading up to the release of Castle Nathria.
About the Tier List
Last Updated: September 27 - This week saw a significant tuning pass, specifically centered around covenant abilities. Overall the gap between the top and bottom has grown smaller, so we will be dropping the D-tier for now and moving more specs into the S-tier.
This RAIDING tier list is NOT FINAL — It will CHANGE and be UPDATED as often as necessary to account for tuning and balance changes (before and after the release of Shadowlands) and new tiers of content.
Hello! I am Impakt, an officer in the North American guild "BDGG", or Big Dumb Golden Guardians. We finished Ny'alotha as the second best guild in North America, and at World 14th. We have been hard at work prepping for the new expansion and new raid tier, and this list reflects how we are currently feeling about the various classes and specializations for progressing the new raid tier, Castle Nathria. In addition to our own experience, this list was created and will continue to be update in consultation with raiders of other top guilds, along with input from the Icy-Veins class guide writers.
First and foremost, this tier list is strictly for the first raid of Shadowlands, Castle Nathria. While there are no Warcraft Logs rankings or simulation results yet for most classes in the upcoming raid, this list is based on our experience throughout every raid test playing with some of the best players for each class and specialization inside Castle Nathria on both Mythic and Heroic. While more anecdotal in nature, this tier list will reflect how competitive guilds will feel about bringing the various classes and specs into Castle Nathria. We are also account for current tuning, including even the most recent changes that may have occurred after raid testing finished.
This tier list is entirely based on DPS viability for the new raid in the first tier of Shadowlands, Castle Nathria. To understand exactly why these rankings are the way they are, you first need to understand what will be valued inside the raid.
- Sludgefist, Stone Legion Generals, and Sire Denathrius are looking to be the most challenging boss fights, and will be roadblocks for most guilds.
- The majority of fights favor ranged DPS over melee due to an abundance of mechanics that require you to either spread or move away from the bosses.
- While this raid has significantly less spread cleave than in Ny'alotha overall, it does still exist on some of the harder encounters.
When determining what DPS you want for the raid, your biggest concern will always be damage patterns. From testing, the two hardest bosses by far were Sludgefist and Sire Denathrius, with Sire being the final boss of the raid, and thus the most important fight. For both bosses, it is looking like single-target damage will be a priority, with Sludgefist being a purely single target encounter and Denathrius emphasizing priority damage followed by a phase 3 single target burn, where execute damage will be the priority. Overall, you are looking to slot more ranged the melee, with an emphasis on better single target DPS classes. Some cleave and AoE is present in the raid, but the majority of the time as a DPS your focus will be single target or priority target damage.
A Final Warning
It is incredibly important to emphasize that just because a DPS specialization is low in the tier list, it does not mean that you should ignore it completely. For the vast majority of cases, you should choose to bring the better player, not the better specialization. That does not mean it is a good idea to run nothing but melee dps for the entire raid, but more so that having more melee than usual on your roster is not a hindrance if they play well. All being lower tier means is that, all else being equal, those specs will be less desirable for the raid based on current tuning.
Additionally, this is all very much subject to change. The classes, specializations, and the raid itself will almost certainly undergo numerous changes before we step into Castle Nathria this November. This tier list will be updated as new tuning and balance changes come out, so you absolutely should expect this list to change at least some before and during Castle Nathria's release.
Shadowlands DPS Tier List for Castle Nathria
Below is a quick summary of the full rankings that we have detailed on this page. While this gives a good outline of the standings of specializations in comparison to one another, we recommend reading the full rankings to understand why certain specializations are ranked as they are.
Additionally, we now have a video guide for the melee specs in the tier list with some input from Hyperion, a melee player in BDGG. Keep in mind that since he is only looking at melee specs, the rankings might be slightly different than what you see below. If you want a more in-depth look at the tier list with more thorough explanations, check out the video linked below. A video reviewing the ranged specs is also coming soon!
