World of Warcraft‘s new Dungeon Finder tool enables players to create groups quickly and run through dungeons. It does, however, require that each of the five slots (in a five man instance) be properly filled. These slots are Tank, Healer and DPS. In many ways, the tank role is the most critical and difficult-the tank typically makes or breaks the party. Of course, the Healer is also important since a good healer can make up for a not-so-good tank. DPS is the third in importance, since even with only so-so DPS a good healer and tank can get a party through a dungeon.
While playing any role can be challenging, playing an effective tank is rather difficult, which is one reason there are few tanks. Also, people are often harsh and unforgiving about tanking errors or inexperience-especially people who have never player and never will play a tank. While good tanking requires lots of practice, here is a quick generic guide.
First, you have to be the right class. The Dungeon Finder only allows tanks from classes that can tank, but anyone can try to tank. In WoW, the tanking classes are druid (bear form), paladin,warrior and death knight.
Second, you need to have the right tanking build. While the lower level dungeons can be tanked with less than optimal builds (mainly since low level instances will be run by low level characters who are far from completing their build), the high level instances will typically be a disaster for a poorly built tank.
Building a tank varies from class to class, but the goal is to pick the right blend of talents that optimize your ability to do the two things that a tank must do: 1) hold aggro and 2) not die.
The first tank function is typically optimized by getting talents that taunt or improve taunting (“annoying” rather than damaging enemies into regarding you as their target), by getting talents that create or boost damage, or by getting talents that improve the threat generated by other abilities and talents. Every class has different ways to do this. For example, death knight tanks often rely on a talent that reduces the cool down on Death and Decay to keep their threat generation going. Fortunately, doing a search using “tank build” and your class will turn up a plethora of builds. Elitist Jerks is an excellent place to research character builds (and number theory). WoWWiki is also a good source of information.
The second tank function is optimized by getting talents that reduce damage, increase armor, boost health provide protection, or otherwise enhance a character’s ability to survive. For example, the paladin’s protection talent tree is full of abilities that reduce the damage a paladin takes.
Third, you need to have the right gear. While the mechanics will change with the Cataclysm Expansion, tank gear will always be gear that maximizes armor and the character’s defensive abilities. Two of the most important things to focus on is gear that increases your hit points (this enables you to survive longer) and gear that lowers (or eliminates) your chance of being subject to a critical hit. If you tank, you will be asked about that, especially at level 80. If you are not immune to critical hits at level 80, you will find that people will often leave your pick up group. Most tanking classes also have builds that are non-tanks (for examples, paladins and warriors also have DPS talent trees) and have class gear that is optimized for those other roles. So, for example, if you plan on playing a paladin tank be sure that you have tank gear rather thank DPS or healing gear.
Augmentation to your gear such as gems, enchants, armor kits and inscriptions are also important. As with the gear itself, the focus must be on augmentation that increases your ability to survive. Since all level 80 characters of the same class are identical and most people follow standard tank builds, what really makes one character better than another is the gear. Roughly put, in WoW you are your gear. Also, people will check your gear and will bitch like foul mouthed warthogs if your gear is not up to snuff. More importantly, if your gear is not up to tanking, you and the party will die way too often and that is not very much fun.
Fourth, you need to know how to play the role.
The first step is getting aggro (that is, making the monsters focus on you). You are effectively the shield of the party, so you need to be in-between them and the monsters. Getting aggro is easy-if you run close to a monster, it will aggro. Attacking it or taunting it will work even better. There are area threat generating abilities (such as consecrate) that hit many enemies at once-these abilities are crucial to establishing and keeping aggro on a group. There are also abilities that generate threat that impact a few enemies (for example Avenger’s Shield which hits up to three targets) and there are those that only affect one enemy (like Hand of Reckoning or a single target melee attack). Typically a tank will pull using a ranged ability (or run past enemies), gather them together and then use an area of effect ability (like Consecrate or Death & Decay) to really solidify the aggro. The tricky part is the second step-keeping the aggro on you and off the rest of the party.
To hold aggro, you need to create more threat than the other people in the party. They, of course, have the job of being careful not to generate more threat than you. This is done by continuing to use your threat generating abilities. For example, a paladin should be casting Consecrate all through the fight. You also need to watch the portraits of your party members. If you see a yellow glow/flash, that means the character is attracting attention. A red flash means that the character has the attention of at least one monster. You can also see the percentage of threat you are generating displayed on the monster’s portraits (plus you will receive combat text warnings when you are losing threat or a target has changed).
When you see the yellow flash, it is time to take action to get the aggro focused back on you. This can be done by boosting your threat even more or by getting the other player to reduce threat. While other party members should be watching the threat they generate and should be focusing on picked targets (it is a good idea to have the party leader indicate which monsters will be attacked in what order) DPS players often tend to focused on pouring out maximum damage and, of course, the healer generates threat by keeping you alive with heals.
Some classes have abilities that are specifically designed to pull threat off other players-for example, paladins have abilities that reduce the threat generated by the target (Hand of Salvation) or actually transfers aggro to the paladin (Righteous Defense). Effective use of these abilities can be the difference between life and death. Obviously, the healer is the tank’s primary concern. As the saying goes: “if the tank dies, it is the healer’s fault; if the healer dies, it is the tank’s fault; if the DPS dies, it is the DPS’s fault”).
As part of holding aggro, you also need to be prepared to deal with monsters running off to attack other players. The trick here is to grab that monster without losing the others. Death knights can easily do this with Death Grip or Dark Command. Other classes can use a ranged single target taunt (or multiple targets if things are going bad) to drag in the wayward monster.
The final step in tanking is to not die. This depends largely on how well you are geared as a tank and how good the healer is. It also depends on being able to judge how many monsters to pull at a time (not too many) and your skill at using your class’s survival abilities. Paladins have some rather useful survival tools, such as Lay on Hands, that make them rather good at not dying.
Avoiding death also requires knowing the various monsters (especially the bosses) and what they do. Most of the high level boss fights require knowing the very specific tricks of the fight. Bosses tend to have rather odd abilities or gimmicks that require special tactics for the tank and not knowing these tricks can lead to a wipe. Such knowledge is acquired by experience and also by doing some research on sites such as WoWWiki.
Since this is a fairly generic guide to tanking, it is a good idea to research the specifics of your class before leaping out in front of the party.