Protection Paladins: The Death Knight Redux

I went on record during the PTR saying that the 4.2 Protection Paladin would be overpowered, probably in an unbalancing way.  In private discussions with Theck and Anafielle, I’ve made the claim in stronger terms, but I wanted to see the toolkit in action before making a scene.  I’m willing to go on record now and say that in my opinion the 4.2 protection paladin is the most unbalanced tank of the “tanking parity” era – more out of line than a patch 3.1 death knight or druid.

There’s a number of factors that push the prot paladin out of line in my opinion, and so I’m going to address them all.  The first thing I’m going to discuss is scaling with gear.  The second is damage profile, the third is cooldowns, and the fourth is utility kit.

Gear Scaling: “Uncrushable” isn’t a choice anymore

In 4.0.6/4.1 it wasn’t automatic to chase the block cap.  To do so, even in perfect gear, you were giving up more than 2000 stamina, and the dangerous tank-killing bosses all had high levels of magic damage.  There was a significant tradeoff involved in choosing to chase the block cap.  It was worth having two sets, but with the damage profiles from Cho’gall, Sinestra, and Al’akir, your main set was *probably* stamina based.  There was roughly an 8%-10% chance of taking an unblocked hit which is somewhat in line with a DK or Warrior or Druid’s chance at not having being able to mitigate said swing, and the classes had some semblance of EH parity.  For hard-hitting bursty bosses in progression, that still matters.  Less than in Wrath, certainly, but it’s not a completely irrelevant consideration, either.

Fast-forward to ilvl378/ilvl391.  I’m personally at 208k hp while block capped now, with primarily ilvl372 and 378 gear.  The total cost to do so, in stamina, is roughly 1200.  Gear scaling has made it cheaper to get uncrushable, which means there really isn’t a tradeoff anymore.  At a certain gear level, it’s just always a good idea to be block capped.  In full 391 gear that stamina cost will be only a few hundred.  If the situation were to continue into 4.3, the stamina cost would be zero.

Warriors will begin running into this problem soon.  It’s likely that by the end of T12 they’ll be able to block cap at a significant stamina cost – they’ll have the same choice paladins faced in T11, and the same T13 gear-scaling away from the problem.  Bears and DKs are not in so pretty a situation, though, and can never mechanically guarantee mitigation on every boss swing.

Damage Profiles: Crushable Tanks are Squishy

Taking it as read that a prot paladin in mid-Firelands progression has gotten themselves uncrushable, your paladin will take a maximum melee swing of 70% from the boss.  Normalized to that paladin, your bear takes ~90% (higher passive mitigation), your warrior takes 100% (regular hits), and your DK takes 110% (lower armor).  In TBC, we called those 100% hits “crushing blows”: 50% harder than normal hits that we took great pains to push off the combat table.  In Cataclysm, only the paladin can do this right now, all other tanks have to soak crushing blows, like TBC druids.  In TBC the druids were designed to soak those crushing blows – they had higher armor and health to do so.  In Cataclysm, we’re all sort of mechanically similar on the armor/passive mitigation front.  So being the uncrushable tank is a scarily large advantage.

The only sticking point in calling this a clear and obvious runaway victory for the paladin is DK self-heals.  They ARE designed to take the large hits, and heal them back up again.  And it’s an interesting model.  I certainly agree that the active mitigation model is much more entertaining – which is why I’m a huge supporter of WoG and Holy Shield as paladin tools – but the old tanking adage goes something like “Damage prevented > Damage healed”.  The DK model is predicated on bosses that hit weakly enough to enable them to DS at opportune times – and can be broken by parries.  The DK has to take the hits and then has the opportunity to react to them.

In tanking, the mantra of “be able to take 3 hits” goes back a long way.  It seems to be a number that Blizzard aims their bosses at.  But whose 3-hits do you tune the bosses around?  If it’s 3 hits for a DK, it’s 5 hits for a paladin.  If it’s 3 hits for a paladin, it’s 2 hits for a DK.  A 2-shottable DK just doesn’t work anymore, they don’t have the runes or the DS’s to keep up.

