Monday, June 22, 2009

3.2 Death Knight Changes - Tanking

First off, let me tell you a little story.

My 10-man raiding guild doesn't do 25-man Uld, so we aren't running around in piles of 226 gear like other guilds that you see getting the 10-man hard mode achievements. So they are more of a challenge for us than they may seem to be for others.

For a few weeks, we've been trying to do the Iron Council Hard Mode by killing Steelbreaker last. Since his damage keeps increasing and he's there the entire fight, you need a tank who can handle Fusion Punches for about 5-6 minutes straight with just one healer, while the Fusion Punches just get stronger and stronger. FP hits like a truck on its own, is nature damage (so not mitigated by block or armor), and puts on a debuff that must be dispelled the instant it is applied. It's taxing to heal.

We tried this encounter dozens of times with a pair of uber-geared warrior tanks. We wiped over and over to tank death. Then we brought in one comparatively undergeared and inexperienced DK tank. We wiped once due to dps death, then completed the hard mode on the next attempt.

Not only did we win, but while healing the warrior on Steelbreaker stressed our paladin, keeping the DK alive was a trivial joke.

And I could give you a dozen other examples. DKs are completely broken against the current design of raid encounters, particularly hard modes. I would argue that this is almost entirely due to the fact that their cooldowns mitigate magic damage while blocking does not, and they have more cooldowns than druids. I don't really think that nerfing us across the board is the best idea. I think everything could be fixed if you just made blocking work against magic damage and gave Berserking a defensive benefit to bears.

So DKs, don't be surprised about what you are about to read.

Patch 3.2 PTR DK tanking changes:
  • Frost Presence: 10% bonus health reduced to 6% bonus stamina.
  • Icebound Fortitude: Cooldown increased to 2 minutes. [from 1]
  • Veteran of the Third War (Blood tree): Stamina bonus reduced to 1/2/3%. [from 2/4/6%]
  • Toughness (Frost Tree): This talent now grants 2/4/6/8/10% armor instead of 3/6/9/12/15%, placing it in line with similar abilities of other classes.
  • Priest and Druid talents that used to grant 25% armor on crit heals now grant 10% reduced physical damage.
  • The paladin ability Blessing of Sanctuary: This blessing now also increases stamina by 10%. This effect is not cumulative with Blessing of Kings.
The doubled IBF cooldown is brutal. We've gone from cooldown chaining (I can pretty much always have one up against Steelbreaker) to only using them when we think we need some protection. Though it hurts, this is an understandable change, since our cooldowns are the key to our dominance in the tanking realm. Also, I'm sure the devs think planning your cooldowns is a more tactically fun playstyle. This is a comparative nerf to Frost, as one of its key talents increased the duration of IBF. There were also "stealth nerfs" to the other primary Blood and Frost tanking cooldowns, as I'll detail below.

I really like the actively defensive playstyle of being the "cooldown tank". It's a lot more fun to me than the more passive defenses of other tank classes (I couldn't believe how comparatively simple druid tanking was when I tried it this weekend). But the cooldowns are really what make us overpowered, and particularly the fact that they protect us from magical damage. One thing many people overlook is that all 3 other tanking classes have a low-level "cooldown" active at all times in the form of block. As long as block is reasonably balanced, we should actually be the worst class to tank pure physical damage. Our real advantage comes from the combination of anti-magic cooldowns and high health. Since the new "crushing blow" is always high magical damage, such as Sarth's breath or Steelbreaker's Fusion Punch, we are far and away the best tank for challenging content. This clearly needs to change.

However, I think a much better and more elegant solution is to buff block (as they are doing, except do it for druids too), and then - let me emphasize this - make block mitigate magic damage.

Excuse me for a moment, but it's a fucking travesty that this isn't in the game already. If the facts show that DKs need an overall tanking nerf, that's fine. But don't nerf them to the ground just because they are the only tank you were smart enough to design without a giant blind spot for magic damage. Make the new "predictable magic crushing blows" a test of skill at using tank and healer cooldowns, not a test of whether you "won the character select screen" or massively overgear the content. Even if you keep nerfing cooldowns and health, DKs will still be the best tanks for those encounters because, as the cooldown and anti-magic tanks, they will be the ones best able to respond to those crushing blows. The best alternative is to buff magic mitigation for the other classes.

Plain and simple, Death Knights were in danger of hitting the armor cap. So we were going to take an armor hit no matter what. The priest and druid buffs to armor were about to become useless on us, so the change to the healers is a positive. This is also a "stealth" nerf to the frost tree, as Unbreakable Armor is modified by your armor value.

The bonus from Frost Presence was more than cut in half. Blood DKs saw their health reduced even more, which in turn nerfs Vampiric Blood as well. I don't really think health nerfs were needed. Though HP is one of our strengths, we'll be more dependent on it than ever with the nerfs to our cooldowns.

The new talent Threat of Thassarian should make Dual-wield tanking viable, if balanced correctly. My fear is that DW tanking will become the only viable option due to the availability of 1-handed weapons with tank stats versus the complete absence of 2-handers with tank stats. I've always been in favor of the current philosophy that DKs tank with "dps" weapons. It saves them from having to make bosses drop tanking 2-handers that no one else will use. The devs agree, because they stated that they would not be putting in tanking 2-handers for this reason. So now I'm afraid that the community will decide that dual wielding will be the only option for tanking going forward.

However, this may not come to pass. For one thing, a pair of faster 2-handed weapons vastly increases the chances that you'll haste a boss's attack as a result of parrying you. Secondly, Rune Strike is noticeably absent from the ToT talent, meaning tanks with big honking 2-handers will have a strong threat advantage. Third is the fact that the reason dual-wielders have higher potential white damage is because DWing scales better than 2-handers with attack power and, in some ways, hit and expertise. Tanking DKs will have low values of all 3 of those. Finally, dual wielding locks us out from using the Rune of Stoneskin Gargoyle, and I know most DKs would prefer the health boost and big chunk of free defense over the parry offered by the alternative. Hopefully, these factors will combine to balance the two out, and I won't be forced to collect a pair of tanking 1-handers.

See DPS patch notes. The short summary: Blood threat remains largely the same. Frost is nerfed (Frost Strike and perhaps dual-wielding causing weakened rune strikes), but may be able to compensate a bit thanks to 2 points being freed up from Blood of the North. Unholy loses its AoE threat crown with the change to Unholy Blight (RIP, oh how I loved thee), but should see a single-target threat increase from its new form: a stacking DoT added to Unholy's Death Coils. Scourge Strike was nerfed, but Blood Strike was augmented and a new Unholy talent causes it to buff your other attacks, so these should balance out.

Overall, we just saw a devastating, but mostly justified, nerf to our survivability. It remains to be seen just how squishy we've become, but we may drop straight from the best tanks to the worst, especially since Paladins just got a massive tanking buff on top of everyone's block being increased. Our threat has been a little high, and once we see the numbers I think our threat will end up in a decent place. Unholy just dropped from best aoe spec to average (it remains competitive thanks to Wandering Plague and more convenient access to the reduced DnD cooldown).

The most important thing to remember right now is: don't panic. We have no idea how this is all going to pan out, and I would not be surprised at all to see some of these changes be reverted or tweaked. If you are worried about it, get on the PTR and test it!

1 comment:

Brent Michael Krupp said...

I have to commend you for a reasoned and calm response to an impending nerf of your class. I play a feral druid and try to have a similar attitude when we get "adjusted" and can't stand the people that flip out.

So kudos to you!