Tank Theorycraft Needs to Involve Healers

We tanks are an egomaniacal bunch, in general.  There’s two tanks in a 25man raid, and there’s 18 DPS.  We’re NINE TIMES as important as DPS.  The math doesn’t lie.

Tank theorycraft, in our infinite ego, tends to gloss over any contributions that healers might have to our survivability, and focuses entirely on that which we can control through gear and direct fight interactions.  We make one more mistake that’s perhaps even more critical, though: whenever we actually acknowledge that there might be some kind of contribution made by a healer, we assume that all healers behave like our healers.

We throw words at each other like “total damage reduction” or “burst tolerance” and assert that our way “improves survivability because it improves healability” without generally considering healers as anything more than an automated health-recovery system.  I’ve been guiltty of this myself, frequently, until fairly recently.  It’s been in conversations with Ana and Theck, or with Derevka* that I’ve come to realize the surprisingly obvious: healing teams are different.

It’s not so much a question of skill as it is a question of style and composition.  One team may believe in following assignments very strictly, and another may believe in heavy crosshealing.  One team might believe in starting heavy on healers and removing some as you get used to fights, and another might believe in starting light and adding a healer only if absolutely required.  All of this has an impact on tank survival, and it’s the sort of thing that we should probably discuss more often.

No tank can be effective in the endgame without being just a little bit of a theorycrafter.  You have to be able to evaluate logs and deaths and figure out how to increase the odds of your survival.  You have to be able to do it yourself because only you will really have a good understanding of your healers and their strengths and weaknesses.  When someone else does it for you, they’ll be making implicit assumptions that may or may not be correct.  And yet, of course, we do.  Even when we know better, we’ll look through other peoples logs and try and help out when it might generate anything but useful advice.

Perhaps something that we should open a discussion on is tank/healer theorycraft.  Tank and healing-team interactions.  It might very rapidly scale into complexity as we start separating by 10H and 25H, now that there’s more than one endgame in WoW, and as we start talking about the continuum between anarchic crosshealing and assignment tunnel-vision, and the spectrum of available healing (which tends to increase rapidly with encounter familiarity, so what is optimal for pull 1 is not always optimal for pull 20), and the large but discrete number of possible healing combinations in all their strengths and weaknesses.  And we should probably consider what might be different about healing each different tank class…

All of a sudden we just started scaling into fairly ridiculous levels of complexity.  And yet, I think that tank/healer interactions might be one of the most critical things for any tank to get a basic understanding of.  I think it’s something we need to make a point of being aware of when doing any kind of tank theorycraft, because no discussion of tank survival can make any sense at all without being placed into the context of a particular healing environment.

The next time you find yourself having a tank theorycraft discussion in the Crossfire style (Assertion!  Counterassertion!  LOUDER ASSERTION!) take a step back and start thinking about context.  Explain yours and ask for the context from the other side.  I think I’m going to start doing more of this, and maybe I can start getting a better understanding of tank/healer interactions.

I know that many of my own personal leanings for gearing and survival don’t match the prevailing wisdom.  I tend to value stamina much more heavily than most – and so do my healers.  I’ve traded away stamina for mastery before, and I get nothing but complaints, even when I don’t tell them about it.  “I don’t know what’s going on with Mel tonight, he’s way harder to heal.”  The Edge healers love having a huge healthpool on tanks.  I think part of the reason for that is that we have a very crossheal heavy raid culture.

We’ve found – again, I’m assuming it’s because of the heavy crosshealing that we tend to do – that tanks receive a ton of incidental healing during low damage/non-bursty phases.  Between HoTs and splash heals, and lightwells, and PoMs and the tank healer casting out of boredom, nobody actually notices the difference between a dodge, a block, and a hit most of the time.  What makes our healers have to work tends to be heavy tank damage (burst), or heavy raid damage (reductions in incidental healing, plus burst when the raid damage also hits the tank) or long periods of movement (5+ seconds – anything less is easy to cover with instant tools) or some combination of all of the above.