Work in progress Last update on Sep 27, 2020
- Shadow Priest (S-Tier)
- Affliction Warlock (S-Tier)
- Frost Mage (A-Tier)
- Marksmanship Hunter (A-Tier)
- Destruction Warlock (A-Tier)
- Subtlety Rogue (A-Tier)
- Frost Death Knight (A-Tier)
- Havoc Demon Hunter (A-Tier)
- Beast Mastery Hunter (A-Tier)
- Fury Warrior (B-Tier)
- Assassination Rogue (B-Tier)
- Balance Druid (B-Tier)
- Arcane Mage (B-Tier)
- Retribution Paladin (B-Tier)
- Unholy Death Knight (B-Tier)
- Elemental Shaman (B-Tier)
- Enhancement Shaman (B-Tier)
- Demonology Warlock (B-Tier)
- Windwalker Monk (C-Tier)
- Feral Druid (C-Tier)
- Outlaw Rogue (C-Tier)
- Fire Mage (C-Tier)
- Survival Hunter (C-Tier)
- Arms Warrior (C-Tier)
Healer and Tank Class Rankings
Full DPS Class and Specialization Rankings
September 27 update: Shadow has seem some incredible changes recently, most notably to how Devouring Plague now functions similar to ignite, meaning recasting it will add to the DoT instead of replacing it. With these changes, Shadow has become one of the best DPS specs possible for Castle Nathria. They have very few weaknesses, and some of the most important strengths such as the best single target funneling damage in the game.
Shadow Priests have historically been the kings of multi-dotting, meaning they excel on fights with multiple targets that will live long enough for their DoTs to expire. Thanks in part to some core changes of the spec, Shadow still maintains that superiority on multi-target encounters while also now gaining AoE and single target power. After the recent buffs, specifically to how Devouring Plague works, Shadow Priest now being the best funneling damage in the game and one of the best all-around toolkits out of any DPS. This has pushed them straight to the top of the S-tier, finally dethroning Affliction Warlocks.
September 27 update: Warlocks saw a huge nerf to their best covenant abiility Decimating Bolt, which is what gave them their incredible execute potential. While Affliction will still be extremely competitive in most situations, they did lose a major strength and are now below Shadow Priests in the S-tier.
Affliction Warlock is a damage over time, or DoT based spec which also makes them extremely effective on spread cleave, since they can DoT multiple targets, or multi-DoT. Their main source of damage is their new ability Malefic Rapture, which deals a burst of damage to any target with DoTs on it, where the damage scales with the number of DoTs from the Warlock. This ability is what makes Affliction so incredibly strong in every situation right now. If you save up shards you can deal some of the highest burst AoE in the game, you have strong sustained AoE, strong sustained multi-DoT cleave, and are able to deal incredible priority target damage when combined with Drain Soul.
In addition to being one of the best damage dealing specs, Affliction Warlocks also bring an incredible amount of durability and survivability to raid encounters that make them a very desirable DPS for mechanically intensive fights. While you do need to stand still to cast Drain Soul, your DoTs are mostly instant, meaning you do not suffer from movement as much as other casters. Warlocks are one of the most durable DPS classes from a variety of talents and passives, as well as having excellent mobility through Demonic Circle: Teleport, Burning Rush, and Demonic Gateway.
These are the DPS specializations that would be considered strong. All else equal, these will make up the majority of raid groups that are looking to be as competitive as possible. The main difference between the A-Tier and the S-Tier is that while these specs are strong, you still will want some comp diversity. The S-tier specs are strong enough in most situations that you could stack them if you wanted to with little downside.
Frost Mages recently saw a drastic rise in power after their best legendary finally became usable after being bugged since its addition. Cold Front is exceptionally strong and is where Frost Mages derive a large part of their current power, so much so that it might be a prime target for some tuning soon. They are very competitive for single target damage, but their true strength lies in cleave, and specifically for funneling. If you are in a fight like Lady Inerva Darkvein where you have adds but need to be prioritizing the boss, Frost Mages will excel more than almost any other class and spec.
