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9 Classes Ranked: Leveling Speed

Reaching the maximum level in World of Warcraft isn't a race—it's a journey. During that journey, you hone your character's strengths and you develop your personal play style. But whether you savor the journey or simply tolerate it, leveling up is what it's all about. This guide sheds some light on which classes level the fastest, coming from someone who has leveled one of every class to 60 and beyond.

FYI: The difference in played time between the slowest class and the fastest class while specced for fast leveling is no more than 6-10 hours. I've found that all classes can level at a rapid pace, but there are clear enough distinctions to separate them in my mind.
October 2008: My goals for expanding this site have narrowed to pet-related content. As such, I'm no longer maintaining this guide. I will leave it up for posterity, but know that it's only current to Burning Crusade content.


Ranking the Nine

All nine classes have been ranked from slowest to fastest. I considered five key elements to determine the rankings: DPS, survivability, crowd control (CC), speed buffs, and downtime. All of these except 'downtime' have been rated as follows:

 =  Excellent
 =  Very Good
 =  Good
 =  Fair
 =  Poor

Downtime has been rated as high, moderate, or low.

My Talents · As I leveled, I tended toward talent specs that facilitated faster leveling. If you're not sure which talents improve leveling speed, check out the official World of Warcraft forums for ideas.

DPS · Damage per second is governed by spells for caster classes, weapons and abilities for melee classes, and a combination of these for hybrids. Higher DPS means you can bring things down more quickly, allowing you to quest and grind for experience with greater speed.

Survivability · Dying in battle can usually be avoided through experience and a healthy supply of combat consumables, such as healing potions. But some classes are more prone to death than others. And death means corpse-running, which adds to leveling time.

Crowd Control · Survivability is often aided by use of "crowd controlling" abilities. Such abilities enable your character to deal with groups of mobs more efficiently, facilitating smoother questing and grinding, and faster leveling.

Speed Buffs · Many classes have abilities or talents that improve their movement speed. This makes moving around the game world faster and leveling quickens as a result. Some of these buffs are minor, while others provide major advantages.

Downtime · Downtime refers to how much time must be taken between fights to restore health and mana before being able to safely fight again. Classes with low downtime are able to move from mob to mob quickly, speeding the leveling process.

#9: Warrior

My Talents:Fury (primary) & Arms
Crowd Control:  (Intimidating Shout)
Speed Buff(s):  (Charge (combat only))

Around level 50, I switched from Arms and Protection to Fury and Arms, going from weilding a two-handed sword to duel wielding twin maces. This has certainly improved my DPS, although duel-wielding swords or axes would improve it even more so (and likely put warriors a little further down this list). Still, I opted for maces because the stun is wonderful in PvP and it adds a bit more survivability to my build in PvE.

With any warrior spec, downtime is necessary after a few sequential fights, but a high First Aid skill and a healthy supply of bandages helps to reduce that downtime. While warriors boast some great damage mitigation, without the luxury of healing spells their survivability isn't the greatest. With their only crowd control on a 3 minute timer, my warrior often has to chug healing potions to keep from dying at the hands of tightly grouped mobs and unanticipated adds.

Since warriors are often welcome additions to instance-running parties, they do enjoy lots of opportunities to run with groups. This can provide a subtle boost to leveling speed, but not enough for me to rank the warrior class higher than 9 in my book.

I must reiterate, if I had opted for duel swords or axes, I can see how warriors would level quicker. But duel maces are just too much fun to pass up. They're worth the slightly slower leveling in my humble opinion.wink

#8: Shaman

My Talents:Enhancement (primary) & Elemental
Crowd Control:  (Stoneclaw Totem)
Speed Buff(s):  (Ghost Wolf (outdoors))

I breezed through my first 25 levels as a shaman. This gave me the false impression that my entire leveling career would be a cakewalk. But then it slowed down considerably, primarily due to downtime. In order to keep my DPS on par with other high damage classes, I had to use a good deal of mana during each fight. Then more mana to heal myself back to full health. Thus, shaman downtime can be more frequent than downtime for any other class.

Once the Duel Wield talent becomes available, shaman DPS gets a considerable boost. Dual wielding mixed with "shock" spells seems to provide consistent DPS with burst potential. And the 41-point talent Shamanistic Rage helps to improve mana regeneration, but downtime is still an issue. And survivability is also an issue, since shamans lack strong crowd control abilities. However, the hourly self-rez makes corpse-running a rarity.

Ultimately, shamans provide utility and flexibility in almost every fight, but they do so at the cost of mana efficiency and, to a lesser extent, survivability. This puts most of the other classes ahead of the shaman in terms of leveling speed.

