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The Care and Feeding of Warriors: Cataclysm tanking part 1

Matthew Rossi

Every week, WoW Insider brings you The Care and Feeding of Warriors, the column dedicated to arms, fury and protection warriors. Despite repeated blows to the head from dragons, demons, Old Gods and whatever that thing over there was, Matthew Rossi will be your host.

One of the things warriors do in game is tank. We're one of four classes that can tank, and one of two classes that can only tank or DPS, meaning that there's a reasonable chance that any warrior you meet will be a tank and an absolute certainty that if your warrior isn't DPS specced, it's tank specced. (I don't include PvP in this because there are PvP warriors of all three specs.) Since tanking is something I talked about at great length during the past year or so, I have been endeavoring to talk more about the DPS specs since Cataclysm launched. So, I've done that, and I'll continue to do it, but this week and as a recurring feature here at TCAFOW I'm starting a Cataclysm Tanking series of posts. These will come as topics suggest themselves to me.

For this week, rather than discuss gear or rotations (some of which we covered in the Cataclysm Protection 101 posts a little while ago) I wanted to talk about something less tangible but more immediate in its impact, namely, how to behave while tanking and how to behave towards your tank. Lately, with running heroics so much a part of the gearing for raiding experience, and some people really feeling at the mercy of the tank and resenting it, it's time to talk about how we can all make each others lives easier and more enjoyable.

Do not sign up to tank unless you actually want to

This seems like a no brainer, but we've all been sitting there in the queue, waiting that 40 minutes to get into a run and thinking "Man, if I were a tank I'd already have gotten in." And it's true. Tanking gets you into heroics faster even than healing, and much, much faster than DPS. It's tempting to abuse this scenario, sign up as a tank, and then just flail around at the mobs and hope they stick on you long enough that they die and we all get some valor or justice points.

Please don't do this. Or worse yet, don't be the guy who signs up to tank and then tries to pawn the job off on some other tank capable class that happened to have signed up as well. Even if you think that class is imbalanced and has an easier time tanking, even if you think your DPS is so much better than anyone else in the group that it would go faster if you DPS'd instead, no matter what, do not be that person. Do not be the woman or man who abuses the potential for tanking in order to get into groups ahead of others and then, after they waited fifty minutes to get a run, present them with the option of taking another fifty minute wait or trying to do a role that they didn't sign up for.

Quite frankly, as a warrior who often signs up as DPS and then ends up tanking, it really sucks. It sucks worse when it's another warrior trying to throw the job into my lap. When I sign up to tank, I get my gear, my enchants, my spec and my abilities all lined up just the way I want them beforehand and I do my job. I don't toss it in anyone else's lap. If you took the instant queue, you knew what you were in for.

You are the tank, not Commander of the Imperial Forces of Cobra

It's a bit annoying how often this one needs to be said.

It's fair to say that tanking on any class often requires a touch of ego and an assumption of a certain level of responsibility. Yes, it can often be tiresome. You often have to speak to group members about their actions, assign CC, explain pulls and boss fights. This is all part of the tanking role alongside holding aggro (sometimes on multiple mobs) and not dying while doing it. It can be stressful, it can be a damn sight harder than DPSing, and it can leave you feeling underappreciated and strained.

There is a difference between the appropriate response to this (taking some time to DPS a run, do some PvP, or even go off and read a book - I recommend Glen Cook's Black Company series or maybe Robert E Howard's Kull stories, especially the extraordinary Kings of the Night) and the inappropriate ones. An appropriate response lets you blow off some steam and unwind without becoming someone who could be voiced by Chris Latta. (Take some time and actually read that entry, we lost a heck of a talented voice actor when Mr. Collins died.)

The part to always remember when playing this game is that you are playing a game. If you are not enjoying it, do something else. Furthermore, as a game played with other people, many times people you may never interact with again, it is ultimately up to you to put forth the effort to reduce the friction inherent to any social experience. There are good ways and bad ways to go about this. Good ways involve asking your group what it needs you to explain and then doing so in a clear and concise manner, introducing yourself (a brief "hey everybody" or suchlike will most likely be all your require), and most importantly, do not be a raving lunatic.

