Update 9 Aug 2018: Personal Absorb-o-Tron was nerfed fairly significantly, and I was able to get my hands on the remaining Azerite traits to test them. The relevant sections have been updated accordingly.
Azerite powers are a new system in Battle for Azeroth, similar to the Netherlight Crucible from Legion. They provide various bonuses and augment your skills in ways similar to tier set bonuses or legendaries, but at a slightly lower power level.
Let’s take a look at the traits available to Guardians. First, I’ll cover the set of traits specific to Guardian (or traits from other Druid specs that Guardian can select) on the outer ring (Tier 3), and then some of the more general tanking-related traits that are available on the middle and inner rings (Tier 2 and Tier 1, respectively). Because many traits scale with item level, I will be assuming an item level of 370 (Heroic Uldir) for all trait values, except for the Engineering traits which are only available up to 340.
I’ll only be focusing on the value of single traits ufor now (that is, going from having none of a trait to having one of that trait), since much of the value comes from the effects that don’t scale with the number of instances of that trait that are present. As a result, stacking more than one of a particular trait will have reduced value and usually be worse than taking the first instance of another trait. As a general rule: values that are denoted by the variables X or Y scale with item level and trait stacking.
Disclaimer: Blizzard have been pushing out hotfixes to Azerite traits almost daily for the last week or so, often changing the values on traits by 5x or more. As a result, the values and assessments in this post are subject to change. They are accurate as of the date of this post, and I will try to keep them up to date in case further changes are made.
The following traits are available only to Druids. Most of these are Guardian specific, but some are shared between Feral and Balance as well. You are guaranteed at least one Guardian specific trait and one generic trait on every azerite piece, although it is possible to have more if one of the shared traits is present for another spec.
At 370, the value of the reduction is 538 damage per melee. If we assume a standardized enemy swing timer of 2 seconds per melee, with a Barkskin duration of 12 seconds you will reduce 6 melees per use, per enemy. That’s a total reduction of 3230 (give or take a few points due to rounding) damage per Barkskin, per target. If you use Barkskin on cooldown, you will average around 36 damage reduced per second over the course of a fight, but this is atypical since you will often want to save Barkskin for specific mechanics which may not necessarily align with the cooldown.
Here is a graph of how delaying Barkskin relates to the average damage reduction of Craggy Bark:
Frankly, this trait is pretty terrible. Not only is it only active during Barkskin when you already have a 20% damage reduction going, but the amount that it reduces is not especially meaningful and it only works on melee attacks. Unless this trait is buffed, I’d recommend avoiding it where possible.
- Gory Regeneration - Mangle increases the duration of an active Frenzied Regeneration by 1 second. Additionally, Frenzied Regeneration heals for X more per second.
At 370 the extra heal is valued at 1573 extra healing per second, for a total of 6292 additional healing per cast. This extra healing is present regardless of whether the Frenzied Regeneration is empowered by Mangle or not. Additionally, the extension occurs per target hit, meaning that if you have Incarnation: Guardian of Ursoc and you can hit 3 targets with Mangle, you will get 3 seconds of extension per cast. That in addition to the cooldown of Mangle being reduced means you can sustain an FR for a very long time while Incarnation is active.
The discontinuity in the 1 target plot is the point at which you can sustain a Frenzied Regeneration beyond the duration of Incarnation: Guardian of Ursoc, after which point the duration (and by extension, the healing) stops increasing at such a dramatic rate.
This trait basically lives or dies by whether or not you’re talented into Incarnation: Guardian of Ursoc. If you aren’t, Mangle’s cooldown is so long that you will get at most 1 second of extension (you can get 2 in theory if you have around 88% haste, which may be possible with lust/berserking and a lot of haste rating). If you are, this trait becomes an incredibly powerful boost to your self-healing capabilities.
