Tanking 101: An Evolution

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Tanking 101: An Evolution

Postby Layenem » Tue Aug 11, 2015 11:23 am

Before I begin this, and incite the anger of a lot of noob tanks who always want to argue against this basic information, I want to lay out a very important definition first. Mitigation:

mit·i·ga·tion (midəˈɡāSH(ə)n/)
noun: mitigation

1. the action of reducing the severity, seriousness, or painfulness of something.

Way, way, way, way, waaaaaaay back in the day the term “mitigation” when applied to tanking simply meant something to the effect of “to increase one's armor to a high enough degree that it reduces incoming damage”. This isn’t wrong… in its basic text. This was the only effective way to tank, so at the time it was a very true statement. So then... what’s wrong with it? Why doesn’t it work anymore?

Easy: evolution! As our experiences within a gaming world (virtual, tabletop, LARP, etc.) continue to grow we find new ways to tank and, in that, new ways to mitigate damage. Sure, in some cases we still consider a tank that increases their armor class (or defense, or whatever the game you play calls it) high enough to mitigate damage per hit to be a “mitigation” tank. Again, we’re not lying… but they are so much more than a mitigation tank! The term “mitigation tank” is exceptionally redundant, as we look at it in its true context, as one of the jobs of any type of tank is to mitigate damage!

So what are you getting at, Layenem? What hipster term are you trying to push on us? OUT WITH YOUR PROPAGANDA, YOU BASTARD!

Okay, okay! Calm down! Let’s start with talking about what a mitigation tank really is. Any tank that can either reduce the total amount of incoming damage or assist in replacing damage taken before any third party is involved is a mitigation tank. As stated above, mitigation is simply the act of “reducing the severity” of total damage received. This doesn’t mean “damage received per hit” like some people wish to believe, but rather the total damage received over the duration of an entire encounter.

In the 1960s we were introduced to an exceptionally complex tanking system that really called out to some of us. I wasn’t around then, mind you, but the effects can be felt in today’s video games. Sometimes, however, gamers like to believe that while the world around us evolves our definitions don’t need to keep up… Get out of your box, gamer buddy, and let’s go on a ride!

WAIT!? What are your qualifications for any of this, Layenem? Why should we listen to a guy that favors playing a CC over a tank?

Hmm… let’s see. Since moving on from EverQuest 1 I’ve yet to find a game that has any actual CC roles… It seems that creating a complex role system so that players can perform their desired roles in a fight is much more common than I care to admit… and is one of the reasons why I firmly believe MMOs have failed over the past decade. So where does that leave me? Naturally at the only other role I truly enjoy: tanking!

TERA and my second time playing Rift are the only times I played a DPS over the past 8 years. I don’t naturally excel at DPS. I’m not ashamed of that; I’m fine with it. In SWTOR, ESO, my first time playing through Rift – and in some games not even worth mentioning – I played a tank… quite well! If you care to look it up for yourself I have footage of my tanking capabilities as a heavy- AND light-armored Sorcerer in ESO. Is that enough? May we move on now? Cool. Thanks!

So if there are more options than the “typical” type of tank then what is the name I’d give that tank and all other tank styles?

Before I begin this section let me point something out: If your character can perform more than just tanking at a high level then you are no longer playing a pure tank class. The layouts below are for pure tanking classes that don’t DPS or heal at competitive levels. Those bastardizations of lazy class creation systems are great for single player games but should have never been introduced to the MMORPG world and are evidence of a horrible development team. Honestly. Name a game, besides WoW (which started out with pure tank types), that has a solid class system and isn’t a poor game all around… Even WoW was abandoned by high quality players a long time ago because of their bastardization of the class system (among many other reasons).

Armor Class Tank:

The classic tank style - the one that increases their armor class in order to reduce the damage per hit received - is what I like to call an Armor Class Tank. This tank type prefers to strap on a sword and shield (maybe even a dual shield, depends on your game), wear the heaviest armor available, and maintain the highest armor buffs they can. They aren’t worried about maxing out hit points, just having enough to survive any hits that either can’t be mitigated or are exceptionally strong even after being mitigated. This is a very safe tanking class… the “father” of tanking, if I may.

Ideal Scenario:

When the primary target(s) uses slow to quick attacks that deal a great deal of damage. Having the shield is a bonus in this scenario but being able to mitigate the raw damage coming in from every blow makes tanking these types of targets cake.

Avoidance Tank:

One of the first two evolutions in tanking was the Avoidance Tank. They pack a ton of hit points, have an exceptional amount of avoidance abilities (dodge, parry, riposte,et cetera), and rely on avoiding the majority of hits - especially the really big hits - in order to survive. They wear a lighter armor than the heaviest out there to keep their mobility capped but they don’t wear the lightest armor available. Avoidance Tanks tend to keep their hit points rather high to be safe in the event that they miss too many avoidances in a row; they still won’t run out of hit points. This is a risky tanking style. Not many survive.

