So, as I’ve probably made abundantly clear by now, I like to tank. I have a lot of tanks. I have at least one of each of the four types, and all of them I’ve played into Northrend (two of them I’ve played/raided with at 80).
The basic rules for tanking apply across the board (don’t let anyone tell you different, and yes, I have had people try to tell me different):
- Make every NPC in the room hate you with the heat of a thousand, fiery suns.
- Make sure the monsters are facing away from the raid/group (your raid/group will often be unhelpful, here. Some of them like standing in front. It’s their job to not stand there, but if they’re not going to do it, you’re going to die too, so suck it up and move).
- Make sure your defences are sufficient to be taking whatever damage the instance/raid can dole out (that means hitting your caps).
- Never get out of your healer’s line of sight. Never. Not just because you’ll die. That’s no more fun for the healer than when your DPS pull for you and make it impossible for you to tank. They’re here because they want to heal you. Help them out.
But that’s about where the similarities end. Each class seems to have its own rhythm. I’m not necessarily talking about mechanics here – there are plenty of blogs, forum posts, articles, and various other examinations of which classes excel at which encounters. I find myself siding with Blizz more often than not on this one – bring the player, not the class. Don’t much care if a DK has stronger AoE threat; if he can’t pick up pats when they come in, or keep the warlock from pulling, I’d rather have the warrior who knows what she’s doing, even if her AoE threat is weaker.
Failing that, I’d take DPS that prioritize Omen over Recount, but hey. Some dreams were just never meant to come true.
What I mean when I say rhythm is how they feel. How they play. This is an inherently subjective topic – it’ll be different for me than other people. Or at the very least, the degree of enjoyment derived from one rhythm versus another will vary from player to player.
I was originally going to go through all four classes in this post, but then I realized I’d already hit an unwieldy length with just the first two, and that I need to think a little more about the last two since I give them less play time. So, for today I’ll stick with my two 80s – the ones I’ve played into the end-game and therefore am a little better positioned to comment on. The other two I’ll save for another post.
Let’s start with my current obsession – the warrior. It’s been a long, long time since I played the warrior in any kind of dedicated fashion – in fact, I practically ignored the class all the way through Burning Crusade. I was levelling a bear and a pally at the time, so my attention was there. And I stuck with the pally into Wrath. But, sooner or later the siren call could not be ignored. I went back to my character list and there she was. Sitting there all lonely, her lips turned down in a pout, her eyes accusing me of abandoning her, betraying just how deeply she’d been wounded by my betrayal. “I was your first tank – your first real, serious character,” she said. “How could you ditch me just because they finally let you play paladins on the Horde? Was it the hair? The glowy eyes? What was it? And…I mean…a bear? You replaced me with a bear?”
Oh the guilt! I got down on my knees and begged her forgiveness, and together we ventured back into Northrend.
It was like picking up an instrument you haven’t played in years. After a few clumsy trips and awkward stumbles, your fingers suddenly start finding the right combos and chords, almost as though no time has passed in between. The class had changed greatly in the intervening period and I had to go through a brief fit of research to make sure I’d accounted for all the adjustments, but once I’d reconciled the new with the old, it was music.
That has little to do with the warrior though – that’s the magic of your home-class. The one you never leave for long. The one you compare every other class in the game to. Mine, evidently, is warrior. Ironically it was the last class I tried because I didn’t think I’d like it. Ha, oh ha, how it amuses.
So…what was I talking about?
Right, tanking rhythm.
The warrior’s rhythm, if I may use a word I remember only vaguely from my halcyon days of piano lessons (I was…hmm…7- or 8-years-old I believe), is a staccato. At least, my keyboard makes it sound as though I am playing one. If you’re wondering what my mistells look like when I open the chat window by mistake while I’m tanking:
Half the key presses above won’t actually do anything. I’m pre-empting the GCD or am startled by an unexpected proc or praying Revenge’s CD comes off before the proc disappears and is wasted. Basically I’m spamming Devastate unless something else lights up – anything else, really. The mouse is moving in the background, hitting other abilities with longer CDs.
One of the changes I referred to earlier was that when I left the warrior, Devastate was The Big Deal. Woe unto you if you neglected to push Devastate. Woe and ruin! You were single-handedly wiping your raid.
When I came back to it, Devastate was something less than meh. It is now a filler button. Only pressed when absolutely nothing else on your toolbars is available (and, you know, for Sword and Board). I can live with that. We have a raid member who likes to sum up my contribution to the raid as “yay! Sunder armour!” So I like to do it as infrequently as possible, because last time I checked, Sunder Armour is not the extent of my contribution and I am loathe to do anything to help Mr. Stacking-the-DPS-Metres-Is-Helpful-(to-me). Also known as Mr. Too-Good-To-Get-Out-Of-The-Bad. Also voted Most Likely to Get Yelled At Over Vent.
