This is not going to be an EJ type post filled with numbers and theory-crafting (well, not entirely). Theck over at Maintankadin.com does a much better job of that than I ever could, so instead I’m going to talk about that ‘gut feeling’ that I use to help make my gear choices.
I cut my tanking teeth in MC back when UBRS was still a major raid, and the Draconian Deflector was the drop you hoped an prayed for. While I was in a sense, a tanking noob, I knew one thing for certain. More was better. While the gear options that we have today didn’t exist back then, I knew I wanted as much Stam, Armor, and avoidance as I could get. Once I reached that magical defense cap, the rest would sort itself out over time. I depended on my healers to keep me up, and the other tanks to handle their roles.
Somewhere along the way the amount of information on tanking began to blossom, and folks like Ciderhelm emerged as theorycrafting masters. Data was flowing in faster than ever, and tanks were looking at different sets of gear for new tanking situations. Players that had access to gear beyond MC and the 20 man raids had lots of options at hand, and suddenly there were a whole new set of stats to consider.
Enter the Burning Crusade
When BC launched, an entirely new set of options became available to every budding tank. Heroic dungeons dropped epic level gear that was on par with early raid gear. Off set pieces were suddenly available, and matching up different stats (and different sets of gear) became the norm instead of the oddity. Block sets, avoidance sets, EH sets – nothing was out of the realm of possibility. Towards the end of the BC era it got to such a point that warriors like Uncleslam were able to tank Illidan without having to use shiled block at all.
When ZA and the Sunwell came out, the badge gear offered an even greater variance in gear choices and upgrades. It was suddenly possible to create resistance sets for solo tanking Hydross, or to create a block set for the AoE heavy Paladin. Bear tanks laughed at us with their armor cap and high HP, while warriors shrugged off crushing blows with the push of a button.
This gear variance has grown again in Wrath, to the point where many tanks pride themselves on having sets that make them unhittable in ToGC, and nigh on untouchable in simple Heroics. Much like the Sunwell Radiance, Chill of the Throne was introduced to bring tank avoidance back down to the level of mortals. Coupled with the previously implemented DRs on block and parry – it became clear that Blizzard actually intended for us to get hit.
Unfortunately for Blizzard, tank health pools have grown to astronomic proportions. Anything short of a 20k unmitigated hit hardly registers, unless they are coming fast and furious. In order to add some semblance of failure, bosses have to hit so hard that tanks can die in the span of 2 or 3 GCDs. Not a fun position to be in for most healers, and it’s absolutely disastrous if the boss somehow targets someone else. One unforeseen consequence of this has been the LFD system, where healers are generally bored to tears because nobody is taking any damage (maybe this is why the DPS act dumb, to give the healers something to do).
Back to the point in hand – how do you gear?
This topic came up with a Paladin we run our 25s with. He tanks for his 10 mans, but goes Ret when raiding with us. He originally came to us for some assistance with getting his DPS up, and over the course we also talked about tanking gear and setup (Note: anyone who has the stones to come up and ask for help and actually listens because they want to get better gets a huge bump in my book). Now while I’m no developer, and W-Crusher doesn’t REALLY do 18kDPS (yet), we’re still about as authoritative as you can get on our server.
The PIQ (Paladin in Question) voiced issue over stacking stamina gems, as he’d heard from other tanks that it’s better to stack avoidance. I think I almost swallowed my mic.
This is my opinion
I’m a fan of hard numbers – always have been. Be it enchants, trinkets, or defense numbers – I generally prefer a static bonus to an on use/proc bonus every time. The reason is, I know it’s there. Short of some type of debuff that reduces armor, or one that reduces your total Stamina/HP – those numbers will always be there for me. Frozen by Anub? No problem, HP and Armor will hold you up. Have to eat a fireball on the Prince fight? High Stam will keep you standing.
Now don’t get me wrong – avoidance is awesome. Being able to block and dodge attacks means you’re not taking damage, and the boss is fairly ineffective. There’s nothing like seeing a string of Dodge, Dodge, Miss, Dodge, Parry, Absorb, Block, etc fly by on the SCT. Unfortunately, unless you’ve stacked these values at the expense of all others, it’s extremely difficult to create a set of gear ‘for current raid content’ that will make you completely un-hittable. With the cap placed on Block Value, it’s virtually guaranteed that you will get hit for some level of damage.
So what is a budding tank to do? Obviously there is a certain level of avoidance that you’re going to pick up over the course of gearing, simply from hitting the defense cap. Most gear will have some kind of mitigation built in, but you’ll eventually run into a situation where you can begin to swap gear/gems/trinkets for avoidance, Stam, or mitigation.
How I weigh stats
Unless I’m tanking heroics – 541 Defense is a cap I don’t dip below (you can get away with 536 in heroics). After that I try and stay within 40 points of the 262 hit cap. Because our DPS can really dish it out when they have to, I can’t afford to miss very often (I also don’t like missing taunts). Expertise sits after hit, though I don’t actively stack it for my boss sets (just for trash or heroics).
After that, I have to look at the individual fights.
Generic boss fights
For anything short of a gimmick fight, I pick my stats in the following order (after defense/hit). Stamina, armor, block rating, parry/dodge, block value. Since BV caps out around 3k, and you get diminishing returns on parry/dodge – I elect to go with what I KNOW will reduce incoming damage. Parry/dodge won’t do anything against magic based attacks (to be fair neither will armor or block), and can’t help you if you’re getting hit from behind or while stunned.
Those special fights
Some fights, like Heroic Anub’arak, lend themselves to different setups, depending on your tanking role. Each of these has to be evaluated in turn, however I tend to fall back on my EH set when I’m in doubt. This decision has essentially been made for most 10 man raiders, as the frost badge gear is significantly better than the base T10, and includes a significantly higher armor value. Even now the T10 is having its armor value increased at the cost of other stats, to bring it more in line.
Gearing for the sure thing over the RNG will probably always be higher on my list. Blizzard seems to be moving more towards the Cataclysm vision of tanks taking smaller hits with all the bonus armor they’re slapping on everything in ICC, which means faster hits – raising Block and Expertise even higher on the scale.
You obviously have to choose the gear that’s best for you and your given tank situation, and I’d give the Maintankadin site a good viewing for hard and fast numbers. Just remember that mitigated damage is always reduced, and dodge/parry is all or nothing. Pick your poison wisely.