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“I tank, therefore I am…at least in WoW”
I have played this game since launch, and I have played this character since Blackwing Lair was endgame content. I have never been in a server-leading progression guild, but I have led raiding guilds working their own progression, usually a tier behind the curve or so. In Wrath, I had all three plate-wearing classes at the level cap, specced and geared for tanking. I am a self-admitted idiot at DPS or healing; for some reason, my brain just won’t function properly in those roles. But so far as it goes, I’m pretty well versed in tanking in this game.
I have recently noticed a number of instances, in-game and in the forums, where 1) people are asking for advice on tanking because they’re new to it, 2) DPS or healers are complaining about tanks because they are being bossy or dictatorial, and 3) tanks are complaining about DPS for…being DPS. Several of these questions and comments have been addressed from the perspective of mechanics, but only rarely do the responses really touch on the theoretical foundation of tanking, or what I have come to call the Tao of Tanking. This post is intended to address this gap.
I am not a Theorycrafter. I leave that kind of thing to much more dedicated and talented individuals. I would recommend Elitist Jerks and Tankspot for guidelines on mechanics-related specifics, should you have questions on exactly how to maximize your threat or what the best tanking build is for your class. I am also not God’s Gift to Tanking, and frankly, I would question anyone who tried to tell you they were. From my perspective, tanking is a mindset, much like political affiliation; nobody is ever actually right (no pun intended), but people can certainly be wrong.
The purpose of this post is to put into writing some of the philosophy behind tanking. I expect that it will be exceedingly droll for people who have been tanking for quite a while, because they’ve probably got this figured out. It could, however, provide some insight for people new to tanking, or to DPS/healers who would like to understand why tanks act the way we do.
“Go slow. Finish fast.”
The tank’s role in 5-man content is, in my opinion, the most critical role in the group. My rationale for this statement is that for whatever reason, the WoW-playing community has effectively nominated the position of tank as the defacto leader. Six years of social reinforcement has all but made this a universal truth. Can other positions take the responsibility of leader? Of course! Do they? Not often. Particularly within the PUG Nation, the assumption is that the tank will shoulder that responsibility. Some do it well. Others, not so much.
To paraphrase a comment by Shortshank in this thread: “When the fight runs like a well-oiled machine, it is because the DPS are the engine, the healers are the gas, and the tank does the steering.” I understand (and agree with) the argument that without a healer, there is no victory, and without DPS, there is no victory. No tank is going to hit the level cap and then go solo a Heroic. However, I view the complexity for any given role in a group as largely determined by the amount of responsibility the player has to take for other people in order for the group to succeed.
The DPS player has only to:
Interrupt as needed
Do damage to the appropriate target
Stay out of the fire
The DPS player does not have to take responsibility for any other member of the group (though really exceptional players will find a way to do this - these players are truly treasured gems that should always be appreciated).
The healer, on the other hand, has to:
Stay out of the fire
Make sure that nobody’s hit points get to zero before the pull is ended
The healer takes responsibility for other people by healing them when they take unnecessary damage (taking cleave hits, standing in fire, pulling threat from the tank…I could go on and on here); in this way the healer is taking up some of the slack created by poorly performing DPS (or tanks).
Edited by Sceilence on 1/23/2011 12:56 PM PST
By comparison, the tank has to:
Make sure everyone in the party is ready for the pull (particularly, the healer has mana)
Pull the group, often in some elaborate fashion that creates separation between the CCed mobs and the active mobs
Establish and maintain threat on all active mobs
Interrupt as needed
Position the mobs to reduce splash damage to alleviate healer’s workload
Apply appropriate defensive debuffs to alleviate healer’s workload
Pick up broken CC before it WTFPWNs someone
Pop defensive cooldowns at the most appropriate time, usually to lower the healer’s blood pressure
Direct the other party members through those “oops” moments (i.e., the infamous hunter “Where’s My Pet?” scenario)
If you buy into this model, generally speaking, a DPS player takes responsibility for him/herself, the healer takes responsibility for the party’s health, and the tank takes responsibility for everything else.
