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So you want to be a prot warrior: Tanking 101

By now, if you’re following along at home with our little guide, you’re level 20.  You’re ready to tank!  It’s time to strap on a shield and go hit the Deadmines or Wailing Caverns or Ragefire Chasm and get beaten to a bloody pulp repeatedly!  Yay pulp!

But before you go, let’s talk a little bit about how to tank.  Going in to your first tanking experience with a little bit of background on what to do and when to do it will give you a leg up over those of us who had to walk into an instance with four drooling idiots we didn’t know behind us and no clue what we were doing.

If you’ve played WoW for any length of time, you probably know how threat and agro basically work; if you raid, you’ve probably run a threat meter like Omen and actually seen it work graphically.  I’ll quickly hit the very basics anyway, because as a tank, you are required to not just know all this stuff, but have it be second nature to you.

Every attack, some special abilities, and most heals, generate threat.  A mob will generally attack whoever has the highest threat (special abilities excepted); this is called agro.  As the tank, it is your job to maintain agro on every single mob that’s awake and aware, at all times…or at least to try.  Certain abilities can be used to decrease a player’s threat; a priest can Fade, a mage can Ice Block, a rogue can Feint, a druid can Cower, a DPS warrior can die, etc.  The listing of each party member’s threat is called the agro table.  You want to be at the top of the agro table, always.

One interesting thing about threat and agro is that if somebody exceeds your threat, they may not pull agro immediately.  There’s a 10% buffer for melee range and a 30% buffer for outside melee range.  So a rogue or DPS warrior would have to have 110% of your threat, or a mage or hunter 130% of your threat, in order for them to make #1 on the agro table and attract a mob’s attention.  The problem is, when they do pull agro, now you need 110% of their threat in order to get it back.  This 10%/30% buffer is why playing “agro pong” is so frustrating for warriors; it gets harder and harder for us to pull agro back on a non-Tauntable mob when the rest of the party are passing it back and forth like a bong at a frat party.  Plus, when tanking, we develop a significant portion of our rage from being hit; if we’re not getting hit, we’re not getting enough rage to generate enough threat to pull something away from someone else.

As warriors, we solve this with Taunt.  Taunt is what we use when somebody else pulls agro.  When you hit Taunt, you are immediately placed back to the top of the agro list and given 1 point more threat than whoever was the current lead.  That’s it.  That’s all it does.  It does not force the mob to attack you in any other way.  If whoever pulled agro continues to out-threat you, they’ll pass that 10% buffer and get the mob back in their face.  Also, Taunt is an attack, and it can miss like any other attack…and as you no doubt know, there are many instance and raid mobs that cannot be Taunted. 

For failed Taunts, there’s Mocking Blow; now that does force the mob to attack you for 6 seconds, but it doesn’t move you back up the agro list.  So you’ll need to really pump out some threat, and/or get the rest of your party to back off, so you can be back on top of the list when the Mocking Blow expires.  Unfortunately, most Taunt-immune mobs are also Mocking Blow-immune, too.

So at this point you might be wondering, “what’s my tanking rotation?”  Lots of classes have fixed rotations of attacks that they use (I’m looking at you, death knights).  Prot warriors don’t.  We used to, but 3.0 changed that.  Now we use what you might call a “priority system,” or, if you’re a programming geek like me, a “case structure.”  It’s pretty simple at the low levels, but gets a lot more complex once you’re fully invested in the Prot tree at level 60+.

Your low-level tanking priority system will look something like this, for every single global cooldown:

  • Is Revenge up?  If so, use it on the next global cooldown.  It’s your most efficient ability in terms of both threat-per-rage and damage-per-rage.  If you have a Glyph of Revenge, immediately follow the Revenge up with a Heroic Strike, which will be rage-free due to the glyph.
  • Is Thunder Clap off cooldown?  Use it on the next global cooldown, even on a single mob.  It does damage, generates threat, and reduces the damage you are taking–that’s three great tastes that taste great together.
  • Do I have more than about 40 rage?  If so, hit Heroic Strike (for one mob) or Cleave (for 2+ mobs).  It hits harder and (for HS) generates bonus threat.  Don’t do this if you’re in a low-rage situation, you’ll starve yourself of the rage you need to perform other moves.
  • If none of the above apply, and you’ve got the rage to do it, Sunder Armor on your current target.  It reduces their armor so they take more physical damage, and generates threat.

This is the flow you have to work through every second and a half after your pull.  Think it’s a bit harder than a good tank makes it look?  Now imagine you’ve got four mobs to try and keep on you.

See, warriors are not hugely awesome AOE tanks.  We can do it well enough, but not as well as a paladin or DK.  Thunder Clap can only be used every 6 seconds.  That’s an eternity in tanking.  Cleave will hit two mobs in front of you, but what about #3 and #4?  The answer is target-switching.  You’ll be doing a lot of it.  Drop a couple Sunders on mob #1, maybe a Cleave, then tab over to mob #2 and Sunder them a couple times.  Then tab over to #3, Sunder x2, then tab over to #4, Sunder x2, and so on.  All the while, you’ll be working through that rotation every GCD–Revenge, Thunder Clap, Heroic Strike or Cleave.

