Hold the Line; An Endgame Tanking Reference
By: Patrick O'Callahan / Ciderhelm
2.1 Pre-Molten Core
I don't cover armor too heavily in this reference guide, as the endgame provides you with three amazing sets of armor, Might, Wrath and Dreadnaught. Also, there is such a wide variety of itemization being added to the pre-Molten Core game that providing too detailed a loot list may not be significantly helpful. However, with credit to Evergreen for his compilation, I have added several items into the following subsection.
There are some basic principles to live by when finding pre-Molten Core gear, both as a Main Tank for a new guild and as a player hoping to get recruited to an established guild.
First: Stamina. I will cover each of the reasons why Stamina is your number one attribute in the following two sections. No matter what role, when I inspect a new warrior who is being considered to the guild I will relay any immediate concerns around the level of stamina a player has. Band of the Ogre King and Band of Flesh are two good blue items I remember farming for prior to Molten Core, for instance. I also wore Helm of Narv, an epic mail Stamina helm, all the way through to our first Helm of Might.
You don't necessarily want balanced stats. A balance of Agility and Strength against your Stamina isn't all that important or even helpful. In blue items, you will always be making a tradeoff if you find items that give you both Agility and Strength on top of Stamina. Holding aggro in a new group is not too terribly difficult early on; the game does a good job of scaling gear levels to tanking and experience.
Defense is secondary, but very important and achievable prior to Molten Core. The warrior community has long held that +Defense gear is godly; it isn't... but it is helpful! You will get a reduction of critical strikes, though almost no amount of pre-Molten Core gearing will keep you from getting critted multiple times during a battle from physical damage. The Block/Dodge/Parry are good too, but at the early stages of tanking, having a higher lifebar for when you do take that huge hit is simply more important. That said, it is possible to find alot of gear with the highest Stamina that happens to have very high Defense with it.
High armor ratings also help; with relatively few exceptions such as the Adamantium breastplate, the armor rating is mathematically matched to the level of gear you've found, so this usually isn't too difficult prior to Molten Core.
All of this said, nothing helps more than simply having good gear. Just because I said Stamina is your main attribute doesn't mean you can go pick up green "of Stamina" boots. After looking at Dungeon Set 2, Heroism, I've found it to be an excellent place to start for players new to the endgame. When applying to an established guild, having gear that takes alot of work to achieve will often do more for you than having optimal tanking gear you bought from the Auction House. Dire Maul still nets the best non-set items and Draconian Deflector from UBRS is still the best pre-Molten Core shield.
2.2 Blizzard's Itemization Theory
Blizzard has slowly and, from my estimation, very purposefully been adjusting it's warrior itemization theory. Also, from what I can see, this is definitely for the better.
Many classes can get away with balancing or powerhousing certain attributes. Main Tanks were originally gifted with a Might set that offered Stamina, Strength, and Agility; we also once could get 50% more Defense than we currently do off the same items.
Yet, what Blizzard was mistakenly doing at that time was creating a jack of all trades Warrior class. This class could not carry the absolute highest mitigation levels that it currently can, yet was overpowered and overcapable in certain encounters. As a result of the earlier Warrior design, the more dated encounters like Onyxia never properly scaled to player skill level but strictly to player gear: heavy magical fire attacks were the only balance against near-invulnerability to physical attacks that warriors initially had. Today, guilds with Tier 1 and Tier 2 gear are running 10-20 man raids of Onyxia without serious threat of failing the encounter -- this, not losing our old defense levels of the past, is a gamebreaking issue.
The new itemization theory seems to hold a common goal. Increase the survivability of the warrior in a stable and reliable way while simultaneously increasing their aggro generation capabilities.
Stamina, armor, and defense are built into nearly all item sets in the advanced endgame. Also, with the changes to Shield Slam, shield block is an important attribute that is cropping up in more noticeable places. In terms of steady aggro generation, Blizzard has also been implementing heavy amounts of +hit on Naxxramas level tanking gear.
Blizzard has defined our current Main Tanking role more specifically by giving us specific Mitigation and Aggro gear and encounters. This is further divided by Physical, Magical, and Mixed attacks. There is no longer list of items that will give you the best gear for every encounter, but instead certain gear that will place you in an powerful position per each encounter.
This new mix of encounters can be seen everywhere as Blizzard diversifies it's content. For instance, Patchwerk does not appear to have serious Aggro requirements for the tanks, but it dramatically emphasizes Mitigation gear.
2.3 Stamina: Magic Armor
I've been emphasizing stamina over defense through this thread. To be fair, Defense is very good, but it comes naturally through normal raid gearing. Most tanking items you pick up along your 40-man raiding experience will have Defense already built in.
There are some noticeable places where you will have to make a decision. For instance, the Zul'Gurub ring set vs. Heavy Dark Iron Ring early on. Later, ring slots in Ahn'Qiraj will balance against the Signet of the Bronze Dragonflight and Archimtiros' Ring of Reckoning.
It is in the smaller decisions such as this that I always opt for the high stamina over the high Defense. Why is this? Because stamina is, in a way, your only magic armor rating.
Consider your health bar not as a number but as a percentage. At 7,800 health, Nefarian's Shadow Flame does 80% damage to you during a Warrior class call. If your Stamina and health enchants, as well as flasks and consumables bring you up to 10,000 health (an achievable raid buffed health bar), suddenly that Shadow Flame is doing more recoverable damage to your percentage bar. Then, with 15% or even 30% more health by using Lifegiving Gem and Last Stand, 14,000 health during one of the later Warrior class calls on Nefarian will cement your survival. On our recorded Nefarian kill (see Movies listing), I did not raid buff with either a flask or consumables; I actually die as a result of his Shadow Flame bringing my health bar from a reasonably high ~75% to death. While unintentional and my own mistake, this is a good way of illustrating the emphasis I am placing on this.
Stamina is essentially a buffer. Like consumables and flasks, it creates breathing for your healers. Broodlord Lashslayer is known for one-shotting tanks that are new to him -- his Mortal Strike ability is one of the physical abilities that does massive damage regardless of your defense rating (it isn't a critical strike).
Stamina also gives you the ability to gain more rage. Since a stamina build does take more damage than a defense build over the long run since you are avoiding fewer incoming attacks, you wind up with more overall rage to work with.
I believe stamina is the key to guild and raid progression. I feel our healers can recover from regular, sustained damage on a high health bar and high AC rating moreso than they can handle massive damage from the crushing blows I didn't quite parry on a lower health bar.
For purposes of endgame, this is, again, fairly small. However, when you are completely new to the endgame, Stamina lets you survive things you otherwise are not geared to survive. In our guild, we emphasize stamina to be a primary attribute for every class for this reason -- if you can take that whirlwind from Sartura once, you might have time to run away and bandage yourself.
My personal opinion is this: as you progress through the endgame and you are faced with decisions between stamina and Defense on non-armor items, take the stamina; the defense you need will naturally fall into place through normal raid gearing.
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