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Soooo…better late than never, right?

Heh. Heh heh.

Sorry.

So, for those who missed Part 1 (Pallies and Warriors), we’re talking about how it feels to play each of the four classes of tanks – not too much about mechanics (especially given that they change constantly and I can barely keep up even when I’m actively playing a class. Two days ago I posted about how Devastate is meh. Now I’m reading that with the changes coming to warriors, it’ll be upgraded again? Like, it might be more important than Revenge or something? I don’t really care overmuch when Blizz nerfs or buffs anything, because they’re not malicious little gremlins out to ruin my game (contrary to popular belief). But man it’s irritating when a buff/nerf completely changes my rotation and I need to relearn everything).

I believe the analogy I was using (poorly) was rhythm.

A small disclaimer before I go into this: on Monday I posted about what are currently my two strongest tank classes in terms of my level of understanding, comfort, and actual character level. The classes I’ll talk about today are my weakest classes in terms of all of the above – I haven’t even gotten them to 80 yet, so I may be missing key abilities, and my understanding of their rhythm is still a work in progress. But then, this was a subjective set of posts to start with, and the information therein remains, as always, pure, unadulterated opinion (and is therefore subject to change).

So! Let’s start with the strongest of my two weakest classes:

The Druid

Okay, so…story time. Back in BC, this class held the position my Warrior currently holds – that is, my favoured tank (or at least, my favoured character). I levelled my druid and was tanking five mans with her long before my pally hit 80. I didn’t mean for this to happen – it just sort of did. I always mourned my neglected warrior, but by the time I realized what was happening, I was 70, partially geared, and it would have been a waste to try to pick up my warrior and force my guild to re-gear yet another one of my redundant tanks. So bear it was!

So I actually do have a good degree of experience with the bear – or did. So much changed between BC and 3.2 (when I sort of picked the bear back up in a casual kind of way) that I had to go on yet another research binge just to figure out what the Hell I was supposed to be doing.

Did you know that bears don’t need defence anymore?! Do you have any idea what a paradigm shift that was for me? What kind of tank doesn’t need defence?! What is this “AGI” and “Crit” and “Attack Power”? These are DPS stats! This gear list…it’s comprised entirely of ROGUE gear! I fail at rogues! Blizzard, what have you done?!

It is weird. That’s all. Very, very weird. As I’m questing I’m stripping off my lovely, apparently useless because of stat itemization, epics from BC and replacing them with ROGUE GEAR. It’s just…wrong…

Okay, right. Rhythm.

So, ironically given the above, the bear – for all I have honestly enjoyed it, as I have all the tanking class – has a DPS rhythm for me. It’s like a warrior (because in the end a bear is a warrior with less buttons, much like a cat is a rogue with less buttons), but a fury specced one (ha ha! A furry specced one! Get it? …you can kill me if you want). You only have a few buttons to press (I’m being mostly generous. The bear doesn’t really have much of a rotation, and I find that, because there’s less rage-cost-reduction talents available, all of their abilities cost more than the warrior anyway, so even if I had more buttons, I wouldn’t necessarily have the rage to spam them – though that may also be a function of my level), and you really, really, really want them to crit. Bears are right up there with the DPS in comparing crit chance and AP totals. It’s surreal.

Also, the bear’s defensive CDs seem designed to be blown together (they’re not on the GCD. I actually have a macro (appropriately labelled “Oh shit!”) that pops them all at once) – which makes sense. Because your focus is on effective health/absorption (as opposed to avoidance, since Dodge is really the only thing of much use to you), if you’re low on health you can’t rely on the boss not hitting you like some of the other tank classes. It is going to hit you. So hitting your “Oh Shit!” macro and popping everything you have is usually a good idea, because your block/parry/dodge won’t be able to buy you the time the healers need to bring you back up.

The bears, in short, have a very different feel/rhythm than the other classes. You don’t really have a rotation or a priority list – just a to-do list. Make sure mangle’s up and doesn’t come off. Maul when you have the rage. Lacerate (or don’t…couldn’t find a definitive answer on its use) if you want. Swipe if you need AoE or you just like the animation. Faerie Fire because it’s free (and apparently does threat now. WTF?).

