Warcraft: Tanking Tips

A friend is about to try tanking for the first time, and as I was writing an email trying to provide some tips it occured to me that that’s what this blog is for! So here is a first attempt at a Warcraft Tanking Tips guide.

UI

UI is a very personal thing, but there are some basics that every tank should consider.

First, have your core rotation abilities on an action bar nice and central to your view. Add your self-heals and mitigation skills to the same bars, and try to gather them into logical groups. DPS on 1-3 and F1-F3, heals on 4 and F4, migitation on F5-F6, etc.

Second, bind your interrupt and taunt abilities to easily accessible keys – I use my mouse thumb keys, which makes interrupts super quick.

Third, have your name plates configured to show threat. There are many add-ons that do that – it’s built in to ElvUI, or there are stand-alone add-ons like Tidy Plates Threat Plates etc.

Fourth, put uour unit frames front and centre, probably on either side of your action bars. You need to always be able to see your health and debuffs, and the enemies – especially their cast-bars for interrupts and incoming migitable abilities. Sometimes a boss will take up so much of the screen that you will need to rely on the unit frame cast-bar to know what’s about to happen.

Fifth and finally, have your healer unit frames highlighted somehow. Maybe make them your focus (/focus in chat) so you can keep track of their health and mana. Their job is to keep you alive, so doing your best to return the favour is the least you can do, and knowing their status is key to that.

Rotation

Tanking rotations tend to be pretty simple – almost always priority based and generally about spreading your damage around equally between the enemy combatants.

Rotations tend to vary slightly depending on how many mobs are attacking you, but that’s usually just an easy swap of a single target attack for a multi.

Follow one of the Icy Veins guides for best results. Start with the Easy Mode options, and graduate to the more complex rotations as you gain confidence and knowledge. Or just stay on easy mode – it will work for everything up to Mythic.

Threat & Taunting

The main job of a tank is to keep all of the enemy mobs focussed on you, so your DPS and (most importantly) healers don’t die. The mechanism for that is Threat.

Tank classes have a boost to threat generation, so they will naturally pickup mobs when fights start. The trick is holding that threat when the DPS starts to ramp up.

One of the members of our regular group is vastly more powerful than the rest (and me as a tank), so they will quickly start to draw the attention of the mobs. To mitigate that, it’s important to spread my attacks around the mobs, and keep whatever AOE threat I have ticking over.

For a Paladin, that means plenty of shield-throwing, and keeping the ground around me constantly Consecrated. Other classes have similar abilities – for example Spinning Crane Kick and Keg Smash for a Brewmaster Monk.

With your single target attacks, don’t always focus on a single mob, watch your threat levels and throw out an attack on someone who is losing interest in you to keep them on task. The mob you’ve marked to die first (see ‘Pulling’ below) should be well in hand after a few rounds, so you can start to give the other adds some love to keep everyone on you.

Mobs will inevitably wander off mid-fight, so the other key thing to learn is how to Taunt. All tanks get a way to target a specific mob and force it to attack you. So be ready to taunt it back whenever something makes a beeline for your healer.

The other important use for taunt is to do a tank-swap on a raid boss, which allows you to take over tanking the boss from your co-tank during a phase change or other mechanic.

Interrupts

Many classes have interrupts, but tanks often have more than one. Unless you’ve got excellent voice comms or add-on coordination, taking responsibility for calling interrupts generally falls to the tank, though when starting out probably just let everyone interrupt whenever possible – with the exception of boss fights where some casts really need to be shut down.

You want to be confident you have an interrupt in hand for the important abilities, rather than relying on the DPS to do so or burning them on inconsequential casts. Keep one in reserve unless you know there’s nothing particularly bad incoming. And bind that ability to an easy to use key, as the window for a critical interrupt can be pretty short.

