Tanking with Style!

I’ve run some of the new instances in Cataclysm, and along the way I’ve seen a lot of really good tanking out there. It’s exciting the way the tanks I’ve found in random pugs are taking the content seriously and using some pretty solid movement, positioning and spell balance abilities in their play.

What is this ‘communication’ you speak of?

One thing I noticed in the pugs was that, while the tanks were individually skilled, and DPS players and healers played their roles well, each person played as individuals, without much in the way of teamwork or communication.

The only points where communication came into play was for a brief pause to ensure each player understood the strategy for the next boss encounter.

In a random pug, this is a fairly common story. But it shouldn’t be, and I’ll explain why I feel that way before getting into specifics.

In each pug, I had a different tank. Each tank controlled group pulls in a different way. There are two different core styles of  group tanking, and each tank used one of those styles, with personal variations, without telling the rest of the group what to expect.

The DPS players in these runs played with their own expectations of how the tank would be pulling, but in some of the cases, it was clear that what they expected, and what the tank was actually doing, were not the same thing.

That right there is where communication should come into play.

I’ll get into a more comprehensive breakdown of the two core styles of group tanking in a minute, I want to nail down why this is important first.

When the DPS players are unsure of what the tank is going to do next, or how the tank is handling the pulls, the single greatest effect is to instill confusion in the group during the transition from target to target.

I noticed some DPS players were trying to follow the tank’s lead and always stay on whichever mob the tank currently had targeted. This caused problems when the tank used a style that involved frequent switching of targets to apply threat evenly amongst an entire group using direct theat spells.

I also noticed that some DPS players were picking a mob and sticking with it during the entire course of each pull until that mob was dead. These players had higher overall DPS during the run due to being able to fully engage a DPS rotation on a single mob, but sometimes the DPS player picked the first mob the tank targeted in the pull and stayed there while the tank had moved on to another mob, and did not continue generating sufficient threat to hold aggro in the face of determined DPS. Also sometimes, but much rarer, the DPS player just picked something at random regardless of the actions of the tank, and fired away until the mob died. This caused problems when the tank wasn’t applying enough threat to that particular mob, which would happen pretty frequently.

My opinion is, if the tank took the time at the beginning of a run to explain how they would handle group pulls, and what their expectation of the rest of the group would be, then the likelihood of the group overall to succeed would improve.

Here is an example. If you do not communicate what you intend to do, the assumption for most DPS players will be, without a way to read the tank’s mind, to believe that whichever mob the tank is currently targeting is the mob having the most threat generated upon it. 

The logic flow is simple – DPS players can generate damage up to the limits imposed on them by the tank’s threat output. If they go over, intentionally or not, they pull the attention of the mob away from the tank.

In a group of four mobs, the one the tank is focusing his attention on tends to have the highest threat generated if the tank remains on that target and uses Direct Threat spells, and thus is the mob the DPS has the best chance of dealing massive damage to without pulling it’s attention off the tank.

If you, as the tank, intend to spread your threat amongst the mobs equally, and thus will not be focusing on and building threat more on one mob than any other, and you do not tell your group that’s what your plan is, then the other players will not know who they’re supposed to kill at any given moment. They’ll have to guess, based on direct observation.

“Is it this one? That’s the one the tank grabbed first. Okay, shooting, shooting, OOPS! Tank’s on someone else now. But this one is still over half health. Do I switch to his new target or stay? I don’t want to go over and pull, I’d better switch. Damn, now he’s moved on to a different one!”

This level of confusion results in reduced effectiveness at it’s best, and pulled aggro and an unhappy healer at it’s worst.

Why this is mostly directed at the tank

As the tank, you are going to be pulling or charging into mobs, either mobs you’ve personally selected or at the direction of a raid leader. 

Once you have engaged the group, how you generate your threat amongst those mobs is all in your paws.

Your threat generation is very important to the team. Every single member will be counting on you to hold threat on the mobs to prevent healer aggro, and to build sufficient threat to allow the DPS players in the group to perform their tasks to the best of their own abilities.

You are the one that the rest of the group takes their cue from. Everyone watches you to see where to focus their attention next.

As the tank, even if you are not the one directing or leading the raid, you ARE the one choosing how you will prioritize threat generation. 

As there is more than one valid way to generate and prioritize group threat, communicating to your team exactly how you intend to control the group of enemies will allow everyone to anticipate your actions, prepare themselves for the fight, understand their own responsibilities and help the entire team work together. 

Tanks lead from the front, no matter who sets the overall goal.

Laying a little groundwork on the terms

For the rest of the discussion, I’m going to talk about threat using two terms, direct threat and AoE threat.

Direct Threat is when you use a spell or ability that must be targeted on a specific mob, and when the majority of generated threat from that spell or ability is applied to that one targeted mob. Splash damage from a direct threat spell tends to affect other mobs less severely than the primary target. 

AoE Threat is when you use a spell or ability whose function is to generate threat amongst a group of mobs equally. The AoE may take the form of a circle targeted on a position on the ground, a cone in the direction the tank faces, or an area centered on the tank himself, and the threat may come from a persistent Damage Over Time effect, a single pulse or burst, or a combination of them both.