And even if you don’t buy into this model, chances are, your tank does. There's even blue support for the statement:
This is why the tank starts looking through the combat log after a wipe – they want to figure out what happened, so they can appropriately address any apparent issues and avoid another wipe.
This is also why the tank asks the one question healers hate to hear after a wipe: “So, uh…what happened?” The inevitable response is: “Uh, you ran out of hit points?”
Of course I ran out of hit points. But why? Were you busy healing one of the DPS because he was standing in fire? Was there some debuff that needed to be cleansed but wasn’t? Did you run out of mana because you were spamming flash heal? Where other members of the party may be willing to dismiss the causes of a wipe or a bad pull, the tank refuses to do so, because all tanks know this one fundamental truth: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results”. Loosely translated, this means that the tank doesn’t want to repeat that horrible experience again, and is looking for input on avoiding doing so. So give your response some thought before pointing out the obvious.
On Threat, Crowd Control, and DPS
“If the DPS pulls agro off of me, it’s obvious that they wanted it more than I did, and who am I to deny them something they want so much?”
A priest friend was talking about how heroics are pretty brutal right now. He said that tanks are having a hard time with the instance. Here’s the gist of that conversation:
Me: “Yeah, I bet. So is the tank marking mobs?”
Friend: “Of course not.”
Me: “Ahhh. So is there any crowd control happening?”
Friend: “Of course not.”
Me: “I see. Are the DPS assisting the tank for a target and focusing DPS on that target?”
Friend: “Of course not.”
Me: “I see.” <pause> “So…are you still pulling the next group before the current group is dead because you’re bored?”
Friend: <pause> “Well…hey, shut up, man.”
One thing everyone needs to understand, and this goes for the tanks, the healers, the DPS, everyone, is that trash is no longer a speed bump between you and the boss mob’s loot table. This is no longer the WoW that has been played for the last two years. The Wrath model for the game was discarded by Blizzard, and AOE grinding instances is a thing of the past. Yeah, at some point tanks will have the gear to survive pulling the entire group without CC, and healers will have the gear to heal through such pulls, but even under those circumstances it will be more efficient to single target than AOE DPS, because Blizzard doesn’t want AOE DPS to actually do anything anymore.
I think what really needs to happen in the game is a paradigm shift. Everyone needs to step away from the view that being a good DPS player is represented in the numbers posted by Recount, and embrace that a good DPS player is someone who avoids taking unnecessary damage, does a good job with CC (both performing and not breaking it), does respectable damage, and has the ability to think outside the box. Honestly, this is the level of expectation placed on tanks and healers, so why have we allowed DPS to be gauged solely on their damage output?
Edited by Sceilence on 2/1/2011 8:57 AM PST
I have a mage and a ret paladin that I group with regularly. The pally has been playing since launch, and the mage just started in Wrath (3.1 or so). For nearly two years I have heard them arguing constantly about overall damage done according to Recount. With this expansion, they are having a hard time beating my damage output when it comes to overall instance damage done according to Recount. This has caused absolutely no end of argument and frustration for them, which in turn frustrates me, because I just don’t care about overall damage done for an instance. Show me your l33t skills by not dying to your own stupidity, by be a benefit to the party rather than a hindrance, and by doing some decent measure of DPS. DPS players that do this are like liquid gold.
The fixation players have on damage meters is probably one of the single largest causes for the ineptitude encountered in random groups. DPS players want to prove their worth in the group. As established previously, it’s not hard to prove the tank’s worth, or the healer’s worth. DPS have to work at it. Enter, the DPS meter. Now we have PROOF of how important we are to the group! We have numbers to back it up!
Yes. And sadly, Recount provides me with some equally interesting numbers. For example, I can see that I’m still at the top of the chart in interrupts, because I’m the only one doing it. I can see that the healer is spending entirely too much mana healing your stupid ass. And if you keep playing like an idiot, I’m going to start seeing you climb the charts in total number of deaths as well.
I tank with the understanding that many DPS characters can pull agro off of me whenever they really want to. This is less of a concern at this point in an expansion, where the gear differential is not significant. As that gear difference becomes more pronounced and as DPS players in Tier 18 epics start showing up in your random daily heroic run…you may notice some threat issues. Do not be discouraged by your lack of ability to maintain threat in this situation, for Blizzard has granted you a tool for dealing with such inanity: the repair bill. It really is OK to let the DPS die, as long as you save the healer from a similar fate.
