Gemming question: Stam or Agility?

I had a very nice email earlier today, and after the crazy day I had, it was the perfect capper.

I was gonna talk about my crazy nutso kooky day, but what the hell… this question is about Bears, and the guy really hit the right chord with me, so I guess you folks that hate anything that isn’t about Druids on the blog win out.

This time.

Don’t push it. 🙂

Here is part of the email, from Stratus on the Darkspear server;

Hello Big Bear – 
Anyway – have a question for you.  Myself and another geared bear tank were discussing gemming.  I essentially stam stacked my gems.  Had some expertise in there because mine was so low, but would otherwise go +30 stamina gems – no matter what the color called for.  Anyway, he basically stated I was a moron.  I laughed of course (but inside I was like, damn, maybe I am a moron – lol). He went on to say by me stam gemming I am gaining health at the expense of damage mitigation.  True, I replied, but I am counting on my gear to do that.  I look at gemming for health power mainly.
I could not find any specific BBB blogs on this although you mention in one of your side articles about a blog on that – but I could not find.
Any words of wisdom or articles you could shove my way to look and ponder with regards to high level tank gemming?

Looking forward to your response whenever that may be.
Stratus, Darkspear

Thanks for the really nice email, Stratus. The whole thing was very nice, and I hope you’ll forgive me for just excerpting the parts relevant to your question.

The question about choosing between Stamina and Agility is a great one, because it touches on the part of the game where judgment intercedes against ‘set in stone’ guides.

The short form answer to your question is, no, you are not a moron, because clearly you have given thought to your Bear and grasp the basics of mitigation (and I assume you’re lumping avoidance in with it) and health pools, but yes, you could be doing a little better in your gemming selection criteria.

Lemme ‘splain.

As a Bear tank, when choosing between Stamina or Agility gems, you are making a choice between either a higher health cushion to eat the damage and last longer before healing is needed, or increased avoidance to do the “sidestep bear butt boogie” and avoid the damage entirely.

There is a fine line between having just enough health, and an overabundance of health as compared to Dodge.

Let’s start with increasing health. We’ll slip some Dodge tank in afterwards.

What your intent is with increasing health, is to have enough health to ensure that your healers are never drastically rushed in trying to get in that desperate last second heal to keep you from taking a dirt nap. When you increase your health pool, it appears that the more health you have, the more reaction time you are giving to the healer to respond to your incoming damage.

Healers these days are frequently responsible for healing the main tank, and also a bunch of other people too. If your health is consistently too low, the healer has to focus on healing you to the exclusion of everyone else just to keep that next blow you take from being your last.

Some of those other players may take damage, especially in fights like Ick and the ramp before the tunnel run immediately after in Pit of Saron, and die from lack of healing if the healer has to be all over you.

The more health you have, the safer the healer will feel in letting you get your face beat in while he or she is busy popping some much needed heals on the rest of the party. Right? That seems reasonable, amiright?

From hearing me talk, you might think that there is no better thing than having a huge health pool. After all, I’m implying that the more you’ve got, the more time the healer has to react, right?

Well, that is true, IF you have balanced your health with avoidance.

For the long time theorycrafters out there, please realize that I’m not speaking about armor caps and mitigation, or Defense or Dodge Rating, or comfortable Critical Strike levels for Savage Defense. We’re talking the basics of Stam vs Agi.  It’s okay, trust me, I know you got this already. 🙂

Back to health balanced with avoidance.

You have been a dutiful bear tank, you have gotten new gear upgrades through drops and Emblems while following my lists, and along the way you have stacked Stamina like a madman. Er, bear.

You pop into Heroic Pit of Saron, and you are surprised to find that you feel very squishy. You have lots of health, that’s true, tons and tons and gobs and oodles of health.

Problem is, when the big hits come in, you go down like a… umm… wow, okay, for the adults, pretend there was a Navy shore leave joke there, and a good one at that. For everyone else, let’s say you go down like a stone dropped in a still pond. A pond with aerated water.