It’s an “easy” class to tank with in that your options are limited, and your “rotation” is very simple/straightforward. It’s like…the California of tanks. Do what you want, when you want, and it’ll probably work out. This is perhaps why they feel strangely DPS focussed – because since there’s less “tank”-based strategies/abilities to it compared to other classes, the DPS aspect gives you something to do/watch. You want to crit because it procs half-a-dozen tanking buffs that are actually mostly passive and don’t require anything on your part.

Also, similar to the paladin, but worse because the bear isn’t as steady, I don’t feel I have a lot of things in my toolbox when things go wrong. I’ve got a taunt, I’ve got a challenging shout equivalent (like so much of the druid’s animal form abilities, it has a completely original name: challenging roar), but beyond that your only hope is pure, face-smashing awesomeness (which, ironically, is actually what the bear is about. Smashing things with your face).

I love the concept of the Druid tank, and it is actually enjoyable to play – although it feels like a guilty pleasure I have to keep secret, because in my head it’s not a tank, it’s a DPS that’s totally cheating and has found some kind of exploit that increases threat. But it doesn’t feel like a dedicated tank to me, most likely just because it’s so different in terms of gear/stats from the classes I’m used to playing. I can’t get over not needing to cry myself to sleep over how to get my DEF cap to stay at 540 without going over or under. The fact that I want this should tell you how crazy I am.

If you’re a DPS who wants to dabble in tanking part time, or maybe just try it out to see if you like it, the Bear is an excellent class for that. It’ll let you maintain aggro, but still feel like you’re DPSing. And if you’re looking for a bridge from DPS to tanking, it’ll do that very well too. You can pick up the bear without too much “culture shock” – the gear and stat preferences stay mostly the same as DPS, and it’ll give you time to get into the swing of the logic, positioning, and philosophy of tanking without simultaneously throwing the troublesome mathematics of tanking at you. You can worry about that later, once you’ve figured out how to establish threat, maintain aggro, and yell at the DPS because oh my God they’re standing in front again.

The bear-Druid is an I Am Awesome class. It can do it all – tank, DPS, face-smash – and it does it well, with minimum stress on you as a player, and a very gentle learning curve. Like all tank classes, there’s a difference between a newbie bear, and a master bear, but it’s a much gentler slope between the two (though, evidently, no less work).

The Death Knight

Right. *Cough* So… *awkward shuffle* I suppose I should be clear right off the bat here:

I suck at the DK.

There, I said it!

I do tank with my DK on a semi-regular basis. I don’t lose aggro unless I’m really not paying attention or a pull has gone badly. I have a toolbox full of an almost confusing array of abilities designed to prevent every fuck up known to man. My defensive CDs are the equivalent of phenomenal cosmic powers

And for some reason I can’t string it all together. I hit the anti-fear CD when I want the armour one. I can never seem to get Death and Decay off cooldown, or have enough runes for it. I’m too slow on Pestilence, and too fast on Blood Boil.

Mercifully, no one has really noticed. The group I tank for with my DK is very laid back and easy going, and like I said, I don’t actually lose aggro, despite my all-encompassing suck. But I can’t escape the knowledge that I am failing at playing this class to the max of what it can do. I’m wasting CDs, I spend too much time doing nothing because I have no runic power, and all my runes are on CD, and I don’t know how it happened (or rather I do. I fucked up my rotation. But I don’t actually, fully understand my rotation – or more specifically, how to deviate from it without fucking it all up). No matter where I put the anti-fear CD, I will ALWAYS click it instead of the armour one (why?! It doesn’t even remotely look like a defensive CD).

I refuse to acknowledge defeat. My goal when Wrath came out was to master the DK because I’d done pretty well on all the other ones. I wanted one of each tank, and I wanted to be good with them.

But the DK continues to thwart and mock me mercilessly (yeah, well, you’re stupid, DK. And ugly. And you smell bad).

