Disclaimer: I haven’t raided on the PTR yet, so my understanding of T13 fights is entirely based on rumor and conjecture. However, that rumor and conjecture tells me that many of the T13 fights are one-tank fights, even on 25-man. Whether that’s only true for normal modes is yet to be seen, maybe it will be remedied for heroic modes. But it leaves me wondering: why, in an era where we’re expected to maintain 2 tanks on the roster, are we getting so many one-tank fights? Where did the interesting 2-tank fights go?
What’s so good about two-tank fights?
There are two good reasons for encounters to use two or more tanks instead of one. For starters, it matches the tank-to-DPS ratio of the dungeon finder, at least for 10-man raids. In 25-mans, you would need 5 tanks to match that ratio, of course, which is unreasonable. I can see why the designers don’t do this. It’s pretty easy to accommodate the extra DPS and healers in a 25-man raid; you can “convert” between 10-man and 25-man by simply increasing the boss’s damage and hit points. But it’s tougher to add tanks, because the number of tanks is more closely related to the encounter mechanics than to the actual numbers the boss puts out.
But the point remains that designing 5-man content and two types of raid content to require very different population distributions for the different roles creates a problem. No matter what you do, one of the content areas is going to suffer because of it. We see this nowadays in the LFD “tank shortage” and long queue times for DPS players. If there was a consistent 1:1:3 proportion of tanks:healers:DPS required in all content (2/2/6 in 10-man, 5/5/15 in 25-man), that would be greatly alleviated.
The more important reason, in my mind, is the need for consistency in role representation from encounter to encounter. If you expect to need X tanks and Y healers in a given raid format, you design your raid roster around that expectation. People generally want to play as their main spec, and want to gear for that spec preferentially. This is especially true in guilds that use some sort of point-based loot system.
Breaking that expectation causes problems. In most tiers, we have to accommodate fights where we run fewer or more tanks and healers than the usual encounter. In my guild, I generally switch to Retribution for one-tank fights (Majordomo Staghelm, and several fights in Tier 11). And to be honest, I don’t mind it, even though I have to compete with our main-spec DPS using last tier’s gear during progression periods. It’s a nice challenge in a tier full of fairly simple fights to tank, and I enjoy showing up our guild’s DPS in inferior gear. But not all player enjoy their off-spec as much as I do, nor do all players play it as well as they play their main spec. And in many cases, the “extra” tank just ends up being subbed out for a main-spec DPS player, which is even less fun.
If that occurs once in a while, it’s not too bad. But I don’t think it’s a healthy thing to do very often, because it can frustrate players who really want to play their role, but have to switch to off-spec or sit out because of an encounter’s requirements. For a particularly egregious case of this, look no further than 25-man heroic Ragnaros, which encourages running 3-4 healers in a tier where you’re usually bringing 6-7. That’s really rough on the roster if your healers aren’t awesome at their DPS off-spec.
Especially if content tiers are only going to have 7-8 bosses, I think more than a single one-tank fight is inadvisable. More than that, like we’re apparently going to see in Dragon Soul, is really going to irritate tanks that don’t enjoy being forced to play their off-spec. And arguably, if over half of the tier is one-tank fights and they’re the dedicated off-tank, Blizzard has just made DPS their main spec through encounter design.
OK, so why do we have any one-tank fights?
The main argument against having exactly two tanks, in my mind, is that it constrains the encounter designers. We want them to come up with cool fights, and if we constrain them to require two tanks, that limits what they can do. They can’t branch out to a third tank for a council-style fight, or cut down to one for a simple one-boss tank-and-spank. To echo a sentiment I’ve heard fairly often, you can only use the “taunt when the other tank gets the debuff” mechanic so many times before it gets stale. And to be fair, I agree; the “taunt on debuff” mechanic is in danger of being over-used. However, that mechanic is only one of many ways to solve the problem, “How do I turn this one-tank fight into a two-tank fight?”
A quick review of “+1 tank” mechanics
There are a couple of tried-and-true mechanics one can use to turn a simple one-boss, one-tank fight into an encounter that forces a raid group to use two tanks. Here’s a quick list, along with some examples of encounters that utilize those mechanics:
- Taunt on debuff: Ragnaros, Beth’tilac (phase 2), Cho’gall, Nezir, Algalon
- Taunt on boss ability: Baleroc (in theory – in practice many guilds one-tank this anyway), Chimaeron
- Sabre Lash – Blood Queen Lanathel, Mother Sharaz, Patchwerk
- Periodic adds: Maloriak, Nefarian/Onyxia (2->3 tanks in 25-man), Anub’arak, Kel’thuzad, Kil’jaeden
“Taunt on debuff” needs no explanation by this point. It’s probably the simplest and most versatile way to accomplish the goal, which is why it gets overused. Taunt on boss ability is slightly more interesting, because it rewards attentiveness and reactions, especially if the ability is randomized.
