Overcoming the Fear of Tanking

henryvHenry V tanked the entire french army, but even he was nervous

I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’

Shakespeare, “Henry V”

Tanking is scary.

Many things in this world are scary. Leading is scary. Giving birth is scary. Spiders are scary. Cycling in London is scary. Doing something new is scary. Just because something is scary doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do it. Overcoming the fear of tanking is the one single factor that all tanks have in common. If you can crash through the fear barrier, then you have what it takes to become an awesome tank.

For all of us, there was a moment when we stood there with an instance in front of us and an expectant group behind us and knew that there was no going back. This is the source of a lot of tank solidarity, and it’s the reason why tanks will usually help out and support fellow tanks. We were all there once. Happily, after you have gotten your tanking sea-legs and learned to be more confident in yourself and your class, tanking is extremely fun. Soon enough, going into a new instance or tanking a new boss will become a thrill rather than a thing of nightmare.

With the new dungeon tool in WoW, a lot of players are seeing the advantages to them personally of picking up the tanking mantle. How would you like to see queue times measured in seconds instead of minutes? Queue as a tank, and that’s the norm.

I was chatting to a warrior in my DK’s guild about the new instances and how we planned to spend our badges. I said I was spending mine on dps gear and was happy that I was now pushing 3k in heroics, because that’s a good improvement over when I started, but that I’d also been able to pick up enough tanking gear to get myself critproof and thought I would be OK to tank easier heroics too. He said that he was spending his badges on tanking gear. So I noted that I’d be happy to ride shotgun as moral support if he wanted to run some heroics. (By the way, if you know a tank, queuing with them is a great alternate way to get fast instances.) And what he said then surprised me. “Oh, I haven’t really had much tanking practice yet.”

There’s nothing wrong in running instances as dps or healer in order to get your tanking gear. In fact, it’s the easiest way to get into heroics and start grinding those badges out. But the longer you put off ‘that first tanking run’, the harder it will get.

I am guessing that a lot of people are in this situation where they like the idea of tanking now, and are gathering badge gear to help out. But the thought of actually tanking an instance is a tremendous barrier to them, which is unfortunate because the only way to really learn to tank is to go out and do it.

10 suggestions on how to get over the fear. These are all things that have helped me in the past.

  1. Research a good tanking spec and read up on what type of gear is required. There are a lot of sources of information online; I’d start with tankspot since they have guides for different classes.
  2. Practice on your own. Go find some mobs and practice your tanking rotation. Throw on your tanking gear and find a pack to AE tank while you kill them. Figure out which of your abilities are most useful while tanking and bind them somewhere convenient. Interrupts, silences, and stuns can be surprisingly handy. (Pro tip: also keep taunt bound somewhere VERY convenient.) How would you pick up an unexpected extra mob? Where are your emergency cooldown buttons? Practice while doing dailies.
  3. Bring a friend. If you have a friend or guildie who is willing to come along as moral support, invite them to your group first. Even better if they have a tank alt and can whisper advice if you need it.
  4. Talk to other tanks. If you know people who play tanks, you can always ask their opinion on gearing or any aspect of play. No one minds being asked politely ‘How do you tank encounter X, I’ve been having trouble with Y’
  5. Start with easier instances. You don’t need to leap straight into heroics. Start with normal instances and work your way up as you feel more confident. If you get a chance to do some tanking while you are levelling, so much the better.
  6. Don’t be afraid to tell your group that you are new to tanking and will be taking things at your own pace. Tell them (politely, if you like) that if they don’t like it, they can leave. If they boot you, shrug and queue for another group – you didn’t need those people anyway.
  7. Go along on some instance runs as a dps or healer and watch carefully what the tank does. Get familiar with the pulls and positioning, watch the patrols, see if you can figure out what the adds actually do.
  8. Organise your UI and addons to make sure that all the information you will need is easy to see. Can you see when your cooldowns are up? Can you check the health of the rest of the group to see if anyone is being beaten up? Can you actually see the mob through the density of information on your screen? Can you see when a mob is casting a spell that you might need to interrupt? Can you see your own health?
  9. Try some PvP, it’s a good way to practice situational awareness.
  10. Think about what you believe a good tank should do … and then try to do it when you are tanking.

