The title of this series is “The First Ten Seconds.” It’s not relationship advice for meeting that certain someone across a crowded room…unless you’re trying to beckon that certain someone over so you can kill her and loot 91 silver off her corpse. No, it’s based on a maxim about tanking that I just made up a while back, and it goes like this:
As go the first ten seconds, so goes the entire fight.
It’s a little saying that I’d completely forgotten during the later part of Wrath of the Lich King, especially when doing heroics. WotLK heroics had turned into a complete joke in high-end raid gear, of course, and all of us were just bull-rushing our way through them like our asses were on fire, in the pursuit of the Holy Badgers of Whatever. Then Cataclysm hit, and suddenly, heroics became, well, heroic again. They were, as those of us with brains figured they’d be, damned hard. Crowd control, the fine art of hexing and sheeping and banishing and shackling, went from useless to mandatory in the span of a few weeks. And with even more difficult heroics on the horizon–the new Zul’whatever heroics in 4.1 will require a minimum item level of 346 just to get past the bouncers at the door–crowd control won’t be neglected anytime soon.
And with the rediscovery of crowd control came the rediscovery of the art of pulling and control. In late Wrath, control was easy: charge into the center of a bunch of mobs and push every AoE button you’ve got, then watch as the DPS pulls them off you anyway, but that was OK because the mobs all died in four seconds. Now in Cataclysm, if you, as the tank, lose the handle on a trash pull, you’re probably going to wipe. We’ve all had to rediscover the timing and interplay between the tank and the crowd controllers and the healers and the rest of the DPS.
So that’s what this series is going to be about…the first ten seconds of a pull, mostly as it pertains to trash. It’s going to be about that period of time from the moment the first button is pushed to start a fight, until the mob(s) are settled in on the tank and the fight really “starts.” In most trash pulls, this (in my experience) takes about ten seconds. If you, as a group, execute these ten seconds properly, you’ll probably have a boring and uneventful trash pull. If you don’t, even if you don’t wipe, you’ll probably end up with a bunch of trouble, raw tempers, and frustration. (And in my case, a tank screaming obscenities at the screen and a wife rolling her eyes listening to me. “GET BACK HERE YOU LITTLE FUCK GODDAMMIT I’VE GOT NO RAGE LET ME GET AGRO YOU STUPID BASTARDS STOP NUKING FFFFFFFF…”)
Preparation is Key
The next post in the series is going to concentrate on pulling. Pulling in the latter stages of Wrath, as mentioned before, largely didn’t exist. You, as the tank, just ran or charged in and spammed whatever you could knowing that it didn’t matter a bit–the DPS was going to go apeshit anyway and even the healer would just spam Smite or Moonfire or Chain Lightning or whatever.
But any tank who survived the sheer hell of heroics in The Burning Crusade knows how important pulling is. Remember the gladiator hallway in Shattered Halls? Groups of six mobs down the middle with wanderers in between and a few static singles as filler. Move too far to one side and you’d pick up a group of five adds. Don’t get them back far enough, and you’d get the wandering Houndmasters and their dogs, or the guys working out on the target dummies. At least one, usually two of the group mobs were hunters, ranged and largely immobile. Given all that, how do you pull it?
Cataclysm heroics aren’t quite that bad, but they’re a step back toward that level of difficulty from the overgeared facerolls of late Wrath. You will, until we’re all running around in tier 13 or whatever, need crowd control and intelligent pulling to get through them. Maybe some of you cutting-edge raiders are at the point where you can start to brute-force these things, but those of us down here with our average ilevel in the 330s or 340s (OK, Linedan’s is 351 right now) can’t.
So there you are, the tank, standing at the entrance of your favorite dungeon, ready for another exciting round of Will Anything Drop That I Can Actually Use. You’ve got buffs, you’ve got food, you’ve got adult beverages (in RL), and you’re staring at the first trash pack. And four pairs of virtual eyes are boring into your back, waiting for you to get the ball rolling. The temptation is strong to just put the hammer down and gogogo.
Not so fast.
The first thing you should do, PUG or guild group or whatever, is decide who’s marking targets. Somebody should always mark targets these days. And when you decide who should mark targets, you also have to decide what each target means. In a group that runs together a lot, that’s usually not an issue, everybody knows what each mark means. But in a PuG especially, you can’t be sure. A square may mean “mage sheeps it” to you, but to XxArthaslolxX from a PvP server, square may mean that he’s supposed to offtank it. Never, ever, assume. Get the definitions straight beforehand. Somebody needs to, and if nobody steps up, you as the tank should be ready to do the marking and designation. Put the symbols over the first trash group and say what they mean–“sheep square, trap moon, kill order is skull, X, moon, square.” It’s not worth having a massive argument over, but it’s still something that should be laid out before the pull actually happens.
The other usual bone of contention in an unfamiliar group is–who actually pulls? Normally, I always preferred to be the one to push the button to start the fight. But the way things are working these days in Cataclysm, I now actually prefer to let the crowd controllers start the pull. I’ll go into more detail in the pulling post, but my standard procedure, after we mark and decide who’s doing what, is to let the crowd controllers cast. Their cast will aggro the group. That exact moment is when I hit Heroic Throw on either the kill target, or an unallocated caster mob if we’re short on CC. (That pulls that one particular mob to me, with a silence component to bring those inconvenient casters that much closer.) It’s then on me as the tank to get the other uncontrolled mob or mobs on me before they eat the crowd controller. It can be a tricky dance, but is more easily done with proper positioning. All people doing ranged CC should stand pretty much together, and in a position where the tank can easily get to them. (If they have to LOS pull, that needs to be taken into account.)
Again, I’ll talk about this more in the pulling post, but I’ll throw one other tidbit out there for my fellow warriors: Charge is not necessarily your friend. Charge Stun only hits one mob. If there’s a second, it’ll keep on trucking for your squishies, and you’ll be playing catch-up. And when I get to the post on initial control of the pull, we’ll see why playing catch-up is a recipe for disaster. If you’re fast on your fingers, Heroic Leap can solve this problem. I’m not, so often I tend to just run in.
The Gospel According to Marks
Before each pull, unless it’s obviously not needed, mark. Use symbols consistently from group to group based on what you decided at the start of the run. And your number one CC priority should be…(drumroll please)…hunter mobs. Casters can be silenced by ranged abilities from at least a few classes–Heroic Throw from me, Counterspell from a mage, Wind Shear from a shaman, etc. When they’re silenced, they’ll run at their current agro target until they feel like casting again, which will usually get them in range of some sort of centered AoE or multi-target ability (Consecrate, Cleave, etc.). But pure ranged hunter-class mobs are a stone bitch to position. A death nugget can Death Grip them, which is hella handy if you’ve got a DK around or you’re a DK tank. And of course you can LOS them if there’s a corner to run around. But if you’re DK-less and in an open area with nothing to block sight, that hunter is just going to sit out there plinking somebody, and it’s probably not going to be the tank unless he goes and gets it. And then we’re back to playing catch-up again.
So my priority list for CC is, in a nutshell: hunter mobs, spellcaster mobs, and then everybody else. There’s exceptions, of course, but in terms of keeping things simple, that’s how I like to see things marked. Which priority you use inside those general categories (i.e., which spellcasting mobs get CC if you can’t get them all) is up to the particular group and instance. There are even situations where you might want to pick a melee mob over a caster to CC–for example, if the caster is particularly squishy and you know you can (or need to due to mechanics) drop him fast. This is where a knowledge of the instance is vitally important as a tank, so you can make intelligent choices about which mobs get a knock on the head or stuck into an ice cube, and which just get terminated with extreme prejudice immediately.
Next up: The pull itself. How do you get the mobs from points A, B, C, and D to point X? We take a look at how to get a trash pack moving right where you want it…into the kill zone!
