This is the second of a two-part post on the emergence of damage dealing-focused tank. The first one covers the elements of the game that contributed to this attitude, and this one will cover how small raid sizes contributed to the changing paradigm and how 20 man Mythic Mode may help bring back the defensive tank.
Encounters that Challenge Defensive Skills
Tanks’ ability to prioritize personal damage depends on how far the average encounter challenges their survival. If a boss hits so hard that you have to focus all you have on barely clinging to life, then you’ll probably prefer defensive play. If a boss rarely drops you below 50% health, you might as well contribute as much as you can to damage since staying alive is easy (and rather boring).
There are a couple things that stand in the way of truly challenging tank encounters. The first is that active mitigation alone is too strong, allowing tanks to take near complete control of their survival without relying on anyone else. The second is that in smaller raid sizes, encounters can’t be designed to require too many healers, and the healer-to-tank ratio has to remain roughly 1:1 or 1:1.5. The final contributor is that the only remaining way to challenge tanks in this environment is extreme burst.
Active Mitigation, while an amazing and interesting introduction into the game, is too powerful in its current form. A moderately skilled tank can survive almost anything with good use of active mitigation and cooldowns, without depending on outside sources. Those outside sources can include healers or even your own gear.
For a brewmaster, keeping shuffle up as much as possible will contribute much more to your survival than better gear. If you use Guard well, your healers don’t even need to help you recover after big hits. You can be nearly self-sufficient with your own heals and preventive damage reduction. Having lots of control over your fate is great; the problem lies in the degree of control.
This is something that Celestalon has briefly mention on twitter:
@Kosouda I wouldn't say the same as 'now' (meaning live). Tank AM *gameplay* is awesome, but its *effectiveness* is too strong on live.
— Celestalon (@Celestalon) May 15, 2014
The solution would be to nerf active mitigation. That hasn’t happened yet in the beta, though it’s clearly on the developers’ radar.
10 Man Limitations
When designing encounters, tank damage has to be manageable by the tank and limited healers. Since there are fewer of those in a 10 man, that means damage to tank has to be that much less deadly.
Ten man tanks typically do much more self healing than 25 because they’re far less likely to have a dedicated healer. Ten man healers usually have to bounce around and help out the raid, leaving the tank to herself for much of the time. This was an interesting challenge, but without being able to bring in other variables such as challenging the healers, it limits the designers abilities to stretch a tank’s individual survival.
This tweet goes a ways back, though it touches upon one of the reasons why developers wanted a single, larger (than 10) raid size:
We have struggled to balance current 10 heroics. Too hard on class comp and tank damage for example.
— Greg Street (@OccupyGStreet) November 9, 2013
In Warlords of Draenor, the new highest level of progression raiding will be Mythic Mode. Mythic difficulty is supposed to be roughly the same as Mists’ heroic difficulty, but with a static 20 people. The proportions will likely be: 2 tanks (occasionally 3), 4-5 healers (more or less, occasionally), and the rest dps.
Those proportions are important because instead of a 1:1 or 1:1.5 tank-to-healer ratio, we’ll have a 1:2+ ratio. More available healers means we can rely on and expect heals from them more often, which means more tanks can handle more damage. Will that mean every encounter threatens tank safety? Not at all, but it means Blizzard has more flexibility when it comes to designing these encounters.
With the larger and uniform raid size, the designers can hopefully use it to bring in challenges from both sides of the spectrum: from tank-squashing bosses that require a dedicated healer to raid damage bosses that require healing to be spread out.
Max Health and Healing Triage
This is a relatively small point compared to the other two, but I need three points and I still think it has a big effect on limiting developers tools to challenge tanks. Every few expansions, we run into the problem where boss damage vastly outpaces tank health. All of our other defenses are so strong that the only way left to endanger us is challenging human reaction time. That is, trying to kill tanks with burst damage.
Luckily, this may be solved by a relative health increase coming in Warlords. Blizzard always tries to encourage triage, which is their term for design that leaves people at varying levels of health and giving the healer options on whether to leave someone in that state or to heal them up. This is important to tanks as well. Since our max health is increasing more than our healing, we will likely spend more time at health that is not topped off. That also means that burst is less likely, since we have a much bigger pool for a boss to dig through. Hopefully, a bursty boss will still pop up since it’s an interesting way to vary play, but not all the time.