SWTOR 4.0 Kinetic Combat PvE Guide by Aelanis.
Intro to Kinetic Combat Shadow
Kinetic Combat is one of the 3 unique tanking specializations in SWTOR. It has, under optimal play, the lowest Damage Taken Per Second (DTPS) of any of the three tanks before counting Defensive Cooldowns (DCDs), and brings some nice utility and one of the cheesiest DCDs in the game to the table. To achieve this, though, requires a slightly higher level of awareness and precision than with the other two tanks.
The 4.0 shift of Absorb from being a secondary to a tertiary stat isn’t the most pleasant thing ever, but it’s not the end of the world. We’re also really feeling the cooldown increase on Force Speed, as it has cut our mobility handily, even with the addition of Shadow Stride. With a final nose-thumbing, we also had our Shadow’s Shelter utility changed to be just about worthless, as the heal is miniscule (<1.5k) and the DR, while potentially helpful, just doesn’t pack the same punch as 5% increased healing from anyone standing in your old love puddle.
Despite all this, Shadow tanks are still in a very, very solid place. Our Kinetic Ward, and Bulwark, is better than ever, we have middle of the road DPS compared to the other two tanks,good snap threat, and very strong passive threat. The change to critical has also helped a lot with snap threat, in that a Force Potency Particle Accelerated Project will now hit for upwards of 10k damage on a boss in full Hard Mode gear. Between these strengths, very high mitigation chances (upwards of 60% passively on Shield and Absorb!), and some pretty cheesy moves, a good Shadow tank should be welcome in any group.
Utilities as a Shadow tank, after the 4.0 changes, are a little lackluster. The cooldown reduction on Force Speed isn’t as strong as it used to be, and we lost a really useful Heroic tier utility.
- Misdirection/Obfuscation: Movement speed is love, movement speed is life. If you can increase your movement speed, you probably should. (Skillful)
- Mind Over Matter/Disjunction: This utility takes one of the cheesiest abilities in the game (Resilience/Resilience) and makes it last longer. For bonus points, it lets you travel further with Force Speed. This utility is extremely useful as a tank. (Masterful)
The following utilities have varied uses, and can make certain fights or phases of fights much easier.
- Shadowy Veil/Insulation: Useful for if you know at least one person in the raid is going to take continuous, somewhat frequent damage. Lots of boss fights throw raid damage out, keep your eyes open for those instances. (Skillful)
- Mental Defense/Shapeless Spirit: Useful for the few occasions where you get stunned and beaten to near death, such as when tanking Pearl. 30% reduced damage is huge, and should not be underestimated if you’re going to take damage while stunned. (Skillful)
- Lambaste: Lots of adds? Sick of trash pulls taking forever? This ability will help you significantly contribute to your group’s AoE damage, and will make holding threat much easier, especially with the Whirling Blow damage boost on Unsteady targets (the damage boostsare multiplied in threat by your stance, too!) (Skillful)
- Egress/Emersion:This is a utility used to make DPS Shadows jealous for a reason. It’s invaluable on fights where there are persistent slows, back to back roots, or enemies leaping to you. This utility makes The Underlurker Hard Mode a little more bearable, as well as a few other bosses.(Masterful)
- Fade: As odd a choice as this might seem, it can actually be quite useful for a tank. In fights where you take a lot of damage (as the tank, this should be all fights), and where you can spend time not actively tanking a boss, Shadows have the neat trick of being able to reset their once-per-fight medpack by using Force Cloak. Taking Fade allows you to synchronize the cooldowns of both Force Cloak and your medpack, allowing for the maximum amount of usage of that medpack. (Masterful)
- Containment/Haunted Dreams: Very situational. In fights with non-CC immune enemies (read: Revanite Commanders), it can be very useful to point at an enemy and insta-mez them for 8 seconds. (Heroic)
With so many situationally useful choices, the utilities I pick for each fight can vary greatly, and rarely do I have the exact same set of utilities for multiple fights (though the utility point assignment bug makes this really annoying). Unfortunately, there are too many fights now to list a set of utilities for each one, but there are guides out there for each fight (conveniently on this website) to figure out which utilities work best on which fight.
Unfortunately, since so many of the utilities we have are only situationally useful in PvE, we see a few fights where there are only 5 truly good utilities to take, and so you have some room for personal preference, though it won’t really make a difference. I like Force Harmonics/Audacity for the little extra threat bump it provides, as well as helping me be less of a slouch in my DPS.