And nothing covers for bad shit like Stamina.  So that’s what they want to see on their tanks.  They tell me that less stamina, even when it’s traded for a better overall damage reduction, makes them feel like they have to work harder to keep me alive, and that they spend more mana to do it – because they’re working harder.

That’s my context.  And those are my choices.  They make sense in the context of my raid.  They certainly don’t match the prevailing wisdom from the forums that I’ve seen, but I hesitate to question that prevailing wisdom – because I don’t know the context from which it’s being dispensed, or the context TO which it’s being delivered.

I feel like I should note that I often change gear around based on encounter, as well, and will often trade stamina flasks for resist/mastery elixirs, or stamina trinkets for mastery/resist trinkets, etc.  Tune the gear to the encounter, just like you tune the healing to the encounter.

So tanks: Talk to your healers.  Healers: Talk to your tanks.  It’s a co-operative effort.  Raiding is a team sport.  But in the game of progression tanking, survival is king, and neither tanks nor healers can do that as well separately as they can by working together.  And we’re still nine times as important as the DPS.  It’s science.

*he’s spent the last three months pestering me for a shoutout.  I couldn’t deal with the whining anymore.

This entry was posted in Mel's Random Musings, Tanking, Theorycrafting. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Tank Theorycraft Needs to Involve Healers

  1. Derevka says:

    I have NOT been pestering…. lies and slander, sir. Lies. And. Slander.

  2. Técaro says:

    Have to say my only raiding experience in Cata has been on 10man and its hardmodes. In 10man the crosshealing is much less of a given due to sheer healer constraint so I’ve come to value stamina a lot less than increasing my CTC and thus TDR.
    Going off that logic, wouldn’t your healing team have an easier time healing you on a lower healthpool when you end up getting CTC? Especially for meleedamage during critical phases of movement, not being hit fully while being able to use holy shield should drastically outweigh the added healthpool. Maybe it stems from my lack of 25man raiding but I feel once you can not be fully hit, stam’ll be an afterthought (past reasonable levels) except maybe on fights where it’s all magic damage, all the time. As for those fights, only Sinestra spontanuously comes to mind.

    My rambling aside, excellent read :>

    • Meloree says:

      Sinestra, Cho’gall, Al’akir. Nefarian, if you were tanking him. All fights with a strong bias towards stamina for my job, in my raid (in 25H). In other words, for just about everything that actually had any chance of killing me in T11, stamina was a better solution for reducing tank-death than mastery. There’s no “feeling” involved in that, I check logs, I experiment, and I talk to healers. The point of the post was that it’s probably not true for every raid, or every raid size, etc.

      Remember, in 25H, tanks get hit a lot harder than in 10H, and there’s more incidental healing and crosshealing going around. So TDR will naturally be deprecated to some degree.

  3. Worloch says:

    I agree communication with *your* healers is important to any tank/raid. I recently switched to a MT role in my guild, and I’ve been trying to communicate with my healers, and it seems to be something they aren’t used to. I ask them how the healing feels, and what could be changed to make it feel better. Even within a raid/guild group you’re going to get some variation on what the healer likes to do, and hence what they like to see you doing.

    That said, I’m not sure from a more global tank community we can do much but take the basic premise that healer’s heal at a fundamental level for our conversations. As you pointed out, trying to get in to the tank/heal conversation on a larger scale quickly devolves due complexity and details. While my raid group and your raid group probably have very different healers and healing styles, we do know that both groups healers are healing, so that is the common basis on which we communicate.

