Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Spanking Tanks

Uh-oh! Lady Ga-ga forgot her meat shield.
In the last of three examinations of what should be expected from your dungeon partners, we have to look at the tanks.

Let me start by saying that tanking is most likely the most difficult of roles. It is also the role with the most potential to really shine. Tanks have had the most difficult of stat balances to obtain. The little details of placement, and how to effectively use utility abilities like interrupts adds a lot of complexity. And then the very aware tanks who can assess problems arising and defuse them can really put a shine on a tank's reputation. On top of this, tanks are sort of the de facto leaders of almost any sized WoW group.

I won't pretend to tell you guys how to do all that, but I will try and help guide around the margins of what could make you look bad.

I'll also put forward my belief that there are "tanks" in WoW and then there are "noobs who want a fast track through the LFG queue and think tanking is as easy as pew pew." I hope I have a few things to say to both groups, but I hope the "tanks" are not offended.

Tank Priorities
1. Hold aggro on the bad guys
2. Stay alive.
3. Put the bad guys in the best place to be killed
4. Use utility abilities to the party's benefit
5. Save the healer
6. Save the DPS

Items one and two are mostly done long before a tank arrives at a dungeon. It's the stat balance I referred to earlier. Yes, there is a certain amount of skill in deploying your abilities, but showing up in the best possible gear with the best possible enhancements is 90% of your battle. And, while survivability is extremely important, you ought to have a healer who makes your health one of their top priorities, which should leave a little more space for you to worry about controlling the monsters.

I can't stress enough how important placement is for mobs. Go too close to CC'd mobs and there's trouble. Tank with your back to the party and somebody with a cone attack is going to fry your group. Triangulating the course adds will take when rushing into a fight can make all the difference in your ability to deal with them. This is what bothers me so much about tanks who charge into a pack of mobs without ever looking back: they have forfeited the ability to really control where the monsters go. All of this had very little importance in Lich King dungeons but is quite essential now.

Things to Do

1. Use CC.
Grim Batol norm has become a kind of watershed location for me. While you can often plow in and AoE tank a number of normal dungeons right now, and you can do that at Grim Batol too. But, it is a place where using a little CC makes everything a lot smoother. It's quite stark to go there with an AoE tank, and then come back later with a tank who puts CC to use. AoE tanking here means your healer will probably have to drink after almost every pull. It means that you are ignoring certain mobs with charges or abilities that they put on other members of your party and could incapacitate them at a very dangerous moment. It actually means that your armor is taking more durability damage than if you attempted to limit the number of things hitting you at one time.  The party using CC in Grim Batol, even on normal setting, moves faster and pretty well never wipes.

Needless to say, CC is 100% essential in heroics. Learn to effectively use these techniques while you are running norms and watch your runs go faster, have less drama, and generally be more successful. And then, when you come back on heroic, you won't be operating behind the learning curve on controlling the mobs.

2. It's not a race, guys.
This is the worst legacy of the Lich King era: The general belief that a heroic dungeon should only take about 15 minutes, and that skipping parts of the dungeon was acceptable. Yes, dungeons could be done that quickly, but I personally don't think it was fun to do them that way. Blizzard has changed award systems to reduce this compulsion somewhat, but I'm afraid it will rear it's ugly head again eventually. This attitude is deadly in Cataclysm. Make sure your mana users are topped up, that the marks are set, and that nobody is dead. (True story: the tank pulled, interrupting my rezzing of two dead DPS. The rest of us joined the dead seconds later.) Especially here at the beginning, it's OK to ask if anybody has any pointers on a fight.

3. If you don't want to lead, or can't do it, please just say so.
I promise we won't think any less of you.   Look, leading groups in new content is hard. And just because you're the tank doesn't mean that you have to lead. But, see...we all kind of expect you to lead by default. So if you don't want the pressure, then you'll eventually resent the group for their expectations, and the group will resent you for not being the leader we expect. And that's what leads to a group that dissolves after a wipe with tears all around.

Personally, I'm afraid to make suggestions to a tank because I think I might offer offense when I don't mean to.  So, if it would be better for somebody else to mark mobs, that's OK! As a rule, more communication is better than less.

4. Don't skip trash
80% of the time that you try to go around some mobs rather than through them, a hunter's pet or a demon is going to wander out and attract attention. Or, running back from a wipe, somebody is going to bump into something. There have been runs I joined in progress, and I'm walking down into the dungeon to join the group and get killed three times because I don't know which packs of mobs the tank snuck around instead of killed. This is extremely irritating.  Everybody needs reputation gains anyway. Kill the things and be done with it.

Skipping trash (or skipping bosses) sends the message that you are trying to do the absolute minimum to get through a dungeon and that says a lot about your play style. Again, look to Lich King: Why did everybody just skip the easy bosses in the Halls of Stone? Halls of Stone was really only hated for the Tribunal of the Ages encounter, which you couldn't skip, and so two easy bosses were left on the table each time.  The same thing was typical at Azjul-Nerub: It became standard to trick out the second boss encounter to use the exploit allowing parties to skip some trash.  The only thing was, especially by the end of Lich King, you could have just killed the trash faster than it sometimes took to set up the exploit. And if one person didn't get the memo and stayed behind to fight the returning trash, the party would end up waiting even longer while they ran back from the graveyard.

5. Don't be an asshole
One of my all time favorite articles from WoW Insider was The Cynic's Guide to World of Warcraft. You owe yourself a read, but allow me to quote the definition of "Tank" offered there:
The party or raid member tasked with holding the enemy's attention and absorbing the resulting damage. Tanks come in two varieties: a.) salt of the earth, or: b.) raging asshole.
No, you do not deserve to be paid gold for PuGing a run. No, you don't get to limit the activities in a dungeon. No, the expression, "CBF," as in "I cbf  killing this boss," does not belong in your vocabulary.  No, you're not entitled to dps gear if somebody else is rolling on it, and if you threaten to quit unless you get it, please just leave now.  No, you are not irreplaceable unless you have proven how good you are at tanking and have endeared yourself to us to the point that we actually like having you there.  There are too many bad tanks out there for us to automatically accept you as the gods' gift to WoW.

Pant, pant, pant. I apologize, good tanks. I don't mean to dogpile on you guys, but keep a level head while you're playing WoW.  Most of us in the know greatly respect the work you do in the dungeon, but if you start blowing that off, then you fall into that "bad tank" category. And I know you don't want that, do you?

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