Every week, WoW Insider brings you The Care and Feeding of Warriors, the column dedicated to arms, fury and protection warriors. Despite repeated blows to the head from dragons, demons, Old Gods and whatever that thing over there was, Matthew Rossi will be your host.
Last week, we covered arms. This week, we're covering protection. Like last week, this article assumes you just leveled your first warrior to 90, but it can also be useful for someone who's played a warrior for a while but who never tried tanking on her. If you're unsure about giving tanking a try, I can understand why that would be - it's a lot of pressure, it's fairly gear dependent and you may not have it yet, and most of all it's often expected that a tank will be leading a dungeon run, which can be daunting if you're unfamiliar with a dungeon. Frankly, I always found raid tanking preferable to PuGging, but I still tanked PuG's and I had a few tricks for how to establish myself when doing so.
- It's okay to admit it's your first time or that you're new at something. Even experienced tanks don't always know the specific dungeon they're about to tank very well - if you're a new tank and you're feeling uncomfortable or unsure, go ahead and say so.
- Even if you're comfortable with your class abilities as a tank, but are unsure about boss strategies, see #1 - often someone in the dungeon will be happy to explain to you what you should or shouldn't do.
- Avoid the two extremes of 'tank megalomania' and 'tank doormat' - don't be an egotist who makes the tank run all about him or herself, and don't let yourself be walked over by players who deliberately make your life harder. Also, be cognizant of gear discrepancies when evaluating your own performance as a tank - if you're in 463 blues and the guy pulling threat is in Heroic Warforged gear, cut yourself some slack. You're simply not going to be able to do much against over one hundred ilevels in his favor.
- Be cognizant of the healer. I know that you want to run and pull more stuff while you have a full rage bar. Believe me, I know how it feels. But if your healer is undergeared and needs a break, let them have it. It's good to get in the habit of paying attention to your healer's mana - believe me, healers will tell you when you can run and pull like a fiend.
But let's get to the actual process of tanking - how do we play as protection?
How to Protection
First off, there are several offensive abilities you'll need to get familiar with. Those are Devastate, Shield Slam, and Revenge. Two of these (Shield Slam and Revenge) are direct rage generators, while Devastate is an attack that debuffs your target with the Weakened Armor effect and also resets the cooldown on Shield Slam thanks to the Sword and Board passive ability. Since Sword and Board also buffs the amount of rage Shield Slam generates, you'll want to use Devastate whenever Shield Slam or Revenge aren't up to try and proc it. These are your basic go-to attacks as a prot warrior - they cost no rage, so you'll use them before the attacks that do cost rage like Heroic Strike or Cleave. It's worth pointing out that Revenge, which procs whenever you dodge or parry an enemy attack on you, also has a cleave affect, and it hits your target and two additional targets, making it superior to the actual ability Cleave. So you'll always want to hit Revenge instead of Cleave, if possible.
In fact, you generally only want to hit Heroic Strike or Cleave if they're free. This happens because of Ultimatum, an ability that makes your next Heroic Strike or Cleave cost no rage and be guaranteed critical hits. Since this ability is procced off of Shield Slam criticals, you'll emphasize Shield Slam and only use HS or Cleave if A - you have a full rage bar and can't use either of your mitigation abilities (which we'll cover below) or B - if Ultimatum procs. So basically, don't use either ability outside of Ultimatum.
The damage all your offensive abilities put our is affected by Vengeance, but you really don't need to do anything about that - just know that as you take damage while tanking (or even soloing) you'll do more damage.
There's also Thunder Clap to consider. If you're tanking a single target, you'll want to use Thunder Clap once every 30 seconds to keep the Weakened Blows debuff up on your target. However, for add tanking, Thunder Clap becomes even more useful thanks to Blood and Thunder - every use of Thunder Clap will spread the Deep Wounds debuff to everyone hit hits, making it a very useful tool for holding threat on AoE pulls. Also, keep in mind that Thunder Clap is free for protection warriors, making it an instant cast ability on a six second cooldown that can hit everything within 8 yards and apply a bleed, without costing you rage that you'll want to use for active mitigation.
Now, depending on your talent choices, you'll have other options for AoE as well - the talent Bloodbath, for instance, can increase your AoE potential by adding more bleed damage on a one minute cooldown, while the talent Shockwave is still considered almost required for AoE tanking since it can be used every 20 seconds as long as it hits three or more targets, and even at the longer 40 second cooldown the stun on a cone attack is useful for keeping adds from moving around.
Therefore, your basic priority is Shield Slam, Revenge and Devastate on single target, and Thunder Clap gets added in between Shield Slam and Revenge when AoE tanking, with Shockwave your most likely level 60 talent to help on AoE. These are your basic attacks. Now, we discuss the concept of active mitigation, and why it matters to you.