You have the big health numbers, but you’re taking massive damage, and that health pool is disappearing fast.

Now, if your healer is from a pug, or is generally unfamiliar with you, they might have seen your high health and assumed you were well balanced in gear. With that thought in mind, they might have given you scant attention, and focused more on keeping the party alive.

Suddenly, your health plummets, they abandon the party in a panic to spam mana-intensive big, fat, fast heals on you, and by the time they started you were already below half and dropping fast.

You’ve got a massive health pool. The healer is used to getting you topped back off to full and then going back to the party.

Low and behold, you’re NOT getting back to full, because you keep taking damage. The healer is trying to fill an infinite well with a thimble, the party members are yelping and trying to find the Potion or *gasp* Bandage buttons, while the DPS are frantically fending for themselves the damage going outbound slows down, and the fight takes even longer.

The healer quietly has a nervous breakdown while wondering what *they* are doing wrong.

I think you get the overdramatized point.

This is where Agility, and the avoidance it brings, comes into play.

As your Dodge (and Dodge Rating, Defense Rating, Armor, all the avoidance and mitigation stats) increases, the rate of speed of incoming damage slows down.

Mitigation is already reducing damage taken, and your Dodge is causing some attacks to be avoided entirely. As you increase Agility, the better your Dodge score becomes, and the more attacks that just go whizzing by your cute furry ear.

Agility also improves your Critical Strike Rating, and as your Crits become more frequent, your Savage Defense passive ability procs more often. Savage Defense, of course, causes the next incoming physical attack that does damage to be lessened by 25% of your attack power. It can proc as fast as you can crit, and your Swipe has the potential to cause an individual Crit from every single mob hit. That’s a lot of chain crits when swarmed, and that’s a whole lot of mitigation.

That is why stacking Stamina gems to a lower health level than you might think, and balancing the rest with Agility, can be such a powerful combination for your runs.

The healer may be taken aback by your seemingly low comparative health. Say, 40,000 health. A mere pittance, you think.

And then, as the fight begins, the effects of your 50%+ Dodge come into play.

Attacks will still strike you, but the frequency of successful attacks is reduced, you take damage at a slower pace, and the healer has a lot more time to react to the damage you HAVE taken. Time that can better be spent ignoring your invulnerable silly bear butt and paying attention to those DPS that forget to hustle their tushies out of the green fire. Again.

That is the point to balancing Agility and Stamina. Having the health to survive the big single blows and rapid damage spikes, and the avoidance and mitigation to slow the rate of incoming damage overall way the hell down.

So, how much should you take of both? What are the limits?

It depends purely on your understanding of how health and Dodge affect your role in your groups, and then basing your decision on the content you are trying to prepare to run. 

I could link you to my character on the armory, Windshadow, assuming she is logged out in Bear gear (I have no Cat gear, I either tank or heal. No middle ground.) and let you see the choices I have made based on 5 person Heroic/no raiding gamestyles. But it’s not important, what is important is where I’m at just from non-raid stuffs, and how effective it can be.

In current gear, my health totally unbuffed is 36,587 and my Dodge unbuffed at rest is 43.39%.

That Dodge seems low, doesn’t it?

But wait, there is more than is immediately apparent that I’ve factored into my gear plan!

First, I have The Black Heart, for a frequently procced increased physical damage mitigation buff. You’d be surprised what an extra 7k armor can do against physical damage.

For increased Dodge aside from gems and enchants, I have factored in Darkmoon Card: Greatness (Agility), the Mongoose weapon enchant and the Idol of the Corrupter.

So, unbuffed base of 43.39%.

  • Add 1.66% when Lightning/Mongoose procs (and it procs a LOT on group swipes).
  • Add 3.89% when Darkmoon Card: Greatness procs.
  • Add 2.02% when the Idol procs.

When all three buffs are up, which does happen quite often, I’m running around with 50.96% Dodge. Unbuffed.

Mongoose is damn near always up, and at least one of the other two is usually with it.

Add in Mark of the Wild, Kings (I carry Drums of Forgotten Kings, of course) and Agility food buffs and it just goes up from there.

That health probably seems a bit low even after you’ve read all this Dodge gunk, but I always carry Runescrolls of Fortitude, so I know that when the Big Bear be tanking, I’ve got a Fort buff guaranteed. 🙂

The final result?

I cannot play without having any healer at all… but there have been plenty of times when the healer has gone down, and I have lasted a truly ridiculously long time without heals on a boss fight or against multiple mobs, because although my total health pool at start is lower than most tanks, if I am suddenly on my own, I have the option of popping Survival Instincts, Frenzied Regeneration and Lifeblood, and becoming a full-on energizer bunny, with the avoidance and mitigation to slow down the rate of incoming damage to a crawl.

The lesson to be learned as a Bear tank is, if you intelligently balance health and avoidance against the content you are running, throw in a well timed powerful self-heal and a temporarily increased health pool as needed, and use Barksin and Crit like a banshee, you’re going to be a favorite tank for healers… at least, the ones that like to know at least ONE idiot in the run won’t be driving them nuts.

Stratus, I sure hope this helps you gain a bit more insight into the considerations you make when looking at gemming.

At the very least, thank you for a nice, polite, friendly and well written letter. I hope you and your friend have plenty of fun chewing on all the things I intentionally left out. 🙂

Take care, everyone!

66 thoughts on “Gemming question: Stam or Agility?

  1. I agree with your take on balancing the two. The way I see it is this; when you press your ‘I can haz tank naow’ button your Stamina is buffed by 25%, but your Agility is not buffed. This may cause a lot of people to stack Stamina since you get a bigger increase out of it, but I take it as an indication that raw Stamina is less important, since I’m getting 25% more for free. I try to keep my Agility as high as I can without gimping Stamina too much (below 35000 in bear) since I need every point of Agility I can get… none of that is coming for free, but Stamina is less important since I press my tanky button and *poof* get more of it.


  2. BBB, thanks for the postings. My guild has long-standing tank & healers (without much interest in developing new ones) so my druid dropped the Tree offspec and solos instances as a bear, instead. (Currently working through soloing the Outland Dungeon Hero achieve. I’m sure it’s easy enough for a geared bear, but at ~4400GS, I’m still having to think about some of the pulls – and the trash turns out to be way harder than the bosses!)

    It’s useful to get your perspective on bears – too many sites assume I’m going to be MT for ICC25, when at the moment, my bear’s not gone beyond normal Nexus!

    Reading this post, I think I need to pick up a few socket bonuses (like the +8 AG 245 helm socket) that I’ve been missing by gemming Solid Majestics on the advice of “all stamina, all the time!”
    I like the health pool, but as I never have a healer, it’d be nice to get more self-healing-love coming along.

    Thanks for your thoughts – it helps my cub grow up!


  3. I know you mentioned you go one way or the other, either healy or bear. For those dual ferals out there, I love doing heroics in kitty gear. Rawr for insane dodge and savage defense procs, that works all the way up to ToC 10 and my healers still say I’m boring to heal. With higher than that though, I need the extra health and right now, especially with Chill of the Throne, I haven’t gotten past the point where anything other than more stam is the way to go. Maybe if I get more of that ICC 25 gear…


  4. hahaha, yeah I only noticed the date after coming to the site. I assume its why the link to wind no longer works.

    I have just switched to bear after realising how much tanking crap I had from off drops. Has been fun in the main, but in the day of GS & HP, its stam gems & trinks all the way. Trying to farm the needle in fos for H tanking, but starting to think they removed it from the loot table /cry


  5. Holy post resurrection, batman! Where in the world did WoW find this one to link to? I thought it was dead dead dead.

    Could be worse. They could have linked to posts about lot lizards.


  6. Great article, makes me interested in going bear for cata (when they nerf trees – and no persistant TOL is a nerf in my book).

