Circle of Tanking: Guest Post

July 25, 2011

When my co-tank read mine, he was compelled to put up his own answers. He doesn’t have a blog of his own, thus it goes up here. Take it away, Em.

1. What is the name, class, and spec of your primary tank?

Emming, druid, 0/32/9

2. What is your primary group tanking environment? (i.e. raids, pvp, 5 mans)

Mostly 10-man raids and, when I feel the insane urge to grind out VP or just the insane in general, DF 5-man heroics. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen a 25-man raid.

3. What is your favorite cooldown for your class and why?

I … really don’t have a lot of choices here. All specs being equal, Tranquility is my favourite because it’s just so powerful, but as tank I don’t get to use that. I’d have to go with Survival Instincts because there’s just something quite badass about being able to say, “Yeah, you. You’re hitting me for half of what you think you are now. Kay?”

4. What tanking CD do you use least for your class and why?

Most probably Frenzied Regeneration. Barkskin and Survival Instincts both provide a significant, “Stop the hurty now,” bonus instantly, whereas Frenzied Regeneration is best used when <30% health and in serious need of a healing boost. Of course, with lag, I usually end up hitting it and finding out the server refused to accept it. Bastard thing.

5. What do you feel is the biggest strength of your tanking class and why?

Oof… gonna have to go with two answers, entirely situational. I would say that it’s the sheer number of abilities available to druids as the most hybrid of the hybrid classes, but with most of those abilities being unavailable in bear form, that utility is seriously limited.

First answer: When the opportunity comes up, and I can safely shift out of bear form while my tank partner is handling the boss, or while an ability makes them stop dealing damage for a while, I can put out the best tank DPS out there by shifting to kitty form. When you’re fighting berserk timers or all your healers are down and you just need that last few percent, your tank suddenly doubling their DPS or more can make a huge difference.

Second answer: Physical damage. I love physical damage. As always I expect a nerf next patch, but right now if you want to mitigate physical damage bears are *it*. Huge amounts of armor, huge amounts of baked-in mitigation from talents, and huge amounts of dodge means I mitigate *at least* 80% of any incoming physical based damage. There’s only some fights where physical is the major share of the damage types going out, but where it is, a bear is what you want.

6. What do you feel is the biggest weakness of your class and why?

Again, gonna have to go with a multi-part answer because the weaknesses are entirely situational.

First answer: no ranged silence. None. At all. To a lesser degree, a severe lack of ranged abilities in general (discounting charges, Faerie Fire and Taunt are *it*). If I want a caster to move I either have to get over there and smack him up a bit first, LoS, or pray for someone else to Death Grip or silence him.

Second answer: Theoretically as a hybrid, bears have a lot of utility to offer. In actuality, you have the smallest toolbox of any of the tanking classes, due to your absolute need to always stay in bear form. No Tranq, no Rebirth unless you’re really good at finding a window, only three tanking CDs (only one of which has a short CD time), and very little ability to customise your spec/ability use/whatever to different situations; with few exceptions, a bear is a bear is a bear, and one will act pretty much exactly like the next.

7. In a raiding environment, what do you feel, in general, is the best tanking assignment for you?

On single-tank fights with my current tank partner, my best assignment is to go to my DPS spec; I turn out the better DPS, and have less “ohcrap” buttons to hit. When it comes to two-tank fights, my weakness is add management; holding on to them I can do, but grabbing them in the first place is something I have severe difficulty with. On any fight with adds, I’m better off eating bossface.

8. What tanking class do you enjoy tanking with most and why?

No comment, as I’ve had very little experience with other classes in a raid environment.

9. What tanking class do you enjoy tanking with least and why?

See above.

10. What is your worst habit as a tank?

Impatience. Definitely. Or perhaps more accurately, arrogance. I tend to transition very quickly from, “Okay, no idea what’s going on here, so go carefully and pay attention to everything,” to, “Ah, this is in the bag. Let’s go! *Pull*”. I can get away with this a lot of the time because I know my group well and know what they can handle, but that doesn’t mean it’s a *good* habit, and sees me doing some seriously derpy things when with people I don’t know.

11. What is your biggest pet peeve in a group environment while tanking?

What’s any tank’s pet peeve? People who won’t SIT down and SHUT up and DO AS YOU’RE TOLD, BECAUSE I’M PULLING NOW, DAMNIT

13. What tools do you use to evaluate your own performance as a tank?

Mostly, peer review and personal analysis. During a fight some part of my brain is filing things away and taking notes for me to go over later, and if I have any concerns about my performance, I ask the people around me; they have more experience and a different perspective to offer, and can quite often spot things I miss. As far as logs and such go, they’re not all that useful to me; I check my Damage Taken logs if things are going wrong or if it seems like the healers are stressed, but otehrwise bear priorities are just too simple and direct to analyse much.

14. What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about your tanking class?

That bears are weak/ineffectual because of our limited toolbox. We can do the job, and we can do the job *well*, but we have to remain aware of our limitations and work around them, while using our other abilities to compensate for the things we can’t do. A good bear does this automatically. A bad one doesn’t even know how.

15. What do you feel is the most difficult thing for new tanks of your class to learn?

Multi-target handling. We have precious few abilities to handle more than one target, and especially at lower levels you have to constantly be watching and get on top of developing threat situations with your single-target abilities and a lot of target switching.

16. So, how about that whole vengeance mechanic, eh?

I honestly don’t notice it much. I guess it contributes something in that it makes my mastery shields stronger, and increase my threat, but by the time it builds up to significant levels the pull has already either gone well or gone bad.

