The recent change to threat modifiers has left threat stats in a pretty sad state. Admittedly, the answer to “how much hit/expertise do I need” has been “basically zero” since as far back as early Wrath of the Lich King, but there were still niche cases where those stats came in useful.
However, those reasons have eroded away one by one over the course of Cataclysm. Vengeance was the first strike, eliminating threat problems once a tank was taking steady damage. Then taunts were patched to no longer miss, as was our new off-GCD interrupt. The final nail in the coffin came this past week with the boost to threat modifiers, making even the initial 30-second snap aggro period worry-free. Threat is more or less dead, and that’s the intent according to the Dev Watercooler article. The threat-a-clysm is officially upon us.
But where does that leave threat stats?
Here’s what Ghostcrawler had to say in the Dev Watercooler article:
Blood DKs have a lot of control over the survivability they get from Death Strike, but as part of that gameplay, they have to actually hit their target. The other three tanks will get similar active defense mechanics
The idea of active mitigation abilities itself is a good one – that’s essentially the role that WoG and the new Holy Shield play, and they’re good, engaging, and fun mechanics. Tying active mitigation abilities to hit and expertise, on the other hand, is not. The Death Strike model, where your active mitigation ability can be nullified by the RNG, is arguably the worst way to implement an active mitigation ability. First I’ll discuss why it’s a bad idea, and then I’ll propose a better way to make hit and expertise valuable to tanks.
Active Mitigation: A How-(Not-)To
Active mitigation abilities are great because they put survivability in the tank’s hands. In other words, they give the tank control. That’s why they allow for greater depth of game play and a higher skill cap. These abilities are a tank’s way of saying “I need survivability, and I need it right now.” Choosing when that survivability happens is the interesting and important part of game play. Those choices are one way to distinguish an excellent tank from a puddle of tank-like goo on the floor, and often end up being the difference between a boss kill and a wipe.
Having Holy Shield fail because the RNG decided that it “missed” isn’t interesting. It’s frustrating, demoralizing, and most importantly, it’s not fun. It’s the antithesis to the goal of active mitigation, which is to make the tank’s only remaining job – mitigating damage – more fun. And the reason it’s all of those things is because it takes control away from the tank. If you can’t rely on the ability to give you the desired effect, it doesn’t feel like you have control anymore, because every time you go for your survival buttons you’re praying that the RNG doesn’t screw you over.
Furthermore, this sort of implementation doesn’t make threat stats any less mindless. It leads to one of two situations:
- The theorycraft says that hit/exp are more important for survivability than dodge/parry, at which point it becomes mandatory to hit/exp cap
- They’re less effective, and people still gear for 0 hit/exp.
Neither of those give us any thought-provoking decisions to make. Either we reach hit/exp cap, or we still ignore those stats. There’s no middle ground because you’re never going to say, “Well, 8% chance for Holy Shield to miss is too high, but 3% is acceptable.” It’s an on-demand survivability ability, which means either the tolerance for error is 0% and you can rely on it, or you don’t rely on it.
Out of the two situations, the former is far better because at least we have to juggle hit/exp caps. It’s a stretch to call that an “interesting” choice, but at least some thought has to go into item selection. And I must admit, it would be nice to have some hit and expertise again, simply because it irritates me when I get long strings of parries and dodges against a boss. If we’re doomed to have active mitigation tied to “threat” stats, I’d be happier if it led to mandatory hit and expertise soft-capping. But that still doesn’t make it a good solution.
The second situation is much worse, because it leads to incredibly frustrating gameplay. It means that we won’t be able to trust our active mitigation abilities and we won’t feel the sense of control they’re supposed to convey. This is the situation Death Knights are in right now, and they curse under their breath every time a Death Strike gets parried at an inopportune time. If Death Strike is the centerpiece of a DK’s active mitigation, it should simply not be able to be miss or the mitigation effect should occur on the cast rather than on hit. In short, it should just work. The result should depend on the player’s skill and decision making, not the roll of a die.
