Growing Up As A Tank

            I’ve grown up a little more in Cataclysm. I’ve grown as a player, as a person, and as a tank. I guess the world having its face re-arranged can do that to people. I can remember the times in the now-distant past where I was clueless as a tank. I remember popping my +dodge Monarch Crab trinket before dragons breathed on me thinking it would help. I remember using a healer mace to tank Wrath heroics and not understanding why it wasn’t a better tanking weapon because my consecration damage was so much higher. “I did more damage” I would think, “Surely that means I did more threat, doesn’t it?” I remember wiping in Old Kingdom because I didn’t understand target priority on trash. I remember I never used to use Holy Shield back when it provided a bonus to block % and had charges. I remember never moving out of the way of Anub’Arak’s “Pound” ability in Azjol’Nerub because the first time I did it I had an over-geared healer who told me to stay still while he healed me through it. It wasn’t until several wipes in the future later that I learned not every healer could do the same and that it was my job to move.

            I remember back in the day when Paladins didn’t stack Mastery like they do now, they instead stacked Defense to reach the uncrittable point; then after that, it was stamina. I remember what it was like tanking before I learned how amazing and overpowered Righteous Defense was, and how after I got used to it I could barely stand to tank on my warrior or death knight because of it. I remember almost never using defensive cooldowns at all because my healers always managed somehow, so I reasoned I could save them in case I needed them in the future (and I wouldn’t use them then either). It was a long, long time before I learned to use my utility as a paladin; cleansing and using “Hand of…” spells. Even on the very last day of Wrath before 4.01 came out, I still didn’t know how to do the 969 rotation, even though I understood it intellectually, I was just a button-mash tank who pressed whatever was off cooldown. I remember taking a lot of criticisms about my play personally.

            I remember the days when I was afraid of bosses like Loken in the Halls of Lightning because avoiding Lightning Nova was hard for me; being afraid of Jedoga Shadowseeker and Herald Volazj in Old Kingdom because I wasn’t good at the insanity phase and my pick up groups couldn’t kill the adds before Jedoga absorbed them meaning I was about to get smashed in the face. I remember wiping to Slad’ran in Gundrak because the first few times I did it my groups DPS wasn’t high enough to burn him and people would never free the wrapped targets. I remember wiping because we hit Eck’s berserk timer, the only 5man boss to have one. I didn’t understand it was because we were bad, not because these things were “hard.”

            I remember how proud of myself I was when I successfully led the drake-flying of my guild’s first Malygos kill. I remember the moment I realized that all we needed to do was to move to one side as a group when he shot out his spark ability and didn’t understand why anyone else wasn’t putting 2 and 2 together. I remember what it took for me to work up the courage to put myself forward in vent saying “I know what we have to do. Follow me, I’ll be responsible for our success.” I remember how happy everyone was when he died. I remember how no one was mad when, the attempt right before, the previous brave soul had flown us directly into his mouth and stopped there as we wiped in 10 seconds.

            I remember being so disappointed when I learned that Divine Protection was not the same as Divine Shield when I jumped from high places, and that I wouldn’t get Divine Shield until level 60. I remember seeing my Hammer of the Righteous bounce to three targets with its old animation. I kind of miss that compared to it’s current blood boil-lookalike spell effect. I remember how pleased I was when patch 3.0 came out and I didn’t have to refresh seals every judgment. I remember having to level weapon skills to not miss all the time. I remember when I first tried to use terrain to my advantage when fighting monsters in the world and having them evade and being ticked off about not having my cleverness rewarded. I remember How cool it was seeing level-capped players in awesome gear and wanting so badly to be one of them some day. Oh, the innocence of youth, it is heartbreaking as the old, jaded curmudgeon I am now. I’ve definitely wished on more than one occasion that I could somehow mentally revert to that state of being. Ignorance was a sort of bliss back in those days, and being bad again, just for a little while, wouldn’t be so horrible, would it?

            A lot has changed since those days, and it is with no small amount of shame that I remember some of these things. Some of these growing pains, time has aged into fond memories, but most of them still make me cringe. I was a noob in every sense of the word. I started out as casual as casual gets in terms of my understanding of the game. The more I played and the more I got experience, I learned and grew like all people do, but the plateaus are really what stand out in my memory. I remember right before Patch 3.2 deciding that I was going to become someone who studied the game, who did offline research, who learned their class and their role and the encounters and the tips. I would read forums and blogs, watch videos and read strategies. I took an ownership of myself, my play, my role, my raid, and my guild. Our success mattered to me more that just what gear I could get from what boss to improve myself; I would chose a “put the raid first” attitude. I helped the officers in my guild, I grinded 2500 Emblems of Heroism before they all got turned into Ulduar-level emblems with the patch so I could get the achievement.

            I remember when I watched my friend leave our guild for a place with better players where he felt he’d have a better gameplay experience. I remember when I first became a “main tank” because our old one left the game to focus on spending time with his family. I remember when I first felt the need to leave and join my friend, to see what it was like in a place with stronger players, and to understand the skill strata of a 12-million user playerbase. I remember choosing friendship over progression and coming back, and I remember when I reached the point when I couldn’t do it anymore and left again. I remember the horrors of being in a guild where I was a burden to them because I was unable to play up to my potential because of the raid environment, and playing poorly only made things worse and my play continued to deteriorate. I remember having so many bad feelings ingrained in raiding because of this that I had to stop playing the game entirely for months before I could begin to heal and play with friends again. I remember reading the blogs and forum posts of all these giants of the paladin class talking encounter and gearing strategy and wanting to be like them; wanting to see what they saw, think what they though, understand what they did. I still do. And I still grow. Growing never stops if you’re smart enough to keeping trying and not settle for where you are.

            In Cataclysm, I’ve taken another step on the road of improvement. I have finally managed to do what I have known I should have done for a long time but was either too lazy or still to uneducated to truly grasp; to cater my gear towards the encounter, not just per tier of content. I’m still not quite so hardcore that I re-gem and reforge per encounter, but I do evaluate my gear for every boss fight, progression or farm. In the past I had always found a generic “Best in Slot” list for tanking; an “all-around” set that I would acquire and then never take off or change. Now I enjoy the mental puzzle of gear optimizing per encounter. I’ve spent more time gear theorycrafting just for Firelands than I probably did throughout all of Wrath. I have several pieces of gear for every slot and I’m constantly playing with them to try and squeeze out that extra % towards “optimal.” Last night we killed Ragnaros on normal to close out our week and I put on so many DPS pieces to hit 8% hit and 42 expertise and stacking strength that I was down at something like 78% combat table coverage. I didn’t look at my CTC stats, but I definitely noticed myself taking much more damage than normal, and I’m sure my healers noticed it too. If only our warlock on attempting to complete his legendary staff quest hadn’t carelessly gotten himself killed while I was sustaining 18k DPS forcing us to wipe because he was no longer able to complete it, I could have ranked in the top50 of Protection Paladin DPS in the world on 25m normal (as it was I had to settle for top120). Meloree would probably approve. Oh well, there is always next week, and there are so many more things for me to improve on…

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