A thread topic that comes up over and over is “Where are all the tanks?” They tend to come in groups, and I’ve seen them since at least the launch of Burning Crusade (prior to BC, all the threads seemed to be lamenting the absence of healers), with little sign of dissipating completely.
I read a lot of those threads and watch as people offer explanations and criticisms and just snipe stupidly at other people for little reason other than to push buttons. There are accusations of elitist tanks, the inevitable bickering between Warriors/Paladins/Druids, and the random Shaman clown who thinks buying Toughness from Enhancement should secure him a ringside seat.
Whenever a thread like this raises its ugly head, one of the most frequently seen flippant responses is, “Re-roll a tank if you need one.”
It’s the same response that gets trotted out whenever someone laments the lack of healers, or the difficulty of what they do, or the lack of appreciation for their role. “Roll DPS if you don’t like healing, nub.” As with all stupidly brief responses to forum topics, the answer avoids the issue and indeed, exaggerates it should the target follow said input.
Oddly, it seems that their advice may have been followed to some degree.
Most Warriors in Burning Crusade seem to be DPS, ostensibly to PvP but also because of the “massive” buffs they provide to group DPS or conversely, the massive DPS output they can achieve with the perfect group. The majority of Paladins are still healers, though a growing proportion are picking up a Warrior’s 2-hander, putting on Warrior DPS plate, and smacking things, too. And Druids… well, foliage spec is still an amazing instance healer and remains our best ticket to 133t PvP stuffage.
So perhaps there really are fewer tanks because they decided to go dps either within their class or with another. Perhaps two of the tanking classes have rediscovered that their DPS specs can be viable (as the player of both non-Warrior tanking classes, I can say with a fair degree of certainty that this is definitely a factor). Everyone needs DPS if just to farm or do dailies, and many raid encounters are as much DPS checks as anything. DPS climbs ever higher in the ranks of desirable traits and specs.
Some say that tanks, like the healers of old, are busy tanking for their guilds and won’t touch a PUG. While there is some truth to this, I also find that I am in high demand even in my guild. That isn’t to say that many tanks don’t feel this way. Hell, I feel this way a lot, but given the level of demand I see for my services even within the comforting bounds of my own guild, there’s definitely something else going on.
Like many others who choose to tank, I really enjoy it. It is without a doubt the hardest thing I’ve done in the game (I’ve done DPS and played two raiding healers at the cap extensively), but the payoff for doing it successfully is equally great.
My success, though, is tied to the rest of the group. “But so is mine,” you may opine, but the truth of this is simply greater for a tank. No matter how tuned in and on my game I may be, 1-2 bad players can make me look like an idiot. No matter my level of skill, my job requires everyone else to be part of the plan. I can’t do it without the rest of the team pulling their weight and paying attention. If my healer and I are the only ones on our game, we will fail. It really is that simple.
Tanking is work. I’m not going to say the other jobs aren’t because I know healing can be but my DPS experience is fairly limited. But when you accept a PUG invitation you’re risking a lot. It can be an absolute blast to tank, but it’s work, and it’s not unexpected that most people either don’t want to do it or don’t want to do it for people they don’t know and therefore, trust. Let’s face it, as the tank, I have to trust all of you even more than you have to trust me. Only the healer is in a similar situation. So if I don’t know you, I’m risking my playtime and I’m not always willing to do that.
But sometimes I will. After all, I learned to tank by tanking for PUGs because my guild doesn’t challenge me to step up my game. They’re really good and I don’t need to. For a PUG, you’ll need all your skill to succeed.
Inevitably that begs the question, what skills are those? What does it take to be a tank? What if you’ve read all this and still think tanking sounds fun? Well, that’s what I’m here for. Rather than discuss the specific tools used to tank as a bear, I’d like to talk about what any tank needs to be successful, in no particular order.
Arguably the most important trait for a tank to have is situational awareness. As a tank you need to be aware of everything. During any given fight, you need to have an idea who is being hit and why, and if you’re not trying to lock them down, why you’re not. It’s your job to enable the DPS. Without you, they can’t do their job because…well, because they’ll die trying. Just as important (and Phae would undoubtedly argue MORE important) is protecting the healer. Without her, you’re dead. Sure sometimes you can pull of something amazing with a few standing DPS and no healer, but that isn’t the norm, especially for encounters at your gear level.
