Now that we’ve discussed the basic mechanics that underpin Vengeance gameplay, let’s talk about putting it all together.
Avoiding damage is the core of tank gameplay, regardless of class or spec. What separates poor tanks from good tanks and good from great is how much damage you can effectively prevent from reaching your health bar. Demon Hunters use two forms of mitigation, effectively – there is damage prevention, stopping the damage from ever hitting, and there is healing mitigation, which is using your toolkit to heal the damage you do take.
On average, there is no avoiding it – you will, as a Vengeance Demon Hunter, take more damage than any other tank. You can smooth through this damage intake with a number of our base abilities, and talent choices can further reduce the damage you take, but at a baseline, your health will be hit harder than any other tank. Our armor, while sufficient, is low, and we only have access to small amounts of passive avoidance – some chance to dodge via Agility, and some Parry via our Crit. At item level 893 right now, as an example, I have only about 22% total avoidance between those two stats. We do have a 10% passive reduced damage taken as of 7.1.5, but this merely places us closer to the passive mitigation offered by other tanks.
Further, as the new class on the block, the stereotype is that Demon Hunters are poor tanks. You may see healers hesitate to group with you, and the easiest way to allay their concerns is to master your active abilities for reducing damage.
This post will break it down into 3 categories – physical damage, magical damage, and all damage. We’ll start with all damage, and go from there!
Demonic Wards – this is our passive tank-booster. It gives us 55% more stamina, 120% more armor, and applies a 10% reduction to all incoming damage. This is baseline for all Vengeance players. When you look at a damage number in the dungeon journal or on a guide, keep this reduction in mind.
Soul Cleave (healing mitigation) – Soul Cleave is our core recovery ability, used to heal up large amounts of damage when consuming Soul Fragments and/or spending large amounts of Pain. It is a core part of our rotation, and so should be used pretty regularly anyways. Keep an eye on your Pain levels and incoming damage – you can bank the Pain for a big Soul Cleave after taking harsh damage. Your healers will thank you! This can be modified by the talent Feast of Souls to add a HoT heal after, based solely on attack power. If you fear that your self-healing is insufficient, this talent is a solid choice.
Painbringer (artifact gold trait) – Painbringer automatically triggers upon consuming Soul Fragments, by walking over them, Soul Cleaving them up, or using Soul Barrier. For each fragment consumed, you reduce your damage taken by 3%, stacking up to 5 times (conveniently, our max fragment count). At max, this means 15% more damage reduction. You can hold a max Fragment Soul Cleave for a moment before taking big damage, and use this trait to buffer against the incoming damage. By the recommended artifact progression on sites like WoWhead and Icy Veins, this is your last gold trait to get, so if you feel squishy but don’t yet have this trait, know that it does get better! Keep in mind you can walk over fragments to receive the benefit of this trait, so don’t feel as though you are screwed if you don’t have the Pain for a Soul Cleave (granted, you might still be screwed after, but hey! Don’t despair!)
Charred Warblades (artifact gold trait)(healing mitigation) – Charred Warblades is usually the second gold trait you will get when following most theorycrafter’s guides, and rightly so – this trait is potent. Charred Warblades heals you for 15% of the Fire damage you deal, and with abilities like Sigil of Flame, Infernal Strike, Felblade (if you take it), Immolation Aura, Soul Carver, and more all doing Fire damage, this will heal you for a lot. One of the biggest survival jumps you will see when leveling a Vengeance tank will be from this trait. It synergizes very well with Fiery Brand, which does Fire damage itself, and will increase the Fire damage you deal to an enemy with the trait Fiery Demise. You can use this understanding to your advantage by timing your Fire damage-dealers to line up with Fiery Brand, resulting in a bust of healing.
Soul Barrier (talent choice) – Soul Barrier allows you to convert Soul Fragments into a bigger shield, but even at a base level with zero fragments, this talent will absorb a decent chunk of incoming damage. It is best used with Soul Fragments available to maximize your absorbed damage, but in a pinch, you can simply convert 10 Pain into a small absorb shield to take the edge off a spike in damage. This scales quite well with gear, so the absorb will gain potency as you gear up.
Spirit Bomb (talent choice)(healing mitigation) – Spirit Bomb gives you a good uptick in healing, by using a Soul Fragment to instead do damage and debuff enemies in the area of effect with Frailty, healing you for 20% of the damage done to those targets for its duration. A build with both Spirit Bomb and Soul Barrier can begin to rival the HPS of an actual healer in raid content. This is exceptionally good for Mythic Keystone dungeons, and synergizes nicely with Charred Warblades, as Fire damage dealt to targets with Frailty will double-dip on healing.
