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The Care and Feeding of Warriors: Stat stacking for tanks

Matthew Rossi

Every week, WoW Insider brings you The Care and Feeding of Warriors, the column dedicated to arms, fury and protection warriors. Despite repeated blows to the head from dragons, demons, Old Gods and whatever that thing over there was, Matthew Rossi will be your host.

One of the things that most Wrath-era tanks learned early was to stack stamina. It was a no-brainer. We were taking massive, massive damage on every boss fight. In the Naxx era, a 30k-health warrior tank was doing decently and could expect to take a 23k hit back to back on certain fights. It only got worse going into Ulduar, then Trial, and finally ICC. Tank health went up, and so too did the amount of damage the tank was expected to soak. Cooldown use became so critical that the time cooldowns took to recharge decreased dramatically. Fights like Sartharion (especially with three drakes up), Mimiron, the Beasts of Northrend and Deathbringer Saurfang (just to name a few) saw tanks being expected to come up with ways to stay alive from monstrous, unavoidable damage. Stamina and armor became two of the most popular means to that end, but armor could only mitigate physical damage, while stamina worked on everything, even the huge magical blasts of damage that ignored armor and all other avoidance or mitigation strategies.

Stamina was king in Wrath.

The more I think about it, though, the more I think that king has been dethroned.

The maimed man cannot be king

It's not that I think stamina has suddenly become a bad stat or that tanks won't want it. It's that I think the new paradigm for healing in Cataclysm means that stacking too much stamina becomes counterproductive. There are two reasons for my thoughts on this matter. The first is the emphasis on making threat and threat statistics matter, and the second is the triage method of healing so often mentioned and emphasized in discussions of healing in this expansion.

Making threat matter means many things. Yesterday's discussion of threat and threat mechanics discussed it in detail, and one of the things mentioned is that threat must be generated. Threat is something you should be working to make happen, not a passive thing. Monsters attack you because you do the right things to get their attention.

Ghostcrawler - Threat Needs to Matter

If threat generation is too easy then the entire risk of the encounter drops. Newsflash: we don't actually want encounters to be easy. We want encounters to be fun, and for most players, that includes both rewards and risks.

We want tanks to care about the buttons they hit instead of just relying on auto-attacking to control their target. We don't necessarily want very complicated tank DPS rotations, because as I mentioned above, tanks do have other things to keep track of. But we want their combat abilities to be engaging. Good tanks should be those who control, survive, and generate sufficient threat.

One of the things that a good tank does to generate that sufficient threat is to gear for it. There's a reason the two stats most often mentioned as "threat stats" are also DPS stats. We call hit and expertise our threat stats because in order to generate threat -- in order to threaten a mob or boss -- we must hit it. Conceptually, in order to make the things we seek to engage stay focused on us, our attacks must not miss. They must not be dodged. They must not be parried. Every attack you make that is ineffectual does not merely fail to damage your enemy; it fails to make the mob take you seriously as a threat when there are three other people in the room setting it on fire, stabbing it, bludgeoning it or what have you. And it takes a great deal to keep a mob from noticing that his or her attempts to kill you are being foiled by that nice goblin in a kilt over to the side.

In Cataclysm more than ever, tanks are going to need to focus on stats that generate threat, not just hit and expertise. It's not enough that your attacks connect and are not evaded; your attacks have to generate some damage. Yes, Vengeance exists in part to address this issue, but it's not the whole story. As a tank, you should at the very least be considering strength once you are at the 8 percent hit target and around 26 expertise. Crit and haste may be asking too much, considering your defensive needs, but in a world where threat matters (and needs to matter), then you have to gear for it.

OK, you may be saying, so I'll gear for threat, but that's not really going to take up that much of my stat budget; there's strength on most tanking gear anyway, has been since Wrath. Even if I use strength gems in my red sockets alongside expertise and put hit gems in some of my blue, there's still room to gem and enchant for straight stamina or health. Why shouldn't I do just that?

Be a hammer crushing your enemies, not a bucket

The difficulty here comes from the same issue our druid cousins have long known about in terms of giant health pools. Sometimes, all that stamina, all that health, just becomes a bigger bucket to dump healer mana into. Consider that a tank starting in heroics in ilevel 333 blues can easily be around 125k to 130k health, and it's not hard at all to be between 140k and 150k health in ilvl359 epics. Generally speaking, bosses are not hitting for 65 to 70k bursts, consistently forcing you to dump all of your most powerful heals in order to keep tanks alive. This isn't Wrath, when the big challenge to healers came in forcing them to drop powerful bombs of healing onto a high-stamina tank target to keep his health full so that the boss didn't one-shot him.

Cataclysm heroics involve a lot more triage, forcing healers to decide if they should heal with a big heal or a small heal and if the tank needs a heal right now or if he or she can wait until the DPS is healed. Damage occurs more by attrition, spread out more among the group and less slammed down on the tank constantly.

The goal, the stated intention of a Cataclysm heroic, is to force the group into a situation in which victory feels like a hard-earned consequence of good choices from tanks, healers and even DPS to lower and minimize how much damage they take as well as raise and maximize how much damage they do. Standing in the fire rather than moving out of it should hurt, maybe even kill you. In this situation, when tanks may go extended periods without a heal, having an extra 10k health isn't nearly as important as not taking the damage that would force a heal and use up healer mana. Dodge, parry and the Critical Block mastery loom larger in such a scenario, because they are mana conservation statistics rather than soak ones that eat damage.

Fast and hard, not slow and ponderous

In short, when gearing your tank, stacking stamina to the exclusion of all else might sound like the best strategy, because as we stated before, stamina works on everything and dodge, parry, block and armor only work on physical damage. But once you've reached a certain sufficiency of stamina that you can stay alive long enough to be healed again, anything else may be overkill. At best, it doesn't really benefit you to have 175k health if you will never be at maximum health and will never take more than 40k health in a single global, as an example. At worst, you're giving healers a big bucket to waste time healing up when other people may actually need the healing more if you're going to survive to kill the boss or handle the trash.

Combining these two changes in paradigm gives us a situation in which you may simply not want to stack stamina. If you need to make sure your threat informs your gearing, gemming and enchanting, while at the same time wanting to focus on avoidance and mitigation in order to avoid as much damage as you possibly can, then stamina perhaps ends up as a detour. In the new, mana-conscious, threat-concerned world of Cataclysm tanking, it may be better to be an aggressive, hard-striking hit-and-run target that's harder to hit than a large, lumbering one that forces the expenditure of resources rather than avoiding the need. With specialization bonuses like Sentinel and with tanking gear having the same stamina as DPS plate anyway, we could be needing to rethink what kind of tanks we need to be.

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.

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