I’m discovering as an up-and-coming warrior tank, who is just starting to tank heroics, that there are some perception issues about what is normal for a tank at this level.
Blizzard’s push for everybody to be running heroics most of the time has been a great boon for getting groups and mostly for the ease of completing them. Prior to heroics dropping Emblems of Conquest heroics were largely the domain of Naxx geared (T7) and pre-Naxx geared players. These players had the most to gain from completing heroics, which dropped a single item level 200 epic from the final boss and dropped Emblems of Heroism. As at patch 3.2 heroics are quite different.
The introduction of a daily heroic dropping Emblems of Triumph (soon to be Emblems of Frost in 3.3) and a general upgrade of emblem drops from Emblems of Heroism to Emblems of Conquest has resulted in at least half of the players running heroics being geared at levels significantly higher than T7. Where previously 1.5-2k DPS was a fairly standard amount per player 6k+ is becoming increasing common. This makes heroics incredibly fast but it introduces a few issues for the less geared players, especially tanks.
When running heroics with a well geared tank it is not uncommon for them to be able to generate 15k+ threat to all targets (AoE threat) by about the 3rd or 4th global cooldown of the pull. Their focused target will usually be 30k+ threat by this time. Compare this with my newbie protection warrior tank. Moowall produces about 12-21k threat on his main target (depending on my need to also generate AoE threat) and about 5-7k AoE threat. This can be a problem if your DPS are well geared and used to using AoE damage from the second (or worse, first) cast of every pull.
So this is all very nice, but what can be done about it?
Communicate with your team from the start. Don’t let them discover you are not T9.5 geared at the first pull. I like to say something like, “My AoE threat isn’t awesome. Can you please follow the kill order and single target DPS only?” Players are usually happy to comply and I’ve never had anyone complain yet. I have however had issues with near wipes where some awesome DPS was pulling 15k+ AoE DPS and continually died because, unsurprisingly, I couldn’t hold agro on all those targets. Don’t let this become and issue, proactively manage it before the first pull. It can prevent players thinking “failtank” and instead develop a “pretty smooth run” perception.
I make this easier I have the raid icons keybound to ctrl-w (skull), ctrl-a (X), ctrl-s (moon), ctrl-d (nipple – or whatever its supposed to be). Ctrl-z clears the mark. This means I can mark a pull in about 2 seconds. It also means for a noob melee player like me, that I can figure out who the hell I should be targeting. This makes tab targeting, especially when hitting the tab key doesn’t always move to the next target, much easier as I can tell the difference between the mobs.
Even with 6k+ DPS I can usually generate enough single threat (Glyph of Devastate FTW) to hold the target and still generate enough AoE threat so the others don’t start eyeing off the healer. Single target DPS is slightly slower, but if you apply even one well geared DPS to a target they go down like a sack of the proverbial potatoes.
This situation is even worse when you first start tanking heroics as you have usually sacrificed everything to just limp over the 535 defence cap for heroics. At this point your threat is even weaker than the numbers I suggested above.
So the take home message for new tanks is communicate with your party so they are aware you are not a bored raid-geared tank slumming it, but rather an up-and-coming tank who wants to mark and single target DPS to make the run smoother.