Saturday, January 30, 2021

Welcome, Tank Shaman!

There was no reason to hesitate and I don't know why I ever did, but now it is here - my very own tank shaman.

If you read my previous post on the subject, I debated whether to reroll an entirely new shaman or just respec the one I had. In the end I opted for the latter, because the prospect of having to redo the totem quests really didn't entice me, also it would've taken a lot longer to get into the real action of tanking with a new character anyway.

Things get trickier if your enemy is resistant to nature damage though.

Respecing my resto shaman into enhancement and gearing her, as much as I could, cost me about 15g. It might sound as little, but it's really not. It's worth every penny though. I wasn't lucky enough to find decent, or decently priced, gear at the Auction House for every gear slot immediately though and had to run with some caster gear. I figured it wasn't too bad since the intellect and stamina on those gear pieces would be handy on a tank as well. Fortunately I ran with few spirit items, for some reason.

My first ever dungeon as a tank shaman was a real trial by fire too - Gnomeregan. Definitely not a good starting dungeon for someone who has never tanked before, but I have, just never as a shaman. How hard can it be, I thought?

Not overly, it turns out. Tank shaman is pretty much exactly what I expected it to be. Really fun! So to elaborate on that thought, how is it going?

As always you need be smart with your totem placements.

Well firstly I really expected there to be a lot more questions, or should I say hesitations, about being tanked by a shaman. But after having tanked 5-6 dungeons I have not heard one peep of doubt as to whether I can pull it off. I guess it helps that I am in my mid-30s, and dungeons still allow you to get away with most things. It probably also helps that tanks are damn scarce, and "tanking" means less of "being the one who takes all the damage" and more of "being the one who takes charge". In fact I always find it interesting when people will ask for a tank for an hour and then still do all the pulling (dps warriors, I am looking at you).

As a tank there are a couple of scenarios you need to handle in an instance, stuff that requires you to keep aggro on one or more targets, interrupt, get ranged threat and of course take a lot of damage. Warrior tanks are usually the prototype around which the other tank-able classes have been designed, or so I like to think, and a tank warrior in Classic has no ranged or aoe threat (I don't really count Demo Shout). What it does have is good single target aggro and damage reduction skills. Tanking 1-3 mobs is usually still not an issue as a warrior as long as you keep retargeting and dishing out your threat fairly evenly. So how does the tank shaman differ?

Well the tank shaman has excellent ranged threat and decent aoe threat. With Chain Lighting you can do a ranged-aoe threat pull which is so handy in low level instances. Earth Shock not only works as a high threat skill, but also as an interrupt with only 6 sec cd. As a shaman you don't have a taunt, but that is very rarely an issue in low level dungeons (I can't say for higher dungeons yet). It only actually becomes problematic if you lose aggro on a boss and that probably only happens if you're unlucky with some resists and misses. 

I can't say for sure if my shaman takes more damage than a "regular" tank.

The tank shaman also lacks any kind of decent damage reduction skills. Improved Stoneskin totem should only really be considered as making up for the lack in armor, but the warrior has both Last Stand (talent) or Shield Wall (skill), which can make a huge difference when shit hits the fan and you overpull. While I've never heard a healer complain, I do find that I miss these skills on my shaman (paladins have things like Lay on Hands. As far as I know druids also lack tanking cooldowns which for some time was considered one of their greatest weaknesses if I recall correctly). 

Totems are also definitely a lot less convenient than shouts or auras. An aura goes along with you, doesn't have to be recast and can't be targeted and destroyed by enemies. On the other hand a paladin/warrior only has the one buff, whereas the shaman can use four different ones at once. As a shaman you have a huge arsenal of really useful totems i.e buffs to drop in very varying situations, things like Tremor Totem, Earthbind Totem or Stoneclaw Totem (which I often use to aid me in multi-pulls). In the end I think the trade-off is pretty balanced, though Stoneskin Totem usually is the only one I use for every fight for mana preserving reasons. And on that note...

Just as with paladins, tanking shamans have one feature that is both one of the best things and the worst things about it - the mana pool. It is easy to burn through in one fight, requiring you to drink often, but I find that you get a feeling for how many Earth Shocks you need to use on an enemy to have it securely at your side. While you could burn five into its face, it's probably enough with two. And maybe not every group-pull needs to be done with a Chain Lightning, just because it is handy. If there are only two targets, a regular pull will probably work just as well and save you a lot of mana. I almost never use Lightning Shield, because it's too expensive. With some mana management I find I don't have to drink more than between every 4-5 pulls, but that is still a lot of drinking. Whether you prefer to have all your threat skills available up-front or have to work it up like warriors and druids do is probably a matter of taste. I do find though that with a good group I can do one long continuous pull through an instance as a warrior, and that would never be possible as a shaman.

