Understanding Your Tank

If you haven’t thanked your tank today, please go do so.  He’s the one (I’m not meaning to offend all you wonderful female tanks out there, I have a warrior myself, the masculine pronoun just sounds better and I’m not going to spend time fumbling over pronouns just to be PC) who takes the beating for you and your group so you can get all the phat lewtz off of the evil bosses.  On the other hand, if your tank hasn’t thanked you today it’s time to give him a stern talking to.  You’re the one who keeps him alive long enough to take the beating.  When an instance goes well, it’s poetry in motion.  But when it goes poorly it’s like medieval torture.  Since this relationship is central to group play, we’re going to spend some time understanding how your big brute does what he does.

As all good discussions should, let’s start at the beginning.  What is the job of the tank?  1) to take damage from mobs while DPS’ers kill them, and 2) to generate enough threat on 1 or more mobs that they ignore the DPS’ers wailing on them and the healer keeping everybody alive.  Let’s start with number 1.  How does your tank take the beating that Bog Lord is dishing out?  Your first answer is probably “Well he wears plate!”  Yes, that is part of it, but the answer is twofold.  Firstly, a tank mitigates damage taken by having large amounts of armor (aka plate or in the case of a bear druid, armor bonuses on their leather) and by their defense rating.  Without going into too much detail, the higher a tank’s defenst rating, the fewer crits and crushing blows he will take (if it’s high enough, crits can be pushed off the table all together.)  Now for the other, a tank avoids damage by dodge, block and parry.  I’m not going to go into the details of those three things, but let it suffice to say that avoidance (like it sounds) means avoiding damage instead of making damage taken hurt less.  There has to be a balance between the two.  All avoidance means no rage and no rage means dead squishes.  All mitigation and he’d die too easily… again dead squishes.  And those two have to be balanced with his ability to generate threat.

You’re probably thinking “What does all this have to do with me?”  A good question.  Let’s think about what avoidance and mitigation mean to a healer.  Mitigation means they don’t get his as hard; avoidance means they don’t get hit as often.  I think I can see the light coming on.  A tank that focuses his gear and play style on mitigation will need to be healed differently than a tank that focuses on avoidance.  An avoidance tank will stand there at 100% health for half the battle; then take 3 crits in a row and be down by half.  A mitigation tank will take slow steady damage for the entire fight.  Now, consider the fact that your Greater Heal takes 3 seconds to cast (2.5 with talents) and 3 crits (especially if there’s more than one mob) can happen in the blink of an eye.  For an avoidance tank you’ll probably have to do what I call pre-emptive healing.  When you see him start to take damage, start casting right away, if you get 2 seconds into your cast and he dosen’t need the heal, jump, hit esc or whatever to stop the cast.  You can also be a little less spastic by using a Flash Heal followed by a lower ranked Greater Heal (I use rank 5) if he needs it.  With a mitigation tank you can relax a little more, keep a HOT on him and wait to see if he’ll really need the Greater Heal before you start casting because his health bar won’t move as drastically; you know he’ll survive another 3 seconds.  If you pay attention, you’ll be able to tell the difference and adjust your healing to him.  It’s also a good idea for you and your tank to talk about these things.  My tank will sometimes change gear in the middle of an instance to help his rage generation (too much avoidance), and he’ll tell me so I know what to expect.  Also, if you’re running low on mana and don’t think you’ll make it through the fight, tell your tank and he can try to use shield block more often (or any number of other tricks up his sleeve) to up his avoidance.  Work together and get to know each other and you’ll both benefit from it.

