The Burning Red Line

Tanks try to keep it, healers avoid it, but for some reason DPS have a difficult relationship with it: aggro. Whether doing raids or heroics, you will find that there are many different views on the topic of aggro, and they often do not mesh with the intentions that Blizzard has put out for it.

That thin red line

Aggro is when your threat has exceeded a certain threshold, and a mob will come cruising straight for you. This threshold is 110% for Melee, and 130% for ranged. When this happens in a 5-man, a tank will usually get annoyed with you, and you with the tank.

What happens here is a classic difference of opinion. DPS believe that the tank needs to generate enough aggro to keep the mobs in line, no questions asked. If it doesn’t work, taunt or something. Tanks believe it is their job to generate as much threat as possible, but that since they also need to position mobs and watch for patrols, the DPS have a shared responsibility to keep their threat in mind and not go over the tanks on purpose.

This debate has been raging on since Vanilla, and it hasn’t changed a bit in Heroics and PuG raids. Queue Icecrown Citadel.

Threat, Tanks and a Chilled Throne

In ICC, tanks first really noticed that they had threat problems. They were already penalized by Chill of the Throne, losing 20% of their Dodge, but also did not share equally in the ICC-wide damage and health buff. You see, tank threat is based on their DPS, with a modifier, and additional threat from abilities earmarked to cause more threat.

As the percentage bonus of the ICC buff goes up, it benefits you more if you have a lot of DPS already. Since tanks generally have low DPS, they benefit less from the buff, which also gives them less of a threat boost.

DPS meanwhile not only do not care for Chill of the Throne, they also gain more health and more damage from the buff. As such, every time the buff jumps up and every time we get an upgrade, we come closer and closer to an invisible red line. This invisible red line tells us the tanks simply cannot generate more aggro, it’s physically impossible.

When this line is reached, tanks simply cannot hold responsibility for keeping aggro on trigger-happy DPS. This is where we have to manage our threat, Fade away, Iceblock, Feint or Feign Death. Even we Shadowpriests, normally blissfully unaware, now have to pay attention, because our DoTs give us a little less control over stopping DPS and thus aggro gains.

Tanks now live on Misdirect and Tricks of the Trade, which allow Hunters and Rogues to transfer some of their meaty aggro onto the tanks, and give them an artificial boost. Without it, you will find tanks struggling unless they are horribly overgeared in ICC, and on Hard Modes even that might not be enough.

Blizzard’s Response

Blizzard does not like it when people have to rely on others to do their job, and so there are redesigns to the tank and tanking philosophy on the way in Cataclysm. In short, tanks should be able to manage DPS and healers at roughly equivalent gear level without outside assistance, and without furiously using DPS cooldowns or continually running out of mana/rage/runic power.

Tanking, no matter how many people make jokes about it, is fairly strenuous. You have to keep an eye on the environment, you have to keep aggro, sometimes use cooldowns, not stand in the fire and are generally expected to take the lead. Go to slow, and some “gogogo-tard” will haunt you. Go too fast and the healer cries “OOM!” every corner.

Having to explain that people need to mind their own aggro because you simply cannot create more of it is enough of a burden without getting a “lol L2 aggro scrub” reply.

In a raiding situation, that goes double. When you are raiding and the tanks are struggling (due to tank switches, incoming adds or just “zomg loads of mobs!”) don’t add to it by going all-out. Trust me, the damage meters will still be there next time, and you three seconds of not pulling aggro guarantees another minute of DPS with your health bar intact.

This is why I love Ruby Sanctum. Having to modulate DPS on Halion is great practice for what we’ll be doing in Cataclysm. Be repaired, be prepared!

9 Responses to “The Burning Red Line”

  1. It has been proven that at least for paladins threat scales with the buff exactly as much as damage does for DPS. Also I’m quite sure there are no flat +xx threat abilities in game, everything scales directly with the damage done by the abilities. I’m pretty sure it’s the same for other tanks aswell. Also, it doesn’t matter what’s your base damage. If you get a flat 25% increase to it you WILL do 25% more damage and threat.

    Main reason why tanks have more problems is that people have geared up. DPS gear is full of DPS stats while tanks have had relatively minor increases over several tiers as they generally have just one DPS stat on their items vs 3-4 for DPS gear.

    • Not exactly. You see, the threat modifier from Righteous Fury only applies to holy damage, so it does not increase the threat generated by auto-attacks and the non-holy portion of any attack. So while the difference is small, it is not a 1:1 scaling.

      Warriors I believe have some abilities that generate additional threat, such as Sunder Armor ( and Heroic Strike ( The same goes for Maul for Druids ( Unless WoWHead is outdated, they would still do so.

      And the problem is not directly that threat scales with the buff. The point here is that as a percentage increase, it will give more total DPS to a damage-dealer than a tank. With a 25% buff, 2K DPS from a tank turns into 2.5K (2.25K error fixed, thanks HoHo). For an 8K DPS, this becomes 10K – 250 DPS versus 2000 DPS. If you would set those numbers as lines on a graph, you’d see that even with a threat multiplier, you start losing ground.