    Another thing I’ve been told is that on raid bosses, you factor in things like effective health, and time until death. Like on fester, if you are at say 50k and he does 25k per second (not unreasonable, believe me), you will last exactly two seconds. If you have 51k health, you will last 3 seconds. If you have 74k health, 3 second. So, at some point you gotta say, okay, adding more health isn’t really going to help, the time till death is unchanged. Then go for mitigation. I think its easy to see that 80k buffed is reasonable in ICC or something, but 100k really isn’t, and that’s the crux (and just go with me on the numbers, of course i’ve seen ridiculous stuff about if A B C D E F G H I J all proc at once i get 200k health in ICC, and that is true, but not the point at all).


  7. I’m a bit late to the discussion. 😛

    When it comes to tanking modern raiding content, Effective Health is king. The most efficient stat for EH is Armor (esp. with the ICC buff up to 20%!), and Bears get a nice amount of Armor from Agility. Shifting Dreadstones are thus fantastic for red slots that give you a bonus you want. As an example, say you have a piece of armor with one red slot that would give you +12 Stamina if you met the bonus. If you slot it with a Shifting Dreadstone, you’ll have 15 Agility and 27 Stamina, while slotting it with a +30 Stamina gem would just give you 30 Stamina. The Shifting is better for pretty much everybody, and it is even better for Bears than for other tanks.


  8. Seems to be a general misunderstanding about the difference between ‘avoidance’ and ‘mitigation’

    If you avoid a hit you take 0 damage. As a bear you avoid a hit by it either missing you ‘+defence’ or ‘dodging’ it

    If you mitigate a hit you take full damage less the amount of mitigation. You mitigate a hit by either Bear Blocking it or by armor.

    The reason that the dodge/stam issue has sort of died for ICC bears (and ICC is achieavable for a majority of the playerbase if they so choose is).

    So in ICC – (not heroics which if you are tanking in easily obtainable 232 gear you could gem intellect).

    1. Healers have infinite mana (there is a reason for the big change in Cata and this is it)

    2. Blizz has accepted that healers have infinite mana and has designed encounters around a 10 man tank having 1 and half healers spamming him constantly

    3. 20% buff makes Stam more valuable than agility as it scales better.

    Breaks down to if you gear dodge you will get gimped occasionally (and we haven’t even started about talking about the DR effect that applies to dodge). If you gear stam your healers will have to spend mana on you which they will never run out of.

    Btw I like the anecodetes, if I wanted pure info I’d read another blog.


  9. I’ve never actually thought about gemming in Agil gems for tanking. Surprisingly I’ve never had a problem with my avoidance being low.
    I’ve been tanking raids for about a year now, with a disc priest mostly tank healing.
    I think possibly power word shield along with savage defense might be why I don’t notice myself taking big hits.
    I only have 1 gem that isn’t 30 stam, it’s 10 agil/10 hit. I was under the hit cap, and I knew agility was helpful for bears. so I threw that onto my ashen band to also get the socket bonus from it and activate my meta

    I have roughly 40k in caster form
    53k in bear form
    80k fully buffed in Icecrown with the current Raidwide 20% buff.


  10. I absolutely missed the rest of this discussion – and don’t feel qualified to add anything further, except that I hope you can hang onto that good feeling. Some people keep blogs that are purely informational – very stat/strat focused. Other people keep blogs that are largely anecdotal and for entertainment. I think of this one as a mix of the two – you are a guy who knows a lot, sometimes you write about it, sometimes you write about going to Home Depot with your son and building a wagon. It’s why I didn’t stop reading even when I wasn’t bear tanking, and why I stayed beyond “OK, this is what you do as a bear tank,” because it’s interesting. I guess it’s easy for me to say, I have such a small readership that rarely do I get rude comments of any sort, but don’t let ’em get you down – they’re the minority!
    .-= Vidyala´s last blog ..Identity Crises =-.


  11. Here’s the thing, if I count my sockets in tanking gear I have 21…

    If I gemmed 100% agility I’d gain 5.99% crit and 10.42% dodge (with Kings) _not_accounting_for_diminishing_returns_.
    If I gemmed 100% stamina I’d gain 10302 health (with Kings).

