Tier 11 hasn’t been a very friendly tier for melee. There are very few fights where you can’t improve your chances of success by removing a melee and adding a ranged. This is a consequence of a couple of changes in Cataclysm which have eliminated the major niches that melee had, while not materially impacting ranged niches at all.
The first major change has been reducing the effectiveness of “cleave” damage. Melee always had an advantage with a small number of targets, and it was something that could be exploited on a lot of fights to increase Raid DPS – it gave a reason to bring melee to a lot of encounters.
The second major change has been the addition of mobility tools to ranged DPS classes, reducing the opportunity cost of movement. DPSing on the move was always a melee strength, and they would tend to perform better in highly mobile encounters. This is no longer the case – and due to the inherent advantage range has in retargetting, and maintaining range while repositioning, the advantage has actually shifted to ranged in this sort of encounter.
By comparison, ranged strengths remain unassailable – the ability to swap targets quickly when they’re widely separated, strong (ranged) AoE, and the ability to multidot (multidot is the new cleave) have generally pushed ranged dps into a strictly superior position to melee on nearly every imaginable encounter design – and certainly every encounter in T11. Especially when you consider that ranged can “be” melee any time it’s required – if it’s easier, for whatever reason, ranged can be in melee range, but the reverse does not hold true for melee classes. Ranged doesn’t have to deal with positional requirements as a melee, either – one could argue that ranged make better melee than melee do.
Does melee have any advantage left which can be exploited, which gives a reason to bring them instead of more ranged? It isn’t ramp-up time, generally speaking Ranged DPS ramps as fast or faster these days. All melee have short-cooldown off GCD interrupts, which is potentially exploitable by encounter designers – but I’m not sure that I’d like to have every raid setup be “Bring 6 melee to interrupt”. Especially since tanks can reliably fill one of those slots now. Melee don’t bring any particular survivability advantage anymore, although all melee have cooldowns for dealing with damage -almost all ranged have equivalent or superior options.
I’m uncertain, at this point, if Blizzard can still design an encounter that isn’t Patchwerk which will reward bringing melee and ranged DPS equally. More importantly, I’m uncertain if Blizzard can design encounters with roles for melee that ranged can’t perform equally well, even while there are numerous encounters which will obviously reward ranged. I don’t wish to be placed in a position of over recruiting ranged for a tier, just to progress, only to see the problem remedied in 4.3. I’m unwilling to bench all our melee just for progression, as well – they’re good, loyal players who’ve been with us for a long time, and they deserve better than to be discarded.
So what role does melee play in WoW right now? Are they just the filler DPS that you throw in when you don’t have enough ranged around? Melee needs to have a niche back. They need to have effective cleave back, or improved mobility tools. They need tools to compete with the target-switching and multidotting power of the ranged DPS right now, because they have nothing with which to compete right now. Melee is strictly inferior to ranged right now, in virtually every way. And that’s bad for the game.
The other option is significant ranged nerfs, specifically in regards to mobility and ramp time – either way, something needs to change for 4.2, while there’s still a chance to fix what’s broken.
Have I missed something crucial? Right now, I can’t see it.