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Scattered Shots: Pet tanking

Brian Wood

Welcome to Scattered Shots, written by Frostheim of Warcraft Hunters Union and the Hunting Party Podcast. Each week, Frostheim uses logic and science (mixed with a few mugs of Dwarven Stout) to look deep into the hunter class. Got hunter questions? Feel free to email Frostheim.

As hunters, we spend a lot of our down time engaged in awesomeness. On long weekends, we strip down and roll around in awesomesauce; we drink it and bathe in it it and steep ourselves in the awesome until we reek of it, until we radiate awesome so strongly that it even starts to rub off on those around us. Pet tanking is yet another example of this principle in action.

Grandpappy Frostheim always used to say, "If you want a job done right, do it yourself. But if you're getting a good drunk on and good enough is good enough, send your pet to do it."

With the right pet, the right talents, a bit of gear and a pinch of forethought, our pets can make surprisingly formidable tanks. Our pets can easily tank, for example, any dungeon and any heroic in the game. We can even tank raid bosses. And I'm not talking about just the easy stuff in Naxx, either. We can tank a goodly number of ICC bosses including, as you can see in the video above, Sindragosa (and we don't even need another tank to help out in Sindragosa phase 3, either). So join me after the cut and learn how!

Pet tanks versus player tanks

While there is a shocking amount of content that pets can successfully tank, the fact is that life is easier with an actual player tank. A well-geared and skilled player tank will out-perform a pet tank almost every time. Pets have several disadvantages, including:
  • Pet have significantly less health.
  • Pets have far less avoidance.
  • Pets cannot generate as much threat as a properly geared player tank.
  • Pets have a very long cooldown and somewhat finicky taunt, making tank-swapping fights difficult to impossible.
Despite these very real weaknesses, pets have a couple of advantages over player tanks:
  • Pets enjoy a 90% damage reduction to all forms of AoE damage, through Avoidance.
  • Pets gain +50% effect from all heals, though Spirit Bond and Blood of the Rhino.
  • Some global effects do not affect pets, including the ICC debuff that reduces dodge by 20%.
  • Being controlled by hunters, pets are 175% more awesome.
Most of the time, life is easier with an actual player tank. However, the specific benefits of pet tanks can sometimes make pets ideal tanks. A great example of this is Sindragosa, where pets get to ignore everything that makes phase 3 so horrible on player tanks.

Finally, it should go without saying that a skilled pet tanker is far better than a foolishly ignorant and stubborn idiot tank. If that silly DK tank isn't even crit-immune, you're probably better off having your pet take care of the heroic (assuming you are prepared to do so).

The right pet for the job

Without question, you need to use a tenacity pet for serious pet tanking, and any tenacity pet is capable of performing the job. However, there are a couple of pets that make it to the top of the list.
  • Turtles with their Shell Shield special are excellent tanks and the best at damage reduction. Turtles are good if you're expecting spike damage or healing blackouts; however, their threat generation will be a bit lower.
  • Crocolisks with Bad Attitude are the highest threat pet tanks and are the most common pet tanking choice. Best of all, their threat generation is both single-target and AoE, making them the only real choice for packs of mobs.
  • Worms are also a good choice, with single-target threat generation very close to that of the crocolisk and providing the major armor debuff through Acid Spit. Worms are a good route to go if you don't otherwise have the major armor debuff.
  • Bears are inferior to crocs, alas. The bear's special attack doesn't do any more damage than the default attack, so it's just a waste of focus that doesn't increase single-target threat. The only advantage is that it's a frontal AoE, and the croc is a 360-degree AoE plus a single-target threat increase.
Hunter pet tanking talent build

I recommend something close to the following 59/12/0 talent build for pet tanking.

You could skip most or all of the MM tree and go down the survival tree to get Survivalist and end up with significantly more pet health; however, you sacrifice a lot of threat generation to do so. Go for the Throat is a huge threat increase for your pet, and threat is usually a bigger issue than health for pet tanking.

Pet talent build

You will want to spec your tenacity pet with the following pet build.

