Friday, June 10, 2011

Comparing the Tank Classes - Cataclysm Edition

Just before the coming of Cataclysm (well actually a couple of months before) I did a post on the differences between the tank classes. I remember that that post was based on a request made by a friend of mine, actually the first post request I ever got! A lot has changed since then however, and I feel like it's time to update that old post to Cataclysm standards. So here it is – Tank Comparison: Cataclysm Edition. Like I said in my old post, the intention of it is to tell you a little about;
”Which one is the most difficult, interesting, easy or boring? What differs between the classes? Hopefully you'll be a little wiser on which class you'd like to try for tanking and what to expect when doing so!”

It's worth noting that unlike back then,
I don't actually have one tank of each class at max level this time around. Right now I've got a warrior, paladin and death knight at 85 with which I tank quite often, but my druid hasn't made it past 80 yet. When I wrote my old post I did state that ”Druid tanking is what I have the least experience of, and especially at endgame. The reason for this is simple - it is the most boring tank spec at level 80.” I still think so, and that is the reason my druid hasn't made it very far. I deleted my old druid and rerolled a troll one when Cataclysm came, that explains why I had an 80 druid for the old post, but not now. But don't worry! Eventhough I don't know much about druid tanking, Love actually mains a feral druid and tanks quite often, both in instances and raids, I have therefor asked him to give me the details on druid tanking. I've only raid tanked with my paladin so far, but honestly it's almost always tougher to tank heroics than it is to tank raids.

Remember, this is from my point of view. When I write that a tank style is boring, it's obviously because I think so, not necessarily because of some innate property of the class. Some things haven't changed much since Wrath, and you will find similarities to my old post when those matters are concerned.

I started out with druid in my last post, so I might as well let them go first again. As I wrote back in my old post, the best reason to choose a druid as a tank is really;

”As a druid you will (...) have every other role as an option at any time, more so than for any other class. If you level as a tank and find out half way that you didn't like it, you can still use the same char to be a melee, healer or caster! Although it doesn't make the tanking more fun per se, it can still be nice to be able to take a break from tanking and do something else if wanted.”

This is in fact a balance druid, but no one can tell!
Druids still have a fairly simple and repetitive tanking style, and with the lack of gimmicky skills like paladins I personally feel like druid tanking is without a doubt the most boring one (but, each to his own). Druids are unmatched in their ability to quickly switch between doing great dps and tanking however, and a hero bear is a great asset in most 10 man raids. Being without gimmicks doesn't mean being without useful tools, unfortunately these have become less needed in Cataclysm than they used to be in Wrath. Warlocks and Death Knights now also have a combat res (and don't have to drop shapeshift to use it). Having to drop shapeshift is also a big reason for why a tank druids Innervate and Tranquillity won't always come to great use. Druids are pretty much on par with the other tanks when it comes to single target and aoe target threat and general survivability. Because of how their Savage Defense works however, they are arguably the least suited to do aoe-tanking.

Druids were among the best aoe tanks in Wrath, then Blizzard streamlined the aoe tanking skills and actually made druids among the worst aoe tanks in early Cataclysm, especially before you got Thrash. Some buffing to Swipe have remedied most of this however. Since Wrath, druids have also become a proper interrupt in Skull Bash, but is currently the only tank that lacks a ranged silence ability, something that is mostly noticeable in current heroic content.

Gearing as a druid is probably among the easiest as you can pretty much grab any dps gear, and don't have to worry about stats like block, dodge or parry. This is also one of the main reasons that hero bears deal great amounts of damage even when in ”tank gear”. One of the things about druids is being in shapeshift 95% of the time. This means you'll look pretty much like every other bear in the game, and if you like being able to look at your cool epics, druid tanking isn't for you.

Druids don't have a cool raid wide cooldown, like Paladins and now Warriors do. The druid is unique however, as already mentioned, in their ability to smoothly switch between tanking and dpsing – something that many raid groups will see as a big advantage. The monotonous, or simple if you like, skill rotation will either make you happy or sad depending on what is your cup of tea. As a druid you also have the best possibilites to bring another role to the group, being able to switch to melee, healing or caster dpsing if needed.

