The Care and Feeding of Warriors: Mastery, threat decay and Cataclysm tanking

Matthew Rossi
M. Rossi|10.01.10

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The Care and Feeding of Warriors: Mastery, threat decay and Cataclysm tanking

The Care and Feeding of Warriors is about warriors, who hurl themselves into the fray, the very teeth of danger, armed with nothing more than the biggest weapons and armored with the absolutely heaviest armor we can find. Hey, we're not stupid -- we're just crazy.

Last week we talked about tanking and Cataclysm beta patch 13033, which was superseded almost immediately by patch 13066. Hard upon the heels of that comes patch 13117. If there's one thing I'm sure of, it's that there will be more beta patches that will bring with them more mechanical changes to the class. But I wanted to take this time to cover a couple of interesting recent posts about the way the class is shaping up.

We'll cover the patch 13117 changes first, the move on.

Arms Obviously a nice little quality of life change but not a major dealmaker, I would think.

  • Slam now costs 20 rage, up from 15 rage.
  • Bloodthirst now restores 0.5% of max health, down from 1%.
I'm honestly not sure why these changes were made. I guess Bloodsurge was too easy to use? Or it's aimed at arms warriors using Improved Slam in their builds. The Bloodthirst change must be aimed at Field Dressing making it too good.

Not much to say, other than it's a welcome buff. More would be better, as initial threat is still somewhat wonky (once Vengeance stacks up, it's not a concern, but the initial seconds of a pull can be rough for a warrior without Bloodrage, shouts just aren't making up for the loss of that ability) especially if trying to hold more than one.

Incoming damage taxes us

First up, from a discussion of how mastery was shaping up to be pretty underwhelming for both prot warriors and paladins (you'll remember I said that a few weeks ago), we have this response, which I found very interesting.

Ghostcrawler - Re: Paladin/Warrior Mastery Undertuned

Increasing the value per point of mastery for paladins or warriors is not hard to do. Likewise, we might shift more of the warrior mastery between block and critical block because of the value of Shield Block.

I'm also not sure we're that worried about paladins (or anyone) blocking, dodging or parrying every hit. That isn't the game breaking scenario that it used to be. If in later tiers of gear you manage to do it, probably by giving up on other stats, I'm not sure it's a huge danger. Sixty percent of damage is still a lot and none of those stats help with magic damage. In a world where two back to back normal hits could kill you, it would be a lot more valuable. In Cataclysm, it might just translate to healer mana savings. We'll keep an eye on it of course.

We did change parry to scale from Strength.

I have to agree that the protection mastery is fairly undertuned. Applying more of it to Critical Block (so that you have a higher chance of blocking for more) is a good idea, in my opinion, and would keep the mastery attractive without really making it overly so.

It is interesting to me that there still seems to be a sense that one or two big, back-to-back hits won't kill you. Frankly, this didn't jibe with my experience tanking heroics. At least as heroics are currently tuned, going into a heroic dungeon in the gear that you are allowed to queue in (ilevel 329 blue gear) means that some mobs absolutely will hit you hard enough to kill you in two swings without proactive cooldown usage. Not every mob will do this, of course, but some absolutely will. This implies a few potential things, to my mind.
  1. Heroics will be tuned slightly less aggressively when Cataclysm is released. When I say "slightly," what I mean is that I expect the biggest non-boss hit to be around half your health (100k in the blue gear I had available).
  2. It's also possible that heroics will in fact not be tuned less aggressively, because we'll be expected to have new gems, new enchants and so on to help give us, as tanks, more of a cushion. If I'd had around 120k health, two hits would have left me at 11k, and the mobs that do the big burst physical damage tend to swing slowly. I think it's fair to expect a heal within 8 seconds of taking damage, meaning that with 120k health I'd have at least 12 seconds before a big swinger doing 60k damage per hit could kill me. That should be enough time.
  3. Damage will be a lot less streaky. When crushing blows were removed from the raid/heroic level in Wrath, Allison Roberts noted for us that big-damage magic attacks were the new crushing blows. Furthermore, they were crushing blows that couldn't be pushed off of the attack table by any means. All that could be done was to use cooldowns to weather them. As health pools and avoidance/mitigation climbed in Wrath, these enormous bursts of damage only got more enormous to compensate. Eventually, this model could not be sustained and we ended up with avoidance so high it made it almost impossible for bosses to physically hit some tanks, which led to one of two choices. Either magical blasts could hit the tank so hard she or he would die, or avoidance had to come down.

