We're still a ways away from Mists of Pandaria and certainly months away from the beta, but nonetheless, everyone's eyes are firmly affixed on the horizon that is the next expansion. Dragon Soul will drag on into the near future, and so around the umpteenth time one has defeated Deathwing, one cannot help but daydream of a brighter future of new landscapes, new enemies, and a revamping of one's favorite spec.
Tanks in particular have much to look forward to with Mists of Pandaria and WoW 5.0. We're due for a major reconstruction of our playstyle through active mitigation. Cataclysm proved eponymous with regard to how it changed tanking during its lifespan (some would rightfully argue that it was not entirely for the better). The hope is that MoP will be equally shattering but in a much more positive way. Where Cataclysm in many ways simplified tanking and made it less interesting, hungry eyes gaze upon the next expansion in the hope that it will reverse this course.
Myself, I have three wishes for Mists of Pandaria. Each would make tanking once again more compelling and far more interesting.
A new, more interesting rotation
In the Cataclysm beta, for a time, Crusader Strike was on a 4.5-second cooldown, which has the side effect of leaving gaps in the rotation. Beta testers raged against this, complaining that the gaps made the protection paladin rotation a snore, as well as hugely frustrating when you had nothing to fill a GCD with. Rather than fixing the issue by lowering the cooldowns on various filler attacks, the devs lowered the cooldown of Crusader Strike to 3 seconds.
This eliminated the gaps but at the cost of making the rotation horribly rigid. At least in Wrath's 969 rotation -- widely accepted as the most boring tank rotation in the game -- you weren't constantly hitting the same button every other GCD. The new rotation, snarkily dubbed 939, was in some ways a step forward, in other ways a step back.
What we truly need in Mists of Pandaria is a definitive leap forward for our rotation. Put Crusader Strike back at 4.5 seconds, add more procs, lower the cooldowns on fillers so there are no gaps (if gaps are truly a non-starter). Make the rotation dyamic enough that you can't just descend into a trance and mechanically start working your way through it. And most of all, make it rewarding to those that make the right choices in what attack is being used at that time.
Lastly, the end result of our rotation -- the 3-holy-power payoff -- needs to be more interesting as well. Right now we're in a pretty static situation. If you care about single-target threat, you hit Shield of the Righteous. If you care about AoE threat, you hit Inquisition. And if you care about survivability (which, let's face it, is most of the time), you hit Word of Glory. Sometimes you even sit on your holy power until the most opportune time to use Word of Glory presents itself. Not interesting.
Critically, all holy power finishers should have some kind of survivability hook. Remember when Word of Glory didn't have a cooldown? Was there ever a good reason to not WoG when you accumulated 3 holy power? What tank in their right mind would fire off a ShoR in a straightforward situation when you have enough threat? Survivability is nearly always (except in special situations) going to be king. A tank should never feel like they are gimping themselves when using a holy power finisher, lest they not use it.
The removal of Vengeance and the return of real threat
I honestly believe that the introduction of Vengeance was a terrible decision that made tanking in Cataclysm far less interesting than in previous expansions. It removed what was once an integral part of tanking, the achievement and maintenance of threat. Originally, it was intended to correct the issue of tank damage scaling poorly against the damage of normal DPS players. Yet, its side effect (along with the nigh-removal of threat with the increase of the threat multipliers) cannot be denied.
My personal wish for how to correct this is two-fold. One is (as stated) the removal of the Vengeance buff, once again placing the burden of threat generation on the player. The other, more dramatic, is the removal of tank plate.
Basically, put all plate tanks on the feral druid model. Our gear would lack dodge and parry, and we wouldn't automatically shun any piece with dreaded the dreaded stats of hit and expertise. And pair this off with the nascent active mitigation system. Our attacks increase our survivability, and being actually able to hit the boss will make it far easier for us to grasp and hold onto the boss' attention.
Follow the model of the tier 13 two-piece bonus. When we cast Judgement, we gain an absorb shield equal to a percent of damage dealt. With increasing amounts of hit, expertise, and (oh, my) crit, our Judgements would hit more often and for larger amounts.
If active mitigation offers effects similar to that bonus, then a new tank gearing paradigm will allow it to scale as the expansion continues much in the way our survivability scales now with ever increasing item levels -- however, must less directly and much more interestingly in this case.
Ultimately, tanking is at the lowest point it has ever been in WoW as we come upon the close of Cataclysm. But it doesn't have to be this way. It can be rebuilt to be more dynamic, more interesting, and most importantly, more fun. If there's one thing that Cataclysm absolutely did right in terms of tanking, it's flooding the zone with cooldowns and making the proper use there of such a frequent and integral part of our gameplay. Continue with that design, expand it through active mitigation, and the redemption of tanking will follow.
The Light and How to Swing It shows paladin tanks how to take on the dark times brought by Cataclysm. Try out our four tips for upping your combat table coverage, find out how to increase threat without sacrificing survivability, and learn how to manage the latest version of Holy Shield.