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Instances are a dance. They are a dance of destruction and death and hopefully a dance of life and success.

The tank leads. Leading is not about going at your own pace, it is about setting a pace your partners can keep up with. You don’t set the pace too slow or your partners get bored and either leaves or tries to lead. If your partners are more accomplished dancers you may have to push yourself hard to keep up with them while still leading. The tank may even have to lean on them a bit or ask one of them to lead for short periods of time.

Leading in a dance does not mean you are in control. It means you make the first move and you signal as much as you can to your partner so she can keep up. Ignoring your partner almost totally only works when you know they for certain can keep up. When you do know they know the tune and the steps then you can cut loose. But if not, you will quickly find yourself dancing alone. A good tank is a good dance partner no matter who his partner is. Fast, slow, waltzing or break dancing a good tank knows them all. Leading also means finding out how NOT to step on the toes of your partner. It also means being polite when your partner steps on yours… but not too polite unless you like sore toes.

The DPS and heals all follow. Following means reading your partner’s moves and matching, echoing or merely complimenting them. It also means pusing yourself when they are challenging you to keep up. If the lead partner is good they will set a pace you can handle even if it is a whirlwind. You might surprise yourself as you stretch to keep up. You might get burned if they prove to be a poor lead, but you will never know unless you step out and allow them to toss you in the air every now and then. It might be a frightening at first but better to embrace the challenge than to refuse to be led.

This analogy shows how BOTH sides have to adapt. You might have to read their intentions and follow. The lead has to communicate those intentions and be sure all partners can keep up.

The dance is never more smooth than when you partner with someone that really knows you and your style. My best partner is my wife. I have run with some great healers that were able to keep up, but when it comes to knowing my rhythm she is best. It certainly helps that she has crazy uber healing gear. However, even uber gear will not keep me alive when I pop cat form and dash two groups ahead and start AOEing the crud out of 4 packs at once.

In some ways though, a very good and very familiar partner will make us complacent. We stop trying to read every move and just fall on familiar patterns. An unfamiliar partner forces us to read and learn as we go.

Most of all we cannot refuse to dance. If our partner for a swing-dance drops and starts spinning around on their head we must be at lead willing to shrug and follow along as best we can. If you refuse to dance to all except one sort of music you will find yourself unhappy and short of partners. But when it comes to pugs don’t assume you will know the tune, the song, or even get a flat dance floor.

I wanted to toss this post out there as background before I get to my upcoming post about multi pulls and go-go-go tanking. It is important for a tank to keep in mind that even as he/she is setting a whirlwind pace their partners are still there and still being considered. How you consider them might be different but even the best geared tank can-not do things alone. (well maybe technically they can but that is a different topic)

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My last post on personal situational awareness promised a follow on. Last time I was talking about you being aware of things that affected you in your role as healer; your spec and gear, your buffs and debuffs, the big purple ooze at your feet. This time we’ll broaden the outlook and pay attention to the things around you.

First off, as a healer, you care about damage that you and the party may take. Anything that will not cause damage or prevent damage from being repaired is inconsequential. In dungeons and raids that means you can ignore… um… the vanity pets that people have out. Usually. Pretty much everything else out there is a potential damage cause or complication. Let me define what I mean by those really quickly:

A damage cause is something that results in a player losing hit points. This includes mobs, cliffs you can fall from, exploding mushrooms, and puddles of goo on the floor.

A damage complication is anything that makes the task of repair or preventing damage more difficult. This would include pillars that block line of sight, curses that reduce healing effectiveness, and things that your party members do to themselves and their pets (for instance when a warlock’s imp is phase shifted and you can’t drop a heal on it).

These two factors work together to make your life interesting. Proper situational awareness will help you know what combination of these factors is in play at any time.

Most of the time in instances, the causes of damage are fairly predictable. Certainly by the time you’ve run Drak’Tharon Keep a hundred times you’ll know which groups you can be afk for and which you actually have to heal, when there’s going to be aoe damage and when you can just let your hots tick. Being aware of the causes of damage lets you heal proactively rather than just reactively, by throwing out hots or shields or timing a big heal to land just when the damage has hit.

Damage complications usually need to be handled as they appear. Again after a few dozen times through an encounter you’ll know that the orb stands on the platforms in OK can block LOS if the tank runs around behind them, or that such-and-such mobs cast silence, and plan for that, but in general it’s the complications that make our job hard because let’s face it, the biggest source of damage complications come from our fellow party members and not the encounter. When the hunter disengages right back into a patrol, or the shaman’s totem shoots a passing sentry, or the tank doesn’t do anything about the mobs that the mage has kindly frozen next to you, that’s when your life gets interesting. Proper situational awareness can help you before this sort of thing happens.

Try to note where your party members are at all times. That way when someone aggros another group, you can be prepared to heal, or be over next to the tank, or even run away and shadowmeld and let them all die, depending on what you feel like doing. This is really hard when you’re focused on health bars and nothing else. You’ve got to ditch healer tunnel vision and broaden your scope to see everything.

Pay attention to debuffs on the others in your party. I’m bad at this; Vuhdo tells me about poisons and curses, since I can do something about it, and special boss debuffs, but diseases? If I’m lucky I’ll notice they’re dying too fast and heal them up. I ought to have a special icon for “something you can’t dispel but might wanna check out” that I apply to their health bars; it would help me with awareness.

Omen or another threat meter – I have Omen and also set Vuhdo to give me an overview of people’s threat. When a dps is pulling a lot of threat, I’m preemptively ready to heal. A paladin or priest healer might be able to use a threat-reducing cooldown on this errant player. Either way it could help prevent a death. On the other hand, if this person is regularly and deliberately pulling aggro, you may choose to let him take some damage and try to send him a message. That can work too. Either way, Omen is a handy healer tool.