Gearing and Stats Priority
The spike damage present in the current hard mode and nightmare mode operations varies from being unnoticeable to being near one-shots. If you’re comfortable going with maximum mitigation, read on. However, if you wish to gear against these spikes, you’ll want to skip a little bit lower. I have always preferred the mean mitigation method of tank gearing for Shadows up until 4.0, but will be using higher endurance gear this time around. For the mean mitigation theory you’ll want to view this post by KeyboardNinja, an excellent theorycrafter with an excellent program written to calculate gear for the best possible mean mitigation at discrete gear levels. As of the writing of this guide, the post hasn’t been updated to 4.0 numbers yet, but provides an excellent primer for how things work. However, dipstik has stepped up and produced some numbers, here at each gear level. This guide mostly uses Bant’s work here, though, which I’ve done my best to interpolate through gear levels.
As a side note, dipstik’s numbers do not represent achievable gear ratings (there’s no way to swap 3 points from shield to absorb at the 220 B Mod with 224 enhancements option), which is why I’ve opted to use Bant’s work.
For specific gear levels, using all gear at that level, your stat budget will look like:
Defiant:Defense: 2639, Shield: 1204, Absorb: 1338 (Total: 5181)
Exarch:Defense: 2779, Shield: 1252, Absorb: 1370 (Total: 5401)
Ultimate Exarch:Defense: 2931, Shield: 1300, Absorb: 1402 (Total: 5633)
If you favor having some more hit points to take bigger spikes without sacrificing too much in the way of mitigation, you will want to trade away your token mods for the B lettered mods that drop in Operations and come from the Commendations vendors on fleet. Updating the previous values for B mods, you would get:
Defiant:Defense: 2441, Shield: 1125, Absorb: 1417 (Total: 4983)
Exarch:Defense: 2581, Shield: 1165, Absorb: 1457 (Total: 5203)
Ultimate Exarch:Defense: 2670, Shield: 1212, Absorb: 1490 (Total: 5372)
Beyond this, you may wish, at whatever level you are comfortable with, to trade some Absorb back into Shield. You would want to do this because you’re trying to reduce spikiness in your damage profile. When you have high absorb, but lower shield, you absorb a lot when you shield, and take normal damage when you don’t, resulting in a large difference between shielding and not shielding a hit, and Defense is a bigger culprit, since you take no damage at all from a defended hit. However, if you trade Absorb for Shield, you will shield more attacks, even if you take more damage when you do, which helps to stabilize your profile, and will help you take the edge off of big hits. However, this causes you to take more damage overall, and will cause a little more stress on your healers since they have to heal you for that extra damage you’re taking.
Here is a link to a Google Spreadsheet I made to help you out with your gearing. It has a page each for B Mods and Maximum Mitigation. If you enter your total stat budget, with your stim active, into the appropriate cell, it will spit back out at you your ideal mean mitigation budget, based on Bant’s most updated values. Feel free to copy the formulas into your own spreadsheet to keep for yourself, or you can just continue to use this one. Please be considerate of others, though. If the calculations in the sheet can be edited because I messed up the protection settings, please let me know and I will fix that as quickly as I can.
Personally, though, for gearing, despite all of what I’m said, I’m not yet sure that even using just B Mods will be enough to survive the spikes from Raptus NiM in particular. I’ll be trying out a slightly different method for gearing, where I look only at the shield/absorb values at each level, and run high endurance, medium tertiary, low defense enhancements, and see how I feel with that. It will require my healers to be more on their toes, but it should prevent one shots.
A Visual Representation
The first graph represents how much of each stat you should have, by Mean Mitigation theory, at each gear level, and shows the interpolation between points in Bant’s data. It shows it as a percent of your total gear value. The second graph is for if you’re using B mods. Those of you paying close attention at home may realize that they’re not curves, they’re two just two lines passing through 3 data points, one of which is shared. I’m planning on making a quadratic interpolation graph at some point, but the results will barely be different when I do. Should KBN ever put out his tables again, I’ll be sure to update the guide accordingly.
Accuracy: 10% given from Tank Stance + 1% Companion buff = 101% Accuracy
Armorings: Force Wielder, you need the extra Endurance, which benefits from your 3% boost in your Discipline. Also, all of your set bonus armorings will be of this type anyway.
Mods: For Mean Mitigation Theory, you want unlettered mods. For a strategy that tries to survive spikes, grab those B mods. Either way, if you’re upgrading, and trading away less than 1 point of mitigation per point of Endurance you pick up, carefully consider the trade.
Enhancements: Immunity and Sturdiness enhancements are your bread and butter. Anything else trades away mitigation stats for Endurance at a poor rate. However, if you have the choice between a 186 rated Sturdiness vs. a 198 Bulwark, you should take the Bulwark. As you gear up, always ask yourself: “am I getting more than one point of Endurance for each point of mitigation stat that I trade away?” If you’re comfortable with the trade, then take it. If you really want to stack up on hit points for those spikes, though, going with the Bulwark and Bastion enhancements is always an option.
