So You Want to Be a Prot Warrior: The Dreaded Heroic PUG
Patch 3.3 is simultaneously the best of times and the worst of times for new up-and-coming tanks. It’s the best of times because the old sequential gearing paradigm–you need to do normal 5-mans to gear up for heroic 5-mans to gear up for Naxx to gear up for Ulduar to gear up for Trial of the Crusader to gear up for Icecrown–is right out the window. It is now possible to skip many of the middle steps and load up on tasty Tier 9-level gear by nothing more than running heroic 5-mans and the occasional raid for weekly quests. (Whether you’ll actually be able to get into a raid once you get that gear is another matter entirely, and not in scope for this post.)
It’s also the worst of times, though, because in order to get that gear, you’re going to have to run a lot of heroics. And that almost certainly means, unless you are blessed with lots and lots of friends, sooner or later, you’ll end up using the Looking for Dungeon tool and end up as the tank…of a cross-server pick-up group.
(Insert lightning flashes, thunder, and jarring pipe organ chord here.)
You’ve probably heard the horror stories flying around about cross-server PUGs. Of trigger-happy DPS who throw all their threat-management skills out the window and go balls-to-the-wall trying to top the Almighty Recount, and expect the tank to magically be able to save them from their own e-peenery. Of healers belittling tanks and bailing on groups when the tank has less than full T9 and 40k health unbuffed. And yes, those things do happen…but not always. Not even the majority of the time, in fact.
Are you are a shiny fresh new level 80 tank ready to get on the LFD PUG treadmill to Triumph and Frost Nirvana, but you’re scared to press that first “Find Group” button? Never fear, Panzercow is here. What I’m about to tell you is all common-sense stuff that you may have already figured out–trust me, I’m not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, so if I know this stuff, it ain’t rocket surgery. But it’ll help, and it’ll give you the foundation you need to stride forth into the world of cross-server PUGs and survive.
It all basically comes down to what I call the four “bes”–be knowledgeable, be prepared, be honest, and be confident.
Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster. –Sun Tzu
Tanking, with any class, is a learned process. You need to have a sound, well-researched spec. You need to learn your chosen class’s abilities, rotation or priority system, and emergency buttons. Then you need to learn how to extend that to controlling agro on multiple mobs. Then, on top of that, you need to build the situational awareness that all good tanks have, and advanced techniques like LOS pulling. And then, as the final layer on the cake, you have to know the specific instance–patrol paths, where you can LOS pull safely, kill orders of specific groups, and, of course, boss strategies.
A cross-server PUG, with four people you don’t know, is not the time to be learning all of it.
If you don’t know an instance, run it with friends first–or at least read up on it on any of the various sites out there on the Web. If your babytank is an alt, start paying more attention to “tanky” things when you’re in the instance on your main. Watch how your tank grabs groups and where he tanks them. Watch his facing. Note which mobs are casters that need to be silenced.
As for your own tanking, it should go without saying…you need to have a solid grasp of the basics of tanking instance pulls before setting foot in a heroic PUG. Run more forgiving normal groups (PUGs if need be) or heroics with friends. You should’ve been instancing as you leveled anyway, quite honestly, so by the time you’re ready to do heroics, tanking instances should be second nature to you. Chances are, a PUG is going to push your tanking skills to (or beyond) their limits, especially if you are a fairly new 80 grouped up with well-geared DPS. Be ready for it–have your own skills squared away before you queue up.
Bring war material with you from home, but forage on the enemy… use the conquered foe to augment one’s own strength. –Sun Tzu
There are some very unrealistic expectations floating around in PUGs these days. Yes, sometimes, people flip out and drop the group when the tank isn’t already ridiculously overgeared–God forbid some of these mouth-breathers actually have to take ten extra minutes to finish Azjol-Nerub. You, as a fresh 80, can’t do anything about that. You have to run the heroics to get the gear.
That doesn’t mean, though, that you can’t be as well-prepared as possible going in. Once you hit 80, find a friendly neighborhood blacksmith and make friends. Things like the Tempered Titansteel Helm, Tempered Titansteel Treads, and especially the Titansteel Shield Wall will go a long way toward getting you to where you need to be. Before trying a heroic, your goals, in my opinion, should be:
- 23,000 health unbuffed
- 21,000 armor unbuffed
- 535 Defense (this is non-negotiable and should be your top priority)
- 130 hit rating (+4% hit, half of what you need to never miss unless you’re Draenei)
- at least some expertise, preferably over 10
Now, I know people are often slack about gemming and enchanting sub-ilevel-200 stuff. The thought is, “why waste the money when I’m just going to replace it in a few weeks?” Well, sorry, folks, but that’s a bad thought to have. You should always gem and enchant your gear with something. You don’t need to be dropping 250 gold on Solid Majestic Zircons to put into an ilevel 187 breastplate unless you’re absolutely dripping in gold. But you can pick up blue- or green-quality gems for a fraction of the cost and use those instead. Similarly, true, a chest enchant like Powerful Stats (+10 all stats) would be a waste. But what’s wrong with Super Stats (+8 all stats) or even Powerful Stats (+6 all stats)? You can snag scrolls of those on the AH for much less money, and they provide a good benefit. Make sure you get factional enchants (like Sons of Hodir shoulder or Argent Crusade head) as soon as you can–snag them on your main if your babytank is an alt. It is especially important for a tank to push their gear to the limit and get as much out of it as possible. Don’t slack. Gem and enchant, but do it wisely. Make the most out of what gear you have and you maximize your chances of success.
