By request, here comes a short guide to the different tank classes. The fact that I personally prefer warriors should hopefully not be too obvious. Eventhough I am aiming to make this guide somewhat unbiased, it is still with personal preferences though. If one likes the easy and repetative, they might not agree with me on everything!
Which one is the most difficult, interesting, easy or boring? What differs between the classes? Hopefully you'll be a little wiser on which class you'd like to try for tanking and what to expect when doing so!
Druid tanking is what I have the least experience of, and especially at endgame. The reason for this is simple - it is the most boring tank spec at level 80. I have leveled two druids as tanks, one to 70 in BC and one to 80 in Wotlk (and then I respecced it to Boomkin). The first one was an honest attempt at learning more about feral druids, and especially tanking. I did enjoy it although gearing was exceptionally difficult for druid tanks back then, because of very odd design choices. Things have become significantly easier since then, and although I am glad about that I can think that things might in fact have become a little too easy. Giving tank druids crit immunity through talents was a way for Blizzard to not have to make different melee leather sets, one with defense for tank druids and one without for rogues/cats. I don't think it was a good idea to have to make special gear for tank druids alone, just as I don't like that holydins have their unique gear type, but the talent feels more of a bandaid solution than a real one, something that is quite common among druids unfortunately. The second one was mainly to be able to get to 80 faster, since tanks have an instant instance-queue :P
As a druid you will however have every other role as an option at any time, more so than for any other class. If you level as a tank and find out half way that you didn't like it, you can still use the same char to be a melee, healer or caster! Although it doesn't make the tanking more fun per se, it can still be nice to be able to take a break from tanking and do something else if wanted.
For some more info on my thoughts on tanking druids I have written about them before.
As an endgame druid tank, you'll quickly notice that your tanking basically consists of spamming Mangle and Maul, maybe Swipe if you're tanking several mobs and Lacerate if you're tanking bosses. This leads to people either really liking druid tanking, because it is so damn easy, or really dislike it because it is so damn boring. Few things to keep track off can either entice you or put you off. In my case it's definitely a turn off. Eventhough druid tanking isn't especially versatile, druids as a class are. As a druid tank you can offer your raid a butt load of really valuable utility tools such as Combat Res, Innervate, the possibility to switch to dps at a seconds notice mid- combat and a nice raid buff in Leader of the Pack. As a tank you'll have to wait for a window of opportunity to use your CR or Innervate of course, but they're still useful.
Druid tanks have three tanking cooldowns (four with 4 set t10, when you can use Enrage as a tank cooldown) of which all are similiar to warrior cooldowns - Frenzied Regeneration, Survival Instincts and Barkskin. With the Frenzied Regen Glyph, Frenzied Regen turns into one of the best survival cooldowns any tank has, and the other cooldowns are decent. Barkskin gives a good amount of overall mitigation, but because of the low amount of damage reduced it's still less valuable than for example Shield wall and Divine Protection. In endgame raiding you often want that cooldown to pop whenever the boss uses some especially dangerous ability, but druid tanks lack strong cooldowns in this area compared to other tank classes, and often have to stack cooldowns to gain the same effect. Druid tank cooldowns lack the "oomph" or "oh shit"-ness of other tanks cooldowns and are more of standard rotation material.
At lower levels I notice that druid tanks have less threat regen and also less rage regen than for example warriors. I can easily outhreat a bear of the same level with my warriors, all the way up to 80. Druid tanks don't have any good talents to reduce rage cost of their abilities which also make druids more easily rage starved. This isn't an issue at all in endgame, but a real nuisance in lowbie instances. One big advantage of lowbie bears however is that they generally can take more damage than the other tank classes. As soon as you've talented into Survival of the Fittest (you get the first talent at around level 35), you've got something extremely few other tanks will have at low levels - crit immunity. From a healers perspective I can say I prefer druid tanks over any other tanks between level 35-80 for this reason. Eventhough druids have less good threat in low instances than paladins/warriors, it's still not bad and with an awesome skill like Swipe druids often have an easy time keeping aggro at especially many mobs at a time. The differences are more noticed when focusing on one mob. Because of the rage issues Faerie Fire Feral, which you get at level 18, will be one of your best tank skills, not just for pulling but also for threating overall and should be used every cooldown. Faerie Fire Feral is in fact useful for very many things, like keeping aggro on ranged mobs.
