Home > Talents & Glyphs > Speccing for Cataclysm Five-Mans

Speccing for Cataclysm Five-Mans

I strongly believe that one of the worst things that ever happened to leveling tanks was WoWpopular.com. Not just that particular site, of course, but it and all its ilk. Sites that recommend specs, glyphs, talents, even high-profile bloggers who are working on top-tier, hardmode content, and thus provide a cookie-cutter raiding spec with discussion of maybe the one or two talents they consider controversial or interesting.

The problem with this is that these are the results that Google comes up with when the level 10 nub, looking for where to spend his first talent point, searches “Best [class] tank spec.” These are the results that the DPS who doesn’t actually care about tanking finds 5 minutes before he slaps on a shield and queues for randoms with the coveted Tank Queue.

Shortly after the Frozen Throne wing was released I remember seeing a spike in obviously new warrior tanks, tanks who could barely handle H FoS, much less H ICC, maxing out Safeguard at the expense of Focused Rage, following Veneretio’s venerable example, though in most cases probably second- or third-hand. Months later, when my own guild was working on LK 10 30% easymode and I specced Safeguard for the OT utility, I got to see this phenomenon first-hand: not a month later a guildy dusted off an old warrior alt, copied my spec point for point, and complained that he was having a hard time with threat in heroic dungeons.

I was baffled. Apparently, a significant portion of the five-man tanking population completely misses the point. (Not that raid tanks are necessarily any better; just that I don’t see many of them.)

What is the point? The point is that talent trees exist for exactly one reason: customization. If you’re not looking at your talents and thinking, “How will this work when I’m using it?” you’re doing it wrong.

That’s not to say that all the discussion that goes on in the tanking community, on blogs and forums and in private conversations, isn’t valuable. Quite the contrary – do you intend to calculate each talent’s usefulness on your own? Will you catch every implication, crunch every number? Never overlook a potential gain in performance because of your prejudice against the previous version of the talent/ability? Of course not. But ultimately, all of the theorycraft in the world should only inform your choices in talents. To make the best choices, you need to also consider yourself, and the content you’re running. The question should never be, “What are the best talents for tanking class x y or z?” The question should be, “What are the best talents for me in my situation?”

On December 7th, tanks who had formerly been doing nothing but 25-man raiding, concentrating themselves on bosses bosses and more bosses, will have to shift gears all the way back down to 5-man content. Plate DPS who queued as tanks for instant heroics and let the overpowered DPS and healer carry them through instances tuned for 20k health blue-geared tanks will have to step up or stop tanking. And all of the speccing recommendations and principles to live by which we’ve used for raiding will be out the window.

So let’s practice thinking about our new priorities.

Disclaimer: I’m intentionally avoiding any information about the new instances and their encounters to avoid spoiling myself. A group of my guildies are looking forward to running them blind, without research or DBM, and figuring out strats ourselves. So all of these points are based on my understanding of 5-mans in general, not on any particular elements that will or will not be present in any given future dungeon. Cataclysm dungeons may well diverge from these expectations.

Group Composition

First, unless you’re leveling with a dedicated 5-man, you cannot be sure of anything about your group except that you will be tanking and you will have some sort of healer. This means you need to take responsibility for certain functions that you might normally leave to a raid member, such as crowd control and interrupts. A good example of a talent which is optional in raiding but all-but-required in 5-mans is Improved Hammer of Justice.

The most notable loss in group composition to raid-oriented tanks is that of the second tank. Off-tanking talents like Safeguard and Vigilance have no place on a 5-man tank.

Since all four tanks are able to bring both tanking debuffs some raiding tanks have talented out of theirs, trusting their cotank to apply them instead. Since your cotank isn’t around in 5-mans, you should invest any points required for both tanking debuffs, and get used to a playstyle that provides both of them. Yes, Diseaseless DKs, that means you should probably be running Diseased until you start raid tanking again at 85.

