Edit: Updated the Taunting and Threat section.
A friend of mine returned to the game recently and has been leveling a few classes. She asked me about tanking and if it’s difficult or not, and how she would know how to do it. So I thought I’d write a quick and easy guide to the basics of tanking. As with any guide of mine, it’s not the be all, end all guide – just a few basic pointers to get you started.
The Very Basics
- Be a class that’s actually a tank!
- Be in the tank spec of said class (while at lower levels some classes may be able to tank anyway, it’s not recommended to someone new to tanking, and it does make things more difficult).
- Druid: Guardian
- Paladin: Protection
- Warrior: Protection
- Monk: Brewmaster
- Death Knight: Blood
You want to be the person pulling at every time, both for trash and bosses. It helps you with initial threat (keeping the mobs attacking you), and building your vengeance which will assist in further threat. When doing 5 man instances, you may find yourself with people who aren’t content to let the tank pull, and sadly there’s not much to do about it. If you ask them politely not to do it, and they still do, you just have to try to do your best anyway. (Fortunately at lower levels, this isn’t something you need to worry too much about, since often they won’t die due to the instances being fairly easy.)
When pulling, if it’s a trash pack with one Elite mob and several non-elites, you’re usually best off focusing your attacks on the Elite – since it’s the one that would do the most damage if it got loose and attacked others. With several Elites, you will want to distribute your threat equally. Some classes have an easy time with this, having abilities that strike all targets, while other classes have some abilities that hit a limited amount of targets (often 3). If you have such abilities, you will probably want to tab target/switch targets within the group every now and then to make sure you build enough threat on everything.
Another thing to keep in mind, is that you’re best off not pulling using only Taunt, but quickly follow it up with something that does some damage. On boss fights especially you may want to use a damage cooldown at the pull to make sure you put out enough threat, since your dpsers are likely to be hitting their own damage cooldowns and may be doing a lot of threat at the pull. (I’m looking at you Warriors!)
Taunting and Threat
Threat is basically the level of aggro a mob has towards players, and as the tank – you want them to hate you the most. Generating threat is done through dealing damage to the mob, and healing (which is why mobs who aren’t attacked by anyone likes to run to the healers). As a tank your damage does more threat than a regular dps (five times as much), and so in general you should have no difficulty holding aggro.
If you lose aggro, or you need a mob to switch their aggro from someone else to you, you can use the Taunt ability. Taunt will force a mob to attack you for 3 seconds, and it grants you a level of threat equal to that of the player who had aggro when you taunted.
It’s worth noting that Taunt has a diminishing return, and every taunt within 15 seconds will have a reduced time of attacking you. If too many taunts are done in that window the mob will essentially become immune.
After taunting, for 3 seconds, your abilities will generate 200% more threat. There is no point in using any threat building/damage abilities before taunting, since you will be given the other person’s threat anyway. Instead, taunt and then use your damage/threat abilities, which will generate 200% extra threat at this point, and should give you a good lead on threat.
Taunt gives you 3 seconds of the boss/mob’s undivided attention, but if you do nothing – you will lose the aggro again, since the person you taunted off of will still have the same level of threat as you (possibly more if they continued attacking and you didn’t do anything). This means that taunting something that you have no way of reaching (maybe it’s out of melee range and you have no ranged abilities), since the odds are that if it can’t reach you in the 3 seconds you have aggro, it will turn right back around and attack whoever it was when you taunted.
Tank Switching/Taunt Switching
There are fights out there that require two tanks and a switch between the two. (In fact, majority of raid fights work like this). You need to make sure that you know when to taunt (often when the other tank reaches a certain number of debuffs or following a certain boss ability), and then use it at the correct time. Following your taunt, always use your high damage/threat building abilities to make sure your threat puts you above the other tank (or they will have the boss back after the 3 seconds).
When the other tank is taunting off you, if they’re not getting a high enough threat lead (you can use an addon like Omen Threatmeter to see exactly how much threat either of you have), you may want to hold off on using your highest threat building moves, or if needed even stop attacking completely for a couple of seconds. With the addition of the 200% threat buff after taunting though, this shouldn’t be needed most of the time.
There are a few things to keep in mind regarding positioning of bosses. You’ll generally want to face them away from the raid since a lot of them have cleave type abilities that are done in a frontal cone. It also helps the melee dps since they will want to attack from behind the boss. If it’s a dragon type boss, you’ll want to angle it slightly sideways since in addition to a frontal cone attack, they also generally have a tail lash attack – so no one should be stood behind them.
The most important thing for you to remember when it comes to positioning; never have your back towards a boss (mob) that is attacking you. When turning your back towards a mob, you cannot dodge, parry or block any attacks. This means that you will be taking a burst of damage while your back is turned. It’s a waste of your healers mana to have them heal you extra, but not only that – if you get an unlucky streak of attacks it might even kill you.
If you need to move a mob, you should strafe left or right. This will keep your side towards the boss (meaning you still dodge, parry and block) and it doesn’t slow your movement speed (like backpedaling would).
Know your class’ cooldowns and when to use it. Knowing the mechanics of the fight helps with this, since you will know which of the boss’ abilities you will need to cooldown for. Try to cycle through your cooldowns, and don’t use them all at once. You often have one survival cooldown that’s on a shorter cooldown (30s to 1 minute), which is often worth using as often as possible.