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Posts Tagged ‘tanking 101’

So you want shorter queue times eh? Or you just want to try out this tanking stuff. Reaspecing as a tank is not very hard but I have heard several times that people tried it but did not like it. Or it was too much stress. I have also seen people trying to get into it the wrong way. Here is a quick how to guide to respeccing as a tank. This assumes you are already 80 and know the basics of the game. This will be a MUCH lower stress way of getting into tanking.

You don’t have to have uber gear to start tanking. In fact, with this plan you don’t even need crit immunity.

The first thing to do is STOP, LOG-OFF, and READ!

Go read some blogs about tanking. Go read all of my tanking 101 posts (see link on the sidebar). There are a lot of other good things out there so feel free to read more. Most importantly read up on what a real tank spec for your class is.

Something to keep in mind when reading is that some material is targeted at raid tanks tweaking for that last little bit of threat or that extra tiny bit of stamina. That is probably not you.

Respec carefully

Find a good spec online and then find 2 more that match it. Don’t just take one person’s word for it.

Re-itemize carefully

Find out your class’s hit and crit immunity numbers (defense cap or talents) and be sure you get there. If you use a shield get a good one. If you don’t have money or mats to get one crafted, go look up the best quest you can do which drops one and get that one. If you have any really weak slots, check and see if there is a quest drop upgrade for those slots and go do that too.

Re gem and enchant as much as you can. If you are not sure you will be a full time tank, get some armor pieces that are spare or alternates and gem those for tanking instead.

Don’t neglect your glyphs

The glyphs matter. Read up on which are good for tanking, also read other advice. Keep in mind that the advice out there will be raid oriented. If you can only afford one set of glyphs then DON’T do it yet. Wait until you try a couple runs and learn which abilities you actually USE in a rotation. Glyph those. If you are a bear get a glyph of maul before you do anything else. If you are a warrior get a glyph of sunder armor (it works with devastate too).

Getting started

Rotation

First off you need to know your rotation. There is good information about doing pulls out there but those are useless if you don’t know what to do right after the pull. So know what abilities to put in your rotation or priority list and practice them on the dummies. Read your abilities carefully and know which ones do a lot of threat and which don’t do any.

Pulls

If you absolutely have no clue on starting pulls, and/or have stage fright, get a friend and go do some quests or dailies. They can be DPS or heals. Your job is to pretend to tank. Just focus on keeping several things attacking you while they heal you or dps them down. This will let you play with a few pull tricks, some rotations and even taunts. Use them all and experiment. Feel free to round up more than you can handle and get yourself killed. That is part of the point of doing this with a friend in low stress. If you don’t have a friend do it solo; it is still good practice.

Run something

Do NOT queue for a heroic. I don’t care how good you were at DPS or healing. I don’t care if the tank set you built is 6k GS. If you are not used to tanking do NOT NOT NOT queue for a heroic run.

Queue for the lowest level regular run that you can. Pick a couple of them. Don’t put Occulus, ToC, PoS, HoR, or FoS in the list. Just don’t. Trust me.

Why? ‘Trust me’ was not enough for you? It is simple really. If you queue heroic you will get people that are uber at DPS and have zero patience or tolerance for a learner. You will also get every moron in gear made of paper and cardboard that just dinged 80 and thinks it is heroic time. Not queueing for heroics is the single most critical piece of advice I can give.

Also, the smart players, the experienced ones gearing up an alt, are all in the non-heroic runs. Particularly the non-heroics of the TOC and ICC 5mans. The average player in those runs is going to be more adept and understanding. So there will be fewer way out gearing you and fewer you have to carry if you avoid heroics.

If at all possible bring a friend. Any DPS class or healer is fine, just someone that knows you are learning and get watch your back a little bit. That will take a lot of the stress off. If you can, get a friend that plays a tank to come and dps or heal for you. They can give you advice on some of the more interesting pulls.

Heck, if you play on Ghostlands US whisper or ingame mail me (Reversion). I will be happy to give pointers any time I can.

Queue!

Now run regulars, then run some more regulars. Then run more. Get to know each one well. Now go run ToC regular. At some point, when you have done a lot and are confident in your gear, rotation and ability to do some basic pulls, queue for the ICC 5 mans. One at a time, in order.

