How to be a better tank

Situational awareness.

I’m getting tired of repeating this over and over. Situational awareness, threat, and survival are all three pretty much equally important for a tank (depends on specific cases, but in general that’s the rule of thumb). All three aspects need to be mastered if you want to perform well. If you’re only sitting there and pulling off TPS and soaking all the damage, that’s fine, but without being able to react, you’re not as good a tank as you could be

Let me start off with some background information. My guild already cleared Naxx25 this week and I tagged along with my warrior, and the ID went pretty much flawlessly (picked up the Spore Loser and Can’t Get Enough achievements on the way). Not feeling like I had my fill, I decided, yesterday, to go with my warlock alt in once again.

Here’s the funny part. Whenever I raid with my warrior in our guild runs, I feel like the tanks are doing a great job. Whenever I raid with my warlock, I think the tanks are either not doing so well, or doing horribly. The explanation is obvious: each run includes different tanks.

When I entered the raid with my warlock, I took a quick peek at the different tanks we were going to be working with. Two protection warriors and a frost DK. Stamina looked fine on all three (DK was lacking a little, but still quite decent), overall the gear looked ok. I checked the specs of the two warriors, and they looked fine as well.

Boy, was I disappointed.

Here’s a list of what caused me to almost break down:

– You have cooldowns. Use them. If the boss is going to squish you like a bug, you panic and you use your panic button. If you have a panic button, use it. If you don’t have a panic button, minimize this window, log into WoW, type /m and start making one.

– AE tanking is, weirdly enough, the first indicator of how good you are. Not so much about how much TPS you can pull off, but rather, noticing that an add broke free of the grinder and is heading towards your clothies. Quick reaction time and a trigger finger on your taunt button are the key here. Likewise, noticing that something isn’t right and lighting up your cooldowns ALSO belongs to this. As you might have guessed from the previous point, I’ve been using a special OHCRAP macro for a while now that activates all my cooldowns at once (it saved my butt PLENTY of times, I can assure you that) and whenever something looks bad, I’d rather be safe than sorry.
That said, AE TPS *IS* important. Get that rotation in and don’t be sloppy! Charge/pull, thunderclap, take a few steps back, shockwave, start tabbing through all the mobs and applying shield slams + devastates, and as soon as the shockwave stun wears off, light up shield block. Keep thunderclap on cooldown, depending on the HP of the mob group keep shockwave for the next pull or on cooldown (it’s always nice to have shockwave at the beginning of the pull), and whenever you don’t use those two, you’re tabbing and devastating/shield slamming until the cows come home!

– Single target (boss) tanking. I’m taking more and more peeks into the DPS world since I’m getting more and more active with my alts, and let me tell you something, it’s not pretty. They *actively* advise people *NOT* to spec aggro reducing talents, because it’s a waste of talent points that could enhance their DPS. So you’re dealing with not only maximum DPS, you’re dealing with maximum TPS. Even my crappy warlock (fully following the advice of not speccing aggro reduction) was pulling off 3-4k TPS at some points during some boss encounters. I overaggroed both on Sapphiron and on Kel’Thuzad and died on both encounters because I couldn’t soul shatter fast enough. That’s not the problem though, the problem is that the tank couldn’t build up enough aggro. I have never, ever, ever lost those bosses, or any bosses for that matter, to a DPSer overaggroing, and our DPSers are very picky, they tell you if they can’t pump out maximum damage and they have to take a break. It already happened twice that I was not MTing Sapphiron and that the MT for the fight died during the last few % (on one occasion he charged in and was out of range for heals, on the other the healers were just sloppy) and I was right there to pick him up on both occasion, and Sapph died without a wipe. I’m not writing this to tell you how UBER ROXXOR I am, I’m telling you this because threat is important, accidents may happen, and you being focused on build up threat IN CASE something bad happens can mean the difference between going on to Kel’Thuzad with a happy raid or seeing other 24 gryphons/drakes/whatever slowly flying up into Naxx. Sapphiron is an easy case for this because you’re constantly getting rage due to the debuff, and it is important because (last I checked) he’s immune to taunt.


  1. Nowadays i would just stand and spam cleave along with tc/shockwave instead of tabbing through the mobs.. maybe switch target once in a while so all mobs get cleaved.. does the job for me. Nobody in my raid does more then 3k dps in an overall naxx run though, maybe thats why.

  2. I started tanking pre-TBC where we didnt have threat meters until we were progressing in BWL. I still do not use them until now. My philosophy is simple. I push the threat envelope as much as I can knowing the proper skill rotation. I also know my limits. If somebody outgears me – and it is more critical now given the threat skills of warriors compared to pre-wrath – then I can’t really do anything about it. My attitude as a tank when I lose aggro is to know why – given that it is critical if the problem is with me. If I know that a dps died because of doing some stupid thing like using death grip, using frost shock or dpsing in frost aura – I won’t lose sleep over it.

