For a long time, I've been kicking an article around on the art of the 5-man pull. Knowing how and when to pull is arguably the foundation of a smooth dungeon run, and it's certainly among the first skills that any tank needs to develop. While a not-insignificant portion of one's ability to pull cleanly only arrives courtesy of experience with a wide variety of players, there are a few rules that approach universal status. Moreover, I expect them to be equally useful when I hit the new Cataclysm dungeons and have to figure out how to tank for a group safely in a new environment with new mobs.
The more I wrote on pulling, the more I realized that the subject can be divided into two very distinct categories: what happens before you pull, and what happens while you're pulling. This week's column addresses the former. Everything I am about to tell you in this column is something that you, as an experienced tank, will eventually do in the space of a second without even realizing you're doing it.
Who's in your group?
As soon as you zone in, run a quick mental tally on your fellow players. With what classes are you going to be dealing? Who is your healer? Is there anyone there with an advanced PvE or PvP title suggesting that the player has a lot of experience?
What's their gear like?
I despise GearScore and the behavior it encourages, but there's something to be said for having a decent grasp of what your group's overall gear is like before you pull. You can download GearScore or Elitist Group if you really want, but most of the time you'll have a pretty good handle on what the group's gear is like simply by looking at them. Even if you're not familiar with what constitutes good gear for various classes, it's generally obvious if someone's rocking a four-piece tier set or a really impressive weapon.
What mobs will you be pulling?
Ahn'kahar Spell Flingers have a 6-second cast attack that will hit you for 80% of your health. Twilight Worshippers and Ring-Lord Sorceresses can wreck your group with a well-placed Flamestrike. Anub'ar Skirmishers drop aggro and can't be taunted back. Wretched Belchers have both a cone attack and a cleave that can kill a melee DPS low on health. Shadowy Mercenaries have a particular talent for Shadowstepping behind and poisoning your healers.
As DPS, you don't really need to know about any of this. As a healer, you'll be asked to compensate for it if the group can't or won't avoid the damage. As a tank, you are fantastic if you whisk a group through these pulls with a minimum amount of trouble from the more dangerous mobs. Know in advance what they do and spend abilities like Bash and Feral Charge wisely.
What walls or features allow you to break line of sight?
We're the only tank without a ranged silence, and even a silence doesn't help on any pull where you want the mobs away from a nearby patrol. Know in advance where you should move if you have to force a caster or ranged mob to come to you. If you're worried about making a clean pull, practice with the dungeon on normal mode first, many of which are soloable at 80. Or, better yet, practice with a BC heroic once you're keyed. The 70 heroics are generally trickier to pull than their counterparts in Wrath.
Whose threat do you need to be most worried about?
Any player who significantly outgears you is likely to be an aggro whore unless they're exceptionally sensitive to the issue of pulling off the tank or they do the dungeon half-naked to cripple their damage. The latter is amusing, but sadly, I don't see it much.
Five-mans are still my favorite part of the game, and I've run them for the better part of three years as both a ludicrously undergeared and ludicrously overgeared tank. This is what I've seen so far whenever threat's been a concern (and anyone with Cataclysm beta experience, please feel free to chime in on how the classes have changed in 5-mans there):
- Death knights are generally a non-issue as long as they're not in Frost Presence. Well-geared unholy knights can be problematic early in a pull.
- Our fellow druids vary, but moonkin tend to be more troublesome than cats due to the uneven nature of Eclipse procs.
- Hunters are a crapshoot. The experienced ones have almost always macroed Misdirection into their rotations and will quietly transfer a ton of free threat to you without fanfare. By contrast, inexperienced or bad hunters are champions at yanking aggro and sending a pull into disarray by Feigning Death only when a mob is already beating on them.
- Mage threat varies by spec, but well-geared mages are pretty good at producing a buttload of threat quickly. Fire tends to be the worst with inconvenient Hot Streak procs.
- Retribution paladins in good gear with a high-end weapon rocking the two-piece tier 10 bonus are hell. At equal levels of gear, they're about the same as death knights.
- Priests are generally a non-issue, I suspect because shadow often fares poorly on trash.
- Modern rogues are generally good about managing threat and, like hunters, usually macro Tricks of the Trade into their rotation. Rogues with two-piece tier 10 are virtually guaranteed to have done so.
- DPS shaman threat seems to have calmed down considerably since The Burning Crusade. They're not usually a problem these days.
- Well-geared warriors are absolute nightmares. I sincerely apologize to our fellow rage-using brethren, but you are the least appealing party member for an undergeared tank.
- Warlocks are hit-or-miss, but are easier to tank for since the demise of BC destruction spec. You're more likely to get an affliction or demonology 'lock in 5-mans these days, and neither spec has the soul-killing threat spikes of the BC destro warlock.
Every week, Shifting Perspectives treks across Azeroth in pursuit of truth, beauty and insight concerning the druid class. Sometimes it finds the latter, or something good enough for government work. Whether you're a bear, cat, moonkin, tree or stuck in caster form, we've got the skinny on druid changes in patch 3.3, a look at the disappearance of the bear tank and thoughts on why you should be playing the class (or why not).