In my old post I wrote;

”At lower levels I notice that druid tanks have less threat regen and also less rage regen than for example warriors. ”

I still think this is true. Out of all the lowbie tanks, you'll probably struggle the most as a druid. I'm not sure if it's due to not getting good skills early enough, bad rage generation or bad threat values. One example is that druids lack a good way to get initial threat compared to other classes - warriors have charge that allow them to get fast rage for some initial threat skills, paladins and dks are always at max resources at the beginning of a fight. As a druid you've only got Enrage with 1 minute cooldown, which means you'll have to learn how to manage your rage. This can either be tedious or challenging, depending on what you like. The biggest problem of lowbie druid tanking has fortunately been somewhat addressed, that of really sucky aoe threat. You only have swipe at low levels, and it is on cooldown. It also used to be really bad threat. Every other tank has at least a couple of aoe skills, but as a druid you will only have one in an environment where nearly all tanking is aoe-tanking. Fortunately, swipe doesn't suck as much, but it's still the only aoe threat you have (until level 81 when you get Thrash) unless you glyph Maul.

  • Easy class to tank with, few skills to keep track off.
  • Has the ability to do good dps even in tank gear.
  • Easy gearing, basically just use any melee gear that drops.

  • Not very versatile, using very few skills in the standard rotation makes the tank druid repetative.
  • Rage and threat issues at lower levels.
  • Have utility skills but can't always use them when needed.
  • Looks like everyone else.

Back in my old post I wrote;

”Paladins are known to be faceroll, this doesn't just mean retridins but definitely includes tankadins as well (holydins a little less because of the nature of healing). Because of paladins being a mana using class, Blizzard has given them a bunch of cooldown skills, which usually are used in a special order to maximize efficiency. Although a real tanking situation doesn't always allow for one to use a rotation, this is still basically what paladin tanking is all about, rotating skills.”

To a large extent, this is still true about paladin tanking. Because they use a virtually limitless resource pool for their skills (mana and they basically can't go oom), Blizzard have had to limit their skill output through cooldowns instead. It is still true that all the paladin skills are on cooldown, and it does turn them into the most rotation-based tank class. But things have changed since Wrath, and a couple of redesigns have left paladins better (ie more interesting) off than they used to be. For instance there is the new Holy Power resource system, which although I don't think it is used to its full potential, does add some minimal strategical thinking to paladin tanking. Holy Power can both be used on Word of Glory (an instant heal) or on Shield of Righteousness, which means you can choose between survivability and threat – an interesting choice as a tank. In my old post I called paladins the most immobile of the four tank classes, since the only real aoe skill was Consecration. Paladins have since gotten a lot of other useful aoe skills, like Hammer of the Righteous hitting unlimited amount of targets (albeit in a cone effect) and Holy Wrath to complement Consecration, and definitely allowing for paladins to do good aoe-tanking while on the move. Avenger's Shield also got an overhaul and has become a standard tanking tool instead of the pulling tool it mostly was back in Wrath. All of these skills combined has probably left paladins with the most tools to handle any possible tanking situation, being good at multi-target, ranged and single target threat.

Paladins also sport one of the best raid/group cooldowns of all tanks in Divine Guardian and has other great utility tools in Lay on Hands and bubbles allowing them to help the group out with a lot more than just holding aggro on the bad guy. Tankadins, along with druids, used to be without a proper interrupt, which could be somewhat troublesome (actually it annoyed me to bits). You had to wait for your Avenger's Shield to come off cooldown or hope to be a belf if you wanted to silence someone. This has been fixed since the implementation of Rebuke. What is the drawback of Paladin tanking you ask? In terms of goodness, there is none – if you want simple tanking with a tool for just about every situation, paladin tanking is definitely for you. If you like versatile and dynamic tanking however, paladins still have the most rigid skill system, although this is somewhat buffed by the fact that you can tinker with other areas of the fight as well. If you'd really want to find some sort of issue with paladin tanking it could be that their single target threat isn't as good as the other tank classes, also paladin tanks probably deal the least damage of all the tank classes.

In my old post I wrote;

”What make paladins so appealing as a general class is probably their ability to be all the roles in one class. This means that if you ever roll a tankadin, you could eventually respecc to dps or healer as with a druid. Although this doesn't actually affect the way a tankadin tanks, I still think it could be an important thing or factor when choosing what tank class to play. ”

This is definitely still true – being a paladin and a hybrid you've got all paths open for you and can offer your raid group not just a tank, but a potential dpser or healer as well if needed. The usefulness in this should not be shrugged at. As mentioned, paladins also bring a lot of useful buffs to a raid, not only Divine Guardian, but also blessings and various utility tools that the other tanks overall lack.

