Let’s talk about Jaina. On the surface, Jaina seems like a boss that’d be a blast to tank. She’s got a little bit of everything: heavy damage, strict positioning requirements, and a tight DPS check to encourage the padder hiding in all of us. Alas, the devil is in the details—and the details here are damning indeed. Despite all appearances, this is the most frustrating fight to tank this expansion, and maybe last expansion too.
Don’t get me wrong, lots of fights can be frustrating while you’re progressing them. Ask me about G’huun dunks. Actually, don’t. Jaina, however, is special even among the pantheon of frustrating-to-progress bosses: her frustrations don’t go away once people have learned the mechanics. So let’s talk about Jaina, and why exactly this fight is so….ugh.
Cutting right to the point: Jaina is frustrating because she actively prevents you, the tank, from doing your job. Not in a “does tons of damage and it kills you” kind of way that most every boss does, but more of a “ignores mechanics tanks rely on to do their jobs” fashion.
At its core, tanking is about three things: controlling boss positioning, consistency, and mitigating damage—in roughly that order. Jaina’s mechanics and tuning defy the tank’s ability to accomplish these tasks, but not in a way that they can outplay.
Hold on, Moving the Boss
Let’s kick things off with the elephant in the room: positioning. Controlling enemy positioning is, frankly, the most important role a tank fills. If you’re pushing content at a high level but not accomplishing this, you’re not getting very far. Despite this, Jaina completely violates a tank’s ability to control boss positioning.
If you’re familiar with this fight, you’ll be aware that Jaina chain-casts Ice Shard instead of using melee attacks like most other bosses. This fits her: mages don’t generally run around hitting things with their stick. However, it seems to have also introduced real, noticeable issues in her willingness to follow the tank around.
Most of the time, moving a boss goes like this: I move, and the boss follows me as soon as it is done casting. Jaina doesn’t. When I move, she might move. Or she might stand still til I get farther, or closer then farther, or until I taunt. It seems different every time I try, and every second she sits in the fire I get a little more tilted. Every time some poor soul asks me to move the boss while I am begging-on-my-knees-for-the-boss-to-move kilo-light-years away, I get a little closer to just calling it quits for the tier.
This fight is most frustrating in phase one, where movement is restricted to a relatively small area (the boat) and you need to simultaneously get her out of fire, bait Ring of Frost away from the ranged, and keep her nearest the ballista you’re baiting Frozen Siege onto.
Layered on top of this frustration is the realization that this is Jaina after they “fixed” her positioning. According to the hotfix notes from February 1st, they “adjusted Ice Shard and Grasp of Frost so that Jaina will cast while moving and be easier to maneuver around the field.” This is how she is after they cleaned up her movement. It got through testing, went live, got hotfixed, and is still infuriating to deal with.
This brings us to the second major problem with Jaina: the spell queue. Many bosses in WoW keep a queue of abilities that are off cooldown, and then will use one of their queued abilities when they’re next able (i.e. not casting or performing a cutscene). Thus, that Jaina uses a spell queue isn’t surprising or really all that problematic on its own. The real issue is the way it interacts with the fight design.
The first, and honestly relatively minor issue, is that Jaina has a lot of abilities to cast. No surprise here, she’s a mage. But: this means she routinely ends up with 2-3 spells queued up—and you have no idea which queued ability she will use first.
This problem is manageable. Previous bosses have had abilities swap orders due to the spell queue. G’huun did this a little in phase 3, and Argus had many, many variations on ability order in phase 1. These bosses, however, did not spend all of their time casting Ice Shard.
Note again that Jaina spends most of her time casting Ice Shard. This means that she can have abilities queued, but then not cast them. Worse: she apparently doesn’t prioritize queued abilities over Ice Shard, so abilities can sit in the queue for tens of seconds. This is most noticeable when you make the call to, for example, not taunt swap so that the Brewmaster takes avalanche instead of the interminably slow Paladin. Or to wait for the Freezing Blast cast before crossing to the other side of the ship, screwing your movement when she waits a year to cast it before finally doing so after you’ve blown Provoke to force her to move.
This queueing problem has further snowball effects: the fight can be dramatically different from pull to pull. Don’t get me wrong, a little variation can be fun. To call back to Argus again, phase 1 varied a fair bit—but not so much that it felt like a totally new fight every few pulls.
