Shadowlands DPS Rankings: A Sanctum of Domination Tier List (Patch 9.1)
World of Warcraft 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 new raid in Patch 9.1, Sanctum of Domination.
About the Tier List
July 13 update: With the first week of the Heroic raid behind us, we have a better idea of how classes are looking. Several specs have moved around within the B-tier, with Frost Mages being bumped up into the A-tier. Additionally, Shadow Priests are bumped back down into the A-tier after seeing more of the final bosses.
This RAIDING tier list is CONSTANTLY EVOLVING — It CHANGES and IS UPDATED as often as necessary to account for tuning and balance changes and new tiers of content. Especially now that this is the first predictive tier list for 9.1 and the new raid, this is NOT FINAL.
Hello! I am Impakt, an officer in the North American guild "BDGG", or Big Dumb Golden Guardians. We finished Castle Nathria as the second best guild in North America, and at World 9th. We are prepping hard for the new raid tiers in Shadowlands, and this list reflects how we are currently feeling about the various classes and specializations for progressing the new raid tier in patch 9.1, Sanctum of Domination. In addition to our own experience, this list was created and will continue to be update in consultation with raiders of other top guilds.
This tier list is entirely based on DPS viability for the new raid in Patch 9.1 of Shadowlands, Sanctum of Domination. To understand exactly why these rankings are the way they are, you first need to understand what will be valued inside the raid. For Sanctum, while we do care about DPS utility and durability, the primary damage profile that we care about is single-target damage.
- Overall single-target damage is by far the most important damage profile for the new raid. This is true on almost every encounter, with the partial exception of Kel'Thuzad.
- Burst damage is mildly important, but nowhere near as important as it was in Castle Nathria. Burst damage and cooldowns being important stems from several of the harder mythic encounters have built-in "downtime" during the fight, where you are given time for cooldowns to recharge without needing to do damage. Overall single-target damage is still the most important thing in the new raid.
- This raid is significantly more melee-friendly than Castle Nathria. There are no major restrictions on any of the difficult encounters that would limit the number of melee you could run.
One important note here: the final boss of the raid, Sylvanas, could change the meta still. There could be surprises in the mythic encounter that will change what you need to clear the raid, and the Heroic testing was a bit bugged and over-tuned, which makes it hard to predict how the fight will play out. This information is based on our perceptions of the encounter, and could change.
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 you never need to think about your raid composition, just that most of the time player skill will be more important than the difference between classes, assuming you already have the required raid buffs. 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. Especially since this is a new raid that has yet to be released, this is mostly speculative from our experiences on the PTR and in raid testing. As players clear the raid, they will inevitably discover new things to make their specs better — the meta can and will change.
Shadowlands DPS Tier List for Sanctum of Domination
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.
Overall, DPS balance has gotten better in Shadowlands. In this updated tier list for Patch 9.1, we actually have dropped the C-tier entirely. The difference between the absolute best and worst specs in the game is much smaller than in Castle Nathria.
Work in progress Last update on Jul 13, 2021
- Balance Druid (S-Tier)
- Shadow Priest (A-Tier)
- Destruction Warlock (A-Tier)
- Fury Warrior (A-Tier)
- Havoc Demon Hunter (A-Tier)
- Windwalker Monk (A-Tier)
- Subtlety Rogue (A-Tier)
- Assassination Rogue (A-Tier)
- Retribution Paladin (A-Tier)
- Demonology Warlock (A-Tier)
- Elemental Shaman (A-Tier)
- Arcane Mage (A-Tier)
- Frost Mage (A-Tier)
- Unholy Death Knight (B-Tier)
- Feral Druid (B-Tier)
- Marksmanship Hunter (B-Tier)
- Outlaw Rogue (B-Tier)
- Enhancement Shaman (B-Tier)
- Frost Death Knight (B-Tier)
- Arms Warrior (B-Tier)
- Beast Mastery Hunter (B-Tier)
- Survival Hunter (B-Tier)
- Fire Mage (B-Tier)
- Affliction Warlock (B-Tier)
Healer and Tank Class Rankings
Full DPS Class and Specialization Rankings
July 13 update: After seeing the entirety of Sylvanas, Boomkins are looking even better than before. They are now the only S-tier specialization out of the DPS, and you will want to stack at least 2-3 of them for later bosses.