Got it? Let’s go.

Our tanking style is based on our intended goals

There is a reason we try to study how to generate threat, and look for ways to improve our style and technique.

It’s all about controlling what we can.

We don’t have any control over the rules of the game, the basic stats, the cooldowns, the spell effects, or the actions of the mobs.

What we can control is what gear we choose to seek out and equip, and how we play our own character using the tools provided.

Gear lists and stat prioritization are all about learning how the core rules work, and making sure we are personally seeking out and equipping the best gear we can, reforging the stats that are most important, enchanting and gemming most efficiently, and basically becoming as powerful as the rules of the game will allow us to be. It’s all about timing, stats, offense and defense, and can be mathematically calculated.

What cannot be mathematically calculated, and thus is frequently overlooked, is how to actually play our character using the tools provided.

If Blizzard chooses to reduce the effectiveness of an ability, we have no control over that. If some of our gear is buffed, or nerfed, or removed entirely, all we can do is recompute the importance of stats and make new lists.

What we do have control over is understanding how our abilities work, what situations or conditions they are most useful for, and using them to the best of our skill based on our intended goal for the fight. How to prioritize which abilities to use, based not on more powerful over less powerful, but more useful for one situation compared to another.

Intent. How we pull and handle a group is going to depend on our intent. 

The core styles of group threat

There are as many styles for tanking a group of mobs as there are tanks out there, but there are two core group tanking philosophies most commonly in use today.

Prioritized and Even Split.

Prioritized is what I call it when the intent of the tank is to build as much threat as possible on one target to give the DPS a double rainbow opportunity to go all out. The general technique is to identify a first kill target that you will focus the majority of your Direct Threat against, with the expectation that all DPS players will be focusing on that one target to kill it first. AoE Threat abilities will be used to maintain anti-healer threat on the rest of the group, and no more.

Split Evenly is what I call it when the intent of the tank is to try and spread the threat from all of your AoE Threat and Direct Threat abilities evenly across the entire group, to provide the DPS the ability to use AoE damage spells and target whoever they wish freely. 

Prioritized group tanking style breaks down in the following way.

The tank identifies a mob in the group that will be killed first. That mob is the first kill target.

The tank targets the first kill target, and charges into or otherwise pulls the group.

In the first few moments of the pull, the tank starts by dealing Direct Threat to the first kill target, immediately followed by AoE Threat to counteract healer threat amongst the remainder of the group of mobs.

Over the course of the next several global cooldowns, the tank focuses all Direct Threat on the first kill target, while using just enough AoE Threat to maintain a respectable lead over the threat generated by the healer.

At this time, it is the expectation that the DPS players are all focused solely on the first kill target. It is also expected that, because the tank is focusing his Direct Threat generating capabilities solely on the first kill target, that the DPS players are limiting themselves mostly to single target attacks rather than AoE, and if AoE is used, it is of the low-threat style.

Once the tank judges for herself that she has generated sufficient threat on the first kill target to hold aggro for the remainder of the fight until the mob is dead, no matter HOW much threat the DPS players cause, the tank switches over to a second kill target.

The tank begins using Direct Threat on the second target, and continues using AoE Threat as a secondary mission just to stay above the healer.

The rest of the DPS rides the first priority kill target down until it dies before switching over. They do NOT follow the tank to the new target.

By the time the first target dies, the tank will have built up sufficient advance threat on the second target that the DPS players will have a healthy cushion allowing them to go all out immediately.

The rest of the encounter is, for the tank, about watching and preparing for emergencies. With the continued use of AoE Threat for the duration of the fight, there is rarely any need to mark a third target to prioritize. The DPS players can focus on and burn down whichever remaining targets they wish. If someone begins to accrue high threat, well, that is what Taunt is for, along with Tidy Plates/ Threat Plates for pinpoint threat accuracy.

This style of tanking has several advantages. Every player knows who to be targeting at all times; whoever the tank has targeted first until it’s dead, then whoever the tank is on next. If the tank is practised in using them, this is the style that supports marking targets with Skulls and Stars and Green Nachos. Using these marks only improves the flow of the fight, because it ensures that every player remembers who the first priority kill target was supposed to be.

By knowing exactly who you should be paying attention to, it allows the tank to devote the majority of her Direct Threat spells to one target, providing the highest level of threat possible. This allows the DPS the best opportunity to go ‘all out’ on a target with a full rotation, and still stay under the threat threshold.

Confusion in the transition from one mob to another is HIGHLY reduced, and the chance that aggro will accidentally be pulled is minimized.

Another advantage to this style, is that it’s excellent practise for incorporating marking targets for Crowd Control. Once a team is comfortable with the idea of using single target damage spells and marked kill targets, it’s a small step to suggest that a target be marked as the “last to die”, and be crowd controlled by one of the DPS players for the duration of the fight.

There are drawbacks to this method, though.

