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WoW Paladin Guide: How to Play a Tankadin

Updated Mon, Sep 03, 2012 by Messiah

This guide was written Pre-Patch 5.0.4, watch for an update soon.



NOTE: This guide has been updated to reflect the game as of patch 4.3.

Paladin Tanking Basics

So you want to take a beating, do you?  Well, you’ve come to the right place.  This guide will walk you through the basics of playing a protection based Paladin, or Tankadin as they are commonly called. 

Playing a Tankadin can be a lot of fun but can be quite challenging, so you should only enter into tanking if you are prepared to be responsible for groups and learn a lot. Tanks are the lynch pin in every group and as such are expected to know and understand all of the fights in an instance or raid. That is an easy task compared to actually knowing how to tank.  To tank you need to know what to do and when to do it, that’s the biggest difficulty in actually learning how to tank and doing it well. That's where this guide attempts to help.

So why play a Paladin tank, and what makes a Paladin tank different from the other forms of tanks?

Paladin tanks have solid damage mitigation especially when taking many hits.  This is because any hit we block has its damage reduced by at least 40%, and we block a lot of hits.

While we do not have a rage bar like a Warrior tank, we have a mana bar that is used instead. We also have both a single target and multi target ranged taunt that can be used as a backup taunt in the form of Blessing of Protection.  We have several ranged pull backs in the form of the Avengers Shield and Exorcism. We also have a stun on a cool down timer and an AoE stun against undead targets. We also have an AoE heal, single target instant heal from Holy Power, and a group or raid damage reduction.

Because all of the Paladin abilities are on timers or act for very short time frames, tanking as a Paladin involves very close management of spell casting if you want to get the most threat and damage mitigation possible. You constantly have to manage all of your abilities and cooldowns, all while watching what is going on around you. It can take some serious getting used to.

What is Tank Threat?

Paladin Tank
Paladins work best when
you can group creatures up

and tank many at

once.

Starting at the beginning, your job as a tank is to hold threat, sometimes called aggro, on you and off of your DPS and healers.  This is a measure of how mad the enemy is at you and how likely they are to attack you.  As a tank this is your primary concern, keeping the enemy attacking you. 

How you keep threat starts with the most basic tanking ability you have, Righteous Fury.  This is a buff that you cast on yourself that increases all threat that you cause by 400%.  This means any damage you do to an enemy counts as 5x the actual damage you did for threat generation purposes.

While the base UI has a simple threat meter system built into it, I would strongly recommend getting a mod such as Omen to track your threat. This will help you figure out if you are generating enough for your DPS and let you know how far ahead you are from them.  If you consistently have a huge lead in threat it allows you to do other things without worrying about losing threat.

Rememeber, this is your key concern. While DPS players worry about doing damage, and Healers worry about keeping people alive, and have pretty charts to look at to see how well they are doing your job, you don't. All you can judge how well you do your job by is if anyone else pulls threat from you. To make this perfectly clear, it shouldn't matter to you if you are doing 10, 100, 1,000, or 1,000,000 DPS in a fight, as long as no one else is pulling aggro.


Protection Paladin Talents

As a Tankadin, realize that you will need to place almost all of your points in the Protection tree. You need to do this to grab all of the major tanking abilities, many of which are found very deep in the tree. You will spend at least 31 points in the protection tree and likely a bit more before venturing over to the Retribution or Holy trees to spend your remaining talent points.

There are many critical abilities in the protection talent tree though. In fact there are more good talents than most players can reasonably take. Just a few of the key ones are: Divinity which grants 6% bonus healing, Toughness for 10% extra armour, Sanctuary to prevent critical hits against you, and to suffer 10% less damage, and Holy Shield which blocks an additional 10% of damage.  There are many more useful talents in a good build, but rather than go through all of them, take a look at a standard raid build.

Shown below is a typical Tankadin build that many players are currently using for raid tanking at level 85:

Tanking Build

A Typical Paladin Tanking Build

You can find the above build in a Talent Calculator here.


Protection Paladin Glyphs

While there are a number of decent Glyphs for a Protection based Paladin there’s not a full set of prime, major, and minor that you need to take.  Instead, there are primes that you must have and a few major glyphs.  So the ones you really should take are as follows:

Prime Glyphs:

  • Seal of Truth for the 10 Expertise Rating which is a huge buff, and frees up itemization points on your gear to be used on other stats.
  • Shield of the Righteous for an extra 10% damage with your shield.
  • Crusader Strike for 5% extra crit chance with it, or Judgement for 10% extra damage.  Both are much weaker choices than the first two though.

Major Glyphs:

  • Holy Wrath so that it also stuns Elementals and Dragonkin.  This helps reduce incoming damage for a short period of time.
  • Focused Shield is an option for raid main tanking as it ups the damage and threat on a single target, but gets rid of the bounce and therefore the threat on secondary targets. Situational
  • Whatever you want for your third.

Minor Glyphs:

  • Nothing provides any huge bonus specific to tanking, so you can choose whichever ones you want.

