The Margin For Error

Posted: 18 January, 2011 in Cataclysm, Dungeons, Tanking

I finally bit the bullet and tanked a Heroic on Gorn a couple of days ago.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t that bad.  I might even go so far as to say it was mildly fun and not at all butt-clenchingly scary.  Which is strange.  See, I’ve run many Heroics on Gorn as a Fury warrior and they’ve ranged from “Ok” to “So awful you’d rather stick needles into your eyes than take one more step”.  Yet the first one I actually tanked myself was really rather pleasant.

Gorn’s not an incredible tank.  He’s not tanked anything since Icecrown except a normal Stonecore at level 84, and that was pretty rough.  What made the difference was the group I ran with.  First of all, they were all guild members.  Raiding guild members or their alts, and were geared appropriately.  They were not selfish cocknockers gaming the Dungeon Finder by queueing for Heroics in pvp gear half an hour after they hit level 85 and expecting to be carried through.  These folks know their shit.  Secondly, we actually used what crowd control was available to us intelligently.  Thirdly, everyone knew the fights, where to stand, where not to stand, and what to kill first.  Targets were marked and killed efficiently.  No-one stood in Bad. And finally, we were all on voice comms.  Result – Heroic Halls of Origination completed, no wipes, a couple of achievements knocked over with a newbie tank in less than an hour.  Job done.

Now the purpose of this post isn’t to flex my epeen over the lesser mortals who struggle through a heroic for three hours and then give up on the third boss.  (Although it is a pretty impressive epeen and you can touch it if you ask nicely)  Instead, I’m going to talk about what the military call “force multipliers” and something I like to call “the margin of error”.

Force Multipliers
A force multiplier is essentially something that helps you punch above your weight.  Let’s look back at the previous expansion.  In Wrath of the Lich King, we had force multipliers coming out of every orifice available.  Take two level 80 tanks, one who just dinged 80 half an hour ago and who’s sporting the finest in green world drops and quest rewards, and another who’s had the Lich King on farm in 25 man heroic for two months.  One tanks heroics with 23k health fully buffed.  The other tanks heroics with 50k health unbuffed and has over 60% avoidance.  Having better gear is a force multiplier.  You hit harder, have more health and avoidance and heal for more with less than people in lesser gear.  Even your Joe Average tank towards the end of Wrath was rocking 35k health unbuffed.  Your average level 80 quest mob in Icecrown had 11-12k.  I was one-shotting them with a single Arcane Blast while doing dailies.  That’s why Blizzard had to give starting mobs in Cataclysm triple the expected health pools, anything less would have been a joke, and we still facerolled over mobs even though they had 35k health.  Just to put things into perspective here, we’re doing dailies and killing mobs with 80k health, some of them have 115k health.  It’s not a problem.  Fel Reaver, that terror of Hellfire Basin, the sound of whose feet could send noobs scurrying for the hills in panic….   104k health.  I have more health than Fel Reaver.

The Margin For Error
Having all these force multipliers thanks to gear gave us a massive margin for error.  What this means is that if we make an error, we have a comfortable margin in which to compensate for it.  If the tank doesn’t round up all of the mobs and one goes for a healer or a dps, it wasn’t a big deal, because the healer could just heal through it or the dps could just kill it.  If the healer tabbed out to check Facebook and missed the pull, it wasn’t a big deal because the tank had so much health and avoidance they could pretty much tank without heals for the first fifteen seconds of any fight, and in any case, the dps put out so much raw damage that no trash pull lasted much longer than fifteen seconds anyway.  I’ve even seen tanks stay up through bosses with a healer disconnected.  People were so overgeared and the dungeons were so relatively easy that the margin for error was so huge we relied on one force multiplier and one force multiplier only – our gear.  This made us lazy.

Fast forward to today and we’re playing a whole different ballgame.  It’s almost like the start of Wrath, where we had rubbish gear, crappy health pools and struggled to push out 2k dps on a good day.  Except it’s not like the start of Wrath, because dungeon mobs in Cataclysm are not the gentle, playful, happy go lucky funsters we all know and love from Halls of Lightning.  The mobs and particularly the bosses in Cataclysm Heroics are lean, mean killing machines that want to tear our your guts and wear your spleen as a hat.  And if you give them half a chance that’s exactly what they’ll do. Again and again and again until you lose the will to live and go to cry on the forums demanding nerfs.  The problem here isn’t that we have relatively crappy gear.  It isn’t that the dungeons are too hard.  The problem is that we’ve had such good gear and had such gentle dungeon mobs for so long that we’ve forgotten that other force multipliers exist.  We believe that we have no margin for error.  But we’re wrong.

