What is a Main Tank?

As most of the Paladin community is up in arms about the Lay on Hands changes that have been announced by the devs, I want to take some time to discuss something a bit different today. However, I will add a short blurb on my opinions on the change, and even though I have my reservations I agree with adgamorix over at Divine Plea, here is my take on the issue of the week:

…Exo and LoH are icing on the cake for us, they are not core talents that we need to survive. They are not getting rid of holy shield because rogues cant kill us in BGs, they are taking a utility spell away from us. Where I do agree with the voice of the community is that i feel it is unfair for a holy paladin to be able to tamper with our use of cool downs. Healers do not manage our cool downs for us, we do that on our own, and if LoH gives us Forbearance, we are not able to manage our incoming damage any more.

Definition of a Main Tank

Clarification: After a few of you posted your thoughts on this, I waned to provide a clarification to the definition of Main Tank. This is a philosophy and not a specific person. Our guild has two main tanks, two off tanks (dps with full 245 tank gear), and a few more casual main spec tanks with 245/258 gear. Although I think that my perspective comes from a progression guild, I believe that a true “main tank” can have these qualities while being casual and just neglecting the attendance factor.

I’m stealin your pic Rhidach

Main Tanking Is Lonely

There is an interesting discussion up on the MainTankadin forums regarding tanking instances and content that you don’t want to do. The break down of the initial post, that has sparked quite a debate regarding the duties of a main tank, is that a tank was asked to do an Ulduar 10 to go do Algalon, and he did not want to do it. The short and sweet of his complaint is that he does not want to have to do old content on a non raid night, and as such refused to go. The more difficult part of his initial post was the fact that he said that he was willing to bring his alt in to do it, as his main did not need any gear.

While I agree and disagree with his initial statement regarding raiding on an off night, I also see the underlying issue with his offer to bring an alt to the Algalon encounter. By refusing to bring your main, who happens to be the main tank of the guild, and instead bringing your alt, you are forfeiting your right to the title of main tank. A few pages into the thread, there was an interesting post regarding the definition of main tank, and all of the lovely things that come along with it. I thought that I would provide my own insight into what it takes to be a main tank, and why only certain people have the attitude, personality and propensity to pull it off.

Main tanks are the focal point of a raid, and as such they are scrutinized under a magnifying glass from first pull to the end of the raid. We are responsible for the welfare of each and every person in the raid, and we are the type of person that must step up and take accountability for any and all actions. The main tank uses more consumables, flasks, elixirs, and personal food than any one else in the raid. Main tanks know more about each encounter and each ability with in that encounter than anyone else in the raid, because they are expected to learn the details of encounters ahead of time, so that they can react to the dynamic environment of a progression encounter. They are expected to have 100% raid attendance, and nothing less is acceptable.

While some of you may disagree with this statement, the opportunity to receive gear ahead of everyone else in the guild means that your toon is not your own, its the guilds, and they have the right to use it when ever they want. Main tanks should be the first person in the raid, and the last to leave, the first to pull and the last to die, and you need to do it with out ever complaining to the masses.

Zothor summed it up very eloquently as such:

…I read an excellent guide (that I wish i could find right now) that had the following advice for people thinking about becoming tanks: Don’t. Simply put, tanks have by far the most pressure on them of any raid role because they’re always pivotal to the action. A tank has more ways to screw up than any other role. A tank cannot, under any circumstances, be cheap about enchants, gems, or even the slightest upgrade if he wishes to get respect from his guild and not be replaced by someone who’s hungrier. To be a quality tank, you have to want to be the best. You have to have that bloodlust.

More will be expected of you as a tank than any other raider. Whether or not this is fair is entirely irrelevant; it is a fact of tanking…. If the tank dies, it will be assumed it is because he’s not geared enough, even if he went 10 seconds without a heal. It simply doesn’t matter. You will be blamed.

My personal motivation and last nights observations

I wanted to talk about this because I noticed some problems with our raid last night, and it dawned on me that even though I am in an excellent guild, I still do not raid with 25 people that share this mentality (sure the vast majority of our core raid does, but there are still outliers in any guild, save the best of the best). Our guild decided to skip out on everything but ToTGC last night. We set the raid to 25 man Heroic and that was the only thing we did for 4 hours last night. Through out the course of the raid, people were going afk, having quiet, and not so quiet breakdowns, and we were generally not the cohesive and elite guild that we usual were.

