I scoured my accumulated screenshots for a picture of one of my tanks with a nice pile of corpses and sadly that’s the best I found. I think it must have been a Jenkins run shortly after patch 3.0 hit.
I started off covering boss tanking partially because it was kindest to my beloved warrior, but after another stress-filled trip through heroic Halls of Reflection I thought it was time to dig into how most tanks actually spend their time.
My general feeling going into this was that warriors have less reliable group threat tools with paladins and death knights in particular able to put out a lot more area threat with less work.
Today I’m going to go over the tools the different tanks have for group threat and how well these actually work.
Assumptions and caveats
This information is based on my experience with my characters. Both in terms of gear and experience I rank them warrior > druid > death knight > paladin, though the DK is gaining rapidly on the druid.
My DK is Blood spec so that’s what I’m going to focus on here.
I’ve also ignored buffs like Thorns that can be cast on anyone.
Minor threat abilities
“Hey! Some guy over there just yelled something! Let’s go get him!”
All the tanking classes have at least one way to get the attention of any mob who has no strong feelings for one of your comrades. These are useful for mobs that spawn away from the group or if someone body-pulls a group. Unless they got a sneaky buff recently, they aren’t useful when trying to out-threat DPS or even a marginally active healer.
I thought they were worth mentioning since they can be handy. I use them all the time in Halls of Reflection to convince spawned ghouls to leap into Thunderclap range.
- Commanding Shout — I’d guess is a little more threatening than Battle Shout in that it might work like healing aggro on the health bonus, but I haven’t tested this. Like healing threat, the threat from this has no range and should apply to any mobs that know you exist.
- Demoralizing Shout — Unlike Commanding Shout, this has a range on it so less useful for adds that spawn out of range.
- Demoralizing Roar — Unsurprisingly, works the same as Demoralizing Shout
I sometimes feel that druids should have some form of self-buff that works in bear form but doesn’t blow a cooldown but I can’t think of one that exists today.
- Sacred Shield — This one seems to cause some reasonable threat when I apply it at the wrong time while pally healing. Suspect it’s tied to the amount the shield can absorb like the Power Word: Shield threat.
- Divine Plea — If you are going to apply this anyway it is occasionally helpful to let the mobs know you are doing it.
Could probably re-apply a seal as well.
- Horn of Winter — Like Commanding Shout for those who like Sons of Hodir dailies. As mentioned in a previous post, Tauren can macro this to /moo for extra fun.
Primary Multi-target Threat Abilities
Unlike many DPS, tanks can’t just channel AOE threat or even chain-cast AOE abilities (for the most part). Tanking multiple targets involves a combination of AOE and multi-target abilities.
- Thunderclap — Six second cooldown, AOE, bonus chance to crit
- Shockwave — Twenty second cooldown, frontal cone, stuns all targets
- Cleave — Next-strike, two targets (three with glyph), bonus chance to crit
- Revenge — Five second cooldown, hits two targets (thank you patch 3.3.3)
Additionally, most warriors have some talents that help with multi-mob threat:
- Damaging Shield — Does 20% of Block Value whenever you are hit by or block a physical attack
- Deep Wounds (Arms tree) — Crits do 48% of average weapon damage over six seconds. Additional crits refresh the timer and increase the damage per tick.
Damaging Shield clearly has the drawback that it only helps with mobs who are already on you. Additionally it becomes less helpful with more pure avoidance, though Chill of the Throne helps mitigate this.
Deep Wounds would be amazing for bears (which is likely why they don’t have it). For warriors it is helpful but even our abilities with boosted crit chances don’t crit reliably.
- Swipe — No cooldown, AOE, slightly larger than melee range
- Maul — Next-strike, hits two targets with glyph
Really, it’s mostly a lot of swiping.
However, bears have the Primal Fury talent that gives them five rage every time they crit. If Swipe crits on multiple mobs each one will give you five rage, so with a decent-sized AOE pack Swipe will generate rage rather than costing it.
- Consecration — Eight second cooldown, eight second ground effect AOE
- Holy Shield — Eight second cooldown, blocked attacks do damage, eight charges or ten second duration
- Hammer of the Righteous — Six second cooldown, hits three targets (four with glyph), applies Seal to all targets
- Holy Wrath — Thirty second cooldown, undead / demon only AOE
Additionally, the choice of seal has an effect on AOE threat:
- Seal of Corruption / Vengeance — Melee attacks apply a DoT, stacks to five then does extra damage per hit
- Seal of Command (Ret tree) — Single-target melee attacks apply holy damage to two additional targets.