Mitigation & Defence

Mitigation means what is says on the box: being ready to use your abilities to mitigate incoming bursts of damage or special attacks. This should help smooth the damage curve, making it easier for healers to keep you alive. The bosses (and add-ons) tend to telegraph these moments, and every tank has several abilities that block damage or self-heal – use them for mitigation.

Warcraft tanking oscillates between being threat and mitigation focused, and currently sits somewhere in the middle. Threat tends to come naturally through your rotation, allowing you to concentrate on being ready to mitigate when needed.

The other key thing tanks have is a few ‘oh sh*t’ buttons. Things like burst heals or massive shield blocks, including some which make you invulnerable (which can have the associated problem of also dropping threat dramatically, so use with care). Some of these have long cool-downs, so plan how and when you would use them.

Line-of-sight

The curse of tanking can be ranged mobs, which stand at 1000 yards and bombard you with endless spells. One mechanism for stopping that is interrupts (they will run to you and attack with their puny daggers if they can’t cast anything), and the other is using Line-of-sight.

This basically involves gathering your team behind a corner or pillar or other landmark that is out of line-of-sight of the mobs. You can then pop around the corner, throw something at the mobs, and retreat. Because they can’t see you, the casters will all come jogging around the corner into your DPS death zone. Neat.

It’s not always possible – those designers are onto us! – but always worth looking around to see if you can use the infrastructure to your advantage.

Know-it-all

For one reason or another, tanks tend to end up leading dungeon runs and raids. Which means you have to know in advance the layouts, tricky trash pulls, and most of all the boss mechanics.

You need to be situationally aware during a fight, even if it’s just trash. Watch for incoming patrols or adds so you can grab them before they wail into your healer.

I try to explain the key boss mechanics as simply as possible before each pull, but there is a lot of on-the-fly learning and making it up as you go along too.

There are many many good YouTubers and websites out there to help with all this, so find one you like and watch the basics of each dungeon before entering. Someone even made a browser based Castle Nathria recreation to help learn the fights!

Also take advantage of party members who know the zones – our Warlock has run them all on Heroic or better, so leaning on their knowledge of short-cuts and scary trash is very helpful.

And finally – get either BigWigs/Littlewigs or Deadly Boss Mobs. They’re invaluable for giving you warnings of what is about to happen. They take over a lot of the screen, so be prepared for more confusion at first, but before long they become indispensable.

Your healer

Aka your best friend, soul-mate, and saviour. Always be kind, always check their mana (or equivalent), and thank them for keeping you (and everyone else) alive. If you have shareable protective abilities, reserve them for your Healer first, and you second. The longer they’re alive, the longer you will be too.

Pause when they need mana, heal them when you can, throw out shields on them as required. This can be hard at first, as you’re too busy trying to stay on top of the chaos, but over time you’ll start to be able to also watch your healer and help them out like they do you.

Your DPS

Your other best friends, without whom nothing would ever die. Or, if you’re a Paladin, nothing would ever die within an hour. The only thing you need to manage with DPS is holding back their unbridled enthusiasm: the tank always, always, pulls first.

Pulling & Marking

Speaking of. Whether it be mobs or bosses, you should always be the one initiating the fight. Use a readycheck (/readycheck in chat) when you need to (mainly bosses), and gently scold those that wander ahead and body or intentionally pull before you’re ready.

Before each pull, mark the mob that needs to die first with a skull – inevitably it’s the healer. If needed, mark the second most important target too with an X. The DPS’s job is then to get those two down fast, before finishing off the scraps.

You can also mark zones in the battle arena for your team to gather in or retreat to during the fight, to avoid boss mechanics etc. Add-ons make this much easier – a good one I found is Marking Bar Lives, which adds a small UI element with clickable mob and floor markers, readychecks, etc.

When you pull, get to the boss or in amongst the mobs, lay down some covering fire and AOE, try to face them away from the team (so you bear the brunt of frontal cone attacks), and go crazy.

Fun!

