Just saying. 4000 words. ‘Cause, you know, I was thinking of quitting the blog.
At this point in the game, the most common request I get is to help with advice on holding aggro.
Aggro in raids, aggro in instances. Just, “Help, they keep pulling off me!”
They pull aggro from me too. I know what you mean.
First, right up front; Gear levels and capabilities can vary wildly. Never, EVER feel that you have failed as a tank if you are a 4500 Gearscore tank in a heroic 5 person instance doing your best, and the 6K plus GS DPS player who unloads all out in the first millisecond pulls away from you. Like, c’mon, man.
Your job is to do the best you can with the tools available to you. If another player has much more powerful gear, and a correspondingly higher potential DPS/threat output, it is NOT your automatic responsibility to magically raise your threat output to match and overtake them.
No matter what someone tells you, no matter what justification they try to use, threat reducing abilities like Feign Death are there for a reason, and so are the built in threat level warnings. It is the responsibility of DPS to match their DPS output to the capabilities of the tank that is on the run. If they cannot do so, it is their failure to play their class and chosen role well. Period.
I’m not going to mention gear level disparity in this post again. It’s the single biggest contributing factor in threat loss issues, but it’s also obvious. If that other player is in all ICC 25 heroic gear, and you’re in blues running a 5 man trying to gear up, YOU are the one in the right place at the right time, at the right level of progression. If he’s there with you, he goes all out on every pull, and he bitches about pulling threat off of you, he is a MORON.
You can quote me on that.
So, moving past gear disparity. I’m going to tell you one thing, straight up; if someone wants to pull aggro from you, especially on a multiple mob fight, there will be nothing you can do to prevent it.
You have tools to pull the threat back to you, and you have tools to really build up threat on whatever one specific mob you want. It doesn’t matter. If someone wants to pull aggro from you, they can.
What you need to remember is there are three additional core problems besides gear.
- DPS classes do not all generate their damage at the same rate over time.
- Some DPS classes possess tank abilities.
- DPS players possess varying skill levels, and some do not change their style from solo to group play.
Point numero uno. Some DPS classes/specs have outstanding burst DPS capabilities.
Ret Paladins stand out in my mind, obviously, since I have one, but there are many other combinations as well.
Burst DPS means just that; in the first two seconds, they front load a TON of damage in the mobs’ face. After that initial burst of hellacious damage, however, most abilities are on staggered cooldowns, and the player has to wait while spells trickle back online in a measured fashion.
When are you most likely to have problems with holding aggro? You know the answer, you deal with it all the time. In the first couple of seconds of every pull, when you have yet to establish much more than a single Swipe on a group, it’s easy for someone playing a character strong in burst DPS generation to light it up and pull off of you.
It’s just that simple. Even if you are all equivalently geared, a single strong burst DPS player can unload and grab aggro from you in the first few seconds.
It’s easy to say what the DPS player SHOULD do to prevent this.
The DPS player should wait a few moments for the tank to establish threat, a tradition going all the way back to “Let the Warrior get 5 Sunders on the target before you begin your attack.”
Additionally, the DPS player should know to identify the tank’s MAIN target, and focus on that one rather than on the group in general. Either through the tank setting a Skull mark to easily identify the first kill target, or by waiting until the tank chooses a target and pulls, and then, using target of target, select that tanks’ target and going for it. Or, an even third way, use Focus to automatically change your target to that of the tank. Whatever you like.
Finally, the DPS player should aggressively watch their own threat generation, compare it to that of the tank, and compensate. Either tone it down themselves, or use their threat reducing or threat redirecting abilities to stay under.
Fine. That’s all great. You’ve heard it all before.
What you want to know is, what can YOU do about it, because the DPS players obviously aren’t DOING that all the time.
I promise you I will answer that question at the end of the post.
Problem 2. Some DPS players have tanking abilities.
Death Knights can pull from a distance with Death Grip, and doing it grabs aggro automatically. Warriors and Bears and Paladins all have taunts as well. Even better, most players that solo have their ranged taunts next to thier normal attack rotations on their bar, to make it easier and faster to use. Well, that makes it easier to slip and taunt during group runs, too.
Other classes have pets that can generate additional threat with their attacks, much like Hunters who forget, and leave their pet’s Growl on during groups. Growl is no longer a taunt, it just causes a lot more threat, but if the pet is on a mob that ain’t your primary focus, it can pull anyway.