Ideal Scenario:

When the primary target(s) uses slower but very powerful attacks that have the potential to strike through defenses. This tank may take several hits of moderate damage attacks but the big hits that have the potential to kill even the biggest of meat shields are being avoided completely.

Tap/Healing Tank:

This is the second of the first two evolutions of tanking. This tank will steal health from their target to replace their own or use their resources to replace missing health. This form of restoring health should never, in a balanced game, be considered a replacement for actual healing as it is purely selfish and will not stand up throughout the entirety of a fight. This tank style wears a heavier armor (most times the heaviest ones available) as they need to decrease as much damage as they can before they start replacing said damage. They do not have the same armor class as an Armor Class Tank but they make up for that on their own accord. This style of tanking is much easier than Avoidance Tanking, and most times easier than Armor Class Tanking, as they aren’t as worried about blocking as much damage as possible as they are with ensuring that they can restore as much damage as possible. They will balance their health out with their total mitigation to find a sweet spot. This is an easy tanking style.

Ideal Scenario:

When the primary target(s) uses slow to quick successions of moderate damage attacks that dwindle away at the life of the tank but allow the tanks to assist in replenishing missing health.

Range Tank:

This particular style of tanking is one of the newer styles of tanking and requires that the tank keep as much distance between themselves and their targets as possible. The Range Tank will use snares, knockbacks, and movement abilities to create space between them and their targets in order to keep incoming damage low. Being a newer style of tanking, so far I’ve seen medium and heavy armor Range Tanks with low hit points. The greatest threat this tank style has is ranged targets and casters of all types as their mitigation is primarily based on not taking damage at all (similar to an Avoidance Tank). So far this is an easy tanking style.

Ideal Scenario:

When the primary target(s) uses a quick and heavy attacks that would otherwise destroy both the most capable of tanks you’ll want this tank on your front lines. Staying away means staying alive.

Split Tank:

Split Tanks are very unique and I’ve only ever heard of two (I played one of them). The Split Tank will have a pet that they will bounce threat back and forth with in order to give healers an opportunity to “catch up” on heals. The Split Tank doesn’t have high blocking or avoidance capabilities and so they wear heavy armor. One of the tactics for Split Tanking involves placing a pet in one part of the room and the tank in the other and forcing the target to traverse the distance between the two during the fight. This effectively reduces total damage output by removing a target that is in range of receiving damage for 2-3 seconds every 10-15 seconds. The Split Tank will keep their hit points as high as possible along with their armor class (as it is usually shared, to some degree, between the tank and its pet). This is a tricky style to learn, since much depends on timing, but once you have it down, it’s a medium difficulty tanking style.

Ideal Scenario:

When the primary target(s) uses quick successions of heavy attacks in bursts (think every 8 to 10 seconds the target enrages, dealing 3x normal damage for 3 seconds). Timing out the swaps reliably will ensure that these tank-killing assaults won’t land on anyone.

Debilitating Tank:

Now this is a tough tank class to play and so hard to balance that games usually throw this style of tanking in with the Tap Tank. The Debilitating Tank will utilize debuffs to weaken and slow their target so long as they are attacking the tank, steal strength from the target to use as their own, and even cause the target to damage itself when it attacks the tank. This tank style relies on heavier armor and a solid rotation of debilitating effects in order to keep their targets from putting a complete whooping on! Having high hit points is a must for this tank, especially when taking on multiple targets and cycling the correct effects on the correct enemy. This is a high difficulty tanking style.

Ideal Scenario:

When the primary target(s) uses a lot of attacks that deal area of effect attacks (not frontal cone) that cannot be blocked, if the target has the capability of striking through defenses, or if the target uses a lot of magic based attacks (such as damage over times and nukes) that cannot be physically blocked. Utilizing the reduction in damage output becomes far more beneficial than other form of tanking.


There are always more styles of tanking. I haven’t seen them all yet. In some cases they just have different names. Not counting mixed tanking styles the above listed are some highly fundamental tank mechanics. Each style has its strengths and weaknesses and that will be based mostly on the type of encounter you’re looking to jump into. I plan on creating many more styles of tanking as tanking has become such a boring position to play that most “I only play tanks” gamers simply stopped playing MMOs. Even those that stick around find it completely mind-numbing after playing for 200+ hours… Myself included.

So don’t be that gamer that refuses to accept that there is simply more than one way to tank a mob! I’ve argued with people who say that if you aren’t focused on pure Armor Class Tanking then you aren’t really tanking… To them I always say “Maybe you just suck as a real tank…” It always amazes me that any time a human being can be judgmental or discriminative they will seize the opportunity! I’m fine with that. Leaves more tanking for those who can actually tank!
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