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WoWJan 21, 2021 2:00 pm CT

Is tanking balance gone in Shadowlands? Factors to consider beyond the leaderboard

It feels like Shadowlands has really lost the thread on the idea of all tanks being roughly equivalent. I started to worry about it during the alpha, when I ran Necrotic Wake on both a Warrior and a Death Knight. The DK was head and shoulders above the Warrior, to the point where it was so much easier to keep the DK up that I simply stopped tanking on the Warrior.

When you generally prefer to play a specific class this doesn’t feel great, to realize how much better it would be to be playing a different class. This is something we’re seeing a lot in Mythic+ groups, with Vengeance Demon Hunters having taken a clear lead in participation stats among the highest ranks.


The perception of the player base often shapes who gets to tank

Now, there’s a lot to keep in mind when discussing this. People who are absolutely pushing the highest levels of content, be it Mythic+ dungeons or Mythic raiding, are not now and will never be representative of the entire player base. They are outliers. They will always pick the absolutely most extreme min-maxing possible — with no regard to flavor or personal preference — in order to eke out the most performance. To a degree they have to do this, because they’re often trying to defeat Mythic raids as soon as they come out while wearing a mix of normal and heroic raid gear, or trying to push the highest keystones they can in gear from several keystones lower. So when you see that out of the top 20 Mythic+ tanks eighteen are Vengeance Demon Hunters, that doesn’t follow that there’s nothing but Vengeance DH in Mythic+ tanking roles.

Indeed, across all Mythic dungeons we see a far more diverse spread, with Protection Paladins actually the most common tanks, followed by Vengeance DH, then Blood DKs and Guardian Druids, with Brewmaster Monk and Protection Warrior at the bottom. It’s only when you start filtering for higher keystones that Demon Hunters double jump to the forefront. And raiding seems a bit more diverse than Mythic+, so that’s worth considering as well. So, then, why are Vengeance Demon Hunters so dominant in higher keystone Mythics?

Well, because they’re stronger tanks at a very specific style of tanking that works well with pushing Mythic keystones.

Progression play often requires even razor thin advantages

We’ve long been aware that player perception creates the trends in gameplay when it comes to World of Warcraft and class balance. Often, for most groups, it really doesn’t matter what you choose — your raid with a Warrior and Paladin tank isn’t going to suddenly do tons better because you put a Blood DK in a tanking role. Your guild’s weekly Mythic+ runs aren’t going to utterly dominate a +8 Da Other Side run because you retired your Brewmaster tank for a Demon Hunter. These are results from people who are dedicated to pushing the highest levels of content.

But at the same time there is an indisputable truth here, and that truth is that Demon Hunters are stronger, even if by a small margin. You don’t coincidentally end up with 18 or 19 out of 20 of the fastest times and highest keystones being the same class if there’s nothing there.

In the same expansion where Warriors have seen repeated buffs to try and make their DPS specs viable, with middling results — Fury Warriors were bottom of the barrel for most of early Shadowlands raiding, for example, and even after being buffed twice are solidly lower-middle of the pack now — you’re also barely even seeing them crack into tanking roles, with Warrior tanks being the least represented across all Mythic+ groups. They plummet once you go above 10 on the keystone. While player perception absolutely has a role to play here, that perception is rooted in the very real fact that at higher levels the Demon Hunter simply blows everyone else out of the water.

The slightest advantage gets magnified

This is due to a variety of factors — Demon Hunter mobility makes them amazing at kiting, while still able to put up a lot of threat and damage, and they can turtle up when needed to survive high damage spikes without sacrificing that kiting ability — but it doesn’t necessarily mean that nerfing DH or buffing other tanks is the right call here. The design of Mythic+ dungeons, the impact of various affixes, the various toolkits of other classes all need to be considered. Also, tanking isn’t done in a vacuum. If a certain style of tanking has high synergy with the most played healing classes, for example, that tanking style could become dominant even if it isn’t mathematically better than another by itself. All of this feeds right back into player perception. None of this means that your raid that’s chugging along doing some Heroic Castle Nathria and poking into 8 Keystone Mythics needs to fire its Prot Pally.

Similarly, we’re seeing people going heavy Venthyr in these situations. This doesn’t mean your raid needs to dump all of its Night Fae players, or that you can’t run Mythic+ as a Necrolord tank. These advantages magnify each other to a degree, but there’s always going to be something that shakes out at the top. The majority of players will never need to worry about it.

But it’s definitely concerning to see such dominance in Mythic+ by one class. It’s just a sea of purple and that just isn’t good for the game, or for people trying to get started in a tanking role — especially when they start trying to figure out how to approach stepping into raiding or Mythic dungeons, and all the strats and advice they find basically amounts to roll a DH. I’ve tanked for years and this is the first expansion where I’ve honestly felt a little bit like I shouldn’t even bother to work on a tank spec, and that feels wrong. Clearly, something needs to be done, but I’m not at all sure what — perhaps consider changing the way Mythic+ affixes reward a high mobility style, or make some encounters that give an advantage to some other aspect of tanking that Demon Hunters don’t utterly dominate.

Or maybe just buff Prot Pallies and Warriors. I’d be good with that, but I’m biased. Let Warriors tank with a 2h and shield, maybe we’ll see them all over Mythics again.

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