Crowd control is a force multiplier.  Focus fire is a force multiplier. Spell interrupts are a force multiplier.  Talking to each other is a force multiplier.  Hell, just paying attention is a force multiplier. But like any force multiplier, having it and knowing how to use it are two very different things.  Take two paintball teams and give one of them voice comms.  Instant force multiplier, but only if you teach them how to use it.  If you don’t, you just have one team getting their arses handed to them by a team that aren’t telling “Your Mom” jokes to each other from the opposite ends of the playfield.  Similarly, it’s all well and good telling the Mage to polymorph the target marked with the Blue Square, but if you then slap a blue square over the head of an elemental and immediately pull, it’s not the Mages fault that the elemental eats the healer.  Top tip – Polymorph only works on humanoids and beasts.

Stripped of our great gear we need to use our other force multipliers to overcome problems that our crappy gear alone clearly isn’t going to carry us through.  But we need to know and understand the limitations of the options available to us.  Rogues can’t Sap Elementals, and they can’t Sap anything that’s in combat.  Warlocks can’t Fear undead.  Shamans can’t Hex elementals, but they can Bind them.  A Mages polymorph heals the target to full, so probably best not used on the mobs surviving the dragon bombing run in Grim Batol.  A Mage can interrupt a spellcast, but only once every 24 seconds.   Yes, your Priest or Shaman can dispel that spell haste buff on the enemy caster giving you so much trouble, but it’d be a lot better if your Mage used Spellsteal on it instead.  Curse of Elements might be a significant dps boost for your casters, but if the mob casts a fast heal that restores 50% of its health and you’re short of interrupts, Curse of Tongues might be a far better option.

I’ve played every class to level 80 (and four to level 85) so I know these things.  I wouldn’t expect everyone to.  That’s why talking to each other is probably the most simple but effective thing you can do to help punch above your weight in Cataclysm dungeons.  It’s where everything listed above begins.  The rot set in when the Dungeon Finder tool was introduced.  With one stroke, people didn’t even need to speak to each other to find a group, let alone to faceroll their way through Wrath dungeons.  Most folks find speaking to their groupmates an alien experience these days.  Just remember that like any tool, talking is something that needs to be practiced, and not everyone is good at it.  If the number of Worgen Deathknights named on a variation of “Evilclaw” is anything to go by, there are still plenty of people for whom English isn’t a first language but who are reasonably fluent in Stupid.  Keep it simple.

Above all else, remember that this is just a phase.  It won’t be that long before you’re covered in Tier 11 epics and feasting on Ozruks tears.  Loken in Heroic Halls of Lightning killed more players at the start of Wrath than any raid or dungeon boss in living memory, six months later he was a joke.  In the meantime, get out there and talk to each other.  Learn your weaknesses and exploit your strengths.  It might do you some good, and you might actually have some fun along the way.

  1. dwism says:

    Phh, screw talking. Talking is for people who don’t have squicky voi…. ehm, for weirdos!

    Instead, do like I preach: have the damn dps mark their own targets!
    It’s so easy, so much more involving, and so nicer!

  2. Kurnak says:

    The problem I commonly find is when getting inside an instance for the first time (or 2nd or 3rd but you haven’t done that in a long time or are playing a different role) and I ask for tactics on boss, usually I get a big silence and tank just charges into the fray, so I have to guess what’s going to happen and apply common sense: stay out of fire, dispel nasty debuffs, steal/purge whatever it’s possible. I remember getting into Stonecore the first time (was a normal run on semi-pug) and getting to Ozruk, whom I remember as a dreaded boss from blog posts. I was on my mage and no tactics were given, so I wnet into Common Sense Mode (something a lot of players seem to lack) and the fight was so easy it was even boring. Spellstealing the Elmentium Bulwark was the key to the fight. Nobody told me to do so, but it was the right thing to do. Since it was implemented, Spellsteal has been a blast and a great tool. It’s a pity there wasn’t much use for it on Wrath (I remember Confessor Paletress and her Renew and Eressea Dawnsinger and her Haste buff). It’s good to see its comeback in Cataclysm. It may not be a CC method, but it’s a good Force Multiplier that will make things easier.
    (Btw, I hope this week to get my 7th 85)

    • Calli says:

      Yup. Figuring out what to do as dps really isn’t rocket science even if you’ve never seen the boss before. Apply the following simple rules to ANY fight in the game and it’ll probably work out fine:

      1. Don’t stand in Bad.
      2. If the bad guys have a buff, dispel/steal it.
      3. If the bad guy is casting, interrupt it.
      4. You don’t need a 4.

      • Drugar says:

        4) If you’re physical DPS, stand behind the boss, or sideways if it’s a dragon.

        But that’s really all I can think of.
        It’s not that hard, though I’ve seen screenshots with such gorram amounts of mods and highlights that it’s not hard to see why people can’t see the fire they’re standing in.

  3. dwism says:

    4. If you die despite the above, blame the healer, or the gnome!

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