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Spiritual Guidance: A priest's guide to tanks

It was just another Sunday when Fox Van Allen woke to the mid morning sun on his face. He sat up groggily and looked around his quiet apartment. A moment passed before he realized something was wrong -- it wasn't here. "Not again ..." he muttered, his brows pressed in frustration. It must have gone back to her again. "Dawn Moore ..." he sneered while pulling himself out of bed. He didn't know what it saw in her. "Priest healing ... Bah! Who would want to do that?" Still, Fox sighed, his doubts gnawing at him. Why was Spiritual Guidance so fickle?

I love tanks. Likewise, there have been many tanks who have loved me.

There is nothing more beautiful than the love between a tank and a healer. It's actually a little known fact that every great love song ever written was written about a tank and healer. Every little thing she does is magic? Totally sung by a tank. Don't leave me this way: sung by a healer. Still don't believe me? Check out Heroes by David Bowie; it was actually originally written as a tank x healer duet. Just look at the lyrics:
"And you, you can be mean,
And I, I'll drink all the time."
See? So, if you want to find your great tank love, if you want a tank that knows how and when to blow each and every one of his cooldowns to maximize every lasting second of your epic encounters together, then you are going to have to rise up and meet him. You need to be the healer his healer could heal like (if she stopped playing hybrid-spec player classes.) Luckily, you're already a priest, the most alluring of healing classes, but don't think that's enough. You need to be more than just some healer who heals him -- you need to understand him. That is today's goal.

The information in this article is meant to give you a better understanding of how each tanking class works. It won't teach you how to tank, but it will briefly explain tank cooldowns and what you can expect as a healer. While the information should be helpful to all priests, it will probably be more useful for 5-man or 10-man content, where priests of either spec (yes, I'm talking to you, holy priests!) are more likely to be wearing different hats at different points in an encounter.

Warriors

Just as priests used to be thought of as "the one true healer," warriors were once similarly known for being "the one true tank." (The warrior ability Shield Wall has even been adopted by other tank classes as a way to describe their own, damage mitigating cooldown ability.) Times have changed quite a lot since vanilla, but warriors are still strong, well-rounded tanks.

Basics: A warrior is a "block class," meaning he can use a shield to mitigate a lot of incoming melee damage. (Warriors can also dodge and parry, so don't make the mistake of thinking all they do is block.) You can expect incoming damage on him to be consistent in size and speed. If the damage is or becomes irregular, focus your heals on him and be ready to use a cooldown on him if his health drops below 30%. A warrior should be able to handle the damage of multiple mobs due to his shield, but like all classes, if he is being hit from behind you should pay close attention to his health.

Threat: Warrior threat requires a lot of maintenance to upkeep. If you find yourself running with a less seasoned warrior, be ready to use Fade; especially in pulls with multiple mobs.

Priest concerns
: If you read the official priest forums, there is not a week that goes by without someone asking if priest shields, like Power Word: Shield, negatively affect warrior rage generation. The answer is no. A priest's shields allow warriors to generate rage just as they always do. This has been the case since patch 3.1.

Primary cooldowns: Additional information for overachievers: A warrior can also use Shield Block every minute (40 seconds if talented) for 10 seconds. Shield Block will increase a warrior's chance to block by 100% and double his block value. If you don't understand what that means, just know that this is a shorter but smaller cooldown for warriors to use.

Warriors can also heal themselves for 30% of their health (40% if glyphed) with Enraged Regenration ever 3 minutes.

Paladins

Protection paladins are a dime a dozen in numbers, but like all classes, the diamonds are harder to find. A good paladin tank is versatile and excels at AoE tanking.

Basics: Paladins are similar to warriors in that they use a shield (plus dodge and parry) to mitigate damage. Also like warriors, damage taken is consistent and usually predictable once you're comfortable with a fight's mechanics. If the consistency of the incoming damage changes, have a cooldown ready while you focus your heals. A paladin can comfortably handle the damage from tanking multiple mobs at once; but again, problems will arise if he ever takes damage from behind so watch his positioning.

Threat: Paladins should have no trouble generating threat.