So. First off, let me apologize, yet again, for my slackness in updating this here fine upstanding blog. There are a few reasons for this.
First–and I hate to admit it, but it’s true–I wrote most of my blog posts at work. I know, I know, I shouldn’t be doing it, but come on, folks. I know when you people read my blog, and here’s a hint–it’s between 9:00 and 5:00 in your appropriate time zone. Otherwise my readership wouldn’t crash through the floor on Saturdays and Sundays. Let he who is without slack cast the first Nerf dart and all that. Well, a couple months ago, I was moved to a new cubicle that’s very much more out in the open than my old, isolated, rather private digs I had for almost three years. Basically, I can’t keep the WordPress editor up all day and hammer posts into it by the thousands of words like I used to. When I get home, I have a tendency to be pretty tired and more interested in playing games than writing about them. So that has rather badly cramped my output.
Second, RL has been, as it has for the past few years, teabagging me like I’m a dead resto druid and it’s a rogue. No need to go into the details (I’ve got a personal blog for stuff like that, and someday maybe I’ll update it again) but suffice to say that it’s taking a big chunk of my focus just to get through the days and weeks, without a lot left over to produce quality content. And if I can’t at least attempt to produce quality content, I don’t produce content. (Most of the time.)
And third, well, I just haven’t had that much to say about WoW. Cataclysm is humming along. 4.0.6 has caused some of us to have to relearn some of our favorite classes (marks hunter wut wut). Other people in the WoW blogosphere have been doing a fantastic job talking about things that I had formative ideas about. It just feels like that for whatever reason, there hasn’t really been that much for me to say. Like, say, “heroics are hard.” Well, duh. Of course they’re hard, they’re designed to be hard at this pre-raid level of gear a lot of us are rocking. Give it six months and they won’t be (as) hard anymore. The push to get Linedan to 85 and repped up with Dragonmaw and Therazane has, as I knew it would, caused me to back off a little bit and play less while I recharge to get my alts leveled, filling the slack with a bit of Star Trek Online, a bit of EVE Online, and a bit of various single-player games.
So, a quick update from Panzerville, and then I’ll get to why I’m actually posting this. Linedan, the titular Panzercow, is back raiding again as one of the full-time tanks in a 10-man called “Doom and Blet,” expertly cat-herded by former Anvil Chief Cat Herder Dorritow and veteran Anvil raider and Seven Deadly Divas contributor Hammaryn. So far, we’ve been poking at Blackwing Descent, and have dropped tne Omnomnomnomitron Defense System (I can haz tank lootz?) and Magmaw, the Giant Lava Penis, and have gotten Atremedes down to about 55%. That, IMO, is not half bad after four weeks for a raid running only one night a week, 9:00-12:30 Eastern.
Beltar, my dwarf hunter, is my other character at 85 right now. He hasn’t raided, in fact he hasn’t done any heroics yet (I hope to fix that soon). This is largely because of my PUGaphobia, and the fact I’m still learning how to trap and CC. Oh yeah, and re-learning his rotation because 4.0.6 took everything I’d learned about marks and stood it on its head. (Aimed Shot useful again? Seriously? Getouttahere.) All my other characters are at various places between level 82 and level, uh, 5. I’ll get alts up someday, but I need to get over my burnout on the 80-85 Cata zones first.
Anyway. The real reason I’m posting this is as self-motivation. I’ve had an idea bouncing around my skullcage for a while, inspired by some heroics I’ve run on Lin, to do a small series on pulling and initial control of pulls. It’s based on a very, very simple theory, to wit: The first ten seconds of a fight is the most important part. If you can pull properly and control the fight for the first ten seconds, you are well on your way to victory and loot. If you can’t, you’re well on your way to heartbreak, frustration, and getting kicked from PUGs. And with the re-introduction of crowd control into instances with Cataclysm, pulling and grabbing initial control of pulls, especially trash packs, has gotten more complicated. Who pulls, you or the CC? Who decides kill order? Who should you CC, who should you leave? What do you use to pull? Do you LOS? Do you just charge in? This is all stuff that, as a tank, you need to think about before pushing buttons.
So where’s the self-motivation? I’ve told you about it now. I have to write it. Otherwise people on Twitter will hound me to no end about it. Peer pressure is a wonderfully useful thing sometimes, isn’t it?
I can’t guarantee it’ll be done quickly, as I haven’t written any of it at all yet. But watch this space, and hopefully in the next few days, I can get the first installment up. In the meantime, peace out, kids.
Well, I think that’s what it looks like the dragon is saying, anyway.
That is a Bloodbathed Frostbrood Vanquisher, and yes, that’s the Panzercow on the back of it. The 10-man raid that I tank for made one last run into Icecrown Citadel on Saturday afternoon to clear the final obstacle we needed to get 10-player Glory of the Icecrown Raider…heroic Sindragosa.
I know there are those who are strict 10-man raiders who say that having 25-man gear, as most of our raid did, “trivializes” the 10-man content. I can see that; we can pretty much roflstomp most of ICC on normal, even normal Arthas didn’t give us too much trouble. And the more straightforward heroic-mode fights pushed us a little bit, but still, we were making solid progress toward our raidleader’s goal of getting drakes before Cataclysm dropped. We even, amazingly, downed heroic Putricide after just five attempts. Some of the acheesements gave us trouble (Been Waiting a Long Time For This was particularly annoying) but not too much…we even got Sindy’s acheesement, All You Can Eat, by just zerging her down from 35% instead of actually attempting to do the normal tank-switch method.
Heroic Sindy, however, was a different matter entirely. It’s a brutally unforgiving fight, the already-intolerant mechanics turned up to 11 by frostbombs that can one-shot even the tanks, debuffs that cause casters to asplode, and frost breath that hits like a very icy truck once the Mystic Buffet is opened for dinner. We threw ourselves at Sindy hard week before last, without success. So if we were going to get her before Cataclysm released and everybody quit caring about “old” content, we had three hours on a Saturday to do it.
For two hours and fifty-six minutes, things didn’t look good for our heroes. We wiped, and wiped, and wiped. The best we’d done was get her to 18%. Phase 2, at 35%, was just not working. We couldn’t time the tank transitions right, or I’d forget a cooldown and get ganked by her frost breath, or a badly-timed Blistering Cold would slaughter half the raid, or she’d drop a bomb right on top of us during an air phase…it was always something. None of the attempts had that smooth, well-oiled feel to them that you need to beat a fight like heroic Sindragosa. I was frustrated and absolutely furious with myself. I hadn’t played in several days leading up to the raid and it showed. I made a lot of avoidable dumbass mistakes. I don’t think I actually cost us a kill at that point, but it sure wasn’t helping.
So then, there we were. 4:57 pm Eastern with a stop time of 5:00. The last attempt, on the last boss, on the last day, of the last raid before the expansion. One shot. All or nothing. It looked like fourth-and-11 on our own 41 with one second on the clock…time to load up three receivers to the left and let fly a Hail Mary downfield.
And we did it.
That fight, that three hours of stress and wipes, was, in a way, this entire raiding expansion for me in miniature. Starting off flailing and failing, making mistakes, then hanging in there and keeping on digging, grinding it out, persevering, and at the end, at the last possible moment, somehow it just all comes together.
I’ve always said that the two accomplishments I’m proudest of on Linedan in Wrath of the Lich King are his Loremaster title first and his one Arthas 25-man kill second. That hasn’t changed. This achievement, however–Glory of the Icecrown Raider–is a very, very close third. It took us several months, but our little 10-man raid that ran for just three hours, just one afternoon a week, ended up the expansion as 11/12 heroic ICC. That is an achievement to be very proud of indeed. And this one comes with a big, bony, loud-flapping tangible reminder that I’ll see as I enter the brave new world of Cataclysm.