I’ve discussed the concept of minimum sufficient cooldowns on this blog before.  Block capping creates situations where the minimum sufficient cooldown for a paladin is nothing at all, where every other tank will need something.  It creates situations where other tanks need a major cooldown, and paladins can get away with something minor.  The guaranteed reduction of a significant portion of every burst situation makes paladins the least burstable tank, baseline.

Hard hitting bosses are the ones that best expose tank balance problems.  2-shottable DKs seems to be a reality on encounters like Baleroc.  2-shottable paladins is very nearly a reality there – and that makes everyone else look… crushable.

Cooldowns: But everyone has Shield Wall, Right?

Everyone does have Shield Wall.  And Last Stand.  And Barkskin.  Or some generally accepted equivalent.  I’m going to come back to this point in just a second, because our Last Stand equivalent, Ardent Defender, is broken in a number of ways on it’s own, and our Barkskin equivalent, Divine Protection, is potentially even more broken.  But in theory this basic kit is designed to be equivalent, and it’s fairly close to the bullseye.

Paladins have 5 more survivability cooldowns that I can think of off the top of my head.  Divine Shield, Lay on Hands, Hand of Protection, Holy Shield, and Word of Glory.  I’ll admit that the first three have pretty long cooldowns and narrow application, but you can use them to keep yourself alive sometimes.  They are strictly more useful than nothing at all.

Holy Shield is incredibly powerful, though.  It’s a 30% relative damage reduction in melee damage for 10 seconds, on demand – on a 30 second cooldown.  If you’re block capped, it’s enough ON IT’S OWN to reliably survive a tantrum-ed hatchling at Alysrazor.  Where another tank will use Last Stand and Barkskin, or Shield Wall, or call for a Pain Suppression, your friendly neighbourhood paladin pops Holy Shield and laughs all the way to the bank.

I’ve been accused on being the only person on the planet who considers WoG a game-breaking survival cooldown.  That’s okay, though, because I’m still right about it.  Good use of WoG requires some foresight.  You need to be in touch with the rhythm of the encounter, and when things might start to go wrong, so you can bank up your holy power – but being able to drop 30-35k health onto yourself on demand is amazingly good.  Are you low on health because healers moving?  Most of the time 30k is the difference between “die on next swing” and “live through it”.  Living through one more swing is pretty awesome.  It’s especially awesome when it can be done every 20 seconds.

We have two extremely powerful survival cooldowns that synergize extremely well with block capped paladins on cooldowns of 30 seconds or less.  We’re not only the least burstable tank mechanically, but we also have the best anti-burst toolkit.  So far it’s looking good for our fearless paragons of the Light.  But anti-burst isn’t everything – required healer attention matters, right?

Healing, in my experience, is generally GCD/Throughput capped, and not mana capped.  The unburstable tank takes less GCDs to keep alive, because that healer can spend GCDs on the raid while being fully confident that they have time to return to the tank and get a cast off before anything can go horribly wrong, where a more burstable tank requires more/heavier pre-casting.  That’s obviously only true for a light-hitting boss, but for a hard hitting boss being unburstable is it’s own reward.

I promised to talk about Ardent Defender and Divine Protection very quickly.  Ardent Defender is almost exactly a Last Stand analogue, except that damage reduction is almost always better than an equivalent amount of health, and Cheat Death (uncapped, no less) is fairly silly.  What AD does to Majordomo and Baleroc is just all kinds of silly.  Divine Protection, and specifically it’s glyph gives us a lot of flexibility on dealing with damage.  Turning DP into a shield wall for magic damage is very very strong.  Especially with Holy Shield around to be a shield wall for physical damage.  That flexibility has value.  We don’t need the added value on top of everything else.

Utility: The next arms race

This is generally a hard category to evaluate.  You’re comparing mobility (warriors, bears) and battle rezes (bears, DKs) with offtank DPS (bears) with raid cooldowns (warriors, paladins), and single target cooldowns (paladins) and threat cooldowns (paladins).

