The role of the tank in a group

As with all of my other posts, what I’m going to say represents my opinion. No more, no less. 

The tanking role is a mighty strange one. 

There is a saying that floats around sometimes, “Perception is reality”. I think some of the implication is that it doesn’t matter what may have been intended; once something goes live, people build expectations, and the longer it’s around, the more entrenched those expectations become, and the more people accept them and work to fulfill them, the harder it’ll ever be to change it.

Take tanking. There is no rule that says a party has to be led by the tank, any more than a raid has to be led by one.

Early on in Warcraft*, folks formed parties wondering how all this “group instance” stuff was gonna work out, and everyone stood around looking at each other, wondering what to do. Nobody wanted to get their face eaten off by a mob, so they turned their pitiful gazes on the tank and suggested, “You go get ’em, and we’ll tag along and kill ’em and keep you alive. We’re squishy.”

So what happens? The tank is looking at all the mobs, and decides who to pull first. The players who are there to kill things are looking to the tank for their next target. The healer is watching the health bars, and their positioning if there is lava.

So the tank is seeing more of the instance, and the reactions of the mobs, than most players tend to.

When wipes happen, sure everyone sees it and everyone speculates on what the cause was, but the tank is the one that feels guilty for letting the party die. So the player that tanks tends to do research on what happened so it won’t happen to him again, and comes up with a few ideas on how to approach it differently next time.

It didn’t take very long before the expectation in vanilla WoW was that the tank was the party leader, because the tanks you met led the way through, and in self-defense researched what would happen and how to handle the pulls safely, and spoke with the voice of experience… or faked it well.

Perception became reality. As more people expected tanks to be the leaders, new players that wanted to be tanks figured that in order to be a good tank, they had to learn everything about the instances first before they could successfully try tanking it.

Tanks came to be expected to know each instance or raid intimately.

By intimately I mean that sometimes you get screwed really hard a few times before you learn what not to do. I am on intimate terms with a lot of instances.

The tank knew what the enemy would or would not do, knew where to go next for quests, knew who needed to be sheeped or sapped or banished, knew when poison cleansing was important, knew when to ask for a chain trap, just bloody well knew.

It’s pretty intimidating if you’re new to the game.

Is it laziness on anyone else’s part that the tank almost always leads? No. It’s just the way the three party role paradigm works out. The player that does the pulling tends to be the one others look to for direction on where to go next. 

When you get in a multiple tank environment like a raid, it’s a lot easier to break the mold and have anyone be the raid leader, provided the tanks aren’t control freaks and are open to direction. But in a group of five, one tank, three DPS, one healer, the expecation was, and remains, that the tank will lead the run.

If you have never been the tank, and you’d really like to try it out, there is so much baggage tied up in the role that it’s hard to know where to start.

So, let’s break things down and build on them, one piece at a time.

Is playing a tank, the actual mechanics of being a tank, more difficult to master than any other class or spec?

No. Absolutely not.

You can easily learn the basics of being a tank.

Each class has it’s own niche in a group.

If you’ve played a DPS you’ve already learned that success is measured by doing top DPS and performing your crowd control (and other class abilities) wisely.

If you’ve played a healer, you’ve already learned that success is measured by keeping everyone’s health up and cleansing, and using other class abilities wisely.

As a tank, it’s the same thing. To be a successful tank, you hold threat on all the mobs, and intercept the ones that get away from you, taunting them back. And you try to be hard to kill, but that’s all about gear first, and proper talents/cooldowns second. Oh yeah, and use your class abilities wisely.

You can practise all that without being in a group. You can ask any friend you’d like to come along in a party with you, and you can grab large groups of mobs out in the world and go to twon. Shadowmoon Valley has some great places to find clusters of mobs to try yourself out on, especially just east of that honking big volcano thingie in the center of the map. Or maybe you’d prefer grabbing huge groups of undead in Icecrown. Whatever, as long as there are both melee and casters in the mix.

Grab a group of mobs, let your friend use whatever AoE they have, and try and drag the baddies around with you. This let’s you practise moving while keeping your front to the group. You don’t want mobs to get behind you.

If the groups have runners when they get low on health, it’s wonderful. The mob will run, they’ll likely grab another group and drag them all back to you. You’ll have spell casters at range shooting at your friend, you’ll have melee running into you or at your friend, it’ll be chaos.

It’s the perfect chance to learn how to do ranged taunts to get mobs off your friend when they’re outside your immediate range. Or to learn how to Feral Charge all up in the ranged mob’s face. Or to learn how to do line of sight pulls around architectural features to make ranged mobs run to you, and find out what happens when you friend stands out in sight, and gets aggro because he keeps shooting them. Or to Death Grip, or use your shield throw, or whatever.

If you’re nervous about the mechanics of playing a tanking class, you can practise without being in a group. You can gain confidence and learn how to respond to the mobs. It’s really not hard to do, I promise you.

What is hard is trying to learn the mechanics of playing a tanking class without previous experience or confidence, at the same time as you try to perform the tasks of party leader in front of a crowd of strangers.

So, learn the mechanics of your class. Practise. Try things out yourself, in the “real world” before you go into an instance. Take a friend or two that has some patience and is fine with experimenting. I know of very few DPS players that would be upset to be told, “I need you to blow things up as hard as you can for me so I can see if I can grab aggro back. Can you do that?”

“Aw, shucks. It’s a hardship, and you’re gonna really owe me one, but if I really have to, I suppose I can help you out.”

The second part, leading a group of experienced strangers, that’s the part that I think scares a lot of people. And rightfully so.

It’s going to be hard to lead a group somewhere, especially a group that may already know the ins and outs of an instance, if you don’t know where you’re going.

Doing an instance as DPS or healer the first time, and keeping your eyes open, can help you out. It gives you an orientation on where things are, what to expect. So can watching any of the thousands of videos on YouTube showing walkthroughs of instances or raids.

Reading about what the mobs in an instance can do in advance, what their attacks and abilities are, can also help you know what to expect. Wowhead and WoWwiki are both excellent resources for researching mob tactics. Both websites have sections giving very complete details of instances and raids. WoWwiki tends to be out of date on things, but it’s still a good resource.

But the single most important thing you can do, is break down every mob fight into it’s component parts, and practise basic tactics based on those components. No matter what instance you go into, trash fights are basically going to work the same.

You’ve got two types of mobs. You’ve got melee and ranged casters.

If you walk up to your extreme range from a group, and you taunt (or shoot an arrow, or whatever) into the crowd, the ones that are melee will run to you, and the casters will stand in place and shoot at you.

It’s really that simple.

So what do you do about it?

If you learn which mobs are melee, and which ones are ranged, then you’re going to be able to move yourself with confidence right at the start of every pull.

The mobs themselves may do different things, ranged DPS or heal others or AoE or Hex or Curse or whatever, but the important distinction is ranged or melee.

When you attack a group, the melee will run right to you. The ranged enemy will stand in place and shoot/cast. Period.

With that in mind, the most basic tactical manuever is to run/charge into the group, targeted on a caster first, and use AoE as you go to do damage/threat to all the melee. Your first goal is to get within your melee range of as many ranged mobs as possible. Move yourself so as to get as many of them as you can in your AoE/multiple mob attacks.

At that point, when you Swipe, or Death and Decay, or Consecrate, you’ll be getting the casters as well as the melee.

Clear out the ranged casters first. If you have to move around, have no fear, the melee will follow you around. They like you!

Build your threat on all the mobs, and burn them down. Squishies get to die first. Once they’re all dead, you’ve won.

Next!

Congratulations, that’s how 90% of your isntance run trash pulls will work.

Now, if you can’t get all the casters into your melee range in one shot, then you’ve got more tactical decisions to make from there.

Your first step is always bringing the fight to the ranged. If you can’t get all the ranged in one go, you can get them to come to you.

