So You Want To Be A Tank - A Beginner's Guide


90 Orc Warrior
So you want to be a tank, do you?

Well it won't be easy. I've been at it for about 5 years and I'm constantly learning new tricks, polishing my skills, looking for improvements. It's a never-ending process of self-improvement, which is why I think a lot of us love it so much.

I've decided to put together this guide in order to help beginning players thinking of taking on the tanking role adjust to and excel at it. My focus is not so much on the parts of the game that change on a regular basis, but on the fundamentals. There is a core set of skills that will hold a tank in much better stead than knowing the armour to damage reduction conversion rates, or memorizing a BiS list for gems and enchants. The numbers change on a regular basis: The foundation remains the same. So without further adieu:

*note: I've organized the following in what I believe to be order of importance (mostly because I figure few people will get through it). This is subjective. If I've left anything out, give a shout in the replies!

>> Table of Contents <<

Marking Targets (I ran out of space in the main posts, it's about halfway down the page)
When to Quit
Working with Crowd Control
Learning How Other Classes Work
Important Tanking Stats
Talent Point Expenditure ("Stats")

>> Reading <<

At this very moment you are exercising a tank's most powerful tool: Reading. There is an unimaginable amount of information available about the World of Warcraft, and as a tank, you are going to want to know as much of it as possible. You want to know the breakdown of all your abilities, you want to know how your talents interact with your skills, you want to know the little tricks and tips for as many encounters as possible.

My favourite source of information about WoW, as maligned as they are, are the blizzard forums. There are a lot of sections for tanks, such as this particular section, the class sections, and dungeons and raids. There are many others, but I'm not 100% sure what Blizzard's policy is on linking to outside sources, so I won't make a list (unless someone knows better than myself about that sort of thing).

Never stop researching, and never stop learning. There isn't a tank in the game who can't be taught a new trick.

>> Awareness <<

This is your chief skill. As a tank, you want to be aware of what's going on around you, and what's going on with your party. Over the years I've found there are a few good ways to stay alert and aware of your environment:

— Set your camera distance to max, unless you're in a confined space that messes up your angles. (Escape > Interface > Camera > Max Camera Distance > Far).
— Type in /console cameraDistanceMaxFactor 5. This will allow you to scroll your camera back a bit farther. (Thanks for the info, Nesdea!)
— After your opening threat rotation, about 2-3 seconds into a fight, use the left mouse button (look button) to spin the camera around. You can keep up with your threat, and keep an eye on the party. Is there a pat coming? Someone running off alone? Now you know.
— Go into your keybinds (Escape > Key Bindings) and keybind a button to focus a target. Combined with the Focus Frames add on, this will allow you to see who a mob is targetting, what a mob is casting, and what buffs it has up.

Here's a list of some of the things you want to be keeping an eye on (based on personal experience with what can go wrong!):

— Your healer's mana! Their blue bar equals your red bar. When it hits 0, chances are you're gonna die. You want to have a good idea what your healer is capable of before making any unorthadox decisions.
— Patroling mobs: In many dungeons there are enemies who will roam the area, and often times will plow into your ranged group from behind. I'm constantly moving the camera around, keeping my eyes open.
— Nearby packs: I spend more time looking at the mobs I'm NOT hitting, as opposed to the ones I am. I can run through a threat rotation and know I won't lose threat, without having to see the mobs in front of me. But if a hunter backs up into another pack, I need to react in a split second to avoid a wipe.
— Runners: In many low level dungeons, enemies at low health will run off, which can pull other mobs and lead to a wipe. Be ready with slows or stuns to catch them before they get out of hand.
Edited by Gruklaar on 4/25/2011 8:05 PM PDT
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90 Orc Warrior
>> Responsibility <<

This may be a contentious subject, but I firmly believe that a tank should be responsible for as much as possible within a group. For the most part, a tank controls the speed, direction, and success of a dungeon run.

Mistakes will happen while you tank. Be humble and own up to your mistakes. At the same time, other people will make mistakes. Don't rage at them, help them learn from it.