17. Stamina, Combat Table Coverage, or total Damage Reduction?

Total damage reduction. Stacking stamina, no-one seriously does that anymore, and bears are incapable of combat table coverage due to how the class works, so that leaves us with mitigating damage any way we can; most of that comes through talents and baked-in bonuses like the bear form armor buff.

18. What tanking class do you feel you understand least?

I’d have to go with Death Knights simply because I haven’t actually had any experience with them at all; at least I’ve played with my pally and warrior in low levels.

19. What add-ons or macros do you use, if any, to aid you in tanking?

If I had to pick one addon that I absolutely, positively couldn’t do without, it would have to be Tidy Plates/Threat Plates. A threat meter is good, but largely academic if I’m doing my job right. Bartender is a UI godsend, but if I had to, I could function without it. VuhDo is very useful informationally, but essentially only useful to tell me who’s got aggro or if my healer’s dead. But TP/TP tells me exactly which mob has started to ignore me, and where they’re going, and lets me get them back fast.

As macros go, the only one I really use significantly ties together my feral Berserk with my racial Berserking.

20. Do you strive primarily for balance between your tanking stats (stam, mastery, avoidance), or do you stack some much higher than others, and why?

Bear stats are very simple. For gemming, stack agi (and grab a socket bonus if it’s more than 20 stamina or agi). For reforging, you want dodge; it’s the only tank stat that’s actually useful to us. The only real question is what stat you reforge, and in order of what you want to get rid of most, that’s Haste, Crit and then Mastery. No math, no balancing, just get your dodge and go home to have a pizza.


Circle of Tanking

July 13, 2011

Because I actually have some free time I feel like writing about WoW in, and because I wasn’t active when the first one went around. Nabbing from lonomonkey, because that’s where I saw it first and bloggers that update every two months don’t tend to get tagged in these things.

1. What is the name, class, and spec of your primary tank?

Jujutan, paladin, 0/31/10.

2. What is your primary group tanking environment? (i.e. raids, pvp, 5 mans)

10-man raids. I’ve never played at all in a 25-man as a tank, I do as few 5 mans as I can get away with unless it’s “drunken fun with guildies” ballpit time, and the less said about me and PvP, the better.

3. What is your favorite cooldown for your class and why?

RRRRRAAAAAAIIIIIDWAAAAALL. Divine Guardian fits very nicely into my desire to feel like a physical barrier between the raid and the pain. Hand of Protection also falls into this niche; these two cooldowns are the reason I will probably never follow through on my musings to switch my main to my warrior or DK. No matter how much more fun I find the tanking mechanics on those two, I can never give up being able to save my healer with a bubble.

4. What tanking CD do you use least for your class and why?

As a broad rule I’m *always* looking for an unlit cooldown, but I’d say Lay On Hands. The only time it generally occurs to me to use it is as part of a planned rotation in a painful burn phase; my muscle memory “ohgod don’t die” button is Ardent Defender. I really should use Guardian of Ancient Kings more for the same basic reasons, too. My favorites are the short-term cooldowns I can rotate to create an overall mitigation effect.

5. What do you feel is the biggest strength of your tanking class and why?

The fact that we have many of the tools a healer does, since many paladin healing tools are baseline and we don’t have to tank shapeshifted like bears do. Word of Glory (that can be used on anyone, not just me!), holy radiance, hand of protection… it shames me that it didn’t occur to me until just now that I can bind Hand of Sacrifice into my VuhDo settings and help out my co-tank with that and divine protection when he has Beth’tilac… seriously though, our toolbox is awesomesauce with kittens on top.

6. What do you feel is the biggest weakness of your class and why?

We are notso hotso on snap threat without hitting a couple of cooldowns, and for the first time since I started playing a protection paladin I feel kinda weak on AoE threat compared to some of the other tanking classes. Granted this could just be me; my build and gearing and glyphing grabs all the survivability I can get and only makes concessions to threat with what’s left over. Vengeance means only the first 15 seconds of a boss pull really matter, but those 15 seconds can get too interesting for my taste at times. Seriously though, protection paladins are in a very strong place right now and have been for awhile.

Now, if you asked me what I thought the worst aspects of the class were rather than our weaknesses… our rotation is still boring as hell even if it is better than it was in Wrath. Our mastery is the most boring thing ever to bore compared to the other three tank masteries, and it appears it gives Ghostcrawler heartburn in the bargain. There isn’t a ton of variation in valid talent builds; for the most part we have good talents and bad ones. We do get some wiggle room in whether to tune for threat or survivability, but we don’t have as much functional and stylistic choice as warriors and death knights get.

7. In a raiding environment, what do you feel, in general, is the best tanking assignment for you?

I are main tank, put me on the boss, please. I’m not rigid about this, though; my co-tank and I trade MT and offtanking duties depending on our class strengths and weaknesses relative to the encounter. He’s a bear, so his strengths are not mine and vice versa.

8. What tanking class do you enjoy tanking with most and why?

I agree with lonomonkey from the other side- death knights complement my class amazingly well. Sorry to my bear bros that I’ve tanked with most often, especially given my DK partner was a bit of an ass, but mechanically speaking it’s true.

9. What tanking class do you enjoy tanking with least and why?

Is there any tank or healer answering this survey that’s not saying “another of my own class, diversity brings the best advantage?” I know I’m not going to disagree. Aside from the sheer mechanical reality that it’s best to have two toolboxes rather than an overlapping duplicate, it also keeps me from getting pointlessly competitive.

