In a recent post I divulged my fear of tanking heroics or at least my fear of failing as a heroic/raid tank. It’s a bit relevant to today’s subject so it might be worth a read. My death knight has finally reached level 85. I immediately queued for a regular to get my daily allotment of justice points and practice tanking some more. Naturally, I got Vortex Pinnacle (it’s my new Halls of Reflection) but the run was very smooth like most of the regulars I’ve done as tank. ALL of the dps even beat my damage done on each boss fight, a first for my dk. You might be wondering, “I thought you said you’d do heroics, pansy!” Well, I will, but…my gear isn’t ready. Not even the excuse I would use previously to myself, literally, I can’t queue for heroics yet due to item level. As I recall, 329 is the item level requirement to queue for a heroic and mine is only 323. Aside from that though, I started thinking. What really is the right gear level for running a heroic as a tank? Honestly I don’t appreciate when fresh 85 tanks who barely meet the gear required to queue at all are tanking for me. Usually they’re a strain on the healer to keep up, they can’t keep threat from the DPS so either there is deaths or if the DPS tone it down, things take a long time to kill. So when is it okay to start tanking?
In Wrath there was a basic standard (aside from defense cap) that you needed enough health not to get one shot by anything and not to get kill in two hits by almost anything. In Cataclysm, there aren’t many attacks that can kill a player in 1-2 hits. Most of these attacks are mechanics that are avoidable. Honestly, I cringe a little if the tank in a pug has under 140k hp and I probably visibly wince when they are under 130k, especially in an instance such as Grim Batol. As a healer though, I understand that health is not the best indication of tanking gear quality. Mitigation and avoidance end up being much more important because the tank doesn’t die often to large attacks taking most of the health in a short time. Instead, tanks are whittled away by taking too much damage over time that their healer can’t keep up with or when the healer goes out of mana from having to use powerful heals. So really, a tank needs a mix of overall good gear. Which leaves us back at the beginning, what level is that gear good enough? We have two objective measures of gear quality available, item level (which we have to view armory to see) or gearscore (which bases its score on item level). Both of these systems, although it’s really only one system and a score extrapolated from it, don’t acknowledge enchants or gems which play a major part in the overall defensive capacity of a tank.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Skill is greater than gear, I get it. I really do. I’ve had super geared tanks that were terrible at holding aggro or keeping themselves alive. But it is important to note, I’m not an amazing tank. I don’t really have super skills to counter bad gear. If my gear is at least decent then things aren’t a problem. Even without a great deal of practice I have pretty good situational awareness and thorough knowledge of trash and boss mechanics for all the heroics and the raid content that I might be seeing on an alt. I have seen a couple of tanks, alts of players in WotLK, that did a solid to impressive job as a tank even in sub-par gear. Yes skill > gear, but gear sure helps.
The Last Word
So, this is a lot of talk, but where is that sweet spot when its okay for a tank to start on heroics? Extraordinary skill aside, you should be fully or 95% geared in regular dungeon gear. This means average item level of 333. Some pieces might be hard to get from dungeons in level 333 quality because earlier dungeons drop 308 or 316 gear, but you can upgrade those pieces with Uldum or Twilight Highlands quest rewards along with reputation pieces from honored/revered/exalted that you should have by the time you hit 85. For those of the gearscore persuasion, this would probably have you around or a little under 7k gearscore. On my death knight, with one stamina trinket and an item level of 333, I expect to be about 132k health unbuffed in blood presence. All in all I’ll be right on target. My mitigation and avoidance will be on levels I’m okay with, health should dramatically decrease the chances of being killed in just a couple global cooldowns and I’ll feel confident enough in my gear-support. Of course, gems and enchants (even cheaper ones) go a long ways. I’m hoping to reach my gear goal tonight and should be able to start tanking today or tomorrow… wish me luck!