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.