Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
Tanking and healing ain't trivial

I dinged 78 yesterday with my priest in Gun'drak, while on the last quest of the Zul'drak zone. I was in my second pickup group at that point. The first group had a rogue and three plate-wearers: An arms warrior, and two Death Knights, blood and unholy. All of which thought they were tanking. So at the first boss the 4 melee guys all kept slashing at the boss, nobody took care of the adds he summoned, and I died lonely in the back. We still won, because dead holy priests still keep healing in angel form, but it still left me with the impression that none of the three "tanks" really knew what tanking was about. But then that group fell apart, and I had to look for another group to get my quest finished. It just happened that there was a group of 4 desperately looking for a healer. And it turned out that besides a warlock, the other 3 in the group were all healer classes: A druid, a shaman, and another priest. Oh great, first I get a group with three tanks that can't tank, then I get a group with three healers that can't heal. Fortunately the druid was okay as feral tank, the shaman, shadow priest, and warlock were good damage dealers, and with me healing we finished the dungeon with ease.

Nevertheless I couldn't help but wonder what all of these guys were planning to do at level 80. I hear that among the heroic dungeons there are some quite tough nuts. If the players who leveled to 80 with a dps spec stay dps, we'll probably have shortages in tanks and healers. But if the dps warriors, death knights, and paladins switch to tank spec, and the feral druids, enhancement shamans, shadow priests, and some other paladins switch to healing spec, I'm worried about the quality of their performance. If they think that a simple respec and switch of gear will turn them from a dps character into a tank or healer, they are sadly mistaken. Just having the right stats and the spells and abilities isn't enough. You need to *know* how to play a tank or healer to be any good in that role.

That is why personally I level my priest in holy spec, and will level my warrior in protection spec. I'm sure that slows me down somewhat whenever I'm soloing. But in every group I join on my way to 80 I not only do a much better job tanking or healing than somebody with the wrong spec and gear; I also get constant training on how to use my tanking and healing abilities to maximum effectiveness. Both roles take a lot of skill, and constant judgement calls, unless there is just one simple tank'n'spank boss. If you fight several mobs, keeping all the aggro on the tank isn't trivial, and keeping everybody alive when several people are getting hit at once isn't trivial either. Someone who is only familiar with the damage dealing capabilities of his class won't be able to do a good job of tanking or healing on his first try. And even if someone already did some tanking or healing at level 70, there are quite a number of abilities that have changed, and getting rusty on your skills while leveling as dps isn't a good idea.
Solo as prot or holy doesn't really teach anyone how to tank or heal. Sure they might have the skills on their hotbar, but they won't figure out their proper use until they're in a questing group (rare) or a five-man (too late).

I suspect those plate wearers knew how to play properly. They were probably just being lazy and zerging to get thru it quickly and/or trying to beat each other in damage. Everyone is in a mad rush to get to the real game... Which starts @ 80.
I've had similar experiences to Tobold. While levelling my resto shaman through outland (I'd saved him in the mistaken belief that there would be lots of tanks), most of the groups I've been in have had 2-3 DKs. None of them could tank for toffee and we wiped repeatedly on content as the aggro fell to me continuously, even in the one instance where I had come along to make up the numbers and was only doing DPS (which as a resto shaman isn't immense). Yet the same instances, with a much lower level prot paladin who actually knew her job were completed with ease.

There really is a big difference between a class being able to tank and players being able to.
Well, people are still learning how to play Death Knights. As far as healing goes, if you've been healing at 70, how long will it really take to learn how to do it at 80? Although I do think it's a good idea for people who haven't played a role before to practice it in levelling instances.

