On Tanks and Aggro, and why your Healer cares

I had a bad experience with a PuG last night. I know, I know, duh. But the difference was, this particular PuG could have been oh-so-good. We were running Shadow Labs for the first Kara key frag, and our little group was as follows:

Healer: Yours truly. I’m decked out in mostly blues and some epics, and am more than up to healing SLabs.
Tank: Amathyst. My pet tankadin, mix of 70-only blues and greens. Easy to heal, a little short on threat generation still.
CC/DPS: Hunter, dinged 70 yesterday, pre-70 blues and (mostly) greens.
CC/DPS: Rogue, dinged 70 yesterday, pre-70 blues and (mostly) greens.
CC/DPS: Mage, decked out in S2/S3 Arena Epics.

Perhaps some of you see what’s coming. Perhaps I should have too.

We have a DPS in full PvP epics, and our tank is in mostly PvE blues and greens. This means our mage can generate much more TPS (Threat Per Second) than our tank. This in itself isn’t a problem: the mage has a number of methods of not out-threating the tank. The problem? The way the mage got all his epics.

There is a big difference between PvP and PvE. As a PvPer, our mage was used to kiting. In fact, he was extremely good at it. Unleash max damage, if it starts hitting on you, kite it about a bit. Frost Nova, Cone of Cold, Sheep, maybe an Ice Block if things get desperate… In spite of repeated requests to tone things down, he kept pulling aggro, and he was good enough at kiting to generally not die, so the usual healer technique of ‘Let them die a few times’ wasn’t helping at all (generally the prospect of a huge repair bill has them listening and toning down their damage). Ultimately, we wiped a few times on Grandmaster Vorpil and decided to call it a night, sans key frag. Nobody was happy, but the MOST unhappy was little Mr PvP, our mage. “The tank wasn’t holding aggro.”

See, what you DPS types need to realise (and most of you do) is that tanks don’t have this constant battle to hold onto their threat. No, their threat level just keeps rising, even if all they do is stand there and not die. They don’t “do something wrong” and “lose aggro”. For aggro to change, in most cases, requires somebody else to make it higher up the threat list than the tank. This person has then “pulled aggro”. It wasn’t something the tank DID, your threat just got higher.

Speaking of threat lists, I should have been DOUBLY nervous about taking a PvP-epiced DPS with NO THREAT METER. Seriously, if you’re a tank or DPS class, get either Omen or KLH. If you’re a healer, people often say it’s less important. In my (admittedly limited) experience, they are WRONG. When someone beats my tank in the threat race (it’s not ACTUALLY a race, people), they probably have HoTs on them before the mob has even turned its head in their direction.

Okay, we’re getting there, but I have two points left to cover.

One. Play the group you’re in. If you’re in full T6, or running a complete S3 arena set, and you join a group full of blues, YOU ARE OVERGEARED. This isn’t a bad thing, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t join them. It just means that, unless you’re the tank, you’ll have to watch your threat. Carefully. Because your tank can only generate so much threat, and it’s very gear-dependent, so you can generate a lot more. What you (probably) can’t do is soak up the damage like your tank can. So scale things back, wait a while before you join in with your DPS, and take a break if your threat is shooting too near the tank’s.

That brings me to my final point. Why your Healer cares. A well-geared tank (or even a poorly-geared one) has all this Damage Mitigation. Armor. Shield. Dodge. All sorts of ways to make each hit he or she takes hurt a bit less. Less damage means less healing, which means less stress on your poor little healer, and more mana for when things go wrong. Sure, I’m geared up a bit, I’ve even healed Zul’Aman, healing SLabs is cake. I finish boss fights on full mana: WHEN THINGS GO RIGHT. Don’t look at my Mana Bar of Never-run-outingness and think “oh I can grab aggro sometimes, we’ll be fine, my healer can just throw some heals at me and everything will be okay”. This is fine near the end of a pull, when a mob’s about to go down, but in a tough pull or a boss, the difference between a full mana bar and an empty one can be a single aggro switch. Here’s a snapshot of what happens on my end when you pull aggro, and instead of standing still for the tank to grab it back, run around kiting the thing all over AND CASTING BLINK DAMMIT.