Implants/Earpiece: The commendation pieces are actually decent, they trade Endurance at almost a 1:1 rate with Mitigation. Mean Mitigation theory still says to take the token versions, however. The Mk-2 pieces this time are far, far better than in 3.0, and you may want to run them for the extra endurance.
Relics: Reactive Warding and Shield Amplification. If you’re crazy, you can also carry around a Fortunate Redoubt relic for those fights that are 95% or more melee damage, but the difference in mitigation is going to be pretty small, along with that meaning there are not going to be very large spikes. Personally, I will be using the two I suggested.
- (2) Slow Time/Wither increases DR by 2% for three seconds. You can pick this up without sacrificing the old bonus, and it’s a really nice boost, and worth more than armorings a few stages up, if you get it on your belt and bracers (you should). Consider it a free 0.66 time averaged DR.
- (4) Slow Time/Wither reduces the CD of taunts by two seconds. This is pretty underwhelming, but can be useful to achieve a 3 taunt rotation in your opener with an 18 second duration of taunt on the boss.Otherwise, not terribly useful in PvE.
- (6) The duration of Deflection is increased by 3 seconds and its cooldown is reduced by 10 seconds. It’s pretty nifty, and with the 3.0 6 piece now baseline, there’s no reason to not pick it up.
Getting the new 6 piece is essential if you want to tank Hard Mode operations in this expansion. Please note, the 3.0 and 4.0 bonuses don’t stack, and so you can’t run both and still get the 6 piece bonus.
Abilities and Rotation
Unlike the other two tanks, Shadow tanks have to pay close attention to their buffs and ability cooldowns in order to maintain their optimal mitigation, and their threat to less of a degree. They have to build and spend 3 stacks of Harnessed Shadows, manage their Kinetic Ward, and keep up their 2 tank debuffs on the target, which can be tough to get used to for new players, and with the changes to Kinetic Ward, potentially tough to get used to for experienced players. As a reminder, you should always open from stealth as a tank, due to the way the Shadow Wrap talent works.
Abilities in your main rotation
- Cascading Debris
- Slow Time
- Double Strike
- Shadow Strike
- Force Breach
- Saber Strike
Situational abilities (out of range or AOE):
- Whirling Blow
- Force Pull
Maximum Threat Opener (no new 4 piece)
This rotation has a brief (2 GCD window) where you can lose top threat on the boss to burst dps, but is the best you can do without the new 4 piece set bonus.
Maximum Threat Opener (with new 4 piece)
While you don’t have your threat from Cascading Debris under your second taunt (and multiplied again under your third) you have 18 straight seconds of taunt on the boss with no gaps, and without help from your second tank, who is free to then use their high threat rotation with their triple taunt rotation.
Advanced tip: If you’re feeling a little cheeky, you can actually pre-cast Mind Crush before you use your Force Pull, so long as you leave stealth as you begin the cast. You will run very low on Force in the first 2 Cascading Debris rotations, but it will produce higher threat. The trick is to be just under 10 meters, and step back as your cast finishes so you can Force Pull and Shadow Stride right back in to melee range so the boss doesn’t even move. It’s pretty beautiful when orchestrated correctly.
AoE Rotation & ability priorities:
|1. Cascading Debris (if Dark protection duration almost out)|
|2. Slow Time|
|3. Force Breach|
|4. Project (with Particle Acceleration and at < 3 stacks Harnessed Shadows)|
|5. Whirling Blow|
|6. AoE taunt if you lose aggro on too many|
Make sure to use Force Pull and Overload to group enemies up on AoE pulls/phases so that they can be more effectively killed.
Force Potency simultaneously gives you 2 stacks of the Force Potency buff and a 20 second long, 30% extra Absorb boost (that’s additive to your value). Unfortunately, you need the extra threat in your opening rotation, and so you’ll use it there, despite its value as a defensive ability. As for what to use it on, your first choice is Cascading Debris, since it does so much damage. For your second move, if you can, you want to use it on a Particle Acceleration enhanced Project, due to the incredible threat it generates, unless you’re in an AoE situation, in which case you would use it on Force Breach. However, don’t delay Project for Particle Acceleration, as you need to build your Harnessed Shadows stacks as quickly as you can.
Your mitigation method that shapes your rotation is based around building and spending stacks of the Harnessed Shadows buff, which does nothing on its own, but provides 4% additive DR against all types of attacks when you use the 3 on Cascading Debris to maintain the Dark protection buff at 4 stacks. A single tick of Cascading Debris is enough to refresh the duration on Dark Protection, but it only lasts 12 seconds. The key to maintaining the buff is to use Project and Slow Time as soon as they come off cooldown, while prioritizing Project, since it has a much shorter cooldown. You also want to try to keep from getting stunned or knocked back during your channel, to give you as much time as you can get to use Project and Slow Time again.