Tanking classes have tools that increase threat, or are designed to hit multiple mobs while dealing threat.
It does matter, and if someone uses a taunt, that player has aggro. You can pull it back, if you notice they did it. End of story.
Finally, point 3. Players have different levels of skill.
This comes down to different experience levels with group play in the game, and a lack of a consistent message when it comes to group content versus solo content.
There are many players that display a basically flawed understanding of the grouping aspect of the game.
From their actions, and how they defend them, they show that they feel it is the job of DPS to go all out, full time, every time, without a single global cooldown wasted on any non-damage generating ability, in order to do their jobs well.
That, to be blunt, the role of a DPS class is to provide maximised DPS, and the role of a tank is to hold aggro no matter what anyone else does.
It is easily possible for a player to think that good play consists of doing as much DPS as is possible, as shown on damage meters. You see people judged on damage meters all the time, and that reinforces the concept.
If there was a way to judge someone’s performance by the number of mobs chain CC’d sequentially before diminishing returns lockout, and that was a key part of a high status fight, I bet you’d see a lot more CC being used and boasted about the very next day.
Ahh, I miss chain trapping.
The only yardstick I use for a successful job is, “Did we win as a team? Screw your DPS, did we win as a team?”
Sadly, not everyone thinks that way.
Most times, it’s a competition within the team of strangers to see who was Most Valuable Player, as ranked by DPS meters. And then to either gloat about it, or bitch about it, both of which are just varied displays of epeen stroking.
This all comes back to a problem of understanding of the basic concepts of the game, and of what is important to success.
A DPS player that does not perform any other task but generate DPS, and who also starts their DPS rotation as soon as possible to “get a jump on other players”, is, as far as teamwork and group play is concerned, a horribly bad player.
Now just try to convince them of that.
It’s incredibly difficult to convince someone that the most commonly used means of measuring DPS performance is not an accurate measurement of player skill.
All right, let’s move on.
Let’s cut to the case. There are a lot of variables involved in discussing “Why can’t I hold aggro”. They all boil down to knowledge and understanding, training and communication, on the part of the tank and of the DPS players.
If a DPS player is skilled, knowledgeable, and willing to work as part of the team, they will almost NEVER pull aggro, except by making a simple mistake.
If the mobs would die, and the team succeed even without that extra 3 seconds of DPS the player put out at the first instant of each pull, then there is no legitimate reason to go all out in those first three seconds. None. Because it’s not helping the team succeed. It’s only stroking your ego.
But some folks think that’s what shows they are the best players, and with DPS meters out there, the middle of a run is the wrong place to try and change everyone’s preconceived ideas.
Now, I promised to discuss what actually matters; how to fight back.
The first and most critical aspect of learning to hold and regain aggro is knowledge. The knowledge of who has aggro, who is gaining it and who is losing it.
Don’t worry about what buttons to push just yet. I’ve talked about that elsewhere.
What you want to know is how to tell, among the sea of mobs you are fighting, what level of threat you have at any given time.
A mob can be in four states; you have threat, you are gaining threat, you are losing threat, you don’t have threat.
If you have had problems managing your threat levels, and you do not already do this, here is what I’d like you to try.
Once installed, setup is a snap. You have to open Tidy Plates and set Threat Plates as the theme to be used.
Then, you have to associate each of your specs with one of two Threat Plates modes; Tank, or DPS/Heal.
From then on, whenever you swap specs, Tidy Plates will automatically reconfigure as appropriate.
If you are in tank spec, then you will get a nameplate displayed over the heads of each mob. You CAN customize the size of the nameplates, and whether or not they overlap, or push each other around so you can see them all clearly.
Here is how this helps you gain knowledge over your threat levels.
If you are the tank and you HAVE THREAT, each mob you have threat on has a teeny, tiny green bordered nameplate.
As you lose threat on a single mob, that mob’s nameplate both grows in size gradually, gaining more of your attention, and it’s border also begins to turn yellow. This warns you that you are losing threat on that mob or mobs.
At this point, you can clearly see who you should click on, the nameplates ARE selectable, and then use a focused attack like Mangle or Lacerate or Feral Faerie Fire to build up additional threat faster on that one mob.
If you have actually LOST threat on a mob, then their nameplate grows very large, and the border not only turns red, but little flashing red arrows appear around the nameplate.
This is a great sign that it’s time to click the nameplate and Growl, or if a lot turn red, use Challenging Roar and maybe pop Berserk and then Mangle/Swipe/Maul like crazy.
