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The Care and Feeding of Warriors: Snapshots of tanking tomorrow

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.

There's been a lot of news about class balance lately. Not only did the devs do a live Q&A recently (here are the important -- that is, the warrior-related -- answers), but they've also been commenting and clarifying on the forums. There's a lot of interesting stuff to consider, and so here we go considering it and the ramifications it all brings or will bring. Here's just one example.

Daxxari - Mastery Raid Buff
Q: "Currently block is a superior mastery to Blood Shield and Savage Defense. Are there any plans to bring the masteries closer together?"

A: Yes, in 5.0. Block capping and mastery in general is currently too good for warriors and paladins. We think tank balance is close enough in 4.3 that dramatic overhauls could make matters worse. In 5.0 we will change things.

Right now, mastery is decent for arms, terrible for fury, and very solid for protection warriors. Apparently, it's too good for protection right now. While both paladins and warriors use block somewhat differently (Critical Block and Shield Block work together very well), it's pretty easy for either to get pretty high block. Since the active mitigation tanking model didn't manifest in time for patch 4.3, it seems likely that the mastery and block issue will be addressed when that rolls out. It's frustrating, but right now all we can do is wait and see.

Where we've already been

We'll try and look at the more interesting ideas from the thread now. Things we won't be looking at because they're simple answers or because we've covered them before:

  • Slam is going to be an arms-only ability. Wild Strike will replace it for fury warriors using Bloodsurge. Wild Strike will be an off-hand strike, no cast time, and Bloodsurge will allow you three cheap Wild Strikes on a reduced cooldown. Wild Strike has the MS debuff, replacing Furious Attacks in the fury tool kit.
  • Warriors will have a basic Throw ability and Heroic Throw. Whether or not we'll still have Shattering Throw didn't come up in the Q&A.
  • Both arms and protection will have access to Blood and Thunder.
  • Intercept will be gone in patch 5.0 because warriors will be able to charge in all three stances, making it superfluous.
Now that we've covered the frequently asked, let's move on to some interesting tidbits. Daxxari (who I always want to call Daxxam because I'm a huge fan of old Superman comic books and the Great Darkness Saga Legion of Super-Heroes story) explains exactly what's happening with the attack speed debuff and warriors.

Daxxari - Nastery Raid Buff

Q: "It also looks like the attack speed slow debuff is definitely going away, since feral tanks won't get Infected Wounds. We knew it might be, but it's more certain now."
A: This is a bit confusing, but bear with us. The attack speed debuff causes some technical problems on some encounters. However, we think Thunder Clap as an ability is more interesting than Demo Shout. The former does some damage, has a shorter range, has benefits aside from applying the debuff, etc. So our plan is to have Thunder Clap, Hammer of the Righteous, one of the DK diseases and Thrash apply the 10% physical damage debuff and remove Demo Shout and the like as well as the attack speed debuff. Creatures would just be balanced around their normal attack speeds.

I find this interesting on a lot of levels. For one, whether or not the attack speed debuff caused technical problems on encounters or not, for a lot of us it's been beaten into our heads over the years that you have to have it. Furthermore, swapping over the Demo Shout debuff and then getting rid of Demo is another one of those Buddhas being met on the road by a semi. We're really into sacred-cow-slaughtering territory when Demo Shout and Sunder Armor are getting booted off of the tanking bus.

I'm sure Blizzard can balance encounters around a reduced amount of tanking debuffs. It's more conceptual than anything else. Frankly, it's probably better if we're intending an active mitigation model to pare down some of the must-hit tanking abilities to make room for new ones. And with Blood and Thunder remaining a baseline protection ability, it makes sense for Thunder Clap to survive over Demo Shout.

Tank like you've never tanked before

But what this is all saying to me is that if you're a warrior tank now, you need to brace yourself for some radical design changes in 5.0. (They may also be shredding and/or tubular -- I'm not sure yet.) If you've been tanking long-term like I have, you know full well that warriors still hold a lot of design elements as a legacy from being the only viable tank from original WoW launch. Expect those legacies to finally be done away with. Don't be surprised when it happens. With a fifth tanking class incoming, now is the best time to really get down to trying to establish tanking parity. And it definitely looks like that's exactly where we're going.