- Easy class to tank with, few skills to keep track off.
- Has the ability to do good dps even in tank gear.
- Easy gearing, basically just use any melee gear that drops. No need to keep track of capping defense.
- One of the best aoe-threat skills in Swipe which allows for some easy grabbing of mobs.
- Crit immunity talent at low levels makes druid tanks one of the best lowbie tanks when it comes to survivability.
- Ranged threat skill at low levels.
- Not very versatile, using very few skills in the standard rotation makes the tank druid very repetative.
- Rage and threat issues at lower levels.
- Less efficient tanking cooldowns (for the current raid situation).
- Only one single target taunt unlike other tank classes.
- No interrupt or silence ability (this will change in cataclysm though).
Paladins are known to be faceroll, this doesn't just mean retridins but definitely includes tankadins as well (holydins a little less because of the nature of healing). Because of paladins being a mana using class, Blizzard has given them a bunch of cooldown skills, which usually are used in a special order to maximize efficiency. Although a real tanking situation doesn't always allow for one to use a rotation, this is still basically what paladin tanking is all about, rotating skills. This makes them similar to Dk tanking, but quite different to warrior tanking (which is proc based to some extent). Paladins have a variety of skills, but not a single one of them is off cooldown (this will change in Cataclysm however, where Crusader Strike is rumored to be baseline). What does this mean for tanking? It means that although paladins have alot of really nice skills, they're not really free to use them as they like. If you pause with one cooldown it will mess up your rotation for several skills to come. The spontaneity that I personally love with tanking, is lost to some extent. The nature of their aoe skill, consecration, also makes paladins the most immobile of the four classes. Warriors can thunder clap on the run, dk's can blood boil and druids can swipe, but paladins have to make their stand whereever they drop their consecration.
Paladins, yet again similar to death knights, tank with a great deal of spells. The really good thing about this is that spells are easier to tank with than physical damage, because physical skills can be dodged, blocked or parried and magical skills can not. To make it a little harder on paladins Blizzard have given the paladin skills the unique ability to be deflected, but this doesn't happen nearly as often as you'll be parried, dodged and blocked as warrior, druid or dk. This is something you'll benefit the most from at low levels since most classes have decent amount of expertise and hit at higher levels.
Eventhough paladins are mostly about rolling your face over the keyboard, they have great potential. Paladins have alot of tools which can be used here and there that bring alot of fun and tinker-possibilites to the class. Tools like Holy Wrath, Avengers Shield, Hand of Reckoning, Hand of Protection, Hand of Salvation, different judgements and seals and more. This doesn't have to be overwhelming, because using them all is quite optional. You can settle for just doing it one particular way and be content with rolling your face, or try to make the class a little more difficult by aura-dancing and judgement-switching. Paladin-tanking is as difficult or easy as you like.
What make paladins so appealing as a general class is probably their ability to be all the roles in one class. This means that if you ever roll a tankadin, you could eventually respecc to dps or healer as with a druid. Although this doesn't actually affect the way a tankadin tanks, I still think it could be an important thing or factor when choosing what tank class to play. Paladins have great cooldowns for tanking, and a talent - Ardent Defender - that is pretty kickass for raid tanking. As a paladin you will also bring among the best buffs to the raid/group in blessings and a bunchload of utilities of which I have already mentioned some like Hand of Protection and Salvation.
Paladins are probably the easiest tanks to play at low levels, just remember that Righteous Fury buff! The reasons for this are that they don't have any of the drawbacks of the other classes, like rage starvation, bad aoe skills or no range threat. They actually have it all. The possibility to heal yourself while tanking, at least to some extent, is also something quite valuable in lowbie instances, although it should only be used when absolutely necessary of course, remember you can't dodge, block or parry when casting heals! There is really only one minus of being a tankadin. Although you won't get rage starved, you do get out of mana. Handling your mana consumption while tanking to minimize mana breaks is one thing you can optimize while tanking. The problem is that when you're out of mana, you can't do much at all as a paladin. In that sense paladins are the only tank that can end up completely resourceless in a fight. So eventhough mana is more efficient than rage to some extent, in other aspects it's not. Overall however, mana is easier to handle when lowbie tanking than rage.
