As with the Fury Guide, this is not a guide to levelling as a protection specced warrior. It is also not a beginner’s guide to tanking.
Instead it assumes that you have a level 80 warrior and want to either try Protection as one of your dual specs, or are coming back to tanking after a break and want to know what has changed and how things work these days.
Here’s how to set up dual specs.
If you want a more detailed and theorycraft oriented guide, check Ciderhelm’s Wrath of the Lich King Reference Guide.
The Role of a Protection Warrior
As a Protection Warrior you have two jobs:
- Control mobs by keeping threat/ aggro on them
- Take as much damage as possible without dying
You have to do both of these at the same time. That means all your choices of talents, gear, glyphs, etc have to balance both survivability/ mitigation and threat.
The most common mistake new protection warriors make is to focus too much on the mitigation side. It doesn’t make you a better or more hardcore tank to put 61 points into the protection tree and gear purely for stamina.
Threat output in Wrath/3.1 is more closely tied to your damage output than used to be the case. So threat stats, abilities, and gear will also mean that you do more damage. Although people don’t typically take tanks for their damage, if you have more threat you’ll find it easier and more fun to control mobs.
This is the 15/5/51 spec that I use at the moment. It’s THE most popular tanking spec, it works fine, and it’s a good place to start.
It’s a good balanced PvE spec which takes all the important mitigation talents from Protection, and adds in Deep Wounds from the Arms tree for extra threat. A lot of the new Protection talents in Wrath give extra crit chances to key abilities such as Shield Slam and Heroic Strike, which is why Deep Wounds/ Impale offers more threat/damage than maxing out Cruelty (which doesn’t apply to Shield Slam).
Sword and Board: This is the key to Protection Warriors in Wrath. Shield Slam has become baseline and keeping an eye on the Shield Slam procs is the most important part of your tanking ‘rotation’.
Gag Order: This is how you pull casters. The extra damage to Shield Slam makes it a must have.
Vigilance: Quirky and not well understood ability. Put it on whichever dps in your group is likely to generate most threat.
Warbringer: Once you’ve gotten used to having Charge available in combat, you’ll never want to go back. Since the last patch, Intercept can be used in defensive stance also if you have this talent. If you are ever tempted to think that Blizzard hates protection warriors (they don’t), look at this talent and smile.
Shockwave: Shockwave and Thunderclap make AE tanking more fun and less of a chore than it used to be. Note that mobs need to be in front of you for the Shockwave to affect them. Veneretio has a great article on tankingtips.com about how to cluster mobs and move them around.
Talents I didn’t take
Improved Spell Reflect: It looks like a good talent but in PvE is very situational. A lot of bosses are coded to be immune to Spell Reflect.
Improved Disciplines: Combined with the new Shield Wall Glyph (see below) you can take this talent to lower the cooldown on Shield Wall from 5 mins to 3 mins. Again, in practice this is very situational. Because usually once every 5 mins is plenty.
Puncture: Used to be key in TBC when Devastate was our main tanking ability. This is no longer the case, and now Devastate is only used to apply and renew Sunder Armour.
Improved Disarm/ Intercept: These are more PvP oriented talents. In PvE both of them are very situational.
- Major Glyphs: Blocking, Revenge, Heroic Strike
- Minor Glyphs: Thunderclap, Charge, (*coff* I realise I haven’t filled the third minor glyph, but Bloodrage is as good as any)
This is what I use for both 5 man and raid tanking so again, a good place to start, but by no means the only options.
Blocking: The only glyph that provides extra mitigation. Also more damage to Shield Slam if you can use it within those 10s, which is likely. Ideally this glyph will have 100% uptime.
Cleaving: Can be useful if lots of AE tanking. Heroic Strike is a better choice than Cleave otherwise.
Devastate: Lets you stack Sunder more quickly.
Enraged Regen: More healing is always good. But again, bit situational. Think about how often you use this ability before deciding whether to glyph for it.
Heroic Strike/ Revenge: Good for threat in low rage situations. Also will be used a lot because Revenge and Heroic Strike will feature strongly in your usual ‘rotation’.
Last Stand/ Shield Wall: Both of these reduce cooldowns on emergency recovery abilities. You’ll have to decide whether you would use them enough to need the reduced cooldown.
Sunder Armour: Useful for AE tanking.
Taunt: Unmissable taunts. The glyph is a bit situational (ie. for a situation where taunt absolutely must not miss), because we already have an AE taunt and mocking blow available as backup if a taunt is missed.
Vigilance: A pure threat talent, but unlike Heroic Strike/ Revenge, it doesn’t add any extra damage. Might be useful later on in raids as dps gear up more highly but not necessary right now.
How to play as protection/ ability rotation
Protection warriors don’t use a fixed rotation, instead it’s a priority system. So you will always be checking which abilities are available and picking one. Usually this will mean picking the one which does most threat, but you may need to weave in debuffs, interrupts/ spell reflects, and AE.
Shield Slam will do significantly more damage if Shield Block is also up. So if you don’t need SB for extra mitigation, aim to weave it in just before a Shield Slam when it is up.
Single Target Priorities
- Shield Slam
- Shockwave/ Concussive Blow
If you have a lot of rage (ie. 40+), use Heroic Strike on any spare cooldowns.
Technically, Devastate has priority over Shockwave/ Concussive blow if Shield Slam is not about to come up on the next cooldown (because Devastate can proc a Shield Slam via Sword and Board, and Shockwave can’t), but Shockwave does more threat.
AE Target Priorities
- Thunder Clap
- Shield Slam
If you have a lot of rage (ie. 40+) use Cleave on any spare cooldowns, or Heroic Strike after a Revenge if you have the Revenge glyph
At the beginning of a pull, you want to get the mobs safely under control as quickly as possible, and to stack up 5 sunders (via Devastate) on whichever dps are going to kill first.
So usually, aim to pull with heroic throw. Hit bloodrage while the mob/s is heading towards you. If it is an AE pull, get in a Thunderclap as soon as possible, then Shield Slam the first mob and switch to your usual priorities, weaving in Devastate where possible.
Charge/ Intercept (this will use charge if it is off cooldown, if not it will use intercept):
/castsequence reset=15 Charge, Intercept
Revenge/ Heroic Strike (if glyphed). You can actually single target tank effectively by spamming this macro whenever Shield Slam isn’t up:
/cast !heroic strike
(note: Thanks to Jacob for the amendment to this macro)
Stats for Protection Warriors
Remember I was saying earlier that prot warriors need to balance mitigation with threat? This is where a lot of the balancing happens because they both use different stats.
In addition, there are two different ways to take less damage. One is to be better at soaking damage (mitigation) and the other is not to be hit in the first place (avoidance).
Although hardcore tanks often have several specialist sets of gear, in practice you’ll usually be using a mixed set. You will need a minimal amount of health in any case, and after that it’s more down to personal choice (plus what is available).
Tanking gear will usually come with plenty of stamina, strength and armour, regardless of what other stats it has to offer. And you can use the same criteria when deciding on gems and enchants (don’t forget to pick up a belt buckle for an extra belt gem).
Mitigation/ Avoidance Stats
Defence: You need 540 defence to be uncrittable by raid bosses, 535 defence to be uncrittable by bosses in heroic instances. Your first goal as a level 80 protection warrior is to achieve these levels of defence. Defence is still useful after this (it adds extra avoidance) but not as big a bang for the buck as dodge or parry would be.
Stamina: As much as possible. Stamina is one of the few mitigation stats that helps you survive magical damage as well as physical.
Armour: Helps soak physical damage.
Dodge/ Parry: Dodge provides more avoidance per point than parry. However your next attack immediately following a Parry will be faster so effectively you get more threat from a parry (yes this is weird, yes it does also apply to monsters). Both apply only to physical attacks.
Spell Resist: Only used for specialist raid encounters where all the damage is going to be of one spelltype. It is a great way to mitigate spell damage but you need to know exactly what type of damage to expect and you need to stack a lot of resist to really see much of a difference. In practice, when you stack that much spell resist there just isn’t room on your gear for many other tanking stats.
Expertise: This ability makes it less likely for mobs to parry or dodge your attacks. Since almost all your tanking abilities need you to hit the target (unlike a paladin, for example, who has a lot of attacks which do spelldamage), this is your most important threat ability. Veneretio has a great explanation of expertise here. Assuming you have Vitality, with 20 expertise skill, you will not be dodged and with 58 expertise you won’t be parried.