I now that having nameplates on can be disconcerting. It adds more clutter to your view.
In one, and only one, instance I find it to be annoying. That is the snake room in the first boss of Gundrak, where every single snake has it’s own nameplate. It’s okay, I can pick out the ones I want and never have an issue, I just wanted to mention it because the first time you see a room full of nameplates, it’s disconcerting.
Once mobs are dead, their nameplate dissappears.
What I have personally found is that it makes tanking much easier. It aids in relaxation, cuts down the stress.
Previously, in order to know how you stood with threat on multiple mobs, you had to use a combination of Omen and targeting, and clicking on mobs in a crowd could be such an irritation that tab-targeting, cycling through the mobs around you to find the ones you want became a time saver. It was just too bad if the mob you were losing aggro on was the last one you got to as you tabbed around.
With this system of Threat Plates, not only can you see how you stand with every mob around you and know exactly where you’re at in terms of aggro, and identify who needs extra attention, but you can also monitor multiple mobs at range.
I frequently drive my groups crazy if they don’t know me, by targeting some mobs as Skull, and then running around charging like my ass is on fire and my paws are catching.
An example of my playstyle with Threat Plates.
Here is what I do in Forge of Souls, for example, where there is no line of sight to make ranged pulls, and where there are mixes of multiple casters spread out with melee at the edges.
I will mark a distant caster, like an Adept, as my Skull. That is who I want everyone to stay focused on to kill.
I say distant, because as I run into the group, I begin Swiping early, and nail all other mobs on my way in to get him. This lets me tag the other casters as I go, to overcome any Healer threat that will develop.
After I get to the distant Adept, I lay down a solid base of direct damage on him, keeping up my Swipe on the melee mobs that followed me.
I turn around so I can see the nameplates of the far off casters that did not follow. I watch them and monitor their green status.
You can make your own jokes about The Fifth Element here. “Are we green? Yeah, we’re green. What color green? Piss off.”
I am dealing direct damage on the Skull, which is who everyone else should be on right now. I am Swiping the melee mobs, and hitting some with Maul. I am watching my active threat level on everyone, including the ranged casters.
It can go several ways from here. Normally, a couple Swipes on the way in were enough to overtake Healer threat on the ranged mobs I left behind, and they are far enough away nobody else is dealing damage to them.
If I AM losing threat on ranged, I can quickly target them, toss them a Feral Faerie Fire, and regain threat without ever moving away from my main target.
Regardless, once Omen threat meter shows me I have built up a suitable lead on threat with Skull, and I judge the mob will be dead before DPS would catch up, I target the ranged caster, and I Feral Charge him immediately, BEFORE the Skull dies.
Pro Tip: You do NOT have to ride a mob to death before changing targets. Your job is to hold the attention of all mobs on you. Your second job is to survive. Your third is to hold the target steady to make life easier for melee DPS to position.
If the mob is a caster, it ain’t going anywhere, so you won’t bother melee DPS if you go charging away. So scoot!
While everyone else is finishing off Skull, you’re across the ramp building initial threat on the second caster. By the time Skull dies, and you’ve got a good lead on threat, you can mark hi as your new Skull, and then go charging off at caster mob 3.
If there were three casters, well, I’m sure you were watching him too, and throwing him some of your Feral Faerie Fires, right?
I have sometimes charged three or four times across a room at various caster mobs, trailing melee mobs along behind. It’s fun!
Drives unprepared players nuts, though.
The whole time I can see, everywhere, the threat levels I have on every target in the room.
If I see a sea of green, then I’m all good.
I can maintain Swipes and Maul and Mangle, I can pick and choose who gets my attention.
What to do when they pull all the time.
Now, in the situations we’ve been discussing, where you have threat stolen away from you in the first few seconds of a pull, with Threat Plates active you can see, plain as day, not only what mob or mobs you’re losing, but who it is that they’re turning to face.
You can identify not only who you lost aggro on to immediately toss a Growl at and taunt back, but you can identify who is doing it.
This is where you can try and ask that one player to tone it down, to wait a few seconds, or to use some threat reduction.
If that player responds with any attack at YOU, accuses you of being a bad tank because they were capable of pulling aggro off you in the first place, remember what we’ve talked about here.
If you mark a Skull, if you pull, and other DPS players are already attacking before you even get one Swipe up on the mobs, or if the other player ignores your Skull to attack another target in the group you are NOT hitting with direct damage, and when asked they refuse to change, it does not make you a bad tank.