Also, do not be afraid to use buff food, potions, elixirs, scrolls, or anything else you’ve got in your backpack. Every little bit helps. When you’ve got 40,000 health, you won’t have to worry about “flasking up” before a heroic. When you’ve got 23,000 health, it’s not a bad idea to go ahead and do it, just in case.
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. –Sun Tzu
So you know how to tank, you know the instances, and your gear is as ready as you can make it. And there you are, standing at the entrance to your first heroic…grouped with four people from different servers, none of whom you know and none of whom know you. And you can tell by your unitframes that they’re all targeting you and wondering why you have 23,300 health when you’ve got the little shield icon by your name.
This is not a situation you can bullshit your way out of, so don’t even try it. Be honest and get it all out right up front. Say, “hey guys, FYI, if you couldn’t tell, I haven’t been 80 for long…work with me on this and I’ll do my best for you.”
If people start giving you crap like “lol” and “ffs noobtank” and bailing out? Screw ‘em. You wouldn’t have wanted to run the instance with them anyway. I think, though, that you will be surprised at just how many people will respond positively to you being honest with them. We tend to think of PUGs as being composed of nothing but nasty knuckle-draggers who actually want to make your life a living hell, but that’s not true. The majority of the hundreds of people in the Cyclone battlegroup that I’ve run heroics with, on five different characters (one tank, four DPS), have been competent, and if not pleasant, at least polite. They want to finish the run as quickly and smoothly as possible, get their badges, and move on. No, they don’t want to take an hour to run Azjol-Nerub, but they also don’t want to go hellbent in there, pull all three Watchers at once and wipe, either.
If you’re a little fuzzy on part of the instance, don’t hesitate to ask. If you think you need assistance as you’re going along, don’t hesitate to ask–”hey, Mr. DK, think you could death grip that second caster over here when I heroic throw the first one?” Don’t try to bluff your way through, because it won’t work. Honesty talks, bullshit walks.
The clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy, but does not allow the enemy’s will to be imposed on him. –Sun Tzu
Now that you’ve got yourself ready, your gear ready, and you’ve prepped the group for what to expect…take charge.
Now by “take charge,” I don’t mean start acting like a douchemuffin and bossing people around. That’ll get you votekicked in short order. But, you are the tank, are you not? You are the one who does the pulling and controls the agro, yes? Then do it. Make sure everybody’s ready, take a deep breath, and pull.
“Taking charge” means that you assert yourself as the tank. You, as the tank, are going to control the speed of the run, so pull at a pace that’s fast but comfortable for you. Check the healer’s mana before every pull–his is the blue bar you care about far more than the others (except your own if you’re a paladin). If the healer’s drinking, wait. If people are falling behind, wait a second for them to catch up, then go. If they’re yelling “gogogogogo” in your ear, do not speed up unless you and the healer are comfortable with doing so. NEVER let yourself get pressured into going faster than you can handle. At your gear level, you are not going to be able to bulldoze an instance at the speed of a well-geared tank, and you’ve already let your group know that up front. It’s their decision whether to work with you or to bail out.
You may get people who decide that they should pull “for” you. Personally, I have zero tolerance for this, and you shouldn’t either. When I’m tanking a heroic, I pull, period, unless I work out with a hunter to do a misdirect pull (very rare). Otherwise I tend to see mobs running at a squishy while I have no rage to do anything. So if you get “assistant” pullers, I say let them tank it! If they somehow manage to live, great. Before they run off and do it again, tell them in no uncertain terms that you don’t want them to do it. If they do it again, wish them fun tanking, and drop group.
Likewise, if people are rude to you because they don’t think you’re going “fast enough?” Let it slide off your back. If they continue to insist upon being assholes, thank the good people in the group, and leave. (Or votekick the asshole if possible, which is the best outcome!) Tanking is a stressful activity at the best of times, you do not need somebody insulting you while you’re trying to give your best effort. Do not take crap from haters. Stand your ground, and if it gets too nasty, leave. Take a break while your timer ticks down. Then immediately requeue, as soon as you can. Get right back on the horse. You’ll probably get a better group and have a more pleasant time.
My final thought is this: A significant portion of what makes good tanks good is mental toughness. You’re going to screw up. You’ll wipe groups. You’ll get mental midgets who aren’t fit to carry your mousepad insulting you because you’re a “noobtank.” Do not let it get you down. Stay strong. Take a break if you’re not feeling like tanking–hey, it is still a recreational fun activity, right?–but don’t get run off from it permanently. In the end, if you are knowledgeable, prepared, honest, and confident, you will prevail.