Making multi-mob tanking as a warrior work requires three things.  It requires you have good situational awareness–basically, keeping a list in your head of how much love you’ve given each mob and when is a good time to switch targets.  It requires that your tanking abilities be mapped to keys that you can hit quickly and accurately.  And most importantly, it requires a party that works with you.

Mark a kill order–skull, X, square, circle–and make it very clear to your group that they are to stick to it.  This way, you can give the majority of your single-target agro generation to the current kill target and use your limited AOE capability (Thunder Clap, Cleave, and/or the secondary Sunder effect of a Glyph of Sunder Armor) to hold the other mobs on you over top of healing agro.  If you’re unsure of your tanking ability, ask your group to limit their use of AOE and focus on single-target damage following the kill order.  If they won’t do it–they won’t follow the kill order, they AOE too much, they won’t back off when you ask them to–let them die.  Healers always get taunt priority over DPS.  Always.

This means that you, as the tank, should also be the one doing the pulling.  You’ll need to gain experience doing it anyway, and if you pull, you will have at least some initial agro on all the mobs and be able to position them properly–assuming your DPS doesn’t go nuts too fast.  There’s a couple different options for a pull.  You can be in Battle Stance, Charge in to gain rage, hit Thunder Clap, then immediately jump to Defensive Stance.  Or you can stay in Defensive Stance, hit Bloodrage, and pull using a ranged weapon, or even just your face (by running in).  I always preferred to Charge-pull whenever possible, but sometimes, you’ll need to bring a group back from where they’re standing.  So make sure you have some sort of ranged weapon always ready to use.

When things go wrong, and they will, that’s when your tank fu will truly be challenged.  Zoom your camera way back out and try to position it so you can see when something leaves you and heads toward another party member.  Have “target of target” turned on in your UI so you can tab over the mobs and see who they’re interested in killing.  Remind your party members that if they pull agro, they are to run toward the tank, not away from you.  If they bring the mob back to you, you can switch targets and Taunt it, or catch it in a Thunder Clap to get it back.  If your Taunt fails, be ready with a Mocking Blow.

As for some of your other abilities…Shield Block is useful for when you’re getting pounded hard, to reduce your incoming damage.  It’s particularly useful several seconds into the start of a pull, after your first few attacks; by then you should have plenty of rage built up, so the rage you’ll lose from the lessened incoming damage won’t be as big a deal.  Of course, use Shield Bash to interrupt casters, and Shield Bash or Hamstring  to slow down runners.  Last Stand is your “oh shit” button that can be the difference between a wipe and a great save if the healer is down or indisposed.  Disarm big mobs to reduce their damage a bit, and use Demoralizing Shout if you can to reduce the amount of damage you take by cutting the enemies’ attack power.

Other than that, here’s my best advice to you:  practice.  I have always found tanking to be largely reflex.  I actually can’t articulate some of the stuff I do when I tank…I just do it.  It’s hard to explain.  After a while, you’ll start to pick up on what you need to do from experience, both good and bad.  Get out there and tank anything you can.  Harass your friends to go places with you.  Practice tanking rotations on just regular mobs out in the world when questing.  Get a healer friend, pair up, and go pull entire camps of mobs and practice holding agro on them.  Just get out there and do it…it’s the only way to decide if the Way of the Meatshield is truly for you or not.

Next, levels 21-30!


17 responses

  1. What addon, if any, do you recommend for marking targets?

    March 18, 2009 at 21:27

    • Honestly, I don’t use one. I do it the hard way, target and right-click their frame and pick it from the Blizzard menu. I probably should use an add-on, but I just never got around to it.

      March 18, 2009 at 21:30

    • Jack

      If I understand correctly, it’s possible to hotkey raid icons. Just hit the key you set and it will mark whatever you’re targetting with the icon mapped to that key. Sounds really simple, but I didn’t learn it was possible until after I’d set up macros to set the icons and I haven’t gotten around to changing them.

      So I use macros defined for several of the icons:

      /script SetRaidTargetIcon(“target”, 8);

      That number (8) indicates which icon to use. 8 is skull, 0 is clear icon . . . and you’ll have to play with it to figure out the rest. I set ’em up, assigned ’em to a button and forgot which numbers go with which icons. Now I just target a mob, click the button assigned to the icon I want to set.

      March 18, 2009 at 22:23

  2. Jack

    a DPS warrior can die

    Just as an aside, speaking as a player who made the switch from prot warrior to frost dk, I do use a priority system instead of a rotation. I actually really dislike the “standard” rotation that tankspot says we should follow. I just don’t think it’s the most efficient way to tank as a frost spec. I especially dislike how emphatically some dps I’ve PuGged with insist I should follow it. Maybe my opinion about the rotation will change after the Howling Blast nerf in 3.1 . . . but that’ll depend on how the nerf interacts with other changes.

    That’s a different topic, though. Back to prot warriors. You’re giving really is excellent advice. It resonates exactly with my experience learning to tank.