While this trait looks very good on paper, I’m not convinced it has the same value in practice. For one, the HPS of Frenzied Regeneration is still quite low, at 6% HP per tick baseline (with the bonus healing from the trait it is probably closer to 7%). The extension component of Gory Regeneration does not improve the HPS output of Frenzied Regen while it’s ticking, it only increases the number of seconds it ticks for. This would be fine in isolation, but in reality you don’t have infinite health and you will have external healing. Extending FR increases the chance that it will cause overhealing, either for you or for your healers, which eliminates the benefit of receiving more healing altogether.
If there is ever a reason to take Incarnation to an encounter, Gory Regeneration would be quite strong defensively. It is not, however, a reason to take Incarnation in and of itself.
- Guardian's Wrath - Maul deals X additional damage and reduces the cost of your next Ironfur by 15 Rage, stacking up to 3 times.
At 370, Maul deals 1048 additional damage.
In order to evaluate this trait, let’s consider its offensive value. Assuming you are casting Ironfur at least enough to consume every stack that you generate, you can consider Maul to effectively cost 30 Rage per cast. The Rage you would have spent on Ironfur is now refunded to you, allowing you to cast more Mauls over the course of a fight. This is in effect a 33.3% gain in Mauls which, in addition to the additional damage, significantly improves your DPS output when you are using a combination of Ironfur and Maul. Of course, if you never cast Ironfur (or if you waste stacks by not casting it enough), you will get less value out of the trait.
Defensively, this trait is not very strong. Obviously while not tanking, you can bank a free Ironfur for instant mitigation when you taunt back, which allows you to spend more Rage on Maul during times when you aren’t actively tanking. But from a pure survivability perspective, if you were concerned only about your defensive capacity you would spend Rage exclusively on Ironfur and this trait would provide no value. It’s the hybrid nature of the trait that gives it its value.
This is a great trait all around. Not only is it a significant boost to Maul’s damage, but it affords you some flexibility in your Rage management. Particularly in situations with tank swaps, this allows you to safely spend Rage on Maul and still be able to have an Ironfur up for when you taunt back. Offensively, this is one of the strongest Guardian specific traits out there.
As an aside, I really like the design of Guardian’s Wrath personally and I wish there were more traits like this in general. It creates an interesting interaction between our spenders and goes beyond the typical “heal for X/gain an absorb/gain a stat” design, and while it doesn’t really affect the gameplay in super meaningful ways, it does incentivize using both offensive and defensive skills in tandem.
- Layered Mane - Ironfur increases your Agility by X, and casting Ironfur has a chance to grant 2 applications.
At 370 you gain 122 extra agility, per Ironfur stack. This means that the more Ironfur you have, the stronger each individual stack becomes (since Ironfur dynamically benefits from your Agility).
This looks to be the strongest Guardian-specific defensive trait available. It effectively increases your average Ironfur stacks over an encounter by 10%, while also making each stack slightly stronger through its bonus Agility. It’s difficult to pin down an exact value for this trait, since the value of an additional Ironfur differs depending on how many stacks you already have rolling; going from 0 to 2 stacks is far more valuable than going from 2 to 4 stacks, for example. It is however always beneficial to have an additional stack at any point, unless it puts you over the armor cap (and even then, every point of armor up to the cap has value).
Not only is it incredibly strong defensively, but the bonus Agility grants an offensive bonus as well. I’d consider this a must-have trait for just about all purposes.
- Masterful Instincts - After Survival Instincts fades, you gain X Mastery and Y Armor for 10 seconds.
At 370, you gain 560 Mastery and 543 Armor.
Another victim of poor tuning. The design of this trait isn’t terrible, as it’s essentially extending your Survival Instincts beyond its normal duration which could be useful in many situations. The amount of stats you gain is completely pitiful for how rarely you’ll have the buff up, however.
- Twisted Claws - The direct damage of Thrash has a 50% chance to grant you X Agility for 12 seconds, stacking up to 5 times.
At 370, you gain 89 Agility per stack, for a gain of 445 Agility at 5 stacks. Notably, you have a chance to proc a stack for every target hit by Thrash, meaning you are significantly more likely to maintain your stacks in multi-target scenarios.
Notably, this trait improves dramatically with Haste. Because Haste lowers the cooldown of Thrash, the more Haste you have the more chances throughout a fight you have to apply a stack of Twisted Claws.
The sharp increases in uptimes/stack counts correspond to haste amounts at which you can fit extra global cooldowns into the buff duration, and exist because occasionally you will delay Thrash by one or two casts to prioritize a Gore proc or to dump Rage on Maul. The major spike at 50% Haste indicates the point at which you can fit a third Thrash cast into a single buff, when it has a 4 second cooldown.
This trait looks to be very strong both offensively and defensively, provided you can maintain reasonably good uptimes at high stacks. On one target this may prove difficult; at normal haste levels, you will get two chances to refresh the buff if you are casting Thrash on cooldown (which you should more or less be doing anyway).
- Wild Fleshrending - Shred to deal X additional damage and Swipe to deal Y additional damage to targets affected by your Thrash.
This is a Feral trait that is also selectable as Guardian, and I’m only including it for completeness’ sake. It is absolutely not worth taking for Guardian, as it only works with Cat Form Thrash, and does not work at all on Shred if you are in Guardian spec.
Synaptic Spark Capacitor
- Synaptic Spark Capacitor - Your abilities have a chance to apply Spark Coil to a target for 10 seconds, which will cause enemies within 8 yards to take X damage every 2 seconds and deal 5% less damage to you.
At 340, this deals 763 damage every 2 seconds. It has an RPPM of 1.5.
This trait is exclusive to the Engineering goggles AZ3-R1-T3 Gearspun Goggles. While this trait is not exceptional in its own right, it is the only option available on the goggles relevant for tanking.
These traits are available for all classes, and populate the middle ring of Azerite gear. They primarily consist of throughput traits; for tanks, these are stat procs, absorbs, and heals that trigger under certain circumstances. These traits are not exclusive with outer ring or inner ring traits. This ring is sometimes not present on lower level gear.
Note that this is not an exhaustive list of all available middle ring traits, but for the sake of brevity I will only talk about the ones that you might consider taking for survivability purposes. If a trait is not listed here, it is likely because it either provides little or no defensive benefit, or is too unreliable to be considered for tanking.
Broadly speaking, the defensive options on this row are quite weak. Unless you have a serious need for a small amount of Armor or Dodge, you should consider opting for a damage-oriented trait instead of one of these options.
- Ablative Shielding - Falling below 40% health grants you X Armor for 10 seconds. Taking further Physical damage reduces the Armor granted. May only occur every 30 seconds.
At 370, you gain 1086 Armor.
Every time you take Physical damage, the amount of Armor you gain from the buff is reduced by 10% of the original amount. It is a fairly large Armor proc, but it has no value above 40% health, and it isn’t a reliable death save like some of the other “when you drop below X% health” effects. Armor only reduces damage, unlike absorbs or cheat deaths which negate damage entirely.
- Azerite Veins - Taking damage has a chance to heal you for X every 3 seconds for 18 seconds or until you are fully healed.
At 370, you are healed for 6750 every 3 seconds (reduced by Haste), for a maximum potential of 40500. The RPPM is 1. Assuming you always get the full value of the heal, this trait averages ~670 healing per second. It’s also one of the few generic traits that scales with Haste (Haste adds ticks to the duration).
There are some drawbacks to the trait: the fact that it has a very low RPPM makes it unreliable in terms of providing defensive value, and the fact that the effect is cancelled when you reach full health devalues it further, because in cases where you are topped off briefly at the beginning of a proc, and then brought low again you will get next to no value out of the proc. The trade-off is that when it does proc, it’s an extremely potent heal.
Blood Siphon/Lifespeed/On My Way
- Blood Siphon - Increases your Mastery by X and your Leech by Y.
- Lifespeed - Increases your Haste by X and your Avoidance by Y.
- On My Way - Increases your Versatility by X and your Speed by Y.