Ghostcrawler - Re: 4.0 Protection Paladin Feedback
As far as tank balance goes, in beta we found that DKs and Feral druids were taking less damage than paladins and warriors. This is partially because of the Sanctuary bug (where it just wasn't working). Beyond that, the avoidance of the former were just a lot higher. Druids get dodge and DKs get parry just from wearing Agi and Str respectively. Block tanks used to get a little mitigation from Strength, but it was never much, and that won't really work any longer with the new model. Solutions include letting Str affect parry (for everyone in the same way Agi provides dodge) or giving all plate users some kind of Forceful Deflection passive or talent.

Basically, we think that avoidance below 20% or so doesn't feel very good because you don't see it, and avoidance above around 70% or so breaks encounters and forces us to add "radiance" debuffs to raids.

What this means, clearly, is that Blizzard anticipates that in Cataclysm, we won't hit the 70 percent or higher avoidance numbers. Without such high avoidance, without mechanics that push damage entirely away (but instead cause it to deal less damage, mitigation over avoidance like the new block, in which 30 percent of the time you take 30 percent less damage), you'll never need to reach such high levels of avoidance. Hopefully this model will in fact work as intended going forward. A steady stream of incoming damage works as a tanking model with the new healing model so long as it's not steadily more than can be avoided, mitigated and healed at once.

Less streaky incoming damage with a more triage-style healing paradigm (and allowing warriors and paladins to get some parry from strength, to fix the tank balance issue above) will hopefully mean that mobs hitting for half your health per swing will only do so when it's within a good healer's means to keep that kind of damage under control and a good tank's means to reduce it in some way.

An exquisite threat corpse?

Another interesting post discussed threat decay, the proposed mechanic wherein threat generated would decay over time. We talked about it when it was first mentioned. What ended up happening with that?

Ghostcrawler - Re: Why was threat decay scrapped?
We scrapped it because we didn't think it was necessary and we wanted to focus on things we thought were necessary. We ended up changing threat modifiers quite a bit and getting rid of a lot of the threat management talents. Furthermore, Vengeance is keeping tank dps up pretty well in beta tests -- often 75% or higher of dps. Finally, it was causing a lot of concern among tanks. The intent was to make threat generation more engaging, ultimately to make tanking more fun. But I think we ended up changing so many aspects of tanking (large health pools so avoidance matters more, less AE tanking, mana mattering more, Vengeance, etc.) that changing threat on top of all of that just seemed to some* tanks to be that final straw that made Cataclysm tanking feel totally unfamiliar to them.

I'll be honest, threat decay is one of those concepts that I believe needs to be implemented very carefully. I understand the appeal to baking into the concept of tanking an idea that says, "You're not done tanking until the monster is dead." We've all seen those fights in which, for one reason or another, tanks quickly build a massive threat lead; for them, then, tanking is less about actively engaging the attention of the boss and more about just staying alive. A taunt trade fight, a fight where DPS has to switch off of a boss like Putricide -- these are fights in which tank threat can quickly become insurmountable and tanks can coast. I get why you wouldn't want that.

Rather than introduce a general threat decay mechanic, however, I think it's best to bake that kind of attrition into the fights themselves. Put in threat resets, make tanks switch off of bosses to tank other mobs so that they can't get complacent -- mechanics we're already familiar with. Especially since moves like Misdirection and Tricks of the Trade no longer provide threat handouts to tanks, you won't really need to include a static decay mechanism into the process to make tanks care about threat (at least, not motivated ones -- to be frank, I never care how much of a threat lead I have and I always work for more ... it's just part of my nature). However, if a threat decay mechanic were handled correctly and implemented in a way that made sure not to punish tanks for doing things like scanning the battlefield, then I think it could be a positive boon. Tanks should be working for threat, gearing for threat, thinking about threat. It should never even be feasible for a tank to say, "Threat's not an issue." That way leads to pets tanking bosses in progression content (remember Sartharion?), and that should never, ever happen.

I expect we'll see threat decay as an active, rather than passive, mechanic on specific fights to test out the concept in action. It's not hard to imagine a boss council fight where each boss has a steadily increasing threat decay mechanic (perhaps similar to Deathwhisper) that causes all threat generated by whoever has that debuff to fall off at the 20-second mark. This would lead to an inevitable threat loss, especially if said boss were not tauntable. Since Blizzard has expressed an interest in the idea of threat decay, expect this expansion to see multiple models of it tested in boss fights till the developers find one they really like.

Next week: Is Arms the most improved talent tree of the coming expansion?

Check out more strategies and tips for warriors of all specs in Matthew Rossi's weekly class column, The Care and Feeding of Warriors.
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