Mists of Pandaria dungeons: quick strategy guides

September 24, 2012 at 1:41 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The new expansion for WoW will soon be open.  Collected below are the guides I could find for the new dungeons.

Temple of the Jade Serpent:

Stormstout Brewery:

Scholomance (updated):

Scarlet Halls:

Scarlet Monastery (updated):

Shado-pan Monastery:

Gate of the Setting Sun:

Mogu’Shan Palace:

Siege of Niuzao Temple:

Matticus has a great spreadsheet for healers trying to pick which instance to run.

4.3: Looking for Raid (LFR)

November 13, 2011 at 6:00 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Blizzard has recently announced that they intend to implement a Looking for Raid (LFR) system that parallels the current Looking for Dungeon (LFD) system for 5 man groups.  As much as I am excited — and I am — about the chance to do more raids without waiting for a trade pug, I can’t imagine this being anything other than a train wreck.  I explain below.

Overall, the LFD system has been successful in what it set out to do.  Even for dps, groups are formed rapidly and placed into the appropriate dungeon.  This has been a real boon for players in terms of time saved.  For players on low population servers it’s especially helpful because there can be times when there simply isn’t tolerable fifth player available to fill your dungeon group.  This doesn’t mean, though, that LFD isn’t without a downside.  Both here and elsewhere players have written about how rude and unpleasant other players can be in LFD and how this behavior seems to have spread to the community in general.  It’s an unfortunate side effect of grouping together players with different goals who will never have to see each other again.

It seems that LFR is set to repeat the mistakes of LFD and include a few new ones, too.  Not only will a collection of players with different interests, goals and abilities be grouped together, but there will be more of them pulling the group in different directions.  Maintaining control of and directing a raid can be a difficult job in the best of situations; it will be substantially harder in LFR.  From what I understand, the vote kick system will function similar to what we are familiar with in LFD.  It’s pointless to try kick underperforming players because the cooldown is so long that you’ll inevitably get somebody worse and be unable to remove them.

Judging from what I have seen in LFD lately, where nearly half of all ZA-geared dps struggle to stay ahead of the tank in boss damage, a typical group of 25 LFR players can be expected to contain 4-8 very bad players.  This will be the situation unless the fights are very very simple, like the Baradin Hold bosses.

The difference between BH and LFR, though, is that kicking is difficult.  A BH raidleader can remove anybody for any reason; an LFR group can’t.  Imagine you are put in an LFR group with another 24 players.  Seven of them are underperforming to a degree that you will be unable to complete the encounter.  The group may be able to kick a couple of them, but removing all seven is probably out of the question.  Even if they were all removed, at least two of the replacements will be very weak.

At some point, you run out of kicks.  How do you beat the encounter?  For myself, I can occasionally improve my own performance by a mild amount through great effort and concentration but large gains are generally not possible once I’ve seen a fight a few times.  By contrast, substantial gains can be made by replacing a bad player with a good or even average player.  To put this more starkly: the group improves less from good players playing with more effort than from badgering bad players until they leave.  The incentives, then, favor bullying bad players to leave the raid and then kicking the few that can’t take a hint.

It’s going to be screwy in LFR, especially if the fights aren’t incredibly easy.  Despite having over a year to think this over, I don’t believe Blizzard will release a system that works particularly well given what we know about player behavior.

Tank threat change

August 21, 2011 at 10:33 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Blizzard recently announced a big change to how much threat tanks will produce:

We have therefore decided to buff tank threat generation in a hotfix this week to where it’s generally not a major consideration. We expect the community to gradually stop using threat-tracking mods as players realize they don’t need them.

I don’t have a lot to say about this, but I would like to observe that The Daily Blink has, once again, perfectly identified how an announced change will play out in actual groups.

I am wondering, though, how tanks will distinguish themselves as skilled in the future.  Threat generation is no longer part of what makes one tank better than another since additional threat is useless unless dps players are threat-capped.  It seems like survival and maybe interrupts are the only important metrics for effective tank play.