    I also make sure I communicate with the group with what I plan to do, charge or pull (simple macro if we aren’t on voice chat). I also call for pre-heals and instruct healers not to heal mid-pull. I also make sure the marks are up as most players nowadays seem to be unaware of the “/assist” function. We didnt have raid symbols back in the day but people knew which one to target. I even go to the lengths of positioning the mob/s in order to ensure dps is where I want them to be, even twisting so dps need not reposition and accidentally pull adds.

    I completely agree that situational awareness is a critical tank skill. Tunnel vision is a major killer in this game. In order to avoid this, I have always made it a habit to dynamically position my point of view and try to view my toon as far away as possible and make changes on camera angle as necessary. It may seem a bit of an overload when dps is riding you on threat but the more you do it, the more it becomes habit.

  3. I agree with you, but as a single alt protection warrior I do find your post to be quite ‘elitist’. Don’t get me wrong, I agree with most of your post and can pull some helpful information out of the post. However, it would be more helpful if you would provide more instruction on how to exactly improve our lesser tanking skills. What is your ‘panic’ macro? What is your rotation? Do you key mash? What is your TPS?

    One last request, please try to understand that us ‘lesser’ tanks, don’t have endless raiding time, may have real lives and actually enjoy playing without all the analysis. Just because we aren’t perfect tanks, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be paitient and help us improve.

  4. Brinn, rotating the camera is an excellent idea. I tend to use it as much as possible as well; however, due to the fact that I play on a laptop with not so great hardware, I’m subject to FPS limitations, so sometimes I’m forced to keep the view close to the ground in order to keep my frames high(er).
    Your point about threat is interesting. The first time we ever used a threat meter was also in BWL, specifically at Vaelastrasz. Threat meters were pretty much a necessity there, at least for our guild, because only then could tank transitions work smoothly. No one had a threat meter before. The raidleader made everyone log out and install KTM, double checked that everyone indeed had it, and then we continued our attempts.
    Simply “doing your best” and pushing out maximum TPS sounds good on paper, and… well, it’s good in practice as well, at least what single target tanking is concerned. I find it nice to actually see how large (or small) the margin is between you and the highest DPSer in terms of threat, so that you can either try to improve somehow (sharpen up the rotation, using your cooldowns at maximum efficiency, or for example lighting up Shield Block to give extra threat) or tell him to reset aggro/keep it down for a while, if and when you’re in danger of being surpassed.
    On multi target tanking, however, I find threat meters EXTREMELY useful, because, being the lazy person I am, I do not assign mobs to be CC’d and pretty much AE tank everything I can see. Now, melees in particular attack a single target with the occasional AE effect (Fan of Knives, Whirlwind, Death and Decay + Pestilence with diseases up). Casters distribute their damage more evenly, but, even so, you, as a tank, are classified as a melee. It is very difficult to keep track per “feeling” alone how much threat you have on each mob, and knowing in addition to that how much threat your DPSers have is pretty much impossible. That’s where threat meters shine. If you’ve got a bucketload of threat on a mob and no one is focusing it, then leave it alone. If on another one your lead is very small or the DPSer is already ahead of you, you stay on that target and focus it until you have a solid lead.

    Ron, I am all for helping anyone that comes looking for tips. No one started as a perfect tank; I can remember very well how utterly clueless I was when I first started out raiding. I do have an issue with people that are having problems but do not do anything about them, or simply resort to asking in the general chat such simple questions as “what is the defense cap for 80”. In those cases I usually just write as an answer, to that, and to any other question that you can easily research.

    Additionally, I fully understand the situation some are in. I may sound like a total nerd, but I do also have a life as a university student, and mine is not the type where you can party every day (it’s in Germany, which is why I sometimes post at odd times).

    That being said:

    What is my “panic” macro?

    /cast Every Man for Himself
    /say oh shi-
    /use Repelling Charge
    /cast Last Stand
    /cast Shield Wall
    /cast Bloodrage
    /cast Enraged Regeneration

    Uses every single cooldown I have in those cases where I have 5% HP and I just want to stay alive. The cooldowns are off of GCD (except for Enraged Regeneration unless I’m mistaken, when I use the macro everything is activated but I need to press it twice in order to fire that up as well).

    Rotation.. there is no proper “rotation” really, but rather a priority system. Vene did a great job at summarizing it and putting it down in words. Here’s the link:

    If I key mash, I am not as effective at building up aggro than when I do it selectively. The only button I mash in high rage situations is the heroic strike key. Otherwise, I watch my cooldowns, watch my procs, and use everything based on the above listed priority system as soon as it is available.

