Monday, July 4, 2011

How to Build a Good Reputation as a New Tank (In the Post RDF World)

Orvillius is a human tankadin who was started back in Vanilla, but never reached level cap until WotLK. Orvillius dinged level 80 the week the random dungeon finder was released, in a Forge of Souls random, and spent the next couple months figuring out how to get invited to tank a raid. Despite these "handicaps" Orv established a reputation as a competent tank on his small server, joined a solid raiding guild (if one that was a little late to the party) and did manage to down the LK before Cata dropped.

Nymphy is a human arcane mage of the species called DPS. Also not been leveled capped before Wrath, she has since started a career of being belittled about loving the floor which has sometimes been at the hands of tanks. She felt like she had to come here to prevent Orv’s preaching on how to be a good tank and that it needed a dps perspective. While tanking is srs bsns, this post needed to be prevented from taking that tone. Who wants to read a dry account of tanking anyway?

Rhii is a mage-blogger-turned-resto-shaman who tries to talk seriously about healing at least once a week but usually just tells stories about fail PuGs and all the tanks she has on ignore. She’s been a healer since mid-Wrath, starting out raiding as a holy paladin and changing to resto shaman in ICC. She is moonlighting here at D/E the Tank because Oh My, Kurenai! no longer pays the bills. Wut?!

Back in prehistoric times, like when tBC was current content, 5-man dungeons were a BIG DEAL. There was a rep grind just to unlock the heroics, there were CC requirements as strict as, or even stricter than, Cata heroics, and there were attunement quests required to get in the front door of many raids. With all the time a player spent pugging for dungeons it was, speaking as someone who never personally got to level cap in BC, easier to build a reputation as a good tank, a good healer, an excellent chain trapper, a mage who never let their sheep expire, etc. In WotLK attunement requirements were removed and the difficulty curve of even the heroic dungeons was flattened considerably. This was great for casual players who wanted a level-capped toon, but not so great if you were trying to build a reputation as a competent tank! I don't think I've ever been in a guild where we had enough back up healers, so I'm going to just assume here that healers ding level 80 and have guilds offer them cookies and other bribes to come join their healing stables.

While Orv was leveling from 60-79 there was no dungeon finder, and he had to sit in the LFG channel pimping himself out, or desperately seeking a healer, if he wanted to run a dungeon. This worked in his favor as, after a while, he knew a few good healers, a couple of really solid DPS, and even another tank or two he could turn to for advice as he leveled up and unlocked new content. While that is more than many tanks have when they hit level cap today, I can't remember more than one or two occasions where those connections got Orv into a raid, and both of those were well after Orv had already established a reputation as a competent raiding tank. The point of this rambling paragraph is that while Orv did not have the benefit of the random dungeon finder while leveling, he still reached level cap in the same situation that many newly level 80 tanks find themselves in today. His guild was not going to drag him through heroics and older raids to gear him up, his gear was ok for heroics but sub-par for the current tier of raid content, and if he wanted to get into a raid he was going to have to PuG himself out.

Linedan tweeted today "Idle thought. Toughest situation in tank trying to find a raid group. y/n/firekitteh?" and that made me reflect on Orv's journey from a level 80 in dungeon/quest/crafted blues, with the odd ICC 5-man purple, to the MT of a solid raiding guild, and eventually downing the LK. Hopefully the lessons I learned in that time can help a few fresh level 80's looking to one day get punched in the face by Deathwing (or Ragnaros, Nef, Cho'gall, etc) while keeping him from nomming the faces off of 9 or 24 of their closest friends.

1) Learn your class.

This is advice that will never get old. If you’re about to start tanking raids you’re going to want a talent spec that is different from what you used while levelling. You’re going to want different glyphs, possibly even different glyphs than you used for heroics. Take some time to visit EJ or Maintankadin (if you’re a pally). Make sure you've got the right gear. Crit, Haste, and to a lesser extent hit and expertise are not the stats you're looking for. Check out a gear guide or pick up a Combat Table Coverage spreadsheet (I rely on Rhidach's site if I can't figure it out for myself). Blizzard is constantly changing the way different class mechanics work, and the day you stop keeping up to date on your class is the day you die to some stupid mechanic that you would have survived if only you had remembered that Ardent Defender needs to be activated manually now. If you’re a druid, or warrior, or DK I’m sure there’s an equally appropriate example for your class.  If I had to pick one area where I think new tanks generally need the most improvement, I would pick cool down usage. I've been tanking current raid content for the last 15 months and I still feel like I could improve with my cool downs. Meloree over at Sacred Duty did an excellent post about CD usage recently. Actually if you're a Paladin tank and you want to learn more about your class Sacred Duty should be required reading, I don't think they've ever put up a post that hasn't been either interesting or educational.

