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Big Guide to Tanking

By Byron Mudry -

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 itÂ’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]

World of Warcraft - Related Content
Reforge This | Gearing up in Mop | MoP Portal

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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.


World of Warcraft - Related Content
Reforge This | Gearing up in Mop | MoP Portal

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