Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Introduction to Melee Formations

The old adage, which we've all heard, goes like this:
If the tank dies, it's the healer's fault.
If the healer dies, it's the tank's fault.
If the DPS dies, it's their own damned fault.
I take exception to this adage, and think it conveys a bad attitude and is disrespectful to damage dealing classes. If the tank dies because he's wearing spellpower gear and is not talented into mitigation or avoidance, it is not the healer's fault.

This is just one example where the adage fails. We need to be honest about survivability.

If the point of the game were merely to stay alive, then a tank and four healers would be the optimal group composition. However,
The first duty of a tank is not to stay alive, but to keep their party alive and buy them time to bring down the quarry. Staying alive is merely a habit in keeping with that primary goal.
Every member of the party is responsible for accomplishing the overall goal, which is to bring down the quarry. The responsibilities of the different roles can and do overlap.

For example, if the tank dies, it might be the damage dealer's fault. Whenever a mob parries a frontal melee attack, they get a ~40% haste buff on their next white damage attack. This means if you're standing shoulder-to-shoulder with three melee damage dealers, and none of them are expertise capped to remove the 12-15% parry chance, you will be taking a lot more damage than usual.

Yes, it is one of the melee DPS's responsibilities not to contribute damage to the tank. This further disproves the adage above.

If one of your damage dealers is a Fury Warrior with 0 Expertise skill, and you're trash tanking four mobs, each of their whirlwind attacks (assuming a 13.5% parry chance on each of the four mobs) are ~44% likely to proc the haste debuff on one of the mobs.

This is why you, the tank, should always be on the other side of a mob from your melee damage dealers. Always. Mobs can't parry attacks from behind them, so the damage dealers will be much more effective if you coordinate to keep the mob's backside pointing at the party (unless it's a dragon).

Once we accept that the tank and the melee damage dealers should always be on opposite sides of a mob, the tank becomes partially responsible for where the melee damage dealers are standing. When the tank moves, the mob moves, and when the mob moves, the DPS must also move, in order to stay behind or to the side of it. The question for the tank becomes where shall I place my melee DPS?

Acknowledging that some fights are just plain messy, accidents happen, and nobody is perfect, we should still do our best as tanks to keep our melee damage dealers safe. For starters, we should not put our melee DPS in any place where:
  1. They can body pull.
  2. Their abilities can pull.
  3. They can be flung into a mob or other damage source.
If you do any of these things, then you're forcing the DPS to choose between not engaging in the fight until the tank moves somewhere else, engaging and likely getting themselves killed, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the tank and maybe getting him killed, or not using the abilities that define their class and role. It's a no-win situation for the melee damage dealers, and it does not contribute to the primary objective.

So, how can you, as a tank, avoid some of these common pitfalls? The answer is by planning and practicing melee formations. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, I will begin a series of short articles describing various melee formations--general positioning strategies for party members that are not encounter specific. The goal will be to outline the advantages and disadvantages of each formation, and to provide videos that illustrate them in use with melee damage dealers. Because other websites such as TankSpot have encounter-specific raid videos, I will focus on formations for general use.

Melee Formations

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

My promise to you

This is a "meta" entry; an editorial post about this publication.

I was disheartened to read one of my favorite druid blogs today, which strayed completely from the type of content that made me want to follow it and link to it, but instead wandered into a thoughtless, unhelpful, uninformed, unneeded and most unkind mire of off-topic and offensive "tripe" (to borrow from one of the comments). The post first upset me, but then enticed me to step back and try to salvage something of worth from my initial reaction.

Many years ago, a dear friend advised me to "THINK" before publishing any written work, and to be certain that the written piece was:
  • Thoughtful
  • Helpful
  • Informed
  • Needed
  • Kind

I've tried to live and to write by that standard ever since.

In light of that fact, the point of this blog is not to "entertain" a daily audience or to "stimulate" any readers that find their way here during their search for relevant content on playing a druid. Our readers don't need mere stimulation--we have all of Azeroth to excite our senses.

The point of this publication is to provide relevant and useful information for druid tanks. My promise to you, the reader, is that I will not waste your time by forgetting this. When I have nothing useful to contribute, I will not write. When, as is the case today, I have more entries in 'draft' state than published, it is because the entries can all benefit from revision.

