First impressions of active mitigation

Now that the talent previews are out, we have a slightly better idea of the way Blizzard intends to implement active mitigation.  I’m going to focus on the paladin implementation here; after all, this is a paladin-centric blog.  If people are really interested enough in the Warrior/Druid models, I’ll be happy to comment on or blog about them later (though the druid system looks incomplete at this point).

Tier 13 set bonus – Active Mitigation via Judgement

We actually got our first glimpse of active mitigation as soon as the T13 set bonuses were released.  Our protection 2-piece bonus, which grants an absorption bubble on a successful Judgement, is a simple form of active mitigation.  My guess is that they intend for it to be a live test-bed, to see how players use it.

In Tier 13 normal-mode gear, Judgement will be hitting for around 25k damage.  The absorb shield it grants will be a quarter of that size, or around 6.25k.  That’s not an insignificant amount, but it’s also not large enough that people will be holding back on Judgement to use it reactively – too many other features are tied up in Judgement (Sacred Duty, Judgements of the Wise) to want to push it back.

So in the end, the T13 bonus ends up being a passive benefit.  In that sense, it’s not active mitigation at all; you’d never be sitting on Judgement the way a DK would with Death Strike.  It’s just not a compelling enough bonus.  However, it does attempt to fulfill another purpose: making hit provide a survivability benefit.  In fact, it’s exactly what I suggested in a previous blog post:

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

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.

The 2-piece bonus does this, but because the magnitude of the shield is so small, it doesn’t do it very well.  Ten points of hit rating gives you a mere 0.33 points of damage absorption per second via Judgement bubbles.  Not exactly enough to make hit an attractive stat compared to reaching block-cap.

It’s also worth noting that this set bonus doesn’t just help hit; it also gives Strength (0.46 APS), Attack Power (0.31 APS for 20 AP), Stamina (0.29 APS at max Vengeance), Crit (0.28 APS), Agility (0.24 APS), Spell Power (0.27 APS), and Intellect (0.23 APS) a survivability benefit.  Those values are all for 10 points of the stat, unless otherwise specified.

In any event, it’s a step in the right direction.  Effects like this are the best way to make us care about hit and expertise, for all the reasons I mentioned in that earlier blog post.  The magnitude may be a little small, but numbers are easy to tweak.  Tie an effect like this on to CS, so that expertise gets a benefit as well, and tanks might stop avoiding hit/avoid or exp/avoid items.

Shield of the Righteous – MoP edition

Note that since what we’re seeing is pre-alpha, there’s a lot of speculation inherent in any analysis at this point.  Nonetheless…

The talent preview showed us the basic building blocks of our active mitigation scheme.  In the revealed design, Shield of the Righteous provides a 5-second buff that increases block chance by 10%.  With that change, our holy power generation is directly tied to our survivability; faster holy power generation results in a higher uptime of the SotR buff, and thus more damage mitigated via block.  It also provides a small incentive to gear for hit and expertise, much like the Judgement tier bonus.

In addition, WoG will be losing its cooldown and we’ll be getting a re-designed Holy Shield (Holy Power finisher that absorbs damage) via talents.  This is pretty interesting, because it means that we’ll have some options when we hit 3 holy power.  At full health?  Drop SotR for the extra block.  Low on health?  WoG yourself.  Big magical burst coming up?  Dump the holy power into Holy Shield.  That seems like a good design, because it means that tanks will be making decisions within their rotation that actually impact their survivability; the tank that intelligently uses WoG/HS rather than just throwing all of their HP into SotR will have a better chance of surviving when the chips are down.

In fact, this system may sound familiar to regular readers.  It’s exactly what I discussed a few months ago when I was musing on the future of SotR in an active mitigation world:

If SotR even still exists in the new setup, we’ll rarely end up using it regardless of the duration on HSB simply because we have survivability options.  It would only fill an off-tanking niche, which isn’t very inspiring.  So my guess is that SotR is gone as a finisher.  In fact, SotR may simply be HSB; “Shield of the Righteous” is still an apt name for a defensive shield talent, after all. We’ve decided that the damage vs. survivability decision isn’t interesting, so why don’t we just throw it out altogether?

