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The Light and How to Swing It: Thank the Light, encounters are interesting to tank again

Matt Walsh

Every week, WoW Insider brings you The Light and How to Swing It for holy, protection and retribution paladins. Protection specialist Matt Walsh spends most of his time receiving concussions for the benefit of 9 other people, obsessing over his hair, and maintaining the tankadin-focused blog Righteous Defense.

Nearly a year ago, I wrote a column bemoaning the current state of tanking in Cataclysm and specifically how terribly boring the encounters were to tank. It was a common complaint throughout Firelands that only got worse in the doldrums of Dragon Soul. The majority of fights in those two raids were soul-suckingly droll when it came to tanking them, and the most pessimistic of us saw the repetition of the boring tank encounter model in DS as a terrifying new trend in encounter design.

Combine that with the recent removal of threat and you had some serious tank ennui. I closed out the column with a similar sentiment and down-cast eyes as Mists loomed ahead. The prevailing fear was that the trend would continue and fights would get easier and more boring to tank with every successive raid tier.

However, 11 months and an expansion later, I'm happy to report that the trend that I and many others had feared was arrested in this first burst of raid content. In Mists of Pandaria, especially in Mogu'shan Vaults, the game took a huge leap forward with regards to making encounters that are not only interesting to tank, but all fun and engaging as well.

Recap: What makes a fight interesting to tank

In my column back in January I rattled off a list of tropes that you'll often find in tank fights. To recap, they were:

  • Picking up adds that are dynamically joining the fight
  • Shepherding adds to a specific location
  • Hitting cooldowns to counter a near-death attack
  • Moving out of hazards constantly
  • Taunt swapping boss on a debuff
  • Combating the threat output of buffed DPS
What's remarkable about the interesting fights in tier 14 is that the developers didn't just rely on tossing combinations of these tropes at us and call it a day. They tweaked them considerably, or came up with awesome new mechanics which add a spice to the fights that we've never tasted before. Whoever designed the encounters for tier 14 really upped the ante, and I thank them profusely.

Ultimately, the thing that really makes many of these fights interesting for me is that they have situations in which a tank can cause a wipe, and not from just failing to live. The tank has a job too, a wonderful and impactful task, which the raid depends on the successful execution of. It is a glorious thing.

And isn't that the main psychological draw to being a tank, after all? To want to be the linchpin of the group, the one that everyone depends on to hold the line? Some of these mechanics allow us to fulfill that fantasy beyond our normal mandate of "stand here, and don't break anything, including yourself." It's a joy to be able to impact the raid beyond remaining vertical.

Encounters that are a joy to tank thus far

While you may have killed the Stone Guard far too many times since the beginning of the expansion, one must admit that it was a rude awakening for many tanks after the malaise of tiers 12 and 13. Suddenly we were faced with an encounter that required a taunt swap, sure, but one that couldn't just be dictated with a DBM alert. We have to look at the energy totals for each dog, and make an intelligent decision of which tank gets which dog. It really is a very different spin on the old taunt-swapping trope.

Combine that with constant movement due to hazards on the ground (ok, that trope was played chapter-and-verse) and having to keep your active mitigation up and you have a fairly frenetic fight for a tier opener!

Perhaps my favorite encounter of Mogu'shan Vaults, Feng the Accursed takes giving the tanks an interesting job idea and puts an awesome spin on it (especially for the Shroud of Reversal-wielding tank). This is one fight where the entire weight of the encounter rests on the tank's shoulders.

Don't steal Lightning Fists and get that stun off? You can cause a wipe down the line due to healers not having enough mana. Don't drop the Nullification Barrier at the right spot over Feng in phase 2? The boss can certainly wipe the raid if the healers are overwhelmed by the fire AoE damage.

Not to mention that the Shroud tank gets to have some fun with picking up various boss abilities off of raid members and throwing them back in Feng's face.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the exhilarating (and sometimes horribly frustrating) mechanic that is the dance on Will of the Emperor. For anyone that does this, you know the sheer jubilation that is getting off an Opportunistic Strike. And for anyone that does this, you also know the great sadness that accompanies messing up the very last step and denying yourself that free massive attack.

It's a hugely fun mechanic that both melee and tanks get to share in. And a wonderful spin on the classic "sit on boss until he's dead" style of tanking. Sure, we're focusing on the one guy, but we're not just turning him away and knitting whilst working through our rotation and occasionally hitting a cooldown. We're actually dodging, dipping, ducking, diving, and dodging our way around each of the strikes and stomps that the boss is throwing at us. Hugely fun, and wonderfully engaging.

You may have noticed that I haven't used any examples from Heart of Fear of Terrace of Endless Spring, and truth be told I haven't seen enough of either to responsibly comment on them. I've also been horribly slacking in doing LFR thanks to the holiday, so I couldn't even sneak a peek at them. Nonetheless, even with what I have seen, there's nothing close to the soul-destroying drollness that infected Dragon Soul. And that was a very good thing.

I honestly didn't think I would be able to write these words 11 months ago, but the future looks bright for tanks.

The Light and How to Swing It shows paladin tanks how to combat the Sha in the strange new land of Pandaria. Try out the new control gearing strategy, learn how to make the most of the new active mitigation system on your tankadin, and check out how to deck out your fresh 90 tank to get ready for any raids!

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