What utility kit is the best tends to play into encounter design.  Sometimes mobility is extremely exploitable, other times it isn’t.  Sometimes some cooldowns shine (I’m looking at you AD and Shield Block) above other options.  But in the raid cooldown arms race, Divine Guardian stands out as one of the strongest and most universally applicable raid cooldowns.  It’s often reason enough to bring a prot paladin to an encounter in 25man, and I assume it’s even more valuable in 10-mans where cooldowns are harder to come by.  Similarly, Hand of Sacrifice is extremely strong.  Warriors have similar but weaker utility in both categories, with Rallying Cry and Intervene/Safeguard.  The other tanks don’t really have anything to compete.  Their various utilities can have value – but generally in progression the name of the game is survival.  First you live long enough to see the enrage, then you find the DPS to beat it.  Tanks that bring raid survival and survival for the other tank extend learning attempts – they get you to the next phase sooner.  That kind of utility is hard to replace.

Conclusion: TO THE GROUND, BABY!

I cannot imagine that there will not be significant nerfs and adjustments to protection paladins for the next patch.  In my opinion nerfs are fully justified, things are too far out of balance right now.  I’ve always been okay with tank balance being “in the ballpark”.  I think 4.0/4.1 was generally as close as tank balance has ever been, although it was clear that paladins would scale too well with those mechanics.

There were no changes for 4.2 that mitigated the effect of gear-scaling, essentially forcing all paladins to block cap, but there are bosses that hit hard enough to make the survivability gap extremely obvious – and Holy Shield tends to play nicely with those mechanics.  I maintained that it was a net buff for a long time, and I think it’s clear that it’s a survivability gain for us over the passive block value we used to have.

On top of the survivability advantage, there’s a utility advantage.  It might be okay for one tank to have the utility edge, and another to have the survivability edge – not really, it leads to permanent offtank syndrome – but for one tank to have the whole package that nobody else has is pretty questionable.

If I had my choice, I’d remove raid cooldowns from tanks completely.  It’s a better solution than giving one to every tank and stepping the arms race up to eleven.  That basically addresses the utility imbalance completely.  In order to address the survivability gap, the primary change needs to be fixing mastery to make paladins (and warriors) crushable again.

Make no mistake, warriors are going to be the problem tank of 4.3 unless they’re also adjusted.  But either way, capping needs to go away.  Once that’s gone, Holy Shield is no longer a high-powered cooldown, it’s closer to an avoidance clicky – it’s not something you can rely on, but it’s something that can weight the dice in your favor.  That’s about the level of strength it should have – it certainly shouldn’t be a physical Shield Wall on a 30s cooldown.

For some further reading on the subject, there’s two excellent blog posts about paladin block capping here and here written by Liar at the Elitist Jerks forum.

Prepare yourselves, Paladins.  The Nerfbat is descending.  Let’s just hope that it doesn’t go too far.

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

27 Responses to Protection Paladins: The Death Knight Redux

  1. Rhidach says:

    This has been a long time coming.

    • Meloree says:

      I do have a bad habit of ranting away about something for a while before turning it into a blog post, don’t I?

      • Rhidach says:

        Haha, I meant more this gathering storm. It’s be preordained since our mastery and the possibility of blockcapping was announced.

        Even I saw it coming with the Holy Shield buff. WI said I was crazy for calling us the new cooldown tank and comparing us to the old DK. But who’s crazy now?! (Read that last bit in a Nixon voice, please.)

        • Meloree says:

          Yeah. Consider me an optimist. The writing was clearly on the wall, but I thought there was a chance I was missing something – some interaction that rebalanced everything. After all, Blizzard has a vested interest in keep the tanks fairly well balanced, and they’ve done a creditable job in the past. But, as you said – the writing was on the wall before the patch even launched.

  2. Zinn says:

    This was a really good post, lovely read!