Heroic Halfus

June 7, 2011 at 10:43 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A while ago I volunteered to do a little reading on Heroic Halfus and to share the results of what I found on my guild’s forums.  I’d forgotten about writing this, but wanted to post it here.  If you’ve done some of your own reading, please be aware that 4.0.6 (early Feb) substantially changed some of the mechanics of the fight, so what I say here may differ from older sources.

Differences from regular
The main difference between regular and heroic is that all five drakes are active, so Halfus begins the fight with a substantial number of buffs.  Aside from that, however, everything works the way you would expect.  For a refresher on what each of the drakes do, go to this Wowhead comment

Some guilds have chosen to stack tanks, healers or both for this fight.  Tank damage at the start can be substantial, so easing this challenge by spreading it across additional tanks or by having additional healers helps a lot, especially while learning the encounter.  For groups that bring a third tank, a bear in kitty gear seems to be idea because they can switch to dps after one of the drakes dies.  For groups that bring a fourth healer, disc is very very strong because of the cooldowns and smite healing/dps they bring.

No matter what we do, though, this fight still starts with 90 seconds of hell.  It gets mildly easier after that, but not to the degree that it does on regular.  Managing the Shadow Nova after Furious Roar is the main consideration in the later portion of the fight.

Big picture
Because this fight isn’t too different from the regular version, a lot of the challenge comes not from learning new mechanics but from excellent management of cooldowns.  Tanks will need their own cooldowns as well as external cooldowns to survive the first phase of the fight.  Interrupters will need cooldowns to get Shadow Nova after Halfus begins to stun the raid.  Healers will be at risk of going OOM very early in the encounter without assistance from Mana Tide, Innervate, and so on.

With that in mind, I’ve tried to break this guide down into smaller sections detailing ideas for dealing with the various troublesome aspects of the fight.

Which drakes to release?
Understandably, there are a variety of ways this fight can be (and has been) done.  The consensus, however, seems to be that Nether and Storm must be released in order to reduce Halfus’ hit chance and the casting speed of his Shadow Nova.  Slate, by contrast, is usually not released as his debuff is not essential.  Of remaining two, Time and the Whelps, one is typically released at the start and the other is released after the first death of a drake.  There does not appear to be a preference for Time or Whelps first.

Which drakes to kill?
Based on the release order from above, typically Nether or Storm is killed first, though groups that released Whelps first often killed them first.  This appears to be based on group composition, with groups possessing strong AoE classes (in particular, fire mages and frost DKs) preferring to release and kill the Whelps first.  When whelps were not killed first, they were usually left to be burned down by cleaves and other incidental AoE.  One group suggested that Whelps should be dead by 50% via cleaves if there are no dps problems.

Considerations for the pull
At the start of the fight, Halfus will have all 5 buffs for a few seconds, until the various drakes can be released.  As a result, it is extremely dangerous for him to be in range of the tank during this time.  Groups employed a variety of methods to deal with this problem:

1) Halfus can be Misdirected to a tank standing away from Halfus.  This made positioning fairly easy and, if Whelps were released first, made their pickup relatively uncomplicated.  As a disadvantage, this method requires a hunter and does not allow the use of MD elsewhere in the pull.
2) Halfus can be Misdirected to a pet that is left standing at the entrance to the room.  The tank taunts Halfus as he reaches the pet.  This provides a little more time between pulling Halfus and his arrival at the tank, but slightly less flexibility in positioning as the tank must be within taunt range of the pet.  As with the previous method, this also requires a hunter.
3) Halfus can also be offtanked for the first few seconds of the fight.  I read about one group having a kitty switch to bear form and pop all cooldowns to tank Halfus for ~15 seconds.  After this, the regular tank taunted Halfus and the bear returned to kitty form to dps.  As previously, this delays the debuff from stacking on the tank.

Because the fight is largely won or lost in the first 90 seconds, getting the pull right is more important than usual.  Halfus and the drakes need to be rapidly positioned and burned down while keeping dps and healing very high.