10. What is your worst habit as a tank?

I need to mind my own damn business. For pretty much all of Wrath and about the first half of tier 11, plus heroics, I got used to watching the whole party or raid as though I were a healer. The back half and all of Firelands I’ve experienced so far have forced me to dial my focus in more because I had none to spare, and it’s just freaking needless for the ground tank to be having anxiety attacks about the health pools of people on the web during Beth’tilac.

11. What is your biggest pet peeve in a group environment while tanking?

I’m a tank. Doesn’t that make me definitionally a control freak? Probably the easiest way is people failing to be psychic and realizing exactly where I mean to tank a pull and opening up/charging in before I have them where I want them. I HAVE ARRANGED THE MONSTERS JUST SO, DO NOT DISTURB MY FENG SHUI!

13. What tools do you use to evaluate your own performance as a tank?

I analyze the healing taken logs in World of Logs a lot to evaluate what talents/strategies are working and what’s not, which is how I wound up as the only consistent Seal of Insight paladin tank I know of and came to love glyphed word of glory/filled-out-rule of law/guarded by the light. (I meant it when I said I put survivability way over threat.)

I’m lucky enough to have been healed by the same druid for about two years now, so I rely heavily on his input for how easy I am to heal or whether a change was meaningful or not. We both spend a lot of time tinkering and comparing results. Having the guy on my back be almost always the same guy also helps a lot when it comes to evaluating how spiky and bit the damage I’m taking is.

14. What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about your tanking class?

That we’re EZmode. After taking 3/4 of the tanking classes to 85 and one to around 50 I do think paladin tanking is the easiest to learn if you’re just learning how to tank period, but it takes just as much intelligence and work to play a protection paladin well as it does any of the other classes. If you don’t use the toolbox to its fullest extent, we can be squishy.

15. What do you feel is the most difficult thing for new tanks of your class to learn?

To realize that we’re not just pink warriors. There’s a ton we can do to help the healers and pallies that don’t do it are depressingly common. It’s a big toolbox and it takes time and experience to realize its full potential.

16. So, how about that whole vengeance mechanic, eh?

W/e. I guess it made hit and expertise meaningless to me but beyond that I don’t really care. I’d rather be spending my focus on living than fighting the DPS for threat over the bulk of the fight anyway.

17. Stamina, Combat Table Coverage, or total Damage Reduction?

CTC. I exist first to make healing me at all as unnecessary as I can, and second to make the damage I take very smooth. For a paladin, CTC is the most direct route to this goal. ARE there still any raiding tanks that stack stamina? “HI! I’M A MANA SPONGE!”

18. What tanking class do you feel you understand least?

Bears. Despite tanking WITH them more than any other class, I’ve actually PLAYED them the least. I mean haste on gear and crit as a survival stat lol wtf? It turns what I know about plate tanks on its ear.

19. What add-ons or macros do you use, if any, to aid you in tanking?

I’m an addon addict. The ones I use specifically for tanking, specifically for this class: Hear Kitty to remove my need for a holy power display. Tidy Plates/Threat plates, because following a nameplate to a healer is a lot easier than following a cat-sized red mob on a red background when your camera is zoomed out to outer space. VuhDo, for my big library of helpful spells and to help me track debuffs and raid cooldowns. (Used to be Grid, but I lost my temper and patience after the last time a patch broke it and its many plugins.) These are the three I couldn’t live without, but I’ve also got Quartz, OmniCC, Power Auras, BigWigs AND DBM, Shadowed Unit Frames, and and and…

As for macros, I’ve got one to cast and cancel my bubble, and one to Captain America worshipping players during Cho’gall. That’s actually about it.

20. Do you strive primarily for balance between your tanking stats (stam, mastery, avoidance), or do you stack some much higher than others, and why?

I try to stack mastery, but not as much as I theoretically could if I started reforging ALL my avoidance stats to it. I’m not close enough to being able to block-cap to make that valuable. Also it offends my sense of order.


Tank Ego Dissected

April 6, 2011

Over at Further Adventures In LFD, there is discussion amongst healers of a particular breed of tank, to wit this comment from Lara:

I’m not sure why, but there is a certain subspecies of tank that seems to believe using crowd-control is a sign of a weak character. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these tend also to be the tanks with some combination of poor situational awareness, weak threat, and low health.

My planned response to the “why” was starting to get lengthy, so it goes here instead.

Tanking, as I’ve said before, is an extremely visible job and one that will bring out your inner control freak whether you thought you had one or not. No matter how meek and unassuming you may be before you start (if you do at all, it’s not a job that typically appeals to the meek *because* of this), tanking is experienced as being the person who’s always leading from the front even if you’re not actually calling the shots; the pull doesn’t begin without you, you have first say over how the fight proceeds, and if someone tries to yank that control away from you, they’re socially in the wrong and will usually die if you choose to let them. You can be a decent person and include everyone else as much as possible for input and mindfulness, or you can be an asshole and run as though the other four party members weren’t there, but the show still runs on your schedule and over time that sense of your role will sink in.

All three roles have a certain degree of ego bound up in their role and how well they do at it. DPSers have one immediate, direct thing to point to in the form of the amount of sheer damage per second they produce, and more sources in the form of never pulling threat or never taking unnecessary damge; a good DPS will mark himself on all three, while a bad one will attach to the numbers alone. Healers will take pride variously in their own HPS (an even worse idea than it is for DPS), or more commonly, simply never letting anybody die- or never overhealing, never going OOM, or just in being able to heal big damage on the tank.