Up until the most recent build, Marksmanship Hunter was almost S-tier. However, now that the Soulforge Embers legendary has been nerfed, they are back in A-tier. Marksmanship Hunters still have competitive single target, decent 2-target cleave with the changes to Chimaera Shot and Volley, and exceptional 3-6 target cleave due to Trick Shots. The major weakness for Marksmanship Hunter is in spread cleave since they have no ability to hit spread targets. It is also worth noting that Hunters have Aspect of the Turtle, which will be very useful on some fights in the raid.
September 27 update: Warlocks saw a huge nerf to their best covenant abiility Decimating Bolt, which for Destruction gave them incredible AoE burst potential with Fire and Brimstone. Destruction is still very far ahead in AoE even without those, and choosing a different covenant ability just gives them more single target and 2-target options now.
If Affliction Warlock was nerfed to the ground, Warlocks would still be able to fall back on Destruction without much worry. Destruction is reasonably competitive in most areas, but currently has some of the strongest sustained AoE cleave in the game thanks to Rain of Chaos and their new legendary power Wilfred's Sigil of Superior Summoning. This combination drastically lowers your cooldown on Summon Infernal while spamming Rain of Fire, which in its current state lets Destruction Warlocks drop their Infernal cooldown to under a minute in sustained AoE situations. This absolute dominance in high target sustained AoE is only useful on a couple of fights, but they are still competitive enough to be classified as A-tier in other situations.
September 27 update: Akaari's Soul Fragment was nerfed from 100% to 50% on the second hit, which has lowered Subtlety's single target damage potential. Subtlety is still very strong, just not quite as dominant as it was before.
Subtlety Rogues are one of the best single target damage dealers in the game. They are extremely strong currently mostly due to the combination of their legendary Akaari's Soul Fragment and their potency Conduit Deeper Daggers. While single target damage is their primary strength, Subtlety is also very strong at sustained cleave on council style fights due to Serrated Bone Spike. Rogues got a late start in beta however, as they did not have legendaries and Conduits for quite some time, which has made Subtlety's rise a relatively new thing. Subtlety will probably see some tuning, so be careful not to go overboard on the Subtlety hype-train.
In addition to their strong damage profile, Rogues have exceptional mobility, Cloak of Shadows for an immunity, and Feint for survivability. The only thing keeping Subtlety from being S-Tier is being a melee instead of ranged. It is unrealistic to stack melee, both due to the spread cleave that exists in the tier and the plethora of mechanics that force you out of melee range. Because of this, Subtlety will have to settle for sitting at the top of the A-Tier.
Frost Death Knight
Death Knights are in an excellent spot right now in terms of viability, and with a little bit of damage tuning could easily climb a few spots. Frost Death Knights main damage strength comes from their AoE and cleave, specifically from Breath of Sindragosa. Their damage itself is competitive, but their main usefulness comes from Death Grip and Anti-Magic Zone. There are three bosses this tier where Death Grip will be extremely important, but Anti-Magic Zone is one of the strongest defensive abilities that raids will have. It is really hard to understate just how effective AMZ can be if used correctly, especially for Sire Denathrius.
Havoc Demon Hunter
September 27 update: Demon Hunters have received some buffs to their covenants, but now that the DPS tiers are balanced a bit more closely, it would be irresponsible to ignore the impact of the 5% magic damage buff that they bring. Demon Hunters are A-tier because you are essentially always required to have one in your raid, even if they are slightly below other A-tier specs in damage.
Every single raid will always want at least one Demon Hunter for the unique 5% magic damage buff that they bring, which alone is reason enough to justify their spot here. Demon Hunter's biggest strength comes in the for of strong 2-5 target cleave and burst AoE from Unbound Chaos and Sinful Brand. However, Demon Hunters still have an awkward 4-minute cooldown with Metamorphosis, which while strong, is awkward to plan out during most fights. While their AoE/Cleave may be strong, their single target damage is mediocre compared to other specs in the A-tier. More importantly, Demon Hunters fill a melee spot, and a second Demon Hunter will be far less valuable to most raid groups that other options.
