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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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!