Tank ego, likewise, can bind up in several different things, depending on what the tank in question thinks their job actually is. For me, it goes like this:

1. Survive and make sure the rest of the party that isn’t doing anything actively suicidal survives. This makes being able to do threat adequate at least to hold on groups that the DPS is focus-firing and making sure I can survive the experience easily the same job and occupying the same priority one slot.

2. Don’t threat-cap the DPS. It’s one thing to expect of myself that I can keep threat on a pack that our strongest DPS are each targeting a different one of (i.e. a ludicrous thing), another to expect I can control a large pack the best of our AoE are going to town on. (Here I am thinking of the Phase Twisters in BoT, and our very competitive DK DPSers with the insane AoE. I mostly keep threat. Enough that righteous defense keeps everyone comfortably alive anyway.)

3. Support the healers. Anything I can do to make their lives easier, I should do. I have to admit this isn’t as selfless as it seems; like I said, this is an ego thing as much as it is a good-gameplay thing. I wasn’t satisfied with myself in Cataclysm until my healers went back to watching Hulu and Pornhub during trash and heroics.

I am not all tanks. Another one I ran with (that I was not very happy doing so because our priorities were so different) considered the most fun/ego-satisfying thing to be invincible on threat, and second to dish out damage competitively. He would ask our healers how much they could handle, and wear DPS gear accordingly and pull everything in the room. At the time he could (mostly) get away with it because it was the end of Wrath and everyone was insanely overgeared- though he was so focused on pulling and damaging he did let people die from time to time, including the healer at least once- but his runs were still a very, very different experience from mine. I refused to take off tank gear or wear DPS gear to keep the healers more amused because I saw that as anathema to doing my job right; he refused to slow down because he saw that as not doing his as best he could. Probably different healers would have preferred either of our styles depending on if they were more in for utterly safe or excitement. Either way, the overgeared state highlighted what each of us marked ourselves on and actually thought was doing our jobs to our best, since it allowed us to play however we wanted.

Getting back to the original comment, about the subspecies of tank that sees CC as a threat to their tank ego, and that usually going along with weak threat and survivability: these are either inexperienced or immature/shallow tanks who are essentially cousins to DPS that consider their recount string their only measure of job performance. If a dumb DPS thinks the numbers are a hard reflection of performance and considers anything that lowers them asking too much of them or asking them not to do their jobs in a way that lets them shine, a dumb tank thinks the only measure of HIS performance is being able to survive a lot of incoming damage. In this light, a healer asking for CC means not letting him show off his own best performance while refusing to give theirs.

Why is it usually the tanks with poor threat, poor awareness, and poor survivability? Because they’re the ones most likely to be inexperienced enough to think this simplistically about their own role.


The Tanking Classes And You: What’s Your Sign?

March 31, 2011

I planned to do this post after I’d had all four tanking classes at 85 and a goodly few more dungeons on each under my belt, but the way things are going that’s not going to happen for a long long time, so I’ll just put my biases up front: I raid and dungeon as a protection paladin, I have raided and still dungeon as a protection warrior (I’d love to get her into raids but probably not until 4.1 will that be possible), I’ve done some dungeoning as a blood death knight but not nearly as much as the other two, and my bear experiences have been strictly vanilla dungeoneering plus talking to the various people I’ve actively tanked with in raids, which have been a DK and three different bears. (Yes, we have had a lot of druid tanks. Their supposed scarcity is amusing to me.) So if you think I’m hideously wrong about bears or DKs… you’re probably right.

There are a ton of arguments, QQ, and epeening on the tank forums about which tank class is strongest or easiest or OP or obviously gimped, and it gets pretty tiresome to read, pretty fast. There are also a lot of “my first tank, which should I roll?” threads. This isn’t meant to evaluate which tanks are strongest in raids; honestly I think that depends a lot on the fight and much more on the player behind the keys. It is my observation, though, that the four tanks are structurally quite different and which tank you should roll depends a great deal more on your temperament rather than how things spreadsheet out. This post is about those differences- what the play and flavor feel like and who they’ll most appeal to based on that.

Paladins

Protection paladins have now and have always had the most static tank rotation in the game. It used to be that we had six-second buttons and nine-second buttons and it barely mattered what order we pushed them in so long as they all stayed on cooldown; now we have a choice of two three-second buttons to push, depending on whether the situation is AoE or single-target, and then an assortment of other buttons that also, at the end of the day, are mostly about keeping everything on cooldown. We also have a resource system to blow that gives us a choice between single-target threat, multi-target threat, or healing of self or others, which after 4.1 is mostly going to be a choice between single-target and multi-target threat with much more occasional healing. Either way, once you get the holy power system down, the business of controlling mobs is not terribly exciting. We get a stun on a long cooldown (talentable/glyphable to improve), and we finally have an off-the-gcd interrupt, although until 4.1 again with our lack of use for hit it’s a very unreliable one.

The real strength of paladins as a tanking class other than baseline survivability and threat is its big raid utility toolbox. You get most of the same tools that holy paladins do to back up the healers and support the raid, and a good protadin will use them. My pally is the only tank I have that I not only run Grid, but use the same setup as I do when I’m healing. Given that many boss fights for the main tank are mostly a matter of using your survivability cooldowns intelligently and moving the boss or yourself out of the bad stuff, that doesn’t leave much else for the protection paladin to do other than their as-stated simple threat rotation, and threat doesn’t even matter that much beyond the initial ten seconds anymore thanks to Vengeance, as long as you don’t actually go AFK. On the Valiona and Theralion fight, for example, I spend about 2% of my focus keeping threat, 30% watching for things not to stand in and boss ability timers, 10% on my own survivability cooldowns and when the optimum time to use them is, and the rest on throwing Word of Glory, hand of protection, holy radiance, lay on hands, and the raidwall as-needed or as-most-helpful.

