The basics of Paladin tanking have not changed. As always, there are two main goals: holding aggro and not dying. As always, doing this rests partially on your gear, partially on your build, and largely on your skill.
As far as gearing, build and the basic tanking rotation, the best source of information is on Elitist Jerks. This is the place to start.
While Elitist Jerks do a great job, their main focus is on showing readers how to build a tank that is number optimized rather than on how to actually go about doing the tanking-especially in PUGs. As such, I thought I’d say a bit about the Paladin abilities in the context of tanking in general and PUG groups in particular.
One thing I have found very useful is having a mental “pre-tanking” checklist to make sure all my tanking stuff is active. The most critical is, of course, Righteous Fury. This is essential to holding aggro. Without this, you will see the mobs rushing to kill the DPS and healer and then lots of swearing in party chat. This will be directed at you. Even if you are all tank all the time, Righteous Fury turns off when you die (and when you change specs)-so be sure to activate it after a death. When questing you will want to turn it off, unless you like having other folks’ mobs being pulled to you by your AOEs.
You will also want to make sure that you have your seal (Seal of Truth) and aura (Devotion in most cases) are active. You can wait to buff (Kings or Might) once you get in the instance. As druids always remind me, Kings=Mark of the Wild, so if you have a filthy druid in the party, be sure to use Might.
If you have other consumable based buffs (potions, scrolls, or food) these can usually be put up at the start of the instance. At the end of WotLK I didn’t bother much with these consumables-even the heroics were super easy. However, now that I am re-gearing I have found that the buffs can make the difference between wiping and winning. Once you are super geared and everything is easy again, these consumable will be less important..
Once you get in an instance, be sure to see who is in the party. Obviously, if you are in a group of friends/guild mates, then you will already know the classes, etc. However, if you are in a PUG, it is a good idea to see what sort of DPS and healer you have in the group. Party composition can change the dynamics of tanking. For example, if you have all melee DPS then they will tend to be very close to you, thus making it easier to get aggro back from them. If, however, you have ranged DPS, you’ll have to keep an eye on them to make sure that they are not picking up adds as they cravenly try to get as far from the fight as possible. In the case of healers, the different classes have different buffs and styles. If, for example, you have a shaman healer, then you will want to make an effort to stay in range of his totems.
As always, tanking starts with pulling. It is generally a good idea to mark targets so people know what to attack, what to sheep and so on. Pulling hasn’t changed much, aside from the fact that Hand of Reckoning doesn’t do damage anymore. I usually pull the main target with the hand and use the shield on any casters to properly motivate them. I then try to get Consecration down and blast with Holy Wrath so as to get aggro on everything. Most DPS folks are not willing to give you even a second to grab and hold aggro, so you will generally have to focus on getting as much AOE threat out there as fast as possible. Also, most DPS do not get the idea that they have some responsibility in managing threat-so you’ll have to assume that this is all up to you.
In most fights I rely on Hammer of Wrath rather than Crusader Strike (even single target tanking). This is because the talents and glyph seem to make this a better attack. However, the numbers have not been completely crunched on this. In any case, you want to be cranking out the HoW and CS attacks to generate Holy Power.
Holy Power is a new resource and is kind of like the DK runes. Each HoW/CS hit generates 1 Holy Power, up to the capacity of three. Coincidently, there are three things you can spend Holy Power on.
Ideally, you want to use all three Holy Power on your Shield of the Righteous. This does impressive damage and also creates a lot of single target threat. You can also use your Holy Power on Inquisition (which boosts your Holy damage). However, the Shield seems to be the priority for Holy Power.
You can also spend Holy Power on Word of Glory. This is an instant cast heal that has the added bonus of giving you a damage shield if you over heal (provided you have the talent-which you should). If your healer is sub-optimal, you will probably be spending your Holy Power on Word during all the fights. This, unfortunately, makes holding aggro harder and prolongs the fights (since your damage drops off). However, I have tanked many PUGs where the only thing between a wipe and a win was my self healing.
Avenging Wrath is a useful ability, one that I generally save for boss fights or when I know it will be ready for the boss fight. I do, however, avoid wasting it on bosses that are rigged to fear or otherwise break the fight. The damage boost helps in keeping aggro (and killing mobs).
If you happen to lose aggro, the Hand of Reckoning is good for getting it back. Righteous Defense is also very useful for saving another party member when they put out to much threat or get jumped by adds. As a last ditch rescue, the Hand of Protection will save a party member from physical attacks. Divine Guardian is also very useful and not just for cases in which other party members have aggro. The 20% damage reduction for everyone else can be a real life saver when a boss is throwing out a nasty AOE. Holy Radiance, an AOE heal, is also useful in assisting the healer in those broad damage situations.
One final concern is the matter of not dying. While a good healer will make this easier, you will probably PUG with some bad healers from time to time. Also, just as it is not your job alone to manage threat, it is also not the healer’s job alone to keep you alive.
Divine Protection is an ability that I use pretty much every fight. It has a 1 minute cool down and gives a nice damage reduction. It is especially useful when the mob/boss is popping out some high damage special attack. This ability helps make the healer’s job easier.
Divine Shield is the ultimate damage reducer in that it makes you immune. The downside is that it breaks threat. This can be used in certain conditions to break (or avoid) a nasty effect. However, you have to be sure to drop it and then regain the aggro. In some cases it can literally save the day-I have finished off at least two bosses after everyone else died by bubbling and beating the boss to death.
Lay on Hands is a major life saver. In general, you should use it either on yourself (when the healer is failing, OOM or dead) or the healer. It is generally not a good idea to spend it on a DPS, unless that DPS is somehow critical.
If you were Paladin tanking before, Ardent Defender probably saved your holy bacon a few times. It still can, but now you have to actively save your own bacon-it is activated manually now. Like most Paladins, I use this as my “oh sh@t” button and hit it when my health is way low and the healer cannot or will not save me. Timing it just right can be challenging. After all, it is intended for when the next hit (or a few hits after that) will kill you.
The final ability is, of course, Guardian of Ancient Kings. While it does not last long and has a significant cool down, it is a great ability for tough fights. In general, this is best used during the boss phases that are the most damage intensive.