Hi folks, and a happy holidays to you all.
This will seem a little unusual, I know, but I’d like to spend a little time chatting with you about tanking.
Since the moment the new patch was released, I’ve been running the new 5 person instances and Looking For Raid like a fiend. Just like everyone else, I’ll wager.
I know that the new content is exciting to me, and in my gushing I’ve talked to quite a few people that maybe haven’t played WoW in a while, or who haven’t tanked in quite some time (or ever), people who are now interested in getting into the tank thang.
There are quite a few issues I’ve seen in the new content, things that just could have gone better when I was playing as DPS, that were smooth as silk when I did them myself as a tank. Now that I’ve had a chance to test and verify a few things, I wanted to take this time to bring ’em up, and make a few suggestions, things to keep in mind.
This is written for tanks, but honestly, I think it’s always good for everyone in a group to understand what is happening around them, what people are doing, and why. You never know when the chance might pop up for you to use your special class abilities to make everything better.
This is going to seem silly, but unless you’re used to being a tank or melee, the importance of your physical position in relation to the mobs isn’t immediately obvious. Especially if your view of tanks is being all go go go.
As a tank, you know you’re supposed to wear gear that makes you hard to damage, and gives you a healthy cushion to absorb the damage that does get through. You also know that you’re supposed to grab aggro on mobs and keep them focused on you, not the healer.
Positioning is almost as important as being equipped with the right gear and stats, but it’s not nearly as obvious. There is a lot more to it than “run in looking all cute and cuddly, then swipe.”
The first part of positioning is protecting your party. Some enemies have Cleave or Cone attacks, attacks that affect a cone or area directly in front of them in the direction they are facing. If you run straight in and start fighting, then the enemy is facing you… and the rest of the party behind you. If you charged, the rest of the party may be running in a straight line after you to catch up, and take a cone-effect breath weapon in the face.
You handle cleave/cone situations by knowing what the enemy will do, and when you charge in (or pull them to you), immediately run off to one side so they are forced to pivot to face you, turning 90° away from the rest of the party behind you. This actually helps the group in two ways. You get the cone/cleave away from the group, and you present the side/back of the target to the group, making it easier for melee to get to their kill zone faster. Especially with Dragons (and their tail swipes), opening the side of the enemy to your group is handy and helpful. If you were to move the supposed Dragon completely around, then the tail is on your party, and really, we can’t be having with that. Sloppy.
One codicil to this… tanks, for the love of Elune, don’t move if you don’t have to. If you don’t have to kite, DON’T. Moving all over the place just screws with the melee, places your healer at risk of having to interrupt casts to get back in range of you, and generally pisses everyone off. Tank kiting Nozdormu in End Time, I’m looking at you. If you have to kite, kite in a clear, consistent pattern. Straight lines or gentle curves around the group are your friend. Trust me, you’re not a fighter jet, they ain’t enemy migs, and you won’t lose them by jinking all over the place.
The second part to positioning is protecting yourself. Enemies make the least amount of effort they can to attack you. If they have ranged attacks, they move forward just far enough to get you in range and line-of-sight, then stand in place to shoot you. If they can disengage like Hunters can (Azure Dragonflight in End Time, Thrall Gauntlet in Hour of Twilight), they will leap backward and shoot you from range that way. If they have melee attacks only, they will run directly to you in a straight line, then attack.
This is significant for a lot of reasons. The first is, and I am stunned how often I see this, if you run into the middle of a group of enemies, they will ALL turn to attack you. If you run forward until you are solidly in the middle of them, (probably to make sure your AoE hits them all), some of them will be in front of you, but others will be behind you.
I know it’s rude of them, but enemies standing there looking at your unprotected back will NOT run forward to get in front of you.
Enemies that are behind you are completely unaffected by your Parry, Block, and Dodge. You are literally standing there dropping your trousers, bending over, and asking them to shove their attacks like a red hot poker right up your unprotected ass.
That hurts. It hurts far more than you probably expect, since you are used to having damn good mitigation from frontal attacks, even as DPS.
I hope that the visual gets my point across, because I am constantly seeing tanks charge forward into the middle of a big pile of enemies, stand there in the center, and then use AoE threat-generating abilities like Swipe and Thrash or Thunderclap while standing still. Then, they get pissed at the healer because their health plummeted like a brick from the butt ramming they just got.
I have seen this cause group wipes. On trash. MANY TIMES.
Many whelps. Left side. HANDLE IT.
But I digress.
Moving back on target…
I’ve seen this (standing in the center of a group of mobs) happen to a Bear tank most recently. His health dropped so freaking fast I thought he was just starting out as a tank. I inspected his gear, and to my surprise he was dressed head to toe in 378 or better, properly enchanted and gemmed and reforged. Great gear or not, that didn’t do him any good when he ran into the middle of a group, stood there and let everything behind him have a free pass at his ass. And he was by no means the only tank I’ve seen do this.
Even if you’re sword and board and used to it, make no mistake, do not EVER intentionally give things standing behind you a free pass at your ass.
Got it? Good.
Now I’m going to tell you when to ignore all that. This again comes under the heading of ‘knowing what you’re fighting’. Some trash mobs hit like a truck, but others really are candy-coated marshmallow puffs. You can be surrounded by 15 – 40 of the damn things and safely ignore their attacks while keeping aggro and letting the DPS burn ’em down. You have to know when it’s safe to do that, though, you can’t just assume ALL groups of trash are like that. Groups like that are usually accompanied by one really big, hard hitting enemy that you spend most of your attention on.