What to do if you mess up: Did you pull too much? Miss an interrupt? Not hit that cooldown in time? Apologize, release, and learn from it. Nobody likes a wipe, but most people are willing to shrug and accept it, if you're honest and promise not to do it again. Personally, I hate when someone won't own up to a mistake, but never angry at someone who acknowledges it.

What to do if your team messes up: Maybe your healer was a bit slow, maybe that hunter pulled an extra pack, maybe that rogue missed a pick pocket and started the pull early. These things happen. First off, don't rage. Nobody likes playing with a jerk, so don't be one. Secondly, be clear about what went wrong, and how it can be avoided in the future. Hopefully it won't happen again.

I've learned over the years that most problems in a dungeon can be avoided if the tank makes note of them before hand. "Be careful with AoE up ahead, there's lots of pats", "Don't use any AoE, these mobs explode and if they all die at the same time, we'll wipe", "Be sure to interrupt this ability, it hits hard." Be communicative with your party, it helps a lot.

>> Communication <<

One of the biggest mistakes I see tanks make is not communicate clearly enough. You want to set the tone for a run right off the bat. As soon as I zone into a dungeon I greet the party, and ask how everyone's doing. This is a game, we should all be having fun.

If something you're about to do is in any way intricate, unorthodox, or requiring of coordination, explain it to the party. This can include:

— Splitting DPS on two targets ("You two hit this one, the rest hit this one").
— LoS pulls ("I'm pulling back here, no DPS until they are in position").
— Crowd Control (more on this later).
— Mobs that do funny things (Totems that need to be killed, spells that need to be interrupted).
— When you need time to establish threat (large pulls, mobs that stun on contact, etc.)

Nobody in this game can read your mind. If you need anyone in the party to do something, you're going to have to type it out in party chat. Be polite, be thorough, and things will go a hell of a lot smoother.

>> Healers - A Sacred Bond <<

There is a very special connection between Tanks and Healers that is not found between any other of the game's roles. We need them, and they need us. Be sure to talk to your healer as often as possible, and as politely as possible. If they're going oom a lot, ask if there's anything you can do to help. Maybe you should throw on devotion aura instead of retribution? Maybe shield block can get hit more often?

Something I've found over the years, is that it is very important to talk to the healer first when things aren't going well. And in private. Send them a whisper after a wipe, see what went wrong. Healers often have a better view of the battle than you do, because they get to stand back a bit and watch it unfold. Maybe you were standing in the fire, and didn't notice. Maybe the DPS are terrible and need to stop receiving heals. Whatever it is, talk to your healer about it.

Most runs can be completed just fine with no DPS. A run without a solid tank and healer is doomed to misery.

>> When to Quit <<

World of Warcraft is a game, and most of us play it for entertainment. There comes a time in every tank's life when he just has to throw in the towel. Don't be ashamed. Not every run can be completed, not every player knows how to play.

If you're the problem: I'll admit it, I've gotten in over my head before. Maybe my gear wasn't good enough, maybe I didn't know the bosses, maybe I didn't know the class very well. If you're in over your head, if you're an impediment to the completion of a dungeon, bow out gracefully. Let the party know you're just not up to it, toss a last minute buff, and drop party. Figure out what you did wrong, improve, and go back to rock that dungeon another day.

If someone else is the problem: There are 11,000,000 players in world of warcraft, and I hate to break it to you, some of them are just not nice people. Some don't know how to play, some know how but don't care to, and some will just not be pleasant to be around. You're under no obligation to spend time with people you don't like, or who waste your time. Again, don't rage. Be polite, be clear about the problem, and bow out. I've found it is rarely worth it to deliver an ultimatum ("They go or I go!"). Just bow out and find another group.
Edited by Gruklaar on 9/11/2011 2:14 PM PDT
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90 Orc Warrior
>> Working with Crowd Control <<

Crowd Control (often termed CC) is the use of abilities to temporarily remove an enemy target as a threat. Examples include Polymorph, Sap, and Hex.