Command should generally apply more multi-target threat sooner than Corruption.
Blood Death Knight Abilities:
- Death and Decay — Thirty second cooldown (less with talents), ten second ground effect AOE with built-in bonus threat. Burns Blood, Frost and Unholy runes.
- Frost Fever and Blood Plague — Two DoTs that also buff other abilities. Frost and Unholy runes to apply, Blood rune to spread to all targets / maintain.
- Blood Boil — AOE, does additional damage for each disease on target. Uses a Blood rune.
- Heart Strike (Blood only) — Hits two targets. Uses a Blood rune.
Unholy death knights have a bonus disease but no additional AOE spells (apart from long cooldowns).
Frost death knights also have Howling Blast.
Putting it into practice
Now I’m going to look at how the abilities are used and how well they work for maintaining group threat.
Druid AOE threat is pretty linear since most of your global cooldowns are spent on Swipe.
Maul does a huge amount of threat to two targets. You can maintain a solid lead on the primary target or you can switch targets after every Maul to get some additional threat on the group.
Death Knight threat:
Blood DKs have a bit of a build up. If you start with Death and Decay, which is useful for getting initial attention from mobs, you should have all targets diseased by the five second mark. You can Blood Tap and fire off a Blood Boil for a nice threat spike.
For longer fights you should be able to refresh diseases and then fire six consecutive Blood Boils starting shortly after the twenty second mark. My rough calculations indicate that while Death and Decay is more threat for the rune cost than three Blood Boils, Blood Boil is higher in threat per second. They aren’t that far off (at least on my DK) so particularly if you have D&D glyphed it’s a toss-up whether you want to re-apply D&D or not when the cooldown is up.
However, for more than ten mobs, Death and Decay may always win. Consecrate and Death and Decay don’t seem to be affected by the AOE cap, whereas Blood Boil is.
Consecrate will be up more or less all the time which is a decent amount of constant threat on all mobs. Also, it does not appear to be affected by the AOE cap.
Holy Shield will probably have 100% uptime with four or less mobs (Icecrown raids possibly excepted). As the number of mobs increases, you can probably assume that close to eight mobs get hit with the damage from it at least once every cast.
Hammer of the Righteous combined with whatever Seal you are using will keep three (or four) mobs thoroughly annoyed. By changing targets after every cast, you can spread the hate over a large number of mobs pretty quickly.
Thunderclap is a pretty decent threat generator, particularly when it crits. It should get all mobs attention to allow you to position them for a Shockwave, which hits in a cone.
In the best case, a cleave is going out roughly every 1.5 – 1.6 seconds, so with some tab-targeting you should be able to keep most mobs interested until the next Thunderclap, using the three single-target abilities to fill in the other GCDs.
However, when dealing with more mobs than you can Cleave, you are relying on luck a little more than other tanks.
If you are competing with AOE DPS they will almost certainly pull aggro if you don’t do anything between Thunderclap cooldowns. Even switching targets every Cleave you aren’t guaranteed to hit every mob. Also, Cleave-spamming is expensive and requires a steady stream of incoming attacks to maintain.
There are indications currently Blizzard balances around the assumption that all warrior tanks have Deep Wounds. However, you can’t rely on it for AOE threat.
Damage Shield is a little more reliable once mobs get a few shots on you.
Then we come to Shockwave. While Shockwave is great for a burst of AOE threat, it has some major drawbacks related to the fact that it stuns for four seconds. A mob who is stunned is not hitting you. A mob trying to hit you will give you precious, precious rage, unless they miss outright. Additionally, they have a decent chance of hurting themselves in the process, making them like you even less.
If you start a fight with low rage, an early Shockwave can leave you starved. You can end up with four seconds with no rage just as the DPS start to unload.
What I try to do is save Shockwave a little bit and only fire it if I’m losing the attention of the mobs or when I have a decent chunk of rage.
This basically means you have a threat spike every six seconds with Thunderclap and fill in the gabs with tab-targetting, keeping Cleave lit up and hitting buttons like mad. Shockwave is there if you aren’t going to make it to the next Thunderclap with all mobs unconvinced you are the most threatening target in the vicinity.
Doing this breakdown, I can’t help but reach the conclusion that warriors are the most dependent on luck and cooperation.
I still prefer the warrior for raids, Forge of Souls and Pit of Saron. The mobility and anti-caster abilities are a lot of fun and no other tanking ability can match the satisfying thunk of Shield Slam.
But when I want to run random instances with even one random participant and still have tanking be an enjoyable experience I choose the death knight or the paladin.