Unlike defence, it’s not necessary to cap expertise before doing anything else. But it is your primary threat stat.
Hit: Assuming your attack is neither dodged or parried, it also has to hit the target.
Block Value: Affects the damage/ threat done by Shield Slam.
Strength: Will affect the damage/ threat done by Heroic Strike and also affects your Block Value.
Block Value/ Rating
There are two stats which apply to shield block.
- Shield Block Rating, which affects your percentage chance to block.
- Shield Block Value, which affects how much you will block for. Your Shield Slam will also hit harder if you have more SBV.
You won’t prioritise these stats in a standard tanking setup.
To understand why, you need to know how shield block works. When you block a physical attack, you take less damage by the amount of your shield block value. e.g.. if an attack would normally hit for 10k but you block it and have 2k SBV, it will actually hit for 8k. So the damage is reduced by a fixed and non-scaling amount.
This means that it is comparatively more useful when you aren’t being hit very hard, and less useful (blocks a lower percentage of damage) when you are. As a mitigation stat, dodge and parry both DO offer scaling stats (ie. a percentage change to block or parry physical attacks, regardless of how much damage is incoming) and are better bang for your buck.
It may be worth collecting shield block gear for a specialist set, in case you need to tank lots of mobs which each do little damage (e.g.. adds on Sartharion) but Shield Block Value has become more of a threat stat these days, because of the effect on Shield Slam.
There are about a zillion and one gear lists for tanks on the internet, or addons to help with working out if a new bit of gear is an upgrade or not. There are also lots of different ways to ‘rank’ available gear in terms of desirability. Some lists separate threat gear, mitigation gear, and block value gear.
These are the gear lists from tankspot.
Rawr is a popular standalone program which helps with gear comparisons and figuring out good upgrades.
Ratingbuster is an addon to help you compare gear easily in game.
Gearing up as a new 80 is easier than it has ever been. There’s plenty of good crafted, rep, and quest rewards out there. In particular:
Tempered titansteel helm and titansteel shieldwall. Tempered saronite belt, bracers, and legs. These all have plenty of defence on them, which is important when you are gearing for heroics.
Reputation wise, the head enchant comes from being Revered with the Argent Crusade. Wyrmrest Accord rep provides a good cloak and chestpiece.
There is also a tanking axe available as a reward from the argent tournament. It’s Axe of the Sen’Jin Protector for Horde, Teldrassil Protector for Alliance.
(note: thanks to KiwiRed for looking up the argent tournament rewards).
You will need a threatmeter. When dps come too near to your threat, activate your special tank ability ‘Shout at DPS’ (or just TYPE IN CAPS if you aren’t on voice chat).
I don’t use many addons for tanking. You will need to see the Shield Slam procs, so either powerauras or whichever scrolling combat text addon of your choice.
You do need to be able to see what’s going on, so however you arrange your UI, try not to let it get too cluttered.
There are plenty of good blogs and websites about tanking in general, and protection warriors in particular. (If you are wondering which of these to read, read all of them cos they’re all good :P)
tankspot.com. They have awesome instructional videos for tanking pretty much every raid boss.
Ciderhelm has also put out some amazing video tutorials for tanks. I love how he always sounds so laid back on the soundtrack (yeah, here’s another 17 unexpected mobs, we’ll just pick them up after I’ve finished my beer, etc etc)
tankingtips.com. Veneretio writes well thought out and authoritative guides and tips for protwarriors here. He’s recently been discussing mitigation vs avoidance gear.
mirrorshield – Yakra’s reflections on tanking.
Tank like a Girl
Tanking for Dummies – Tarsus blogs about his experiences as a prot warrior but also throws in some useful guides and tips on what works for him.
Darraxus the Warrior
The Wordy Warrior
I haven’t specifically linked to Elitist Jerks, because although it’s a great place to go to stay up with the latest discussions, I don’t find it such a good reference as tankspot.
Remember, this is just the beginning. The only way to learn to tank well is to go out and do it. Take some friends, hit some heroics. For all of us, there is a point where you have to just pull the boss and see what happens.
And good luck!