So to Ghaar, Grizz, Tahlian, Dorritow, Nikara, and all the rest–and to our regulars who never were able to get their drakes, Ghorr, Alanth, and Seijitsu–thank you. It was a privilege to get hit in the face for you guys. See you on the other side.
I swear I’ve got some good posts percolating. Somewhere. No, seriously. Really. But in the meantime, have another fun-size grab-bag of “oh shit I really should post something” desperation…
– Bad news, melee DPS and tanks: Nerfs are on the horizon with the latest 4.0.3 PTR patch build 13245. MMO Champion has the details…it looks like that passive self-healing took a hit across the board, but none were worse than the nerf to Blood Craze in the Fury tree. Previously it would heal 2.5% of max health per talent point over 10 seconds (so 2.5/5/7.5%); with 2/2 Field Dressing, that netted out to 9.6% of maximum health restored over 10 seconds, on a 10% chance per hit taken. Build 13245 slashes that healing to 1/2/3%. I don’t know what the final number will be with maxed Field Dressing, but I think it’ll be somewhere just north of 4%. Obviously that’s a significant cut, and it remains to be seen whether that will render Blood Craze a much less “mandatory” talent. I’ve been of the opinion that it’s a no-brainer to take it just to lessen the strain on our healers, but so far, our healers haven’t been straining, even on ICC-level content. That may change once we head into Cataclysm and see the instances there. In the meantime, I’m giving serious thought to dropping Blood Craze at least temporarily and loading those points over into maxing Shield Specialization in the hope of solving some of the occasional rage issues Linedan and Latisha are both running into.
– The Anvil, our 25-man raid, folded up shop for the duration last night with a final run through the raid weekly (Malygos). We’re now on hiatus and will be back in action for Cataclysm around January 13, 2011. Our final scorecard: Cleared Naxx, cleared Ulduar normal with a few hardmodes here and there, cleared Trial of the Wake Me Up When It’s Over, and never bothered with Trial of the Wake Me Up OH GOD MY FACE (the heroic version). We completed normal 25-man ICC with our single hard-fought and emotional Arthas kill, and did get two heroic encounters in there done, Lootship and Rotface. It’s not exactly a record that the Paragons or Ensidias of the world would find impressive, but it’s by far the best we’ve ever done for an expansion, and I wouldn’t trade the fun and hilarity we had for all the world-firsts in the, uh, world. It was a hell of a ride, kids, and I’m glad I was along for it.
– That doesn’t mean I’m quite done with raiding, though. I tank a 10-man that runs for three hours each Saturday afternoon, and with The Anvil shutting down temporarily, that means we’ll be going back into ICC for more heroic modes (we’re currently 7/12 HM) and a crack at those tasty proto-drakes. Of course, that means heroic Putricide…and heroic Sindragosa…and what I know is going to be the bane of my existence, All You Can Eat. Oh God.
– There was a minor kerfuffle in the WoWosphere over the past couple days when Frostheim, WoW Insider hunter columnist and main guy over at the Warcraft Hunter’s Union blog, posted a story about running heroic Old Kingdom and what happened therein. (It’s too complicated to rehash here…go read Frostheim’s post and the rest of this will make sense.) Most of his commenters backed him up on it, or at least thought it was funny (and honestly, I can see that). Well, Amber at I Like Bubbles offers the counterpoint, in which she brings up the valid (and, IMO, accurate) point that when you’re a higher-visibility member of a community, you really shouldn’t go around acting like a penis. Not that you ever should anyway, but you get the idea.
And, here’s a few random gems from the Interwebs:
- Syl at Raging Monkeys gives us non-healy types a lesson on the Good to stand in come Cataclysm.
- WoWPhiles Podcast, episode 47. I’m on it, Liala is on it, Bliky is on it. You go listen. NAO.
- Liala gets the twofer this week with a post over at Disciplinary Action about how to work dat booty and get phat loots at the same time.
- Galertruby has a few issues being a cultist at Need More Rage.
Y’all have a good weekend, and remember, it’s all fun and games until Deathwing puts somebody’s eye out.
A couple of weeks ago, the guys at the WoWPhiles Podcast put the call out on Twitter asking for people to volunteer to be on their podcast talking about their favorite class and spec, providing advice for new players and stuff like that. For reasons still as yet unknown to me, I volunteered. Also for reasons still as yet unknown to me, they accepted.
So after a hurried install of Skype (which caused a few blown eardrums in my raid after it automagically jacked up my mic volume in Ventrilo, BTW) and some quick research, I hooked up with Jason from WoWPhiles and recorded a segment for Episode 47 of the show, which is now up for download or listening on their website. The show also features Bliky from One Man Raid talking about survival hunters, and the lovely and talented Liala from Disciplinary Action talking about everybody’s favorite bubble vendors, disc priests.
I’m actually listening to my segment as I type this, and boy, you’d think I’d know this by now considering I’m 44 years old, but I didn’t quite realize my voice was that high-pitched. My wife calls it a “tenor.” To me, it sounds like Red Shirt Guy on helium. More precisely, Red Shirt Guy on helium and meth, because I was so nervous, I was talking about a hundred miles an hour. Oh, and Time Warner can lick my sweaty balls because our upload bandwidth is crappy enough that it cut me out a few times. I have enough issues with sounding like a gnome IRL without also sounding like Max Headroom.
There’s some great information on the podcast. It’s two hours and twenty-seven minutes of jam-packed WoW information, with a dash of Panzercow topping. So go check it out!
I don’t know if this is going to become a regular feature of Achtung Panzercow or not–is anything ever regular around here?–but hey, it’s Friday, and I’m feeling random. So here’s a grab bag of stuff.
– I ran ICC 25N last night with Linedan in our “third tank” position. Basically, it’s the utility infielder job, where sometimes I tank and sometimes I DPS. I think I swapped specs six times in three hours, going Prot for Marrowgar, Deathwhisper + trash, Putricide, and Team Edward Sparkle Disco Party and Blood Wing trash, and Fury for everything else. (We cleared everything but Sindragosa and Arthas.) It’s kind of a crappy job, because being the third tank on fights like Marrowgar and Putricide is pretty boring. You stand there, you do lousy DPS. And the constant spec-switching makes it hard to get into a good rhythm. But, since we rotate our four tanks around week to week, everybody gets to do it.
– Last night was my first raid trying out Fury in 4.0. It’s…interesting. My damage was up from 3.x, not as far up as the casters of course (warlock sustaining 18k for the first half of ICC…wtf?) but still up about 15%. The rotation’s changed a bit, with Whirlwind’s damage nerf removing it from common use in favor of Raging Blow on single targets, I guess. The numbers I saw flying across the screen were impressively big, with lots of five-digit crits bouncing around, but the overall damage wasn’t reflecting that. I’m guessing that’s because I no longer have Deep Wounds ticking constantly, and the change to Bloodsurge (only firing off Bloodthirst hits and not Heroic Strike hits) means a lot fewer free Slams. Still, I managed to crack 10k DPS on Saurfang and 12k on Festergut. Frighteningly, 12k DPS was only good for tenth place on Festergut.
– Further on Fury…the damage feels “lumpy,” for lack of a better word. It comes in bursts, like when Raging Blow and Heroic Strike come off cooldown at the same time, or when I get a lucky streak of Bloodsurge procs. There aren’t a whole lot of dead spots, and in general it feels a bit more active than the 3.x “Bloodthirst, Whirlwind, oh look, let’s spam Heroic Strike/Cleave and pray I get a Bloodsurge proc before I fall asleep” setup. However, I was surprised to find that my rotation wasn’t always cooldown-limited, but rage-limited. I rarely had rage issues as Fury in 3.x. There were a fair number of points last night where everything on my bar was either dark or on cooldown, and the waits to rebuild rage were agonizing. Just like with Prot, overuse of Heroic Strike or Cleave for Fury left me in a bad spot quite a bit. Finding the balance of when to HS and when not to HS is going to take me some time.
