Home > Mechanics, Tanking > Where Tank Masteries Shine

Where Tank Masteries Shine

Sorry for the recent lack of content in this space; my WoW time over the past few weeks has been spent furiously leveling my hunter to 69 in order to catch a few exotic skins before the Shattering.

I’ve got a beginner-oriented post on the attack table in the works, to help the guildies who look to me for tanking advice understand dodge, parry and block, and how avoidance, block, and unhittability fit into the larger tanking picture. In the interest of being both thorough and accessible, I’m including a metric truckload of charts, which is where the holdup is.

In the meantime, I’ve been thinking about the different tank masteries and what kinds of (boss) fights which tanking classes will excel at.

Oh, and before we get started, I strongly recommend anyone interested in tank balance follow Zarko’s excellent post on the subject in the official forums. Yes, that is 38 pages so far of mostly on-topic, intelligent theorycrafting. No, you don’t need to follow anything beyond the first and second posts if you don’t want to: Zarko is updating the first post regularly as abilities change and the community discovers new things.

Anyway! Masteries and their relevance to different encounter types.

Masteries Overview

For anyone who hasn’t been keeping up with tank developments, the various classes’ masteries in Cataclysm are as follows:

  • Warriors: Critical Block – “Increases your chance to block by 12% and your chance to critically block by 12%.  Each point of Mastery increases your block chance by an additional 1.5% and your critical block chance by an additional 1.5%.”
    • On the attack table.
    • Scales strongly with enemy attack size.
    • Scales strongly with avoidance up to 75% unhittable, then scales weakly with avoidance to unhittable, and then scales inversely with avoidance. Full unhittable is likely not possible in tier 11.
  • Paladins:  Divine Bulwark – “Increases your chance to block melee attacks by 18%.  Each point of Mastery increases block chance by an additional 2.25%.”
    • On the attack table.
    • Scales strongly with enemy attack size.
    • Scales strongly with avoidance up to unhittable, then scales inversely with avoidance. Unhittable is likely not possible in heroics gear, but may be obtainable in tier 11.
  • Death Knights: Blood Shield – “Each time you heal yourself via Death Strike, you gain 50% of the amount healed as a damage absorption shield.  Each point of Mastery increases the shield by an additional 6.25%.”
    • Only absorbs physical damage.
    • Scales strongly with damage taken.
    • Scales weakly with tank health.
  • Druids: Savage Defense – “Each time you deal a critical strike while in Bear Form, you have a 50% chance to gain Savage Defense, reducing the damage taken from the next physical attack that strikes you by 35% of your attack power.”
    • Scales strongly with agility.
    • Scales well with crit chance and strength.
    • Scales well with damage taken up to the Vengeance threshhold, then doesn’t scale at all.
    • Scales weakly with tank health.
    • Applies to one hit per shield (excess shield is wasted on a fully-absorbed hit.)

Relevant Encounter Types

Please note, these musings are only on how each class’s mastery will work in a given environment. They don’t take into account class abilities, cooldowns, or projected effective health differences at level 85 except as they modify the size, proc chance, or effectiveness of mitigation from mastery.

Standard Gear Checks

A standard gear check is a single-wield boss which hits its tank(s) with hard, fast auto-attacks and negligible non-physical or unavoidable damage. Good examples of standard gear checks include Patchwerk and Festergut. This is the kind of encounter tanks are balanced around, and as such I expect tank masteries to perform comparably here at-gear-level… at least after a pass or two of tank balance.

At later gear levels, when shield tanks can potentially reach unhittable, they may have an advantage on encounters they overgear. Blizzard’s boss expertise mechanic will theoretically prevent tanks from becoming unhittable for progression content throughout the expansion, but we’ll see how well that ends up working.


Dragons have a roughly 60/40 split of physical damage and magic damage. Their physical damage is on the attack table, while the magic damage is unavoidable. All four tanks’ masteries will mitigate only the physical hits, so you might think that this would be a similar situation to the standard gear check; however, the death knight and druid masteries scale with damage taken, while paladin and warrior masteries scale with physical hit size. Assuming that the masteries are balanced around the standard gear check, this means that the shield tanks should mitigate about 60% of the damage the druids and DKs do.


The classic Elemental boss has next to 0 physical damage in its whole raid encounter. Earth elementals can break this pattern, with shockwaves and even physical autoattacks; but I’d count those as Dragons or Standard Gear Checks depending on the ratio of magical and physical damage.

You might think that, without any physical damage, the masteries would all be equally useless; and in the case of druids and DKs, that’s true. However, part of an elemental’s damage is from auto-attacks – they’re just not physical auto-attacks. Basically, Ragnaros punches you with fire. And paladins and warriors have been able to block non-physical auto-attacks – according to Wowpedia, since patch 3.0, though I haven’t been able to find any official documentation on the matter. So the shield masteries are clearly much better on elemental fights.

