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.
- 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.
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.