General trends, the core tank toolset, and is survival more fun than threat?

(Firstly, apologies for the flood of WoW related posts. I’m trying to use WoW class changes as a jumping off point for more general discussion, but yeah I get that the blog is a bit focussed right now.)

Usiel asked in comments if I had any thoughts about the bigger picture for Cataclysm, based on last week’s class changes. I can see a few vague trends:

  • Blizzard are addressing a lot of ‘quality of life’ issues (rage normalisation, focus for hunters, simplified stats, treeform). If these work out as planned, then I do genuinely believe that the game will become more fun and less frustrating for everyone involved, whether or not they get many new cool abilities.
  • They have said several times that one goal is to make healing more fun. We are starting to see what they think that means. Wide range of heals, interesting choices, less frantic heal spam, more movement, more emphasis on deciding when to dispel and mana management. But we won’t see the whole picture until we get a chance to try it.
  • DPS specs of hybrid classes are losing some hybrid-ness. We will see shamans and paladins lose some dispel abilities when in dps mode. Blizzard have also commented that retribution paladins will lose some survivability (because defensive dps specs are viewed as not working well, perhaps another reason why Blood DKs are being turned into tanks.)
  • DPS in general are getting more abilities to control fights, in one way or another.

I don’t get a clear view yet of the vision for tanking in the next expansion. Gravity thinks that raids will place more emphasis on mobility, which would make me happy because I find the mobility fights more fun.

The core tanking toolset is becoming better defined, with more tools being handed out to classes who lacked them. Hence more interrupts for ferals and paladins, and a demo shout equivalent for death knights. Those are all good trends. If the ability is that important, then all tanks should have access to it. Anything else is just pointlessly frustrating.

So if we try to define a core tank toolset, it needs to include at least:

  • similar threat, both AE and single target
  • similar survivability, both vs magic and physical damage
  • similar cooldowns and effective health
  • interrupt/s
  • burst or targeted threat, to neatly pick up adds
  • similar buffs and debuffs (ie. if three tank classes have a buff, then the fourth should probably have it too).

In some ways, tanks are more homogenous than either healers or dps. It’s hard to imagine a core healer toolset when one healer has bloodlust/ totems, another has combat res, and another brings paladin buffs. This has always been an issue for priests, since originally the hybrids got more utility to make up for priests having better healing.

Interestingly, it appears that being able to smoothly switch from tank to dps (ie. in a multi-stage fight) is not considered a core tank ability, because as of Cataclysm only druids will be able to do that. We can only hope that there is not a single boss fight where this will ever be important, because it has been an annoyance for years. (ie. druids have felt annoyed at being ‘forced’ into the off-tank role, and paladins/ warriors have been annoyed at not being good at it. Death Knights have been good off-tanks up till now, but who knows what they will be like in Cataclysm?)

In many ways we also need to wait to see the new expansion encounters to really understand how tanking may or may not change.

Another trend I see is for more responsibility for the success of a group to be spread between dps and healers, rather than so heavily focussed on the tank. For those control freaks (surely no tanks are control freaks!) who enjoy the current state of tanking, this may not be an entirely good thing. Expect to spend more time feeling like a dumb lump with high auto-threat while dps misdirect threat, put up smoke clouds, run rings around you, and generally do more of the work.

Survival vs Threat

Perhaps put more succinctly, a lot of tank players just seem to find the survival game more fun than the threat game.

– Ghostcrawler

It’s clear from previews that tank threat is not intended to be much of an issue in Cataclysm. The easier it became for tanks to establish threat in Wrath, the more people played them. That sends a fairly clear picture of what players want, and also DPS players hate being threat capped so if one tank lets them go all out and another doesn’t, the one who doesn’t will get benched.

I’m in two minds about the above quote though. I find the pure survival fights to be very dull indeed (omg I hit my cooldown 0.5s late and died, woe is me!). Instead of favouring the tank with the highest threat, they favour the tank with the highest effective health or best cooldowns. This is equally out of the player’s control. And that’s not especially fun either.

In fact, I’d prefer to see both pure survival and threat become less of an issue, and instead focus on movement, situational awareness, and working with the other tanks and the rest of the raid. The tank who can both survive and hold threat whilst balancing a spoon on their nose and dragging a mob neatly through a dog agility course? That’s the one I want to play.

I’m just not really sure if that’s the way the game is going. We’ll know more after the paladin changes are announced.

9 thoughts on “General trends, the core tank toolset, and is survival more fun than threat?

  1. Thanks a lot, I did not expect a whole Post as an answer, but that should work as well.

    Personally I did understood some aggro related comments the other way around, but that just subject of how you read them I guess.

    I share your opinion about the Tank Tool Box, although I am not fully convinced, that we should have the same abilities. Why having different classes then? Besides they always said, they never wanted to copy classes. When Paladins asked for last stand, they received ardent defender. Looks like they are giving up that idea.

    By the way, I never been really good at movement while tanking, so I prefer the survivability game.

  2. I really like your ideas for surv vs threat. As a DK i won’t miss fighting for aggro, but would love to see more.. well like you said “situational awareness and teamwork”.

    Also note that Tanks in generel will do way more damage than before. The offtank role may become “switch stance and you will do fine dps”

  3. Just don’t forget to post about Warlock changes as well. Former WoW players are for sure interested what happens to their favorite classes as well. 🙂

  4. All I remember is that they removed soul shards in the exiting way. You will have a maximum of three Soul Shards pre-fight, that can be used to grant an additional effect on existing spells. Turn Soulfire into an instant cast with increased power, for instance.
    The new Spell included a Shadowfire Spell, a way to transfer demons power into the warlock and a crit buff on a friendly target, that increases the warlocks damage in return.

