Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Tanking history and thoughts

Via MMO-Champion I found this highly interesting quote from Ghostcrawler, in which he explains why we all just AoE in heroics nowadays.
Long-term, the paladin manner of generating AE damage and threat is probably too good, especially given how simple it is. To be honest, we have very mixed feelings on the whole AE tanking game. We brought the druid and warrior more in line with the paladin for fear of recreating the Shattered Halls / Mount Hyjal experience, where other tanks just weren't competitive. What that has led to of course is the AE tank + AE style of damage for almost every pull. You need the tools to be able to tank legitimate adds fights (imagine lots of incoming mobs), but does that mean every pull needs to devolve into that? We'd like to see less AE overall, so buffing everyone's AE tools isn't going to be tops on our agenda. That does however mean that we really can't afford to have a "best AE tank", and while things are more fair there than they were in BC, they aren't fair enough.
So basically, once they gave AoE tanking to one class, they had to give it to all, and now it has become too good.

Personally, my tank just reached a level of gear I'm really happy with. Some guild mates helped me run the Halls of Reflection on normal, until I finally got the Splintered Door of the Citadel shield I had been trying to PuG for in vain. And I'm wearing 4 pieces of T9, shoulders of equivalent iLevel, and the cloak you buy from emblems of frost. Only the jewelry and trinkets are still iLevel 200, but good ones for that level. Even with not putting a pure stamina gem in every slot, but looking for things like hit rating, parry, and dodge as well, I have 35k health unbuffed, and get up to 45k fully buffed, depending on buffs, while of course being defense capped. So running heroics is really comfortable now, especially since I did it a lot and now know them well. I'd love to try him out in Naxxramas, but nobody goes there any more, except for weekly quest.

When running pickup group with my other characters, I have the opportunity to see other tanks in action. Curiously (and I know I will get complaints about this comment), all pickup groups which ended due to wipes had a Deathknight tank. When I play my healer, the DK is hardest to heal too. That missing shield really hurts. But then of course the DK and paladin tanks deal over twice the damage of an equally geared protection warrior tank. Having a paladin tank for me is easiest. Not sure about druids, because all those druid tanks seem to have disappeared, I only see trees and boomkins any more.

Excuse the lack of focus of this post, this is just a random bunch of thoughts on tanks, not leading anywhere. Feel free to add your own thoughts on tanks to the discussion.
I have an 80 Warrior and 80 DK. I will tell you my gearscores not to brag but just as a point of reference since I know you use the mod.

My warrior is 5.6k in DPS gear (main spec) and 5.3k in tank gear. My DK is around 4.8k as tank or DPS.

My DK as a tank does take much more damage and generates less threat - but due to the easy aoe damage, fun cooldowns, and huge damage is alot more fun to play as a tank.

Tanking as a warrior for me is very reptitive and very dull especially in an instance like Halls of Reflection - even if I overgear it, holding aggro on ranged or multiple mobs is still very painful and difficult and a geared, skilled tank is no guarantee that they can hold aggro from healers and DPS.

Meanwhile even though my DK is less of a tank, in heroics I can be any of the three specs as a tank - or even DPS spec with tank gear, and will often top the DPS charts while holding aggro handily.

Needless to say, my experience has been that tanks are certainly not balanced in fuction or fun factor? Do they need to be? I don't know.
I don't understand the whole 'classes have to be fair' idea. I mean, it's in conflict with itself - you want classes which are different, yet equal/fair. That's impossible. Either in certain situations one class is better, or the classes are identical. It always breaks down that way.
Random thought:
at 35k health unbuffed, your tank should be running 25-man Trial of Crusader or 10-man Ice Crown Citadel... not Naxxramas!
I do miss CC, or at least having to be more careful with pulls. I don't miss taking so much time to mark, but a bit less mindlessness would be nice. Maybe more pats would force us to pull more carefully; such as in SL, or ranged mobs like in SH, that forced us to use LoS pulls rather than just charging in.

DKs could use something like the druid 'block' based on crit or some sort of partial parry; X% of your parry chance to deflect damage equal to X% of strength.
Its not just that every tank is able to AOE-tank now, its that plus our horribly miscalculated itemlevel plus easier dungeons overall. A paladin simply running in and trying to AOE-tank some mobgroup in Magisters Terrace would have had about the survival rate of chocolate in the desert. But today there are no more mobs with really dangerous abilities and thanks to inflated itemlevel our power is about twice as high as Blizzard accounted for, so we do have the power to simply destroy anything in a mere heroic.

On druid tanks:
Generally you can heal a druid tank very easy, even those who pay attention to other stats than Stamina in order to not become a mana sponge have huge healthpools. When my trusty druidtank-partner notices that I'm having trouble healing him right now he pops some cooldown and is suddenly standing there with 75k HP and thats with badge gear, no stamina-trinkets and no pure stamina gems.
Got a druid with duel spec, resto as main spec and feral/tanking as offspec. Got the same experience as you regarding dk tanks. Alot harder to heal than other tanks. Healing a dk tank in HoR hc is very taxing indeed. DK tanks is much better off in high speed runds with high dps overall so that fights dont last to long. As for wiping, cant remember wiping even once during WOTLK 5 mans, and I only run pugs. Think the change from TBC 5 mans is to big. Getting the feeling that hc runs is a pure grind nowadays.
I can only agree to your druid tank sentiment, where did all the bears go?

To be honest, I hardly see kitties anymore either, I guess it's due to dual specs and the fact boomkins and trees mostly use the same gear.
One way to get the aoe thing better might be to increase the power of the aoe tanking moves, but put them on a longer cooldown (3-5 min?)
That way, on add fights or the occasional accidental mis-pulls, the tank has teh capability to do what is needed, but it wouldnt be available for every trash pull in a heroic ....
I've tanked with every class except the DK and have a personl preference for Warrior tanking.

Perhaps it's the absense of the constricting formalised rotation of a paladin, or the range of situational tools which give it a one-up on bears (who also seem to have a love/hate relationship with itemisation).

Healers also seem to have more confidence in Warrior tanks (possibly from their traditional role as the only tanking class) and charging into battle is hugely satisfying. Sure, there's a bit of tab-targeting to maintain AoE aggro, but this is the only thing keeping me awake on Heroic chains...
*shameless self-advertising* I just happened to write down some thoughts on tanks of my own yesterday.
In my personal experience, my nubDK tank was very hard to heal as unholy, and i gained a lot more survability as frost. Don't forget that while paladin and warriors have one tank spec, DKs have three.
As someone who has every tankclass (but my warrior is only lvl77) I have to admit that tanking with a paladin is the easiest.
* Paladin aoe-damage on a low cooldown including "cleave"-damage (hammer,seal) and silence for casters, auto-self-heal via seal/judgement to the point where I only need heal on bosses in heoric dungeons, massive burst-aggro
* Druid perma-aoe-damage, not so good against caster-mobs, good self-heal, medium burst-aggro
* Deathknight aoe-damage on a medium cooldown but can be placed (unlike consecration and swipe), massive burst-aggro, unless blood-specced not so good selfheal, even with unbuffed 55% dodge/parry takes the most damage, IMO best caster-control
* Warrior aoe-damage (shockwave, not clap ^^) on a long cooldown usually only once per pull, good caster-control, good burst-aggro once you have collected all the mobs in front of you; warriors still takes a good amount of targetswitching, for me its the class with the most actions per second, no self-heal
I have three of the four tanks at max level (just less a Prot Warrior), and I can definitely say that of these three, the DK requires the most skill to excel at AOE tanking. You have to manage quite a bit more in the way of CDs to be effective AOE tanking. In my raid-tank spec (blood), I don’t have morbidity (lowers DnD CD from 30 secs to 15 secs), which makes quick chain pulling packs quite a bit more difficult. I think this is the main reason you see random DK tank failures. That being said, I don’t feel they are in any way lacking as compared to the others when played well, particularly with a 15 sec CD on death & decay.

