Flavors of Tanking – A Healer’s Guide

January 29, 2009

Seri has been busy taking care of an ill Mr. Seri and being generally scatterbrained this week, so she wasn’t able to get her post finished in time. Fortunately, Jov graciously offered the loan of her own better half to fill in. I know, I thought Seri was Jov’s better half too! Maybe she and Tarsus are both, like, one third or something. Anyway, without further ado:

tarswaveHello again everyone! As always, I am hoping to foster communication and unity between tanks and healers, and as I perused various blogs dedicated to tanking I could think of no better use of space than a brief guide to tanking stats from a healer’s perspective. Have you ever stepped into a group with an unfamiliar tank and not known what to expect? Let me give you the skinny on what you should expect based on what gear the tank is wearing, and what stats they are stacking with their enchantments and gems.

There are generally two schools of thought that serve as starting points – and most tanks have a bias towards one or the other. These are the schools of threat and mitigation. At one point in time, there was not a great deal of option about this in terms of gear that was available. Vanilla WoW was pretty much a high mitigation/low threat environment for the serious raider. Now, however, there is a great variety to choose from and so these two schools have emerged with distinct personalities of their own. Basically, this is what you should expect…

The School of Threat

In the mind of the Threat Tank, the goal is to maximize the pace of encounters by allowing for as much DPS as possible. The theory goes that the faster you kill things, the less burden there is on the healers (because we all know that the healers concerns are paramount – right?). Very few dispute that this approach is best for trash, and outside some Heroics, the “gather ‘em up, AoE them down” method sans crowd control is very popular. As a weakness, however, Threat Tanks tend to be squishier (and in long fights take more damage). Generally speaking, by virtue of their abilities, Paladins and Death Knights are considered to be high threat tanks – though all tanks can have this capacity now thanks to the changes made in the 3.0.x patch. Threat stats are:

Hit/Expertise: If you see that a tank has stacked these two stats, it is pretty much a given that they are a Threat Tank. Nothing lowers threat like strings of misses, parries and dodges, and these two stats aim to minimize that. Expertise is “Red”, Hit is “Yellow”, and there are enchants to weapon, gloves, bracers and boots which boost one, the other, or both. Generally speaking, the cap for hit rating is ~295, though there is dispute as to how much expertise is needed to cap (492 is the max, a very hard target to reach for anybody).

Strength/Feral Attack Power: When 3.0 hit, Strength took a giant leap up in terms of tanking value. Not only does attack power now count towards a whole range of special abilities that were unaffected before, but its increased bonus to block value also makes it a double-whammy for the Warrior ability “Shield Slam” which benefits from both. Apart from that, however, every point of attack power is now more threat making Strength (and its druid equivalent, Feral Attack Power) a high priority for Threat Tanks. Strength is “red” and there are enchants to gloves, bracers, and chest that boost it.

Block: There are two flavors of Block, Block Value and Block Rating, and for Tanks that use Shields these two stats are threat related because they modify “Shield Slam” and “Holy Shield.” Without going into high levels of detail, the more on these the better because they effect the frequency and quantity of threat. There are no Block gems, but there is shield enchantment that boosts it.tarsflex

The School of Mitigation

The Mitigation Tank is the tank of endurance. Their philosophy is to utilize their stats to minimize damage taken, either through avoidance or thick skins (and often both). It is generally accepted that Mitigation tanks are desirable for bosses, and it is an increasingly common philosophy due to the dramatic increase in the amount of threat generated as a baseline post-patch 3.0. Nevertheless, Mitigation Tanks are often cited as being low on threat, particularly for trash where AoE is used. Warriors and Bears are traditionally stronger Mitigation tanks, the former because of the range of abilities at their disposal, the latter because of their massive amounts of health and armor. Mitigation Stats are:

Stamina/Health: Stacking Health was, for much of Burning Crusade, the key method for mitigation tanking. The sheer amount damage taking made this a priority, and thankfully boots to healing made concerns about healer mana a non-issue. This is not the truth any longer, and most skilled Mitigation Tanks will tell you that you need more than just 30k+ health to be an effective tank. That said, healer beware the mana sponge that can sometimes result from hangers on to the Stamina Fetish. Stamina is “blue” and there are enchantments to chest, bracers, shield, pants and boots that modify it.

