Tanking for Beginners: Getting started

Hi. I’m Matthew Rossi, and today I want to talk to you about tanking.

Tanking in a massively multiplayer game like World of Warcraft is when certain classes (Monks, Death Knights, Warriors, Paladins and Druids, in the case of WoW) choose a specialization and perform a role that is intended to keep the monsters in a dungeon or raid focused on said tank, and not instead on the healers or damage dealers in the group. You may already have known that, but it can be useful to establish basics right up front.

Now, assuming you’re a level 100 player on a tanking class, have you already tanked on it? Then this article may not be of much use to you. You’re experienced, you know the score. Instead, we’re aiming this post at players who are new to tanking, whether they be trying it out on a new character or giving the role a shot for the first time on an old and treasured main. So what are the absolute basics of the tanking game?

  1. Make sure you’re in your tanking specialization, and if your class has a stance, presence, form or special ability such as Righteous Fury, turn that on.
  2. Read the rest of this column. Actually, you can do that before you do step 1. Step 1 implies you’re actually at the dungeon or raid about to start tanking.

How To Hold Threat

Threat certainly isn’t the challenge it was in times past, but you can’t just stand there and expect mobs to stream to you. Everything your party or group does, whether it’s damaging the enemies or healing allies, generates threat as well and as tank you need to overcome it. What you need to do is:

  • Keep your awareness open. Don’t tunnel vision on the mobs or boss you’re tanking, especially if you know adds will be coming in. You will often have to come up with a way to save someone who either hit streaming adds before you got a chance to or who got threat on them as soon as they spawned.
  • Use your rotation. You have a variety of abilities, make sure to use the right one. Don’t use your big AoE ability and have it be on cooldown when you need it to pick up adds.
  • Spread the love around. The love, in this case, is the brutal attacks you use to enrage the mobs. Hit them.
  • If there is CC, don’t break it unless you’re ready to tank it.

To hold threat, you really only have to be active, getting out there and hitting things. The tanking game is designed so that, as long as you’re doing your job and paying attention, and adjusting to momentary hiccups like streaming or spawning adds, threat shouldn’t be onerous to maintain. And since you need to hit those threat abilities to generate the resources you need for your mitigation, once you get the hang of it you’ll find it flowing together nicely.

 onslaughttanky-header-mr052115

How Active Mitigation Works

Since this is a general purpose column, I’m going to try not to focus too much on any one class. That being said, I’m most familiar with tanking on a warrior, with DK’s my second and monk my current third tank class. These are intended as generalizations for any and all tanks, not class specific advice.

In WoW the tanking paradigm was changed to active mitigation in Mists of Pandaria and it has been retained in Warlords of Draenor. How does active mitigation work? Basically, you have abilities that generate threat (which is a mechanic that works to keep mobs angry at the tank and not the other players in a group) and some of these abilities generate resources. These resources (Chi and Energy for Monks, Holy Power for Paladins, Runes and Runic Power for DK’s, and rage for Druids and Warriors) are then spent on mitigation – abilities that reduce or prevent damage, allowing a tank to stay on her feet longer between heals. The goal isn’t for the tank to be an unkillable demigod, but rather for the tank to be far harder to kill and for the healers to be able to keep up with damage on one target who is mitigating some or all of it, rather than on everyone at once.

To use a Monk example, take Guard and Keg Smash. When fighting multiple enemies, the Brewmaster hits Keg Smash, which damages all targets in 8 yards and spends energy to generate Chi. Then that Chi can be spent on Guard, which will absorb incoming damage and increase the amount of healing the Brewmaster takes. Proper use of guard can greatly extend the Brewmaster’s life and give the healer time to get ahead of incoming damage. Each class will have its own variation on how it generates resources and mitigates damage.

jumpybear-header-mr060515

Silver Proving Grounds and you

Okay, so you’ve figured out threat and you’re feeling comfortable with active mitigation. You feel ready to turn into a bear or get drunk and spit fire on people or however your class of choice tanks. You decide to queue up for a random heroic dungeon. But wait! You can’t queue up for a random heroic yet, because you haven’t completed Silver Proving Grounds for the tanking role yet. What do you do?

You go and do that.

Things to keep in mind when going to the proving grounds – first off, you only have to get past Silver, you do not have to get Gold. By all means do, if you’re up for a challenge you can complete on your own time, but it’s not necessary for you to start tanking in dungeons. Also, you do not need Silver PG to tank in LFR. That doesn’t mean you should run off to tank LFR without having ever tanked before. At the very least it’s probably a good idea to at least run the LFR you intend to tank (or a normal/heroic raid – but I assume if you regularly raid heroic or Mythic that this guide isn’t for you) just to familiarize yourself with what the bosses do and what you’ll be expected to do.

I’ve found Silver Tank to be slightly easier than Silver DPS – I haven’t tried Silver Healing yet, so I can’t compare that. The big things to keep in mind for Silver Tank are the basics we talked about before – keep your awareness up and be ready to intercede when the healer gets adds on her, remember that you have access to your full suite of abilities so don’t tunnel vision, and the final one which I’ll make big for you here.

Do not stand in the fire


Get the Blizzard Watch Newsletter


As a tank, you still don’t want to take avoidable damage. If there are things on the ground that will burn you, unless there’s a specific reason why you can’t move, you should totally move. In the case of Silver Proving Grounds, I know the healer suggests using the fire to kill the adds, and that is a great idea, but just be sure you use it to kill them and not you. And always remember, in most dungeons or raids, the mobs can stand in the floor death (whatever it is, fire, shadow voids, lightning, spinny axes, you name it) all the live long day. You can’t. And your melee DPS really can’t. So when tanking, always pay attention to your surrounding and don’t park yourself or the boss in the fire. Everyone will thank you for it.

Okay. This ends the first in this series of Tanking for absolute beginners posts. Next time we’ll talk about bonus armor and why yes, you love it with an unholy desperation that would creepy in other contexts.

Join the Discussion

Blizzard Watch is a safe space for all readers. By leaving comments on this site you agree to follow our  commenting and community guidelines.