Dealing with Malevolent Strikes
As long as Slate is up, the raid will need to worry about his melee hits applying the Malevolent Strikes debuff.  Managing this tank debuff is a substantial concern in this fight, moreso than in regular.  Some groups reported that the stacks would reach 10+ within seconds of the start of the fight because the fight begins with ~5 seconds during which all buffs are active because the drakes have not yet been released.  In order to avoid this problem, they found it necessary to delay Halfus’ arrival at the tank.  When Halfus has to run to the tank, the accumulation of debuff stacks is also delayed, providing a big advantage to the group.  I read about a few tricks (other than tank swaps, of course) for dealing with this mechanic:

1) Hand of Protection, which is something we already do.  Tanks will need a /cancelaura macro.
2) Because Halfus must damage a tank in order to apply the debuff, high avoidance can be very helpful (though somewhat RNG-y).  Bears are, because of their high dodge, in this respect preferable to shield tanks for the beginning of the encounter.  That said, all tanks are capable of shifting stats around and pre-potting for avoidance (rather than armor, as is typical) to reduce stacking.  Popping avoidance trinkets at the start is also a good idea.
3) Stacking can be delayed by forcing Halfus to run to the tank or by starting with an offtank, as previously described.  I think there is a lot of potential in this trick, but we will need to be careful that it does not delay the use of defensive cooldowns such that they become available again too late.
4) Hunter pets can Intervene the tank and eat the next melee hit (which would apply an MS stack).  I don’t know much about this; it might reduce hunter dps too much, but it is an option.
5) If we had a prot paladin, Bubble also works to remove stacks.

Dealing with Shadow Nova
Prior to the stuns, dealing with Shadow Nova is fairly typical.  We want to avoid moving Halfus too much so that melee are not suddenly out of range.  Most interrupts can miss, so reaching hitcap is important for whoever is assigned to this role.

During the stun phase, interrupting can be very challenging.  I found a few different techniques for dealing with this, though they were often stated speculatively rather than as known-good methods:
1) Mages can Blink and Counterspell, but it requires excellent timing.
2) Humans or those wearing PvP trinkets can trinket out of the stun.
3) Warrior Berserker Rage may prevent a stun. (From our experience, it appears that this does not work.)
4) The stun time reduction metagem may reduce stun time enough to get off an interrupt, though I was unclear if this only worked for orcs in combination with their racial stun time reduction.
5) Living Action Potion.  We’d need a couple of stacks of these, probably, unless we learn this fight very rapidly.  (From our experience, it appears that this, too, does not work.)
6) Hunters may be able to use Master’s Call to break the stun.

Additional notes
1) There were some reports that Storm hits harder (60k vs 50k) that the other drakes.  This may influence decisions about tank assignments.
2) The enrage timer is 6 minutes.  Halfus has 51M health while each of the drakes has 4.15M.
3) For the first 90 seconds, a warrior can easily hit 25k dps.  Spreading Rend is very powerful in conjunction with TC/SW.

Further reading
Tankspot video (25m, pre-4.0.6): http://www.tankspot.com/showthread.php?73607-Heroic-Halfus-Wyrmbreaker
WoW Insider article, with comments: http://wow.joystiq.com/2011/03/07/raid-rx-heroic-halfus-healing-case-study/

LFD Griefing

May 1, 2011 at 11:53 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Recently, I’ve leveled a new healer through LFD from 15 to 50. There’s a lot that has been good about the experience, but right now I’m feeling like it is heavily outweighed by the bad. Making matters worse, the mechanics for dealing with don’t work. I’m really unhappy about this.

I think there is a new bot for leveling via LFD. If you’ve played enough battlegrounds, you’ve seen some of the more sophisticated bots that aren’t totally mechanical, but don’t act like actual players either. I’ve seen far too many hunters and mages that play in a very strange and cautious way, doing about a quarter of the damage of a normal dps, looting, and having regular breaks of no movement. They never jump.

