Tanking 101

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.


Tanking 101 — 8 Comments

  1. Perfect timing!. I am currently leveling up a druid tank via the dungeon finder. She’s up to level 42 currently and at 60, I plan to boost her to 90. With only running dungeons so far, I never have to tank swap, so I am a bit concerned about the mechanic. Assuming addons like Omen are critically important, and knowing how threat is dropped and generated.

    • I hope you’ll find it helpful! If there’s something you’d like me to explain better, or I missed.. Please ask. I love talking about tanking 😀

      • I’ll need to read through your post a few more times. I am answering my own questions as I read it again. For example, me spamming my ‘growl‘ over and over may be more harmful than good.

        • I need to re-write the Taunt bit a little, since they did make a change to taunt. It doesn’t just give you the 100% threat of whoever you taunted off of, but now also 200% increased threat for 3 seconds. One might say that you could use taunt several times in a fight now to keep aggro – but I do believe that the main reason they added this was to make taunt switching for tanks easier. Before, when taunting, you’d bring yourself to the same threat as the other tank, if you didn’t manage to do a lot of threat right after, the other tank (if not careful with their own threat) might get the boss back right after your 3 seconds wear off. Now with the extra 200% threat for 3 seconds, if you use some high threat abilities – that should be near impossible 🙂

          That said, if you’re the only tank – and you don’t think you’ll need taunt for random mobs running around (I find in low level dungeons there’s usually a lot of dps pulling aggro left and right, so I prefer to keep my taunt off cooldown if I can), you can always use it in your rotation to get the extra threat. Personally, I’d still only use if it I felt it was needed. You’ll notice rather quickly if you have an issue with people pulling a lot of threat early on in boss fights, and then it might be worth it using taunt a second time. 🙂

  2. This is great! I’d probably also mention something new tanks probably missed in the mop patch notes.

    Taunt increases threat done by hundreds of percent ( 2 or 300 ) for 3 seconds as well as equalling your threat to whoever was tanking. So it focuses you for 3 seconds, which is good, but gives you a threat boost too.

    This is important because you can Taunt, and then do an aoe ability to get some great aggro on stuff you’re not even targetting. Taunt>kegsmash, or thunder clap works great for snap aoe aggro.

    • Good point, I’ll add that. Thanks for pointing it out 🙂 Is it really all targets though? My tool tip only mentions the target taunted.

        • Yeah, once the vengeance builds up – AoE threat isn’t much of a big deal 😀 I know on Garrosh phase 1 I have to avoid all AoE abilities or I will find myself with adds on me (I’m usually tanking Garrosh).

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