On the Successful Group
“If the tank dies, it’s the healer’s fault. If the healer dies, it’s the tank’s fault. If the DPS dies, it’s their own fault.”
The successful healer understands that communicating with your tank is important. You need to be willing to speak up if you need a minute to drink. Again, without heals, the tank is not going very far. Complements should always be extended to a good healer, and patience should always be extended to a new healer, for this one thing is true: healing sucks. Just as being a good tank is a thankless job, being a good healer is even more thankless.
The successful DPS player understands that their contribution to the group goes beyond their OMGWTFPWN DPS on the meters. The Wrath model for DPS supported this philosophy; the Cataclysm model does not. Being a great DPS player requires more situational awareness and a willingness to be a part of the team. It’s no problem to replace a DPS who is breaking CC, or AOEing all over my sheeped and repented mobs.
The successful tank understands that the universe does not revolve around them, that the game is social in nature. Goading your DPS by linking your top-of-the-meters-in-overall-damage-done performance is not only insulting to the DPS players, it shows your own ignorance of the game’s mechanics: congratulations, you’re the top of the meters in a useless stat. It’s like being top of the meters in mana regeneration. You’ve also alienated the rest of the party, and while you may not care (yay, anonymity), you’re also not going to improve anyone’s performance by doing that kind of thing.
The successful group will accept that there may be some deaths, and that you may actually have a repair bill after a heroic run (contrary to most of Wrath). Every expansion since Vanilla has increased the amount of gold available in the game, and Cataclysm is no exception. Commenting on your repair bill after a wipe shows only one thing: you are a lazy tag-along who wants to get carried to your gear.
The successful group will understand that being respectful of one another is preferable to a more egomaniacal approach, and that teamwork is required in order to avoid a wipe-fest. The successful group will understand that the tank’s goals are the same as everyone else’s goals: to finish the instance.
Edited by Sceilence on 1/23/2011 1:00 PM PST
I would like to thank Silmaril for suggesting one of the quotes used. I would like to thank Shortshank for a nice analogy. I would like to thank Ishamhael (and others) for some well worded, thought provoking arguments. I would like to thank the tanking community for their support and suggestions.
Finally, I would like to thank those healers and DPS who wandered their way in here and, rather than taking this post as a personal attack against their value, took it for what it is: some insight as to how a tank thinks.
Edited by Sceilence on 1/23/2011 1:09 PM PST
great article! you missed from teh quoted section "maintain situational awareness where any incoming adds can be picked up before they kill another player"
Excellent read... after having not played in over a year... it seems WoW has gone back to the Pre-Wrath model where CC, focus fire, and waiting for agro matters.
I'm happy for it. I will be printing this and reading it tonight... for "fun!"
I buy into this whole-heartedly. I love healing a tank that:
-Communicates well without name calling
-Takes charge, marking targets and giving assigments
-Has knowledge of other class abilities, so as to utilize the toolbox at hand
-Learns from mistakes on the fly, making proper adjustments
-Is aware of mana bars, i.e. doesn't run past me when I sit at his ankles for a drink
-Has a sense of rythmn/pace that helps the party know what to expect, i.e. slow pull, slow pull, slow pull, fast pull is a recipe for wipe
-Isn't decked out in DPS or PvP gear
This is why I no longer tank... too much work! Thanks to all of those that fit the bill :-)
Edit: I suppose I should add "knows own/group limitations" to the list for all the LJs out there.
Edited by Zuidam on 12/22/2010 12:41 PM PST
Since you are an hunter all you have to remember is
The DPS player has only to:
If you can manage those three things, the tank will like you.
Nice article, and I like that it actually stuck with the mindset of tanking, rather than spewing hard constants that take it away from just being a thought process. I have a few differences that I've developed with Cataclysm on tank responsibilities, myself:
I expect the CCers to mark their own targets. I feel this encourages them to be more active participants in the planning of a pull, as well as be more likely to take responsibility for missed assignments.
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