Tanking Topics #4: Cooldowns
This is the fourth post in a series of topics dealing with tanking issues. These posts are the distillation of discussions*, and are presented here formally for the community to debate in a peer-review manner.
In this topic we look at how cooldowns, the "emergency buttons" in specific, affect gameplay and how we approach encounters. Of particular interest for this discussion are progression encounters.
Cooldowns and Encounters
In Wrath of the Lich King, we have had an interesting introduction. We begin with Naxxramas, which is older content refreshed via storyline to be relevant again. The mechanics of the encounters have not changed, only certain tunings to bring them in line for level 80 characters and 25 person raids. In addition, Naxxramas has been stated as being entry-level content, and in practice is certainly not classed as progression content by experienced raid guilds (this is not to say that it is easy for new raiders by any means!) The Malygos and Sartharion encounters are new, and bring challenge to raids via achievements (time and personnel limits) or hard modes (drakes up).
Beginning with Sartharion with drakes up, we have seen the beginnings of the use of cooldowns as a means to the end. That is, using cooldowns in rotation to win the encounter. With the Ulduar content being tested on the PTR, we are seeing more of the same - and to be perfectly fair, we haven't seen much of the content at this point - but it is likely that several encounters will benefit from this strategy whether designed that way or not. However, the now-famous "Patchwerk (PTR DPS Test)" mob has been very good at illustrating cooldown shenanigans. (Reference: World of Warcraft - English (NA) Forums -> Patchwerk Tank Testing 2nd Trials)
With that in mind, here is a description of the cooldowns available to the tank and non-tank classes alike, followed by some thoughts on the matter.
Last Stand increases the warrior's health by 30% for 20 seconds, with a 5 minute cooldown. A glyph is available to reduce the cooldown to 2 minutes, at the cost of reducing the amount of health gained to 20%.
Shield Wall grants the warrior 60% reduction on all incoming damage for 12 seconds, with a 5 minute cooldown. The four piece tier 7 set bonus increases the duration to 15 seconds. The Improved Disciplines talent can reduce the cooldown by 1 minute. A glyph is coming for 3.1 that would reduce the cooldown of Shield Wall by ?? (was 3, not going live as that) minutes, at the cost of reducing the damage reduction to 40%.
Shield Block can be considered an emergency button. In normal situations, Shield Block provides 15-30% extra mitigation over its duration, granting some relief from incoming physical damage. In the right situation, Shield Block can remove all incoming damage for its duration. This is very limited to scenarios where incoming individual hits are each releatively not very hard, and are not magical in effect. There is, however, no charge count on Shield Block - any number of incoming hits over the duration will be blocked.
Enraged Regeneration regenerates 30% of the warrior's total health over 10 seconds, with a 3 minute cooldown. While not an emergency button in the same sense as others, it can be quite useful when healing is tight. A forthcoming glyph will be available to increase the amount of health regenerated to 40% of the warrior's total health.
Divine Protection grants the Paladin 50% reduction on all incoming damage for 12 seconds, with a 5 minute cooldown. The 4-piece Tier 7 bonus can increase the duration to 15 seconds. The Sacred Duty talent can reduce the cooldown by 1 minute. Divine Protection and Avenging Wrath cannot be used within 30 seconds of each other. Divine Protection also causes Forbearance, which restricts the use of Divine Shield for 3 minutes.
Ardent Defender is a passive ability that causes all damage taken while under 35% health to be reduced by 30%. Although very effective when used in AOE situations or in conjunction with Divine Protection, it is very weak against large incoming hits.
Barkskin grants the druid 20% reduction on incoming damage for 12 seconds, with a 1 minute cooldown. The four piece tier 7 set bonus increases the duration to 15 seconds. Useable while stunned or otherwise crowd controlled.
Survival Instincts increases the druid's health by 30% for 20 seconds, with a 5 minute cooldown.
Frenzied Regeneration converts rage into health in the form of a HoT that heals 3% of the druid's total health per second, for 10 seconds on a 3 minute cooldown. A glyph increases healing received by the druid by 20% while Frenzied Regeneration is active (causing the Frenzied Regeneration itself to heal 36% of the druid's health in addition to boosting other incoming heals as well.) While not an emergency button in the same sense as others, it can be quite useful when healing is tight, particularly when glyphed.
