Monday, September 5, 2011

Top 5 Noob Tank Mistakes

Doing lots of lowbie instances from another perspective than being the tank, has allowed me to see aspiring new tanks on the job, for the first time in a long while. Especially when being the healer do you pay extra attention to what your tank is doing. I am glad of course that there seem to be new tanks at all, although they actually seem to be very few judging from my wait times. We need fresh blood to become as cranky and cynical as the rest of us have become who can carry the joyous flag of tanking with the rest of us. But it has also allowed me to see what new tanks seem to struggle with in particular. You can often spot a new tank easily by some simple mistakes and/or pitfalls that they often fall into. The common factor is that none of these things matter much when you start tanking. You can derp around pretty much and test your ways without it having too much of an impact on your healers mana, your dpsers health or the groups patience. The problem only arises once these tanks think that this is an overall ok way to tank and bring this behavior all the way up in endgame and then they find out that tanking that way will have many people die horrible deaths. In most cases that actually doesn't happen. I suppose simple trial and error will learn some tanks that what they're doing doesn't work, and in other cases it's probably a case of "survival of the fittest" where tanks that constantly fail just give up. But it happens often enough for me to notice it. Here is my top 5 list of typical tank mistakes. 

5. Mobs everywhere, HALP!
A common issue for new tanks and healers alike are that they get paralyzed when too much things are happening at once. Usually it is better to do something, anything really (even /dance for the comic relief), than to just stare in panic as shit hits the fan. And because of how healing and tanking work, I can only recommend you to go dps if you actually feel like you have trouble to improvise, because that is much what healing and tanking is about (and what makes it so much fun imo!). One of the things I love about rerolling a character is that I get a chance to thoroughly get a feel for each skill that the class and role has at their disposal. What I often see people do "wrong" however is that they simply respec a character at max level, which makes it really difficult to find out when to use which skill and how in any other way than the hard way - by failing in pugs (which usually has people give up or not try at all). Most tanks have so much possibilities that aren't been put to good use because the tanks don't think about them or just don't dare to use them because they're not comfortable in their rotation. Heroic Leap for warriors, Hand of Salvation/Protection for paladins, interrupting for all tank classes to mention some very few. In lowbie instances this is most often seen as the tank noticing that someone takes aggro, stopping what he is doing, slowly turning towards the mob (with all the other mobs hitting him in the back) and then standing like that for a couple of seconds while probably trying to target the stray mob, for all I can guess. This is exactly what a lowbie tank should do, try to handle stray mobs, and even if they don't do it pretty, they're at least trying which really is the only way they're going to learn how to do it at all. It does become a problem when people react this way in higher content however, fortunately that does happen rarely.

4. I stood in fire?
Just as multi-tasking is something you have to be good at if you intend to tank, situational awareness is possibly even more important. Panicking because you don't know what to do when everyone around you has aggro except you is one thing, not even noticing that everyone around you has aggro is even worse. In low levels I can only assume that this is because of a mix of lack of experience and lack of decent tanking addons. Some sort of addon that helps you distinguish between targets that have aggro on you and that have aggro on someone else is basically a must have when you're tanking. But situational awareness doesn't limit itself to noticing when your healer is dying, but when you yourself is dying too. Noticing that you're standing in a big pile of fire is just as important for you as for everyone else in the group, although it might be the toughest for the tank to notice because the boss usually covers the entire screen (I can only hope Blizzard soon decides to make bosses semi-transparent as in other games). As the tank you have to know what happens at the far edges of your screen. Unlike the healer who can comfortably tunnel in on their healing frames, the tank really must keep an awareness to everything that happens, while at the same time try to keep addons around to help out with that awareness. It's a fine balance that I find most tanks struggle with their entire tanking career.