Northrend Beasts through Twins was business as usual, and save a very very unlucky mass disconnect of 6 dps right when the opposite color shield popped up at 25% on twins, we one shot everything. Smooth, easy, and predictable. One of our priests posted a suggestion to change up our positioning strategy on Anub’arak last night, and after some deliberation on the guild forums, I was convinced that the idea had merit. Honestly, we were not re-inventing the wheel, we were just using what most three tanks strats do, and moving form one permafrost to two.

This change was met with much resistance from our dps and the other off tank, and while it solved most of the problems we have been encountering it was not embraced by the other add tank or some of our top dps. In the end, after a few attempts, we reverted back to our old strat and we saw p3 consistently. However, as those of you who have seen p3 or killed Anub know, the fight is nothing until p3. Our problems were never the same, and as a result, peoples frustrations started rising to the top. I feel that as one of the off tanks and interrupters of shadow strike, I shoulder a great deal of the responsibility of this encounter. I was more than willing to take accountability for any wipe that was even remotely my fault, and I did so with a fair amount of restraint and honesty.

While the guild as a whole is progressing, and Anub’arak’s health is dropping lower and lower with each week of attempts, I feel that some people do not share the same sense of accountability. What it comes down to for us is as follows: people needed to step up, and most of them did. But for Anub’arak, it is not sufficient for most people to step up, everyone has to. I feel that I have the correct balance of confidence, accountability, and a bit of cockiness when it comes to my tanking, and it serves me well. I don’t, however, have the tools that are necessary to bring others to my level, and that is really what was missing last night. We are, close to the end of the road when it comes to this encounter, however all the pieces have not fallen into place, and as a main tank, it is my repsonsibilty to make up for others short comings. As of today, I have not made up enough for what is lacking. But every day I work to do more, and eventually we will succeed


10 Responses to “What is a Main Tank?”

  1. November 4, 2009 at 12:19 pm

    Mah pic!

    Great post Wrathy, I agree 100%. Maintanking is a hard job and requires a deep commitment to others over yourself. The MT has to make sacrifices for the good of the guild and the raid. Such is the price we pay for a guaranteed raid spot, honor and glory, and being in the smallest loot pool outside of spellpower plate.

  2. November 4, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    You might want to qualify that the defintion you gave for a main tank applies to progression raiding guilds, or guilds where raider attendence is required 75%+. A casual guild will have tanks, also termed ‘main tanks’ but will probably have a few more (to cover for one another’s lower attendenace), and has more flexible (or even nil) attendance rules.

    In a casual guild, you’d still be part of a tank corps, and call yourself “one of the main tanks”.

    In a progression or high-attendance guild, you may well be The Main Tank; and in that case I’d agree with your definition of aiming for 100% attendance.

  3. November 4, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    More than ever now, there isn’t just ONE tank in a guild, though there can be a “main.” Sure there can be in spirit, but encounters are designed around 2-3 tanks in most cases. There are some fights where only one is needed, and some fights where more than one is advisable can be solo-tanked, so the Vanilla distinction between “main tank” and “also tanks” keeps getting smaller and I don’t see Icecrown or Cataclysm changing this dynamic. Though I completely agree that, even if not in letter, in spirit, a main tank is a main tank. Like the priesthood, it’s not a job, it’s a vocation; born or made.

    In casual guilds, or, at least, the less hard core guilds, a main tank is still held to a higher standard, but there is definitely a drop off in the excess of preparation and responsibility between tiers of skill among players; as Zothor put it, “that bloodlust.”

    nice read, thanks for posting.

  4. November 4, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    @firsthandtengen: Most encounters that are designed around 3 tanks in WotLK thus far have had vastly different gear requirements and stress points for the tanks. Most encounters designed around 2 tanks have required 2 “Main” tanks. In my opinion, at the bleeding edge, the distinction between Main and Off tanks is still as wide as it ever was.

