Lightsworn: The psychology of tank DPS
On July 20th, Blizzard released a whole slew of class tuning changes in a very surprising hotfix. Normally we protection paladins pay little attention to these brief changelogs, considering we haven’t seen serious changes in about half an age. “Steady as she goes” has been the mantra for this specialization since the major rework we received in the distant past, with any changes being controlled and iterative. First the big bang of Holy Power’s introduction, followed by the devs later giving us a loaded gun in the form of Sanctity of Battle.
The devs then decided they made an error and tried to tamp down the Haste Train by nerfing Grand Crusader, but the glories of haste could not (would not!) be diminished. Pandora had opened the box, and out flew the egos and ambitions of every tank that first felt that all-too-brief high of pushing tank DPS, first tasted when tanking Festergut or the chicks on Alysrazor. Aside from those little tweaks here and there, there have not been many changes to the day-to-day life of the paladin tank.
The dirty secret
This is something that tanks don’t often admit — except when staring at their bruised face the next morning in a foggy bathroom mirror after a long raid night — but we love doing damage. Sure, some of us may have our Skada addons defaulted to the threat tab, but the rest of us are watching DPS. We’re making sure that we’re doing more DPS than the other tank and we’re sure as hell waiting for that moment when one damage dealer in the raid or dungeon drops below us on that meter. It’s a great feeling when you are contributing more DPS to a raid than one of the actual, legitimate damage dealers. (Up until when you wipe from hitting the enrage timer.)
That dirty secret is why haste immediately latched onto the pleasure center of every paladin tank’s brain. Haste allowed us to use our attacks more often and part of that meant doing more damage. It’s a frenetic playstyle and it’s ridiculously fun.
Vengeance affected this psychology deeply during Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria. You would see tanks standing in “the bad” to increase their damage taken and thus stack more and more Vengeance. Eventually that oversight was corrected by the devs, but regardless, tanks continued to find ways to game the system. If they couldn’t artificially ramp up Vengeance by intentionally taking damage, some tanks would resort to things like one-tanking fights which were designed for two tanks, just so that their damage intake was high enough to supercharge their damage output.
Thankfully Vengeance was removed because, outside of raids, it was a boot on the neck of our damage output. Any paladin tanks that steadfastly refused to do content on the Timeless Isle as retribution will know the pain of farming Gulp Frogs with sword-and-board. As dodgy as this expansion has been, we can also appreciate the gift it gave us in cutting Vengeance once and for all and for taking that boot off our collective necks.
However, there was another side to our DPS that we’ve been wrestling with for the past few years. It is a seemingly inescapable cycle that we have only just recently broken ourselves out from.
Time is a flat circle
A common complaint that paladin tanks would have in the last raid of each of the past few expansions has been that our damage output was terrible relative to the other tanks. At least as far back as Cataclysm, each expansion started off with our DPS even or maybe a little ahead of some of the other tanking classes. As the expansion continued we would stumble and before we knew it we’d be outpaced by our other meat-shield comrades.
This cycle repeated itself over and over, expansion after expansion. It was only finally broken with the hotfixes late last month when we received a slew of damage buffs. In addition, the bonuses of our most recent tier set were buffed to actually be worthwhile, with the four-piece bonus actually becoming very good. It’s amazing (but not really) how valuable extra Holy Power can be.
So rather than our damage output being anemic at best, it’s actually competitive with the other tank classes. Equip a Libram of Vindication on top of that and things get very interesting, very fast.
It’s weird not closing out an expansion with a feeling of resignation and damage-related ennui. I like this feeling. It is a nice feeling.
But does this all really matter?
My brain says no, but my gut say “yes, weeeee.”
It’s one of the deep truths of human psychology that we’re really vulnerable to the influences of any numbers quantifying our value. There’s a reason that damage meter addons are some of the most popular addon downloads, because players are driven to achieve bigger and bigger numbers. That little evolutionary-throwback/lizard part of our brain treats big numbers next to our name like primordial crack.
Even while tanks are first and foremost charged with keeping the raid alive by doing our jobs correctly (obvious disclaimer here: you should never skimp on Job #1 to chase damage numbers) we still are susceptible to that same siren song of the damage meter. It’s not something that can be beaten out of us, it’ll always be there.
There’s nothing wrong or harmful with trying to push our damage output if we are still continuing to tank effectively. This is a game after all, and games are supposed to be fun. If you’re sitting at the dinner table with your family and your siblings all have cake on their plates, but you have peas, aren’t you going to covet that delicious cake?
For once this expansion we are in the final raid and we have the opportunity to have our peas but also eat cake too. This is a welcome change of pace and we should enjoy it while it lasts.
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