The title of this series is “The First Ten Seconds.” It’s not relationship advice for meeting that certain someone across a crowded room…unless you’re trying to beckon that certain someone over so you can kill her and loot 91 silver off her corpse. No, it’s based on a maxim about tanking that I just made up a while back, and it goes like this:
As go the first ten seconds, so goes the entire fight.
It’s a little saying that I’d completely forgotten during the later part of Wrath of the Lich King, especially when doing heroics. WotLK heroics had turned into a complete joke in high-end raid gear, of course, and all of us were just bull-rushing our way through them like our asses were on fire, in the pursuit of the Holy Badgers of Whatever. Then Cataclysm hit, and suddenly, heroics became, well, heroic again. They were, as those of us with brains figured they’d be, damned hard. Crowd control, the fine art of hexing and sheeping and banishing and shackling, went from useless to mandatory in the span of a few weeks. And with even more difficult heroics on the horizon–the new Zul’whatever heroics in 4.1 will require a minimum item level of 346 just to get past the bouncers at the door–crowd control won’t be neglected anytime soon.
And with the rediscovery of crowd control came the rediscovery of the art of pulling and control. In late Wrath, control was easy: charge into the center of a bunch of mobs and push every AoE button you’ve got, then watch as the DPS pulls them off you anyway, but that was OK because the mobs all died in four seconds. Now in Cataclysm, if you, as the tank, lose the handle on a trash pull, you’re probably going to wipe. We’ve all had to rediscover the timing and interplay between the tank and the crowd controllers and the healers and the rest of the DPS.
So that’s what this series is going to be about…the first ten seconds of a pull, mostly as it pertains to trash. It’s going to be about that period of time from the moment the first button is pushed to start a fight, until the mob(s) are settled in on the tank and the fight really “starts.” In most trash pulls, this (in my experience) takes about ten seconds. If you, as a group, execute these ten seconds properly, you’ll probably have a boring and uneventful trash pull. If you don’t, even if you don’t wipe, you’ll probably end up with a bunch of trouble, raw tempers, and frustration. (And in my case, a tank screaming obscenities at the screen and a wife rolling her eyes listening to me. “GET BACK HERE YOU LITTLE FUCK GODDAMMIT I’VE GOT NO RAGE LET ME GET AGRO YOU STUPID BASTARDS STOP NUKING FFFFFFFF…”)
Preparation is Key
The next post in the series is going to concentrate on pulling. Pulling in the latter stages of Wrath, as mentioned before, largely didn’t exist. You, as the tank, just ran or charged in and spammed whatever you could knowing that it didn’t matter a bit–the DPS was going to go apeshit anyway and even the healer would just spam Smite or Moonfire or Chain Lightning or whatever.
But any tank who survived the sheer hell of heroics in The Burning Crusade knows how important pulling is. Remember the gladiator hallway in Shattered Halls? Groups of six mobs down the middle with wanderers in between and a few static singles as filler. Move too far to one side and you’d pick up a group of five adds. Don’t get them back far enough, and you’d get the wandering Houndmasters and their dogs, or the guys working out on the target dummies. At least one, usually two of the group mobs were hunters, ranged and largely immobile. Given all that, how do you pull it?
Cataclysm heroics aren’t quite that bad, but they’re a step back toward that level of difficulty from the overgeared facerolls of late Wrath. You will, until we’re all running around in tier 13 or whatever, need crowd control and intelligent pulling to get through them. Maybe some of you cutting-edge raiders are at the point where you can start to brute-force these things, but those of us down here with our average ilevel in the 330s or 340s (OK, Linedan’s is 351 right now) can’t.
So there you are, the tank, standing at the entrance of your favorite dungeon, ready for another exciting round of Will Anything Drop That I Can Actually Use. You’ve got buffs, you’ve got food, you’ve got adult beverages (in RL), and you’re staring at the first trash pack. And four pairs of virtual eyes are boring into your back, waiting for you to get the ball rolling. The temptation is strong to just put the hammer down and gogogo.
