Kurn's Guide on How to Behave as a Tank in Dungeons

Kurn’s Guide on How to Behave as a Tank in Dungeons

You’ll note that I don’t specify “random” or “heroic” or “raid” dungeons. That’s because I believe that my guide is good for any level tanking class in any size of dungeon, be it 5, 10, 15, 20, 25 or 40. It was inspired, of course, by the fact that I’ve done more 5-man regulars and heroics in the last week since 3.3 came out than I have in the previous five months, but there are some good basics here of which all tanks should be aware.

Why am I writing this? Because I’ve run tons of dungeons in my WoW career as all three roles (healing, tanking, damage) and every time I’m on one of my toons, there’s always at least one moron who doesn’t know how to appropriately behave in a group. Always. And those are the GOOD groups.

So, from someone who raids primarily as a holy paladin, who runs anything she can with her hunter, who will reluctantly tank as her paladin, who pugs raid content on her resto shammy, who plays a mage in the 70s and has a dual-specced resto/feral (tank) druid in the 70s as well, here’s my guide for tanks.

1) Know how to generate threat. This is the number one priority. Don’t even think about signing up for a dungeon as a tank if you don’t know how to generate threat. No kidding, I am serious. You will be voted out of the group if you can’t generate sufficient aggro to prevent mobs from attacking level-appropriate party members. This WILL be different than how you approach doing damage, it may require a different spec and will probably require different gear. I recommend you do some reading about your class if you’re not sure how to generate threat. TankSpot.com is one of the best tank resources out there, bar none, point-blank. MainTankadin is the best prot pally website on the internet. Big Bear Butt is an amazing feral tank site. And deathknight.info seems to be a good spot to learn stuff — don’t forget to visit the forums.

Probably the most important thing any tank should remember to do is turn on that ability for threat: Righteous Fury for a paladin (which I’ve forgotten more than my fair share of times), Frost Presence for a DK, Defensive Stance for a warrior and, well, if you’re trying to tank in moonkin, cat or tree forms, give up now.

2) Know how to tank more than one add at a time. One of the biggest, most obvious problems for newer tanks is handling more than one mob and having enough threat on all those mobs while your group kills them. It is NEVER acceptable to hold three adds and let a fourth go running off. It is NEVER acceptable to hold one mob and let three go running off. You NEED to hold aggro on all of them and be ready to taunt any free mobs off. Admittedly, paladins and druids have it easy — Consecration and Swipe are 360 degrees of threaty goodness. Death and Decay is great, except it’s not a constant thing like Consecrate — it lasts 10 seconds, but is on a 30 second cooldown. It’ll be great for initial aggro, but then it’s up to you to use your class abilities and talents to maintain that initial aggro on all those mobs. Warriors, we’re talking Thunderclap, Cleave, Shockwave, and you should have vigilance up on whoever steals aggro from you the most so that your taunt is being refreshed when you need it to be.

3) Know how to stay alive. Yes, you have a healer who is probably dedicating most of their time to ensuring that you don’t die. But there’s more to it than that. Let’s break it down.

a) Gear/Defense/Defense Rating:

No one is expecting you to go running 5-man regular dungeons with TOC-level gear. This isn’t about “gear score” or anything of the sort. This is about knowing how to itemize and enchant and gem and how to make sure mobs can’t crit you. Granted, you shouldn’t be tanking heroics in greens; try for good-quality blues or low-level epics, but the basics of it boil down to there being a lot of math involved. Since I am bad at math, that’s something I won’t get into, but the bottom line here is you need defense (or talents or resilience, although resilience provides much less benefit than defense) to ensure that your chance to be crit is reduced by 5.6% for any raid and 5.4% for any heroic. Skull-level mobs (bosses) are mathematically 3 levels higher than you as opposed to your regular level 82 bosses in heroics, so the math is slightly different.

This means that your *defense*, not your defense *rating*, but your DEFENSE, should be 535 (or higher) for heroics or 540 (or higher) for raids. DO NOT BOTHER trying to tank a level 80 dungeon without being uncrittable by the mobs there. Granted, it’s a little difficult to always be defense-capped while levelling, but then you’re probably not going to wipe the group if you get crit once or twice in a regular levelling dungeon. You WILL wipe the group if you get crit a couple of times on a boss fight in a heroic or a raid setting.

Being “defense capped” (which isn’t a terribly accurate term — you basically can’t have too much defense. The proper term is “crit capped”.) is approximately 70 billion times more important than your health pool. So don’t worry if you have, you know, 25k health if you have 535+ defense. Take every opportunity to stack defense. +20 defense gems, defense to cloak and chest, defense helm and shoulder enchants… stack defense if you’re not at that cap. You will need 4.9 defense rating for 1 defense skill. ALWAYS round down when doing quick math, because if you end up right on the cusp, you could become crittable again. And, like I said, you can’t really have too much defense. Defense adds to your chances to dodge, parry, block and be missed. Clearly, defense continues to be great for paladins and warriors who can dodge, parry, be missed AND block, but it loses some oomph when it comes to death knights, who cannot block as they don’t wear shields. You think that’s bad? How about the druids? Apparently, despite the fact that bears in Ashenvale can parry me just fine, feral druid tanks cannot parry or block, leaving dodge as their primary avoidance stat.

And that is why, druids, you don’t have defense on most of your gear. That’s cool, though. Blizzard compensated you for that by giving you a talent that every tank would love to have — Survival of the Fittest. 3/3 in SotF and voila! You are now uncrittable by any mob who is up to 5 levels above you (although, you can be crushed by a mob four levels above you, so I recommend not trying to tank anything higher than 3 levels above you).

In short: Have 535+ defense for heroics and 540+ for raids.

b) Defensive Cooldowns:

Ardent Defender (proc) and Divine Protection for paladins. (NOT DIVINE SHIELD. If you EVER bubble yourself as a tank when you have aggro, you *fail*. Of course, bubbling to remove awful bleed effects or such when you are NOT currently tanking the boss and right-clicking it off immediately is fine. The key is not while you’re tanking.)
Shield Wall and Enraged Regeneration and Last Stand for warriors. If you have a bunch of rage, pop Enraged Regeneration and Last Stand to help out your healer when a boss enrages or starts hitting harder or you accidentally stand in something. Shield Wall is your real “OH CRAP” button.
Icebound Fortitude, Anti-magic Shell and Anti-magic Zone (depending on spec) for death knights. Icebound Fortitude, with its 2m cooldown, should be used first and should be used whenever you can, basically, during a fight that does something “extra”. Lightning Nova on Loken, for example, or when Ormorok the Tree-Shaper frenzies in Nexus. Anti-Magic Shell should be used on any magical damage you can to mitigate that damage taken, and if you have 4pc T8 (though most people should be moving on to T9/T10 now), it’ll mitigate 10% of physical damage taken, too. If you’re Unholy and have Anti-Magic Zone, that’s a great party/raid-wide cooldown that should be used on magical damage effects as well.
Survival Instincts, Frenzied Regeneration and Barkskin for bears. Barkskin is great, a 1m cooldown and usable ANY TIME. You can be stunned, feared, asleep, whatever, and you can pop it for a 20% damage reduction. Survival Instincts is always fun to pop to see how huge your health pool will get and Frenzied Regeneration, like a warrior’s Enraged Regeneration, will convert rage to health. Druids have some very nice cooldowns.

Also, if you’ve got Herbalism, don’t underestimate Lifeblood. It’s a small amount of health, but every point helps. Same with Draenei and Gift of the Naaru. Who doesn’t love instant-cast healing spells?

And don’t forget to use your tanking trinkets. Got one that increases your dodge rating? Pop it when the boss is super angry with you! Got lots of mobs on you and a trinket that increases your armor when you’re hit? Pop it then! A tank who knows how to use their trinkets (and which ones to equip for the encounters) is a good tank.