Threat Stats! – Huh! Good God, Y’all – What are they good for?
So then, what’s the solution for threat stats? We don’t want them for the sake of threat anymore, nor do they grant a large enough DPS to make them worth the survivability loss. It’s clear that to make threat stats attractive to tanks, they need to be tied to survivability because we’re already trading DPS/threat for survivability almost anywhere we can. But we don’t want them tied to active mitigation, either. What’s left?
The simplest solution, though a bit inelegant, is to tie them to passive survivability. Dodge and parry are passive survivability stats; they improve our survivability without any input on our part. You could imagine a simple talent that converts hit and expertise rating to a passive survivability stat, like armor:
Resolve of the Crusader: Grants X armor for every point of hit or expertise rating.
Tune X until one point of hit rating is comparable to the average damage reduction of one point of dodge or parry at reasonable levels of diminishing returns. It’s simple and effective, if not inspiring. But it gets the job done, and gives us interesting decisions to make, such as “do we want the additional smoothness that the armor gives us, or the greater overall damage reduction of the dodge/parry?” Note also that this wouldn’t require significant re-tuning of the tank classes, because we’re not getting “free” armor – it would all be coming from rating that’s currently invested in dodge/parry. We’d just be shifting it from avoidance to armor.
But again, it’s not a very elegant or inspiring solution. One drawback of the passive solution is that it doesn’t interact with our DPS rotation at all, which means it doesn’t give us any extra incentive to push our buttons. And we desperately need some sort of incentive to do that in the absence of threat. Luckily, there’s another implementation that does provide such a motivation. It’s somewhere in-between active and passive mitigation; let’s call it “semi-active mitigation.” Consider the following example talent:
Armor of the Vindicator: When your Crusader Strike deals damage, you gain X armor for Y seconds.
Again, simple and effective, but this time a little more interesting. Now there’s an incentive for you to press buttons, because the fewer Crusader Strikes you cast the lower the armor buff’s uptime will be. It makes connecting with your attacks important for mitigation, which is exactly what has to happen to make threat stats attractive to tanks. And it gives us a motivation to optimize our rotation, which is an element that the threat changes have taken away from us.
There’s quite a bit of design space to play with here as well. X has to be chosen appropriately, again such that hit/expertise rating is comparable in survivability to dodge/parry. If Y is set to 3 seconds (the cooldown of CS), then there’s a linear relationship between hit rating and uptime; if instead Y is longer, it’s a nonlinear relationship which gives a natural diminishing returns curve. Balancing the diminishing returns of dodge/parry and hit/expertise would be a complex balancing act instead of just “hit/exp to cap,” making gearing decisions much more interesting.
The trigger could be converted from dealing damage to critical strikes (and expanding the source list to include Shield of the Righteous, Avenger’s Shield and Judgement), making crit a potentially interesting survivability stat as well. Or it could be a <50% chance to proc the effect on dealing damage with any ability, making the uptime variations as a function of hit and expertise larger. You could even imagine changing the effect – maybe turn it into a stacking absorption bubble like Savage Defense, or a stacking armor buff that gets consumed by any attack that deals damage, giving it some synergy with avoidance. There’s really a huge amount of variation in what you can do with this idea.
Note that this isn’t a new concept. Savage Defense is essentially the same thing, with the druid getting a passive survivability boost as a result of their offensive actions. In the druid’s case though, the effect is supposed to be significant enough to stand in for the Block mechanic; our form would have to be weaker than Savage Defense to remain balanced (though the druid version could use a buff as well, from what I’ve heard). Since all four tank classes would be getting some version of this, it seems reasonable that the druids would keep their absorb bubble while the plate classes would each get some variation of an armor implementation.
The point that bears repeating is that these semi-passive implementations cover all of the bases. They give us a reason to push buttons and turn hit and expertise into survivability stats on par with dodge and parry. And they accomplish the intended goals without subjecting our on-demand mitigation abilities to the RNG. In other words, they don’t void the tank’s sense of control, which helps keep tanking fun rather than frustrating.