Tobold ponders about how Death Knights will affect the tanking classes, in particular warriors, reflecting in anticipation a bit of the class angst which was palpable when patch 2.0 hit and bears and paladins suddenly became tank-viable to a point.
Since January is a good time to delve a bit into futurology, how the tanking corps will play out in WotLK is going to be dependent on a couple of different factors, both objective and subjective ones:
- First and foremost, the DK’s proper tanking mechanism will determine which niche the class will occupy. Niches which currently remain largely unoccupied include, as others have pointed out, a proper magic resist tank. Alternatively and fitting to the shieldless tanking, the DK could be designed as a parry tank, holding aggro through DPS output and being at the top of its ability against fast-hitting bosses (and that would mean eating up one of the tankadin’s niches, but I digress).
- Second, DK’s place in the tanking corps will largely depend on how varied the bosses and instances in Northrend will be. Look at Outlands instances, and you won’t get any serious dispute that regardless of how the bosses are working, a tankadin is the prime choice for both normal and heroic 5-men, followed by a druid. This has a lot to do with group dynamics: in the 5-men sizes where you’ll most likely find little-coordinated PUGs, lessening or completely eliminating the need for CC can speed up the pace at which you clear an instance by a huge factor. Conversely, in raids where boss fights typically last a lot longer and are more complex, an one-size-fits-it-all brute force approach is doomed to failure
- The novelty factor: Within the first month of TBC, you couldn’t take a step anywhere without bumping into a belfadin or a blue shammie. But in the mid-thirties, it started to fizzle out, and come endgame, horde paladins are still in high demand (haven’t been in alliance chats for ages, so I don’t know how it works out for the Draenei shamans).
- Force of habit: Warriors have been the preferred MT during two years and the perceived superior MT choice for another year. Bears have been able to carve out a spot for themselves, but while tankadins have in the meantime proven that they can tank all of the raid content, they continue to be the least popular choice, not just by mechanisms but also by the sheer gravity of the idea that Prot warriors are simply the best tank out there, to the point that the top raiding guilds to this day won’t even consider using one (but they aren’t really representative of the average gameplay).
Force of habit alone will continue to guarantee warriors a long tanking life, unless the DK turns out to be massively overpowered. And chances are, this won’t actually last. Go back in time during the span between patch 2.0.1 (December 2006, pre-TBC but with the new talents) and 2.0.3 (January 9th, 2007, a week before TBC). Bears were suddenly the king of the tanking hill AND melee damage. This was the only real time during which the warrior tanking blues was fully justified, the core of their argument being that they could be either good tanks or damage dealers, but to become one they had to fully give up on the other (something Tankadins still suffer from to this very day, by the way), whereas feral druids had the best of both worlds with one single talent tree.
It lasted all of a month, and druids got a revamp which went too far on some aspects and eventually was to be readjusted a couple of months later again. The most interesting part, though, is that all of this happened before the level cap even got removed.
Now as with the stock market, past performance is no guarantee of future returns, but in terms of intentions, I doubt Blizzard really wants to see level 80 parties consisting of 4 DKs and a healer. I therefore don’t expect DK to be designed to be exceptional either as a tank or a DD, but on the contrary in a way that while it will have its proper niche, dedication and skill will still remain a barrier to get to 80 and carve out your own spot after the novelty effect has worn off.