The first issue is, this style is very rigid. The tank directs who the DPS is to kill, and the DPS players are expected to obey. There is very little room for independant decision making. For some DPS players, it can feel as though the tank is having fun, and the DPS players are merely along for the ride, and are not trusted to innovate or unleash the full potential of their characters. This is actually a pretty telling argument, as most characters have a wide variety of tools available, and many players are keen to experiment and vary their methods of play to enliven a run.

The second issue is, this style requires willing teamwork and coordination. If a player in the group decides they simply will not follow the marks or first kill target priority, then this style will result in a run that quickly degenerates into chaos. The tank is not focusing on building infinite threat on everyone; just the maximum possible on one mob. If a DPS player decides to go ‘off the mark’, they will easily blow past the tank’s threat on the secondary mobs and pull aggro.

Take as an example a pull of a group of four mobs, where the Prioritized system is being used, but one DPS player decides to ‘do his own thing’.

The tank marks a target with Skull as the first kill target, another with a Star, and leaves the last two untouched. The tank charges in, uses two instant cast Direct Threat spells on the Skull target, followed up with an AoE Threat spell, then a Direct Threat DoT, and another AoE Threat. From this point, healer aggro is counteracted, and some serious pounding on the Skull can begin for the next three global cooldowns.

Dri$$t the Night Elf Hunter decides the unmarked mob with the bow tie is looking at him funny, and goes all out on it. He blows right past the tank’s meager threat on the mob, and it goes running after him.

At this point, your average Dri$$t will panic, forget that he has Feign Death, and go nuts with even MORE DPS, in the hopes of killing the mob before it reaches him. If this fails, then he will begin running around the room screaming and wailing while the mob smashes him in the back, which, of course, means he’s not Parrying or Dodging.

The healer will change focus from the tank to the DPS in trouble, and begin chain casting like crazy to keep him alive. Most healers will, anyway. The instinct to try and save a life is strong with healers. It’s a pride thing. “You’re not dying on my watch” and stuffs.

The tank will stop attacking the Skull target in order to grab the loose mob, Taunt it, and get it back under control. Unfortunately, in such situations, the mob is frequently out of Taunt range, and the tank will have to go chasing the mob down first… leaving the group he was fighting to begin chasing the tank from behind… where, again, the tank has no Parry or Dodge chance. The tank thus takes accelerated damage. This happens because most tanks take their responsibility to hold aggro and protect the party very seriously, and like a hound can’t resist chasing that fox that he lost aggro on.

The healer sees the tanks’ health suddenly drop like a stone, the DPS player is dying, there’s running all over the place…. and since the tank is no longer on the Skull target, one of the DPS that were following the original game plan just got one sweet crit, and pulled aggro himself. Oh crap.

It is usually at this point the healer has a nervous breakdown, and Dri$$t says, “Learn to tank, noob.”

Does any of that sound familiar?

No. Of course not.

Split Evenly group tanking style breaks down like this.

The tank does not mark a target. The tank instead selects one for other reasons, spellcaster perhaps, and charges in/pulls.

The tank uses all AoE Threat abilities, uses one instant cast and one cooldown Direct Threat ability on the current target, and then switches to a different one.

The tank uses more AoE Threat, and then applies two more Direct Threat abilities, trying to include DoTs if possible. Then the tank switches to different target #3 and continues the process. The whole idea is to use AoE Threat at all times when off cooldown, and fill in with Direct Threat on every mob in rotation evenly. Spread all the threat out like cheese on a cracker.

The DPS players are given no direction as to which mob to attack. It is understood that each DPS player is on his or her own during this encounter.

The tank is operating under a much different priority list. First, the healer must be protected. Second, the tank must survive to deal threat and stay as still as possible to give the DPS players a clear field of view, and third, the tank must be on overwatch during the entire battle, prepared to shift attention to any mob that shows signs of breaking free…. if necessary.

This style is much more fluid, and puts more of the responsibility on skillful play and proper use of judgment on the DPS players.

This style is where you will frequently see a tank stand back and not interfere if a DPS player decides to go all out on a mob that is close to death, to try and burn it down before it reaches them.

The difference between doing that in this style as opposed to prioritization, is that in this one, the responsibility of NOT pulling threat is solidly on the DPS players. If they go over, that’s their ass. 

In this style, it is expected that a DPS player knows how to watch their own aggro on a targeted mob, and if they are getting close to going past the tank, they will simply switch targets to one they haven’t blasted yet.

The biggest advantage to this style is that it requires no teamwork or communication with the rest of the group at all. As long as everyone understands that all mobs will have threat spread evenly among them, and that it’s up to the DPS players to NOT go over the tank, then it doesn’t matter who attacks what when. Anyone can attack anything, and the tank’s main priorities are right up front; healer, then tank. 

The second main advantage to this style is that it really does open up the DPS players to pulling all the tools out of their toolbox. If a hunter decides to use a Frost Trap, or kite a mob around, or send in their pet on one mob while attacking another, it’s no problem at all. DPS players are trusted to know what they are doing, and that if they get into trouble and just can’t drop aggro, to run TO the tank to get the mob pulled off, and to use threat reducing abilities if possessed.