On to number 2.  I’m not going to go into the details of how they generate so much threat, it’s waaaay to complicated, what we’re going to talk about is how to help him stay on top of the threat list.  If you are over 68 you can give him a Frisbee (aka Prayer of Mending) right before going into battle.  With the Frisbee the threat from the heal goes to the target, not the healer.  This works best if your tank uses Bloodrage before going into combat (you’ll be able to tell because his health bar will go down by a little bit and he’ll get some rage, also an ugly red mask looking thing will pop up above his head) because the Frisbee will heal for a little more.  If he dosen’t use Bloodrage, simply let him take a hit or two before casting.  If the Frisbee jumps after only healing 200-300 health, it seems like a waste to me.  I think it’s much better if you can get it to heal for 1000-1500.  The other way to keep him at the top of the threat list is to make sure that you’re not at the top of the list.  If you pull aggro a lot, talk to your tank and your group and figure out what you can do to fix it.  One of the biggest things I’ve had to change in my play style since coming to Outland is to stop throwing so many heals around the group.  I used to heal my ‘Lock every time he would lifetap.  Any time anyone else would take any damage, they’d get a HOT.  That just generates too much threat (and keeps you inside the FSR for too long, but that’s another entry.)  Focus healing on the tank.  Your job is to keep the tank alive.  Period. End of story.  Of course, if someone accidentally pulls aggro or gets an unexpected add, give them a heal if you have the mana and casting time to spare.  However, if healing them will cause danger to the tank, you’re going to have to let them die and rez after the fight is over.  If that’s a problem, you might need to consider grouping with someone else.   My last tactic for keeping your threat down is to make use of HOT’s.  In most fights my tank always has a HOT on him and in most trash pulls I don’t actually have to do much else.  Maybe one Greater Heal mid way through.  On most pulls, I’ll give him a Frisbee then Renew and wait until he’s down by 4-5k health depending non how fast he’s taking damage (if it’s slow, I’ll wait until 5k, if it happens fast sometimes I won’t wait past 2k)  When he’s ready I’ll cast Greater Heal until he’s topped off and give another Renew.  Then I’ll try to stay out of the FSR until he needs another heal.  With bosses I try to employ the same tactics, but with some there’s just nothing you can to but chain cast from start to end.  You aren’t always able to get outside the FSR with bosses, the hits are just too hard and too fast.

<I’ve talked some of these things over with my tank and want to add a few things.  He tells me that the gear for specializing in avoidance or mitigation simply isn’t available until after Kara (and apparently tanks are supposed to use 3 sets of gear, go here to see some basic info on the three sets.)  He has 2 sets of gear that focus on threat generation and mitigation.  Now that my +heal is decently high, he only needs to wear the mitigation set in the heroics.  Be that as it may, I still see a difference between him and our other tank, one exibits the charistics of a mitigation tank and the other avoidance (as I’ve described above) and I have to heal them differently.  Whatever the cause I can tell a difference and that is the point I’m trying to make with this entry.

The moral of the story is:

1)      Communicate with your tank.  Understand each other and work together

Tune in next week for:

It’s a surprise, I’ve got a couple in the works and we’ll just have to see which I finish first.

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4 Comments on “Understanding Your Tank”

  1. Kestrel Says:

    Thanks Gala–good stuff here. I just hit 70 with my holy priest this week, and tomorrow night, our little guild is going to try Botanica for the first time with a reasonable group. Some great tips here, and I’m going to ask my tank to take a look at it too. 🙂

  2. Galadria Says:

    -Kestrel-
    Grats on 70. Thanks, I’m just starting this whole blog thing, so far I really like it. The tanking blog that I link to above is the one my tank really likes so you can direct your tank there too for some good info as well. Botanica is a lot of fun, it’s one on my favorite 70 instances. Just got my Prismatic Mittens of Mending this week, thank-you Saranis. The neat thing about Botanica is that all the bosses are optional. If your having a lot of trouble with one, skip it and move on to the next. You can come back to it after you finish or try again the next time you come through. Good Luck!

  3. Kestrel Says:

    Well…for us one of the bosses isn’t optional: Our GM is an alchemist, and there’s this thing about killing the second (or third?) for her alchy spec quest.

    Last time we went in there we had 2 rogues, hunter, balanced and resto druids. The trash pulls were easy. The bosses…not so much. But this time: Warrior, Frost Mage, MM Hunter, Combat Rogue, and yours truly. I can’t wait. 🙂


  4. […] tagged me because he was my first commenter!  Back on 8/22/07 he commented on my post about Understanding Your Tank.  I’m not going to tag anyone because most everyone that I would tag has already been […]


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