Updated Tue, Aug 14, 2012 by Messiah
Everything you need to know about how and why to play a Tank in World of Warcraft, updated for Mists of Pandaria.
In World of Warcraft when you are doing any kind of grouping for instances, heroics, and raids there are three key class types. The three types are DPS, Healer and the all important Tank. To be fair, you need all three types to be successful, and a tank is only as good as the healer and DPS teamed with them, but for the sake of argument and my ego let’s call the tank the most critical.This has been true since the begining of World of Warcraft and continues to be true in Mists of Pandaria.
Tanks are generally viewed as the character in charge of a run. This may or may not be the case for any specific group, but if a random group is assembled most players look to the tank to lead. This is because the tank is the player that generally controls the pace of the group, controls pulls, manages the enemies, establishes kill order, and much more.
If you are going to play a tank in World of Warcraft then there are some basic things that you will need to know. The items in this guide are the basic items you need to know to be a competent tank in any group you enter. There are many players out there that just tank so they can get a group quickly, but do not really understand what they are doing. Learning and understanding the fundamentals laid out in this guide will put you head and shoulders above the “average” tank and ensure that you get invites to many groups over and over again. Once you know these basic items, you will be in a position to learn the subtle nuances involved in tanking and specific fights over time, and will surely go on to become a great tank.
Before the guide dives into the specific details on what it means to assume the role of Tank in World of Warcraft, here is a bit of info on my personal experience in the role. Over the years playing World of Warcraft I have ended up tanking with all of the various tank classes. I started out with a Warrior until getting sidetracked healing as a Paladin in the original end game raids. Then, in the Burning Crusade I ended up being my guild’s main tank on my Paladin and off-tanking alt runs on my Druid. Once Wrath of the Lich King launched I started up a Death Knight for a DPS character but soon found myself tanking on it as well.
Once the Mists of Pandaria Beta started I got in and created a Monk Brewmaster and have been playing with it online ever since. The Monk class exemplifies Blizzards new approach to tanking where they want more Active Mitigation. Therefore, having tanked on all of the possible classes I feel pretty confident in my tanking ability and my ability to teach the basics.
That is the critical question you should ask. Before you become a tank you should think about it long and hard, and make sure you are doing it for the right reasons. If your main reason is getting through the random dungeon or random heroic queues instantly so that you can gear up your DPS set, you are definitely doing it for the wrong reasons. Too many players have started doing this for exactly that reason and are destroying the game for everyone else. Sure it's true that you get into an instance right away, however, you are then forcing yourself and 4 other players 2-3 hours of pain, just for your greed and incompetence. If you actually do tank just for this reason, you are very likely one of the reasons the real world is in such piss poor shape.
Some valid and legitimately good reasons to play a tank are that you want to explore new content, lead groups, help other players, and make the game better as a whole. Playing a tank is not easy, often very overlooked (who looks at mitigation tables instead of DPS tables) and without thanks, but in the end it really is the most required and rewarding position in a group.
Before you actually go out and tank, make sure you are set and ready to assume the role. This may sound overly simplistic; however some players who have never tanked do not understand how important some things truly are. As a last resort any tanking class can shift into their tanking stance / form / presence / aura and tank an enemy really quick, however that is not good enough for all but the shortest time frames (a pull gone wrong in an instance). If you are going to tank for a group you really MUST ensure you are geared as a tank and have your talents spent in tanking talents.
Starting with talents, since Mists of Pandaria got rid of specialized talent trees for each spec all it means is picking the right class specialization. Once you pick that specialization your talent choices are the same as everyone elses for that class, but there will generally be a few that have better benifits to a tank than any of the classes other specializations, so chose carefully.
What specialization you need to spec into varies with the class. For Warriors and Paladins it means that you need tp chose the Protection spec, for Druids you need to go into Guardian, for Death Knights you need to spec into Blood, and for the Monk class you need to spec into Brewmaster. As a tank you do not really have a choice, you can not tank effectively if you pick any other specialization. Sure, you will be able to pick a few talents that may help, but you will loose out on all of the classes basic tanking abilities and threat bonuses since they come to you as part of the specialization that you choose.
Since this is an overall how to tank guide, I will not go into specific builds here. There are builds in our Class Guides, our forums, the official forums, and the various tanking sites around the internet.
