If you're interested in warrior tanking overall in 4.0/Cataclysm, you could check out my more extensive guide on the matter here.
First of all... prot? Can you even really level as prot or is that just for crazy people like me? There was a time when I would say; no, for the love of God, don't level as prot. But things have changed. Blizzard realized that some specs were just too bad to be viable options for leveling and questing and did some changes. More notably of course the regen changes they've done to caster classes, but prot have gotten some love too. So much love in fact that I'd not only say prot is a viable spec to start out in, but I'd even recommend using it! The few drawbacks are easily outweighed by the benefits. Here are some of the differences;
Not using a 2-hander or two 1-handers might mean a little smaller crits, or lesser damage, but it also means you'll use a shield instead. And with a shield comes alot of other opportunities. With a shield you can silence casters. And most importantly, you'll be able to use Shield Slam. Shield Slam is the skill you get at level 10 for choosing to go with the protection tree, and it is really powerful. I'll write more about it further down. You will also eventually be able to use Shield Block (level 28). At low levels, your block will be so much greater than the mobs average dmg that you'll effectively block every physical damage you've got incoming, as long as you're facing the mobs of course. This actually means you'll be practically invincible during those 10 sec that Shield Block is up. And hey, it's only got 30 sec cd with the right talents. Aoe-killing has never been so easy.
Being in Defensive Stance instead of Battle/Berserker Stance will lower your dmg output by some percent, but it will also lower dmg taken by some percent. The possibility to take on several mobs (like 5-6) and further on even elites without much trouble definitely makes prot a winner for leveling. Also Blizzard have given melee classes the possibility to self-heal, something lowbie melee didn't have before 4.0. Now you will get Victory Rush at level 5, a skill that is quite handy for lowbie tanking and questing.
The biggest change to lowbie tanking, and something that really bothers me, is that we don't have a proper rage-starter until level 20, when we get Battle Shout. Pre-patch we could use Bloodrage to get some rage before a combat, in case we were rage-starved. Since Battle Shout replaced Bloodrage for this use we now have to wait to level 20, when we get Battle Shout, before we can use it in this way. This means 15-19 tanking is characterized by you not being able to use any skills while you collect rage on the first couple of mobs. Rage will be an issue for you your first couple of levels, and since damage has been buffed for lowbie dpsers you might find yourself chasing mobs way more than you'd like. But don't worry, this becomes less and less of a problem (and quite frankly, most classes can tank mobs fairly well at low levels). Warriors hate to have to start a fight without any rage. Fortunately this doesn't last for many levels.
There is really only two addons I could recommend for a lowbie tank (and they both work with 4.0 of course);
- Optitaunt: Small addon that alerts your party/raid when you miss a taunt or use a cooldown. It's good to let your party know at least, eventhough they mostly don't care much before raids.
- TargetCharms: An easy to use frame for the different marks, which makes it really easy to mark stuff in groups. You rarely need to mark things when tanking as a lowbie, but if you ever happen to want to do this, you don't want to have to fool around with dropdown menus mid-combat. Also provides a little "readycheck"-button, which I actually wish tanks used more often in lowbie instances.
You won't get your first set of glyph slots until level 25, so this is nothing you have to worry about yet.
At level 15 you're able to pick 3 talents. Unfortunately the entire first bracket of talents are rather lame for a lowbie warrior.
Incite: You won't even get Heroic Strike until level 14, but that still means you'll have it when you start tanking. Because it is very costly, and rage is an issue as a lowbie, it might be worth putting your talent points elsewhere. You won't use Heroic Strike all the time because of this, but as rage becomes less and less of a problem, heroic strike becomes more and more useful. It also deals really good damage (read more about Heroic Strike under the Skills section).
Toughness: Is a great talent since it scales with gear. And we love talents like that. But that also means the lower level you are, the less you'll get out of the talent. At level 15 you can't hope to have more than 500-600 armor. 10% from such low amounts really won't make much difference. This talent won't be really worth it until high-end tanking. It is still better than the alternative however (Blood and Thunder, see below) so you must put a couple of talents here.
Blood and Thunder: This is a bad talent at level 80. People won't wait for you to place a rend and then thunder clap, and rend ticks are too slow threat anyway. But at low levels you won't have much aoe threat to work with. In fact, using Blood and Thunder might be your best option, at least until you get Revenge (level 40) and Shockwave. People won't wait for you to place a rend on low levels either, but loosing aggro in lowbie instances matters way less than in highbie instances. Since Thunder Clap also will refresh your Rend on any target affected, with some nifty pulling you can keep Rend up just by thunder clapping your way through mobs. Taking Blood and Thunder means respeccing later on, but it is worth it.
So our first three choices for talents aren't awesome. I'd go with Blood and Thunder and then your choice of Incite or Toughness.
Strike: Is replaced by Shield Slam at level 10.
Victory Rush: A great skill to keep handy when tanking as a lowbie, at least until you get other skills. You won't get killing blows as much when you're tanking, but whenever you do it's nice to use this as a starter on the next mob.