You can do that using a line of sight pull. This takes into account the fact that mobs will move the shortest distance possible in order to get their target within line of sight to continue the attack. Line of sight is blocked by most architectural features. Like walls and corners and really, really wide pillars.

The line of sight pull means you taunt/shoot one mob in a group, then duck around a corner out of sight to them. This does threat to one mob, and gets the attention of the rest. (While doing no threat to those other mobs. For more on how threat works on group pulls, check out my incredibly ancient post on the subject from 2007. Most of the multiple mob stuff there is obsolete with the introduction of Maul Glyphs and Swipe, but threat still works the same way.)

So, you stand there hiding around the corner, and the entire group will come running in a straight line least distance manuever until they can all get you within their sights to attack. This clumps them up beautifully as they round the corner, right into the maws of your fully automatic machine guns and nuclear powered chain saws.

Sadly, most heroic groups don’t let you do this anymore. If you do a line of sight pull, you’ve got a good chance that someone will either shoot them, pulling aggro and making them stop to attack their new favorite target, or the healer will run forward to stand within sight of the mobs and “top your health off”, thereby pulling aggro so that they stop in their tracks and shoot him.

Another tactical choice you could make is to move to and stand on as many ranged casters as you can just like normal, build aggro on them with your AoE, but keep the most distant ranged caster(s) targeted, and use ranged attacks/Taunts on them to keep them focused on you for a short time while you build up a nice threat lead on your current group.. After the current group within your melee range is nice and smacked up, you can do whatever you’d like to get the distant mobs. Feral Charge over, Shield Throw with Silence, Death Grip, walk over swinging a sledgehammer, whatever floats your boat, honey. 

The point is, the goal is to keep threat on all your targets. The melee targets will run TO you and even follow you around, conveniently staying in your AoE and multiple mob threat attacks. The ranged casters will not. So, your special attention goes to planning how you intend to get the casters’ attention and keep it.

It doesn’t sound all that hard, does it?

That’s the secret. It’s not.

You don’t have to know the exact names of every mob, and what they all do. It helps, sure. Experience, and knowing when to apply the right ability at just the right time is great. Studying instances beforehand will help you feel confident, at keep you from getting lost.

But that works the same for all classes. Is the tank the only one expected to know what mobs do? Of course not. Every Shaman knows that when you’re going up against King Dred in Drak’theron Keep, that’s a real good time to drop Tremor Totem, amiright?

But my point is, if you already know how to, and feel confident with, tanking and holding groups of combined melee and ranged, then you’re in the zone.

From there on out, it’s fine tuning the process for each situation, learning from experience what flows best from group to group.

Do that, and you’ll quickly build up the confidence to tank any random you’d like.

Confidence built from being comfortable with what your abilities are and how to use them. Confidence that when you pull a group, you know how you’re going to handle casters and melee mobs.

Once yuo’re solid with the basics, go for it. The more real experience you get from that point on, the more confident you will be that when the shit hits the fan, you’ll be ready. 

Sure, mistakes happen, but they happen to everyone. Tanking can be a lot of fun, and take it from me… you really don’t need to be an obsessive control freak to be one, and do well at it.

No, no matter what you think, I’m serious. Really. You don’t.

No, put down the straight jacket and back away, I swear I’ve seen tanks that aren’t obsessed control freaks with an encyclopediac knowledge of every mob and instance in the game.

Like… and… well, then theres… hmm. Right! Oh, wait no….

Okay, I’ll get back to you on that.

* Changed from Everquest, since I never played Everquest, and while my friends have told me stories about tanking, someone said I was wrong, so hey, go with what you know.

Things to think about before Tanking

If you’re thinking about tanking, then no matter what class you might intend to try, there are a few ideas you should have in the brain housing group to help you along the way.

Over the years I’ve said all this stuff, so none of it is particularly new or ground breaking. I don’t think I’ve ever put it together and stickied it before, though, so here we go.

When you want to play the game, you want to be successful. You want to be a good tank, a successful tank, a tank that other people will want to run with again.

Before you prepare, you need to get it clear in your mind, what is a successful tank? How do you measure success as a tank?

A successful tank is one that can hold threat on all appropriate targets, and can regain threat when it’s lost as soon as possible.

You can go above and beyond that, but aggro is the key measure of success.

In any combat encounter, there are mobs you intended to fight. Maybe you as the tank pulled them, or charged into them, or maybe another player attacked from range, or maybe a Rogue stealthed in and got busted before you got there.

However the pull happened, if you immediately grab aggro on all intended mobs, you build threat on those mobs to the point that your other players find it difficult to pull it away from you when they are dealing strong DPS, and you ride the group down until they’re all dead without chaos or confusion, then you are performing well as a tank.

I’d like to say you would be graded as “meeting expectations” on a performance review, but I’ve BEEN running heroics and randoms in LFD at all levels, and I’m here to tell you; a tank that can grab and hold aggro is exceeding my expectations these days.

That’s it. All the rest of this post is going to be meandering tips and suggestions on how to prepare for the mission of grabbing and holding threat.

First, study your abilities as you get them when leveling up. Take the time to read the player comments on Wowhead for any abilities you are not intimately familiar with. You’re not expected to know everything about how an ability works the second you get it. If you read what other people have to say, very often you’ll get some helpful tips on how other people use it… or whether people even use it at all.

As you read about your abilities, make a list of the ones that specify they deal “high amounts of threat”. What that phrase means is that, while all normal attacks will have a standard amount of threat per point of damage, some abilities have a built in multiplier; they do more threat per point of damage, or even do massive threat without dealing damage at all.

Also, make a list of abilities that affect more than one target. Those are your prime “multiple mob” abilities.

Read through the list of Glyphs available to your class. Some of them may modify an ability to affect additional mobs, or cause your AoE to have a greater range of effect. Any time you can use a Glyph to have a core threat generating ability affect more targets for free, it’s something to take notice of.

With Glyphs, don’t get locked into the idea that what works best at max level or for raiding is what you need to use all the time, or at all levels, either. You can find some things helpful at lower levels, then upgrade as you go.

So, build up your own repertoire of abilities based on threat, and on affecting multiple targets. Plan your Glyphs to help out.

Put your Taunt abilities, single target and group, someplace on your bar or hotkeyed where you can get to them fast. No matter how good you are, every tank has experienced someone pulling threat from them. Everyone. It’s how quickly you grab that aggro back that counts.

Finally, try and control the battlefield.

Controlling the battlefield is the absolute hardest thing for tanks to do.

I like to suggest that, when you don’t know how the group will work together, you try and mark a Skull target for a “first kill”. That will be the target you’re going to focus on when you’re not spreading AoE/multiple mob threat around.

A lot of players seem to resent such marks these days. I’m not sure why, since the idea is to help the tank hold aggro and let the DPS open up without worrying about pulling threat. Maybe people WANT to pull threat. Maybe people resent being told what to do by anyone, and want to be their own boss. Maybe some people are just dicks. I dunno, a little of part A, a little of part B with some C mixed in for flavor?

Still, it’s a fact. I’ve seen people bitch about Skulls, I’ve seen people intentionally target anything BUT Skull, I’ve even frequently seen Skull be the last mob standing in runs, even after asking everyone to please focus on Skull first.

Like I said, I suggest using Skull as a starter. All you can do is try. If you get good enough at threat generation, if you have your own ways of knowing whos got threat on what, you always have the option of not using a kill mark, and if someone pulls off you, just taunting the mob back and moving on with your life. There’s less drama that way.

Amazing how quickly people get prickly if there is the slightest suggestion that maybe, just maybe, they aren’t the greatest group player in the universe if you mention that they’ve pulled aggro fifteen times during the run so far. So, you can just deal with it as an added challenge, suck it up and move on.

