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Does tanking exist in PvP?


I was inspired by a recent discussion thread on the forums to talk about PvP tanking.

Earlier in Cataclysm, the changes to the tanking mechanic, Vengeance, led to tanking specs suddenly becoming viable damage dealers in PvP. This was removed in 4.3, apparently because it was felt that tanks were too powerful, given their survivability in PvP. Fast forward a few months, and we find some vestiges of PvP in tank specs remain. In mid-level Arena, blood DKs continue to crop up every now and then on survival-centric teams; however, they are not really the most formidable opponent. Their damage output is not so high, and if kited, they can be fairly easily (if slowly) taken down.

Many a feral cat druid will shift into bear form to use Frenzied Regeneration and increase their survival, and bear damage is fairly high (for a tank class, at least). However, bears lack the high self-healing of a blood DK, since Vengeance's removal.

Should Vengeance be returned to PvP? Frankly, I don't think so. Does tanking have a place in PvP? Should anyone PvP as a tank? Does tanking even exist in PvP?

Well, let's have a think about that. What is tanking? Tanking, in a PvE sense, is the act of ensuring the enemy is attacking you and not your weaker allies. If a PvE enemy is attacking a healer, the tank is doing something wrong.

Is it possible to do that in PvP? How can you force another player to attack you? Players rarely react to taunts, even yo mama jokes. Or do they? Let's place ourselves in a Battleground for a moment. How can you make people attack you? Well, the way to answer that is to reverse the question. How do you choose a target in a Battleground?

Stop trying to hit me, and hit me!

If you've been reading any of my previous articles, you ought to have some idea of target priorities. But sometimes, things happen that make you shift your attention to another player. For example, if that shaman you thought was elemental suddenly drops a Spirit Link Totem, you ought to switch your gaze onto them, as they're a healer, and as the addon suggests, Healers Have To Die!

Being a healer is not an option that's available to many tanks, unfortunately. Of the four classes that can tank, only two can heal, for starters! Paladins and druids could fake being a healer for a while; indeed, one of the paladin strengths is their off-healing ability, but it's not a charade that's sustainable.

So, let's think again. What else makes you switch to attack a target? Well, if the target is on low health, that is a motivator. How many times have you been trading blows with an enemy only to notice another one in your range who only has 50% health, and thought, "Aha, I'll get him down -- let's switch!" Maybe that's a way to have PvP players attack you, before activating survival cooldowns and replenishing your health.

Transmogrification tricks

Another method was hinted at lately by Cynwise on his blog, where he talked about transmogrification and portraits. Gear can sometimes make people think you might be more or less squishy than you are, but you have to be a little clever with it. Nobody's going to believe that a level 85 is genuinely in a Battleground in level 60 gear, so that would be a bad choice, since it would be considered an obvious transmogrification.

But the psychological impact of poorly matched or shoddy-looking gear may motivate people to attack you. A player who is clearly a shiny, polished killing machine may be a less appealing target than someone in a cobbled-together set. I would consider (if it's possible, of course) transmogrification into recognizable current PvE gear. Opponents may believe you've genuinely strolled into a Battleground in your raid gear! (Of course, you should be careful not to do so!)

The troll tank

Another method might be to have a very recognizable name, or behave memorably. If you're called something forgettable and behave forgettably, you likely make no real impact on the memories of other players. However, if you're called Pwninghorde and emote /laugh as your enemies die, you may well regain their attention when they see you again. This, basically, is tanking by trolling, and I'm not sure if I'm morally OK with it, but it can certainly work. Returning to our earlier note about transmogrification, an obnoxious, stand-out transmog would be a great addition to the PvP tanking troll!

Of course, the most reliable way to get people to attack you in PvP is to be the sole defender of a base or tower or to have the flag, and this is where tanking specs excel. You will, however, need high resilience. As I've mentioned in past columns, your PvE gear stats will help a bit, but don't forget the requirement for high resilience.

I would add as an aside that it seems to me that healers are the tanks of PvP. In many an Arena team, it is the healer who is the prime target. Healers, played well, can take an incredible amount of damage, and when taken on in Battlegrounds (as you should be doing), they can occupy the enemy for a long time -- just like a tank would. And in my personal opinion, the best flag carrier in the game right now is a high-resilience holy paladin.

What are your thoughts on tanking in PvP?

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