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Flavour and Consistency in Tanking 8: The Future of Tanking

July 26, 2010

So, where does this lead us? Do we really need cataclysmic changes in the expansion to come? I think not.

If we look at this point in the last expansion, in end-game content we had warriors as the main tanks for guilds. We had a bear tanks being really powerful for certain fights and paladin tanks being overpowered in aoe fights. But there was nothing like this level of parity. The last expansion has done wonders in creating a relatively level playing field. So no, we do not need cataclysmic changes. We need small adjustments to ensure parity.

To a large extent this is what we seem to be getting. Frankly, at this stage it is still impossible to know what is to come. We have been told that Block is changing and then told it would change again but not what to. But we are not getting another tank class (despite the fact that we NEED shaman tanks).

There are three key changes that affect all tanks. Each of these is worth a post on its own and I’ll probably try to do one.

– Vengeance: Meant as a cushion to alleviate late expansion differences between dps and tps, this will allow a tanks stamina (always the number one tanking desire) to boost their damage/threat. The implementation seems clunky according to the pwnwear forum testers (it is going up and down really quickly which means a very jagged threat generation profile) but we can hope this will change. In general it is a good idea but being such a new concept, I imagine it will need a lot of iterations. But is it a mechanism that is consistent between tanks to the point of not even changing the name. It has to be customised to the different classes to stop those that gain more benefit from stamina stacking (bears) from getting huge threat advantages but I do wish they’d bothered to give it a little more class flavour. Somehow bears taking Vengeance on their foes seems wrong to me.

– Healing Styles: I may not be a healer but what affects them affects my survivability considerably. According to Blizzard, they want less spike damage and more steady attrition. They want to run healers out of mana rather than forcing them to have itchy trigger fingers. If this works then tanks will be taking a lot more incoming damage and have to rely on cooldowns to avoid dragon breath a lot less. Personally, I think this will make tanking less fun as it will move tanking further towards choosing the right gearing strategy and less towards using my cooldowns at the right time. Hopefully I won’t be macro-ing my cooldowns to my threat rotation so as to gain the greatest possible long term benefit to the healer but it is a worrying possibility (I note that this is exactly what I did with Barkskin throughout Naxx because it was technically mitigated the most damage that way and the cooldown was not strong enough to really work as a panic button).

– The return of crowd control: As a dps, I like the idea of crowd control coming back. As a tank, I don’t. It is as simple as that. Crowd control gives a good dps the chance to show their skill but all it means for the tank is stress and the need to trust someone else with a key job. Further, between cleaves and aoe debuffs it is very difficult to tank crowd controlled pulls. While I don’t necessarily say it is wrong to have these, I wish I felt all classes were equally able to do aoe pulls. At the moment I do not.

In terms of the individual classes, I’ll probably do a further assessment when we have more information on each class but a few thoughts on each for now:

Warriors:
– Warriors have just got their own version of Consecrate. Hmm, no more aoe tanking?
– All the fun of the toolbox still seems to be there. Having just got my Warrior to a level where he gets Warbringer
– According to some sources, Warrior tanks are seen as one of the success stories of Wrath. Despite the fact that they scored relatively low in my guessing game, I’d agree just because they are fun. Warbringer itself is hilarious and wonderful. Vigilance may be my favourite tanking tool ever just for the taunt reset. My main problem with Warriors in fact is not having enough bars to put everything.

Paladins:
– Consecrate can last forever. Again with the “No more aoe tanking in cataclysm”? I remain unconvinced.
– Crusader Strike means Paladins have a single target attack so maybe it will be *possible* for a paladin tank not to break cc. I’ll believe it when I manage it though.

– Ardent Defender is dead, long live Ardent Defender. The old version was wonderful and ridiculous. The second is still a strong cooldown but throws responsibility on the player much more. Still I strongly suspect that it will mean a lot of bad paladin tanks die a lot more. Even the good ones may have to spend a while remembering how to avoid death rather than have it avoided for them. Time for a Big Society comment? The state will no longer protect you…

– Raid wall becomes much more intuitive. Probably less powerful but fewer talent points and raid leaders will no longer have to worry about which party they put paladins in. For hard core “get every advantage” raiders this is probably bad, but I welcome the change as being more intuitive and therefore more likely to be used by the majority of paladins properly. Mind you, I am not sure a ret will be able to get it which is a shame.

– Holy Power, Batman! Um, not sure yet how this is going to affect the righteous turtle. Looks like through self-healing at the moment which makes paladins and death knights even more similar. Thematically, I think I like this – the paladin as corrupted death knight (speaking as one who understands the purity of decay that is). In theory, this could be fun but frankly I currently see it as a gimmicky way to fix paladin problems and of course Prot was working well.

Bears:
– Bears are getting some exciting new aoe tools. Hopefully this will mean I get to press more than one button.
– I still don’t like Savage Defense and it does not appear to be changing. Ah well.
– Other than that, it looks like business as usual for bears which is unsurprising as their main flaw is being relatively boring.