There are so many of these bots (I see one roughly every fourth run). I ask questions and attempt to discern if they are humans that play in an odd way or not. If they aren’t, I vote kick. I haven’t had a kick attempt fail yet — everybody else agrees.

I also see fairly high numbers of afkers and disconnects. Maybe one every fifth run. I usually kick those, too.

It’s pretty rare to see a player so unintentionally bad that they threaten the success of the run. I’ve carried several earnest but incompetent dps. I think I’ve kicked one tank that pulled so slowly we would have needed two hours to complete the instance.

When I run into an actual griefer, however, I have more difficulty vote kicking. Today I had a really bad one and nobody in the group could kick him. The rest of the group discussed and all agreed that he should go, but nobody could get rid of him. “You cannot initiate any more party kicks.” Four times. What an awful error message. I’m still upset about this.

The mechanics for vote kick aren’t working when one person can hold the group hostage.

Cheat sheet: new 4.1 instances

April 26, 2011 at 11:28 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Two new 5 man heroic dungeons — Zul’Aman and Zul’Gurub — are being added in the 4.1 patch for Cataclysm.  While they are similar to the old raids, the differences are significant enough that it’s worth reviewing the different abilities involved in each fight.  This article attempts to provide a quick reference for both instances.

Zul’Gurub
LoD has already produced a really good video about this instance.  I definitely encourage watching it, even though it is a bit longish at 12 minutes.  Icy Veins has composed a very complete written guide for the instance.  My notes below are intended to be a brief reminder of the major mechanics for each fight.

Venoxis (snake boss)

  • Spread out.  When a green beam connects two people, they need to run away from each other.
  • Don’t stand in green stuff.
  • Interrupt.
  • Move out of the green poison breath.
  • After he runs back up on his platform, a green beam will chase you.  Kite it.

Mandokir (raptor boss)

  • Party members will get one-shot throughout this encounter.  It’s part of the mechanics.  Take the free battle rez when offered.
  • Move out of the orange fire stuff.
  • Kill the raptor ASAP (he becomes attackable about 20 seconds into the fight)
  • Save dps and defensive cooldowns for Frenzy at 20% health.

Kilnara (panther boss)

  • Pull and kill all panthers before the boss reaches 50%.  Don’t pull too many at once, however, as they apply a bleed.
  • Move out of the purple wave cone, as it does a knockback and significant (~80k) damage.
  • Interrupt her cast when possible.
  • Save cooldowns for post-50% when she gains a large haste buff.

Zanzil (cauldron boss)

  • Interrupt/reflect Voodoo Bolt & move out of the purple fire.
  • Zanzil has three random abilities (green, blue and red) for which you need to drink from the corresponding cauldron.  For blue, burn the berserker that spawns (if you get a blue arrow, kite the berserker).  For red, be aware that the Hellfire buff will do friendly fire.  For green, just drink the cauldron and go back to dps.

Jin’do (final boss)

  • In phase one, move the boss out of his anti-magic shield.  When he casts his big ability, move under the bubble so you don’t die.
  • In phase two, the big trolls need to be pulled one at a time to the four chained mobs.  Their big ability will break the chain.  While doing this, collect and kill the little adds while avoiding the purple fire on the ground.


Zul’Aman

Icy Veins has written another excellent guide for this instance.  I found a fairly good video guide, but it’s a bit older and some differences may exist between the video and the live version.

 Nalorakk (bear boss)

  • He will charge the furthest away person every 20 seconds, doing damage and applying a debuff.  You will want to rotate who stands furthest away to avoid unnecessary damage and deaths.

Jan’alai (first bird boss)

  • Move away from fire breath and fire bombs.
  • Icy Veins suggests that one of the two hatchers should be killed each time they spawn to control the hatching of eggs.  The idea is to control the release of adds to a manageable level (similar to Maloriak).

