I have a suspicion that Wrath will go down in the history books as the golden age of pet tanking and extreme soloing. I think that Wrath hit the precise perfect balance for extreme pet antics, whether by design or by accident. We have solo'd from Molten Core to Violet Hold and everything in between (and more). We have used our pet to tank for our raids, from Naxx to Ulduar to TotC, all the way to ICC. Our pets have tanked Marrowgar, Deathwhisper, Gunship and Blood Princes, and our pets have even solo-tanked Sindragosa. We can pet tank Rotface while we kite the slimes.
The beauty and balance of the Wrath pet tanking, however, is that we're generally only able to do it after we're a tier or two of gear beyond the content (or with the ICC raid buff). This way, we aren't taking tank spots away from actual tank classes -- something that would get our pet tanking nerfed in a heartbeat. But these are still impressive feats, challenging feats -- and they are big fun.
While it's too early to say how pet tanking will work out in Cataclysm -- the pet design pass has not yet been done -- I keep getting emails about it, and we have seen enough to do some speculation. Join me after the cut for a look at what made pet tanking work so well in Wrath and what we know about it so far in Cataclysm.
The magic ingredient of pet tanking
In Wrath, we have a lot of tools to make pet tanking possible -- BM hunter talents, tenacity pets and their talent tree, threat redirection, glyphs and our general stunning good looks. But there is only one thing without which we couldn't pet tank at all, the magical stuff that dreams are made of: resilience.
Resilience is the magical stat that allows our pets to become crit-immune. Without that -- if our pets could get crit by bosses -- we could not pet tank raid bosses. We currently need 5.6 percent crit reduction to become crit-immune. Our pet talent, Grace of the Mantis, gives us 4 percent crit reduction, and the only way we can get that extra 1.6 percent is by wearing 132 resilience rating worth of gear. While the damage reduction portion of resilience does not work in PvE, the crit reduction part does.
Or at least it does in Wrath. Come Cataclysm, we will no longer be able lower our pet's chance to be crit by wearing resilience gear. In fact, nothing on gear will make you crit-immune in Cataclysm; the tank classes get their crit immunity through talents or their stance/form/thingy.
Unless we have a new way to make our pets crit-immune, that could be the fatal blow to pet tanking right there.
Pet healing is more of an extreme soloing thing than a pet tanking thing, but the two are closely related. It is our pet's great tanking abilities, after all, that makes most extreme soloing possible. In Wrath, our extreme soloing options were greatly widened because of the Glyph of Mending, which boosted the effectiveness of our Mend Pet by 40 percent. Combined with other hunter and pet talents, our Mend Pet could do over 2k healing per tick. It was almost like having a single healer HoT for our pet!
In Cataclysm, we can only assume that our Mend Pet will be significantly stronger by level 85 than it is now. But based on what we're seeing currently in the beta at level 83, it is not scaling on pace with health and damage. Health is much higher in Cataclysm -- both ours and our pet's -- and it is higher exponentially, not linearly. But our Mend Pet does not seem to be scaling as fast as health and damage are.
What we need to see is another Mend Pet boost, the way that the Glyph of Mending boosted it. Personally, I think that the logical way to handle this is by allowing Mend Pet ticks to crit. After all, just about every other HoT in the game can now crit on its ticks; why not ours?
This is an issue that goes beyond just extreme soloing. In Cataclysm, our pets are less likely than ever to get any heals from the healers, since mana management is now important. However, our Mend Pet is rarely enough healing to keep our pet from dying to incidental DoTs that they seem to pick up all over the place in Cataclysm 5-mans.
Pet scaling in Cataclysm
We know that the way our pets scale with our stats will change in Cataclysm. We assume that they will scale with all of our stats (including crit, haste and smoldering good looks) only because this was something promised to us long, long ago, and it makes logical sense. While we won't know how pet scaling is going to work for certain until the pet design pass happens, we did get a preview of what Blizzard is thinking.
Ghostcralwer - Lead Systems Designer
Pet scaling is getting a massive overhaul at the moment. For starters, we still intend for pets to scale with all of the master's stats for things like hit, haste and crit. For the big stats, our current plan is something like this:
Warlock pets will be getting a similar pass. In general, we want pet dps to be 20-30% of player dps. Note that this is a lot lower than current BM and Demo lock numbers. Pet damage as BM will still be higher than Marks or Survival though, and we want BM to be competitive overall with Marks and Survival. (Ditto for locks.)
For reference, pets currently inherit the following:
45% of hunter stamina
45% of hunter armor
22% of hunter attack power
Note, however, that currently, these number are modified by the Wild Hunt pet talent. (Note that Wild Hunt percentages stack multiplicatively, not additively -- see me after class if you don't understand what this means.)
Out of the patch 4.0 gate, we can expect our tenacity pets to get a bit more stamina from us and a heck of a lot more armor! However, that stamina increase is only true if out pets still have their Wild Hunt talent after the pet design pass. With the big jump in stamina in Cataclysm, it seems likely that we'll end up with pets with comparatively more health than before.
On the downside, the loss of AP means that our tenacity pets -- which already have big threat problems -- will have a harder time than ever holding aggro. This is somewhat modified by the new Kill Command, an attack we can use but that is made by our pet and the threat of which goes to the pet.
In general, however, this means that our ferocity pets are still going to be better at holding aggro than our tank pets unless they get more aggro-generating or aggro-increasing abilities.
One thing that intrigues me is something not mentioned in this blue post, going back to this concept that our pets should inherit all of our stats and not just sta/armor/AP/resistances. The lack of scaling with all stats gave BM big scaling issues as they geared up in Wrath, and everything we've heard (like how pets no longer receive raid buff because they scale correctly) indicates that our pets will indeed scale with everything.
If that's true, will they also scale with our dodge and parry ratings? Is it possible that for pet tanking we might put together a set of high stamina gear gemmed and enchanted for avoidance to give our pets that extra avoidance? I hope so, because that would be very interesting -- and in my opinion, fun!
Loss of many BM talents
One of the big casualties of the revamping of the talent trees was the loss of nearly all of the pet tanking/extreme soloing talents from the BM tree. We lost Endurance Training, but perhaps that is more than compensated by the larger health pools in Cataclysm. We lost Thick Hide, but then our pets are inheriting far more of our armor as a base scaling.
We also lost Catlike Reflexes, which was a huge talent for pet tanking -- nearly 10 percent damage reduction, essentially. In addition, we lost a lot of talents that increase our pet damage. This is in line with Blizzard's wanting pet damage to be only 20 to 30 percent of the hunter's total DPS, but that is going to further hurt our pet's ability to hold aggro.
Pet talents: the determining factor
Ultimately, what Blizzard does with our pet talent tree redesign is probably going to determine the viability of pet tanking in Cataclysm. Will Grace of the Mantis be changed to let our pet become crit-immune? Will Wild Hunt still give us increased scaling? Will our tenacity pets have a better way to boost their threat, perhaps a new talent that boosts the threat of all attacks?
I'd really like to see our tanking tree have more, you know, tanking talents in it. Our tank pets have the same needs as tanks: threat increase, avoidance, mitigation, health and maybe cooldowns -- less of everything than actual tanks do, of course, but at least crit-immunity. Whether that happens through talents, glyphs or gear, I don't care. As long as our pets can be crit-immune, we can work around any other shortcomings.
It would also be nice to see Great Resistance either buffed to be worthwhile or done away with.
The end of an age ... or the beginning?
Wrath brought us the best pet tanking opportunities we've ever had and balanced them beautifully against player tanks. Pet tanking raid bosses wasn't easy -- it required special gear sets, often with special gemming and enchanting, very specific hunter and pet builds, and the right kind of pet -- and it still wasn't nearly as good as a player tank. But with thought and skill, it was possible.
Based on the state of the Cataclysm beta right now, it does not look like we'll be able to pet tank after Wrath is gone. But ... we've still got the pet design pass ahead of us, which encompasses scaling, pet abilities and talent tree redesign. Everything we need to pet tank could very easily be right there.
Right now, we're standing on the pet tanking precipice. We could stay where we are, on top of the world in the golden age of pet tanking -- or just as easily, we could fall off and plummet into obscurity and the ale-soaked tales of old-timers who go on about how great it was back in their day. Only time and the benevolence of Ghostcrawler will tell.