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- This article is about the game term. For other uses, see Tank (disambiguation).
A tank is a character whose primary role is to absorb damage and prevent others from being attacked. Tanks are "meatshields", so to speak, putting themselves between the mobs and the more vulnerable party members. The tank's task is to hold aggro of the mobs to keep them off the other group members. With everyone nuking the same target (directed by the main assist), the mobs go down faster and there is less damage done to the group.
In a classic tank-and-spank fight, the tank should be the only one taking damage, and therefore be the only one who needs healing. Even in more complex fights, healers should be able to concentrate mostly on the tank. If all group members need a lot of healing, either the tank is not generating enough threat or the other players generate too much. This is a common problem in unexperienced groups, one of the most frequent reasons for wipes.
Tanking is heavily tied in with the threat game mechanic. Most mobs determine the target of their attacks by using Threat. For every enemy player or pet, the mob keeps a numeric value of how much it dislikes that enemy (= Threat). The enemy with the highest threat value is the one it usually attacks. Threat is mainly caused by three things - damaging that enemy, healing, and using special abilities that cause extra threat (such as or ). Each mob has its own threat table.
A tank has to do three things:
- First and foremost, tanks must generate more threat than the healer(s) on all targets. Every time a healer effectively heals, threat is generated on all mobs that are close enough. It's the tank's responsibility to keep the mobs off the healer.
- Second, tanks must survive. Survival is (at minimum) a two-person job and both the tank and the healer are responsible for this. For the tank, survival comes either by avoiding hits, reducing the severity of incoming damage, establishing a vast pool of hit points, or self-regeneration (healing from items or abilities).
- A tank's third responsibility is to generate extra threat on the current 'kill' target(s) to allow the damage dealers to kill it effectively without attracting the monster's attention. If the party is using AoE this will mean generating high threat on all targets.
Survival is the most important factor - if the tank or healer dies, the battle is usually lost. After that a measure of tank quality is the amount of extra threat he can produce - the more threat, the more damage can be dealt to the mob. High damage output made possible by extra threat eventually conserves healer mana and thus increases group survivability even more. At the same time, it's also the damage dealers' job to make sure they stay below the tank's threat by using threat reduction abilities or even holding back their fire if necessary.
Primary tank classes
There are four combinations of class and spec which can truly be considered main tanks: Protection warriors, Feral druids, Protection paladins, and Blood death knights. Many other combinations of spec and class may substitute as tank in certain situations, but they are generally unable to tank most of the same-level content.
The following criteria define a tank's performance:
- Health (Hitpoints)
- Damage Mitigation (Avoidance, Block, and Armor)
- Threat Generation
Each class has its strengths and weaknesses; and, in end-game raids, each of them find easy and difficult bosses. Generally, Protection warriors are considered the best single-target tanks, while Protection paladins are easily the best mass-aggro AOE tanks. Feral Druids are best in situations where high amounts of physical damage are incoming, while Death Knights are the best at handling magical damage.
- See also: Comparison of tank classes
- Main article: Warriors as tanks
Protection-specced Warriors with appropriate gear are the classic boss-encounter tanks in the game. In Vanilla, they actually were the only valid tank class for many encounters. They have great damage mitigation vs. single targets, and a large and versatile array of tools for tanking, which include: threat-generating tools such as , , and multiple taunts; many mitigation abilities; and finally a few panic buttons like , and . A warrior tank has the fairly useful ability to break fear effects at will. makes warriors the most mobile tanks in the game.
Problem areas include AoE threat generation. Warriors are certainly capable at this, but they must work for it. They lack a spammable or fire-and-forget ability. Warriors also tend to have somewhat smaller health pools than other tanks, though the difference is not too large.
- Main article: Druids as tanks
Feral druid tanks feature the highest hit-point and armor values of any class in the game. Before Wrath of the Lich King they used to have the highest armor values as well, but was changed in that expansion. It seemed to have changed in Cataclysm. Besides the basic allotment of tanking skills (taunt, high-aggro moves, etc.), feral tanks are immune to and can shift out of rooting and snaring effects.
Feral druids have the advantage that even in tank gear and with a tank spec they can deal decent damage in . This makes them attractive off-tanks in raids, as they can switch to Cat form after their tanking targets are dead and help DPS.
- Main article: Paladins as tanks
Paladins use mana and build threat with spell damage, with the key to their threat-generation being . They can wear plate armor. They excel in pulls with many mobs, with abilities such as , , and , enabling them to keep many mobs on themselves more easily than a warrior or druid. Previously, a large proportion of their threat generation was reactive, making them poor secondary aggro tanks or tanks for casters. With and Shield of Righteousness in WotLK, this is less of a problem. They are vulnerable to mana-burn abilities and rely on magic-based threat, making it difficult to gain aggro on mobs that Silence.