– One more thing on Fury…Execute spam is back with a vengeance. The tooltip seemed to indicate that it would only do about 4000 damage. I was dropping regular hits in the 13-17k range, with crits as high as 34,000. On Blood Queen Lana’thel, when I got bitten late in the fight, I hit a lucky streak and was able to land six Execute crits in a row for between 55,000 and 65,000 damage each. I AM A LARGE FURRY VAMPIRIC GOD.
– I am in the process of doing some adjustments on Linedan and I need help from the Prot community. When in his normal tank gear, which is mostly ilevel 264ish, he runs about 50k health, 22% dodge and parry, 30% block (no mastery yet), 4.5% hit, and 12 expertise. I’ve decided I need to boost his hit and expertise back up toward the caps in this brave new world of lower tank threat and higher DPS. I actually reforged him out of about 1.2% of dodge this morning to get him to a bit over 6% hit and 15 expertise, and am seriously considering replacing the Mongoose enchant on his tank weapon with Accuracy (+25 hit, +25 crit). Right now, he’s gemmed straight +30 stamina except for other stuff to get his meta activated. If anyone wants to take a look at his Armory (link over to the right in the sidebar) and toss out an opinion on where I can close the gaps to 8% hit and 23 expertise, it’d be appreciated.
– Speaking of tanking, we got some fairly significant shield-related changes announced yesterday. MMO Champion has the blue posts on Shield Block changes reposted here, and Zellviren over at The Dead Good Tanking Guide has an explanation of why the reduction of the Shield Block bonus block chance from +100% to +25% really isn’t that big a nerf. (Zellviren’s excellent link courtesy of Rhidach at Righteous Defense.) In addition, the latest beta build 13221 has significantly increased the base damage on Shield Slam–as in, a 125% increase, about 1100 points before attack power’s added in. But, the catch is that Shield Slam damage now scales less with attack power. So my guess is that our normal Shield Slams will hit harder, which is good, because they’ve been behind Revenge for a while in beta now. But once we get our Vengeance on and are wandering around with five-digit attack power and Shield Block activated (with 2/2 Heavy Repercussions), we probably won’t see those massive wood-inducing crits anymore. Good-bye, 46k Shield Slam crits. I’ll always remember our crazy nights together.
– Have a few other great blog posts from this past week, around the WoWosphere:
- Vosskah at Sword and Board talks about his first impressions of 4.0.1 tanking.
- Kadomi at Tank Like a Girl is putting together a list of warrior blogs for all specs, not just Prot. DPS warriors in particular seem very underserved in the WoWosphere, so if you know of a good warrior blog, send it her way.
- Amber at I Like Bubbles has cat macros. What else do you need?
- The saga of Gerald continues at Righteous Orbs.
- Finally, the community is losing two outstanding bloggers. Laranya at Root and Branch has decided to pack it in after a short but spectacular run; thank you, Laranya, and keep hanging out on Twitter, we miss you!
- And one of the best warrior tank resources, Tanking Tips, is closing its doors. Veneretio has been bringing the theory for a long time now, and his departure is going to leave a big void. Vene, as one of the tanks who have been immeasurably helped by your hard work, thank you, and we’ll really miss your insight.
– And, in closing, I can announce that yours truly, the Panzercow, has completed his first attempt at podcasting! I will be doing a segment on Prot warriors on the WoWPhiles Podcast that should be out this weekend. Keep an eye out for it, and you too can hear that, in fact, I sound absolutely nothing like a Tauren. (Plus, Liala from Disciplinary Action is on there too!)
To me, one of the best tanking changes that’s come along with Cataclysm and patch 4.0.1 is the complete removal of the Defense stat from WoW. At first, when I heard about it, I was a little annoyed, because I thought it was going to upset the whole apple cart in terms of how I geared. Then when I heard about the trees, I was a little annoyed that I’d have to blow two of my precious first 31 points in the Prot tree in order to be uncrittable.
I was, as usual, completely wrong.
The removal of Defense from the game opens up a veritable world of possibilities for us as tanks. Think about it. By putting two talent points in Bastion of Defense, we’re accomplishing the same thing as stacking 689 (I think) Defense rating, or 140 Defense points, on our gear at level 80. And honestly, you’d almost certainly take Bastion of Defense anyway because of the 10%/20% Enrage chance on a successful block, dodge, or parry. So it’s all gain, no real loss. We can equip anything and we’re still uncrittable.
In this strange interregnum before the world falls apart, where we’re dealing with classes balanced for level 85 stuck at level 80, where we overgear 95% of the content, this removal of Defense is having something of an odd effect on one of our common tanky pastimes…the random heroic. Yeah, I know, running random PUGs is about as much fun as a prostate exam (or a pap smear for you ladies) these days, but there’s still reasons that we have to do it–snagging Justice Points for offset upgrades, or heirlooms for your alts, or gearing up guildies.
Now if you’ve tanked some heroics the past two weeks, you know that your AOE threat is down a bit, or maybe more than a bit depending on your class. At the same time, the badge to Justice Point conversion has let some people drastically upgrade their gear, as their stockpile of Triumph badges let them buy some more Tier 10. Add in the huge DPS increases that some classes got (yes, mages, you can stop cackling gleefully now), and the fact that people still cannot grasp the concept of “wait two seconds to let the tank get agro,” and I’ll bet you’ve been having a moderately frustrating time running your heroics.
Well, ol’ Uncle Panzercow is here to give you a tip:
Run them in your DPS gear. Or your PvP gear.
You do have DPS gear, right? I imagine that most tanks do have a DPS offspec. Many of you have probably accumulated some PvP gear, maybe even the high-quality arena stuff. Some, I know, do have dual prot or other tanking specs, or no offspec at all, and if you do, that’s OK, but you still might want to rummage around for some DPS gear here and there. Here’s why.
If you are badge-geared in T9 or T10-level tank stuff, you overgear the hell out of every single heroic out there–yes, even Halls of Will You Idiots Line-of-Sight the Goddamn Phantom Mage, Please. You’ve got so much avoidance stacked, you’re starved for rage because you aren’t getting hit. Your crit%’s in the single digits and you’re rocking far north of 40,000 health, maybe more than 50,000. Healers fall asleep because you never get in trouble. Thing is, though, with the 4.0 threat changes, now you’re probably having a lot more trouble keeping agro on trash packs when the DPS decide to go “DUUUURP BIG NUKE” right at the start of the fight. No rage, no threat, and here comes the spew in /party of “zomg wtf ur bad tnak.”
Now suppose you have a near-equivalent set of DPS gear–again, T9ish or higher. Try an experiment. Stay in Prot spec and Defensive Stance, but put the DPS gear on with your tank weapon and shield. Now look at your stats. You do still have some dodge and parry percentages, I’ll guess they’re in the high single digits. Your block percentage hasn’t changed much, it’s 30% plus whatever mastery you’ve reforged onto either set of gear. Your AP is probably up (remember, no Armored to the Teeth anymore), your crit% is way up, and your health isn’t down nearly as far as you thought. Most DPS plate still stacks a big chunk of stamina on it, and you still get that +15% to your stamina from mastery. If you have PvP gear? Same thing, with even more stamina.
Voila. You’re basically in tank gear a tier or two below your “real” tank gear…except your DPS is going to skyrocket.
I’ll use a real-world example with Linedan. He’s fully geared in sanctified T10, ilevel 251 and 264 tank items. In a random heroic, that gives him, eh, 23% dodge and parry each, 55,000 health buffed out, 27k armor, 2.6% base crit, 3600 attack power. If I swap over to his Fury set, but stay in Prot spec/Defensive Stance, use his Scourgebourne Waraxe as a weapon, and keep his shield equipped? 9% dodge, 13% parry, about 22k armor. But…try 35% crit, 4400 attack power, and still well over 40,000 health.
I have tanked a couple of heroics using the hybrid DPS gear/Prot spec setup and let me tell you, it’s been brilliantly effective. The acid test was in Forge of Souls last night. We had a death nugget, a boomkin, and a rogue for DPS. The rogue liked to sneak forward and had an odd knack for picking the wrong target to attack. And we all know that boomkins can be serious threat monsters now. Also, don’t forget that FoS is one of the trickier instances for pulling and gathering due to the wide spacing of the trash groups between the entrance and Bronjahm.
It turned out to be probably the smoothest and fastest FoS run that I’ve ever tanked…and I didn’t do anything differently from how I ran it in 3.3. Except in my Fury gear, I was generating insane threat. Enough to keep a slightly trigger-happy rogue, a critchicken, and a T10-geared DK alive with only a few taunts here and there. Blood and Thunder was very effective, and I was getting enough rage from incoming hits that I could use Cleave and Thunder Clap reasonably often to hold threat over the healgro. I ended up pumping out an astonishing 3600 dps for the run, just behind the DK’s 3800 and just ahead of the rogue and boomkin. That’s not half bad for a warrior tank in an heroic.
Now, was I getting hit more? Yep. Did that make the healer (a priest) work harder? Well, technically, yes, but when’s the last time you saw a healer have to work at all to keep a T10-geared tank up in a heroic? The priest never went below 70% mana, and I rarely went below 70% health. In fact, it was a good thing that I was getting hit more. Remember Vengeance? I take more damage, I get more attack power, I deliver more damage, which means more threat, which means the DPS can go harder? It’s the great Circle of Pain, as Elton John might sing.
Now, DPS gear is viable for tanking any content that you outgear, certainly not for progression stuff. I don’t think I’d try taking on Arthas in my T10 Fury gear, and I probably wouldn’t even use it in Trial of the Oh God It’s The Same Round Room Again Kill Me Now, but weekly raids in Naxx or Ulduar or Eye of Eternity? Heroics? Yep. I’d do it in a heartbeat…after clearing it with the healer(s) and the raidleaders. You will get hit more, and you’ll need to be careful of encounters that toss out a lot of damage–for example, I put the real tank gear back on for Devourer of Souls in FoS, simply because Phantom Blast hits very hard, and I wanted a little cushion in case I missed a Spell Reflect or interrupt and something went sideways with the healing. But for trash? DPS gear, kids. It works.
In fact, come Cataclysm, I think it may work better for us to level as Prot in our DPS or PvP gear. I didn’t try it much on the beta but I probably should’ve. We would still get the benefit of Prot’s survivability, with higher DPS. It’s definitely something to think about.
“And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers! And you will know my name is the Lord [pulls out his gun and aims it at Brett] when I lay my vengeance upon thee!” –Samuel L. Jackson, “Pulp Fiction”
I’ve been a bit behind the curve on getting up to speed with the changes that hit us in patch 4.0.1–being out of town for five days just after the patch dropped will do that, since it meant I missed The Anvil’s first 25-man raid last Thursday. But I was there for this week’s hoedown, and I was front and center in the main tank slot for Sindragosa and Arthas. It was, in several ways, a very edumacashunal (as we said back in the sticks where I grew up) evening.
Really, tanking last night didn’t feel very different from when I tanked Sindy and Arthas in 3.3. As a prot warrior, my priority system has changed very little; less Heroic Strike, one Rend at the start of a fight followed by a Thunder Clap to stick it on all mobs, and other than that, it’s the same old same old. Sword and Board proc’d Shield Slams come first, then Shield Slam, then Revenge, with Devastate as the filler, Heroic Strike to bleed rage, and at least one Thunder Clap every 12-15 seconds to keep Rend and the slow up. The biggest change to my years of muscle memory is that I now have to unlearn something that it took me two years to learn, which is Heroic Strike spam. I never used to hit it enough. Now I’m hitting it too much. I actually found myself badly rage-starved early in the Lich King fight on two or three occasions, when I got an avoidance streak combined with overaggressive HS use. Since Lin doesn’t have any points in Shield Specialization, he doesn’t get any rage back when he blocks. If I’m careful with HS, no problem. If I’m not, I can dig myself a momentary hole.
The biggest changes had to do with threat. My main education last night was seeing how threat works in the 4.0 world, and what I need to do as the tank–and what the DPS needs to do–to make everything go smoothly.
Our first Arthas pull was a disaster. One of our ret paladins ripped agro off me in less than ten seconds. Then a warlock pulled off her, then a feral druid pulled off him…two people dead almost instantly. And the DPS didn’t back off to let me get him back. I admit I let out a growl that scared the cats and probably made my poor wife think I was turning into a worgen IRL. I hate losing agro…I don’t generally get mad at the person who pulled unless they did some serious durp, I just generally chalk it up to me not being able to put out the threat.
After that, the raid leaders asked the DPS to wait before unloading, both to give me more solid threat time and to give the offtank more time to get more ghouls on him, for Necrotic Plague stacks. I didn’t have any more significant threat issues after that, but I did notice something. My snap agro at the beginning of a fight is definitely off from the world of 3.x. My usual opening combo of Heroic Throw/Shield Slam just wasn’t sticking mobs to me like it used to. Combine that with the huge DPS gains that certain classes (I’m looking at you, warlocks) have received in 4.0, and the old adage of “wait for the sunders” suddenly becomes more important than ever. Opening with a big nuke is going to get your face eaten.
And the reason for this, I believe, is the Vengeance mechanic. It’s a mastery that all tank class/spec combos–blood death nuggets, prot pallies, beardurids, and prot warriors–get in Cataclysm. Put simply, whenever you take damage, 5% of that damage number is added to your attack power for 10 seconds, up to a total maximum of 10% of your maximum health. So if Arthas smacks you upside the head for 20,000 damage, you get 1000 added to your attack power for 10 seconds.
When Vengeance first came out in the alpha, it looked pretty much like it does now. And I was convinced at the time that it would never go live in that form, because the numbers shaped up to be ridiculous. When tanking ICC, Linedan typically buffs out at over 72,000 health. So merely by getting hit by Arthas a few times, he could pick up as much as 7200 attack power? That would put him well over ten thousand AP. No way that Blizzard would ever let a tank have that much AP, right?
Shows you how much I know.
My first indication of the effect that Vengeance was having was when I started seeing some big yellow numbers float up on my screen during Arthas phase 1. I mean, big yellow numbers. Five-digit big. As a prot warrior, I rarely see five-digit yellow numbers on Lin, so out of curiosity, I opened up his character pane.
Attack power? Wobbling between 12,000 and 12,500. His base AP with buffs at pull time was roughly 4700. Throw in a few other buffs in combat, and the difference would be around 7,000…indicating that he’d hit the ceiling on Vengeance.
You can imagine what a prot warrior with twelve thousand AP was doing. 18k Revenge crits. 15k normal Shield Slam hits without Shield Block up. The night’s crowning glory was a Shield Blocked Shield Slam crit for precisely 41,564. On one Arthas attempt where we never got out of phase 1 due to the OT dying, Lin did well over 8000 dps. On the attempts where we got well into phase 2 before it all fell apart, he was still doing around 6000 dps. That’s double what he was doing in 3.3.
And here’s the kicker…he needed it. Because once the DPS got the clearance to put their foot to the floor, that six to eight thousand DPS was giving me the threat-per-second I needed to stay ahead. Without it, there’s no way. We had three warlocks each doing well north of 10,000 DPS consistently. That’s a lot of threat to have to overcome. At Lin’s normal 3000 DPS, I really don’t think he could have stayed ahead of them. But at 6000, 7000, 8000 DPS? He did. If they gave me 10 to 15 seconds of light DPS at the beginning–not even no DPS, just taking it easy–then dropped the hammer, I could stay ahead of them easily. If they went for it right from the start? No chance I could hang on.