Beast Mastery Hunter
September 27 update: Hunters have received some excellent changes to their covenant spells with this tuning pass, which has made all four of them viable options. Hunters are one of the only classes where this is true, which is great for them. With these changes and some other re-prioritizing for what is valued in raid, BM Hunters are jumping into the A-tier.
Beast Mastery has great scaling with tons of room for growth, but at the moment is mainly just lacking in tuning for this first tier. With the loss of BFA systems, Beast Mastery suffered more than most, and lost the massive amount of stats that made the spec so incredibly powerful in Ny'alotha. Without the crazy amount of stats and specifically the Dance of Death and Primal Instincts Azerite traits, Beast Mastery has reverted back to its previous iteration seen earlier with just maintaining Frenzy. This is normally quite rough at the start of an expansion, but thanks to the new Scent of Blood talent and Bloodletting Conduit, it feels doable even at low gear levels. Beast Mastery brings reliable, mid-high tier single target damage which is great on the more mechanic heavy raid encounters, especially those with heavy movement. The spec also offers some solid sustained cleave damage from Beast Cleave, but suffers heavily on 2 target cleave and any sort of spread cleave. Beast Mastery actually feels decent to play, but is just behind Marksmanship in terms of raw output in most situations.
Damage aside, it is also worth noting that Beast Mastery Hunter is the only ranged specialization in the game that can perform 100% of its rotation while moving. This is a incredibly perk that could potentially make them pull ahead on some bosses with lots of movement, but specifically is useful for when you need a ranged DPS to do high movement jobs on fights without sacrificing a ton of damage, such as on Artificer Xy'Mox.
While not as strong as the A-tier specializations, these specs are still viable, and will not be uncommon in raid groups. Some of these might be rarer to see, but more so because the other specs of that class are just so much stronger, such as for Demonology Warlocks.
September 27 update: Fury Warriors still bring a 5% AP buff for physical damage dealers, but recent nerfs to Rampage and other abilities have hurt their damage output significantly. These damage nerfs were substantial enough to drop Fury into the B-tier.
Fury Warriors are a strong melee option that excel at two things: execute and stacked 2-5 target cleave. Whirlwind is a strong AoE ability that makes your spenders cleave, which essentially allows them to cleave their entire single target rotation onto multiple targets, which is extremely useful in Castle Nathria. Warriors also can do Venthyr, which gives them access to Condemn, which is both a very powerful ability that gives Fury strong opening burst and excellent execute damage.
September 27 update: Assassination rogues have been dropped into the B-tier. This is less due to specific nerfs, and more due to a re-prioritizing of what is valuable in the raid. In short, they did not have the strengths needed as a melee to justify an A-tier spot, especially when Subtlety exists.
Assassination Rogues are competitive, but they lack the raw single target damage output that Subtlety brings. They have almost the exact same damage profile, use the same Covenant ability, have the same utility strengths, but Subtlety just does substantially more damage. Even though Subtlety is so much stronger, that is more of a testament to how strong Subtlety is, not how weak Assassination is. Assassination will still excel on single target, and will be quite strong on execute fights thanks to Zoldyck Insignia.
Balance Druids have the ability to multi-dot and burst, but their single biggest strength comes from one spell: Starfall. Starfall is one of the best AoE abilities in the game, allowing then to hit all targets within a 40-yard radius at once, making them ideal for hectic fights like Sun King's Salvation. For most of beta Moonkins have actually been an A-tier DPS, but after multiple rounds of nerfs, mostly notable to their Covenant ability Convoke the Spirits, they have lost a substantial amount of their single target burst and sustained damage. Starfall may be good, but it is not strong enough inside Castle Nathria to make them A-tier, and while they do have a good foundation on a well-made damage toolkit, they need some tuning to put them back into the A-tier.
For the majority of beta Arcane has been performing quite well, and would have been an A-tier specialization due to its single target damage and exception burst, specifically for 2-3 targets. However, in the latest build Arcane was nerfed substantially and lost the power that it brought before, and no longer has the output that it once did. Additionally Arcane Power no longer syncs well with your other cooldowns, making your burst windows much more awkward. Frost is going to be the better spec in most situations, but Arcane still wins out for single target burst and for large scale AoE, thanks to their mostly uncapped AoE.