Priest concerns: On very rare occasions, usually in a 5-man dungeon, you might run into a prot paladin with mana problems, who tries to blame it on Power Word: Shield. The justification for this is that paladin tanks gain additional mana from Spiritual Attunement, which converts effective healing they receive into mana (overhealing doesn't count.) The talent returns 10% of the effective healing as mana (12% if glyphed), but it's more "icing on the cake" than a bulk of his mana regeneration. He still has Divine Plea and Guarded by the Light, and in most situations (any raid) he is always going to be taking enough damage to warrant healing him anyway. Should you ever run into this situation though, just be polite and stop shielding him.

Primary cooldowns
:
  • Ardent Defender -- This passive talent will reduce all incoming damage by 20% whenever the paladin tank is below 35% health. Also, should the paladin ever be struck with a killing blow he will immediately be healed for up to 30% of his health instead of dying. The heal effect has a 2 minute cooldown. (A note to holy priests: If the paladin has Guardian Spirit on him, it will be consumed before the heal effect of Ardent Defender procs.)
  • Divine Protection -- This is a paladin's Shield Wall. It mitigates all incoming damage by 50% for 12 seconds on a 3 minute cooldown.
Additional information for overachievers: I mentioned earlier that paladins are comfortable handling multiple mobs at once. This is because of Holy Shield, which increases a paladins chance to block by 30%. It has 8 charges and an 8 second cooldown; the low cooldown means that a paladin is rarely without the extra 30% chance to block.

A paladin may occasionally choose to use Lay on Hands on himself instead of Divine Protection. If he does this he will not be able to use Divine Protection until the 2 minute Forbearance debuff he acquires fades.

Druids

Almost the opposite of paladin tanks, feral druid tanks are unusually rare, especially in random heroic dungeons. I suspect this has to do with the many negative misconceptions that accompany druids. Do not buy into what the skeptics have to say though; druids are extremely capable tanks (even with the dodge debuff in Icecrown Citadel) and offer great raid utility when paired with a skilled priest.

Basics: A druid deals with incoming damage by sporting extremely large health pools, dodging incoming attacks, and thwarting damage with defensive abilities like Survival of the Fittest and Savage Defense. The damage that druid tanks take will be much larger than that of warriors or paladins, but it is manageable because their large health pools act as a sponge. Druids will have more trouble handling the damage from multiple mobs, since Savage Defense will only go up as quickly as the tank hits its targets with critical attacks.

Threat: Druids should have no trouble generating threat.

Priest concerns: Just as it is with warriors, feral druids will have no problems generating rage through a Power Word: Shield. However, due to the large health pools of druids, it can sometimes (let me stress: sometimes) be difficult to keep up with the damage on him. Discipline can respond quickly to the damage, but her lower HPS makes getting the tank to full a difficult task. Holy has the raw power to heal druids up with to full, but might have trouble responding to any incoming burst since she lacks an instant cast "nuke" healing spell. Please take in mind this is not the fault or shortcoming of the druid tank, simply some challenges that priests specifically have to deal with. Generally though, healing a druid tank isn't rough and incoming damage is steady.

Primary cooldowns:
  • Barkskin -- This is the feral druid's Shield Wall. It reduces incoming damage by 20% for 12 seconds, on a 1 minute cooldown. The short cooldown allows druid tanks to use this cooldown quite liberally.
  • Survival Instincts -- This is the druid's Last Stand, increasing the tank's health by 30% (45% if glyphed) for 20 seconds on a 3 minute cooldown.
  • Frenzied Regeneration -- Heals the druid for a percentage of his maximum health over 10 seconds, once every 3 minutes.
Additional information for overachievers: Druids will occasionally heal themselves a small amount from Improved leader of the Pack.

In order for a druid tank to cast Rebirth or Innervate while tanking, a priest cooldown (Guardian Spirit or Pain Suppression) plus Barkskin is typically required. Using voice chat, instruct your tank to call for your cooldown when he is ready to shift out of bear form. When he makes the call and you've cast it on him, immediately confirm that it's up so he can quickly change forms and do his business. This maneuver is not difficult but does require solid communication and coordination to avoid a dead tank.