    Interestingly enough starting at ~45% dodge or 45,000HP that’s about 1/5 more attacks avoided or 1/5 more health.

    Not that it matters; I do heroics in ArP gear anyway.


  12. In ICC for bears while stam is king, use of cooldowns is princely. The 20% dodge reduction when tanking druids are already well into diminishing returns effectively caps further avoidance. Proper glyphs, armor, stam, and the use of cooldowns are what keeps one alive during the crunch times.

    Feyhairn/Earthen Ring


  13. I started reading blogs because I was wondering how the heck I was suppose to “heal raids” that everyone was asking me to do. Ego’s blog is the reason my Priesty butt made it through Kara back in the days. I found BRK and lo and behold – I started a hunter because he made it look like so much fun! (and it was!) I found your blog and I rolled a Druid that I just couldn’t wait to get to Bear-lvl! I read Tanking Tips because it makes me bear the pug’s as a tank. In short – I am so thankful for the wow-blogging communtiy – you guys make my gameplay so much more fun- and varied!


  14. Raiding bears are in luck.

    Much like cats have, for several tiers of content now, silently cried their little kitty tears about the relatively high ratio of stamina to agility, ICC level gear in both ten and twenty-five man tiers is considerably more balanced.

    3B covers most of the facts up top really well, still there is one facet that’s been discussed in the comments but really needs to be nailed home: How you gem changes dependent on what type of content you’re doing and where you’re getting your gear from.

    Case in point, if you compare several of the leather pieces from ToC 10 (or ToGC 10 for that matter) you’ll find a higher array of stamina to agility. This may make agility a tempting prospect. You’re already packing a great deal of stamina as a baseline on your gear.

    Compare the same iLvl of gear to the ICC 5man content and you’ll find a much higher allotment of DPS stats and agility versus stamina. In this case, it’s almost without exception worth gemming towards stamina. You’ve got plenty of threat and agility already on your gear.

    In high level raid content, being a mana sponge isn’t necessarily a bad thing these days. My (completely unscientific) opinion is that having less avoidance generally just means you’re overhealed these days. You can take that as you will. All I know is that the large HP difference between myself and the various other guild tanks meant there chants of “Festergut will *humble you!*” went unsubstantiated.

    One other thing worth mentioning about gemming/enchanting is this: Your trinket slots allow unparalleled customization in terms of your overall avoidance/health. Tossing on a Corroded Skeleton Key and a Juggernaut’s Vitality/Black Heart pumps your health up in a big way. Likewise, an agility Greatness card and Ick’s Thumb will do a great deal to bump up your avoidance when you’re hungry for it.

    Don’t forget the individual encounter as well. When Saurfang comes up and the RP has passed, having two avoidance trinkets on to prevent him stacking up any more Blood Power will do more for the raid then your big wad of HP from your two stam trinkets ever will.

    Just to underline there’s always variables to consider, I’m firmly in the “stack stam” category (go go 65k HP) but as of late due to the lack of hit on ICC feral gear I’ve fallen below the 8% hit cap. Given how terrible a missed Growl can be, yellow sockets have been filling up with hit/stam gems to bump me back up to that magic percentage.

    Happy bearing!


  15. Good job, BBB… 🙂

    For people using RAWR, check on like the 3rd tab where it specifies what level of content you’re clearing. That basically puts a threshold to meet for your stamina, then it’ll start suggesting switching to more Agi.

    i.e. for Heroics you might need only 30,000 health, so if your gear provides that, you can gem all Agi. For ToGC, you might need 60k, and then (if you can reach that) switch to Agi.

    Rawr will generate radically different suggestions based on that setting (and the “threat” setting.)


  16. @Savvy-Savvage: I guess Phelps was the one to understand your post correctly then. My apologies for thinking the worst of you, and thanks for taking the time to clear up the misunderstanding graciously.


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