Tanking is very fun. You’re often covered in hundreds of angry mobs, or facing down a gigantic boss that covers the entire screen. It can become overwhelming, and button-mashing and panic sometimes seems the best option (and just might be!). But there’s nothing quite like holding together a massive fight through sheer stubborn tankery.

Have fun, stay calm, and tanking will become second nature. Enjoy!

Battle for…Deadmines

Tonight our troop of Alliance debutantes headed into our first dungeon, the deadly Deadmines.

Deep beneath the mines of Moonbrook in southwestern Westfall lie the Deadmines. Despite the demise of the Defias Brotherhood’s leader Edwin VanCleef at the hands of Alliance militiamen, the Deadmines is still the Brotherhood’s most secure hideout since Cataclysm. Here the survivors of Edwin’s crew toil alongside new recruits, so that the Defias juggernaut ship can be complete and the kingdom of Stormwind can be brought to its knees. All this is happening under the vigilant eyes of “Captain” Cookie… and Vanessa VanCleef.

Going back to Deadmines raised some old memories. Way back in the day I was escorting a Guildie through Deadmines in search of a Rogue twinking chest (is twinking still a thing?), and as he was busy looting while I one shot everything in sight, my young Rogue friend coined a nice term for what I was doing: PVE Ganking. The Defias mobs had zero chance, like an 80 whacking on a freshly minted level 1 in a PVP zone. That quickly joined our other favourites – Bag Rage (need more slots!), Drop Logic (“Maybe you have to kill the tar monsters in the tar for the teeth to drop?”), and Threading (for when you move through a group of mobs without pulling a single one).

It’s a great dungeon, and a great first dungeon if you’ve never seen one. Plenty of mobs and bosses, fun mechanics, and the lovely moment when you bust through the mines and emerge into a huge cavern with a fully fledged pirate ship ahead.

It’s also pretty funny for a dungeon – most are pretty standard heroic fare, but this one has ogres wielding kobolds as weapons, goblin bosses riding ogres in turn, and a murloc boss who tosses slowly rotting food whilst sitting in a cooking pot.

Cookie crumbled

Plus that murloc boss drops a weapon that is so ridiculous that Blizzard had to make a special rule to forbid it from being used for transmog.

The full Paladin fantasy

It was a great reunion for our group of players who used to play together regularly, with plenty of laughs and ridiculous situations, especially the revelation that our new player hadn’t realised he could change his characters appearance when he was created, so he has whatever the randomiser came up with – we had wondered about the haircut choice. But he’s a real character now, a budding hero of the Alliance, so he can’t possibly be changed.

One for all

We also had a friend join from Chicago where he’d moved many years ago, which was a great reminder of the power of gaming and MMOs to bring a dispersed group together. As the freshman noted, Warcraft is almost “a weaponised banter and nostalgia machine….really if you were all spread out it would almost be mandatory to play something like this.” We are, and it almost is.

Boost Planning

Yesterday I finished levelling my Druid tank to 60, all through LFD runs. It’s a fun way to level, with not many repeat dungeons until the 50-60 Stratholme/Blackrock Depths/Blackrock Spire zone.

Spire is a great run – it’s long, complicated, some interesting pulls, bonus bosses, pet drops, the works. It’s a marvel of 3D mapping too, with lots of bridges and fissures where you can see the lower levels you’ve already traversed (and fall if you’re not careful). And it’s the first Dungeon where the bosses might actually kill you even in these days of OP Heirlooms – namely Vosh’gajin who likes turning everyone into frogs.

So I now have two level 60 tanks (the other being a Paladin), and two boosts to spend. I’ve still got the level 90 Boost from Warlords, and a level 100 from Legion. Beyond the enjoyment I get from low level dungeon tanking, the logic behind getting the toons to 60 was to take advantage of the ‘free’ profession levelling that comes with the boost.

