Thursday, October 4, 2007

On Aggro

The enemy of the Balance druid. Aggro. Granted, in moonkin you can handle it a little better than squishy clothies - but face it, once you start raiding, anything other than trash mobs will likely two-shot you if you're doing anything resembling good DPS. And even some of those trash mobs will destroy you (Phantom Valet in Karazhan, anyone?)

Hopefully this is at least basically understood by everyone, but I'll go through the more specific details. Maybe you'll pick up something helpful.

The math of aggro is fairly simple. Whoever has the highest threat to the mob is the one the mob will attack (to an extent, see below). That is the person who has aggro.

Threat comes from a few different places. Damage is the most obvious - each point of damage you do to a mob will generate 1 threat on that mob. Healing generates .5 threat per point of actual healing done to ALL mobs in the fight. Special abilities generate a variable amount of threat. And of course, tankish classes tend to have things that increase their threat, while stabby/boomy/healy classes tend to have options that reduce it.

Now, once someone has gained the initial aggro - i.e., the pull has been made - the tank should be getting beat on. What you have to realize is that to pull aggro at range, you need to go 30% threat OVER the person who currently holds it. For the record, melee needs to go 10% over to pull aggro.

So, we know all the mathematical ways to reduce threat - Subtlety, the newly available subtlety to cloak enchant, and to do less damage. What I want to look at here is behavior.

Let's take a simple situation. The tank pulls a single mob. Let's say he generates about 2k threat in the first couple seconds. Meanwhile you're charging your starfire, and you drop a 4k-5k crit on the guy. Congratulations, you lose.

The basic thing to realize is that for tanks, threat generation is back-loaded. They need rage to do their thing. In order to get rage, they either need to hit the mob or get hit by the mob. So they start slowly, building up rage, then as they start doing more damage and taking some more hits, their threat generation takes off. You, on the other hand, are front-loaded. You start off with your full reserves and full potential to cause damage, until you go OOM and are then pretty much dead weight. So, what you need to do is build up slowly, and then go all out.

Here's one important thing to realize - as the fight progresses, you can take more and more advantage of that 30% buffer. Take the following examples with completely made up numbers:

20 seconds into the fight:
Tank threat - 15k
Your threat - 14k
Your threat = 93%

2 minutes into the fight:
Tank threat - 100k
Your threat - 93k
Your threat = 93%

For the sake of argument, let's say your damage is about the following:
Wrath - 1200/2400 Crit
Starfire - 2300/4600 Crit

Now, in both of these examples, you are at 93% threat. You probably have at least insect swarm going generating a constant moderate feed of threat. Do you push out the damage or do you hold back a little?

In example 1, you should hold back a little. Why? This early in the fight, a lucky crit or two will add enough threat to push you through that 30% buffer. In example 2, you can go balls-to-the-wall DPS for a bit. The tank is already at 100k, and you would need to generate 37k threat to overtake him, even if he stopped doing anything and just stood there. When it's later into the fight like this, push the envelope. Try to ride around 110%-120% threat if you can manage it without being inefficient and going OOM.

Generally, the start of a fight is a good time to do a couple things. First off, once the tank has aggro, and as long as he did not body pull, it's probably safe to toss faerie fire on the mob as it's running over to the tank. This will lower the mob's armor, which will help the tank's hits do more damage. That means a bit more threat generated early, and every little bit helps. Even better if you have improved faerie fire.

Once the tank has been beating on the mob for a couple seconds - a good rule of thumb is when you see a sunder/lacerate on the mob if the tank is a warrior/druid - toss up your insect swarm. The miss chance will help mitigate early damage a bit, which means slightly less healing. This helps your healers not pull aggro. If that is an issue, you may want to toss a lifebloom or two on the tank - this spreads the healing aggro around so no one healer passes the tank, plus if you let the spell bloom, all that healing aggro gets put on the tank.

Honestly, after I've put up faerie fire and insect swarm, I tend to wait a good two or three seconds before starting my starfire rotation. Your mileage may vary depending on your tank and the exact situation - sometimes I can jump right in, sometimes I have to wait longer. Keep in mind that if the tank has multiple mobs to handle, he won't be generating threat on a single one as fast, since he's probably going to have to toss a couple hits on the other mobs to keep them from going after the healers.

Oh, and one more thing - trees. If there's no place in a fight that you need to save your cooldowns for, toss your trees up ASAP. They hold their own threat list, so if worst comes to worst, they'll just pull aggro and get smacked. Chances are, they'll get to do their thing, and that's another good hunk of damage thrown in at the beginning without having to worry about it adding to your threat.

If you find yourself having issues with aggro, talk with your tank. See if there's something you're doing that is specifically making it hard for him to hold aggro. See if there's something he might be able to do to hold it better. People talk about the tank/healer dynamic all the time. The tank/DPS dynamic should be just as important, especially in fights that come down to a DPS race. And believe me, if you're asking your tank how to make sure he keeps aggro, he's going to love you. The fact that you're asking alone is going to put you above 90% of the DPS out there.


WyldKard said...

Good post, but why no mention of Paladin tanks who can front-load their aggro, and who can recover from nasty aggro drops due to a DPS character who landed a threatening crit at the wrong time? This is another reason that Paladin tanks are great, because their ability to taunt redirects aggro from one character onto themselves.

Fiordhraoi said...

Honestly, I haven't really done much with Paladin MTs beyond the odd heroic or two. In my limited experience, it was much like dealing with a warrior, except the single-target aggro generation was slightly touchier, but multi-target aggro generation was far superior.

I honestly didn't really notice any difference between the Pally "taunt" and the warrior taunt, in practice. But then, that's from my perspective.

Kusattieru said...