Nymphy Says: From a DPS perspective, if you learn how to play your class and it’s abilities well, I should have a LOT harder time falling on the floor from pulled aggro and such. The role of a tank is to get the attention of the mob, make it angry enough to want to punch the tank in the face while the DPS helps pew pew it to death. This requires the tank to know their cool downs and regular abilities enough to be able to keep that attention.

Rhii Says: Speaking as a healer, even a squishy tank or one with low health is always easier to keep on their feet if he (or she!) is making the most of their tools. Cooldowns in Cataclysm aren’t something to save for the worst moment you can imagine, they’re something to use frequently, so get comfortable with them in dungeons and then use them! On trash, on bosses... cool down if you have to. Your healers will thank you.

2) Learn the Fights.

Tankspot puts up some amazing video guides for every boss fight out there.(The soothing voice of Aliena makes it MUCH less onerous to actually research fights)  I don't know how you found this blog but didn't already know about Tankspot, but I’ll link them all the same. The new dungeon journal is also useful at explaining different boss mechanics. If you’re going to start running raids it really falls on you to know the fights before you go in there. When you’re watching videos or reading boss strategies you want to focus on a couple things. First, the boss’s heavy hitting abilities. Many bosses will start doing a raid wide AoE when you hit the final 20% or so, if this is the case you’ll want to talk to healers/other tanks about blowing a raid wide damage cool down (like Divine Guardian for Paladins), or setting up a CD rotation. You want to know what boss abilities are going to do a lot of damage to you, so that you can save your CDs for that moment, or use them to reduce damage after that moment to make it easier for your healers to get you topped back off.   Second, you want to think about positioning the boss. Some raid guides will be specific about where to tank a boss, others much less so. Much like in any dungeon you want to make sure the melee DPS can get to the boss’s back, and that the ranged DPS and healers have clear LoS to you.

Nymphy Says:  What do you mean you didn’t know that Valiona did Flame Breath and so you got hit by it and died? Seriously. Knowing the fight is half the battle of tanking. If you know your class, and know the fight then the only worry is what you can’t really control. And even those areas can be a little easier. If a fight mechanic requires movement  (i.e kiting, turning the boss around, etc) let your DPS know! Because unless you are super tank, you won’t have enough threat while moving for us to do what we do best. Which is lots of pew pew. We certainly don’t want to make the boss angry at us, we tend to be squishy and can’t handle that anger since it makes us want to like curl up and cry due to the boss being mean...anyway! So be sure to communicate this to us. We need to know if you need time to establish aggro and to move the boss into the ideal position to die.

Rhii Says: Always look up the fight in advance. But if you’ve never actually done it before, say so. Yes, there are some groups that will be filled with jerks and throw you out at the first sign that you’re not superhuman, but you might as well find that out before the repair bill, right? If you don’t know what’s going to happen from personal experience, checking with raiders that do will make a big difference. Make sure you know the strategy your group is using before you go in.

3) You're going to have to PuG. A LOT.

You know those pugs you see in trade chat? The ones where the fellow putting the group together can't even get the name of the raid he wants to do right? The ones where they don't have a vent server? Yeah those are the ones. If you don't already have a guild that you are a part of where they are willing to run you through old content to help you learn the ropes, that's where you're going to go next. Quite frankly this can be terrifying. You're going to have a mix of DPS who will pull so much threat your head will want to explode, healers with mana pools that would make you nervous in a heroic, and the odd perfectly competent player that was bored enough on one of their guild's off nights that they decided to hop in a PuG.  If you're really lucky you might find a pug that is mostly a guild group but needed to field one or two players to fill in for some last minute absences. Those groups are the best kind as doing a good job for them is more likely to lead to repeat business as a PuG tank, or possibly even a guild invite down the road.

Before you can go impressing a mostly guild PuG though you're going to have to make mistakes and learn from them in those Fail!PuGs. This can be daunting. You're going in to a boss you've never seen before (or only seen a few times) and trying to tank effectively without knowing how everyone else in the raid operates. Be prepared for the insults, for the blame being heaped on you, avoid the temptation to blame the healers. Recount’s death report or using a combat logger and then reviewing the logs afterwards can help you understand what exactly killed you. Figure out if it was your fault (Oh I should have moved out of that patch of fire on the ground? Oops!) and correct the mistake if it was.

Nymphy Says: We ALL hate PuG’s, admit it. Those three letters meaning Pick-up Group fills all of us with the sickly cold type of dread that we usually reserve for the monster hiding under our beds. In fact Blizzard is quite aware of PuG hatred and tried to make it better by creating the Dungeon Finder and even bribing us with a pet. Yes, I fell for the bribe lol! BUT that doesn’t mean I liked it! Search and you shall find horror stories of PuG’s gone bad. And if you are new? Tell us PLEASE! We would rather take the few extra minutes to kill things rather than to wipe over and over because we rip aggro off of you. Never been to this dungeon? Chances are, one of us has. Ask for help if you need it. On the bright side, PuG’s are useful because they do make you a better tank. You learn to think on your feet and you learn quickly where your oh shit buttons are in case one of us are dumb enough to want to try tanking as well. In learning to deal with the unpredictable, it makes the predictable so much easier to deal with.