We can still address the “boring” part pretty easily.  There’s no reason that HSB/SotR can’t give a maintenance buff and deal damage.  That should satisfy both crowds – you still get to slam the boss in the face with your shield, but you’re doing it for both the damage and the mitigation benefit.  That should make the decision between HSB/SotR and WoG more interesting and help prevent WoG-spam, especially since WoG is likely to lose its cooldown.  HSB/SotR gives you the passive mitigation and extra damage, but WoG gives you the emergency heal you may prefer once in a while.

There’s only one problem with the current implementation:  10% block chance is just too weak to be compelling.  For being the cornerstone of our rotation, SotR just isn’t very exciting with such a marginal effect.  There’s also the distinct possibility that the damage prevented by SotR will be less than what one would absorb with Holy Shield, making SotR wholly useless compared to the guaranteed effect of HS (which also works on magical damage!).  I love Holy Shield, but even I don’t want to see SotR languish in our spellbooks dejectedly.

Death Strike is a good example of strong active mitigation; the heal is significant, which makes Death Strike usage and timing important to a Death Knight’s survivability.  They pay the price though, in the form of significantly less passive mitigation, at least pre-4.3.  It makes sense thematically for Paladins to have a slightly weaker form of active mitigation and higher passive mitigation.  That’s the problem with the weak form of SotR: it’s so weak that we’d need very strong passive mitigation to compensate, putting us in essentially the same position we are now.  That’s one reason that I feel certain the SotR we’re seeing now is just a placeholder; I’m sure the devs are aware that for active mitigation to work, the finisher options need to be strong, and a 10% block buff simply doesn’t cut it.

Fixing the problem may be as simple as buffing SotR.  The mitigation benefit needs to be significant enough that it’s the go-to choice for melee attacks.  I’ve already worked out equations that can be used to figure out how much average DTPS is prevented by a fixed amount of avoidance, block value, or block chance.  The developers could simply plug in numbers and figure out how much block chance it takes to make SotR’s projected damage reduction over 5 seconds eclipse the absorption of Holy Shield.  However, it should be noted that an RNG-based finisher (block) isn’t all that satisfying, and will likely be inferior to simply using HS or reactive WoGging unless the average damage mitigation of SotR is disproportionately high.

There are also other potential fixes.  SotR could be buffed to 100%, making it a guaranteed block-cap during the duration.  That could be very powerful, since it’s unlikely we’ll be anywhere close to block cap in MoP.  If they want to avoid block-cap entirely, switching it to 30-50% block value would keep the effect unpredictable but still strong.  That design mimics critical block, but with only one RNG roll (block or not, rather than one roll to block and one roll to crit block).  Or they could go for something in the middle, granting both block value and block chance.  There’s a lot of room for tweaking within the confines of the block mechanic.  But again, they’ll need to make it strong enough to matter.

Parting thoughts

I’m still optimistic about the direction that active mitigation is taking.  I think they’ve got the right idea, but there are still a number of problems that need to be addressed before I’ll be convinced they’ve got a working system.  For example, Death Strike is an all-in-one tool: heals, absorbs, and damage.  We have three different options, meaning we’ll need to choose appropriately.  That’s tougher to balance; paladins that always choose the right option can’t be too far ahead of Death Knights, but each option should be stronger than Death Strike’s version of it since ours are mutually exclusive.

In addition, the Holy Power system doesn’t lend itself well to active mitigation.  It’s a “build-and-dump” resource system because the finishers expect to use all three Holy Power.  That may be active mitigation, but it’s not reactive mitigation in the same way Death Strike is.  With a DK, it’s all about the timing (the when) of the ability; with us it’s all about the what, because the timing is dictated by Holy Power.  If the balance isn’t just right, we’ll be back to a situation where it makes more sense to sit on Holy Power and reactively WoG, which is still a powerful technique.  I still maintain that “sit and react” mechanics aren’t a great way to design a rotation or resource system.  That gameplay is great for cooldowns like GAnK or Divine Protection, but not for an all-or-nothing resource like Holy Power.

I don’t envy the class designers here.  They’re walking on a razor’s edge with the entire concept of active mitigation.  They want our button presses to make a meaningful impact on our survivability, but they have to get it just right.  Erring in either direction is bad.  If the effect is too weak, it doesn’t feel meaningful and people will widely criticize the system as pointless.  If it’s too strong, they have a different problem, in that poor players won’t be able to do their job.