They have less health than other similarly geared tanks, but in return have better damage-mitigation than other tanks. Weaknesses include a lack of an ability to quickly close distance with a mob, but a paladin tank can still force ranged mobs to focus on him by using ranged taunts such as and .
Blood death knight
- Main article: Death knights as tanks
Death knights have the best mitigation against magic users of any tanking class. Death knights wear plate armor but cannot use a shield, allowing use of two-hand weapons or dual-wielding one-hand weapons. The primary tanking buff reduces damage taken and increase threat generation.
As of patch 4.0.1, death knights have a dedicated tank talent tree, Blood. Death knights generate threat with a mix of disease DoTs (, ), physical abilities ( , , ), and magic ( Death and Decay, and Death Coil).
Secondary tank classes
Several other classes have limited tanking abilities, mostly as off-tanks or tanks the 5-man instances below the level cap. Secondary tank classes generally require special builds to tank effectively. All other combinations of class and build except the main tank types fall under this category.
- Main article: Shamans as tanks
The shaman is probably the best tank-replacement class. Wearing mail armor and being able to use a shield, they have access to the second-best type of gear. They have no problems at all with one half of tanking - aggro generation. Beyond the threat generated by melee attacks, shamans can cast which creates extra threat, use self-heals to add healing aggro, and finally use for AoE situations.
However, the other half of a tanks job is damage mitigation, and in that department shamans are severely lacking. They lack the good damage reduction abilities/talents of the other primary tanks, and their gear has no avoidance/mitigation stats.
If acting as healer or ranged damage dealer, a shaman is in a good position to pull aggro from cloth wearers in an emergency. Even with caster gear, shamans are not quite as "squishy" as most other caster classes (shamans may survive two or even three hits when cloth wearers are one-hit kills), but they should still avoid melee combat as much as possible.
Minions as tanks
Some pets can actually serve as tanks. In the early game (prior to the level cap), pets can even sometimes replace a full tank. In such a situation, the healers should always remember to heal and buff the pet.
Pets usually can tank a single mob adequately. Theoretically it is possible to have several mobs on one pet by switching targets, but in practice the threat generation of pets will not be high enough to keep aggro off the healer for an extended period of time.
Hunters can have an assortment of beasts as pets, and some of them can actually serve as tanks quite well. All pets have a taunt-like ability , and hold aggro reasonably well. The use of the pet often allows the Hunter to solo various group quest bosses without the help of other players.
With pet talent trees, introduced in WotLK, tanking even level 80 instances is possible. With 4 hunters and one healer, killing Coren Direbrew was not so hard. However using pets as a tanks in "real" bosses is not recommended as they dont have such large health pools or avoidance stats as real tanks.
Tenacity family pets are the best for tanking, both due to their extra health and armor and their available talents. Turtles and beetles are the best at tanking tough enemies due to their and abilities mitigating damage.
Gimmick hunter builds and gear (stacking stamina, and resilience for crit-immunity) can yield a surprisingly capable tanking pet, though at the cost of completely crippling the hunter's DPS. Pets have actually tanked raid bosses, though more as a stunt than anything else. Pets can get certain abilities that would be hugely imbalanced for a "proper" tank, like a 40% increase to all healing received.
The voidwalker minion is designed as a tanking pet. Although the voidwalker lacks a true taunting ability, it does have two abilities which generate rather high amounts of threat: and . While it is unsuitable for tanking any sort of instance, it does allow warlocks to solo many "group" quests quite easily.
- Main article: Rogues as tanks
Rogues can temporarily increase their damage mitigation greatly and survive tanking through abilities such as and (sometimes known as "evasion tanking"). These have a short duration, however, and rogue tanking should be very temporary. Rogues have no threat generation abilities, meaning aggro must be achieved through superior DPS. Rogues wear leather armor, which is pretty weak, so they must tank by relying almost entirely on avoidance rather than mitigating damage.
It was formerly possible to accumulate enough agility as a rogue to become unhittable, but this could only be achieved with , and the racial. This combination allowed a rogue to tank certain bosses (including raid bosses) who mainly deal melee damage. However, threat generation was much lower than that of a regular tank (as he is not specced and geared for DPS), and with such low health he had no hope to survive bosses that do significant spell damage without the use of . Therefore, it was generally not something worth trying except for the amusement. Since the introduction of diminishing returns on avoidance this trick is no longer possible.
Some classes have abilities that can effectively serve as tanks, if only for a few seconds. In some cases, such as if the boss is near death and the main tank has just died, these abilities can serve as a last measure to hold off the boss for the DPS to bring them down. Such abilities often summon some form of ally that will immediately remove threat from you (or just generate large amounts of threat) if cast.
- Mages can use , which will draw aggro if the mage is the one targeted. After the images die, threat will return to the mage, who can then quickly use to continue to burst the boss.
- Shamans can use which lasts for 2 minutes. Healers (either the shaman him/herself if specced restoration or other party members) can heal the elemental during this time.