4) Know when to taunt. Something that bothers the crap out of me is that people taunt like crazy these days. So let me explain exactly the mechanic of a taunt. And by “taunt”, please take that as an umbrella term for: Taunt (and to an extent, Mocking Blow), Growl, Dark Command and Righteous Defense (and to an extent, Hand of Reckoning).

A taunt does not, in itself, cause threat. A taunt will match you with the highest threat on that mob’s aggro table. But it will not add threat if the mob is already on you, as the various tooltips say. This isn’t what I’ve noticed is a problem. What I HAVE noticed is a problem is this:

Tanks are taunting to pull.


Ten MILLION kinds of wrong! You do not taunt to PULL. There IS no aggro, so basically, a taunt to pull is a facepull. You’re getting on the initial aggro table and that’s basically it and it’s EXTREMELY easy for anyone to pull off you. If you had any kind of hot ticking on you, guess what? Your healer now has aggro. Or that overeager DPS is now dead. Either way, bad news.

Paladins, of course, are slightly different since Hand of Reckoning’s tooltip says:

“Taunts the target to attack you.  If the target is tauntable and not currently targeting you, causes [1 + 0.5 * AP] Holy damage.”

So when I cast Hand of Reckoning on a mob who isn’t looking at me, because we’re not yet in combat, that gets me about 8k threat off the bat in my current gear. But it’s still a lazy way to get aggro and should be avoided.

Warriors: Heroic Throw is a great ranged pull for you. If you don’t need to range pull, run on in and start producing aggro.
Death Knights: Death Grip is a great ranged pull for you, unless you’re pulling all casters/ranged.
Druids: Feral Faerie Fire (wow, try saying that three times fast!) will cause some nice threat off the bat if you want to range pull.
Paladins: Avenger’s Shield anyone? If you can’t use your shield for some reason and you NEED to range pull, go ahead and use Hand of Reckoning.

Also, if you’re grouped with a hunter, please make sure they’re using misdirection on you. It’s very easy for hunters to pull from range. And most hunters enjoy doing so. If a hunter you’re grouped with doesn’t like to MD you, they fail.

5) Know how to pick up the mobs. Should be pretty simple, right? There’s a group right over there, so you jog over and beat on them. Things aren’t always that easy. In Violet Hold today, for example, I saw a warrior who just stood back, waited for the adds to spawn at the portal and then charged in. Is this wrong? Not when it’s a single add (Portal Guardian). But when it’s a group of mobs that all scatter and charge for the door? WRONG. This idiot warrior refused to get close enough to the portal to get initial aggro because he (or she) was insisting that charging in was the best choice. No. It’s not. Getting initial aggro so that your healer doesn’t, or that your shammy’s totems don’t, THAT is the best option. Refer back to rule #1: know how to generate threat. Part of generating threat is BEING NEAR THE MOB.

6) Know how to Line of Sight (LOS) mobs. I’m pretty sure that I notice this because I’ve been a hunter for four years, but people don’t know how to line of sight pull. What does that mean?

a) You are looking at a bunch of mobs, probably casters.
b) You have a section of wall or a hill or some place you can hide from the casters nearby.
c) You aggro them somehow.
d) You run behind the wall or down the hill and wait for the casters to catch up to you.

That’s it. Pretty simple. A lot of people are doing this obsessively in Halls of Reflection, which is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of, but that’s another rant entirely. No mob can hit you if they’re not able to see you because you ran around a corner. So what do they do? They chase you. Casters (and other ranged mobs) will start casting again as soon as they have a clear line of sight on you, so being right at that corner or being prepared to run up that hill when they arrive is a good idea.

Corollary: Do NOT LOS your healer. That’s to say, always make sure your healer can heal you. Don’t go up on top of the stairs when you can fight on the steps themselves and your healer is below you, or else they’ll have to chase you up. Chasing you means they’re not casting, which means they’re not healing, which means you or someone else could die.