I look forward to seeing more on-topic, useful content elsewhere in our community of writers, and am happy to wait for quality. Finally, I hope that the wayward writers I look up to can find their bearings and get back to basics soon.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Chance to Crit vs Multiple Mobs

Assuming we never miss, and are never blocked, parried, or dodged, how often will we be able to proc Savage Defense while using Swipe versus multiple mobs?

To find our chance to crit on a Swipe during a trash tanking scenario versus numerous mobs, we need to understand how the combined probability of our base crit chance stacks up.

Put another way, a 33% chance to critical strike on an attack doesn't yield a 99% chance to critical strike when attacking 3 mobs simultaneously. The actual number is closer to 69.92%, because of how combined probability works.

The formula for calculating crit chance versus multiple mobs is actually the following recurrence relation:

crit chance vs multiple mobs

Where n = number of mobs, and c = chance to crit versus one mob.

This formula yields the following values for a range of base critical strike chance:

See also: spreadsheet for critical strike chance versus multiple mobs.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Expertise and Crit: The Beer Analogy

Okay, yesterday's post on Expertise might have been too cerebral. I like analogies. Here's a fun one.

The right mix of expertise and crit is like a well drawn pint. If you have too much crit but have ignored the rest of your attack table, you're effectively tanking with this:

Have a fun tanking weekend, everyone!

Friday, March 27, 2009

How +hit can affect your chance to crit in a single-roll system

+Hit does affect Crit in the single roll system. You can have 50% chance to crit, but if the total block + dodge + parry + miss chance on your attack table versus a given mob is 55%, then 5% of your crit chance is wasted.
Fun Fact: I also play a level 80 Fury warrior.

Consider the following completely imaginary attack table for a dual-wielding L80 warrior fighting a raid boss, with 50% crit chance and 0 expertise or hit. Assume the target mob is wearing a shield and has a 12.5% chance to parry and a 6.5% chance to dodge.
Hit:     n/a
Crit: 01-36
Block: 36-55
Dodge: 56-62
Parry: 62-73
Miss: 73-100

The warrior will damage the enemy 36% of the time he attempts to attack it, and 100% of that damage will be from crits. 14% of his chance to crit is completely and utterly wasted.
Crit fills up your chance to hit, but does not itself push block, dodge, miss or parry off of your attack table. So, without adequate +hit and expertise, your crit chance can actually suffer.

Let me repeat that: in a single roll combat system, you need +expertise and +hit in order to maximize your chance to crit. A 4 cup can of whoop-ass can't fit into a 2 cup Mug O'Hurt.

Now, let's put this into perspective for bear tanks. We automatically hit much more often than a dual wielding melee class would. We don't dual wield, so spare ourselves an additional +19% chance to miss. Awesome. We also talent into our first 10 expertise rating. Expertise pushes both parry and dodge off of the attack table, so is twice as valuable for threat generation (per 1% of effect) as hit rating, up until we hit the "soft cap" for expertise and completely push the 6.5% dodge chance off of our attack table. After that, expertise is exactly as valuable as +hit in terms of increasing the size of our crit envelope. However, it's still more valuable for tanks than hit, because it also improves our Effective Health.

Expertise contributes to our effective health? Yes.

Reaching the hard-cap for expertise so that your attacks can also not be parried by raid bosses is important for a tank, because when a mob parries a frontal melee attack, it gets a speed buff, reducing the time to its next white damage attack.

This is sometimes called the "Tank Jib". Think of it like a backdoor crit.

Even if you never suffer a critical strike, this speed buff can give the mob a big DPS increase and tax your healer, particularly if the mob is the slow swinging, big damage type. This is also a major reason why your melee DPS should never ever ever stand shoulder to shoulder with you unless they are hard-capped for expertise, meaning none of their attacks on raid bosses can be dodged or parried. They should stand behind the mob, because attacks from behind cannot be parried.

