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The Care and Feeding of Warriors: Cataclysm tanking, part 2

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.

Last week we talked about tanking etiquette and how you can deal with the heightened stress of tanking an instance without convincing your run that your brother is actor Emilio Estevez. This week, we're going to talk about how you, as a new or returning warrior, can learn how to tank.

I've been playing warriors for a long time now. Right now, I have three 85 warriors that I'm working on, for DPS, tanking, and PvP. This means to some degree I'm in a constant state of relearning the class. In addition, I'm leveling a druid, DK, and paladin for tanking purposes as well, because I think it does help you as a warrior tank to see how other classes tank. (So far, my perspective is that paladins and DKs are brokenly good and druids need a little work. I don't pretend this is unbiased.) The first and best advice I can give someone who wants to learn to tank is, go out and tank things. While this is akin to the old teaching people to swim via throwing them in deep water approach to swimming, it has several advantages.

Read Cataclysm tanking, part 1.

Don't drown

  1. First off, there really is absolutely no better way to get an understanding of threat and threat mechanics than to get experience tanking in an instance. Sure, you can read about it (sometimes in great detail), but in the end, I'm very much a proponent of hands-on experience.
  2. Tanking a run gets you used to making pulls and gives you an understanding of how mobs react when pulled. All the little tricks you'll learn in a few runs as a tank are things that are very hard for anyone to teach you. For instance, Battle Shout or Commanding Shout are often best used after a pull, especially a ranged or LoS pull where you're trying to get mobs to come around a corner, since the shout generates rage and that gives you initial aggro. I can tell you this, but the first time you do it and it works, you'll remember it far more than just reading it here.
  3. Situational awareness is learned. What I mean here is, it's much harder to explain to someone who has never tanked the mindset a tank develops, where you find yourself scanning the whole battlefield while tanking. You'll watch your own health and cooldowns, watch the mobs, watch your healers to make sure there's nothing on them, even watch the DPS to see if one of them is in trouble, switch back to the mobs to see if any are casting something that needs interrupting. Tank awareness is far less focused than DPS or healer awareness; you essentially learn a very specific form of multitasking. This is far, far easier to learn in a run.
  4. Tanking is actually a series of responsibilities, and it's much easier to learn how to coordinate all of them by doing. Tanking involves generating threat (which is done much like DPSing, really; you hit things and use various abilities on them) while also staying alive, controlling pulls, getting in and out of specific spots on the floor, etc., etc.
  5. You'll never develop your tank voice if you don't tank. Tank voice doesn't need to literally mean spoken words; it's more of an assertion of control that gives the group a sense of confidence in you. Whether you're a calm, assured tank or a tightly wound ball of resentment pointed at the enemy, you need the group to be willing to roll along with you.
Believe it or not, Alterac Valley can teach you things

Okay, this is all fine and dandy, but where do we go to pick these things up, especially now? There are quite a few options, be you a neophyte warrior just leveling up or a long-time DPS warrior trying out tanking for the first time.

One place to start off tanking is Alterac Valley. Yes, Alterac Valley. Why do I suggest tanking in AV? Well, because AV has plenty of opportunity to do so for a battleground without the pressure of having to be the focus of the group the way a dungeon or raid can. With the ability to queue for AV starting at level 45, you can get started fairly early and work on the starting basics on the Captains (Stonehearth and Galvanger) and work up to tanking Warmasters and the Generals. I don't consider AV to be real tanking, mind you -- but if you've never tanked, it's a fairly painless way to stick your toe into it.

Finding a dungeon has never been easier

Once you're fairly comfortable with the idea of tanking, we'd be fools to avoid using the dungeon finder. Frankly, it's never been easier to level as a tank, with the LFD tool available from level 15 on and with talent specializations available at level 10 that make a low-level warrior feel more like a tank than was the case before Cataclysm. Even if you've been playing a warrior since launch and have never tanked, or tanked regularly but took time off after Wrath and are just now getting back into the game, the LFD tool can definitely help you ease into the tanking role -- keeping in mind all those points we made last week, of course.

This isn't to say you must start off pugging. If you have access to a group of friends (be they guildies, RL friends, in-game friends from various sources, etc., etc.), there's no reason not to make use of them to help acclimate yourself to tanking. Frankly, the benefit of a run with people you know is they're usually willing to be patient with you. Furthermore, if you have a friend who tanks a lot on one character or another and you know said friend is a good player, ask him or her to come along in a DPS/healing capacity and give you pointers. (Note to DPSers who have tanks: This doesn't mean you should be second guessing the heck out of the poor tank. Be a resource if/when you're asked.)

Do not fear the PuG

However, don't be afraid of PuGs. They're not always going to be awesome experiences, true, but if you're receptive, you can learn a lot from them. Even an awful group that wipes constantly because they won't listen, aren't geared enough, or try to pull while you're still tanking the last pull can be viewed as a learning experience. Always take the time to analyze your own performance after a wipe, even if it wasn't your fault. Could you have reacted faster once things went pear-shaped? Should you have been saving Shockwave for those adds? Would a well-timed Heroic Leap have saved your healer? Often, tanking isn't about who made the mistake so much as it's about you and the group fixing it.

Please don't take this to mean you're a superhero and that you should always be able to save every bad situation. However, recognizing those times you can salvage a bad moment is all part of tanking awareness, and believe it or not, that jerk who pulled eight mobs and then left group may actually end up helping your tanking down the road. Don't be confused, though; he's still a jerk.

Refusing to die is a viable strategy

Finally, I'm going to suggest general PvPing in prot spec in other battlegrounds besides AV. Why? Well, it won't teach you squat about holding aggro, no. But that's what runs with friends and PuGs and so on are for. Battlegrounds PvP is more about teaching yourself to use all of your toolkit to stay alive as long as possible, paying attention to as many things as you can. In PvP, people are trying to kill you, and nothing teaches you exactly how to use your defensive and survivability cooldowns quite like someone trying to make you dead. A few weeks of PvP will really help you with figuring out how to get used to situational but awesome abilities like Intervene and Spell Reflect, too. And prot warriors can be awesome for flag defense or carrying, so BGs like WSG and Twin Peaks are excellent places to hone your skills.

It's not just about learning to use your cooldowns proactively, although that's a big part of it; it's also about learning to scan the battlefield. Developing that sense of PvP paranoia can significantly help you in PvE content, since a brain trained to scan for danger constantly is far more likely to notice stuff on the floor you shouldn't stand in or a mob peeling.

Next week, we'll talk about hit and expertise and how they could be made more attractive for tanking warriors.

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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