Protection for warriors is actually a good levelling spec (I found) so you don't really lose much by levelling as prot plus you get the chance to practice tanking - I mean you can tank in any spec but it's easier if specced for it.
I agree that practise makes perfect when it comes to tanking and healing, but I think practise from an off-spec-situation can also be very valuable. I have been lvling my paladin as retribution from 70 to 80, but I've tried both healing, tanking and dps in an instance. It can be tricky sometimes to heal and tank without all your tools to do the job, but succeeding requires at least the same situational awareness and making lots of the same judgement calls. It also means that sometimes a dps'er die because I need to focus solely on healing the tank. If I had the new 51 point talent it would not happen (not as easily at any rate). But both using all abilities and making that kind of judgement calls are good practise. So, I think as long as you do actually heal in some of your instances - and if you're the right lvl range and have a decent set of gear, it is very possible to do so - you will be fine at 80. It's mentality as much as anything else you're getting familiar with.
I feel your pain. If my resto druid hears "lol we jus DPS" in response to an enquiry about which DK is the tank, just one more time, I think my response is going to be "lol well I no heal your group, then. Goodbye."

Admittedly, given how damn easy the BC instances are now, at least having three tanks to heal makes it a bit more challenging.
I wouldn't recommend running an instance before checking on class/spec for each person going -- obviously it will be harder if you don't have 3 DPS, 1 Tank, 1 Healer.

As far as leveling spec vs. level 80 spec, it depends on the player and their experience. It's possible they played a healing priest at level 70 and just went Shadow to get to 80, in which case they may be just fine when they switch back to a healing spec at 80. Death Knights do not seem to be quite as good at tanking as the other 3 tank classes from what I have seen, but most of them seem to be spec'd for DPS.

I definately agree though that it helps to level as the same spec you will be playing with at "endgame". It may take longer to level, but it will take you less time to adjust to a new spec/abilities and keybinds once you reach 80.
I've only recently hit Northrend on my main and alt (Warlock and Shaman), and so have only run Utgarde Keep on the warlock. We had a DK tank, and even though he claimed to be DPS-spec (Unholy I believe), we still ran the whole dungeon with no CC in under an hour. The group composition was DK, Priest (was off-spec'd healing), Warlock, Mage and Hunter. We were not in any way lacking just took longer when we used it.

I'm leveling my shaman as Enhancement at the moment, while stockpiling +spell power gear from quests that don't offer Enhancement alternatives in the hopes of capitalizing on the 2-Spec system Blizzard promised in a future patch. I too am concerned about walking into an instance as the main healer, as I've only ever played DPS classes.
"Just having the right stats and the spells and abilities isn't enough. You need to *know* how to play a tank or healer to be any good in that role."

I ran in to a perfect example of this last night. Monday a group of friends and I picked up a PuG Prot pally to go with the Enh Shammy, Feral druid (me) Holy Priest and Ret pally, and hit heroic Strat. We blew through with ease got the drake mount. Tank knew what he was doing and we just blew through it. Last night he wasn't on so we took a guilmember who has previously only played a rogue and is now playing a DK for tank. He had all the talents and abilities he needed. It was an abysmal failure. He couldn't hold threat over me or the Shaman even though we throttled way back (both of us were pushing 3k DPS the night before)and multiple mob pulls we died A LOT. Not only did he have no experience playing any tank before but because he was playing a DK he hadn't done many instances as the tank. he got runs through from friends in the guild to help him get gear but not as MT. He simply was not prepared whatsoever for Heroics. It frustrated me because I spent all of TBC as a MT and am only kitty specced because my guild wants me to be, but I know even with my current spec I'd have done better simply because I know the mechanics of tanking.

Didn't get mad at him, not entirely his fault we should have known he needed more time ot learn the skills of tanking but my god was it frustrating.
I am a bit surprised. I think healing is still demanding, especially for Paladins nowadays because tey do not have a real group heal. But Tanking???

Pardon me, but tanking has been trivialized. You do not need a pure tank spec except for Raid MTs and experience does not seem to be needed either. It is VERY hard to get aggro from a DK, Warrior or Paladin Tank. Only Ferals might have some issues holding AoE aggro now and then.