    The rest was some house keeping on Curses to allow different combination etc.

  5. Survival based tanking is a nice concept, but it hasn’t worked very well in practice. Shield Block may be a more interesting ability for Warriors than it used to be, but Holy Shield is still something I use automatically, because there’s little else to do with that time. It’ll be interesting to see what happens to that.

    Shield Wall and similar cooldowns are in an interesting middle ground. Reducing the original cooldown of 30 minutes is a good thing – same as for Combat Resses, it made it an ability yuou could use instead of forever pondering whether you might need it on the next boss. 2-5 minute cooldowns give you the ability a couple of times per fight, and I suppose there is some glee to be had in “Hah, try and kill me now!”. However, it’s hardly going to keep you entertained the whole fight long.

    Abilities like Demo Shout and Thunderclap aren’t amazingly interesting. They’re very important, but you really don’t see the impact. I was looking at Blood Princes the other day, who have a staggering damage range – I clocked attacks anywhere between 16 and 26k. Now, that will include when Demo Shout was up or not – but frankly, just looking at the incoming damage, it’s hard to tell unless you get an attack from the extreme end. The same with Thunderclap – I honestly would not notice the lack thereof without checking carefully through combatlogs. It is made worse by the fact that Paladins apply both abilities without any thought at all. Druids and DKs maintain the melee de-haste without doing much out of the ordinary. There’s just no real engagement there.

    Threat is a slightly different game – just about every ability you’re using during most fights is threat related. Hence, a fight built around threat engages you for the whole fight. Off the top of my head, I can only think of one threat based encounter this expansion, and that’s a hardmode, and its only half the fight – Lady Deathwhisper. Virtually every other boss is tauntable (which on a fight like, say, Gormok is really necessary, I’ll grant), and tank threat is laughably better than DPS anyway.

    Movement, as you mention, is also interesting, because it’s a constant thread to keep track of throughout the fight.

    I honestly cannot see where the interest is associated with Survivability. Half of it comes down to filling your gem sockets with Solid gems like there’s no tomorrow (which I find irritatingly mindless, although I’m not sure mindlessly stacking strength, spell power, dodge, or whatever is any more exciting), and the rest involves bitching that class X has a better cooldown than you do (yes, even Paladins moan about that!)

    I think the best fights though are those that have a large number of different things to keep track of, whatever those threads are. Flame Leviathon (with 3-4 towers), Mimiron, Frwya, Yogg Saron (notice how many awesome fighs Ulduar had!); (notice how many Trial didn’t!); Professor Putricide, Valithria and the Lich King – they all force you to be aware of a huge number of different things going on. You’re really, really engaged in the fight, because otherwise you wipe. A popularly reviled fight (Northrend Beasts springs to mind, especially heroic), doesn’t really engage the mind like this. Saurfang and lanathel also lend themselves.

  6. Juries out on how this will all tie together. As with you I’d like to feel like a synergystic team, lots of movement and clever stuff going on. What we’ve seen is the banner headlines about whats changing but what we want is the feel of how it will play.

    Survival via movement/stance dancing perhaps for tanks rather than just stacking stam/armour etc.

    I personaly love that tanks have different flavours and that even two tanks tanks of the same class can have widley different gearings and play styles…I rather hope that doesnt go away…I was rather hoping mastery might add more of a special snowflake feel and be balanced so that there isnt just one EJ ‘minmax’ answer. I suspect I’ll be disapointed there at least.

  7. Movement can be fun, but like everything else, it depends how it is done. I think Putricide is fun to tank, because positioning is very important, and in Phase 3, you have good feedback on what you should be doing. Heigan, on the other hand, is terrible. The movement is pointless, and platformy. Personally, I would like to see more fights where movement and positioning are important not because “If you don’t do this right, you wipe”, but because it is tactically advantageous to move and position things in certain ways. The nice thing about that type of fight is that it lends itself more to a best practice than just one right answer. Take Anub’Arak as another example. There are multiple right ways to handle the adds and the ice, and you can chose to use whichever strategy works best for your raid.

    I am actually looking forward to the healing changes, because I think gearing for survivability can be interesting if it actually has an impact on how healers heal the tank. Right now, it doesn’t really. A well geared tank and an undergeared tank will basically be healed in the same way, just one will be more likely to die due to random factors than the other.

  8. “This has always been an issue for priests, since originally the hybrids got more utility to make up for priests having better healing.”

    Fortitude was always a greatly wanted buff, so much they made it in a scroll form for those poor souls who can’t find a priest.
    In TBC you’d usually get at least one priest spec into 23/38 for improved Divine Spirit which was a great buff as well (nerfed in WotLK).

    And then you had famous Razuvious fight in vanilla, coming back in Naxx25 at 80.

    Oh, and the fear ward issue.

    And the TBC era of cc with shackle.

    Actually the most funny or sad part, depending how do you look at it, is I see it all the time “LF healer for X, shaman / priest preferred”. Ok, I get it, Shamans = Bloodlust, but why Priest and what’s wrong with Druid or Paladin healers? Why everyone wants only Priests and Shamans?

  9. I have no idea how you manage to write so much content! Thanks for reading my post about mobility. I’m still a little behind in reading your blog ;).

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