Metrics: They’re only useful when you can still see the Forest

In general, I don’t like to spend too much time commenting on PTR changes until there’s some indication that the changes are close to being finalized.  Too much goes on behind the scenes at Blizzard and we’re only ever seeing half of the picture on the PTR, which can lead to some very badly misinformed analysis.  The recent change on the PTR that makes Holy Shield an active melee-mitigation cooldown is an interesting change with a lot of implications, and it’s worth discussing simply due to the level of outcry about it already.  Some very prominent protection paladins, myself included, have argued that the change is a net buff to survivability even though it’s an overall mitigation nerf.  Many others have become hyperfocused on “Total Damage Reduction” (TDR) and consider it a huge nerf, and an annoyance at that.  I won’t even begin to address the “it makes us into warriors” crowd.

I think that some of the disconnect in the perception of this change comes from a very basic disagreement between the two sides on how important given metrics are, and a fundamentally different understanding of healing paradigms.  When I think about fights, and pore over logs, and consider the ways in which I can increase my survivability, there’s two broad classifications of damage that I consider.  The first is what I term “throughput damage”; the general baseline background level of damage that will continue for the majority of the encounter.  The second is, for lack of a better term, the “burst damage”; boss special abilities that hit the tank, boss abilities that reduce healing output (healer movement, stuns, etc), boss abilities that hit the raid and therefore reduce available healing for the tank – generally anything that might actually impact my survivability.

Throughput damage, in general, isn’t interesting.  “Boss has swing speed of X and hits for Y – Tank needs Z healers.”  It’s worth noting that if Z is ever more than one you need to train your healers to crossheal better.  Raid healers can (and should) be spending spare GCDs on the tank – because what else are the GCDs good for?  Renew, Rejuv, Lifebloom, Earth Shield, Riptide, PoM – HoT’s are especially strong at softening out throughput damage, and there is generally no excuse for the tank not to have full HoT coverage.  During periods of low raid damage, then, tanks are generally catching quite a lot of incidental healing – and quite a lot of overhealing.

Burst Damage, whatever causes it, is what has the potential to kill tanks.  Burst damage is generally interesting because you will have less healer attention available in most cases, and it is in this situation that good cooldown use is required.  Some burst damage is well telegraphed, and has an obvious “Use Cooldown Here” mechanic, and those are the most boring of these windows.  Other burst damage comes from stunned healers, or moving healers, or just a swap of healer attention to the raid, because you all took an electrocute, tank included.  There are situations which might not telegraph “use cooldown here” that can kill you.  Aware tanks can weight the dice in situations like this by being proactive about cooldown use.

It’s probably obvious from context, but I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about throughput damage.  In my experience, it’s generally nonthreatening, and if a tank ever dies there was something else going on at the time.  Healers are generally regenerating mana during periods of throughput damage because they’re all able to help out with efficient heals, and there’s quite a lot of overhealing going on even while using only efficient heals.  Even in heroic content these phases happen with regularity on almost every fight.  Losing 10% block value, and taking 17% more melee damage during this time will be virtually unnoticeable.  Our TDR will go down, but when placed in context, that’s simply not all that important.  It won’t cost significantly more mana to heal through this – note that tanks other than paladins are tanking content right now, and this change, AT WORST brings us back down to that level of static mitigation.

On the other hand, I spend lots of timing worrying about burst damage and cooldown maps.  I always know which of my cooldowns are subscribed (spoken for, used to address specific fight mechanics) and which are not.  This allows me to react effectively to periods of increased danger – generally by acting before I’ve taken the damage.  Not all periods of increased danger are well telegraphed, but most of them are.  You should know when your healers are about to be busy, or moving, or distracted, or incapacitated; that’s a good time to put up a cooldown pre-emptively.  Viewed in that light, this Holy Shield change suddenly looks very powerful.  Being able to reduce dangerous damage on demand contributes to survival in a much more meaningful way than reducing your total damage taken because it reduces the damage that costs mana to heal.  When healers have to move to low-HPM spells mana begins to become a concern.  Healing is not a static HPM game, and by limiting the damage that needs to be healed with low-HPM spells you can save your healers a significant amount of mana even while taking more damage over the course of a fight.

From a thematic point of view, I heartily approve of Blizzard making moves to put more active survival tools in the hands of tanks.  I like that I have yet another opportunity to manage my own survival, a chance for my decisions to make a material difference in raid success – and raid failure.  I will make mistakes with the new Holy Shield before I’m able to fully integrate it into my play.  I will use it when it isn’t needed, I will have it on cooldown when it could be used.  I’ll make the other mistake as well, I’ll save it when I could be using it.  I will not be perfect – and that in and of itself makes this an excellent change.

Word of Glory was already an ability that’s undervalued and underutilized for being able to weight the dice in your favor, the new Holy Shield seems to be somewhat underestimated in this regard as well.  Total Damage Reduction is a nice metric.  It’s one I pay attention to, myself.  But it’s not the whole story – it’s not even the most important part of the story, and I believe that we’re doing ourselves a disservice by overusing it.