Charge: Not usable in defensive stance. And no, you shouldn't stance dance, it's more tedious than it is worth.
Heroic Strike: Is more important for your lowbie tanking threat than it used to be. Pre-4.0, heroic strike was a skill that became more and more necessary to use the higher level you became. As your threat became less and less imba for holding aggro, it became more important for us to use Heroic Strike. It is rather costly however, and on low levels you won't use it as much as Thunder Clap, Rend and Shield Slam. (You nearly won't use it at all once you get Cleave at level 24).
Shield Slam: Your primary skill for single target threat, should be used every cooldown.
Thunder Clap: Your primary skill for aoe threat. Thunder Clap is one of those skills that has become the most nerfed by 4.0. Before 4.0 Thunder Clap was instant-aggro. All the way to 80 you rarely needed much more than a thunder clap to keep decent aggro on mobs. This is no longer the case. Thunder Clap has gotten its threat significantly reduced, and it is now about as threating as a Demo Shout was pre-patch. Players getting their damage buffed even at low levels have contributed to this as well.
Rend: In combination with the talent Blood and Thunder and the skill Thunder Clap this becomes your best aoe-skill on low levels. It actually deals a fair amount of damage and will, when properly handled, probably be among your highest damage skills when instance-tanking. You'll probably want to use this at least until you get Revenge at level 40.
There are a couple of stats that are worth having as a lowbie tank. Stamina and agility are the most important ones at low levels. Because of how Vengeance works, collecting as much stamina as possible will always be a sure way to go. The gear collected from instance-reward satchels occasionally have dodge, a nice stat which you should take if you find it. Strength too is a good stat, and any avoidance stat (but you usually don't get those until later on) like parry and block.
In order of importance for a lowbie tank;
As mentioned, you have to start your very first fight by collecting rage "manually", that is by hitting the first mob you see a couple of times. Once you've got rage, try to keep the pace so you don't loose it. At level 15 you won't have skills enough for a complicated rotation;
1. Run in - 2. Pick a mob and Shield Slam it (not always necessary, depends how fast your dps is at nuking) - 3. Rend it - 4. Thunder Clap while being close to any other mob - 5a. Thunder Clap each cooldown - 5b. Shield Slam each cooldown - 5c. Heroic Strike if you have much rage (but don't use up all the rage, you want to save some for the next fight!).
Tanking is about mob handling - you want as many of the mobs to hit you and not someone else. The way you succeed with this goal defines your skills as a tank. This means you have to plan for a pull so that you ideally get all the mobs attention as fast as possible, and keep it (see some pointers further below). Here is a great explanation of how to do this, from a commenter of this post (you can read the full comment even further below);
"Always set your "pivot" point at a ranged mob. After Thunderclap got all mobs on you, drag them a few paces towards that ranged mob in the pack. Melee mobs will always follow you since you have aggro. Practise this until you always have mobs in a nice arc around you. Practise this even when you're outdoors questing. The mark of a good tank is one that can round up mobs quickly and cleanly, without shifting back and forth all the time. Thunderclap, move sideways to that ranged mob, stop and face the mobs. Melee love tanks who can position mobs quickly like that."You have to calculate to yourself - how many mobs do I want to grab in this pull? Make sure it's never more than you can handle, and you define how many that is (and the healer of course). If there are any mobs that need special treatment, like ranged that won't come to you, you have to come to them instead, or silence them (but you won't get Shield Bash until level 20) or otherwise act so that they get aggro on you and not someone else. This means you have to give each mob proper attention. Enough to make him stay on you, but not so much so that you lose aggro on some other mob. It's sounds a lot trickier than it is, but successfully completing tricky pulls is a big part of what makes tanking so much fun!
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Some general pointers as how to make your run as smooth as possible could be good. I'll quote myself from another post I wrote on warrior tanking a while ago, seeing as they still apply;
As a rage using class you don't need mana breaks, but you will most likely be partying with people who do. Remember their mana pools, not only the healer ones! Considering they are the ones dpsing down your mobs, you need to treat their mana pools well. Give proper mana breaks, or at least ask if they're wanted.and most importantly;
If you're doing an instance for the first time, and intend to do it again sometime, take some time to note how the mobs work. What skills do they have? Something to watch out for? Where are they positioned? Do they chain? Do they run? Any pulls that are tricky? Chaining means that when pulling one mob near another you will also aggro the second one. A thumb rule is "the "smarter" the mob, the more likely they'll chain". Humanoid mobs nearly always chain for instance. Beasts don't always though. Learn how this works in every particular instance to make the run as smooth as possible.
And last but not least, take no shit. You're the tank and these people need you! If you're well geared there is no one else as important in your group as you. If you're badly geared you might need a slightly more humble approach, but keep in mind that most of the people in your group have waited around 10 minutes for you to show up. Make sure they know that you do this because it's fun, and if they ruin your fun you'll go somewhere else. Great power comes with great responsibility of course, and all these pointers are for you to be able to make a nice and smooth run for everyone to enjoy!