The bottom line for feral tanks is this: If you haven't pushed parries completely off of your attack table, you can benefit from more expertise. Unless 100% of your white damage attacks are critical strikes, and you are hard-capped for expertise, you don't need more +hit. Hitting hard cap on expertise will help your threat generation and, especially in 3.1 (if Savage Defense goes live), will also contribute to your mitigation. If you overemphasize crit and ignore the rest of your attack table, you can undermine your threat generation and survivability. In 3.1, if you overemphasize the rest of your attack table and ignore crit, you do the same.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

TankPoints 2.8.2 Update / Workaround

This meta post is an update to TankPoints Addon v2.8.2 - Helpful Hints for Feral Druids.

As I threatened to do, I cracked open the lua files in the TankPoints addon, and recognized that Whitetooth is using the Ace3 framework, with a new architecture that can integrate TankPoints into his other wonderful addon, RatingBuster.

The good news is that there is a version of RatingBuster out there that correctly accounts for the changes to Feral Druid armor contribution from items made in 3.0.8. After I updated RatingBuster, TankPoints began reporting the correct values as well.

Painless! My goggles go off, once again, to the magnanimous Whitetooth for this elegant design.

As an aside, I refrain from using Rawr or Pawn or any other addon that lets me set my own numerical weights to the different combat ratings, because I don't want hypothetical numbers and values. I want the correct values, specifically the reverse engineered values that Whitetooth has produced through empirical testing, and I want my talents, glyphs, current form, diminishing returns, and level to all be accurately accounted for when determinining the impact a stat change will have on me at go-time. I also want transparency in the methods used to perform the reverse engineering.

This optimal data is precisely what RatingBuster and TankPoints bring to the table.

Monday, March 23, 2009

TankPoints Addon v2.8.2 - Helpful Hints for Feral Druids

I nearly had a heart attack on Sunday when I got the Hungering Greatstaff from a quest in Taunka'le village in Borean Tundra.

My TankPoints Addon suggested that I'd be getting an additional 4798 tank points from it, mostly stemming from the nearly 5191 armor. /boggle. Here's the screenshot:

The prospect of 5191 more armor from a weapon was, needless to say, mind boggling, and I beckoned Miss Direction over to have a look at it. She did so, and with a pat on the shoulder, kindly reminded me that the 370% additional armor contribution from items that Druids in v3.0.9 gain from Survival of the Fittest doesn't count if the armor is on your weapon. Only from cloth and leather items.

Just exactly like it says on the talent text.

Head firmly reattached to my neck, I decided just then to make a short post about this minor TankPoints bug, along with another tip that I hope will save my fellow Feral Tanks some headaches later on:

Tip for TankPoints and RatingBuster users:

When you're using TankPoints to evaluate Bear gear, remember to switch into Bear or Dire Bear form. The addon calculates the effective health values based on your current form, so you might miss out on a good piece of tanking gear if you evaluate it while in Cat or Caster form. The same rule applies if you're shopping for gear at the auction house.

Here are a couple more screenshots evaluating the exact same staff while in cat and caster forms, to illustrate the point:

The moral of the story is to know your addons and keep alert--they're a useful and helpful metric, but are not infallible. Don't follow any metric off of a cliff. All of that aside, I absolutely love both TankPoints and RatingBuster, and use them every day.

To make myself feel better after this, I slunk over to Zul'Drak and, with the help of a guildmate, retrieved the Staff of the Sorrowful Chieftain.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Leatherbelly Tank Techniques, Vol 2: Flying Bear Maneuver

Despite my recent emphasis on ranged AoE burst damage and threat generation using engineering tools, current changes to Swipe in the 3.1 PTR warrant an article one of my favorite techniques for starting off a fight.

The "Flying Bear" Maneuver:

This technique probably results from some long-buried memory of watching professional wrestling at my grandparents' house as a child, but that doesn't detract from its inherent mystique. Bears are not supposed to fly in WoW. But they can, with some fancy keystroke combos on the player's behalf. And here's how.

Step I:
/castsequence reset=2 Rejuvenation, Cat Form, Mangle, Mangle, Mangle, Mangle, Shred

Step II:
/castsequence reset=3 Feral Charge - Cat, Dire Bear Form, Swipe, Swipe, Swipe, Swipe, Swipe

Form changes can occur once per macro, so this combo needs to be broken down into at least two.