  3. ben says:

    I hope they will buff all the other tanks to bring them into parity, rather than completely changing the damage profile of paladins and make us feel horrible and weaker; alternately, minor nerfs to paladins and several minor buffs to DKs and Bears would be even better. I’m not optimistic, given Blizz has a tendency to compound “fixes” and implement two nerfs when one would have been sufficient.

    That being said, some of our abilities do need to change. DG could cap at a damage reduction for the 1/3 of the party/raid with the lowest health. Bubble could remove fixate effects, and put taunts on a 15 second CD. That kind of thing.


    • Meloree says:

      Nerf paladins or buff everyone else is the same net result. It’s just easier to nerf paladins into line than it is to buff all three other classes somehow – especially since the issue is, more than anything else, damage profile. How can you adjust the damage profile of everyone else to match block capped tanks? By allowing them to guarantee mitigation on every swing (given certain gear setups) – that potentially means a lot of oddness for DKs, who would have to DS more often – a lot more often – to make that guarantee. Does that mean DS has to hit for less to keep damage in-line?

      Easier to rebalance paladins alone – warriors are easy, get rid of Sentinel (or make it crit block chance), and they won’t block cap any time soon.

  4. Kihra says:

    Nice post. For me, Baleroc was really the fight that hammered home how OP block capping can be. Block capping hasn’t mattered much on the other Heroics I’ve done so far. If you clear your stacks on Shannox, you can wear your threat set. Beth’tilac you just cover with a CD map. Alysrazor you can put on a threat set and wreck the bird so fast that you can pre-emptively use the worms and not see a Tantrum. Baleroc though… that’s where block capping combining with our 1 minute CDs is pretty amazing.

    I think the nerfbat will hit our Mastery next patch. I’m sure they’ll do something so that we can’t cap any longer, they’ll probably institute a 200% health cap on AD to match GS, but I think they’ll leave everything else alone.

    • Meloree says:

      I don’t think it’s really surprising that the first big tank-check fight of the tier is the one that highlights the imbalances. I guess it’s good encounter design that the first four are *relatively* tank agnostic, but it’s also because there’s very little pressure on the tanks, which isn’t a lot of fun as a tank. Knowing that screwing up has no consequence doesn’t make for engaging tanking. Not that I’m in love with the tank-and-spank tank-check stylings of Baler-werk (Patcheroc?), I prefer my tank checks to have a little bit more tanking involved, and a bit less standing around looking pretty.

      Nerfing paladin/warrior mastery (or rebalancing it so as to prevent blockcapping without affecting TDR too much) is required for 4.3, and it addresses most of the problem to do it – so long as block cap is left safely out of reach. If it’s rebalanced such that we get to make the same choices for 4.3, it’s hardly an improvement. One (or two) uncrushable tanks out of four is not good for the game.

  5. Kihra says:

    By the way, druids are a little more OP than you suggest. Before you even factor in their Savage Defense absorb, they have 18% passive mitigation compared to our 10% passive mitigation. A heroic geared druid has on the order of 11k more armor than we do, and that amounts to another big mitigation difference.

    For a 100,000 original hit, assume we have 42k armor or so. We’d reduce the hit to about 27158 assuming a normal 30% block. A druid by comparison has 55k armor or so. The druid would reduce the hit to 30500, and that’s *before* Savage Defense absorbs even apply.

    Add to this the fact that druids have much higher avoidance than we do, and overall a druid’s damage intake is as good as a block capped paladin’s.

    • Meloree says:

      Overall damage intake is somewhere between “not interesting” and “not relevant”, IMO. Healer mana is only barely relevant, and tank healing isn’t much of a mana strain at the worst of times. But druids do very well in the “standing still and doing nothing” comparison, sure. They might well be the best tanks while DC’d, or close. But paladins have very strong anti-burst tools to use (WoG, HS), and druids don’t.

      I’m pretty familiar with druids – my co-tank is a bear, and my main alt is a cat/bear – I’m not underestimating them, I think – but they’re noticeably squishier than paladins. Although perhaps I should have called their max-hit “85%” instead of “90%”.

