Great Expectations

Are you starting up a new character, and about to try an unfamiliar role?

More specifically, have you always played as melee or ranged DPS, or as a healer, and now you’re about to try a tank?

Well, then this discussion is for you!

When you’re the tank, there are a lot of expectations about what you’re supposed to do.

Those are expectations. You don’t have to do anything but play your own way, but it’s a good idea to know what is coming your way and be prepared.

The first thing is Crowd Control.

The rest of the group expects that the Tank will handle all crowd control related decisions.

Your first decision? Do you need to have any crowd control at all.

You won’t be told you have to use it, but it’s expected that you will know your own skill level and gear level, that you’ll compare that with the gear and skill of your healer, that you’ll judge how quickly your DPS will be able to burn mobs down, and be familiar enough with the mix of mobs in the instance to know if you’ll need Crowd Control.

There are two different types of mobs that you’ll likely want to use crowd control on, even if you’re awesome, and those are the healers and the casters of big AoE damage spells. Even then, if the heal spells can be interrupted, and you have players that can interrupt and do so reliably, then even that can be optional.

The only really tricky part is knowing what all the particulars are for every type of crowd control out there so you know what CC you’ve got available. There are a lot of possibilities, some based on spec, and some that get modified for Glyphs.

MMO Champion has a forum thread that includes a great breakdown of various types of crowd control. It’s a great place to start learning about some of the more obscure types, and how they work.

Everyone knows Rogues can Sap and Hunters can Trap, Mages can Sheep and Shaman can Hex. Do you know the ins and outs of Druid Hibernate? Do you know that a Warlock can Fear mobs, and with the right Glyph those Feared mobs won’t run around screaming but will freeze in place? Do you know that some but not all Hunters have a second form of CC with a sting shot?

Most players in a thrown together group won’t tell you what they can do, they expect you to know already, and wait for you to call on them to use what they have when YOU decide you need it, not before. So, arm yourself with knowledge.

The most important things to focus on?

Can it be applied in mid-fight (direct cast Sheep, for example) or must it be applied in advance while out of combat (A Rogue using Sap)?

Is it cast on moving targets easily (again with the direct-cast Sheep), or does it only work when the mob runs over it/is positioned right (like with a Hunters trap).

How long can you expect it to last, can it be re-applied in combat, and finally… what breaks it?

Know the answers to those and you’re doing fine. After all, what does everyone ask after the main group is dead? “Who do you want us to break next, Ice Trap or Sap?”


Nothing says “I’m the tank” quite like making that pull. There is a delightful feeling to charging in and unleashing hell, or yanking someone to you and laying the smacketh down.

What you need to know here is, how you handle the pull, your position and style of movement, all have a massive affect on how your run will go.

The expectation in a random heroic is, you will run directly forward and attack the mobs. You will throw some form of smack on all of them in the first millisecond of the pull, so nothing runs past you at the healer. If a ranged caster is part of the pull, you’ll silence them in some way so that they’ll run closer to you, bunching up.

The melee DPS are expecting this, and will run past you to position themselves behind the mob. The ranged DPS and healers will remain where you left them, at extreme range.

This works, certainly, but there are reasons for what you’re doing, and if you break the pull down, there are a couple things you can decide you’d like to change based on the kind of tank you are, availability of Charge or having a ranged silencing Pull, etc.

The first point is that you are focusing the attention of the mobs on you. You set the position. If you move, the mobs will change both position and facing direction to remain oriented on you. They will continue to try and attack you. If they cannot SEE you, they will move in a least-distance course to regain sight of you and resume attacking.

Melee DPS want to be behind the mobs, not just to avoid any potential Cleave or Flame Breath, but also because mobs can’t dodge attacks from behind. It’s a net DPS gain.

No matter how you choose to pull, the melee DPS will want you to stand as stationary as possible for the fight. Every time you move, the melee have to move also.

What I’m saying is, when you have a mob in front of you, think in terms of a dog. You move away, the puppy follows you, and the melee DPS come trailing along as the tail.

Don’t wag the tail.

Also, remember the tail can catch on fire, too.

If the mob you are fighting drops pools of bad stuff, you will move out of the stuff, probably backing away and pulling the mob out of the stuff… but make DAMN sure you move far enough that you pull the DPS out of the bad stuff too.

Yes, it is the responsibility of melee DPS to move their own butt out of the fire. They also want to continue to do DPS. They will try to find a flank where they’re not in the fire, and also able to hit. If you pull far enough back that the DPS can stay on their butt and be out of the fire, they will thank you.

Pets don’t know enough to get out of the fire on their own, and some fires don’t do damage, they stun instead (like in Throne of the Four Winds). If you don’t pull the mob far enough, the Pet will stand like an idiot in the bad, stunned. So move the tail out of the yuck.

Knowing all this, how you handle the pull becomes less a “this is how you do it”, and more of a choice.

