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The Care and Feeding of Warriors: How to get hit in the face

Matthew Rossi

The Care and Feeding of Warriors is our weekly column about pie baking competitions. No, no, I'm just kidding you, it's about warriors, be their tanky or DPS. Matthew Rossi is feeling fine after a solid month of near continuous beatings from various creatures, constructs and undead beetles.

One of the interesting things about being a raiding tank again after about a year of DPS is how you come to enjoy being hit in the face. Or wherever they're hitting you, really... tonight I spent a lot of time using Spell Reflection to keep a giant robot head angry at me while the floor erupted in flames all around. That treacherous floor, always erupting in flames when you stand on it. Quite honestly, at this point it's really all I expect from the floor. If it's not on fire or seething void energies then icicles are falling down on it or there's paralytic poison or it just plain disintegrates and I plummet into a subterranean lair.

As I've relearned tanking (since not only do we have a lot more tricks than when I was last tanking in raids, but there's a whole different skillset when tanking for 9 or 24 other people compared to 4 other people) I've had a lot of discussions not only with tanks of other classes, but also with warrior tanks from other groups, since I'm the only raiding warrior tank in my current guild. So now seems like as good a time as any to discuss what's going on in tanking.

If you've been paying attention to the 3.3 PTR patch notes you've noticed that there's little direct change for warriors, tanking or otherwise. However, there are some nice little bits of change coming in.

  • Taunt Diminishing Returns: We've revised the system for diminishing returns on Taunt so that creatures do not become immune to Taunt until after 5 Taunts have landed. The duration of the Taunt effect will be reduced by 35% instead of 50% for each taunt landed. In addition, most creatures in the world will not be affected by Taunt diminishing returns at all. Creatures will only have Taunt diminishing returns if they have been specifically flagged for that behavior based on the design of a given encounter.
If you've ever been trying to get aggro on a really reluctant mob (say, a floating robot head that you have to use taunt and spell reflect and the occasional heroic throw to grab in the first place) while DPS just go buck wild and wonder why they're pulling aggro, this is a welcome change. It will also make taunt trade-off easier, as anyone who's ever had to use taunt to switch a mob onto themself (adds on Yogg, Gormok) knows how bad it hurts to see that 'immune' floating over their heads.

In general, however, warriors are seeing almost no changes to their tanking abilities, outside of Damage Shield getting tweaked to no longer trigger chance on hit abilities for the warrior or anyone hitting him or her. And that's probably fine. Warriors are pretty solid tanks right now.

I am not saying that there's no room for improvement or that there aren't things I'd like to see added for warriors. For starters, I'd like it if we didn't have to use two glyph slots to have equivalent cooldowns to Death Knights. Having two of my three major glyphs spoken for is kind of annoying. Now, they're nice glyphs... I can't imagine not having the Glyph of Last Stand and the Glyph of Shield Wall and saying I was serious about tanking... but it does leave me feeling as though I really only have one major glyph slot to play with and a lot of major glyphs I'd like to be using. (At present, due to TotC 25 gear being somewhat lower on hit than I like, I'm switching between the Glyph of Taunt and Glyph of Vigilance on a per fight basis.)

I also still feel that warrior AoE threat is second rate if only due to the combination of needing to wait for rage and having long cooldowns on our AoE threat abilities. Now, the Glyph of Vigilance does help with this to some extent (especially if you have Vig on a healer with high threat or an AoE DPSer) and there's no denying that both Thunder Clap and Shockwave are very solid AoE tools. You can even use Cleave to help out (I have two Devastate macros, one that hits Heroic Strike every time I use it and another that lights up Cleave, using each macro as the situation seems to warrant) but something I'd really like to see is to finally do away with the last holdover from the days of Retaliation, Recklessness and Shield Wall being linked long cooldown abilities. Frankly, Retaliation is a great AoE tanking ability and the only real down side to it at present is having to switch stances twice to use it. I wouldn't mind so much except it really does nothing useful for Arms or Fury spec warriors in instances or raids. Yes, it's a nice "Aaagh I pulled way too many mobs" button while soloing. But if you simply allow Retaliation to be used in Defensive Stance (either via a talent or glyph or just letting that old restriction go) you've got a nice tool for AoE tanking. At present I generally use Challenging Shout - Ret - Shield Block as fast as I can if an AoE pull goes bad, to get them back on me and get as much threat to them as possible.

Warriors in general suffer most from AoE threat issues when they're too focused on Avoidance/Mitigation/Effective Health over threat stats anyway. Part of this is a design issue, frankly. I've said it before and I'll say it again, it's not feasible for warrior tanks to gear with the hit and high strength for AP to really put out big Thunder Clap/Cleave threat when we're taking in the age of 27k hits. My tanking sets vary greatly depending on what I'm doing. I have a very high hit/block value set for AoE threat from Damage Shield as well as solid single target threat from Shield Slam that I wear in most five mans... it sacrifices close to 4k health unbuffed (I run in raids in a tank set that's close to 41k health unbuffed, my heroics set is slightly under 36k) to add much more hit rating, block value and raw AP. I find that no, my AoE threat isn't much of an issue in heroics even with crazy DPS who have no idea how to wait for threat, but there's no way I could wear this set in TotC (and really, aside from Anub adds where I wear a block rating set that pushes passive unhittable, there's not much trash to be had in TotC 25 anyway) or even Ulduar.

I'm actually kind of hoping that Chill of the Throne really will end up with a design ethos that has bosses hitting more often but for less damage, because then a block set would actually be useful. You wouldn't want to go nuts lowering your health to ridiculous levels trying to push block rating and block value, but you could design a set of gear that didn't just push effective health past all other concerns and actually wear some gear designed around threat as well.

I judged warrior tanks as being the second best tanks at everything a while back, and I'd argue that's still the case. But the margin is so small now that judging who the best tank is at anything ends up in a quagmire debate between tanks that really, ultimately, gets you nowhere. It actually might be the case that right now, being a sure thing for almost the best at any possible tanking job is the right place to be. It gives warrior tanks a touch of the old catbird seat: you can spend hours trying to decide which tank is the absolute, down to the smallest margin best candidate, or you can just have the warrior tank it and save yourself all that time and effort.

Check out more strategies, tips and leveling guides for Warriors in Matthew Rossi's weekly class column: The Care and Feeding of Warriors.

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