The biggest problem about lowbie paladin tanking is that they don't get all their interesting skills until level 60, and at lower levels you don't have much to do. You basically place your consecration and do a judgement, and that's about it until level 50 when you get Avenger's Shield.
- Wide variety of skills which cover most situations a tank can get into - aoe-skills, ranged threat skills, ranged silence skill and a stun to name a few.
- Rotation based tanking makes for easy tanking.
- Many useful buffs and otherwise useful utility skills.
- The best taunt skill in Hand of Reckoning, especially at low levels.
- Rotation based tanking makes for predictable aka boring tanking (especially in endgame).
- When oom they're screwed (this doesn't happen often though, especially not in endgame).
- Less mobile tanking style than the other classes.
- No silence ability (unless you play a blood elf)
- Most tanking skills are talents, which means paladin tanking doesn't really pick up until after level 60.
Death Knights were first introduced as becoming the "caster-tanks" of WoW, using spells and magic absorbtion to tank. I was really intriguied by this and saw something of a plate wearing warlock for my inner eye. It didn't really turn out that way. Although Blizzard had really interesting visions for Death Knights they're mostly a sort of paladin counterpart. There is something unique about Death Knights however. They are the only class that has to keep track of two different energy systems - runes and runic power. This makes, in my opinion, Death Knights the trickiest tanks of them all.
Runes are a fun and interesting way to use your skills. And Blizzard have implemented some things that will make the Death Knight slightly less dependant on their runes, since runes are such a limited resource. Runes can turn into Death Runes that count as any runes and also there is a cooldown to reset all runes. These things are not enough however and I think that Death Knight tanking is way too focused around rune managing making DK tanking extremely un-spontaneous. As a DK you have to use your runes exactly or you might stand without the possibility to use proper skills for several seconds. As a Dk tank you can end up in the same situation as a rage starved druid/warrior or oomed paladin, but with ease. This situation just happens too often.
Many say that DK tanking is extremely easy, just drop Death & Decay and you're set. I agree, dropping Death & Decay will really do everything. In fact, it is the only thing you need to do is drop Death & Decay (and nowadays also spam Icy touch) nothing else seems to make a difference. To give an example, I leveled my DK as frost because of Howling Blast. Silly me thought that if I had specced all those talents into such a special skill, surely it would need to be better than something baseline as Death & Decay? Boy was I wrong, Howling Blast barely does as much threat as a Thunder Clap, but costs way more in resources.
All together Runes and Runic Power make DK tanking interesting because it is quite challenging. It's challenging in the wrong way though, like trying to run with one leg tied to your back. One could summarize DK's by saying that they're fairly easy to learn but very difficult to master.
What I've just been ranting on about the problems with Runic Power and Runes applies less to raiding since raiding situations usually are extremely predictable for tanks, no lunatic is running around and pulling extra mobs. They're rarely affected by special fight mechanics, but only have to keep an eye out for those special skills the boss are using against them. For this Dk tanks have a nice set of cooldowns to use, of which some can be used continously like Unbreakable Armor (which is talent in the frost tree) and some be saved for the tougher situations like Icebound Fortitude. One huge drawback of DK tanking is that all their cooldowns cost resources. Back in the days Taunt used to cost rage but Blizzard removed this because it was a bad design choice. And although Dark Command doesn't cost anything, Icebound Fortitude and Unbreakable Armor do which means if you're unlucky or unskilled you can stand without the possibility to use those skills when you need them. A skilled DK shouldn't get into that situation of course, but in my opinion the possibility shouldn't even be there.
Dk's used to be completely OP for endgame raiding back in Naxx and Ulduar. Now they're pretty on-par with the other tanks, some even think they're less good than the rest of the tanks but I don't agree, the differences are minimal. A dk who knows what to do has really good survivability in raiding because of a good variety of skills available to Dk's.
Dks start out at level 55 and so don't have to do much lowbie tanking before they turn 80. Also Dk's have good threat at low levels and generally find it very easy to tank even without tank spec or even tank gear (the healer might not agree though). One good thing about Dk's are that they can be decent tanks by just using their dps specs and dps rotations, just remember that a tank gear always is good to have if you're tanking. This means that when lowbie tanking you don't have to sacrifice your dps abilities to be able to tank. Just go into frost presence and try to collect some tank gear (which is especially important at 70+ levels) and you'll make a good tank.
