Last week, we discussed hit and expertise. Before that, we talked about tanking etiquette and how to work up to tanking. This week, we're going to talk about the nuts and bolts of warrior tanking in heroics and raids. Before we do that, we should point you at the Protection 101 and Protection 101 talent guides, which will cover a lot of what we talk about here in more exhaustive detail.
Heroics and raiding are similar but have different demands on a tank. With the announcement this week of a new Call to Arms feature that will most likely result in added rewards for those of us willing to tank in the LFD system, it's a good time to familiarize yourself with the role and how to perform it to the best of your ability.
Frankly, I view tanking as something that requires more effort than DPSing. On my warrior, I find it takes less effort and less work to top DPS meters than it does to tank. This isn't necessarily because tanking requires more skill (I would argue it's no more complicated than DPSing in either spec) but rather due to a combination of added pressure, expectations and labor required to do it well and make it look like you haven't had to work hard at all. So let's talk about ways you can make it easier on yourself.
First and foremost, learn and understand your talents and abilities. We listed them in two huge posts for a reason. If you're just using Devastate to hold threat, you won't hold threat. If you're never using Thunder Clap or Shockwave or even Heroic Leap for group threat, if you never use Shield Block to trigger Revenge or give you extra threat on a Shield Slam, if you don't use Shield Wall or Last Stand or even Enraged Regeneration to help your healers out when you're about to die, don't blame anyone else for your bad performance.
It's not worth beating yourself up over a bad showing in a video game, but it is worth looking at what you did and deciding what you could have done differently. Especially now, dungeons are designed in part to teach you how to tank more challenging content down the road. One of the ways to do this is to learn to use your talents and abilities.
As a quick and dirty summary, understand that you should not be using the same priority of abilities when tanking single targets as you do when you're tanking a group pull. On a single target, it's okay only to use Thunder Clap and Demo Shout to refresh the debuffs and focus much more on Revenge, Shield Slam and Devastate (to stack the Sunder Armor debuff to three). Shockwave should only be used if a stun would be helpful in most single-target situations. When you're tanking groups, you will rely much more on TC, Shockwave, Cleave when you have the rage, and Improved Revenge/Blood and Thunder if you have them. If you know adds will stream in from a certain location, Heroic Leap will be useful to catch them.
Keep track of threat
Install and use a threat and DPS meter (or a combined one if you can) like Skada (yes, not Skype) or Recount or Omen. You want more granularity than the Blizzard in-game system. You want to know more than just if you're about to lose threat; you want to know how much threat you're generating. Are you well in the lead, or are you noticing that you're struggling to get ahead of your DPS? Combined with an analysis of your talent spec and your gear, this is information that can help you start to pin down where your problems might be. A dedicated combat log parse is also useful if you find yourself dying more often than you think you should.
Being able to tell if you died because you were too slow to use a cooldown versus dying because you spent an extremely long time between heals will allow you to decide if the problem is something you need to work on or something out of your control. This is not carte blanche to be abusive to your healers if you think the problem lies with them. Even if the healing isn't measuring up, you can handle it better than idiotic tricks like the pull-drop or temper tantrums. Often, you don't even need to talk to the healer at all; just be aware and compensate as best you can.
To use myself as an example, I recently tanked Conclave of Wind on an extremely undergeared, fresh 85 tank. We managed to get the kill because I communicated with my healer, explained my gear situation and let him know I'd be taking more damage than the tank he was used to. Communication, not berating or sneering, is what helps you perfect your skills.
Prepare your gear within reason
It's also very important that you get every single advantage you can reasonably afford. Depending on your situation, it may be unreasonable to expect you to have the absolute best enchants, gems, and consumables for a run. That doesn't mean you should completely avoid any enchants, gems and consumables. Always get the best you can. If you can't get the exalted shoulder enchant from Therazane, get the honored one. If the Charscale Leg Armor is too pricey for you, get the Twilight. Green gems are better than no gems at all.
I've seen too many tanks not take the time and effort to minimally prepare for dungeons and wonder why they struggled, and I don't want you to go through that. Make use of reforging to balance out your stats whenever it would improve your chances.
Tanking a heroic means that you're often the center of attention. You almost never will be sharing the tanking role with another player in most 5-man situations. In 10-man and 25-man raiding, there usually is a sharing of the tanking role. With up to four tanks in most 25-man raids and at least two tanks in 10-mans, you're almost never the only tank, which means that for specific fights, you can have specific responsibilities. There is nothing wrong with changing your talent spec, glyphs, even enchants or gear sets to deal with the specific role you will be performing in a raid encounter.
I don't use the same tanking spec for the Ascendant Council that I do for Magmaw. Generally speaking, unlike tanking heroic 5-mans through the dungeon finder, it's easier in raids to work out in advance where you will be raiding and what your responsibilities will be on a boss-by-boss status. Therefore, it's feasible to tweak your talent spec accordingly (or even to use dual spec to have two tank specs, if you see fit). With dual talent specialization and a talent respec being generally much more affordable in the Cataclysm economy, adjusting your talents for the raid is the most feasible it has ever been.
This goes into the idea that when it's possible, you as a tank should know what the job entails -- not only your own talents and abilities, but what to CC, what to kite, what hits hard enough that you need to reserve cooldowns for it, etc., etc. Know your role and what that role will require of you; know the fights. Often I find it illuminating to run a dungeon as a DPSer, and then try to go right back in as a tank when possible, to try out tanking strategies other tanks use that I myself had not thought of. (I tank Ozruk differently than just about everyone else I've ever seen tank him, for instance.)
A tough role to fill?
A lot of people are scared away from tanking because it's presented as hard. As someone who has been tanking for a lot longer than I sometimes care to admit, I'll let you in on a secret. Often, tanking is the easiest part of a raid encounter or heroic run in terms of pure difficulty. Fights are often designed so that tanks don't have to worry as much about instagib abilities, or they will be getting healed as a priority.
The real effort in tanking isn't the actual act of tanking; it's all the ancillary details that get rolled into the job and players who do frustrating things like run ahead and pull half the instance before you know what's happening. You will have to deal with these kinds of things to tank, yes.
In the end, if you make the effort to learn how to use your toolkit, it's really not terribly difficult to learn to tank all the currently available content. It can be more work than DPSing, yes, but it can also be more satisfying when you've come to master it.
Next week, Single-Minded Fury, as requested on Twitter. If you have a subject you'd like me to discuss in a future column, either tweet it to me at @matthewwrossi, leave a comment here, or both.
Read: Cataclysm tanking, part 1
Read: Cataclysm tanking, part 2
Read: Cataclysm tanking, part 3
At the center of the dury of battle stand the warriors: protection, arms and fury. Check out more strategies and tips especially for warriors, including Cataclysm 101 for DPS warriors, a guide to new reputation gear for warriors, and a look back at six years of warrior trends.