Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Tanking Discussions Part 1 - Aggro

Today's Breakfast Topic over on WoW.com talks about the anxiety a new tank might feel. It's a topic I've been meaning to talk about for a while and this seems like a good time to do it.

There's two facets to this discussion. One is what it does and doesn't mean to be a good tank. The other is how to handle inevitable criticisms of your tanking skills.

If I don't break my thoughts on this down to a few posts it's going to end up as a huge text wall that I don't get posted until Thursday. So I'm going to try and keep up with this for the rest of the week and get through it all.

To start off with today's point, what is tanking? When you think of a tank's duties (especially if you are not a tank) what do you think of?

The first thing you probably said is "hold aggro." And, technically, you'd be right. Holding aggro is what a tank does. But here's the thing...on the list of thing that make a good tank, holding aggro is actually one of the lowest things on the list.


First and foremost it's because tanks now have so many tools to out-threat equally geared DPS (not even including Misdirects or ToTs) that any half-experienced tank running with competent DPS can hold aggro. It really is the easiest part of our job.

That touches directly into another reason it's so low on the list: because one of the highest items on the list of what makes a good DPSer is not pulling aggro. As a tank, 90% of the time you lose aggro, it's not your fault. It is your problem, but it's not your fault.

And that leads to the first marks of distinction of a good tank: regaining control. I don't care if you're a first time tank or a Heroic ICC vet. You're going to lose control of mobs at some point. It's the nature of the game. If I could Swipe a group of mobs once and be guaranteed control for the entire fight, it'd be boring as hell.

I know I just got done saying that holding aggro is the easiest part of our job, and that's still true. But (to borrow an analogy from table-top gaming) you're still going to roll a 1 sometimes. You won't always have competent/attentive DPS to help you do your job right. You have to compensate. You need to set yourself up to be able to quickly recognize when baddies are about to or already have gotten away from you. There are many ways for you to do this.

BBB advocates TidyPlates with the ThreatPlates addition. This gives an insane amount of detail on your threat on every mob, and can be configured to change colors at key percentages. The sole reason I don't use this addon is because I don't like all the plates cluttering my screen. But I'm kinda neurotic about screen layout and symmetry. If you don't have this problem, Threat Plates can work very well for you.

I personally use my unit frames addon, ShadowedUF, to track aggro. It doesn't show me when I'm losing threat, but I have it configured to color the health bars of anyone who has aggro red. I can see at a moment's notice when one of the DPS pulls aggro. Then it's a matter of finding the mob and getting it back. Displaying Target-of-Target information is invaluable for this.

There's always Omen. It's generally only good for the mob you currently have targeted, but most of the time that's enough. If you have enough lead on your main target tab through the rest and see if there's any where you need a boost.

And if you despise addons the default UI still helps some, by flashing when you're losing threat on a mob and when it changes targets. Harder to be accurate, but it still exists.

Regardless of what method you choose, make sure it works for you. Then practice being able to quickly recognize the signs of losing or lost mobs. If you're losing threat, target that mob and attack it directly to try and maintain control. If you've lost it, taunt it back before it kills someone.

Of course, there's only one way to practice this. And until you're good at it, it's going to result in chaos and death. Don't get discouraged! You didn't get good at healing or face-roll your way to the top of the DPS charts right from the start and you're not going to get this right the first time, either.

Even after you're good at it, you're not going to be able to manage every situation every time. So don't expect to. Sometimes someone else in the group is going to die. When it happens, still try to get loose mobs back, get through the fight, and then res. It's why that button exists.

It's worth noting that among the inexperienced tanks I run with, this is the point where they all struggle the most. I've watched mobs peel off and run amok unchecked for long stretches of time. Usually far longer than it should take to get one back.

I know it's tough when you're also trying to learn a tanking rotation. You're focusing on your abilities and cooldowns much more intently than you would otherwise. But learning to regain control of lost mobs should be getting an equal amount of your focus. Especially because, in those initial learning stages, you're going to be losing that control much more frequently.


  1. I'm bookmarking this topic, since I'm thinking of trying out kitty dps and bear tanking :)

  2. Awesome! Hopefully some of what I say here ends up being helpful. :-)

  3. Awesome! Hopefully some of what I say here ends up being helpful. :-)