You and your Classic Tank

I said in the last article that the hunter is my third favorite class. My second favorite is warrior. Go figure, but I like tanking.

Except I’m not right now. About two levels ago the Pendulum of Doom dropped on an Ulda run and I got it. Since my main is an enchanter with Savagery, I figured the fates were telling me to respec Arms. (Due to weapon speed and proc rate, the “Fatal Wound” procs around every other hit. So every hit is ~150 base plus talent boosts plus savagery boost for pretty close to 250, and every other hit or so there’s an additional 300 or so damage. Assuming no crits.) I learned much with this weapon. I particularly learned that other players, upon realizing what you can do because you just one-shotted a mage (giggle), not to mention the ugly thing Retaliation did to a handful of players thinking you were easy meat defending the flag… what it does is make you Target One. I am not a good PVP player (I think I’ve said that before), and the short-term FUN of being victorious rapidly returned to the “I wonder what the living are doing, tonight” lifestyle to which I’m much more accustomed. But I digress. This post is for priests, and it’s about working with your warrior tank.

(hmm. I suspect this applies some to druid and paladin tanks, too, but they’re not what I play – though recent discussions tempt… Anyway.)

If you were lucky, you got to work with real warrior tanks from the time you were entering your first instances. The odds are, however, you weren’t that lucky. There’s a pretty simple reason. Leveling a Protection Spec warrior – the spec that makes everything WORK for a tank – is the WORST spec for doing the leveling. It is not as bad as leveling a holy priest. But think, priest, of comparing holy and shadow priest for leveling. That is the issue – Fury and Arms (each have advantages, all DPS oriented), or Prot (which everyone wants in instances, but which in comparison to the others are SLOW…).

So the first thing – which many of you already know – is do not assume your warrior knows how to tank. On the other hand, don’t assume that if the warrior doesn’t pull out a shield right away he doesn’t know how to tank. hmmm, second issue.

Remember the tank’s job is the ultimate crowd control – a self-trap, keeping all the mobs beating upon him. You don’t get told “use a flash heal”, don’t nitpick the warrior up front. Wait to see if he’s holding the aggro first. Here’s the deal – it’s not the shield. Or rather, there is nothing magically “tank” about the shield. The sole use of the shield is damage mitigation and avoidance. In other words, the shield helps the warrior withstand beatings for longer periods of time.

The warrior gets the mobs’ attention. There are a few shouts and such, but mainly the warrior gets the mobs’ attention by giving it a good swift kick. If the warrior is in the correct stance, the kick (and yell and such) is about 30% more effective – think casting mindblast in and out of shadowform here. The warrior can boost this by use of talents. ALL THAT SAID – if the warrior can do enough damage in another stance to compensate for the extra threat, then you don’t care — any more than the tank cares whether you’re hitting him with flash or greater heal.

For this reason, your first step on seeing your “tank” pull out a two-handed axe or a pair of swords is to just be quiet and keep watching. Nervous? Sure – just like a tank gets nervous when his Healer is a shadowpriest. But don’t start shouting about a shield right away.

Watch, instead, how he does with the first couple of fights. Target him, and watch to see how (and if) he grabs the attention of all the bad guys. The combat text and the icons will help. No shield no shield slam, but there’s nothing preventing thunderclap, cleave, a set of sunders and an overpower or revenge but a build up of rage — and rage happens. (Actually, we need to examine rage, but it’ll be in a minute.) It is possible for a good warrior to tank well at lower levels – and adequately at non-heroic outland instances – without pulling out a shield. The key is simple — does the warrior hold aggro?

That said, I prefer seeing a shield, and if it’s getting heavy I REALLY prefer seeing the shield. Why? Because the shield will reduce how fast the warrior loses health. If he loses it too fast then, well, I might as well have a hunter tank. Getting aggro is only half the battle — staying alive long enough for everyone else to kill what you’ve grabbed is the other half. (This in reverse is the keystone of the prot warrior trying to level. Yeah, you can take a bashing for a lot longer, but you HAVE to as you take so. darn. long. to. kill. that. mob.) Your warrior was doing fine on trash, but watch again as he hits a boss — ESPECIALLY if you were spamming heals before.

So to summarize so far: The shield is not necessary for gaining aggro, it’s for reducing how fast the warrior loses health. If the mobs hit lightly enough and/or the tank has good enough other armor, it is perfectly feasible for him to tank without a shield. Be wary, but don’t insist on a shield unless the tank proves he needs it. Oh – and remember it isn’t the shield, it’s the stance that magnifies threat. Which means if you have to tell the warrior to use a shield because he’s not holding aggro, be prepared for him to not do a whole lot better after he puts it on. Yes, he’s doing higher threat per damage, but his damage itself went down.

