The Roads I’ve Travelled

April 13, 2012

I was chatting with a guild DPS the other day… What we thought about Mists, the talent system, DPS balances, tank balances and heaven’s knows what else in that time frame… when she said something rather interesting.  She told me she liked it when I tanked Warmaster.

“What? I never tanked that fight.  ‘Cept that one time–”

“You had to one night during our progression.”

“Yeah, that was one, very short, night where I had to… so how can you say you liked it? I barely knew what I was doing.”  All I could think about was how I was really bad at positioning the cleaving mob to be within cleave range of drakes while still not getting melee hit by it.  I’m probably still bad at it.

“After just a couple attempts I knew exactly what you were going to do – how you were going to move – and I was easily able to prepare my DPS for it.  I can’t always do that.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

At first I was all “D’aww, she likes my tanking!”, but I started to consider the implications of it.  First, it pretty much pushed me over the edge and cemented my decision to start tanking again in Mists.  (DPS is only amusing for so long)  Second, it got me thinking about just where in the world (of warcraft) I learned how to tank with such consistency (and I’m definitely habitual and consistent), and really, just how I became as good as I am now.

I guess it starts in the beginning.

I learned the basics of the basics of tanking in Vanilla as a Priest first.  I quickly became very appreciative of any tank that could hold threat on (mostly) everything so I didn’t have a heart attack while trying to keep the group up, and more importantly myself, while mobs ran rampant.  The difference between the two were night and day, however the subtleties didn’t quite grab me at that level.

After my Priest was my Warrior. I wanted to tank.  Problem was, I only had a very, very vague idea on how to do so.  The group of friends I played with at the time taught me the basics.  Stance dancing to Thunder Clap, using Demo Shout and Cleave, pushing Shield Block in order to use Revenge, and most importantly: Sunder Armor.  I won’t say I was good, in fact I’m sure I was bad, but I was learning.  From playing my priest, I knew it was important to stop the mobs from hitting my other party members, especially my healer, so I did the best I could do with what I knew.

It wasn’t until the very tail end of BC that I picked up tanking again.  Reesi was Resto at the time, but I came across a Bear that was really good; as good as the better warriors I was healing in heroics.  I eventually befriended this Bear and he taught me how to be a bear and just about everything he knew.  How to gear for tanking, how to AoE tank (3-target swipe and lacerates!), how to AoE pull with Wrath, Starfire, Moonfire, and Hurricane, and most importantly, to use “V” to show health bars above mobs in order to better target them.  I tried my first heroic – Mechanar because it was easiest at the time, and took it slow-ish.  I knew the pulls from healing them (and resto tanking them!), so I knew what to avoid and what to wait for by observation.  The only really rough patch was the gauntlet just before the final boss, but I did fine.  I remember joining a Karazhan pug and being nervous as all hell.  Tanking a few heroics was one thing.  Tanking a raid, with a pug, was another.  They actually let me tank Prince.  Luckily we didn’t get horrible Inferno spawns and killed him the first go around.  Success!  Tanking wasn’t so bad after all, and I found I did pretty well with it, with practice, though I still wasn’t terribly comfortable with it.

I didn’t tank a whole lot then, as it was nearing the release of Wrath and I had found a new love for Enhance Shaman.  Playing melee completely altered my view of what made a good tank and what made a bad tank.  Getting threat on everything I understood easily enough.  The one thing that rubbed me the wrong way with tanks was always positioning.  It wasn’t something I entirely considered when I tanked for that little bit on Reesi.  Sure, I knew the basic “don’t stand in bad stuff” thing, but that was it.  I guess positioning a boss or trash isn’t really something you learn to appreciate until you’ve played a melee class that has to chase after a constantly moving target – and have to constantly replace totems in the process because of it(I hated you Grobbulus…).  Chasing after mobs is a giant pain in the ass… especially when there’s no necessary reason for the mob to move.  The other was turning mobs with a cleave or breath attack. Whenever tanks didn’t turn a boss that had either of those, or both, and forced the rest of the party to move in order to avoid it, I got pretty mad.

Naxxramas came and went.  My itch to work on tanking surfaced again.  At the time we had two tanks and I was sure I could do better.  In my some-what brief play as an Enhance, I learned a lot more about raiding, min maxing, and all the connotations that progression (albeit not hardcore) raiding brought along.  I had been keeping up on the official forums for Enhance (Thanks, Elam!), so that carried over to Reesi when I swapped to her the second week of Ulduar.