Blockable elemental autoattacks were occasioned by the importance of uncrushability for warriors and paladins in TBC. Given that this is no longer a concern, and the prevalence of elemental bosses in Cataclysm, this may be reversed when druids and DKs figure it out and begin their (probably justified) QQ. On the other hand, given that the druid and DK masteries are significantly better for mixed-damage fights, this could easily be the next “separate but not equal” tank category distinction.


Mastery will have pretty much no effect here. Moving along.


Dual-wielding bosses auto-attack significantly faster than single-wielders, but hit for smaller amounts and have a 25% increased miss chance on auto-attacks.

Shield tanks will have a lot of fun with dual-wield bosses. 25% increased miss will push them up to or near to unhittable, providing them with a roughly 40% reduction against all auto-attacks.

Druids are the potential losers here: since Savage Defense bubbles only last for one hit regardless of how big that hit is, an SD proc that would have absorbed (say) 14k from a 20k slow hit will absorb only 10k from two fast 10k hits. As long as SD procs absorb less than a single DW hit, though, they should be OK.

Boss Trash

By this I mean large packs of mobs that are a fairly large deal in a boss fight, like the Arena on Thorim, the adds on Razorscale, or Rotworms on Dreamwalker. Onyxian whelps don’t really count, as the main danger with them is overzealous DPS pulling them, thus softening themselves up for Ony’s fireballs or Deep Breath failure.

The thing about trash is that it is the great RNG-Evener: as the number of mobs attacking increases, the difference between observed avoidance and theoretical avoidance decreases. Since shield tanks’ masteries are on the attack table, this makes boss trash a pretty attractive situation for them, as long as there are few enough mobs that they won’t dance behind the tank. The evening out of avoidance also gives Death Knights a consistent pattern of damage-taken-over-the-past-five-seconds, reducing the skill cap for blood shield.

Druid mastery scales worst with AoE tanking. Savage Defense expires after one hit no matter how small the hit is, and trash is all about numerous, small hits. With a few mobs, cleaves and AoE abilities give druids a higher SD proc chance; but given the new 6 second CD on Swipe, once the pack gets to higher than 3, the proc chance only scales with mob numbers once every 6 seconds; and even then, it scales logarithmically.

Notable Damage Sources

Short-Duration Physical Burst

Short-duration physical burst is a 5-10 second period of increased auto-attacks, such as that provided by the the Lich King’s 5-second Soul Reaper haste buff, or Thorim’s Unbalancing Strike -defense debuff.

In the haste case, shield tanks will (theoretically; the RNG screws us all) receive an increase in mitigation from mastery proportional to the increase in damage. If there are twice as many attacks, the tank should block twice as many times. In the case of attack table modification, the total damage mitigated per mastery rating should remain roughly the same, with the exception that any avoidance and block above unhittable will come into play. The removal of defense skill does not reduce the %block obtained from mastery rating, though it may reduce base mastery, depending on how the stat is implemented. In any case, block tanks do not receive any additional mitigation from mastery during a -defense skill debuff, and the reduction in avoidance actually devalues their block chance.

Druids receive little increase in mitigation from Savage Defense in either of these situations. While Savage Defense procs do increase in size with damage taken, that only applies up to the Vengeance cap. Assuming a reasonable amount of Vengeance during the normal, non-burst sections, the druid is going to gain only the difference between his standard and max Vengeance, times .35 of course. There will also be a slight lag in the increase in proc size, as Vengeance is based on recent past damage, not current hit damage.

Death Knights are an interesting case here, as the efficacy of their mastery in a short period of sustained burst is entirely down to their own skill. Since the size of a blood shield is proportional to the damage the tank took in the last five seconds, the tank will receive the most benefit by timing his Death Strike(s) to take enough unmitigated burst to supercharge the shield, but to have a good chance of the absorption being used sometime during the duration. If the DK has the resources for only one Death Strike, that’ll likely be about 60-80% through the duration. If he has the resources for two Death Strikes over the course of the burst, the optimum times to use them will probably have to be simmed out by DK experts. Blood Shield is definitely a high skill cap mastery.

Unavoidable Physical Spikes

Block tanks get shafted hard here. If an attack is unavoidable, it’s unblockable – completely bypassing warrior and paladin masteries. Worse, if an attack is unavoidable, it’s generally either because it applies a debuff for a short-duration burst type ability, or because it’s the spike damage challenge for the encounter. In the second situation, block tanks are absolutely at a disadvantage compared to druids and especially death knights, who can time their Death Strike as a mini-cooldown against the predictable spike.

On the bright side for shield tanks, there is a way for devs to get around this: making all such spikes non-physical or X-strike. The “tick” of Soul Reaper is a good example of the way to go in the future: it’s Shadowstrike damage, both Shadow and Physical, and presumably sidesteps both druids’ and DKs’ masteries. (Feel free to correct me. I haven’t logged any LK attempts since patch, but I know it bypasses armor, so I assume it also bypasses any other physical-only reduction.)


Death Knights will be the kings of bleed tanking. While warrior, paladin and druid masteries only apply to hits taken, blood shield absorbs any physical damage. Given the theme of the expansion, however, it’s unlikely that this will come up enough to be a balance problem.

  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: