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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.

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