Let’s talk about positioning.

One of the things that I, personally, feel separates the good tanks from the bad, is positioning. A lot of people think a tank’s job is as simple as being really hard to kill and/or ignore. And on most levels, it is. But there’s an art to doing that that is not always obvious at first glance.

Let’s start with being hard to kill. The biggest factors here are your defensive stats, ability to use your CDs judiciously, and how much your healer loves you (can’t go wrong with flowers and chocolates). But – new tanks take note – there are other things you can do or not do that will help or hinder your efforts in this regards, and they all come down to positioning.

It never fails to startle me how many people don’t know this, but most of your avoidance stats don’t count if a monster is hitting you from behind. You can’t block, dodge or parry a knife in your back, I’m afraid. Know what’s worse? A knife in your back can, and will crit. This is bad. Very bad.

The reason why everyone goes on and on about the 540 DEF cap and how important it is, is because it basically makes you immune to crits. It does a bunch of mathematical mumbo-jumbo behind the scenes that makes you impossible to hit for anything more than your average, run of the mill blow. Given that most bosses’ average, run of the bill blow will take 30-50% of your life in a single hit…you begin to understand why them not critting your pants is a good thing.

But that only works if they’re attacking you from the front. In short, if they’re behind you, you’re avoiding fuck all, and they’re hitting you twice as hard. You may as well be standing in the back in your sissy robe for all your 4 000 000 000g worth of armour and gems is doing for you.

Never turn your back on the mob.

Other defensive reasons to watch where you’re standing and where you’re facing?

Position yourself too close to a wall, and the next thing you know you can’t see anything but the mob’s chestpiece (or codpiece if you’re a gnome…which I am, from time to time…oh the things I’ve seen). Sometimes this is unavoidable, but the rest of the time…if you can’t see what’s going on past the rippling pectorals (or, if you’re a gnome…nevermind. Let’s not go there) of the guy you’re fighting, you can’t see the pat sneaking up on you from the left, or the mage at the back summoning fire right under you, or the blizzard going on all around you.

Pop in and out of Line of Sight (pillars in UK, anyone?) and watch your healer die of a heart attack (and yourself die of a big fucking axe in the face).

Fight on top of the stairs and spend the next thirty seconds wondering why your mages aren’t doing anything to help you kill the mobs that are happily munching through your armour and your healer’s mana. Watch said mages have to run up the stairs to get in LoS, only to catch a whirlwind in the face and die. Have fun DPSing that shit down by yourself. Hope your healer’s got a mana potion!

I could go on.

So let’s talk about ignoring. I can hear you now. But Protflashes, is it really going to impact my threat if I stand in a less-than-convenient location, or I’m facing the wrong way?

To which I respond, with a good degree of incredulity: did you really just ask me that?

When I get a shrill message from layteknight that consists of the word “threat!” over and over again (like an alarm clock, but the only way to shut it off is to make the red go away from the edges of her screen), it’s for one of three reasons, all of which I check in the following order:

  1. I’m not in Defensive Stance (or Frost Presence, or Bear Form, or wearing Righteous Fury – though, seriously, how do you miss that you’re not in bear form?). I’ve done this a grand total of once in my entire tanking career and was frightened so badly by it (“WTF? Why is it telling me Overpower is read—fuck!”) it has never happened again. Still, I check. Because oh my god is it happening again?!

  2. I have neglected to refresh (or, you know, put on at all) Vigilance. I’ve seen some warriors poo-poo this ability, and I can generally understand their point that perhaps it’s not always required and you should be able to generate threat without it (like the good old days before it existed). To these people I would politely point out that it’s not the good old days anymore (nor were they necessarily that good, but that’s a post for another day), and Blizzard has probably designed encounters, the class, and threat mechanics around the assumption that warriors will be raking in 10-15% of a DPS’ threat at any given point. I can usually go quite a while before this becomes an issue, but all it takes is a string of (un)lucky crits, or one of the six million overgeared, under-intelligent players out there, or a bad stun/fear/incapacitate to make things a lot less certain that they are otherwise. It makes a noticeable difference, whether the difference is required or not.
    • Aside: It’s a 30 minute buff that costs you nothing, increases your threat gen, and lowers the threat of a high DPS. STFU and use it.

  3. OR I’m facing the wrong way. This happens more often than I like, usually as a result of a wonky charge, and exacerbated by the fact that I’m a gnome. It’s not like I can see myself under all those monsters (interestingly, I have the same problem with blood elves. They’re bigger than gnomes, but they look the same back and front to me. The bears…well, this is less of an issue on a bear). If the first two options don’t pan out, I look to the centre of my screen to confirm or deny the presence of the “You are a fucking tool case” message, alternatively read as “Target must be in front of you”.

I can smash my Shield Slam key all I want, but if the monster’s not in front of me, I’m not generating any threat.

But there are other threat-generating reasons to watch my positioning. As a warrior, for example, one of my (only) AoE threat generators is Shockwave, which is a (fucking) cone. Which means that right up in front of me, the area it affects is actually very narrow. And, as tank, it’s not like things are standing more than two inches from my face. So for this to be effective, I have to make sure that not only are the mobs all in front of me, but they’re spaced out correctly so I can hit them all. Same goes for cleave and similar abilities.

Clump, my pretties! Clump!

Additionally, similar to the above note about chest(cod)pieces and not being able to see incoming pats or other badness going on around you – if the healer’s standing in a weird place (note to our old MH: seriously, why? Why would you stand over there? The mages, warlock, and RH are all standing in a squishy little clump on the other side of the room. Why would you not stand with them?) and catches an ambulatory monster, how are you going to taunt it if you’re busy inspecting the craftsmanship of your target’s armour? If your rogue (note to rogue: K, no, for real, why?) is on the wrong target for the four thousandth time, same question? You’re not even going to see him pull that shit, and there’s no way you’ll be able to select it to pull it back.

You are the tank. The tank! She who pulls shit and then takes it to the face. Whether or not you’re party/raid lead, you’re the one – by definition – who has to control where those mobs are standing. And you sure as Hell can’t make your party stand where you want them to, so you’re going to have move the mobs. You’ll have to push, shove and bully them into a useful position, from which you can survey the battlefield, taunt errant bullshit (or scream at it over vent), keep your enemies squarely in front of you, and maintain line of sight to every single member of your party and their threat-pulling-asses at all times.

If you don’t do this, you don’t have control of the battlefield. If I had a dime for every “tank” I’ve played with who figures once they’re at that DEF cap they can just faceroll the world…only to die beneath a swarm of angry, stabby mobs (or worse, lose aggro on them completely)…

Facerolling this shit will only get you so far.

If you want to tank, to truly tank, assume the position.