I played through most dungeons with this group setup: Prot Paladin, Resto Druid, Destro Lock, Shadow Priest and Arcane Mage. We pulled Aggro when he forgot to use Righteous Anger... but no chance otherwise.

There must be some players that are totally uninformed about aggro management and the tank talents of their class if tank failures happen nowadays. I am personally more afraid that people never really learn the intricacies of tanking as it has become really easy.

My Warlock became a Rain of Fire spammer, and Tanks are only challenged to use their taunt button after they build up aggro with another button nowadays! So I would rather say: Damage Dealing and Tanking are trivial nowadays, the most responsible and demanding role that remains is healing in my opinion.
Maybe the truth is that the game is currently "working as intended". Bring the right player who understands how to tank and it'll be fine for most specs. Bring the wrong one and it won't work no matter what the spec.
Tanking in WoW is harder than in the majority of MMOs because most tank specs have trouble locking down aggro. Splitting the ability to lock down aggro or do decent damage (i.e., solo well) into different spec lines was a fundamental mistake, imo. It's an improvement over some games like EQ or FFXI where tanks are painfully slow soloers no matter how you build them. However, in many other games; LoTRO, EQ II, EQOA, COH off the top of my head; it's quite possible to build a tank that is an effective soloer and still very good at locking down aggro in a party. The trade-off is generally between the ability to take hits or do damage, not in the ability to hold aggro or do damage like in WoW.

In most MMOs a tank that switches to a defensive spec for the end game will already be familiar with their taunting abilities, they didn't lose access to them because they went for a strong solo spec. And for single party content any tank you can get is just fine, the 10-20% extra mitigation from a hardcore defensive spec isn't really needed outside of raid settings. Contrast that with WoW where a tank that changes to a defensive spec for the end game will pretty much blow at tanking initially, and a non-defensive tank has to work twice as hard to hold aggro in a five man as a defensive tank. In fact, if the party doesn't slow down their DPS for them they often can't hold aggro at all. It leads to a situation where many tanks class players refuse to tank in a party. "Sorry I'm Fury" = "Think of me as a rogue in platemail."

Grinding out quests as a healer-spec will not make you any better at group healing, although it will build up your tolerance for pain. ;) Tanks and healers that have respec'd for dps to level still remember how do to their old roles. They'll be fine when they get to 80 and go back to being a tank or a healer.
Nothing irritates me more than seeing a Feral Druid call out looking for tank and healer for an instance.
Sure some of the gear is different between cat and bear, but for a level 70 character it's not hard to swing back to outlands, grab the rep gear that was ignored cause they were a cat druid at 70, and now be ready to tank Utguarde Keep or Nexus on normal.
>>"Nevertheless I couldn't help but wonder what all of these guys were planning to do at level 80. I hear that among the heroic dungeons there are some quite tough nuts."

I have 2 70+ characters, and have never done a heroic, nor ever stepped foot inside Kara or been a member of a raid group outside of the BG's. Now most of that is because I can't devote that much uninterrupted time to it, and I don't want to be that person who's always AFK.. you know, *that* person. But I've never felt the need either. I've always been content doing other things, tradeskills, levelling an alt, helping friends, farming mats or rep, dailies. I know I'm not representative of the majority of players, but I did want to point out that there are other gameplay options at the level cap besides dungeons requiring "holy trinity" groups.

All that being said, I agree you can only learn to tank (or heal, or play the violin, or skydive) by actually doing it, in the proper setting with the proper tutelage. Perhaps part of it is that Death Knight doesn't *feel* like a tank, at least not to me -- more like a plate-wearing DPS caster.
Longasc wrote: Pardon me, but tanking has been trivialized.

It is true that tanking has become easier, but it still requires a particular type of situational awareness. At minimum, you need to keep scanning the area to see if there are any patrols approaching, any additional monsters being summoned by the boss, or even any monster breaking away from the main group and running for a DPS or healer party member.