Not so fast.
The first thing you should do, PUG or guild group or whatever, is decide who’s marking targets. Somebody should always mark targets these days. And when you decide who should mark targets, you also have to decide what each target means. In a group that runs together a lot, that’s usually not an issue, everybody knows what each mark means. But in a PuG especially, you can’t be sure. A square may mean “mage sheeps it” to you, but to XxArthaslolxX from a PvP server, square may mean that he’s supposed to offtank it. Never, ever, assume. Get the definitions straight beforehand. Somebody needs to, and if nobody steps up, you as the tank should be ready to do the marking and designation. Put the symbols over the first trash group and say what they mean–“sheep square, trap moon, kill order is skull, X, moon, square.” It’s not worth having a massive argument over, but it’s still something that should be laid out before the pull actually happens.
The other usual bone of contention in an unfamiliar group is–who actually pulls? Normally, I always preferred to be the one to push the button to start the fight. But the way things are working these days in Cataclysm, I now actually prefer to let the crowd controllers start the pull. I’ll go into more detail in the pulling post, but my standard procedure, after we mark and decide who’s doing what, is to let the crowd controllers cast. Their cast will aggro the group. That exact moment is when I hit Heroic Throw on either the kill target, or an unallocated caster mob if we’re short on CC. (That pulls that one particular mob to me, with a silence component to bring those inconvenient casters that much closer.) It’s then on me as the tank to get the other uncontrolled mob or mobs on me before they eat the crowd controller. It can be a tricky dance, but is more easily done with proper positioning. All people doing ranged CC should stand pretty much together, and in a position where the tank can easily get to them. (If they have to LOS pull, that needs to be taken into account.)
Again, I’ll talk about this more in the pulling post, but I’ll throw one other tidbit out there for my fellow warriors: Charge is not necessarily your friend. Charge Stun only hits one mob. If there’s a second, it’ll keep on trucking for your squishies, and you’ll be playing catch-up. And when I get to the post on initial control of the pull, we’ll see why playing catch-up is a recipe for disaster. If you’re fast on your fingers, Heroic Leap can solve this problem. I’m not, so often I tend to just run in.
The Gospel According to Marks
Before each pull, unless it’s obviously not needed, mark. Use symbols consistently from group to group based on what you decided at the start of the run. And your number one CC priority should be…(drumroll please)…hunter mobs. Casters can be silenced by ranged abilities from at least a few classes–Heroic Throw from me, Counterspell from a mage, Wind Shear from a shaman, etc. When they’re silenced, they’ll run at their current agro target until they feel like casting again, which will usually get them in range of some sort of centered AoE or multi-target ability (Consecrate, Cleave, etc.). But pure ranged hunter-class mobs are a stone bitch to position. A death nugget can Death Grip them, which is hella handy if you’ve got a DK around or you’re a DK tank. And of course you can LOS them if there’s a corner to run around. But if you’re DK-less and in an open area with nothing to block sight, that hunter is just going to sit out there plinking somebody, and it’s probably not going to be the tank unless he goes and gets it. And then we’re back to playing catch-up again.
So my priority list for CC is, in a nutshell: hunter mobs, spellcaster mobs, and then everybody else. There’s exceptions, of course, but in terms of keeping things simple, that’s how I like to see things marked. Which priority you use inside those general categories (i.e., which spellcasting mobs get CC if you can’t get them all) is up to the particular group and instance. There are even situations where you might want to pick a melee mob over a caster to CC–for example, if the caster is particularly squishy and you know you can (or need to due to mechanics) drop him fast. This is where a knowledge of the instance is vitally important as a tank, so you can make intelligent choices about which mobs get a knock on the head or stuck into an ice cube, and which just get terminated with extreme prejudice immediately.
Next up: The pull itself. How do you get the mobs from points A, B, C, and D to point X? We take a look at how to get a trash pack moving right where you want it…into the kill zone!