When to use shield wall?

There’s a great sketch in “Yes Prime Minister,” where Sir Humphrey (a high level civil servant) is trying to persuade the Prime Minister out of wanting nuclear weapons.

I can’t find the script, but Sir Humphrey gives the PM a series of slowly escalating situations and after each one he asks, “Do you press the button?” and the PM shakes his head. Eventually the hypothetical Russian Armies (this was an old series) are destroying London and knocking on the door of Number 10 and it’s pretty clear that the Prime Minister would never press that button.

You can play this game with Shield Wall too (for non-WoWers, it’s an ability which severely reduces all incoming damage for 12s, and it’s on a 5 min cooldown):

  • You can see the boss in the room. Do you press the button?
  • One of your healers just got a high score on Bejewelled. Do you press the button?
  • You just pulled an extra mob. Do you press the button?
  • You haven’t used Shield Wall in the last 30 minutes. Do you press the button?
  • The boss enrages. Do you press the button?
  • The off tank just stood in a void zone and died. Do you press the button?
  • You’re down to 1k health and zomg you’re going to die. Do you press the button?

Lots of MMOs have similar types of ability. They’re powerful, but balanced by making you really think about when to use them to best effect. And although a bunch of dps who blow all their cooldowns at the same time can produce incredible spikes of damage, it’s the tanking and healing cooldowns that are most likely to prevent a wipe.

Tanking is a Joint Effort

There are two sides to tanking: holding threat, and not dying. Good luck on the not dying part without a healer at your back. Tanking is a team effort between the tank and whoever else is helping them to not die. As a tank, your main responsibility is to pick up the mobs, hold threat, and move them as required, whilst not doing anything that would make you more likely to die. The healers will do the rest.

So a tanking or healing cooldown is to help keep you alive. In other words, Shield Wall is there to make life easier for your healers. When you’re thinking about when to use it, you should be looking out for situations that would normally cause a lot of extra healing stress, or when the healers (for whatever reason) need you to buy them just a few more seconds of time to get the heals out.

Shield Wall can help smooth these moments out. It absolutely can help turn a wipe into a kill. And sometimes it will make no difference, you would have died anyway. If you have 2k health and a boss normally hits for 20k on plate, Shield Wall alone will not save you. That doesn’t mean it can’t help – you can always hit other cooldowns too to get some additional emergency health, and the rest of the group might have other ways to assist. But sometimes it’s just not going to make the difference.

Cooldowns and Communication

Matticus has a great post on WoWInsider discussing the different types of healing and tanking cooldowns in WoW, and the importance of communicating with the other players when you use one (i.e. so that they know to save theirs for later.)

Sometimes in the heat of the situation, that’s quite difficult to do. If things are going pear shaped, usually you react first and then announce to everyone what you’ve done.

If you really want the raid to know every time you use Shield Wall, you can macro in some comment like /ra Shield Wall used!! to your hotkey. Or use an addon like castyeller that can be set up with custom announcements on different abilities. It won’t be as effective as shouting over voice chat but has the advantage of happening automatically.

Anyway, there’s three different types of situation where you may want to use Shield Wall. (Four if you include when you press it by mistake). With some of them you’ll have more time to communicate than others.

Usually though, in an emergency we prefer to have the tank use their cooldowns first since they’ll probably be the first to notice when a boss does anything unexpected (due to staring at it). Healers may need a few extra seconds for their UI to update before they can react. That’s not universal, some healers are really good at watching the fight, but as a tank you have no excuse for not being the first to know.

1. Predictable in advance

You know in advance that there will be brief but heavy healing stress and Shield Wall can help (in extreme cases like Sarth+3, the fight requires timed uses of cooldowns or you won’t make it).

This could be some badass boss ability. It could be that there’s a period of extremely heavy but predictable damage (e.g. an enrage). It might even be that the pull is particularly tricky. Or there’s a period which is very threat sensitive (i.e. so if you take less damage then your healers are less likely to pull healing aggro).

In any case you can discuss it in advance and work out some kind of cooldown use order. If you do this,  watch out for people being unexpectedly taken out of action and report this pretty smartly. A healer who’s died in a flame wave can’t use a cooldown … unless someone else uses an emergency battle res to get them back up.

Don’t forget that you can use Shield Wall when you pull if the pull is the most stressful part of the fight.

Try to think through fights where you have died before due to spike damage. Was any of that damage predictable? Ask your healers for their suggestions also. If there are, Shield Wall will soften the blow.

2/ Unpredictable, but you saw it coming and had time to think

The fight is not going as planned. You have to change tactics on the fly. You can see that you are imminently about to take a lot of extra damage and you know the healers probably weren’t expecting it. Use Shield Wall.

Examples:

  • Unexpected change in tanking orders – maybe one of the other tanks died and you’re picking up their assignment on the fly.
  • One of the healers died or is out of action. You can buy some time to help the healers adjust.
  • The boss is almost dead! But there are no healers up. Can you survive for just a few seconds longer to get the kill?
  • It’s a progression fight. What’s that void zone doing? Wait, is that add meant to be there? (i.e. you don’t know the fight well, but you can see some heavy damage coming.)