All tanks have a much wider and further-out focus than healers or DPS, but with a resource system that’s either almost completely ignorable (mana) or simple with a few basic reminder addons (holy power), passively applied in-combat buffs and debuffs, and a (relative) dearth of specific control abilities that apply to the mobs rather than to the group, paladins are arguably the most eye-in-the-sky of them all. This can make them a touch boring to play in five-mans once things get routine, and give them a stronger sense of control in raids.

Despite the relative simplicity of paladin threat rotation, pallies have one of the most active and intensely mathy theorycrafting communities of any of the tanks, with death knights coming in a close second. I don’t think this is a coincidence, but rather reflective of the kind of temperament the tanking end of the class attracts.

You want to play this tank if: You’re really into the idea of being the group’s protector rather than just the guy getting all the monster’s attention and abuse. You’re a healer looking to take a walk on the pointy end of things and can’t bear the idea of not being able to do anything when you see group members’ health bars dangerously low for any reason other than “mob I don’t have locked down beating on them”. Your response to the notion of knowing the precise combat table coverage value or added threat per second of any given change to your stats, tweak on the PTR, or moved talent point is “oh boy!” rather than “what’s a combat table coverage?”. The idea of being the channel for holy righteousness is a flavor you like.

You want to run away from this spec if: You need a lot of fast active decision-making about which buttons to press for a class to be fun for you. You want an in-your-face feel to your tanking. You think healing is for healers and you want to worry solely about the boss/mobs rather than the party/raid. People that use MATLAB to improve their game performance make you want to punch them in the face. You can’t stomach the idea of being holy crusader-flavored.

Warriors

In direct contrast to paladins, warriors have a very fluid and reactive priority-based system that will require you to make a lot of fast decisions about which buttons to hit when in order to maintain good threat and survivability. They also have to worry somewhat more about their resource system; they don’t have a combolike system like holy power, but smart rage management is important for warriors far more so than smart mana management is for paladins. (In contrast to Wrath, when warriors either had too much or too little, and which it was depended on gear.) Warrior buffs and debuffs are much more actively maintained than the paladin versions, and even a five-man run is going to be at least a little tied up keeping these up and smoothly juggled in between your threat maintenance.

Warriors arguably have as large a toolbox as paladins and death knights, it’s just completely differently focused. You get a lot of tools for handling specific kinds of mobs and situations, it’s just that almost none of them apply to your party/raid as opposed to yourself or the mobs. The place where an individual tank’s skill stands out is still in his or her use of the full potential of this toolbox, but rather than supporting the healers beyond smart survivability cooldown use, a warrior shines with superior control of mobs, maintenance of multiple important raid buffs and debuffs, and an unmatched ability to be anywhere on the battlefield they need to be within seconds. Happily, they’ll be getting their own raidwall in 4.1, adding yet more utility to the class.

Warrior mobility is always mentioned in any discussion of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the tanking class, and it deserves to be; a warrior making proper use of charge, intercept, intervene, and heroic leap rarely has an excuse for not being where they needed to be, and they make up for their relative lack of ranged tools with it. Combine this with their more reactive threat priority system, and this gives them a very immediate, in-your-face feel to tank on. Paladin tanking feels measured and waltzlike; warrior tanking feels more like DDR.

Despite being nearly identical to paladins in terms of how much of their survivability can be mathed out, there seems to be far less theorycrafting in the warrior community than there is in the paladin, death knight, or even bear communities. The warrior talent tree also offers a lot of room for personal stylistic choices in terms of where to put talent points, and you’ll likely see more variation between perfectly workable warrior builds than you will among any of the other three tanking classes.

You want to play this tank if: You like the idea of having a lot of snap decisions to make. You want your play to feel frantic and in-your-face even as you maintain perfect control. You’re thematically attracted to the idea of being the one class that doesn’t use any kind of magic, just brute force and will. You want a lot of different ways to control and lock down mobs. You don’t want to be forced into a cookie-cutter build and want your talent choices to make a lot of meaningful difference.

You want to run away from this spec if: The idea of having a lot of balls to juggle while being the tank gives you heart palpitations. You like to make everything come to you easily rather than moving to where you’re needed. Having a lot of tools in your toolbox, and needing to use them all in order to do your job well, sounds like too much to remember and put on your bars.

Death Knights

Paladins have a simple and relatively static rotation, warriors have a fairly simple-to-grasp but extremely reactive priority system, and death knights have a complex priority system that requires mindful resource management to execute correctly. The rune and runic power system is also more damaged by poor play than mana or rage; if you overstress your mana or bleed off too much rage, your problems resolve in seconds and can be potentially resolved by pressing a button on a relatively short cooldown, but bad decision-making on rune usage will reverberate through your rotation for longer, and the rescue-everything cooldown is quite a bit longer.

Likewise, their survivability must be equally well managed. Outside of specific survivability cooldowns, warrior, paladin, and bear mastery and mitigation are passive; they’re either chance-to-activate things like avoidance, block, and savage defense, or simply baked into the spec passively in some other fashion. Death knights have some passive survivability, but their mastery and the balance point they hang on as a tanking class are completely in the player’s hands: self-healing and absorption shields from death strike. Good death knight tanking play is maximizing the potential of this mechanic, and there is much beard-stroking in the theorycrafting community about the best way to do this. Suffice to say you’ll want addons for this class more than any other, just to more clearly see what’s going on with your rune management and your blood shields than the default UI will give you.

