The first goal of gearing for tanking at 80 is to reach uncrittableness for heroic dungeons. This is a constant balancing act at lower gear levels, as almost every time you change a piece of gear, you need to re-adjust enchants or trinkets to put yourself back over the magic number. What is this magic number? For heroic dungeons, it is 535 defense skill (which is about 664 defense rating). Just from being level 80 gives you 400 defense skill, so we're really just talking about adding 135 defense skill on top of things.
You likely won't be able to do this on gear alone initially, so you'll be wanting to grab both gems and enchants to beef yourself up. You can still run normal level 80 dungeons with a defense rating less than that, which will also provide the opportunity to get some better gear.
The next goal is reaching 540 defense skill (or 690 defense rating) on your gear, which is the uncrittable defense cap for raids. As you get better gear, you'll be able to stop worry about gems and enchants for defense rating and instead grab things like stamina, avoidance and armor, depending on how you want to build your tank.
If you've been leveling your professions alongside your character, you will probably have some goodies waiting for you when you hit 80. The biggest help to your starting 80 tanking gear is going to be blacksmithing, but jewelcrafting also has some good items. If these aren't your professions, then don't worry. Most of these items can be purchased on the auction house or bartered for on the trade channel.
Even without blacksmithing, you can purchase most of the items from the auction house, given a decent bank account. There are several extremely high-priced but high-end items, as well as some lower-end profession leveling items. In the middle range are the Tempered Titansteel Helm and Treads, which are starting raid-level epics. For your shield, you can grab a Titansteel Shield Wall. On the lower-budget end are the Daunting Legplates and Handguards as well as the entire Tempered Saronite set of gear, which concentrates purely on defense rating. There are some higher-end epics including the Boots of Kingly Upheaval, Pillars of Might, Breastplate of the White Knight, Saronite Swordbreakers, Spiked Deathdealers and Indestructible Plate Girdle.
Alchemy gives you a nice little trinket in addition to your usual allotment of potions, elixirs and flasks in the way of the Indestructible Alchemist's Stone. The only issue is that you must be an alchemist to have one.
There is a decent stamina trinket you can get from engineering called the Sonic Booster. You'll probably replace it relatively quickly after doing some dungeon or raid runs, but an upgrade is an upgrade. If you are an engineer yourself, then you might look at making a set of Armored Titanium Goggles. They aren't as overpowered as their Burning Crusade cousins, but they are still a good head piece that will fill out a slot for you when starting out, especially as you can wear them starting at level 72.
From a jewelcrafter, you can nab the blue item Ring of Earthen Might or the epics Titanium Earthguard Chain and Titanium Earthguard Ring. All three of those were very useful back when the snow was still fresh up here in Northrend and aren't bad choices for starting out. If you're a jewelcrafter, you might consider grabbing the Figurine -- Monarch Crab as a trinket and putting a defense rating gem into it to hit uncrittable, or if you're already there, you can toss a stamina gem into it.
There are several reputations that you'll want to check out in Wrath of the Lich King, but only two that you really need to work at -- and both of those are for gear enchants. If you're looking for just gear, then work on Wyrmrest Accord first (and make sure you grab their tabard and wear it). However, if you're after those head and shoulder enchants, then you need to grab the tabard for the Argent Crusade and start doing the dailies for the Sons of Hodir (presuming you don't have another level 80 character on the same realm, because those enchants are bind on account now and can be mailed to alts).
The dungeon finder
- Horde/Alliance items from their reputation quartermasters aren't as high quality as the other reputation vendors, but I'm including them for completeness. Plus, sometimes the random drops just won't cooperate and you need to grab something in the interim until something better comes along.
- Horde Expedition
- Alliance Vanguard
- The Kalu'ak are usually just referred to as the tuskarr. They've got a small set of dailies that you can do to earn reputation. Their items for the most part are actually aimed at leveling characters and the items are rated as such. If you've got the rep and this is better than what you've got, then go for it.
- Sons of Hodir are a group of ice giants in the Storm Peaks. There are only two items a tank needs from them and both of them are shoulder enchants. I personally like their quest chain and dailies, but if there are a lot of people around, the dailies can get frustrating.
- Kirin Tor doesn't provide much at all for a tank, but at exalted they do hand out epic gauntlets. This will likely be your last reputation to grab.
- The Wyrmrest Accord actually provides several decent items for starting out. The cloak will be good until you can grab something from a badge vendor or raid, and the plate items are of decent quality starting out.
- Argent Crusade is worth getting up to revered if only for the head enchant they provide. If you've already got a level 80 character, just buy it on them and send it over and only worry about getting to honored with them for right now.
- Knights of the Ebon Blade have a set of blue-quality boots at honored, but you can get epic quality ones from a blacksmith instead. Part of the problem with the Ebon Blade is that you have to complete a fairly long quest chain in Icecrown before their quartermaster is even available to you.
- Argent Tournament allows you to nab an epic quality tanking weapon once you unlock the faction vendors. They also have a set of rare-quality boots if you didn't grab them elsewhere yet.
If you're been using the dungeon finder to level up, you've probably accumulated a fair number of badges already. However, if you haven't delved into it yet, that would be a great place to start acquiring some badges. If you don't have a good tanking set together yet, you may want to just queue up as either DPS or healing, depending on what gear you have a better set of (and/or your inclinations). Another great way to accumulate badges is the weekly raid quest, but due to the GearScore elite, you may not be able to find a spot until you've run dungeons for a while.
The entire tier 9 raid set (Horde
) is available through a total of 210 Emblems of Triumph
, with each piece being 30 or 50 emblems, but the gear is only item level 232 as compared with the 245 of the rest of the triumph emblem gear. The two-piece set bonus lowers your Hand of Reckoning
cooldown as well as increases your damage (and thus threat) from Hammer of the Righteous
, which is nice when you're fighting for top threat against people decked out in tier 10 gear.
As for Emblems of Frost
, you might have some frustration in trying to earn up a substantial amount by getting two for your daily random heroic, but the items you can get are extremely nice and will be upgrades compared to just about anything else you'll find until you set foot inside Icecrown Citadel.
As for random dungeons, you might want to run through normal Trial of the Champion in hopes of getting The Black Heart
as a nice stamina boost trinket and normal Halls of Lightning for Seal of the Pantheon
to up your defense rating if you're still a bit short for heroics. Caverns of Time: Culling of Stratholme on heroic has a great starting shield
and decent necklace
off of Malganis and I also really like the model for the shield, but I've been told I'm in the minority on that. Normal versions of Forge of Souls, Pit of Saron and Halls of Reflection will provide a lot of good upgrades and shouldn't be passed up simply because they're normal modes.
Otherwise, have fun and always make sure you're defense-capped.