There is a wonderful guide about it here, and so I won't spend any more time on it. It's an important concept, though, so take the time to read up on it:

>> Practice <<

Practice makes perfect; it's corny but it's true. If you want to be a good tank, there's only one way to do it: TANK! If you intend to tank at level 90, there's no reason not to tank as you level up. Dual spec costs 10 gold at level 30, so pick up that tank spec and hit some dungeons as you level. Heck, just quest in your tank spec to get a feel for it; tank questing is fun and easy.

Whenever you get a new ability, try to use it in a couple of dungeon runs, whether or not you need it. Familiarize yourself with its effects, and build muscle memory for its keybind. Know when it's needed and when it isn't.

Run dungeons regularly, so you know what the mobs do, where the pats are, and what tricks are necessary to defeat the bosses. Don't be complacent. Tank as much and as often as possible, if you want to get good at it.

>> Learning How Other Classes Work <<

One of the best things I've done is a tank is level alts. Why? Because you need to know how your party works just as much as you need to know how the enemies work. A lot of tanks don't know the difference between an assassination rogue sapping, and a subtlety rogue sapping. Or the AoE a Demonology Warlock is capable of, compared to an Affliction Warlock. Or scariest of all, they don't know how the six healers work!

Take the time to level alts, or at least take the time to read up on the other classes. Do you know which buffs override others? Do you know which classes have a threat drop? Do you know how far each healer can stretch their mana? If you don't, you're not going to be able to get the most out of your teammates.

>> Keybinds <<

This may be a controversial topic (one of several I'm sure), but I can't think of a reason to click an ability: Ever. Keybinding allows for the maximum use of speed, accuracy, and awareness while tanking. With my setup I can click shockwave, cleave, and spell reflect simultaneously: Three keys with three fingers, at exactly the same time. That cannot be accomplished with clicking. A clicker, no matter how fast or accurate, has travel time.

Nearly every ability has a time and a place for use while tanking: Accordingly, nearly every button should be bound and available while tanking.

In order to bind an ability to a key, open the spell book (P), then click and drag the spell's icon to the action bar at the bottom of the screen.

To open up more keybind space, press Escape > Interface > Action Bars. Then click the bars you'd like to use (I use Bottom Left, Bottom Right, and Right Bars).

To change the binding for an action bar space, press Escape > Key Bindings, and scroll down to MultiActionBar Bindings.

>> Macros <<

Macros are a tool that Blizzard has built into the game, that allow players to customize and combine actions. I have found them over the years to be a wonderful asset to tanking, and I encourage everyone to read up on them. I won't write a document on how to make macros (because that would be looooong), but such tutorials can be found online easily enough. Here are some examples of what macros can do for you:

— Activate several abilities at once (Trinket + Potion + Warlock Stone + Last Stand + Enraged Regen in one button is a time saver, and a life saver)
— Combine keybinds for ease of use (On my paladin mouse scroll forward is crusader strike, shift + mouse scroll forward is Avenger's Shield, and alt + Mousescroll forward is Hammer of the Righteous).

>> Addons <<

There are a lot, a LOT of addons out there, and many of them are very very specific. As a tank, you should always be on the lookout for addons that will help you do your job faster and easier. I won't dive into a lot of specifics, because addons come and go quite often. I will list a few of the ones that have been most helpful to me over the years, and I look forward to responses with good addons.

Recount: This addon keeps track of combat statistics, and lets you review it at your convenience. It's easily my favourite addon, because it lets me quantify my performance, and the performance of my team. I can review my DPS (damage done per second), and see which abilities are hitting hard or are not hitting at all. If the team wipes, I can see which team members aren't pulling their weight (are they doing enough damage, are they hitting the right targets, etc.). I can also review my deaths, so as to see which abilities or mechanics killed me. Knowledge is power, and Recount gives me that knowledge.
Edited by Gruklaar on 2/23/2014 5:38 PM PST
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90 Orc Warrior
Omen Threat Meter: A simple but wonderful addon. As a tank, you need to hold threat, and this one tells you who is taking it from you. As a paladin, it will let you know who needs hand of salvation. Other tanks can call out to DPS to use threat drops if needed.

Focus Frames: I mentioned this above, and I'll mention it again. This very simple addon expands the functionality of the focus feature. You can resize the focus frame, and it will show you target of target, and buffs/debuffs. Very helpful for keeping track of tricky mobs.

