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The Light and How to Swing It: Tanking Blackwing Descent for paladins, part 3

Matt Walsh

Every week, WoW Insider brings you The Light and How to Swing It for holy, protection and retribution paladins. Protection specialist Matt Walsh spends most of his time receiving concussions for the benefit of 24 other people, obsessing over his hair (a blood elf racial!), and maintaining the tankadin-focused blog Righteous Defense.

This is it, the twilight of Nefarian's rule. You've come a long way, bursting through the front gate, smashing to bits the doormen, foiling an attempted annelid home invasion, trashing Maloriak's lab, and kicking the... let's call it the dog.

All that remains between you and the main event is Nef's blind progeny and a short leap into a fiery pit. To help you prepare for the challenge of facing down the son of Deathwing, I'll give you a slew of tips to maximize your survivability against the big guy, as he throws vicious electrical attacks, bursts of shadowflame, or a small army of risen corpses your way.

Read Tanking Blackwing Descent for paladins, part 1
Read Tanking Blackwing Descent for paladins, part 2

But first, Atramedes

As far as tanking goes, there's not much going on here. The crux of the fight really is more on the raid as a whole, with each person practicing the personal responsibility of keeping their sound levels low, and not messing up the Sonic Breath kite, or not standing in the Sonar Pulse, or (in the air phase) avoiding getting hit by the Sonar Bomb or standing in the Roaring Flame.

Likewise, when the air phase begins, start running. If you're already moving you'll be able to more easily get away from the Roaring Flame Breath and not accumulate a pile of sound and possibly get nuked from above.

Situational glyphs: Focused Shield, since there's only one target.

When to use Divine Guardian: There's no specific time it's really helpful to use raidwall, so just watch for a time when raid damage skyrockets and the healers need a little help taking the edge off.

Laying the groundwork for Nefarian

There are three tanking roles in this fight: Nef tank, Onyxia tank, and add tank. If you're doing this on 10man, in phase 1 the adds are handled by dps and the Onyxia tank will likely jump onto them going into phase 3. If you're doing 25man, the Onyxia tank will be joining the add tank on adds in phase 3.

Before you even set foot in BWD, I want to emphasize how important magic damage management is on this fight. The crackles (they're actually called Electrocutes, but I prefer the vernacular, so let's stick with that) are the most crucial points in the fight for you. Because you'll be tanking something else when each crackle goes off, being unprepared for them can easily lead to eating an 80k (or more!) hit, which will likely lead to you buying the farm when what's currently beating your face in gets their next attack(s) off.

Crackles happen every 10% of Nef's health, from 90% all the way down. To mitigate each as much as possible you want to glyph Divine Protection for 40% magic reduction, chug a Prismatic Elixir, make sure you're always in range of a nature resistance effect, and equip the Mirror of Broken Images. If you don't have that last one, hie thee to Tol Barad and start grinding dailies.

The standard operating procedure for crackles should be to rotate using Divine Protection (again, glyphed) or the clicky effect for the Mirror, Image of Immortality. Save your bigger cooldowns -- Ardent Defender, Guardian of Ancient Kings, and Lay on Hands -- for towards the end of the fight and emergencies when they'll be far more helpful. Don't blow them on an early crackle when you have much more cost-effective tools available.

If you're going to be on adds -- and, let's face it, as a paladin tank you'll probably be on adds -- you really want to emphasize your block chance. Stack that mastery, run two mastery trinkets, drink an Elixir of the Master, eat some Lavascale Minestrone. Whatever you can to push normal hits off the combat table the better off you'll be.

With the flood of hits you'll be taking from the adds, especially during the last 20% of phase 3, the more often you can shave 40% off your incoming damage the longer you'll be able to last.

The night my guild first killed Nefarian, I started the raid off at about 8% normal hits and was taking a ton of damage. Towards the end of the night I moved some pieces and gems around and was able to cut that down to .01% normal hits. I noticed that my health bar was a lot more steady at such a high block percent, markedly so.

Where everything gets tanked, across the phases

Now, I'm going to lay out the strategy my guild uses for what goes where across the phases. Try to picture the pit you fight Nef in as a clockface, in terms of positioning.

In phase 1, the Ony tank jumps down and grabs Onyxia, taking her over to the right to tank her at 3 o'clock. On adds duty, I spring down and get prepared to start nabbing adds before they get a chance to nibble on a healer. Meanwhile, the Nefarian tank (once Nef has landed) takes the big guy to 9 o'clock and tanks him there. Keep in mind that Nef and Ony need to be on opposite sides of the platform, otherwise they'll gain the Children of Deathwing buff and demolish their tanks in short order.

If you're on add duty like I usually am, you'll want to quickly grab the adds before they reach whatever healer they're beelining for. Meanwhile, you'll want to wrangle them towards 12 o'clock on the platform, and get them to die in a neat pile. Make sure the Ony/Nef tanks know to keep any Shadowflame Breaths facing away from the north end of the platform.

The reason for that: the way the adds work is they have an energy bar that starts at 100 and slowly trickles down to 0. When they get hit by the breath their energy is instantly reset to 100. I don't need to tell you that's bad, we want the adds to live very short lives and take a nap as soon as they possibly can.

Moreover, when add tanking, attempt to get the adds to die in a neat pile rather than spread out across the room. In p3, positioning of the adds will determine how they get revived and how easy it will be to initially pick them up again. You definitely do not want any adds keeling over in the center of the room.

While off on the edge of the platform performing last rites on the adds, you'll probably get zapped by Onyxia's Lightning Discharge once or twice, so be sure to pop a Divine Protection to smooth that out.

