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Tank Talk: Great power and great responsibility

Matthew Rossi

Tank Talk is WoW Insider's new raid-tanking column, promising you an exciting and educational look at the world of getting the stuffing thrashed out of you in a 10- or 25-man raid. The column will be rotated amongst Matthew Rossi (Warrior/Paladin), Adam Holisky (Warrior), Michael Gray (Paladin), and Allison Robert (Druid). Our aim is to use this column to debate and discuss class differences, raid-tanking strategies, tips, tricks, and news concerning all things meatshieldish.

Welcome to another installment of Tank Talk.

So far we've covered a lot of ground in this column. Allison covered the grim realities of tanking and the constant battle between making yourself easier to heal and generating threat, and Michael Gray covered why he loves tanking. So now it' s my turn to discuss tanking in raids, the why's and wherefores. I'm going to cover the social aspects of tanking in a raid, what you might be expected to do.

They might ask you to tell them what to do.

I got into tanking by accident. You see, my first character after an abortive paladin who barely made it to 30, was a warrior. I had no idea what the game really was, back then. (Some people will tell you I still don't.) All I knew was that I had a rage bar and when that went up, I could use certain abilities. It wasn't until I set foot in Scarlet Monastery for the first time that I started to understand that people had expectations from a warrior in a group. So I put on my shield, switched to defensive stance, and tried to meet them. Understand, I didn't have a single point in protection back then. Not only was it unnecessary, I didn't really like the tree as none of its talents seemed really aimed at killing anything, and that was what I thought warriors were all about, making war on things.

Time passed, and I found myself still called upon, when not swinging a big two hander at some undead or dual wielding these shiny new fist weapons I got (one of them dropped in Maraudon, which was the big new instance at the time), to come 'tank' for them. Everyone seemed to expect me to do it, so I did. I didn't know any better.

A funny thing happened as BRD became Molten Core became BWL became AQ40 became Naxxramas. I started spending talent points in protection (it was just to get Defiance, I told myself, I was still a DPS warrior) and I found myself tanking more and more of the content as people who had been tanking before me seemed to just stop showing up. The tanks, I noticed, seemed to be fading away or losing interest in the game, and there I was suddenly tossed from watching the fights to tanking them. My spec included more and more protection talents until I finally had to look at myself and say 'You're a tank now. Tanking is all you ever do. When was the last time you strapped on that hammer of yours? You're not a DPS warrior anymore. You're not going to be DPS on Faerlina tonight, you're going to tank her.'

And that was what I wanted to be. I hadn't even known what a tank was when I started playing a warrior... I just liked the class on the loading screen and fell in love wth Charge at level 10. Somehow this led me on the path I'm on now, where I whack great undead gits in the rotten nether regions until they yet again fail to drop any tanking gear.

Tanking is, as has already been stated in the previous columns, about holding aggro and mitigating damage. And Michael covered another aspect of tanking, that of setting the pace and controlling the pulls. It's a general tendency that, even in guilds with designated raid leaders who are usually a ranged or healing class that can sit back and see the action from a wider perspective, it's often a tank who actually decides kill orders, marks targets, and in so doing defines the way an encounter will proceed.

Given time and experience, a tank will grow to love this sensation. There is something primal about waiting for the healing assignments to be given out, the DPS straightened out, the decision being made whether this attempt is for all the marbles or if we still need some repetitions to learn the fight. Will we be flasking? All of this goes on and you pay attention to it, but at the same time you're already beyond it. You're looking at the boss. It could be Vashj, Illidan or Kalecgos, that's not the important part. The important part, just as it was when it was Kel'Thuzad, or even Rag, is that you're already there in the fight. When the signal comes that everyone is ready, and you hear the voice on Vent saying "Okay, everyone, follow the tank" you're across the platform before the last syllable can drop. You're ready. You're more than ready, this is the moment you are there for. And when the boss finally dies at your feet for the first time, and you hear the howling of the raid in your ears, there is that one shining moment where you feel contented. At peace.

Of course, you immediately start thinking about how to kill the next boss. It's impossible not to, really. It's this strange blend of power and responsibility that can keep a tank logging on night in, night out even when he or she is feeling tired or just not at one hundred percent, that knowledge that as a tank, you owe the raid your best effort, your best attendance, to help make the raid possible. They trust you, they hand over lead to you, and it's your responsibility to do your best work, to help make raiding possible.

