Monday, June 29, 2009

Dr. FailTank

Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Say You Suck.

This past weekend I was having a conversation with another tank from our guild. His Mage alt was in two separate groups that completely fell apart mid-run, both times due to the ineptitude of the respective tank. That conversation inspired this post.

Tanks have a lot on their plate during a run - situational awareness, status of cooldowns, proper pulling, etc - but you can boil the general job description of a tank down into three interrelated goals:
  1. Stay Alive
  2. Protect Your Healers
  3. Generate Threat
Accomplishing these goals leads to success. It's that simple. You can break each bullet down further and get to the minutiae, but, in general, this is what a tank absolutely needs to do.

So, what are the "FailTanks" missing?

Goal #1: Stay Alive

Don't sing the BeeGees song. Seriously. Don't.

Gearing yourself is the first step in accomplishing this goal. Most people know what tank gear looks like and how they should gear their tank. Whether you follow the Mitigation philosophy, the Avoidance philosophy, or some combination of the two is up to you, but tank gear is generally obviously tank gear. If the tank in your run isn't wearing "proper" tank gear, they are beyond anyone's help and I apologize.

The other step is learning what your cooldowns do. Tanks have emergency cooldowns to blow and they should learn what they are and when to use them. This is a little bit trickier and subject to interpretation, but I can't imagine even the n00biest n00b Warrior not understanding what Last Stand and Shield Wall are. Again, if they don't, they are beyond help. Tell them it's time to reroll.

Goal #2: Protect Your Healers

I believe most tanks understand this one as well. It directly impacts #1 (Dead Healer = Dead Tank).

If your tank is working with one target breathing in that target's general direction is usually enough to keep that target off of the healers. Really. It doesn't take much.

If more than one target is involved and/or there are adds in the fight, a tank needs to understand that healers draw "global" aggro: meaning that every heal puts them on every mobs' radar. Adds will generally go straight for the healer for this very reason, but, again, it doesn't take a lot for the tank to get their attention.

Goal #3: Generate Threat

Ahh, the mystical concept of "Threat." What causes threat? Damage, heals, buffs, and debuffs all to various degrees. There are also modifiers (i.e. higher threat generated when in Defensive Stance) and certain abilities have innate, or built-in, threat.

Here, in my opinion, is what puts the "Fail" into FailTank.

I've encountered more people than I care to think about who have not understood how to generate threat as a tank. Their gear is usually fine...they know the benchmarks and thresholds and gear themselves to achieve them. They know that the healer must be protected and are more than willing to pull anything off of a healer at any point in the fight. Their deficiency, then, is the inability to generate threat because they don't understand either the concept itself or how to maximize their threat with the abilities that are at their disposal.

Tanks have abilities that, as it often says in the tooltip, "generate a high amount of threat." That means they have innate threat, or, threat that is generated simply because you used that ability. Take the amount of the innate threat, add the amount of damage done, and factor in any multipliers to figure out how much threat that particular ability generates in total. Threat is more than simply the damage done, and a good rotation will recognize that.

Good threat generation allows DPS to do their job while holding back as little as possible. If DPSers can't do their thing, the fight takes longer. If the fight takes longer, the healers mana pool may start to run short. See #1.

How do you maximize threat? Go find someone who's posted a rotation/priority list of abilities that can get you started. Do a little homework, that's all. Use the blogs in my blogroll as a starting point if you need to, but figure out how to generate as much threat per second as possible so your DPSers have room to work.

The bottom line is, people who think that wearing some plate and having a large amount of health makes them a good tank are exceptionally mistaken, and the tank is too important of a role in a group to allow for that level of ignorance.

Career tanks are generally not the problem (note I said generally). Usually it's the person who rolled a tank as an alt (I'm looking at you, Death Knights) and hasn't taken the time to understand their new class as well as they understood their main. When the lack of understanding starts hurting others, though, if becomes unacceptable.

Don't be a FailTank! Do your homework. Learn what you should/shouldn't be doing. Study tanking in general and tanking as a (insert your class here) specifically.

Trust me, your group will thank you.


inmysissyrobe said...

This is a really good post - and nicely validating in that I have dangling my feet in the tanking pool lately. I'm only a baby-tank but I'm glad to see that I'm not DOIN IT WRONG, at least theorywise :)

I've whinged before that people see healers as a weird totemic device that keeps you alive just by its presence - I think something similar goes on with tanking actually, in that a lot of PUGS I've healed have been aware that There Is A Thing Called The Tank and an instance group needs one to fuction ... but nobody (including, often, the guy assigned to the role) has a clue what it actually *means*, beyond having someone in platemail standing at the front.

I think it's the distinction (which you nail in point 3) between *attacking the enemy* and *generating threat*.

Misneach said...

You're exactly 100% right about the "totemic device" view of tanks and healers. Because they don't understand the mechanics they think "Hey, I can do that" and roll a tank thinking that all they have to do is stand in front of a boss and that will be enough to be the group's savior.

Tanking is an entirely different mindset than dps, but all it takes is a little bit of research to understand what you should be doing as a tank.

Alas, some people are above such petty chores as research.

Temitope said...

My favourite bit of FailTank logic is the inability to distinguish between "Pulling Aggro" and "Holding Aggro".

Back when Tamarind and I were doing one of our early, doomed UK runs, we ran with a Death Knight who, after pulling aggro off me a couple of times (because for some reason I couldn't generate more threat than his Death Grip - guess my rotation was wrong) suggested that he should tank because he could "pull aggro easily with spells" (with spells, you say? I always wondered what those colourful buttons at the bottom of my screen were).

Partly out of a desire to give the guy a chance, and partly out of a certain sense of vindictive pleasure, I let him.

Of course in the next pull he death gripped the nearest mob, unloaded a full whack of single-target damage into it, and then looked confused when the other two mobs that he had *completely ignored* killed the rest of the party.

Misneach said...

@Temitope: Brilliant. Nothing's better than standing back and letting someone prove to everyone else that they are, in fact, and idiot.

I haven't touched my DK in months, but I believe Death Grip forces the mob to attack the DK for a period of time. I may be wrong, but I think it works like a taunt...which would explain why he was pulling aggro off of you with it.

Misneach said...

*an* idiot, that is. Stupid morning typing.

Temitope said...

I may be wrong, but I think it works like a taunt.
Yes, it does. I wasn't being entirely serious when I wondered it it was my rotation. I've just seen a depressing number of people who think that if they taunt off me it's somehow *my* fault when they get attacked.

Misneach said...

I'm usually so good at spotting sarcasm even in written form. I have disappointed myself.

Zaphind said...

There you guys go, picking on Death Knights again. Sigh... if only so many of us didn't deserve it. I've written a post about my woes; you may want to send the noob DKs to read it.

Misneach said...

Excellent post, Zaphind. Thanks for the link.

Trust me, it's not just DK's. I've encountered many, many Warriors who have no concept on how to play the class, too.

You DK's are in the unfortunate position of being a new class that just about everybody rolled as an alt. The result: much idiocy.