Another thing to remember is that in a 5-man, you have one healer. That means that if a healer dies, you have no one to pick up the slack; unless you can survive to the end of the encounter without any external help, you’re pretty much guaranteed a wipe. (Occasionally a boomkin, retadin, spriest or elesham will help out; but again, you aren’t necessarily sure of your group composition, and many heal-capable DPS will tunnel vision and forget that their healing can be the difference between a kill and a wipe.) So you’ll want to make sure you have your survival cooldowns fully talented, as well as any reasonably on-demand healing talents like the protadin buffs to Word of Glory. More on cooldowns later.


The archetypal difficult raid encounter involves a hard-hitting boss with so much health that the DPS have to go all out to kill him before he enrages and wipes the raid. The tank’s jobs are

  1. To facilitate the DPS, by providing any raid benefits he can, by positioning the raid boss in a way that gives DPS the highest possible uptime, and by holding his single-target threat a comfortable margin above the highest-threat DPS’s threat, or as high as possible if he can’t manage that;
  2. To make himself as easy to heal as possible given 2-3 healers and a pattern of damage that usually includes predictable periods of elevated or spike damage.

Instance boss tanking is very different. Bosses almost never have an enrage timer, soft or hard, which reduces the need for single-target threat and devalues DPS-oriented raid benefits like Abomination’s Might. Ultimately it reduces the relative importance of boss encounters in general: in most five-mans at gear level, your group will be more strained by trash than by any but the most challenging boss. Also, since bosses are less important, and both bosses and trash have significantly less health per DPS than in a raid environment, “phase” abilities (usable on enemies below 20% health, enemies above 80% health, etc.) are less valuable – more likely to be clipped by GCDs, cast times, and other group members’ DPS.

In an instance, the trash is what gives you trouble. (At least, it’s what’s given me trouble in the past.) Especially running into a pack for the first time, the tank has to make some important judgments about what the kill order is, what should be crowd controlled by whom, what he’s going to pull and how he’s going to pull it. You have to make these judgments blind – based solely on the names of the mobs and their models – then communicate all of this to your group members in a clear and non-tl;dr fashion, hope that they all perform their roles perfectly, and triage when they inevitably don’t. So unlike in raid tanking specs, what tanking bloggers will sometimes call “trash talents” may be your most important. Take another look at them.

Cooldown Use

In my opinion, the main strategy difference between 5-mans and raids for tanks is the use of cooldowns. While addressing mechanics, picking up mobs and dealing with pats, adds, and bad CC happen in basically the same way in both raid and party environments, the loss of all but one of your healers significantly changes your pattern of healing. You only have one healer, so healing at any given time is binary: you’re either getting it or you’re not.

The way I think of it, in a raid, you pop cooldowns to help your healers. You have multiple healers, who can keep you healed under normal circumstances; but sometimes, damage intake is high or your healers are otherwise occupied and they need a little breathing room. Under most circumstances, you’re never not being healed; you may just be being healed a little less sometimes.

A 5-man group is different. Sometimes, your only healer is silenced, or moving, or otherwise occupied; and when this happens it shuts your incoming healing down to just about 0. Sometimes your healer is dead or oom, and there’s no one to pick up the slack. Cooldowns therefore are most valuable not for helping your healer keep you up, but for helping you stay up as long as possible without heals. Think of it like a botched Plagueworks puppy or Gluth encounter. You’ve got 10 stacks of MS, you’re taking predictable damage, and you need to hold out until either the other tank’s stacks drop off, or the dog dies.

Festergut 3 inhales is a good example of raid-style cooldown usage. I lead off with Last Stand right before he starts hitting me. A few seconds after Last Stand I pop Enraged Regeneration, to help smooth my healing. Then, about a second before Last Stand is about to expire, I hit my (unglyphed) Shield Wall, which will expire shortly after he expels all his gas.  This use of cooldowns is tailored for healability. In raid tanking, you’re not trying to reduce effective damage taken: you’re trying to make life easier for your healers. You generally want to chain your cooldowns from weakest to strongest; and cooldowns which increase healability without reducing spikiness are still valuable.