    For AE tanking, again, it is pointless for me to write it down, because Vene did it in a much better way (no, he’s not paying me to say this).

    It’s an older post, you’ll notice it contradicts the above posted priority system. The newer one is “updated” to include Shockwave and Concussion Blow into your single target rotation, but the AE rotation hasn’t changed.

  5. I think it would also be fair to note other reasons (or combination of these reasons) as to why tanks tend to lose threat other than due to “bad” skill rotation.

    1. Gear gap versus dps is huge. This is more critical, IMO, in wrath as warrior threat mechanics have drastically changed. I entered MC with pretty bad gear but could still hold aggro well against epic-clad guys. Props to warrior tanks who can still do this in wrath.

    2. Rage starvation in cases where you are tanking content that you have “outgeared” coupled with the fact that you forget to press/poorly time rage boosts.

    3. Talent selection does not maximize good threat talents, although this is really dependent on what kind of content you tackling.

    4. Gear selection/enchanting/socketing. Don’t blame anybody if you lose aggro if you socket stam all over your gear forgetting expertise (better dps and prevents parry gibs) and +hit. Dont get me wrong, stam is great but socketing and enchanting should be there to balance what you lack.

    Just something to think about as i get ticked everytime I see a guildie say “this tank suxxors cant hold aggro lol” without figuring out why.

  6. Good points.

    1) It would be extremely stupid for a full T7,5 equipped DPSer to use his max DPS while a low geared tank is tanking, especially if said tank is playing the class only as an alt. What made me snap was that the tanks during this particular Naxxramas raid were all well equipped (Naxx10, heroic and one even had Naxx25 equipment), and my warlock was still wearing level 70 items (Karazhan quality, not Sunwell, mind you). But if the DPSer vastly outgears the tank, then yes, problems can and probably will arise.

    2) Rage starvation is hardly a problem in Wrath, as far as I have seen. I’m thinking of dropping Focused Rage and the Glyph of Heroic Strike, because usually no matter what I do my rage bar is always full to the brim. These are at least my observations, it varies from case to case. I myself opted to include some threat options in my gear to keep TPS high, even on low end bosses.

    3) As soon as you exceed a certain equipment “line” (don’t ask me exactly where this line is, I’d figure about 1/2 of your equipment being Naxx10 quality and the rest Naxx25 quality) where any additional survivability is useless because you simply will not die, you spec 15/5/51, which maximises threat.

    4) Whenever in doubt about how one item compared to the rest I followed this linK:

    It lists items in terms of survivability granted. I took survivability over threat because I’m quite happy with my threat and I don’t really feel like building additional sets for tanking, since everything is on farmstatus for us except for Sarth 3D (where I need all the survivability I can get. Working on a block set for add tanking duties as well).
    The only real threat boost I deliberately applied to my gear were a few 8 expertise/12 stamina gems, which I plan to replace with 8 dodge/12 stamina as soon as I get some Twilight Opals.

    In general, if you act smart when rolling on new gear and you grab stuff that provides a survivability boost as well as a threat boost, you’ll be able to keep up the pace. An excellent example would be Malygos’ Legplates of Sovereignty (, which are an upgrade with respect to pretty much any other legplates available as an all-around performer (T7,5 might be better for situations where you need pure avoidance).

  7. It’s sad to say but I think very few tanks have what I would call good situational awareness. Some are adequate – they will pull a mob off of a squishy before they die – but most have absolute tunnel vision, generally watching their cooldowns and button mashing to the detriment of everything else.

    Also, I saw your Help Wanted link but it brought up a blank page for me, as did the Contact Us link. I’d like to speak to you about contributing as a death knight tank, but could not find means to contact you other than here. Please drop me a line if you have the time; I would love to discuss this further. :)


    • That is something Bizzam needs to take care of. You might consider signing up on the forum and writing him a PM and then work something out that way. Personally I’m looking forward to reading some DK tanking stuff, it’s a subject that I’ve always been interested in, sometimes *gasp* more than warrior tanking.

  8. We have a mage that doesn’t mind getting killed over and over and over. He does max dps on trash. You might think he’s dumb or that he can’t look at Omen. But really he knows what he’s doing. You see he used to play a warrior tank so he knows all about threat mechanics. He does max dps so the tanks do max threat. As the raid night goes on he dies less and less, not because he does less dps or because he starts watching Omen or because he holds anything back. He dies less because by the end of the run the tanks do a better job of tanking.