Tidy Plates: Threat Plates: This helps you see which mob is attacking which player.

Deadly Boss Mods: This tells you what the boss is about to do next.

>> Important Tanking Stats <<

The rest of this guide's sections are relatively light, and that's purposeful. The number crunching parts of tanking are exhaustively covered and debated on a daily basis: I don't feel the need to go over it again and again. But I want to give a quick heads up, for tanks who might not know much at all.

The single most important statistic a tank needs to keep an eye on is their stamina. Stamina = Hit Points. The more hit points you have, the longer you can last in a fight. You don't want to focus on stamina to the exclusion of all else, but you need to be looking out for it.

Secondarily, there are the avoidance statistics: Dodge for all four tanks, Parry for all tanks barring Druids, and block for Paladins and Warriors. The more avoidance you have, the fewer melee attacks will connect with you for full damage. This is very important, as an avoided attack saves your healer mana. However, avoidance is of no value against magic, so be careful before focusing on it.

As with so much in life, the key is balance. You want enough stamina that you can survive long enough to receive heals, but enough avoidance that your healers don't run out of juice before the end of the fight.

>> Talent Point Expenditure ("Specs") <<

A tank's preferred spec is a matter of style, necessity, and math. Some talents are necessary, some are convenient, and others are to be avoided at all costs. I won't go into a huge discussion about the classes' specs, but rather let beginners know what the appropriate talent trees are called, and then point to the guides they can view.

Death Knights spec into the Blood Tree to tank, and tank in Blood Presence.
Warriors spec into the Protection Tree to tank, and tank in Defensive Stance.
Druids spec into the Feral Tree to tank, and tank in Bear Form.
Paladins spec into the Protection Tree to tank, and tank with Righteous Fury applied.

Death Knight tank specs:

Druid tank specs:

Paladin tank specs:

Warrior tank specs:

>> Gear <<

edit: Here is a really really good guide for gearing up once you hit 85. Take the time to read it:

I'm mentioning gear way down at the bottom because it's not nearly as important to tanking as what I've listed above. A great tank with crap gear can do amazing things. A terrible tank with fantastic gear will fail miserably over and over. I'm not going to list BiS gear or talk about item levels or trinkets, I'll leave that to other discussions.

The only reason I'm mentioning gear is to say that tanking is not cheap. At level 85, DPS who gets a new pair of boots can wait a while before gemming or enchanting them. You can't. You need appropriate gems and enchants immediately, or you're letting the team down.

While levelling a tank, try as much as possible to upgrade not just your weapon, but all your armour slots. Your healer will thank you.

>> Glyphs <<

Glyphs are two things: Important and Expensive. While levelling up, necessary tanking glyphs are usually in the 100-150 gold range, which is just ridiculous when you have 15 gold to your name. My advice to getting glyphs is to join a guild. There is likely to be a scribe who can help a lowbie out.

Get your glyphs as early as possible, because they can and will make a big difference in your effectiveness as a tank.

>> Abbreviations <<

This is just sort of an appendix. There are a lot of abbreviations that get thrown around a lot that you might want to know.

CC - Crown Control
DPS - Damage Per Second (Can refer to a role, "That guy is a DPS", or a thing, "I did 10K DPS")
DD - Damage Dealer
OOM - Out of Mana
Spec - Talent Specilization
LoS - Line of Sight (mobs that can't directly target you because they can't see you will run to your location).
r - Often used to mean "ready".

And that's it! Please take the time to read, comment, and provide suggestions for further topics.
Edited by Gruklaar on 4/25/2011 8:03 PM PDT
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90 Night Elf Druid
Some links to appropriate class tanking threads/guides would be coolies.
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85 Human Paladin
01/01/2011 5:15 PMPosted by Gruklaar
Warrior and Paladin tank specs have not been stickied yet. Get on it guys!