The main disadvantages is that the higher the individual DPS of the player, and the higher the health of the mobs, the harder it will be for the tank to generate enough threat spread out on all the mobs without having someone go over. It works best on groups of mobs with relatively low health that die quickly, so that even if a DPS player pulls, it’s a simple task to burn it down fast.

Another disadvantage is that it does not train groups in how to incorporate Crowd Control skills, at a group level. Individuals may see their use of CC increase as they play with their food, but it does not train a player how not to break another players’ trap. This style also encourages DPS players to use low threat AoE damage spells more than direct damage, and that is a bad mix to have been practising when it’s time to worry about Crowd Control.

With this style, as long as the tank focuses on AoE Threat and spreading Direct Threat out evenly, and watches the entire field of battle closely, then most group pulls will go very smoothly, with the additional frequent use of Intercepts, Charges and Taunts. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as playing in this fashion and succeeding can be just as exciting for the tank as for the DPS players.

The last major disadvantage, of course, is that with the hijinks of the DPS players to consider, the healer is likely to have a very, very rough time if they don’t prioritize their heals and give DPS players a chance to pull themselves out of the weeds on their own.

A Bit of Wrapup

Both core styles work very well depending on the intent of the players using them. Many long time tanks don’t even think of these as the seperate styles they are; they blend both styles together to greater or lesser degree, depending entirely on the situation. Perhaps they mark one particular mob with a Skull because of the special attack or property it has, but go half and half on Direct Threat and AoE Threat, and switch to a Split Evenly style as soon as that mob is dead.

The key thing about them, and blending them together, is that if your group has no idea why you are targeting the mob you are at any given time, they’re not going to know if they should go all out, or switch around, or follow your target on /assist, or anything else. This means that your groups aren’t playing to their full potential.

So, please do me a favor. If you actually care about tanking a smooth run, then take the two minutes at the start to let the party know your intention.

Macro a mini-speech if you like, or type a simple sentence, but do something to let them know, “Hey, I’m going to be spreading my threat around as evenly as I can, so attack whichever mob you want, but if you go over my threat and pull from me, you either better kill it yourself, feign it off or run it toward me to taunt.”

Or, alternately, “I’m going to be marking Skull as the first to die, stay on it until it’s dead, don’t worry if I switch my target to Star halfway through, it’s cool. Kill Star second, and Mage, please sheep the Moon, and everyone leave Moon untouched for last.”

A Last Word, or, Advanced Teamwork

The way I have described Prioritization and Split Evenly may sound melodramatic, but that’s because I used the extreme examples of the styles. As I mentioned briefly, many players already use both, blended together smoothly.

If you’re new to tanking, and these styles make sense but sound kind of boring, please keep in mind one thing; when you play with a team often, and get to know each other a little, everything loosens up and you all learn to trust each other.

Being able to trust each other means that, even when using the Prioritization style, your DPS players change up who they attack based on how they flow through mob transitions.

For example, you mark a Skull and a Star as first and second kill targets. All DPS players get on Skull to start, but once it is down to about 40% or less health and the tank has switched to Star, the melee DPS can feel comfortable switching over to Star and letting the ranged DPS burn Skull the rest of the way.

Why would this make sense and make your players happy?

It’s because the melee DPS players can use an extra two seconds to move over to and get properly behind the Star. During those two seconds, the ranged DPS can finish killing Skull, and then with a single click be already going to town on Star. No manuevering or physical repositioning necessary.

Those are the kinds of things that a group of players comfortable with each other, and trusting each other, do all the time without worrying about it.

But it all starts with clear communication of your intentions, and the understanding and cooperation of the rest of the team.

And above all else, having a healer with nerves of solid chrome-plated steel.

38 thoughts on “Tanking with Style!

  1. All of my toons are healers and my favorite is my resto druid. I am trying to dual spec for Tanking too, but it is very frustrating and I am having lots of dificulty holding aggro in instances as a lowbie bear. Could you post something for low level bears to know how to get started properly ( or give a link if you know a good site for low level tanks)? alot of the things in what I read from you seem great…if I am already raiding from a level 80 perspective. I really need tank advice for my lvl 15 bear. Thanks!


  2. One of the reasons I like to mark Skull and possibly X is mostly because I’d like to have something die first. Of course I’m hoping that “Skull” dies first, but anything dead quickly helps. I hate it when DPS is spread out and everyone has their own target – stuff doesn’t die. And a mob at 1HP does exactly the same damage as a mob at full health 😦

    Looking at about 99% of the responders here, should we all possibly transfer to the same realm/faction and start a guild where everyone’s reasonably happy? 🙂


  3. Everyone goes crazy about crowd control, focus target and stuff, but im still tanking like i used to in WOTLK -> charge and AOE the hell out of everything. threat is not a problem so far, im usually like 200% a DD at least, the only difference: need to use my oh-shit button frequently to migitate incoming damage. just a matter of gear though, with better gear it will be a walk in the park again. sad, actually, i expected to be forced to use CC or die to horrible damage, that is not the case!