You know the player – the one in LFD that tries to tank using only auto-attack and Crusader Strike, doesn’t use cooldowns, and yells at the healer when they die.  In the past, that player simply had really poor aggro (until the 500% buff, at least), but wasn’t significantly squishier than a good tank.  With a strong active mitigation implementation, that player will be significantly harder to heal and less likely to stay alive, which is a tougher problem for a group to compensate for.  DPS players can hold back if the tank can’t hold aggro, but the healer can’t exceed his maximum output to keep up a squishy tank.

So active mitigation is a double-edged sword for the designers.  They have to get it just right, such that players at all levels of content can play and appreciate it.  It’s a tall order; let’s hope they’re up to it.

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5 Responses to First impressions of active mitigation

  1. Ironshield says:

    10% mitigation is pretty much exactly what I’m missing (from capped) when I switch into my threat set (admittedly balanced around 87 not 88 mob numbers). Could it be that the SotR mitigation is intended to compensate for going into hit / exp and it is still only meant to be the ‘threat’ finisher with HS as preemptive and WoG as reactive finishers? Will we see a similar survivability aspect added to Inq? Or does this just dumb down the threat vs survivability argument to irrelevance?

  2. Interesting final comment on the poor tanks that will be extra squishy.
    I wonder how that will pan out in your ‘average’ LFD – Poor quality tanks stubbornly blaming the healers and poor quality healers blaming the ‘squishy’ tank.
    Asking average quality players who muddle along and play a tank to do yet another thing – I can’t see how this move to active mitigation will get more people playing tanks in the long run?

  3. Jericho says:

    The issues with tying Active Mitigation to stats such as hit and expertise are well known. They are so well known that Blizzard fundamentally altered the way Death Strike provides its buff. This is not merely something that can be fixed by reteaching the tanking community that these stats are required. Blizzard made it quite obvious with the Cataclysm changes that they did not want to require arbitrary minimum stat levels for tanking. There is a reason why they removed Defensive Skill from the game after all. Forcing players to meet hit and expertise numbers (even if they weren’t capped) just makes those the new defacto “defensive cap”.

    Tying Passive Mitigation into hit/expertise is a fine line as well. For the same reasons as above. Currently, our mitigation is not reliant on these set bonuses. They are fairly insignificant even at high levels of Vengeance. If our mitigation was to be balanced around such things.

    Lastly, Blizzard stated at the beginning of Wrath, again at the beginning of Cata, and yet again with 4.2 that they wanted to move away from maintenance buffs being a part of our rotation. This is the reason Shield Block was changed, and the reason why Holy Shield finally was changed into a similar mechanic. Making ShoR into what they are proposing is just taking away current Holy Shield and tossing it back onto a skill that requires Holy Power. We’ve done this, and it was much more powerful when we did it. Making it a choice between Maintenance and a 1 time heal or absorbtion is interesting, but it isn’t along the lines of an active mitigation model and more along the lines of a “do I make the right choice” model. Which is fine and good, but like you said, in a choice model, the line has to be extremely wide. Paladin has always been the “easy mode” of the 4 tanks.

    Making the class more complicated is great, I completely agree with the choices they seem to be poised to give us, but I have a hard time believing that these choices will be made to matter because of your final point. The difference between a “noob” DK tank and a good DK tank is knowing when to use the abilities. There is no choice, its Death Strike or Death Strike, but its about the moment its used. If these choices actually are even remotely strong in their individual ways, then difference between a good and “noob” Paladin tank will be vastly farther than the difference we already see in DKs. Maybe that’s what Blizzard wants, but im not quite sure that’s what the community will want when they see it in action.

    Blizzard wants tanks to be defined by the manner in which they tank, that is fine. We used to be judged on how well we maintained threat, but in the realm of “easy mode” LFG and now LFR that just can’t be the case any longer. Yet was the threat mechanic better than an active mitigation mechanic that is strong enough that bad tanks fall over? Was it better than an active mitigation model that is so weak that the difference between good and bad is a hair’s breadth? Really, the only thing that could make tanks more interesting and fun to play is encounter RNG. Unfortunately, 98% of all encounters go just 98% the same as every time you did the encounter. Tanking used to be about awareness. Putting yourself in the optimal position, picking up adds, dealing with changing circumstances, these are things I want to see.

    The problem with tanking now is there are very few choices, and what choices we had mean very little. The issues with making those choices mean something is that it creates a large divide between the good and average, and a larger divide between the good and the bad. Changing how the classes play is only a single step in making tanking fun and rewarding. Creating more interesting encounter design is the larger issue here, not passive mitigation and active mitigation.

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