    Edge runs with a Main Tank, a “co-Main” tank, and 2 “OT/DPS” slots. The reason is simple: The faster you push progression, the more undergeared you’ll be. If you spread drops around, when that tank-killing fight comes around, you’ll be woefully unprepared, for a certain speed of progression. For another speed, you’re probably in significantly better shape if you spread the gear around, and run with a tank corps.

    @Wrathy: Great post, again. My guild refers to me as “The Melbot”. It’s a long-standing joke, for a lot of reasons, but the most relevant is that I raid lead without a lot of evident emotion or passion. I don’t yell, I don’t scream, I don’t curse, and I don’t call people out in open channels (whispers are another matter, I do believe in accountability). I just work the problem until we beat the fight. One of the few things that makes The Melbot go berserk, though, is random unannounced AFKs. Emergencies happen, biology happens, but just disappearing drives me absolutely up the wall. Nothing kills the pace and morale of a raid (well, of our raids, anyway) faster than waiting on someone without having a timeline or reason.

    One other note on my raid leading, though. I love feedback, I encourage it. I welcome strategy suggestions and input. But sooner or later, I make a call on strategy, and then that’s it. You run the strat, no matter what your personal feelings, and you do it to the best of your ability. You are welcome to pushback or bring the issue up again after a few pulls, if the proposed change isn’t working, but you are absolutely not permitted to sandbag or sabotage the strat. Execute it, try it, and have an open mind. Because as much as I’m wrong on occassion (freely admitted), some of the times I’m a stubborn jerk are the times we’ve gone and gotten our first kills.

  5. November 5, 2009 at 7:05 am

    The isssue of accountability is not one exclusive to the merry men and women of the shield. With the way encounters are being tuned tighter and tighter, accountability is, as you noted, required of every tank, healer, and DPS. Gone are the days of forty man raids, where group 6 could be AFK most of the night and not be an issue. Now, the encounters are tuned to the point where one person making a mistake is probably the difference between a kill and a wipe. With a 25 man raid, if you’ve got everyone doing exactly as they’re supposed to 90% of the time, your raid will down the boss 7% of the time. Raiding in wow has progressed beyond the point of “The MT”, we are just another cog in the wheel, and on progression content, truly not any more important than any other member of the raid.

    • 6 Iover
      November 5, 2009 at 8:09 am

      True, but you may hit some soft or hard enrage timer if a dps goes down if it is a highly tuned dps encounter. If not, you likely can still make it. A healer down might mean sacrificing a raid healer to put onto the tanks in which case dps will start slowly getting chipped away at if they don’t take care of themselves; self heals, band-aids if there is a lot of raid damage.
      If the tanks screw up you’ll know in about 5 seconds when the boss pays your face a visit with its fist. Or hand like thing in Anub’arak’s case.
      If it is a cog, it is the central cog all the rest are connected to.

  6. 7 Tengen
    November 5, 2009 at 12:37 pm

    @ Meloree: You are correct. As someone who does not push progression in the way that you do, we don’t notice the gap as much between our tanks. There was one in the beginning, to be sure, but we have all become relatively equalized and still progression eludes us some days. 🙂

    @ Renaissance Man: Thank you; your “cog in the wheel” was more the spirit of what I was trying to get across with my stance on the “no true main tank” anymore. It is not just us as tanks who are a (perhaps disproportionately) large percentage of the success of a boss encounter; now, instead of being 60, maybe even 70%, we are down closer to 40 or even 30. The main tank in me always pretends I’m 100% though XD We are a cog, no doubt. We are the central cog, no doubt. We can’t have 7 and 8 being whelp groups in a 25man raid, no doubt. 🙂

  7. November 6, 2009 at 5:39 am

    The point I was really trying to get across is the level of precision required. One of the reasons why tanking is still much higher profile than other roles is the fact that the level of precision required of a progression kill is still required for a clean kill on a farm run. We’ve all seen those naxx runs where things go smoothly, despite leaving three DPS AFK in frogger. We watch as healers get pretty much completely phased out of some farm runs, where we go with 3 or sometimes even two healers. But tanking still requires that precision when it’s on farm. I think that’s part of the reason why it’s often the tanks who notice first when people begin to slack. The more trivial the encounter becomes, the closer we come to it ceasing really being a raid, and it being more like running a few lowbies through stocks.

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