I have Engineering, Tailoring, Leatherworking, and Skinning already maxed, and I want to add Alchemy, Blacksmithing, Mining and Herbing to the mix. I dropped Mining during Warlords as there was no point in having a dedicated gatherer with the Garrison Mine, but it sounds like we’ll need gatherers again in Legion.

The main decision to make is whether to go dual crafting/dual gathering, or mix and match the appropriate skills. Because crafting is so much slower, I’m tempted to go Alchemy/Blacksmithing on the Paladin and boost him to 100, which will give full 700 profession skills. Then put the gathering skills on the Druid, boost her to 90, and easily grind the professions from 600 while she’s out levelling herself.

Having said that it’s nice to have self sufficient crafter/gatherers, so maybe I’ll just have to knuckle down and level Alchemy the slow way.

There’s also the matter of the BoP Blood of Sargeas crafting mat to consider. Similar to the MoP Spirit of Harmony, the Blood being BoP makes a dual gatherer less attractive.

Decisions, decisions! I might wait for the next Legion Q&A, which will focus on Professions and may make the choice more obvious.

Tanking for Beginners – Protection Paladin

In between playing my Hunter main, I seem to spend a lot of time levelling alt-Tanks. I love levelling up tanking 5 man dungeons, and as a result have far too many mid level tanky types.

Having done it a lot, I noticed there’s a lot of endgame tanking guides, but barely anything for the learner who wants to try this tank thing.

So I wrote another Wowhead guide – Tanking 101: Protection Paladin. Covers all you need to know up to Level 15 and tanking your first dungeon.

Probably not the best time with the Legion class changes just around the corner, but hopefully the low level experience hasn’t changed too much. I have a vague intention to add similar guides for Guardian Druids and Protection Warriors if this one proves worthwhile.

Tank well!

It’s Good to be the King – The Dire Maul Tribute Run

I’ve been levelling a(nother) Tauren Paladin, exclusively via Dungeon Finder. The levels fly by which is nice, and tanking the old dungeons is loads of fun. And sometimes a bit of a surprise when the layout has changed (looking at you Blackfathom Deeps) meaning you lead your party totally the wrong way. Whoops.

Eventually I reached the 40s and Dire Maul became available. Which reminded me of the awesome ‘hidden’ mode in Dire Maul North – The Tribute Run.

The Tribute Run reverses the usual dungeon objective and tasks you with keeping all the bosses alive, instead of steamrolling over them. It’s a lot of fun and involves more than just running past each boss.

I wanted to remind myself how to do it, and was surprised to find there was no Wowhead guide – only a few scattered (and slightly dated) posts out there on the webs.

So I wrote one, It’s Good to be the King – The Dire Maul Tribute Run.

The Ogre’s are right, it is good to be the king, and it also feels good to contribute something back to the community – enjoy!

Frostwolvian

My hunter has made the leap over to the Frostwolves of Saurfang, thanks to the kind invitation of Navimie. They’re a very welcoming bunch and it seems like a great place to be come Legion, and during the tail end of Warlords.

Unfortunately the name Knive was taken, but I’m pretty happy with Orbit as the alternative. This toon started as Space, so there’s a nice symmetry there.

I’m also charging through the levels on Threat1, a Prot Pally. I’ve always found Paladin tanking entertaining and intuitive so it’s a fun project. The only problem with tanking is the expectation that you’ll know the dungeons backwards, but I guess that just comes with the territory. I make sure to have at least a quick skim of the Dungeon Journals for any instances I don’t know. The new layout for Blackfathom Deeps caught me a little off guard, but so far it’s working out pretty well.


  1. Name get win! 

In which Bane develops a…bane

Make it go away!

Things I can’t do:

  • Fly an aeroplane
  • ‘Get’ Jazz
  • Cook tempura
  • Leverage the low hanging fruit
  • Tank HoR

One of these things is easier than the rest. Our guild whistled through it with Pallytank, but endlessly wiped with me. It’s not a gear check for the tank, it’s a “are you a nub” check, and I just can’t get it going. It wouldn’t matter if I was geared out in Tier 27. Gear doesn’t help with taunting, tab targeting, dealing with ranged, and noticing my healer being destroyed.