Akil’zon (second bird boss)

  • Kill the Amani Kidnappers to release your friends.  Ignore the other birds.
  • Stay spread out to avoid lightning damage.
  • When the boss picks up a member of the party, stack under that person (indicated with a black circle) to avoid the incoming Electrical Storm.

Halazzi (lynx/totem boss)

  • The boss will periodically spawn healing totems on himself.  The boss should be kited away or the totems should be killed.
  • Two lynx adds will occasionally spawn.  They do not have an aggro table and should be killed asap.

Malacrass

  • The boss will be accompanied by two random adds.  They should be CCed or focused down.  Be aware that the ogre add will occasionally break CC, so he should be killed.
  • He will also use siphon soul on random party members, gaining class-specific abilities.  Interrupt/avoid these where possible.

Daakara (final boss)

  • The boss will have two phases where he gains the power of one of the four animals in the area.
  • Dragonhawk: move out of fire (look for thin orange columns)
  • Eagle: move out of tornadoes, kill totems
  • Bear: no abilities of serious concern
  • Lynx: huge tank damage with a stacking debuff.  Paladins can remove the debuff.
  • Damage appears to be high in all phases.

How to get more tanks: quests that teach

April 13, 2011 at 3:30 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

There has been a lot of recent discussion about how to address the shortage of tanks in LFD.  It’s a subject I find very interesting, so it’s no surprise that I’ve written about it before.  In this post, I’d like to talk about how the leveling experience can support players in learning to tank.

A few months ago, Matticus wrote an underappreciated post about two quests that can help to educate players about how healers work.  To summarize, there are NPCs that have abilities very similar to Holy Word:Sanctuary and Lightwell.   There is quest messaging that assists players in identifying and using these heals.  With any luck, players will have learned that the big gold circle is a good place to stand in order to receive healing.

Like Matticus, I wish there were more quests that helped players to learn about their class, their role and how to play effectively in groups.  Getting more tanks isn’t just a matter of making it possible for more classes or specs to tank, there’s also the issue of developing players with an understanding of tanking.  In WoW, leveling is designed as a solo-able activity while, in contrast, dungeons and raids are for groups.  This means that players — especially tanks and healers — tend not to develop the skills necessary for dungeons and raids when they level.

I think it would be better of leveling provided experiences that help players — again, especially tanks and healers — learn to work with a group.  There are a few quests of this sort, but they are rare.  I’ve written previously about some of the quests that test a player’s ability to perform common raid tasks:

Priest quest for Benediction: to get this staff, it was necessary to complete a difficult quest that required a priest to be able to use all their abilities.

Hunter quest for Rhok’delar: to get this bow, hunters needed to defeat several demons using a variety of skills including kiting.

Warrior quest for Berserker Stance: while nowhere near as difficult as the previous two, this quest all but required knowing how to use Demoralizing Shout.

Two of these quests came quite late in a player’s progression, so they served more as tests than as lessons, but I think they are still a useful sort of quest in the sense that completing them required players to do more than the typical quest requires.

The leveling experience is problematic not just because it affects the tank shortage, but also because it leads to player frustration.  As players progress through the game, the difficulty curve is relatively smooth.  When new challenges are introduced, they’re usually not far beyond what a player has done before; they’re manageable.   But when players progress from solo questing to dungeons and from dungeons to raids, the difficulty curve jumps sharply.  These sorts of jumps produce anxiety and break players out of ‘flow’.

By introducing tasks usually reserved to dungeons or raiding into the leveling experience, some of those bumpy spots in the difficulty progression could be smoothed out.  In general, questing usually doesn’t provide situations where players can or should:

  • interrupt
  • use defensive cooldowns
  • move out of the fire
  • taunt
  • heal
  • remove debuffs
  • stack with the group

Typical raid bosses require at least five of those be performed very effectively, but leveling rarely requires doing any of them!  There are several role-specific things that could be added here, too, such as picking up adds as a tank.