#7: Priest

My Talents:Shadow (primary) & Discipline
Crowd Control:  (Psychic Scream; Shackle Undead)
Speed Buff(s):

Priests begin leveling very slowly. Downtime is high from the start. But after hitting level 15 (and maxing out the Spirit Tap talent), leveling becomes faster. Less downtime is a big help, so I chose spirit over intellect while climbing through the lower levels to maximize my mana regeneration. PW:Shielding helps survivablity, but it's not very mana efficient. However, Mind Flay happens to be one of the most mana-efficient damage spells in the game (and the slowing effect is a major plus). Priest crowd control is limited, but can be a lifesaver when timed right.

At 40, Shadowform becomes the preferred stance and spirit gear takes a backseat to +damage and intellect gear. This reduces the effectiveness of Spirit Tap and lengthens downtime, but it's worth it for the improved damage and mana pool. There's a honeymoon period as a shadow priest from 40-50 where you're nearly unstoppable in PvE (and a force to be reckoned with in PvP). But by 50, your DPS tends to level off and the glory days of your 40s come to an end. By level 55, even with a very heavy shadow spec, shadow priests simply can't compare to DPS-specced mages and warlocks, prompting me to stick priests in the 7 spot.

Like warriors, priests are always in demand. Much of my leveling with priests involves running instances often and that definitely gives at least a modest boost to leveling speed.

#6: Paladin

My Talents:Protection (primary) & Retribution
Crowd Control:  (Hamer of Justice; Turn Undead)
Speed Buff(s):  (Pursuit of Justice (2/2 talent); Crusader Aura)

Paladins level faster than warriors, shamans, and shadow priests? Yup, they

In my original guide, I put paladin 9th. However, after switching from a heavy Retribution build to a Protection AoE grinding build at the suggestion of a fan, I was utterly amazed at how much quicker I gained XP.

The AoE grinding build makes it easy to take on four to six melee mobs at once. And these mobs are at or even slightly above my level. My DPS is still the lowest of all the classes, but when you're killing six things at once, it doesn't really matter. There is virtually no downtime with this build, as I end most fights at near to full health and mana. And the pally's lackluster crowd control isn't really a limitation for this build. Of course, the drawback of this spec is that it's weak to ranged mobs and casters. Plus it's painfully slow when killing just one mob. But survivability is NEVER a problem. Corpse-running? What's that?

This build is ideal for grinding mobs fast and earning quick gold and XP, but it's tough for questing. And since I enjoy that aspect of the game, I continue to quest with my pally and balance it with AoE grinding. If I focused solely on AoE grinding, I'm sure I'd level even faster. But that would get a little too monotonous for my taste. Of course, this build also makes me an amazing tank in instances, which can provide another enjoyable change of pace.

#5: Druid

My Talents:Feral (primary) & Restoration
Crowd Control:  (Nature's Grasp (outdoors); Hibernate)
Speed Buff(s):  (Feral Swiftness (2/2 talent - outdoors); Travel Form (outdoors); Aquatic Form (water))

At the moment, a good Feral spec is very potent. Cat DPS is finally where it should have been from the start of WoW and since you do most of your solo-fighting in cat form, this is a big help. Personally, I chose to put 21 points in Restoration as well, since many of those talents beautifully augment a Feral build. Plus, Nature's Swiftness has saved me from certain death on countless ocassions, which translates into less corpse-runs and faster leveling. Furthermore, Nature's Swiftness can be used in macros for insta-crowd control when outdoors or when fighting beasts.

A good Feral-Resto build provides some wonderful opportunities for instance runs. People always need a tank or healer. This build allows me to fill either role with ease. True, you need to keep two sets of gear handy, but the versatility in groups is worth the loss of bag space.

Overall, I find leveling a druid to be fun and fast, with virtually no downtime. You regenerate mana in your feral forms and you can heal up quickly in your caster form and shift right back to feral to fight some more. And with an arsenal of powerful healing spells, decent CC, plus the armor of bear form, survivability is almost never a problem.

#4: Mage

My Talents:Arcane (primary) & Fire
Crowd Control:  (Polymorph)
Speed Buff(s):  (Blink)

Some people would probably rank a mage as number 2 or 3 in this list. While Breanni (my mage and the host of this site) can take mobs down faster than any of my other characters, she can only do so at the cost of mana. So the downtime is what keeps mages at the 4 spot. Even with mana efficiency boosting talents from the Arcane tree, mages still have to endure considerable downtime at least every fourth or fifth fight.

