I get this question a lot.
I’m pretty sure I know what everyone expects me to say, especially following Meloree’s really moving post last week on the demise of tanking. It would be pretty easy to say that I stopped tanking because Blizzard has made it boring, and that’s generally the commentary I get. Tank friends tell me things like, “I’m jealous you’ve switched to DPS,” or “I totally understand why you switched to DPS.” But that’s not why I switched. At least, I don’t think it was. I think I just found the spec I’d always wanted to play.
I have always tanked. Always. I have been prot spec since I started playing my paladin, from leveling to 5 mans to raids. Going ret never even crossed my mind. In late Wrath, I eventually picked up some offspec gear for one tank fights, and I hated it. Ret back in Wrath went like this: you had five abilities, and you pushed whatever was off cooldown that did the most damage. That was it. There was no buff management. There were no procs. There was nothing else interesting about it. It was boring. Now, tank-wise, 96969 was boring too, but in comparison, tanking was 100 times as fun: I got to move mobs around and position and cooldown either on schedule or in response to damage, and stress about getting the job right, because my mistake would mean a raid wipe. I loved the difficulty and the responsibility of being a tank. It was so much more engaging than DPS ever looked. DPS had the easy job, and I enjoyed my hard job.
I was a prot paladin. That’s who I was! It was my identity!
In T11, I joined Something Wicked and became one of three tanks.
Obviously if there were three of us, I wouldn’t just be tanking all the time. When I joined, I told Moshne I had never been ret, but I would learn if I had to. He told me that he wasn’t going to require me to have a ret spec. However, it was probably in my best interest, because I would sure be a lot less likely to sit if I had one. So I sat down to build one and eventually began to discover Cataclysm ret for the first time.
I didn’t use it much, because I tanked almost everything in T11. A three-tank roster worked really well back then. On the rare occasion that I wasn’t tanking, as promised, I rarely got sat, so I did get some offspec time. Which was good, because new-style ret was very complicated! I had a lot to learn.
The hardest fight I saw as ret was Heroic Ascendant Council. I talk about this fight a lot as being the most difficult fight in T11 for us. We decided to kill it before we killed Cho’gall or Sinestra, and it was a real pain in the ass. That fight will live in my memory as the biggest learning experience for me. It was the first time I’d encountered the particular kind of frustrating difficulty unique to fights like AC, the type of frustration that makes you want to throw your headphones at the wall because the same old shit happens over and over. I had moments where I was fucking retarded. I had a moment or two of glory. But there were just so many wipes… there is not too much more to say about that fight; anyone who did it, hated it. I hated it even more since I was offspec.
I rarely sat at all; I was there the whole time. It had nothing to do with how good I was, because I was still pretty terrible, and ret was also pretty trash DPS in T11 anyways. But we run a pretty small roster, and we had a couple of weeks of tight attendance when we struggled to throw 25 bodies at raids. Well, that is why people have offspecs. I had to step it up! I still sucked by the end of it, but damn, I learned a lot from being ret on that boss.
I don’t remember being ret much otherwise in T11. T11 was a really great tier for tanks, and I was happy. I was still a tank, just one with an offspec.
T12 and Blizzcon: Things change for tanks.
T12’s seven fights were such a disappointment after how much fun T11 had been. Several are one-tank on normal, and one is still single-tank on heroic. We three tanks still shared out the jobs pretty evenly and tried to make things fair while also picking the right people for the right jobs, but it was rough. I quietly claimed for myself the two tanking jobs I really wanted, which were Alysrazor and Baleroc. They and Beth are the only fights I end up tanking. Three is not a lot of fights. Not at all.
Blizzcon 2011 occurred in the middle of T12, and I got to talk to a lot of devs while I was there. After I was done berating them for Rhyolith (WORST FIGHT EVER), I had to ask them: what the hell are you doing with your tank design? I’m in a three tank guild, and Firelands sucks after T11. How many tanks are we expected to run? They gave me a pretty straight answer as blues go; it’s obviously not a huge secret. T12 is the intended design in terms of raid composition. The one to two tank fight design is here to stay.
Well, I wasn’t sure what that meant for our tanking corps. Firelands was really depressing. I know a lot of people hated DS more, but I honestly disliked Firelands the most this expansion. It felt to me, especially some weeks when we were in the middle of progression and I ended up tanking just two (or even one) fight that week, that I wasn’t doing much tanking at all.