Mage pulled aggro. Damn. Panic buttons. He’s taking damage FAST. Nature’s Swiftness-Regrowth. Rejuvenation. Swiftmend the Rejuv and reapply. A Lifebloom or three somewhere in the mix. Keep running about ’cause he’s kiting and I keep going out of range. Woah, all that burst healing pulled aggro from an add the hunter’s pet was tanking, no big deal, LB and Rejuv on myself. Crap, the boss is back on my tank, no HoTs are stacked at all (because I was out of range to renew my LB stack from chasing the mage), and my NS and Swiftmend are both on cooldown: I need some burst healing. Out of tree form, full-rank Healing Touch. Nearly out of mana, mana pot, tree, stack my three lifeblooms back up, health is down again waiting for the HoTs to work their magic, so throw out a regrowth. Finally, everything is back under control, but I’m still low on mana (time to Innervate now in case the jerk does it again). Meanwhile, the hunter’s pet died from a second add, and the hunter is about to follow. Rejuv-Swiftmend-Rejuv-Lifebloom. Don’t forget to re-apply lifebloom on the tank, and on myself, ’cause that hunter’s pet is too dead to growl that add off me, and the tank’s too busy yelling at the mage. Heal-off-tanking FTL.

So we went from my mana bar full, rolling lifeblooms on the tank (I actually GAIN mana over time if this is all I’m doing) and spot-healing the rest, to down a pet, tank nearly died, mage nearly died, I’ve blown all my cooldowns and a Super Mana pot and am still shorter on mana than I’d like, there’s a mob hitting on me that wasn’t before, and one more stunt like that and we may very well wipe.

This is an extreme example. But let’s take even a minor one: no kiting, no real panic, easy boss, just a bit of aggro occasionally on a rogue, the tank grabs it back in pretty short order. Instead of rolling LBs, 1 cast every 7 seconds and my mana slowly going up, I’m still having to roll my LBs, but I have to keep panic-healing the rogue. The rogue, who, by the way, takes a significant amount more damage each hit than the tank. So I’m actually having to heal the rogue for much more in that 10 seconds than the tank. I’m blowing cooldowns on Swiftmend and possibly Nature’s Swiftness, burning more mana, and never getting even a single tick outside the 5SR. All this means that instead of being on full mana when that pat nobody noticed runs into us, I’m below half. Instead of having all my panic buttons ready when that stealth mob tries to gank a caster, I’ve got nothing.

I know you guys like to play the DPS-race game. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have some fun: just try not to frazzle your healer. Leaving the aggro to the tank could turn a 6- or 8-wipe run, which everyone bails on at the second-last boss, into a quick run where you wipe twice getting your strats right and generally have a lot of fun. Grab the key frag, swear to never run SLabs again, and move on with your life. Save the wipes for the boss fights which you just haven’t worked out how to beat yet, not stuff you should be farming.

Oh, and those mana pots? Expensive. I don’t appreciate having to blow them on easy stuff.

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3 Comments

  1. Mynd said,

    February 26, 2008 at 12:31 am

    I absolutely, positively, 100% agree with this. I haven’t been healing instances for very long, having been mostly a solo feral, but I realized just the other night that I absolutely HATE PUGs.

    I know, I already did, but this time I thought I could actually handle it fine, since I was a 54 healing Zul’Farrak for a group of 40s (I never killed Ghaz, so I wanted that stinking trinket, just in case). The tank couldn’t tank, the mage couldn’t control his agro, obviously didn’t understand what the Sheep spell is used for (he only used it twice, both times when I told him specifically to do so), and quite frankly, I think the ROGUE was the only one who didn’t have his head where the sun doesn’t shine. *sigh* I really really hope Outland healing isn’t this bad. Please, tell me that it’ll get easier as I go on, and after I respec.

    It will, right?

    Right?

    …right?

  2. onehotnelf said,

    February 26, 2008 at 11:56 am

    Last night I had a great pug. It started poorly, but once we swapped out a moron warrior for a pally who knew what was going on, we had a great run through a couple of higher instances. I actually got to strap on my balance gear and dps for the night, because our holy priest was a legend.

    Our tank was a fresh 70, and even I could out-threat him doing dps as a resto, but he only lost boss aggro once in a whole BM run(to me), and within a moment pulled his whatever-pallies-get-to-replace-taunt and had the mob back. Our hunter never set a foot wrong, and the mage was flawless. No crap, no wipes, smooth runs. Good fun.

    So yeah, sometimes it’s better. And resto talents help SO much. But sometimes it sucks, and you just pull your network cord out (so you don’t have to explain to the 3 decent group members that you’re leaving them with that idiot 4th but no healer) and go for a jog. Or something.

  3. Gankker (Uldum) said,

    November 7, 2008 at 2:52 pm

    @horribad mage from 1st post here…. perhaps he needs to learn the wonders of Omen… PvP has no use for it but PvE sure as hell does…. this is rough on the healer, just don’t take the blame, it’s his noobishness

    @Mynd – pugs are a mixed bag, some good some bad, that’s why we join guilds so there’s a certain level of competency :).


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