Most of my wipes that shouldn’t have happened resulted from me getting too far behind in damage, getting aggro from mobs, or healing the wrong person at the wrong moment. Yes, other people usually did something wrong but I care about what I can do better, not anyone else. It usually comes down to where the immediate cause of wipe was a triage failure – I misdiagnosed what tools to use on what people – but the more general cause was me failing at situational awareness.

Healer tunnel vision kills! I can’t stress enough how important it is to get out of tunnel vision. Do whatever you have to do. Tweak your ui; get mods; disable mods; run a few instances as dps. Try something new and learn to get out of the tunnel.

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Tanking 101: The Pull

So you can hold aggro now eh? You have a rotation that works and the dpsers hardly pull off you anymore? That is good. But there is more.

Let us get into the dynamics of a pull. A ‘pull’ is the act of starting a fight with a particular monster or group of monsters. The pull usually is considered to encompass the initial contact as well as the tank getting agro on each creature. What I mean is the pull includes getting in there, getting things started and getting the fight stable. A tank has to get minimum threat on ever target and not have them pull off him the instant the melee, casters, or the healer start doing their thing. If any of the critters pull off you in the first few seconds then you did something wrong (unless that was part of your plan).

Setting up a pull

Scope them out:

The first thing to do is take stock of your target pack. Most mobs are in a pack. How big that pack is and what kinds of critters are in it have a large effect on what sort of pull you want to do. It is critical to take these things into account. The tank has to make the decisions on how to deal with these things. Tanks that don’t do that wipe their group. In many or most cases there is no other person in the party that can deal with the effects of a bad pull. If you can’t pull well you cant tank.

Some of the things to take note of are:

Are there casters in the group?

What kind of range to the casters have?

Does the group patrol?

Do any of them have a fear ability?

Do any of them do a ‘knock back’ effect? (Rinos that charge)

Are there any beasties in the pack need to be turned away from the party? (dragons that breath fire in front of them, snakes that do a multi target poison, etc)

This is the short list but there are others. What you, as a tank, do to set up this fight and shape it is called ‘controlling the battle space’. The job of doing this solely belongs to the tank. Some other classes can help but only working with the tank.

The surroundings:

The second thing to look at is where you are and what is around you and what is around the pack you are going to attack. The most critical thing is what other packs might join the fight. This threat is variable. If packs are far away it is low. If packs are far away but patrol then it might be higher. If the creatures in the target pack do a fear or ‘knock back’ then the risk is very high. As the tank it is your job to know the area and be aware of what could happen. It is your job to take steps to lower those risks. It is also your job to be ready for the worse case situations. If a patrol comes at you from behind, it was your job to know they were coming, see them coming and to round them up as soon as they join the fight. A good tank has eyes in the back of their head. This is called ‘situational awareness’. It is the same skill that soldiers on a battle field, fighter pilots and cops need. The skill is the inability to be taken by surprise. You can’t be taken by surprise because you already expected the surprise and have a plan to take care of it. And when that plan goes wrong you have a back up plan. But lets get back to the pull…

The shape of your pull:

There are many kinds of pulls. Every tanking class has several options available to them starting a pull. Not all tanks have the same options. Since there are tank classes I have not played I might miss some but here is the list. Keep in mind there are more tricks to a pull than this and there are variations.

Straight pull:

The tank runs in to the pack and starts hitting them. Every tank can do this pull. What attacks and abilities they use once they get to the group depend on what class they are. I will not get into those. We are just talking the pull itself. Sufficient to say that the tank needs to get agro on every target in the pack as they do the pull.

Pros: Simple. Easy. Able to be done with no rage, RP, or mana.

Cons: This pull is slow. The dps or healers might pull off you between the time you start running forward and the first attacks you make. There is a gap between the time you get close enough to the mobs for them to notice you, and the time you get within melee range. When you are in this ‘gap’ an healing or buff effects cast on you will cause the critters to gain agro on the healer.

Some variations on this pull are able to compensate for this.

Charge pull:

This pull is the bread and butter of warrior and bear tanks. It involves using a charge ability to dash in there and attack right freaking now! This pull compensates for the slowness drawback of the straight pull. The tank closes that gap between initial agro (they spot you) and the first melee or aoe abilities you do. By blowing past that gap you get the fight started fast and have a much better chance of a clean pull.

Ranged attack pull:

This involves the tank standing in one spot and casting a range attack at the pack. It might be a shot from a warrior’s gun. It might be a bear’s growl or farie fire. It could be that icy touch thing DKs do. There are a lot of ranged attacks that a tank can use to start the fight.

Pro: this pull is great for moving a group to you and getting them away from other packs that are dangerously close.

Con: This pull, by itself, is very risky. It combines the ‘gap’ issue of the straight pull with the fact that most dps, faced with a bunch of critters running at them, will start attacking. Also, this pull does not pull in creatures that have ranged attacks. Those ones will only move to you partway (or not at all) and then sit there shooting arrows or fireballs at your head. Only it will not be your head because as soon as the healer heals you that creature will shoot fireballs at their head.

There are ways to get rid of those cons which I will get to in a minute.

Deathgrip pull:

This is the same as a ranged attack pull except it is done by a Death Knight. The ranged attack they start the fight with is ‘death grip’. It has all the pros and cons of the ranged pull except that you also get to pick on target and have it come right to you instantly. This is a very good pull for groups with just one ranged caster.

This could also be done as a ‘straight pull’. In that case a DK will death grip one of the critters while he is moving into the pack. Or he might do it just after he moves in, but still as a part of the initial pull. This is an outstanding method for gathering up groups that are spread out and contain casters. Knowing which mob to grip and where to grip them is a critical skill for a DK tank. It is what separates a so-so dk tank and a really good one. Often a good choice is the critter in the pack that is farthest away. This clumps them up around you fast.

Shield throw pull:

You will see this one a lot with a paladin tank. Like the grip pulls there is a skill to knowing which targets are the best ones to throw your shield at. This pull can also be done as a standing pull or while moving in during a straight pull.

That covers most of the basic pulls. Other abilities can be done during those pulls as variations. For example a bear who is good can get off a fairy fire on one target while she charges a different one. In effect this is combining a ranged pull and a charge pull. DK and Pallies get some of their best results by using combinations of abilities as they move in with a straight pull. Bears and Warriors tend to use a charge pull and then throw an AOE as a follow up.

Advanced pulling

LOS pulls

What is LOS? LOS means line of sight. Basically this means hiding where the pack can’t see you. This is used to force the ranged attacker creatures to run to where they can see you. When properly done an LOS pull will take a spread out group of caster mobs and bring them in to the party in a nice tight pack. This pulls, more than any other, needs the cooperation of the party. A DPS or the healer don’t hide with you, or start doing their thing early, the critters will stop coming to you and start casting fireballs at your parties heads. There are ways to vary the LOS pull and mix things up. But the basic LOS pull is this: the tank will use a ranged attack on one of the creatures and then will turn and hide. So technically the LOS pull is a ranged pull. And it is specifically designed to compensate for the ranged pull weakness; casters not coming to the tank. There are many pulls were LOS is not only an excellent choice. Many tanks don’t use them. Really good tanks know when and where to use them and do them as needed.

Cooperation pulls:

Healer LOS

One interesting thing to note is that a healer can do a LOS pull by himself. For this the tank stands out in the open and does a ranged pull. As the creatures start beating up the tank the healer will hide near the tank and start casting heals on the tank. This will agro the caster mobs on the healer and they will run in.

There are a lot of other pulling tricks that can be used if you are tight cooperation between the party and the tank.

Hunter Misdirect

Sheep pull

Counterspell and taunt

Tricks of the trade

Trap pulls

Remote control pet pulls

Mind control pulls

Death grip and taunt (with DPS DK)

Multi tank pulls

Multi GROUP pulls

And many more.

Maybe in a later blog I will talk about more advance pulls. I originally was going to talk about that in this one but I got carried away explaining the basics.

Before I go let me say don’t get complacent. Don’t just find one pull that works and stick with it. There are many ways to pull, even with a given pull type or single class. Try stuff. If it does not work, try something else. Having the ability to start different fights in different ways will make you a better tank. A lot of group wipes could have been prevented if the pull had been executed differently. Don’t just assume it was someone else’s fault (that stupid hunter stood back there and the pat came). Instead think about what YOU can do different to make things succeed. The mark of a good tank is being able to make just about any group work no matter how bad the heals and dps is. If something fears and you bring adds, next time pull that group farther back. If the caster over there keeps shooting the healer, find a place to LOS that pull. Try different things and find what works. Then try other things. The more tricks you have up your metal (or fur) sleeve the better you will do.

A short note on using a ‘taunt’ ability as a ranged attck for a pull. Avoid doing this. It is better to have your taunt off cooldown if (when) the dps messes up your pull. Because a taunt on a target not in combat does no ‘threat’ using it makes it more likely that someone will pull off you. This advice does not fully apply to taunts that damage the target.

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Situational awareness, or  “looking at more than just health bars so you see the puddles of goo on the floor”, is insanely key to being a good healer. So key in fact that I would further break down the topic into personal situational awareness and global situational awareness, the later being “seeing the goo that everyone ELSE is standing in”. So I’m breaking this up into two posts and starting with personal.

Imagine you’re looking at your WOW UI. There at the center of the screen, what do you see? You. It might be a dwarf priest, a Tauren shaman, a Draeni paladin, or a Tree (by the way, save the trees!), but it’s you. Too often in healing we are so busy looking at everyone else (at least, everyone else’s health bars) that we forget to look at ourselves.

To learn to escape tunnel vision we must be more aware of ourselves and our surroundings.  It makes a great story when we can say “… and then I realized I was wearing my fishing pole!” or “Then I remembered I hadn’t switched out of my PVP healing spec!” but in truth, when you say that, you have failed. Personal awareness is your first goal when entering an instance or a raid.

Your pre-flight checklist:

Am I in healing mode?

Healing gear?

Healing spec?

Tree form?

Am I ready to go?

Buffs ok? (what do your party members bring?)

Mana bar up?

Phone off the hook, dog outside, baby changed?

Is my party ready?

Identify the tank

Classify each dps player

Mentally categorize their resource type (more on the last few when I do the global situational awareness topic)

Communicate

Tell the tank “I’m ready to go”. Let him know after pulls if there were too many mobs or if you need a second. Remind the mage not to stand in fire.

This is in ideal world. In the real world, the tank has pulled three patrols before you’re actually in the instance, the mage is already dead, and the paladin doesn’t speak English and has given you Blessing of Might. So while you’re running to catch up, do as many of these things as you can, while firing off whatever “Oh Crap” spells you have and wondering if those Frost badges are really worth it.

During the Run:

Your location may vary fight to fight. In general, you want to be close to but not in melee range. If you’re too far away, then when the mage pulls aggro, frost novas the mobs next to you, and blinks away, then you’re in trouble. If you’re closer in the tank will have an easier time. On the other hand, sometimes you’ll want to stay back. Do you know that a mob throws chain lightning or fears? You might stay farther off. For a rule of thumb, never get so far behind that if the tank charges he goes out of range.

If you know an encounter cold, you might think about where you should stand to best help the tank. For instance in Utgarde Keep on the Prince fight, stand so that the tank is between you and the door where the skeletons spawn. When they aggro on you, they will run over the tank who has an easier job of picking them up than if he had to run over to you.  If you have a good tank friend, ask him about fights and where particularly you can stand to help him out.

Stay out of the fire, obviously. If you’re having tunnel vision, make your own health bar nice and visible so when you start taking damage you notice – and then move! Most fights you probably know cold by now anyway. You’ll know when a boss is going to do a move that means you need to move. Watch where you stand when you’re fighting dragons (head and tail are bad, stand on one side). Just run down an encounter before it happens so that when you need to react, it takes you less time

Remember your own defensive cooldowns: chances are when the party takes an AOE, you’ll take damage too. Throw a defensive cooldown ahead of time if you can, like Barkskin, to give yourself breathing room. Or have a shield or a hot on yourself already.

Watch your aggro: Try not to heal the tank until he’s got aggro. If you do pull, bring the mobs to him. Don’t count on him seeing that one that’s hitting you, take proactive steps. Again, if you have problems with tunnel vision, make your own health bar really big and obvious and when it starts going down, figure out why.

Afterwards:

Assess the run. If you were going with a friend, talk about it with them. Were there avoidable deaths? Places things could have been smoother? Figure it out and file it away under “next time”. Mistakes are for learning, not recrimination.

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Maybe you’re like me; totally psyched for Cataclysm, starting to be a bit bored with current content, wanting one last run through Old Azeroth before it becomes New And Improved Azeroth (Now with 500% more Lava!). And you’ve rolled, or are thinking of rolling, a class that can heal. Let’s say you’ve never healed before. Does the prospect seem daunting?

It definitely can, especially at low levels when you don’t have as many healing abilities. Team that up with low level tanks not having all their mitigation abilities and low level dps being no better than top level ones at not getting face stomped and a pug of RFC or Stockades suddenly approaches the difficulty and pain of a Blood Princes encounter.

The first thing you have to do is start thinking like a healer, and I think the most important skill there is triage. It’s a term referring to what battlefield medics or ER staff do; assess the injury status of patients in such a way as to save as many lives as possible.

For triage in WoW to work, you need to know what your abilities are and what they do. Even at low levels most healing classes will have at least a long slow big heal and a short fast small heal. Some classes already have hots or shields or other ways of preventing or healing damage. Make a mental inventory of all these.

Next, assess your party makeup. I’ll assume a classic five man group; fewer than five man and the problem gets easier. Our imaginary party will be a young Warrior tank, a hunter and his pet turtle Bessy, a frost mage, a rogue, and you, a priest (translate this to whatever healing class is appropriate; the priest is a good one for this scenario).

Notice that I set up this party so that other than the hunter’s Mend Pet ability, nobody else has healing spells. We’ll assume the rogue can bandage and likes to do so. Everything else is up to you.

Now set up a priority queue in your mind. It goes like this:

You
Tank
Whatever DPS has done the least to make your life miserable or you are romantically involved with
The other dps
The pet
The DPSer you are romantically involved with if he forgot that your birthday was last week

This is the “keep them alive” priority and not the “heal them” priority. What’s the difference? The “keep them alive” priority stays static the whole time; it doesn’t change unless someone annoys you enough to move down the ladder, or brings you chocolate and wine and moves up the queue. The “Heal them” priority queue changes every second of the fight. Here’s how it work.

You engage a small patrol. The tank picks up aggro and starts taking damage. You throw him a Power Word: Shield and a Renew and he stops taking damage while the shield is up. When it wears off, he starts taking some damage again. The Renew is a Heal Over Time spell and mends some of that damage, but he’s down about a quarter of his hit points and the mobs are still hitting him, so you start casting a Heal. (Assume you don’t yet have Greater Heal). Now he’s got his health back. You refresh the Renew, the mobs die, and everyone’s happy.

That one was easy! Only the tank needed healing. You adjusted your heals based on what he needed to keep his health bar full, didn’t waste mana, and nothing got scary.

Now on to the next pull. This one has more mobs and some of them are ranged. As you throw a Renew and Shield on the tank, it causes you to get aggro from one of the casters, who starts throwing ice bolts at you. You immediately put a shield on yourself and since you don’t have much damage, a Renew. Then the mage gets attention from one of the mobs, who wanders over and starts hitting him. The mage panics and runs over to you and then frost novas and runs away, leaving the mob right next to you. The mob decides that you look tasty and starts biting you. Meanwhile the tank just got critted and is at 50% health and falling.

Summary: You and the tank are both being actively hit
The mage is not being actively hit
You are at 70% life. The tank is at 50% life. The mage is at 30% life.
What do you do?

Well, whatever you do, you’ve got to get the mob off you. Take a few steps toward the tank. While the frost nova holds the mob can’t bite you. When it wears off, it will have to come toward the tank to get you. At the same time, refresh the Renew that’s on yourself. Now pay attention to the tank! If you can shield him again, do that. If the Renew is gone, refresh it. Then cast your fast quick heal, Flash Heal. It doesn’t do as much, but your tank is hurting bad and you need to get some breathing room. Often a couple of quick fast heals will get you enough breathing room to have time to cast your long slow top-them-up heal.

Now the tank is at 70%, you’re at 85%, and the mage is still hurting. If you can spare time, drop a Renew on him and let him stew. If you eventually have the time and mana, Flash Heal him to about 80%. More than that is a waste of your global cool downs and mana. He should have learned his lesson and not pull the mobs again this fight. A few missing health points is a good lesson.

Oops, mobs still not dead. The tank has them all now, but the hunter, who has been afk, finally wakes up and sends in his pet, who growls at one mob and gets it to turn and fight him. Bossy the Turtle takes some damage. You can choose to heal it, or not; the hunter ought to Mend Pet on it and he was stupid to have its Growl on, but the pet is doing good dps and if you can spare the mana, give it some love.

And the rogue is taking a little aoe damage. He bandaged himself earlier when things were messy, so now you drop a shield and a Renew on him, and then turn your attention back to the tank who is in need of more Flash Heals.

Oh, dear – you guys just aggroed the boss who was wandering around, and he runs in and throws a big AOE that damages you all pretty badly. What do you do now?

Throw a shield on yourself and the tank (if you were a druid you’d be dropping more HOTs on you both here) and then cast your AOE heal. Sorry paladins, you don’t have an AOE heal, but the other three classes do and this is where to use them; you’ve got at least three people hurt and the tank is not taking so much damage that your heal can’t keep up.

Now you’re all at manageable health. Go back to the tank, keep him alive, and – oh dear. You’re out of mana. This will be fun.

Warn everyone “OOM!” and hope they get the message. No matter how much damage is flying around, do not spend mana on heals for anyone except you and the tank, and mostly the tank. If he drops you’re all dead, whereas if you keep him alive you might survive this.

Every time you have enough mana, cast your Flash Heal. It’s the fastest cast you have and so will get you back into mana regen mode as fast as possible (takes five seconds after the end of your last cast for your mana regen to start actually doing much).

Now let’s talk about what happens when things really go haywire; multiple groups of mobs, aggro everywhere, tank getting low, mage getting squishy, and your own special set of ravenous admirers.

First off, don’t panic. Easier said than done, but don’t panic. If you do, things will get worse. The worst outcome here is a wipe. Nothing can be worse than that. Your goal, once things start going turnip-shaped, is to keep yourself alive at the end. Everyone else is a means to that end. Remember, you have the magic res fingers!

If you are to stay alive, that means someone has to kill the mobs that want to eat you. Probably that means keep the tank and some dps alive. Sometimes it means all the dps die really fast and you and the tank slug it out slowly with the last few mobs.

start with keeping yourself alive. That might mean moving instead of healing; go over to the tank and hope he pulls the mobs off rather than trying to heal through the bites. You are not the tank. Don’t act like one. If you have damage mitigation cooldowns, use them. A druid should throw a hot on herself, throw Barkskin, and go to the tank. A priest should shield herself. A Paladin can use Hand of Salvation or Divine Protection (use HoS on yourself, Divine Protection on the tank, and gain some breathing room).

Next, if the tank is getting low, throw heals at him while you scan everyone else. Is there someone who is very low but not actively taking damage? Throw a hot or shield or Flash of Flight/Flash Heal at him to give him more breathing room. Someone who is low and actively taking damage, and not the tank, is probably going to die no matter what in a “ah crap” situation. Don’t waste mana and GCDs on a mage who has three mobs on him. He will die and his friends will come eat you next. It is his job to ice block at this point and avoid death, not your job to save him.

Heal the most likely to survive; this is why it’s triage. You decide who lives, who dies. Who is stable or could be stable with minimal intervention? Did the hunter just have his pet growl mobs off of you? Heal that pet, unless the hunter is about to die, in which cast that’s wasted mana.

Keep an eye out for environmental issues that affect you; fire on the ground, curses. Moving cuts down on your heals but so does being dead. Some curses can be ignored or healed through. If you have a curse that makes your casts take 50% longer and it can be removed, remove it! The one GCD and minimal mana you spend there pays for itself almost instantly. On the other hand, if it’s a curse that makes you have 100 less skill at Bows, like in SFK sometimes, ignore it.

Avoid tunnel vision at all costs. I think this is the number one cause of healer death; you’re too busy staring at the health bars to notice the gnolls eating your spleen. One of the best tools for preventing tunnel vision (and sometimes for causing it) is a good raid healing frame mod. Healbot and Grid + clique are both popular setups; my personal favorite is Vuhdo which I think combines the flexibility of Grid with the ease of setup of Healbot. Other sites have done far better rundowns of how to install and tweak these; if you’re stuck for ideas, I recommend visiting the http://www.PlusHeal.com forums and their UI and Mods subforum to see screenshots and suggestions of Healer UIs. Sometimes though healing frames can make tunnel vision worse, when all you focus on is the part of your screen with little boxes and icons. I suggest moving the frames somewhere near the middle of your screen and forcing yourself to see other areas.

Other than that it’s about practice, practice, practice. Going into battlegrounds can be good practice at getting a UI with raid frames set up to where you can concentrate on the frames but still watch your environment. Pug some dungeons – and please don’t wait til you’re 80 to start. It is harder to jump in at top level because your gear will be lagging compared to what people expect. But if you did just dual spec to Holy and you’re 80, go ahead and start! Don’t take stupid comments personally, just have fun.

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Threat is tanking. The number one thing a tank has to know is what threat is and how to control it. If you don’t know you can’t tank. Period. If you are interested in tanking you need to gain a working understanding of what threat is before you start.
If you have played WoW at all you are going to think this is somewhat obvious and simple. But stick with me for a little while. There are some tiny nuances that are of MAJOR importance to a tank. All those things that happen in the game happen for a reason. Learning the underlying mechanics of them will make you a good tank.
Threat is an invisible feature that every creature has. If it helps you can think of it as a reverse health bar. Every critter just hanging out in the world has zero threat on it.

The instant that creature spots something it wants to kill it gains one point of threat towards that person.

The murloc has spotted the gnome. Now it has just one point of threat toward her and none toward anyone else.

This one point is enough to give the murloc an intense burning desire to drop everything it was doing (hanging out gurgling) and go stab the gnome to death (our horde readers can identify with this urge).

So now the murloc does this; stabbing the gnome for a few points of damage. Notice the threat level the murloc has does not change. When a creature does damage to something he does not generate any more threat toward that creature. All of his threat bars stay the same. The gnomette still has just one point of threat and the rest of the world has zero. Notice that the threat meter is associated with the Murloc. It is ‘his’ threat. Each creature in the game has their own little threat list. They hold a grudge on everyone who is on that list and will try to kill them.
Now let us say that the Gnome defends herself.

Notice that the meter went up. Now the Gnome has 11 threat. Because she is the only one here it does not matter how much she has. She is still the at the ‘top of the threat list’. This means that she ‘has aggro’. Also note that the ‘threat’ the gnome generated by attacking the murloc is proportional to the amount of damage she did to it. If she takes a few more swings that number will keep going up to keep pace with the amount of damage she does.
Now let’s see what happens when things go badly.

The gnome has died (/cry). But notice the threat meter. The Gnome is no longer on it. The list of threat for this creature is reset because the only one that was on its list is dead. It will run back to its home. Other things besides dying can reset the meter. For example a hunter using ‘Feign Death’ will do the same thing. The hunter will drop completely off the threat list and the creature snaps back to its home.
Simple right? Don’t go away yet. It gets more complicated.
First of all I will start drawing the threat list to look like an addon called Omen. There are other addons out there (and a built in feature) that let you actually see the threat a targeted creature has. For a tank these addons are very helpful. They are particularly helpful early in your tanking when you are trying to gain complete mastery of this ‘threat’ stuff.
This example has a lot more going on….
Here is a happy piggy… er, vicious razorback boar in need of killing.

And here is a band of friends out questing. There is a gnome rogue, a druid healer and a draenai paladin.

The boar sees them, but since it is a happy boar (yellow name) it does not get any threat toward them. It has aggro on no one and its threat list is empty.

What’s this? The rogue was stealthed and just backstabbed the poor pi… er. I mean vicious mean boar. Now we can see the threat table below. It is turned sideways to make it easier to see who is on the ‘top’. Also that makes it look more like an Omen meter. As we can see the only one on the list is that mean little backstabbing… I mean our friend the rogue. No one else has done anything to the boar so no one else is on the list. What else do you notice? The threat on the meter is less than the damage the rogue did. This is because the rogue took talents points into something that lowers his threat.
(Actually rogue talent trees don’t have any skills like that but some classes do.) For example a warrior in berserker stance would generate less ‘threat’ than the strict amount of damage he did to the target. By being in the correct stance he can keep his threat low. We will get into more on this later. The numbers I am using in this tutorial are only a rough estimate and not strictly accurate examples.
So what happens next?
Let’s say our paladin is trying to be a tank. So she is going to use a ‘taunt’. In this case the actual ability is ‘hand of reckoning’ but the important thing is that it is a ‘taunt’ type ability.

A taunt is what we call a broad class of abilities that all share a certain feature. There are minor differences between them but the main feature is that you, the tank, are given as much threat as the highest person on that target’s list, plus one. This is great because it puts you on the top of the threat list. A taunt will ALSO force the target to attack you. This has the effect that after you use the taunt you have 1 point higher threat than anyone else and the target is planning to attack you.
Notice that I broke that into two pieces, first getting to the top of the threat list, and second that it will attack you. This is because, in WOW, even if you are at the top of the threat list, you actually have to do 10% more threat than the current ‘leader’ on the list in order to get the creature to attack you. Let’s say the paladin had only swung her mace at the target and not taunted it. She would have generated as much aggro as the damage she did. In order to beat that 10% buffer she would have had to hit the target for 17 points of damage for it to ignore the rogue and attack her instead. By taunting instead she does not have to rely on doing enough damage to get to the top of the list. The taunt blasts her to the top of the list AND makes her the target instantly.
So now she has taunted off the rogue and is at the top of the list. What next?

The paladin, confident that she is now ‘tanking’, merrily swings at the boar and does 10 points of damage. At the same time, the rogue attacks again and does another 15 points of damage. Now the rogue is back at the top of the list! And, even more than that, the rogue is more than 10% higher than the paladin. So now the boar is going to attack the rogue.

Here we have the boar om-nom-noming on the rogue. The paladin is desperately whacking it with her mace and the rogue is in a panic, stabbing harder than ever. They are both doing damage, but the paladin is just not catching up.
This could go on forever. When the pally’s taunt is off cooldown she could use that again, but she would have to get lucky to keep the boar off the rogue for long because the rogue is doing more damage than her. This is the makings of a frustrated tank who is confused as to why she can’t ‘hold aggro’.

But it does not go on forever. The rogue is going to cast Feint. This ability lowers a rogues threat by a set amount. Because I am using fake numbers I am just going to say it is 30. The real number is a lot more but all these numbers are just place holders for the real values to give you the idea of how it all works.

So in this next moment the rogue stabs again and uses feint, and the pally hits again with her hammer. The rogue gains some threat and loses a some from feint and the pally just gains. Now the pally has a very good lead and can hold aggro.

On a side note this tank may not realize the target is now attacking her due to something the DPS player did. She might think she has succeeded as a tank but in reality the other player has saved her bacon. So everything is good again…

Except now the healer wakes up.

The healer throws a nice big aoe heal. So what does that do? Now the healer is on the threat list. For every point of healing that is done to each person on a creatures threat list the person doing the healing gains that much threat. This means a creature can easily get far more mad at the person healing the guys hitting it. This goes for other kinds of buff spells too, even ones that are not healing. Almost anything you do to help someone who is fighting causes whatever they are fighting against to get mad at you.