      • Kihra says:

        Your main alt is a cat/bear? Mine too!

        • Meloree says:

          Indeed. It was a boomkin until T9 when we realized we needed extra tanks for all the spam-running involved (5 heroics 10s, 3 normal 25s every week, in addition to heroic… god T9 was stupid).

          I haven’t played it a whole ton this expansion, but I do keep up on my feral TC.

  6. Wocka says:

    I won’t mind a nerf. But as trade I’d like to feel a little less broken/ a little more dynamic. But hey, we’re paladins- if they didn’t screw us up and have to rework the class every few months, we wouldn’t know what to do.

    Seriously though, whatever they do, I’d like it to be a little more lasting this time.

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  9. Tiianna says:

    I am struggeling with the whole block capping makes us unbalanced. Pretty early in the tier I made adjustments in the elixirs, gemming, etc to push me up to full CTS. In the process of doing so I have easily lost 20k+ stam raid buffed. My average ilvl is 375, so I do have gear but due to drops, etc they are not necissarily BiS, and since our group no longer does T11HC content, I do not have the ability of going back and picking up pieces that would help. I expect these numbers to come up as I get some BiS slots, or we get through Rag and start seeing some HM fights.
    In the meantime I am pretty low behind our MT and it seems the healers have a harder time keeping me up although my dmg is supposed to be consistant versus the other tanks that are being called spikey or squeeshy.

    I guess what I am saying is that I can see where the unbalance occurs as folks get BiS or HC gear, but what happens to the tanks that are on the slower side of progression (the majority of tanks). A lost in the 30% guarantee dmg for physical hits will end up placing me (and others in a more casual progression model) way behind the other tanks that shine prior to a pally hitting CTC, especially if it is done as a flat nerf to our mastery. Without CTC we now are warriors who mitigate much less than a warrior when a block lands, take the same physical dmg as a dk and druid when a hit lands but still do not have the increased dmg or spell mitigation, etc.

    I can see anytime that a tank gets to cap on a stat there is concern, but at the same time I do not see a way in this expansion to level the field without forcing every pally tank to completely relearn their class. We expect this to happen in a expansion, but to do it for a patch is going to have a drastic impact to progression and could lead to many prot pallys stuck on the sidelines – either because the nerf went so far and we are below the others (how many nerfs have resulted in the desired results) or due to new learning curve being so drastic that the teams move to a more consistant experience.

    4.3 could be interesting if the gear continues to be a flat replacement model, however with itemization we could end up seeing less mastery, more pure avoidance and a reason to stop ignoring threat stats. I am not sure seeing a radience in 4.3 (or beyond) that not lowered our avoidance but lowered our ability to hit or increase the bosses avoidance, forcing us to take exp and hit, leaving less room for mastery, etc.

    I guess what I am saying is that even if the top 10% of the world pallies are overpowered – the addressing of the issue has to be fairly well thought out to prevent us being sent to the ground or forcing pally’s to get lost in a middle of an expansion. Sorry for the ramble.


    • Meloree says:

      Here’s the thing, though: A paladin is fairly well balanced if he (or she) can’t block cap. You have a similar total damage reduction to all the other tanks, and a similar damage profile at that point. You can take the big hits, or the small hits.

      Once a paladin has the *option* of block capping, they’ve gained some flexibility that the other tanks don’t have access to in quite the same way. There are certainly some fights where you’ld rather have stamina, and some fights where you’ld rather be uncrushable, and when the stamina trade is in the realm of 35k-40k health, that’s a real and interesting decision that still ends up gaining us a little bit over our brethren.

      However, as gear scales, the trade isn’t 35-40k anymore. It’s 20k, or less. As you get more gear, it will be *much* less. So we don’t just have the option that gives us a slight edge anymore, we really have the best of both worlds, at the same time. We can block cap for a stamina trade that’s less than the damage saved from every hit.

      It’s not just the top 10% of the world pallies that are overpowered. It’s the top 10% that are overpowered *right now*. Everyone else just needs a few more drops.