I've seen some spectacular tank meltdown in the past few months. A few of them were my own, but here's the difference between the ones I participated in as the tank and the ones I saw as a DPS player: when I tank, I do my absolute best to wait until the run is over and go off to have my meltdown in private. Frankly, no one wants to see you flip out. No one cares if you think they're not a very good player, even if they aren't. Pitching a fevered little pet does not in any way make anyone play better. If the run is so dissatisfying to you that you cannot endure it, make a fast apology and leave. It's annoying to lose a tank, yes, but it's much better than having him or her throw a fit like a five year old trying to get a favorite toy back.

Do your best first

This dovetails into the first two points. You should start tanking at a level you're comfortable with: it's really not a bad idea if you're leveling a new character of a tanking class to keep at least dipping your toe into the tank role as you level, especially from level 70 to 85 when you'll have most of your incoming tanking abilities and can learn the role at a less stressful remove. As you go through Cataclysm content, leveling from 80 to 85 as a tank becomes not only possible but pretty efficient and it can very much serve you as a serviceable way to learn the role.

If not, you can still gear up and learn the role via normal dungeons. There's absolutely no reason at all you should be jumping into PuG heroics as a tank the second you make the gear threshold, especially if the gear you're using to get into heroics is not tanking gear. If you are in a guild that's pressuring you to be tank ready ASAP, then they can step up and run with you instead of forcing you to PuG your first few times out.

After you've gotten your skills and gear ready and have started in on heroics and maybe even raiding, though, try and retain the flexible mindset of learning the role. Tanking for warriors has changed a great many times and it will only continue to do so. You will effectively have to relearn it again and again. Don't assume that your previous experience means you're always right, don't let your ego get in the way of learning a new situation, and don't let understandable frustration over groups that seem to work against successful tanking drive you into bad behavior.

Let's be honest: sometimes it's you, sure, but sometimes it's them. Sometimes it's the idiot DPS or the healer in terrible gear who has no idea what spells to use. Sometimes, even after you've done all the work of learning what gear to get, what abilities to use and when, have learned the dungeons inside and out and are a smoothly functioning threat generating machine, your group just lets you down. You're angry, frustrated, and you know you can drop at any time and leave these losers behind. It's fine to think that. It may even be fine to do that, if you just can't stand a group anymore. I personally recommend trying to be as patient as possible with a group in order to recognize all those groups that had to put up with you as a new, just learning tank. But if you've done your best and the group just won't or can't perform, it's better to leave than to fall to pique. Your role is to tank to the best of your ability, not to be the group's nanny, but also not to be the group's unpleasant raving spittle-flecks frothing madman.

This is not all the tank's fault either

I've talked a lot about this from the tanking perspective because over the past six years of so, I've done a lot of tanking. A lot of the aspects of tanking that get discussed now are aspects that have always been there, but have to some degree or another become either exacerbated or more noticeable due to groups being quicker to form. I still remember the worst Shadow Labs run I've ever had where I had to switch to my warrior and tank because the pally tank insisted he could tank a full six pull with a 2h weapon as ret spec, no matter how many times he died.

This being said, as we mentioned before sometimes your freaking out crazy person of a tank is freaking out because the group is just being impossible to deal with. Sometimes it's one guy who won't CC when asked, or who constantly breaks CC with his most potent AoE attacks and dies before the tank can round up the mobs. Sometimes it's the tank pulling her or his hair out because the healer runs out of mana on every single pull despite four CC's being used, and each boss fight being an agonizing series of prayers that Last Stand and Shield Wall will come off of cooldown in time because the healer runs OOM in thirty seconds. Sometimes it's not even anyone in particular, just a series of events due to gearing or inexperience that turns a run into a long, painful slog.

A lot of this is out of the party's control. But what isn't out of your control in any run you do is what you say in group. Whining, complaining and pointing fingers never helps. Acting like you're too good for the run doesn't help. If you can't stand battering your head against a run any further, then just leave. Trying to get a tank to rush pulls or pull more mobs than he or she feels comfortable tanking is just a recipe for disaster, don't do it, and for the love of all that's holy don't run ahead during a pull and pull another group to speed things up. That's just terrible. That's like running into the kitchen and grabbing the pies and throwing them at people because you don't think they're eating fast enough.

Next time, we'll talk about exactly how to learn to tank. Where should you start? Where are the best training grounds? Can PvPing actually improve your tanking?

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.

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