37 thoughts on “Overcoming the Fear of Tanking

  1. Or you could just roll a paladin. Even with the righteous fury nerf the mobs still stick to them no matter what.

    Btw – I dinged to 80 on my warrior few days ago – a good start in gearing is to just buy the ilvl 245 chest and bracers + ilvl 200 helm + shield + boots and farm ToC normal for the rest.

    • Good luck with it! I love warrior tanking, it’s a really fun spec to play.

      I think that switching from one tank to another means you already have a lot of the basics down, so it’s mostly down to learning the new mechanics. And even paladin tanks don’t position themselves 😉

  2. Traditionally tanks did next to zero damage while soloing. This does not only apply to WoW, but to MMOs in general. Things changed a lot, but people still don’t recommend levelling as Protection Warrior.

    I think this is what made people shy back from becoming tanks in addition to fearing the leadership role: 1. slow, little damage 2. being the groups whipping boy.

    Basically, the majority of people is rather un-christian and wants to kick ass, not get their ass kicked and offer the the other side once beaten blue on the one side. 😛

  3. Your weapon is the most important part of you, even moreso than getting defence capped. If you’re not putting out enough damage, you won’t be keeping threat, and your defence rating will mean sod all.

    Red Sword of Courage is the best pre-raid Heroic tanking weapon you’ll likely find (From King Ymiron in Utegard Pinacle) – that is ofc, if you’re not a Death Knight (and want 2 handers)
    Or you could get a crafter to make the Titansteel Bonecrusher (1h) or Titansteel Destroyer (2h) – they’re really easy to get, the 1h has +Expertise which is excellent for tanking.

    They’ll get you started tanking Naxx. Now that you can farm heroics for tier gear, you should quickly pass Ulduar level and get into TOTC tier gear.

    Certain professions really help too, like Jewelcrafting and Enchanting (of which my DK has both) – you get 51 Stamina JC Gems and 2×30 Stamina Ring Enchants

    • You can certainly tank heroics with a blue weapon (how do you think people got the red sword in the first place?) — as long as you are ahead of the healer on threat, dps can dial it back. So I don’t entirely agree that it is more important than being defence capped.

      But certainly you are right and a good tanking weapon will help a lot with keeping up your threat. There are a few other sources now though, there’s one you can buy with argent tournament tokens and some nice tanking weapons drop in the new 5 mans also.

      • If you are a warrior then much of your threatcomes from shield slam, which scales (I think) with BV rather than weapon damage. A good shield (or even some gear with +BV on it) will do wonders for your threat if you don’t have a decent weapon. Failing that, cast shield block before the pull.

        If you are a paladin, I believe that the spellpower component of your attacks scales with strength, and since again that will be a big part of your threat then some gear with strength on it will help.

        It’s also possible to get an epic tanking weapon from Argent Crusade dailies.

      • Thats it:
        “But it ain’t about how hard ya hit.
        It’s about how hard you can get it and keep moving forward.
        How much you can take and keep moving forward.
        That’s how winning is done!”
        DPSers have to watch or die! If there is no chance for the tank to tank harder, the DPSers have to step back!
        One thing I learned, but still struggle to practice is: If they want to bleed, let them bleed! What does it mean? There’s not a single instance (except the new ones) I can’t finish with one or even two dead DPSers on my way. So if they didn’t tuned into my capabilities and behavior until the first boss…
        That doesn’t mean, that I don’t forgive accidental pulls or SOME overnuking, but if that seems to be permanent, it may happen once ore twice, that I just sit down in front of my healer and relax until the fail-DPS looses aggro.

      • Paladins’ spellpower scales with stamina, not strength. Everything they gear for pretty much is on par with a warrior. Blizz created this mechanic so that spellpower/defense plate would not have to drop and so that paladins could roll on actual melee weapons.

  4. Great post Spinks, yet again. I levelled up as prot all the way, and now, looking back to the levelling, I would have enjoyed more if I had had the chance to group more. Then again, lv80 came way too abruptly and changed the game way too severely for my enjoyment.

    Now the LFG has changed this: it’s easier to group, it’s faster to group and there is constant need for tanks as whole. Not only through certain uneducated stat limits or achievements, as it was on the server wide LFG.

    This constant need for new tanks will help ultimately, but as Tobold put it, will this system kill raiding? IMO it may well do that, unless the raid instances can provide more challenge and more balanced need for different classes. Especially if tanks are getting more in supply the choking point will become from the raid side.

    Anyhow, thanks for the great pep post for all us aspiring and coming tanks who doubt our possibilities to survive in the LFG world.