- Death knights can use to remove aggro from players. Quick usage of , , and can help save weaker party members until the boss is dead or the main tank is resurrected, buffed, healed, and ready to take back over.
- Warriors can switch to a weapon + shield combo, and use , Taunt, and to survive until the boss is dead or the MT resurrected.
- Druids can shift into and use . Feral DPS druids also have the benefit of stronger bear abilities, although they may still lack the durability that comes with having a dedicated tank spec/gear.
In general, all plate-wearing classes/druids can and should briefly switch into tanking form and use a survival cooldown until the boss is dead, or the MT is back up and ready to taunt back. In this case, retribution paladins should also activate to help avoid the boss from hitting healers, which can usually turn a bad but still-tenable situation into an immediate wipe.
Learning to tank
Learning to tank is an interesting challenge, particularly for warriors and paladins, because the excellent damage output abilities they've used for solo/small group play are so poor at generating threat. The threat article has some basic numbers on which abilities create good threat. The aggro article also has good information regarding how mob targeting works, and is a valuable resource for understanding how NPCs decide who to beat up.
In vanilla, levelling a tank was quite a chore, however with dual-spec and the Dungeon Finder, it has actually become enjoyable - tanks are the most sought-after class in the group finder. Low-level instances are more of a challenge for a tank than most people think. The primary challenge is actually to deal with inexperienced players who tend to just want to DPS anything that moves, rather than work as a group, and lack of situational awareness. Luckily at lower levels enemies are less deadly and damage dealers' own defensive abilities may keep them up provided they don't go too crazy. As always the important thing is to protect the healer.
As with most skills, there's no substitute for experience. Doing some solo PvE may help to develop skills that are useful later when tanking in instances (like the proper use of the panic buttons).
- For warriors:
- Practice staying in ( stance dancing is no longer necessary) and using , and as much as possible.
- For low-level warriors, practice using on each of 2, 3, or 4 targets in turn (be careful not to over-pull and kill yourself!) - at higher levels, substitute , Revenge, and/or for Sunder Armor.
- Practice to keep the global cooldown ticking.
- For druids:
- Practice Lacerating alternating targets with 2, 3, or 4 targets. (be careful not to over-pull and kill yourself!)
- Practice to keep the global cool-down ticking. at every cool-down, when Mangle is not up, also keep up.
- Practice pulling with or , but be sure to shift to before the mobs arrive.
- Use Swipe and Thrash for tanking multiple mobs, but be sure to get in a few Mangles on the main target.
- For paladins:
- Make sure to have up at all times!
- Use a one-handed weapon and shield (using a two-hander at low levels may work with a capable healer, but it's not recommended).
- To tank multiple targets, use and . Be careful not to break crowd control.
- Use line of sight and/or to pull casters.
- While bubbled, mobs ignore the paladin; use a macro to bubble/unbubble to get rid of fear or other forms of crowd control like this Tanking Divine Shield.
- For death knights:
- Use .
- Use / (or at lower levels ). Unlike other tanks DKs have the luxury of free weapon enchant swapping, just Death Gate to Acherus, rerune the weapon and teleport back.
- Use or line of sight to pull casters.
- Remember that is not the primary taunt, is! It's less flashy, but the cooldown is much shorter. Save Death Grip for pulls and emergency situations. To some players, seems to be a good idea because it reduces the secondary taunt's cooldown, but it is actually not needed and those 2 points are better spent elsewhere.
- Use (once the target is fully diseased!) and , along with Death and Decay (be careful not to break crowdn control), to tank multiple targets.
- serves a twofold purpose: it can be used to protect against harmful spells, and it will force a caster mob to run into melee range of its target.
- is the main runic power dump for Death Knight tanks. Use Death Coil sparingly, if at all.
- For ALL tanks:
- Keep an eye on the healer's mana and do not pull more mobs if they are too low.
- Make sure to keep the camera zoomed far back for better situational awareness.
- Practice moving around while not turning your back on mobs, both backing away and strafing away or around.
- Practice toying with caster mobs and a nice wall, rock, or corner to get a feel for how line of sight pulling works.
- Stay aware of patrolling mobs and be ready to rescue group mates with some quick threat generation moves if someone unexpectedly pulls.
- If there's a choice between rescuing the healer or any other party member, always pick the healer. It is possible, if the healer has enough mana, to kill a mob pack without damage dealers. Make sure that the healer is alive and full of mana at all times.
- Watch for various kinds of normal or cone AoE attacks that mobs use. Position yourself and the mobs to prevent as much of their potential damage as possible from hitting the group.
- Learn which mobs use fear and which mobs run at low health. These are probably the most common cause of adds, and thus wipes. The best way of dealing with both is to pull well back so feared players won't run into new groups.
If the healer is good, try chain pulling. If things go really well, try to pull several groups at once - this allows the damage dealers to use AoE. Well geared healers can sustain this for quite some time, but still be careful. Some healers tend to forget to check their own mana pool...