Daxxari - Mastery Raid Buff
There are more problems when one stat is too good aside from players with that stat simply becoming too powerful. When any one secondary stat is too good, then players understandably view any gear without that stat as "garbage." DPS specs can stack hit / expertise to the cap and then focus on say haste, crit or mastery. Right now, plate tanks don't have a lot of attractive stats after they have capped mastery, except for dodge and parry which also affect pushing hits off the table the same as mastery does. Dodge and parry aren't even meaningfully different from each other, except for the (somewhat sophisticated) games you can play with trying to avoid diminishing returns.

In 5.0, tanks will care about hit and expertise, because those will become survival stats: if your hits don't connect, you won't have the resources needed for some of your defensive abilities (the less critical ones like Shield Block, but not Shield Wall). That alone will make tank gearing a little more interesting. If we decrease the amount of block, or the value of a point of mastery, or add diminishing returns to block, then we can still make mastery a useful stat without it being the god stat. Heck, we're probably in a place with tank balance today where we could reconsider having bonus Stamina or armor, which we stopped doing a couple of years ago because they were the previous god stats.

But it should be evident from that wall of text, that we're not talking about simple changes here. They are fairly extensive changes with a lot of risk. There is a risk players won't get the memo and not understand that block capping either isn't as good as it once was or isn't viable at all. There is a risk that paladins and warriors go from being relatively balanced to too weak. There is a risk that in our noble attempts to fix them from being too weak (such as buffing their armor, health or cooldowns) that the might become too powerful. We're signing up to take that risk in 5.0 when we have more time to iterate and collect feedback and massive class changes are more expected.

Tanks tend to look for the most survival and gear appropriately. In Wrath, that meant stacking stamina and armor and relying on bottomless healer mana to keep their mana-sponge buttocks upright. In Cata, warrior tanks have looked for dodge and mastery, because those stats (and parry) provide avoidance and/or mitigation of incoming damage, and damage you don't take is damage that doesn't cost limited healer mana to recover from. Hit and expertise simply were not attractive to most tanks, which led to threat issues for beginner tanks who were doing what the tanks in raids did and stacking survival over threat stats. This led to threat being changed to put more butts in the tanking seat, since there's a little-known secret I'll share with you now:

Tanking is not actually fun.

Why would I say this? Because it's true. Now, I know a lot of people (including myself) who tank or tanked for years through all sorts of encounters and prefer the role to DPS or healing. Why did they do it if tanking isn't fun? Because being a tank can in fact be fun as heck, but tanking is a job, and often a dreary one at that.

What makes being a tank fun is the exercise of skill in a high-performance role (you can't suck as the tank and get away with it), the camaraderie of the tanking corps in a guild, the consummate performance thrill of tanking a PUG and just pulling off complex mechanics with style and aplomb. Knowing your gearing, executing your abilities, staying alive through hard fights and bringing the other four, nine or 24 other people through with you is all terribly intoxicating.

But the mechanical game of tanking, the actual job, is constraint and labor. It's work. It's not fun. Anything you can do to reduce the work you have to do and the work your healer has to do, you're going to do. Throwing the responsibility for threat management onto the DPS or letting it get buffed to compensate for your gearing for survival is a no-brainer. You'll do it every time.

To sum it up again: Tanking isn't fun, but being a good tank is. So the entirety of the 5.0 tanking redesign is at least partially aimed at making tanking itself fun, by completely embracing the tanking tendency to emphasize survival and making that the game. By doing that, not only do more stats matter (which means gear can be designed that actually requires some thought instead of "reforge everything to survival stats" because a lot more stuff will be survival stats), but an active, button-hitting, battlefield-scanning playstyle will keep you alive. Knowing how to manage your resources will keep you up; it will allow you to be a good tank and show it.

I'm literally giddy with anticipation of this new approach and very much looking forward to hearing more about it. The only way I could be happier is if someone made a post saying "Yes, you'll be able to tank with a fury spec and Titan's Grip," because that's pretty much what I've wanted to do for three years now.

Next week, we'll be discussing either 4.3 DPS mechanics or heroic Ragnaros.

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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