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The Care and Feeding of Warriors: Speculation on tanking design

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. And yes, if transmogging went live tomorrow, that would be what he would look like in raids.

Last week, I talked about new warrior tanks at level 85 and promised this week to talk about what a new 85 tank can do to increase his or her threat. This week, Blizzard increased all tank threat significantly. The increase is so significant, in fact, that I don't see any real benefit to writing what I was going to write. If you were having trouble holding threat, I can't imagine you are now. Even if as a tank you do less than 6k DPS, that 6k DPS will become 30,000 threat per second, which will require your DPSers to put out 33k DPS sustained to pull threat off of you. Some 8-10k tanking DPS, which is what I usually see in most PUGs, will require between 44-55k DPS to pull threat.

In short, I expect to see threat issues marginalized to the point of absurdity. With tanking heading toward the active mitigation model currently used by death knight tanks, it's probably the best time we could possibly have during an expansion's life cycle to contemplate sweeping changes. The issue I have with that is, frankly, protection warriors are probably the best-designed tanks in terms of toolkit and involvement. Prot warriors are a strong leveling spec, good at their primary role, and have a well-designed suite of abilities for just about any contingency. I neither wish to see them become more or less than they are now. So how, with active mitigation about to roll out as a concept, should warriors change? What follows are some of my ideas, because I love to speculate about this class.

Frankly, protection is such a well-designed spec in terms of overall ability that I really fear what the active mitigation approach might do to it.This isn't to say that Blizzard isn't capable of redesigning it to work well with that approach. After all, Blizzard designed it in the first case. But frankly, I've had a dream since the 2009 warrior Q&A, a dream Blizzard planted in my mind and which I haven't been able to shake. If you'd asked me a month ago if my dream was a possibility, I would have said no, that it flew in the face of current tanking design.

Clearly, that's no excuse. Blizzard has proved it'll abandon tanking design that it doesn't think works for the current game. So I think it's time to revisit this idea from the Q&A: With the death knight, we allowed all three trees to more or less be able to tank. There is a desire among some players and designers to see Arms tank with a two-hander while Prot tanks with a shield. We're still not sure that's the direction we'll go -- it's a ton of re-design and will never work for say the druid or paladin classes.

It's true enough that it wouldn't work with the druid or paladin classes, but those classes have broader appeal with their ability to heal, DPS or tank anyway. Allowing the three warrior specs to all have some tanking viability would not only allow designers to design around different active mitigation styles, it would allow warriors who don't like the shield and weapon design of the protection warrior to perform the desired role of group tank without limiting them to the singular aesthetic and approach of the protection warrior. An arms warrior with a two-handed weapon or an SMF warrior with two fast one-handers or even a TG warrior with a two-handed weapon and a shield can all be imagined as tanks with this approach in mind.

How would you make it work? Well, for starters, we'd have to make another, even more sweeping change to how the various tanking stances, presences, forms or what have you work. Currently, they all provide increased threat. (Each currently provides five times the threat that the tank puts out as DPS, in fact). What would be needed for across-the-board warrior tanking viability would be for Defensive Stance to also provide critical hit immunity, an ability currently provided by talents, or for critical hit immunity to be removed entirely from tanks.

That would be a huge change, of course, and it would mean that tanks would take more and spikier damage, which on the face of it is not at all desirable. If you asked any serious raiding tank if he wanted to take critical hits, he'd tell you no, no he does not. The problem with allowing critical hit removal to be attached to a talent is two-fold. The first is that it makes that talent required. No tank is going to not take Bastion of Defense or the equivalent. The addition of the chance to enrage on that talent is purely to sugarcoat the medicine, nice though the sugarcoating may be.

Now, imagine an active mitigation model where you want to encourage tanks to actively reduce their incoming damage. In such a model, allowing critical hits to tanks serves as incentive. In essence, in order to prevent an active mitigation system from devolving into using the same ability over and over again, especially with threat almost not even an issue, you need to provide the tanks with either more than one way to mitigate damage (in which case, the tanks will always prefer the method that mitigates the most overall damage whenever possible), or you provide the tanks with more than one kind of mitigation. If you make critical hit removal wholly active rather than making it a passive talent, tanks will have to decide, "Is taking 10% more damage over the course of the fight better than taking less overall damage but letting myself take a critical hit now and again?" Incorporating critical hit reduction into an active mitigation system not only makes for another level of mitigation in the system, it allows for off-spec tanking to return to viability for tank/DPS-only hybrid tanks.

From here, each spec could be designed so that Defensive Stance changes the way their main offensive abilities function. An arms warrior in Defensive could easily have Mortal Strike serve to not only debuff the healing on who it hits, but also to increase the arms warrior's parry (easily justified as the powerful attack leaving the warrior's weapon in a good position to parry incoming attacks), while Overpower could add to the warrior's ability to dodge out of the way of an attack. A fury warrior in Defensive Stance could use Bloodthirst to increase his or her own incoming healing, while Raging Blow increases damage resistance due to the furious nature of the warrior's aggressive attack. If all this left the protection warrior still the most viable tanking class for the hardest levels of progression, that would be fine; the goal would be to give the class more viability to tank 5-man content and keep the Dungeon Finder flowing by not forcing arms and/or fury warriors to spec protection to tank at 85.

Despite the design difficulties in designing classes to be able to perform as either tank or DPS in all three of their specs, I believe it's a worthwhile and elegant goal and one that should be attempted again. Even going for simply making DPS specs viable, and not equivalent, could go a long way toward alleviating tanking/DPS/healing disparity, while allowing the protection tree to remain the well-designed tree it currently is. And I firmly believe that removing passive critical hit resistance is the key towards not only designing viable 5-man off-tanking for arms and fury but also crucial for giving depth to an active mitigation system. If not critical hit, then some other form of distinction that makes mitigation choices more interesting than "Do I use my mitigation ability or not?" must be introduced.

Next week, unless Blizzard suddenly comes out with an entirely new rage mechanic (which it could, for all I know), we'll switch gears to PVP. Is fury PVP viable? (My experience this past week says yes.)

At the center of the fury 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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