While Boomkins may not have the single-target output of Shadow Priests, they instead have the most well-rounded, all-inclusive damage toolkit in the game. Boomkins are going to be strong on every single raid encounter in Sanctum of Domination, without exception. They bring solid AoE, excellent burst damage, top-tier sustained single-target, and are one of the more durable DPS classes in the game. Additionally, in Patch 9.1 it is looking like most Boomkins are switching to Venthyr. With the new Legendary Power synergizing with Conduits such as Precise Alignment and Endless Thirst, you create one of the most powerful combinations of cooldowns in the game for sustained damage output. The only downside is that it suffers heavily on movement and is significantly more skill-based than Night Fae, but offers amazing potential that could tear up the meters in Sanctum.
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.
July 13 update: Shadow Priests received a minor damage nerf, but more importantly are looking slightly worse for Kel'Thuzad and Sylvanas than previously thought with the damage profiles needed for those encounters. As a result, Shadow has been bumped into the A-tier.
Shadow Priests are at the top of the S-tier for exactly one reason: pure, sustained single-target damage. Shadow Priests have progressively been topping meters more and more throughout Patch 9.0, and even after some adjustments in 9.1 they are still the undisputed kings of single target damage. Shadow Priests just do more damage than every other class right now, which is by far the most valuable and important damage profile for Sanctum of Domination on nearly every boss.
Destruction is another ranged DPS specialization that excels in almost all situations in the new raid tier. Destruction is competitive in sustained single-target, brings excellent burst damage thanks to Summon Infernal, and most important brings some of the strongest 2-target cleave thanks to Havoc. Warlock still brings all of their normal raid utility and survivability, which is going to be especially important in the later encounters of Sanctum. Destruction specifically is going to excel at Kel'Thuzad, where the combination of several unique damage profiles in a single encounter makes well-rounded specializations like Destruction invaluable.
July 13 update: After seeing how Sylvanas works for the entire encounter, Fury Warriors are looking worse than previously thought for the encounter because of the lack of an execute phase. Arms also is looking more viable on a few encounters, surpassing fury on at least 2.
Fury Warriors are a strong melee option that excel at two things: execute and stacked 2-5 target cleave. However, Fury has also gotten progressively stronger at sustained single-target damage as well, and is now one of the better single-target DPS specializations. While Warriors have multiple strong Covenant options, they can choose Venthyr which gives them access to Condemn, a very powerful ability that gives Fury strong opening burst and excellent execute damage. And of course, Warriors are also one of the only DPS classes in the game that bring a raid cooldown with Rallying Cry. This is especially important for Patch 9.1 as the Death Knight's Anti-Magic Zone has been nerfed substantially, and Warrior's Rallying Cry is now the best raid cooldown brought by any DPS.
Havoc Demon Hunter
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 form of strong 2-5 target cleave and burst AoE from. Demon Hunters also have excellent burst thanks to Metamorphosis, which is a powerful 4-minute cooldown. Metamorphosis is quite awkward to plan and use normally, but Sanctum of Domination's encounters are actually looking to be a bit easier than most raids for a 4-minute cooldown, which will be nice for Demon Hunters. The reason that they are now significantly higher however is because of their ever-increasing single-target damage profile. After some nice buffs leading up to Patch 9.1, Havoc has returned to the spotlight and is looking to be a staple in every raid once more.
Monks bring a required raid buff, just like Demon Hunters and Warriors, which already makes them an A-tier specialization purely in terms of desirability. However, Monks have plenty to offer that still make them excellent for Sanctum of Domination. While Monks are not quite as strong as they were in the early weeks of Castle Nathria, Monks still bring some of the best AoE and cleave in the game, which is still going to be useful on fights like Kel'Thuzad. Their main weakness is single-target damage however, where they are mid-tier compared to other classes. However, they still have excellent durability, some of the best mobility in the game, and some of the highest burst in the game for both AoE and single-target. Windwalker Monks will be a common presence in raids for Sanctum of Domination.