Death Knights

Death knights are the kindred spirits of discipline priests. Early in Wrath of the Lich King, when gear was bad and players were still learning their class, death knights developed a stigma for being squishy tanks. At the time, death knights took "spiky" damage, meaning they would take large amounts of damage at seemingly random intervals. This was terrifying to many healers, who were not yet accustomed to the yo-yo effect that would become the signature trait of WotLK on player health pools.

Fortunately, at the same time death knights appeared, so did discipline specced raiding priests; and they came conveniently equipped with all the right tools to heal the pioneer tanks. Soon a loving and symbiotic relationship formed, and to this day death knights are still my favorite tanks to heal.

Basics: Despite initial troubles adapting, death knight tanks don't really take damage that is much more spiky than other tanks. Like with druid tanks, the damage received will be larger than what you see on warriors and paladins, but it will still come at a consistent pace and quantity. It's especially important to communicate your cooldowns with death knights since they have more of their own cooldowns to use.

Threat: A death knight tank has no AoE taunt, but should not have trouble holding threat on mobs once he has their attention. In fights with add spawns, be ready to use Fade in order to help out the tank. Additionally, death knight tanks are excellent at tanking caster mobs with his Strangulate and Death Grip abilities.

Priest concerns: There is nothing special to keep in mind when healing death knight tanks.

Primary cooldowns:
  • Icebound Fortitude -- This is the death knight's Shield Wall, reducing all incoming damage by 41% (when defense capped) for 12 seconds (18 seconds if talented) every 2 minutes.
  • Anti-magic Shell -- This ability has a 5 second (7 second if glyphed) duration which will mitigate 75% of all incoming spell damage, up to 50% of the tank's health.
  • Death Pact -- The death knight can instantly restore 40% of their hit points, every 2 minutes, by sacrificing one of his undead minions. (Note that Raise Dead has a 3 minute cooldown, and Army of the Dead has a 10 minute cooldown. Those numbers can be reduced with talents.)
  • Army of the Dead -- When the death knight summons his Army of the Dead, they will temporarily distract the engaged mob or mobs. The tank will also gain additional mitigation based on his dodge and parry stats.
Additional information for overachievers: Technically, all death knight specs can tank, but the majority are presently tanking in the blood spec. An additional cooldown for blood specced death knight tanks is Vampiric Blood + Rune Tap -- Since Rune Tap heals based on a percentage of health, using it just after Vampiric Blood (which increases your total health) will maximize the amount healed. (With Improved Rune Tap, you can double the amount healed and lower the cooldown by 30 seconds.)

If you don't know how to identify a death knight tank, look at his buffs for an above average health pool and Frost Presence.

Basics of tank healing for priests

I've mentioned tank healing several times before but as a recap:
  • Keep Inspiration up on the tank, even if you're not assigned to the tank. The only exception to this is if you have a more pressing raid role (such as bubble spamming on the Lich King.)
  • Apply Prayer of Mending to your tank everytime it is off cooldown.
  • Keep Power Word: Shield and Renew up on your tank as much as a possible.
  • Try to hold your big, instant cast heals for larger amounts of damage a tank takes. Fill in the gaps with smaller cast heals when damage is manageable.
  • Communication is key to coordinating cooldown usage. While some fights will have a predetermined point at which to use your cooldowns, there will be others where you just have to go with your gut. In those cases, a quick dialogue between you and your tank will maximize the spread of your various cooldowns.
  • When a tank cooldown drops off, be ready to heal your tank harder just in case he is still taking large sums of damage.
So that covers the basics. I would encourage every priest to at least committing the cooldown sections of each tank class to memory. Even if it doesn't actively help you heal, it will improve your understanding of boss fights by understanding the tanking side of things. Ultimately, understanding the tanks will help you keep your party alive through them.

And don't forget what I told you about those love songs. This one was written by a tank.

Want to find more great tips for carrying out your priestly duties? Spiritual Guidance has you covered with all there is to know. Check out Holy 101 or Disc 101 for an introduction to healing as a priest, or assess yourself for advice on how to improve yourself as a healer and raider.

Filed under: Priest, (Priest) Spiritual Guidance

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