A strong tanking core transcends class. You pay attention to what classes you have to tank, of course. You use them to their strengths. If you need four tanks for Al'ar phase one but only three for phase two, you may ask one of your druids to switch to DPS or to help out tanking adds.If your raid is particularly strong on paladin tanks you may just gather up all the trash waves before Winterchill and AoE them down, using CC sparingly on particularly dangerous mobs. After a while, though, you'll notice that you don't really think of your fellow tanks by their class except for rare moments of envy when you wish you had Last Stand or Shield Wall or could tank packs as effectively: you've become tanks together, and tank is what you think of them as. Who do we have, what are they best at, worst at, what can they do most effectively for us? Tanks talk among each other about how to get things done.

I've noticed that even the tanks who are the most lighthearted, the ones most likely to crack jokes over vent or say ridiculous or even profane things in guild chat (my own guild is one that is rather thoroughly irreverent at times, and I find myself telling awful jokes quite often while we head towards whoever the next boss is) understand the importance of presenting a positive face for whatever we're doing. Whether it's a trash clear, a wipe recovery, or finally calling it after a night of wiping due to bad luck on Infernals, tanks come to understand that what they say and do in a raid affects more than themselves.

I recently got into a personality conflict with a new recruit to the guild. He was an excellent DPS player.. focused, could watch his threat most of the time and put out solid damage. Unfortunately, he was extremely abrasive, arrogant, loud, and derisive of anyone who did less damage than him or who in his opinion didn't know the fights as well as he did. The problem was simple enough: He was disrupting the raids. It didn't matter how good his performance was when in the process he alienated people to the degree that they'd rather not log on if he was going to be there and as a tank you have to be sensitive not just to what's going on in front of you, but what's going on around you. If a player is making your healers so angry that they're busy chatting about not healing him instead of actually healing you, this is a problem. And it's a problem you as a tank usually have the power to solve, indirectly if not directly. If a tank asks the raid leader (or is the raid leader) to remove a player from the raid because he is being disruptive, or even just says "Can you ask Cagematch to shut up, he's distracting my healers and that's why I keep dying" it will probably happen. If you ask the raid to choose between a proven tank and an unproven DPS, they'll probably pick the tank.

This is an aspect of tanking you must be very careful about using. Only use the power of your position sparingly and ask for reasonable things: it's better to ask "so, what happened there?" and let the raid work out what happened for itself than it is to just say "X sucks, throw him out of the raid or I'm gone." You're not a god, you're just a tank. The reason the raid gives you some authority is to make your job easier, not so you can lord it over them. As a tank you need to respect your raid, as it respects you. It doesn't have to be an episode of Masterpiece Theatre with you exchanging curtsies with them, but everyone in that raid should be considered essential until they prove themselves otherwise.

The fact that they will look to you, trust you to take point on the bosses, follow your marking order when killing trash, listen to your suggestions when discussing how to approach the next boss, let you adjust their strategy on the fly when a pull goes bad... this isn't an opportunity to power trip. This is them trusting you to do your job, and it's a trust you have to respect and return. Let the sheepers sheep to interrupt that insane super whirlwind, trust the rogues to interrupt if they're assigned to it, give people the credit they're giving you. Tanking is an inherently group activity, it requires the help of the entire raid to succeed. It can often feel like you're fighting two enemies, the mob you're tanking and the raid's tendency to pull them off of you, I'm well aware of how frustrating it can be to have a mob ripped away before you even got a chance to start building threat. Just as staying upright is a symbiotic relationship between your deliberately making yourself as hard to kill as you can manage and your healers working hard to capitalize on the choices you made to mitigate or avoid damage, your holding aggro derives from the combined efforts of yourself to generate as much threat as you possibly can and the raid making sure they stay below you.

In both cases, you need them to do what you do. They need you for the same reason. Yes, as a tank you have power over the raid, but it's power granted to you by their consent that you use it for the shared aims of the raid: if you abuse this power or shirk the responsibility of using it properly, they will take it away from you, and there's nothing you can do about it. Think of yourself as the raid's shield. There's nothing stopping them from getting a new one, if for whatever reason you become unusable.

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