Once you have figured out your build, it is time to worry about the stats you need for tanking, which directly corresponds to the gear you need. There are various character stats that are required that you need to worry about as a tank. They include Stamina, Strength, Dodge, Parry, Block, Hit, Expertise, and Mastery. The amount you require of each and the priority it should receive is entirely dependant on your class. For example as a Death Knight, Druid, or Monk you don’t use a shield, therefore Block is meaningless.
On of the biggest things to remember as a tank, is that you have all of those stats above to deal with. DO NOT just stack Stamina. This is a trend I have seen in far too many new tanks to ignore. They want to see big health numbers and miss out on everything else. Balancing your Health, Mitigation (Armour, Block), and Avoidance (Dodge, Parry) is what creates the best tanks, and forms the basis of something called "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 than 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.
As a tank, enchants and gems are there to help you meet your needs when your gear is just off that little bit. Other than meeting your meta-gem requirement all gems should usually be at least partially Stamina, after all you do need to be able to take hits. Enchants vary depending on which item they are going on, but are once again usually used to help you get avoidance, mitagation and then for Stamina or threat (hit or expertise).
The hit table is a critical thing to worry about as a tank, and understanding how it works is the first step.
As a bit of a historical note, before the release of Cataclysm, the first thing you had to worry about as a tank was getting to the defense cap so that you could not be critically hit. Luckily that is all gone now and all tanks can become immune to critical hits through talents. This means you get to spend a lot more time managing and juggling your other stats. Also gone from the game now with Mists of Pandaria is the magic 102.4% block cap number for Warriors and Paladins. This was a number that tanks aimed for that when reached the worse hit that you could suffer was a blocked hit. It is gone now that a new hit table has been implimented.
The new hit table in Mists of Pandaria is essentially created by splitting the old hit table in two. When you suffer a hit as a tank there will potentially be two rolls against two different tables to determine what happens. Firstly the game will check against a table to see if the attack is dodged, parried, or if the attack misses entirely. If the attack does in fact land on you then a roll is done against a second table that checks if you suffer a full hit or if you block the hit.
This of course means that for warriors and paladins to become block-capped they need to get to 100% block rating which is likely impossible other than when using multiple abilities, cooldowns, procs, and trinkets since block is also now subject to diminishing returns.
For those unfamiliar with diminishing returns, you will find more information in the next section.
Reforging is a great new 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 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?
In theory as a tank you are required to get to the hit cap and expertise soft cap so that you generate enough threat against raid bosses by not missing and not being parried. However, due to the way Vengeance (discussed later) works and the amount of threat tanks generate, most tanks can afford to miss a few attacks or be parried a few times. Many tanks will still say your first priority is to get to the 8% hit and 26 expertise rating, however unless you have issues with threat, skip it. The only time hit and expertise should really matter is if you are in a high end raiding guild and your threat levels can not compete with your DPS players, with the amount of threat tanks now generate though, that is rare. If it happens to you, then get some hit and expertise, otherwise ignore them.
What you should always try to maximize is you mitigation / avoidance. One simple way to do this with reforging is to remember that Parry, Dodge, and Block (granted through Mastery for Paladins and Warriors) since they are all now subject to diminishing returns evenly once over 10%. This means that any points put into your higher stat are worth less to you than your lower stat. So anytime you look at your character sheet and see something like Parry = 15% and Dodge = 10%, you should go and reforge a lot of your dodge gear to parry. It will give you extra avoidance by moving it into the item not being hit as hard by the diminishing returns.
Block is a little different since it looses stat points due to diminishing returns but does not compete with parry and dodge since it happens on a seperate roll after you have failed to parry or block. It is still a good idea to consider it when reforging since a higher block number may be better than a higher parry or dodge number. There are clearly cases though where if you had 30% parry and 30% dodge but only 10% block, that you can see moving some parry and dodge into mastery (to get block) and getting to a more balanced 25%, 25%, 25% would be much better. The opposite could be true if you have so much mastery that you had 30% block, 10% parry, and 10% dodge, that moving mastery to the other two stats and ending up with something like 20%, 20%, and 20% would be much better. The numbers of course change dramatically depending on your exact values since diminishing returns affects higher numbers much more dramatically.