After some significant buffs, Subtlety is back as a dominant single-target Rogue specialization for Patch 9.1. There really is not much to say about Rogues; both Assassination and Subtlety actually fill almost identical roles in Sanctum of Domination as possibly the single highest DPS melee specialization, potentially in the top 3 specializations for pure single target damage. Rogues also have exceptional mobility, Cloak of Shadows for an immunity, and Feint for survivability, but that is all window-dressing compared to their raw damage output. Especially with the new daggers from Sylvanas, Rogues are going to be single-target powerhouses in Sanctum of Domination.
After some significant buffs back in Patch 9.0.5, Assassination has become one of the best single-target specializations for Patch 9.1. There really is not much to say about Rogues; both Assassination and Subtlety actually fill almost identical roles in Sanctum of Domination as possibly the single highest DPS melee specializations, potentially in the top 3 or 4 specializations for pure single-target damage overall. Rogues also have exceptional mobility, Cloak of Shadows for an immunity, and Feint for survivability, but that is all window-dressing compared to their raw damage output. Especially with the new daggers from Sylvanas, Rogues are going to be single target powerhouses in Sanctum of Domination.
Currently Subtlety is performing slightly above Assassination, which is why Assassination is ranked lower here. It is entirely possible this will change however, as there are some other minor differences in their damage profiles related to their Covenant choices which may affect the balance as we learn more about the mythic encounters.
Retribution 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. Retribution's sustained damage is quite competitive and its 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. Immunities specifically are going to be invaluable in Sanctum of Domination, making Retribution an excellent choice.
While Castle Nathria was a poorly designed raid for Demonology, Sanctum of Domination is not. Demonology is potentially going to be the dark-horse of Sanctum: on its own, Demonology already does top-tier single target damage with a strong 1-minute burst window, but Demonology has possibly the most room for improvement out of any DPS specialization in the game. Demonology is the only DPS specialization that actually gains damage from having a larger health pool, thanks to the talent Demonic Consumption. This leaves room for some interesting possibilities, where you could give Demonology some very large damage increases to their burst windows if you were willing to coordinate support from other classes and use cooldowns such as Rallying Cry for their benefit. Whether or not this is viable in the raid depends on the encounter, but it certainly creates some unique possibilities for Sanctum of Domination.
It is worth emphasizing — even without any sort of coordination, Demonology is extremely competitive on its own as a single-target DPS, and is looking to be the best Warlock specialization on multiple encounters.
Elemental Shamans have gotten substantially better in the last few months of Shadowlands, and are now a top-tier, well-rounded specialization similar to Destruction Warlocks and Balance Druids. Elemental's main strength is that it brings top-tier single-target damage in a build that still gives it exceptional cleave and AoE, allowing them to excel at fights such as Kel'Thuzad and Sylvanas where several unique damage profiles are found throughout the encounter. Elemental Shamans, purely from DPS, would actually be ranked higher than Destruction Warlocks, but are a bit lacking in the raid utility and durability that Warlocks bring, so they are placed slightly lower. The one major advantage that Elemental has over Destruction however is movement - Elemental Shamans are easily in the top 3 of ranged specializations who can deal with forced movement most efficiently. Elemental is looking to be excellent going into Sanctum of Domination however, and is a strong option for all of the encounters.
Arcane brings all of the bells and whistles that Mages enjoy, with incredibly strong movement, survivability, and utility basically everywhere you would want it. Arcane has a specific niche in raid right now, which is single-target damage and the burst that they bring from their legendary choice along with Arcane Power. Their damage toolkit has several strong uses for Sanctum of Domination, but overall they just bring the most single target damage out of any mage specialization, which is what keeps them in the A-tier. Every raid needs a Mage, and Arcane is looking to be the most useful specialization overall for Sanctum.
July 13 update: Frost Mage is looking significantly better than we thought and has been bumped into the A-tier. Arcane and Frost are super close in power, with Frost pulling ahead on 2-target cleave and Arcane pulling ahead on burst. They are close on single-target however, meaning both are viable.