So it seems obvious to me after this experience that Blizzard is now balancing tank threat around the Vengeance mechanic. On boss fights, they are expecting the tank to have a huge boost in attack power thanks to Vengeance, and be putting out damage that’s pretty insane compared to pre-4.0 levels. DPS threat will be tuned around that. If we take that as a given–and it’s not, it’s just my observation and opinion, but let’s just roll with it–it leads to a couple of interesting conclusions.
First, every tank class, even prot warriors, the previous “kings of snap agro,” now has a ramp-up time on their maximum threat. Beforehand, if we had enough rage, we could just unload a couple of high-threat moves and get a solid hold on the target, or a DK could just inappropriately Icy Touch something and it would be stuck on him like glue. No more. If our threat in relation to the DPS’ is balanced around us having six or seven or eight thousand more attack power than we do at the start of a fight, where they don’t have the same restrictions, it means we will always need a period of time to take a few hits to the head and get good and pissed off before we’re putting out enough pain to let the DPS go nuts. This is an important point for DPS to remember. We massively overgear heroics now and can just durp our way through them (that’s my next rant, coming soon), but that stuff won’t even work in 80+ normals from what I’ve seen in the beta.
Second, tank-swap fights just got a little more interesting. We saw this on Arthas last night when Haicu (my DK tank partner) and I would swap Arthas at Soul Reaver time. It’s similar to the problems tanks deal with on Festergut and his damage-increasing Gastric Bloat. The tank who has just taunted has not taken huge amounts of damage so he hasn’t had time to ramp up his Vengeance. The tank who has just been taunted from, on the other hand, is probably maxed out on his attack power and hitting like a dump truck with no brakes, full of angry burning bears. The “from” tank is going to have to watch himself for about 10 to 12 seconds after the swap and perhaps not go full-out, especially if he significantly outgears the other tank, or he may rip agro right back.
It’s very easy to dismiss Vengeance if all you do is normal questing or even random heroics. Current non-raid content simply doesn’t hit hard enough for long enough to give you the most benefit from the mastery. But when you get into a situation where you’re on a big boss, especially a raid boss, Vengeance comes into its own.
Now, does a 41k Shield Slam crit make up for not being at Blizzcon this weekend? No. But it does soothe the pain, just a little bit…
It’s D-Day, kids. We’re getting patch 4.0.1 today (or tomorrow for you folks on EU servers), which means we’re getting most of the mechanical changes that come with Cataclysm. This includes the new trees, new skills, new glyphs, reforging, the removal of armor penetration and Defense…in short, think of it as its own little Cataclysm of how we play the game.
Well, I’ve never been one to avoid rolling with the crowd on a momentous day like today. I’m a good little lemming, so let’s throw some information and opinions out there on Prot warrioring in the new and (hopefully) wonderful world of 4.0.1…
First of all, let me give you two awesome resources as you start scrambling around. First, as I linked previously, Naithin at Fun in Games has put together a fan-damn-tastic Prot warrior 4.0.1 guide that will give you everything you need to get started. There’s really not all that much I can add except to give my own opinions on a few things, which is what I’ll be doing in this post.
Second, the lovely (and freshly Kingslayerish!) Kadomi over at Tank Like a Girl has a great list of 4.0.1 warrior (and other) resource links. These will get you up to speed on setting up your spec, glyphs, and reforging.
Now with all that linked and at your fingertips, you probably don’t need me durping around giving my half-baked opinions on things. But, I’m going to do it anyway, because (a) it’s my blog, and (b) I’m out of town for a week starting on Thursday and need a blog post up before I go. Suck it.
What things you can expect to see when you first log in, other than an assload of LUA errors and “SERVER: Restart in 5:00″? Well, your health will go up a bit thanks to a flat +15% from Prot mastery, and your armor will go down a bit, especially if you’re rocking bonus armor pieces like Pillars of Might or the Cataclysmic Chestguard. The changes are probably within about 10% in both cases. Defense is gone, and unlamented if you ask me. Defense gems will change into…uh…something else. Defense rating on items will change into straight dodge and parry. There is no more shield block value; successful blocks now block 30% of that hit’s damage, or 60% on a critical block. Shield Slam damage now scales off attack power like everything else. You will have a base 30% chance to block, given by your Prot mastery; the only way to raise it is by adding Mastery rating, which will require us to use Reforging to add it to our gear. And your mastery will give you Vengeance, which takes 5% of damage that you suffer and adds it to your attack power for 10 seconds. All tanks get this mastery; it’s designed to crank up our damage, and thus threat, while tanking.
The talent tree changes are, obviously, probably the biggest single change we face. (Hey, at least they didn’t change us over from rage to focus.) To do a quick recap: Talent trees are now 31 points deep instead of 51. At level 10 you must pick a tree, and you are locked into that tree and only that tree until you take the 31-point talent…at level 69. Only then may you pick things from the other two trees. Talent points now come one every two levels (one at 10, one at 11, and one every odd level thereafter). This means that your level 80 warrior tank will have 36 talent points to spend, 31 of which have to go into the Prot tree. The days of any sort of hybrid build are over.
Now looking at the two-month span between now and the release of Cataclysm, it’s obvious that you won’t be leveling if you’re already 80. You probably won’t be doing much if any solo questing or grinding (again, if you’re 80), unless you’re doing something like going for Loremaster. So by elimination, you need a build that’s focused on tanking.
This is my first shot at one. It gives up some talents that would increase DPS–talents that I’d consider taking in a build where I was doing more simple running-around-and-killing-shit–and leans toward multiple-target threat, damage mitigation, and self-healing. Looking through the Prot talents tier-by-tier:
Tier 1: Incite just doesn’t grab me real hard. It looks like a bit of a damage (and threat) boost but I don’t know that we’re going to need it with Defensive Stance giving us +200% threat on everything we do. Toughness, that’s a no-brainer, especially with “bonus armor” taking the nerf bat in a big way. Blood and Thunder is actually a fairly effective AOE threat mechanic. I still think the dear departed Damage Shield was better, but B&T has seemed, in the beta, to be reasonably effective at holding threat over top of healgro. It won’t save the DPS if they focus the wrong target, but it’s not meant to. The one disadvantage to B&T is, obviously, you can easily stick a Rend on a CC’d mob if your placement is poor. So make sure you fight well away from sheeps and saps and such.
Tier 2: Lots and lots of points here. 3/3 Shield Mastery is a no-brainer, as is 2/2 Gag Order. The jury is still very much out on Hold the Line; I’ve got it on Lin in the beta because his crit is basically non-existent, he’s stacked a bit of parry to help this proc, and the crit boost helps his damage while grinding. I don’t know how much use it will be in dungeon and raid tanking, though. As for Shield Specialization, it hasn’t proven to be a “must have” talent. Rage has not been a huge issue for Linedan in the beta once I learned to back off constantly hitting Heroic Strike like I was tanking Arthas. My opinion is this: put 7 points in this tier. Five of them go into Shield Mastery and Gag Order. The other two can go either 0/3 Shield Spec and 2/2 Hold the Line for a bit of a damage boost, or 2/3 Shield Spec if you think you’re rage-starved. For now, I’ll go with Hold the Line here until I get a better feel on rage.
Tier 3: Take it all. Take ALL the talents. Last Stand, duh. Concussion Blow, duh. Bastion of Defense, duh. Warbringer, duh. Fill this tier.
Tier 4: Again, I would take everything here. 2/2 Improved Revenge makes Revenge hit like a truck on fire driven by angry burning bears, plus lets it hit a second target–very important for multi-target tanking. Devastate is a no-brainer, it’s our major spammable everything-else-is-on-cooldown attack. Impending Victory doesn’t buy you much against non-elites, but it helps on bosses, and trust me, anything that will take a load off a healer right now is going to be appreciated. Healers have a brutally tough job in 4.0.
