Basically, I think Blizzard’s newest experiment, the Mastery stat, has backfired on them a little bit — at least when it comes to Tankadins.
For Tankadins, the Mastery stat increases our chance to block attacks with our shield, currently by 2.25% block chance per point of Mastery skill. In the Cataclysm beta, it was appearing that it would be possible for a character in a carefully-selected set of entry-level raiding gear to amass enough Mastery rating to make themselves “block-capped.” In tanking lingo, this means that every attack that is not a miss, dodged, or parried, is blocked. Ordinarily, it is impossible for a boss to land a normal, non-blocked attack on a block-capped tank. These findings were posted on the Cataclysm Beta forums, and in response Blizzard changed our core talent Holy Shield from a +15% block chance (increasing your chance to block by 15%) to a +10% block value (increasing the amount of damage your blocks prevent by 10%, to a total of 40%) in an attempt to stave off the dreaded block-capping beast.
So what’s the problem with block capping? In short, when it becomes easy for Tankadins to become block-capped, encounters and class tuning must be designed with that fact in mind (with the assumption that a Paladin tank will be block-capped) in order for those encounters to not be trivialized. If it’s easy for Tankadins to reach the block cap, they will do so. Blizzard specifically changed Holy Shield to make block-capping harder to do, to avoid this very problem.
The problem is that, right now, according to extensive testing and modeling, Mastery rating generally reduces a Tankadin’s incoming damage more than an equal amount of Dodge or Parry rating. That means that, setting aside diminishing returns, Mastery will almost always be preferable to take on a piece of gear, a gem, or an enchant, over Dodge or Parry. (From memory, I believe that the cutoff where Mastery becomes better than Dodge and Parry is somewhere around 800 Dodge/Parry rating, but I could be a little off on that.) Compounding this is the fact that Mastery has no diminishing returns, where Dodge and Parry both do. This means that once you pass that point where Mastery becomes better than Dodge and Parry, it will always continue to be so, and in fact will become better and better than those other two stats. Because all tanking gear will generally provide a certain amount of unavoidable Dodge and Parry rating, this means that for all intents and purposes, Mastery will be the #1 survivability stat for Tankadins for all current and future raiding tiers, unless something is done to make Mastery a little less attractive. As this trend continues and gear levels continue to inflate, block capping seems like more and more of an inevitability.
Blizzard has already stated that they would like to get away from certain stats having hard “caps,” where they’re incredibly valuable up to a certain threshold, after which point they’re essentially worthless. Hit rating for DPS is a prime example of this, but it doesn’t take a genius to see that block-capping fits that description all too well, as well. If the cap is reachable and it’s proven to be highly beneficial to be at the cap, players will aim to reach the cap. It’s as simple as that. If you don’t want players to be capping themselves out, make it impossible to reach the cap. Blizzard’s already done this by removing the block chance from Holy Shield, but I have a suspicion that this is just putting a band-aid on the problem. With presumably three tiers of raiding and heroic modes for each, I think we’ll still see block-capping as commonplace before the end of Cataclysm unless something is done.
So what can be done about it?
One, they could simply nerf the amount of block chance that Mastery gives. This is largely boring, but would solve the problem with block capping within the Tankadin microcosm itself. One potential drawback is that if they were to go too far, Mastery could become nigh-worthless and we’d have a junk stat on all these gear drops that we would be going out of our way to avoid, which is probably even worse. What this would do to our performance compared with other tanking classes, I can only guess. Obviously, this would have to be counter-balanced against other class changes, and frankly, we’re long since past the point of making any of those sorts of changes for the first tier of Cataclysm raids. This isn’t outside the realm of possibility for a future content patch, though.
Two, Blizzard has already talked about inflating the hit cap for future tiers of raiding content. Perhaps they could implement a similar mechanic to reduce our hit avoidance as the raiding tiers increase, allowing for the amount of rating you need per raid tier to steadily increase, without requiring a full-scale gear reset to do so. Yeah, I realize that this basically sounds like a toned-down version of Icecrown Radiance, but there’s a reason that Blizzard has had to resort to those debuffs — because they were necessary to keep incoming damage tuning at sane levels when avoidance got too high. If block-capping becomes a fact of life, a similar thing could very well have to happen.
Crushing Blows 2.0
Another unfortunate side effect of near-block-capping becoming the norm is the de facto return of Crushing Blows. For tanks who haven’t been around quite as long, back in The Burning Crusade, bosses had a chance to deal a “crushing blow” with their attacks, dealing 50% increased damage, many times leading to a raid wipe. As such, TBC tanks were forced to become “uncrushable” as a prerequisite to any serious raid tanking. Druids were exempt from this due to their large health pools, and Warriors were (mostly) exempt due to their Shield Block ability automatically making them uncrushable on slow-hitting mobs like bosses. For Paladin tanks, however, it became essential to reach 102.4% hit avoidance to be able to raid, as doing so made it impossible to be hit with a Crushing Blow. Shield block rating was the name of the game for new raiders trying to reach “uncrushable” status.
What’s happening in Cataclysm is that when tanks reach exceptionally high block percentages (say, a 10% chance to be hit by a normal, unblocked attack), these unblocked hits are becoming what were essentially Crushing Blows in The Burning Crusade. For the sake of easy computation, let’s say a boss swings for 100,000 damage with a normal attack. (We’re also ignoring armor and other damage-reduction effects here.) Most of the time, the Tankadin will block the boss’s attacks, reducing the incoming damage by 40%. This means that a blocked attack would connect for 60,000 damage, and since most attacks from the boss will end up being blocked, this will be the “norm” for the fight. However, on the rare occasion that a hit makes it through the small gap in your block chance, you take the full unmitigated hit of 100,000. After being hit for 60,000 over and over and over, you’re suddenly taking a big 100,000 spike. In fact, this 100,000 unblocked hit is ~67% larger than the “normal” blocked hits. This means that these new “crushing blows” are even more damaging compared to regular attacks than the actual Burning Crusade crushing blows were.
Now, this may not be as big of an issue as it sounds, because Blizzard’s entire encounter design philosophy has changed a bit for Cataclysm. They’d like to do away with the massive spike damage, and have tanks able to withstand a few hits before giving up the ghost — making healer mana, rather than healing throughput (or your latency!), the determining factor in the tank’s survival. As such, perhaps even a “crushing blow” wouldn’t be that big of an issue in the big picture. Still, though, spike damage is spike damage, and if block-capping is still going to be the shiny carrot for Tankadins, these new Crushing Blows are going to be a fact of life. Being that Blizzard specifically wants to avoid crazy spike damage, I can’t help but wonder if they’ll be making any adjustments to get out of this corner that they seem to have painted themselves into with Mastery, so that they don’t run up against some unfortunate consequences later into Cataclysm.
I certainly hope so.
Having spent most of the evening working on the Pilgrim’s Bounty achievements, I hadn’t made any big plans to say goodbye to the game world I’ve spent the past six years in.
I’ve only been Horde for about half of that time, and indeed most of my oldest and fondest memories are of Alliance-side exploits, in many places which are somewhat difficult for me to revisit, so I’ll have to forego those festivities. I’ve still grown plenty attached to ugly old Orgrimmar, in its brown, lumpy glory, though. While the new Orgrimmar is certainly a lot more shiny and modern-looking, there will be always be memories of the time spent in the old Org that can’t be replaced.
Goodbye, Orgrimmar, it was nice knowing you.
So, if my paladin’s been on the shelf for the better part of a year, how will I be spending my time between now and Cataclysm? In the few weeks that I’ve been back, I’ve already replaced a fair amount of my gear with 251/264 Justice Points items. I’ve also picked up a few lucky drops in raids as well. I’m still sporting a couple pieces of Ulduar25/ToC25 gear here and there, but it’s only a couple of slots at this point, so I’m not all that concerned about it. I might hit up the Elemental Invasion bosses to try to score some 251 bracers to replace my [Mimiron’s Inferno Couplings], but as I said, I’m not too concerned about it.
