Ask the Devs Round 9 mitigates your tanking questions

Ask the Devs is back for Round 9, which deals with the most awesome role in WoW ever -- tanking. Of course, coming from a tank, that might be a bit biased -- but deal with it, healers and DPSers. I've got creatures to keep from punching you in your squishy little faces.

Of note this time around is Blizzard's tough time dealing with tanks wanting threat stats (hit and expertise) and the current struggle with making it work. Currently, in cutting-edge content, threat stats are pretty good for initial aggro, but over time, Vengeance does its job admirably and keeps bosses on tanks with relative ease. I think that design decision is hitting the sweet spot, but it begs the question of why even have the threat stats in the first place?

Blizzard also discussed the mastery bonuses for each tank. The devs feel that death knights and druids are doing pretty well, all things considered, and that paladins and warriors have a similar problem in "capping" mastery, but that paladins are more susceptible to problems. There is still the sentiment in the community that Blizzard needs to add its own visual threat meters or some type of aggro status, but there is a reluctance on Blizzard's part to clutter up its own default UI -- understandable, but this may potentially be a part of Blizzard's forthcoming (but not discussed) "how to tank" solution.

Buried in this discussion, however, was a little tidbit about patch 4.3. Blizzard states that the design for the patch 4.2 legendary, Dragonwrath, has wide appeal to a number of staff-wielding ranged DPS classes. However, it then mentions the "patch 4.3 legendary" and its more narrow appeal. Will we be seeing a tanking legendary in the near future, or potentially another healer item? We do know for sure that it will not be as widespread, class-wise, as Dragonwrath, so we can only sit back and assume. What is interesting, though, is that patch 4.3 also looks to be a raid tier and not a patch 4.1-style dungeon content update. Could patch 4.3 be bringing us the War of the Ancients raid that we have been eagerly anticipating, especially with the return of Nozdormu and his crazy time antics? Only time (heh) will tell.

Also, don't expect a new tanking class any time soon. Hit the jump for the full question and answer session.


Q: Vengeance is a great tool to help raid tanks hold aggro over DPS, but in 5-man heroics it doesn't stack high enough to keep up with the threat generated by overgeared DPS burst damage. Are there any plans to address this? Are there any plans to help warriors put out more initial threat before Vengeance has been ramped up? – Nikelsndimes (NA), Cémanana (EU-FR), Arthur (TW), Mancake (NA), Migol (NA)

A: We think Vengeance works well overall. It provides sufficient threat without causing the tank to do more DPS than the dedicated DPS characters, and doesn't let the tank just neglect abilities that cause threat. A full stack of Vengeance probably provides too much threat, but we didn't think it was necessary to nerf that mid-expansion. Overall, we don't want tanks to have 100% guaranteed threat on a pull, so we don't want to buff that aspect of Vengeance, but we also don't want DPS specs to constantly have to throttle the DPS they can deliver midway through a fight, so we have to strike a balance.

Note: There are fights with tank swaps or incoming adds, or similar mechanics, when threat may matter mid-fight. This is intended – encounter design varies widely.


Q: Have you considered normalizing initial Rage for feral druid tanks? For example, when a warrior uses Charge, it generates 15 points of Rage, which lets them use another aggro generating ability quickly, something that Feral druids tend to be a bit short on. Why in Cataclysm was the bear bonus health pool was reduced, as well? Their survivability always depended on the amount of health since they don't have parry or shield block. Do you have any plans to improve bear tanking in the future? At the moment, it's considered to be the weakest tank. Have you considered giving druid tanks an additional tool to pull casters at range? It's the only tank class that doesn't have a talent or spell to help in those situations. – Pødêrøsø (LA), ????? (EU-RU), ?????? (EU-RU), Condenacion (EU-ES), Whitewnd (KR)

A: Bears are getting a significant mitigation buff in 4.2 and we're retuning their damage such that it's a little easier to hold aggro at low gear levels, and a little harder at higher gear levels. While we definitely don't expect the community to ever agree on anything, we've seen little evidence of a widespread concurrence that druids are "the weakest tank." There are plenty of druid tanks out there, handling everything from Grim Batol to Sinestra. Tank balance overall is in a really good place. Players may focus on potential problems that could arise in the future but we also have ample time to address those problems should they occur. Gone are the days when we would just release a class into the wild and refuse to touch it again until the next expansion.


Q: What are your intentions with each tank's mastery and mastery in general? – Migol (NA)

A: Mastery is intended to be a defensive stat for tanks. We want it to be at least in the same ballpark of value per rating as avoidance. To go into a bit more depth on each tank:

Death Knights: We're pretty happy with how mastery has turned out. It does have the oddity that it scales down in value with your mitigation, but also up in value with your health. But it does indeed scale up pretty smoothly in value, and doesn't have any unintuitive breakpoints or anything, so we're happy with it.

Druids: We're pretty happy with how mastery has turned out. It scales well, doesn't have any unintuitive or unfortunate interactions with other stats, and provides solid performance value.

Paladins: Mastery is an attractive stat for paladins, but has some design problems. It scales very well, but due to the nature of our combat tables (and being able to "fill them up"), you can get "block capped," which is a massive performance benefit. Worse, Protection mastery scales with itself, since there are no diminishing returns on block chance, and the amount of rating you need to block cap goes down as your dodge and parry improve, allowing you to put even more of your stats into dodge or parry. This sort of feedback loop is something we always try to stay away from, so we plan to change this in the future. We tried several alternatives for 4.2, but weren't happy with the results. Any change which made mastery weaker (such as subjecting block to diminishing returns or changing what it does) would have required mitigation compensation for paladins elsewhere (with all the design risks inherent in making such changes), as well as asking many players to extensively re-gem or re-forge. We'll ask players to do that when the need is great, but we didn't think this problem crossed that line. The major risks are that Protection paladins become too powerful or too weak or that gear with mastery will at some point be rejected once characters are over the cap. We don't think any of those problems will manifest themselves in the 4.2 content.

Warriors: Warriors' mastery is in a similar boat as paladins', except that it still provides a notable benefit past the cap and scales much slower, making it much more difficult to "block cap." That delays, but doesn't remove the problem.


Q: Will we see a tanking Legendary sometime soon? – Pedoso (NA)

A: The tanking community both loves and hates when this question comes up, but it received a lot of votes, so we'll answer it. The answer is not soon, but probably eventually. The problem with tanking legendaries, of course, is that the shield-users and non-shield-users tank with different weapons. That's not a deal breaker, but it is a consideration. We could allow the legendary to be transformed from a one-hander to two-hander or we could just design an item for a more narrow audience (such as a shield). The 4.2 legendary has fairly wide appeal, and the 4.3 legendary will have much more narrow appeal. We don't want to fall into the trap of making legendaries too formulaic.


Q: Are there any plans to teach players in-game how to tank when they are at an early stage, or at least at some point in the leveling process? – Romner (EU-EN)

A: A system to teach players how we intend for them to perform their roles is something we realize we're lacking. We have some pretty cool plans to help solve this problem in the future, but we're not quite ready to make any announcements, and Ask the Devs just wouldn't be the appropriate venue anyway.


Q: Do you plan to bring other tanks to the same level as Death Knights who have a lot of advantages over other tanking classes (easier to heal, quite a number of various safe abilities, etc.)? - ???????? (EU-RU)

A: Death knights are a somewhat different style of tank compared to the others. They take significantly more damage than other tanks, but then heal/shield that extra damage back instead (and sometimes more). Due to taking more damage, and that damage coming in spikes, they're also the most likely to die to unexpected burst (such as when they don't have runes up to Death Strike, have no cooldowns available, and fail to dodge or parry a few attacks in a row. They also have more personal impact on their own survivability and mitigation than any other tank, by tying much of their performance to Death Strike (and especially optimally timing their Death Strikes). So in the hands of a really skilled player, they can do some amazing things, but not usually much better than the other tanks. We'd actually like to head more in that direction with the other tanks (making them tie more of their defensive performance to their ability usage), in the future.


