July 22nd, 2011 by admin
Posted in Uncategorized

This past week or so has been pretty exciting for Alfred, my paladin. It’s essentially been his coming of age as a tank.

First was a Firelands run to kill trash mobs for Avengers of Hyjal reputation.  I was doing daily quests on Alfred when the guild leader starts organizing the night’s raid.  He’s asking if there are any tanks available, because they only had 1 tank for the raid so far.  I whispered him and said that I wasn’t sure if Alfred was geared up enough for that yet, but if he couldn’t find anybody else I was willing to give it a try.

I think Alfred’s item level at the time, in his tank set, was maybe about 340 or so.  Not quite so epic as one would like for a raid like this, but a moment later the guild leader whispered me back and said “OK let’s try it”.

The run went quite well, and in fact Alfred got some gear upgrades from drops and also from hitting “friendly” status and being able to buy stuff from the faction vendors.  A few days later we did it again, and once more things went pretty well.

Alfred Goes A’ Raidin’

About a week ago, a night or two after the previous Firelands run, Alfred was invited to another raid.  At first I thought it was going to be another Firelands trash mob run, but then it turned out we were going to Blackwing Descent.  Also in the raid was one of the guild’s über paladin tanks, so I figured I was there just as backup.  So imagine my surprise when I’m told that I’m gonna be the main tank for the Magmaw fight!

It took us two tries to get Magmaw down, which is better than most of the times I’d done that fight with Romy.  We did the next four bosses in one fight each, with Alfred as main tank each time.  We saved Nefarion for another night because it was getting late and some of the East Coast people had to go.

We went back the next evening for Nefarion and although we didn’t get him down, we came awfully close.  We’re pretty confident that the next trip into BWD will do it.

Last night was Bastion of Twilight, and Alfred was once again asked to tank.  I’d done this instance once before on Alfred, as a healer, but this raid was farther into the run than I’d been before, even on Romy.  First up was the Twilight Ascendant Council.  We one-shot them.  Next stop, the final boss in the run, Cho’Gall.

We had a good long explanation of the fight before we started, and at first I was a little concerned about remembering all the details.  However, it turned out that tanking it was somewhat easier than it sounded at first.  Cho’Gall took us a few tries, but about 90 minutes after the raid started, he was dead.  They were dead… er… whatever.

I didn’t know this in advance, but apparently this was the guild’s first Cho’Gall kill.  It’s probably just as well I didn’t know that until afterwards… no need for extra pressure.

The Transition To Tank

When I changed one of Alfred’s talent specs from retribution to protection awhile back, the main reason was that I figured he would have a better chance at getting into runs. I still considered his main specification to be healing, but this way I’d be able to go on runs when another healer was already in the group.

The results were not what I expected. I knew the game was currently somewhat understaffed with regards to tanks, despite the fact that it’s a viable option for more classes than ever before. But I didn’t fully understand how bad the problem really was until I realized that over the course of the first few weeks after changing talents, I’d taken Alfred into a group as tank at least a dozen times, but only healed once.

After awhile I decided maybe I should just go with the flow and cultivate Alfred’s tanking side and concentrate more on building up his set of tanking gear.  I’m enjoying it so far, but I’m wondering if this move might not ultimately leave Sunny, my L85 warrior who is also a tank, out in the cold.  Yah, yah, yah, I could play Sunny as a DPS toon, but melee DPS has simply never appealed to me that much.

Tanking Is A Hard Knock Life

Why is there such a shortage of tanks? I have some ideas about that.

First of all, tanking is not easy.  The tank is generally expected to also be the leader of the run, in most respects.  They’re expected to know all of the fight mechanics and the proper tactics.  They’re expected to know which mobs to mark, which mobs need to be (and CAN be) crowd-controlled, and so forth.

Healers have an important job that isn’t always easy to execute, but in principle it’s pretty straightforward.  Heal and/or cleanse the tank and other players as needed.  Maybe fear or shackle something.  Don’t stand in the swirly, fiery, gooey crap on the floor.

DPS toons are also generally pretty straightforward.  Damage the mobs.  Don’t stand in the swirly, fiery, gooey crap on the floor.  Maybe once in awhile you polymorph, trap, or banish something.  Try not to pull aggro from the tank.  And frankly, we all know that most DPS toons don’t pay much attention to that last one.

