Early on in the expansion I wrote a pair of posts that were aimed at how to work well with tanks and healers. Several major content patches later, and with the final major patch of Cataclysm on the horizon, we might wonder what, if anything, has changed.
In broad strokes our relationships with healers and tanks remain much the same. Healers still appreciate our help in avoiding damage and controlling adds. Tanks still work with us on threat and CC. Yet, there have been some significant changes that we should take note of.
Healers are arguably in a better place coming into 4.3 than they were coming into the first tier of Cataclysm. Back then, they were in dungeon blues and sometimes even quest greens. It was a brutal and interesting time for our grid-gazing brethren; they had to use every bit of mana they had, concentrate almost exclusively on efficient and synergystic healing, and deal with dps and tanks that were still mentally embedded in the “healers have infinite mana and can save people from anything” model used at the end of Wrath.
Since then healing has not changed in kind so much as it has changed in degree. To put that another way, we are still using the same healing model that we had at the beginning of the expansion and what has changed are the values put into that model. Healers have more intellect and spirit, and larger mana pools too. They are more likely to have a full complement of epics, set bonuses and snazzy trinkets. This means that even by themselves healers are in better position entering 4.3 than they were coming into the first tier. However, the targets they are healing have also changed. Tanks have larger health pools and, perhaps more importantly, higher percentages of mitigation, making tank healing smoother. Dps have better gear, relatively speaking, resulting in arguably quicker fights and more spare mana. And it is also worth noting that tanks and dps are now used to the new healing model; good players are more likely to click on lightwells, pop mitigation abilities and agree that moving out of fire immediately is more important than finishing a cast.
All of these gains are multiplicative, leaving healers in a place that is less desperate to my mind. This does not mean that progression fights are not challenging to healers (they most certainly are) or that we’re back to the Wrath model. Rather, healing is simply less agonizing than at the start of Cata, at least in my experience. Added to that we also have more minor and class-specific refinements that have made things a bit easier, like resto druids getting a Mastery mechanic that isn’t so awkward and resto shamans getting another cooldown, Spirit Link Totem. What does all this mean for working with healers? Not much: the basics mentioned in the original post remain the same.
Unlike healing, the tanking model has changed substantially since launch. Blizzard recently took the plunge into the new threat mechanics that they dipped their toes into last December, presently leaving tanks in a place where threat is no longer something to monitor. Threat remains an issue on new targets, but Blizzard’s new intent is that tanks be concerned with other things once agro is established. This, combined with interrupts and taunts always landing and parry haste being a thing of the past, means that secondary stats like Expertise and Hit are even more pointless for tanks. The larger change, though, is that tanks and dps have lost a dimension of interaction: neither of them really have to care about what the other is doing threat-wise once agro is established. This makes both roles simpler and, arguably, makes them more insular.
This reduction in communication and interaction is perhaps contributed to by another change, that of CC not generating agro. DPS can now send out their CCs independently of the tank being ready to start the pull. Indeed, no words even need to be spoken on trash pulls so long as there is a shared understanding over the meanings of the raid icons. Overall, then, we might say that the ethos of the game is changing a bit. Blizzard seems to be more inclined to make the game interesting on the individual level (mainly via complicated rotations) and less inclined to make it interesting through player coordination and interaction. This is in line with the upcoming tanking changes that aim to make tanking rotations more interesting through the increased involvement of active mitigation (and may have another effect of making hit and expertise worth something to tanks).
What do these tanking changes mean for hunters? They mean that our threat toolkit is less useful in groups. MD pulls will likely come in handy from time to time, and opening MDs certainly won’t hurt to safeguard against RNG. FD will still be handy for not getting hit by things. But our synergistic interaction with tanks on pulls and threat is now diminished, especially compared to the FD pulls of vanilla and the threat buffering of Wrath. Our value to groups is reduced by the sum of Cataclysm’s changes to threat (including the 4.3 changes to Vengeance). And, importantly, this is distinctive worth that we’re losing; it is value that only hunters could bring. Now it is all the more the case that it is our class dps potential and personal performance that will determine our raid slots.
One addendum before closing: you may (even should) still see tanks taking dps talents despite the threat changes. Why? Because tank dps matters regardless of threat. That 12k dps that your tank is doing matters and it’s the tank’s job to think about how to optimize it, providing that it does not come at meaningful expense to survivability.