Hitting the wall
Hitting the wall is when you run into something that you just can’t get past. It can be suddenly and in your face or it can be a dawning realization. With all the demands of tanking it might hit you several different ways. The cause of it be different. Heck you might never hit one. With the arrival of ICC the gear levels are so high any new tank between now and Cata might not even hit one. Or they might hit one while leveling.
Let me tell you about my wall. I started tanking somewhere during the leveling of my first druid (Reversion).
Actually that is not true, I tanked as a warrior a couple years ago.
Actually that is not true either. I started tanking with my pet starting at level 10 on my first hunter not long after WOW’s launch. A hunter pet is not a real tank of course but you get a lot of the ideas from it. You have abilities as a hunter+pet to generate threat, dump threat, and move threat around. You get many of the concepts of tanking as you play one. Having leveled several alts a little, and two a lot, I found my first warrior tank both familiar and eye opening. There were many things different about being a main party tank instead of just the pet tank controller for a leveling pair or trio. I mentally apologized to every tank I had ever had prior to that point for all the sins I had committed against them.
But that is another story. The point is that the concept of tanking was familiar to me and I picked it up fairly fast. I did a few dozen levels of tanking on my warrior. Then the warrior spent time in storage and eventually I leveled a bear tank. Going from warrior to bear was very intuitive and I was soon feeling very comfortable with the role of tank. I did my homework and got the talents and gear I needed. I was doing pretty good as a max level heroic tank. Then TOC came out. Remember back when most pug players only were wearing 200 purples? Times were very different. I was pulling around 860 dps as a bear tank which I thought (at the time) was not bad. Most dps were only doing 1200-2k back then and for most fights it got the job done.
On one Friday night I ran a TOC heroic pug and was completely unable to keep aggro on the three heroes fight. I am pretty sure it was the hunter mage and druid but I am not 100% sure. After a few wipes the group lost a few and then some Uldar geared tank came and finished the run. I was annoyed but did not think too much of it. I probably blamed the DPS for not following kill order. Anyway, the next morning I got up and while Analogue and the baby were sleeping in I tried another run of it. BAM! I was at the wall. The same thing happened again and I realized suddenly that this WAS a wall.
I knew at that moment that my gear, spec, rotation and skills just simply were not up to generating the threat I needed. It was a WOW epiphany I will never forget. What made it so critical was how I dealt with it. I went out and read stuff. And then read more stuff and then studied some more. From all these I made three very small, very subtle and extremely critical changes.
1: Maul. I had been using Maul. I used it a fair bit…. But I did NOT use it on EVERY melee swing. You see Maul is one of those things you trigger and then it goes off on the next regularly scheduled melee swing (like Heroic Strike). It does not blow the global cooldown. So unless you are hurting for rage you should be using it on EVERY swing. So the subtle change I did here was to move it from the 7 or 9 button (I forget which) on my hot bar and put it on 4. What this did was to put it right under my usual hand position and with my other spam able buttons.
2: I discovered the ‘glyph of maul’ that had somehow previously escaped my notice. This maul made my maul hit two targets instead of one!
Now these two changes ALONE boosted my DPS by around 50% and those I was putting out much more threat. What is more I was spreading that threat around better. My biggest damage dealing attack was hitting two. This meant that in a fight at least two of the enemies were glued to me pretty solidly.
3: The third change I made was even more subtle. I read some more about what ‘growl’ did. I had read the tip text before so I KNEW that it did nothing to targets that were already attacking you. I knew it, I mean it is right there in the tip so how could I miss it? But somehow it did not really sink in deep. You see, the hunter pet ability ‘growl’ does not work that way. It is something that just applies a set amount of threat to the target. So it makes sense for the pet to keep spamming growl on whatever it is fighting. What I read after I hit the wall was the math behind druid growl. The math is this. Whatever target is at the top of the threat list, you get that much aggro +1. For some reason reading the actual numbers like that had far more impact on me. The tool tip more or less says the same thing but not as clearly.
So what did this realization do? Not much. I was already using growl properly to taunt things back when someone else pulled them off. What I was not doing was saving growl for ONLY that. After I read that I made extra certain to never use growl except when it was actually needed. Well, really I do bump it a lot… and sometimes I fire it off before I get the right target selected. But basically I save it for what it is really meant for, for those times when someone pulls off you. What this meant for me was that the cooldown on growl was almost always ready when I needed it. It was a very subtle change to how I used it. And I had already been using it mostly right. But that extra assurance of having growl every time I needed it was huge!
So that was it; one hard and solid wall that I hit head on and three fairly small and subtle tweaks. The result was that I obliterated TOC the next time I ran it. That wall was totally blown away.
My conclusion is this: there are a lot of things to do with tanking. Doing any of them weakly might someday run you hard against a wall you just can’t beat. The trick is to recognize it for what it is and go seek out the information you need to overcome it.