So now the healer has blown past the other two on the aggro table and pulled the boar off of them. The druid ‘pulled aggro’ big time. He did that by doing more threat and getting to the top of the meter. He even got over the 10% ‘buffer’. But, actually is is more than just 10%. The 10% buffer is for melee targets. For caster-range targets it is 30%. What this means is that if the tank has 100 points of threat it will take 110 points of threat coming from anyone in melee range of the critter to pull it off the tank. For any party members outside of melee range it will take 130 points of threat to ‘pull aggro’.

Aggro boosting

Innate boosting

So what is this tank doing wrong? One of the things wrong is Righteous Fury. The ability that separates a damage dealing Paladin from a tanking Paladin is Righteous Fury. This ability makes all of their holy damage attacks do 80% more threat. So if the paladin throws an ability that does 100 damage points to the target the threat will be 180 instead of just 100.
This concept is very important. Every tanking class has some mechanism or ability that allows them to do more threat from their attacks than just what the damage would cause. This is important because in many situations other members of the party will actually be doing more damage than you. They put all their talent points into things that make them hit harder while you were putting points into things that make you block, dodge or parry better. It is almost certain that in an given party someone will be doing more damage than you. This gets even worse at higher levels. In an endgame raid for example some people will be doing well over double the damage you, the tank, are doing. Taunts are great for getting things to attack you, and for bumping your threat to the top, but if you do not have a way to pump your straight threat output up higher even taunts will not keep critters attacking you for long.
Each class of tank has a different way of pumping out more threat than damage. For Druids it is a feature of bear form. All damage caused in that form does more threat than it normally would. For warriors the defensive stance has this feature built into it. For DKs it is Frost presence (not to be confused with frost spec, DK can tank in other specs).

Specific boosting

In addition to abilities that raise the threat generation of all their attacks tanks also have attacks that specifically generate extra threat. These abilities have various amounts of extra threat they apply to the target over and above the damage they do. Some of them do very little damage but still apply a good bit of threat. Abilities like this will specifically say they do extra threat in their tool tips. What those moves are depend on what class of tank you are playing. A good tank will work these types of moves into their rotation.
It is important to understand that as a tank it is more important for you to be doing threat to the targets than it is for you to be doing damage. The DPSers are there to actually kill the creatures. You, the tank, are only there to keep the creature distracted from killing the DPSers or the healer. If a tank also does good damage that is just icing on the cake. Sometimes tweaking your rotation to do more damage will also increase the threat you cause, but not always. Sometimes it will lower your threat. As a tank it is your job to do the research about your class and spec so that you know what things increase your threat and what things do not.

Aggro Reduction

As I already mentioned, some dps classes have features that do the opposite, abilities that lower the amount of threat caused by attacks. Some are innate, meaning they lower all the threat caused by attacks. For example in cat form a druid doing 100 damage with an attack will do much less than 100 points of threat.
Aggro dumping
The final class of aggro abilities are ones call ‘dumps’. In the example above the Rogue used Feint which is an ‘aggro dump’. This means it drops your overall threat . There are a lot of different aggro dumps in the game. They work in a wide variety of different ways. Priests have Fade when just lowers threat by big chunk. Hunters have Feign Death which completely removes all of their threat and drops them out of combat entirely. Some aggro dumps are temporary. For example if a night elf shadow melds that will only keep creatures off them until they come out of it. If the combat has not ended when they get out of shadow meld, either by taking damage or by doing something, then all the threat they had before comes roaring back.

Forced attacks

The last things to talk about on this subject is very important. Forced attacks are a class of abilities that tanks have that are extremely useful. They also have some important drawbacks so it is vital to understand them.
A forced attack is an ability that forces a targeted creature to attack you. This is NOT the same things as a taunt. The critical difference is that a forced attack does not increase your threat and put you on the top of the list for that creature to attack. Instead these moves just artificially put you to the top of the list temporarily. As soon as the ability wears off those creatures will go back to attacking whoever is REALLY on the top of the list. These moves are very useful for buying you time. A good example is Challenging Shout. This ability forces a bunch of enemies in the nearby area to attack the warrior using it for a few seconds. It hits a lot more targets than a ‘taunt’ move so it is very good for getting large numbers of creatures to stop attacking someone. For example if a patrol just attacked your party and they all start beating on the healer this move will instantly get them off the healer. BUT only for a few seconds. So it is critically important that the tank use follow up moves to generate threat on those critters before the forced attack wears off. If the tank does this then the day is saved. If not all of those creatures will go back to chewing on the healer and there is a good chance the party is doomed.

That does it for the intro to threat and the explanation of the categories of abilities. As a tank it is very critical to know the mechanics of what your abilities do. When and how to use those moves is a subject for more posts.
Whenever you are not sure do some reading! There is a lot of good information out there and there are a lot of tricks and hidden things to learn about how it all works. For example I recently had to do some research into ‘taunt immunity’ after a failed ICC raid. What I discovered was that the other tank had doomed us by over-using his taunts on the 4th boss and making him immune during critical tank swaps. If you are a new tank and don’t know what I am talking about don’t worry about it. The important thing is never assume you have it all figured out. Just when you have learned most of it Blizzard will change something.

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The tank is the leader of the party. The big cheese, the head honcho, el presidente…

Some of you are disagreeing already, assuming more than one person is reading this. To fully explain that statement we should take a glance at the nature of leadership and then put it in the context of WOW. Webster.com defines leadership as something a leader does…  yeah that helps. It defines a leader as someone who leads… hah. But further down it says that it means someone who ‘has commanding authority or influence’. Right, so tanks have authority. Hah! No really, they do. It is just a limited kind. It is limited in EXACTLY the same way all authority everywhere is. You get authority as people give it to you. In politics they sometimes call it a ‘mandate’. Like if the big issue in an election was ‘fix XYZ’ then the person that wins is said to have a broad mandate to do things about that issue.

