At first I thought I’d go into too much detail about the strengths and weaknesses of each one but I found it too easy to get into a rant about why warriors are hard to play and the other tanking classes are easy.
But really, I like all my tanks. Even the two who are poorly-disguised healers.
So instead, I looked at what they have to do while tanking a boss and see how they differ, both in terms of what they have to do and what they can do.
First of all, I’m ignoring any buffs that should never have to be refreshed during a fight. Druid and pally buffs don’t add complexity to the tanking experience.
Secondly, I’m ignoring debuffs that automatically get applied by abilities that would otherwise be used. Warriors are going to hit Devastate anyway but they are only going to Thunderclap a boss for the debuff.
Finally, the death knight info is based on my death knight, who is a Blood tank with Glyph of Disease. Therefore, the DK info is not quite as general.
With that said, here are the abilities each tanking class has to juggle when something large is trying to stomp them into the ground:
Update: Based on a comment from Kaethir I’ve updated the druid rotation, moving Feral Faerie Fire into the rotation and out of the manual debuffs.
Update 2: Based on comments from Paona and Javan I’ve updated the druid rotation to include Swipe.
|Warrior||Druid||Death Knight (Blood)||Paladin|
|One self buff||No in-combat self buffs||One self-buff||Two self-buffs (one maintained automatically in continuous fights)|
|Two debuffs||One debuff||Two DOTs (refreshed with one button with glyph)||No manual debuffs|
|Next-strike ability||Next-strike ability||Next-strike ability||No next-strike ability|
|Four ability priority system||Four ability rotation||Three ability rotation||Five ability rotation|
|Interrupt (off GCD)||Interrupt||Interrupt (off GCD)||Interrupt|
|Spell reflect||Spell resistance cooldown|
|One minor avoidance cooldown||One minor damage reduction cooldown||One all-purpose cooldown (defensive or threat)||One major threat cooldown|
|One major damage reduction cooldown||One major threat cooldown||One major damage reduction cooldown||One major damage reduction cooldown|
|One major health buff cooldown||One major health buff cooldown||One major health buff cooldown||Instant self-heal (shared cooldown)|
|Health regen cooldown||Health regen cooldown||Health regen cooldown|
|Bonus health regen cooldown (via pet sacrifice)||Party-wide damage reduction cooldown|
So if you look at everything but the main rotation, pallies seem to have the least to do. Warriors seem to be the busiest, though I’d guess some DK specs are at least on par.
But there is also a lot of complexity hiding in the number of abilities that make up the rotation. These are the buttons tanks actually spend the most time pressing, so let’s have a look at what the tanks are actually doing.
Warrior priority system:
I’m going to pretend patch 3.3.3 has hit and so Revenge is back in the warrior toolbox. With my current gear it is still in mine, anyway.
- Shield Slam — six second cooldown which has a 30% chance of being refreshed by Revenge and Devastate
- Shockwave — twenty second cooldown
- Revenge — five second cooldown, available only after a dodge, parry or block
- Devastate — no cooldown.
Because it’s a priority system, you need to pay attention to what is available to be most effective. Also, for boss fights where rage is never an issue you can macro Heroic Strike to all four of those if you want.
Druid rotation (updated):
I’m not entirely sure if this is a rotation or a priority system, but this is what I do when I’m single-target tanking.
- Mangle — six second cooldown
- Feral Faerie Fire — six second cooldown
- Lacerate — no cooldown
- Swipe — no cooldown
It’s basically Mangle, FFF, Lacerate, Lacerate. I guess you could macro it if you wanted, though I think you’d still need a second button to keep Maul up, so macroing Maul probably makes more sense.
Update: Based on feedback it seems that even for single-targets Swipe is better than Lacerate if you don’t need to keep the DoT from falling off.
Death Knight rotation:
I’m going to fudge this one a bit and ignore the application of the diseases. I’m not counting Demoralizing Roar in the rotation, so this seems fair. With Glyph of Disease these are refreshed by Pestilence anyway.
- Heart Strike — needs a Blood or a Death rune
- Death Strike — needs a Frost and an Unholy rune (or two Death runes if you need the health)
- Death Coil — no cooldown but needs 40 runic power
My DK actually uses Death Coil a fair amount. I suspect with more avoidance I’ll hit more Rune Strikes and therefore not have spare runic power as often.
With the rune system you essentially share cooldowns between attacks, disease-refreshes and some defensive moves, so you probably can’t do it all with a macro.
Paladin rotation (updated):
I’m far from certain that this order is correct. Then again, I’m also not certain that it matters much.
- Shield of Righteousness — six second cooldown
- Holy Shield — eight second cooldown
- Hammer of Righteousness — six second cooldown
- Judgement of somethingorother — eight second cooldown
- Shield of Righteousness
- Consecration — eight second cooldown
- Hammer of Righteousness
- Holy Shield
- Shield of Righteousness
- Hammer of Righteousness
It actually looks kind of complicated when written out but with a bit of practice it isn’t bad. And if you really want you can put the whole thing in a /castsequence macro.
Personally, I have the “X of Righteousness” abilities in a castsequence macro (with a six second reset) because while I don’t think it matters much which of those you use at any given time, the other three abilities I occasionally want to actually prioritize. Actually, I have two macros: a single-target one that favours Shield of Righteousness and a multi-target one that favours the Hammer.
Apart from the fact that the rotation can be reduced to a macro, the thing that makes the paladin rotation simple is the fact that one you start it you get locked into a cycle where the next button you should press is the button you can press.
Additionally, the rotation is the basically the same for single-target and multi-target tanking.
Update: Thanks to Druidoff for pointing out I had the cooldown lengths wrong for a couple abilities.
I think that tanks with a rotation are just going to be easier to play than tanks with a priority system. You get into a rhythm, stop to debuff, interrupt, etc. and then get back into the rhythm.
I find the warrior to be a lot more work than the other three. This can make him the most fun to play or the most stressful, depending on what content I’m doing and how I’m feeling.
With the death knight, I have to get the first few seconds of the fight right but after that things seem to take care of themselves.
If I haven’t tanked on the pally for a while I sometimes mess up the first pull because I’m not in the rhythm, but once I find the rhythm it becomes kind of hypnotic.
And the bear just feels like you have the most freedom to focus on things other than putting out threat.
At any rate, the differences between the tanks adds some nice variety for people who like tanking. I should dual-spec my death knight and give dual-wielding frost a try.