Yes, I'm waxing poetic about tanking today -- and I'm going to be for a while (strong emphasis of on the wh there, just for your pleasure). My Warlock is dead and regulated to the bane of althood, and my tank I played from Classic through Wrath is back alive and well.
WoW has come full circle for me, and while some may look and see my return to the very first character I rolled back in 2004 as the rejection of the game and an attempt to return to the past's glories, I dismiss that view outright. For me, my return to tanking is nothing less than the return to the beginning, and the start of something great.
The Good of Tankhood
He kneels at the top of his fortress, skull in hand, looking at you and your companions with contempt and a smirky irreverence. His corrupted soul stands and laughs at your battle readiness, mocking whatever attempt you're about to make on his life.
There is no choice, no going back, no going forward. For he is the final boss, the be all end all of everything you've worked towards. Steadying yourself you take a breath and rush in head first, your heart beating in your shield and your chest, blood already dripping from your blade.
You make contact with the elf, he's engaged. Never before has anyone dared to stand toe-to-toe with him in his domain, his land outside the bounds of Azeroth. His great warglaves raise up and meet your thrusts of your sword, blocking your attack. Each hit does nothing to him, but your companions and a friendly elf are making their mark, slowly eating away at his life force.
Suddenly he sheers you with little warning. You raise your shield to block it, getting it up with only seconds to spare. Cowering behind it you breath for a minute and give thanks to whatever god there is that it's not going to happen again. Only it does... and you're entirely caught by surprise. Quickly you shout and fortify yourself, planting your shield in the ground and tossing back a potion of mead and health. Barely you survive with the help of the Shamans, but there you are, again taking his hits while returning your own.
He raises up in the sky and throws his enchanted weapons at you, using some dark magic to force them to spit out fire as he yells from ahigh "You are not prepared!"
Only he's wrong. You are, and this time it's you with the smirk on your face as you continue to press on, knowing that while not today, eventually he'll fall.
You are that which stands between the boss and certain defeat. Your actions and inactions are known by everyone, player and NPC alike. You are the line between life and death. The good of tanking is when you cross that line, knowing full well what you're getting into.
The Bad of Tankhood
The bad side of tanking isn't what happens when you wipe, or when you don't get the gear you need, or when you need to learn a new move. The bad side of tanking comes when you must step up and take responsibility for the raid and leadership therein.
Most people don't want to cause waves, they want to be friends with as many folks as possible. It's human nature after all -- we're social animals and want to be social and be friendly with people. Yet that's not always in the cards when it comes to tanking.
A tank must be willing to call out the DPS that's not moving correctly, that's getting caught in the frontal swipe. The tank needs to be willing to be diplomatic and work with the healer that isn't using his cooldowns at the right time. A tank must learn to walk the fine line between being friendly and being the boss, because sometimes only the tank will see the mistakes.
It's not a fun job. Being responsible as a tank is exceptionally rewarding, but at the end of the day it's the worst part as well. The raid lives or dies on your shoulders, and you need to use every bit of skill, personal and in-game, to keep everyone alive.
The Ugly of Tankhood
Tanking isn't a clean activity. While there is are points which require the utmost finesse possible, it's mostly acting as a meat shield. You charge in, slam your body and armor against the enemy, grunt, growl, and spew your curses while throwing your banner on the ground to taunt the dejected towards you -- it's a dirty game.
Whereas DPS is a spreadsheet game, and healing is a finely choreographed ballet, tanking is that great American football game. A good tank doing his job is the same as Dante Culpepper in his good years -- stepping, running, throwing, dancing around the enemies, all the while leading his team to victory.
Yes, there's going to be sacks and deaths; and yes, there's going to be rage quits and broken keyboards (I'm looking at you, Illidan). But at the end of the day a good tank will stick in the mind of many as that outstanding individual of great fortitude and will. For me, eight years later, I still remember the tanks that brought me into the fold: Jdawgg, Kujohamma, Rilius, and Bellus. Yes -- some of these people I couldn't stand to be around, things were ugly at times and destructive, but boy did this ugly band know how to tank Garr.
Finally, the ultimate draw of tanking is not how downing a boss feels, how much time needs to be spent learning the bosses, how hard defeat and guild rebuilding is, or how ugly the dance can be -- the ultimate draw is that not everyone can do it, and that's because of a simple fact: you need to invest.
Tanking is a three fold investment. There's the perfect gearing and balance therein that you must master. Without it you're no better than a DPS. There's the knowledge of all the other classes and their abilities, knowing how they interplay with yours. Without it you're no better than a stupid meatshield. There's the time in- and out-of-game that you must spend to become a master of WoW. You cannot miss a raid if you're the main tank and responsible for 24 other people. Without you, the game is over.
Those three things, the gear, the knowledge, and the time commitments are investments that many cannot do. It's a cause that take a certain person that enjoys the weight of a group on his shoulders. It's a challenge, it requires such commitments that you'll turn to the stereotypical Hot Pockets one night while up late studying a video game. And when you've defeated the challenge of tanking, then you'll have succeeded where millions have failed.
And that feeling? That ultimate feeling of success in the face of failure? Is why once you're a tank, you're always a tank.