Tier 5: I’m not completely sold on Thunderstruck. It does synergize very nicely with Blood and Thunder, though, so I’d probably take both points in it if I took B&T. Vigilance doesn’t transfer threat anymore, instead it gives you the refreshed taunt if the recipient gets hit and gives you a small bit of AP from the Vengeance mastery (you get 5% of 20% of the damage they took as attack power…hence, “small”). The Taunt refresh is the main use of it now. Heavy Repercussions doubles your Shield Slam damage whenever Shield Block is up. I think it’s an inefficient use of points, but we’ve got to put them somewhere, and I think it’s just barely a better deal than Incite. Granted, I have no numbers to back it up, just a gut feel and an inordinate love for giant Shield Slam crits.
Tier 6: Safeguard still doesn’t seem worth it to me. Sword and Board is a no-brainer.
Tier 7: It’s OK. I’ve got Shockwave.
That gives us precisely 31 points in Prot, with five points left to spend. The last five points are spent on things that help take the load off our overworked healer brethren: 2/2 Field Dressing in Arms and 3/3 Blood Craze in Fury.
This 2/3/31 layout is probably going to be pretty cookie-cutter, but there is a tiny bit of flexibility there in the Prot tree. If you don’t think you need as much AOE threat but need more raw damage output you can drop the points from Blood and Thunder and Thunderstruck to put them into Incite. If you’re rage-starved, load up 3/3 Shield Specialization at the expense of Hold the Line. The thing to remember is that you won’t be able to get any second-tier Arms or Fury talents until Cataclysm comes out, you won’t have the points…and even then, you’ll have to plan ahead.
Now, glyphing. Glyphs come in three flavors now: prime (things that increase your primary function, DPS, HPS, threat, etc.), major (useful and helpful things), and minor (“fun” or small semi-useful things). Prime glyphing a Prot warrior is easy because there’s only three pertinent ones for you to pick: Devastate, Revenge, and Shield Slam. For major glyphs, you’ve got more choices…but one of your three must be the Glyph of Victory Rush. It supercharges your heals from Victory Rush and Impending Victory, and again, in the 4.0 world, you’ve got to do everything you can to make your healer’s job easier. There are several useful major glyphs to pick from, including Heroic Throw (puts a Sunder Armor stack on the target), Cleaving (Cleave hits 3 targets instead of 2), Resonating Power (-5 rage on Thunder Clap), Spell Reflection (-1 second cooldown on Spell Reflect), Shockwave (-3 second cooldown on Shockwave), or Sunder Armor (Sunder a second target). You can make a case for any of them, so pick whatever you want. (I’m so decisive, aren’t I?) For your minor glyphs, a common suggestion seems to be to stack all three Shout glyphs (Battle, Commanding, and Demoralizing); but don’t ignore the Enduring Victory glyph, which increases the window for Victory Rush use from 20 to 25 seconds.
Your tanking rotation really doesn’t change very much. You no longer frantically hammer Heroic Strike to get 100% uptime on it (mousewheels everywhere rejoice!); instead you hit it every three seconds if you’ve got rage. You will leave yourself massively rage-starved if you don’t back off that HS key and use it as the rage dump it’s intended to be instead of just mashing it every time it lights up. I will also be curious to see what the damage relationship is between Revenge and Shield Slam. In the beta, Revenge is consistently hitting harder than Shield Slam unless Shield Block is up with 2/2 Heavy Repercussions. When tanking packs of trash, you’ll hit Rend once on one mob at the start of the fight, Thunder Clap to transfer it to everyone, and then make sure you Thunder Clap at least every fifteen seconds to keep Rend refreshed on all targets.
This week, Blizzard gave us a firm date for the Cataclysm to tear Azeroth asunder…December 7. With all the new content coming at us in just two months–and with the mechanical changes to classes, talents, items, etc. possibly coming as early as next week–I’ve been putting a bit more time in on the beta servers lately.
As a result, Linedan on beta is now level 85. (I’ve also been working a bit on Latisha…she’s 82, and I’ll chronicle her story in another update on The Latisha Experiment a bit later.) Along the way there, I’ve picked up some information that will hopefully help anyone planning to level a Prot warrior from 80 to 85, as Prot, once Cataclysm drops for real. (PLEASE NOTE: I’m going to leave lore spoilers out of this post as much as I possibly can, but I will be talking about Cataclysm mechanics and zones in a general sense. If you want to be totally surprised, stop now.)
First of all, remember that all of the changes to talent trees, class mechanics, and gear itemization will be coming with patch 4.0.1, which could happen as soon as October 12 (that’s next Tuesday as I write this). I would highly recommend reading Naithin’s outstanding 4.0 Prot warrior guide over at Fun in Games to get a great summary of the changes that we’re going to face in the interregnum between Arthas falling and Deathwing rising. It’s a good starting point for looking at the new zones and the level 80-85 grind.
The leveling flow through the new zones is pretty straightforward, and each zone is more linear than ever as to how quests are handled. This is the basic flow you’ll see:
- Mount Hyjal (80-82) or Vashj’ir (80-82)
- Deepholm (82-83)
- Uldum (83-84)
- Twilight Highlands (84-85)
The reason that Mount Hyjal and Vashj’ir can cover two levels is not that they’re bigger than the other zones, although Vashj’ir is actually three separate maps and covers a lot of ground…uh, water. No, it’s because of the experience required to level. 80 to 81 and 81 to 82 both require about 1.75 million xp, not too much more than the high 70s did in Northrend. But when you hit level 82, that changes. Each of the next three levels required somewhere around 6.5 million xp. That’s not a typo. Six point five million xp per level. That’s an intimidatingly large number, but it shouldn’t be. There are a lot of quests in the 82-85 zones, and they give from 40,000 to 55,000 xp each on completion (except for simple stuff like breadcrumb or “go over here and talk to this person” quests, of course). Mob-killing xp has been adjusted upward as well, to the point where Linedan was getting over 10,000 per kill (rested) against level 84s in Twilight Highlands.
Within each zone, the quests are organized in a pretty logical manner. Breadcrumb quests into each of the new zones are easily available from “boards” all over Stormwind, or outside the new Grommash Hold (or, as I like to call it, “Garrosh’s Overcompensation For His Small Wee-wee”) in Orgrimmar. Once you establish yourself in one of the new zones, portals will open up at Earthen Ring sites in Stormwind and Orgrimmar. Also, all the zones except Deepholm can be flown into by your own flying mounts, and there are convenient flightmasters scattered around.
As a Prot warrior, your abilities and rotation haven’t changed that much from Wrath of the Lich King. The changes are subtle, like Heroic Strike being an instant attack for 30 rage instead of an on-next-swing for 15; or the crit-boosting being removed from a lot of our talents (like Gag Order). But the abilities, in general, do the same things and get used in the same order. There really are two big changes: the addition of Rend as a useful ability (paired with the Blood and Thunder talent), and Heroic Strike becoming less spammy and more situational.
This is the spec that Lin entered Hyjal with at level 80. I went with 2/2 Blood and Thunder more out of curiosity than anything else. 2/2 Hold the Line’s in there because, in T10-level tank gear, his crit dropped at 80 to less than 2.5%, and with almost all of our crit-increasing talents changed, I figured he needed all the help he could get while questing. His talent choices at each level were:
- 81: 2/2 Field Dressing
- 82: 2/3 Shield Specialization
- 83: 3/3 Shield Specialization
- 84: 1/3 Incite
- 85: 1/2 Thunderstruck
(I’m probably going to tweak the spec to ditch Incite completely and pick up 2/2 Thunderstruck.)
