Thursday, March 10, 2011

Feral Tanking | Understanding Dodge vs Mastery

When gearing and itemizing bear tanks, there are a few defensive stats we look for. With the release of Cataclysm, what used to be the bear holy trinity (effective health, dodge, and armor) as been extended to include Mastery as a mitigation tool. Blizzard has done a nice job, in my opinion, of making mastery (and the ability it affects) not be so imbalanced that bears stack this above all else. Of course the argument remains that we still only stack stamina but that is not entirely true either. Is stamina is our best weighted stat? Of course it is and for tanks to desire as much of this as possible isn't necessarily a bad thing. The point is, as a whole mastery has been a sort of Pandora's box for Blizzard; in a game where they struggle around balancing classes this loose cannon variable had the potential to make or break a class in a heartbeat. For bears, it seems to be moderately balanced at this point in time and today we'll go more into detail on how it effects us.

How Mastery Works
First, it's important to understand two basic abilities we have in our arsenal. The first is Savage Defense and the second is our mastery talent, Savage Defender. In it's most basic terms our mastery affects the strength of our Savage Defense. For the sake of players who may be new to bear tanking, I'll go into a bit more detail.

The Savage Defense (also known as SD or SD Bubble) ability has been with us since Wrath of the Lich King, and was Blizzards response to our inability to block. Traditionally bears had super high armor and stamina to offset this but once Blizz normalized stamina and armor between the tanking classes there was an obvious gap we had to overcome. Enter the fun world of SD. The basic idea for SD is when we crit we have a 50% chance to form a bubble, reducing the amount of damage we take from the next incoming attack by 35% of our attack power. Math Alert - If you have 10,000 attack power and crit, forming a SD bubble, it will reduce the following attack by 3,500. Seems pretty basic, right?

I can haz bearbubble?
The second aspect of this system is our actual mastery talent, Savage Defender. In the most basic of terms this increases the strength of the SD bubble. The percentages gained are additive, meaning we get a base level of absorption from SD totaling 35% of our attack power, then we add on 4% per point of mastery on top of that. This does includes a baseline amount of mastery, which is 8 or exactly 32%. With no additional mastery beyond the baseline amount we'll be able to generate a bubble that can absorb 67% of our attack power. Interestingly enough this system is scalable beyond getting new gear. Our other tanking ability, Vengeance, will increase our attack power by 5% of the damage we take up to 10% of our heal pool. As this increases our attack power, it also increases the amount of damage that will be absorbed by SD. Math Alert - I have roughly 185K fully raid buffed. During a fight where I am taking constant heavy damage my attack power has the potential to reach 30K. With my current mastery value of 19 I can proc a bubble absorbing 23K damage. How is that for faceblocking?

Taking this knowledge of how these abilities work together is helpful in evaluating just how useful it is. Mastery can be a very powerful tool but it is not without it's cons. For instance, mastery is only good if we are attacking the boss to gain our SD. A prime example of where this doesn't occur is the shield phase in Omnitron Defense System. During that phase we are stuck eating full melee strikes like a bunch of suckers. This may seem overly situational, but it's still worth noting. Another example of where mastery is less than helpful is when we tank a group of adds or a mob who attacks with many fast attacks. You may be asking, "Why would a bubble not be helpful here"? Because SD only absorbs the next attack, regardless of how much damage is dealt. For example if my SD bubble is able to absorb 5k damage, whatever the next hit might be (10k melee strike or 1k dot tick) will "pop" the bubble. It is true that SD does help us somewhat when fighting groups or fast hitting mobs however the basic limitations to the mechanic means that stacking mastery in these cases is not as effective. As a result a slow, hard hitting mob / boss will maximize the potential of mastery.

