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Threat Level Sunrise

August 16, 2011

First off, read Ghostcrawler’s new Dev Watercooler (“Threat Level Midnight”). Just read it up, it’s a very interesting insight into how the designers think. Skip the comments altogether and put the pitchfork/confetti away.

The upcoming hotfix isn’t going to be a Big Deal(tm).

In fact, I’m going as far as to say this hotfix isn’t going to change anything. Assuming you’re a geared tank in a raid, that is. If you’re an undergeared tank struggling to keep aggro in heroics, or a DPS getting frustrated because you have to throttle back your damage to avoid pulling aggro (I think those people exist), you’ll find this a godsend.

No changes for geared tanks?

Exactly. If you have the same level of gear as your DPS, and you’ve been following your threat rotation/priorities properly, you didn’t have threat issues to begin with. You only needed to put out threat at the very beginning of a pull, and that particular problem could be sidestepped altogether by having your damage dealers wait, say, three seconds, or tell them to use Misdirection/Tricks of the Trade/Mirror Image + Invisibility and so on. Smart DPS would be happy to oblige. DPS Death Knights and Warriors might have occasionally crept up on you over a long fight due to their own lack of ways to manipulate threat beyond simply holding back and spending a few seconds auto-attacking, that was was more their problem than yours.

This isn’t making the game “easy mode”. Removing an issue you didn’t have will not devalue your accomplishments as a tank, and it’s not going to lower the amount of “skill” you’ll need to get through a particular piece of content. Tank single-target rotations are already fairly simple, executing them perfectly takes a backseat to situational awareness. If you delay moving out of fire or taunting the boss for an extra second because you’re trying to squeeze in that last Devastate or Lacerate, you’re doing it wrong. The challenge – and, in my mind, the beauty – of tanking is more about knowing the encounter and reacting to it. You don’t need “skill” to produce threat, but you do need it to survive a complex encounter.

Threat generation is more a function of gear level rather than skill. Once you have the gear level necessary to produce enough threat to keep DPS from pulling, any more gear you get will only make it so you can safely pay less and less attention to your threat rotation once you have secured aggro. Even if your threat stats don’t increase at all, Vengeance will go a long way towards keeping things glued to you.

But I gear for threat and it’s fun and useful!

While I can’t say anything about how fun it is to gear, gem or reforge for threat (I do it on the Druid because I lose almost no survivability in the process), there’s simply no reason to gear for threat if you’re at the right gear level and everybody in your party/raid group is doing things by the book. Once the pull is established and Vengeance starts to stack up, you can usually forget about your threat monitoring add-on of choice and turn your full attention to your “what is the boss going to do next?” add-on of choice.

Most tanks I see, including Bears, gear for survivability. When I see a threat piece mixed in, it’s usually because the sheer amount of Stamina made it worth it over their previous tanking piece, and the tanks I ask freely admit they’ll swap it off for survivability stats as soon as they have the chance.

The only tanks I have found so far who are actively going after threat stats are the ones who have to play with DPS who have considerably superior gear than themselves. Usually, those tanks are still slogging their way through heroic dungeons in search of gear drops and Justice/Valor points to buy what their luck in the Need roll couldn’t provide, or going on guild runs with the folks who are already in raids and doing 30k DPS when they pop their cooldowns (and no doubt laughing maniacally all the while). They usually have better geared healers who can soak up the slightly higher incoming tank damage without sweating too much about it, resulting in a very small actual difference between gearing for threat or survivability. Assuming you’re not simply being lazy and tanking in your DPS gear, that is. I’ve seen some people doing just that.

Those up-and-coming tanks who don’t yet have the gear to stand up to a Firelands-level DPS are the ones who will feel the change. And that’s good. If you’re just starting to tank heroics via the LFG, generating enough aggro will be more frustrating than challenging. Again, threat production is more a function of gear level rather than skill.

Tanks are busy!

What I found most interesting about Ghostcrawler’s post is that he talks about how encounter design has evolved up to this point. In the Good Ol’ Days of Patchwerk, many fights had tanks standing in one place through the five, ten or fifteen minutes of the fight, soaking in damage, being healed, using the occasional cooldown and running through their threat abilities to fill in the time between cooldowns. Nowadays, tanks (and everybody else, to be honest) have to pay attention to many more things. Reacting to encounter mechanics, positioning the boss, moving out of Ground-Based Death, taunting at specific points, and so on. Most adds tanks have to pick-up nowadays are either ignored by DPS or burned up very quickly before they kill someone. It usually means that if the tank managed to grab the mob’s attention, it’s going to stay on the tank until it’s dead or until it doesn’t matter anymore.