– The slimming down of the trees is going to make it even harder for cats and bear specs to be differentiated. Does this mean that bears will again be the very best off-tank?

Death Knights:
– Only get one tanking tree which I continue to think a crying shame. Currently, they are giving some of the other trees toys to it but not the one I wanted most (anti-magic zone).

– Life Shield has huge potential as a controllable block substitute but needs to accumulate to be truly worthwhile. It also has to continue to work on overheal or it will be useless. Mind you, it has gone AWOL on beta as far as I can tell.

– DKs will be getting the attack power debuff. Unfortunately it is being tied to blood boil (which they are hugely pushing as a new tanking tool).

– Blood boil is a very problematic tanking tool as it is aoe and hard to tell range. In a pull with lots of crowd control, this is going to be a nightmare to use. But in a pull where you need cc, you probably also need the attack power debuff. Does anyone else see the problem?

Looking at these, I see one telling concern for the future which is that of aoe tanking. This is definitely a post for another day so for now I will content myself with saying that whatever the strategy Blizzard wants to implement, the mechanics at the moment will lead to tanks desperately longing for the day when they overgear content enough to aoe tank again. I fear that Blizzard is in danger of fighting the last war, they are making the strength of aoe tools more consistent but without considering the fact that this makes tanks want to use them.

I see two futures in Cataclysm:
– In the first, crowd control returns triumphant and tanks die when more than 1 or 2 mobs sneeze on them. We look at our shiny aoe tools in disgust and never get to use them. All the classes who were viable given crowd control for Wrath and never got to use them (for example Druids and Shaman) make sure they wait until the mob is in consecrate range before they use their hex and then laugh as the tank desperately runs away from the mob in a futile attempt to be able to press a button without breaking the control.

– In the second, tanks ignore the fact that classes have crowd control and just tank everything anyway. Tanks feel hard and happy, dps classes use their aoe spells and everyone says “Sheep? What sheep?”.

Frankly, neither of these appeals.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 26, 2010 17:54

    On CC:

    Oh mighty tank, I note that in a previous post you mentioned not wanting to be dependant on the healer, and here you don’t want to be dependant on the DPS to CC… you just want to solo the dungeon, don’t you?! I’m wise to your plans.

    In all seriousness, having to CC one mob (or more) out of a pull is only a problem if you can’t sensibly split the pack up. Ye olde sheep pull works nicely, as does a PoM-poly during a normal pull for those of an arcane persuasion. Sap is perfect for incapacitating one mob before dragging the rest around the corner for a sound thrashing, and so on. There are mechanical concerns to this; things like Pestilence which ‘chain’ can have an unexpectedly large area of affect, and I consistently misjudge the radii of my tools when I’ve not been playing a given character recently. Although the fact that you get a nice targeting glyph for D&D must help a bit…

    Basically, if CC is relevant you need enough space to make sure your AoE tanking doesn’t break CC, but when has this not been the case? Bearing in mind that not all CC abilities are created equal, and some can take a little damage before breaking (Hex and Entangling Roots say hai) so you don’t even need to be that careful all the time. AoE damage in general appears to have been involved in a violent altercation with a sharpened nerfstick, which may help in this regard too.

    So far my two biggest concerns WRT the glorious return of CC:

    * Warrior tanks. Charge is very useful on the pull, but the easiest way to get CC away from the AoE-fest is to let the mobs (less {moon}) come to the tank, rather than the other way around. This will probably be fine, Bloodrage is always there if Charge isn’t appropriate. My mind rebels at the concept of Charge not being appropriate, but still.

    * Randomly assembled groups with crappy CC. Either due to straight-up missing CC appropriate to the mob type (Yay we got a mage! Boo the instance is full of elementals!) or because the best CC is on a healer who isn’t hitcapped. Missing with Hex makes me sad. Depending on relative gear levels and group competence, this could be really fun challenge or a complete pain in the proverbial.

    On tanks in general:

    I largely agree with the assessment that they’re mostly looking fine. I get the feeling that the AoE threat tools are still undergoing violent change, but talents like Blood and Thunder make me warm inside. Not useless for single target threat either, I would imagine, and they make interesting decision points in the talent tree which is exactly what I wanted.

    It, too, wish they’d do something with Savage Defence. But I have no idea what, which somewhat dilutes my argument. “Make it more betterer!” does not a sound design make.

    Not sure I like the new Ardent Defender. It’s an interesting idea, but hitting it when you’re about to die seems a bit… dicey? I’d rather have cooldowns which can be hit pre-emptively.

    Hmm, this is turning into a ramble about nothing so I’ll shut up. Interesting read, as ever!

    • Arcturis permalink*
      July 26, 2010 18:14

      But, but, but of course I want to be able to solo Arthas. That’s why I am a tank!

      More seriously it is the random dungeons I worry about. When I have a group of competent people I trust it will be fine. It is when I go into LFG that I have concerns.

      But this is worthy of ao much more discussion. So I shall now have many posts on it!

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