Death Knight Cooldowns
A note on Death Knight cooldowns: All Death Knights have access to Icebound Fortitude, Anti-Magic Shell, and to a lesser extent Army of the Dead, as well as the following depending on spec: Mark of Blood, Vampiric Blood, Lichborne, Unbreakable Armor, Anti-Magic Zone, Bone Shield, and to a lesser extent Rune Tap. Many of these are talent-based; no talent spec is going to have access to all of these cooldowns! (Also see the Q&A, below)
Icebound Fortitude makes the Death Knight immune to Stun effects and reduces damage taken by 20% for 12 seconds, with a 1 minute cooldown, and costs moderate RP to activate. The four piece tier 7 set bonus increases the duration to 15 seconds. Additional Defense skill will increase the amount of damage reduction given, to around 35% at 540 Defense. The Glyph of Icebound Fortitude will also ensure that Icebound Fortitude always provides at least 30% damage reduction regardless of Defense skill. The Guile of Gorefiend talent can increase the duration of Icebound Fortitude by up to 6 seconds.
Anti-Magic Shell absorbs 75% of all incoming spell damage and prevents harmful magical effects from being applied for 5 seconds, with a 45 second cooldown, and costs moderate RP to activate. The Glyph of Anti-Magic Shell will increase its duration by 2 seconds. The Magic Suppression talent can increase the absorption to 100%.
Army of the Dead is a 6 second channeling spell where the Death Knight's dodge + parry chance is instead used as damage reduction. The Death Knight cannot avoid hits (but can still be missed), but the damage is significantly reduced. It is very limited by a cost of one of each rune, a 20 minute cooldown, and the actions of the summoned Ghouls themselves (who have a Taunt ability, but will not taunt bosses).
Death Pact sacrifices any of the Death Knight's summoned minions (Ghoul, Army of the Dead Ghoul, Ebon Gargoyle) in exchange for 40% of maximum health, with a two minute cooldown and requires high RP to activate. This effect can critically heal.
Lichborne (11-point Frost talent) makes the Death Knight immune to Fear, Charm, and Sleep effects, and increases chance to be missed by melee attacks by 25% for 15 seconds. It has a 3 minute cooldown. Death Knights may also heal themselves with Death Coil while Lichborne is active.
Anti-Magic Zone (31-point Unholy talent) creates a magical barrier that reduces spell damage taken by those standing inside it by 75%, and costs 1 Unholy Rune to activate. It lasts for 10 seconds or a maximum of 10,000 + 200% of the Death Knight's attack power in damage absorbed, and has a 2 minute cooldown.
Rune Tap (11-point Blood talent) instantly heals the Death Knight for 10% of maximum health. It has a 1 minute cooldown, and costs 1 Blood Rune to activate. Improved Rune Tap will increase the amount healed to as much as 20% of maximum health, and reduce the cooldown by up to 30 seconds. The Glyph of Rune Tap will cause all party members to be healed by 10% of their maximum health as well. This effect can critically heal.
Mark of Blood (21-point Blood talent) is a debuff placed on an enemy that causes each attack made to heal the enemy's target for 4% of their maximum healthm. It has a 3 minute cooldown, costs 1 Blood Rune to activate, and lasts for a maximum of 20 seconds or 20 hits.
Will of the Necropolis (41-point Blood Talent) is a passive ability that causes any incoming damage that would reduce the Death Knight to under 35% of maximum health to be reduced by up to 15%. Like Ardent Defender, this is not an effect that is triggered by the Death Knight, but is included as it functions essentially as an emergency button.
The next three abilities, Vampiric Blood, Bone Shield, and Unbreakable Armor are mutually exclusive - a Death Knight will have only one of them
Vampiric Blood (36-point Blood talent) increases the Death Knight's health by 15% and increases healing received by 35% for 20 seconds. It costs 1 Blood Rune and has a 1 minute cooldown. The Glyph of Vampiric Blood will increase the duration by 10 seconds.
Unbreakable Armor (36-point Frost talent) increases Strength by 25% and reduces all incoming Physical damage by a flat value for 20 seconds. The amount of damage absorbed increases with Armor. Unbreakable Armor costs 1 Frost rune and has a 1 minute cooldown. The Glyph of Unbreakable Armor will increase the damage absorption effect by 1%.
Bone Shield (36-point Unholy talent) reduces all damage taken by the Death Knight by 20% and increases damage dealt by 2%. It costs 1 Unholy Rune, has a 1 minute cooldown, and lasts for 4 charges or up to 5 minutes. A charge is consumed every time a damaging attack lands. The Glyph of Bone Shield will increase the number of charges to 6. It is worth noting that the cooldown begins when Bone Shield is cast, and not when the last bone is consumed.