I’d like to see Blizzard develop solo content that supports performance in group content.  Quests would be a big part of doing so, but solo content in support of grouping doesn’t have to be limited to quests.  As an example, I’d like to have a training dummy that helps tanks to test their threat rotation.  For warrior tanks, this would mean the dummy would simulate incoming attacks (to proc Revenge) and incoming damage (to produce rage and Vengeance).

It’d be nice if new tanks could go into their first dungeon run with at least a little assurance that they understand their abilities and how to use them.  As it currently stands, the leveling experience often teaches players bad habits that they subsequently have to break in order to tank effectively.  Quests that teach won’t solve the tank shortage, but they could certainly help.

Cataclysm tank shortage: will 4.1 fix it?

April 9, 2011 at 2:48 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Blizzard has recently announced some changes to the reward system for LFD in 4.1 that they hope will reduce the shortage of tanks. I offer my thoughts below, drawing on what I have written previously and what others are saying now.

Here are the details:

Call to Arms is meant to lower wait times by offering additional rewards for queuing as the currently least represented role. To be eligible for the additional rewards you must solo queue for a random level-85 Heroic in the role that is currently being Called to Arms, and complete the dungeon by killing the final boss. Every time you hit these requirements (there is no daily limit) you’ll receive a goodie bag that will contain some gold, a chance at a rare gem, a chance at a flask/potion, a good chance of receiving a non-combat pet (including cross faction pets), and a very rare chance at receiving a mount.

This is a subject of great interest to me.  My main, as you might suppose from the name of this blog, is a tank.  I’ve also written about the tank shortage before as well as possible solutions.  In that latter post, I suggested five serious suggestions  (and one unserious suggestion — allowing the use of Bladestorm on group members) for tank incentives.  Blizzard’s solution is fairly similar to my first suggestion:

More gold/badges for the fifth member of the group
When the LFG system forms a group, usually the missing component is the tank.  Once a tank arrives in LFG, composing a group happens quickly.  For tanks that need money and prefer not to farm or run daily quests, this could be a good incentive for running heroics instead.  Further, it helps to balance tank/healer/dps populations over time in each battleground.  If tanks are suddenly in oversupply, the needed roles will automatically reap the rewards.

That said, I’m a little disappointed with what they’ve proposed (this includes the recent clarification).  The reward does not scale with the degree to which tanks are in undersupply.  I don’t think an inelastic reward system is appropriate to a situation like this where there can be substantial variance in the tank supply. I think my second suggestion — the creation of an LFD-based market for selling tank services — is a lot more flexible and, more importantly, rewards tanks in proportion to the value that other players feel they provide.  To make a caricature of the difference between Blizzard’s reward scheme and my own, it’s like the difference between soviet planned economies and market-based systems.

Unsurprisingly, others have also written about this announced change.  Tobold has described this as bribery, which is a term that I don’t think quite fits.  If I give somebody a bribe, it is usually done in the expectation that the recipient does something for me.  But in this case it is Blizzard “bribing” the tank to do something for the dps (and, to a lesser extent, the healer).  That’s weird.  Terminology aside, though, I think his assessment is correct that Blizzard had a responsibility to do something about the shortage.

I’m not convinced, however, that this change will significantly improve queue times.  I tend not to tank in LFD not because they rewards are too low (though they are), but because tanking in LFD is a long series of frustrations and annoyances.  I love Rhidach’s description of a potential LFD tank’s motivations:

If we’re not running randoms with random people, it’s not because there isn’t a compelling reward for us to do so, it’s because tanking a random is akin to sticking your hand in a beehive. All Blizzard is telling us now is that there’s some honey in there as well.

In other words, the problem with LFD isn’t the rewards, it’s the people.  This latest change is striking because of its lack of creativity.  In the current Cataclysm environment, a couple hundred gold isn’t a sufficient incentive to spend an hour on something where the reward is far from guaranteed.  I want to give the game masters some credit for at least taking action on the tank shortage, but this is the most timid and uninteresting change I could have imagined.

Edit: I wanted to link to a great post reviewing the changes to LFD since its release ~16 months ago.  In particular, the addition of a goodie bag in H Oculus might provide our best comparison case to the upcoming change.

