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The Light and How to Swing It: In defense of stamina

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.

If you have spent much time on the official forums at any point since the beginning of -- oh, say, Cataclysm -- you'd notice that there is a particularly prevalent slur that is oft flung around in tanking discussions. This slur cuts to the very core of what it means to be a tank, it is an accusation of seeking vainglory over properly gearing ourselves for survivability. Worse, it is an accusation of being behind the times on tank theorycrafting due to either apathy or incompetence. It is the Scarlet S.

Stam stacker.

I know, I felt those chills too. Back in Wrath, it was all the rage to use stamina (and armor) as our primary vehicle to being the more survivable tank we could be. A select few crazies jumped on the armor cap train, though that required a lot of dancing and buffing to finagle. When Cataclysm hit, block capping achieved a renaissance and became the default gearing paradigm. It was an important survivability plateau, and to be foolish enough to gem a solid stamina gem was in many quarters akin to slapping a puppy. That trend continued for the entirety of the expansion, though the value of block felt really stretched in Firelands and Dragon Soul in any magic damage-heavy fight.

And here we find ourselves in Mists of Pandaria where active mitigation has opened up a wealth of gearing possibilities for paladin tanks. While some people are absolutely convinced that, unlike the past, there is only The One True Path to gearing your tank properly, truth is that thanks to much more in-depth simulations done by Theck, we actually have multiple options for how we want to gear beyond hit and expertise capping -- and each performs differently with regards to different flavors of spike damage.

Of spikes and stats

There's a common misconception among some quarters -- correlated often with those that also believe that stamina is a dump stat at a certain point -- that one should primarily be concerned with the total amount of damage taken over the course of the fight. Because stamina performs weakest in this arena (it doesn't avoid or prevent damage, it just soaks it up), this is considered a reason to avoid having more stamina than "is necessary."

Anything beyond that is a waste of itemization and is, even worse, just acting as a mana sponge. You're not doing anything proactive to make the fight easier on your healers, you fool, you are just lapping up heals and draining healers of their precious mana!

And yet, as any tank who has done their homework over the past two expansions knows, the true crux of tanking these days has nothing to do with total damage reduction but instead with spike prevention. Spikes -- sudden events (sometimes telegraphed with special abilities) of massive damage -- will do a tank in a thousand times before a wipe occurs because the healer ran out of mana after the fight went on way too long.

What is the value of stamina?

This week, at Sacred Duty, Theck ran a series of simulations trying to quantify the value of stamina vis a vis our other survivability stats. What his simulations spat out was surprising. If you take a moment to look at his data, you'll see that a gear set that is set up for control (hit and expertise capped) and stamina vastly outperforms gear set up for control and haste in reducing or eliminating major spike events.

The reason for this should be obvious: if you have 10% more health as a result of added stamina, any hit is going to do 10% less of your maximum health than it would had that extra stamina not been itemized.

The great thing about stamina is how generous it is. It doesn't care if you run your rotation poorly or if you are stunned or otherwise incapacitated by some fight mechanic, it is always there for you. Unlike haste or mastery paradigms, which require a certain level of comfort to make the most of, stamina is the ultimate beginner-friendly survivability stat. And that's why is so very frustrating to see the jackals on the official forums harp on inexperienced tanks for stacking stamina.

Another thing to keep in mind for the value of stamina: because having more health give you more of a cushion for spike events, adding stamina can actually be beneficial for healer mana. The less total percent of your maximum health you take in a spike event, the fewer emergency heals (which are the most mana-expensive) your healer will need to throw out to get you topped off again. What a wonderful subversion of the "mana sponge" moniker.

Ultimately, despite all my pains to provide a decent overview of this topic, I think Theck himself delivers the most poignant way to summarize his findings that "provide a fairly convincing argument that stamina is your best survivability stat, hands-down, no matter what level of content you're raiding." He then concludes:

Now, I want to make one thing abundantly clear. This data does not mean that it's wrong to stop stacking stamina and start stacking haste at some point. In fact, many of the best tankadins in the world do exactly that. And they aren't misguided about anything, they know exactly what they're doing.

Those tanks aren't increasing their survivability by stacking haste. They're increasing their DPS by sacrificing some of their survivability (i.e. stamina). Because unlike DPS, survivability isn't a stat that you should stack blindly without end. Stamina will always give you more survivability, but that added survivability isn't always the best practical benefit for your raid.
That is the most important metric at the end of the day -- your personal and well judged assessment of what will provide the "best practical benefit for your raid." Not from some calculator that cannot judge outside variables beyond what it is programmed with and certainly not the ravings of some Napoleonic bully on the official forums. Indeed, it is the mark of an excellent and mature tank to be able to step back and make such decisions.

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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