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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.

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