It’s crucial to be watching for patrols, managing your positioning so that runners are handled effectively, pulling behind corners to corral casters and so on. You more than anyone in the group need to be aware of everything that’s happening and understand why it’s happening. Sometimes you can do something about it and sometimes you can’t, but every bit of information builds knowledge that paints the greater picture of conflict. It is this picture of the tactical landscape that determines what you can, should, and will do.
You will also need cash.
Tanking is expensive business. Sure anyone can make that claim but the reason I point it out specifically is because it is vital to any tank that they have the best gear they can obtain. The best enchants and gems are also crucial. The reason is simple: you want to give you healer the biggest cushion you possibly can because the easier you are to heal, the better able the healer will be to cope with the inevitable wandering damage all encounters stupidly sport these days. That inevitably involves cash: cash to buy rare gems, cash to buy armor kits, cash to buy craftables to use until the drop you need comes. You will find yourself at your most successful when you aren’t stingy with what you’ve made, when you are willing to dump it on gear, materials for crafting, and the right enchantments.
Your repair bills will be enormous.
A sense of sacrifice helps. No, tanks are not altruistic paragons of self-sacrifice such that the Dalai Llama comes to us for monthly training seminars, but you do need to have a healthy dose of “team” over “self.” After all, you’re the one getting hit in the face so the pretty DPS corps and the healers can use their fundage for vanity nose jobs and not reconstructive surgery. You will often die while others live either by running out to reset an encounter, feigning death, vanishing or even the semi final application of Divine Intervention. This is in part why your repair bill will suck, but it can also easily leave you with a sour taste in your mouth as you and your healer are running back while your Hunters and Rogues (and even Mages it seems, from time to time) slap each other on the back for living through the deadly pull — sometimes repeatedly.
If you can’t deal with that, maybe you should rethink your goals.
As I pointed out earlier in the article, you are utterly reliant on your team. You cannot survive without them, you cannot succeed without them, you cannot kill without them. Their performance will override yours. Most often this means that if they stink, your run will fail, but it also means that if they’re good enough, they can carry you on a bad day or struggle through teaching you the ins and outs of your job.
It’s because of this reality that I believe tanking for competent groups, while helpful, is not ultimately educational the way it should be in order to hone truly impressive tanking skills.
Marking your targets is a skill every tank should hone. Perhaps you don’t believe this to be a skill, but if that’s the case, you’ve probably never had to alphabetize anything either. Marking targets is a carefully coordinated opus where you’re taking the resources you have (your teammates, their skill, their tools, their gear…) and comparing it to the obstacle at hand whereupon you prioritize targets, assign control duties, and discuss what to do when you have leftover targets.
This requires a knowledge of your class, a working knowledge of the capabilities of other classes, a knowledge of the mobs you’re dealing with and their capabilities… and most importantly, a willingness to listen to input.
Sometimes you don’t know what’s best and you need to listen to your team so they can tell you what they’re capable of or comfortable doing. One Hunter may barely know what a trap is while another could chain trap anything you pointed her at. The other side of this is that eventually, you have to make a decision, and that decision may fly in the face of what those people say they can do. Ultimately, you’re the one that takes the fall for control and you’re the one that needs to say, “I know you don’t like trapping or feel you are best at this, but I need it done.”
It’s also possible to have someone else mark targets. This is less than ideal because it means you have to react to someone else’s priorities and assumptions, ones you may disagree with. You aren’t in control, and you need to be. It can be helpful when learning an instance from someone who knows, though, and in that light, it’s an option to be considered, but learning to effectively mark targets is fairly critical for a tank.
Finally, you need to be something of an attention whore. All of us are attention whores on some level, but the dirty secret of tanking is that it puts you firmly in the spotlight, and who doesn’t like to be there? In a hard encounter, when the Main Tank goes down, it’s a wipe. Keeping you alive is priority one for most groups because when you fall, so do they.
While there is significant responsibility to the role of a tank, there is also a significant amount of narcissistic self-indulgence. You stand toe to toe with the biggest and the baddest with absolutely everyone there relying on you to do your job so they can do theirs and collect the magical treasure that comes with success.
I’m sure other tanks have other lists, and this one is by no means complete, but if none of this has turned you off and you have the requisite dash of prima donna, give it a shot and see if you can help minimize the tank shortage.
I’ll see you at the reconstructive surgeon between instance runs.
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