Armor: Perhaps more than any other stat, Armor can give a quick glimpse version of the “level” of your tank as it scales uniformly with gear level. Unfamiliar with the items your tank is wearing? Check their armor rating. A death knight, warrior, or paladin tank entering Naxx will be around 22k (finished should be in the range of 25k, by my estimate). A bear will have likely 28k. It is worth noting that it is increasingly difficult to stack armor (making many feral druids sad), and that there is one enchantment to cloak that boosts it.

Defense: The surprise contender for best mitigation stat is currently defense. In the past stacking defense had the dubious distinction of being the sign of a real noob as point for point pretty much any other mitigation stat offered a better deal. However, thanks to changes in the cost of point allocation defense now offers, point for point, the best mitigation you can get. This also includes the only way to get block rating (amazingly the only mitigation stat besides health not to suffer from diminishing returns) not boosted by gear. So, despite the ceiling for the all important critical hit immunity being 450 Defense, don’t be surprised to see good tanks stacking defense rating. Defense is “yellow” and there are enchantments to cloak, chest, and bracer that boost it.

Parry/Dodge: I think both of these stats have been relegated to “not as good as defense” status, though that is not to say they are somehow not worthwhile. Parry has the dual benefit of providing a brief boost to attack speed (so called ‘parry haste’), but requires more rating than dodge to gain a percentage point boost. Some Mitigation Tanks no doubt sport bonuses to dodge as it remained up until 3.0 the mitigation stat of choice. Parry and Dodge are both “red,” and there is an expensive enchantment to gloves for parry rating.

Agility: I am going to only pause briefly on Agility which is very key for druids, but less so for other tanks. Agility provides bonuses to dodge, parry, and armor and is prevalent on leather, but now almost non-existent on tanking plate – for this reason, look to find it in abundance on your bears, but not so much on plate wearers. Agility is “red”, and there are enchants to cape, chest, boots, gloves, and weapon that boost it.

Executive Summary

That’s a lot of information to process, but if you are in a hurry because your pug is starting, here are the bare essentials of what you need to know:

The Threat Tank will attempt to work quickly to kill everything, meaning they intend for your healing to be intense but brief. Make sure you communicate with them if your mana is low and you are drinking.

The Mitigation Tank will attempt to outlast the enemy, so they will likely rely on you to heal them regularly over a longer period. Your main concerns as a healer, in this case, are likely to come from overzealous DPS who pull aggro (or in some rare cases your own healing aggro).

To Tell the Difference, study what they slot in their yellow gem slots and what they use for enchantments. Blue and Red gem slots have a lot of cross over (expertise, parry and strength having both threat and mitigation possibilities), but there is no ambiguity about yellow gems for tanking: It is either hit or defense. As for Enchantments, no slot tells you efficiently what a tank is going for, but examine what stats they are stacking: Usually hit and expertise for Threat Tanks and Stamina for Mitigation.warning

Final Word of Warning

The very best tanks who have the gumption and resources to do so will likely be sporting two sets of gear as it becomes clear which is better approach is best for specific fights, and so healing them may change suddenly from one moment to the next. Communication is, as always, the best strategy. If the gear changes suddenly, ask!



  1. I like mitigation tanks, I can toss a renew on them and start smiting. Teehee.

  2. This post came at just the right time. The bf and I have just moved to a bigger guild and since there are more people in it, (of course) we will be running 25s and I will no longer be only healing my pally tank. This will help me know what to expect should I be paired with an unfamiliar tank.

    Also, I don’t know if it’s entirely appropriate to post here, since this is a healer blog, but does Mr. Jov have any recommendations for a beginning warrior, blog or guide-wise?

  3. I ran off to check my tank…he is Mitigation. Before reading this i just knew he liked getting his face beat on! 😀

  4. So there is a benefit to stacking defense after 540? I was unaware, I always thought tanks were wasting item points when they were above it.

  5. @Dae – Just don’t pull Agro >.>

    @ Anea – You could do worse than familiarize yourself with the three blogs I check most often: Tank Like a Girl (tanklikeagirl.com), Tanking Tips (tankingtips.com), and Tank Hard (tankhard.com). The first is very approachable and will likely be good for a starting tank. The latter two tend to be more practical. Browsing the tanking forum Tank Spot (tankspot.com) can take a while, but the site moderator Cinderhelm is one of the best tanks in the game bar none.