Expect to wipe

Expect to have morons gripe at you. Expect to have morons do stupid stuff. If you let the healer die apologize. Feel free to tell the group you are new to tanking. Many hardcore players will tone it down and adapt when you give fair warning. Whatever you do, don’t take it personally. If you find yourself getting annoyed take a break. But don’t take a break for more than a day or two. You need to keep at it to get better. Also, if you are grinding runs remember, DPSers are very often willing to do several runs with a tank. Invite them to stay in the group. If you need to drop someone who is deadwood, invite the others to stay in whisper. Getting a couple people who are friendly, good, and know you are learning to queue with you will REALLY cut down on the stress.

If you have an IRL or guild friend giving helpful advice, remember to tell them to back off and let you play BEFORE you get the point of hacking them to death with a shovel. Accept the advice with a nod and then say ‘ok now let me try a few before you give me more pointers’.

Heroics

Above all, don’t set foot in heroics as a tank until you have run all of them on regular. Preferably until you have run them all until you know the pulls very well. And double preferably don’t run them until all your gear is purple 200 or better. Remember that the ICC 5 mans drop 219 on regular. Look up what drops for your class and makes sure you have it all before moving on (unless a badge piece is in reach).

So now you are in heroics and tanking. The only real advice I have left is to avoid heroic PoS and HoR for a while until you are really good with taunts and rounding up packs. Those are very nasty and can chew up and spit out a new tank.

Good luck!

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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.

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Foundational skills are basic things that help you tank better. Other classes make use of these things so if you have played WOW a while you will already be good at them to varying degrees. But they are all skills that will make you better as a tank as you get better at them. Most of these are useful for a DPSer or solo player but are even more critical for a good tank.

Aggro range estimation

 This skill is simply the ability to look at a critter or group of critters and know where you can stand and not ‘aggro’ them. Or, alternately, where you can stand TO aggro them. This also includes the ability to figure out which other critters will chain aggro off the one you pulled. All players pick up some degree of this skill as they play the game. You can’t help but have a minimal ability to do this. However, not every player gets really good at it. Tanks, by getting really good at it, become much better tanks. Getting good at this skill will enhance all of the following things: strong consistent pulls, the ability to not accidently grab extra packs, choosing the best place to fight, knowing when to do what kind of pull, and the ability to know when your DPSers are in danger of aggroing adds.

Memorizing a good way to do all the pulls in a given instance can be a crutch used when you aren’t actually good at aggro range estimation. It works well and can get you by. But if you are good at estimating on the fly you are just simply going to be a better tank.

Personally I am one for visualization. Imagine every critter has an invisible circle around them. That circle’s diameter varies based on the difference between your level and the critter’s level. If you enter that circle the critter will spot you and ‘aggro’. Now imagine that when the critter aggros it sends up a ‘pulse’. When this pulse goes out anything in that aggro circle that is allied with that critter will also aggro on you. In addition to that some critters that are hard wired to stay in aggro will all aggro at the same time regardless of how close they are to each other. This is how I think of things working. The mechanic might actually be a little different than that (I have never looked into it) but thinking of it this way is very helpful.

Most of this can only be learned through practice and experience. The point of bringing up the topic here is to get new tanks thinking about these things. It is critical a tank learn from mistakes and grow. A DPS can often get by with making the same mistakes over and over. Some helpful friendly tank might keep saving their butt. A tank cannot afford that and must learn from his mistakes. Maybe not the first time you make it and maybe not the second, but sooner rather than later.

Patrol path knowledge

Knowing where and when patrols move and turn is important. This goes hand in hand with simply memorizing the layout of instances and remembering all the pulls in an instance (also a useful tank skill).

When you start tanking you will find you learn a lot more about what groups are ‘linked’ and will all aggro together. You will also learn, probably via wipes, what groups have a patrol that goes between them. Patrols often ‘bridge the gap’ and cause those agro pulses to jump to the patrol and then jump to the other group. Simply by timing a pull poorly you can get 2 or 3 groups in your face. You also can learn over time how to estimate when to pull a patrol so that it does not aggro anyone with it. Mostly this is timing and the ability to estimate distances without stereo optic depth perception. Of course it can also be done with pure memorization.

Camera control

Long time gamers probably come to WOW with a reflexive ability for camera control. People new to gaming, or new to games with camera control, had to start from scratch. The stages of camera control go from utter bewilderment all the way to pure reflex. If you feel like you are still not great at it don’t let that stop you from trying to tank. Tanking is something that forces you to get better at it. But it does not require you to be uber to start tanking.

