Tuesday, March 27, 2012

How To Play Like A Tank

Azeroth, we have a problem.  A tank problem.  We are often described as having a "tank shortage."  What would be an adequate number of tanks?  In a 5-man dungeons, one out of five (i.e. one fifth) of the players need to be tanks.  In a 10-man raid, two out of ten (still one fifth) need to be tanks.  So, to meet the tank demand, we need to see approximately 20% of players pursuing PvE content rolling tanks.  A shortage means we have less than that.  In fact, significantly less.  My instant queues to the 30min+ DPS ones can attest to that.

Blizzard has control of making tanking more appealing to get more people into the role.  What, then, can we as players do to help out in the tank supply crisis?

EDUCATE!  So, we don't have enough tanks.  That's understood.  However, we also have a fair number of tanks that aren't especially viable.  We've all heard the horror stories: tanks that are squishier than the priest, tanks that can't hold aggro even with the recent Threat For Dummies changes, etc. etc.  Many of the good tanks raid in their permanent guild homes - THESE are the tanks who drift aimlessly and hold a pillow over the comatose, prone form of your PuG.

If less than 20% of the PvE playerbase are tanking, even FEWER are doing a decent job of it.  Based purely on anecdotal evidence, I would break our tanks up as such:

As we narrow down from total players, everything in red is unavailable to your PuG.  Anything green has a chance to show up.

So we have a small proportion of the players being tanks, and a small proportion of those are AVAILABLE tanks.  Let's break up those available tanks and see what makes up that second green slice.

Oh.  Good heavens.
You can see our problem.  Out of the few tanks available, a bunch of them aren't even any good.  Low-quality goods can make a shortage seem even worse than it is.  Theoretically, helping them get better should increase the number of FUNCTIONAL tanks we have available to us, easing the strain we have on groups!

Now, my first level 80 (the cap during Wrath days) was a paladin.  He leveled as Prot, and I managed to secure a raid tank position with some friends within the week.  I was offered a shoulder piece, got one run through Halls of Lightning in a failed attempt at trinket (at the time it was an excellent step toward the required 540 Defense to push critical hits off of the combat table, now given through talents), and one run through Trial of the Champion in a failed attempt at ANOTHER trinketAfter that, I was given some enchants and flung into Ulduar.

It wasn't particularly easy for the group.  I was awfully squishy, and my tanking experience was entirely limited to two 5-man runs.  Still, I was told that I played like a tank.  I had done a fair amount of research, and found lots of public advice.  That said, I was still a rookie.  I made lots of mistakes, and they were patient enough to put up with me.

But y'know what?  That advice helped.  So let's all help each other out!  Here's my part:

What a Tank Needs to Do
I swear, when the Dungeon Finder came around, every Retribution paladin in my battlegroup respecced Prot for the fast queues.  They don't really seem to have much of grasp on what's going on, though.  There are two simple things that a tank has to do, above all else:

1.) Make sure nothing is hitting your soft compatriots, and
2.) Keep having a pulse (sorry death knights - you know what I mean).
1.) Pissing off everything that has a name in red 
Under normal circumstances, #2 on that list is more important.  A dead tank does no good.  However, unless #2 is in jeopardy, you'd damn well better be sure that everything around you is trying to eat your face.

For the most part, maintaining threat is no longer a difficult process.  Tanks deal threat in an enormous proportion relative to their damage output (thanks to our special tank abilities), and while Vengeance has its flaws, it certainly doesn't hurt.  Still, threat sometimes gives new (or poor) tanks problems.  Allow me to share an anecdote.

My only non-tank alt that I level is a mage, mostly for Enchanting, but also because mages are awesome.  They can survive like a tank when they need to, and I respect that even if I'm only so-so with mine.  Well, very often when I do heroics, the tank I get is...not so stellar.  This particular tank had tunnel vision worse than a dying person heading toward the light.  He would pick a mob and light up its world.

A mob.  One single mob.  No AoE or cleave attacks at all.

Needless to say, things went poorly for the entirety of the run. He eventually told us that he was new to tanking and normally played DPS - YOU DON'T SAY.  Clearly, he was used to going up to a pack of enemies and hitting buttons until they stopped moving.  This tank's interest was simply getting off attacks, not maintaining threat.  That's kind of problematic.   