Death knights are arguably the kings of cooldowns. Depending on which abilities you count as cooldowns and what talents are taken (some, like rune tap, are in a greyish area, and you have to specifically spec into frost for Lichborne), they have at least five and up to eight survivability cooldowns, small and large and some very situational. A good death knight that remembers all the buttons he potentially has and remembers to use them in the right situations is very, very difficult to kill. If you’re grasping that power in exchange for mastering complexity is the death knight tradeoff, the pattern continues here; none of them are quite as strong as the strongest warrior, paladin, and bear cooldowns unless they’re used intelligently, often in concert with other abilities.

Along with their cooldowns, they also get plenty of mob-control abilities; they get a combined ranged interrupt and silence in Strangulate, and another interrupt on a shorter cooldown in Mind Freeze. Add a ranged gap closer with Death Grip and death knights become the polar opposite of warriors- designed around choosing a place to tank the pull and forcing everything to come to them, even moreso than paladins. Picking up and keeping mobs, and keeping them debuffed, is relatively straightforward- it’s managing yourself that’s the bigger challenge of the class.

Death knight tanks in general can be summed up in a permutation of the poem about the little girl with the little curl, right in the middle of her forehead: when the player is good they’re very, very good, and when they’re bad they’re horrid. In terms of the sheer feel of play, they’re a good bit more intense than paladins but not quite as frantic as warrior. More of a rave feel than waltzing or DDR.

You want to play this tank if: “Complexity” is a word that attracts you to a spec rather than repelling. You’re an even bigger control freak than most tanks already are. You like having lots and lots of tools for very specific purposes in your toolbox. You dislike the idea of running around after mobs rather than setting things up exactly as you please. You dig the idea of being themed around being a blood-crazed zombie.

You want to run away from this spec if: You absolutely hate micromanaging. You want smoother, more constant and guaranteed damage reduction from a shield rather than having to manage self-heals and absorbs to get the same result. You don’t want your action bars cluttered with a lot of buttons. The RPer in you is uncomfortable with the idea of that touch of evil that being a vaguely vampiric undead former Scourge minion comes with.

Druids

Paladins command the power of the Light to protect their allies. Warriors use soldierly techniques to tie up the enemy. Death knights plague their enemies and feed off their life. Bears? Bear SMASH.

If paladins and warriors occupy polar opposite positions in terms of play style and design philosophy, bears and death knights are on their own poles away from one another. Bears have probably the simplest priority system, and also the smallest toolbox; where a DK has a finely milled tool for every occasion, bears get the same job done with a hammer, a screwdriver, and a bit of brute force. This is not to say that they’re easier to play; any bear will sometimes feel the lack of equivalent tools to their tanking brethren, especially the lack of any sort of ranged silence or even attention-keeping tools like a warrior’s spell reflect. (Warriors, of course, now have both.) If death knight tanking is the art of mastering complexity, bear tanking is the art of becoming very skilled at doing a lot with a little.

Like warriors, bears rely on their mobility, using feral charge and stampeding roar to move quickly around the battleground to where they’re needed. They can’t silence casters except briefly with skull bash or bash, so a good bear player learns to line-of-sight and exactly how far away they can get from a caster before it’s forced to move- and then charges back in. If any class has to take the most advanced classes in the art of the pull, this one is it.

Bears have middling to good raid utility, suffering a bit because a lot of their class’s native utility can’t be used while in bear form, and shifting out of bear while tanking is an immediate death sentence unless you’re at a point in a raid where you’re off-tanking and not taking hits at that moment. Their biggest high mark is that when they *don’t* need to be in bear form- as an off-tank in a fight where the design includes a phase where they’ll spend a relatively long period of time DPSing rather than tanking, like off-tanking Halfus or the Twilight Ascendant Council- they can shift to cat, and the fact that bear gear and spec is automatically at least decent if not optimal kitty gear and spec means they can pour on a lot more DPS than other tanks during these burn phases, which can mean all the difference to a guild trying to beat an enrage timer or get the boss down before the last few raiders fall. Given their gear is usually more designed originally for DPS than tanking in the first place, with the survivability conversion taking place in talents and baked-in effects of bear form, they usually do pretty high DPS for a tank even when not in kitty as well.

The fact that druid tanks and melee DPS share a talent tree is both a blessing and a curse. It’s the easiest for bears of any tanks to build and maintain a good off-set for DPS, or even swap their main spec to DPS on short notice, since much of the gear is shared and the biggest differences are in the gemming and reforging. On the other hand, this also means they compete with the leather-wearing melee DPS for gear rather than plate-wearing co-tanks- which can be fantastic if your raid doesn’t lean heavy to such classes, and miserable when they do, as there will always be more of the DPS than other tanks. The marriage of the two feral specs also means that when a nerf is aimed at one side, the other is likely to feel the effects as well. (Same goes for buffs, of course.)

Bears have fewer survival cooldowns than their tanking brethren, but they make up for it by just being very natively hard to kill, with very high avoidance and the fact that they get both a lot of threat and a lot of survivability off the same stats. (Agility, which affects both dodge and crit- and savage defense, their mastery-based absorption shield, procs off crit and scales off attack power.) They also get some nice plus effects from the fact that they tank shapeshifted- they are immune to polymorph, and disarm doesn’t do a whole lot to them either. They do become vulnerable to scare beast and hibernate, but nothing in the PvE half of the game ever does that that I’ve found, whereas Blizzard does like to work in some polymorphing and disarming trash mobs for lulz. The fact that most of their attacks aren’t affected by silence is nice, too- a bear will have a much less frustrating time tanking mobs that silence than, say, a paladin.

