Adventures in and Reflections on Lowish Level Tanking

EDIT: I need to put a disclaimer on this. This post was written well over a year ago, before specialization. While tanking in retribution spec at low levels *may* be possible (after all, the instances are designed to be rather idiot-proof) in Cataclysm, I haven’t tried it myself and therefore can’t comment on it.

I love getting post requests. Not that it happens often, but when it does, it’s great. I don’t have to go through the stress of “what kind of topic should I work on, what haven’t I done too recently but that readers will still enjoy and that I’ll still have fun writing“. Plus, I know that regardless of the topic, at least someone will appreciate it. As long as I don’t screw it up too bad.

So when @amypage on Twitter asked if I would write some about tanking, I jumped up and down. Then I asked what exactly about tanking. We chatted for a bit and I found out that her retribution paladin was leveling through BC content and this was her first character. It’s always fun to give tips to people who are newer to the game because, unlike those leveling their 7th+ alt, they never write back with that “omg I totally already knew that” look.

We talked a bit about tanking in a retribution spec. Valkyrierisen chimed in, testifying that tanking in a retribution spec is indeed a lot of fun, at least until the 60s where things start to smack you a little harder.

I have to admit, I was rather clueless in that department. I tanked the early Wrath instances in my leveling retribution spec, but that was the extend of my experience. And between you (all of you) and me, when you’re going through Nexus/Utgarde Keep/AN in tier 5 tanking gear, you don’t really need any talents at all.

Never one to shy away from a challenge, I dusted off Ophelie-Eredar, level 53 retribution paladin extraordinaire.

This armor totally doesn't cover my love handles

While all of you were chitchatting with Single Abstract Noun peeps (yes, I will join EVENTUALLY but there are not enough hours in the day dammit!), I was taking care of SRS BZN. And by taking care of SRS BZN, I mean farming BRD (because APPARENTLY there are no other level 50-60 instances) and telling other leveling paladins what to do. (A former guildie of mine once gave me dating advice. He said I should wait until at least the third date before correcting everything a guy says. I answer that it was too much to ask.)

Tanking in your 50s, Step 1: Prep work.

Since my ret pally is on a server separate from my other characters, I don’t have to save gold for raids repairs and shtuff…hic! I had a budget of a little over 2k gold. I shpent the first 1k on dual spec. I wanted to have a tanking shpec to fall back on in case ret tanking was shloppy. I shpent about 800 gold on gear from the Auction House…hic! I shpent the rest of it on in-game booze.

I know it’s really not recommended to buy gear as you’re leveling but I had a feeling my Scarlet Monastery greens weren’t super appropriate for level 50 instancing. Turns out I found some good deals on the Auction House, for example,

Lightforge Belt, a blue with the advantage of having stamina, strength AND intellect (good for my respecing habit) was only 15g.

Stonegrip Gauntlets another blue, with reasonable tanking stats, was 35g.

Wall of the Dead, an epic shield was 200g.

Myrmidon’s Signet, an epic ring with good dps and tanking stats was 275g.

If you’re in desperate need of replacing pieces, check the Auction House regularly. Never buy anything out of your budget or anything that’s a few levels below you, but take advantage of good deals, especially when you’re tanking.

At this level, the good stats are:

Stamina – more health is always good.
Armour – Absorbs physical damage, absorbing damage is good.
Strength – doing more damage and making mobs hate you more is nice too, also allows your shield to absorb more damage.
Agility – less important, but it does increase your damage a little and helps you avoid some damage too.
Defense – hard to find on level 50 gear, but the more defense the better.
Shield Block -again, rare on level 50 gear, but take it when it’s offered.

Always use a shield when tanking. Two-handed weapons are for dps, a one handed weapon and shield are for tanking or healing.

My level 53 talents looked like this:

For those of you who’ve read about Ophelie’s earlier adventures, the main difference here is the addition of Seal of Cleave Seal of Command. The spell’s been changed throughout Wrath and is currently a must-have for leveling. If you’re going to exclusively be tanking in your ret spec, you can get rid of two-handed weapon specialization, but if you want to pvp or dps at all, keep it.

The glyphs here are really guesses. I’m a bad pally and forgot to glyph, but based on my weekend adventures, that’s what I would pick.

Tanking in your 50s, Step 2: Experimenting.

The level 50s instances are all very confusing (and by “instances are all” I mean “instance is”). I figured I’d queue as DPS and let someone else lead the way for the first time.

30 minutes later, I got my first instance, Blackrock Depths.

31 minutes later, we’re running back from the graveyard and the tank drops group.

While we’re waiting for another tank, I decide to try pulling. I put on my newly bought tanking gear, slapped on Righteous Fury (the buff that makes all mobs hate me the most), cast Hand of Reckoning and we were off.

It went pretty well. By the time we got another tank, we’d cleared quite a few packs of trash. I kept my tanking gear on and turned off Righteous Fury. I still did more actual tanking than the tank. While we didn’t get random credit for killing the boss that was (apparently) supposed to give us random credit, we disbanded.

