Updated Tue, Aug 14, 2012 by Messiah
Now that you are specced and geared for tanking, it is time to actually get around to learning how you go about tanking effectively. The main thing to remember when you tank is to gain threat. Sounds simple right? Well for the most part it is, especially against a single target.
Each of the types of tanks have a specific thing they need to do at the most basic level to generate enough threat to hold aggro and tank an enemy. For Druids you must be in bear form and for Warriors you need to be in defensive stance. For Death Knights and Paladins it is all about their presence or aura, which are Blood Presence or Righteous Fury respectively. For Monks it is about being in Sturdy Ox stance to gain the ability to generate extra threat and to stagger damage. These abilities allow you to generate much more threat than you would normally for the damage you are causing. This is what allows you to hold threat while other DPS classes are causing significantly more damage than you do.
These stances, forms, aura's and presences all allow you to generate 500% of the threat you normally would and therefore allow you to hold threat fairly easily. As long as you are attacking, you should be able to hold threat off almost any DPS player.
Vengeance is a passive ability that was added to all tank builds with the release of Cataclysm. For Mists of Pandaria though it changes slightly, getting rid of the hard cap it had. What it does for you now is as follows:
Vengeance - Each time you take damage, you gain 5% of the damage taken as attack power for the next 20 seconds.
It was added by Blizzard to help allievieat the issue that Tanks seem to run into near the end of every expansion cycle where DPS consistantly passes the tank's threat causing ability. This is due to most tank stats going to damage avoidance, mitagation, and health. These three get bigger over time, just like DPS gets larger over time. Vengeance allows tanks to continue to stack health, while at the same time gaining more threat causing ability.
Under the new no cap system, vengeance will end up being an increase of 5% of the damage you were hit with over the last 20 seconds and continue to float even to that damage over the course of the fight. Also resolved in Mists of Pandaria is blocks, absorbs, shield of the rightous, stagger, parry, and dodge will no longer count against you. If you do any of those things will reset the vengeance counter back to 20 seconds, meaning you are no longed effectivly hurt your threat generation by avoiding or mitigating damage.
Tanking a single target is all well and good, however you do not normally come across single targets in an instance other than bosses. Most of the time you need to hold threat on multiple enemies at once. It is your responsibility to put enough threat on all enemies you are fighting so that they do not go after the healer or any DPS player doing AoE damage. It is not your responsibility to generate enough single target threat on each and every enemy so that DPS can go full out on random targets. DPS should still focus on your main target or switch when you do. If they do not and pull threat it is not your fault.
One very simple thing you should learn to do when AoE tanking is to mark a kill target, or have a DPS player mark one for you. This gives single target DPS the knowledge as to which target you will generate the most threat on. Once tanking the group, focus mainly on that target, however target swap to other targets and hit them as well to maintain threat on the entire group. Simple target swaps is an old school, but effective, method to tanking multiple enemies as long as DPS does not go crazy on anything but the main target.
Each Tanking class also has several abilities that allow them to tank multiple enemies at once and generate enough threat to hold them. Warriors use Thunderclap Shockwave, and Revenge to hold aggro while also switching targets occasionally. Druids can use Thrash and Swipe to hit additional targets, and they can also manually change targets. Death Knights and Paladins are the kings of AoE tanking through. Death Knights have access to several AOE abilities such as Heart Strike, Death & Decay and Pestilence to spread diseases that will keep large numbers of enemies locked onto them. Paladins are even better, since they have Consecrate, Avenger’s Shield, Hammer of the Righteous, Holy Wrath, and more to hold threat. Lastly is the Monk Brewmaster who has Keg Smash, Breath of Fire, and Spinning Crane Kick to hold AOE threat.
No matter your class you need to be able to handle multiple enemies at a time. So make sure you play around with your abilities and learn how.
An important part of any fight that you are in is how you handle things at the very beginning. More specifically, how you choose to engage the enemies makes a big difference. The priority is to establish initial threat against all of the enemies as quickly as possible. This means getting in there and mixing it up with them.
For single enemies it could be as simple as charging in and starting to beat on them with your normal rotation. For large groups it could mean running in and dropping your biggest AoE skill right off the bat. The fact is, however, with large groups of creatures your best plan is to start by marking some of the enemies for crowd control (CC) before you pull. Then allow someone to start the pull by using CC and grab the remaining enemies that come towards your group.
No matter how many enemies you face, you need to be the one to engage and hold them. Never let a DPS player or Healer wander ahead and bump into enemies, as it makes it much harder to tank them. The only exception to this is anyone misdirecting threat back to you, like your favourite hunter, or when you start a pull with CC of some type.