People say that Dk's have good aoe threat, but I disagree. Death & Decay does awesome threat, but that is all and after that Dk's only have Blood Boil, and the slow Pestilence. In fact I think Dk's have the worst aoe-threat and this will be especially noticeable when tanking as a lowbie. Dk's are also the only class that lack an aoe-taunt (warriors have Challenging Shout, druids Challenging Roar and paladins the next best thing in Righteous Defense). Aoe-taunt is a skill you don't use often, but when you need it you're really sad if you don't have it.
- Good variety of skills to counter many situations.
- Unique skills like Absorb Magic and Death Grip that are very useful for tanking.
- Easy switching between Dpsing and Tanking, which is especially useful when lowbie.
- The best tank weapon enchant in the game, by far.
- Many good tank cooldowns.
- Tricky resource system makes it difficult to get the most out of the class (but can also be seen as an interesting challenge).
- No aoe taunt at all.
There was a time not too long ago when warriors only choice was to go tank eventually. Not only that, they were considered the only real viable tanks in raid situations. Alot has happened since then, but it is good to know that the concept of tanking started with the warriors and alot of tank designs start out on how it works for warriors. It is not farfetched to claim that Blizz-designers go "ok so warriors have this, what should the other tank classes have to resemble this?". A good example of this is that tank druids were supposed to be lesser copies of warriors, and basically are still today. Then came paladins, but since they use mana they had to have their skills works differently. Also paladins have alot of baseline skills that differ them from warrior tanks. And then came Dks, which probably differ the most from warriors since Blizzard wanted to invent something new and interesting.
What does this mean? Although warriors are far from perfect, in my opinion they are still the most well balanced of all the tank classes. They don't have all the awesome utility tools of dk's and paladins, but they have the most thought- and worked-through skill system, and it really works well. As a warrior you have a good mix of cooldown-skills, proc-skills and repeatable skills at your disposal. The rage resource is a very easy resource to work with. It's definitely not perfect, but not too easy as the mana system and not too unforgiving as the Rune system (and not as crappy implemented as on druids). But because they have more skills to keep track of than druids and a more advanced resource system than paladins, they're generally thought of as more difficult, with right.
A friend of mine who also has played every tank class to 80 says that he prefers warrior tanking over the other classes. Once you get the hang of it warriors offer just the right amount of depth and challenge to last for a long time, which the other classes still lack to some part. Warriors offer the possibility of spontaneous tanking which you generally find a nuisance when tanking as paladin or DK. Pulling extra groups is easily handled by druids and warriors.
Tank warriors are solid endgame tanks, just as any tank class right now. There are two big drawbacks of tank warriors that might want people want to bring other classes - the general lack of awesome buffs and lack of ranged threat skills. The lack of ranged threat skills is a lesser problem in raiding however. As a warrior you can bring Sunder Armor, which is valuable but generally applicable by other classes (hunter pets and rogues), and commanding shout/battle shout which is applicable by warlock pets/paladins. This means the warrior doesn't bring a unique buff or several useful buffs, but will have to rely on awesome tanking skills. Mind you that most guilds prefer awesome tanking skills over cool buffs, so this is a minor problem.
Asking friends and players about their first impression about warrior tanking they usually say that it seems too complicated. Warrior tanking is in fact quite easy, but the amount of skills can easily seem overwhelming at first. Warrior tanking does also require more of retargetting than the other classes generally do, which seems to be what really scares people off. Although Thunder Clap is an awesome threat skill, it's not as good as Death & Decay, Consecration and Swipe when it comes to stationary aoe-tanking. It is best for aoe-tanking on the move. Because of this you will have to learn to spread your tanking love equally among your targets, with revenges, devastates and shield slams all over the place. Also warriors do lack some of the cool utility tools the other tank classes have, like a decent ranged threat skill (which warriors don't get until level 80, and it's not even especially good then) or the possibility to self heal to some extent (which all the other tanks can do better). So warriors might lack some fanciness but on the other hand they do the important part, the tanking itself, in the most balanced and fun way!
- Well balanced tanking style makes for fun tanking, just the right amount of complicated to never get boring or tedious.
- Good tanking cooldowns
- Lack of some good utility skills
- Lack of good buffs
Easiest tank class (according to me)
4. Death Knight
Most fun tank class (according to me)
3. Death Knight