Tank

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This article is about the game term. For other uses, see Tank (disambiguation).

A tank is a character whose primary purpose or class role is to absorb damage and prevent others from being attacked. Tanks are "meat shields", 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.

An often-used abbreviation for tank is "MT" (main tank). The tank's role must not be confused with the "MA" (Main Assist). Also used to contrast from a damage dealer or a healer.

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 basics

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 [Thunder Clap] or [Mangle]). 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 five combinations of class and spec which can truly be considered main tanks: Protection warriors, Guardian druids, Protection paladins, Blood death knights, and Brewmaster monks. 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:

  1. Health (Hitpoints)
  2. Damage Mitigation (Avoidance, Block, and Armor)
  3. 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. Guardian 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

Note that on certain Raid-level encounters, unusual classes may be required to tank (for example at High King Maulgar a mage has to serve as tank on one of the adds).

Protection warrior

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 [Revenge], [Shield Slam], and multiple taunts; many mitigation abilities; and finally a few panic buttons like [Shield Wall], [Shield Block] and [Last Stand]. A warrior tank has the fairly useful ability to break fear effects at will. [Charge] and [Intervene] make warriors very mobile tanks.

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.

Guardian druid

Main article: Druids as tanks

Guardian druid tanks feature the highest raw hit-point and armor values of any class in the game. Besides the basic allotment of tanking skills (taunt, high-aggro moves, etc.), druid tanks are immune to [Polymorph] and can shift out of rooting and snaring effects.

Guardian druids have the advantage that even in tank gear and with a tank spec they can DPS better than most tanks by using [Cat Form]. This makes them slightly more attractive off-tanks in raids.

Protection paladin

Main article: Paladins as tanks

Paladins use mana and build threat with spell damage, with the key to their threat-generation being [Righteous Fury]. They can wear plate armor. They excel in pulls with many mobs, with abilities such as [Consecration], [Holy Wrath], [Hammer of the Righteous] and [Avenger's Shield], 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 [Hammer of the Righteous] and [Shield of Righteousness] in WotLK, this is less of a problem. They are vulnerable to mana-burn abilities, but these are rare in PvE.

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 [Reckoning] and [Righteous Defense].

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 [Blood Presence] 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 ( [Frost Fever], [Blood Plague]), physical abilities ( [Rune Strike], [Death Strike], [Heart Strike]), and magic (Death and Decay, [Blood Boil] and [Death Coil]).

Brewmaster monk

Main article: Monks as tanks

Monk tanks have the lowest health and armor of all that tanks, but have the most avoidance. Their primary mitigation is with a unique mechanic called [Stagger], which defers a portion of damage taken, smoothing damage spikes. The monk can optionally negate this deferred damage by using [Purifying Brew]. The stagger amount can be increased with Shuffle, [Elusive Brawler] (Mastery), and [Fortifying Brew].

A Brewmaster excels at tanking multiple mobs and kiting due to an array of strong AoE abilities like [Keg Smash], ranged threat generation with [Dizzying Haze], and mobility from Roll.

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.

Warlocks

Demonology warlocks with the  [Glyph of Demon Hunting] gain access to a tanking form in [Dark Apotheosis]. This is a demonic form, so when combined with the [Nether Plating] passive gives them decent armor and damage mitigation. They also gain a range of high threat moves and a taunt. This form is capable of tanking most non-heroic content if the warlock puts the effort in to obtaining high stamina gear, but the lack of critical hit immunity means they will have trouble tanking hard hitting bosses. The lack of critical hit immunity combined with the poor defensive stats on cloth means a Dark Apotheosis warlock will have little hope of tanking any raid bosses.

Shaman

Main article: Shamans as tanks

Wearing mail armor and being able to use a shield, they have access to the second-best type of mitigation gear. They have no problems at all with one half of tanking - aggro generation. Beyond the threat generated by melee attacks, shamans can cast [Frost Shock] which creates extra threat, use self-heals to add healing aggro, and finally use [Chain Lightning] for AoE situations.