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17 Responses to Metrics: They’re only useful when you can still see the Forest

  1. I’m mostly puzzled by the wild changes going on, because it does make it a bit tricky for me to think ahead. But this is all far-flung PTR stuff, so once they finalise the changes I can start to wrap my head around them.

    As for this change, I do like it. It will add another button to my poor abused numpad that I still need to memorise (At this moment, only Num 1, 2 and 3 are truly ingrained in my fingers as ‘oh god why aaaaaagh’ buttons), but it is a nice button, especially since RNG will play a bit less of a role in ‘Do I have this up or not?’. And the wonderful ability of putting my block value up to 50% during a Burst Phase, especially when block-capped, is fantastic.

  2. Zaephod says:

    With the cooldown on WoG, I now find myself using WoG as a tanking cooldown rather than simply that other thing I do with holy power. In fact, it’s generally my reaction to my low health chime, or, as you put it, subscribed for stuff like Electrocutes. I call these Big Bad Boss Abilities (BBBAs).

    To me, this change to holy shield will only motivate me more to get block capped (remember when it was called “uncrushable,” then “unhitable”?). When the melee BBBA is coming, I’ll have Holy Shield ready, magic BBBA will probably be glyphed divine protection, and unavoidable physical (like bleeds) with be either AD or Guardian.

    In summary, I think this change, if it stays how it is, will reward players for being smarter with their cooldown usage i.e.; using the appropriate cooldown when.

    • Meloree says:

      Using WoG as a tanking cooldown has always been the strongest way to use it, in my opinion, even when it had no cooldown.

      At least now that playstyle is encouraged, rather than the “moar HPS” mentality of 4.0.6.

  3. Nev says:

    Hey guys,
    Another fantastic post. While being relatively new to the heroic mode tanking I find this blog absolutely fantastic. I have played since BC, rolled pally and started tanking in Wrath and haven’t looked back. This is the first expansion where I have been tanking heroic mode content while it is current. Your blog as well as posts on maintankadin are gold to assist in the mathematics behind being a good tank.

    I for one am looking forward to this change. There is definitely a stigma in the community right now about paladins being the faceroll tanks. By putting more control to the paladin in relation to maximising mitigation and survivability, rather than passive abilities, will go along way to actually show that there is still skill required to play paladins at the top tier of content.

    Also being in more control of our cooldowns, as you said, makes our decisions when to use cooldown x over y or saving x for a particular ability actually have an effect on the success of the raid. And sometimes it doesn’t always feel like it does.

    Also just wanted to thank you guys for putting in the effort to help educate the paladin community as well as keeping us entertained with post like what your raid leader really thinks about you.

    Anyways, keep up the good work,

  4. Donthealme says:

    On the surface it seems to be a bad change, however once I thought about it a bit(on the train to work the morning after lol)I decided that provided our block per point of mastery doesn’t change that this is brilliant. Initially my healers thought I was insane until I started asking them this question. Percentage wise, on the average hardmode what percent of the time are you worried about a tank death? Normal answer was 25% or so, to which my answer was why I love this change, although you went into more depth and were more eloquent than I.

    Raising the skill cap is something I am in favor of always, although this change may hurt lower skilled or entry level protection paladins. My real worry with Mastery though lies in scaling with Warriors sometime in the future and them running around with massive amounts of critical block.

  5. Saif says:

    Thanks, great article. I was one of the initial crowd of “WTF” with the change and even nerd-raged a bit about it (the amount of change the class has seen between December and June is ludicrous – but I love the class, so I stick with it!)

    Your point about non-telegraphed burst damage (or at least, not in a linear way) is something I just picked up this week while working on Nef. Ony’s tail lashes for example – the counter let me know when my healer will be stunned and if Ony’s about to breathe, I know I’ll need a cooldown and that’s why I always keep WoG off cooldown while tanking Ony to buffer myself during the breath along with the CD.

    Having two buttons to do that on very short CDs will be good.

    I guess I should be glad they didn’t tie Holy Shield to HoPo. :-)

  6. Minstrel says:

    Nice post. Another way to put it, which was my thought when I saw the change, was one of higher leverage versus lower leverage. To put it in baseball analogy, closers (the hopefully elite pitchers you save for the ends of close games) have more value than merely the number of innings the pitch because their usage dictates that they’re saved for the *most important* innings…the ones where you know the game is close and that a good inning will provide certainty in the game results (a good inning at the start of the game could be wasted if the game turns into a blowout later).

    Similarly, this change trades off mitigation in low leverage situations (low level damage that happens most of the encounter) for stronger high leverage mitigation. As long as the healers are competent, the low leverage parts of the fight barely even count. It’s all about the high leverage parts of the fight…the parts that essentially decide the fight.

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