This build takes every health and mitigation talent we can, picks up taunt and then tosses a the spare points into threat generation. Remember that unlike Extreme Soloing, we aren't interested in our ability to heal our pet -- we have healers to do that far better than we ever could.

Pet tanking stats

When looking at stats for pet tanking, you have three goals:
  1. Make your pet uncrittable.
  2. Get your pet as much health as possible.
  3. Make your pet generate as much threat at possible.
The first thing you need is an uncrittable pet. With lower health pools than standard player tanks, your pet could easily be killed by a single crit. Your pet talent Grace of the Mantis will reduce its chance to be crit by 4%. Since a raid boss has a 5.6% chance to crit, that means you need to lower it by another 1.6%. You can do this by getting 132 resilience rating. Your pet gets whatever resilience you have, and the 132 resilience will lower your pets chance to be crit by 1.6% (yes, it will; yes, it works to reduce crit chance, even in PvE). Of course more resilience is fine, but any extra resilience isn't going to help you at all. Note that the damage reduction benefit of resilience only works on attacks from players, not bosses or mobs. All we get is the crit reduction.

Now that your pet is crit-immune, your next task is to be at the hit cap. This is vitally important for your threat generation. Keep in mind that if you're at the hit cap, then your pet will be hit-capped and expertise-capped. This means that your pet cannot be dodged or parried, in addition to never missing. That can add up to more than a 20% DPS increase for your pet when tanking! You will need to get 263 hit rating. You cannot use Focused Aim to reach the hit cap -- while the hit all transfers to your pet, for some reason the expertise doesn't translate as fully as it should. So get all of your hit through hit rating on gear. Go buy Mark of Supremacy if you're struggling with hit.

Once you have 132 resilience and are at the hit cap, you're then interested stacking attack power and stamina. AP gives your pet better threat generation, and stamina gives it survivability. In general this means you'll either be wearing lots of PvP gear gemmed for AP, or lots of raid gear gemmed with stamina. You need to balance these two stats -- don't go overboard to either side. If you're pet-tanking ICC, you can actually go easy on the stamina since the raid buff is so big now.

You should seriously considering wearing two pieces of your tier 7 gear for the +5% pet damage bonus.

Pet tanking tips

When you're first stretching your pet tanking legs, you'll be starting out in heroics. Strongly encourage your group to hold off on DPS for a few seconds after pulling -- pets do not build up threat as quickly as player tanks, especially on packs. Make sure to brief your group on the liabilities and advantages of the pet tank.

Ideally, you want to start every pull with all your main cooldowns available: Misdirection is a must, and your croc's Bad Attitude is likewise vital. In a perfect world, you will also want your Beastial Wrath available, but it's not vital for every pull. You'll generally want to start a pull with MD, big red pet and in Aspect of the Beast. You'll have to get used to swapping from target to target, as your pet's AoEs alone are not going to be enough.

Over time, you'll develop a much greater appreciation for the frustrations that tanks face on a daily basis.

When it comes to healing, the bonus to healing your pet receives means it prefers small, fast heals over slow, big heals. The big heals, once magnified by your pet, will usually just be overhealing. HoTs are fantastic for pets. Most of the time you will not need to use Mend Pet -- the healing of Mend Pet is nothing compared to what the healers will be putting out. But if your pet is getting dangerously low, you definitely want to hit Cower to give your healers some breathing room. A favorite tactic of pet tankers is to macro Mend Pet and Cower together under the logic that if you need one, you probably want the other as well.

See 'em in action

If you're looking for more pet tanking information, you can check out Big Red Rhino, a hunter blog specializing in pet tanking, and Arthemystia's posts at Warcraft Hunters Union, the hunter who did the world first Sindragosa pet tank above.

For videos of pet tanking in action, I'd suggest the following:

You want to be a hunter, eh? You start with science, then you add some Dwarven Stout and round it off some elf-bashing. The end result is massive DPS. Scattered Shots is the column dedicated to helping you learn everything it takes to be a hunter. See the Scattered Shots Resource Guide for a full listing of vital and entertaining hunter guides, including how to improve your heroic DPS, understand the impact of skill vs. gear, get started with Beast Mastery 101 and Marksman 101 and even solo bosses with some extreme soloing.

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