Many players pick up tanking for different reasons.  Some like the control, some like the sense of indestructibility against normal enemies, and others switch to tanking roles simply so they can find groups faster.  No matter your reasoning for being a tank there are several things you can do that make you a better or worse tank.  We have all heard horror stories of tanks that pull before the groups is ready, pull whole wings when not geared for it, and more.  We have also all joined groups where the tank just seems to know what they are doing perfectly and runs through an instance with ease. 

What separates the two extremes between these types of tanks?  Quite simply there are 5 really good things that a tank should do and 5 really bad things that a tank should avoid.  If all tanks followed at least this basic list life would be far simpler for everyone.

Let’s start out on the negative first and then move to the positive.

The 5 worst things a tank can do

Relying on AoE for all pulls – This is something that I have seen way too often recently.  The reason is that you can get away with it when you are over geared for an instance or raid.  The problem with it is that it will really not work when you are at the right gear-to-content difficulty ratio. So make sure you keep practicing at least some controlled pulls between now and the release of Cataclysm or when content difficulty ramps back up compared to your gear you will be lost.

Going before the group is ready – This is again something that many players get in the habit of doing simply because so many of us out gear most of the content we are playing through.  You should always make sure you watch the group before each pull, check their health, mana, and closeness to you and make sure they are ready.  There is nothing worse than pulling another group to find out your healer has no mana or your DPS are two rooms behind looting and skinning.

Not building threat on everything – I know the item above is all about making sure you don’t just AoE, and this is almost contrary to that, however you really need to have threat on everything around you at all times.  This may mean using AoE attacks, it may mean tabbing back and forth through enemies and slapping each of them around in turn.  No matter which method you use, what really matters is that you do check all of the nearby enemies’ threat level against you occasionally. 

Many times a DPS will focus on the wrong target, or your multi hit attacks constantly miss one target and that is the one that goes off to smack a DPS or healer.  While it is the DPS’s job to not draw agro and watch what they are doing, you should still be aware of it and watch for it.  If it is a healer that draws agro that is 100% on you and you need to watch closer at the various creatures you are controlling. In this age of AoE threat generation it is easy to slip up and not check just assuming everything will be ok.  Most of the time it will be, but not always.

Prat Example
It is best to balance all of your tanking stats not jsut focus on stamina

Focus purely on stamina – Far too many tanks out there focus purely on stamina which only means that they can take big hits.  It does not mean they are a good tank or that they can take many or successive hits easily.  There are far too many tanks with huge health pools that have almost no avoidance or mitigation, or if they have some it is not in balance to what they need. 

If you are not sure what Effective Health is here is a clip describing it:

Ask any healer which they would rather heal: a 50,000 health tank with no avoidance, or a 30,000 health tank with 20% in each of dodge and parry. The answer will be the lower health tank every time. That is because of something called effective health which is long and complicated to explain in any great detail, but can be summed up quickly as follows:

Given a series of 100 10,000 health hits the first tank needs to be healed for 1,000,000 health. The second tank will dodge 20 of the attacks and parry another 20, meaning they will only need 600,000 health to be healed.

Being full of yourself (unless you really are the Messiah) – Too many tanks are really full of themselves.  It’s ok to be confident, even cocky, but when you make a mistake fess up to it, it happens.  I have seen way too many tanks that believe they are gods, do everything right all the time, and yell and scream at their groups when something goes wrong.  Yet they never evaluate what they are doing, because they believe themselves to be flawless.  Guess what, no one is flawless.  Remember even tanks and healers are replaceable as much as we would like to believe we are not and if you are so full of yourself that you are a jerk to everyone, you’ll be a tank that can’t get a group very quickly.

The 5 best things to do as a tank

Be prepared – While this sounds so simple, you would be amazed at the number of tanks that do not do this simple little thing.  Be Prepared.  What does it mean exactly though?  I sum it up as all the little things like making sure you are repaired and have your tanking gear with you.  It also includes things like bring food and drink (if you are a Paladin and need mana), flasks, elixirs, potions, bandages, reagents, and anything else you could possibly need.  While many of the items you may not need, and probably won’t if it is a simple instance, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Plan your pulls – Make sure that you know which creature in each pull should die first, second, third.  Know which if any should be CC’ed or kited away from a group.  If the pull is difficult for your group then make sure you mark them to make it clear what the order is.  Have a set kill order such as Skull, X, Triangle, Square, Moon.  Whatever order you decide, just make it clear. 

In general healers should be the first to die in any group, or they should be CC’ed if you do not want to deal with them.  After that you want to deal with any AoE damage dealers and any enemies that can CC, stun, or fear you.  Last on the list are single target melee damage dealers since they are generally the easiest to tank.  There are exceptions to this obviously, but you can learn those as you work your way through different instances.  This is a solid base to run on.

Prat Example
A Paladin Tank in gear

Know your group and their abilities – More than any other class, when you play a tank you need to know (and are expected to know) what the other classes are capable of at all times. You really need to understand the mechanics of all the other classes, not just yours. You need to know who can CC what and when, who can backup heal effectively, who can kite an enemy, who can burst something down quickly, and much more.  As a tank, assume you will be expected to know it all so that when something goes wrong you know who to call on to get you out of it.

Do gear appropriate content – This is a simple one.  Make sure you are not trying to tank content that is over what you are ready and able to do. Do not push up your gear score artificially just to try to get in and tank a TOC 25 man when you just turned 80 the day before.  With the simplicity of getting gear in today’s game and how reliant people are on gear score for invites it is easy to abuse the situation and slip in.  Be respectful, do what you are able to or you are just wasting other people’s time.  On the flip side, do not rely on just gear score to tell you what you can do.  If this is a second tanking character for you and you know you can tank it, go ahead, after all skill is greater than gear score any day.

Research – As a tank your job is almost as much out of the game as in the game.  You need to learn as much as you can constantly about tanking techniques, tanking builds, boss fights, strategies, and more. As a tank you will generally be in charge of what is going on, so make sure you know enough to be able to handle it.


As you can see, life as a tank is not just about instant groups through the looking for group tool.  There are a lot of things you need to watch for and learn as you go along, and this guide just covers the absolute basics.  As the last point showed, probably the biggest part of being a good tank is the research you do out of the game. 

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Last Updated: Mar 29, 2016

About The Author

Byron 1
Byron has been playing and writing about World of Warcraft for the past ten years. He also plays pretty much ever other Blizzard game, currently focusing on Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone, while still finding time to jump into Diablo III with his son.