There’s a good argument to be made here: if tanks didn’t have to worry about threat beyond making sure they have aggro, they could focus on everything else going on around them. Of course, not all encounters are challenging or engaging for tanks. They need a little more to keep them interested. Nowadays, it’s generating threat. According to Ghostcrawler, the developers intend to make it actively boosting survivability. Gearing for survivability has no impact on how you actually play once the blows start landing. Timing long cooldowns is an useful skill, but not used often enough to replace a threat rotation.

More control over incoming damage (it’s a good thing!)

Once you reach X amount of Stamina, Y amount of Avoidance and Z amount of Mastery as a tank, you can be expected to take damage at a predictable pace, with survivability cooldowns (and the occasional non-passive debuff like Demoralizing Shout/Roar) reducing that amount temporarily. If I understand the latest Dev Watercooler post correctly (and I may well be wrong), Blizzard intends on getting rid of “threat rotations” and implementing “survivability rotations”. Instead of using your abilities to deal damage and thus keep aggro, they want to redesign it so you are using your abilities to deal damage but, more importantly, reduce incoming damage in some way.

That concept entices me. Instead of judging how good a tank is by how much threat he can produce, we’ll be able to measure how good they are by how much damage they can reduce. A mediocre tank may take upwards of 20% (number pulled out of thin air) more damage than a skilled tank. The possibilities are fascinating, and I cannot wait to see whether the devs can actually pull it off.

It would be a truly massive paradigm shift if they implement it properly. This hotfix is not “dumbing the game down” by any stretch of the imagination, this is just the first step towards allowing tanks to be more skilled and reaping concrete benefits from it in a world where we live and die by healer mana.

Personally, I cannot wait.

Tanks, Encounter Design and Situational Awareness

July 22, 2011

This started as a comment to this very good post at the Inconspicuous Bear, but it quickly grew beyond a simple comment. In the original post, Reesi is talking about how flexible Bear gearing is now. Every DPS stat affects survivability in some way, and gearing for threat can be good depending on your situation.

It got me thinking. Eventually, I reached the conclusion that there are four things that really helped Bears become a good deal more flexible in terms of gearing. And then I realized something even more important.

1- Stamina has become standardized.

We don’t need to go out of our way to get extra stamina (beyond tanking trinkets and the like). The health difference between two tanks of different classes but similar gear levels isn’t nearly as jarring as it was in Wrath. In fact, even the difference between a tank and a DPS isn’t that big, compared to some tanks rocking twice as much health as your average Mage. I’ve done a bit of napkin math regarding my Druid’s (admittedly sub-par) gear and by not gemming for Stamina I’d be losing around 7k health, but gaining a lot more in terms of threat and mitigation.

2- Damage intake and mitigation has become more consistent across tanks.

Yes, DKs are still known for taking more damage than everybody else, but they still don’t need much more healing than the other tanks. Paladins can reach their Mastery cap and take much less damage, but Blizzard has stated they don’t want that to happen. And even with those possible exceptions, damage is coming in a lot more smoothly. It ties in with my first point: without a need to absorb many huge hits in quick sequence for a prolonged amount of time (as many WotLK fights required), Stamina is devalued and average damage intake becomes more important.

3- Threat matters.

Even with Vengeance stacking to possibly ridiculous levels, threat is still an issue in quite a few situations. Tank-swapping is one of those, as the new tank will most likely be fresh out of Vengeance and DPS will be wailing on the target at full speed. So tanks have to occasionally gear for a little more threat instead of going balls-out stamina/avoidance, otherwise they start losing on DPS uptime due to people having to use their threat wipes, throttling down damage or simply tanking the floor after generating more threat than the tank.

4- Encounter design.

This is the most important part. Instead of huge, repeated unavoidable hits all the time, most encounters are designed around average unavoidable damage with occasional spikes to test healers, and lots of avoidable sources of heavy damage to test the other players. Most times, you only die because you or someone else didn’t react to something in time, as opposed to being killed between two casts.

The Stonecore as a whole is a great example of this. Every boss there has a mechanic that is completely avoidable but that will damn near kill you if you don’t take care. Corborus has Thrashing Charge and Crystal Barrage. All of Slabhide’s abilities are avoidable by DPS and only Sand Blast isn’t avoidable by the tank. Ozruk has Ground Slam, Paralyze and Shatter, all needing to be dealt with otherwise you’re very likely to end up dead. High Priestess Azil is all about positioning (both players and the NPCs) and interrupting stuff.