7) Know how to position the mobs.
There are a lot of mobs in this game that do frontal cone damage or cleave damage. What’s that mean? A frontal cone means there’s a triangular area of damage from the front of the mob, extending out to the sides. If you’re the tank, you’re expected to take the brunt of this, but you’re also expected to turn the mob so it’s not facing the group. Cleave damage means that the boss has a frontal attack that will hit ANYONE standing in front of it (in range) very hard. Melee DPS is supposed to DPS from behind anyways, to ensure their attacks aren’t parried, dodged or blocked, but as the tank, it’s your responsibility to turn the mob to ensure there’s no damage hitting your group. It’s usually a good idea to get aggro and then turn the mob, strafing and stepping backwards as you go. Mobs behind you can be a bad thing, because players can’t block or parry attacks from behind, so you’ll want to step back a couple of paces if you have that issue.

8) Be aware of your group’s status at all times. Okay, I’m primarily a healer, but even before I was a healer, I was a hunter and I was a raid leader and the number one thing I learned by leading Zul’Gurub and Molten Core runs was to be aware of the healer mana bars and whether or not people were dead. So while I heal with Grid, I also tank with Grid. I refer to it to see if I need to wait to make sure my healer has mana before pulling. I have various debuffs coded into my Grid so that I can see if my healer is silenced, for example, so I can pop a cooldown. If I’m being healed by a priest and there’s no shaman with a cleansing totem down and I’m poisoned, I’ll also cleanse myself and even other party members if need be. I also have Grid showing me who has aggro and you better believe that if the healer has aggro, I’ll right-click on them on my Grid and that’ll use Righteous Defense on that player, meaning I just saved the healer’s butt without even turning around and targetting the mobs. Granted, I’m a paladin and that’s total hax, but I’m sure there are other abilities or macros other classes can use in a similar fashion. A warrior’s Intervene comes to mind.

9) Be at least somewhat familiar with the fights. So maybe you’ve run Utgarde Keep 1000 times as a DPS or a healer. Does that mean you know how to avoid Ingvar’s Dark Smash ability? What about Anub’arak’s Pound? Do you know how to position Gluth in Naxx? What about how many stacks you let Impale get to on Northrend Beasts? Even if you know the fight inside out from another perspective, doing it as a tank completely changes things, so read up on the fights you’re planning on doing as a tank over at WoWWiki.com to make sure you understand what’s happening in the fight from a tank perspective. It’ll allow you to know when to pop those cooldowns, when to expect new mobs, when to move away from the boss (like during Dark Smash or Pound) and other handy tips like that.

10) Run back. If you and your healer have died and there is no other rezzer in the group, guess what? You’re running back, pal. As a healer, I have totally held up a group while a pug DPSer has finally released to run back, five minutes after the rest of the group did. The rule of thumb is: if the healer has to run, so do you.

I’m absolutely positive I’ve left out a bunch of things, but these are 10 things that I expect of my tanks in general — and expect of myself when I’m tanking. Am I perfect? Hell no. But I know how to generate threat on my tanking toons, both of them are uncrittable for their levels of content and I’m reasonably good at holding aggro on many mobs at once, plus I know how to avoid most boss abilities that are avoidable and I can pull because that’s what I did for the first year I played. ;) Those are probably the basics, but if you manage to follow through on all the points I mentioned, you’re a good tank — doing the little things and big things right. And it won’t go unnoticed by a healer or DPS who know what they’re doing.

Having said that, thank you for taking on what is probably the most challenging of all roles in this game. You may not have known what you were getting into, but if you keep doing it, I’m guessing it’s because you like it. Tanks (and, to a lesser degree, healers) are a rare commodity in WoW and a *good* tank is the rarest of all. Except, you know, a female dwarf rogue.

So thank you for what you bring to the table, tanks, and I hope that this was at least a little helpful for some of the newer ones out there.

4 Replies to “Kurn's Guide on How to Behave as a Tank in Dungeons”

  1. Thanks for this list! I am just starting to tank as lvl 80 and this common sense type of list sure helps to get focused.

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