Also, though I actually like the challenge of tanking all mobs, when playing on a dps toon, I miss the responsibility of keeping a CC up. The lack of needing CC makes me feel kind of pointless. I hope they bring back the need for crowd control.
Playing a fury warrior, I cringe every time I end up with a DK tank, especially if I outgear him, doubly so if it's one of the new instances. Those are the instances where if I do more than autoattack a single target I'm very likely to pull aggro and there's absolutely nothing I can do about it.
When running heroics, I think Protadin's make the best tank. Perhaps I'm biased as my main is a Pally tank. I also have a DK tank. Comparing the two is night and day when looking at heroics. Heroics have LOTS of small hits. Small hits get mitigated by a shield down to near nothing. Raid bosses hit slow, but harder. Basically you can tell that a DK who is missing about 25% mitigating in block is going to be hurting when taking lots of hits, but fine when taking less hits that are more powerfull. Blizz can't really buff the DK's avoidance anymore or they would be the prefered raid tank.

In equal gear my Pally tank can do a hell of a lot more then my DK. I can pull tons and tons and tons of mobs, and not even worry. My DK really needs to be carefull. My pally also puts out more damage in AoE, but they are both close, when compared to other tanks.
You should be fine for Ulduar as well -- I think I had about 32k health when I stepped into Ulduar for the first time. (And no T9, of course.)

The weekly raid quest might give you a chance to try out tanking, though I don't recall if it's Flame Leviathan or Razorscale in Ulduar as the target. You could probably even tank normal ToC-10 and maybe ToC-25 with that gear; certainly not far off.

Oh, and you should get the emblem of triumph tanking ring if you're looking to upgrade your gear. It is really quite nice.
35K HP unbuffed is enough for ToC 10 and 25 man Normal.

You want about 40 unbuffed for ICC normal.

Good Luck.
I have both max level DK and Druid that I use for tanking heroics. Both are in 4p t9 with t10 shoulders and are over 5k gear score and 4800ish respectively. Though the Dk is slightly better geared than the druid, some heroics are tougher to tank with him. DK's do take more damage than pallies and warriors due to not having shield block (in raids, this evens out, but in heroics, block is way overpowered especially in AoE tanking).

As far as wipes due to DK tanking, I can understand why. I have tanked with all 4 classes and in my experience, DK is by far the most difficult. There is a lot more to manage, such as making sure your diseases are all up and ticking on all targets in an AoE pull, as well as DnD at the start and making sure you get your Runic Strike off for the dodge bonus. Compare this to my druid tank who charges in and starts swiping/mauling until the mobs fall over. I over-simplify druid tanking a bit, but at it's base, it can be done with just two attacks for an AoE pull.

Also contributing to DK fail rate is that fact that people still don't seem to understand how the class works, including those who are playing DK's. When dungeon finder first hit, I was asked at least once a day why I hadn't equiped a shield. When I'm tanking on my druid, the only class I consistently group with that will ever do less than 1000dps are dk's. A quick inspection shows that they are wearing PvP gear, are in frost presence and don't have horn of winter up, despite the absence of a shaman.

As a DK who takes his class and tanking with it very seriously, it's rough to see these guys ruin our reputation. I imagine that when people see that I'm the tank, they think there's a good chance we won't finish that H PoS run . . . and are always surprised and complimentary when we do.
I loved Shattered Halls on my prot warrior, because it was the one dungeon that was actually hard. Keeping aggro on all those adds was a lot of fun and about the only thing that stayed challenging in the 5 man dungeons.

Killing trash has always been a fairly mundane experience, and I keep wondering why they even bother with it anymore, now that it is so easy to tank, heal and dps these guys. Save us even more time, and just have us go from boss to boss, get rid of trash entirely.
Sounds like you're actually overgeared, if not catastrophically overgeared.

Frankly I like some challenge in my PuGs and downing LOLken in 48 seconds while soaking in the lightning nova is disappointing.

I am also afraid that Blizzard is creating the expectation that 5 mans are supposed to be like that and the forums will be a mess with complaints for the first couple of months of Cataclysm.
Why the fascination with Naxx? You would be way overgeared with your current level of equipment, and I'm pretty sure you've seen the place on other characters. From an iLvl perspective, the Icecrown 5-mans are more difficult than Naxx10. I can see wanting to get some tanking experience in a raid environment, but I don't see how, say, tanking an ICC rep run or ToC wouldn't give you the experience you want (packs of mobs and boss fights respectively).