Frost Mage has come a long way in Shadowlands, and is actually quite decent going into Sanctum of Domination. Frost has decent sustained single-target damage, but it excels at two things: funnel damage and 2-3 target stacked cleave. Freezing Winds is quite strong for cleave specifically, and is one of Frost's competitive niches at the moment. Again, while Frost is decent at single-target damage, their true strength lies in cleave, and specifically for funneling. Unfortunately, Sanctum of Domination is not really a raid where this will shine, but there possibly are still at least a couple of encounters where Frost will be the preferred Mage specialization.
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.
Unholy Death Knight
While Unholy offers incredible high target AoE-burst, unfortunately stacked AoE is just not found in the raid as much as in Mythic+ dungeons. However, Unholy has some other excellent strengths that still make them a solid pick-up for any raid group, with the biggest strength being burst DPS. Army of the Dead is still an insane burst cooldown that puts Unholy in the top-tier of single-target burst classes, especially during lust. DoTs, pets, ranged attacks, and extremely powerful defensives also make them one of the melee that is most resistant to downtime away from the boss. Unholy brings decent sustained single-target damage and strong execute damage, making them a solid choice in Sanctum of Domination. Death Knights also provide unique utility from Death Grip and Anti-Magic Zone. However, Anti-Magic Zone received substantial nerfs in Patch 9.1 and is nowhere near as vital as it was in Castle Nathria.
Feral brings excellent single-target damage at the moment, but this is the only area in which it is competitive. Ferals have strong defensive cooldowns, but they are lacking when it comes to utility compared to most other melees. They do not bring a required raid buff, they do not bring any raid cooldowns, and they do not bring an immunity. The only utility that Ferals offer is Stampeding Roar, which other druids also bring. If Ferals were not competitive in single-target, they would be in a dire spot, but luckily they are competitive enough that a good feral is still going to be quite competitive in Sanctum of Domination. It is worth pointing out however, Feral suffers substantially in almost every other type of damage profile outside of single target.
July 13 update: Marksmanship received some substantial damage buffs this week, and is looking much more promising. Bringing 1-2 Hunters into Mythic is absolutely viable even on the high end, and with the Bow + Quiver from Sylvanas they actually are performing extremely well on some encounters.
While Marksmanship started off Shadowlands as the dominant DPS in Castle Nathria, they have dropped off a fair amount going into Patch 9.1. Marksmanship still excels at 3-5 target cleave and offers decent AoE burst with cooldowns, but unfortunately neither of these is particularly useful inside Sanctum of Domination. Marksmanship's sustained single-target, which is the most important damage profile for Sanctum, is quite low even with the new legendary Bow. Hunters are still one of the least durable classes in the game, which combined with low damage, makes them perhaps the least-desired class going into Patch 9.1. This is not unique to Marksmanship; Hunters in general are looking to be quite weak going into Sanctum.
Outlaw is currently a bit behind the single-target damage output that both Subtlety and Assassination bring. Outlaw's damage pattern has not changed since BfA, meaning while it lacks single-target damage, it is still incredibly strong for cleave thanks to Blade Flurry. Unfortunately, Blade Flurry does not make them strong for single-target damage, which is the most important thing in Sanctum of Domination. Outlaw Rogue is pretty decent on its own, but with Assassination and Subtlety so strong at the moment, Outlaw is unlikely to see nearly as much playtime in the new raid.
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-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. The main thing keeping Enhancement low in the B-tier is just single target damage output. Even when you account for the extra melee damage that Windfury Totem brings, it is still a bit lacking compared to other options.
Frost Death Knight
Frost Death Knights main damage strength comes from their AoE and cleave, specifically from Breath of Sindragosa. Their damage itself is competitive, but primarily for cleave and AoE. When it comes to pure single-target damage, Frost is a bit lacking early on, but should be decent once they get some gear from the new raid. Their damage profile is just not as well-suited to the Sanctum of Domination, which is what puts them a bit lower on the tier list. As a Death Knight however, they do still bring Death Grip and Anti-Magic Zone. However, Anti-Magic Zone received substantial nerfs in Patch 9.1 and is nowhere near as vital as it was in Castle Nathria.