    I suggest hotkeying raid icons or use macros that let you set them quickly. Any good group will wait patiently while you mark targets however long it takes. They’ll understand how important that communication is. Even with a good group, though, marking always feels like it takes an eternity while you do it and it’s easy to imagine players getting impatient. Even if they’re not. Using shortcuts to set raid icons reduced that stress for me.

    Even solo grinding on my tank, I pull multiple mobs. In part to practice passing out AoE damage through special abilities and target switching. I like to think I’m grinding faster by pulling groups. And it can go faster if I knock them down as if there were a kill order. But that would be like practicing dps. When I’m practicing AoE tanking skills, I take more damage and then spend more downtime healing (yay bandaids). But the practice is worth it, IMO. Not worth dying for, though. If you pull too much while soloing, then go dps on them one at a time.

    One caveat: if you’re pulling mobs that run, don’t grind them down exactly evenly or you’ll end up with two of them running opposite directions at the same time and both of them coming back with buddies. Not really an issue in a party when you have a kill order and dps focusing on the skull so that it always dies first . . . just something to watch out for when you’re practicing alone.

    Try to practice LOS (line of sight) pulls when you’re soloing too. They’re essential for pulling spellcasters. The key is to just look around and identify where you can move that will be out of the casters’ LOS. It’s not always possible to do when you’re questing. Especially outdoors. But get used to looking for it. Try it when you can. Pull with a ranged attack and run to that out-of-LOS spot. Then just wait. They’ll find you. They always do. And as a bonus, they usually show up in melee range where you can pound the squishy caster to death right away before concentrating on his more durable friends.

    March 18, 2009 at 22:14

  3. Tylae

    Thank you for this… made a warrior and was looking to make her prot, this cleared up a lot of my questions 😀

    May 9, 2009 at 15:59

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  6. Munchausen

    Thanks for such great articles on being a prot warrior. I am reading and soaking in the info. There is so little info in this specific area though I am sure many want to be the best they can at it. When I ask advice on the server it seems as if I’m asking people to divulge top secret info.

    Munch the lvl29 Gnome Prot Warrior thanks you.

    November 3, 2009 at 22:43

  7. John

    Excellent! Just excellent!

    November 6, 2009 at 12:45

  8. warr

    Excellent advice, recently decided to tank, after 4 years of Fury Warrior, Locks, Mages, DKs, etc. I was looking for advice on pulling casters, the LOS Theory is perfect, cant believe I didnt think of that. And the line on out of control DPS, ” Let Em Die” Priceless, Thx !

    November 12, 2009 at 12:07

  9. RealDahl

    Great post! I have an 80 human human prot warrior, but have avoided dungeons for the most part since I only “kinda” knew what I was doing. After reading this I am feeling a bit more confident about actually being effective.

    September 27, 2010 at 13:14

  10. ghostlogic

    I have found that Glyph of Devestate paired with Glyph of Sunder Armor has helped immensely with AOE tanking. G.o.Deve stacks two sunders, while G.o.Sund applies a sunder to a nearby enemy. Do you suggest these Glyphs for 80 Prot Warriors? or are there more efficient Glyphs out there?

    October 4, 2010 at 16:38

    • For the ultimate AOE threat tanking setup, those two paired with a Glyph of Cleave would be good. Since I do more raid tanking than 5-man tanking these days, I kept the Devastate glyph and took the Glyph of Blocking (for 10% increased block value) and the Glyph of Taunt (to make sure my taunts virtually never miss).

      October 4, 2010 at 16:41

  11. Lyresa

    I’ve been wanting to start a warrior tank, but being squishy ranged dps for so long I’ve been a little too nervous to give it a shot. Thanks to your guides it seems a little less daunting even though I know it to be one of the hardest jobs in the game. Welcome to my bookmarked pages and I can’t wait to read more (while my boss isn’t looking of course). Thanks again!

    February 17, 2011 at 11:30

  12. saad

    my first orc warrior which i made 2 days ago got kicked out of the first DM i ran at lvl 15. very insulting n dissapointing i must say, almost made me quit but i wanted to try n at lvl 20 now i ran DM, WC, SK twice already. prot n proud.
    Very well written n helpful guide indeed. i had to learn by myself abt using sunder on all 4 mobs switching back n fourth. glad it matched with ur tips.

    August 9, 2011 at 13:24

  13. Man, it seems hard… I’ve tried my first tanking ever some days ago with a lvl 16 prot warrior… Very hard to keep things under control.

    Nevertheless, I’m very exited to give it another try!

    February 24, 2012 at 18:10

  14. abyssus

    Some of the info is now outdated – for example Revenge is now available only at 40 but mostly it all still applies.
    When you first start, I wouldn’t worry too much about aggro. many people are fully kitted out with heirlooms and that can make it’s almost impossible to control, especially if they are just ploughing through wanting to finish.
    The more you practice the better you’ll get and the more familiar you’ll be with the mechanics. I guess it’s more or less that same for anything

    May 13, 2012 at 20:11

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