Tanks are the most complicated job all.  They have to pull the mobs, making sure they don’t accidentally get other mobs patrolling nearby.  They have to aggro the mobs, maybe as many as 5 or 6 at a time, sometimes even more, depending on the fight and the options you have for crowd control.  They have to keep an eye out for the silly DPS players who are shooting at the wrong target at the wrong time, so they can pull back the mobs that go after them.  They have to avoid the same crap on the floor everybody else does.  Sometimes they have to position the mob in a certain place, even when it doesn’t always want to move.

Another issue is that tanking is very gear dependant, and with Paladins, Warriors, and Death Knights all competing for plate armor, it can take awhile to get yourself properly equipped. Until then, your lower health and defensive stats make you into a bigger drain on your healer’s mana, which in turn impacts their ability to keep up the rest of the group as well.

Another problem with tanks and gear is the fact that many players are either unaware of what gear they should be looking for, or they simply don’t care if an item makes more sense for a different player. Often a DPS toon will roll on a tank item just because it’s a higher item level than whatever they already have. And there’s plenty of gear which works equally well for a tank or for a DPS toon where it’s reasonable for either to roll.

Tanks also frequently have to worry about player aggro as well as mobs.  In Alfred’s first runs as an L85 tank, when grouped with people I didn’t know, I found that they tended to be incredibly unforgiving about any mistakes or shortcomings.  This can be very discouraging to a newbie tank just starting out.

Even worse, many of these players will essentially blame the tank for failing to compenstate for THEIR mistakes. I can’t tell you how many times I have marked targets with a Skull or an “X” to indicate the kill order, and then have the DPS ignore the marks and attack whatever mob they want.   When I’d remind them they should be attacking the skull first, I’d hear some variation of “STFU and tank the mobs” more often than I’d hear, “Oh yeah, sorry about that.”

Case In Point: General Umbriss in Grim Batol

Tanks almost always get the blame when things go bad because people don’t know the fight, or when they fail to execute their part correctly. My favorite variation on that idea is the General Umbriss fight in Grim Batol, on heroic mode. This is not an extremely complicated fight, really. The main thing the tank really has to do is move Umbriss to the front of the area, off to one side, in order to give the group room to deal with his Blitz attack and with the adds.

When Umbriss targets someone for his Blitz attack, that person and anybody standing next to them have to move about 10-15 yards out of the way or they’ll take some major damage.  The other thing is that Umbriss will periodically summon a group of non-elite Troggs from the back of the room.  These need to be burned down by ranged DPS as soon as they appear, especially the purple-tinged one(s), or they’ll kill everybody in the group fairly quickly, starting with the healer.

Simple fight, really, but I’ve seen group after group where people didn’t move for the Blitz attack and where the DPS ignored the Troggs until the healer was dead and they were under attack themselves.  And at the end of it, after the group wipes… who gets the blame?  That’s right, it’s the tank’s fault.

Crowd Control?  We don’t need no stinkin’ crowd control!

And then there’s those people who think they know better than the tank about when crowd control is needed. I could never understand this, because if a newbie tank suggests it might be a good idea to have only three mobs pounding on him at once instead of five, it seems like people ought to listen. Yet, on several occasions I’ve had people insist that crowd control was unnecessary even AFTER the group has wiped on trash mobs.  Or even worse, your hunter does throw down an ice trap, or your mage polymorphs, or whatever, and there’s some other DPS toon that simply doesn’t care, or notice, and breaks the crowd control three seconds into the fight.

Job Training

Another thing to consider is that the tank really has no option other than on the job training.   Soloing mobs on a tank is much easier than tanking in a group because you’re generally not worried about what other players might be doing, and if you lose aggro on a mob it’s usually a GOOD thing in that context.

DPS toons don’t do things much differently in a group situation than when they’re soloing.  In fact in most respects they have it easier than when soloing, because they generally don’t have to worry about being attacked.

Healers can practice their spell rotations on any friendly toons.  The main thing being in a group does is add some randomness and pressure to succeed.

In Conclusion

I haven’t given up on Alfred as a healer.  One advantage of the various tanking activities is the opportunity to pick up pieces of healing gear that isn’t needed by anybody else in the run.  Alfred’s healing set is coming along nicely, even if not as fast as his tanking set or DPS set.  And it helps that the various Firelands vendors usually have items for all three of Alfred’s gear sets.

Well, that’s all for now… gotta go do my daily quests before it’s time for tonight’s raid!  Nefarion WILL die!

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