    Oh, by the way, Bizzam had a post in Tank Hard! which goes along the same ways as this one. Certainly worth linking and reading.


    Cheers, thank you and happy tanking!

    C out

  5. Quite poignant topic this morning as last night saw me run Slave Pens and Underbog 3-4 times each on my Druid. I signed up as the tank for all of them and got a group very quickly. This was my first real effort at proper tanking and it was a lot of fun. Sure I wasn’t perfect at it but after the first few instances the “ARGHHHHH THE MOBS ARE COMING!!!” reaction was replaced by a more “ok, Faerie Fire that guy and pop a mangle, that should give me enough threat on that mob to hold him while I tab round and start grabbing the rest to stick on my like glue.” I’ve also learnt the value of healers keeping me topped up too as a number of times I am down below 10% and popping Barkskin as I felt I was seconds away from dying. My main is a healer so I have experience there too. It was nice seeing myself just in a night become a heck of a lot more confident in dealing with different situations and trying to keep mobs off people. I may only be level 65 but Bear Tanking is my future.

    • Agreed on the healing. The easiest way to learn how to tank is to group consistently with a great priest.

      Healers make the world go round. (And I say this as a guy who usually plays DPS.)

      And though I haven’t tanked a great deal since BC, I still think healing is the most exciting way to play the game. You barely get a chance to look at the pretty eye candy, but man oh man, it’s exciting watching the health meters drop when you’re an off-spec healer. Doing both — tanking and healing — has given me a great deal of appreciation for those who run the service slots full time. DPS is child’s play in comparison.

  6. Actually the new LFG system has reduced my desire to tank to zero. Every run I get into sends the message that to be a tank in this brave new world, you have to be an arrogant ass who chain-pulls three groups at once and pays no attention whatsoever to the rest of the group, else the dps will constantly whine about how much you suck and how the run is going way too slow. I’d rather queue up as holy/resto, still get a group within a minute and not have to worry about this kind of stuff. Though of course that puts me at the receiving end of another kind of unpleasantness (Why did he pull while I’m still looting three rooms away?), but I can deal with that better.

  7. Now the tank shortage has tuned from an urban legend to a measurable value by how much shorter is the queue for tanks than dps.

    And now my story.

    I rolled a DK to tank. I was so much afraid of stigma “only noobs play DKs” that I did everything to learn the class, first soloed some lowbie instances, then boosted some randoms in lowbie instances to see what will happen in the usual case “no matter how hard you try, they’ll aggro something on them”, then tanked everything possible from Ramparts on, so I steadily learned the instances, new moves, and how other people behave.

    I’m not a great tank, and I’m not a “hardcore” one, yes I tanked “something”, VoA, Onyxia, etc. but you won’t find Trial of the Grand Crusade or any other hardcore content among her achievements.

    So you have an average tank… and you see, I went first time to some of the new heroics, having done it once on normal but still not used to it. In most “old” heroics I know every trash pack, every patrol route, most mobs abilities, I can predict what they’ll do.

    We wiped in Halls of Reflection several times due to dps getting aggro…

    And then people started talking “if we wipe once more we’ll vote kick you”.

    Yes, the tank has to know everything, has to perform perfectly, has to compensate for dps who don’t watch their aggro and attack fresh mobs (HOR is mostly waves of mobs, very easy for dps to attack fresh untanked one).

    Really I should’ve told them sure, vote kick me, make all the “average” tanks quit out of frustration. Yes, there would be few hardcore raiding tanks, awesomely geared, perfect in their job, left in the queue who want to farm some badges. Happy waiting 3 hours in the queue along with 100 other groups for one of these.

    • Ugh, that sounds miserable.

      I may write some more about Halls of Reflection. But the short form is, in my experience, if you’re not comfortable with forcing your group to enforce a kill order, and organising them to help with crowd control, don’t do it in a PUG.

      I also think you’ll find that a lot of the hardcore raiding tanks who are awesomely geared will be queueing for HoR with guildies, partly for that reason.

      Impatient people will have to learn that if they want their nice smooth HoR runs, they can’t act like idiots. But until they learn that, I’d avoid tanking it in PUGs.

  8. Excellent post. Switched to Tank spec with my Pally tank wanna-be (currently lvl 64). Getting a lot of instances with the LFG tool. I’m not afraid to state to the group that I am new at the tank role and will gladly let another group member tag the mobs that I need to pull.

