Hi everyone. I decided to explore the skill floors and ceilings of the different tank classes in their current states. This was both for my own curiosity and to help new players decide which class to pick.
I have had experience playing every tank class in WoW, but have only mained a demon hunter, a warrior, and a monk. Because of this I'm hoping to get you guys' opinions on my placements and discuss factors I might not have considered. This is a heavily researched first draft of my findings, but a first draft none the less.
A note before we get started: I believe tank balance is actually pretty good at the moment. All tanks are viable for all content. Unless you are doing extreme mythic+ keys or mythic raiding then your choice of class will make far less of a difference than your ability to play it. Biggest balance issues are prot pala's insane single target DPS in nathria and demon hunter's insane AoE DPS in mythic+, but I repeat, all classes are viable for both raiding and mythic+.
First thing I'll do is give some quick definitions as to what I mean by 'skill floor' and 'skill ceiling'. Skill floor is determined by 2 factors.
- How punishing the class is when mistakes are made.
- How mechanically challenging the class is to play compared with other tanks.
Skill ceiling refers to how difficult it is to play the class to its full potential (hardest).
Let's begin! Please see graph below.
Guardian druid – Bears have always been simple and effective. Relatively few buttons in your core kit. Large amount of passive mitigation and increased healing received. 100% uptime on active mitigation. It is almost impossible to play a bear badly.
Vengeance DH – Like bears, vengeance has very few buttons to worry about in its core kit. Large amount of passive mitigation and self healing. Only 1 real active mitigation ability. Cheat death passive from talent. Amazing mobility. This is the simplest tank rotation-wise, but it can be punished more than bears as pain spikes cannot get 100% uptime. A great tank for beginners, it plays a bit like a DPS spec, and does not overwhelm you with abilities. Sigils are great.
Prot paladin – Prot paladin may have a large amount of cooldowns to be aware of, but their core gameplay is very simple. Shield of the righteous is their main defensive and can be kept up almost 100% of the time. Pair that with occasional free word of glory procs and you can now play prot paladin to an acceptable level. Paladins are susceptible to damage spikes during the small windows SotR is down, but they have plenty of cooldowns ready if needed. Anyone can try this spec and play it with decent results.
Brewmaster – Compared to the previous classes, monks are a bit more challenging to play with a few more abilities in their core kit, and active mitigation that needs to be timed properly. The reason I have still ranked brewmasters as on par with demon hunters and paladins is because stagger simply makes the spec so forgiving. If you mess up you will not take huge damage spikes and die. Sure you will take more stagger damage and drain your healer's mana, but other classes are much more punishing than monks when mistakes are made. There are simpler tanks than the monk, but even if you make mistakes while learning the class you can still expect to do fine.
Blood DK – Blood is significantly harder than our previous tanks to play at a basic level. If you get a bad DK tank in your group then you will know all about it. Blood is very much about active mitigation and looking after yourself. Low base armour and low passive mitigation means you really have to work to keep your damage intake under control. Bone shield must be kept up or you become paper. Death strike needs to be timed correctly for optimum healing. You have a HUGE amount of defensive cooldowns to manage. While paladins also have a huge amount of defensives, they have longer cooldowns and so they can sit on theirs and save them for emergencies. With blood you have many 1 or 2 minute cooldown defensives meaning you should be using defensive cooldowns as often as possible. Your cooldowns are in a way part of your core kit. A perfectly viable and self sufficient tank, but I would not recommend blood for beginner tanks.
Prot warrior – There are good reasons prot warriors are so rare in Shadowlands. They are in the same boat as blood, but without the self healing that death knights possess. Protection warriors have two active mitigation spells to use as often as possible, ignore pain and shield block. They also have a large number of defensives with low cooldowns that they must cycle through continually in order to avoid spikes in damage. Overall, warriors have great damage mitigation, but if resources are not managed properly you will find yourself with no defensives up and none available, and your damage intake will skyrocket. Currently warriors are have the lowest damage of all tanks, which is hugely important these days. Warriors are perfectly viable, but if you do not cycle cooldowns and manage rage properly then you will be severely punished.
Now to discuss skill ceilings.
Guardian – Bears simply don't have huge depth, and never really have done. They are consistent and reliable tanks, but don't expect to be pulling off many flashy plays with them. Some people find them boring, others enjoy the simplicity that allows them to focus more on the fight rather than their hotbars. The main thing you will see experienced bears doing is shapeshifting when they don't have aggro to provide extra DPS or utility.
Vengeance – Again, a mechanically simple spec without much room for growth. A good player will want to time demon spikes properly to minimise its effective downtime, and maybe save fiery brand and fel devastation to use during the downtime. Good demon hunters abuse kiting in high mythic keys. A good player will also know to switch between the mitigation talent build and the damage/leech build depending on what is needed.
Prot Paladin – Paladin core rotation is straight forward, but a skilled paladin is one that can make use of its large arsenal of cooldowns. Blessings. Bubbles. Lay on hands. These are HUGE impact abilities that can save lives and prevent wipes when used correctly. Bubbles allow you to cheese certain mechanics and completely ignore them. Skilled paladin tanks are life savers.
Brewmaster – Where a good paladin is one that can use their cooldowns effectively, a good monk is one who can manage their core abilities. Timing your purifying brew, keeping shuffle up, energy management, self-healing, shielding. Monks have a bit more complexity than the previous tanks if you want to play them well. Monks also have many talents that come in handy in certain situations. Monks have a fairly large amount of buttons to manage, but when in the hands of an experienced player can see great results.
Blood DK – The same things that make blood difficult for beginners make it very strong in the hands of an experienced DK. You have full control over your mitigation. Blood has more active cooldowns than any other tank. If you time your cooldowns correctly and time your death strikes properly then you have incredible mitigation and sustain. The difference between a good and bad death knight tank is like night and day.
Prot warrior – Warriors have the same story as death knights. Just like DK tanks, warriors have so many low cooldown defensives that they can essentially be considered as part of their core kit. When played properly protection warriors have the best damage mitigation of all tank specs. They have the highest base armour of all tanks. If timed properly they can maintain 100% effective uptime on shield block on many encounters. This means they will block every single attack, and their mastery means some of these are critical blocks. A huge number of boss abilities are blockable too, so knowledge of bosses is important. On top of that they have ignore pain, demoralising shout, spell reflection, shield wall, last stand, rallying cry. A good warrior can prevent more damage than any other tank and will always make sure at least one defensive is active on them at all times, ensuring smooth damage for healers with no spikes. Heroic leap, charge and intervene provide solid mobility and kiting if needed, but require a bit more planning to use than a demon hunter's leap or a monk's roll. Intervene can save lives in an emergency, and is incredibly under used. While their mitigation can be excellent, their low damage means they see little use in high mythic+ keys. A punishing tank choice, but one with a huge amount of defensives and mobility if you can handle all the buttons.
If you made this far then thanks for reading. I hope you learned something, and I'm looking forward to seeing where people might disagree with me.
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