Tanking for Dummies

Props to the Off-Tank
March 9, 2009, 12:01 am
Filed under: Raiding | Tags: , ,


“Main Tank”

Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?  “Main Tank” definitely conjures up some pretty bold images.  Maybe an M-1 Abrahms, or some crazy German Panzer.  At the very least, for some of us, it conjures up images of some guy with a landshark hat and a spiked car door who was so much better, faster, and richer than you that your hard earned gold just up and walked out of your bags for the privilege of paying his repair bill.

The job of “Main Tank” was the prerogative of the warrior.  We had access to every mitigation stat and the itemization to back it up.  Blizzard invariably found ways to make us look like a moron in the gear they gave us, but damned if they didn’t bend over backwards to make sure we had gear.  We were the tanks and the “Main Tank” was the best damn warrior a group could find most of the time.  The name was practically synonymous with excellence, and thanks to the ridiculous looking armor it was pretty easy to pick out who was a main tank at the mailbox.

I know many who still operate under these assumptions.  Let me assure you that the world is a very different place, and especially for warriors, it is time to take a whole new look at things.  It is the year of the elite off-tank, that is for sure.

“Wait a minute,” you might say. “I have been main tanking for my raid for years.  What gives?”

Well, the truth of the matter is, encounter design has changed fundamentally from what it once was.  This is not just true in terms of what bosses do, but in terms of what abilities are at our disposal.  Certain aspects of the game that were paramount just are not anymore.  The “Threat Game” for example, is really not that intimidating anymore.  Stance Dancing is finished.  And some of the greatest challenges left for the “Main Tank,” such as Sartharion’s Flame Breath when attempting the 3 Drakes, often feel like they are largely dependent on the reactions of others.  I have now “Main Tanked” every encounter in Wrath, and “Off Tanked” most of those that use one and I feel that I can safely say that I found it significantly more challenging and essential to be on top of my game in the latter role.  Let me perform something of a comparison using the most challenging encounter in the game at the moment The Twilight Zone Achievement.

Sartharion + 3 Drakes = P.I.T.A.

In the event that you have not tried this yet, let me assure you that all the rumors are true.  This fight feels to me like a slightly tamer version of Felmyst.  It involves coordination, and serious situational awareness that is as yet unmatched in Wrath.

Just not on the part of the Main Tank.

The primary challenge to the Main Tank in this fight is keeping an eye out for three abilities.  Flame Breath (ye ol’ standard frontal dragon breath), Void Zones (small areas of instant death slightly larger than a player’s avatar), and Lava Tsunami (a variable wall of lava with holes that moves across the battlefield with a knock-back effect).  As long as Shadron is up the first of these abilities will instantly kill you; the second will pretty much kill you regardless of the circumstance, and the third will likely knock you out of range of the healers, killing you in effect.  However, these abilities happen somewhat infrequently, and the first of them is only the responsibility of the Tank but once per fight.  (For the record, this is because you use a chain sequence of Shield Wall, Hand of Salvation, Guardian Spirit, etc to avoid instant death, only the first of which is the Tank’s prerogative).  The latter two require only a slight adjustment, essentially the movement of a body length.  In all, this feels like the biggest challenge is staying focused enough to not miss the raid warnings – pretty mild stuff by historical standards.

Compare this to the job of the Off-Tanks.

This fight uses between 3 and 4 off-tanks (Axiom uses 4 at current) whose jobs alternate (!) between wrangling adds and wrangling the Drakes.  The drakes themselves handle very much like Sartharion, which is to say, at the least, the Off-Tank’s job is as difficult as the Main Tank.  Wrangling adds is a different story all together.  First off, The drakes summon portals which produce adds that need to be tanked.  The portals are summoned at random and the adds regularly take longer to spawn physically than they decide to start attacking.  Then there are the fire elementals. Though many theories abound I will state that I believe that (like Onyxia’s Breath was proved to be) the number and location of the spawns are totally random.  They at least seem random.  And they are damn dangerous.  First off, because the number is random you get a seemingly endless supply of them.  Secondly, if they are exposed to the Lava Tsunami, they will enrage and enraged elementals are pretty fatal.  It will be very difficult for any but the best geared tanks to survive more than three.  Needless to say, it is a pretty hectic beat that will require your complete attention and every ability in your arsenal.  You will be moving all over the map, and, (did I mention?) swapping roles with other off-tanks as needed.