In addition to each tank's innate cooldowns, several classes have cooldowns that can be placed on others:
Divine Guardian is an ability that allows a paladin under Divine Shield to have 30% of all damage taken by party or raid members within 30 yards redirected to the Paladin. With patch 3.1, Divine Guardian will only absorb damage up to 300% of the Paladin's total health. You can reasonably expect around 50k-60k absorbtion on the tank, less in encounters with lots of AOE as the effect extends to all members of the paladin's raid.
Guardian Spirit is a 10 second effect cast by a priest that increases the healing received by the target by 40%, and also prevents the target from dying by sacrificing itself. This sacrifice terminates the effect but heals the target of 50% of their maximum health.
Hand of Sacrifice places a hand on a party member, transfering 30% damage taken to the caster for 12 seconds. Players may only have one Hand on them per Paladin at any one time.
Lay on Hands heals its target for 100% of the caster's maximum health, on a 20-minute cooldown. With talents, it can be reduced to a 12-minute cooldown and also apply a 50% armor bonus for 15 seconds. Protection Paladins generally skip this talent as it requires them to sacrifice other talents, is still unreliable at a 12 minute cooldown, and is affected by Divine Plea's 50% healing done debuff (which is always active on a Protection Paladin).
Pain Suppression instantly reduces a friendly target's threat by 5%, reduces all damage taken by 40% and increases resistance to Dispel mechanics by 65% for 8 seconds.
Implications and Problems
As illustrated above, there is a large selection of available emergency buttons, making it possible to chain cooldowns on different tanks in various scenarios within the current mechanics to allow them to survive to incredible levels of incoming damage. This presents a number of problems:
- Some tank classes may become a clear choice for best chance of success, by the virtue of being able to survive better than the rest by simply having more abilities to reduce incoming damage available.
- Those classes may become balanced around the assumption of those cooldowns, making their performance in the absence of them extremely subpar
- Those tank classes become very restricted in choice of gear, talents, and glyphs in order to have best chance of success.
- Some tank classes may not be able to come close enough to the ideal due to lack of abilities to keep the cooldown chain going
- Non-tank classes may begin to feel obligated to take talents and glyphs that they might not otherwise choose to in order to support the cooldown chaining as best they can
Thoughts and Solutions
From this, we can take away several observations:
Firstly, chaining cooldowns is detrimental to the game. Reducing encounters to be a case of simply chaining cooldowns together to keep a tank alive creates problems in encounter balance. A great deal of choice is taken away from a number of players in a raid in terms of how they gear, talent, and glyph to play.
Second, not every class has sufficient cooldowns available to make the grade if chained cooldowns are present. It's fine and well to say "chained cooldowns are not necessary", but it's human nature to do what you can to make things easier.
Third, chaining cooldowns probably may tend to force the development team into higher and higher amounts of burst damage to challenge the tank. This throws encounter balance significantly off, particularly for raids that may not necessarily have the "right" tank and support to get the chain of cooldowns.
Some potential solutions present themselves to reduce the impact of cooldowns:
In summary, the current ability to chain cooldowns together, potentially indefinitely, is simply a break in game mechanics waiting to be exploited to trivialise content. The ability to simply ignore an encounter's damage output in exchange for a tight rotation of cooldown abilities will remove challenge and fun from the encounters. This is by no means a call to bring on the nerfs to any particular class. Rather, this article is meant to highlight the problem with chained cooldowns and suggest potential ways to remove the ability to perform them. A likely fix would be to implement a debuff similar to the Forebearance mechanic to ensure that external cooldowns cannot be used to maintain an indefinite rotation. With that said, some tinkering within the tank classes may be inevitable. Of course, if cooldowns are changed for tank classes then compenstion in terms of health, mitigation, and/or avoidance may certainly be warranted to maintain balance.
- Debuffs similar to the Exhaustion or Forebearance debuff to prevent constant use of external cooldowns on tanks
- Shared cooldowns on short cooldown emergency buttons
- Examine the motivation behind short-cooldown emergency buttons, and whether they are in fact necessary
- Increase the cooldown on emergency buttons so they are not chainable (3-4 minutes)
- Consider internal cooldowns on non-triggered abilities
* Contributors to this Tanking Topic include: Devium, Dots, Guaritor, Hypatia, Jamor, Jere, Kojiyama/Jayde, Liar/Tyds, Lore, Satrina, Veneretio, Xav