The Hunting Party Podcast and WoW Insider have each brought up the idea of getting rid of pure dps classes and making everyone a hybrid. While taming a pet that enables a healing tree is conceivable, our having tenacity pets already suggests that we hunters would most likely end up with a tanking tree were we to be hybridized. It would not be a simple transition, though, as I discuss below the cut.
Before we get into this I suppose I should provide some credentials. You already know that I know hunters, but you may not know that I have an alt tank that I’ve used for progression raiding and some hard modes. I follow tanking news, know prot warrior tanking thoroughly and have a decent awareness of what the other tanking specs can and can’t do.
In brief, here are the things that hunter pet tanking is good at already:
- soaking AoE damage – This is largely thanks to Avoidance.
- snagging adds – If the hunter is free to MD adds to the pet then it is arguably easier for a hunter to grab them compared to a real tank.
- aiding healers – Hunter pets take more damage than real tanks, but they also get more healing via Mend Pet, Spirit Bond, 2t5 (if worn) and Blood of the Rhino. The extra healing taken does not at all make up for the increased damage taken though.
- DPS – Hunter tanking has the potential to yield more dps than a player tank. And, yes, tank dps does matter so it is worth mentioning.
Here are the things that hunter pet tanking is currently bad at compared to player tanks:
- not taking damage – Hunter pets take a lot more damage compared to player tanks.
- mitigation – This explains in part why pets take so much damage. They simply don’t match up to the mitigation that player tanks get from talents, mastery, parry and dodge. This is arguably a problem in itself because a lack of consistent mitigation makes pet healing spiky.
- holding AoE threat – While MD’d Multishots work, they don’t compare to a player tank.
- positioning, strafing and not turning one’s back on the enemy – Move To is no substitute for having direct control over a tank.
- cooldowns – While Shell Shield and Cower are great, a player tank’s cooldown toolkit is much deeper and more versatile.
- taunting – Pet taunts currently don’t work on bosses and have a long cooldown.
- ranged silence – Most tanks (except maybe bears) have a ranged silence these days and, well, it’s pretty handy.
- interrupts – Tank interrupts can’t miss these days and are on a standard 10-second cooldown. As such, they count among the tools that a tank can be expected to offer a raid.
- raid utiltty – Tanks typically are able to apply a variety of useful auras to reduce or soak incoming damage for themselves and other players. Tenacity pets can typically only offer one such boss debuff at a time and it comes at the expense of not having Shell Shield.
- flexibility – Player tanks can respec and regear to be more proficient at various offtanking jobs, damage soaking, dps and so on. Pets do have some options, just not as many.
- single target threat – While pet threat can be adequate, I don’t see it stacking up favorably compared to the threat that player tanks can currently generate. Opening threat is an area where player tanks should very easily beat pets come 4.3. However, I haven’t done any pet tanking lately so I’d yield to Arth on the matter.
- pathing – Pets do not always take the best routes while moving, and they often turn their backs on mobs whil doing so.
The general pattern that appears from these lists is that hunter pets do not compare well on many important dimensions of tanking. As such, if hunters were ever to be hybridized, our tank spec would need to gain a lot of mechanics, abilities and capacities. Some of these things would be easy fixes. It would not be hard to give hunter pets standardized interrupts, taunts and other tanking tools. It also wouldn’t be hard to boost their threat and mitigation. Basically, adding abilities and changing coefficients would be the easy part. There would also be the issue of translating hunter stats into tanking stats, but Blizzard is already proficient at such conversions.
The hard part would be fixing the problems that derive from a basic premise of the hunter class: namely, that the pet is an npc separate from and controlled in a limited fashion by the player. Kiting and repositioning are simply comical with a pet because it cannot back up or strafe. Controlling the pet from the hunter’s perspective is also a drawback in itself, as is having to mind two sets of fight mechanics at the same time: those that affect tanks and those that affect ranged players. These positioning and perspective issues alone make a pet tank hugely inferior to a player tank, especially for offtanking jobs. I sincerely doubt that Blizzard would allow current pet control mechanics to persist in any hunter tanking tree. We would be more likely to see some radical revision of the pet-hunter relationship. Below are my guesses at revisions that would fit that bill.
- Pet Vehicle: In this solution, the pet is say a rhino (or other amenable pet skin) that the hunter rides via WoW’s vehicle interface. The hunter would no longer have access to his or her normal abilities and would instead have access to a complete set of pet-themed tanking abilities. I think it’d make sense to have the hunter at least maintain autoshots from atop the beast for appearance’s sake.
- Freaky Friday: The hunter and the pet switch perspectives in a returned and boosted Eyes of the Beast. The hunter’s mind inhabits a tenacity pet and empowers it to make what is in every way a solid tank. The pet, meanwhile, inhabits the hunter and hangs around like a Warlock’s imp autoshotting and hopefully not crapping the hunter’s pants.
- Melee Huntering: Aspect of the Beast returns with revisions and the hunter melees alongside his or her pet with a permanent Misdirection channeling boosted threat to the pet. The pet is fixed at the hunter’s side, leading to precision control over positioning and solving the perspective issue. Interesting things could be done with how incoming damage is dealt with and shared between pet and hunter.
These are not the only possible solutions, they are merely the three that I came up with. I tend to favor the pet-as-vehicle approach since to my mind it would be highest on the scale of awesome, especially if the vehicle could be a devilsaur. It also has the most going for it in terms of in-game precedent (such as with this quest and this quest). Overall I think each of these solutions would solve the significant problems noted above with the current state of pet tanking and make a hunter tank that is quite fun to play.