    So I agree from the perspective that every tank should take the time out to talk to their healers. You might be surprised at how that communication can help you tank, once the healer gets over the shock of being consulted 😉

  4. Vixsin says:

    Interesting post and I certainly appreciate the consideration that tanks’ survivability strategies should include their healers. (/hattip) But there’s one point I strongly disagree with: that a tank should work towards being a mana sponge. Because when a tank stacks stamina, that is precisely what he is doing–using healers’ mana instead of mitigation. The supposition is that it’s a fair trade between the stat investment (which is a constant benefit, btw) and the mana it takes to heal the difference. The problem that exists in that trade is that in a progression environment, we have a very limited amount of mana to spend. So the more the healing team has to pour into healing a stamina-stacked tank, the less healing (and the less GCD’s) they can spend on other raid members.

    It seems to me that if you’re emphasizing survivability in an environment where healer mana is tight, (and in Firelands HM’s, it certainly is that), then anything you can do to save me from casting another direct heal is worth it. (This goes for DK tanks who don’t Deathstrike and for liberal use of CD’s, I suppose). Any mitigation you do, is mana in my pocket. So not only do you live longer, but the chance is that the raid will live longer as well. If we get to the point that we see Wrath-style tank damage again (and Firelands bosses certainly have their moments), then i could understand a switch back to that gearing philosophy. But until then, I’d much rather have a low-HP, high mitigation/avoidance tank than a mana sieve.

    (As an aside, I’d be really interested to see if this perspective changes as you work through Firelands HM’s. So I’ll be staying tuned. ^_^)

    • Meloree says:

      I didn’t say that a tank should work towards being a mana sponge. I said that Stamina has typically worked well for our group, and that our group tends to prefer it to the other options in practice. I specifically said that people should evaluate their environment for themselves, and that context matters, though, and that I didn’t blindly recommend it for everyone. So you’re sort of tilting at an illusionary windmill there.

      It’s worth noting that it doesn’t necessarily follow that trading avoidance/mitigation for stamina costs more mana to heal, because HPM isn’t static. More healing isn’t always more mana, and it’s not even always more GCDs. And just to understand exactly what the tradeoff we’re talking about is – it’s roughly 30k health for roughly 10% block, in my gear, to get completely block-capped. That’s, generously speaking, around 5% relative damage reduction – and less in practice, because I can block cap with trinkets when it’s an issue.

      In general, I’m a huge fan of mitigation. As I said in the article, I’ve played with it, and we found it generally sub-par for the hard bosses in T11, compared to a nice health pool. A lot of that may have to do with playstyle – I’m pretty aggressive about softening dangerous situations with WoG usage – and now Holy Shield – so “reaction-style” mana expenditure is already fairly well minimized.

  5. Sten Düring says:

    As long as the healer team either says: “I want to heal Kakad, he’s easy to heal.” or “Put X on Kakad, we need our best healer on Y.” then I’ll stick to my configuration.

    I guess this pretty much conforms with your post. I also, incidentally, happen to be a rabid MDR gearing tank. This would also conform with your post. What works with my healers doesn’t work with yours. We raid very different content (10 normal versus 25 hardmode).

  6. Ellifain says:

    Even a scrub like me that hasn’t tanked a firelands raid yet knows that checking in with the healer is a good thing – especially in the world of Random PuGs. Ask em’ right at the start if they are ready for the first pull, make em’ feel wanted and ‘checked up on’.

    And in low level dungeons its certainly a good idea to go easy, at least until one gets the measure of how good the healer is and how they operate. Ive had the joy of playing with some very distracted/poor healers – and my tank style has had to change from aggressive to very defensive to survive. Inversely the very good healers allow me to go balls to the wall and pull ludicrous numbers of mobs at once.

    Healers. Love them like a cute minipet.
    Ellifain @ Khaz’Goroth

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  8. Aanvil says:

    As a main spec healer with an off-spec prot build, I have also been wondering about how my healing choices or assignments should be affected by the tank I’m healing. For example, how does a healadin’s mastery interact with a DK’s blood shields? Would my mastery absorbs help to smooth out the DK’s spiky dmg or would that benefit be outweighed by reducing the DK’s own blood shields?

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