Once you are tanking enemies very often position is critical. Think of all the enemies out there (bosses especially) that have frontal cone or cleave attacks. All of these enemies need to be faced away from the rest of the players in your group, otherwise the healer will have a hard time keeping everyone alive. In addition melee DPS can avoid having their attacks parried by attacking from the enemy’s rear. This means that anytime you tank an enemy you should face their back towards your group, regardless of the enemy having a special attack or not.
Something to consider as well is the fact that many enemies have knock back attacks. Any time you happen across one you should make sure you plant your back against the nearest wall so that you are not thrown back and away from the enemies, and more importantly your healer.
Also, as promised in the previous section here we talk about positioning casters and ranged enemies and getting them into position to tank. This really depends on your class and group makeup, as sometimes you can simply have them silenced and let them come to you. Other times they are in the wide open with nothing else around them, in which case you can go to them and let the melee based enemies come to you. In many cases though you can not and must make them come to you. This is where positioning comes in.
What you need to do is a Line of Sight (LoS) pull. This involves finding the nearest corner or stairwell that will block the LoS between the enemy and yourself. Step forward to engage the enemies and then retreat to the corner that you found that will break LoS to the enemy. The rest of the party should be waiting there. Once you get there and break LoS, the enemy casters and ranged damage dealers will start coming towards you so that they can once again attack. Make sure everyone waits until they get there before attacking or stepping back into the open.
The last thing to consider with positioning is the plant. No, I do not mean a plant as in one that you water to keep alive. I mean that you should plant, as in not move, once you get into position. Any movement makes it more likely that DPS players need to move, healers need to reposition, or that someone gets into a front arc where they shouldn’t be. Therefore, anytime you do not have to move, you shouldn’t. You are not a rogue strung out on caffeine trying to stay alive and out of front arc in an arena match, you are a stoic tank, stand there and take it.
While it is generally the healer’s job to keep you alive, there are times that they will just not be able to. This could be due to LoS, fear, burst damage, or in the worst case, their death. When these situations occur you need to start using your available cooldowns to survive.
As opposed to DPS classes that should use their cooldowns and trinkets as often as possible to increase damage and their effectiveness, tanks use theirs reactively. In fact the best case is to never have to use your cooldowns at all.
Cooldowns – For anyone unsure of what I am talking about here, I refer to any ability that is on a cooldown longer than about 30 seconds as a cooldown ability. These are the abilities that you need to plan and watch for. Many players refer to them as their “Oh crap” buttons.
Depending on your class the exact cooldowns vary drastically so get familiar with them.
In addition, Trinkets can provide some great cooldown-like abilities. Many trinkets have huge on-use abilities such as large amounts of health, dodge, or parry granted. These all factor in and should be used whenever the need arises.
Lastly some racial abilities can play a big part in surviving a fight. For example the humans’ “every man” ability can get you out of almost any loss of control ability. Also the Dwarfs’ "stoneskin” ability can reduce incoming damage for a short while and remove some nasty poison.
Since in most cases you are going to be in charge of a group’s pace, in addition to your base responsibility of their survival, you need to pay attention to them. This means that you need to pay close attention to all of their health and mana bars, and their threat status. During a fight this is critical as you need to know if your healer is about to go Out of Mana (OOM) or if your group’s top DPS player has drawn aggro and needs to be saved.
Learn to watch for DPS that draws threat, or for enemies that reset threat, and taunt back any loose enemies quickly. Once you have taunted them, hit them to re-establish threat and start tanking them again.
Watching the party is important even in between fights. Do not go charging blindly ahead without checking your group’s mana and health. Getting a large group of enemies rounded up to tank while DPS AoE’s them down is no good if your healer doesn’t have the mana to keep you alive, or the mage doesn’t have mana to burn the enemies down. Take mana breaks as required, don’t make them ask for it. If they are low and you see them sitting to drink, wait until they are above 80% mana before moving on.
While this guide is a great place to learn the basics, it is by no means complete. It is an overview of the basics of tanking and not specific to any given class. That means you really need to start doing your homework in regards to your own class and its tanking abilities. A great place to start is our class guides found here:
Another great place to look for information is our forums, the official forums, and the various other tanking forums out there. Tanking is a lot of work, and takes a lot of effort to get it right. Once you do though you will never lack for a group in World of Warcraft . Tanks are in short supply almost all the time, and good tanks are in even shorter supply.