After the most recent round of changes, Retribution now has one of the better burst setups in the game thanks to the combination of Execution Sentence, Final Reckoning, and Final Verdict both for single target and AoE. Retribution now also has extremely competitive execute damage thanks to The Mad Paragon with Hammer of Wrath. While its sustained damage is a bit behind the A-tier specs, the burst is top-tier, giving Retribution some very real strengths. It is also worth noting that as a Paladin, they have access to Blessing of Protection, which is incredibly useful on some fights, enough so that you could plan some strategies around immunities and BoPs. Picking up a Retribution Paladin is nothing to be afraid of for Castle Nathria, and will actually be quite strong on some fights.
Unholy Death Knight
September 27 update: Unholy Death Knights have seen some unfortunate changes over the past few weeks that has nerfed their damage potential, both on AoE and single target. Even with the power of AMZ, Unholy is dropping to the B-tier.
Unholy Death Knights have fallen off a bit recently and are squarely below Frost in terms of damage output overall for the raid. Their main strength comes from stacked AoE through the same Bursting Sores combo that made them strong in BFA, but high target stacked AoE is just not found in the raid as much as in mythic+ dungeons. Their damage itself is competitive, but their main usefulness comes from Death Grip and Anti-Magic Zone. There are three bosses this tier where Death Grip will be extremely important, but Anti-Magic Zone is one of the strongest defensive abilities that raids will have. It is really hard to understate just how effective AMZ can be if used correctly, especially for Sire Denathrius.
September 27 update: Elemental Shamans have received some excellent buffs in the past couple of tuning passes that have given them some much needed love. With their newfound strength on cleave and single target, Elemental has jumped into the B-tier.
While Elemental Shamans have been plagued by the catastrophe that was Fulmination for all of beta, they just recently got a redesign, and are back to using Maelstrom as a resource. This change combined with some substantial buffs to a few key spells that has give them some much needed love. Their main source of power is stacked AoE and cleave from Chain Lightning and Earthquake, but with the recent changes they have some other powerful tools to help them even more. Their single target has gone from low-tier to decent, which is enough to put them into the B-tier, making them a decent choice to fill out a roster going into Shadowlands.
Enhancement has one of the more complete toolkits and has probably seen the most positive feedback for the longest period of time compared to other DPS specializations. Enhancement has mid-high tier sustained single target damage, competitive cleave, decent utility, and reasonable cooldowns for solid burst. While Enhancement may be more of an uncommon spec to see, it is solidly in the B-tier. It is, simple put, a solid spec, and well deserving of a melee spot in most groups.
September 27 update: With some recent re-prioritizing of what is going to be valuable in the raid, ranged classes and the ability to do burst cleave/AoE will be a bit more valuable than before. With that, Demonology has moved up into the B-tier.
Demonology Warlocks are one of the most durable DPS in the game thanks to Soul Link combined with the standard Warlock toolkit. Demonology might not have the strength that the other two Warlocks specs offer, but they still bring reasonable single target damage with exceptional burst AoE, burst cleave, and burst single target. However, Demonology has poor sustained cleave, no multi-dot, and are generally a bit weaker for the types of bosses that you will see in Castle Nathria. This is both a lack of tuning and a poorly designed damage kit that is missing the abundance of secondary stats found in Ny'alotha.
This is where you start getting into the lower end of the tier list, or the specs that still need some more tuning passes before Shadowlands launches.
Windwalker Monks have a pretty fun toolkit and are enjoyable to play, but they simply do not have the numbers to be competitive right now in raids. With a solid tuning pass Windwalkers could easily be excellent with their current toolkit, but until that happens, they will be staying in the C-tier. There is just no reason to bring a Windwalker other than for damage, and they do not bring the damage necessary to justify taking up a melee spot.
September 27 update: Now that we have condensed the tiers a bit, Ferals have moved up into the C-tier. They have not received significant buffs, but are fairing a bit better than we previously though.