This is where Shield Wall truly shines and a lot of tanks are so busy fire fighting that they don’t think to use it.

If you have more time to discuss the situation (maybe you have some time in hand before the next bout of heavy damage) then it may be that someone else will offer to use their cooldown first.

I was thinking of this the other night when we had a main tank disconnect while fighting XT-002. I was only tanking one add at the time  and I saw the boss turn to the raid, so I charged in, hit Shield Wall, taunted it back and yelled on teamspeak that I was taking him. The other off tank spotted what I was doing, grabbed my add, and took it off somewhere (I may have mentioned before how awesome she is).  We killed him. It may well be that the healers noticed immediately – they’re pretty good – but the initial healing assignments wouldn’t have had me on the boss, so why not make their lives a bit easier when you can? Tanking is a joint effort, after all.

Point is, it can all happen very quickly. By the time most people had noticed the boss was loose, it was already under control again.

3/ Emergency

Usually signified by your rapidly dipping health bar catching your eye, accompanied by thought process along the lines of, “Argh, I am dying!!!”.

You don’t have a lot of time to think. You may not even know exactly what happened. All you know is that if things look to be going south and your cooldowns are still up, and there’s a chance of saving the fight, you might as well blow them. This is reasonable with a 5 min cooldown. Back when it was on a 30 min timer, you might have been keener to save it.

Maybe the Shield Wall will help. Maybe all the other cooldowns that people are probably dropping on you will help too. The key with emergencies is that since you don’t really know what happened, you’re just pressing buttons blindly and hoping for the best. Maybe it’ll be that day.

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9 thoughts on “When to use shield wall?

  1. As a DK tank my answer is All of the above (and more).

    I think this is different from most Warrior tanks and the reason for this is partly due to the differences in class mechanics but also partly due to historic influences.

    In 3.0 DKs could get very close to 100% cooldown uptime with certain specs. This taught us to simply keep all of our cooldowns on cooldown (sic).

    Warriors are coming at it from the other end. In Vanilla Shield Wall was a once per 30 minutes affair. Also damage was pretty slow, you genuinely could react to a spike by using Shield Wall to save yourself.

    I think it may well be time for Warriors to move towards the DK model. This post is Yakra’s take on a Warrior set-up emphasising cooldown uptime and survivability:

    http://mirrorshield.blogspot.com/2009/02/duel-spec-build-1-of-2-defensive-100-cd.html

    Of course predictable spikes (like the last 5% on Patchwerk) are still worth saving cooldowns for.

    • That’s an interesting build he’s got. But what if you don’t need to be using cooldowns all the time? Doesn’t that make speccing for them a bit of a waste of points?

      I think you’re right, and I know I should be trying to use cooldowns more often. But … sometimes you just don’t need it is all.

      • The short answer is if you don’t need it at any point in the fight why save it?

        Are you seeing fights where at a specific point you can see the healers are struggling and need the tank to help them through a crisis, Sarth3 style. Obviously you have to time it for that fight.

        But if you’re doing, say, Malygos and it’s unlikely you will have time to react to a “oh crap” moment if you suddenly spike low because you’re moving in a complex way that takes a lot of your focus. (Ie, you probably don’t have spare attention to also watch your life bar while doing everything else you need to in Phase 1). Why not just pop it to ease the healers’ burden? If you never use it on Malygos it just goes wasted. You could pop it after one of the vortexes instead when you know the healers are stretched but there’s not a specific crisis since if there is a crisis (eg out of range) by the time you spot it you’re dead.

        The longer answer is about conceptualisation of mathematical models. It will take me a while to figure it out and post it.

  2. RE: communication, this has intrigued me for a long time. Is most raiding comms voice nowadays? How did you manage before? Or is there a lot of pre-fight prep where people can discuss strategy?

    I’ve always wondered that — I type fast, but when the crap hits the fight fan it’s usually all I can do not to get myself killed, and I don’t even raid! :P

    • I think most raiding is, but not everyone. I seem to remember reading somewhere that Nihilum/ Ensidia didn’t use voice chat?

      I’m trying to remember how it used to be. I thiiiiiink we had voice chat in vanilla wow but I never liked talking on it much. There was a fair amount of typing. And a lot of discussion pre-fight on bboards.

      I also remember I had addons (as priest class leader) to give everyone their assignments before every fight.

      • i was on vent back in MC if that gives any indication. There were about 5 of us doing all the talking in a 40 man raid, but i think people were just shy.

        I personally have a REALLY SEXY voice, so it didn’t bother me? lol

  3. Pingback: The View From Down Here » Blog Archive » Cool down!

  4. as an old school tank, I’m STILL getting used to the fact it’s a 5 min cooldown, and blowing it isn’t a huge deal anymore. Same with AOE taunt, I just USE it now, where before I’d hesitate.

  5. Pingback: Tales of the Aggronaut » Archive » Can’t Brain… has the dumb

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