The key to the warrior’s bag of tricks is the other thing of which you have to be aware. They all use rage. Rage is the warrior’s mana, except it’s not. For one thing, the warrior starts with zero, not thousands of points. And barring a few tricks he can have a maximum of 100 rage. He gets rage in three ways. First, and least common, he can get it from tricks. Talents, potions, trinkets, that sort of thing for which it’s “pop” and he’s got a pool. He’ll use these, but they’re not the mainstay. The main place he gets rage is by doing damage. (Isn’t that circular? Yep. Do damage to generate rage to do more damage.) Finally, he gets rage from taking damage. This is the reason common wisdom says don’t shield the tank – for the first bits of the battle especially, he needs all the rage he can get. (Later in the battle feel free, though you should talk to the tank first. If he’s still needing rage when down below 50% and you think a shield is necessary to prevent death, there are a lot more problems than getting rage from damage going on.) This is also, by the way, why you’ll see “pantsless tanks”. If too heavily armored to take any damage, something needs to be removed to give the mobs an opportunity to scratch him a bit. Sure, there are other things that could be removed, but tanking pantsless is not just traditional, it’s funny and so adds a bit of fun. And this game, remember, is about fun. Anyway…

The thing about rage that’s probably most important for you to know is that the ‘rage bucket’ leaks. This is the big reason the warrior tank – and I suspect the druid tank as well since he has a rage bar – hates to wait between fights. After a good melee he’s at 100 points and can do ANYTHING — grabbing aggro is a snap. Wait two minutes for everyone to top off their mana and eat a little bit and… it’s at zero. Pop the bloodlust and start from scratch. This is your other reason for mana management. The less time between battles you need, the better the tank likes you. (Want an interesting run? Take a group without mages or warlocks or other “huge mana pool” classes and see how fast you swirl through. But again, I digress.)

To summarize the second half: rage is the warrior’s mana. He starts with zero, the bucket only holds 100 points and it leaks. He can fill the bucket from hitting, being hit, and a little from talents and tools. Interfering with his rage is as bad as others interfering with your mana – and the worst conflict is that your pause to refresh is draining his bucket.

Finally – if you find a good tank, spoil him. What’s a good tank? It’s kind of like asking what a good priest might be, but in basic a good tank is one who never, ever lets the bad guys muss your robes. Help him out. The biggest thing? Repair bills. It will cost at least triple – and with some gear as much as ten times – what you paid for the same run. You can be sweet and “tip”, or you can do it as a blatant business arrangement, or whatever suits, but you will make the tank very, very happy if you help mitigate some of what he has to pay to be George intentionally. What else? As mentioned in these and other pages, talk to the tank. Discuss your plan if things go oops – and follow that plan. Don’t waste his rage. If you can, bring some buff-food (sure, you just have a drinking habit, maybe accompanied by a little fish, but those big bones like their FOOD, darnit.)

Above all, treat your tank like you want treated – with respect and dignity and appreciation for filling the other half of an amazing synergy, withouth which the whole group dies (and dies and dies and dies and…). Point out ways to improve in the same way you want advised on how to improve healing (how touchy are you, anyway?) And in the end… “Mutt and Jff, tank and healer, going to H Slabs. Applicants to fill group being accepted now.” [followed by 20 minutes of winnowing choices…]


~ by Kirk on September 7, 2007.

4 Responses to “You and your Classic Tank”

  1. No clue if you read my site, but the last few paragraphs of this article remind me of how things have to go both ways between healer & tank:

    I REALLY appreciate it when a group respects my rage pool…. druids have a more difficult time getting solid aggro, so it’s maddening watching 90 rage trickle away into nothing…

  2. Good stuff as always, Kirk. Glad you pointed out a good tank doesn’t necessarily need a shield–but it can help!

    Just a note: the “good priest” linky no worky (next to last paragraph).

  3. @Karthis, yes I do read your blog, and yes your comment had an… input. (grin)

    I’d have written about the importance of rage for druid tanks, but it’d be strictly guesswork beyond knowing you have/use it. Thanks for the input.

    @Kestrel, thank you. And — fixed.

  4. There seems to be a bit more to shields than mitigation. provides a good analysis of the goodness shields confer.

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