Or, if you feel like you’re doing everything you possibly can and should do and they’re still pulling aggro, you can always let them pull and die. What the heck, it’s their repair bill. Tough love, right?

Back to controlling the battlefield.

Knowing which mobs in a group you DO or DO NOT have aggro on is very, very difficult. You’ve basically got three options.

The first option is what I call “Spray and Pray”. You start with your AoE threat ability, like a Druid’s Swipe, Warrior’s Thunder Clap, a Paladin’s Consecration or a Death Knight’s Death and Decay.

Then, you build on that by spreading around attacks that have multiple mob affects. Specifically, you target the mob on the center and use a multiple mob attack, then target the left most mob and attack, then the right most mob and attack. Since you have no control over who the extra mobs are that get hit by “target plus x” attacks, this is an attempt to spread your damage/threat as wide as possible among the group.

An example of Spray and Pray for a Druid is, start with Swipe, target the left most mob and get a Maul triggered (plus attacks), Swipe then target right most mob and Maul plus other attack, Swipe and hit the center, Swipe and Maul the left again, etc.

You’re hoping to build up group threat across the board before settling in on one main kill target. Then if you haven’t already, you can mark with Skull and keep the Swipes going, and hope that the group either switches their main focus to your Skull target, or that your Swipes and the Mauls you laid down at the start stay ahead of the DPS. Your healer will be fine.

If you lay a Skull down at the start, use that as the target you keep coming back to as you spread threat around. That’s the target that would get the Sunder Armor, the Mangle or Feral Faerie Fire, etc.

The problem with this method, of course, is that you won’t know if you’ve lost threat until a mob breaks from the pack and either heads for someone, OR if they’re ranged, begins shooting someone else. In a messy enough scrum, you might not have noticed you lost threat at all.

Still… guess what? It’s what at least 50% of the tanks out there do. And it works. If you really work at it, work on threat generation and gear, you’ll never need anything else. But when you do lose aggro, it’s gonna be frustrating as heck to get it back.

The second method is what I call “Information Overload”. It’s a variation of Spray and Pray, but instead of working blind, you add in the results of a threat meter like Omen. If you use Omen to show you threat levels on targeted mobs, then as you target various mobs in the group using your Spray technique, you can glance over at Omen on each mob, doing spot checks on threat levels.

As you do the circuit of mobs, if you see for example, that the Mage is building threat really fast on one particular mob, then you can choose his target as your primary kill target. If that’s who the Mage wants to kill first, and you’re way above threat for the rest of the group, just switch to that target for the rest of your main attacks, right?

The problem with Information Overload is exactly that; lots of things to watch all the time.  If you’re always glancing at Omen, then you’re not watching the mobs, and you might react a few seconds later when one breaks from the pack.

On the other hand… if you’re doing it right, then you’ll know long before the mob breaks loose, right? This is the method I’ve used since just about forever.

The third method, and one I just started using a few months… oh heck, I have no idea how long ago now,  is what I call “Evil Overlord”.

I call it that because, first, I’m silly, and second, using it can feel like you ARE an evil overlord when you feel so in control of the battle. It’s just using mob nameplates with a Threat Plates addon like Tidy Plates (with Threat Plates plugin) to be able to see in real time exactly who you do or do not have threat on.

With a nameplate addon, If you start to lose threat on someone, you see it as it happens, because that one nameplate will change size and color. If you’ve got thirty mobs in front of you all with tiny green nameplates, and one suddenly turns yellow and grows in size, you know exactly who to target and unload on to bring him back in line.

Just like smiting an uppity minion.

The wonderful thing about Evil Overlord is that you can see you are losing aggro before it happens. You get a warning, as the mob’s nameplate shifts from green and small, to yellow and bigger, to red and big, to flashing red and really big and THAR SHE GOES!!!! Plenty of advance warning to give you a chance to taunt and keep going, leaving nobody else the wiser.

Wrapping up threat.

So, a tanks main responsibility, and your means of measuring success, is grabbing and holding threat. You’ve got abilities that do lots of threat to one target, to multiple targets, and to every target within an area of affect (including behind you). You’ve got taunts on fairly short cooldown to grab threat immediately if someone breaks from the pack. You’ve even eventually got a mass group taunt, although they vary in ultimate effect. Some of them just force the mobs to focus on you for a few seconds… and then if you didn’t build up enough threat, off they go again.

Aggro and threat management is the core of it. Sure, if you are too damn squishy, you won’t get TOO far, but if you can hold aggro on your targets, all of your targets, then you’re well on your way.

Yes, study your class, learn what makes you tough and strong. Stamina never goes out of style. Be as hard to bring down as possible. Be as tough, as strong, as healthy as a brick shithouse.

Advice on that is better found elsewhere, depending on your class.

A few of the basics, if you intend to tank, you’re going to want to have your armor value as high as possible to reduce the physical damage you suffer as much as possible. We call this physical damage mitigation.

Then, you’re going to want to talent into whatever abilities you have that reduce damage from magic. Physical armor values do NOTHING to reduce magical damage, you might as well be standing there naked against it. Fortunately, most Talent trees have some form of Spell Damage reduction.

After physical and magical damage mitigation, you want to really build up your health. It’s fine to reduce how much damage you take overall, but you really want to have a high health pool, too.

Finally, you’re going to want Agility, Defense Rating, Dodge Rating, Parry and Block (where appropriate), whatever your class uses to increase your avoidance. Not only do avoided attacks do no damage, but most classes have special attacks/threat generating moves that activate when you Parry, Block, or Dodge. The better your rating in these areas, the more often you get your special moves.

The importance of high damage output.

Don’t worry about your DPS. The important thing to know about DPS is that DPS is NOT your job.

I’ll say it again. Doing tons of Deeps AIN’T YOUR JOB.

Your job, as the tank, is to hold aggro and survive. That is the only standard by which you should measure your success.

Now, once you learn the ropes, nail down threat, and know exactly what your capabilities are, you can change your style if you want to. I still hesitate to recommend ever tying to go for DPS over threat.

IF you decide you can do so much threat that the other DPS players cannot possibly come close to matching you, THEN you can start mixing in DPS attacks over threat attacks.

Never forget that your job is to hold threat.

Why is it hard to hold threat sometimes? It’s hard, because DPS players are trying to do as much damage as possible. That’s how they measure their success.

So they are often going all out to be top cock of the block. They want to prove their worth. To be the baddest badass in the group. To strut, if only to themselves.

Or, to be kind, to feel that they contributed the best they could to the group’s success. :)

In order to do damage without pulling aggro and getting killed, the DPS have to stay under the threat of… guess who?

So, the higher your threat output is on targets, the more DPS the other DPS players can safely put out. EACH of them.

There is one of you, and at least three or more of them. If you worry about your DPS, if that’s what you are pushing instead of threat, then great, sure you’ll be up there on the meters, but if your threat output suffers for it, you’re bringing everyone else down. The DPS players will have to throttle back on their potential just so you can get your jollies.

It hurts the entire group.

If your threat output is so high that nobody can ever come close to you, then sure, do some DPS. Just like a Healer that never has to heal, so they start using Hurricane or Chain Lightning.

But if you are the tank, then every other properly played DPS class is using your threat level as their benchmark for how much DPS they can do without going past you.

If you’re worried about your DPS, and your threat output suffers for it, you might never actually LOSE threat, but most DPS players doing comparisons will quickly decide you can’t tank, because they can’t go all out with you like they can with good ol’ Frank.

Don’t be that tank. Focus on threat first, not DPS.

If, at the end of any given run, you can look back and see that you either held threat all the time, or were able to regain threat as soon as you lost it, then you did a good job.

If, when you look back over a run, you know that you put out so much threat that players could go hog wild on their damage without fear, you did a GREAT job.