As a tank, you need to build your situational awareness, and never turn it off.  The times when a tank really shines are when things go to pot - CC breaks, someone facepulls during an ongoing fight, the healer disconnects - and he or she still manages to hold things together.  Your head needs to be on a swivel.  Always have nameplates turned on, and I suggest an add-on like Tidy Plates that shows you the INSTANT something coughs in the direction of the priest.  If something goes wrong, and you take more than a few seconds to figure it out, come up with a plan of action, and execute that plan...things will get ugly.  I know that sounds intimidating, but trust me when I say practice makes perfect.  Note, however, that practice doesn't mean running dungeons nonstop and just doing what you always have.  Always try to get better.  Practice smoothing out your response times to certain stimuli.  Caster attacking the hunter?  Silence.  Melee mob running away but your taunt's on cooldown?  Stun.  Healer dead?  Do some kitingIf you practice, and actually work at it, this stuff will become second nature to you.  You'll get your whole toolkit on twitch reflexes, which will reduce your reaction time from

Interpret Situation > Develop Plan > Respond
Interpret Situation > Develop Plan > Oh Hey You Already Responded As You Developed The Plan Good Job Mate

Your groups probably won't thank you for it.  But they'll be alive, and you'll have a skillset worth being proud of.

2.) In the words of Freddie Mercury, keep yourself alive
Survivability is what a tank spends most of his time doing if everything else operates like clockwork. It's our bread and butter, and it's a lot of fun.  After all, the reason tanks are special is because they can take a hatchet to the skull without painting the ground red.  Still, it doesn't happen on its own.

Remember, you're not a damage dealer.  As long as #1 up there is met, survivability will always always ALWAYS trump threat.  Everything else held equal, Rune Strike is inferior to Death Strike, because only one of them keeps you alive.  Sitting on three Holy Power with a choice between Word of Glory, Shield of the Righteous, and Inquisition?  Opt for the heal.  You may have noticed that it heals you.

The next key to avoiding the awkward stares of the Spirit Healer (I swear, she knows when the wipe is my fault and looks down on me [no quips about "looking down" on a dwarf, thanks])...


Let's start that thought again, shall we?  The next key to staying in the land of the living is to use your cooldowns.  When I began my career as a tank, I would usually save my cooldowns.  I KNOW MY HEALTH IS AT 2000, BUT WHAT IF I NEED IT EVEN MORE LATER?!?!  The thing you need to remember is that those dire circumstances don't come all that often.  If you are in those risky positions more than once every few minutes, you probably have bigger problems than your cooldowns can help.  Of course, every tank also has cooldowns that are available EVEN MORE FREQUENTLY.  My point is, if you're questioning whether or not to use a cooldown, just use the bloody thing.  It'll almost definitely be ready to go by the next time you need it, and if not, you have options.  It could very well save your life.

One thing to avoid, before I forget.  Unless you absolutely have to must gotta need to will-die-without-doing-it, don't use more than one cooldown that serves the same function at a time - rotate them.  Their stacking is multiplicative, not additive.  That is to say, if you use a 50% damage reduction cooldown and a 20% reduction one at the same time, you're not getting 70% damage reduction.

That second cooldown will act on the 50% damage that's still coming through after the first cooldown.  So 20% of the 50% you're still taking...that's 1/5, or 10% of the TOTAL incoming damage.  Combined, they reduce 60%, not the 70% they're worth independently.  Works the other way, too...if you use the 20% cooldown, you have 80% still coming through, so the 50% cooldown cuts out half of that (40%).  20% + 40% still equal 60% reduction.  Even if you don't follow the math, trust me when I say that you have cut the effectiveness of that second cooldown in HALF by using them at the same time.  Same goes for if you have, say, two dodge trinkets.  Diminishing returns will cause one to not be as potent as it could be all by its onesie.  Just use one cooldown of a given type at a time unless you're really REALLY desperate and need to be Indestructotank, okay?  Okay.

A Word on Trash Packs with Casters
For whatever reason, casters always provide a hiccup to rookies.  If you are unable to CC them because of your composition or an uncooperative group, allow me to make it really simple for you:

If there's a caster in the group, stand on it and let the melee come to you.  That way, all of the enemies are packed all neatly together instead of you engaging a melee and leaving the caster off on his own to throw spells through your mitigation.