Feral is still a bit lacking in Shadowlands at the moment. Much of their single target potential revolves around Bloodtalons, but after several design iterations it still feels bad to use compared to the old design. More importantly though, for what it brings as a melee, it does not feel like it brings the appropriate amount of damage. Feral brings mid-tier single target damage at the moment, which is where it should be strongest. The bigger problem as well is that Feral DPS are melee, meaning your space in raids will be limited anyways. At the moment, Feral Druids lack the utility and damage output that other melee offer, making them a tough sell when melee spots are so tight.
Feral's biggest strength right now comes from Primal Wrath, which is an uncapped AoE finisher that places Rip on all enemies it hits. Feral might be C-tier or even B-tier if they could consistently get good use out of this, but the use is just not there inside Castle Nathria. There is a lack of high target, large scale stacked AoE that would make Primal Wrath excel, and when there is large AoE, the enemies die far too quickly.
September 27 update: After more testing, Blade Flurry has not proven to be valuable enough in the new raid to justify Outlaw's previous spot in the B-tier. The cleave is too spread for it to be effective on most fights, and their damage kit is just too lacking elsewhere. Outlaw is dropping into the C-tier.
Much like Assassination, Outlaw just lacks the raw damage Output that Subtlety brings. Outlaw's damage pattern has not changed since BfA, meaning while it lacks the single target damage, it is still incredibly strong for cleave thanks to Blade Flurry. Unfortunately, Blade Flurry does not make them strong for priority target damage, which is the majority of cleave in Castle Nathria. With Subtlety as strong as it is, Outlaw is unlikely to see much play in the new raid.
Fire Mages have lost their passive Ignite spread, and are now forced to spread ignite manually through Phoenix Flames. This has hurt their damage potential considerably, but the bigger problem in Castle Nathria is that there are a very limited number of situations where Ignite spreading is going to net you a meaningful damage gain. There are only a couple of fights where you can really make good use of it, and only one fight where it would be competitive enough to choose to play Fire on. Frost fills the same sort of AoE/cleave setup better, and just has substantially better numbers than Fire right now, making Fire an extremely niche spec for the new raid.
September 27 update: Now that we have had more of a chance to see the spec perform since getting fixed, Survival is dropping into the C-tier. Survival's damage still leaves much to be desired, and it really lacks any sort of cohesive spec identity. Survival needs developer attention more than most.
Survival Hunter has had probably the roughest time out of any other DPS specialization throughout beta, almost entirely due to a game-breaking bug. For the majority of the beta, their passive focus regeneration was half of what it should be, which led to a very low play rate, and an inability to test the spec where it needed to be tested. After this recent fix, Survival is one again playable and looking like a real spec again, but is still just several iterations behind where other specs are at the moment.
All of that being said, Survival still not in a good state. It is lacking any real strengths other than being a melee DPS with an immunity, but it really needs a cohesive spec identity. There are just not tangible strengths or areas where it shines right now, which is disheartening, especially for a melee spec that has been struggling for awhile.
September 27 update: Arms Warriors have been in a very poor spot recently, but some recent covenant tuning has made them even worse. With how poor their recent tuning has been, Arms is dropping to the bottom of the C-tier.
Arms Warriors have the same strength as Fury, in that they have access to the Condemn Covenant ability that gives them strong opening burst and execute damage. However, unlike Fury, they lack the sustained single target damage and cleave that makes Fury so compelling outside of those windows. Arms has mediocre 2-target cleave due to Sweeping Strikes, but that is just too small of a niche, and not prevalent enough in Castle Nathria to make them comparable to Fury. Arms is in dire need of developer attention at the moment, and is far behind in both tuning and spec design.
- 27 Sep. 2020: Updated with September 24 balance changes.
- 21 Sep. 2020: Updated Subtlety, Destruction, and DH based on recent changes and feedback.
- 08 Sep. 2020: Second round of updates based on continued Discord feedback.
- 07 Sep. 2020: First round of updates based on Discord feedback.
- 04 Sep. 2020: Guide added.
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