The first macro casts Rejuvenation to drop you into caster stance, then flips you back into Cat Form. The sequence of Mangle attacks is a "landing pad" to make sure you don't flip right back into caster form if you accidentally click the macro button a third time in panic.

The second macro assumes that you're in Cat Form already, grabs a target, casts Feral Charge, and while you're flying through the air in cat form, you can press it again to instantly transform into Dire Bear Form.

The effect is both comical and deadly:

Upon landing you've got 10 rage already saved up for that first swipe. Again, I dropped in a "landing pad" of various Swipes that would protect me from pressing the button too many times in case of panic.

This "Flying Bear" Technique will work wonders when 3.1 comes out, permitting you to drop a big 360ยบ Swipe attack right in the middle of a room full of mobs, immediately helping you establish aggro versus the whole lot of them. No Engineering required.

By contrast, Feral Charge - Bear actually costs you 5 rage, so cannot be used as an opening move from a cold start. The Flying Bear Maneuver will let you save reserve your Feral Charge - Bear for those meddlesome caster mobs that always seem to take interest in your healer and ranged death dealers.

3.1 Changes - Grin and Bear It

I've gone around the block a couple times with my reaction to the upcoming changes to feral tanking in 3.1. At the end of the day, we need to accept that change is coming, play to the top of our ability, and make sure to communicate clearly how the changes have affected the quality of our experience.

Since switching to playing a Druid from my warrior, I've noticed an immediate and overall improvement in the quality of my experience in the game, so I am not going to abandon the class because of continued tinkering on the part of the devs.

Best to respond like a tank would. Grin and bear it. Take the punishment, then respond accordingly.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Leatherbelly Tank Techniques, Vol 1: AoE Power Pulling

Today I wrapped up production on my first Feral tanking techniques demo video. I'm working on a series of these videos, which I call "Etaiu's Leatherbelly Tank Techniques". Volume 1 introduces AoE Power Pulling.


Monday, March 2, 2009

Bear Market for Druids in 3.1 PTR

I've been coming to terms with the changes coming up for druid tanks in 3.1. If the changes in the 3.1 PTR go live, it will be the most significant change for Druid tanking since WotLK came out.

The four primary changes to bear tanking can be summarized as follows:
  1. Survival of the Fittest armor gain cut in half.
  2. Heart of the Wild stamina gain cut in half.
  3. Primal Gore talent gives Lacerate ticks a chance to crit.
  4. Melee crits reduce next physical attack by 25% of your AP.
If these changes go live, it will seriously shake up feral tanking. Blizzard seems determined to blur or remove the distinction between bears and cats. Strength will now partially substitute for stamina in contributing to our Effective Health, as our hit pools are reduced and attack power grows in importance. Critical strikes become more important than ever in this new paradigm.

Ostensibly these changes are to help our healers from having to fill our oversized health pools in light of the upcoming nerfs to mana regeneration, but my guess is that reduction in mana waste from overhealing made up much of the difference.

Some folks have helpfully suggested to me that it'll be a great change because feral druids won't have to keep more than one set of gear. That doesn't make much sense, however, because 3.1 will also include a gear rack feature.

Other helpful folks reassure me that it's necessary to maintain balance for Ulduar. I'm not convinced that a single endgame dungeon should cast a shadow on druids tanking at all levels throughout the game, though.

My most helpful friend, Miss Direction, reassured me that a simple change of gems would probably make up the difference once I get my Tier 7 set. I have my doubts about that, but will try to keep an optimistic outlook on the matter. I don't like the idea of my treasured Leatherbelliness™ going away.

Whatever the ultimate reason, the PTR changes are only proposals at the moment.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Leatherbelliness™ is a Whole Lot of Bull

The first time I asked my guildies about how to gear my feral tank they gave me some straightforward advice. Just stack agility and the rest will take care of itself.

Not bad advice, but sub-optimal.

In 2009, feral tanks need more than avoidance to perform at the top of their game. Especially since diminishing returns on avoidance were confirmed in Wrath of the Lich King. I have since spent a lot of time crawling through posts by Ciderhelm and Corbusier on TankSpot & Elitist Jerks, and have come to trust their wisdom regarding Effective Health.

