Paladins became solid tanks before the release of Wrath of the Lich King.

In the World of Warcraft we all know that you need a solid tank at the core of any group.  However with four different tanking classes out there, which of the four possible tank classes should you choose?  Should you pick the AOE based Paladin or Death Knight, or should you pick the more single target based Warrior or Druid?  While all are viable, each has some good and some bad points.

I want to look at the overall issue of tanking here, not just the high end ultra-geared, where DK’s still appear to dominate (to a lesser degree than previously though).  Which class makes the best tank in all situations from grouping, to low level instances, to heroics, to raiding? Which class is easier to tank with than the others? Which takes less damage and is easier to heal?  All these things roll up into making the best tank.

The Four Classes

Let’s start by looking at some broad generalizations for each of the four classes.

Warriors – These were the first tanks and are still seen as the only true tank by many players.  They have good overall damage mitigation, avoidance, cool downs, threat, heath, and buffs.  In fact they do everything pretty well. If you only have a single tank, you can not go far wrong with a warrior.

They are not the best at everything, but have no real weak points when dealing with single targets.  Their one and only weak point is controlling multiple targets reliably.  They can control them, but only if DPS is not going full out AOE on them.

Druids – Druids used to be the number two tank out there by numbers, as there were a ton of them around.  Now, however, I am pretty sure the bear has earned a spot on the endangered species list.  Bear tanks have huge health pools, more than any other tank.  They also have very good avoidance and damage done.  They have good threat and buffs but lack in cool downs.

Talk as a healer and from experience with other healers, while druids have more health than other tanks, they often feel like they need it.  While they have high avoidance they sometimes take significant amounts of damage due to missing a string of dodges and need healing more than most other tanks. 

Paladin – This class was initially not that great of a tanking class.  While they could tank, they had some serious issues pre-BC.  Even when the Burning Crusade was released they still were not that great, but then patch 2.3 hit and Paladin tanks took over. In their current state Paladin tanks have good health, mitigation, and avoidance.  In addition Paladins can supply some amazing buffs to the rest of the group and have some very solid cool downs.  Lastly Paladins have the best threat generation for AOE groups and very solid threat on single targets as well.

Paladins make very good AoE tanks, due to consecrate. They're not the only tank capable of doing AoE tanking, but consecrate is very good for holding AoE aggro.

Death Knight – These are the newest tanks that were added to the game and to some degree are still being balanced into the game.  They have great cool downs and more of them than other tanks, and currently still have more avoidance than most other tanks; They have good threat, damage, and health, as well as being able to solidly AOE tank. Best of all if you already have a character and want to create a new one so you can have a tank, as a Death Knight you start at level 55 instead of level 1!

The only two issues that I see with Death Knight tanks (and I have one), is that they are fairly complicated to play to their maximum potential and they feel like they take more damage until they gain significant amounts of gear.  There is also the problem with Death Knights that almost everyone has one so there are lots around, and many players do not know how to play them so they have a bad reputation in PUGS.

Things to Consider

Just Tank? Or More? - One of the things to consider when looking at a Tank as a character is what else they can do.  Sure, you are creating the character to tank, but at some point you will want to do something else as well.  Which classes offer the most in the way of alternate abilities?  This one is simple to pick, if you want to do more than just tank, play a Paladin or a Druid.  Both can tank, heal, and DPS.  If you want true versatility, nothing beats a druid - they can DPS using either melee or spells, can heal, or tank - they truly do a bit of everything.  Warriors and Death Knights are limited to Tanking and melee DPS.  Melee DPS is the most abundant of characters, so good luck finding a group.

Things to Consider (Continued)

Buffs and Utility - All of the tanks offer some sort of buff and utility to the group they are with.  Which are best though?  Here once again the Druid and Paladin seem to win out, although the Warrior is not that far behind.  Druids have their GMotW for a stat boost, while Paladins have Kings for everyone.  Both have some form of wipe recovery, although the Paladin’s is easier to use since it is an instant.  Druids have Innervate, however as a tank, it is hard to use it.  Also Paladins have Blessing of Protection as an instant to save that healer that is being hit. 

For utility all four have some form of crowd control, but here though the Death Knight and Druid win out by having multiple versions.

While Death Knights can be great tanks, does the average player ruin them?

Which is easiest to play? Hardest to play? Most likely to be a noob? - A big issue with tanking is skill level.  Tanks are the lynch pin that holds a group together.  There are few single players that can cause a wipe faster than a bad tank. That being said some tanks are easier to play to a competent level than others.  I know for a fact that Paladins are several times easier to tank well with than Death Knights for example.  Warriors and Druids fall in between the two extremes. 

All this means that if you are looking for a tank for a group, and it is a PUG, your best chance at getting a competent tank seems to be, grab a Paladin.  The class that offers up the worst tanks in general is the Death Knight.  This is simply because they are so plentiful and still fairly new.

Which is the best tank class for instances and raids - For instances, while levelling and at end-game, almost any tank works well.  However the best tanks are AOE based tanks due to their ability to control large numbers of enemies and make CC and multiple target threat management a non-issue.  This means that Paladins and Death Knight rule the roost as the best instance tanks.  My strong preference is to Paladins as they have steadier mitigation in instances against many light hitting creatures due to block.

For Raids there is currently good reason to take a Death Knight as a main tank for hard mode content due to their ability to have more avoidance and mitigation than almost any other tank.  When properly geared they can have 4-5% more in each area than any other tank.  They also have more cool downs than the other tanks which helps as well.

The Messiah’s Take on Tanks

While any of the four classes are able to tank and do it to a competent level some have more issues than others simply due to attracting more players that do not have a clue.  Many players get into tanking simply because they have a class capable of it and can get the gear to do so easily.  However, many of them have neither the knowledge or aptitude for it.  Death Knights are a great example of this, almost everyone has a DK, and at some point gets tired of not being able to find a group as DPS and tries to tank.  While DK’s have a ton of potential as tanks, the pure number of players that attempt to tank without really understanding how ruins the classes reputation for others.

Right now as the game stands, I think that Paladins are the best overall tanking class in the game.  They can AOE tank, single target tank, have good cool downs, and more.  In almost any single situation I choose a Paladin, as do most of the players I group with.  There are other tanks that we run with, but given a choice it’s always a Paladin.

Paladins became solid tanks before the release of Wrath of the Lich King.

In the end, for the most important of tanking roles, it is hard to say that there is any single “Best” raid tank, due to the fact that most raids require more than a single tank.  This means that you can, and should, bring more than one tanking class if at all possible.  That being said, I firmly believe the best combination is Warrior/Paladin.  If that is unavailable there are several good mixes including Paladin/Druid, Warrior/Death Knight or Paladin/Death Knight, due to the many reasons listed in the editorial.

One last hugely important thing to remember though is that everything in the World of Warcraft is subject to change.  Some classes become better as time goes on, and some get worse.  While right now I would pick Paladins over everything else, but when patch 3.3 comes out they may be the last class I pick. 

All of this also means that while I have a favourite tanking class at all times, I also really rely on the player.  While my least favourite tanking class right now is the Death Knight, there are some that I know that I would take over other tanks, but that is based on the person playing, not the class itself.  Sometimes it really does come down to “take the player, not the class”. 

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Last Updated: Mar 29, 2016

About The Author

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.