Tell Blizzard to sticky my thread then.
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85 Troll Hunter
I want to begin a tanking class but which should I choose. Is one class better with certain skills (AoE, MT, OT, ect.)? Or is the choice purly preference? I've looking into warriors a little, priority mostly, skills and some basic tanking guides. I really want some help deciding which class I should create...
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85 Human Paladin
01/01/2011 7:05 PMPosted by Tombe
I want to begin a tanking class but which should I choose. Is one class better with certain skills (AoE, MT, OT, ect.)? Or is the choice purly preference? I've looking into warriors a little, priority mostly, skills and some basic tanking guides. I really want some help deciding which class I should create...

It mostly is preference. It has been commonly broken down to;

Warriors - Have a lot of movement
Paladins - Have a lot of utility
DKs - Lots of cooldowns and self healing
Druids - Sponges
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90 Orc Warrior
01/01/2011 7:05 PMPosted by Tombe
I want to begin a tanking class but which should I choose. Is one class better with certain skills (AoE, MT, OT, ect.)? Or is the choice purly preference? I've looking into warriors a little, priority mostly, skills and some basic tanking guides. I really want some help deciding which class I should create...

I tried not to get into a discussion of tank mechanics, or tank comparisons, because that all changes on a regular basis. But in short, I've found it to be a choice in preference of looks and resource handling:

Warriors look fantastic, usually like knights or heavy fighters. They have very few ranged abilities or group utilities, but a deep toolkit of enemy debuffs. They have the highest mobility of any tank class. They start the pull with very little rage, but never 'run out' of their resource.

Death Knights tank with large two handed weapons, and look very dark and menacing. They have to juggle two resources, and keep track of a number of cooldowns (personal and disease related). They're not an easy class to tank with, but can be very fun once you get the hang of it.

Paladins have a very clean look, with golden abilities. They start the fight with a full resource pool (mana), but if they don't manage it well it can become depleted. The holy power combo system is nice. They have very powerful self healing.

Druids look like bears. No matter what gear you get, you'll look like a bear. Some people like this, some don't. Personally, I love the bear dance. They have a similar resource system to warriors, rage, but a different attack system, based on bleeds and combo points. Kind of in a bad place at the moment, but they'll get some love.

>> Marking Targets <<

Part and parcel of communication is marking targets. This is a visual method of informing the party of what you need them to do when you pull the mobs. You need to do this quickly, efficiently, and consistently. What I find works best is informing the party at the beginning of the run what crowd control methods you want them to use (covered in the link I already provided under the crowd control section), and what their assigned mark is. Also, you want to tell them whether they will be using their CC abilities before or after you pull.

What marks mean what abilities is very subjective, but here's what I like to use. When possible, the marks has a connection with the CC.

Skull - This is the main target. All DPS should focus this target.

X - Secondary target. Once the skulled target dies, all DPS should switch to X.

Moon - Sheep. Mages cast polymorph on this target. (Things change shape under the moon!)

Star - Sap. Rogues sap this target (Can only be applied before combat starts, and can't be reapplied once the pull happens).

Blue Square - Ice Trap. Hunters can either camo to the target and drop the trap, or launch the trap to start the pull. (The blue square looks like an ice block).

Sun - Repentance. Can be applied by the ret paladin at range. (It's a Sun: For the light!).

Black Diamond - Warlock CC. Fear, seduction, or Banish. Depends on what the mob is and what your warlock is capable of. (Black is evil, like warlocks).

Green Dorito - Nature Based CC. This can be Hex, Hibernate, or earth roots. (green like nature).

The macro I use for all this is:

/run local n=8 if IsShiftKeyDown() then n=7 elseif IsAltKeyDown() then n=1 elseif IsControlKeyDown() then n=3 end SetRaidTargetIcon("mouseover",n)

It's pretty nice. If you mouseover a target and hit the keybind for the macro (I use Z), that target gets a Skull. If you hold shift and hit the keybind, they get an X, alt + gets a star, and ctrl + gets a black diamond.