      I certainly agree on the gearing difference. Tanks have to cope with the Chill of the Throne debuff, and need to gear for survival, which DPS do not. We get our hit (and expertise cap if applicaple) and go to town on Haste, Crit, Spellpower and Armor Penetration.

      • “You see, the threat modifier from Righteous Fury only applies to holy damage, so it does not increase the threat generated by auto-attacks and the non-holy portion of any attack”

        True but paladins do get a bit of threat from white attacks aswell, just as any other melee and thus they scale linearly with the buff.

        I couldn’t find the post I was looking for from maintankadin unfortunately. What I did find was that even if there are some abilities with static +threat things* they make up rather small part of overall threat. E.g HS adds 220 at max rank according to most info I’ve seen. A guildie warrior’s average HS hit+crit is ~2.3k. Threat modifier from defensive stance is a bit over 207% so that hit produces close to 5k threat. Adding 220 to that is ~4% difference. Now reducing the damage by 25% we get non-icc buffed average hit at ~1,85k or ~3.8k threat. Adding 220 to that is ~6%, a difference of 2% from a single ability that made up about one fifth of all damage.

        *) I’m still not 100% convinced on them not scaling with the damage buff. I vaguely remember the ICC buff being applied to healing/damage after the final value is calculated though I’m not sure how it works for threat. Could be that the whole threat from e.g HS is increased by a percentage, not just damage.

        “With a 25% buff, 2K DPS from a tank turns into 2.25K. For an 8K DPS, this becomes 10K – 250 DPS versus 2000 DPS”

        A small math mistake there, tank will be at 2.5k DPS, not 2.25 so exactly the same DPS increase percentage-wise.

        • I also was looking for the Maintankadin post, probably the same, where Theck made a long list of calculations showing DPS was generating threat going out of scale. And, that this would continue even if Vengeance was applied.

          Also, I understand that percentage-wise, the damage and tps increases are the same. But the absolute numbers turn out differently. Whether it is gearing, non-threat boosted hits not contributing enough or DPS simply not learning to modulate their threat – tanks are slowly slipping.

          Currently, tanks walk a fine balance. Tricks and Misdirect help a lot in keeping aggro. But I see more and more stories of tanks losing aggro on 15K DPS damage-dealers with a lucky crit. We have to be prepared that we cannot hold the tanks responsible for aggro anymore, no matter how lazy some people have become.

  2. “But I see more and more stories of tanks losing aggro on 15K DPS damage-dealers with a lucky crit.”

    I’ve been ripping off tanks on my spriest since 3.0 when they aren’t watching out. ATM for the first ~20s of the fight my DPS is close to 20k (~6-7k sp from double trinkets, 2k+ haste from pot+hyperspeed, berserking) and in non-ICC fights I’m pulling around 11k DPS in mostly 264 gear. When ICC just got launched I was barely breaking 8k. Tanks have got maybe 5% damage boost at best from start to end of ICC from the gear vs ~25% for DPS. That’s the reason why DPS is pulling, it has nothing to do with the ICC damage buff.

    • Then perhaps we can agree on a compromise – gear choice discrepancy makes a gap between TPS and DPS, but the ICC buff exacerbates the problem?

      Also, your example of ripping off tanks by blowing all cooldowns at the start of the fight does show how DPS should be a bit more careful. While high DPS is assured, I do feel a bit sorry for your tanks ^_^.

  3. I was also under the impression that ICC threat issues were caused by tanks gearing for survivability and dps gearing for damage. A tank replaces a piece of gear and increases his stam, dodge, parry, defense, etc. by x. A dps receiving the same item level upgrade increases (mostly) pure damage stats. The escalation of gear throughout WotLK and the lack of a relationship between health/survivability and threat have got us where we are.

    Now here’s a question about “high threat” abilities. I was under the impression that such abilities did high threat—relative to their damage.

    Now “high threat” abilities with no damage component may be an exception to this, but again I was under the impression the threat they generated scaled with attack power.

  4. Abilities that generate high threat generate more threat than their damage would otherwise cause.

    As an example, say a tank has a x2 threat multiplier and an ability does 100 DPS. As a result, he will do 200 TPS with this ability. A high-threat ability might do 300 TPS however, given the same damage.

    I am not sure how this “high threat” component scales with the damage inherent to the ability, however. My only tank’s a Paladin so it’s not something I pay a lot of attention to. I know that DKs have Icy Touch which has something of a x7 threat multiplier, and one of our DK tanks claims that spamming it a few times is enough to keep mobs clinging to him like glue.

    If this extra threat scales with attack power, the ICC buff does not affect it. If this extra threat is purely damage-based, then it does. I think the latter is the case with abilities marked with “high threat”.

  5. […] Faith talks about The Burning Red Line and aggro in ICC, something that is near and dear to my hard.  (My guild note reads “WTF is […]

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