  4. Excellent write-up BBB! I just wish there was a way make it required reading for DPS.

    Much like many others, I tend to use a combination. Easier instances don’t get a lot of marking (except mob healers!) while later, harder, instances will get markings unless we are way overpowered.

    My main issue is that the DPS don’t seem to listen. I think the number of DPS that pay attention is somewhere around 10%. I can’t count the number of times that I have marked two mobs with Skull and X and had them be the last to die. Like it was noted above, the primary attitude these days seems to be to kill any unmarked mobs first. It makes me a sad bear. And heaven forbid I want to do a Line of Sight pull to group up all the mobs.

    I can count on one hand the number of groups that actually kill my marked targets in order and move behind me for LoS pulls. Actually, I can only think of one group. And I made sure to compliment them on it… once I got my jaw off the floor.

    Mostly these days I get groups that don’t want to bother with CC, don’t know how to position themselves, pull extra groups because they are too busy jumping around like idiots to pay attention, etc.

    I’ve started to take a more “firm” stance. I figure even with the deserter buff I may get another group before they find a replacement. Too many “GO GO GO Gogogogogogogogog!!!” Too many that think that they’ll just pull because the tank is taking too long. Tanks that charge in right off the bat was mentioned. I wonder how much of that is an effort to keep control of the fight. If I start it, at least I have a chance of controlling it. If someone else starts it, I’m playing catchup the entire time.

    I wish I had more “good” stories (like the hunter that I gave the go-ahead to trap at will – and did so, very well). But instead I get people that just don’t seem to pay attention. I don’t think I’ve seen a hunter Feign Death since Karazan. It’s weird, you think that they would learn. I’ve had a lot of groups comment that they were so happy to finally have a competent tank. I can’t help but if it’s just that I expect them to misbehave and do my best to account for it…

    I’ll have to think more about the communication. Macros at the beginning just feel… sterile. And I am somewhat flabbergasted that I need to remind DPS that kill order is SKULL > X… I thought that was firmly understood. I don’t want to baby or mother people. To be honest, if they are that clueless (or uncaring), I’m not sure that it wouldn’t be easier just to drop group. I don’t mind letting them know that I’m doing an LoS, or asking someone to CC, or explaining a boss fight. But I shouldn’t have to explain that Skull (if marked) is the primary target and should be killed first; nor what a Line of Sight pull entails.

    Now that I’ve added my own bearwall… I guess you struck a nerve with this one. I keep hearing about long queues and the problem is not enough tanks. I just wonder how many tanks have taken a break from tanking because they are tired of it all.


  5. This.

    I had the best tank in my 60 levels since getting back 2 weeks ago, from a random LFD.

    She was super tough, had solid aggro, amazing aoe tanking, and was only 59 in ramparts. This was even when the idiot DPS pulled the boss AND all the mobs around him (first boss), through accident, recklessness, or sheer stupidity, I don’t know. She held them all. Easily. I (healer) only got hit once.

    But the DPS at the start of the run, WOULD NOT QUIT RAGGING ON HER.

    ‘WTF’ ‘U crazy tank?’ ‘HAHAHAH’ ‘NOOB!’ ‘I don’t even do that in heroics lololol.’

    What was she doing wrong? That’s what I was asking, too.

    What she was doing ‘wrong’ is the very simple, very professional thing that I, as a tank, also do / used to do when tanking stuff I wasn’t going to mark up individually.

    She was marking the kill target with a skull.

    When did playing well go from something appreciated to something to be ridiculed?

    I basically healer-bitchslapped all the DPS, who were doubtless thinking, Whoa, PMSING healer! -_-

    Tank was quiet, but in whispers she was appreciative – explaining that this was her first time ever tanking on a DK. And was much chuffed by the – lolz, you’re the best tank I’ve had in 60 levels!

    Stuff like this just makes me sad.


    • I know you said in an earlier post that you were not going to write these, but you are staying on my favorites for exactly this type of post. As a writer myself I know that sometimes the topics burn out or writers block sets in. Keep doing what your doing. The distractions make your writing better in the long run. If nothing else these kind of posts can be your distraction instead of your main body of work. As a fellow druid tank I appreciate the effort of putting into writing things that help me, and things that I can point at to help other learning bears.


      • Thank you very much for the encouragement, Fireman Tony.

        Or Fire! Man, Tony…. Hmm……

        The truth is I don’t consider this the kind of post I was quitting. I quit doing gear lists and going out spending 10 hours over a week on dummies and soloing elite giants using different methods to develop threat analysis. This is more a post about something that can be very subjective… what a tank does, and what a tank is supposed to do, and what a tank CAN do to try and improve.

        It’s subjective, because you have to know up front what you want to accomplish before you decide if you’re doing it right, and not every tank has the same goals and priorities. So, there’s always plenty to talk about.

