Why the DK FP nerf doesn’t fix the problem

I posted this on the official Tanking forums as well, but thought I’d repost it here:

 

Before I begin, I feel it would be beneficial to make a couple disclaimers/introductions to put my words into perspective for those who might not know me already.

I played a Protection Warrior for the majority of WoW classic (though the majority of my raiding experience was as a Holy Priest), a Protection Paladin for the entirety of TBC, and now a dual spec Ret/Prot Paladin in Wrath. I primarily raid as Ret currently due to a handful of reasons, the majority of which have nothing to do with class balance or mechanics. Among the community, I am a long-time staff member of Maintankadin, and have authored many video guides (particularly for Ulduar encounters) at Tankspot. I’ve tanked on all four classes to some degree, although only as a Paladin at 80. Regarding tank balance, I believe Death Knights and, to a lesser extent, Feral Druids are a fair bit ahead of Warriors and Paladins.

Now that that’s out of the way, here’s why I don’t think nerfing Frost Presence changes anything regarding the relative value of a DK tank compared to the other classes to the average raiding guild.

To understand why, it’s important to first understand exactly what the problem is. In a vacuum, DK’s aren’t really any more powerful than any other tank. If you were faced with a boss that just stands there and whacks away with you, even if the DK uses IBF and whatever other cooldown they have handy every time it comes up, their overall survivability isn’t leaps and bounds ahead of anyone else. In other words, DK’s are fairly well-balanced against a nonexistent “training dummy” boss, or at least aren’t so far ahead of the other tanks that it’s going to make a huge difference. That’s not the problem.

The true problem lies in how DK mechanics stack up against encounter mechanics. Ulduar has several bosses with abilities whose mechanics can essentially be summarized as “The tank takes a lot of damage for a few seconds.” In particular, I’m thinking of Hodir’s Frozen Blows, Mimiron’s Plasma Blast, and Vezax’s 10-second enrage (the name escapes me at the moment). Due to the timing and nature of these abilities, the Death Knight tank is simply better equipped to deal with them:

Hodir – DK can have Icebound Fortitude, AMS, and whatever other cooldown they happen to be specced for handy for each Frozen Blows, allowing them to single-tank what would otherwise be a dual-tank encounter (which, aside from the benefits to healers which I’ll outline shortly, is significant for the 3-minute hard mode timer as well)

Mimiron – DK can alternate IBF and AMS/whatever else for each Plasma Blast. External cooldowns may still be needed, but to a much lesser degree than other tanks.

Vezax – IBF will be up for every enrage, while still having an extra cooldown available in case of a healer emergency.

It should be noted that there are no encounters that put the DK at a similar degree of disadvantage. This is a good thing. I should also note that Bears are generally able to use Barkskin the way a DK uses IBF, and although it gives substantially less damage reduction, their higher health pools generally allow them to sponge a bit more.

Now, all of those situations I mentioned can be circumvented. You can have extra tanks taunt off and use their cooldowns on Hodir and Mimiron. You can kite Vezax instead of standing in the enrage. The difference is that those changes (on 10man especially) generally mean you have one less spot to use for a healer or a DPS, which in turn means the fight is made more difficult than it “has” to be if you just brought a DK tank. It’s just easier to bring in a DK tank and have them IBF through everything — especially on the healers.

You see, most healers would gladly have their tank take a little bit more damage during the “easy” parts of the fight if it means the tank is taking less damage during the healing-intensive portions. The difference in damage intake has to be significant — prohibitively so — to have an impact on how you heal a given tank. The tanking community generally doesn’t like to admit it (with good reason, as it’s a poor line of thinking from the tank’s perspective), but 5% more damage taken generally just means 5% less overhealing. The healers will still cast the same number of spells, at the same time, and spend the same amount of mana keeping you alive — the difference is just that the last spell to land after the hit heals you for 6000 with 4000 overhealed instead of 5000 with 5000 overhealed, and a couple more HoT ticks go off. If a DK tank takes 1000 more damage per swing on average, who cares? It has no effect whatsoever on the outcome of the encounter, and they’re still the preferred MT because they’re better equipped to deal with the “tank takes a bunch of damage” abilities.

Now, I do think the new Paladin ability is likely to help the situation. I can’t say for sure either way without knowing the specifics of the new cooldown, but as long as it applies to spell damage and is roughly equivalent in power to Divine Protection, Paladins should sit pretty well next to DK’s. My primary concerns are as follows:

1. The Warrior class. As Shield Block only applies to Physical damage (Hodir and Mimiron’s tank killers are magical), and Last Stand has no damage reduction component, Warriors will be dead last by enough of a margin to be meaningful. The 4-piece T8 bonus helps, but banking class balance on a set bonus isn’t good for the game. It also doesn’t help on Vezax. Ghostcrawler alluded to possibly moving the set bonus baseline (or perhaps part of a talent) in another thread; I think that’s a good first step, but more action would probably be needed.

2. AMS is still very powerful. I honestly have no idea how this could be properly balanced, but between the DK’s 4pc T8 bonus and the gap-filling capabilities of AMS, it will still be very strong on Mimiron and Hodir. It might not be enough to make a real difference (I’m not expecting everyone to be 100% equal) but it’s still a point of concern.

3. The “lower base mitigation, better cooldowns” model simply doesn’t mesh well with encounter design. As long as you’ve got better cooldowns, healers will gladly deal with your lower base mitigation. This is ultimately why I don’t feel that nerfing DK base mitigation is the way to go if the goal is to bring the desirability of DK tanks in line with the other classes. You either gimp the class to the point it was at for Wrath release, or you accomplish nothing. Unless the healers are sleeping, tanks don’t die to regular old melee swings. They die when the boss does something nasty, and if you’re better equipped to deal with the something nasty, you’re better equipped to tank.

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