Practice using both the right click ‘character turn’ and the left click ‘camera’ turn. When not tanking, or just not meleeing, you can often get away with not using your camera independently of your character’s direction. What I mean is, for example a mage might only face his camera while turning his character. In fact, if he uses just the keys to turn his character then he might not use ‘mouse look’ at all.

As a tank you should be using your mouse and movement keys at the same time. This may seem awkward at first if you have not been doing it this way already. Why do it? Two simple reasons, the keys can’t turn your character fast enough, and you need to be able to look around and maintain situational awareness while still facing your primary target.

For example I run up to a boss start the fight, and then rotate just my camera around to see where the adds are going to spawn from. Now I will be ready for them.

Or I might be rapidly changing targets as waves of attackers come at us. This could require me to turn completely around instantly to face a new target. Only the mouse gives this fast and independent control.

But as I already said, you CAN get started learning to tank without already having this skill. There are a lot of ways to set up your controls so don’t hesitate to try something new. For example if you are left handed you can still use WASD just by moving the keyboard over, or you can use the arrow keys. I will talk more about keys in the ‘user interface’ post I have planned.

Here are a few tips for getting better with camera control.

Play with your smart camera settings. Sometimes a small tweak might make things more to your liking.

Scroll the scroll wheel! In close tight instances zoom way in. This will cut down on disorientation as the camera bumps along the ceiling.

Slow your mouse movement rate down. High mouse sensitivity can be extremely disorienting. When you rapidly move your camera the whole WOW screen jumps to a new direction. Now your brain has to catch up and figure out how far you turned and what new things you are looking at. Did you turn 180 and are looking back the way you came? Or did you turn 270 and are looking at some branching tunnel off to one side. A small decrease in mouse speed can really help your brain handle those rapid turns and cause less disorientation.

When my wife was brand new to wow she had her mouse rate set sky high and was always getting turned around and lost, even if she was standing right next to me. One quick twitch jerks your camera too far, your brain receives two images that are not related and has to do work to piece it into a complete picture of your surroundings. If instead you pan at a rate that lets you see everything as it goes by, your brain can build a completely understanding of where you are, what you are facing, where everyone else is around you, and which way you are headed.

Maneuvering your character

Maneuvering goes hand in hand with camera control. Practice using the mouse to turn. Practice using the keys to turn. Practice ‘strafing’ with the Q and E keys. Practice strafing while looking in some other direction. Try running diagonally while looking in some other direction. A good skill is to be able to navigate around a corner or winding staircase while looking in some other direction.

When tanking

Don’t forget that small steps backward can save you from having to turn completely around.

It is better to have all the targets in your forward 180 degree arc. Stick your arms straight out to the left and the right. Draw a mental line straight out from them to the end of the universe. Everything in front of your arms is in front of you. In WOW you can only dodge and parry attacks from in front of you. I think block too, but I forget. Also if you tab between targets that are in front of you then you don’t have to turn to hit them.

Running through a group and then turning around on the far side is sometimes handy. (other times it gets you killed)

Many abilities require the groups to be in a certain place or proximity. Shockwave, Captain America shield throws, and many others work better when you can position the pack where you need it.

NOTE: On positioning packs. There is an issue where server lag causes the critters to run behind you. What happens is you start to move, lets say one step backward, and the game client sends that to server. But you stop moving right away. Then there is a lag before the server gets the update saying you stopped. Meanwhile all the critter AIs started moving to follow you. Because of the tiny lag you took just one step but they take 3 and are now behind you. On trick I use is if I am trying to adjust the pack’s position, I use more strafe and move in circles and arcs. Then the critters are using turns to follow me and they don’t overshoot with turning. So instead of taking on step back to be sure they are all in front of me I might take on strafe step right and then turn left slightly. Sometimes it works better.

General knowledge of other classes

This one is so vague that it almost does not rate being on the list. But it is an importation foundation for a tank. It really helps a tank BE a tank if they know a wide variety of things about the game. If they are solely focused on their own class and don’t have a working knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of other classes then they will not live up to their potential as a tank. How much knowledge you get concerning how other classes play is up to you. Some of it you will pick up over time and other stuff you will have to seek out, ask about, or read about. I will do some posts some other time giving the highlights of each other class from a tank perspective. Look for ones on ‘know your healer’ and ‘know your dpsers’

All these skills are in addition to the ability to use taunts correctly and to generate good threat levels. (see Taunt and Threat guide)

Another key tanking skill is ‘situational awareness’ but that one is big enough to rate its own post.

Another, more advanced skill, is using ‘cooldowns’ really well. I will also cover that in a later post.

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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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