If you're Onyxia tanking (speaking of discharges) you've got a dance you need to perform to keep from nuking the raid. When you pick the old girl up, take her to the edge of 3 o'clock and face her side to the raid. When he sides start shimmering with lightning, you want to turn to point her rear end at the center of the platform (and thus the raid). That way the raid won't get hit by the discharges, though they will have to eat a few Tail Lashes.

Let's split up!

When you head into phase 2, the raid will split three ways into pre-arranged groups for each of the three pillars. Your raid should have a dedicated nature resistance monkey for each, along with an interrupt rotation. Feel free to volunteer yourself for an interrupt, because you won't be able to tank the Chromatic Prototype living on your pillar. And without much Vengeance, your tank dps won't be much to write home about.

Right before the Magma starts to rise, it's important to line yourself up for a quick and efficient leap onto the pillar. In your camera settings, turn off water collision to make lining the jump easier for yourself (at least, that helps for me). Likewise, don't hug the pillar itself, or you'll just catch yourself on the lip just under the top. Be a step or two back from it.

As the magma starts rising, I like to pop Divine Shield to avoid taking damage during the leap. The healers will have enough on their plate topping the other folks on your pillar off once they get onto dry land, might as well make yourself a freebie.

Once on dry land yourself, get ready for your spot in the interrupt rotation (if applicable) and do your best not to even think about missing preventing a Blast Nova from going off. Use Holy Radiance where helpful to take the edge off for the healers (though watch your mana, so you don't lock yourself out being able to Rebuke), and try to lay as much dps into the Prototype as you can.

This phase is probably one of the best times to use Divine Guardian, since you're guaranteed to hit everyone in your immediate vicinity, 30 yard radius be damned. Obviously, though, save it for crackles. And don't forget that DG doesn't self-apply, so you can't skip your normal Divine Protection/Mirror of Broken Images rotation.

When the Prototypes are dead and the fiery flood recedes, hop down and get ready to pick up your quarry.

The final showdown

The strategy we used for this phase was a variation on my favorite tactic when it comes to dragons: spinning them. (Seriously, my favorite.) Nef goes in the center of the room and is initially faced towards 3 o'clock. I (as add tank) get to 12 o'clock to meet my pile and say hello. The tank previously on Onyxia joins me for add duty. Meanwhile, the rest of the raid (minus healers dedicated to covering my soon-to-be-grass behind) positions at 6 o'clock. Nefarian is to be turned clockwise, meaning that I'll be ahead of the course and the rest of the raid behind it.

The Nef tank has an annoying job where he needs to balance staying alive with rotating Nef at the proper pace that the add tanks and the adds are always on Nef's side, and never at risk of being sprayed with Shadowflame Breath (which is really, really bad!) or tail swiped.

Meanwhile, as this rotation is going on, Nef will make a point of throwing Shadowblaze Sparks at a random add (either alive or dead) in an attempt to revitalize them. The crux of this phase for add tanks is to keep the adds out of these fires so that their energy runs out and they fall over. Everytime an add "dies" it resets their stacking Empower buff. The longer your adds are alive, the more likely they will crush you into a fine mush -- thus, you need to keep them out of the fires to make sure they are constantly resetting.

When tanking adds, keep them on the outside track of the pit so that you can hopefully minimize any Shadowblazes making it to the middle of the room where the rest of the raid is. Communicate when you're cross the pillars, as you may end up line-of-sighting your assigned healers.

Likewise, have a plan in place for how reanimated adds are going to make it back to the pile you're shuffling around the room. Tricks of the Trade and Misdirect are very helpful, as you really do not want to drag your adds towards the middle to get in range for a taunt. Doing so might encourage Nef to toss a spark at your pile and that may lead to Shadowblazes in the middle. Again: no good.

The biggest confusion I had going into phase 3, initially, was how much movement I should be performing while tanking adds. Honestly, you should only be moving when you have to. You can't be mad-dashing around the room, because that will lead to (a) a chaotic Shadowblaze spread and a loss of safe room to tank in, and (b) breaths getting on your adds. Slow and steady wins the race: watch the timer, move when the Spark is launched, and move quickly so that no adds get caught in it. Don't backpedal, strafe out.

Moreover, don't use Holy Wrath just before a Spark is cast, because you don't want to slow down your dragging the adds a single second more than necessary. Feel free to cast it with confidence once you're in a safer place outside the flames. Holy Wrath will give you a welcome respite from a wave of melee hits, so you definitely want to make use of it. Just do so intelligently.

As Nef's health drifts ever downward, you're going to find your survival getting more and more precarious. You should continue to rotate Divine Protection and the Mirror to mitigate the crackles, but on top of that you're going to want to add Guardian of Ancient Kings and Ardent Defender to the mix. I'm thinking specifically for the 20% and 10% crackles here, which tend to be the craziest. Don't also be afraid to hit Lay on Hands, if that gives you even an extra second of respite.

At this point you'll notice that time tends to slow down to a horrible, painful stretch of indeterminableness. Just try to hang in there, handle the crackles as best you can, and keep your sobs to a minimum in vent. Unless that makes the dps lay into Nef harder. In which case, let loose the tears like Britney Spears' reputation depends on it.

Soon enough Nefarian will fall over dead and cough up his purples. Good luck getting him there!
The Light and How to Swing It tries to help paladins cope with the dark times brought by Cataclysm. Check out our protection 101 guide and our suggestions for protection paladin addons.

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