So, with the warrior, it’s sort of like whack a mole. You watch your toolbars waiting for buttons to light up, CDs to come off, and keep up a steady thwacking of the Devastate button so that no GCD is wasted. You keep in mind your priority list to maximize threat in the event two or more buttons are available at the same time. But from that point forward your goal is to keep everything on CD. It’s not a class that’s easy to play asleep.
While you’re watching your toolbars like a hawk, of course, you also need to be watching your health, your healers, the adds, your target, the ground under your feet, and any of another half-dozen things simultaneously. It all requires a reaction from you – immediate and sharp. If you need to be on your defensive CDs, you need to be on them fast, and you need to be on the right one at the right time. If you need to get out of the bad, you need to do it while still watching your toolbars and pressing your buttons, or the aggro monkeys are going to do their thing and monkey your aggro.
The warrior is an As Soon As Possible class. All buttons must be pressed, in order of their priority, As Soon As Possible, or it all dissolves into fail, and it doesn’t matter what else is going on at the time. The class should be labelled “Must be able to multi-task”.
The pally is probably my second-favourite tanking class – not because of mechanics, but more because of whimsy. Of all the tanking classes available, this one is most in line with what I see in my head when I picture that mythical tank archetype. The warrior is a close second, but a warrior can also be many other archetypes, where a pally – no matter what spec they are – by definition fits the bill (and, in truth, the pally is the only class (off the top of my head) in which every single spec is attractive to me. I hate DPSing generally, but I did enjoy Ret when I played it. Haven’t tried Holy yet, but I’m dual-specced into it and it is a shiny gem I stare at longingly, wanting so bad to try it. But I am a big, gigantor coward when it comes to healing).
As far as rhythm goes, with apologies to all the pally tanks out there, I honestly find it really boring. I played this class forever – it’s one of my raid tanks. I enjoyed it, truly and honestly. It’s fun in its own way. But I was not exactly put out when I returned to the warrior.
The pally’s tanking mistell looks like this:
Do you see how neat and orderly that is? There’s not even mouse action going on in the back. On the warrior, there’s mouse action. There’s mouse action because there are too many things to press and not enough fingers to hit them all. Even while I’m mistelling that line of 2s, 3s, and 4s, the mouse is going in the back, slapping my longer CD stuff, spamming Heroic Strike, and hovering over Shield Wall. On the pally, it sits over the Orange-shield-thing (the one that’s like Divine Shield, but reduces damage taken by 50% and doesn’t monkey my aggro). And…that’s it really. Sometimes it clicks on Healbot in order to cleanse (because God forbid one of our 600 hybrid DPS with all the dispels in the world do it) or Righteous Defence someone’s ass, but that’s really about it.
This is how you pally tank:
Sometimes you can switch up the order of the numbers – for those who aren’t versed in pally tanking, your rotation (a true rotation, not a priority list) goes:
6 second CD ability – 9 second CD ability – 6 second – 9 second – 6 second – 9 second.
As long as you have a single point (no more, no less) in Improved Judgments in the Ret tree, you will never waste a GCD, and never not have a button to press. As long as you follow that rotation, the threat is plentiful, includes AoE, and makes it deliriously difficult for anyone, yourself included, to monkey your aggro. This is a class – on boss fights involving no adds and no moving, anyway – you could play while asleep. And, to be honest, that has an attraction all its own.
The rhythm is monotonous, but not unpleasant. It’s steady, stable, and straightforward. It’s easy on your keyboard. You can frantically smash your keys if you want, but you don’t need to and it won’t do anything. You can watch the CDs come off and hit the button at the exact right time. Because you’re working from a true rotation, with no random procs, you always know what you’re pressing next. It leaves your eyes free to watch adds, to watch the floor. I’m quicker to taunt on the pally because I can afford to be extra vigilant elsewhere, since my toolbar requires less of my attention.
Any tank is challenging, but I would heartily recommend the paladin to people interested in trying tanking to see if it’s for them. It’s not a deeply customizable play style, and it has less choice in the heat of the moment than most of the other classes, but it’s a steady, stable one, and it’s a forgiving class with a lot of utility. Once you learn your rotation, you can take the time to learn how to manage your defensive CDs, how to position mobs, when and how to taunt – the softer skills that differentiate good tanks from bad. Because less focus on the basics is required, it’s a solid class to learn the advanced techniques with – or to use the advanced techniques. I will admit there are times on the warrior I find myself wishing I was a pally so I could deal with X just a bit quicker than I could otherwise when I can’t afford to miss a shield slam proc.
The pally is an All In Due Time, class. Things happen when they happen, at predictable intervals, and as long as you’re sensitive to the timing, it’s easily managed. The Pally is in control, provides time to think, and room to react.
Next Time, on Aggro Management: Druids and Death Knights and me sucking, oh my!