I believe that it is crucial for every hunter to understand how threat and aggro works. Not just to have and addon to warn them, but to understand it.
Hunters have a powerful aggro-management tool in Feign Death, but too often it leads to sloppy behavior. Shoot shoot shoot, pull aggro and – no problem, I’ll just FD. What all hunters need to understand is if you pull aggro, and then FD, you could end up wiping the raid.
So to start off, let’s define a couple things:
Aggro: the character that a mob is attacking. Thus if you’re being attacked, you have aggro.
Aggro List: every mob has a list of everyone that it’s gonna get around to attacking, when it has a chance. This list includes everyone with any threat, and anyone in combat with it.
Threat: anything you do to get on the aggro list. Usually, doing damage.
Awesomesauce: a tasty topping of awesomeness that does not go well with aggro
The Basic Numbers
Some crazy people did a ton of testing, using science, to determine exactly how threat and aggro works in WoW. Seriously, they were insane to do these tests. However, we now have answers and it is based on this scientific, repeatable testing upon which threat addons like Omen are based.
Doing damage is our base unit of Threat.
1 damage = 1 Threat
Simple enough. So if you shoot the boss for 3,500 damage, you just did 3,500 threat. Now, your tank isn’t going to be doing as much damage as you, but that’s okay because they have abilities that generate extra threat in addition to the damage they deal. Your tenacity pet’s Thunderstomp does the same thing — for every 1 damage thunderstomp does it causes a total of 2.5 threat. Tanks are like that too. So a tank may have done only 1,000 damage, but they might have 4,000 threat.
Here’s the interesting thing: having more threat than the tank does not mean you’ll pull aggro. You need 10% more threat than the tank to pull aggro. So the tank can have 1,000 threat and you can have 1,050 threat and the mob is still on the tank.
Even better: if you’re out of melee range you need 30% more threat than the current target to pull aggro. This also means that the tank can have 1,000 threat and you have 1,200 threat but you don’t pull aggro. However, if you then stop shooting, but move closer to the mob and you can suddenly pull aggro, even if you have a DoT tick for just 1 point of damage.
Healing also causes Threat, only it works slightly differently. We’re not going to get into the details, because we’re all hunters here, but healing basically causes .5 threat per point of healing. This sounds good and safe on the surface, but generally healers are healing a lot more that a dpser is damaging. Healers usually have talents to reduce the threat their heals cause, and are still often up on the top of the threat lists.
Note that this works for you too. If you bandage, you’re causing threat to all the mobs in combat, or if you drink a healing potion, or heal your pet. This is part of the reason that ferocity pets are so good at holding single-target aggro — because they heal themselves with every attack, which causes threat in addition to their superior damage.
How it All Falls Apart
So here’s a very typical situation: 25-man raid on a progression raid. So not something that you have on farm, but something challenging that you’re still learning. You’re halfway through the fight, and it’s looking good. What you aren’t seeing is the actual threat list, which maybe looks like this:
- Tank – has aggro
- Hunter dpser
- Warlock dpser
- Main healer
- Raid healer 1
- Death Knight dpser
- Warrior dpser
But here’s the thing, let’s assign some make-believe yet realistic threat numbers:
- Tank – 1,000,000 threat – has aggro
- Hunter dpser – 1,289,843 threat
- Warlock dpser – 1,123,483 threat
- Main healer – 1,022,435 threat
- Raider healer 1 – 1,009,827 threat
- Death Knight dpser – 987,832 threat
- Warrior dpser – 979,102 threat
So as we’re playing, everything looks fine. The tank has aggro, everyone else is shooting and healing like crazy. The top dpsers get the little warning glow that they’re high on threat, but it seems good, the tank knows what he’s doing, and they just gotta keep riding that edge.
But, the hunter is perilously close to pulling aggro, and the warlock is not far behind. But more importantly, the top two dpsers and the top two healers all have more threat than the tank. Because they haven’t exceeded his threat by 10% or 30% (depending on range) they haven’t pulled aggro.
So here’s what happens, and I’m telling you I’ve seen it. (Actually I’m now also telling you that I’ve done it): The hunter gets of a nice crit streak and get more than 30% of the tank’s threat and pulls aggro. The boss turns to attack the hunter. The hunter hits FD, which wipes his threat to zero. Here’s the problem:
Now the boss attacks the character highest on his aggro list — the Warlock. As you imagine, the boss one-shots the lock. Next highest? The main healer. One shot. Then another healer. One shot. Now even if the tank regains aggro, the raid has lost it’s crucial healing and can’t keep up. What happens next?
They all die horribly. And it’s the hunter’s fault. Your fault.
You paying their repair bills?
“But Tanks Can Taunt” and Other Sundry Excuses
Yes, tanks can taunt to try to clean up your mess when you fail at your job. Basically at this point you’re relying on the tank to be better at his role than you are at yours. But even if he’s on the ball you may still have wiped the raid because:
- Taunt can be resisted! So the tank can taunt and fail to regain aggro.
- Taunt has a cooldown. It could be on cooldown when you mess up – and some bosses dump threat and the tanks need to plan their taunt cooldowns for those moments.
- If your tank is a hate-filled asshole like mine, he’ll make sure you die before he taunts.
I’ve heard a lot of other excuses for pulling aggro, and none of them are good. “I got a bunch of crits in a row!” “My FD was resisted!” “I didn’t do anything, I swear!” Sure, it happens to us all – but if the tank is standing and you pull aggro from him, it’s all your fault.
How to FD Properly
Now that you understand threat and aggro, there are two things you need to know about Feign Death to know how to FD properly.
- Feign Death, when it works, wipes your threat to zero. Zip. Nada. You are now at the very bottom of the aggro list.
- Feign Death can be resisted. There is a chance (around 16%, reduced by hit chance, but it will seem like more) that you will hit the FD button, drop to the ground, but it won’t lower your threat. In all likelihood you’ll also not see the resisted message, because that’s the way life works.
With Wrath, tanks cause a lot more threat than they used to, so the FD early, FD often isn’t as big a deal as it used to be. However, in a boss fight, you want to FD early, and FD at least a couple more times.
Ideally you have a threat addon like Omen that shows you exactly where your threat is. To me the most valuable thing about Omen is I can see when my FD was resisted, because I don’t drop off the aggro list. I generally like to be on the bottom of the list. That way if something goes wrong, I’m not the first one getting munched. I usually FD the first time after two rotations of my shot cycle. If it’s resisted, I reign back my dps and FD again the second I can.
After that, you want to FD again about halfway through the fight. At that point, you’ll probably never pull aggro unless the boss has an aggro dump or everyone wipes. Look at the threat example above. The tank has 1,000,000 threat. The hunter has 1,289,843 threat. The hunter FDs and is now at Zero threat to the tank’s 1 million threat. That hunter is never going to pull aggro for the rest of that fight.