Because lowbie paladins start out with the skill Avenger's Shield, which basically is an ”autowin-threat” skill on low levels, lowbie paladin tanking is usually very easy. However, lowbie paladins could have a lot more trouble in chaining through instances than dks, druids and warriors have because of their mana pool. Although the mana is almost limitless at higher levels, it can turn into  something of a problem at lower levels even with the skill Judgements of the Wise. Where all the other classes can tank without stopping (as long as the healer can keep up!), as a paladin tank you might actually have to take mana breaks. This is a very minor drawback however. One of the biggest benefits of being a paladin tank at low levels is the ability to self heal more than any of the other tank classes. Word of Glory is an extremely useful tool when tanking unreliable pugs, and will also allow you to solo a lot of content. The problem of paladin tanking being rather dull at lower levels due to lack of skills has also since been remedied, and you will now get new and interesting tanking skills in a more balanced pace (instead of everything coming around level 60 as it did back in Wrath).

  • Wide variety of skills which cover most situations a tank can get into - aoe-skills, ranged threat skills, ranged silence skill and a stun to name a few.
  • Rotation based tanking makes for easy tanking.
  • Many useful buffs and otherwise useful utility skills.

  • Rotation based tanking makes for predictable aka boring tanking (especially in endgame).
  • Deals the least damage and probably has the weakest single target threat.

Death Knight
Back in my old post I wrote;

”Death Knights were first introduced as becoming the "caster-tanks" of WoW, using spells and magic absorbtion to tank. I was really intriguied by this and saw something of a plate wearing warlock for my inner eye. It didn't really turn out that way. Although Blizzard had really interesting visions for Death Knights they're mostly a sort of paladin counterpart. There is something unique about Death Knights however. They are the only class that has to keep track of two different energy systems - runes and runic power. This makes, in my opinion, Death Knights the trickiest tanks of them all.”

In a way, this is still true. No other tank requires as much planning and know-how about the class to get the most out of it. Using the runes the right and the wrong way makes a lot of difference, especially in end game. Don't get me wrong, for heroic tanking you can pretty much pull out any skill and still do a good tanking job, unlike with warrior tanking. Blizzard have also lowered the cost of some crucial skills like Death & Decay, which further has made dk-facerolling easier. But  maximizing your efficiency as a death knight tank probably requires more skill than for any of the other tanks.

If you just read about paladins above they might come out as the perfect tank, and in many aspects they are. But no tank is quite the one-man army as a Death Knight. Although a DK has fewer utility tools to help out the group, they are extremely strong at keeping themselves alive with some of the best self-buff skills of any tank. Death Knights have good ranged threat skills and are among the best tanks for kiting mobs.

Other tanks used to envy the DK's Runeforging Weapon enchant, since it used to be the best tanking weapon enchant in the game, by far. Fortunately, all the other tanks have gotten a good weapon enchant in Windwalk, but DK's still has a great tank enchant completely free of cost!

The only real drawback of dk tanking isn't a drawback at all as long as you're good enough. Because of how the runic power system, dks tanks are currently the only tanks that stand a fair chance at ever being without the resource to use a cooldown. Several important cooldowns require runic power to be used, which isn't true for any of the other tank classes (I don't count paladins endless mana as a limited resource). This is a small problem, but it exists. Death knights are similar to druids in that they use a ”dps style” to tank. Although they, unlike druids, require a specific tanking gear to do the job, they too can switch between dpsing and tanking a lot easier than warriors and paladins can. The already mentioned wide variety of cooldowns leave a lot of the survivability in the hands of the death knight, and DK's are probably still among the best tanks to handle magic damage. For raiding purposes, DK tanks are considered among the weaker aoe tanks, but I personally feel like their aoe is strong and simple for heroics.

Because of the nature of dk tanking, it appeals to people who enjoy dpsing. Unfortunately it has also lead many players to believe that you can be a good dk tank just by switching to Blood Presence. As mentioned, dk tanking does require a proper tank spec (especially nowadays when there is only one instead of three) and tanking gear. As long as you have those however, getting into dk tanking is pretty easy – you can basically do whatever you did while dpsing and do a fairly good job. Just remember that for later on you will have to learn how to use cooldowns and using a proper tanking rotation to maxmimize survivability, but for lower instances dk tanking is extremely accessible and straight forward.