Kinetic Ward is, hands down, your best mitigation mechanic. You get pretty good shield and absorb boosts from the discipline, but this ability pushes your shield another 18% higher, so long as you maintain the buff and keep at least 1 stack of the initial 15. It also does not respect the GCD, so you can use it as you use other abilities (aside from Cascading Debris) However, due to the Kinetic Bulwark mechanic, you should only be refreshing Kinetic Ward as it is about to fall off. Depending on the fight, the difference in mitigation between using it on cooldown and only as necessary can be almost as large as letting Dark protection fall off. It’s one of the things that separate the excellent from the okay Shadow tanks. To make tracking this buff easier, you can sort your buffs on your buff bar (great 3.0 quality of life change!) by duration, and by your own buffs first, which makes it much easier to find the Ward buff quickly, so you can get back to paying attention to the fight.
Sample Dummy Parse
As you can see, Cascading Debris is a massive portion of your threat, even as delayed as it was on this parse. You rely a lot on enemies hitting you to recover your force, and thus on a dummy parse, you see far more Saber Strikes than you would on a real boss fight. Beyond Cascading Debris, Project and Slow Time are going to be your next highest abilities. Slow Time has much higher threat, but you can’t use it as often, and the longer cooldown makes you delay it for Project, in order to make sure you can keep your Dark protection buff. Shadow Strike is a smaller percentage of my threat than it should have been (again, poor regeneration while not getting attacked), but per use is much higher threat than Double Strike. Spinning Strike, once you reach the execute phase, will take precedence over any move that doesn’t generate Harnessed Shadows stacks, because it just generates so much threat.Force Breach should have been a higher percentage, but with poor Force Regeneration, I could only use it enough to maintain the Unsteady debuff.
Defensive cooldowns are best used to mitigate large hits, or lots of small ones, and to buy the healers some time to get the situation back under control. As a Shadow, you also have an ability (Resilience) that lets you completely negate a large amount of nasty mechanics that other tanks have to deal with, but is mostly useful proactively, when you know the mechanic is coming.
- Battle Readiness: Grants you 25% additive damage reduction against all damage types for 15 seconds, on a 2 minute cooldown. It’s one of the shortest cooldowns and one of the strongest defensive abilities among any of the tanks, and works on all damage types. To top it off, it heals you for 15% of your total health (icing on the cake)
- Deflection: Grants you 50% additive defense chance against melee and ranged attacks on a 2 minute cooldown. Not nearly so powerful as the previous ability, but still highly useful against packs of adds and against bosses who hit you very often with melee/ranged moves.
- Resilience: 3 seconds (5 with the utility you should always have) seconds of immunity to Force and Tech damage, as well as purging you of all hostile, removable effects. Extremely useful in mitigating big hits from bosses, or ignoring mechanics entirely (such as eating all load lifters and Exonium carts on Bulo, or walking through the fires on Torque).
- Force Potency: 30% Absorb boost for 20 seconds. Enough to make you feel invincible if you get a lucky shielding streak. Not so good against single, big attacks, but very useful against a large series of hits.
- With the removal of Exotech Absorb Adrenals, I can’t really say what adrenal is best right now. When a consensus has been reached here, I’ll update the guide.
- Prototype Anodyne Medpack – Heals you for 9743-11649 immediately, and an additional 2648 health extra over 15 seconds. You can reset your single use per fight by using Force Cloak, just beware of the consequences of dropping out of combat.
A very important part of learning how to tank is learning how to best use your defensive abilities to survive boss mechanics and which abilities are best against what. Force Potency and Deflection are very good against a large series of attacks (Deflection only being useful against melee and ranged), whereas Resilience and Battle Readiness are far better for dealing with single, big hits. Battle Readiness is also incredibly good for lots of small hits, but is your only ability that works on all damage types, and so you should always consider that when deciding on whether to use it or not.
Tanking and You & How to Improve
Milas wrote a very good section in his Powertech/Vanguard guide, labeled the same as this section. I suggest that you read it if you are new to tanking, as it’s quite informative, and anything I write here would be parroting him. Vanguard Guide/Powertech Guide. Please note, the guides are outdated, so do not follow any gearing or rotational advice in them.
About the Author
Aelanis is an avid forum-goer on theAssassin/Shadow forums, hailing from The Shadowlands. Despite having only raided Nightmare content since 2.8 released, Aelanis has been playing Shadow tank since 2.0 released and mained a Shadow tank since 2.3.If you play on the Shadowlands, you can reach him on Theraton, in Exit Area on the Imperial side, or Ellendra, in Death Mark on the Republic side.