        I mean, shoot, one tank might be tasked by a raid leader as the main tank on single target mobs, and that tank will want to be able to take crushing damage and put out insane single target threat. Another might be the designated off tank, and will want to be prepared to balance the ability to pick up mobs and tank them against being able to provide useful DPS when not actually tanking. And yet a third tank may not raid at all, but will want to be optimized to take and hold multiple mob threat for heroic 5 mans, and will be all about managing lots of targets.

        With that kind of variety in goals, there is no way to say “This is how you tank, end of story nub”, and that leaves us tons of room to talk about what to do and when and above all else, why.


  6. If I mark a trash pull but leave one unmarked, it will always die before skull does. It still happens even when I explain the kill order. I don’t understand why this is. Do the DPS think I forgot about it and won’t be generating threat on it, so they need to distract it from the healer? Do they just target it at random, and without the presence of some other mark on the target frame they forget that something was marked for First Kill?


  7. So I was reading this post, and my wife asked how long it was. I showed her beginning to end, and she said, “That’s more like a ‘Take your laptop to the bathroom and read it while pooping’ post.”


  8. Wonderful post BBB. I can so relate to this and I think communication is key to a smooth run, especially when the content is such that it really does help to work together.

    I sometimes mix these two methods, usually opting to mark only when the mob counts starts to get high, it just looks mean, or I feel my group is a little green. I love the idea of letting DPS do their thing. As a DPS, I know how much fun it can be to actually use some of your talents.. i.e. traps, saps, sleeps, etc. And as a tank its nice to see DPS who know what they are doing..

    Come to think of it, I really think the best players shine in the AOE method of aggro and I usually find myself using the single target method only when I perceive that my team may be a bit on the less experienced side. If everyone knows their weapons and individual class specific strengths and tactics.. lock and load baby.. lets roll.

    And one last thing, and you eluded to this. But when it really hits the fan… as a tank, IMHO, back up to your healer, don’t let anything touch him/her and ride it out.. I’m sure you have been there but if you keep that healer up and thus they keep you up, things seem to work out when they seemed impossible. (I know this is obvious but I still think its overlooked when people start to panic)

    Great post.


  9. The only problem with telling people stuff at the beginning of an instance is that a good handful of times they get upset with me for talking. To others it seems macros sound canned and are highly offensive. And forget typing anything, it has to be a macro otherwise you spent 6 seconds of their time and that’s not okay! To a degree I understand dps being impatient to start, they have to wait 40 damn minutes for the instance. But still…

    go tank
    just go
    go slow tank

    At least that has been my unfortunate experience… though I haven’t done randoms after the last group where the healer refused to drink when at 10% mana. And told me to rush ahead. And when I didn’t run ahead, pulled for me. And almost died. And then complained when I died after pulling the three packs he pulled off him that he didn’t have the mana to heal me. Oh and “lol u r a bad tank and ur gear is bad and ur guild is sux and u don’t have kingslayer u noob” *DC*

    le sigh

    Why should anyone have to put up with this sort of bullying in game?


  10. All the pugs I’ve been in lately, there has been no communication from tanks at all. Last week we had 1 or 2 people in the group who did the beta and were nice enough to explain the fights. That was nice. Lately what I’ve been doing is picking a target doing FB, scorch a lot ( I can move while casting now) and every once in a while throw in some flamestrikes (love that they are instant now, I use them more often). I also throw in there a pyro when it procs and living bomb.

    I really do wish that tanks would put up some kind of marks tho, and I’m not sure on whether Shade is ever gonna heal again. these dungeons and groups are deadly on healers. In several pugs the tank would sit there and just get mad that the healer wasn’t healing. It’s kinda hard to heal when you have no mana and the idiot is chain pulling and not letting the healer drink. I think I’ll change my macro from “I need mana” to “I have no mana and you’re gonna die!”


  11. Thanks for putting into words the work of a tank. I recently rolled a shaman to experience healing so that I’m not doing DPS on my hunter all the time. It gave me some new perspectives on group dynamics because I feel that, as a healer, you are obligated to be more aware of the tank’s activity than as a DPS. I leveled my shaman solely through dungeons and was able to get on the fast track on learning how to heal groups.

    The Prioritized tanking scenario indeed sounds very familiar as I have observed it numerous times, but I have also seen AoE tanking fail with overconfident tanks. This is becoming more of an issue as I’m now at the level where I’m revisiting BC dungeons with tank who have grown accustomed to AoE tanking. Either way, it seems according to your comments, healers are having a hell of a time with careless DPS who pull aggro.

    On the other hand, from the DPS point of view, you are correct that is is more efficient for us to focus on one target. Then when these mobs finally aggro, we enter an adrenaline stage where we try to even unload more DPS so the tank will not have to worry about saving us. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t.

    With that said, I was wondering if you have read Ghostcrawler’s new comments on the mechanics of threat and if you have any comments on it.


    • See, and here is another comment that ended up in the spam folder, no idea why. This is why I wade through the spam folder before consigning it to the dustbin of blogging history.