Gold tip for meta gems

December 21, 2010 at 4:58 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

At present, Shadowspirit gems for the new metas are expensive. On my server, their cost is usually in the 400-500g range. Meanwhile, mats for the old Wrath metas are dirt cheap (I estimate <40g per gem).

The metagems themselves usually have two benefits. The first is a flat stat bonus, like +stamina. From Wrath to Cataclysm, this bonus has improved nicely. The second element of metagems is usually a percent-based bonus, like +2% armor. These have remained the same from Wrath to Cataclysm.

In other words, switching from the Wrath to the Cataclysm metagem carries a benefit only in the first bonus; the second is unchanged. Price-sensitive players will see the stat difference (eg, ~50 stamina) and the cost difference (~450g) and take the weaker of the two gems. This has obvious implications for jewelcrafters and, of course, for players that need metagems for new gear.

Meta gems for warrior tanks in Cataclysm

December 12, 2010 at 10:35 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments

Please ignore this article.  It looks like ESD will not provide a 5% buff, but instead only 1%.  (21 Jan 2011)

This article examines the relative merits of three different metagems (ASD, EfSD and ESD) for tanking in Cataclysm content. Mastery scaling for warrior tanks is discussed in order to effectively analyze the benefit of block value bonuses. I conclude that ESD is better than ASD in most cases, while fight-specific factors may influence the choice between ESD and EfSD.

Note: substantial changes have been made to this article thanks to Button pointing out some errors I had made in my initial assumptions. (14 Dec 2010)

At present, there seem to be three tanking meta gems available in Cataclysm:

(*) Currently ESD appears to be bugged.  Rather than providing 5% BV, it only gives 1%.  See Maintankadin and Zarko for details.

Selecting the right meta will initially depend on the expected incoming damage and the split between magical and physical damage. If your raid’s current progression fights are heavy on magic damage, EfSD may win out. If physical damage predominates, however, the choice is between ASD and ESD.  Making the right choice requires some calculations.

In Wrath, AED was the clear choice because of the importance of effective health. More armor meant more effective health while the benefits of reduced overall damage were less important due to strong healer mana regeneration. In Cataclysm, these conditions no longer hold true; tanks have much more health relative to expected burst damage and healer mana now matters a great deal more.

At least for warriors, the scaling on mastery has a big effect on the value of ESD. At low mastery values, block chance will be low and, therefore, the extra 5% block value is rarely applied. But as mastery grows, more incoming swings are blocked and the 5% bonus is used more and more. In the calculations that follow, I assume that the 5% bonus is doubly useful when critical blocks occur, which is, again, a more common occurrence when mastery is high. In other words, prior to reaching unhittable, mastery scaling is better than linear. Recall that, due to diminishing returns, dodge and parry are worse than linear.

I played around with the avoidance numbers a little. Assuming a warrior tank keeps dodge, parry and mastery ratings equal and has +agility only from a leg patch, here are my conclusions (percentage represents the value of mastery relative to dodge in terms of expected damage reduction; >100% means mastery is better):

Without ESD With ESD
1000 rating 82% 95%
1200 rating 85% 100%
1400 rating 90% 105%
1600 rating 96% 111%
1800 rating 100% 117%

While the table above may be suggestive, it doesn’t do a good job of presenting the options available to tanks in terms of reforging. When is it best to reforge dodge (or parry, which is roughly equal to dodge in most situations) into mastery for the purpose of reducing incoming damage? Let’s look at an example that draws on Zarko’s expected raid tank stats. Our imagined warrior tank at 85 will have, prior to gemming/enchanting/reforging, but with raid buffs:

  • 40477 armor with ASD  (without ASD, 39768)
  • 2220 dodge rating (2130 from gear)
  • 1511 parry rating
  • 2183 mastery rating
  • 634 agility

At this point, both dodge and parry are relatively high, producing diminishing returns effects. Meanwhile mastery is high, which may make it the better choice for reforging. Only 40% of a stat can be reforged to something else, so that is a hard upper bound on redistributing ratings. Practically, though, this is not always possible because the desired stat may already be on an item, preventing reforging from one to the other. Let’s suppose 25% of the dodge rating (532)  is actually available for reforging.

