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.

Scheduling the PvE Week

I think that raid schedules are both the best and the worst thing about raiding.

On the good side: You can slot your hobby neatly into your leisure time. All you have to do is pick a raid guild which raids whatever hours you want to play, make sure you have a bit of spare time to sort out any associated activities (like farming up gold for repair bills and enchants, sorting out consumables etc) and you’re good to go.

Not only that, but when you do log in, you have activities already organised. You know there will be other people around, and what sort of fun you can expect to have. It is predictable.

Of course, things don’t always go according to plan. Maybe half the raid falls sick and can’t make it. Maybe you log in to find that you’re benched that night. But that’s life.

On the down side: You’re working to someone else’s schedule. You can fake a dreadful illness if you really aren’t in the mood one night, but the whole deal can seem awfully like work. You have hours that you need to keep and other people rely on you being there to do your job.

If you can’t find a raid guild that raids on your preferred times, but still want to raid, then you’ll either be relying on PUG raids or feeling forced to log in when you would have preferred not to. The former is unpredictable (although a dedicated raid leader can build a fairly predictable raid up from PUGs if they don’t mind running them every week at the same time) and less likely to result in success. The latter is going to make you miserable and mess up your work/life/gaming balance.

Predictability per se is not always a good thing, but IF you want to fit a  hobby neatly into your leisure time, it’ll increase your chances of not sitting around all night feeling bored and waiting for something to happen.

In fact, I think the predictability of the PvE raiding week is one of the factors that has made WoW so very successful. People with limited time, who needed to be able to organise their fun in advance were able to turn it into exactly this kind of hobby. Doesn’t work so well in a non-instanced raid model where everyone turns up only to find that some other raid sniped the boss. Doesn’t work so well in a sandbox PvP model when everyone turns up to find that some other guys from your realm already took every keep a few hours earlier.

Don’t get me wrong, unpredictability is tons of fun and will always keep you on your toes. It probably even staves off burnout. But it also makes it way more difficult to control your online experience and schedule it in advance.

So – how do you organise the raid week?

OK, so let’s assume that you have enough raiding for several nights of entertainment for your guild. At least one encounter is still on progression, you haven’t yet completed it so you want to make enough time for several learning attempts. Some of your guys can still use upgrades from the raids that you do have on farm. You know which nights you raid on. So which nights do you schedule in for which raids?

The traditional (logical) approach:  Fit in the farm raids at the beginning of your raiding week. That way, people have the chance of picking up some gear upgrades from old bosses which may help when you do the progression raids. And in a new fight, any edge that you can get can help.

By this logic, you’d schedule your progression raids as late as possible in the week as you can. It gives raiders more time to improve their gear by any means possible before you throw them at the hardest encounter.

Progression is King approach: Focus people on the progression raid and  get them in there while they are still fresh (and not tired or bored). You also want plenty of time for learning wipes. So schedule the new stuff in right at the beginning, and keep going until it’s done. If that means taking more than one night, then you do it. And if that means that there isn’t time to fit in the farming raids too, then so be it.

It’s not ideal to lose a week’s worth of gear upgrades but if people’s gear is basically good enough then some of the more hardcore raid leaders figure that easy laid back runs can be a reward for completing harder content, not a statutory right.

The casual raid approach: Another take on scheduling is that in some casual raid groups, different people can only make specific week nights. So one goal of the raid leaders is to try to let everyone get a chance to fight and kill every boss. That means raids will get switched around in the schedule from week to week. It’s not always easy to do this. It’s an extra complexity that more hardcore guilds don’t have to deal with. But it should mean that even though progress may be slower, more people get to learn the fights and you can schedule the progression raids in whenenever you like.

The motivational approach: Late in the raid cycle when people are getting bored and have most of the gear they want from raids, it’s harder to get them to turn up. In some casual guilds, it’s also harder to get people to turn up to progression raids because a lot of players prefer the guaranteed loot and easy ride of the farmable instances.

So the schedule may not always be announced in advance. Raid nights will be given but the raid leaders might decide which raid to do on the night itself.

I’m never sure how successful it really is to not announce destinations in advance. I think people do like to be able to plan their week around the content they actually wanted to do.

We tend to the more casual approach and raid leaders tie themselves in knots to try to make sure that raids get swapped around so that everyone gets a chance to kill the bosses they need AND see the new content. I honestly can’t imagine how complex a scheduling job that really is. It’s a nightmare and we’re honestly lucky that they’re so dedicated.

How are your raids scheduled?