  12. I think communication is a huge factor and I’m beside myself with glee that the added difficulty has almost self-perpetuated talking in PuG’s. It has bred increased awareness and coordination from alll the players and I now rarely ever see a DPS that doesn’t zone in and immediately start asking the tank to mark their CC target. I believe I’ve added more people to my friend’s list than I did the whole Wrath expansion. I think it has made dungeon runs not only go faster but more fun because people start chatting. It has really put the “Multi” back in MMO. I’m having a blast even with more wipes because I know that at the end we really did earn that loot.


  13. As both a tank and healer (druids rock!) I really appreciate posts like this. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t like doing either, because DPS always complains that they have to watch their aggro on mob pulls, and then blame it either on the tank or the healer. I like switching back and forth between the two styles, depending upon what the DPS are doing (unless they unduly annoy me, then I leave them on their own to die). I think next time I run a random, I’m going to try this “communication” thing of which you speak. Thanks!


  14. All the smooth, wipe free pugs I’ve gone on so far had the tank marking mobs for me to CC (I’m a hunter), and him marking his current target with a skull. Nothing crazy like marking kill order, just trap one mob, burn down skull if there were 3 or more mobs. It takes maybe 2 minutes at the beginning of a pug to establish some basic strategy, and these two minutes eliminate minutes and minutes of wipes and corpse runs. Unfortunately, too many tanks still have the WOTLK mindset if just run in, don’t even greet the party, and aggro the first group of mobs.

    In pugs like these, I really feel sorry for the healers.


    • The WOTLK mindset tanks when combined with a healer that has come back to the game after a hiatus makes for a pretty rough run. I’m only doing randoms with my spirit beast now just so I can throw a heal out when its needed. And its needed pretty much every single time it comes off CD if the group isn’t CCing or breaking CC. On the bright side its fun to be top DPS on the bosses, #1 on interrupts, and #3 on heals. 😀


  15. As a healer … I so wish I had a healer on your realm 🙂 so I could get a chance 🙂

    As to nerves of steel … I always make sure I know where the phone box is so that Tsu can duck in and do a quick change 🙂


  16. No one likes to give the same speech for every PUG/Random, so I start out by posting a quick macro to inform the party how I work as a tank. Some people roll their eyes at me, but most like the information. It is a good starting point for assignments, like who will CC what target, etc, and after only a few clarifying questions from DPS, we are ready to kill stuff in a neat and tidy manner.

    If someone responds to the macro in an elitist way, I may then whisper the healer and tell them that they are not obligated to heal anyone that is blatantly pulling mobs off of the tank and not following the kill order (conserve your Mana!). The choice is theirs, but at least they know I won’t be clicking the vote kick button to kick the healer when the douche bag DPS gets angry over their multiple deaths.

    My “Rulz” macro for when I’m tanking:

    /e | Kill Order {Skull} {Cross} / my target
    /e | Don’t nuke on pull (or you’ll tank it!)
    /e | If you can, please use CC {Square} {Star}
    /e | If a mob is on you, run TO me
    /e | Don’t stand in stuff

    If someone starts to go off doing their own thing on a pull in the middle of the run, and ends up dead and then whining about it, I may then pop the macro again and say (politely) “I told you so…”. They will then do one of two things:
    1) Leave the group and we get a replacement, or…
    2) Stick it out and hopefully follow the kill order, thereby collecting fat lootz and gaining various faction Rep.

    Again, most groups appreciate the info up front and it saves some typing for me. Always a plus. 🙂


  17. I prefer to switch styles or mix them as the situation dictates. If I announce things up front people tend to not adapt. Which in turn gives me less room to adapt.
    Very good run down.
    Except that, with the 80% nerd to bear aoe threat I sometimes have to use a mix of both just to hold healing agro.


    • So I just want to be clear… you’re saying you do not want to communicate to the rest of the party any guidance in advance, you want them to be watching your movements and guessing what you’re going to do next?

      And the reason for this is to prevent them from getting locked into a routine that prevents them being adaptable if things change suddenly in a pull?


      • And I want you to know, I’m not being pissy, but if that’s what you’re saying, it’;s the direct opposite point of my post, so I really think it’d be an excellent thing to talk about – a totally different point of view detailing the reasons why communicating your intentions to the team is NOT a good idea. That’s the kind of discussion I really want, because it’s not something I’ve thought of before.


    • im just going to assume that you meant nerf and not nerd and reply in kind.

      You should be using thrash in your single target tanking anyway. The big nerf that happened was mostly to swipe, which makes it largely useless even in aoe tanking situations, however, thrash is till a very solid threat tool that you should be using when it is safe to use. In terms of a rotation, lacerate is ranked very high when you have no stacks of the debuff and way lower when you have at least one stack up and the pulverize buff. If you arent already using thrash you may want to rank it in between your pulverize buff and having using lacerate with at least 1 stack of the bleed up.

      Now i dont want to derail this so i am going to link it back to the post. What he is saying is that you are going to be far bettwer off if you simply tell people what to expect and then work around that. i am going to go out on a limb and say that you will always have cleaner runs if the people in your group are aware of how you are going to react. This is why tanks that tank for a long time together, tend to enjoy tanking more with eath other than with other tanks.