  10. Worloch says:

    It seems to me Blizzard is repeating the mistakes of the past, although on a lesser scale. When avoidance didn’t have diminishing returns, capping avoidance was broken. Capping Block is bad for the same reasons, but at least you’re still taking some damage.

    The easy answer is most likely unpalatable to most tanks – diminishing returns on Tank Mastery. I also wouldn’t mind seeing a nice pass over Mastery for DK’s and Pallies as well. I think DK’s need some major work, but for pallies I would just tweak mastery to add some Block Chance and a little Block amount per point. Keeps us separate from Warriors but scaling in the same directions.

    • Meloree says:

      Diminishing returns is a subject for a blog post all it’s own – but I think it would be a generally poor solution to the mastery problem – in large part because it is, as you say, unpalatable.

      Block amount plus block chance was the solution bandied about on forums in the 4.2 PTR, and that’s definitely a better direction, in my opinion. The worry is that they don’t go far enough with removing block chance and it can still be stacked to the point of unhittability. After all, paladins are relatively well balanced for TDR right now (something that seems to be considered fairly important by a lot of people), and so the easiest solution is just to adjust Mastery to give similar TDR values without allowing block capping.

      Honestly, having Mastery scale BV alone (or crit block chance alone for warriors), and giving paladins/warriors a flat 50% chance to block pretty much handles block capping – I doubt we’ll be getting over 50% pure avoidance in this expansion.

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  12. DexterBelgium says:

    I would be less disappointed if we (the community) haven’t been saying this from day one of patch 4.anything , and especially right around when they started toying with “redesigning” mastery on the PTR, out of which the rebirth of Holy Shield came. This was ALWAYS going to go wrong, block capping was always going to be easier for us paladins, and this was ALWAYS going to make us OP. You just had to put a graph on the numbers and extend that out a few iLevels.

    And we have also (way back then) seen the future: the nerfbat will descend, and … (prediction here) it WILL go too far. Prepare for a few patches of hell to pay for this one. You may say that we don’t know that, but given the predictions we’ve been making on the basis of past history, and their stubbornness to repeat it (this is exactly a repeat of three or four of these types of mistakes by Blizzard), I don’t feel confident we may not be on the eve of another dark age for pallies. TBH, though, I’ve never enjoyed the game less than in those patches where we were OP. Both community perception from other classes and the diminished sense of achievement are huge spoilsports.

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  14. Jelena says:

    I don’t think that we are overpowered that much in the moment, sometimes we have advantages due more surv cooldowns, but the general mitigation model isn’t overall.

    From my 10 man heroic view, my bear tanking colleague is definiatly taking less damage overall and many of the mentioned problems never appear just because of (more) dodges. If there were a boss, which requires more EH, then the paladin version might work better, but in 10 mans you normaly died to missing hps before you reach your eh cap.

    In that moment overall damage mitigation becomes more relevant and here I feel inferior to my bear colleague.

    Maybe my different anicipation is due 10 man or gear differences (bear’s gear is slightly better than mine).

    Ps.: Sorry for language mistakes, I do not write in english very often.

  15. Holywarrior says:

    Excellent read. thank you.

  16. Gnaught says:

    Ok brief view of where i am currently. CTC capped at i level 395 (with about 39% of that being dodge and parry) Armor currently stops about 62% of damage. I can solo tank the first four bosses in Dragon soul 10 man reg just fine. Unbuffed health is about 180k. The thing i really notice a difference between myself and other tanks is that, yes, i have better survivability, but do less damage to the targets unless it’s a group of a dozen crappy little adds coming at me. Is all my damage reduction harming my vengence build up? Since other tanks take more damage and are rewarded faster than me for it?

    on the subject of patch changes for pallies. The hardest part of being a pally as your main is knowing that everytime you are comfortable and able to relearn your class yet again, it will change. We get wholesale changes just on regular content patches all the time. I miss the days of “969” sometimes :)

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