I'm the Tank! Or Am I?

My druid got her swift flight form this weekend, and originally I meant to make this a post about the awesomeness of the quest chain required to unlock it. However, after a quick search of the blog archives, I found that I already made a post to that effect almost twelve years ago. This was during Wrath, when you could already get the skill directly from the trainer if you wanted, but the quest chain was still in game as a piece of optional content.

My druid has been getting all my love lately as she's my most recent character to 70, and as my paladin is approaching the point of being as kitted out as she's going to get outside of progression raids, focusing on the druid seemed like the next logical step. She's also still a tank, so I've been doing a fair amount of bear tanking (though there've also been some dungeons where I got to tag along as cat).

On Saturday I took her to our weekly community Gruul/Mag run for the first time and it was pretty fun, even if I didn't get any loot. I was the least geared of the three tanks, so it made sense that I was given the easy jobs... but on High King Maulgar the main tank died and it was up to me to taunt him and save the raid!

To top it off, something similar happened on Magtheridon afterwards: One of the much better geared paladins in attendance was supposed to tank him, and I was told to only build some threat "just in case" (as sudden tank death is not uncommon on this boss due to how hard he hits). I did as I was told, happily mangling away at one of his legs and trying to stay ahead of the dps on threat but not really expecting it to be important, when suddenly the tank went squish here as well, and I found myself yelling for people to heal me on voice while I was trying to manoeuvrer Mags away from the cube I'd stood next to. I then proceeded to tank him for the rest of the fight and felt very proud.

Of course, in case that got my ego too inflated, I tanked heroic Sethekk Halls for my flight form quest right after and I must have died five or six times in that (and only about half of those were wipes). That put things into perspective for sure.

As a result of all this, I've found myself thinking about tanking a lot. In WoW at least, it's something that's been tied to a lot of anxiety for as long as I can remember... both for the people actually playing the role and those complaining that they can never find a tank. It's never been my main focus, but I did do a fair amount of it over the years... yet I could remember little of how I felt about it.

Consulting the blog archives for past me's thoughts was certainly enlightening... and not just because it was like slowly watching a frog boil, as my standards for what I expected of my group mates declined over time. It's funny to look at posts like this one from 2010 for example, titled "An exemplary UP pug", in which I excitedly recount the tale of wiping twice in heroic Utgarde Pinnacle without anyone rage-quitting and only one guy insulting me a bit! The height of positive social interactions in an MMO, everyone!

On the subject of tanking in specific, I found this quote from a post about tanking in early Cata enlightening: "I was a pretty decent tank in late Burning Crusade, but two years of racing through Wrath heroics while AoEing everything and calling that tanking has left its mark on me." So I was a decent tank in late BC, eh? I do remember kind of liking tanking on my feral druid, though I seem to have little evidence of it other than old screenshots demonstrating how hard it can be to see anything while tanking certain bosses...

Exhibit A, dated October 2008.

My feeling right now is that I do like tanking in BC in a similar way to the way I like healing. With the lack of AoE aggro generating abilities, it's not dissimilar to the whack-a-mole of healing in dungeons. Use mangle on this mob, taunt a second, stun a third... whatever's needed to keep them all off the squishy people. What makes it more demanding is mainly that it's not a direct UI interaction, but that you have to actually operate in three-dimensional space, making sure you're in range for a taunt, at just the right distance for a charge, and so on and so forth. Plus there's a general expectation for the tank to take the lead and do the marking and kill order/CC assignments - which again, I don't really mind, but it does require additional mental effort that results in me feeling tired more quickly after spending some time tanking dungeons.

Oddly though, the thing that bothers me the most about tanking right now is that I'm always at the mercy of people who might not care. For me, both tanking and healing are caring roles in the sense that they are about helping and protecting the rest of your party, and the more I care about them and they care about me, the more satisfying it is. (I know it's kind of a cliché that healers are more caring and therefore favoured by women and blah de blah... I'm not speaking for anyone else, just how it works for me.)

The thing is, in our little group of "dungeon regulars", almost everyone has a tanking alt, but I'm the only person who's willing to heal. This means that whenever I'm tanking, the healer will have to come from the outside. Sometimes it's a guildie and it's generally okay (though it can still be a bit anxiety-inducing if I don't know the person that well and they behave in - to me - erratic ways, such as the priest who absent-mindedly decided to wander ahead of me into the last room in heroic Slave Pens, body-pulling both groups of crabs and nearly wiping us), but pugs can be completely hit and miss.

The priest healing us through heroic Sethekk Halls for example was a pug and clearly not impressed. He died on the first pull when a big heal got him aggro on a mob and it hit him before I could taunt it back, something for which I immediately apologised, because even though he was a stranger, I cared and felt bad. But all the subsequent times I died (and I mean when it happened to only me, and the rest of the group survived just fine), he seemed more annoyed with me than anything. I mean, I may well be projecting - I know it's a tough dungeon to heal, and didn't want to complain. But I certainly didn't feel the love when I slowly watched my health bar deplete sometimes with no incoming heals for what felt like ages, just to go splat yet again and then see the rest of the group finish off the pull or boss without me.

So I'm kind of torn about staying a bear on my druid... I like having a tanking alt available when needed, and I do quite enjoy tanking in some ways, but there's also a big part of me that's considering simply going tree so that I can focus on healing people I like, and not having to entrust my (virtual) life to strangers all the time. Plus in one of those "that's just typical" situations, my attempts at gearing my druid have coincided with several other people suddenly deciding that they want to work on their tanking alts now, so that we'll have e.g. four tank sign-ups for Kara and no healers. It's just awkward all around.


  1. Grats on tanking the raids! I've never had the courage to run a tank in anything, though I've been fairly confident in healing, which is a bit more responsibility than my DPS main usually lies to accept. :)

    Maybe someday I'll get bold enough to try.

  2. Gratz on tanking the raids! Now, about tanking Netherspite and Nightbane....

  3. Well done Shin, stepping up when needed and saving the day, that's just full of awesomesauce. Not just in being able to do it, but to be aware of the situation enough to be in a position to make it happen. Fantastic.

    I've pretty much given up on dreams of tanking, I just shudder at the thoughts of what you described exactly... the 'I don't care' segment. I blame retail, but it's more than that. It's the general 'screw you' attitude if people don't know you. I'm seeing it in so many places and situations in TBC that I'm pretty much leaving the social part of the game to itself and just doing solo content. Yesterday I was in Hillsbrad on my level 35, fighting a mob on top of a mine. A level 70 runs in, takes out the mine and rides off. A sent him a few choice words to which 'lol' was responded.

    Stuff like that happens all the time now. Zero respect for anyone but yourself. The 'fuck you' attitude so prevalant since the original Wrath is just here to stay. So, to tank a group in front of that? Nope.