Originally, I had leveled as a frost mage. I enjoyed the added survivability with Ice Shield and the ability to kill multiple mobs with chain Blizzards was also a plus. But out of curiosity, I switched to an Arcane/Fire build in my mid 50s and oh, what a difference! Granted, I lack the survivability I once had, but I really don't miss it since I can sheep adds and down most mobs in three or four hits. This prompted me to reposition mages from #5 to #4 in this list.

The big drawback of the mage remains their fragility. A few unlucky resists during a bad pull and you may find yourself doing a corpse-run. To combat this, I tend to bandage up while staring down frozen or sheeped mobs. And if that fails, it's time to chug a healing potion and run/blink away as fast as you can!

#3: Warlock

My Talents:Demonology (primary) & Destruction
Crowd Control:  (Fear; Howl of Terror; Banish; Seduction (succubus spell))
Speed Buff(s):

Warlocks are all about fluidity. Mana is damage; damage is life; life is mana. This flexibility allows warlocks to level quickly with very little downtime. Not to mention the amazing array of crowd control abilities at their disposal.

While I recognize the power of a good Affliction build (mana battery imp, anyone?), I chose to put most of my points in the Demonology tree for leveling. With 12 points in Destruction and a lot of +damage gear, I can DPS fairly well myself. Add to that the fact that my succubus is a true DPS machine. Surprisingly, she's a pretty good tank too, holding mobs for half the battle until they flock to me, nearly dead. And her crowd control is great when dealing with multiple humanoids.

Having a pet and loads of stamina (plus 5 points in Demonic Embrace) helps to ensure survivability. If bad luck should befall you, a Soulstone will prevent a corpse-run. Potent DPS, versatile CC, and good survivablity make the warlock one of the top three leveling classes.

#2: Rogue

My Talents:Subtlety (primary) & Assassination
Crowd Control:  (Sap; Blind; Gouge)
Speed Buff(s):  (Sprint)

I respecced a few times during the leveling process, finding the burst damage offered by Assasination only slightly better than a good Combat build. However, I must admit that the Combat spec granted a bit more survivability (but it wasn't nearly as fun to play!smile) Eventually (around level 50) I settled on a Subtlety/Assassination build and I haven't looked back. So as far as I'm concerned, rogues seem to level quickly regardless of their builds (although the Subtelty tree is less viable at the lower levels in my opionion).

No matter what spec I used, I always kept at least 3 points in Master of Deception, helping to keep me undetected during any location/target-oriented quests. Sap provides excellent CC for humanoids while Blind works on any additional mobs mid-fight. To top it all off, Vanish keeps you alive when death seems eminent. I've outfitted my rogue with plenty of +Attack Power, perfect for a Subtlety build, giving her the second highest DPS among all my characters.

On the whole, I rip through mobs quickly with light downtime. Much like warriors, rogues benefit greatly from a high First Aid skill. So with a couple stacks of bandages, some potions, and a nice array of poisons, my rogue can slice through levels like butter.

#1: Hunter

My Talents:Beast Mastery (primary) & Marksmanship
Crowd Control:  (Freezing Trap; Scare Beast)
Speed Buff(s):  (Aspect of the Cheetah; Pathfinding (2/2 talent); Animal Handler (2/2 talent))

The hunter was the last class I chose to level. They start off very slow at first, as they're forced to do a lot of fighting in melee mode (which is painfully inefficient for a ranged DPS class). But once a pet entered the mix at level 10, I was surprised to discover just how quickly they breezed through mobs (even mobs several levels higher). This becomes even more apparent as you hit your 20s and up. Provided you keep your pet well fed and well trained, you can level so fast your head will spin.

Aspect of the Cheetah at level 20 helps you move quickly through pre-40 zones and interiors at any level. Your pet soaks up damage like a sponge, keeping you in fighting form with little (if any) downtime. With good control of your pet and carefully placed Freezing Traps, you can easily take on several mobs at once. Feign Death redirects aggro back to your pet, which is exactly where you want it. Furthermore, it can keep you alive when facing certain death. In fact, my hunter, has died only a few times since her creation.

I leveled so quickly with my hunter, it actually became a nuissance for me—keeping more than one pet equal to my level was impossible. Since pets don't get a rest bonus, I have only one pet (a DPSing cat) that has been able to keep up. In spite of that (minor) drawback, hunters clearly take the trophy for fastest leveling.

Author's Note

I don't have a main; rather I enjoy playing all nine classes equally. To date, I've leveled one of every class to 60 and all of them are now slowly making their way to 70. While my above rankings should hardly be taken as gospel, I imagine most people who have attempted to level all nine classes would agree with much of what I wrote. Still, I'd encourage you to play any class you enjoy, regardless of how quickly they level.

Remember: getting to the max level is a journey, not a race. Every class has something unique to offer at any stage of the game.

Last updated: August 2007

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