When a central pillar of your role is to be consistent about positioning and the handling of boss abilities, all of these spell queue interactions suck what little fun is left in the fight right out of it. The difficulty of movement is already bad enough, but adding on layers and layers of randomness that can just completely halt her movement right after you finally get her to follow you is endlessly frustrating.
Speaking of frustrating, let’s go over Jaina’s tank mechanic real quick. When Ice Shard is cast on a target, they gain a stack of a debuff increasing damage taken from Ice Shard by 10%. This is a pretty standard stacking debuff to force taunt swaps early in the tier that you can then kind-of ignore later in the tier as you start to overgear the fight. However, this mechanic ends up being frustrating due to a combination of tuning and the failures of the rest of the fight.
It’s no secret that Jaina hurts. Even without stacks, each Ice Shard hits like a sack of bricks. Then you add in that the debuff lasts for a whopping thirty seconds and swap timings are unpredictable for the first third of the fight due to spell queueing. The result? “Melees” that are large-by-default and get worse, and sometimes—unpredictably—get much worse.
“But emallson,” you might wonder, “why are you complaining about this as a Brewmaster?” Indeed, this isn’t a large problem for BrM as we have a great kit for this damage profile. However, the problematic because most tanks are not Brewmasters. Notably: VDH, BDK and Prot Paladin all suffer heavily from this mechanic since they cannot have 100% uptime on mitigation, but depending on spell queueing you may run out of normal active mitigation abilities before your cotank’s debuff falls and have to blow a cooldown. Pressing Guardian of Ancient Kings as a glorified Shield of the Righteous to mitigate two-to-three melees feels really bad. Doubly so if you cast it, mitigate one hit, and then she chain-casts for 10 seconds.
Paladins, at least, bring unique utility to help cover their weaknesses. Their usually group-utility kit continues to shine here, and Grace of the Justicar provides some raid healing. Blood DKs have a little extra utility as well, with Anti-Magic Shell giving an extra few seconds of immunity to the Frozen Blood mechanic on Mythic. However, none of these things matter if you die on prog—especially when that death resets your cotank’s debuff for another 30 seconds, while you have no active mitigation because you spent it all getting to the point of your death. A death like this is usually just a wipe.
As a result, tank players are pushed towards playing the tanks that are strong against melee attacks: Brewmasters and Warriors. In fact, this is the only “tank mechanic” on the boss aside from Avalanche, which—in combination with the Frozen Blood effect that freezes you if become separated from the group for too long—further favors tanks with high mobility (*cough* Brewmasters and Warriors *cough*).
Not to say that you need to be playing BrM/War to kill Jaina on any difficulty—the other team in my guild got it with VDH/BDK (the absolute madmen)—but it certainly reduces the chance of a wipe to tank death. It would, however, be an error for Blizzard to ignore social pressures like this. We saw a large influx of newly-rerolled Brewmasters in #brew-questions at the beginning of BoD, and then another wave hit as many guilds got close to Jaina.
The “Hi, I’m a Blood/Paladin/Vengeance/Bear main but my guild asked me to play Brewmaster for Jaina. I’ve read the guides, is there anything I need to know for her specifically?” kind of statement is far too common, and made worse by the fact that, unlike many DPS specs, we cannot simply swap specs to cover what is needed for a fight. To swap tank specs involves leveling, gearing, and maintaining a second raid-ready character. I could get into how this is made more frustrating by the way AP/Azerite have worked this expansion, but this post is already long enough.
To recap, Jaina is such a frustrating fight not solely due to any one of these issues, but due to how they interact and build a uniquely maddening experience. Most of it comes down to movement, a problem which is exaggerated by her inconsistency in phase 1 and the added risk of using taunts to force motion.
I’d like to note that the failures on this boss have broader, worrying implications. In the Q&A where Ion discussed the Fetid Log, he mentioned that they want tanks to be more like “battlefield commanders.” Still no word on exactly what that means, but I cannot imagine any way in which this boss satisfies that. Indeed, the only “successful” tank mechanic on this fight is Ice Shard forcing even a Brewmaster to pay attention to their mitigation—at the cost of undue punishment to the less-sturdy tank specs.
I wish this boss were fun. I was super excited for it when the tier started, but quickly soured on it. The promise it had makes it all the more disappointing that it was utterly ruined by these technical issues.