Fel Devastation (talent choice)(healing mitigation) – Fel Devastation is a potent frontal cone cooldown, dealing large amounts of Fire damage, and healing for twice the damage dealt (plus 15% of damage dealt on top of that via Charred Warblades). This talent is great for the novice DH tank, as it serves as an excellent “oh shit!” button that will nearly always top off your health bar.
Soul Carver (healing mitigation, sort of) – Our artifact ability serves as the last layer of generic damage prevention and healing, doing Fire damage (blah blah Charred Warblades synergy) and providing a large number of Soul Fragments to setup big Soul Cleave heals, big Soul Barriers, Spirit Bombs aplenty, or just running around and grabbing them, which then also grants Painbringer (unless you Genki Dama them all into your enemies).
Fiery Brand – once every minute, for 8-10 seconds (depending on artifact progression), you can reduce one target’s damage dealt to you by 40%. Learning how to time this is worth the effort, as your base temptation will be to use this as a DPS cooldown, since it hits pretty hard. The talent Burning Alive will make this replicate every two seconds and spread to another nearby enemy. Great in its base incarnation against boss damage, and Burning Alive is well worth taking if you are an add-tank, or do a lot of Mythic Keystone. Also, this is getting its own gold trait in the new artifact progression in 7.2 (see my post about that here).
Demon Spikes – use this. No, seriously, USE THIS. Rookie tanks tend to fail at the basics, like using your smoothing. Learn to balance charges of Demon Spikes, keep one charge rolling at all times, and keep one for big physical damage spikes or mitigation checks. This reduces the largest chunk of our incoming damage on most fights, save for a couple of exceptions in Nighthold, and is the reason we favor Mastery in our gearing quite a bit. This has lots of empowerments, from the Parry buff given by the artifact trait Defensive Spikes, to damage dealt and snares via the talent Razor Spikes. It is powerful, increasing our Parry and reducing received physical damage a lot. Mastering Demon Spikes usage will get you out of the game of ping-pong with your healthbar.
Metamorphosis – this is our biggest cooldown, our game changer, and our only stock “oh shit!” button. On a five minute cooldown, Metamorphosis makes you look like a badass rock demon, increasing your armor and buffing your health. The health is universally beneficial, but the armor excels at ensuring big physical hits glance right off of you. Demon Spikes used during Metamorphosis ensures that physical damage is far less of a threat. You may not use this on every encounter, but I would suggest finding scary moments where you can use it on every fight. It reduces our damage taken substantially, looks cool, causes us to do more damage, and gives us more Pain and Soul Fragments. All of these together make this one of the strongest tank cooldowns in the game today. The gold artifact trait Fueled by Pain will make Metamorphosis trigger randomly when consuming Soul Fragments, and the 110 tier talent Last Resort will trigger this once every 8 minutes if you are beaten to death, saving you from going down.
Consume Magic – an interrupt? Yes, this is an important thing to learn as a tank – interrupting incoming spells that can be interrupted is mitigation. Learning what can be interrupted and doing so when you can will save you damage taken, save your raid members the same if it is an AoE, and, for us, grants Pain as well, further aiding your mitigation. Use it. Sigil of Silence counts here as well, but it’s limited to use on trash packs, where it shines. Use it too!
Empower Wards – this reduces magical damage taken by 30% for 6 seconds every 30 seconds. Get into the habit of using this for any and all magical damage. On bosses with lots of it (Star Augur Etraeus comes to mind) learn the biggest damage spikes and use it then. The artifact trait Siphon Power grants us Agility based on the damage prevented by this ability, so maximizing its use also means more attack power, for bigger heals, and more Dodge. All around, using this frequently and when it can be maximized will separate you from the pack.
Use Demon Spikes, keep a charge rolling. Use Empower Wards when you see big magic damage coming in. Interrupt things, you dummy. Soul Cleave when you are gonna cap Pain, need a big heal, or both! Utilize your Soul Fragments and know how many you have and when you can use them to best effect. If you pick some talents, know when to use them and how they can help your damage intake. Turn into big scary rock demon when you are taking lots of physical damage, or to generate enough Pain and Soul Fragments to use your all-around great damage reducers.
Next time, I’m gonna wrap this series up by talking about our damage dealing abilities, and how doing big DPS (in the right way) can actually help us as a tank!