I had intended to make this post prior to Cataclysm releasing. Or at least in the first couple days thereafter. But it just never happened.
With all the new race/class combos, and the gear reset that occurs every time we have new levels to chew through, now is the idea time to try that Tanking or Healing that you've wanted to.
Late in an expansion (let's use Wrath for an example), it's hard to start Tanking or Healing if you haven't been doing it from the start. You're inexperienced, you may or may not have the gear, and encounters are pretty much designed such that they're less forgiving than, say, Naxx encounters. You may have done okay in the Lower Spire, but above that? Not likely. And being taken all the way to a fight like LK? Even more unlikely.
Even with Heroics, people were looking for fast, trouble-free runs. Easier to do if everyone's playing the roles they're familiar with. Wake me up when the last boss is dead, amirite?
But now you have a fresh start. Everyone getting new gear, everyone's learning new skills. And while I'd hardly call the current dungeons "forgiving," even on Normal modes, at least everyone is suffering through some growing pains.
So while you're out questing through the new zones, make sure you're keeping an eye out for that gear that may be good for the Tank or Healer spec you've been wanting to try and tuck it away. It shouldn't take too long to build up a decent starting set.
For aspiring healers, spend some time standing in one of your home cities and casting your heals on yourself. Get a feel for how long they take to cast and how much they actually heal. If you use keybinds, Clique, Vuhdo, Healbot or anything like that, get yourself familiar with they key/mouse presses for the different heals.
For aspiring tanks, get a DPS buddy and go out into the world, preferably in a zone where the mobs are a little tougher in groups (Uldum or Twilight Highlands). Start off pulling 2 mobs at a time. Focus on one while the DPS focuses on the other. Try to keep aggro. This (ideally) isn't how it will work in actual dungeons, but it's good practice on world trash. When you feel comfortable, try to bump this up to 3 or 4. Learn your cooldowns, even if you don't always need them.
Queue for dungeons force yourself into the unfamiliar role. 99 times out of 100, if you check DPS and either Tank or Healer, you're going to get either Tank or Healer. But don't take that chance. And if you're typically a Tank or a Healer trying to get used to the other one of those roles, definitely don't queue up with the familar one as an available option.
Better to do this in guild groups, btw. People are generally more patient and understanding.
Let everyone know up front that you're learning.
Be open to advice. Even rude advice. Just because someone's a jerk doesn't always mean they're wrong. If you do get someone who's adamant that you suck, ask the rest of the group if they feel you're really struggling. Ask for more direct, supportive advice.
Make sure to pick up better gear for the new role. Get a feel for how it changes as you get more powerful.
By the time you're ready to run Heroics and/or Raid, you should be getting pretty comfortable and used to how to play those styles. And since you're getting in on the ground floor, it'll be easier to continue those roles into the future of the expansion if you choose to.
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