      Yes there will always be situations where you will need to branch off from what you said you were going to do and do something different, and it may be the better choice. You seem like you are saying that you dont have a system that you use which, if you have done a sufficient amount of tanking, you do. Announce it upfront and let the group react when you change it up a bit then have the group react every time that you pull and it will go smoother. For pugs this will help you a lot. Guild groups that know you will naturally pick up on your style but just let your pug groups know what is going to happen most often and work from there.


    • Thanks a lot for the link, Kyle, I’ll actually be checking that thread out when I can access it from home. I always look forward to seeing, not just what folks recommend, but also insight into what their thoughts are on stat equivalencies and gear choices. It’s always a lot of fun.


  18. Excellent post. Much juice. Tidy plates is an amazing tool and helps to overcome communication deficits in a big way. Sure, tanking the mob with the lowest health should mean you are tanking the mob with the most DPS threat on it but that still leaves you exposed to loss of threat do do other mechanics and having the health bar quadruple in size and turn angry colors sure does get your attention without tabbing each mob and looking down at omen. Tidy plates is something else I’ve never heard mentioned outside of this blog and I’ve been passing it along.

    I like the two types of pull but now I want them named! Special Forces versus Harlem Globetrotters? Classical versus Jazz? Ninja versus Pirate?

    One more kind of communication is when a tank and healer discuss which DPS to let die because they aren’t participating in the plan. That’s my favorite.


  19. I think the two styles you describe are less a matter of choice and more dependant on the situation.
    In most cases you will have between 2 and 5 mobs with high health and varying degrees of dangerous abilities. In these cases, prioritizing the targets is obviously the better solution. Since mobs don’t deal reduced damage based on hitpoints, one dead mob is always better than 2 half dead ones. Additionally, some mobs are clearly more dangerous than others.
    This dictates that in most situations the optimal approach is to kill one mob after the other in descending order of the threat they pose to the group (taking care to CC appropriate targets of course).
    In some specialized cases you may face a large group of enemies with low hitpoints and no distinguishing abilities that make one more dangerous than the others. In those cases it will probably be more efficient to AE the pack and use a distributed threat approach (though many packs also include “controllers” that need to be given special consideration).
    In general I’d say that taking the focused threat approach will almost always be superior unless it is clearly the games intent to force you to AE.


  20. Is what you were referring to when you said “I’m writing an ultra condensed post?” Damn.

    I’ve got one question if it’s easily answered. Why not just type your posts in Word and then copy and paste them onto the blog. I figure you’re much less likely to lose your work that way. And as far as I can tell your formatting doesn’t seem too complicated. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to have the spellcheck. Jk jk.

    Thanks for the post BBB I enjoyed it.

    P.S. I doubt I’m the only one who would enjoy an (extended) video or two of you tanking your favorite five-man or. . .something. Assuming there aren’t already a few recent ones out there.


  21. This is a very good post. You’re right, I really should be outlining my expectations to the DPS at the beginning of a run. With Wrath, and even a bit of BC before it, some things were just given. With BC, you knew you marked mobs and the marks were pretty much set in stone for the server. Everybody on my server knows star is sap, square is trap, etc, so no explanation was necessary. You just mark and go. With wrath, after the initial dificulties wore off, and it became an AoEfest, it was expected that the tanke got AoE threat and held it, and the DPS went nuts. Now.. Now it’s a whole new ballgame. Sometimes AoE will work, and sometimes not, and a lot of that depends on the tank themself. We do need to explain what we’re doing, or else the DPS will be whining, and the healer will be crying. And we’ll be dead. Repeatedly.


    • I know it’s long, but I really hope people focus more on the point of the post, the importance of communicating what you intend to do, rather than the section where I break down the differences between styles and how they lead to different results and can cause confusion in groups that don’t know which you’re going to use at any given time.

      Sure, there is this way and that way to blend them all together, but this was not a guide on how to tank groups. I don’t write guides anymore.

      I’m going with the idea that the tanks reading my posts know what I’m talking about, but from what i’ve seen, may not realise that the rest of the group doesn’t necessarily know because they can’t read the tank’s mind. And that can cause confusion and threat issues that just don’t need to be there.

      The only real reason I spelled out how the flow of the two styles worked was for DPS players who may not have ever tanked, to give them a little explicit guidance on how to recognize what your tank may be doing if he’s not communicating… or know what questions to ask if he doesn’t volunteer the info. I knew going in that some folks were liable to see that as a “this is how you do this” thing, and it is so not.


  22. My personal preference is for prioritisation, but with an attitude from the tank and the healer that any DPS that pulls aggro will be left to die. DPS need to learn to manage their threat level somehow 🙂


  23. Excellent post!

    As long time tank much of what you wrote comes naturally now, but it’s helpful to have the 2 core styles explicitly labelled… Makes it much easier to talk about and analyze.

    Keep up the good work!


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