  • Good variety of skills to counter many situations.
  • Unique skills like Absorb Magic and Death Grip that are very useful for tanking.
  • Easy switching between Dpsing and Tanking, which is especially useful when lowbie.
  • A skill system that is pretty easy to learn, but difficult to master.
  • Tricky resource system makes it difficult to get the most out of the class (but can also be seen as an interesting challenge).
  • The only tank class without any kind of aoe taunt.
  • Among the least good aoe tanks.

I definitely have a hate-love relationship with warriors. Although there is no class I've rerolled and leveled more times, there are also few classes I've whined more about (maybe druids). In a sense warriors have everything – a well thought through skill system and loads of fun and interesting tools for tanking, and in another sense they just lack so much – no real ranged threat, less good aoes and cooldowns than paladins and dks. When tanking as a warrior I can both think ”this is so much fun!” and ”I freaking hate this” in the same instance. Warriors really do have the best designed tanking system if you ask me, a healthy mix of cooldowns, procs and regular skills to keep you interested and busy without being overwhelming. And a lot of the earlier issues about warrior tanking have been remedied – rage being less of an issue, gear scaling properly, block being less worthless (actually it's awesome now) among other things. I won't say warrior tanking means busting your ass, but it's definitely more work than with a paladin or dk. It's not faceroll, but on the other hand it's probably the most dynamic of all classes. You can throw an axe at a mob over there, charge into another, intervene right back to some caster who's gotten aggro – if you want to, the warrior is a whirlwind of awesome and can be hell of a lot of fun. But if you're not up to pulling all stops, warrior tanking becomes troublesome and tedious.

Like mentioned, most of the warriors tanking issues have been addressed. They've even got a proper raid cooldown now in Rallying Cry. Nonetheless, the warrior weakness would probably be the lack of added utility it can bring to a raid. It has no special buff or cooldown except for Rallying Cry, and the tricky playstyle usually requires a dedicated player to become a decent tank. Warrior tanking is rewarding however, and definitely worth the trouble if you give it some time.

Warriors do lack in the raid buff and utility department. No bubbles, innervates or combat resses here. The small tricks lie rather in the tanking department than the group utility department, in a way that make them resemble dks more than paladins and druids. Warriors are the most mobile among all tanks which is a great asset on some fights where moving a lot is important, Al'akir comes to mind. Warriors are also considered among the best threaters among tanks both at single and aoe tanking (although warrior aoe isn't as easily accessible as the other tanks aoes).

More so than with the other tanking classes, playing a lowbie warrior can easily feel overwhelming and difficult. Already early on are there plenty of skills to keep track off, and knowing which ones are the best to use at what point isn't always easy. Once you get the hang of it, warriors are juggernauts, and probably have the easiest time to burn through groups of mobs (as long as the rest of the group can handle it). If you know what skills to use, warriors don't really have any downtime, unlike paladins who have to worry about mana (at least at lower levels) and cooldowns, dks who have to worry about their runes, and druids whos aoe threat just isn't good enough.

  • Well balanced tanking style makes for fun tanking, just the right amount of complicated to never get boring or tedious.
  • Best aoe threat (once they get everything up)

  • Lack of some good group utility skills
  • Lack of good buffs


Easiest tank class (according to me)
1. Paladin
2. Druid
3. Death Knight
4. Warrior

Most fun tank class (according to me)
1. Warrior
2. Death Knight
3. Paladin
4. Druid


  1. Good analysis, though it makes me super sad that you think druids have a boring rotation. They definitely did in Wrath, but they've gotten two new skills and a proc since then, making their rotation far more dynamic. Almost as dynamic as a warrior's rotation, in my opinion. :P Or maybe you're talking about the multi-target rotation, because that is pretty boring.

  2. @Sunnier
    Yeah, druids are definitely better off now (like with paladins). I haven't tanked as a bear on max level so I asked my bf who usually goes hero bear in his raids and occasionally in heroics, and he confirmed that bear tanking is still pretty much pressing the same button all the time. So blame him! I might give it a new chance once my druid dings 85 though and see if he is right ;) Also, just because he/I think druid tanking is the most boring doesn't mean it has to be boring. Just that the other tank classes bring so much more fun stuff to the table to do (like paladin tank rotation is prolly more boring than druid one, but they have loads of other tinkery stuff to do). I still think that is true :/