As for the feel of the playstyle… welcome to the mosh pit.

You want to play this tank if: You believe in the Keep It Simple Stupid principle. You’d rather juggle targeting mobs than buffs and debuffs. You want to have the most different options possible for your off-spec. You like having your bars uncluttered by a lot of rarely-used situational abilities. You’re not really sure whether you’d rather be a tank or a DPS and you don’t want changing your mind to be difficult. You get a bit of a stiffie from your DPS even as a tank. Because being a bear rather than a plate-wearing mook is just fundamentally cool.

You want to run away from this spec if: You want to have a tool for every occasion. You’d rather stand still than have to move around. You don’t want to look like you spent the weekend hitting garage sales held by rogues, hunters, and resto druids when you’re not shapeshifted. You don’t want to wrap your head around stat and gearing priorities that seem counterintuitive for a tank.

Bonus tank selection cheat sheet for Top Gear fans: If you like what Clarkson likes, growl “POWAAAAAH” as you roll your warrior. If you like what May likes, enjoy your paladin. If you like what Hammond likes, a bear’s life for you. If you can’t help but drool at the things that go like a bat out of hell but have more complicated computing systems than a space shuttle, death knight it is.


Let’s Not Even Get Into the Tree Puns

January 13, 2011

So, on a recent heroic Vortex Pinnacle run, Altairus deigned to cough up his Axe of Ambiguity for me. I was thrilled, as it was a nice upgrade over the quested Twilight Highlands mace I’d been swinging around, which had always looked like nothing so much as a glorified meat tenderizer to me. (Not that there’s anything wrong with simple weapon designs- the swords I like best just look like swords- but Jujutan is a crusader for righteous sun worship, not a chef.) Since I deemed that worth enchanting, I looked up desirable tanking enchants. Since the good one costs six maelstrom crystals and I’m not likely to be able to afford that in a looong time, I figured mending was a reasonably cheap compromise, at least until I get something I can expect to be keeping so long windwalk is worth saving my gold for.

Which is how I came to look like this:

Ossifer Tree termed it “the place where particle effects go to die”. I think it looks like there’s a druid furiously masturbating in my pocket. Stingray wants to know if I’m going to go hang out in Moonglade and offer respecs. Caffeinated Kitty wanted to know if those are pot leaves. (NO THEY ARE NOT GOD DAMMIT.) Thing One and Thing Two simply cowered before me.

Dammit, I have nothing against druids, but I’m a paladin; they’re meant to be draped in bits of plantlife and animal parts, and I’m meant to be draped in holy vengeance. When I was still wearing my Wrath stuff, my upper body was on fire with righteousness and I was clad in black steel. Now I’m more or less metallic in appearance, but I’m also constantly covered in swirling leaves, which is by far the more visually arresting- especially if I’m mounted on the Sparklepony, in which case I’m constantly trailing a vigorous effects cloud of stars and leaves. I look like the Wizard of Cannabis.

I have never been more tempted to buy gold.


OH YES THANK YOU BLIZZ

January 7, 2011

I wandered off in the middle of reading the notes for the patch up on the PTR, because the paladin section looked sparse and I have a cold and therefore no attention span at all. Then I read this excerpt from them at Righteous Defense:

Rebuke can now be trained by all paladins at level 54. Existing characters will need to visit their trainer, even if they had talented Rebuke before.

AIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII!

The lack of a proper, off-the-GCD spell interrupt- yes, I know protection talented hammer of justice is supposed to interrupt mobs that are immune to stun, but this has never worked for me and HoJ is on a ludicrous cooldown anyway- has always been a seriously standout flaw in protection paladins as compared to other tanks, especially now that it seems every single Cata dungeon has *at least* one boss with an ability that must be interrupted not to smear the tank on the floor. I have largely dealt with this by being married to a rogue and never being anywhere without him, but this is obviously a substandard solution to the issue.

Our last serious flaw is gone. We may now assume an unassailable position of raid tanking dominance. Nothing can go wrong with this, I tell you.

This calls for Caramelldansen.


How 2 Pallytank, New Coke edition

January 4, 2011

In the time of Wrath, protadins had a very rigid playstyle, and were perpetually locked into the infamous 969 rotation, in which every ability was used on cooldown because it made no sense to do otherwise. It was entirely possible to macro your entire rotation to two buttons so long as the abilities were elsewhere on your action bar for rare special occasions when prioritizing differently was a good idea, and while we made perfectly strong and serviceable tanks, it was also rather dull compared to the reactivity and fluidity of warrior tanking or the micromanagement of death knight tanking. Smart paladin players spent most of their energies on optimization and judicious use of the non-tank-specific tools in their toolbox.

This has, to put it mildly, changed. Now we have two mandatory skills in our rotation, with a choice of single-target or AoE flavor, with a choice every third cycle between AoE threat generation, single-target threat, or healing, and the class in general rewards skill and deep class knowledge even more than before. It used to be easy to be an adequate paladin tank and difficult to be a great one; I’d say now it’s as difficult to be an adequate tank as it is for any of the other classes, and somewhat easier to shine.

Holy Power

This is the new hotness, and the resource system around which our lives now operate. Our mana now flows like water as long as we judge regularly and we’re not fighting a mob with an annoying mana-burn mechanic, so we can largely ignore it; as DKs are governed by runes and warriors and bears by rage, this is our limiting factor.