At 370, the amount of secondary you gain is 74, and the amount of tertiary you gain is 37.
I’ve grouped these traits together because they all provide the same sort of benefit — a flat secondary and tertiary stat gain. These are by no means the best traits, but they do provide a consistent, non-gimmicky boost to your stats and aren’t terrible. Of the three, Blood Siphon is the strongest, as both Mastery and Leech are strong stats for survivability.
- Crystalline Carapace - When dealt damage greater than 10% of your maximum health, gain X Armor and deal Y damage to attackers.
At 370, you gain 124 Armor and deal 107 damage.
This trait has nearly 100% uptime while tanking. The armor bonus is nothing special, but it is very consistent and reliable. This trait is very similar to Gemhide in function, except Crystalline Carapace deals damage instead of also granting Avoidance.
- Shimmering Haven - Taking damage has a chance to create an upwelling of Azerite beneath your feet, increasing your Health by X and your Armor by Y while you stand within it, for 10 seconds.
At 370, you gain 13431 health and 380 armor.
This trait has roughly 1 RPPM, making it very unreliable at less than 20% uptime. Additionally, this trait forces you to stand in one location and not move in order to benefit from it. This might have been fine if you could control when it procced and therefore decide when to stay still, but since you have no control over when it procs you cannot guarantee you won’t have to move while the buff is up.
Winds of War
- Winds of War - Taking damage grants X Dodge for 3 seconds, stacking up to 10 times.
At 370 you gain 37 Dodge rating per stack, for a total of 370 Dodge rating at max stacks.
While Dodge is very inconsistent as a damage-reducing mechanic and should not be relied on as a survivability tool, it does reduce your overall damage taken over the course of a fight. Assuming you’re at an average of 370 item level and have an equal distribution of secondaries (3732 Agility and 704 Crit rating from gear), adding 370 Dodge rating will improve your chance to dodge by 3.18%.
These traits populate the inner ring of Azerite Gear. Like the middle ring, they consist mostly of general defensive benefits. They don’t compete with traits on the outer and middle rings.
As with the middle ring section, this list is not exhaustive. If a trait is not listed here, it is because it either provides little or no defensive benefit, or is too unreliable to be considered for tanking.
- Azerite Fortification - When stunned, immobilized, or knocked back, you heal for X.
At 370, you heal for 13246.
This is a situational pick. There are several bosses in Uldir that have knockback mechanics (Taloc, Zul) where this trait could potentially be very strong as I don’t think it has any internal cooldown. Because this depends so heavily on whether or not you can get CC’d, it’s hard to value this trait generally, and I do not recommend it for general purpose survivability.
Bulwark of the Masses
- Bulwark of the Masses - When you are surrounded by 4 or more enemies, gain a shield that absorbs X damage. Cannot occur more than once every 15 seconds.
At 370, the size of the absorb is 14842.
This trait results in around 1k healing per second average, assuming the full absorb is consumed every 15 seconds. It’s very strong if you can reliably trigger the effect, for example in dungeons when pulling large packs of trash.
- Gemhide - When dealt damage greater than 10% of your maximum health, gain X Armor and Y Avoidance.
At 370, this trait grants 211 Armor and 128 Avoidance.
As mentioned above, this trait is very similar to Crystalline Carapace — both are high-uptime Armor buffs that have very reliable ways to proc them when needed. Defensively, Gemhide is strictly better. Not only does it grant more Armor at all item levels, but instead of dealing damage as a secondary effect like Crystalline Carapace, it also grants Avoidance, which works on not only raid-wide damage, but also on cleaving tank damage as well (any attack with an AoE component will be reduced by Avoidance). Keep in mind that Gemhide and Crystalline Carapace do not directly compete on the same row.
- Impassive Visage - When you take damage, heal for X. Cannot occur more than once every 6 seconds.
At 370, the value of this heal is 3896.