Q: Is there any chance that we can see damage reduction numbers being used in the statistic UI, just like shield absorb amount of Discipline priest? – ???? (TW)

A: The default UI should show the damage reduction from armor against a creature of equal level. We'll look into also showing the damage reduction against a +1, +2, +3/boss-level mob, like we do for hit or expertise. Beyond that, there is typically passive damage reduction from talents/stance/presence/etc., which should be relatively easy to combine with armor to find your damage reduction.


Q: Have you ever considered adjusting DPS HP? Seems that while their large pools of health help them on "accidental" situations, a fair portion of the time they can take aggro and tank adds without consequence. – Jainel (LA)

A: We're generally happy with how well DPS are able to tank (which is to say, not very well). We like that they can take a hit or two (depending upon content) before dying, and that the penalty for that happening is a huge drain on healer mana.


Q: As far as I remember, about five tanks were required in a 25-man group in Burning Crusade. However, the number of tanks in raids has been decreased to one or two since WotLK. I think this is one of the reasons heroic parties suffer from lack of tanks. What if raids have required more tanks? – ????? (KR)

A: We don't actually recall many four+ tank fights in Burning Crusade, and that includes fights like High King Maulgar where non-tanks could perform the tanking role. While we do find some elegance in a design where a 5-player group scales perfectly up to a 10 and 25-player group, that introduces some problems as well. It could potentially extend the tank shortage we see in 5-player dungeons up to raids (to be fair, it's also possible needing more tanks for raiding would create more tanks for dungeons). A larger problem is that we just don't want to over-constrain encounter design to always require 4 or 5 tanks. Sometimes it's nice to have a fight that's just a single bruiser without requiring a tank swap or meteor-style cleave. Nearly every raid fight in Cataclysm asks for two tank-specced characters, with a few requiring one or three. That's likely the model we will continue to use. If we wanted to do a fight with many tanks, we'd likely let some of the DPS specs step in.


Q:Are there any plans to update the leg armor in 4.2 now that the plate tanks receive no dodge from agility? Maybe introduce a new leg armor patch that adds str/stamina, or a mastery/stamina? – Dariok (NA), Fredik (EU-ES)

A: We did. As you've probably seen by now, it's called Drakehide Leg Armor, and it provides Stamina and dodge rating.


Q: Can you make it so that taunt doesn't miss, just like you did for interrupt abilities? Doesn't feel as though it would be a complete upset to overall balance. – Madmartygan (LA)
A: Yes, absolutely! And in fact we did it back in patch 3.9. Tank classes' taunts have been unable to miss since then. We recognize that tanks will nearly always choose mitigation stats over threat stats and it's particularly frustrating to have to reach a hit cap just to make sure taunts or interrupts don't miss, which is why we no longer require that.


Q: Are there any plans to simplify the impossible situation for tanks (8% hit rating, 26 Expertise but all defensive stats at max at the same time) somehow, either through stats on gear or through changes to the game mechanics? Have you considered giving tools to tanks to allow easier capping of hit and expertise to help with threat management? – Sunyara (EU-DE), Gilbey (EU-ES)

A: We don't currently balance around the assumption that tanks cap hit or expertise. We're definitely looking at ways to make reliably hitting more attractive to tanks in the future, though. Currently, missing is just a compound to the issue discussed in Question #1. Getting tanks to care about threat stats, not for the threat benefit (but for a mitigation benefit), is one potential direction. For example, DKs want to make sure their Death Strikes hit because of the mitigation benefit. Druids care about crit because of Savage Defense. We speculated at one point that we could make Shield Block (and now Holy Shield) require a successful hit to do their jobs. We're not sure we will go that direction, but it's one idea. We would of course compensate tanks for any potential loss of predictable mitigation.