And the reason I suck is specifically because I can’t find the DK’s rhythm. I’m trying to dance but he and I are hearing different songs. I can see, logically how it works. I can tell you how it all fits together. I can guess at what the rhythm must be like. The DK is a strange combination of the pally and the warrior (my two favourite classes, FFS! How am I failing this?!). It’s got the pally’s rotation based, steady AoE threat, on top of excellent single-target threat and some burst, like the warrior. The rune system is an intriguing twist on the typical CDs, and runic power is like the fucked-up love child of rage and mana.

The DK is a class made up of choices – if I choose this ability, I won’t have the runes for that one. If I pop this over here, I won’t have enough RP left over for a Frost Strike. Do I want to focus on a single-target rotation, or an AoE one? Killing Blow and Rime have both procc’ed – do I blow Killing Blow on a frost strike before the Howling Blast to up my threat on this target, or blow them both on Howling Blast to up my threat on everyone?

My CDs are all unique, without repetition. They’re actually encounter specific, not generic versions of give-me-more-health. There’s a lot of procs, and no few of them are active, requiring me to react and push a button, changing my strategy or my rotation mid-stride. Each and every spec is capable of tanking, with a different style/feel/rotation for each.

This is awesome. This class is made of win. It’s everything I ever wanted in a tank, all rolled into one. It’s everything I love about the others – the warrior’s complexity, the pally’s reliability, the bear’s fun-loving deeps-centered awesomeness – all rolled up into a single, thematically appropriate class with unique hair and skin colours!

Why – why – can’t I pull it together?!

The one area of the DK that I have down pat – where he and I are in perfect agreement – is that we’re both fucking angsty about being a DK, and all that’s inherent in that.

Conclusion

All four tanking classes are equally viable, equally useful, and equally fun – though not necessarily for everyone. Each has it’s own unique feel and rhythm, and if you really want to tank, it’s important to find one that you enjoy. ‘Cause I’m telling you right now, there are lot of aspects of tanking in general that suck. If you’re not enjoying your class, you’re going to be miserable.

I would personally encourage everyone to try all of them. You never know which of them will click for you (I figured warrior wasn’t for me until I tried it, and I’ve never looked back), and which won’t (from Hell’s heart, I stab at thee, DK). And each class has it’s own lessons to teach that apply across the board, and can actually improve your skill with the other classes.

For all I bitch about it, and all I fantasize about quitting, tanking is, in fact, a worthy endeavour, and can, with the right group, be amazingly fun. And it’s a role with a lot of options, and a lot of variation.

It’s like Country music. Almost universally despised, but everyone has at least one country song they like (whether they admit it or not). There’s a tank class out there for you, whoever you are, whatever your home-role.

You just have to find the right rhythm!

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Beneath me the city of Thunder Bluff rises up from the ground, as if from nothing. The land around it is flat and green and unbroken but for the three solemn pillars on which sits the primitive city of the Tauren; the jewel in a crown of twigs; the home of a simple race.

I sniff contemptuously.

It’s certainly not Silvermoon.

“Why are we here again?” I demand of the woman in front of me on our mount. It’s more of a whine than I intended, but I don’t know if she can tell. It’s been months since Light’s Hope…longer since I died…and I’m still not used to the hollow echo in my voice. I asked Amal’thazad once, why the echo exists for some, but not all, of those taken by the scourge – the Lichs and the Death Knights, but not the ghouls or ghasts.

“Ghouls,” he told me, “are broken once. So they speak with one voice. The Lich King’s, or their own, but never both. But you, and me, and those like us…we are broken twice. Once in life, when we willingly chose a path forced on the lesser undead, and again in death, when the Lich King takes our will and makes it his own. So we speak with two voices. Our own, and his – even now, free of him at last, his voice echoes in our words. A reminder, I think. That free or chained, we cannot change what we are, or how we came to be.

“We are twice broken, Death Knight, and we will never be whole again.”