  9. One thing about tanking, once you are Crit Immune, it is more about practice than it is about gear. Yes, there is a threshold below which you can’t tank some raid bosses, but beyond that, it is all about practice practice practice.

    I actually think Violet Hold is a great training ground for new tanks. It forces you to keep the pace up, and you get a mix of AOE and Single Target tanking. Also, the random abilities of the bosses force you to do different things. Get Xevozz? Welcome to tanking on the move. Lavanthor? In and out (yeah, you can pretty much ignore it, but still, the mechanic is there). Erekem? Adds and interrupts. Plus at the end, you get to learn proper dragon positioning.

    • I never did figure out if there was a special mechanic on Levanthor because in all the times I tanked VH trying to get the shield block trinket, he only turned up twice ;/

      But I agree, it’s one of the easier heroics to start tanking, partly because the trash doesn’t hit very hard.

  10. Thanks so much for this post! As a tentative tree stepping into the brave new world of bear tanking, I appreciate any and all advice I can get!

    The PuG I first tanked for went actually pretty well, and I had a guildie along for moral support and let my fellow party members know my virgin-tanking status. I think the advice about practicing rotations, etc, not in dungeons is good though and I will endeavor to do so. Thanks again!

  11. I’ve found that identity helps. I’d not tanked much until I made my paladin and didn’t think of myself as a tank. But my paladin, she was prot at level 10. I was determined to tank and I identified myself as a tank. When you can do that, then tanking becomes an inevitability rather than something you have to struggle to do.

  12. I guess I’m having the opposite problem. As a bear tank for a long while now I feel comfortable tanking anything, but don’t enjoy tanking for PUGs in the dungeon system. So I queue as DPS (moonkin), and in the 5-10 minutes I have to wait for the queue I do some of my profession dailies, fish up mats for more fish feasts, etc. Since I’m not used to DPSing, and its my offspec I feel like I have to try really hard to keep up with the other DPS. What I’m finding though is that I’m usually top DPS, and when I’m doing more than people with better gear that means most likely they’re just being lazy coasting through some heroics.

    That’s what annoys me about tanking in the dungeon system – you can’t be lazy and “sorta tank” (same with heals), yet the DPS can just kick back and relax and a good tank/healer will still carry them through. I topped DPS TANKING in ToC 5-man recently, now that’s sad.

    I’ve been working in a couple of alts lately and have considering a dual spec on my 72 priest for healing (she’s always been shadow), but I feel like I need to find a version of this article directed at healers. I’ll jump in and tank anything, but healing stuff is an entirely different beast and I’m not comfortable with it at all.

  13. You’re dependent. Ever!
    If you have a healer, willing and capable to keep you alive, you will survive. If you have a tank, knowing his business, you will be able to keep him alive. (If not, YOU are doing something stupid/horribly wrong, but thats how learning is done!)
    Bringing your counterpart in is the best fearward.

  14. @Kuroburo

    The key to healing is not caring if they die, but healing them like mad anyway. With that attitude you’ll be fine 🙂

    Occasionaly as I leveled my healer I’d run pugs that were carnage. I just couldn’t hold them together. Flak would start getting thrown around I’d be thinking ‘omg, I suck at this’.

    I’d go back in with trepidation the next day, do the the same thing and it would be smooth and easy. That’s the best bit, realising it isn’t us.

    8 months on, it has still never turned out to be me. If you are trying it won’t be you either. Even when they say it is.*

    Having never done it, tanking appears harder to me.

    *Unless it’s a guild raid, then it really is us 🙂

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  17. Tanking is scary indeed. I tried a few normal runs on my DK wich all went fine.

    And I’d like to give tanking heroics a go. My gear is sufficient but when tanking, it’s all up to you. You have to know the instances and when/where to pull.

    I think I’ll give it a go anyway 🙂

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  20. Thanks for writing this post. I was getting sick of all of the terrible tanks I was getting on my DPS alts last week, and remembered this post.

    My level 30-something prot warrior has been tanking her way through Scarlet Monastery ever since, and I’ve been enjoying every moment of it. It feels so much more satisfying than DPS, and somehow I seem to be really good at it. Every run goes really smoothly. I just had to get over my fear of failure first.

    I’m really looking forward to leveling up this character through instances and getting a taste of those heroics someday =)

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