Ideally, every single one of your major combat abilities, important combat utilities, and emergency buttons should be bound to a key to give you the fastest possible reaction time to using them.
It’s not easy getting there. It takes time and practice to get used to a new control format, which can be frustrating if you don’t exactly have a lot of time.
This guide is meant to ease you into the art of key binds, slowly and casually so you have time to adapt to your new controls and become proficient with them.
If you already use key binds, then this guide is not for you. :) Feel free to leave your own tips and tricks in the comments!
1. Plan and Schedule when you’re going to try key bindings.
Realize beforehand that this isn’t going to be easy to do. It’s highly likely you will make mistakes when you accidentally press the wrong button. It’ll likely be frustrating, definitely awkward, and will certainly seem more difficult than just clicking.
Stick with it, you’ll see results shortly. The more you play, the more comfortable you become with your new control set, the better you will be.
Secondly, make sure that you have a large-ish block of free time before you have to do anything responsible in-game. If you’re a healer, and your guild raids Monday and Wednesday, starting your adventure into keybinds on Sunday or Monday would be disastrous.
With a schedule like that, try keybinding Thursday. That way you have a lot of time to get used to it before anything important happens.
Preferably, set aside a hefty chunk of time (around 5 hours should do the trick) and play some battlegrounds. It doesn’t matter how you do in the battlegrounds, the only thing you’re worried about is adapting to your new controls.
If you lose Arathi Basin 7 times in a row… who cares? You didn’t go there to win, you went there to get comfortable with your key binds.
If jumping straight into a battleground is a little worrisome, try just fighting some random mobs. Do a few dailies that require you to kill stuff first.
The point is to get risk free experience with your new setup. That way, once it comes down to a raid, you’ll already be fairly proficient with it.
2. Start small, then expand.
You don’t want to jump directly from zero keybinds to twenty-two keybinds. That’s nearly counterproductive, as you’ll likely end up clicking more than half of those anyways.
Start with a small number of keybinds. 5 or less. Bind abilities you use frequently, as in “every single combat” frequently. A frost mage, for instance, would bind frostbolt, frost nova, and ice lance.
Note that in this case, a spell like frostbolt doesn’t really need to be bound right away. It doesn’t require lightning fast reflexes in the same way nova and ice lance do. Bind it anyway to get into the habit of using key binds.
Once you get comfortable with those key binds, add a couple more. Remember, bind things you’re going to use a lot or need fast reflex time to use properly early.
Sticking with the frost mage example, binding Evocate isn’t really that important. You can keep that unbound for now. However, binding things like Counterspell, Cone of Cold, Blizzard, Blink, your elemental’s nova, those would be really beneficial to bind.
As a general rule, if it’s got a short or non-existent cooldown, bind it. If it’s long, don’t.
Keep in mind that the priority list for new keybinds is different depending if you want to do raiding or PvP. Cone of Cold, for instance, is a crucial spell for PvP purposes, but can be given a miss for raiding content.
Once you’re comfortable with those, move on to the big cooldowns you don’t use frequently. Our frost mage could bind Ice Barrier/Block/Veins, Cold Snap, his mana gem, and Evocate. (You don’t have to go this far. Clicking your long cooldowns is fine for PvE. You will need to go this far for PvP, however.)
On the flip side, don’t go crazy with keybinds. Things like Portal: Thunder Bluff do not require a keybind, ever, so don’t bother giving it one.
Don’t be afraid to share keybinds. A soloing Holy Paladin, for instance, could have the Shield of Righteousness ability bound to 3, but change that binding to Holy Light when in a raid or instance.
3. Bind intelligently
Don’t bind your abilities to stupid things that are hard to reach. Binding your abilities is designed to make you faster at what you do, not slower. Binding, say, alt + r is a far better keybind than alt + p.
Bind where it’s comfortable for you to use according to your current movement setup. If you use, say, wasd for your movement, look into binding things to q, e, r, f, z, x, c, 1-5.
Feel free to rebind anything Blizzard has bound by default. Take z, x, c. None of those are bound to anything useful by default. Open character pane? Draw weapon? SIT?! NONE of those are important in the slightest. Rebind ‘em to something useful.
If you really, really want to be able to do those things, rebind them elsewhere on the keyboard.
Everything that would normally use in combat, try to get them all situated in the same place. If you do it right, you should rarely have to move your hand to press anything, if ever. Binding abilities to 1-0 is not nearly as efficient as binding those same abilities to 1-5, q-t.
For instance, if I rest my left hand on the keyboard, I can reach ~ through 5, q through t, a to g, z to v without moving my hand at all. I can also easily reach the shift and alt modifier keys, though ctrl is hard to reach. Therefore, I have things bound to those keys, and use the alt and shift modifiers. I do not use ctrl, as it’s too hard to reach to be efficient.
Make sure your binding set-up is comfortable. Some of us are able to contort out hands in weird, warped fashions over our keyboards, but not all of us. Observe where your hand naturally likes to go during your normal play, and bind your keys to accomodate that.
That’s it! Really! Set aside some time, bind some stuff, then practice a little bit with it. Nothing else is required to learn2bind.
Remember, above all else, this is supposed to make you a better, faster player. Don’t bind things arbitrarily, or bind abilities to places that don’t work for you.
Nobody plays exactly the same way. Bind the things you need to places you can easily use.