Rhii Says: I don’t hate PuGs... I love PuGs. Okay, I put all the tanks on ignore, but they’re mean to me! And this is honestly the best pugging advice I can give to a tank, in a raid, a heroic, or anywhere else: Make friends with your healers. You are a lot less likely to be called fail and kicked and mocked and ignored even if you make a ton of mistakes if you communicate with the rest of the group. I mean, insulting the DPS isn’t the best idea either, but the more you bond with the healers the better your chances of survival become. And the better your chances of being invited back too!

4) Recognize GOOD players.

Did that otherwise miserable pug have a really solid healer? Another tank that knew her stuff? A couple of DPS who didn’t make you want to cry and hide in a hole somewhere? Whisper them afterwards. Talk to the good healers about your performance, ask them if they have any advice. I think the Effer’s tank corps has more conversations with Team Heals than we do with each other when we’re considering swapping out a few gems, changing up a reforging strategy, etc. The input that a healer can have in helping you learn to be a better tank can be invaluable. An even bigger benefit to making use of your friend list is that next time you find yourself in a PuG that’s forming up you can shoot them a whisper (if their role is needed) and bring them along. Having more solid players in a PuG can make the difference between a night of banging your head against Magmaw, and a night filled with “phat lewts.”

Nymphy Says:  This is generally where the mad DPS hatred evolves. Right here! Don’t forget about the dps that sheeped (or turtled, bunnied, monkeyed, etc) what she was supposed to, killed the skull and then the x in that order, and didn’t rip aggro from you. Having a tank thank us for making his life easier is a highlight in our usual hum drum nobody thinks of us day. Wow, that sounded bitter huh? Sorry. :) But seriously. Thank all the people in the group that made your life and the entire run easier.

Rhii Says: Orv and Nymphy really have it nailed here. If us healers are doing a good job, we love to be noticed. It happens a lot less than you might think too, and if the tank is a little fresh, a kind word will go a long way toward making it worth the extra effort to help get you through the run.

5) Check your ego at the door.

Everyone knows the tank stereotypes. Everyone who has ever clicked the random dungeon finder button for a role OTHER THAN the tank has seen the power mad, under geared (or completely decked out in Bind on Account gear), poorly specced, egomaniacs that think having a prot/blood/feral spec has conveyed the divine right of kings upon them. Don’t be that guy. Please don’t be that guy. You’re a new tank, if you’re good be humble, if you’re bad be extra humble. Admit that it’s your first time seeing a boss when it is, who knows, someone might have some tips!

Nymphy Says: Ok, this bears repeating. CHECK YOUR EGO AT THE DOOR! (Can we neon sign this even?) Seriously. Just because Blizzard may have created the whole Call to Arms just for you, don’t rub our faces in it. Don’t be a dick just because you’re a tank. That is NOT one of your class’ main abilities. No tank should have Boost Ego on cooldown. Let your group know if you are new and may need help. DPS need to know that so we can scale our pew pewage down. No one likes a tank with an ego. It will just get you put on ignore and then eventually you’re brought to the point of being failtank forever or transferring servers.

Rhii Says: Turnabout isn’t fair play. If it was hard on you starting out, it doesn’t mean you should make it hard on others when they’re starting out. Remember when you get past the difficult stage of gearing a tank that others may still be gearing too. It doesn’t take much to be patient with a healer who still benefits from mana breaks and CC, and you’ll earn some real gratitude by doing it!

Orv slowly improved through failed PuG after failed PuG until he had the good luck to become a regular tank for a large guild’s alt run night. That helped get him geared up enough to raid effectively, and eventually a player he had PuGed with a number of times got him an invite to his guild, where he quickly became one of the two tanks for their progression raiding team. The PuG raids may not always have been pretty but they give a new tank plenty of opportunities to learn when to blow his cooldowns, and how to pull a boss kill from the very edge of disaster.

Nymphy Says: Although Orv still is working on his no ego part of the equation, mostly he is a good example of the species called tank. He lets us know when we can start going balls to the wall with our dps and he communicates with Team Heals. I kind of like him because I know that IF I have to face a dreaded PuG, I know that I have at least ONE of the tanks that I don’t have to worry about pulling threat from.

Rhii Says: Orv does okay. I don’t have to let him die that much anymore. *shrug* (I kid. Orv is the kind of tank that most healers don’t get the privilege of working with... one who actually uses his cooldowns strategically, calls them out in vent, and doesn’t mind being told what to do occasionally by his healers. We get a little power hungry sometimes.)


  1. I had fun doing this, thanks for asking me guys. :)

  2. Thanks for doing it! It was totally Nymphy's idea to have a healer's point of view (and make it a little less "serious business" than I had originally drafted the post).