It is that subtle training we’ve had over the years, the ‘ignore the little adds when there is a big one in the mix’ that made me applaud Blizzard the first time I saw the trash in the Ruby Dragonshine for Echo of Sylvanus. The trash consists of a pack of Time-Twisted Geists and one big Time-Twisted Scourge Beast. If you focus on killing the big Scourge Beast, then all the little Geists will cannibalize freely, and, well, bad things happen. Bravo, well played. Moral of the story is, you gotta know when to hold ’em. Know when to kite ’em. Know when to pop your cooldowns, and know when to bubble-hearth. You never loot no corpses when you’re trying to interrupt ’em, there’ll be time enough for looting when the encounters done.
Using positioning to control the pull
There are several things you can do to keep from giving enemies a free shot at your butt. The simplest way is to charge in, use AoE to get some fast aggro, then take a couple steps backwards. This makes the enemies in front of you take a couple steps forward to follow you, and the enemies behind you will stand in place (since you are staying in their range) and simply turn to maintain facing, ending up with all of them in front of you or to your sides, and your butt poking safely out of the pileup.
I find it helps to think of it as covering your ass, even though the goal is to have your butt be the only thing not actually covered by anything.
If there are casters at range, and you aren’t fortunate enough to be a Death Knight to yank them to you or a Paladin to silence a bunch of them with your shield and make them come running to you, then you pretty much have to start by getting aggro on the melee enemies first, make sure they are all focused on you, then charge the ranged enemy, run a little past him and turn around looking back the way you came. This puts the ranged right there in melee range in front of you, and all the rest of the melee enemies will trot along after you to group up conveniently in a handy pack, nowhere near your butt.
The problem with this? Mostly, if you do this and your group doesn’t know to hold up for a second while you drag the melee along, you will likely lose aggro on the melee since you’re off harassing the ranged. Then the pull gets all messy, with you darting back and forth trying to grab them all back up, and players running around screaming “get it off, get it off”, and isn’t it funny how they almost never run the mob chasing them TO the tank?
There are lots of other fun things you can do if your group is willing. If there IS a Death Knight, hey, don’t be too proud to ask them to pull the ranged in to ya. Sure, that forces them to have aggro from that mob for a few seconds until you taunt it off, but Death Knights can take a little abuse.
Also, and I know this is a strange thought, but those ranged trash mobs are sometimes able to be Crowd Controlled. Now, before you get too upset, let me tell you that I’ve seen about half and half in the new instances between groups that did use CC and those that didn’t. Both types succeeded, but the ones that used CC took a few seconds longer. Some folks just hate that.
Don’t forget, while we’re on the subject, that Druids can do our own CC on dragonkin, Hibernate. The final boss encounter in End Time has two groups of dragonkin you pull first, each group having two ranged casters and two melee. By all means, Hibernate one of the casters yourself, wait a few seconds for the rest of the pack to walk out of Swipe range of the CCd mob, then nail them bastiches.
Make it hard to do it wrong
A lot of the new instances can get pretty chaotic. There are several gauntlet-style fights where mobs come running in at you from various angles, appear from patches of noisome darkness, or just uncloak.
When you are running from fight to fight, it is extremely common for the group to get spread out. Someone may stop to loot, someone else may have stopped for a sec for a quick mana drink, or maybe a patch of light appeared in the darkness ahead and everyone ran for it like a herd of cats, every kitty for themselves.
What happens next is quite natural. If people are running ahead of the tank, they face pull the mobs first, even if they didn’t do anything yet. When they get attacked, they start fighting back or casting heals, causing actual threat you’ll have to pull off. If the tank is running ahead to try and facepull first, other people lagging behind can get aggro from mobs still running in, or the healer may start casting heals on you and pull healer aggro on mobs that haven’t gotten near you yet.
The calm players will simply keep running to catch up to, or fall back with, the tank and trust the adds will be picked off.
Not all players are calm. They stop and panic, trying to fight the mob themselves. They run around looking for the tank. They buckle down and DPS harder, and sometimes that doesn’t always work if the mobs have some meat to ’em.
The best way to prevent this is to get the group thinking like a team instead of five strangers. You can help this along by marknig yourself with a golden star so you stand out in the chaotic mess ahead. Then just a quick message saying that the healer should try to stay close to you through the gauntlet, and everyone should try to match your pace and bring adds to the star if they get ’em should eliminate all the craziness.
If you want to mention that you’ll mark a Skull as a first kill on casters (like the Shadow Priests in Hour of Twilight or the healing Priests in Azure Dragonflight), who knows? You might even find people following them.
The point is, if you communicate to your group that you have some kind of clue what you’re doing, and make it EASY to do it right and bring stuff to you or stay at your pace, why, people tend to feel reassured you won’t just facepull Swipe spam and will work as a team. If you zone in and proceed to pull in silence, you end up with every person for themselves half the time.
Try to step back and keep that principle in mind. Look for ways to make it hard to do it wrong. If it’s easy to lose sight of the tank in the crowd, mark yourself. If it’s hard to tell who should die first in the crowd, mark it out for the DPS to focus on. If it’s easy to pull two groups of ooze trash in the ring around Yor’sahj the Unsleeping, then move your ass around the outside ring further to center yourself before running in towards the center to pull instead of running across at them at an angle.
Wrapping this fish up
The most important thing I recommend is to make sure you read up a bit on what to expect before you go in. If you haven’t run the new content as DPS or Healer before going in to tank it, take the time to read up on the boss fights at least, using a nice resource like Wowhead that will tell you info about the zones and what bosses do. Read the comments as well, people love to give tips there, and many are excellent. They won’t tell you much about trash mob encounters, those you’ll have to find out on your own, but knowing what is critical to interrupt and what the inevitable twist will be is just immense.
Make it hard to do it wrong… and that includes yourself. If you know what to expect, chances are a lot less likely that when Sylvanis raises ghouls in a ring around you, coming ever closer, you won’t panic and jump past ’em.
Have a happy!