We've discussed in the previous column why effective health is important; here, we're going to discuss why it's not as important as you might think if you had nothing beyond the collective opinion of the Tanking forum to go on. While this has something to do with the mob mentality of the forums themselves, it has more to do with how the concept of effective health isn't usually placed in context. Tank death on hard modes is quickly attributed to EH discrepancies, with rather less discussion on encounter mechanics, inappropriate gear, or that great but frequently unacknowledged bugaboo -- player error. It is for this that I say effective health needs to die.
What is effective health?
I neglected to put some hard numbers on this in the last article, but calculating base effective health is actually pretty simple. It's your health as modified by the damage you'll take after armor contribution (AC), or Health / (1 - AC%).
A 50,000 health tank with 25% armor contribution has 66,666.67 effective health (50,000 / 0.75).
A 50,000 health tank with 50% armor contribution has 100,000 effective health (50,000 / 0.5).
A 50,000 health tank with 75% armor contribution (the maximum functional AC) has 200,000 effective health (50,000 / .25).
One of the things you'll notice is how quickly each additional point of armor makes each point of health keep you alive longer. If you were facing bosses who hit for exactly the same amount on exactly the same swing timer across three tiers of raid content, and the only stat you were able to improve was armor, you'd still be significantly easier to heal at the end of it. Armor improvements make each hit fall for a smaller and smaller percentage of your overall health. In other words, a boss that started off hitting you for, say, 30% of your life in the first tier of raid gear would wind up hitting you for 20% at the third. This turns you from a tank who could be four-shot into a tank who could be five-shot, and the difference in survivability is one healers invariably notice.
So what's the problem?
The problem is that these bosses don't actually exist, that EH is affected by more things than just armor and health, and that what's killing tanks in modern raids has less to do with EH than it ever has. Effective health matters most versus bosses that dish out tremendous melee damage and are not likely to kill you by other means. While this does describe a subset of difficult Wrath bosses, it's a far more accurate descriptor of their Burning Crusade counterparts.
With a 15% chance per each melee hit to land a 150% damage attack (the crushing blow), the BC raid boss was to built to deal devastating physical hits, and tanks were built around the ability to avoid or absorb them. If a boss blew through a warrior's Shield Block charges or caught a paladin without Holy Shield up, you had to live through the 15% chance that the blow/s that followed would crush. Versus bosses with a fast swing timer (Morogrim Tidewalker perhaps being the most famous among them), the odds of multiple crushing blows occurring to a warrior tank despite his/her best efforts approached 100%. And druids, as we've observed, were nothing more than walking piles of effective health in an era that obliged them to eat crushing blows as a matter of course. The tank that needed EH the most was (unsurprisingly) the tank that had the most of it.
The "crushing blow" of Wrath
Blizzard was forced to move away from this model by the introduction of the death knight, which -- as a 2H-weapon tank -- could not be designed to avoid crushing blows or mitigate them without creating serious balance problems. In the place of the crushing blow, developers increasingly began to program boss attacks reliant on enormous burst damage that could only be reliably survived through the use of cooldowns. A max-rank Sartharion-3D Flame Breath, hard-mode Mimiron Plasma Blast, Surge of Darkness on hard-mode Vezax (where he is not typically kited), heroic Gormok-25's Impale, and heroic Anub'arak-25's Freezing Slash are abilities universally cited by raiders as being among the greatest contributing factors to tank death. A huge amount of effort and time goes into ensuring that your tank survives these abilities, because nothing else you do matters if the tank gets one-shot or dies before your healers have time to react.
Not surprisingly, these encounters are just as frequently cited as the fights where the class of tank makes/made the greatest difference. Blizzard did indeed nerf both the death knight and bear after observing that the former's cooldown-based tanking dovetailed a little too neatly into the array of encounters designed with tank cooldowns in mind, and the latter because druid health pools scaled too well.
However, none of the listed attacks furnish particularly compelling arguments in favor of the supremacy of EH:
- Flame Breath and Plasma Blast are both magic-based attacks that ignore armor entirely.
- Surge of Darkness on a hard-mode Vezax at then-current levels of gear meant that a tank with high EH but no cooldowns simply died with less +overkill.
- Impale is a stacking bleed effect that ignores armor.