How Dodge Works
To avoid getting too involved in the numbers game I'll attempt to explain this as easily as possible. I'm sure there is a more accurate method of explaining this but I'll just shoot from the hip. Regardless if I massacre this, hopefully I can reach one person. Even if that person is my mother, HI MOM!

my brain hurts....
Dodge is just one element in something known as the attack table. There exists in WoW attack tables both offensively (meaning you attacking a NPC or player) and defensively (meaning a NPC or player attacking you) and these determine what type of action occurs when an attack is made. While this may seem complicated, it's implications are something most players encounter every day. The reason DPS strives to be hit capped is to modify the attack table favorably and reduce/eliminate misses. The reason that tanks used to stack defense (and now take a talent) to reduce crit vulnerability is to modify the attack table favorably. These two examples are actual scenarios in which players are likely to work within the attack table. For our application of dodge, the way it works is fair simple - in fact the basic idea is as simple as rolling a die. The result of the roll can fall within range of any of the options on the attack table (miss, dodge, parry, glancing, block, crit, crushing blow, or ordinary hit) except when modified like our example above. Tanks who talent correctly remove crits from the table cannot have a NPC roll a crit against them. The most basic idea behind increasing dodge is to modify the dodge range of the attack table, thus making the mob MORE likely to "roll" a dodge when striking you. Whew. I think I got it. Maybe. Anyone? Beuller?

As bears we get dodge from a variety of sources. The main source (or at least it should be) of our increased dodge is from agility. We also get this from various gems, enchants and reforging methods be it dodge or agility. Regardless of the source, dodge is one of the most vital aspects we have to help us stay alive. What makes this ability so great is rooted in that attack table we discussed earlier. For example, let's say you are tanking the adds on Maloriak. By the end of each phase you will be tanking (or at least should be) 9 adds. Each of those adds is attacking you at the same speed, however they are landing their attacks are different times. Regardless of this, the attack table (and in turn determining what type of attack will land, if any) is hard at work for each individual attacker. Herein lies the strength of dodge, it's a very broad and all encompassing defensive stat.

While dodge and it's "separate table for each attacker" may seem like a win-win, there are situations where dodge falls short. Magic attacks are unable to be dodge and increases dodge will have no effect on magical attackers. Granted during this tier of raiding there seems to be less magic damage, it's still something important to note. Another situation where dodge is less than helpful is based purely on the player positioning. You cannot dodge an attack from a mob that is attacking you from behind. This is why a big part of tank strategy is positioning and boss movement. If you understand the limitations of dodge and polish your tanking method, you can use this stat to increase your survivability and reduce the strain on your healers. All good things.

it's a trick.....get an axe
Which One?
This seems to be a very common questions in recent months. Considering that dodge and mastery are right next to each other in the current stat weighting, I can see the confusion. Also most bear optimizers (such as Ask Mr. Robot, Rawr, EJ gear lists) all suggest placing an emphasis on agility or in circumstances where agility is unattainable, dodge. So who is right? Well this is one time where I will lay my chips down on the side of the number crunchers. Dodge is a much more valuable stat to increase when compared to mastery in terms of increasing survivability and decreasing strain on your healer. The reason is rooted within the very mechanics of each, mainly the inability of SD to operate on as wide of a span as dodge currently does. What happens if the Firelands raid brings tons of magical damage? Would that be enough to turn the tables? In all reality probably not. The only time mastery will outweigh dodge would be if every single mob is a slow hitting caster - that is probably as likely as rogues getting a FoK interrupt back. I do predict a return to magic damage in raids to come but I think it will be handled with effective health more-so than an increase in mastery.

For more information on bear tanking in general or to find various resources, check out my Level 85 Feral Tanking Guide.


Veronica said...

Titleist, I'm one of the people behind the Mr. Robot tool, and read your post today. I wanted to point you to Mr. Robot's bear tank stat tool, Robomaul. Lucky bears - the only one with this kind of tool right now :)

Titleist said...

Lucky bears indeed! Thanks for stopping by with the link, much appreciated. I've used Ask Mr. Robot since the beginning - when I was a raiding DK it was invaluable!