With the Throne of Thunder echoing in the distance, it will not be much longer before tier 14 is a fading and pleasant memory for many raiders. I think it's a fair assessment to say that this tier has been one of the most successful in WoW's history, at least from an encounter design perspective. An unexpected follow-up from the doldrums of Dragon Soul, the raids of Mogu'shan Vaults, Heart of Fear, and Terrace of Endless Spring have been interesting and (most importantly!) engaging -- especially for tanks.
Remember that in the closing days of Dragon Soul and Cataclysm, there was a general feeling of ennui in the raid tanking community. Between the nullification of threat, the introduction of Vengeance, and the seeming dumbing-down of raid mechanics throughout Cataclysm, the sentiment was that Blizzard had given up on making tanking interesting at anything but the heroic raid level. And even then, by "interesting" it meant you would have to cope with much, much more damage. Obviously, it's human nature to assume that past is prologue and as such many tanks assumed the worst was yet to come.
So imagine the surprise when the mists dispersed and the land of Pandaria revealed an unexpected renaissance for raid tanks.
At this point, I want to look at a few of the stand-out encounters in tier 14 and what I think their highlights, lowlights, and ramifications are.
Feng the Accursed
I don't know about you, dear reader, but it was on the first pull of this fight that I knew tier 14 would be something special for tanking. Indeed, for months now I've deviously managed to persuade my co-tanks to let me handle the Shroud of Reversal ability anytime we've done this fight. I can't describe, without possibly slipping into a Romance language, the joy I feel at having the small -- but special -- extra job that is flinging the boss' abilities back at him.
For just about all of Cataclysm, the tank was the person that stood there, took the blows, popped a cooldown occasionally, and taunted off his or her colleagues when appropriate. It was a fairly cut and dry procession of events. Yet here was a fight where a tank could do something extra, something special, that could affect the outcome of the encounter. It is a small thing, a tiny curveball, but it made a huge difference in making the job of tanking more than just a passive affair.
Will of the Emperor
This might be my favorite encounter in the entire tier, thanks to the Devastating Combo mechanic. (Or, as it's popularly known, "the dance.") Here we see a real, immediate skill-check for tanks in a way we haven't seen since perhaps Alysrazor when tanks were pressed to maximize DPS to beat a timer. Each strike of a Devastating Arc threatens to saddle the tank with a 10% armor debuff, while successfully evading each blow gives the tank a special button to land an Opportunistic Strike for extra damage.
This wonderful mechanic adds a tactile dimension for tanks in this fight. All too often, the only real feedback we get on our performance is the binary response to "did you die?" and here instead we have an opportunity (pardon the pun) to pour some extra damage in the fight with the successful overcoming of a skillcheck as a reward for doing our job well.
I hope this is a theme that will appear again in future encounters.
As enthusiastic as I am about most of Mogu'shan Vaults, my enthusiasm is somewhat tapered by the encounters in Heart of Fear. Where MSV is innovative and hyper-engaging, Heart of Fear seems to stumble back slightly towards more conventional (and tired) tanking encounters. Not to mention that depending on your raid difficulty, HoF has at least one and maybe two encounters of its six that are single-tanked. That is unfortunate. It's still a good raid, just not an amazing one.
Garalon stands out as the worst of the worst, at least in my mind. It doesn't help that, theoretically, the fight doesn't require tanks -- just two extra-durable melee to stand in the Furious Swipe. Active mitigation makes the fight a real drag for whichever tank is tasked with holding onto the pheromone. One will be forced to be out of melee range of the boss, though still in range of Swipe, and thus won't be able to reach the boss to land resource-generating abilities for active mitigation.
I don't need to explain how monumentally frustrating it can be to be so dependent on active mitigation for your survival and, when you are taking extra damage and could really use the help it provides, are hampered by being unable to land any attacks but the occasional Judgment to generate some holy power for the damn system.
Wind Lord Mel'jarak
Immediately following Garalon is perhaps one of the most obscene examples this tier of the failures of Vengeance. Regardless of which raid difficulty you are tanking, if you have enough adds on you during this fight you're going to find yourself topping not only the damage chart, but also the healing chart (thanks to Seal of Insight and Glyph of the Battle Healer). All because of the intrinsic brokenness of Vengeance.
I can't lie, it is a thrill to be able to tank this fight and then proceed to flaunt my damage and healing output, though these kind of situations are not healthy for the game. DPS and healers look at Recount after such a fight and are not often pleased at seeing themselves outperformed so spectacularly in their own role. While this can mostly be written off as a "suck it up, it's only one fight" situation, the scaling of boss damage -- and thus Vengeance -- in heroic modes leads to this situation occurring much more often. So, in many respects, Wind Lord is a bit of a sneak peek for normal-difficulty raiders that something is very off with Vengeance and concurrent tank damage. (Garajal's last phase being another example.)
I cite this encounter primarily because it feels like such a relic of a bygone era. If this were, say, four years ago, we'd be crafting frost resist gear and drinking magic resistance elixirs and equipping +resistance on-use trinkets from previous expansions so we could take the bite out of the potentially lethal frost damage being showered upon us. And yet in Mists, in this post-resistance world, this is largely not an option anymore. It feels very weird.
(I say largely because some progression raiders did attempt to use +resistance trinkets on this fight, to great effect, so Blizzard performed a double-tap on resistance trinkets to make sure they were down for good.)
In any case, Lei Shi does feels a bit off, right? It isn't just me? Maybe not so much for newer tanks, but in some ways for this old-timer, tanking the encounter feels a bit like being forced to play outfield without a baseball glove. Sure, you can still catch the ball, but it's going to be more difficult, and it's going to hurt like hell.
In short, this fight reminds me of how much complication we lost over the years when it comes to performing our job. Most of it is for the best --undoubtedly -- but then there are the little things, like the occasional resistance fight, which was a nice change of pace and rewarded extra preparation. Simplicity for the sake of simplicity is not always the best course of action.
As tier 14 has ultimately demonstrated, there is definitely value to returning some complication and skill to tanking. And, that all said, I now turn it to you. How was tier 14 for you? Did it feel like a "renaissance", or just more of the same? What were your favorite encounters? Which ones did you hate?
The Light and How to Swing It shows paladin tanks how to combat the Sha in the strange new land of Pandaria. Try out the new control gearing strategy, learn how to make the most of the new active mitigation system on your tankadin, and check out how to deck out your fresh 90 tank to get ready for any raids!