Stupid Mages fireballing people to death, or even worse Rifleman standing in the middle of the room and  pewpewing people down. Killed by a trash hunter, the ultimate shame.

Ghostcrawler says there’s no way they’d introduce a mechanism where “everything is pretty much taunted to you the whole time”, and of course they shouldn’t, but right now I’d pay cash money for that ability.

It’s now become an official “thing” for me, so that I’m pretty much doomed before we even start – or as wow.com aptly put it when talking about this exact instance, “fear is the mind killer“.

After rage quitting the instance, I had miles of fun facerolling through normal instances levelling our 76 Druid healer in PuGs. We were complimented on our healer/tank-work, which was nice but also silly given I am geared enough for starter 10 mans and Heroic everything else. I used to think OPing instances was lazy, it should be a challenge, make it hard, blah blah. Now I see the error in that thinking. As our healer said after wipe 18, “let’s do something fun”. Exactly!

/LFD normal-mode-anything-but-Icecrown

One percent

A spontaneous guild group formed last night and we cleaned our way through normal ToC, FoS, and PoS nice and easy. And even finally scored some upgrades for our Healer, and some boots for me.

ToC was a bit of a pain when we got some kind of bugged opening joust which meant it went on f.o.r.e.v.e.r. The jousting is bad enough without it never ever ending, sob. We eventually zoned out and reset, which fixed everything.

FoS and PoS were easy enough, other than when we tried to race up the PoS ramp after Krick and managed to catch the tail end of one mob for the accidental wipe. Exploits rarely seem to work, though this one would be worth getting right to avoid those annoying 5 pulls.

So we once again reached our bette noir, HoR, at 1130PM. We thought we’d give it one shot, and call it if we failed. It was much better this time despite the hour. We made our way smoothly to Falric, and we had him, before a 1% wipe.

Has anyone done the math on 1% wipes – they seem way too common to be legit? I remember countless one percenters in Kara and Outland heroics, and maybe even a few with Anub’Rekhan in Naxx. Maybe the last 2-5% is rounded to 1%, just to make it that much more painful 🙂

It’s pretty funny ruing a 1% wipe on normal mode mini bosses, when others are having the same kind of wipes on the Heroic mode LK himself. But who cares, we’re loving it!

Hard Easy Modes

Reading posts about guilds bashing their heads stubbornly against an seemingly insurmountable foe is inspiring and terrifying. Gravity tweeted about an 22 wipe night with his 10 man strict group (followed by a 16 wipe victory!), and Feist’s 25 man hard mode frustration speaks for itself.

On the complete opposite end of the progression spectrum, our guild hit a similar barrier last night in Halls of Reflection. Normal mode. On the trash waves between Falric and Marwyn. So not quite the level of epic our erstwhile twitterers have reached 🙂

But it was nevertheless a fun if insanely expensive and blood curdlingly annoying experience. We’d tried it a few weeks ago and failed to even get to Falric, whereas this time we downed him for the first time thanks to better tactics and clutch healing. Which led to much clenched fist “c’mons” before at all started again.

But we just couldn’t quite get past the next 5 waves. We did get to Marwyn twice, though each time with two DPS toasted so no way of finishing him off. I’d curse Blizz for not allowing our downed compatriots to bampf back in mid encounter, but I guess that would make the fight a doddle.

Zomg it’s a tricky event. I’ve pugged it several times on my Rogue and zerged through thanks to OP groups, but with a slightly-undergeared slightly-undertrained strict 5 man guild like us, it’s a real challenge. It’s enclosed, chaotic, you have to take down the mobs in order (Priest – Rogue – Casters – Melee) so I was trying to mark on the run, and PLEASE STOP HITTING THE HEALER LOOK-AT-ME LOOK-AT-ME!