The combination of wit, mitigation, avoidance, and a nigh-insurmountable hit point total is something I call Leatherbelliness™. This is just a playful term I use to describe a large Effective Health combined with a smart play style and good technique.

I won't get into the nitty gritty just yet, but Effective Health works out like this: If you have 10k health but only get hit 65% of the time, you effectively have 15,385 health. If you can reduce 10% of the damage you do take after avoidance, this number becomes 17,094 effective health.

All tanking classes have effective health--death knights and paladins can self-heal, warriors can mitigate damage through massive absorption. Since WotLK does away with crushing blow mechanics, it might seem like having big EH isn't quite as important as it used to be.

Don't be fooled. At the end of the day you get to dine on knuckle sandwiches. Twitchy melee DPS who don't grok the parry mechanics and haven't capped their expertise can still put you on the wrong end of a haste debuff with a boss through bad placement, and when you're riding on 30 or 40,000 hit points your healer will appreciate the depth of that health pool, will perform fewer overheals, and your blood pressure will remain at optimal levels as a result.

Now, that said, Leatherbelliness™ is not a slave to statistical averages. From time to time, people will ask me whether a given piece of gear is "better" than another piece of gear for tanking. You've seen it in guild chat. You know what I'm talking about. My answer is consistent, one learned from my time as a software engineer.

It depends.

What's the situation? Every engineer knows that there's a tool for every job. Different jobs call for different tools. Is there one single set of gear that's going to be "best" for feral tanking?


With that in mind, I go for maximal Effective Health on average, but I keep an arsenal of specialty options at my fingertips. Knowing when to ditch some health for dodge or increased threat generation, and being able to do so with one click because you came prepared, is Leatherbelliness™ at its best.

I learned to play WoW on a warrior, which taught me all about the importance of knowing what gear to use in which situation. For about six months I maintained custom gear swapping macros that were tuned to the stance I was in as a warrior. When I flipped into defensive stance, out came the shield, defense, and expertise gear. Those lessons carried over seamlessly when I started playing my feral druid (and started using Outfitter, thank the skies). To this day, when I switch into caster form, my mana pool explodes, cat form drops me into my strength, crit and AP gear, and when I go from either to Dire Bear form, it sets off alarms on my MikScrollingBattleText, because my max health in Cat Form is about 25% of my total when wearing my tanking kit in Dire Bear form.

This continues to freak out my healer, by the way.

In WoW, as much as anywhere, the clothes make the (man|bear|tank). So, my first piece of advice is to get big bags and the Outfitter addon. Especially while you're questing and leveling, you're going to need utility in cat and caster form. Having the flexibility to quickly swap gear will allow you to truly specialize for tanking while you are in Bear and Dire Bear form, instead of trying to find the one-size-fits-all gear set that just does not exist.

By Way of Introduction

Hello and welcome to Khorium Powered Tank Engine. My name is Etaiu, and I will be your host. I started this site in order to provide a much-needed resources for feral tanks. I've read other feral tank blogs (they know who they are) and found them wanting in focus. By too-often straying from its core competency, a blog can quickly devolve into a personal soap box.

So, in keeping with my real-life and in-game engineering tendencies, I will keep the feature-creep out of this blog, and maintain a surgical focus on Engineering-augmented Feral Tanking. This is not my only blog, so you the reader can expect an optimal amount of (zero) spillover from unrelated subjects. Some of the information I provide will be my own findings, and some will be received knowledge that I will try to independently verify or debunk.

The main purpose of this site will be twofold.
  1. To develop a more comprehensive understanding of Effective Health through Mitigation, Avoidance and sheer Leatherbelliness™. Gear analysis and comparisons will play a role in this.
  2. To illustrate sound feral tanking technique, augmented by engineering, to maximize your control in dungeon situations. Tricks of the trade, including (but not limited to) dungeon strategies, macros, and gadgetry will factor into this analysis.

The first duty of a tank is not to stay alive, but to keep their party alive and buy them time to bring down the quarry. Staying alive is merely a habit in keeping with that primary goal. Threat generation, agg management, communication, mob handling, situational awareness, and wipe recovery are all equally important components of a tank's arsenal.