Home > Tanking, The Class-Agnostic Guide to Tanking > A Quick and Dirty Guide to Five-Man Tanking, for New Tanks

A Quick and Dirty Guide to Five-Man Tanking, for New Tanks

The goal of this entry is to give you everything you need to know for base tanking competence and confidence on your first foray into a five-man dungeon, in an easily digestible format that preferably takes less than ten minutes to read. This may be too ambitious a goal. If you found parts of this guide unnecessary, or if you have trouble with something you think the guide should address, please drop me a comment so I can improve it.

The Basic Idea

As a tank, your two duties are to stay alive, and to keep enemies attacking you instead of your party. Staying alive is done mostly by your gear and your healer, but you can help out by only pulling a few enemies at a time. Keeping enemies attacking you is achieved mostly by doing damage to them.


This paragraph applies to plate tanks (non-druid) only: You’ll want to be defense soft-capped (AKA capped). At level 80, that requires 535 defense SKILL (664 rating), or 510 resilience. Raids require 540 defense skill (689 rating), or 528 resilience. These contribute additively – 500 defense skill and 150 resilience are equivalent to 540 defense skill and 0 resilience, in terms of reaching the soft cap. If you’re tanking a non-heroic instance, which includes any instance you’ll reasonably run while leveling, you can get away with not being defense soft-capped, but defense and resilience are still desirable stats for you. Defense does more for you than resilience does, and is useful beyond the soft cap, while resilience is wasted past the cap, so prioritize defense over resilience.

The main stats you’ll want on your gear are stamina, armor, and for plate-wearers, enough defense and resilience to stay capped. PVP gear is great for making a tank set on short notice, but plate wearers will want to switch to defense gear over resilience gear before tanking raids. Bears will find that leather PVP gear provides the most stamina for them, and can reasonably wear PVP leather as long as they can keep up decent threat. Bears should use PVE stamina, armor, dodge, or defense items in their non-leather slots, however.

Pre-Flight Checklist

Remember to change to your tanking spec, and put on your tanking gear. We all forget sometimes.

Turn on your threat modifier. That’s frost presence, defensive stance, righteous fury, or bear form. Enemies decide who they are aggroed on (who to attack) through a mechanic called threat: most of the time, an enemy will attack whoever has the most threat against it. You generate threat against an enemy by doing damage to and applying debuffs on it, and all threat you generate is roughly doubled when you have your threat modifier on. Your job as a tank is to have more threat than your DPS and healer on all the enemies that are currently in combat, so as a beginner, you want to keep your threat modifier always on when you’re tanking.

Turn on enemy nameplates. If you’re using the standard interface, the nameplates will glow red when enemies are aggroed on you and yellow when they are aggroed on someone else. The default key to turn on nameplates is v.

Put this macro on your action bar:

/script SetRaidTarget("target", 8);

This macro will mark your target with the Skull raid icon. The skull marks the main enemy you are tanking, and tells DPS to focus on that target. As each skulled enemy goes down, apply the skull to another one. This takes a lot of pressure off you, the new tank, as it allows you to concentrate on one main target. You should also use AoE abilities on any other enemies in combat, however, as if you leave an enemy alone, it will go after the healer (and sometimes DPS).

Keep In Mind

Getting and keeping enemies off the healer is your #1 job. As a rule, assume that if the healer is attacked, it is probably your fault, and fixing it is always your responsibility. If the DPS are being attacked, it may be your fault or their fault, but don’t stress out about it too much. As you get more comfortable with tanking you’ll want to start picking up enemies that are attacking DPS, but for now, concentrate on keeping aggro on your skulled target, and on keeping enemies off the healer.

Before every pull, check the health of your party, the mana of your healer, and the position of your healer. If the party is not topped off, or if the healer is at half mana or less, stop for a little while to let the healer do his thing. If the healer doesn’t start healing or drinking within about five seconds, feel free to continue. If the healer is a significant distance behind you, wait for him to catch up before you pull. Pulling while the healer is far away and assuming that he will catch up before you need a heal is not a chance you want to take – and is also very rude.

Pay attention to party chat. If the healer needs to drink, would prefer you move on without letting him drink or top off the group, or needs to go afk temporarily, he will generally let you know in party chat.


Generally you will want to pull by marking an enemy with a skull, and then running in and using an AoE ability – Thunder Clap, Howling Blast, Death and Decay, Swipe, Consecration, or Hammer of the Righteous. After the AoE ability, use some high-threat single-target abilities on skull, and then AoE again.

Some groups of enemies you shouldn’t run up to, and should instead “pull” them by using a ranged ability, and waiting for them to come to you. You should generally do this when two groups of enemies are standing near each other, such that you might accidentally aggro additional enemies if you ran up to them. If one of the enemies is a caster and you can’t safely run up to it, you should hit the caster with a ranged silence, a ranged daze, or death grip. You can also force the caster to come to you by moving behind a nearby wall or pillar. If the caster can’t see you, it can’t cast, and it will run to the nearest spot where it can see you and begin casting again. This is called “line of sight pulling” or “LoS”. It’s generally a good idea to let your party know before you start a line of sight pull.

If you lose aggro on an enemy and want to pick it up again, a good tool to use is a taunt. Taunts are Dark Command, Taunt, Growl, Hand of Reckoning, and Righteous Defense. A taunt gives you aggro and sets your threat against the targeted enemy equal to that of the person who currently has the highest threat. If your taunt misses or isn’t available, you can try using a fixate – Mocking Blow, Death Grip, Challenging Shout, or Challenging Roar. Fixates give you aggro for a short time, but don’t significantly increase your threat; after using a fixate, it’s up to you to generate enough threat to keep the enemy attacking you. If you use a fixate after a taunt misses, it will usually keep the enemy attacking you long enough for your taunt to become available again.

Don’t use taunts or fixates on an enemy that is already attacking you – in almost all cases, the ability will have no effect, but will trigger its cooldown. The exception is Righteous Defense, which will not trigger on an enemy which is attacking you.

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  1. September 26, 2010 at 5:24 pm

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