Earth Shock is very handy as a tanking skill.

Throughout the handful of instance I've had time to do so far on my shaman it has been a delight though. I have definitely not struggled more than I have with other tank classes, just with different things. And I think that's a great thing. Shaman tanking and warrior tanking are different enough to be quite their own experience. While the essence of pulling and handling mobs is the same, the way you can go about it differs a lot. Which one is easier? I would definitely have to say shaman. Rage management is not for the faint of hearted, and the fact of having all your threat skills available on pull, with good interruptability and ranged threat just makes a lot of the things I think a newbie tank would struggle with a lot easier. Which is more fun? Right now I am enjoying both equally because they are different enough. I've personally always had a soft heart for warrior tanking though, so I doubt shaman tanking will knock it down, but as a kind of odd alternative it is great.

At level 40 I get Stormstrike and I am really looking forward to see how that is going to change my tanking experience, the same way I feel Shield Slam has improved my tanking experience on my warrior. It will change the way I go about it though, since now I pull with an Earth Shock, but with Stormstrike I will want to get that in first (for the damage bonus), meaning my pulls will presumably become more like on my warrior. Changing gear to mail and getting to some more challenging instances will also be interesting, though I did have a shaman tank me in Sunken Temple the other day without any trouble. I am sure it'll be fine.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Rise of the Tank Shaman?

Shaman tanking in WoW is something I have been pondering many times over the years. I wrote about it in my post on "Top 5 Class Roles That Nearly Existed" 9,5 years ago and even wrote a guide on how to play one 11 years ago. For whatever reason though I never got around to, you know, actually play one myself. Was I too chicken? Did I not believe in the concept myself? I'm not sure, but I think the simple answer is that I didn't actually play any tank class back in Vanilla, let alone a half-viable one, and once I got around to loving tanking, shaman tanking wasn't actually a thing anymore. I just missed the window of opportunity the last time around.

If you need any convincing or proof that Blizzard actually thought about this as a possibility, just read any or both of the above posts. Too lazy? Well to quote myself (hey I can be lazy too);

"Shamans actually have a taunt. They have a totem that does nothing but tank. Enhancement shamans prefer two one handers, but can wield shields if they want to, and enhancement shamans used to have a talent that gave them parry and a talent called Shield Specialization which increased their block chance by up to 5%. They have a skill that reduces damage done to them by 30%. And they have a weapon buff that increases their threat by 30% and reduces their damage taken by 5%. Need more proof?"

I have been playing WoW Classic for 1,5 year now though and still no tanking shaman in my roster, what gives! I know, this time I can only blame good old faulty memory. I had completely forgotten these were a thing! Until I stumbled across one, which in fact I have never done in the wild before.

Maybe something like this?

I saw someone looking for a group to some low-level instance, calling themselves a tank. I noticed that their name alluded to being a shaman and a flickering light of an old memory shone up in my brain. It couldn't be? But it was, a real, in the flesh (well not really, but you know what I mean) tanking shaman. I immediately whispered them, asking for details on usefulness and especially how skeptical potential group members were about having a shaman tanking them. According to them, there wasn't really an issue.

This shaman was in their mid-20s, so hadn't really been at it long. Back in the day I mused that tanking as a shaman was only really viable up until level 40. But with how Classic WoW has turned out to be more lenient and easier than Vanilla WoW, and even "real" tanks can play as dps-specs and with dps gear up until 60 without any issues, I think shaman tanking could actually work all the way til end game. Maybe Blizzard wanted it to be an option to sort of bolster out the mid-level availability of tanks? Who knows, either way my fire was re-kindled.

I immediately started making plans for actually creating a tank shaman. Time is dire though, rumour has it that BC is on its way and while I am intensely hype for it, it would also kill my beloved tank shaman once again, just like it did all those years ago. EDIT: I was actually thinking of Wotlk so guess I still have some time.

The only thing keeping me from rolling a tank shaman this time around is having to do those pesky totem quests again. Some are not so bad, but some are horrendous. Thing is, I already have a shaman at level 35 who has done all the annoying totem quests, but she is resto specced. But I mean, all that is required is throwing some money at her and she would be set, right? I haven't decided just yet but I am very tempted... Maybe soon I can finally play my beloved tank shaman.