You have to start with grabbing and holding aggro. You build on things from there, being able to take a beating and survive for a while, giving your healer a chance to stay on top of things.

But that’s where it all begins. If you start with “I’m going to grab this group, get aggro on them all, and hold it”, with the addition of “Now I got ’em so I’m watching the area around me, and any other mobs that get pulled are getting taunted on me right away”, then you’re going to be doing a great job.

End of line.

Rambling thoughts… I’ve seen people in various forums ask for advice on abilities, Talent specs and gear ratios for tanking while leveling. Often, in fact more often than not, the return advice seems to be that you don’t have to spec as a Tank. Warriors are told that they can just go Arms as a tank while leveling and they’ll be fine. Paladins can go Ret. Druids can focus on Kitty spec and gear (which, okay, is actually pretty accurate).

There is a significant difference between “you CAN do something” and “you will do WELL at something”.

The truth is, if you’re going to tank a random instance with strangers, if you do it in anything other than tank spec with properly prepared abilities, you are letting yourself in for a miserable ride.

I’m leveling a Warrior as Protection. I hit level 35 last night. I’ve tanked a ton of randoms, and I’ve done a ton of quests. I am 100% Prot specced (except for 5 points in Parry, which in my mind still counts as Prot).

My gear is Strength and Stamina. I have enchants for even more Stamina.

I find that I like Battle Stance when questing for the fast Charges, Rend and the slow debuff to keep mobs from running when they get low on health. But it doesn’t really matter what spec I am, I’m questing just fine, and it’s really nice knowing that if things get tight, I can switch to Defense Stance, and swap in Sword and Board. You can change Weapons/Shield while in combat, unlike other armor pieces. So, just like with Lances, I put the icons for them on my button bar to swap faster in combat.

It doesn’t matter in questing. Sure, my DPS is undoubtedly lower than it could be. But I sure don’t notice it being slow to kill things at all.

But when I’m in instances as the tank, every single run I hear variations on “Good lord, finally someone that knows how to tank”. Almost every time, they want me to run another one with them, queueing us up immediately, or asking me to keep going for more.

With a new group in a random, I kept seeing DPS just run ahead without waiting for me, and start pulling themselves. As a longtime tank, this pisses me off. It’s hard to grab and hold aggro when some jackass just takes off without a word and starts pulling. The first thought that comes to MY mind is, “You want to tank, next time queue as tank, jackass.”

And some of them probably would if they let Hunters queue for randoms as tanks.

What I’m starting to figure out is, based on running in groups as DPS on other classes, lots of people are used to having tanks that may have plate armor or high health, but do not have high threat generation. They have standard DPS spec threat generation.

Those wonderful Arms specced Warrior tanks in Gnomeregan. Yay.

People leveling in groups at this point have gotten used to thinking it’s a free for all, every DPS for themself, everybody try and kill targets all by themself and hope the healer keeps them alive.

As soon as I run in and grab the whole group and just take them away, the attitude of a run typically changes immediately. Well, that coupled with my “Hi, I’m leveling as Prot and am gearing and specing for it. Give me a chance, and I’ll control this chaos, and we’ll have a smooth, fast run. Thanks!” macro.

People calm the heck down and approach it as a regular old run, instead of a chaotic free for all. Although amazingly, I get snotty “macro lol” comments, too. At least, I do until they see I actually hold the damn aggro on the group.

That can be you. No, really. And a LOT easier than you might believe.

If you want to try tanking, and you’re nervous about it, you’re scared you’ll suck, people in randoms are mean pricks, etc… give yourself every advantage first.

Get a nameplate addon and try it out on your own, or in a party with a friend. You don’t have to have one, but it can sure give you a feeling of improved confidence that you’ve got better control over the fights. I love seeing that distant nameplate turn bright red, Taunting it back to green, and then watching it stay green as I take care of business where I’m at. And, if someone panics and starts shooting it cause they don’t know I got aggro and am ignoring it because I know, for a fact, that I’ve got aggro but they don’t… well, there’s always Feral Charge, or another ranged Taunt, or running over and beating heck out of it before moving back to the first group.

Get some gear that focuses on Stamina and high Armor value, and get some enchants on it for more Stamina. Look at Glyphs, you get a Major as early as level 15.

And get your tank spec settled, know what your abilities do, and focus on the ones that give you the biggest bang for your global cooldown.

I’m serious, as a Warrior tank at 35 in instances, I rarely use more than Thunder Clap, Sunder Armor, Cleave and Revenge. Sometimes I have to Taunt when someone pulls the next group before we’re ready.

In Scarlet Monastery Library, there are lots of mobs that Stun you. I don’t lose aggro, because I’ve already blasted the hell out of the groups with Thunder Clap, Sunder Armor to left and to right, and Cleave. I get stunned, and I watch the nameplates show that I don’t lose aggro the whole time.

You can do it. You can even do it easily, especially if you give yourself every advantage.

Remember the tired old saying; Prior Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance.

It may be a tired old saying, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s true!

Tales from the PUG: The Return

Yeah, you know it. Uh huh, that’s right, you know it.

Just when everyone is choking down actual gameplay teasers being released in a flood, here I come with some non-informative post about a PUG run.

Hey, there’s only so much teaser BS a person can take in one day. You gotta have somewhere to go for a laugh, right?

Last night, I returned to the PUG for a turn or two on my Druid.

My lovely, beefy Tauren piece of awesomeness.

As a sidebar, I’d never really noticed how much I had grown to dislike the appearance of my very first, original female Night Elf character. When I started the game and chose my Druid, the male Night Elf options all looked terrible to me, and the Night Elf females looked pretty nice. I didn’t know about the whole “pole dancing” thing yet.

But the face I chose for the Druid just looked… well, vapid. Stupid. Irritatingly so. She looked like a valley girl, like, ya know?

Is it any wonder you hardly ever saw me in anything other than Bear, Cat or Tree?

But my Tauren… ah, my Tauren.

I love him so much, I want to heal in Tauren form. Screw going into Tree, I can’t see those horns!

Okay, anyway.

Oops! First, let me make clear, there ARE Night Elf females I do like. I think my Nelf Hunter Windstar looks awesome. She looks both sensitive and badass at the same time. It’s not Night Elf females in general, it was the choice I made in face design for my Druid in specific. You can’t change faces in the Barbershop. Doing a faction change, for that alone, is almost worth it.

Okay, anyway, anyway. Again.

(You know I do that with my grammer just to torque Kestrel, right? Shh, don’t tell him. Oh, and now some dots, everyone loves my dots…)

((Love you, Kestrel!))

(((Damnit, I spelled Grammar right above… I better fix that… okay, fixed. Moar dots!)))

I’m in a cheerful mood, so watch out, I don’t know where I’ll be driving this bus next!

Right. Where the heck was I? Oh, yeah, right.

[Queue Keanu voice]: Woah.

So there I was last night, all horny and everything, and wanting to build up my stockpile of Emblems.

I created this Hawt Blood Elf Hunter Chick (Which is kinda like a Sexy Blood Elf Biker Chick, but with a reddish colored cat with great big fangs like this ;-<) and she’s got two Heirloom Trinkets, some sexy Heirloom PvE shoulders and a chestpiece, and this big honking double-barreled PvP Heirloom shotgun.

It’s all good, the cute off the shoulder armor with the little red vest is precious, but the shottie? That’s so, like, Dwarf, you know?

Now, if the Shotgun had some taste and refinement, if it had the finishing touches found in a nice Holland and Holland over/under combo, if it came in a fine handcrafted ebony wood case with a few bottles of Mont Blanc, well…

But no, it’s entirely too plebian. It simply will not do.