Holy Power as a Protection Paladin

In Cataclysm we now have what amounts to Rogue like combo points called Holy Power. We earn Holy power by hitting opponents with CS or HotR.  The points stack up to 3 and can be used at any time to trigger abilities such as Word of Glory (a self heal), Inquisition (bonus Holy damage), or Shield of the Righteous (a huge damaging hit).

Generally we should use our Holy Power only when it gets all the way to 3 stacks.  However as soon as it does we should use it right away.  How we use it is as follows:

  • Shield of the Righteous if we are tanking a single target and need threat.  This is always the first priority.
  • Inquisition if we are tanking a group of enemies and have Consecrate and Holy Wrath off cooldown and available to use right after.
  • Word of Glory if we are low on health but have lots of threat.  Anytime we are way ahead on threat in a long fight this is a good option as it saves the healers mana and still generates some threat as healing creates 50% threat.

Paladin Stats and Gear for Tanking

Gear for a Tanking Paladin is pretty easy in theory, but turns into a constant juggling act of micro-management in reality. In theory you want to stack avoidance to the point where you can not suffer a normal hit, have enough stamina to survive any hit, and enough threat causing ability to hold the boss on you instead of on your DPS.  Actually, that doesn’t look so simple does it?

Because of the complexities of managing gear, many tanks suffer from something I call Stamina Stacking. Many tanks simply do not understand the importance of all the stats and therefore focus strictly on their health pool by stacking stamina. Worse yet, many DPS and Healers that don’t understand mitigation just look at a tank’s health pool to determine if they are geared enough for an instance or raid.

Effective Health

Obviously the more health you can have as a tank the better, and this is what too many players focus on.  What a smart tank or player will focus on is your effective health. Your effective health is how much damage you can take over time which is far more important that looking at simply how big of a simple hit you can take, well it's more important once you can take the biggest hit you need to be able to take.

Let's look at two simplified examples, the first a tank with 300,000 health but no avoidance and a second tank with 150,000 health and 20% dodge and parry and 30% block. We will then have them fight a boss that hits for 50,000 damage every 3 seconds after armour reduction, or 20 times in a minute.

The first tank will take 1,000,000 damage over that 1 minute fight because he will get hit by every attack. The second tank will parry 4 and dodge 4, taking 400,000 less damage, and then block 6 more attacks stopping 40% of the damage from  each, or another 120,000 damage. This means that the second tank only needs to be healed for 480,000 health over the minute fight, instead of 1,000,000.  Ask a healer which tank they would rather heal and I think you can guess the answer.

While in real life the stat difference may not be as drastic, healers can very easily tell even a 5% difference between characters and will start questioning why a stamina tank is so hard to heal compared to an avoidance tank.

So instead of just focusing on your total health let's look at all the stats that matter to Paladin tanks.

Stamina – Stamina grants 10 health for every point of stamina.  In addition, because of Vengeance, we gain up to 10% of our health as Attack Power which helps us generate threat.

Dodge and Parry – Dodge and Parry on gear provide boosts to the percentage chance to either dodge or parry an incoming attack.  At level 85 you need 177 points in either to earn 1%.  Both are subject to Diminishing returns once you are above a certain point, which is just below 10% at level 85.

Mastery – Mastery provides 2.25% chance to block per point.  This is not subject to diminishing returns and therefore offers the most bang for you points until you are Block Capped, which will be described later.

Hit – Hit rating is required so that you do not miss with your attacks.  To hit a raid boss you require 8% hit at 129 points per percent which works out to 1032 hit at level 85.

Expertise – Expertise helps minimize or eliminate an enemies chance to dodge or parry your attacks.  Once you get to 26 Expertise a boss can no longer dodge, and at 55 Expertise they can not parry.  Your goal is to get to at least 26 Expertise which is referred to as the soft cap.  We do, however, gain 10 expertise rating points from our glyphs so that means we only really need 16 rating, each of which requires 31 points of expertise on your gear.  Meaning you need a total of 481.

Paladin Weapon Threat
Paladins get threat from the damage they cause with thier weapon and abilities.

Once you have enough health for the content that you are tanking (the amount of health you should have is subjective, however a good starting point is 100k for level 85 instances, 125k for heroics, and 150k for raids) you should instead focus on becoming "Unhittable" or "Block Capped". While this is a bit of a misnomer since you can still be hit, what you are looking to do is raise your avoidance stats to a point that you are not able to be hit with a normal hit, instead the worst you will suffer is a hit that you block with your shield. What this means is that the worst an enemy can do to you is their normal hit damage minus your block value. We will look at this more in the Unhittable section below.

While +hit and +expertise will increase your threat output due to you hitting the enemy more, threat is generally not an issue. +Hit is helpful though so that you can always hit with your taunts and special abilities. If you can, reaching the melee hit cap of 8% is useful but not nearly as necessary as with other tanks. The same applies to expertise since it adds additional threat but is not a necessity like it is for Warriors and Death Knights.