You can think of this trait as granting you around 650 healing per second. The nice thing about the way the proc works is that you are only healed when you take damage, effectively guaranteeing that it will not overheal (unless the damage is so insignificant that it deals less than the heal would have done). If you are taking consistent damage that is too low to proc Crystalline Carapace or Gemhide, this is probably one of the stronger of the generic traits available.
- Resounding Protection - Every 30 seconds, gain a shield that absorbs X for 30 seconds.
At 370, the size of the absorb is 11131.
Prydaz, Xavaric's Magnum Opus-lite. If the full shield is consumed every time, this trait results in ~370 healing per second. The pure throughput is lower than other traits that grant healing like Impassive Visage, however absorbs also increase your effective health and reduce your chances of being one-shot. The absorb also provides benefit while you’re at or near full health, unlike healing traits which are only effective when they don’t overheal.
- Ursoc's Endurance - Gain an absorb for X damage over 8 seconds when you use Barkskin or Survival Instincts.
At 370, the value of the absorb is 18700.
As with Craggy Bark, this trait suffers from overlapping with your already strong defensive cooldowns. The absorb is better than it may first appear due to the fact that absorbs are consumed after damage reduction. That is to say, if you use Survival Instincts, while it is active the absorb has essentially double the value since the damage is first reduced by 50%. The major downside is that it only has value during your defensives, when your risk of dying is already considerably lowered.
- Personal Absorb-o-Tron - Taking damage has a chance to grant you a shield that absorbs X damage over 20 seconds.
At 340, this shield absorbs 16830 damage. It has an RPPM of 1.5, and an internal cooldown of 20 seconds.
This trait is exclusive to the Engineering goggles AZ3-R1-T3 Gearspun Goggles. It’s not immediately clear how the internal cooldown interacts with the RPPM in this case, as it is very rare for a spell to have both. Either the RPPM is reset when the spell procs, and proc chance accumulates during the internal cooldown, or the RPPM is reset after the internal cooldown ends.
For the sake of argument let’s assume the better case, where the proc chance accumulates. In this case you will average a proc every 40 seconds, for an average of roughly 420 healing per second from the absorb. This puts it quite a bit ahead of Resounding Protection at similar ilevel (Resounding Protection at 340 is roughly 280 HPS) in terms of raw absorb. If you already have Engineering as a profession or are considering picking it up, this trait is probably worth grabbing a pair of goggles for; at least until the raid is open and higher ilevel azerite gear is more readily available.
- Auto-Self-Cauterizer - Taking damage has a chance to heal you for X, remove most bleed effects, and slow nearby enemies by 30% for 5 seconds.
At 340, you heal for 9533, with an RPPM of 1.5.
This trait is exclusive to the Engineering goggles AZ3-R1-T3 Gearspun Goggles. The value of this trait depends entirely on what types of bleeds it can remove. If, for example, there are tank mechanic style bleeds in raids and dungeons (like Ursoc’s Rend Flesh, for example), and those are removable by this trait, then it will be extraordinarily powerful.
If not, then the trait becomes a basic heal (at roughly 240 healing per second) with a moderate slow, which is not nearly as valuable.
With all that being said, here are the traits I’d recommend paying attention to, in no particular order:
- Layered Mane - Easily our best defensive trait. Extra stacks of Ironfur will almost always be useful, and a buff to every stack of Ironfur is the cherry on top.
- Twisted Claws - Free Agility for what is essentially performing the rotation correctly. Holds its own in single target but really shines on 2+ targets.
- Guardian's Wrath - Increases the amount of spenders you can cast and gives you a safety net to spend Rage aggressively on tank swap fights.
- Azerite Veins - The raw HPS of this trait outweighs the unreliability of it, compared to its contemporaries on this ring.
- Crystalline Carapace - A slightly worse (defensively) version of Gemhide with a small DPS component.
- Winds of War - While you can’t rely on dodge to keep you alive, it will reduce your overall damage taken, making this essentially a 3% damage reduction (against dodgeable attacks).
- Blood Siphon / Lifespeed / On My Way - Free stats are free stats.