Q: Compared to DKs, Paladins are weaker when facing mass magic attacks. A Paladin has no choice but to stack stamina in this situation. Is there any change coming to this for Paladins? – ???? (TW)

A: We don't balance tanks around their sustained magic damage reduction, since we don't typically assault tanks with continuous magic damage. We do frequently intersperse physical damage with a burst of magic damage, usually timed around the cooldowns that all tanks have available, and find that that is balanced. If we ever did a fight like Hydross again where there is almost no physical damage, we'd have to explore some other options.


Q: At the moment, tanks need to use addons to see threat levels and clearly see which mobs they have aggro with. With all the recent changes and updates being made to the UI, are there any plans to make seeing threat levels and aggro easier and clearer? – Castan (EU-EN)

A: We'd definitely like to build threat into the UI more, especially for tanks and for multiple targets. We try to keep our default UI relatively unobtrusive so that players can see the actual battlefield, but we realize this design goal can come into conflict with players' need or desire to have copious amounts of information displayed. Finding the right compromise is something we wrestle with constantly and one reason why our UI changes tend to come more slowly than, say, class design changes.


Q: Protection Paladin is not only the most desired tank because survival abilities for groups and various utilities, but players also generally consider Paladins as an indispensable Class in raids. I know all tanking Classes are being equalized constantly, but survival abilities of Protection Paladins give huge advantages compared to other tanking Classes. Can we expect that other Tanking classes will see more survival abilities for groups in terms of equity? – ????? (KR)

A: Like druids, paladins have the enormous benefit of being able to fill all three roles in a group. Paladins also retain a wide variety of buff and utility abilities from vanilla when they (and shaman) were more of a support class that was intended to have low individual throughput but made other classes in the group shine. We have been slowly moving away from that design in our effort to avoid class stacking and support the "bring the player, not the class" philosophy, but it's hard to move quickly on changes like this. (As one small example, we briefly removed Lay on Hands during Cataclysm development, and there was an outcry even from within the team.) Because they can fill many roles and still provide a lot of utility, it's not surprising that you see a lot of druids and paladins in your raid groups. We've tried very hard to not make any particular tank class mandatory, and we feel we've been pretty successful in Cataclysm. So far we haven't seen an encounter like Sartharion or Anub'arak where a certain tank class was perceived, probably accurately, as necessary for progression.

Protection paladins do bring a lot of utility, but it is quite difficult to make a table comparing a paladin's Divine Guardian to a Protection warrior's mobility or a bear druid's ability to cast Innervate or even Rebirth during lulls in an encounter. They are fundamentally different abilities that have greater or less utility depending on the encounter and your individual raid comp. We don't want to just hand out a Divine Guardian equivalent to every tank class, just like we don't think warriors or paladins need the ability to battle rez. It's a fine line to walk. Homogenization really rankles some players (as it should), but being unable to tank (or heal, or DPS) an encounter because of lack of tools is equally unacceptable to many players.


Q: Is there any plan to add a new tank class in the future? I think spell breaker in the Warcraft III is an awesome choice for that! – ??? (TW)
A: We'll add new classes when the time is right. We don't see WoW as a game that can support unlimited different class types (and the different talent specs almost behave as full classes these days!), so we want to be judicious about when we add classes. One of the challenges with tanks (and other roles) especially, is this: on the one hand, there is a core set of abilities that any tank needs in order to perform their job, especially in a 5-player dungeon where you can't rely on other players in the same role to help cover your deficiencies. On the other hand, having so many similar abilities (e.g. a taunt, a short cooldown, an efficient heal) necessitates a certain amount of homogeneity among those classes. But what players (and designers!) really want in a new class is something exciting that no one has seen before. Adding another class that tanked just like a warrior wouldn't add much to the game – it wouldn't drive many new tanks or encourage a veteran tank to try a different tanking class. On the other hand, adding the death knight, who tanks relatively differently (though some players might argue still not differently enough) was an enormous challenge and the kind of thing we continue to tweak over time.

Check out our coverage of the previous Ask the Devs Q&A sessions:

The news is already rolling out for the upcoming WoW Patch 4.2! Preview the new Firelands raid, marvel at the new legendary staff, and get the inside scoop on new quest hubs -- plus new Tier 12 armor!