But I did see just the thing in the latest Tiffany’s collection catalog, this very well shaped Heirloom Bone Bow,  that looked just the sort of thing for a Blood Elf with an eye towards style and sophistication. Perhaps with the 12 1/4″ shafted arrows with Northrend Shoveltusk ivory inlay, silver chased heads and rare black eagle feather fletching?

Yeah, those cost 65 Emblems, and my charge cards are all maxed out. And you don’t EVEN want to go there, but you know, it was Easter, all the stores had their new Spring collections out, what can you do, you know?

So anyway, that’s totally why I need Emblems right now.

Hey, let’s go on a pug!

I went into the LFD tool as a healer, because I pretty much have decided that I will only tank for friends from now on. I play for fun, or to achieve goals for other characters that are going to be fun, and being a tank for the groups I typically get just isn’t all that spiffy anymore.

I love tanking with friends, but strangers? Yeah, not so much.

On the flip side, I try to never be the person that does to other tanks what people do to drive ME to stop pugging as one. You pass it on, right?

I joined LFD, and right away got an Azjol-Nerub group. That’s a good thing, because AN is about as smooth and straightforward and fast as you can hope for in a pug, when it’s all about return on time invested. 5 Emblems, 15 minutes. Sweet!

You suspect it’s going to be one of those runs, when you don’t even have five in the group yet, and the tank has already pulled the first mobs.

You know it’s going to be one of those groups, when you just rounded the corner trying to catch up to “hopalong tankaday”, and you get a facefull of ignored Skirmisher all up in your roots.

So, yay, I self-heal through that, while tossing my HoTs around and begin getting down to serious healing. This group, tank included, are taking just a massive amount of fast damage.

Wow, what the heck?

I’m running the Gearscore addon these days, NOT to judge people’s worthiness to be in my groups, but for just this type of situation. By looking at each player’s portrait in the party, I quickly see I’ve got a Paladin tank with a 5600 Gearscore, I’ve got two players, Death Knight and Shadow Priest with 3K GS (or under, actually, both were like right on the edge of 3K) who are both in the same guild, and a Warlock at around 4K.

By way of comparison, my healing gear on my Druid is pretty solid from Emblems and Heroic PoS/FoS drops, and it’s gemmed and enchanted properly, and I’m at 4.8K GS. I’ve even got a Frost cloak. So 5600 tells me that’s someone in pretty good raiding gear, and 3K tells me a couple pretty new level 80s in mostly Blues and a few crafted Epics or drops, and 4K tells me the player is working their way up nicely.

Notice I make no judgments on skill at all here. I’m simply making assumptions on current gear level, where it may have come from, and set a few expectations on where they might be in terms of DPS and survivability.

It’s handy, as I said, specifically for situation like this. Because the tank actually says, while on the first boss, “C’mon DPS, wake up, you suck.”

Well, no, actually, considering the comparative levels of their gear, they’re doing pretty damn good. I’m very impressed with what the Shadow Priest is squeezing out of her gear, that’s a player spot on.

But okay, whatever, we’re moving too fast for me to type.

Boom, we get down to the next boss area, we’re flying along, killing, clearing, boss goes down, moving on.

We get to the two large mobs just before the last boss, and one of the players, the Shadow Priest I think, is back a ways. They haven’t caught up to us, and wonder of wonders, the tank didn’t just run ahead and pull without them.

But he DOES take the time to get bitchy in chat.

“Are you coming or what? We don’t have all day, get over here.”

I take the time to reply, “Since we’re sitting here waiting and you’re bored, how about buffing me with Kings, since you never gave anyone Paladin buffs yet?”

Yes, that’s right. A tank too lazy, too rushed or too ‘leet’ to bother buffing the group, not even doing the new standard “I’m too good to give you the buff you want, I’m giving everyone Kings” like you see most of the time these days. 

I get my Kings, and he shuts up.

For now. Oh yes, for now. But there is still one more boss, and this pull will tell me something.

Gear or skill? Care or indifference? Phoning it in or in it to win it?

One pull. We’ll see.

We clear the two mobs, we all line up on the King, and the Paladin runs in to pull.

Here’s the test. How did he pull?

He ran straight forward to the boss and stopped dead right there, boss facing the entrance ramp, and stayed there.

This is the loser way to tank the final boss in Azjol-Nerub.

Whether you want to call it laziness, ignorance, or just-didn’t-give-a-shit, bad tanks run forward on the last boss and stop.

Why?

Pound.

The last boss casts Pound. It has a long cast time, and when it goes off, he casts it in the direction he had originally been facing when he started casting. Well, most of the time. Sometimes he bugs and does whirl around if his main threat target is behind him, as the tank is supposed to be.

Oh, and Pound’s key characteristic is it does a shitload of damage to anyone standing within an area the shape of a cone in front of him. It’s a cone-shaped AoE.

It’s almost enough, sometimes it IS enough, to kill cloth or leather wearing players.

By running forward and stopping right there, the tank is leaving it to everyone else in the party to be aware of the mechanic, and run all the way the long way around the boss to get behind him, and during that time, of course, only instant cast spells and attacks are going off.

And if the other players aren’t aware of the mechanic, then when Pound goes off, guess what? Everyone standing somewhere in front of the damn bug king gets a big facefull of WHAM!

So, the tank ran in. Stood there. Kept the boss facing the ramp.

Not everyone ran around to the sides and back like I did. The Death Knight and Shadow Priest did, the Warlock didn’t.

The Warlock’s health plummeted to about 500, and my existing HoTs quickly pulled him back up.

The Paladin, who had run through the boss to get behind him when Pound started casting, lols in Party chat.

He did it on purpose, the worthless little prick, hoping to kill someone else.

Why? Why would someone do something like that?

The run had been smooth. The enemies all died. Nobody ran crazy. Everyone stayed on target. There was no chaos. My heals prevented sillyness and unnecessary deaths.

So why?

I tell the tank in party chat, “How about pulling the boss to face away from the party.”

He announces that you can’t move the boss after he casts Pound.

Well, he has managed to be technically accurate, while at the same time avoiding the fact I didn’t say shit about moving the boss DURING the Pound, I said move the boss to “face away from the party”.

On the second phase, sure as hell, he does it again, and the Warlock eats it again, and doesn’t die. Again, the “lol noob” rolls off the tanks’ lips.

I’m making sure that if nobody actually gets one shot, nobody dies.

Yes, not even the tank.

Phase three comes around, I’ve whispered the Warlock, and the only person that eats Pound is… the Tank. Who immediately throws a Party chat hissyfit.

Guess what?

He moved through the boss during the Pound cast, and the boss did his sometimes-seen bug and whirled around before it went off, nailing the tank.

Amusingly enough, the Shadow Priest, Warlock and Death Knight had all moved to the side during the cast, and didn’t eat it.

Oh, yeah, I was at the side too. Of course.

What? Hey, of course *I* know about the bug, I blogged about it a year ago. Or something like that. Back when it really hurt to get hit by Pound. Like, in Neolithic times, with the dinosaurs and shit.

The tank is hot. He ran through and got hit by Pound anyway, and that’s not fair.

Now, here is the question I have up to this point.

I’m the only one who has said a word, besides the tank, on the entire run. Not a peep out of anyone else while the tank has acted like an immature child.

Do you think the silence was due to not caring what an idiot thinks, or because they were afraid that if they said anything to show they didn’t appreciate the attitude, the tank would leave and the DPS would have a collapsed run on their hands?

Do YOU adjust your behavior, do you hold your tongue when insulted or ridiculed, so you don’t piss off your tank and maybe have him leave you in a fit of childish rage?

While you think of that, I’ll wrap the run up with a fun moment.

When the boss falls, the tank first rolls the Recount log of Damage done through Party chat, and then says, “God you all suck, I’ve got top DPS and I’m the tank.”

