Is threat fun?

Blizzard, in the developer chat, has asked the tank community for some discussion and feedback on whether threat is fun.

Q. You talk a lot about changing how we heal tanks, but will aggro ever come back as a challenging part of the game?

A. Not sure. This is something we discuss a lot. I even had a meeting on it this week! On the one hand, some tanks really felt like the way to distinguish themselves was to generate maximum threat per second. On the other hand, threat is a pretty invisibile part of the game (it’s limited to the UI at best), and I know when I tank that I always feel pretty emasculated when someone actually pulls off of me. It’s challenging, but is it really fun? This is the kind of thing we’d love to get more feedback on.

Please include your feedback on large banners to be shown in the background during the Olympics. Failing that, the forums would work too.

So let’s talk about it. Please offer your thoughts. I expect the DK tank aficionados at Blizzard have come across this site and will read. Really take a moment to pause and think about this question, even if you just agree with my views.

Is threat fun?

Whether “threat is fun” can be broken down into elements.

Talent trade-offs between threat and survival

This is the fun bit for me. I like building, analysing and optimising DK tank specs. I do an awful lot of it. I analyse sub-elements of the trees, working out the value of Improved Icy Talons prior to 3.33, and I’ll consider it again soon for 3.33. Working out which of Blood’s discretionary threat talents give the best returns.

If Blizzard made the decisions between threat and survival really easy, and you only had to worry about which variety of survival talents to pick, rather than which mix you take of threat and survival, I’d say pwnwear’s audience would reduce. I get 10000 hits a day, and a very large number of them are from people looking for “best dk tank spec” or many varieties on that. Sure, I’ve a great reference here for DK tank specs along with Satorri’s work on tankspot, but that’s only relevant if people need one.

Why do they need help? I think one reason is the decision on DK tank spec is awkward and multi-factorial. We have three trees, and within each tree there are a few viable ways to spec which put you somewhere on a matrix between high-survival tank and high-threat tank on one dimension and between AOE or single-target threat on the other. I am not sure how much of my web traffic is from people wondering how to balance threat and survival, or get the best threat, though.

If you overly simplify it, by excluding the other dimension of ICC-raid or 5-man, which generates another set of possibilities, the matrix is like this:

High threat Blood or Frost Frost or Unholy
High survival Blood or Frost Frost (ICC) or Unholy (5-mans)
Single-target threat AOE threat

Within each cell are further varieties of spec that suit raiding or 5-mans. Oh and I’ve also ignored decisions like reactive survival like [spell]rune tap[/spell], Plan B survival like [spell]Will of the Necropolis[/spell], and proactive survival like [spell]Frigid Dreadplate[/spell], and debuffs like [spell]improved icy touch[/spell]. I find all of those to be interesting decisions.

Maybe people would need pwnwear just as much if their decisions were solely around survival, and not about threat, I don’t know. Perhaps threat questions could be moved in Cataclysm from talents to gear.

The question on how to spec for DK tanks is particularly complicated, and I personally enjoy analysing it a lot, but I don’t think that’s the same for all tanks. I’d like some opinions on that. Do you like it, or is it just an unnecessary complication?

Would you prefer to:

  1. only choose which survival talents to take, for example to choose within a spec between [spell]Will of the Necropolis[/spell], [spell]Rune Tap[/spell], [spell]Frigid Dreadplate[/spell] and [spell]Unbreakable Armor[/spell], but you couldn’t get them all,
  2. or balance survival and threat, such as [spell]Will of the Necropolis[/spell] against [spell]Sudden Doom[/spell]?

Other tank classes do not have as many variables to balance in the tank decisions as we DKs, since they only have one tree within which to make these trade-offs.

Gear decisions

Gear isn’t really a massive decision for tanks, but it could be if threat was more a function of gear than of talents.

Cataclysm presents Blizzard an opportunity to move threat from being largely generated by talents to coming from gear and their stats.

Today if a tank upgrade drops, the first factor you evaluate it on is survival. If it’s a tanking upgrade, you get it. If it’s a threat upgrade for AOE or 5-mans, you could let your fellow tank have it if it was a survival upgrade for him, but you would alternatively happily take it for your threat set. This gear might have more strength or block value, for example. It’s not going to have critical chance, though. The decision is fairly binary: was it a tanking survival upgrade? If not, it goes to secondary concerns.

What if you instead could use some gear that had crit and loads of stamina, because all your defence came from talents? Or if reforging allowed you to trade-in some hit for crit, or expertise for agility? Would that be more fun?

I think so.

Also, it’s not like I really need to do 5-mans in 41K HP of tank gear. That’s so much overkill. It would be fun to have more variety within my tank gear to generate significantly more threat.

AOE situations and adds

I enjoy trying to hold threat in AOE situations, albeit for DK tanks it’s more a decision of which tree you take than how you play. It’s less about your skill and much more about your tree and spec. For example, in my Unholy 5-man spec with the 2pc Tier 10 gear, my AOE threat is insane. I love it. It’s actually fun because I don’t have to worry about micro-managing AOE threat anymore.

I have a single-target oriented Blood tank spec for ICC bosses, and it doesn’t do AOE. I put nothing into AOE talents. It’s so bad, it’s not worth even trying to AOE tank with it.

That dichotomous trade-off doesn’t seem like fun to me, because it makes the dual-spec feature almost redundant for DK tanks. You have an AOE spec in one, and a single-target spec in the other. There isn’t a solo, PvP or fun spec. There is no offspec.

Many Paladins tanks go for a SoC high-threat offspec along with their maintank spec, which is a similar conundrum. Wouldn’t it be more fun if you just had one tank spec that did the job on both AOE and single-target?

So next, let’s look at when actually playing.

If I’m in a weaker AOE spec, or alternatively against very strong DPSers, I tab-target, spreading my melee strikes around the mobs, I share my special attacks around too, so they all get hit by something more than just my AOE abilities. I think it’s kind of fun, because I’m good at it, and it forces me to micro-manage the mobs, and rely on quick taunts or death grips when I fail.

However, I’m not so sure that’s the kind of fun Blizzard had in mind: surely only someone very anal like me can really enjoy that. It’s a hell of a lot more fun to just kick the crap out of everything, to feel like a hero, and have AOE be almost automatic (like it is in my Unholy setup).

Single-target situations

On some fights, managing your threat is a good mechanic to worry about, like Festergut when you have the zomgwtfbbq buff, and need to stay below the threat of your fellow tank. That’s fun… fun-ish, because unless you have blessing of salvation or have spec’d into [spell]subversion[/spell] then you’re pretty screwed. Previously, I have had to auto-attack in absence of those, which is no fun at all.

Likewise, if you are on top of threat by such a large margin that in fact threat doesn’t matter anymore, then threat isn’t fun, it’s meaningless. At that point, you couldn’t care less about which threat-maximising talents you’d picked. You get to instead focus on tanking, on staying alive, positioning, reacting to abilities and other encounter games that Blizzard intended for us to enjoy and overcome.

Single-target threat isn’t a fun mechanic.

If you don’t have enough, particularly, it’s a real horrible feeling. You feel like a loser. Tanks do whatever they can to maximise it because they’re holding back the deeps. They’re a glass ceiling. Then by having to bias their gems and spec to threat, they start to compromise on survival (possibly), which in turn can weaken their chance at beating the encounter


Kiting is pretty fun. I like it. I’ve played a hunter too, and enjoyed it there even more. It takes some skill. You can improve at it, and feel good about that. Threat whilst kiting however isn’t much fun; you want the threat on the kited mob to just happen, really. Fortunately, that’s usually the case.

One example where I’ve enjoyed this balance is Blood Princes, where I have to hold threat on Keleseth and also run around picking up nucleii. I liked that, it is challenging at first. I hope it gets easier for me with practice. :)


Buffs play an enormous part in how much dps/tps you do. It can’t be understated. You can double your dps when going from zero buffs to full 25-man raid buffs.

In a 10-man raid, you are thus encouraged by the game mechanics to spec into raid buffs. That adds another factor to the trade-off which is arguably not so easy to optimise, given you don’t usually know who’s going to turn up and might have nerfed yourself if its a redundant buff.

Your thoughts?

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35 comments to Is threat fun?

  • BigKoala

    While in my DPS personae in a random dungeon I was grouped with a bear tank.  His GS was around 3k (right where my pally is that I haven’t played since 3.0) and, on looking at his bar, my DPS had more HP than him while he was in bear form.  3 moves into my rotation on the first pull and I’m starting to pull aggro.  The rest of that UP run was like counting music:  PS -2mississippi-3mississippi-4mississippi-IT-2mississippi-3mississippi-4mississippi-BS-2mississippi-3mississippi-4mississippi.  Sometimes I’d just drop a DnD on the packs and wait until they were almost dead before entering melee.
    The point is that the bear wasn’t a bad tank.  He did what he was supposed to do, he was geared for what T7 dungeons were initially tuned.  The fact that threat was a mechanic that reared its head was no doubt a negative for him — our group played nice with him, but I’m sure he is bound to face crap from some PUG somewhere.  But it was a positive for the DPS of our group for being forced to adjust our play style, making things interesting, and reinstall some nostalgia for when gear didn’t make survival a virtual guarantee in an heroic.

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