An inexperienced tank, especially one that came from a background of DPS, is often bad at tracking where all the enemies are. More powerful tanking abilities don't really help such a person.
Kitty specced druids can tank any normal 5 man instance in the game. Provided they know how to tank in the first place. You do not need the tank specific talents to do it. The differences do not start showing up until you get in to the heroics were the lack of Armor and lack of Magic damage mitigation through PotP start to show.
Heroics are hard?

Not trying to be sarcastic but I have found them to be mostly pushover instances with final bosses having gimmick fights that require you to learn a new dance.

There are some quests that would teach a player to tank/heal but very few and far between. The quest in Grizzly Hills where the druid NPC will either tank or heal for you depending on what you need comes to mind.

And I second the motion that these instances are simply treated as a way to grind out some fast XP and get a few blues. It sucks that no one was watching out for the healer in the group though.
You never needed a pure spec to heal or tank or dps adequately in normal instances. They have always been trivial unless your way under level or party members are morons. Just bring some mana pots for emergencies.
Grinding out quests as a healer-spec will not make you any better at group healing

No, but doing Utgarde Keep, Nexus, AN, AK, etc. non-heroic will make you better at group healing, and prepare you for the day you want to do it heroic. As the dual-spec isn't in the game yet, leveling up by spending part of your time in dungeons necessitates either frequent respecs or soloing quests in healer / tank spec. Which, as I might add, isn't quite as bad any more as it was in TBC.

Heroics are hard? Not trying to be sarcastic but I have found them to be mostly pushover instances with final bosses having gimmick fights that require you to learn a new dance.

Subject for a future post, once I reached level 80 and tried for myself. I've heard various comments on that already, including one saying that the level 71+ dungeons on heroic are harder than the level 80 dungeons on heroic. Which I imagine could be true, because Utgarde or Nexus have a lot of trash mobs, which tend to get annoying in heroic mode.
Leveling up as a Prot warrior is fun and grinding out mobs is very easy. We have decent AE abilities (Thunderclap, Shockwave) and a nice Damage Shield. I highly suggest wearing your best DPS gear as you level up your Prot Warrior. The Spec I'm using is 12/8/51 - getting Impale in Arms and Cruelty and Armor to the Teeth in Fury. You'll miss out on Anticipation, but the extra dodge is not necessary for leveling or any of the early regular instances. Once you hit 80, you can respec for running Heroics.

At 70, I'd spec 10/0/51 and get Impale by 72. Then put your points into Armored to the Teeth and wrap it up with Cruelty.
Do you really need to be holy spec to heal while leveling? I never was, in vanilla wow or tbc. I healed as shadow all the 5 man dungeons in vanilla, and all except the tempest keep dungeons in TBC - those 3 were too hard for me in shadow. Once I hit the level where my healing wasn't good enough I repsecced. (it helped I ran them so much I was always in the latest and best blues for my level).

Is it really different in WOTLK? I remember the bosses in TBC were a lot more technical than the ones in vanilla, but I still healed. I'm not all that great either. I'm ok is all.

Though I guess the point is you have to heal or tank and learn the class or you won't be ready at the cap, which is true. I'd add you also need to read outside the game, so much is not obvious. Maybe the difference is the class. I would try to get a group as the healer, so I'd be mentally prepared and have my healing gear on. Often I see dps spec other classes try to get in groups as dps and not be able to, so they'd join my group as a healer (when I'm on an alt) and have to fly back to get healing gear, put their heailng spells on their action bars, etc! yeah those kinds of players are (usually) not getting the experience they need to learn anything -unless they healed or tanked all the time before.