If there's more than one caster, stand on one and get the other one to run over to you with its melee buddies.  Silencing them will do the trick.  
  • If you're a warrior, give a talented Heroic Throw to the second caster.
  • Paladins, throw your shield.
  • Death Knights, Strangulate or Death Grip them.  
  • Druids, log off and get on your paladin because you don't have a ranged silence (I kid the bears).

If you're really unlucky and there's three, silence once, interrupt the other, and run to the third.  You'll have a few seconds where the first two should run with you to the final one.
  • Warriors, Pummel them like the fighter you are.
  • Paladins, Rebuke their evil ways.
  • Death Knights, use the other of the two options I listed above, or even Mind Freeze.
  • If you're still logged on your druid, go weep in the corner because it takes two talent points to give your only interrupt a reasonable cooldown (okay, okay, I'll stop now).

Passion For Your Craft
Those're all the gameplay tips I've got for you in this primer.  I have some personal advice, though.  Enjoy what you do.  I think you can tell that I love tanking.  It bleeds out of everything I say.  I just really enjoy being a guardian.  If you get a thrill out of doing this job, and of holding everything together when the shit hits the fan, then you're going to be a better tank, without a doubt.  If you love an activity, no matter what it is, it'll love you back, and you'll devote the time and mental resources necessary to be a star at it.

If you have any additional suggestions, add them to the comments below!
Enjoy the rest of your week, folks!
- Stonepalm - 


  1. Very nice read as usual. One thing about druids though, they do have a ranged silence in solar beam, it requires caster form however, so if one was really skilled they could solar beam the one caster, bear form, then gather everyone up.

    1. Solar beam is a balance druid talent, and even if it wasn't it would be extremely not worth it. Faerie fire the far caster while charging the other one, then position yourself where swipe and thrash hits everything, usually casters aren't so spread out that you can't reach all the casters.

    2. Yeah, Solar Beam is unreachable to Ferals. And Anon, that's a good tip. :) I usually just run like a madman between everyone, haha.

  2. "Unless you absolutely have to must gotta need to will-die-without-doing-it, don't use more than one cooldown at a time - rotate them."

    With regard to this, I propose a friendly amendment: "...more than one DAMAGE REDUCING cooldown at a time...". The reasoning, with respect to damage reducing cooldowns, is correct. However, Shield Wall + On Demand Super-Dodge Trinket = Nigh Invincible. A scenario that would potentially justify this: 4th platform of Madness with Mutated Corruption + Elementium Bolt. I am confident that there are others.

    1. A valid point, good sir. I'm going to edit that in.

  3. In regards to caster pulls, I guess we as a community have lost the fine art of "Line of Sight Pulling". Maybe I come from the old school of tanking (BC and older), but there were pulls in 5-man dungeons (Magister's Terrace and Botanica come to mind) with 2+ casters and unless you were a paladin (w/ captain america's shield toss) you had no hope of corralling all of the mobs... unless you flipped them off and then ran around the corner.

    1. Yeah I can't do LoS pulls anymore. LoL. Nobody in my group understands what it is, and even if I explain it to them, nobody will actually get behind me and wait for the mobs to come to me. Ridiculous.

    2. If this were Facebook I would Like both of your comments.

    3. I only ever try LoS in a guild group. Then again, I only tank for guild groups since my main is a healer, and the tank is an alt.

    4. Oh the days of LoS pulling...I remember my first times doing it back in BC, great experiences in all those old heroics.

  4. Very entertaining read! I'm at level 60 with my bear and leveling through the dungeons is awesome practice since your abilities are added to your rotation slowly. I'll definitely remember to try standing on casters from now on. Sometimes their cast times are long enough that I can taunt them and get a few seconds before I really have to grab them but I'm sure their spells are going to hit WAY harder at 85 so I'll just kill that bad habit now :)

    Thanks for the great info!

  5. Another option for bears that I've found works well is to run up to one caster, taunt the other, then skull bash the first as it's casting. This usually makes that caster move close enough to swipe and thrash both of them. It also potentially helps move the far caster away from other patrolling mobs that might come along. Until bears get their long-distance silence in MoP, skull bash is a pretty effective spell to have handy on the button bar.

  6. I'm new here, and this post just made your blog enter my favs. GREAT reading. Entertaining AND interesting. KEEP IT UP mate!