You can decide to charge in and stand still, letting the DPS run past to get behind the bad guys….

Or, charge in, move THROUGH the mobs and turn around, leaving their butts facing the group. The DPS will get to run straight in and stop, unleashing stabby-stab faster.

The first method is what is expected in randoms. The second method actually helps the group a little more, but can lead to confusion since nobody expects it.

If you charge forward, move through the mobs and spin around, then not only do the melee DPS have a shorter run up to get stuck in, but you are automatically turning the mobs so any flame breath or cone attack will be faced away from them. Also, you will be in a good position to see the ranged players, healers and DPS, and you will see if something comes up on them from behind.

It’s ALWAYS a good idea to be aware of what is happening to the ranged players, and be prepared to immediately tag and taunt at range. ALWAYS.

As I said, one weakness of this is that random people do NOT expect you to turn the groups. That can be fixed by telling them what you will do at the beginning of the run, AND by being consistent in doing it. Don’t mix things up at random, sometimes turning them, sometimes running up and stopping. Damn, that’s irritating. Pick a style and be consistent. 

The other weakness is that with you facing the rear of the party, you aren’t watching what might be coming up behind you.

Moral of that story is, no matter whether you run up and stop or run through and turn, you have to check your back for bad guys. Situational awareness, check your six. Don’t get ganked by a grue. It’s embarrasing.

One of the finer points, when you do have to move the mobs out of stuff (or into stuff), keep in mind melee DPS want you to stand still as much as possible.

To that end, when you have to move, move fast, get to a new position, then stop and continue the fight. Go in bursts of movement. Dash from position to position.

I’ve written before, endlessly it seems, about line of sight pulls but I’ll say two more words about it.

Most classes have some form of Silence now, but nothing feels quite as good as marking targets for crowd control, letting that CC get placed, then casting an attack on mobs at range and ducking behind a piece of in-game architecture to break their line of sight with you.

When mobs in a group are all spread out, you want to bring them in tight to get all of them in your own AoE. If you taunt at range and duck behind a column, all of them will try and attack you… and the ranged that try to cast spells at you will all run directly at you in a least-time intercept to be able to see you to start casting again.

This brings the spread up group into a tight little circle for your AoE, and coincidentally gets them away from any CCd mobs.

Vortex Pinnacle as an example has plenty of opportunities for line of sight pulls out of magic fields, and it continuously surprises me how often tanks just charge in and pray.

Line of sight pulls, when you warn the group you are about to make one, are a good tool to have in your toolbox, a weapon in your tanking arsenal. Use it, it’s FUN to mix things up!


Ah, the big enchilada. Threat generation.

The expectation is that the tank will have aggro on ALL mobs within the first millisecond of the pull, even BEFORE the tank was able to physically reach the mobs, and the DPS will not be able to pull off of you no matter who you marked with Skull and whether or not they are on that, or on a whelp in the other cavern.

That’s the deal.

With yesterdays changes in place, that’s the deal. If someone pulls aggro, it will now not only be perceived as your fault, but people will assume that this message was approved by Blizzard; “DPS that pull off tanks are the tanks fault.”

Realistically, what this boils down to is understand that idiots will start shooting/casting even as you move/charge the mobs. You cannot rely on a second or two grace period to get a couple Swipes in. The Fireball is moving past your head as you’re running.

Sorry, that’s the way it is.

Now, I could tell you that the answer is to only play with friends that live close by to you, so if they act that way you can get in your car, drive over, and beat the shit out of them. But that’s not really very helpful, now is it?

My recommendation to you instead is that you be prepared to blow AoE attacks first, Swipes and all that stuff, just get it in and on cooldown as fast as possible.

Also, look for those caster mobs that stand off at range, as I mentioned before. Grip them to you, Silence them so they run to you, or simply Charge them and bonk them on the head, AoEing as you pass the rest of the group, using the caster as the new center from which you will build your battle. 

Whatever you do, I wish you well on taking up the tanking challenge, and I hope that you find your groups open to whatever plan you come up with next.

11 thoughts on “Great Expectations

  1. Sometimes I feel running ahead and pulling so there not even close helps cause you can shift to kitty dash and there not even close, but on the other side of that coin is you have to have faith that healer is actually moving towards your position and prepared to heal. From my experience the more movement you have as a bear tank the better it is for you personally


  2. nice read, one little thing though: mobs can dodge attacks from behind, but they cant parry.

    line of sight pulls, even if announced, dont work in random groups. theres always somebody who thinks he’s fucking john wayne. even more so since the threat hotfix. and as you say: its the tanks fault. by default. always. annoying, really. no incentive in the world can be big enough to tank for a random group. its just no fun.

    that said, i’m lucky enough to have a guild with enough active and fun people who make even the (otherwise) most boring and annoying chaos orb farm session fun.


  3. Ah, what a great blog! Reading this brings a couple of points to mind – whenever I run a PuG on my hunter, I usually have relatively good experience, but every once in a while, I would meet a tank who doesn’t understand that Hunter trapping is not directly cased. (As any Hunter out there could tell you, it’s very frustrating to let fly with the trap… only to have the tank pull a spilt second too early and the mob ends up not-trapped. Oy.) Usually, I would politely whisper to the tank, explaining that it takes me a second to arm the launcher, then to aim where to place the trap, and then it takes another second for it to go off.

    Otherwise, I usually do okay with my hunter. My resto Druid, on the other hand, have had been running into this problem more and more lately; the tank keeps running out of range! It’s extremely frustrating, in partly because it’s so ingrained in me to stand far away (five years of Huntering would do this to you), and partly because the said tank will NOT SLOW DOWN. (I’m not even getting into the few occasions where the tank completely ignored the patrols beating my face in – and then had the sheer gall to berate me for dying. Luckily those tanks are far and few.)

    But yeah, it’s nice to see a great tanking reminder for those tanks out there! 🙂


  4. Mmm… nice primer. I dabbled in tanking in low levels with my shiny new F2P sub-20 account, and it’s more fun than I thought it would be. Getting over that confidence hump helped. Still, I know there’s more to learn, and this hits a nice sweet spot for what I’ve been doing.



  5. I love tanking but the thing that gets me is that is there a good guide to what should be cc’d if you need cc, take HHoO I know that some of them can freedom out of traps and the like, I have looked for good guides on this so far and mostly it has been trial and error for me.


  6. Do you have a post titled ‘How to CC your group?’ I do feel sometimes like the biggest CC I can do is to CC the other 4 players I’m in the run with :S


  7. “Now, I could tell you that the answer is to only play with friends that live close by to you, so if they act that way you can get in your car, drive over, and beat the shit out of them. But that’s not really very helpful, now is it?”

    Helpful no but darn near the way I would like this game to be played. Consequences dammit! Back in the old days…. mutter mutter mutter

    /shakes cane

    Kids these days with their internet and games and stuff…

    Great Post.


  8. It used to be (or I thought it was) that some abilities only work in a frontal arc, and when mobs move they often move to flank or sometimes even behind if the game thinks your position is different from you think (which happens a lot with lag). This means that tanks will take extra time to round up all the mobs. I play melee dps a lot, and I hate the tanks who constantly move the main target.

    To compensate I’ve started to pvp. Hitting a moving target is rare in pve, but the rule in pvp. This way my strafe and shift while maintaining a good attack sequence will become second nature, and it won’t matter so much. I’ve already noticed an improvement in my dps and I have less frustration.

    Or just lock/stun/freeze the mob. 🙂


  9. No matter how you choose to pull, the melee DPS will want you to stand as stationary as possible for the fight. Every time you move, the melee have to move also.

    Oh god it annoys me so much when tanks keep moving about all the time. STAND STILL FFS D: It’s especially annoying as a cat DPS because the main filler attack only works from behind.


  10. After having just read the 4.3 updates and the Dev Watercooler on the upcoming changes, I now understand what you had said earlier about tanking and threat management and who’s at fault. 🙂

    However, I think the general idea from Blizzard is this, if you are a dps, and you’re not hitting what the tank is hitting, then you should expect that mob to turn straight towards you and own your face. Well, at least that’s how I would interpret the changes, especially considering that I have a handy-dandy macro that places a very clear giant skull on what I’m attacking. It depends on which blue post you read but it seems that the devs are wanting tanks to have a different type of active role in tanking rather than making sure to manage threat. I don’t think it was explained very well what type of role that should be. But at least according to the Dev Watercooler post, the devs want a tank’s mitigation to become an aspect that requires more active management from the player. Perhaps how a tank survives being a meat shield for the group/raid? I don’t know.

    From my own experience as a tank and dps, and I’m sure many can relate to this, under-geared tanks obviously have a harder time with threat, but putting that slightly new level 85 tank into a pug with raid-geared experienced level 85 is a nightmare for the new tank player and can be very challenging even if the experienced players understand to use a little restraint in their dps. This can be exacerbated by the fact that there are pugs that don’t understand some of the utility (i.e. CC) that their characters can bring to a group and are more interested in either plowing through an instance at break-neck speed or seeing how big their yellow numbers can get from their button spamming. I’ve seen before and I can understand why not so many folks want to try to tank instances in Cata. Having massive threat ability will definitely help with this at the heroic level, assuming of course if this doesn’t turn practically all pugs into players that can do nothing more than: stand behind boss “X”, spam button “X”, and convert oxygen into carbon-dioxide, which I think at it’s current state, pug instances (at least regulars) aren’t too far removed from that level now. It’ll be interesting to see how this “active mitigation management” affects tanking. I’m skeptical but willing to give it a shot if it means making tanking more enjoyable.

    Great post. I especially like the CC explanation and the section on pulling.


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