Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Shield Block Rating in WotLK: The New Black?

So I briefly mentioned this in the WotLK talents post, but felt it deserved a post to itself and a bit more discussion. Why? Because the change coming to the shield block ability in the expansion could spell a big shift for how we warriors treat shield block rating.

Changes afoot

The (admittedly preliminary) information we're working with here is that in WotLK, the shield block ability will have its cooldown increased to 30 seconds. This is supported by the new talent tree, where Improved Shield Block has been altered so that it "Reduces the cooldown of your Shield Block Ability by 5/10 seconds". This is obviously a big change from its current 5 second cooldown.

So how does this effect shield block rating?

It makes it much more important, that's what it does. Right now as a tanking stat it's below just about everything - expertise, stamina, dodge, parry, defense, block value, hit, agility, strength, AP, they're all preferable to block rating. Chance to block just isn't useful. But in a world where you can only use your shield block ability every 30 seconds - where you can only guarantee at least a block every 30 seconds - instead of its current 5 seconds, block rating suddenly becomes a powerful stat, both mitigation- and threat-wise.

At the moment we get 2 blocks per 5 seconds (with talents) from the block ability, which is usually enough to cover our needs until the cooldown is up (except against fast hitters). But imagine having 1 block per 30 seconds - suddenly that block rating percentage you never paid much attention to on the character tab is looking a lot more attractive. We will begin to rely much more on the chance to block, rather than using an ability to guarantee a block. Stacking block rating will thus be a surefire improvement of mitigation.

Bust out the tankalator, Aru

So we're in Northrend, and some big bad, guts-hanging-out scourgey boss is pounding on our head. For this example, let's say we just blew our shield block ability cooldown, and we're waiting 30 seconds for it to renew (in practice this time will be less with avoidance and talents, etc., but we'll keep it simple for now). We have 20% block rating, 500 block value. Let's say the boss is a fast hitter, and he hits every second for 1000 damage. Forgetting other factors like avoidance and armor for now, this would equal 30000 damage, with 3000 damage absorbed by shield blocks. That's 10% of the damage mitigated.

Let's say we now itemise for block rating, pushing up our chance to block by 10%. 30% block chance would mean that now 4500 damage is absorbed in the fight. That's 15%, an obvious improvement - this is how block rating works as a mitigation stat.

(The "Isn't this a nerf?" intermission

It's worth making clear that yes, this change will result in less mitigation than we have currently. If we make the big assumption that currently we can keep up our shield block ability all the time, and assume again that this would total 100% block chance for the fight - using the above example as an extreme, this would be 50% damage absorbed by shield block. Thus the change to the block ability cooldown will be seen as a big ol' nerf by many.

But what we have to bear in mind is the wholescale changes to tanking (and to fights and their mechanics) being made in WotLK - it's really not worth going back to the details of Burning Crusade tanking when we're sitting in the expansion. Yes, our abilities will change, but so will the battlefield. It's much more useful to consider WotLK a blank platform when we get there, and then analyse in terms of what we have, instead of what we once had.)

Back to the tankalator, if you please

There's an interesting side-effect of using block rating as a mitigation stat. It can be shown by altering the example above, and making the big bad scourgey boss a slower hitter. So let's say that in the 30 seconds he gets in 15 hits, this time at 2k each. The damage absorbed by shield blocks will now be 1500 at 20% block rating (5% of total damage), and 2250 at 30% block rating (7.5% of total damage).

It probably hasn't escaped your attention that this is less mitigation than before. This is the interesting part: shield block rating as a mitigation stat is better against faster hitters.

Wait, woah, hold-on there

How can this be? How can increasing the cooldown on our shield block ability - the current cooldown being the reason we have troubles against fast hitters in the first place - mean we're better against fast hitters?

Well, crushing blows are out the window in WotLK. We don't have to worry about having shield block up just to prevent them anymore. If shield block rating is now used simply for mitigation as shown above, it improves the faster a boss hits. This may mean our current weakness against fast hitting bosses is turned into a strength in WotLK. (See what I'm talking about with the blank platform of tanking?)

You mentioned threat...

That I did, and stacking shield block rating will also help with it. The revised talent of Shield Specialisation has a slight buff - the rage generated by a successful block is now 2 instead of 1. This means the more blocks, the more rage. Also, shield blocks light up revenge - so the more times this occurs, the better.

Will it really be the new black?

Will block rating ever be as useful as dodge or parry? Well, probably not. Dodge and parry give full avoidance of an attack compared to the partial damage reduction of a block. And with the new Stalwart Protector talent (2 rage per dodge or parry), they're both going to be great for rage and threat generation, too. Plus, the removal of crushing blows also removes the one possible essential motive for stacking very high amounts of block rating.

That said, there's no doubt block rating will be climbing up the tanking stats ladder a few rungs. Most likely it'll be a nice stat to balance alongside others, rather than replacing (or surpassing) any of the key ones. So, maybe block rating wont be the new black exactly, but at least a cool shade of grey.