***

“We need a representative in Thunder Bluff,” he said, looking us over with an intense stare. His gaze rested longest on the Tauren among our number, knowing that, tactically, they were the best choice; knowing, too, that none of them would volunteer. I remember thinking how pathetic we looked. Once upon a few weeks ago we were one of the most feared and fearless organizations in Azeroth and beyond. But there we stood, the Ebon Blade’s chosen diplomats, not so far from the days when we could face down a dragon without fear or care, but terrified by something as ephemeral as the look in an old friend’s eyes, the pursed lips of an ex-lover, the turned back of your old family.

They should count themselves lucky, I thought contemptuously. I took my family with me.

And I stepped forward to volunteer with a sneer that clearly called them cowards.

I told myself it would be a simple posting, and give me more time to spend with my lovely new friend. An easy decision – perhaps too easy.

No one mentioned the fact that I had remained silent when they called for volunteers for Silvermoon.

***

I walk the market openly, with a good deal more nonchalance than I feel. I’m used to being watched with a combination of fear and respect. Among the scourge – the dead, I should say, as we are no longer scourge – there is little that compares to a Death Knight. We are rage and strength made manifest; we are ice and disease and fear, and everything that ever ended a life, given flesh and will and sent forth into the world. We are more than men and women, more than simply undead. We are gods among ghouls, how could they not respect us?

But that’s not what these people see. There is fear, to be sure, in their furtive glances and unsubtle gestures. They pull their children tighter, cover their valuables – they shiver as I walk by, and stiffen if we happen to touch. Oh, they fear me all right. But respect? I see nothing of respect. In the bovine eyes of those few who show more than bald fear I see sadness, and anger, and derision. Derision. These people – these savages! – deride me. They think me weak!

Me. Weak.

I am stronger than they could ever hope to be, eight feet of bull or not. Smarter, faster, better. I could kill any of them before they knew what was happening.

Ignorant ants.

The arrogance is reflexive, but comforting. I draw it around me like a shroud and move through the market with a face of ice.

***

I sit in the tent that apparently passes for some kind of Tauren war room – it has a table, at least. I suppose I should be grateful for that – and listen without interest. All I hear around the room is Alliance this and Alliance that. You’d think it was the Alliance leading the scourge on a killing spree around Azeroth and Kalimdor. You’d think it was King Whatever-His-Name-Is that sent necropoli to the gates of Orgrimmar and Thunder Bluff and wherever else.

Idiots and fools and children, the lot of them.

“And what,” says an old crone of a cow at the back of the room, “does our esteemed guest think, hmmm?”

I arch a pale brow at her and draw on every inch of self-control and diplomacy in my body to keep from sneering. “Your esteemed guest,” I say dully, “is wondering why we are still discussing the Alliance when scourge run roughshod over Northrend, displacing the indigenous folk that live there and killing everything else.”

“Oh,” scoffs a large bull to my right, “and I suppose this Ebon Blade of yours cares deeply for the plight of indigenous people in Northrend.”

“To be honest,” I reply with a sigh, “I don’t give a kobold’s frozen ass about the indigenous people of Northrend, and I sincerely doubt my fellows do. I thought you might, having, as you do, a reputation as a compassionate and spiritual people, to say nothing of your close kinship with one of said displaced peoples. But I can see I was wrong on that, in much the same way you are wrong in your continued focus on an obsolete war with a people who should be your allies in this, not your enemies.” I get to my feet and turn toward the door. “Send for me if you decide you wish to discuss Arthas and the Scourge. I am bored with these trivialities.”

“No,” says the large bull as one of the older Tauren moves as though to stop me, “let him go. His advice is worthless anyway. Everyone knows he sold out to the scourge already. No reason to believe he wouldn’t do so again. We’re better off without him.”

So many things I could say in reply. Most of them petty or immature, all of them cutting and acidic. Yes, I sold out to the scourge. Yes, I could do so again. Arthas miscalculated when he let us go. He would take us back in a non-existent heart beat, rather than have us band with his enemies as we have, divulging his secrets and aiding their efforts.

And to be honest, if these idiots don’t open their fool eyes to the very real danger the Lich King presents…I may as well sell my soul again. It’ll be the same in the end anyway when he overruns us all.

But I say nothing and exit the tent. They will not send for me again.

I should have stayed at Archerus.

***

“You’re brooding,” she notes, flipping a page in her book.

“Am I?” I ask reflexively, and mentally check myself. Slouching in my chair, staring blankly out my glassless window at the rain, bitterly hoping it’s actually the start of a monsoon that will flood Mulgore in its entirety and drown this whole, stupid, bovine race. I grunt unattractively. “Yes, I suppose I am.”

“What are you brooding about?” she asks without looking up.

The wisest thing to do would be to not answer, because if I answer I’m sure she will feel compelled to talk some sense into me, and then she’ll stop reading, but I like it when she reads. She just looks so…I don’t know. I just like it.

But while I’ve always thought of myself as intelligent, wisdom isn’t a virtue I feel I can fairly claim. “I should have gone to Orgrimmar,” I say instead of remaining silent. I’m being petulant. “At least with Orcs you can play on their fire and their tempers and make them move. You can’t…you can’t move a cow. They just…stand there and glare at you, with their huge, wet eyes, and this look, like…like…they’re wilfully stupid. It’s the damndest thing. They’re stupid, but on purpose. I hate it.”

She looks up from her book and peers at me over the edge of her glasses, then sighs and closes the cover. She takes the spectacles from her face and sets them gently to the side. “Listen,” she says, getting to her feet and crossing over to me, “you’re coming at this from the wrong angle. Stop thinking like you’re in Silvermoon.” She folds her hands around mine and as always I am startled by how warm she is. I forget, sometimes, that the living are creatures of light and heat and the sun. I’ve been ice on the inside for so long now…. “You need to befriend these people, not bully them or frighten them into submission. You need to make them trust you.”

“Well how am I supposed to do that?” I demand. “I sold out to the scourge, remember? I’m a Death Knight, for love of the Light. One of Arthas’ elite soldiers. I mean, the things we’ve done…how could I ever get them to trust me?”

“Remind them,” she says slowly, “that you fell once, it’s true. But you got back up again.”

“It’s not that simple,” I argue, and pull my hands from hers, stubbornly returning my gaze to the rain. “Getting back up again isn’t enough.”

She sits where she is for a time and watches me. “Not enough for who, I wonder?” she says at last, then gets to her feet and returns to her chair. She places her glasses on her nose once more and opens her book.

Silence descends, broken only by the falling rain, and the sound of her breathing.

I wonder if she’s mad at me.

***

The morning dawns clear and bright, the sun glinting in the puddles and droplets left behind by the night’s rain. A deep voice calls hello from beyond the door of the inn and I step out, squinting into the light. It’s the large Tauren from the previous day’s conference. He gives me his typical, friendly expression – a unique mix of fear and loathing and mistrust. Warms my bitter little heart – and shrugs at me.

“So, we’re done discussing the—”

“Listen,” I interrupt him impulsively, “about yesterday. I didn’t mean to trivialize your war with the Alliance. I understand the threat they represent, and I understand they’re just as gung-ho about going to war with you as you are with them and you can’t not take them into account. They’re a factor, here and in Northrend, and they need to be considered.”

He blinks at me, too startled to say anything. I consider letting it drop there. Light knows the apology is burning at me on the inside, like I’ve swallowed bile and sulphur and something cooked up in an apothecary’s lab. But something my lady said to me last night has been stuck in my craw ever since. She’s right, as she usually is. This isn’t Silvermoon, or Orgrimmar, and I’ll get nowhere unless I stop pretending it is.

“But I need you to understand just what the scourge means to me. You…yesterday, you…noted that I had, in effect, sold my soul to the scourge once already, and that was true. Unfair perhaps,” and he at least has the grace to look embarrassed, “but true. But that’s exactly why I’m here. Because…because I fell once, and I’ve seen the other side. I know what’s over there. I know what the scourge intends and is capable of and it…is truly terrifying. And I say that as one of the creatures mothers tell stories about to frighten their children into behaving.” This admission earns me a startled laugh from the man, little more than a sudden snort, but it’s something, and it gives me the push I need to continue.

“So what,” he says, and his tone is belligerent, as though to make up for allowing himself to be amused by me, “this is redemption? Is that what you and your people are after?”

“No,” I tell him, and shake my head sadly. “We are beyond redemption. We know that. We know we chose our path, and that’s not something that can be forgiven. We are…twice broken,” I say softly, Amal’thazad’s words returning to me, unbidden, “and can never be whole again. Redemption is not possible. But salvation – for everyone else – that is within reach. We feel…well…,” I hesitate. If the others knew I was saying this; knew I was admitting it…. “We feel that we…owe the world we chose to leave behind. That if we can somehow help stop Arthas – if we can save the world from him and his legions – we will have repaid the debt we incurred when we fell – when we let Arthas break us the first time. It won’t redeem us, but at least…we will have righted the wrong that lays heavy on us now. We could breathe a little easier.” I offer him a crooked grin. “No pun intended,” I add, and earn myself another startled chuckle.

“Hmmm,” he says slowly, considering my words. “Fair enough, I suppose.” And that’s that. “At any rate, I came by to tell you that we actually finished discussing the Alliance yesterday and we’ve made our plans in that regard. We’d like to discuss Arthas and his friends today. Evidently you’d be a useful member of that discussion if you’re willing to join us.”

“I would indeed,” I say easily. “Let me just say goodbye to my friend. I can meet you there if you like.”

“I’ll wait,” he says with a negligent wave and his tail flicks from side to side. I raise an eyebrow at him, but nod and head inside. I give my lady a quick kiss and tell her I’m off for the day. She tells me to be nice and I don’t reply. True to his word, my large compatriot is still outside when I return.

“You know,” he says thoughtfully as we walk by the smithy on our way to Elder Rise, “I had this shield once. It was a huge thing, been in my family for generations. I let my son play with it one day, just because it was funny to see him try to lift it. He dropped it of course, and, just my luck, it rolled off down the bluff, and right over the side. Don’t know if you’ve ever peeked over the edge, but it’s a long way down. We found it in two pieces at the bottom, but Karn over there, he patched it right up for me. When I came to pay him he laughed and tossed it to me…but I missed the catch.”

It’s my turn to give a startled laugh. “Tell me it didn’t go over the edge again.”

“Oh it did,” he says, and his tail twitches with amusement. “We watched it go sailing over and Karn couldn’t stop apologizing, the whole wav down the elevator to go retrieve it. So we find it, and again it’s in two pieces, broke the other way this time. So Karn swears up and down he can fix it. We take it back up to his forge and he fixes it again and hands it back over to me, carefully this time. It’s up on my wall now, bolted there, too, so the boy can’t get at it. But every now and then I’m tempted to take it and throw it over the side, just to see if it would break again.”

“Why would you do that?” I demand, frowning at him. “Of course it’ll break again. It must be weaker now than before.”

“I’m not so sure,” he says with a massive shrug. “In order to fix it – in order to keep it from breaking again – Karn had to reinforce it. Make it sturdier, harder. It’s scarred and dented and ugly, but stronger for all of that. I’d wager it’s probably one of the best shields in Thunder Bluff.”

“But would it survive combat?” I ask him pointedly, and he offers me an honest-to-goodness grin as he holds the tent flap open for me. A map of Northrend adorns one side of the wall, and a collection of coloured pins representing the various factions are stuck all over it. There’s a smattering of dark blue ones pinned to the Shadow Vault in Icecrown, and a few others are mixed in with the other factions. For a moment we pause in the door and survey those little pins, considering all they stand for.

The Ebon Blade and our hopes and fears, and our only shot at repaying the debt that defines us.

“Only time will tell,” my large friend says, and I realize at last that he wasn’t really talking about shields.

Twice broken, I think to myself as we head to the table, never taking my eyes off the map.

But never again.

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