You always want to know how much holy power you have. It’s rather annoying to rely on Blizzard’s default UI for this since your eyes are likely to be everywhere other than the top left of your screen on your character portrait, so most of us use some kind of addon for holy power. I have Power Auras, and while I have it configured to let me know when Sacred Duty procs, I don’t have it set up to display holy power stacks like a lot of others do; I use Hear Kitty for an audio cue. I already have enough stuff to watch, so being able to hear it rather than watch for it is one thing off that list.

We have two attacks that generate holy power, on a shared cooldown. Crusader Strike is it for single-target, and Hammer of the Righteous for multi-target. They’re each on a three-second cooldown, and holy power is something we want as much of as possible, so the 969 rotation has become the 3×3 rotation, with one or the other used on cooldown and other abilities threaded in between. Broadly speaking, your priority goes: 3-judge-3-holy wrath-3-avenger’s shield, with holy power dumps used every stack of three or on a stack of two if sacred duty procs and you want single-target threat, but this is rather more fluid than the old 969 and will change based on the situation. (Big pack, casters you want to shut up for a few seconds, streaming adds, etcetera.)

We have three choices to burn holy power: Shield of the Righteous, which hits like a roided-out angry bear and is your go-to for single-target threat, Inquisition, which is your best option for AoE threat, and Word of Glory, which is a free heal. Make your choice for how to burn your holy power based on the situation, but never let it sit unless you literally can’t spare the GCD.

Before I move on from the basic nuts and bolts, a brief word about Consecration: it’s now heavily situational and you will use it in exactly two situations: streaming adds you can predictably funnel to you, and a case of having nothing better to do with the GCD. It eats mana, it’s not that powerful, and anyone QQing in the tanking forums about how OP it makes paladins is officially retarded. Literally every other ability we have that hits more than one target is worth more threat and is generally more useful in an AoE situation.

Spec

We’ve got a lot more room to tailor specs than we used to, and as with our choice of holy power use, your build choices will depend heavily on what you need more of, survivability or threat. Right now, thanks to our new holy power system, “survivablity” in terms of our more flexible talent points translates to “buffing Word of Glory”.

Right now my build looks like this: 0/31/10

I’m mainly running heroics and am gearing up to raid, so right now I’m specced and glyphed pretty much entirely for survivability. Except at the beginning of boss fights where they’ve not really had time to do anything horrible to me or the party yet, I almost always hit Word of Glory rather than Shield of the Righteous or Inquisition, which makes points in Eternal Glory, Guarded By the Light, and Rule of Law valuable investments. I’ve not actually had much of an issue at all with threat, but as that changes- and it will as I, my healers, and the DPS all gear up- I’ll probably move some points out of Eternal Glory and into Seals of the Pure or Hallowed Ground. I’ll also change my prime glyphs from Insight and Word of Glory to Crusader Strike and Hammer of the Righteous or Seal of Truth.

Talents you may be tempted to skip in favor of more points in the protection tree but shouldn’t: Improved Judgment and Pursuit of Justice. With crowd control as important as it is, having a single-target ability with a long range is a godsend for pulling, as our avenger’s shield is lovely but does have that heartburn-inducing tendency to bounce in ways that aren’t completely predictable and destroy your rogue’s careful sap. (Not that I have ever been bitched out about this by the rogue across the room, let alone several times.) Likewise, there is a ton of bad to potentially be standing in out there, some of which will kill you in seconds, and having the ability to move your ass with a quickness is much more valuable than it may seem at first blink.

Pure personal preference: whether to bother with Grand Crusader. Avenger’s shield isn’t that fantastic a threat value and the proc is unpredictable, but I personally like having it available more often just because it’s useful to have at hand when there’s a caster across the room you couldn’t move at the initial pull. Others will choose to invest in Improved Hammer of Justice (with range-increasing major glyph), but they’re really just two approaches to the same category of problem.

Paladins are hybrids

Not only are we hybrids, unlike other tanking classes our abilities aren’t constrained by form or stance or any other such silliness. Any spell available to our intellect-stacking Holy cousins that isn’t talented is also available to us. You can and should be ready to use Hand of Protection, Hand of Salvation, Hand of Freedom, Hand of Sacrifice, and Lay on Hands as appropriate; another hugely helpful spell easy for tanks to forget is Holy Radiance. In a heroic? Melee taking damage? In a situation where it’s beneficial to the party to stack and lots of damage going out? In a raid when your co-tank is getting hit hard? Hit the Magic Glowy Goodness button and take a little pressure off your healer. It’s not as powerful as it would be if we were holydins, but in a world where mana is tight for healers but not for us and health pools don’t vanish in a few hits, it can make a very helpful difference.

Also remember this: you don’t have to use Word of Glory on yourself. There are a lot of fights in Cataclysm heroics (Siamat comes to mind) where the tank doesn’t take a huge pounding but the rest of the party does; if you can pop off a nice fat Word of Glory on your groupmates so long as you still have a comfortable threat lead (and right now I usually do), this can make the difference between a DPS that hits the floor due to triage and full survival as a party. Don’t brush this off because you’re the tank and not the healer and it’s “not your job”; in the fights that are effectively endurance challenges for the healer rather than mechanic dances, my healing done can approach as much as half as the actual healer’s. If you’ve fully talented into Shield of the Templar- and you should- divine plea is now going to be another cooldown, for when you need three holy power *right now*.

I manage this with a healer-like Grid/Clique setup; my three main mouse buttons are bound to Righteous Defense, Word of Glory, and Hand of Protection, with less-used abilities on shift-click combos, and my raid frames sitting just above my action bar in easy view but out of the way of my view of the battlefield. The ability to use the broad paladin toolbox for helping your party has always been what separates adequate tankadins from good ones, and never moreso than now.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.