I have personally seen attacks go past me and hit the mobs before I had even hit Feral Charge to get within range. It’s common.
Now, if someone does that and you can see which mob they tagged, you have the power to use Growl to get that mob right back, and can unload your focused attacks to build single target threat on that mob.
If they used AoE, you can use Challenging Roar and Swipe and Maul and even Berserk and Mangle spam.
But if they have good burst DPS, and will not work with you, and insist on doing their own thing, there is little long term you can do except arm yourself with knowledge of who has what threat level, Growl when it’s off cooldown where appropriate, and switch main attack targets to focus on who they insist on killing.
Or, and this is what I do after a while…
See if they can tank it. Let it go.
Example of losing threat.
I did a Heroic Trial of the Champions yesterday. One of the players was a Warrior in full, and I’m not shitting you here, full ICC 25 gear.
And this Warrior, with a much greater than 6K Gear score, was charging mobs the same instant I was, stayed on the mobs going all out from the instant he got there, and just blew it all up. Full out. And he almost never attacked the targets I marked.
Now, this made my job a lot harder, when my self-appointed duty was to stay green on everyone, all the time. There was literally no way I could prevent him from taking aggro on someone. Multiple mobs would turn yellow, then red. I would Growl back on one and nail it, while losing another.
I had two choices. I could get all pissed off because it felt frustrating to lose control over the threat, which is my main reponsibility.
Or, I could try to look at it from his point of view, if he thought he was helping and had never tanked before.
What I decided to do was act as though he thought that he was helping. I put myself, mentally, in the position of someone wearing Plate as a melee DPS, in insane gear, doing hellacious damage, playing in easy content, and I dropped my awareness for a moment of how it feels to be responsible for holding aggro as the tank.
What I saw was that it might feel as though, since the tank has aggro on all those other guys, I could best help by doing tons of damage, and no harm done if I pull threat away, because I can take it with my high armor and stamina. If I get pounded, big deal, I’m tough. Maybe not as tough as a tank, but I can take a beating just fine until the tank picks it off… or the mobs are dead. No worries.
Now, we as tanks know that this is fine, except that THE TANK HAS NO IDEA THAT’S WHAT YOU’RE DOING.
All the tank knows is, I got aggro on him, I got aggro on her, holy shit I lost aggro on that one, get it back, get it back, get it back!
Welcome to Frustration County, population: me!
The tipping point for me was that the player had gear that suggested they just HAD to know how to work in a group, or they wouldn’t have gear from that deep in ICC 25.
So I didn’t get pissy, I just complimented them on their insane DPS output.
What was their reply?
“Thank you! I know I’m a bit of an aggro whore tho.”
This was not the response I’d expect from an asshat. It’s what I would expect from someone who simply overgears the content, figures if they steal aggro they can deal with it, and didn’t realise it could cause a tank additional stress.
I joked back that I didn’t mind, I simply rolled with the idea that, if you pull it, you tank it.
Not only did we get a laugh out of it, but he actually eased back a little on the pulling threat when we went on to the final boss. And I stopped worrying about him. He was a big boy; if he died, well, that’s the way the game works, right?
Let’s wrap this fish up.
What I’d like to leave you with here, if you take anything away from this post at all, is simply an awareness that if you sometimes have trouble holding aggro as a Feral Bear tank, it’s not just you.
It is NOT a sign that you suck, or even that the other player is an asshat.
The player may think they’re doing their job, and just aren’t aware what a Skull even means. Or might not know what havok it’s causing YOU that they are unloading higher burst DPS than your initial threat can overcome.
I also hope that, if you are a new tank and haven’t tried Tidy Plates/Threat Plates before, you’ll give it a try. For new tanks, and even for grumpy old Bears like me, it can really help you gain control over the battlefield.
And don’t forget that it has the Heal/DPS mode too, it’s not just for tanks. So that if everything is green and small, it means you do NOT have aggro, and if you start seeing yellow, it means you’re pulling off the tank, time to back off or Feign.
Nothing helps get the value of the system across quite like firing your gun into the crowd, then seeing the nameplate turn huge and flashing red just before the mob ignores the tank to come running after you. Whoops! Time to Feign Death, like NOW!
And few things are quite as reassuring as seeing that charging red nameplate… and seeing it turn instantly to green, as the tank shows he is aware of your pulling aggro, and taunted it back away.
Have fun, smell ya later!