This is part of why I really wish they put the dual spec in. I haven't even touched my priest yet.
You can successfully heal any normal 5-man dungeon as any spec, provided you know how to heal in the first place. In fact, I'd argue that healing as shadow would teach people more about mana conservation and not overhealing than going at it as holy. Yes, if this is your first every try at healing, then having the proper spec would help smooth over the inevitable learning mistakes, however if you already have the experience, normal instances should provide few hardships.
Being a bit of a spec elitist today Tobold? Just because a class can heal doesn't mean they're being played as a healer. Druids and Shaman both have viable non-healing specs that are useful at all levels. That druid tank you grouped with at level 78 isn't going to magically be forced to be a healer at level 80. He might choose to do so for raiding, but there's no reason why he can't tank or dps. Every instance group needs a tank and a healer, preferably specced for tanking and healing, but which classes fill those roles, and which classes fill the remaining roles is almost irrelevant. When you make a statement like "then I get a group with 3 healers that can't heal" I have to shake my head and sigh. You weren't in a group with 3 healers, you were in a group with 1 tank and 2 dps who could fill the healer role if they wanted to, but clearly did not.

Also, just because a shaman/druid/priest levels from 70-80 as a dps spec doesn't mean they don't know how to heal. They might have spent 2 years as a healer at level 70 doing end game raids for all you know. Regardless, the fact that you breezed through that dungeon implies the players knew how to play their classes in their chosen role, and that's all that should matter. Anything else smacks of raider elitism.
"you were in a group with 1 tank and 2 dps who could fill the healer role if they wanted to, but clearly did not."
That's the problem, though. I'm happy to fill in as a healer with my Moonkin. But when I see a party of 4 DKs with my shaman and they all refuse to tank, it is dispiriting. If you play a hybrid whether it be DPS/tank or DPS/heal or even heal/tank it's a bit of a waste to only use part of your power. If you just want to DPS, play a specialist DPS class. Don't play a warrior and complain when people ask you to tank.
I disagree on the "level as Holy/Resto/Prot makes a better Healer/Tank" part. One of the best tanks I've ever pug with leveled Arms. The only difference between him and all the bad tanks was:

*) Tanked pretty much every instance from RFC to Shadow Labs.
*) Kept an up-to-date decent tanking gear, including a board-and-stick.

Lower level instances offer the ideal learning grounds for Tanking and Healing: if you keep your tanking/healing gear up to date, and you research what you should expect and do, you can improve along the way.
"Being a bit of a spec elitist today Tobold? "

I completely missed this... Tobold as an elitist player expecting players to play the game based on pre-concieved notions of class roles. What is the world (of Warcraft) coming too?

I look forward to your thoughts on heroics. Even with minimal time spent at level 80 players are able to hop right into them and do fairly well. Boss fights seem more based around learning a strategy (dance in some cases) than reaching some pre-set gearing curve. They aren't quite as easy as 3.0 heroics but they don't even approach the difficulty of heroics @ the start of TBC.
You have a good point in there Tobold, although I don't buy your argument about levelling with a grouping spec, at least for warriors or priests.

Tanking you're only going to learn in an instance, not even really in a group quest. It's important to know where your hot keys are, but if you don't know how to pick up adds (or even that you should!), or how to generate good threat, you're not going to learn that soloing whatever your spec.

In my experience priests can heal just fine as shadow, whereas as a shaman even with good healing gear I'm wary of healing an instance as an off spec. We're not really cut out for healing without some of our key resto talents. There is the risk that if a priest respecs from shadow at 80 they might downplay some spells they're not used to using but if they've healed a group before they should be OK at 80 (if a bit rusty).

The important point is what the players you describe plan to do at 80. Even if their character could can tank or heal perhaps they want to dps at 80 (and accept that they will find it harder to find a group / raid). But it constantly surprises me when a player refuses to consider their group - it seems to me that most often the player announcing "LF tank - last spot" turns out to be a warrior.
Leveling as holy because you are practicing that way is nothing short of stupid.
Good players play well in any spec, they know there class inside out, and getting to perform at 90% is a task for several hours of practice, call it day. There is no need to spend 2x time on leveling, just so you can spare yourself an hour at the end. To perform at 100% you will need incredible reaction time and experience, and while that will take a lot longer to master, the only place you need that now is sartharion+3, and I don't think many people are doing that.
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