But increasingly I didn’t really have a problem with that… because I wasn’t sitting, so I was ret, and that meant more and more time to get to know this increasingly interesting spec. Ret got more and more fun as I started to understand it better and play around with what I understood.
The breaking point was H Rag. I was retribution, and once again, I was there the whole time. Unlike AC, Rag was a 400 pull boss, and also unlike AC, I was there on Rag because (I think) I had to be there. I was enough of an asset to the raid as ret that my presence was generally a good thing. That meant I was ret for the vast, vast majority of what I remember in Firelands…. and that was fine with me.
Why I love Retribution (the Cataclysm flavor) —
It’s a lot of fun. First of all you have two resource systems, and if you play ret like I do, you actually have to watch your mana so you do have to manage them both. Secondly, you have to maintain Inquisition. Holy Power can seem a little random, but once you’ve played ret enough you end up getting a feel for the heartbeat of the rotation– this is especially important when Judge generates it too, because the HP is a bit delayed. You get two wonderful procs with different results to spice up the rotation, and a gap closer attached to a core ability, and several fun cooldowns. All sorts of toys!
Ret on a target dummy is pretty interesting, but Ret in the real world so much more fun. I end up ignoring CLCret’s recommendations on a fairly regular basis. I use Consecration and Divine Plea at my own discretion. I try to time my Judgement for a movement boost, or time my movement with a Judgement boost, every time I have to go anywhere. Inquisition refreshes are something I think a lot about, too. What am I doing in the next half minute? When am I next using my cooldowns? Has anything procced right here? Do I want to hit one more button for one more holy power? Smart inquisition refreshes can make life either easier or much more annoying. Then there’s the obvious situations like building up resources for any burn moment. The list goes on. Ret is one of those specs that really rewards a lot of thinking about the entire course of the fight.
And I haven’t even talked about my favorite part: cooldowns. Back when I was really learning how to not suck at ret during H Rag, cooldown management was pretty much the most important part about being ret. That’s the whole point of being a ret – stack your cooldowns and BURN! We had five different cooldowns to time at five different times as well as a rotation change due to Heroism. I loved it. I loved it so much.
I also just generally found myself very much enjoying the role of a DPS. It’s a lot more difficult than it looks from the boss crotch, at least on heroic mode fights. Gone were the days when I was a tank and looked at the DPS core and thought, “heh, they have the easy job.” They don’t. I was more often thinking, “thank god I don’t have to do that.” Or, “I’m so glad I get to be DPS here.” DPS also die much, much more quickly than tanks when they make a mistake. I guess that happens when you don’t have a team of dedicated healers! And there is the constant pressure of the enrage timer. It was such a challenging role, and it was challenging in a unique way every GCD that I was a DPS. And unlike tanking, it remains interesting throughout farm.
I rather enjoyed it. I looked back at Firelands and it was clear to me that I’d enjoyed my time as a DPS a lot more than my time tanking. And so I began to think…
Should I maybe ask about going mainspec DPS next tier?
But I’ve always been a tank. This was a weird thought. It took me a while to get around to it. First of all, I didn’t know if I was good enough to handle it. I had justified a ton of mistakes to myself, and have throughout this blog post, as “It’s only my offspec” or when I did well, “That’s pretty good for my offspec.” Could I handle it without the cushion of offspec to give me a convenient excuse for messing up? So I first went to our mainspec ret Warden, someone you paladins have probably seen on Maintankadin— a friend whose judgement I trust completely. He was all in support once I asked his opinion, and so I was quite excited. I still had more to learn, but doesn’t everyone?
Then I went to the other tanks. I was aware that if I switched to mainspec DPS, they would be most heavily affected because I’d be removing any opportunity for them to sit back and be offspec. Our warrior, Omegal, assured me he was fine with always tanking, and I believed him. I was more concerned about our DK Shiramune. Apparently before he became Something Wicked’s unkillable beast of a DK main tank, he had a previous life in Wrath as an ass kickingly parsing DPS. Since I often heard about what a great DPS he had been, and since I knew he quietly parse chased as tank spec, I certainly wanted to make sure I wasn’t taking any opportunities away. I probably asked him on about 100 different occasions, just to make sure he was telling me the truth instead of being nice. He pretty much reassured me that he really enjoys tanking and has no desire to do anything else. I eventually believed him. DK tanks appear to have the most fun after all.