    @Ayslin – My Alliance side tank is very definitively Mitigation style. Tarsus is Threat, but that reflects the raiding environment more than anything.

    @Cayto – This used to be the case, but not anymore. The benefits to parry, dodge, and block rating are efficient for quite a while. The following article over at the aforementioned Tanking Tips has breakdown:

  6. Defense beyond cap was never WASTED, it was just not the most efficient use; you’d give up a little avoidance compared to other things you could be getting for the same cost. Now that block is really good and the comparative ratings have shifted a little, defense compares more favorably, for tanks who can block. Bears and DKs still want other stats, though.

    I’ll second Tankspot as a great tanking resource, and note that they do have article summaries for beginners, so you don’t necessarily need to hunt around on the forums unless you’re looking for bleeding-edge theorycraft. Cider’s vids are also useful for beginning raiders, as they do a good job explaining the fights.

  7. Definitely a nice post for us healers because there’s just always this connection between the tanks and us (specially when is someone you know and have healed before). I remember one of the first things i noticed when hitting 80 on my priest is that healing my pally tank friend was completely different that healing my feral druid friend, and this was a rather deep explanation of why even tho i already got used to each of their needs in terms of healing 🙂

  8. @Yuki – Cider’s also added some great vids of heroic fights like the Skadi the Ruthless gauntlet. Check them out if you haven’t already.

    @Celinne – For all that they have changed tanking to try to be similar, Death Knight and Druid tanking inevitably feel different because of the lack of block. It’s hard to understate how much difference that shield makes.

  9. I should be more careful when I am logging in working on my yet to be opened blog.

    stupidtank is me.

  10. Oh my!! I loved this explanation! I’m printing this and adding it to my reference file. 🙂

    I’ve been a shadowpriest for a while and haven’t kept up on the healing stuff. This guide is simple and to the point and perfect for the rare occasions I feel like slipping to the light side. I tend to think, “That’s the tank, heal it.”

    It also explains with the addition of mindsear to my repertoire why I suddenly love DK’s more than bears or tincans… Ahhh how fickle is my love.

    Thanks so much!

  11. […] Flavors of Tanking – A Healer’s Guide from World of Snarkcraft A guest post from Joveta’s significant other and detailing the different “flavors” tanks come in: threat and mitigation. Personally, I prefer Karamel Sutra. […]

  12. I would modify your “threat” tank and call it a dps tank instead. Threat is rarely an issue in the game at the moment – I haven’t worried about it since 3.0 hit pre-wrath, when threat was buffed enormously, and salv was removed. Remember that?

    So it makes no sense to talk about maximising threat so that dps can go all out. That way of thinking is so…. I dunno… SSC in 2007???

    No, the new tanking game in town is dps. When I wear hit & attack power gear, its because I want to do more damage. I dont want my healers to think its because I want to do more threat. It’s irrelevant whether I out-threat my highest dps by 130%, or 180%.

    But it’s much more relevant how much damage I do if we’re going for achievements like “make quick werk of him”.

  13. […] when it comes to purchaises with emblems, gemming and enchanting, and the like.  I, myself, did a guest post at World of Snarkcraft that summarizes some of the choices you will make going down one of these paths, albeit aimed at […]

  14. I’m sure most people know what you mean by now, but in case they don’t: There’s a typo stating defense for being uncrittable is 450. Obviously this should be 540 for this expansion. Or to be the most accurate….reduced chance to be crit by 5.6%… I think this also comes out to be 689 defense rating.

    Just didn’t want some new healer to come along thinking a tank with say… 500 defense was more than adequate for lvl 80 raids… ;-).

  15. […] Flavors of Tanking ? A Healer?s Guide from World of Snarkcraft A guest post from Joveta?s significant other and detailing the different ?flavors? tanks come in: threat and mitigation. Personally, I prefer Karamel Sutra. […]

  16. […] time to put together a decent post.  So in the spirit of laziness I would like to direct you to a guest post I wrote for World of Snarkcraft a little while back on identifying tanking styles.  Though the post is mostly aimed at healers, I still use the information I gathered for this post […]

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