Raid-wise, I’ve been hitting up the bosses I’ve missed since I left — we’ve been working on H ICC 10, with only Putricide and Sindragosa left standing (I don’t think we’re realistically planning on devoting serious time into H LK attempts this close to Cataclysm). We also knocked out Ruby Sanctum just so a couple of us stragglers could see the content, despite laggy conditions. We made a run at H ToC, which was a cakewalk at our gear level, but wiped to Anub at 5% because we were, for all intents and purposes, 8-manning it (with no Bloodlust to boot). Maybe we’ll go back in and finish him off sometime, or maybe not.
Now that I’ve decided to make my Paladin my permanent main-main from here on out, I’ve also been putting in some time to catch him up to my Mage achievements-wise. I’m trudging through all of the Crusaders’ Coliseum daily achievements, as well as some of the other more random achievements that I need to do again. Although I was making a solid run at Insane in the Membrane on my Mage, there’s no way I’m starting that over on my Paladin — even with the removal of Shen’dralar rep. I just don’t care enough about that title anymore to do that all again. The only other big thing that I want to “re-acquire” on my Paladin is the Time-Lost Proto Drake mount, which I have on my Rogue and love dearly. I really hope to get the TLPD on my Paladin before Cataclysm hits, and then am planning to obtain the Cataclysm equivalent (the Phosphorescent Stone Drake) as quickly as possible. I don’t know what it is, but something about those ultra-rare drakes that require days or weeks of camping just for that one moment of truth, and then being able to ride the drake as a trophy just really excites me.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I’m planning to race-change to a Tauren once the option becomes available. I really can’t stand Blood Elves, and only chose one out of necessity. And everyone knows how good tank gear looks on Tauren. :)
In terms of actual productive preparations for Cataclysm, here’s what’s in my current plans:
- Being at the Justice Points cap of 4000. This is 4000 less Justice Points I’ll have to grind out at level 85, and will equal roughly two free pieces of level 346 (heroic-level) blue gear.
- Having as many daily quests as possible to turn in as soon as the level cap is raised. I’m not making a run at Realm First anything (I have to work the next morning, anyway), but I still want to speed along my leveling process as much as possible, since I’m making it my goal to be the guild’s most reliable and best-geared/prepared tank in early Cataclysm. I want to be level 85, full blues with a few purples (crafted epics and reputation rewards), with the best stats I can manage a week before our first scheduled raid night. I want to return to my role as the shining example of what a tank can be, as I have been before. And leveling quickly so I can begin devoting time to raising my reputations and getting materials together for crafted gear is an excellent first step down that path. Having a full stable of quests (daily or otherwise) ready to turn in once Cataclysm launches will, I hear, get me a good 20-25% of the way towards level 81 in a matter of minutes. I’ll take that. Collecting many daily quests in a single area (such as the Coliseum dailies) will make the turn-in process as fast as possible.
- Watching dungeon and encounter videos. I want to know at least the basics for each dungeon, heroic, and (eventually) raid encounter in Cataclysm. When I step into a heroic at level 85, when nobody’s familiar with the places, I want to be able to properly call sheep targets, explain boss fights, and pull trash correctly. Watching the myriad of videos that are now available on the internet is an easy way to prepare myself with that knowledge.
- Being current on theorycraft. This not only includes knowing how to spec and glyph smart, but also includes which gem and enchant choices to shoot for so as to best maximize my survivability for what will undoubtedly be some very rough first attempts on bosses like Cho’gall and Al’Akir. If we have problems getting a fight down, I don’t want the problem to be me. That much, at least, is within my power.
- Stockpiling as much gold as I can manage. I’m not at all one of those people that’s usually drowning in gold (I typically have 1000-2000 to my name at any given time), but I’m trying to make a concerted effort to retain as much gold as I can for when the expansion hits. Gems and enchants will be expensive, it should go without saying, so if you want to outfit yourself with the best, you’d better be prepared to pay for it. Remember when Abyss Crystals were actually quite expensive and you had to sell your left leg for an enchant like 63 Spellpower or Berserking? Get ready for those days to return. Luckily, the Coliseum dailies that I’m working on for other reasons has been helping to pad my bank account a little bit, at least by my standards.
What about you, dear readers? Do you have any plans to prepare for Cataclsym? Or are you just planning to “wing it”? (Avenging Wrath? Ha, ha, get it? Ha? No? Sigh.)