In this way, you can quickly and easily help your party control mobs.
Edited by Gruklaar on 1/10/2011 12:07 PM PST
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85 Goblin Priest
Very nice. Great work.
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85 Troll Hunter
Thanks, warriors sound like the way to go for me. I like the idea that I won't have to worry as much about my rescources. That way I can focus more on the party. I'm sorry to get you off subject, but I'm really greatful that you explained the core basics of each tank. Thanks a ton!
Edited by Tombe on 1/1/2011 8:24 PM PST
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90 Blood Elf Paladin
thanks this was a fun read.
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41 Human Paladin
Wow- thanks for this - it's exactly what I was looking for (3 more levels...then I'll attempt my first dungeon).
Edited by Jarlson on 1/2/2011 12:59 AM PST
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85 Draenei Hunter
This guide was a very good read, and very helpful. Kudos.

I am also trying my hand a tanking (whats with the Hunter going tanks, eh?) and have two warriors and a pally. So far the pally has experienced more success. I find tanking on the warriors, though fun in the extreme, to be a little tricky.

If anyone could hand out some advice on some good rotations and openers, I would be more then grateful. As you may have heard, some groups out there are not as forgiving as Darth Vadar when it comes to failure ;)

/liked all your pages BTW :D
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90 Orc Warrior
I don't know what level your warrior is, Xunn, so I'll try to "layer" my advice to be multi-use.

First, if you have warbringer, try to open with charge as much as possible. Charge stuns a mob (so they won't run at the healer), and gives you rage.

If you don't have warbringer, use one of your shouts (most likely battle shout at low levels) to generate rage for the pull. If you have to start a fight with 0 rage, and it will happen, get ready to run around a bit.

Once you contact the enemy, what I like to do is open with thunderclap. It's not ~huge~ damage, but it will keep the mobs off your healer. (There is a Glyph of Thunder Clap that can extend the radius of Thunder Clap by 2 yards, I suggest picking it up).

Once you have the mobs on you, you want to keep them there. If you have blood and thunder, apply rend. After that, position yourself to maximum effect, hit shockwave, and then thunderclap again. The mobs should now belong to you.

If you're a lower level without such tricks, the tab key is your friend. Hit the primary mob with shield bash, then tab to the next mob. Hit revenge and cleave, to apply threat to several targets at once. Hit tab again and keep moving through the mobs doing revenge and cleave. Whenever thunderclap is off cooldown, hit it. (There is a Glyph of Cleaving, which allows cleave to hit a third target. Another glyph I suggest).

The key to tanking when you're not sure about how to hold threat is to mark a skull. That way you know what mob all your DPS is going to be hitting. Even if you lose threat on the skull, it has 3 DPS hitting it, and will die shortly. By the time the skull dies, even if all you've done is thunderclap, the other mobs will stick to you.
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85 Troll Mage
Wow, op. When I first started tanking, I scoured the forums searching for info, most of what I read was just qq bullspit, the usual around the WoW forums. This thread, had it been written a month ago, would have helped me so much and saved me much time. Great post, great advice. Blizz needs to sticky this.
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85 Draenei Hunter
Thank you for your response, Gruklaar!

Those are tips that I will certainly practice. I also macro's Heroic Shout to a taunt. Good? I hope so. Will one need to apply Rend before or after Thunder Clap to be most effective? And finally, is a glyphed Sunder Armour good to use in a rotation?

My warrior's level's are 20 and 35. One is Alliance and one is Horde. If you have any more to add based on that, I'd really appreciate it :D
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90 Orc Warrior
It's been a long time since I tanked low level on a warrior. I'd only use sunder armour if revenge, shield slam, cleave, and thunderclap were all on cooldown. I don't think I'd glyph Sunder Armour.

A lot of people say you should rend before you thunderclap, so you can spread Blood and Thunder faster. Personally, I find I have problems with mobs running willy nilly during that opening 3 seconds, so I thunderclap first, then rend, then shockwave, then thunderclap again. It's worked for me so far.
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85 Orc Shaman
Mostly healer, sometimes tank here - Thanks for the guide, seems most beneficial for the etiquette tips. I just wish more people tackled the game with a good attitude, we all get frustrated at times! :(

Anyway, "Or scariest of all, they don't know how the five healers work!" There are four healers!
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90 Orc Warrior
01/02/2011 2:30 PMPosted by Shocklet
There are four healers!

I consider disc priests and holy priests to be different healers, because their styles, comfort zones, and tolerances can be wildly different.
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