I was the third tank, so I learned how to Feral DPS in Ulduar and I really learned how to Bear tank in there as well.  With the help of Thatgrimguy’s sticky on the official forums, I learned Bears very well.  I started to fine-tune my tanking.  I started to use macros.  I started to change my keybinds and UI to better facilitate what I needed to do. I became an expert in the rotation – without the stupid cast sequence macro – and my guild’s dps began to notice how good my threat actually was and rely on me for it.  Man, give me more of that praise.  I loved it!  It was extremely satisfying to know my tanking was appreciated.

Feral DPS, however, I think is what fine-tuned my need for consistency.  Having a positional attack really forced me to pay attention to mob positions.  If I couldn’t shred, I wasn’t doing well.  I knew how much it sucked to have a boss be moved in such a way that it caused me to be in the parry zone, if even for a few seconds.  I knew how annoying it was when tanks turned a boss around slowly.  I again knew the pain of twitchy mobs.  Having to deal with that as a melee DPS really just sucks.  You may think we’re just being whiny bitches, and to a degree we are, but when you want to be competitive DPS and are being held back, if only a little, by a tank that doesn’t care or realize the importance of stationary and well-positioned mobs, it’s really, really frustrating.

My competitive spirit, my drive to be a good player, and the satisfaction of doing my job well all drove me to become the complete-package tank, though I didn’t really know it at the time.  I just wanted to do my job well.  I wanted to tank, but do it in such a way that didn’t inconvenience the rest of the raid or party (and if I was going to do something odd, I’d always find myself saying so over vent so they could at least prepare).  I moved on from my Ulduar guild to a higher up guild (US 69th) and mostly DPS’d for them, though somewhere during ToC I ended up being one of their main tanks.  I got a bit better, though the strain wasn’t that much.  There were a few DPS that would challenge my threat if I wasn’t careful, but that made it fun when I could hold my own against them.

Essentially, all the little things I picked up on in my years of playing WoW all culminated into my ability to tank.

I knew how to manipulate mob hit boxes in order to move in such a way that wasn’t frustrating for melee, I knew how to hold threat and hold threat well, I knew when to use cooldowns… I was in a good guild and getting praise for my tanking.  I thought I was done learning.

I joined Drow.

I was seriously wrong.

Going from a guild that was barely making progress in Heroic ICC to a guild that had every boss but Lich King on farm caught me so off guard the first week that it shook my confidence to the core.  I didn’t know a damn thing about progression raiding at a top US level and I felt extremely lost.  It was a trial by fire, and I felt like a complete ass after the first week.  I lost AoE threat on gunship (hearing “Why are people dead on gunship?” on vent really sent me over the emo edge), I had the melee DPS yelling at me on Rotface for not keeping the boss turned in the direction he spewed, I’m pretty sure I messed something up on Princes, I again lost threat on Valithria, and I screwed up the healer’s positioning strategy for Sindragosa.  I was simply not prepared for Drow’s level of DPS and their overall raid synergy.  Even though I had been asking questions, I still felt lost.

The only thing that DID go well was my single target threat.

I’m super competitive in games, and not to derail my own blog post, but being told you couldn’t play with the boys because you’re a girl throughout your childhood (I grew up around boys!) really kind of drives the competitive spirit into almost everything you do.  (“Anything you can do, I can do better”) I had something to prove, and though I enjoy playing games just to play them, there were underlying motives.  So, I forced myself to get even better.  I wanted to be in Drow and to prove that I, a female, could tank at that level.  To play with the boys, so to speak.  I knew I was on a worse chopping block because of that (and because Drow had not recruited a female since Sunwell).  I wanted the satisfaction of tanking for players that were not just good, but amazing, and to also be at their level.

The next week arguably went better.  I added Tidy Plates: Threat Plates to my UI arsenal (<3), I cleaned up my boss mods and I made sure my unit frames would display the other tank’s debuffs.  I was determined to do better.  Gunship came around and I figured I could get away with some of my DPS gear, since the adds didn’t seem to hit very hard.  Armor Pen combined with a Bear = Mostly better threat than the locks and mages = no dead people on Gunship.  Success!  The rest of my mistakes were pretty much fixed for the rest of the fights.  All of it was looking good, though I still was very hard on myself whenever I screwed up.

Probably my worst screw up with Drow was when they brought me in for H. LK attempts.  I was doing well (again learning the subtleties of his twitchy hitbox with lots of ghouls around, and moving him into place for Defile without moving him too much, and learning how to run across the platform from ghosts without screwing melee over, etc), until I went to hit a cooldown for Soul Reaper and immediately started spamming Druid chat with “Innervating Lich King!!”

Psst.  That wasn’t Frenzied Regen you just hit, Reesi.  That was Innervate.  And now you’re in caster form with Lich King about to hit you with Soul Reaper and you have no cooldown and you’re not a bear and you’re about to di—SPLAT

Deadbear.  :(

Needless to say I felt like a complete moron.  And I learned the importance of never, ever, ever having any of your caster form ability keybinds anywhere near your cooldowns.

