So You Want to Be A Prot Warrior: Endgame Gearing, Part I
You’ve arrived. You’re level 80. No more level grinding for you, no sir! Now it’s time to go forth and tackle the real game of World of Warcraft! TO HEROICS! TO RAIDS! LET’S DOOOO IIIIIITT! (Done in my best TF2 Demoman voice.)
Not so fast, Spanky. Uncle Panzercow is here to give you a little 411 on the reality of being a prot warrior starting at the endgame.
It’s a sad fact of life, really, but a fact nevertheless. You, as a prot warrior tank, have extra steps to take before you’re ready to sally forth and start acquiring tasty, tasty epix. See, because of the bog-standard “1/1/3″ method of instance grouping (one tank, one healer, three DPS), Joe Scrubdeeps can finish opening his package from Rhonin and promptly walk into a heroic dungeon…and if the other four members of the party can write their own name and all five of them aren’t the product of a brother-sister marriage, generally, he can survive. It’s possible to carry one weak DPS through a heroic…hell, even two, if your third DPS is really tricked out and your tank and healer are either very good or very overgeared, or both. It’s also difficult, but possible, to work with an undergeared healer in a heroic–again, everybody else has to be on their game, the composition has to lend itself toward crowd control, and the healer has to be very good at what they do, just lacking high-level items.
You can’t do that with a tank. If you walk into a heroic–or God forbid, a raid–wearing a mish-mash of level 77 greens and a couple of quest-reward blues, rocking 500 Defense and 19k health, and try to tank it, you’re going to die. The DPS can’t just turn it up to 11 to compensate for you, because then they’ll yoink agro off you and they’ll die. There’s no way around it. The one member of the group that absolutely, positively, has to be geared up somewhat before they can enter a heroic is you, the tank.
Fortunately, things aren’t quite like they were in Burning Crusade, where if you were a warrior, it felt like you needed to be wearing Tier 5 epix from SSC/TK before you could even think about tanking a five-man heroic. If you’re smart about your gearing and willing to be patient, you can be quite ready to run a heroic without setting foot in one–and you don’t need a raid willing to carry you through Ulduar and give you a full rack of T8 to do it, no matter what that idiot death nugget told you in your last PUG.
So what I’m going to do here is tell you what stats to prioritize. I am not going to give you a hyper-detailed gear list. There are a lot of them out there that are much better than anything I could come up with. A number of the excellent tank websites like Veneretio’s Tanking Tips, or Elitist Jerks, or Tankspot, or even the Blizzard warrior or tanking forums, have great and specific lists of gear that you can look for. I’ll mention a few pieces, but not many.
The two most important things to worry about first off, in my opinion, are Defense and Stamina. Stamina is a no-brainer, of course–more health is always good. But especially in the beginning of your heroic career, you simply cannot brute-force stack enough stamina to handle a heroic without also loading up on Defense. The reason is critical hits. Defense reduces your chance to get critted. Pushing critical hits off the table smooths out the damage that you take and makes it easier on your healer(s). Damage doesn’t necessarily kill you, but damage spikes will. And a crit is the ultimate damage spike.
You have a base 5% chance to be critted by a mob of the same level at level 80, plus 0.2% for each mob level over 80. So since heroic bosses are level 82, you need to reduce their crit chance by 5.4%; skull-level raid bosses are always considered your level +3 (level 83), so you need 5.6% crit reduction. In order to completely remove your chance to be critted, you need 535 Defense skill for heroics, and 540 Defense skill for raids.
I italicized “skill” because the pieces of gear you get will have Defense rating on them, and as you should know by now, rating != skill. At level 80, to reach the “floor” of 540 Defense skill (often erroneously called a “cap”), you need a base Defense skill of 400 augmented by 689 Defense rating from your gear. It sounds like a daunting number, but actually, stacking 689 Defense rating isn’t that hard. Defense stacking should be your number-one priority when getting ready to tank a heroic, and Stamina stacking should be number two.
Fortunately, you can load both stats off the same pieces of gear. Blacksmiths can make some really good “starter” gear for the budding heroic tank–for example, Daunting Handguards and the Tempered Saronite set (especially the Tempered Saronite Helm) are easy to make, relatively cheap, and provide the basics of Strength, Stamina, and Defense while filling in gaps in your current set. If you have built up a significant amount of money–enough to afford things like Titansteel Bars and Frozen Orbs from the AH–then you can go for the high-end blacksmithing gear and be really good to go–the Tempered Titansteel Helm and Treads, and the Titansteel Shield Wall. Expect to pay several thousand gold to get all three of those crafted, though, unless you have friends and/or a guild to help out.
If your healer’s willing to risk it, of course there’s nothing stopping you from tanking a heroic with less than 535 Defense skill. Each point of Defense below 535 means there’s a 0.04% chance of you eating a crit, every hit. Hey, if you want to swim with great white sharks wearing nothing but a chum bikini, go for it. Me, I’d take the safe route and load up my Defense first.
Now, on to Stamina. Once you get your Defense up to scratch, start adding in +Stamina pieces as you can. You might be wondering, “how much is ‘enough?'” When I first started tanking heroics on Linedan several months ago, he had between 22,000 and 23,000 unbuffed health. Compared to the 33k+ he’s got nowadays that doesn’t seem like much, but add on a PW: Fortitude or Blessing of Kings and Commanding Shout and you’re looking at between 26,000 and 28,000. That should be more than enough to handle some of the “starter” heroics like Utgarde Keep, assuming your healer is reasonably competent and your DPS pumps out enough pain to kill stuff before your healer runs out of mana.
This same refrain–Defense and Stamina–holds true for enchanting and gemming…up to a point. I’ll talk more about enchants in the second part of this post, for now, I’ll just say this about gems. Do not gem for Defense or any other rating-based skill (parry, dodge, hit, crit, expertise, etc.) unless you absolutely have to. Why? Those slots can be better used giving you more Stamina or Strength, depending on what type of set you’re building. (More on that in the next part, too.) If you’re turning up a few points short of 535 or 540, then go ahead and slap in something like a Thick Autumn’s Glow. But remember, you’re only going to get about 3 points of Defense skill per blue-quality yellow “pure” +Defense gem, and slots are precious on “starter” heroic/raid gear.
In Part II of my extremely long-winded treatise on endgame gearing, I’ll talk about why you, as a level 80 tank, need not only one set of good gear, but two–a set for big bosses and a set for small trash. I’ll talk about avoidance versus health, enchanting, and after all that, I’ll throw in how version 3.2 throws the old gearing paradigm out the window because of the easier availability of badges and Tier 8-level gear.