  9. Axethrower says:

    I almost could not believe my eye’s when I read this. I play a Prot Warrior as my main but have an 80 Mage and 2 70’s (Hunter and Priest) who raided as far as SSC/TK, if your DPS is advocating NOT talenting for threat reduction they are abysmal DPS. Sure their numbers are high but who cares? Their job is sustained DPS, antive is downing bosses. Not topping the “Awesome meter” as it were. I would kick anyone from my raids or even heroics who deliberatly went out of their way to make the run more difficult. What would your healers say if you wore your Trash set to fight Malygos because you wanted to do more damage? That is just stupid. You said you pulled and died not once but twice as a warlock then blamed the tank? That is outragous, Threat management is just as much a part of DPS’ing as Def rating is to tanking. What your advocating here is for DPS to be stupid and lazy because “Meh, no worries thats the tanks problem” Thats absolute bull. It is one of the worst mentalities in the game and breeds more wipes and wasted time than anything I have ever witnessed.

  10. The current stage of WotLK can *not* be compared to the early stages of BC, or any time during BC. Threat management was a big thing back then and it was mandatory for everyone to spec aggro reduction talents wherever they could be found. I took a shadowpriest with me during an early Karazhan run (3 months after BC release, something like that), and after 3 casts he had to stop doing anything lest he pulled aggro. Turned out he was pvp specced without aggro reduction.

    These days, however, it’s different. Tanks CAN pull out *enormous* TPS. Most DPSers don’t even come close to the TPS that a tank that knows what he’s doing can generate on a boss. That theoretically means that you can ignore speccing threat reduction, thereby freeing some talent points that can, say, boost your crit damage, thereby increasing sustained DPS and helping with burst damage as well.

    The comment about not speccing threat reduction came from a warlock subforum of my realm’s unofficial realm forum (don’t be surprised, it’s huge in comparison to the official ones). I don’t know how it applies to other classes and their respective DPS specs, but that part was enough to get me thinking. Our own raid DPS does not behave that way.

    I did pull Sapphiron on two occasions due to outtpsing the tank. So yes, it was my fault that I did not check my threat values and slow down as a result. However, that’s not my point. My point is that I *shouldn’t* be outTPSing the tank. I know of several tanks that can keep Sapph’s attention while the raid DPSers, which are FAR better equipped and knowledgeable about their classes (meaning better rotation usage => more DPS) can nuke to their heart’s content. Are you telling me it is acceptable for the tank to pull off 2k TPS on a 25 man raid boss, with support, when my guild’s tanks could pull off twice as much? Consider also that there was *not* a significant difference in equipment between the tank I had an issue with, and the state of our equipment back when we first downed Sapph.

    Comparing DPSing without aggro reduction to tanking Malygos with a trash set is not the same thing. As a tank, you are not there to do damage, you’re there to stay alive and to keep the others alive.

    I am not advocating DPS to be lazy. This is a tank forum, not a DPS forum, and I am definitely not going to go around into DPS forums and post that they should make life difficult for tanks I expect most, if not all the people to read this, to be on the tanking side, and not on the DPS side; I would be very surprised to see someone say “oh great, he told tanks they should build more threat, now I can respec to a spec without aggro reduction and do more loldps, and the tank has to work harder!”. The purpose of this post was to make others aware that such a mentality DOES exist, and to be ready to deal with it should it arise during a raid.

  11. Will Stone says:

    Hello all,

    plz could someone help me plz cus i realy wana level 80 tank but find that i level very slow so could some someone plz help me… my lvl 80 hunter is called stoneyoo and my warrior is called willstonee- i am on the realm ghoastlads…. if you want email me….. my email is

    many thanks all

  12. The Sapphiron and Malygos fights are a bit special in TPS regard. In both, there are long periods where the tank cannot generate any threat at all. In these situations it becomes easy for a DPS to pull when the boss lands.

    Granted, it should only happen once (the first air phase) as the tank has not had a large enough lead on threat. By the second though, there should be a large margin between the tank and the DPS.

  13. I remember once upon a time staying under the tanks threat was your own damn job… now it’s the tanks responsibility? Screw that.

    I will work my ass off on a tank, maintaining every ounce of threat I can on every target I pull. If you pull threat off of me, be it by aggroing more enemys, or focusing fire on a non-priority target, I’m going to let it eat you.

    DPS is a dime a dozen, I’ll replace and summon a new one before I deal with some meters spamming retard wanting to stroke his e-pein.

    The stupification of wow over the last 2 expansions has caused an overubundance of DPS class players, a shortage of good tanks/healers (a DK who doesn’t know how to tank and ‘has a frost spec’ isn’t a tank, any more then a healing geared pally, or damage geared warrior). And it is this stupification of wow which has encuraged the ‘death of cc’ and ‘death of threat responsibility’

    Bitching about the old days doesn’t solve anything, and generally I don’t… but I refuse to accept that responsibility for ones OWN THREAT is transfered to the tank. Threat is a joint responsibility.


  1. […] at Tank Hard! has a post on How to be a better tank . The points she raises are very good ones. I find that situational awareness is one of the biggest […]