I struggled mightily with picking up the adds as they came in, always seeming to lose one, who inevitably one-shot our healer. The Shadow Mercenary in particular was trouble. B@stard rogues!

And yet inch by inch we were progressing. We’d get one wave further each time, only for me to lose my agro seeking focus at the critical moment, or the healer getting frozen just as I got clobbered by something. It really felt like if we could just keep our healer up  – i.e. my main job beside getting wailed on – then we’d make it. Aargh!

I started to feel like a failtank even though I really thought we could do it, so we swapped in our fresh 80 Tankadin for my Warrior, hoping the improved AoE threat would help. To no avail – staying alive and doing enough DPS and holding agro and healing through it all seem to be mutually exclusive on this fight.

So it was nuts. We wiped and wiped and repaired and repaired. But we kept coming back, and everyone kept wanting one last try. We nailed Falric (who dropped nothing of any use, naturally). And though we didn’t get past Marwyn (maybe just as well given the LK phase to come!), it did give us a truckload of experience of working together to try and nut a tactic out and progress.

And I got to understand better what the high end raiders are talking about when they say that endless wipes doesn’t always mean epic fail.

Addendum

This is to scold myself into improving – using the Warrior toolkit and paying attention. To wit:

  • Watch my health bars – too often guilty of letting the healer do all the work, without saving myself (and their mana) when the situation gets desperate
  • Watch the healer! Dang blast it, he died a lot of times when I just wasn’t paying attention to the fact he was being fireballed or backstabbed to smithereens. If the healer dies it’s my fault, and he died a lot
  • Get my spell interrupting keys better mapped – I’m always too tardy in using them
  • Use Heroic Strike! It’s bound to my mouse button, but i still forget. Grrr.
  • While we’re at it: keep shouts up! Use Intervene/Intercept! KEEP THE HEALER ALIVE!!

Ahem.

Gear Checks

It’s interesting reading about hitting a hard limit on progress. Righteous Orbs has a lovely public service announcement for people complaining that fights are easy when they require 7k DPS average. 7k! Awesome. Our guild DPS tops out at 3.5k, so we’re a long way off. For we casuals, it’s handy to remember the fact that only the very minority of players are clearing ICC raids, but they are a vocal (blogging!) minority. We need more average mode bloggers 🙂

Even with 3.5k, we still have fun cranking through the 5 mans. We did sequential clears of normal PoS & FoS on the way to HoR the other night, the first time for a few of us. Hall of Reflection is just genius design. It was great hearing the reactions from the others who hadn’t seen it: Whoaaa, there’s Frostmourne! Epic…wait…ZOMG THE LICH KING!!!! It brings all that lore & story that we’ve been exposed to home to roost.

Unfortunately we didn’t get to actually ‘fight’ him, as we hit a healing gear limit. Our resident Shaman, having only recently specced Resto after a career as Enhancement, showed champion skills through the first two ‘wings’ but HoR stopped us . We could get to the first boss after 5 waves, but kept wiping on his Defiling Horror fear (when everyone takes damage whilst being unable to do anything about it). It was a hard mana/healing limit, so we only gave it a couple of tries before calling it a night. Though I’m pretty sure we could get through it with everyone on top of their game – it was late, and it was hard to muster the requisite focus.

I struggled mightily with my tanking too, being squashed in that tight corner in order to LoS the casters is counter to my normal Charge-Thunderstomp-Shockwave launch sequence. I kept forgetting to Bloodrage, leaving me rage starved at the beginning, or I’d leave one of the ranged mobs out in the middle of the room meaning we had to go chase it down out there. Confined fighting is not something I’ve had to do much, so practice-practice-practice is required.

So even normal modes have a gear check, and you’ll struggle to progress if you don’t have the right amount of stuff. Not necessarily purples, as Gevlon keeps proving, but at least the right blue drops.