The coming tank squish?

When Wrath launched in 2008, the last thing I ever expected to see was a decline in the number of druid tanks. We'd just come off a successful expansion of not being Innervate bots, and I thought we'd capitalize on a new set of talents and skills in Wrath to hold our own against the brand-new death knight. Not so: The population of feral (now guardian) druids went into freefall and has never really recovered, and at the time, protection paladins took a hit too.

My best guess remains that the popularity of the death knight and the protection warrior in early Wrath pushed a lot of druids and paladins out of tanking. We had more role options than they did, so respeccing to melee, heals, or ranged DPS was a better option than getting yourself or others benched. There were other things going on that probably didn't help much, but at the end of the day it was a numbers game that the bear and paladin simply lost. It was a vivid lesson that design decisions that don't necessarily have much to do with your class or role can wind up having a serious impact on them anyway.

I've wondered if something similar might happen in the run-up to Warlords of Draenor with all tanks rather than some. The most popular form of heroic raiding is a dead man walking right now, and every 10-man heroic raid that wants to stay heroic as we currently understand it will have to double in size for mythics. They'll be looking for more healers, melee, and ranged DPS, but unless WoD has a lot of encounters like heroic Dark Shaman, the one thing they won't be looking for more of is tanks.

In a perfect world, all of these guilds will fish from the pool of 25-mans shedding players to do mythics themselves, replace tanks who quit, or recruit people who aren't currently doing heroics right now, but the transition to a new expansion has historically been a lot bloodier than that. A lot of 10-man guilds will combine forces or attempt to merge existing raid teams in order to make the 20-man cutoff, and each time this happens two tank slots will vanish. On servers without many (or any) active 25-mans, that seems the more likely possibility than recruitment.

For me, that raises the following questions:

  • Will this happen enough to impact the supply of tanks elsewhere in the game, or will so many people be raiding normal and the new heroic that it won't matter?

  • Will the new gear model offset this somewhat anyway?

  • Because most tanks can only become melee DPS or healers once respecced, is that likely to put population pressure on these roles as well?

While I think mythics will be better for raiding overall than the present model, it's always sobering to consider the human cost of every design decision. It's unfortunate that tanking alone seems to be the only role that doesn't "scale" while moving between raid sizes.

Oh, and bears? Might as well build a balance set just in case. Heroic Immerseus ain't that tough to farm.