Reacting to the world around you

After a certain (fairly low) Stamina, Mitigation and Avoidance threshold, your tank’s gear or class matters a lot less than your ability to react to the encounter. I personally love that. It makes content inaccessible to people without the necessary skills without a need for a “gear check” fight like Patchwerk. Gear is still important to allow you to survive certain encounters, be it by allowing you to do more DPS, healing or absorb more damage/generate more threat, depending on your role. Every level of content has a different gear threshold, but most encounters are focused on situational awareness and knowing what to do (move somewhere else, use cooldowns, etc…) instead of raw numbers. So, as long as you have the minimum gear for it, as long as you’re on your game you should still be able to complete it just fine.

I’ve been gearing up my Bear with what’s essentially DPS gear with tanking trinkets. I’m not reforging into Dodge and I’m not gemming into Stamina. Instead, I’m reforging Haste into Mastery/Crit/Expertise and gemming for Agility/Mastery. I’m losing out on 2% dodge, tops, but threat has been very solid (assuming DPS are attacking what I tell them to, of course) and no healers have ever complained about me being hard to heal. I step out of ground-based hazards, interrupt stuff, debuff mobs, pop my cooldowns when I know heavy damage is coming in, and so on. I’m always doing the best to actively avoid damage, which devalues having a massive health pool.

Would this gear set-up work in a raid? I don’t know, I haven’t tried it yet. I think it would. Would it work in a bleeding edge Paragon-style raid group? I don’t know. And personally, I don’t care: I’m not in one of those raid groups, and I’ll most likely never be. For a normal raid run, assuming both the healers and I have the right level gear? I’d love to try it and I’m confident we’d do fine.

Gear should be secondary to a player’s skill, knowledge and situational awareness. It should compliment it and enhance its results, not be the only thing tanks care about.

Back and Deadlier Than Ever!

July 20, 2011

Hello, folks! Guess who’s back?!

… no, it’s not Michael Jackson releasing a new album from beyond the grave and re-releasing Thriller in a worldwide tour. Try again!

… no, it’s not Osama Bin Laden after his body was rescued from the depths of the north Arabian Sea and turned into TerrorTron 3000 either! Come on, try again!

… no, it’s not (as interesting as it would be) Marie Antoinette releasing a new book of memoirs about her scandalous extra-marital affair with Winston Churchill during World War II!

Know what? Guessing games suck! It’s the Dwarven Pinball here, in his new identity as Holtzmann! Why? Because I wanted to put all my online identities together. So if you see a Holtzmann out there in the internets, there’d be a fair chance it’d be me! Or maybe a German philologist. Or a pioneering female lawyer from New York. Or a German Protestant theologian. Either way, I’m the only one of those who’s still alive!
Read more…

New Blog!

May 11, 2011

Hello, people who still check this place!

So I finally found out the obvious, I’m nowhere as consistent with my writing to keep up with a blog by myself. At least not for the time being. With that in mind, I still want to write. So I had a word with my guild, got myself some top-notch writing buddies and we started a whole new blog!

The Bloomin’ Paper! Go there for your fix of in-character World of Warcraft shenanigans in a newspaper gimmick!

I love the Elemental Unrest bosses!

November 22, 2010


Because at least one DPS always ends up dead before the boss goes down.

I always warn people I’m not an ICC-geared tank when I join LFG (still gearin’ up the ol’ Pally, trying not to use my Justice Points), and I always ask them to give me a couple seconds to establish aggro and get, say, both Judgment and a Crusader Strike in after pulling with Exorcism+Avenger’s Shield. That usually gives me enough of a lead that a combination of Vengeance stacking up and using all my abilities properly lets me ride the razor’s edge and still retain threat.

Of course, some people ignore that request. I taunt the boss off them once to give them time to use their threat wipes or ease up on the damage so I can pull ahead again. More often than not, however, they simply keep on pressing their magical Kill-Stuff-Dead buttons. Once my taunt wears off, the boss looks at them funny, they turn into some sort of class-flavored goo on the floor, and the boss goes back to me. After that it’s usually smooth sailing.

I also love it when Kai’ju Gahz’rilla (great reference there) tosses me up and wipes threat. People simply keep on going, get splattered, and then the big lizard diligently turns back to give me its frozen love and attention. Flamelash is also a good one: I tell people to get out of the fire, the healer tells them to get out of the fire, yet they stand on the fire and get cooked.

I’m starting to enjoy 4-manning stuff.