Everything you need to know about how and why to play a Tank in World of Warcraft, updated for Mists of Pandaria.

Updated for Mists of Pandaria

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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.

My current tank - Gradiel at level 85

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.


To be or not to be a Tank...

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.


Tanking Specialiaztions and Talents

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.

The Paladin Protection Spec in Mists of Pandaria.

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.


Tanking Stats, Enchants, and Gems

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.

For Warriors and Paladins you can reforge to mastery to get block.

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".

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

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 as a Tank

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.

[protip]

One of the best things you can do while reforging, is to get and use Reforginator. This wonderful little tool helps maximize all of your reforging so that you can meet any stat caps that you are aiming for, like hit and expertise, in the most efficient way.


One word of warning with it’s use though is that the default settings may not always be best for you. Make sure that before you use it you understand which stats are best (by following this guide) and make your own settings and priorities in it. That way you know what you are going for, not just blindly following.

[/protip]


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Threat

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.

Paladins get extra threat from Righteous Fury.

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

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.


AOE Tanking

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.

Grouping up enemies and holding threat is a key talent for tanks in instances

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.


Pulling as a Tank, or How to Engage the Enemy

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.


Tank Positioning (while fighting and pulling)

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.

Standard Tank Positioning for a Fight

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.


Tanking Cooldowns (Minimizing Damage and Surviving)

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.

  • Warriors have Shield Wall, Last Stand, and Enraged Regeneration.
  • Druids have Survival Instincts, Barkskin, and Frenzied Regeneration.
  • Paladins have Guardian of the Ancient Kings, Lay of Hands, and Divine Protection.
  • Death Knights have Vampiric Blood, Will of the Necropolis and many more.
  • Monks have Guard, Shuffle, Dampen Harm, and Brews.

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.


Protecting your Group as a Tank

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.


STUDY!

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.


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Last Updated: Mar 13, 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.

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