After all that (it was probably the most stressful month I have ever had in WoW) I was promoted to Raid Team, but I really wasn’t completely done learning.  Drow challenged me in new ways all the time.  Being on the edge of that kind of progression really forces you to play to the best of your abilities in more ways than one.  I’ve learned how to tweak gear when a situation calls for it – and not be afraid to do so.  The worst you can do is die horribly, and that can be fixed the next attempt!  I learned how to utilize my UI to make playing easier in order to pay attention to my surroundings.  I learned how to grab threat without tricks (before the threat changes, clearly) and keep it from the fury warriors, even if that meant using Growl, then Challenging Roar, then Growl again.  Adaptability is a huge quality to have; if something I’m doing isn’t working one way, then I go ahead and try it a different way.

I suppose what I’m trying to get at is, in order for someone to be a great tank, they can’t ever really be done learning.  There’s always a new challenge that surfaces that must be overcome, even if it’s something small like learning how a boss’s hitbox interacts with your own and manipulating it to your advantage.

With my return to tanking and a new tanking model surfacing for Mists, I’m sure I’ll have plenty to learn yet again in order to maintain my level of play.  I welcome the challenge.

9 Comments

  • Greebs says:

    Quote: “With my return to tanking and a new tanking model surfacing for Mists, I’m sure I’ll have plenty to learn yet again in order to maintain my level of play. I welcome the challenge.”

    So you’re rolling a warlock then? Excellent!

  • Peregrina says:

    This was a great read – thanks for writing and posting it! Especially the swap to caster instead of a cooldown for Soul Reaper. Moving up into the world of raiding is intimidating for a lot of people, and it’s nice to know that not only did the people at the top have to make the same climb, they made some mistakes on the way. =)

  • SamuraiKav says:

    I look forward to reading it! DPS being my main spec, it helps to know what classes need to be where to do optimal dps. Moving the mob(s) isn’t that hard usually to give them better dps and could mean the difference. I also rolled a healer, even though I’m terrible at it, just to get a healer’s point of view and they have helped tremendously.

  • Ikagawa says:

    I miss the ability to Innervate Warriors… ;)

  • blackmatt says:

    old school bears make the best tanks.

    i still remember the bwl/aq geared bear who ran my group through ud strat back when i was still a noob. hurricanes all over the place, soloing packs of zombies, never stopping, always self-hotting. i’d always thought i was pretty good at tanking from hearing healers add me to their friends lists, but that guy really showed me how much i was missing.

    whenever i played melee with a tank that couldn’t figure out how hit boxes work i wanted to stab them in the face.

  • Prickle says:

    It’s funny how the journey goes isn’t it? Your start was similar to mine, Priest main in vanilla, my second 60 was a Warrior that got to tank some 5 mans and even a bit in MC if we were desperate for tanks. I learned so much about movement and game mechanics back then when everyone’s skills were more limited. I don’t think I would be nearly as picky about what I do now if I had started tanking in wrath/cata.

    I agree that there is also a little extra fun in feeling like you are proving that you can stand up and play with the boys. We really shouldn’t have to prove anything extra but I like knowing that I’m valued for my skill as a player and not because I help break up the deep voices on TS. :)

  • Scarlexis says:

    I honestly want to tell you Reesi that I picked up feral tanking after watching several of Drow’s videos with you tanking. I was visibly impressed with the way you handled positioning nad use of CDs. early in Cata I gave up my prot pally and switch my resto druid to feral. Until I left WoW in Dec to lead a raid guild in SWTOR I was the main progression tank on my bear and I have you to thank for the inspiration.

    Thank you

    Scarlexis

  • Mowse says:

    As a soon to be 5 term fembear myself, I can completely relate to how you feel in wanting to prove that we can be equally adequate, if not better, tanks than our male counterparts. Playing as a tank in vanilla really cemented this desire to come out on top for me, because girls played healers, and druids were expected to be healers, so to be a girl druid TANK, it was like the trifecta of NO NO NO. I wasn’t the best in vanilla, and I certainly had to learn and adapt in Burning Crusade, which is when I joined a higher ranked guild on my server, and faced some of the same challenges you did: they already had Black Temple on farm (pre sunwell release), and I was just coming in there stumbling around and making stupid mistakes. I had some good teachers (albeit warriors >.>) who taught me a lot about tps and how to make things easier on myself. I am not 100% thrilled with some of the druid changes in mop, but I echo your sentiment when you say you are ready for the new challenge. :)

  • Øtaku says:

    Really glad you chose to go back to tanking for MoP MommaBearCat :)

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