Grinding it Out
As Prot warriors, we had an extremely easy time of leveling in Northrend. Yes, our single-target DPS was low. Who cared? We could charge into a camp and massacre it in seconds with a combination of Damage Shield, Cleave, Thunder Clap, and Shockwave, while shrugging off the feeble blows of our assailants.
Things aren’t quite as easy in Cataclysm. The foremost reason for that isn’t the changes that were made to Prot spec. It’s the mobs themselves.
A level 80 Northrend melee (non-casting) mob has precisely 12,600 health. A level 80 Cataclysm melee mob has just over 30,000 health. And it goes up radically from there. Level 81, about 37,000. Level 82, about 44,000. Level 83, around 52,000. Level 84, around 65,000. The only level 85 mobs I’ve seen yet had 96,000 health each, but I’m not sure if those were special and if that’s normal for level 85 non-elites.
They’re not just tougher, they hit harder too. By the time Linedan got to Uldum, the level 84 melee mobs there were hitting him for over 2000 base damage…and that’s with him having over 31,000 armor and a physical damage mitigation right at 60%. Stuff in Cataclysm doesn’t tickle when it hits.
So when you combine all that health, high damage, and our traditional low DPS, it doesn’t bode well, right? Well, it’s not so bad. You’re still a spellcaster’s nightmare, you’ve got your stuns, and you’ve got two other powerful counters to keep you in the fight: Blood Craze and Victory Rush. Blood Craze, in my experience, is probably ticking about a third to a half of the time during any given fight. That’s 1.5% of your max health at the time Blood Craze activated, every second, for five seconds. Victory Rush, now usable in Defensive Stance, gives you a big heal–20% of your current max health–whether or not the attack actually lands. And, both these abilities are boosted by Field Dressing from the Arms tree. Plus, you can take points into Impending Victory to give yourself a “mini” Victory Rush (for 5% of your health) whenever a mob is below 20% health. If you’re just out grinding, the talent’s usefulness is marginal, but keep an eye on it when you start raiding. In a long fight, it could provide a useful amount of healing.
So our pull strategy really doesn’t change that much. We need to pull (fairly) big and (fairly) fast. Two or more mobs at a time is optimum for us. By the time you beat down the first one, you’re probably wounded; hit Victory Rush, get 20% of your health back, and you’re good to go on the next one. If you have to pull one at a time, you have to rush and find the next mob within 20 seconds before Victory Rush wears off. And even if you can’t, don’t despair. Out-of-combat health regen on the beta (as of build 13117) is insane. Linedan is regaining well over 600 health per tick while standing up. The new bandages also heal for useful amounts (around 20,000 to start with) so make sure you get your First Aid skill trained up pronto.
One thing you will have to watch for is rage starvation. Our rage generation is generally good enough, due to the high incoming damage and the tuning they currently have in place. If you take a few points into Shield Specialization, it gets better (especially if you can Spell Reflect something!). But you must be careful about your Heroic Strike use. HS is no longer spammable, and it costs 30 rage. Chances are, you’re not going to be able to hit it every time it’s up, and keep up Devastate spam, Shield Slam/Revenge as available, and Rend/Thunder Clap if you’re using Blood and Thunder. Be judicious in your use of Heroic Strike. Cleave, you’ll probably have less trouble with; I never had much problem with rage when fighting 2+ mobs.
You’ll start replacing anything less than T10 gear almost immediately in Hyjal or Vashj’ir. This new gear is the only way, other than Reforging, to get Mastery rating. Our Mastery rating increases our block chance, and it is, in fact, the only way to increase our block chance, as there is no more separate block rating. If you have T10 gear, it will probably hold you into Deepholm or even Uldum. Currently at 85, Lin is still wearing his sanctified T10 helm and T10-level rings and trinkets, he’s replaced everything else in his Prot set.
One thing to think about…with Defense no longer being in the game, you can become uncrittable by placing 2 talent points in Bastion of Defense. This frees you up to try Prot grinding with DPS armor. I have yet to try this, but I should; in tank gear at level 85, Linedan’s crit rating is an appalling 0.75%, and he’s badly short on +hit and +expertise (both of which are still needed). DPS armor still has a lot of stamina on it, and Mastery rating is Mastery rating regardless of what gear it comes on. The upside of using DPS armor would be increased +hit/+crit/+expertise at the cost of a bit of health; the downside would be lower avoidance due to losing +dodge and +parry. Does the increase in offensive stats balance the decrease in health and defensive stats? It might be worth trying if your grinding feels too slow, but you don’t want to go to, or don’t have, a DPS offspec. (FWIW, Linedan started at about 2000 DPS in Vashj’ir; he’s now doing about 2800 DPS in Twilight Highlands, and that number increases substantially fighting multiple mobs.)
Finally, I’ll briefly talk about instancing…briefly, because I’ve only done it once, on a normal Stonecore run along with my wife and three guys from the LFD tool. After all, if you’re a dedicated tank, you’re going to want to instance a lot, right?
You may have heard a lot of doom and gloom about Prot warriors’ ability to tank in Cataclysm, and how it’s a fallback to the horrible days of The Burning Crusade, when paladins kicked our asses at tanking heroics. Don’t panic. It’s not quite that bad. Yes, these are not Wrath of the Lich King dungeons. They do require some amount of brains, strategy, and crowd control to succeed in. But they aren’t quite as brutal as, say, heroic Shattered Halls.
Crowd control is back, and it’s necessary, but for normal instances, you don’t need a huge amount of it. One competent trapping hunter or sheeping mage should be able to get the job done in most cases, provided the rest of your group doesn’t break it (this includes you). On our Stonecore run, we were fortunate to have both a hunter and a warlock with glyphed Fear, which leaves mobs cowering in place instead of causing them to run. Between that and his Banish, the ‘lock did a great job on CC.
Your tanking doesn’t change all that much. The difference is largely in the incoming damage, which is a LOT higher (but so is your health). Also, without Damage Shield to provide that little passive threat boost, this is where Blood and Thunder comes into its own. It’s not much use just out questing, but in an instance, being able to place and keep a Rend on every mob you’re tanking helps your threat. Just make sure you’re clear of any CC’d mob before doing this, otherwise the mages will hate you.
Your TAB key will get more of a workout on trash if your group can’t stick to a kill order. (Kill order is VERY IMPORTANT now. Seriously. VERY VERY important.) You will be shifting between mobs to drop Devastates and other damage. Take Vigilance and use it–but remember, Vigilance doesn’t transfer threat anymore, it just reduces the damage on your chosen target and refreshes your Taunt. Use your cooldowns like Shield Block or your emergency buttons (Last Stand/Shield Wall) to try and offload some work from your healer, because healers are really having to work much harder in 4.0. Because of threat decay entering the equation, you can’t coast at all during a fight–you’ve got to keep pushing your threat as much as you can and stay on top of things.
On bosses, again, it is key to avoid as much avoidable stuff as possible. Don’t stand in Bad(tm). Use your cooldowns when something big and ugly is about to land. Healers are stretched to their limits under these new mechanics, and anything that you can do to help keep yourself alive early in a fight may give them the mana to keep you alive at the end.
And it’s in instances, and presumably raids, where Vengeance really comes into its own. Vengeance gives you 5% of your taken damage as attack power for 10 seconds, and it “rolls”–any number of damage that you take just stays as AP for 10 seconds and then it’s gone, so it wobbles up and down. Once you see how much damage you’re taking in a Cataclysm instance, you’ll realize that you’re getting an absolutely insane amount of attack power from this mastery ability. Linedan normally runs around 4500 AP now. While tanking Stonecore, I opened his character sheet at one point and was shocked to see him–literally–OVER NINE THOOOOOUUUSAANNND attack power. This directly translates to a big damage boost, and, therefore, a big threat boost. I didn’t think Vengeance was very useful when I first started leveling, but after doing just one instance, boy am I a believer now.