So, what happens to damage reduction via avoidance when we reforge? Here are my results:

no change reforge to parry reforge to mastery
dodge % 15.84 13.63 13.63
parry % 12.87 15.21 12.87
block % 50.27 50.27 54.72
crit block % 36.27 36.27 40.72
damage reduction % via avoidance (with ESD) 57.68 57.81 58.45
damage reduction % via avoidance (without ESD) 54.26 54.39 54.60

So, at least in terms of avoidance stats, it appears that perhaps mastery is king once tanks have moved reasonably deep into the first tier of raid content. This is independent of metagem selection, but how does ESD compare against the armor bonus of ASD? Let’s examine.

Using the level 85 armor formula, our tank with will have either 40477 armor (with ASD) or 39768 armor (without ASD).  These amounts of armor will, in conjunction with defensive stance and the Inspiration buff, provide 63.88% and 63.53% reduction on physical damage taken. Let’s look at the results when we integrate the armor numbers with the avoidance numbers from above.

First, the table for using ESD:

no change reforge to parry reforge to mastery
damage reduction % via avoidance 57.68 57.81 58.45
damage reduction % via armor/def stance 63.53 63.53 63.53
total damage reduction % 84.57 84.61 84.85

Now the table for using ASD:

no change reforge to parry reforge to mastery
damage reduction % via avoidance 52.26 54.39 54.60
damage reduction % via armor/def stance 63.88 63.88 63.88
total damage reduction % 82.76 83.53 83.60

And, for completeness, the table for no meta:

no change reforge to parry reforge to mastery
damage reduction % via avoidance 52.26 54.39 54.60
damage reduction % via armor/def stance 63.53 63.53 63.53
total damage reduction % 82.59 83.37 83.44

These three tables are a little tricky to interpret. Let’s put them together for comparison:

no change reforge to parry reforge to mastery
total damage reduction %, no meta 82.59 83.37
83.44
total damage reduction %, ESD 84.57 84.61 84.85
total damage reduction %, ASD 82.76 83.53
83.60

A few things jump out from this table. First, the damage reduction benefits of of ESD under all three reforging conditions are better than those of ASD. In fact, the gain provided by ASD is less than a quarter of that produced by ESD! It is possible that ASD wins at lower levels (eg, beginning heroics and before), but as gear improves beyond the first tier of raids we can expect the gap between ESD and ASD to grow until unhitable is reached (beyond that point, more calculations are needed to evaluate the relative benefits).

Second, the best result in the table occurs when ESD and mastery reforging are used in conjunction. The two interact favorably, so this is perhaps unsurprising. This interaction is tricky and interesting because it could make a big difference in terms of which enchants are useful. Perhaps Enchant Shield – Blocking will be the preferred enchant beyond a given mastery rating.

Third, the difference between ASD/no reforge and ESD/mastery reforge is huge. While the absolute difference is only 2.09%, consider the increase in damage by moving from an ESD/mastery tank to an ASD/nothing tank. The ESD/m tank takes 15.15% of the incoming swing damage while the ASD/n tank takes 17.24% damage. This is a relative increase of 13.8% (=17.24/15.15), which represents a sizable amount of healer mana. With most Wrath tanks being accustomed to taking the austere meta and not having the option to reforge, I expect to see a lot of suboptimal gearing decisions for the next several months.

Please note that all of the above is modeling only passive mitigation.  As always, using cooldowns, proper positioning, and self-healing abilities will all play a role in the outcomes of actual boss fights.

Anyhow, what do my wise and worldly readers think? I hope this provides an interesting resource for making gear decisions as a warrior tank. I’ve done my best to get the various calculations right, but please let me know if I’ve screwed up any of the math.

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