3. The One Man Army
This is a classical case of "didn't grow out of being level 20" problem. Up until level 60 or so maybe even 70, the tank really usually is a one man army, especially if you happen to be a paladin or dk with decent self-healabilities. You'll be the one who deals the most damage (by far at low levels), sets the pace of the instance and overall runs around like a maniac killing stuff. Nothing wrong with that, I do that myself and I can only imagine that that actually is a big part to why I enjoy re-leveling prot warriors over and over. The problem is of course when tanks still think they don't need the rest of the group after level 80. There will always be exceptions, but most tanks actually do need to care about the healers mana, some cc and where the rest of the group is before pulling. It's also not ok to assume that just because you had a vastly overpowered group the last time you did this, it'll be ok to treat the next group the same way. I can't say that a certain class of tanks suffer from this behavior more than others, it might be dks at early level 70s then, because they're usually really strong all through their 60s and don't actually have to have tankgear or tankspec to be able to tank. Wrath is getting really easy now too, but all of these tanks will get a surprise once they get to Cata instances.

2. Hurtful tanking behavior
I would've put "using Exorcism while tanking" here, but (un)fortunately it's paladin specific. But all tanks can do things that are very bad for their tanking, or at least for their survivability. The one I see most often is simply turning your back against the mobs. Again, this is something that many tanks "learn" from lowbie tanking. On low levels, mobs rarely do enough damage for you to care where it stands for any other reason than you being able to hit it. As soon as you wish to move from point A to point B you simply do what everyone else does - turn around and run there, not caring about having ten mobs hitting you in the back. Problem is, I know a couple of tanks that still don't know how to properly move from point A to point B all the way up to raiding! They probably learn damn fast that turning your back towards a raid boss isn't as forgiving as turning your back at some trash, but they've never done anything else and so they don't know what else to do. They start backing up instead. I don't know how many times I've heard the raid leader tell the tank "don't backpaddle, strafe!" and the tank just doesn't know how to do it. I'm definitely not saying it is easy, strafing around with your entire screen covered by someones crotch while trying to avoid shit on the ground. But that's probably exactly the reason why tanks should try and start practicing it as soon as possible, and not while they're standing there with the entire raid group counting on them.

1. Tanking is only about keeping aggro
What seems to be a typical way of thinking for many new tanks is that all that matters when you tank is that you keep aggro on the mobs. What they completely forget is the very reason to why keeping aggro on the mobs is so important in the first place - to minimize damage to the group. By focusing damage on one target, that also has tools to lower their damage taken, the healers will have a lot easier time to keep everyone alive. A while ago however I did Nexus on my druid and noticed that I had way less trouble healing the group when everyone was taking damage, than when the tank was desperately trying to keep everything on him. Because unfortunately, keeping aggro is far from the only thing a tank has to think about. If you take more damage than the healer can handle, then the mission has still failed. Sometimes, although rarely, it is actually better to let some dps offtank mobs than to try to grab everything yourself, this is especially true for lowbie instances. But what is even more important is to make sure you know exactly how to use your damage reduction cooldowns. The cooldowns are not some sort of bonus that are there to look pretty. They're a crucial part of your tanking rotation and you should know them just as well as you know your Mangle/Crusader Strike/Devastate/Icy Touch. At lower levels most tanks don't even have cooldowns. Warriors for example don't get their Shield Wall until level 48, and using it usually means turning the healer from "bored" to "comatose". Unfortunately this means I often meet tanks who either don't think, or just don't know, how important cooldowns are in endgame. Especially when raiding should tanks always keep their hp in the back of their heads and instantly lunge at their damage reduce cooldowns when they drop too fast (especially if you're prone to the issue of nr 4 in this list). I know very few tanks who are real masters of their cooldowns.  
(Disclaimer: This was written before the aggro nerf announcement, but imo it only proves my point).


  1. Sadly not everyone has learned these simple things by level 85 either.

    I nearly had a blow out on my alt Holy Paladin this weekend with that guild's druid tank because he decided to kite Shannox the *entire fight*. He had some weird idea that if he kited him he couldn't build stacks on him (which of course he could). It was driving me nuts because not only did it make healing difficult, the poor melee had to keep chasing after the boss.