So you will pardon me if I think that you want your most skilled tanks as off tanks for this fight.

Off-Tanking Will Make You a Better Main Tank

I would posit, based on my experience, that the most challenging fights to Main Tank at the moment are the ones that require you to move the boss over a large distance or risk substantial damage to the raid.  The best example that I can think of at the moment is the first phase of Malygos, but to a certain extent, Anub’rhekan and Grobbulus are similar.  The skills that this draws upon are situational awareness (where are the other raid members?!) and anticipation of how the mob will move (no!  don’t path that way!), both of which are well practiced as an Off-tank.

Also, as implied in the Twilight Zone example above, Off-Tanking often asks that you use all the tools in the toolbox and will make you reconsider habits you might have (“Just how worthwhile is devastate anyway?”).  Rage starvation is a pretty rare occurrence nowadays, but it does happen to Off-Tanks.

Plus, there is always something to be said for sharing (even if Veneretio went and contradicted himself).  The worst that might happen is that your current Off-Tanks might realize how easy you have it.


6 Comments so far
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THANK YOU. I have been a “professional” offtank for most of my WoW raiding career, at least through BC and now into Lich King…we already had an established main tank so I ended up falling into the role of the third tank in BC 25-mans. Now that we’ve added a DK, I’m actually the fourth tank if everybody shows up, which means that a lot of the time in Naxx, I’m not even tanking. I’m pseudo-DPSing. Lawlz DPS in prot gear.

That having been said, our raid gets it about tanks. Any of the four of us are capable of tanking just about any of the encounters, and we rotate jobs around during runs so that generally, all of us will MT and OT a fight or two at least.

Off-tanking is definitely more…active, I guess? Even on a mobile fight like Grobbulus, where the OT is switching targets, taunting slimes and grabbing them and pulling them away, it’s more than just “oh, Grobby farted, back up 10 steps.” And if you’re a designated OT like I often am, there’s single-tank fights like Maexxna and Heigan where you’re going to be doing basically nothing but trying to DPS with a one-hander and shield and no rage.

As for Sarth, you couldn’t be more right. I MTd on our Sarth +0 and Sarth +1 kills and once you learn the positioning, it’s cake. We had our DK with over 40k health MT on our Sarth +2 kill, our warrior MT did drake-wrangling, and the paladin and I did whelp- and elemental-gathering. INSANITY. I don’t think I’ve worked that hard in a fight in a long, long time. Getting my face eaten by Kel’thuzad was nothing compared to trying to run around wrangling fire elementals and keep them from getting hit by flame walls.

Comment by Lewis

[…] to the offtank Tarsus over at Tanking for Dummies has a great post about the offtank and why he’s important.  As somebody who’s been an offtank for, eh, […]

Pingback by Ode to the offtank « Achtung Panzercow

@ Lewis – The DPS role of the off tank will definitely improve with Dual-Specs, though our DPS has improved markedly from BC. We’ll see what is in store for Off-Tanks come Ulduar, but I think that, if anything, the role of the Off-tank will only become more demanding and necessary from here on out.

Comment by Tarsus

Hehe, I prefer to call it telling the other side of the story rather than contradicting ;)

Comment by Veneretio

@ Veneretio – Perhaps I should have said “seemingly contradict” ^_~

Still, I will hope for the dedicated “Main Tanks” out there, there are more exciting things on the horizon in Ulduar. It does seem to me that off tanks (or add tanks?) get all the challenging fun these days.

Comment by Tarsus

I have to agree completely with this. I’ve only done sarth once and was on add duty. I’ve had few tanking jobs that busy. I also off tanked in Nax, and it was relaxing to get to MT a couple bosses.

IMO…longer range taunts, heroic throw, and warbringer ftw!

Comment by BillyWallace

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