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WoWFeb 13, 2018 3:00 pm CT

How Tanks are changing in Battle for Azeroth

We now have our first look at a host of changes to the tanking classes in Battle for Azeroth. It’s important to remember this is the first Alpha build. Many people are thinking about what they will main in Battle. I wouldn’t base a decision on this build. The only thing I know with certainty is the 8.0 patch will be quite different from what we have today. What I’m looking for is design intent.

Everyone comes from somewhere, and my own point of view is in part shaped by the classes I play. My background is as a Protection Paladin. I’ve also played  a Guardian Druid and Protection Warrior. I have no practical experience in game with Brewmasters, Blood Death Knights or Vengeance Demon Hunters.

Numbers game

I’m ignoring changes to the Artifacts, traits and Legendaries. I know we’ll use them during leveling, but they’ll be living in our banks by the time we’re level capped. I’m also going to ignore what I’ll call coefficient changes. This would be something like Shear going from 115% of Attack power to 51.75% of Attack power. I do realize the coefficients are an important part of tank balance. Death Strike balances Death Knight self-healing. The harder it hits the more it heals.

Strengths and weaknesses

The developers aren’t attempting to balance the tanks at this early stage of the development cycle. They do a ‘numbers pass’ during one of the later builds. Their focus right now is working out what each specs strengths and weaknesses are going to be.

In the Developer Watercooler Battle for Azeroth Class Design Overview the developers stated:

We’re also looking at different specializations’ strengths and weaknesses in their “main role”—damage dealing (or DPS), healing, or tanking—and making sure everyone has something to get excited about and an opportunity to shine.

They seem to have settled on Warriors, and they’ve adjusted all tanks to create it. They may not have even decided on the other tanks’ niches yet.

Big picture: magic damage and scaling

Most tanks are switching from straight damage reduction to a scaling increase of armor. The exceptions to this are the Brewmaster’s Stagger and Vengeance’s Demonic Wards, but both are half as effective as live. Protection Warrior’s Ignore Pain also remains a damage reduction. But it now costs rage, which should make it difficult to spam. The developers want pure damage reductions to be less effective. With Warriors getting Rage from damage, and the Ignore Pain change, it could indicate Warriors ‘opportunity to shine’ will be on bosses with a heavy Magic Damage profile. This would be ironic given some of their issues in Legion.

The other thematic takeaway from this build is how our characters will grow in power over the life of the expansion. Damage reductions scale with the primary stat making raid buffs to those stats more important. In build 26010, we see a change from scaling class abilities with Attack power rather than weapon damage. Before Legion, weapon drops had a larger influence on performance than any other spot. Losing Artifacts created the possibility to create this issue again, but the developers are addressing it.

The meta

How each tank’s strengths and weaknesses mesh with the boss abilities will play a large role  in determining the Battle tank meta. It drove Warrior superiority in Burning Crusade as much as class mechanics. One of the major end bosses, Archimonde, had a fear which wiped the raid if not handled. Warriors had the best fear break of any tank class. Another boss, Reliquary of Souls had a phase where a debuff had to be Spell Reflected to do enough DPS to take it down. In Wrath of the Lich King, Death Knight cooldowns lined up well with the major abilities of Sartharian and General Vezzax. During the Trial of the Crusader raid, Paladins became the go-to choice for Anub’arak for their AoE stun on undead.

If Warriors are going to be the magic tank, what current fights would they shine on? I went back and looked at the damage profile of some of the bosses in Antorus. Argus is 90% physical, and 10% magic. On the other end of the spectrum, Coven of Shivarra is 75% magic damage. The Felhounds of Sargeras encounter is 50% magic and 50% physical.

The current changes don’t give a clear sign of the other tanks ‘time to shine’, but as we continue through the Alpha/Beta process, it should become clear. Encouraging “different group compositions to approach encounters in different ways” is great, but if the encounter design team doesn’t do its job well, it can lead to the perception among some players of “we wiped because our tank wasn’t a [class].”

Let’s dig into the details of each class’ changes.

Death Knight

  • Instead of reducing damage by 16%, Bone Shield it increases Armor by 50% of Strength. All melee attacks, not just white swings take away a charge.
  • Spectral Deflection had its named changed to Spectral Deflection (NYI/TBD) which could show the spell has changes coming.
  • Death’s Advance returns as an anti-snare and knock ability given to all specs of Death Knight.
  • Thoughtseize (NYI) is a new spell which could have some interesting applications in both PVE and PVP.

Demon Hunter

As the newest tank spec, it makes sense that the Demon Hunter has many changes.

  • Instead of reducing damage by 12%, Demon Spikes now increases Armor by 80% of your Agility.
  • Demonic Wards is staying as a pure damage reduction, but it’s half as effective as live.
  • Empowered Wards is gone.
  • Mastery: Fel Blood is also no longer a damage reduction but buffs the Armor from Demon Spikes.
  • Demon Hunter self-healing is also changing. Both Soul Fragments and Lesser Soul Fragments do the same thing. They heal you for 8% of all damage taken in the last 5 sec, with a minimum 1% of maximum health. In a future build, I expect Shear and Shattered Souls will both create Soul Fragments and Lesser Soul Fragments will go away.
  • Demonic Infusion, and Blade Turning also got cut.
  • Fel Eruption is now Havoc only.
  • Feast of Souls scale off of attack power only. Percent of health no longer applies.
  • Gluttony is a new talent in place of Blade Turning.
  • Demonic Infusion’s replacement is so amazing they don’t want to show it off yet.
  • Charred Flesh replaces Fel Eruption.
  • Spirit Bomb heals half as much, and it caps out at 3 Soul Fragments.
  • Chaos Brand is the new Demon Hunter Raid buff in Battle.
  • Chaos Nova can now generate Soul Fragments.
  • Eye Beam is a guaranteed crit.
  • Metamorphosis’s cooldown got reduced by one minute.

Druid

Little is changing with the Druid. This either means the Developers are happy with the spec, or they haven’t done a deep analysis on it yet.

  • Frenzied Regeneration got its effectiveness halved like Spirit Bomb and the cooldown increased.
  • Ironfur went from a flat increase to increasing armor scaling with Agility.
  • Gutteral Roars no longer affects the radius of Stampeding Roar.
  • All Druids get Hibernate back. I found this helpful in Atal’Dazar at Blizzcon.
  • They also get Soothe back.

Monk

  • Breath of Fire no longer generates Elusive Brawler stacks, but gives your enemies a debuff which reduces the damage they do to you by 5%.
  • Purifying Brew and Ironskin Brew has a shorter cooldown.
  • Purifying Brew got a small buff.
  • As mentioned, Stagger is half as effective against Magic damage.
  • Blackout Kick reduces the cooldown of Rising Sun Kick and Fists of Fury.
  • Chi Burst grants 1 Chi per target hit and they are working with its damage but haven’t settled on it yet.
  • Transcendence has a much longer cooldown.
  • Mystic Vitality, which made Stagger 40% more effective against magic damage, is no longer a talent and now Chi Torpedo is in its place.
  • Tiger’s Lust gets replaced by Healing Elixir.
  • Leg Sweep is now baseline. Brewmasters get Tiger Tail Sweep which reduces its cooldown.

Paladin

  • No longer a flat damage reduction, Shield of the Righteous now increases Armor by an amount that scales with Strength, and Mastery Divine Bulwark further increases Armor scaling with Strength.
  • Cooldown on Light of the Protector is 5 seconds longer.
  • Blessed Hammer loses its charges and now has a 3 second cooldown.
  • Divine Steed has a longer cooldown. This is Paladin’s only mobility button. Cavalier still a big help.
  • There are some indications in Build 26010 that Protection Paladins may be getting some Retribution and Holy spells, but we’ll need to watch future builds.

Protection Warrior

  • Battle Cry is now called Recklessness. It’s just a name change.
  • Defensive Stance retains the flat damage reduction, increases Stamina, and generates Rage. Both Stamina and flat damage reduction are good tools for dealing with Magic damage.
  • Demoralizing Shout has a shorter cooldown.
  • Ignore Pain now has damage take away your Rage bar rather than your health bar.
  • Victory Rush no longer causes threat.
  • Stamina buff of Unwavering Sentinel is baked into Defensive Stance.
  • Never Surrender is a flat 20% increase to Ignore Pain and isn’t affected by your health.
  • Vengeance now affectes Shield Block instead of Ignore Pain.
  • Warbringer lost its cleave.
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