I immediately reply, having been primed for this bit of asshattery since the first boss, “You are a Paladin tank with a 5600 GS. The rest of the DPS has nowhere even close to your gear level, so what is your point?”

At the same time, the Death Knight says, “Well, if I was on my other character my DPS would be a little different, lol.”

The tank replies, “Well, the Warlock has 4K.”

To which I reply, “You are a complete moron. A MORON. Goodbye!”

/leave group.

The Warlock has 4K? This is your answer for being a dick about being a tank with the highest DPS? And a Paladin tank as well?

“Oooh, I only outgear you by 1600 gear score, how come I’m top DPS, you must all suck.”

Damnit, there are days, as I said in guild chat, where I just want to bitchslap the world.

Or, in this case, I’d like every tank with this kind of attitude to line up single file, perform a left face, and I’ll freaking ride down the line on a Harley doing 70 with my hand outstretched, to SLAP THEM ALL!!!

Do you do it? Do you eat your feelings and allow yourself to suffer indignities in silence just for the sake of not bruising a sensitive tanks’ ego, challenging his asshattedness, so that you get your run finished?

I now return you to your informative MMO Champion/Blues Tracker game announcements, still in progress.

Forewarned is Well Armed

“Why is it that there is never enough time to communicate a plan, but always enough time to release and run back in?”

I had a nice reader, Trystalia, send in an email that got me thinking once again about roads left untraveled.

She reminded me that I’d meant to do something… and then let myself get distracted.

Oooh, shiny!

What she did was mention an old post I wrote, once upon a time, about Azjul-Nerub, talking about tanking the first mobs and boss.

Particularly, addressing the Skirmisher game mechanic. 

I’ll direct you to the post if you’d like to see it for old times’ sake, but in essence, I was simply talking about the way the Skirmisher mobs respond normally as melee mobs at first, but after a set time delay they abrubtly drop aggro, become untauntable, and dash straight for the player furthest away from them, there to whack them on the head, hey diddle fol-le-roll. 

If left alive long enough, the Skirmishers bear down on clothies like a steam locomotive driving down on a tied-up, helpess maiden lying on the tracks. It’s quite frightening, when it’s you they come after. Briefly frightening, anyway.

These days, with the rapid rise in potential DPS, they are almost extinct as a problem. Most groups I see don’t even seem to realize there is anything different about them at all.

It was nice to be reminded of the post, mostly because Trystalia said knowing what the heck was going on with those idiots really helped her get her tank on in AN. The groups she tanked wasn’t focusing on them, so they’d have some wipes. I love hearing that something I wrote actually helped someone. 

The other thing it really did, as I said, was remind me that I had always meant to write more… about game mechanics and learning to be a tank.

Here’s the thing. And here’s where it might get ugly.

Being a tank has a lot in common with being a raid leader.

For good or bad, with the rise of PUGs, more and more the tank is expected to be the leader, set the pace, make the decisions and lead the group.

When you zone into a Heroic PUG (or PUG Raid) as the tank, you really need to understand what is going to happen in the upcoming fights. If you haven’t seen the fights before, or only seen them in another role with a tank that maintained his silence, then you’re going to need to do some research on your own to prepare.

It’s your responsibility, now. You signed up as tank, and yes, that does mean you are saying you know what you’re doing, not just with your class abilities, but in leading the group as a whole.

If you are not confident, in your own mind, that you know what to expect, then you’re not prepared enough to do the best you can.

You need to understand the mechanics of each encounter, and you also need to understand the basics of all the abilities all the other classes have to draw on. You cannot expect everyone else to know what you expect them to do, and just do it.

Yes, you should be able to trust other players to know how to play their own class, but as the tank, it is up to you to specify that you want the Priest to keep the target you marked with a Moon shackled during the entire pull, and leave him for last. Or that you want the Hunter to use Freezing Arrow to ice trap the Hunter or Mage on each successive wave during Halls of Reflection, to keep the overall ranged damage down during the fights. The other players know they can do it, but in most cases they expect to be told if you want them to or not.

You need to know not only who to pull and how, but also know what the mobs will do that other classes can counter-act, nullify, cleanse and overcome with their abilities. You need to know that a boss or mob can and will Fear the group, and if there is a Shaman in the group, make a point to ask for Tremor Totem to cut down on silly running around.

Did you know Priests used to actually be asked to Fear Ward? No, really.

Above all, you need to be able to communicate, to direct those other players in what is coming so that they are prepared. They need to know exactly what to expect, and you as the tank need to provide clear directions on what you want them to do in special circumstances.

There is one last thing you must do, that is the hardest thing of all, especially with strangers. You really have to be brave enough to ask other people to do something other than mindlessly following along doing DPS or Heals. Expect some to be pissed at slowing down even for a second, but you have to be able to do it. And once you specify what you want someone to do, you have to trust them to do it on their own. You need to lead from the front as the tank, focus on doing your own job to the best of your ability, and trust that everyone will work together as a team and do the things that will make the run work.

That is the ideal. That should be every player’s ultimate goal in group play. To play with knowledge, with skill, and as a fine-tuned team, making every encounter you face seem smooth and effortless. To make the game look easy to any outsider. 

To be a master of the game.

Does that description characterize the runs you go on?

Do you try your best, study the encounters from afar, and stand prepared to Ice Trap or Shackle or Feign Death or Misdirect or use Tricks of the Trade and Fan of Knives? Do you watch your aggro, Misdirect incoming mobs to the tank, know to kill the Skirmishers first and foremost, know what happens when King Dred raises his claws in a threatening manner?

Or do you resent anything that requires you to hit any button that does not directly apply to a DPS rotation? Do you resent it when a healer doesn’t keep you alive while you stand in the green slime, so you are forced to move away, losing precious seconds of your DPS rotation? Do you resent it when you have to Feign Death for a millisecond because you were overtaking the Tank on aggro?

If you intend to play the game in a group environment, you should not be satisfied by ‘phoning it in’ and just mindlessly following a rotation no matter what. That’s fine in solo play, where no one suffers for your lack of skill or poor performance but yourself.

If you have no interest in actually trying to be the best you can be at what you do, why are you even doing it? Go play Hello Kitty Island Adventure and pick out a pretty sparkly wand with a hair bow and leave the rest of us alone, okay? 

What you’ll see in PUG after PUG is a lack of communication, a tendency to brute force everything, and at the first sign of trouble or a wipe, somebody will blame a bad tank for not holding aggro, or a bad healer for not keeping everyone alive, and drop group.

Do you buy into it? Is that really your view on how the game works when you play properly?

One prevalent attitude I’ve noticed is that raids are considered important enough to study, practise and learn about. To prepare for.

Heroic instances? Those are the places you go on your own to get your Emblems, lowering yourself to do content that is beneath your gear score, but what the heck, you’ll demean yourself to get your daily two Emblems of Frost if you have to.

There is no respect for the content, or the players around you. If people stop for two seconds to say something, to communicate, to do anything other than chain pull through a brute force approach, then the pissyness comes out fast.

I’ll be blunt. If you think that having 5500 DPS in Drak’theron Keep makes you shit hot, and that’s all that matters, then I’ve got news for you, sunshine; it doesn’t mean jack shit. It just means you’ve got good gear, not that you know how to play.

Any moron can stand there looking cute and repeat a chain of attack moves as instructed by Elitist Jerks. ANY moron. That many people do not visit Elitist Jerks to aid them in optimizing a DPS rotation just makes those that do think they are truly teh aw3some.

That does not make you a good player. A good player is not someone that can stand still and mash buttons in the right order to pump out DPS up to the potential permitted by gear and spec, while standing still and ignoring Mana or Threat levels.

Sorry, it doesn’t. The good players are the ones that are doing all the little things to keep the group alive and stable while you are playing Lone Ranger for the sake of your DPS meter e-peen. 