However, the other half of a tank's 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 mail gear has no avoidance/mitigation stats other than agility.

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.

Hunter pets

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 [Growl], 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 [Shell Shield] and [Harden Carapace] 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.

Warlock minions

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: [Torment] and [Suffering]. While it is unsuitable for tanking any sort of instance, it does allow warlocks to solo many "group" quests quite easily.

Rogue

Main article: Rogues as tanks

Rogues can temporarily increase their damage mitigation greatly and survive tanking through abilities such as [Evasion] and [Cheat Death] (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.

The first phase of the Reliquary of Souls encounter in the Black Temple is the most notable endgame bosses where rogues shine as tanks.

It was formerly possible to accumulate enough agility as a rogue to become unhittable, but this could only be achieved with [Insect Swarm], [Scorpid Sting] and the [Quickness] 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 [Feint]. 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.

Emergency tanks

Some classes have abilities that can effectively serve as tanks, if only for a few seconds. This can often buy enough time to combat resurrect the main tank or to finish killing the enemies if they were already near death.

  • DPS Warriors have access to [Defensive Stance] and Taunt for threat and [Shield Wall], [Spell Reflection] and [Die by the Sword] for temporary mitigation. It's highly recommended that all warriors carry a one-handed weapon and shield to switch to, since a shield increases their armor and allows them a small block chance.
  • Death knights can use [Army of the Dead] to summon a group of disposable ghouls that will taunt enemies. They won't survive long, but will buy time while the mobs kill them. DPS Death Knights have access to [Blood Presence], [Dark Command] and [Death Grip] for threat, and [Icebound Fortitude] and [Anti-Magic Shell] for temporary mitigation.
  • Feral Combat Druids can shift into [Bear Form] and do a passable job of tanking with the range of taunts and mitigation available to them, however their Bear Form is considerably less durable than a Guardian druid's by default, making them inferior off-tanks than DPS Death Knights in Blood Presence and Warriors in Defensive Stance. Restoration and Balance Druids, due to their gear itemisation, will perform very poorly in Bear Form and probably won't survive long or generate much threat. The [Heart of the Wild] talent greatly improves all non-Guardian druids' performance in Bear Form for 45 seconds, in particular giving them the critical hit immunity needed to reliably tank bosses. Even with Heart of the Wild, Restoration Druids are likely more useful continuing to heal in an emergency than attempting to tank.
  • Retribution Paladins have access to taunts and [Righteous Fury] for threat, but their defensive abilities are limited, with only [Divine Protection], which mitigates magic damage only. Note that [Divine Shield] will make NPCs ignore you and attack others, so, while a fantastic defensive ability, it would defeat the objective of tanking. Holy Paladins are likely more useful continuing to heal in an emergency than attempting to tank, but if they find themselves as the most durable group member left, switching on Righteous Fury and spam healing themselves will generate a lot of threat and likely make NPCs focus on them.
  • Shamans can use [Earth Elemental Totem] 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.

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 role in the group finder, so tanks can pretty much chain instances without needing to wait for the queue. 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 ALL tanks:
    1. Keep an eye on the healer's mana and do not pull more mobs if they are too low.
    2. Make sure to keep the camera zoomed far back for better situational awareness.
    3. Practice moving around while not turning your back on mobs, both backing away and strafing away or around.
    4. Practice toying with caster mobs and a nice wall, rock, or corner to get a feel for how line of sight pulling works.
    5. Stay aware of patrolling mobs and be ready to rescue group mates with some quick threat generation moves if someone unexpectedly pulls.
    6. 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.
    7. 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.
    8. 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.

Also, visit the Warriors as tanks, Druids as tanks, Paladins as tanks, and Death knights as tanks articles for additional detail for each of these classes.

For fun

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...

See also

External links