As for healing DKs, I have to wonder where the line between "harder" and "too hard" is. The real issue for me (on my healer) was that I was spoiled with overgeared tanks that I ran instances with. Having to actually USE some of my bigger heals in randoms was a wakeup call. It's also a problem to simply say "DKs seem to take more healing" without having a gear comparison. Since "everyone" knows that DKs are harder to heal, it may be harder for them to gear up as healers drop the group. They may also be more inclined to do things like try to tank in dps spec/gear since the line is a bit blurrier for DKs than other tanks.

Personally, I don't like the "feel" of tanking as a DK. Having to juggle the dps rotation while managing cooldowns and keeping aware of what's going on around me is just too much. I think it's hard to play a good DK tank, maybe harder than any of the other tank classes. So there's a lot of reasons that DKs could be harder to heal, and I'm not sure there's a good solution to any of them.
Don't apologize Tobold! Let's have an informal tank discussion.

The comments by Ghostcrawler are interesting, as it reveals dev's design choices and ultimately, their consequences.

It must still be incredibly difficult to balance. There has to be differences between each tank, each healer, and each DPS to keep each class unique and desirable, to ultimately avoid the game being reduced to 3 buttons, attack, heal, and defend. Everyone has to bring something different and unique, yet useful to the party.

This is where, just balancing tanks for example, things can get difficult. I still manage to generate some level of AE threat (Thunderclap, shockwave, devestate with the cleave glyph and devestate glyph) but in most heroics my DPS is around 1.5-2k, decent but far under other tanking classes. Each tank has (and has to have) subtle but noticable differences.

I think blizz has discovered a similar lapse in game design with tanks through damage. In vanilla wow, I remember revenge hitting for a paltry 50 damage. Back then, it didnt matter if the warrior did damage, it wasn't his job. The warrior could literally have only had threat abilities with high modifiers and zero damage, and it wouldn't have changed the game that much.

But with other classes tanking, with their threat generation from damage, the inherant threat of abilities that warriors relied on, became stale and dated. We have seen efforts to bring some things in line, but there is still some room to change.

In terms of heroics, the combination of ghostcrawlers remarks, and the "bring the player not the class" mentality may have both contributed to the cleave-style of instances we see now. I remember hating running shattered halls in TBC as there were 6 mobs, 1 needed to be sheeped, another sapped and another frost trapped. This increases the necessity of strategy but slows down the game considerably, and increases the chance to make a critical mistake.

But I fear we are too far removed from the days requiring extensive CC and it would be difficult for Blizz to reintroduce that style. I can already see it now, 3 dps blaiming the tank and healer for sucking for not cleaving through all 5 mobs on a pull in the first instance of Cata...

The farther we get from requiring classes to use their CC abilities, the more likely they are to forget how to use them.
I've maintained for quite a while that the single biggest thing that has made Wrath easier than previous expansions is Aggro management.

Keeping aggro (for a tank) is just much easier than it ever has been in the past.

This means less CC is needed. It means that more damage can be dealt. It means that other players are forgiven mistakes. It is why pulls devolve into an AoE festival.

It's not just AoE tanking either. Tanks generate more threat AND every pure DPS class has a *NEW* way to reduce threat. And some, like Rogues, have ways to increase a Tank's threat.
There is no doubting that Warrior tanks suffer when it comes to AOE aggro retention, but Blizzard has created this problem themselves. The AOE/DPS fests of current lvl 80 dungeons is poisoning the mindset of players...where go!..Go!..GO! is the prevailing mantra where everyone just wants to speed thru the instances. It takes time for a tank to generate initial aggro, and some race/class combinations take a few seconds longer to generate the rage/runic power...ect, needed to generate proper threat. The Paladin excels at this given the speedy nature of todays instance runs, which is why they are the flavor of the moment where tanks are concerned. If everyone would just slow down and discard this need-for-speed mentality we are seeing, then most tanks would be just as suitable/viable given the DPS race they are required to compete against.

I'm currently leveling my NE Priest after 4+ years of inactivity, and in the recent days I've managed to level up to level 43 from level 35. Mauradon is a good test of a tanks ability to maintain aggro due to the 3-mob groupings and stuns/knockdowns, and so far the paladin tank reigns supreme in all cases against the other classes.

But I dont say this to support Ghostcrawlers assertion, in fact, I think he is wrong. Why? Well, I can say with certainty that Mauradon has seen many changes since Vanilla WoW, and the amount of hitpoints mobs have, and the damage they deal is far lower than it was when the instance was still in its early days. It's a completely different instance, the same as other instances like LBRS, UBRS, BRD..ect are. You change the dynamics of the instances where damage and mob hitpoints/ability are concerned, and you change the dynamics of the classes who go there.

Mauradon is a prime example of this, in that the lasher boss used to put his bleed/puncture effect on all party members. Now, the boss only puts the debuff on whoever has aggro, the tank...making healing a cakewalk and success an almost certainty. Something is very wrong when a Boss fight is easier than trash mob encounters...very wrong.
I have to say my warrior tanking gear isn't that great (any longer) around GS4700 or so. But when I switch to my shield block set of gear (focus on shield block rating, shield block value and STR) I have run heroics where I can hit 3k dps+ due to the shield block damage shield dps. Plus I have the Cleave glyph for the AOE fun of Heroics that seems to be so important. So I would argue DK;s and Pallies don't always do the best DPS :-)
As a DK tank, I have no problems in random heroics. Healers really have no difficulties that I'm aware of. Usually, if I ask a healer how their doing, I find out they've been DPS'ing, or their bored out of their minds.

And my gear isn't super-awesome either! I'm no raider, so I've got purples, with 5 pieces of gear still blue. The average iLevel of my gear is about 210. Mind you, I am Defense capped (and have been for a long time) - just need to work on the +hit.

So, it could just be the DK's you're running with - maybe their gear-choices aren't optimal?

Mind you, there is ONE fight that I've had problems with wipes - Bronzebeard in HoL -> but I can correlate this to the problem usually being a DPS paladin or other over-eager DPS AOE'er gaining too much threat relative to my AOE abilities. And this has less to do about healing, and more about problems with DPS being impatient during this fight. And I understand completely - its a drawn-out, boring fight.
Probably 90% of the DK tanks out there don't understand how to tank, spec, or gear as a DK tank.

The problem is not the class, the problem is the people playing it.

As an example on my DK tanking Heroic PoS I have successfully tanked the first 2 bosses without a healer. Pally might be able to do that, but no way a War or Druid could.
I have a decently geared (5300 GS) DK tank, and my groupmates have told me on countless occasions how easy it is to heal me. Another comment I've heard, although a bit less, is how awesome it is that I actually use defensive cooldowns. Death Knights have defensive cooldowns available at a minimum of 25% of the time, and every spec has a cooldown available every minute. Why aren't they using them?
The problem isn't that DKs need a shield or that they take more damage then "Block Tanks". I would argue that the problem is that there are less skilled DK tanks then other classes as a whole.
I concur. DKs are the hardest to heal and I heal on both my Holy Pally and my Resto Druid.

However I think a few things need to be understood regarding the tanking mechanics of the various tanks. Yes, the best AOE tank is still the Paladin, but ask any of them and they will tell you the AOE dmg changes put in last patch have affected their threat on multiple targets now. Same of course, will go for Feral and DK tanks who I think are pretty much neck and neck at second place for AOE threat. Last in my mind is the Warrior tank, though any honest individual will tell you, only by a small margin. The spread between the Pally AOE ability and the Warrior ability is governed more by skill than anything else.

I agree with Blizzard in that I do not want to see a total homogenization of the various tanks. Otherwise what's the point of having four tanking classes? They all do roughly the same thing, but through different mechanics but the real issue here is that Warrior players have always, largely, been jealous of other classes. Look back through the forums to Vanilla and you will see the same arguments over and over again.

In short, Warriors LRN2PLAY if you want to continue tanking on a Warrior. Pallys stand by for a nerf to your AOE ability. And Feral/DK's hope you don't get whacked too hard because of all the QQ too.
On my 67 lock I dread it when we have a Warrior tank. They have alot of trouble generating threat compared to DKs or Paladins when it comes to AE.