Active Mitigation and how to do it
The attack priority we discussed above has two basic functions - some of the attacks generate rage. Even the ones that don't generate rage, like Thunder Clap, Shockwave and Devastate either help with rage generation or at least don't cost any, and furthermore all of these attacks generate threat. Their use is to keep the monsters and enemies in a dungeon or raid focused on hitting you instead of your party. The rage generation created by some of them is also used for what we call active mitigation, which are abilities that we use to reduce (mitigate) the damage that comes in to us when we're taking all of those attacks. It's called active to distinguish it from passive mitigation sources like dodge, parry and armor. Passive mitigation is important to us for a variety of reasons, including that dodge and parry can help reset the cooldown on Revenge and that they give us critical strike chance thanks to Riposte, but unlike active mitigation these passive forms of damage reduction don't require your conscious control during play.
You get pieces with dodge, parry and armor on them, you equip them, and you dodge and parry and take less damage from physical attacks when they hit you. Passive as it gets. Active mitigation is a horse of a different color - it requires you to make decisions and spend resources (rage, in our case) to keep yourself upright. So what are our active mitigation abilities?
There are two - Shield Block and Shield Barrier. These two abilities are your active mitigation - they're the abilities you use to reduce incoming damage. And I can just hear you saying Great, which one is the best one to use and I'm sorry to tell you, it's not a simple answer.
Shield Block is a good choice if you know you're going to be taking physical damage. A block reduces incoming physical damage by 30%, but thanks to our mastery (Critical Block) and our ability to have our blocks crit, we can reduce incoming physical damage by 60% if it's a critical block. Shield Block costs a flat 60 rage - no more, no less. It also interacts well with the Glyph of Heavy Repercussions, if you want to make your Shield Slams hit as hard as you can. It's also worth keeping in mind that when you hit Shield Block, every melee attack made against you within the next six seconds will be reduced by the block, making it a very useful ability for fast-hitting bosses or when facing multiple mobs all attacking at once who can chew right through your next ability.
Shield Barrier, unlike Shield Block, works on both physical and magical damage. It's a straightforward absorb - when you hit Shield Barrier, for the next six seconds, you have a shield like a priest bubble that absorbs damage until it reaches the maximum amount absorbable. That absorb is affected by attack power, so it scales with Vengeance (and the damage it absorbs is still counted when calculating your Vengeance) so it's often more beneficial to use Shield Block earlier in a fight, and start using Shield Barrier more as the fight goes on and your Vengeance goes up. Shield Barrier is better for when you know you'll be taking unblockable damage, damage from magic, or when you're swimming in rage and can hit Shield Barrier right after a Shield Block and get the effect of both.
There's actually a lot of theorycrafting about when, exactly, Shield Barrier eclipses Shield Block, since Shield Block doesn't scale with attack power/Vengeance and can never absolutely mitigate an attack the way Shield Barrier can, but that's beyond the scope of a 'fresh 90' post - for now, just keep in mind that unlike Shield Block, Shield Barrier can be used at less than the maximum rage cost (which is 60 rage) - Shield Barrier starts at 20 rage, but will spend up to 60 to absorb more damage if you have more to spend. It makes Shield Barrier more flexible - you can use it as soon as you get enough rage to mitigate some damage, or bank more rage and get a bigger absorb out of it, or even use it after a Shield Block to add an absorb over the top of the damage you're reducing with your blocks. For an absolute beginner, I'd say use Shield Block for the first minute or so of a fight, then as your Vengeance stacks up to something reasonable, start mixing in Shield Barrier.
Cooldowns and other decisions
Since this is a basics article, I'll go over cooldowns. There are three abilities that mitigate how much damage you take as a tank or how much damage you can take, and these are Demoralizing Shout, Last Stand, and Shield Wall. Demo Shout reduces the damage all targets with 10 yards can do to you by 20% for 10 seconds, Last Stand buffs your current and max health by 30% for 20 seconds, and Shield Wall reduces all damage you take by 40% for 12 seconds. Last Stand and Shield Wall each have 3 minute cooldowns (Shield Wall's can be made longer by a glyph in exchange for an increased effect, going up to 60% less damage taken for a 5 minute cooldown) while Demo Shout has a 1 minute cooldown. Generally, these are for use when you know a big damage spike is coming - in a raid, for instance, if you know a boss does an ability every minute that does enough damage to bring you to half health, it's generally worth it to use one of these cooldowns. Some bosses have abilities that can outright kill you if not for a cooldown or two, and these three abilities are perfect for times like those. For a five man, they can be generally rotated through (especially Demo Shout, which can almost be used on every other trash pull with that one minute cooldown.)
There are also raid cooldowns like Demoralizing Banner and Rallying Cry - Demo Banner reduces the damage of all enemies within 30 yards of the banner by 10% for 15 seconds, while Rallying Cry gives everyone in your party or group within 30 yards of you an extra 20% max health for 10 seconds. I often use these together, since their combined effect is that a big boss hit not only does 10% less, but you have 20% more room to survive it. Plus people often forget to call for them both anyway.
That's probably enough detail for now. Next week, fury.
At the center of the fury of battle stand the warriors: protection, arms and fury. Check out more strategies and tips especially for warriors, from hot issues for today's warriors to Cataclysm 101 for DPS warriors and our guide to reputation gear for warriors.