The Hit Table and Reaching Unhittable or Block-capped

As explained above this does not mean you can not be hit, but that you can not suffer a normal full damage hit. Prior to the WotLK expansion this was called uncrushable, but WotLK essentially took crushing blows out of the game. The same math as before applies to figuring out if you are unhittable.

You must understand how the hit table works before we start though. A raid boss has a 102.4% chance to hit you since you are 3 levels lower than he is. This means that you need 102.4% of total avoidance to not suffer that hit. How is it made up?

Your avoidance stats are Miss, Dodge, Parry, and Block. Miss is normally a base 5% chance, however since a raid boss is 3 levels higher this goes down to 4.4%. At level 85 once specced as a tank and with some decent level 85 gear you will have numbers such as the ones below:

  • 4.4% - Miss
  • 12.5% - Dodge
  • 12.5% - Parry
  • 30% - Block

This means that you will be hit normally by the boss roughly 40.6% of the time.  Those stats are relatively easy to reach and provide a great starting point for Heroic Content, but you will want to ramp up those numbers before raiding.
Once you start raiding your goal is a set of numbers something like this:

  • 4.4% - Miss
  • 20% - Dodge
  • 20% - Parry
  • 52.5% - Block

By maximizing block first since it is the easiest to get you remove all normal hits from the hit table and lower overall damage significantly.  Once it has been maxed and your total avoidance is 102.4% then you can start to shift some back into dodge and parry.


Gems and Enchants

Gems and enchants will play an important part in getting you to the numbers you need to be able to tank heroics and raids.

First we'll start with the easier topic of gems. In general you should be putting Stamina gems in your blue slots, parry in red slots, and dodge or mastery in yellow.  Given how important maximizing mastery is you may want to consider every slot to be filled with a hybrid stamina/mastery (blue or yellow sockets) or parry/mastery (red sockets) gem to get the highest avoidance.

Gem Guides
Colour Name Bonus

Blue

Solid Ocean Sapphire

+60 Stamina

Green

Puissant Dream Emerald

+20 Mastery / +30 Stamina

Green Regal Dream Emerald +20 Dodge / +30 Stamina

Red

Flashing Inferno Ruby

+40 Parry

Orange

Fine Ember Topaz

+20 Parry / +20 Mastery

Purple Defender's Demonseye +20 Parry / +30 Stamina
Yellow Fracture Amberjewel +40 Mastery
Yellow Subtle Amberjewel +40 Dodge

As for your helm’s Meta Gem socket you should grab a Eternal Shadowspirit Diamond , which grants 81 stamina and +1% shield block value.  Better yet it only requires you to have 2 yellow gems which will easily be satisfied by any mastery gems you have.

Now onto the more difficult topic of enchants on your gear. Proper enchants can add a ton of stats to your already good gear. The most critical ones depend on the stats that you are lacking at the time and will fluctuate as you gear up.

Gear Enchants
Slot Bonus Notes / Source (if not from an enchanter)

Head

+90 Stamina and +35 Dodge

Earthern Ring - Revered

Shoulders

+45 Stamina and +20 Dodge Do

Therazane - Honored

Chest

+20 Stats

May sub with +15 to all stats

Back

+250 armor

 

Wrists

+50 Dodge

May sub with +50 hit

Hands

+65 Mastery

May sub with the cheaper +50 Mastery

Legs

+145 Stamina and +55 Agility (Charscale Leg Armor)

May sub with the cheaper Twilight Leg Armor

Feet

+50 Mastery

 

Shield

+40 Block Rating

May sub with a +160 armor

Weapon

+40 hit

May use Mending or Windwalker instead, but both are very expensive


Reforging

Reforging is a great way to adjust your stats to those that better suit your exact needs.  For a complete guide on how to reforge check out our guide here: Reforge This - A Guide to Reforging in World of Warcraft. As for paladin tanks you should adjust your stats so that you maximize mastery.

As you will only be equipping tanking gear, you don’t have that many options on reforging as you will not have stats that you can easily sacrifice such as haste, crit, spirit, or others.  Instead all your gear will have only Stamina, Strength, Expertise, Hit, Dodge, Parry, or mastery.  So, which to switch around first?

Your first priority is to reforge any expertise and hit into mastery on your gear to up your block percentage. This is counter to previous expansions where hit and expertise mattered, and don’t get me wrong, they still do.  However, while in theory focusing on hit and expertise should take priority, threat is currently not an issue on raid bosses due to the tank’s vengeance ability.  Our threat is so solid that we can afford a few misses or parries past the first few seconds of the fight, and those points are better spent on maximizing your mitigation.

After moving any expertise or hit into mastery, if you have pieces that only have dodge or parry they are next on the list.  On these pieces reforge your highest avoidance stat (dodge or parry) and move it into mastery to provide block until you are at the block cap.  This is because mastery is not affected by diminishing returns and will do more for you by lowering incoming damage faster than the other stats once they are over 10%.

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