A good player is one that knows all those OTHER abilities of their class, and will use them when the situation calls for it, in their best judgment, or when called upon by their teammates, even if that means their DPS drops by a couple hundred on that pull.

A good player is one that knows the mechanics of the encouters they are going up against, is mentally prepared for the fight, and is ready to MOVE THEIR ASS and use class abilities other than DPS when necessary to ensure the success of the team.

That Skirmisher situation mentioned above?

Trystalia was glad to know about the Skirmisher mechanic, because she had problems with most runs, experiencing at least a wipe or two each time as the healer went down, and she was hurt for consistently being blamed for losing aggro.

She was blamed by pissy little snots for losing aggro on the Skirmishers.

Guess what, a good player of a DPS class knows that the Skirmisher needs to go down firstest and fastest, because in a few seconds it’s going to drop aggro from the tank and charge the person furthest away, and whomp them good.

You know, when the Skirmisher runs free, it’s not a failure on the part of the tank, it’s a failure on the part of the DPS. The death of the Skirmisher is a DPS race, pure and simple. If the Skirmisher nails a non-tank, then the DPS failed. Period. Bitch at yourself, not the tank, because you failed.

A smart Healer on those pulls will make sure they’re not the most distant from the tank, so that if/when the Skirmisher runs free, the Healer isn’t the one to go down, and they can heal someone through getting pounded.

Let’s use another example I see all the time, of mindless brute force in an inappropriate situation.

Heroic Halls of Stone, on the last boss, Sjonnir the Ironshaper. Sjonnir has a Lightning Shield, a Lightning Ring, applies Static Charge to a target, and taken all together they do hellacious group AoE damage to people close to him if those people all dogpile on top of him and hang out as a brute force approach.

He also does a Chain Lightning for up to 3 jumps, and stacks a debuff on players that causes you to take even more damage from Nature attacks (like all that Lightning), which stacks up to 20 times.  TWENTY TIMES.

God, I feel like shouting OVER 9 THOUSAND.

There are also adds that come rolling in from each side, and when ignored, inevitably they gain Healer aggro and start interrupting/slowing the Healer’s cast times just when everyone needs heals the most from the Ring of Fire… the Ring of Fire. Er, Lightning. Sorry, flashback.

What do I see? I see people literally all piling on top of Sjonnir, EVEN THE HEALER, getting as close as possible so that everyone can ignore the adds, trusting the tank’s AoE threat to grab them, and try to brute force him down fast. Inevitably, that leaves everyone within melee range and chain bouncing range of every single high damage ability that Sjonnir can do. AND also puts them all within range of the stacking debuff.

This is Halls of Stone, people. This is not a Halls of Reflection run, it’s not even Trial of the Champions.

And still, time after time, I see 5200+ gear score groups die by droves and even wipe on Sjonnir. 

After all, it’s just a Heroic, right? It’s easy mode, noob tank, noob healer, you all suck, /leave group in a huff.

Smart groups take the extra 3 seconds to decide that the tank will hold the boss in the center, the ranged will all spread out to prevent chain hopping lightning, a melee DPS or two (if present) will take the adds and keep them off the healer, and guess what?

The Healer is left to focus on the few players still in melee range of Sjonnir, the adds are never an issue, the Chain Lightning doesn’t jump 3 times, most people don’t get affected by the melee range AoE, and even the Static Charge is only a momentary nuisance on 1 or at most 2 people.

Almost as though the instance was designed to favor the mentally prepared, and those that take 3 seconds to formulate and share a plan.

I cannot count the number of Halls of Stone runs I’ve seen, across all my characters, where everyone just piled on in, even the ranged and healer, and then it’s a race to see if the entire group wipes before the boss dies. 

It’s disgusting, and people who play that way should be bloody well ashamed of themselves. If you’re not going to take the time to learn how to manage game mechanics and play your class in Halls of Stone, when the heck were you intending to start? Ulduar?

ICC?

I am, finally, getting to my point, and my point is this;

If you intend to tank, study the game mechanics of the mobs and bosses in advance, so you know what to expect. You will gain confidence and feel better prepared.

Give the encounters and your teammates the same amount of respect you would in a raid. A group activity is still a group activity, even if it’s with strangers, and it’s fewer people. Every instance is an opportunity to hone your skills and practise for the real serious shit.

Prepare properly. Take notes on what special problems there can be, find out who has abilities that can counter those problems, and use your judgment and experience to decide which game mechanics can be ignored and bulled on through, and which ones deserve your time and attention to nullify.

If you want to tank, even if you’ve seen all the fights as DPS, study them from the point of view of the leader. The organizer. The dungeon guide. You will have to explain them to other people, and that means you need to be able to articulate fast, with minimal typing. The better you understand the problem, the better you will be able to share your ideas and plans.

If you know what to expect, then you will feel much more confident in doing your job. I promise you.

At the very least, you will begin to learn that sometimes, when you might have thought you simply lost aggro from over eager DPS, you actually lost aggro due to built-in game mechanics. Or that the group wiped not because you failed to have aggro, but because the wrong mob was targeted for death first, and he had abilities that hit like a brick shithouse.

It may look from the outside like every pull and every boss in a Heroic is just “grab ’em and go”, but that’s not the recipe for success.

Tanks, knowledge really is power.

On the first boss in Old Kingdoms, know that the boss becomes invulnerable when the add spawns, and make sure you grab that add. After all, everyone that is DPS should be trying to kill it fast so you can all get back on the boss, right?

On the Etherial boss in Violet Hold, know that standing there and getting nailed by the summoned orbs is a sure prescription for pain, even in Tier 9. Don’t be afraid to move your ass a little.

If you prepare yourself, yes, you will find that a lot of things can be forced, game mechanics can be ignored.

With gear level availability the way it is, though, there is no excuse for you to be found dead in Halls of Stone because you were in Brann’s chamber fighting wave after wave, and you stood in the big golden beams of death and died during Phase 3. When the golden beam hits your ass, MOVE!

Yes, even the Tank.

It’s disheartening, it really is.

Not that people are getting used to using brute force to solve all their problems, no. No, that’s expected and, given the current state of affairs, inevitable.

No, it’s disheartening how often people try and brute force things because they don’t know any better, and then when they fail in a Heroic, they lash out at the tank or healer, dump their anger out on the rest of the party, and then abandon group.

Don’t be like that. Take pride in what you do, even if other people around you don’t.

If you take the time to upgrade your gear, gem it, enchant it, plan your DPS rotations or set up your healing macros, or study how to generate and hold threat, then take it that next step further. Do what you can to learn the fights, the encounters and mechanics, and when you see yourself in that instance, know what mob will do what, and how you can deal with it.

One last thing.

Don’t be shy about communicating.

If you know what’s about to happen, you go ahead and try and offer some suggestions for a smooth encounter. If you’re rebuffed, or ignored, or even ridiculed for it, don’t take it as a sign that you are in the wrong. No, take it as a sign that those people who reacted in that way are poor players, or that they don’t respect you or the game itself. That makes them prime candidates for your ignore list so you don’t see them again in the future. 

When you do meet someone that plays well, knows what they’re doing, and is open to a plan, add them to your friends list. Build a network of people that actually give a shit.

In time, maybe you’ll forget that the other kind of player ever existed.

More tanking comparisons

But this time, not from me!

Our friends over at The Wayward Initiative write some very good articles, and earlier this weekend Brokentree, one of the troika wrote his own take on all four tanking classes, from the point of view of someone who has played them all to some extent.

I hope you’ll head on over, check out his thoughts on the different classes, and either show your appreciation or share your own insights, whichever your inclination leads you towards.

Thanks, Brokentree!

And a quick shoutout to Fallenleaves, for dropping in and saying hi over the weekend, and for the link to Shaman tanks. It’s nice to know that no matter what I do, there must be a tanking option somewhere.

