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The Light and How to Swing It: The storied history of the paladin tank, part 2

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.

Last week, we talked about the beginnings of the protection paladin spec and the stirrings of the infancy of the "tankadin conscience," as it were. To briefly recap: In vanilla, we were presented with a series of hurdles ranging from terrible gear choices, to poor threat potential thanks to limited mana (after the Righteous Fury change), to terrible talent trees that didn't offer the tools needed to tank effectively.

Then The Burning Crusade launched, and the game changed completely. Suddenly we had real tanking tools -- a taunt, for example -- and were finally primed to explode upon the tanking world with all the sound and righteous fury we could muster. That's where our story begins today, with the prot paladins of yesteryear preparing to make a name for themselves and their spec in earnest.

What little I talked about The Burning Crusade last week, I spent talking mostly about the new abilities we suddenly had with the launch of the new expansion and other high-level changes. I didn't really get into what a day in the life for tankadins was and what the specifics of their tanking flavor looked like.

Casters in plate

For starters, gearing back in The Burning Crusade was completely different from how we geared in Wrath and current day. Gear was still somewhat weird but leaps and bounds ahead of vanilla's bizarre hodge-podge, for sure. The usual tanking gear we would seek out had stamina and defensive stats like defense and dodge rating, and then we'd roll with whatever intellect and spellpower we ended up with. We avoided strength, since it did little for our threat and certainly didn't have any avoidance benefits like it does today. Likewise, we were sometimes stuck with mana regeneration stats by virtue of their being randomly on tanking gear.

Our weapons were generally always spellpower weapons, though there was always the dream of using spellpower-less tanking weapons (with avoidance stats). One example was The Sun Eater, though weapons like these often were very, very situational and for times when threat wasn't an issue -- like halfway through a fight once the threat ceiling was firmly established.

The first weapon for many tanks was the Crystalforged Sword, followed by the Gavel of Unearthed Secrets. The search for the next best spellpower weapon often sent many prot paladins into the depths of the Arena system to accumulate the points for amazing tanking weapons like the Merciless Gladiator's Gavel. And of course raiding provided such iconic weapons as the Pink Lollipop. You can imagine how spellcasters felt about having to compete with the tank for loot.

Seeking uncrushability

Perhaps the biggest goal for pre-raid prot paladins was the journey to becoming "uncrushable." Back in The Burning Crusade, any boss that was three levels higher than you (basically, a raid boss) had the chance to do a crushing blow for 150% damage. The best way to handle that was to stack enough block and avoidance to push crushing blows off the combat table -- basically, the ancient predecessor to block capping.

Thus, often before you could set foot in a raid, you had to run normal and heroic dungeons to accumulate the gear for tanking raid bosses. Even then, certain fights could throw monkey wrenches at your ability to maintain uncrushability. I specifically remember the terror of tanking Nightbane and watching him cast fear and sending me running away, absorbing all hits in my tender, avoidance-free backside.

Tankadins in raids and heroics

In raids, prot paladins were often relegated to the role of what was called the offtankadin -- picking up adds on certain fights (thanks to our superior AoE threat) and managing them. This replayed itself in SSC with fights like Morogrim Tidewalker or just about the entirety of Mount Hyjal, with its waves of adds. And when not tanking adds on certain fights while the warriors did the heavy lifting, we'd switch to our holy sets and heal the other fights. The gear in the earlier run of raids often reinforced this flavor of paladin tanking, gear loaded with block stats and bonuses revolving around threat. Not particularly helpful when it came to withstanding the larger hits of bosses.

Meanwhile, when not in raids, prot paladins were tearing up heroics with our AoE threat and blocking prowess. Any tankadin who ran heroics in The Burning Crusade has heard at least once the quote, "Wow, I had no idea paladins could tank so well -- I'm only ever doing this with one of you guys." In no time, we were ripping through heroic 5-mans like Shattered Halls in no time, gathering up huge piles of mobs and AoEing them down through Consecration and reactive damage from abilities like Holy Shield and Blessing of Sanctuary, along with faction items like the Petrified Lichen Guard and dungeon drops like the Figurine of the Colossus. We were nigh-unstoppable AoE juggernauts.

This was great for the ego, but prot paladins dreamed of something more than just tanking the mobs. We wanted to tank the bosses.

Enter the maintankadins -- a movement began initially as a prot paladin here or there rose to become the main tank for their raid but really began to gel as progression continued and the gear from raids like Black Temple and Sunwell started to seriously support the playstyle. By the end of the expansion, many guilds had paladins as their main tanks, and the class was firmly established as a serious contender for being able to do that job.

Suddenly prot paladins were at the forefront of raids bringing down Illidan. Initially this was a curiosity -- someone used a prot paladin to tank Illidan?! -- but over time, we really established a reputation of being able to do the job. By the time was Sunwell was in full swing, people stopped questioning seeing a paladin performing the main tank role. We had arrived.

The only way from here is up

We're headed upward partly due to Blizzard's decision to support a playstyle of "bring the player, not the class" going forward and, in particular, a commitment to making all the tanking classes of equal ability. As you'll see, the next expansion really was a serious case of growing pains when it came to that aspiration, as a new tank class and the efforts made to buff some of the tanks created a bizarre roller coaster of viability that rocked the four specs for the entirety of the expansion.

The Light and How to Swing It shows paladin tanks how to take on the dark times brought by Cataclysm. Try out our 4 tips for upping your combat table coverage, find out how to increase threat without sacrificing survivability, and learn how to manage the latest version of Holy Shield.

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