I view the rage tanks and mana tanks like two different races. Rage tanks require you to race slow and steady. Mana tanks are a short sprint. Paladins are better crowd tanks and the taunt mechanic is pretty much the same for all classes with taunt. It resets the taunter's position as #1, so as long as you dont keep dpsing the tank will keep aggro. Paladin's need all the front loaded aggro they can get simply because they will have a more limited toolset to keep a single target on them.

Layrella said...

Great blog!

I discovered it yesterday and I've already read all your posts. Really interesting.

You helped me understand better the +hit/+damage/+crit thing and clarified a bit my doubts with gems and enchants. I'll be starting kara in a few days (when my guild mates get attunned :S ) and it's great reading about a raiding boomkin.

(The only thing I don't agree is with your talents build: I totally love Intensity and Subtlety. And in next patch Intensity it's getting even better...)

Sorry for my english, needs as much improvement as my gear does. ;) Keep writing!

Fiordhraoi said...


Oh believe me, I <3 both intensity and subtlety too. :D

However, I can afford to skimp on Intensity, because my alchemist's stone makes my mana potions uber. And I've tweaked my subtlety a few times, and this is what lets me pour out the most DPS while staying under our tanks in threat. I'd adjust them if needed. :D

Delos said...

I love my pally tanks. They are great when you pull aggro from multiple mobs (As the healer! How dare you insinuate I pull aggro from multiple mobs as a moonkin!) since they don't even have to move to grab em all back at once.

You hit the nail on the head though when you talk about DPS who don't understand how to party with a warrior or bear druid. I tanked Shadow Labs last night and a rogue in there insisted on opening with Shadowstep->Ambush when I only had 1 lacerate on the mob. Guess what? He got to tank that mob!

Anonymous said...

On the topic of loving your Pally tank, Blessing of Salvation is a beautiful thing.

Ratshag said...

if you're asking your tank how to make sure he keeps aggro, he's going to love you

Truth. Any dps'er what come to me and asks what he or she can do for ta make my job easier is gonna get all big green orc warrior lovin' they can handle. At which point they may decides it ain't what they wanted after all but Heh! Too late!

Where was I?

Oh yeah. Is good article. Da point about take it easy early on, then kick it up later is dead on. For a big fight I also usually tries to let my party know when I feel I's got a mob right where I want him - I got aggro, I got rage, me cooldowns is cool - and it be time ta let'er rip.

Oh, and awesome picture. Hope ya don't mind If'n i borrows it.

Mana Battery Bitch said...

Re: Paladin tank. I'm one of those trigger happy DPSers and I notice a Really! Big! Difference! between a warrior tank and a tankadin. With my Guild Leader doing his tankadin thing, I pretty much don't have to care about threat. I go boobs-to-the-walls DPS from the get go and he sees me taking aggro as a challenge. I never ever do it twice. Even managing to do it once is an acomplishment.

When I run with our other guild tank though, a prot warrior, I have to watch myself all the time. I have to start slow and watch my aggro meter constantly to make sure I don't crit my way into oblivion. It's like night and day, really.

pelides said...

Awesome article here! I'm going to link it on my guild's website!

Fiordhraoi said...

Glad everyone seems to have enjoyed. Should have a new post coming up soon.

Nidal/Chimera said...

Yes, I was dismayed at your lack of a mention of Pally tanks. Gratified to read the comments that illustrate our strengths though.

Keep in mind that the primary problem that Tankadins have is public perception. Ie the Tank=Warrior perception. Your article makes that mistake and unintentionally cements the idea that Paladins can't tank by excluding them.

I have a 70 Tankadin and a 49 Boomkin, so I've been on both sides of that fence. I can tell you from experience that even a crit happy Boomkin would have extreme difficulty pulling aggro from me and wouldn't keep it more than a second or two if he did.

I agree a smart Boomkin starts with FF, and then leads into IS, MF and then the nukes. Watch your threat meter of course!

I have to admit just for kicks while on my Moonkin I've played 'let's see if I can pull aggro' from a Pally Tank, and even at our low level I have only done it by opening with a SF crit--ie once, and he pulled it back immediately and kept it the rest of the fight--despite my best efforts! LOL

Do the Tankadin community a favor and edit in "Paladin" in your mention of tanks, we need all the help we can get! We suffer from just as much predujice as Boomkins...

MeatShield said...

As a prot warrior I constantly here about the great things about pally tanks. The more I have heard the more I understand why a Tankadin is so damn beneficial. As the Mana Battery noted it is almost impossible to pull aggro from a Tankadin! Add to it their ability to throw Salv get the point. Still, I think many prot warriors have a lot to learn about their class and how to build aggro. I have noticed with my mage that even full Prot warriors fail to build successful aggro. Either the tank doesn't build enough aggro or the group fails to give the tank aggro. IE, every DPS hitting a different mob and expecting the tank to hold it all down.

Also, a Prot Warrior must change how he tanks depending on the instance. For example, in Kara I have no problem with rage due to the damage being done to me. As a result, Heroic Strike and Shield Block are constantly being spammed with using Shield Slam every time it pops up. This builds solid aggro and allows the DPS to go to town. Though it does take a bit to get that aggro up the DPS shouldn't have to hold on more than a few seconds and rapidly ramp up to max.

When I am in a regular instance I don't have this ability as the rage is not as free flowing.

I could go on and on about how to successfully tank, but as this blog states it is all a balance.

Thanks for ALL the great info! One of the best damn blogs I have seen! You keep it up you may become more popular than BRK =P

Anonymous said...

great post
ive been raiding as a tree for the past 5 months and started again as boomkin with a few nice items

this is exactly how i have found i can dps without pulling aggro i pulled aggro on prince(kara) at 50%...seems my threat was so high that i actually needed to stop altogether when he does his emote thing...

LOL...pwnage ensued