I miss the single pulls we had to do when TBC first came out (as that is the content I'm still in). Players use to use a variety of abilities to complete an instance, now it's just use your AE.
at 35k health unbuffed, your tank should be running 25-man Trial of Crusader or 10-man Ice Crown Citadel... not Naxxramas!

Recently, in the streets of Dalaran:
[2. Trade] Someone: LF1M tank ToC 10-man
Tobold: /tell Someone Invite me, I'm a tank with 35k health unbuffed
Someone replies: Link achievement
Tobold: What achievement?
Someone: The achievement proving you completed ToC
Tobold: But I've never been there!
Someone: Get lost, noob!
Heroics being more challenging, rather than AOE fests, only works if they're not part of the random dungeon finder badge slot machine.
I enjoyed the harder dungeons a lot, but at the same time I'm not happy to get HoR as the random on my tank vs. something I could be done with in 10 minutes for the same 2 badges.

It's interesting to note that heroics being trivial (for the most part) happened first in WOTLK, even in ilvl 200 blues + epics they were much less challenging than BC heroics were.

In vanilla WoW, instances were a difficult undertaking but one of the only things you could do that had good rewards. The quest item blues from SM, etc, and boss drops would last for 10 levels.

In BC, Heroics were meant to be content for level 80 players who didn't raid. They were extremely challenging because non-raiders often asked for challenging small group content. Thus, Heroics and Kharazan. It turns out that people didn't really seem to want that content to be all that challenging, though.

In WoTLK, they've made raiding so accessible that heroics are basically a daily quest to help get gear to raid.

It will be interesting to see if Cataclysm dungeons are designed from the ground up to account for the random daily being the most popular way to run them. The random daily wants all heroics to be roughly similar in length and difficulty, otherwise players will complain "I always get Strat/Oculus". It also wants that length to be short and the difficulty to be easy, since you're probably running it with a pug and you'd like to finish your daily in a shortish amount of time.
One of my buddies was having the same issue. Some of our other friends are in a top 60 ranked guild so they started shooting us friend invites. Now people accept our guild tag in place of achievements. They assume we are just olds of pro raiders.
I can understand people wanting those that have done the instance before in their raid. No need to explain, few worries mechanics.

But depending on the role needed and the fight, previous experience isn't always needed.

If often boils down to kill the boss, stay out of the fire, kill the adds when they spawn.

When people ask for my achievement, I either tell them I did it on a different toon or I link Deadmines.
i also think that the dk is the most difficult tank to heal, and sometimes they dont aggro enough, to keep dps save... well this depending on the player i guess.

but going to heroics with pallys is kinda boring.

so in terms of fun i stay with the dk.
Tobold wrote: "Someone replies: Link achievement

Tobold: But I've never been there!

Someone: Get lost, noob!

The obsession with linking achievements could be a topic for another post.

I'm the one who said "35k? You should tank ToC!".

For reference, I think my warrior had 23k health going into Naxx-10, 27k health going into Ulduar-10, 32k health going into ToC-10, and 36k health going into ICC-10. Your tank sounds quite reasonably geared for ToC-10.
I agree with Christopher - the problem with DK tanks is more that some of them don't use their cooldowns. I regularly heal our guilds DK tank and don't have a problem healing him at all; he has a high amount of avoidance and he uses his cooldowns. He rarely takes a huge amount of damage yet in PUGs I've seen DK tanks that can lose 80% of their hp in a couple of seconds...on every trash pack. This is not good for my blood pressure. 2 recent examples were DK tanks with almost 35K hp, more than enough for heroics yet I had to heal flat out the whole run. I'm not well up on DKs but I can only think that the difference is due to the stats they pick (favouring stamina over avoidance?) and not using their defensive cooldowns appropriately, if at all.
AoE is why I stopped playing Titan Quest.

I share the lament of Klepsacovic and Brian over the decreased call for crowd control in WoW. It was a fun challenge to trap and kite the right mobs as a hunter, and I felt like I was contributing more value to groups than I do now. It is still fun, especially now figuring out survival (always been BM), but when do I ever use Wyvern Sting without it being compromised?
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