There are two types of common rotations, one is a regular rotation and honestly works exactly as it sounds. It is a series of abilities or spells that you use in a specific order to maximize your roles throughput. In other words, it's like going down a list of spells in a specific order to do the most damage or healing. As a totally fictional example, it might be as simple as Jab, Jab, Blackout Kick rinse repeat. Your first cycle through your abilities may also differ from the second as many abilities have short cooldowns that must be bypassed on the second run through and so on.
The other type of rotation is actually more fun to play with in my opinion and is usually called a priority rotation. In other words, you don't so much have an order of abilities that you go down and use in a specific order, you actually have a priority list and you complete actions as they become available based on priority. Blizzard has made a lot of classes work this way and as far as I know almost every tank is running off a priority rotation nowadays. An example is my monk, he is a tank, so my priority list looks something like: Keg Smash, Empowered Guard, Blackout Kick for Shuffle Buff, etc. If I come around on my priority rotation and want to Keg Smash, but it's on cooldown, I'll think to my priority and spend energy a different way. If I just had to run around and stay out of the fire and I come back up to the mob and all my cooldowns are available, I know my top priority is that Keg Smash first to get that big bad debuff on my enemy. They really seem to be pushing this style of play as it results in situations where there isn't a set-in-stone answer. It results in more versatile play and leaves you feeling like you have options. This really shows as a tank, since a lot of my defensive abilities are stuck onto offensive abilities. Which one, at this very moment, will best assist my holding agro and surviving? I don't think about the abilities so much as the buffs/debuffs they leave. I need that 10% damage reduction on my opponent at all times. That's a 10 second debuff stuck on an ability with an 8 second cooldown. I have 2 seconds of breathing more or my damage is going to spike on raid bosses. My second most important thing is having Shuffle up, which is another defensive buff on me that I get by doing a certain attack. Third I want my Guard self bubble up, but I want it empowered. If I have to let something drop off because I won't have the resources to keep everything up all the time, this kind of list tells me what it'll be and I can act accordingly. (Again, these scenarios were just examples, don't take any of them literally).
I guess in a way they're almost the same thing, but it's an easier to way to discuss and talk about some of the rotations as more and more classes have spells and abilities with short, but different, cooldowns and there is more synergy in each classes in the way the spells interact with each other. Lots of classes have abilities that they will not use without first completing another action, so that fits better into a priority rotation. For example, my Monk doesn't guard unless it's a powered up Guard. In order to get the big Guard, I need a buff I get for attacking with Tiger Palm. Tiger Palms buff always comes before Guard for me with that in mind (with one off situations where I just need my shield and I need it now).
If you're looking at learning some rotations, my best advice is to start with YouTube. It always helps me get a better grasp on what's going on when I can see it happen. Once I have the basics down, if I can't find what I need on YouTube, I take the search to google and start reading guides, blogs, and forums. The most important thing to remember is never take anyones guide as the final say on the subject. Contrary to what it's easy to believe, play styles can differ and sometimes it's okay to have a different setup than the popular guy that supposed to be the best. There have been several times I've read a guide on a class or other subject from a source I have a great deal of respect for but ultimately did not adopt into my gameplay because I found another guide that fit my preference and playstyle more (or I simply thought it was a better idea).
Anywho, sorry for the long winded answer, welcome back to Azeroth!
Been playing WoW way too long
· 7 years ago