Reassured that my fellow tank chat bretheren would not be unhappy if I took all the DPS opportunities for myself, I next went to my raid leader. Moshne is rarely shy with his opinion. Considering he is the person who has to put the raid together each evening, I was certain he’d tell me if the option was on the table at all, and if so, whether it would be more effective (or very stupid) to run either 3 tanks or 2 rets next tier.
Unfortunately for my peace of mind, he refused to make a call. I had a lot of conversations with him and in a pretty impressive feat of topic avoidance, he managed to never tell me what he would prefer I did once. He did talk to me at great length about what I personally wanted, which was very useful coming from a friend, a raid leader, and another hybrid with two raiding specs. But he refused to give me anything resembling a leader-like opinion on what I should do next tier. I straight out asked him what would be better for the raid and guild, several times, and he just countered it with, “Well, what do you want to do?”
Very unhelpful. What I wanted to do was not make the decision.
So I was left alone. I put it off for as long as I could. Change is scary for me. But in the end, I had to make the decision and I chose to go ret for real. No one had given me a reason not to, and I could handle it. I might as well be true to what I thought I wanted to do.
I switched for Dragon Soul.
I was immediately nervous in my first raid as a mainspec DPS, but that faded away in about five minutes. Being ret felt exactly the same as Firelands, minus the switching specs all the time and someone bitching about auras or buffs being missing, plus faster gear.
Then the most lovely thing happened. RNG smiled upon me and lo, it was good. I managed to pick up 4pc tier paladin gear, Gurth, and the trinket in the very first week or two of raids. Wow. And let me tell you, Ret got some buffs… it got some pretty damn amazing buffs. With all that gear so very early, and everyone else still sitting in Firelands gear, well, I wasn’t holding back the raid’s DPS at all and that was a very nice feeling. Everyone else soon scaled up there as they got their hands on some gear too, but those first few weeks were a lot of fun and I definitely gained a lot of confidence. And with ret parsing quite well in those early days as well as being pretty optimal for several fights, it has suddenly become a lot more reasonable to keep two on the roster. One day fairly recently while we were working on Spine, someone told me that our roster was naturally stacked because we ran two rets – because, who does that? I laughed for a while…
A couple weeks in, Moshne says in vent, “I’m glad you went ret. That’s what I wanted you to do all along.” and went on to give exactly the reasons I’d asked him about before, like, how dumb it would have been to divide tank gear up among 3 people, and how much more effective it was to have 2 tanks, etc.
I was pretty mad. “I WANTED YOU TO TELL ME THAT THE WHOLE TIME!! WHY DIDN’T YOU JUST SAY THAT IN THE FIRST PLACE?!”
“Of course I didn’t tell you… If I told you what I wanted you to do, you would have just done that.” He was very proud of himself for carefully not revealing to me what he actually wanted me to do. Or he was just trolling me… sometimes I just can’t tell.
But I loved it. It was so the right decision. I actually had no desire to tank anymore at all, once I switched – I have gotten over it since then, and I’m back to being a useful hybrid, but for a month or two I was so very, very happy to be mainspec DPS that I didn’t even want to look at my tank set. I am pretty glad that everyone else was patient with me, especially our other ret paladin who (gasp) had to use his tank set once or twice and helped me be selfish and not-tank.
I wonder about why I switched sometimes.
In some ways I got really lucky. I was lucky that neither of my other fellow tanks really had a burning desire to DPS. I was lucky that they also didn’t want me to be tank to take some of the stress off (I live in fear of one of them missing a raid). I was lucky that nothing in DS really required a paladin tank, or sucked with a DK or a warrior. I was lucky that, thank god, ret got the buffs it needed to be a competitive spec, competitive enough to run two. I was lucky to be in a raid with a ret paladin who carefully taught me how to be a good ret for a year, because I absolutely needed the company and the help. I’m pretty happy all those things ended up being true so I could play the spec I wanted to play.
It was definitely the right call, no question about that. But sometimes I wonder– was it because Ret was the spec I’d always meant to play? Or have the changes to tanking had more of an impact than I think they have? It’s no coincidence that I was half-and-half in Firelands and got to compare DPS and tank.
I’m not sure. I am only sure of one thing: I’m a ret paladin now, and I love it!