- Freezing Slash is an interesting case. Tank survivability is undeniably affected by EH here, as the stun immediately drops tank avoidance to 0% for its duration. While the druid's EH advantage is usually cited as the reason for the bear's use as MT on this fight (and there is some truth to that), I think people are missing the forest for the trees. The druid's sole damage-reduction cooldown (Barkskin) is usable while incapacitated or stunned, which (to my knowledge) is the only tanking cooldown of all four classes usable under those circumstances. The druid owes its advantage on the fight not to EH superiority but to the fact that our sole damage-reduction CD has been appropriated from an ability initially designed for use in PvP. Otherwise, the Anub'arak encounter actively punishes a raid with high-HP tanks, with Leeching Swarm causing more healing to Anub'arak in phase 3 and ratcheting up the already-high raid DPS required to kill him.
If the stuff that's most likely to kill you doesn't have much to do with EH, why does everyone make such a big deal out of it?
Because EH as players typically use it is a simple answer to a complicated question -- "How did I really die?"
The underlying issue with the version of EH as discussed on the forums is that EH is presented as a static set of numbers showing that bears are "best" and warriors are "worst." The truth of the matter is that a tank's actual EH at any given second exists in an ill-understood miasma of talent choices, cooldowns, trinkets, healer procs, and boss debuffs, set against the backdrop of bosses who hit for variable amounts at variable speeds with equally variable special abilities:
Do you have a priest or a shaman on you constantly to keep generating Inspiration or Ancestral Fortitude procs?
10% less physical damage taken is a mandatory tank buff on hard-mode content, period.
Does your DPS warrior or warlock reapply Improved Demoralizing Shout or Improved Curse of Weakness to the boss religiously (if the tanks can't apply an improved attack power reduction themselves)? Are debuffs like Improved Thunder Clap or Infected Wounds up at all times?
While Improved Demoralizing Shout was once part of the standard Protection warrior build, most people eschew it nowadays in favor of a Deep Wounds build for threat. Bears are able to pick up Feral Aggression a little more easily (albeit, like the warrior, at a significant cost to threat production), but they are not exactly common in raids these days. Thus, equally mandatory boss debuffs often fall to DPS players, who -- let us be frank -- are not always religious about applying and reapplying them.
Does your hunter keep Scorpid Sting up? Did you moonkin unglyph Insect Swarm?
While an additional 3% avoidance is not a contribution to EH per se, it is a contribution to Time To Live. The higher the percentage of your health a boss hits for, the more that avoidance will play a role in whether you live or die.
Who did your paladin Beacon? Does the Discipline priest know what he's doing? Do you have a Discipline priest and/or Holy paladin? Are tanks constantly Earth Shielded by shamans and "hotted" by druids? Is there a Val'anyr in the raid, and is that player assigned to the tanks on encounters like Gormok?
That you need dedicated tank healers with a high level of throughput on single targets and the ability to prevent/shield against incoming damage goes without saying, or should. Limited healing resources in the raid need to be deployed intelligently on encounters like heroic Northrend Beasts.
What cooldowns do you have up? Do they mitigate physical or magical damage, or both? How frequently can they be used, and what kind of dent do they make on the incoming hits?
Not all tank cooldowns are created equal, and different classes have wildly variable means of impacting their EH through the use of one. I don't think it's a mistake that the tank with the highest average EH (the bear) is the one with the least EH from cooldowns. After writing a great deal on this, it became apparent that it merits a separate article, and I'm going to push that to next week (although it may not necessarily be a Shifting piece).
Rather than asking these questions, it is easier -- though less honest -- to say that a tank died because they couldn't stack sufficient EH. Now, it has to be said that more EH does help on encounters where the boss hits like a freight train on top of dishing out special abilities (Gormok would be the standout example here), but it's disingenuous to argue that you're incapable of tanking an encounter that has been successfully tanked by others playing your class elsewhere. It's a roundabout way of saying that your raid shouldn't be forced to play more intelligently to get past a hard-mode encounter, and most reasonable players are unlikely to see that as a sympathetic argument.
I'll be continuing this next week with a look at cooldowns' impact on EH.
Every week, Shifting Perspectives treks across Azeroth in pursuit of truth, beauty, and insight concerning the druid class. Sometimes it finds the latter, or something good enough for government work. Whether you're a Bear, Cat, Moonkin, Tree, or -- for some unaccountable reason -- stuck in caster form, we've got the skinny on druid changes in patch 3.3, a close look at the disappearance of the bear tank, and thoughts on why you should be playing the class (or why not).