Epic Evil

When I talk about something on the blog, I do try and pick out those things that are entertaining moments, weird moments, or teachable moments.

There has to be a point to it, even if it was just “Well, it made ME laugh.”

Something that happened that was a fun story, something that happened that was out of the ordinary, something that happened that called to mind a topic of discussion many of us might learn from… if only to know what not to do.

And in thinking of blog posts as a teachable moment, thinking about what not to do and how to present it… my mind, inevitably, turned to evil.

A new reality TV show… “How Not to Tank”, with your host, BBB.

Yes, thats right, I felt struck with inspiration for a horrifying series of Youtube videos.

I could join a random pug, and then intentionally do something that tanks should never do, narrate it, and film the entire sequence… including the reactions of the unsuspecting party.

“Today, the Big Bear Butt will demonstrate what happens when a Bear tank tries to free himself from movement impairing effects during the 10 waves of trash in Heroic Halls of Reflection, by shifting out of and back into Bear form. Repeatedly. What will happen, and how will our unsuspecting party react? Let’s find out!”

Seriously, can you imagine how terrible that would be? To be on a run with unsuspecting, innocent folks and intentionally do stuff wrong or stupid, just to film their candid-camera type reactions and then post it?

I have achieved a new, galactic level style of asshattedness.

Even worse… the temptation to actually DO this, if only once, is strong. Now I know what is really meant by “Tempted by the power of the dark side.”

How has this concept not shown up as a regular reality show or on the internet yet?

Stay tuned next week, when our undercover main tank healer goes on strike with loud drama over Legendary item loot priorities right as the main tank pulls the last boss of a heroic Ulduar 25 run, and how the guild leadership reacts after the epic wipe, here, on “Wipe That Raid!”

I’m a sick, sick bear.

When is a rockstar tank not a rockstar?

On the flip side to yesterdays whinefest, there is a perception that I wanted to touch on briefly for one of our fellow tank classes; the Paladin.

As gear has increased, you see a lot more tanks running and pulling like crazy. And to go with it, I see quite a lot of folks upset about how tanks are doing things in runs.

This post is really for the non-tanks, more than anyone else.

Please remember my friends, not all tanks are created equal.

The mechanics of tank abilities actually vary a great deal.

For Bears and Warriors, we use Rage as the power source for our special abilities. We start our first fight with zero Rage (or what Enrage gives us, work with me here folks), and as we take damage or deal damage, our Rage meter fills up. The longer a fight runs, the MORE Rage we have to deal with things, not less.

For Warriors and Bears, we are endurance machines. Once we get started, we build up steam and can go on and on forever.

Yes, yes, Bears may start slow, but we can go all night long.

Death Knights have that Runic Power stuff, and it refills pretty quick. 

But Paladins… Paladins use Mana.

Paladins start a fight at full force, all guns blazing. But the longer the fight goes, the limper they get.

One of the worst is if you’re overgeared for the Halls of Stone ‘Brann Bronzebeard’ chamber fight, as the mobs die too fast for Judgements to help much, and hit too lightly to really cause you to get heals and mana back. And it goes on and on and on….

My point is, for Warriors and Bears, we commonly leave a battle at full or near full Rage, and it decays slowly enough that we can pause for a few seconds to check mana and health levels of the party, dance a little dance, sing a little song, get down and funky, and still be great for the next pull.

We Bears can pop Enrage to stop Rage from decaying, we can Feral Faerie Fire non-elite mobs at a distance (like Skeletons in Culling of Strat) to stay in combat (Rage only begins to decay when out of combat), all sorts of stuff.

For Paladins, when they are using their abilities, their Mana is going down. And the Silencing shield throw in particular is a mana whore.

Now, Paladins have a couple choices on how to address this.

You could just sit down and drink after most pulls when you get low.

You can use Blessing of Wisdom, or Judge Wisdom instead of Light or whatever.

Or, you can go another route.

A Paladin has a Talent that lets their melee hits refresh the duration of Divine Plea. Divine Plea is an ability that gives MP/5, at the cost of reduced Healing.

If a Paladin tank pops Divine Plea at the start of a pull, then for as long as he’s whacking stuff, he’s getting mana back. If he’s also Judging Wisdom, then there is even more… but the mob has to live long enough to take some whacks to the head for the mana to get back.

Now, this goes along with another key way Paladin tanks get mana back.

Paladin tanks get mana returned to them when they get healed.

Let’s put these things together.

  • With the way the gear you can get casually has improved so dramatically in comparison to the Heroics we run, a well geared Paladin tank takes far less damage than before in a Heroic 5 man.
  • Less damage taken equals less healing received, and less healing equals less to no mana back.
  • Abilities cost mana to use. Less mana back means less abilities available to generate threat and hold aggro.
  • Long delays, or even delays of more than a few seconds between pulls means Divine Plea expires, and is on cooldown.

So, what will a smart, well geared Paladin do to adapt to the new situation, keeping their mechanics in mind?

A Paladin will seek to have as little time in between pulls as possible, and as many mobs on them at one time as possible, riding a ragged edge of danger.

A Paladin will want to take enough damage that heals will give back mana, but not so much damage that he’s in danger of dying and wiping the party. And the pulls will need to be frequent enough to keep Divine Plea going all the time.

So you get what we see a lot nowadays. A Paladin tank that pulls a group, establishes solid threat, and as soon as one or two of the first group are dead, run off to grab the next group, trusting in their thrown shield to Silence any casters in the next group and get them huddled close together and pull them back in.

You get continuous chain pulls.

A good Paladin tank will seem to ride a wave of chaos into the heart of the instance, chain pulling across the backs of dead mobs, and leaving the rest of the party to run like hell to keep up.

Now, if you know this going in, then you can be prepared to deal with it, especially on drinking whenever possible if you’re the healer.

As a Druid healer, I love going with a Pally tank, because my HoTs let the tank run ahead of me and still get heals, my Innervate keeps me moving in step if I get low on mana, and I can even Innervate the Paladin if things get out of sync for his mana recovery between pulls.

What I wanted to do was have this post to be my way of saying, when I’m talking about rockstar tanks, I’m not talking about anyone that rushes on ahead or pulls fast, or anything like that.

When I talk about a rockstar tank, I’m talking about one that does his own thing, without any consideration for working with the group as a member of a team.

A Paladin tank can chain pull and run ahead and do all the things he does, in an effort to perform his class well, and still watch the mana bars of the party, the health bars of the group, his own health level, and the aggro of the mobs around him (or her).

A Paladin tank can still mark kill orders to help provide the DPS, especially melee DPS, some guidance.

A Paladin tank can still watch his own health, and adjust his pace accordingly.

A Paladin tank can, in short, push when it’s all good, but remains aware of the status of the rest of the party, and works to make life easier on everyone. And if a mob goes after the healer, or there is chaos in the backfield, he is aware of it, and grabs it back. He’s not just focused solely on the next chain pull, oblivious to the world around him.

In most cases this does not require him to slow down in the slightest, except when the party really, really needs it.

In short, in my opinion, a rockstar tank isn’t necessarily one that moves fast, or pulls lots of things.

A rockstar tank is one that is in their own little world, doing their thing, oblivious to and without consideration for the rest of the team.

A rockstar tank just assumes the rest of the band will be there laying down the supporting music, and if they can’t keep up, they must suck.

Oh, and as a side note; I wonder how many tanks see how someone like the Paladin runs and chain pulls, and being ignorant of the mechanics involved, thinks that running that way is how every class should do it? I wonder, when you see a Warrior chain pull big groups of mobs and lose aggro on some of them, and things get crazy and people start dying, and then they blame the DPS for pulling, were they inspired by a Paladin tank, and just don’t understand we all do our bit in our own special ways?