Last week, I touched on how to evaluate your tanking performance via logs. One of the major points of that column was to check out your efficiency with Crusader Strike, also known as the heartbeat of the protection paladin rotation. One of the best ways to improve yourself in that aspect of tanking (along with a host of other aspects) is through the generous use of keybinding.
It's an age-old debate -- clickers vs. keybinders -- but in the end, keybinding is probably the most momentous step you can take to bring your A-game to a boss fight. Adopting this tecnique will pay major dividends to your rotational efficiency, survivability, and response times.
Three big reasons. The first is that relying on keybinds rather than moving your mouse and pecking a specific button promotes much faster reaction times. With practice, you'll develop ridiculous muscle memory speeds that will allow you to activate abilities in a fraction of the time that clicking would. This is hugely important when it comes to cooldowns or any other survival ability. Sometimes life and death depend on getting that cooldown popped as soon as humanly possible, and a second lost hunting for that ability on your screen could be all that's needed for you to be finished off.
Tanks live and die by corner cases and thrive on doing everything they can to prevent the worst. This cannot be an exception to that rule.
Likewise, keybindings promote better situational awareness and raid focus. If you're looking at the bars on your screen, trying to find the next ability to click, you're not really looking at what's going on around you -- at least, not with the same amount of focus that would be if you weren't busy counting the leaves on the trees while the forest does its own thing in the background. Tanking requires a good amount of focus, to watch when boss abilities are coming up, spot new adds entering the fray, see if someone needs a Hand of Whatever tossed onto them, etc.
You can't devote that kind of focus to the raid if you're looking for wherever the hell it was you put that Healthstone on your bars.
A look at the keyboard
In my particular case, I rest my left hand around the classic WASD keys: index finger on D, middle finger on W, ring finger on A, pinky on Shift, thumb on the space bar. This opens up a range of keybinds possibilities that I color-coded in the following image:
Some people prefer to use ESDF instead of WASD, which isn't a bad idea. It frees up more real estate on your left. I'm use to WASD at this point and it provides more binds than I need, so I'm OK with it. Your mileage may vary.
I also use a Logitech mouse with five buttons on it, three on the left side, two up by the left button. Mouses with extra buttons are awesome for easy-to-reach extra keybinds, and I recommend getting one if you're so inclined. You don't need to go as crazy as a mouse with a nigh-keyboard on the side of it, but at least three more buttons could be a huge help.
Moreover, I use Shift as my primary key modifier. I've used alt in the past, but I couldn't nail down the dexterity to swing it properly. In any case, in the image above, there's a total of 23 unmodified keys available to be bound; with shift, that goes up to 46. A world of possibilities! Think of all the abilities, items, and macros you can keybind now.
An end to keyboard turning
First things first isn't what you should bind but what you should unbind -- namely, the left turn and right turn keys, which are defaulted to A and D. Hit Esc, go into your keybinding menu, and unbind those suckers ASAP. In their place, make A strafe left and D strafe right. And from then on out, if you need to turn around, you can hold down your right mouse button to rotate the screen and, by extension, spin your character.
Keyboard turning is the most grievous of the clicker habits that abound in WoW. By slowly rotating your character, you are severely impacting your ability to respond to movement demands in the fight. Picking up adds that emerge behind you will take many seconds more to deal with than for a tank who can do a 180 with an immediate pivot.
What abilities to keybind
There are four main groups you want to have readily keybound. The most important, as mentioned above, are your cooldowns. A self-Word of Glory macro, a self-Lay on Hands macro, Holy Shield, Divine Protection, Guardian of Ancient Kings, Divine Guardian, Ardent Defender, and even Divine Shield -- you want all of those readily available at a millisecond's notice. Likewise, you'll want to keybind trinkets with on-use abilities (the Mirror of Broken Images, perhaps!), Healthstones, and any needed potions.
Secondly, you'll want to keybind your two taunts. If an add is nibbling on a healer, the last thing he needs is your fumbling to find the button that will save his life. Likewise, if you're trade-taunting with a tank during a fight like Baleroc or Ragnaros, there's no reason to extend out the other tank's turn with the boss.
Thirdly, add rotational abilities: Crusader Strike, Shield of the Righteous, etc. Get the whole host of 939 attacks laid out so you don't waste a single moment pushing maximum efficiency while moving through your rotation. GCDs are long enough; no need to add dawdling on top of that.
Lastly, bind your various Hand spells. Set up macros for each to cast on your mouseover, and put a shift modifier on it to cast on your focus, with the big four being Hand of Protection, Hand of Sacrifice, Hand of Salvation, and Hand of Freedom. (Not counting the taunt, obviously.) There will be times when your provided Hand buffs can make a huge difference, and you don't want to be late to the party with those.
I don't bother keybinding blessings, since I'll likely only use those out of combat. If I've died and have been battle rezzed, others provide them, anyway. I don't have any GCDs to spare trying to get back into the skirmish.
Practice, practice, practice
Once you make these changes and enter the brave new world of keybinding, the biggest challenge will be practicing over and over and developing your muscle memory to interact with the new setup. It will take time, and it will be hard. And it definitely will be tempting to quit and go back to your old ways, but you need to stay strong. In the end, the pay-off will be huge and you'll be that much better a tank for having taken the hard road to faster reaction times and improved situational awareness. Good luck.
The Light and How to Swing It shows paladin tanks how to take on the dark times brought by Cataclysm. Try out our 4 tips for upping your combat table coverage, find out how to increase threat without sacrificing survivability, and learn how to manage the latest version of Holy Shield.