July 13 update: While Condemn is now confirmed to be utterly useless on Sylvanas, Arms is actually looking stronger than originally thought. You can play Arms on multiple encounters, and it is even optimal on some of the later ones.
Arms Warriors have access to their covenant ability Condemn Covenant ability that gives them strong opening burst and execute damage. Arms has decent 2-target cleave due to Sweeping Strikes and solid execute potential, but Arms is still struggling overall. Arms brings some of the lowest sustained single-target damage out of any class, which makes it one of the least-desirable DPS classes for Sanctum of Domination. Unfortunately, the raid is mostly single-target based, and stacked 2-target cleave is just not a damage profile found in the raid. It is worth noting that Warriors are one of the only DPS classes that bring a raid cooldown with Rallying Cry, which can be incredibly valuable on most raid encounters, but Fury is going to be a much better choice overall for Sanctum.
Beast Mastery Hunter
July 13 update: Beast Mastery received some nice buffs, bringing up its damage. It still has the same issues, but is slightly better numerically.
Beast Mastery brings mid- to low-tier single-target damage, is still one of the least durable DPS classes, and is quite lacking when it comes to burst damage. Beast Mastery's only real strength comes from movement, as the spec is the single best ranged spec in the game at dealing with movement. The spec also offers some decent sustained cleave damage from Beast Cleave, but unfortunately their burst and AoE are overall still weaker than other classes. Hunters in general are one of the weaker classes going into Sanctum of Domination.
July 13 update: Survival Hunters received some nice damage buffs this week, and have been adjusted accordingly. Unfortunately, they still have the same issues described below, and only moved up a couple of spots.
Survival is still in a bit of a weird spot going into Sanctum of Domination. Survival does mediocre single-target damage, strong cleave, and strong AoE. However, it still is just a melee DPS that really only brings an immunity without much else to offer. Hunter is one of the least durable classes, which is going to be a major issue for multiple encounters in Sanctum. Survival's damage is getting better after some recent buffs, but when compared to the melee above it Survival just does not bring the same level of damage or utility. Hunters in general are looking to be quite weak going into Patch 9.1, with little to offer both in the way of damage and utility.
While Fire was a S-tier specialization in Castle Nathria, thanks to some substantial nerfs and a completely different raid, Fire has fallen significantly in Patch 9.1. Fire still offers the same 1-minute burst window, but their sustained single target damage is substantially lower than in Castle, and Fire is now one of the worst specs for sustained single-target damage overall. Fire does have some very real strengths as a spec: they have fully mobile, mid-tier execute damage, Mages still have the best defensive toolkit in the game, and they are one of the most mobile ranged classes. Their damage profile was incredibly valuable in Castle Nathria, where planned burst windows defined the hardest encounters. Sanctum of Domination is very different however, where sustained damage is much more important, and burst damage is not a requirement. Fire still will be dominant in Mythic+ dungeons, but it is the weakest Mage spec going into Sanctum of Domination.
July 13 update: Even with a 5% overall buff, Affliction is still in a bad place for Sanctum of Domination. There is no reason to play Affliction over the other Warlock specs on any boss.
Affliction Warlocks received substantial nerfs in Patch 9.1, dropping them from being nearly S-tier in Castle Nathria to being one of the worst DPS specializations for Sanctum of Domination. Affliction is still quite strong at sustained spread cleave, but that just does not exist inside Sanctum. Their single-target damage has taken a substantial hit, and it is the worst of the three Warlock specs by far. Warlocks in general are still quite strong and have some solid uses as a class, but Affliction is by far the worst performing spec out of the group. Outside of personal preference, there is no reason to play Affliction over Destruction or Demonology in the new raid. That being said, Affliction is still decent enough at single-target that it warrants being above at least a few other specs in the tier list.
- 13 Jul. 2021: Updated after Heroic week.
- 24 Jun. 2021: Page added.
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