Now think about a club. Let’s say you are the president of a card playing club. What authority do you have? Well you can decide what day you are going to play cards on. And people will go with that decision unless you pick a bad one. So you get to pick any day that works for the majority…. Ok.

And you can spend the membership dues on new cards. You have total authority there. You can buy ones with the checkered pattern on the back or ones with pictures from a gift shop some place. But you can’t buy a new car with the money. You can also decide who brings the snacks each week. But you can’t order one person to buy pizza every week. Your authority has a narrow river bed it flows down. You can do what you want inside those narrow banks, but if you try to splash your authority out of those narrow banks the other people just laugh and ignore you, or leave the club, or kick you out for embezzling the dues money. It is a voluntary organization and the leadership you wield has only the power to motivate people along lines they have implicitly agreed to in advance. And you have the responsibility to, within those confined channels of authority, make decisions and lead in ways that further what the people signed up for. In the case of a card playing club those things are playing cards on regular schedule and having fun.

Pugs are like this. Tanks have the authority that the other people give them. It comes with the responsibility to help make the run go well. You can give orders and make demands based on things they will think are reasonable. But within those bounds of reasonableness you have full command. If you say ‘I am going to pull this group LOS to this corner here’. That is a 100% reasonable statement. It is also an implied command for everyone to support that action. If some moron messes the pull up you have a mandate to complain to that person. The other members, assuming they are reasonable, and assuming you don’t take it so far you are ‘spoiling their fun’, will support you complaining to that player and telling him to not mess up your LOS pulls. It is this pact of peer pressure that gives the tank the mandate to give instructions that will further the group’s aims (finishing the run, getting loot).

For the good of the group the Tank MUST speak up and communicate if something is going wrong. It is the responsibility that goes with that authority. If a hunter left his pet on growl it is well within the mandate of the tank’s authority to say something about that. To a point. He/she can’t throw a hissyfit over it any more than the members of a card game club would be ok with the president flipping out over bad shuffling. They might be ok with some gentle remedial shuffling instructions or advice, but not with a full blown tantrum.

It is not ok for the leader to let something important slide. If some moron is pulling without you and you don’t say something about it you are failing as a leader. The other guy is making the mistake but it is YOUR duty to speak up and try to fix the problem. That is leadership. If the problem is fixed, everyone wins. But there is a fine line here. If the DPS is all impatient, and you stop the whole run to give them a lecture about impatience you are more likely to get a vote-kick than you are to get a smoother run. One of the things a leader has to do is make the most of the resources at hand. A manager can’t fire everyone who works for them for bad performance. Instead they must assign people to tasks that fit their ability, get them training where they need it, and fire people only as a last resort.

For example if the hunter can’t figure out how to turn off his pet and absolutely insists on picking a target you are not primarying you can point them toward a caster mob, even mark it for them. This is taking a bad situation, an uncooperative DPSer with bad skills, and assigning them to a task they ARE capable of doing. This also saves your sanity as a tank. Plus it helps the other person learn a skill and play style that is useful for groups. If the DK insists on gripping and pulling stuff, you might just let him tank that target. It gives you one less mob to tank and hopefully he takes enough damage to die in shrieking agony. But don’t be passive aggressive about it. If you just drop a mob and don’t say anything everyone assumes you are a bad tank. If you tell the dps ‘you yank it you tank it’ then they know you are making a stand on bad behavior and they can either correct it or tank their own mob. Again, stopping everything and throwing a hissyfit over either of these examples would only piss off the whole group. But even short of that there are active steps that can be taken to either fix or harness the behavior.

The interesting thing about tank leadership is that you don’t have to do anything more than what you do… most of the time. Moving ahead from group to group, picking your targets, marking where needed, checking on the healer’s mana before a boss, throwing your cooldowns when needed, taunting mobs where they need to be, moving the melee tangle out of the fire, all these are what a tank should be doing anyway. But they are also all leading a group.

My dad once told me being a leader was keeping management off the back of his people so that they could get their jobs done. Things like helping them get their payroll problem straightened out with headquarters, or handling the annoying customer so they can get back to the register. Those are things a manager does to enable his or her people to get the real job done. In the case of a tank you are doing exactly the same thing. You are there to do anything you can to let the dpsers kill things. That is it. You goal is to line up packs of creatures for them to kill. Your goal is also to do it at a rate where the healer can keep up. In this way you are warding off the obstacles in that person’s way also. That is your job. But if one of the DPS is doing something that threatens the whole it is also your job to try, within the bounds of your authority mandate, to fix the problem.

If the rogue over behind the boss is standing in the fire then you can tell him to move, or you can shift the boss and force him to move. But you can’t do nothing and then sneer when he dies. That is not leadership and that is not your job. You forced him to have to decide between being in good back stab position and being safe and he chose wrong. Or he just did not notice, but YOU did. If a leader notices his people making a design mistake, or even flipping their burgers wrong, but does nothing about it, then they are all at fault and the group as a whole fails. But the leader is at fault most of all. It is only after the leader has done what he can to help the others fix the problem that the responsibility for the failure moves to solely rest on the ‘underlings’.

There are a lot of bad leaders out there. Most people just want to get along. So they say nothing and the group muddles along, or fails and re-forms. And often no learning happens. There are a lot of variables in a failed group and many people can’t see/admit what they did wrong to cause, or help cause the problem.

Anyway I think I have wondered off tanking and into advice giving in general so I will wrap this post up.

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