The Sabre Lash mechanic is arguably the worst of the four categories, because it’s the most boring implementation for the off-tank. Blood Queen is probably the worst of the worst, since the off-tank could literally go AFK for the entire fight with the right positioning. I put Patchwerk in this category, because he’s also basically a Sabre Lash mechanic. Patchwerk is a slightly better implementation, because his Hateful Strike isn’t positional – it’s threat and health based. However, he also gives the Hateful target extra threat, so the tank’s involvement is still basically over after the first 30 seconds or so.
Historically though, the most common way to extend a one-tank fight is juts to add a few extra mobs, in the form of add spawns. Maloriak is essentially a one-tank fight which has mobs added to give you a reason to bring an extra tank or two. But it’s done in a fairly creative way, integrating that into the fight with their own particular phase. You can come up with examples of this type of fight in almost every tier of raiding since Molten Core.
I personally like the “throw adds at them” solution best. Sure, we see it in almost every tier of content, but it never feels as stale as “taunt off the debuff” for some reason. Maybe because adds are more dynamic, or involve more thought and planning than simply hitting Hand of Reckoning. My guess is that because it’s a second, independent entity, it feels like you’re a necessary part of the team, because the main tank can’t be in two places at once. As a result, it feels like a more important job, whereas “taunt off the debuff” and Sabre Lash mechanics feel like babysitting.
If you’re so smart, how would you do it?
Keep in mind that the goal is to shoehorn a second tank into what is otherwise designed as a one-tank fight. By definition, that’s going to feel a little “tacked-on.” The problem with the “taunt off the debuff” solution is that it feels so blatantly “tacked-on” that it ends up looking like the lazy dev’s solution. What’s needed is to add a mechanic that requires a second tank, but do it in a way that doesn’t feel tacked-on, despite the fact that it is. It has to feel like a job that’s interesting, important, and worthy of a second tank.
For example, what about a the fight where an add spawns every 30 seconds and has to be off-tanked until it expires? Maybe the add has 3x the boss’s hit points, so you can’t possibly hope to kill it. You just have to tank it so it doesn’t run amok in the raid killing healers indiscriminately. For a heroic version, the adds could spawn faster than they expire, leading to a natural enrage timer when your off-tank gets overwhelmed.
Or a fight where you throw a version of Alysrazor’s hatchlings at the raid, but tweaked so that the hatchling is immune to all damage sources except the person being focused? There doesn’t even need to be a damage buff, so long as the hit points are balanced appropriately. That sort of design has an additional advantage, in that it gives the tank an incentive to perform his damage rotation well – something we sadly need in the absence of an active mitigation model – so that he doesn’t end up having to tank multiples at once. If you want tanks to care about balancing hit/expertise with defensive stats, this is one way to do it. It’s an encounter-based way to turn your threat rotation into a survivability benefit!
Or how about an encounter where the boss periodically banishes the tank to a nether realm, where he has to dodge falling rocks, much like the Frostmourne room in the heroic Lich King fight? If the rock-dodging tank gets hit, the boss could receive a stacking damage buff. Meanwhile the second tank picks up the boss and has to cope with that stacking buff.
Or, in another variation on the “banish” theme, the fight where one tank and 1-2 healers are chosen at random and teleported to a separate room, after which endless waves of non-elite enemies start spawning. The banished tank has to do everything he can to survive the onslaught and keep the healers alive until the timed event ends, and the non-banished tank has to handle the boss. Since they’re chosen randomly, both tanks and all healers need to be able to do both jobs, making it imperative that every player in your group is capable of handling the challenge.
There are even interesting ways to use the “taunt on debuff” and Sabre Lash mechanics to these ends. The problem with both mechanics is that they’re predictable and boring. So make them dynamic. Maybe the boss randomly chooses which tank to debuff, or gives both tanks a debuff (one +50% damage take, the other -50%), so that they actually have to think about who should be tanking next. Maybe the boss’s Sabre Lash puts a Living Bomb debuff on both targets, such that the two tanks have to split up afterward to avoid killing each other when they go off (but need to get back together afterwards for the next lash).
Or combine the two ideas: a Thaddeus-like encounter, where both tanks get a polarity and need to stand close or spread out based on their debuffs, but with a Sabre Lash mechanic. The tanks need to rotate cooldowns to survive the Sabre Lash when they’re forced to spread, leading to interesting tactical choices (“Ok, I’ll tank first and blow my cooldowns, then you taunt when they’re over and blow your cooldowns”).
I spit most of those ideas out in less than 5 minutes in a conversation with Meloree the other day. I’m sure that the encounter designers, who are way better than I am at this stuff, can come up with many more. So why aren’t we seeing them in-game? Where is the insanely cool shit these guys are capable of? Why, instead of neat two-tank fights, do we get a tier of content where one-tank fights are so prevalent?