For five-man tanking, though, my priorities will be extremely different. I’ll avoid using Shield Block while Shield Wall is up, because mitigation from block is inversely proportional to mitigation from other sources; and I’ll save Last Stand to buff Enraged Regeneration when my health is low enough to benefit from every point of healing it gives me. In a binary, being-healed-or-not-being-healed environment like a 5-man, temporarily increasing your max health is worthless, and temporarily increasing your current health is only useful if it buys you enough living time for your healer to get a heal off or to kill the enemy. If your healer is dead or oom, it’s going to do jack squat.

One Last Thought

While running 5-mans, talents and abilities which affect only your party affect everyone – there’s no one past your own party. Since these sorts of abilities are usually party-limited because they would be overpowered if they affected everyone, these are high-priority talents and abilities. These sorts of abilities are a lot less common than they used to be – honestly, the only examples I can think of off the top of my head belong to shaman – but on the off chance I missed a tanking ability with party-only scope, keep this in mind.

My Warrior 80-85 Leveling Spec

I know I spent the whole intro to this post talking about how easily-accessible specs are destroying young tanks’ brains, but ultimately, there’s not a lot you can do about it. The kind of people who copy specs wholesale are misusing the posted specs, yes, but given that they aren’t willing to reason out their talent choices, it’s probably better that they copy a spec than that they allocate talents purely randomly. Posting specs is a useful way of fostering discussion about talents, which helps members of the tanking community think about their talent choices in a well-reasoned and meaningful way; it would be a shame to give up that discussion in a vain effort to force people to think who would rather not.

So here’s my spec.

That’s just the skeleton, of course. I’m not sure yet what I’m going to do with the rest of my points. Likely candidates are Incite, War Academy, or up the Fury tree to grab a point in Booming Voice, Rude Interruption, or Piercing Howl. I will not be taking Deep Wounds in this spec, because I don’t think it’s appropriate for a 5-man build. Our crit rate with multitarget attacks and with less than full raid buffs is laughable, and honestly I think you need to max Incite, War Academy and Cruelty just to make a DW spec viable – and I don’t have the points for that available on this skeleton. Maybe for a raid threat spec.

I’m considering moving my 2 points in Blood & Thunder into Incite, since DoTting up a CC target is pretty much the worst thing you can do, and I’m out of practice at avoiding breaking CC. It’s such a significant buff to AoE threat, though, especially with our new, slow tanking weapons, that I’m loath to leave it out. In 4.0.1 B&T was more than a 200% buff to Thunder Clap’s threat even at low levels of Vengeance; numbers have been tweaked enough that I’m not sure exactly what affect it would have now, but given that both Thunder Clap and Rend have no threat modifiers, I still expect it to be at least a 100% increase in TC threat. I’ll see how it works for me in practice.

What are your ideas for 5-man leveling/tanking specs?

  1. Kel
    December 9, 2010 at 8:22 pm

    Thanks for this post :)

  2. Lujanera
    December 11, 2010 at 9:43 pm


    I stumbled here for the first time today and was very happy with what I found. Some very useful information, which is especially nice to have given the recent departure of some of my favorite tanking writers.

    Regarding Blood & Thunder, I’ve included it in my spec as well and am finding it to require a fair amount of mental overhead to use effectively. It seems to be best applied early in a pull, prior to using TC. This is troublesome, however, since Rend generates so little snap threat at a time when threat is in painfully short supply. So, in general, I don’t use it on short trash pulls.

    B&T really shines, however, in fights where I have time to set it up and where streaming adds arrive semi-predictably. On the Augh/Lockmaw fight in Tol’vir, B&T is great: keep Rend rolling on the boss and make sure TC is available when the baby crocodiles arrive. So long as the baby croc target runs to me, a single TC and Shockwave is usually enough to take care of them. As a result, the dps can continue to nuke the boss and nobody needs to worry about kiting.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: