A week or so ago, while I was planning out this series of posts about tanking in Cataclysm, our old friend (well, okay, I've never met nor spoken to him) Ghostcrawler (lead systems designer) had some interesting things to say about the current state of hit and expertise for tanks. I wasn't able to immediately address them because I'd already written out what would be published, and so I had to wait until this column to talk about the history of hit and expertise for tanks in previous expansions and what the current state of the art is.
As warriors, we've been grappling with hit and expertise for years now. Why, you may ask, are they suddenly less viable for tanks than they were during Wrath? Well, believe it or not, hit and expertise have become less compelling for tanks entirely because of two big quality of life changes for tanks: the removal of parry hasting and taunt miss chance.
Detailing the shift
As GC himself points out, tanks working on new content will almost always make the trade-off between threat and survivability in favor of survivability. Tank deaths are often the end of an attempt on a boss, while in most cases, a loss of threat can be compensated for by taunting or threat drop abilities. It's hard to fault a tank for wanting to make the healer's job easier, especially now that mana is once again an issue in raid tanking and Vengeance exists to make threat less of an issue as time goes by.
Now, it's not the stated design goal of Vengeance to reduce threat issues as a fight goes on. It exists instead to keep tank threat comparable with DPS threat as DPS goes up, and it was designed to counteract situations like we saw in late Wrath when DPS was simply putting out so much more damage than tanks that threat became extremely touch-and-go without rogue and hunter threat handouts to tanks. Vengeance is in fact well-designed for that goal.
However, an inescapable side effect of Vengeance's design is that it ramps up as a fight progresses, and after it reaches its full extent, it can account for a great deal of attack power (10% of the health of a raid-buffed 10-man tank is 174,000/10 = 17,400 AP). Now, in order to reach this level of Vengeance, you'll need to take more than enough damage to kill you several times over, but that will happen while healing any raid boss attempt anyway. The stack will of course fluctuate as you hit an avoidance streak or tank swap or what have you. The point is, however, Vengeance serves to compensate for a lack of hit or expertise because after a time, when you as a tank do hit what you are tanking, you hit like a truck and can afford to have a few strikes be misses, dodges or parries.
Combine this with the fact that you no longer have to worry about your taunts missing and you don't have to worry about a boss parrying one of your attacks and getting to hit you back faster as a result, and you can see why hit and expertise simply aren't as impressive to survival-oriented tanks. If you're part of a disciplined group that watches its threat and doesn't pull aggro often, and you know you can rely on taunt to get it back in most cases anyway, then gearing for threat over gearing for not going splat simply isn't compelling.
For warrior tanks, another issue that compounds this situation is our tanking mastery, Critical Block, and how it works alongside Shield Specialization. Essentially, the protection mastery specialization and the Shield Spec talent work together to generate threat, because as a protection warrior gets more mastery, he blocks more often, and as he blocks more often, he generates more rage (5 per block). More rage means more threat because the vast majority of rage-using tanking abilities are direct threat generation moves. So as the protection warrior stacks mastery to increase his or her block rate (thus reducing damage incoming), he or she also gains more rage (and thus, more threat) without having to worry as much about hit or expertise. This ignores the fact that the very act of generating rage at all currently also generates threat. Test it out by using Battle or Commanding Shout after someone else in your party pulls sometime.
So what we have is a bit of a cascade: Hit and expertise only work as threat generation stats now, at a time when a desire for survival is at an all-time high for tanks who want to push content and new mechanics make other abilities and stats do more work. Hit and expertise fall behind in desirability as tanking stats when compared to dodge, parry, and armor (purely avoidance or mitigation) or mastery (which becomes a triple threat, increasing avoidance/mitigation and rage generation, thus threat generation). In essence, with the occasional miss compensated for by Vengeance and mastery's rage gen, and being parried now no worse than missing or being dodged, a warrior tank who wants to make healing easier has no compelling reason to gear otherwise.
Beefing up hit and expertise for tanks
So what's the answer? Well, Ghostcrawler suggested one (and please keep in mind that this is a very speculative suggestion) -- namely, making hit affect Shield Block. When I read this, I recoiled in horror, but after two weeks of considering it I have to admit it makes a consistent, logical sense for a warrior to need to precisely position his or her shield in order to fully block an incoming attack. The problem I have with it is that it's an indirect way of having hit modify a purely defensive move. Yes, hit is useful for DK tanks because Death Strike has to hit in order to heal the DK -- but warriors aren't DKs, and Shield Block doesn't heal a warrior tank.
Rather than apply hit so unevenly, I'd prefer to see what seems to me a more elegant solution, one based on expertise's old position as a mitigation stat. Since expertise reduced your chance to be parried, it reduced the chance the boss would parry-haste and hit you more often. So since hit reduces the chance you will be missed and expertise reduces the chance you will be dodged or parried, why not allow hit to also reduce the chance you will yourself be hit and allow expertise to add to your dodge and parry chance?
This could be accomplished in a number of ways. You could bake it into talents much as uncrittability was baked into various tanking talents; you could simply put it into the various tanking stances so that they automatically applied your hit and expertise to your miss and dodge and parry chances, or you could even have abilities that directly used hit and expertise to see how effective they are, à la the proposed Shield Block change. I like the idea of it being talent- or stance-based better, because it seems less punitive and more rewarding for the hit- and expertise-stacking tank. Balance would of course be an issue (expertise would have to have less defensive bang for the buck than dodge and parry currently do, as it also has an offensive bite they lack, for one example), but it's hardly insurmountable.
Heck, right now one race (night elves) have a flat 2% chance to be missed, a perfect tanking racial no one else can match. Making it so hit provides a form of that racial for every tank would go a long way toward making tanks like hit.
Next week, raid tanking.
Read: Cataclysm tanking, part 1
Read: Cataclysm tanking, part 2
At the center of the dury of battle stand the warriors: protection, arms and fury. Check out more strategies and tips especially for warriors, including Cataclysm 101 for DPS warriors, a guide to new reputation gear for warriors, and a look back at six years of warrior trends.