    He later did the very same thing on Alysrazor when tanking the hatchling. Hatchling enrages and he turns around to run to a worm. Turns around! I'm caught out because he didn't call the enrage either and I don't get him up in time.

    We argue because I ask him not to turn his back towards the hatchling. He says he didn't, but I swear I saw bite marks on his big, furry ass!

    If he didn't, then bears must have the oddest strafe graphic in the game...

    He then proceeds to tell me he doesn't take more damage when his back is to the boss anyway. And sure, the ability doesn't hit harder from the back - but he seems to have forgotten that he can't dodge from behind! Arghs! (He actually wouldn't believe me at first when I said he won't dodge from behind.. I mean.. really? At level 85 with a 6/7 progression you don't know that? Isn't that like Tanking 101?)

    *deep breath* Sorry.. that memory still riles me up..

    I like your last point as well - I think tanks (at any level) who think that threat building is the only thing there is to tanking is doing it wrong. There's so much more than just threat.

  2. Great post, and one I think a lot of tanks should be reading, whether they are low level or high level. It also helps to actually read up on a few instances before jumping in as a new tank to it.

    I say this because while running Throne of Tides, I assume we had a new he died quite a bit. It was never a complete wipe however. It was mainly just the tank that died constantly, and then they left. Sometimes you don't even need an actual tank to complete an instance.

    At the second boss, the tank and DPS died, so we had 2 DPS and a healer with a boss at more than half HP. The hunter's pet tanked him til the boss died. Easy.

    As a healer, I notice that more often than not tanks don't pay attention to who else besides them has aggro. I get aggro a bit sometimes, and nobody helps. At all. So I'm thinking, they're just going to let the healer take damage and possibly die? Ugh.

    And when big pulls happen, there is that "oh crap" moment where everyone freezes. Even me, but if you think you can get through it, you more than likely will.

  3. Well, I have a lil Tank on the rise. Only 37 at the moment, but my wife has also has a Resto Shaman she is lvling up with me, bless her.

    I figure it iwll help see the other side of the Healer/Tank relationship for me.

    I went the Warrior route and will keep the pointers in this read up in mind. Thanks for the information!


  4. Very nice post on the pitfalls that many new tanks fall into, and 5 great points for new tanks to keep in mind.

    The problem with leveling a tank up through dungeons as a new tank is that the instances really don't teach you how important any of this is because they are very very easy. Especially if you get grouped with an alt in full heirloom gear who is basically soloing the instance (my lowbie hunter does 50% of the groups damage on every pull).

    The damage level of the mobs is too low to test survivability with only some bosses actually able to wipe the group. Anyone whose healed 1-70 since cata can tell you they are basically sleep healing so even when things go horribly wrong there's usually still not a wipe.

    Tanks can still learn how to tank properly while leveling but the instances simply don't force them too, they need to have read something like this post and keep its points in mind as they go to develop good habits.

    Outside sources are a fine avenue for people learning to tank (or indeed any role) on alts but new players often don't know about them. I feel there really should be some in game information similar to the dungeon finder that can deliver information as crucial as "you can't block, parry or dodge from behind". Would also be able nice to be able to link the entry in chat for encounters with players like Saga's bear druid =p

  5. @Saga
    I've had a couple of horribad experiences like that as well, plenty of tanks who, in raiding, still don't know that turning your back against a boss is a bad idea. Fortunately it doesn't take long for them to realize they're wrong.

    This is something that has always fascinated me as a healer - do they not notice that there is a big mob hitting on the person that is keeping everyone alive? This is why I had to pull out my "HEALER HAS AGGRO" macro for lowbie instances, I can recommend you get one as well ;P

    Hope they're helpful and that you enjoy tanking! It's awesome at its best.

    This is definitely true, and sometimes the gap between peasy instances and tough ones is too big, as it is between Wrath instances and going to Cata instances. The tank can run around in half dps gear and do pretty much what he likes and suddenly bam, none of that works anymore - and the whole party has to suffer while the tank basically relearns tanking from scratch...