The next time I queued, I went as a tank. Blackrock Depths again. I zoned in the second I queued (no one likes to tank BRD). I tanked the same route as before and again, no random credit. We reset the instance a few times and never got random credit, so we ventured deeper into the underground city.

And by the way. Blackrock Depths, Maradon and Wailing Caverns. What were they thinking when they designed those places? “I know! Lets send people into these huge, maze-like instances where all the paths look the same! And lets not give them a map! They’ll spend hours and hours in there!” Like seriously. I’ll admit, the concept of BRD is cool, I love it, but at least give me a freaking map with a “YOU ARE HERE” dot.

Back on topic, I pulled out my protection spec to play with and it turns out I actually prefer tanking in ret spec. The damage is manageable as long as you only pull one group at a time. The threat is amazing. In protection spec, my mana went bye-bye right away. And no mana, no aggro.

Conclusion: In your 50s, ret tanking all the way.

Before finally reaching the last boss, we switched groupmates and reset the instance several times. We tried again and again to get an instance other than BRD, with no luck. Finally, I found this fuckawesome, crazyass, absolutely insane shaman healer. I mean, what kind of healer asks you to pull the whole room. Then pulls the next room, giggles as you grab all the mobs off him/her. AND KEEPS YOU ALIVE THROUGH IT. (Fuckawesome, crazyass, absolutely insane shaman healer, if you’re reading this: I have mad healer crush on you. <3)

We didn’t get the daily reward for killing the last either, but I was all swooning and flustered about the mysterious, godly shaman healer so it was all good.

Tanking in your 50s, Step 3: Give Tips to Others.

When I manage to get Ophelie to her 60s, I’ll write something more formal and useful. But in the meanwhile, I do have some tips and pointers.

Spells to keep nearby

Obviously, you’ll be attacking with your normal spells. Yet, in addition to those, there are some spells that often go unnoticed by the leveling paladin but that make life oh so much easier.

1- Righteous Fury – Your center of attention buff. Put it on to keep aggro, take it off (right click the icon in your buff bar) to dps.

2- Seal of Command – Your current seal of choice for leveling retribution. You don’t have access to this if you’re using the protection/tanking tree, though.

3- Righteous Defense – Lovely, lovely spell. If someone pulls mobs off you, can Righteous Defense on them and the mobs should happily come back to you.

4- Hand of Protection – Slap this on anyone who has aggro on mob that does physical damage. Due to the nature of the spell, you should save it for the healer or for a caster. (I do, however, occasionally waste it on warriors, rogues and hunters who need to be taught a lesson.)

5- Hand of Salvation – This lowers the amount of threat (or aggro) a person generates. It doesn’t cut aggro like HoProtection does, but I’ve found it useful during larger pulls when HoP was on cooldown.

6- Cleanse – Removing debuffs isn’t your top priority as a tank, but by helping out your healer as much as possible, you’re also helping yourself stay alive.

7- Divine Protection – Cuts the damage you receive in half. Good to use in those “OMG WE’RE NOT GOING TO MAKE IT!” moments, or right after a huge pull that turns out much bigger than expected. It causes forbearance, though a debuff keeping you from using other potentially useful spells for 2 minutes, so don’t waste it.

8- Lay on Hands – Restores all your health with one button. Can also be used on another player. It has a pretty long cooldown, plus is connected to forbearance if you cast it on yourself, so use with caution.


1- Pallypower – You can get by without it on 5-mans, but I like being able to buff people easily and monitor how much time is left on their blessings. It also helps with Righteous Fury and your Aura.

2- Good party frames – Frames are like those icons on the left side of the screen that show you all sorts of information about your party members. I like having an addon for this even when I’m tanking. I keep it below my feet and have it show aggro and dispellable debuffs. I use Grid, along with Clique. Grid is the actual “frames” while Clique can easily be configured to cast Righteous Defense, HoProtection, HoSalvation or Cleanse by simply clicking on a person’s box on the frames. On the picture on the right, the red border only around my name shows that I’m the only person in the raid with aggro. For a tutorial on getting Grid to show aggro, check out Dristanel’s Grid Configuration post.

3- Atlas – This is mostly for pre-Outlands instances. You know, the really complicated, confusing ones. Having a map can really come in handy at times. I believe the addon is outdated, but it still works fine.

Other tips

  • Keep an eye on your party’s mana bars at all time, especially the healers mana bar. Adjust your pulling speed as based on each person’s mana.
  • Run each instance as dps a few times before attempting to tank them. Notice the order in which groups of mobs are pulled. (When I started tanking, I found that reading aggro patterns was the hardest thing to learn.)
  • Pay attention to what others are doing. If your healer doesn’t heal you, if the dps are inconsiderate, leave group without flinching. Wait a bit before queuing again. While I encourage geared tanks and healers to “suck it up” in level 80 heroics, the quality of players in low leveling instances tends to be really bad and not worth your time or patience.
  • Use Devotion Aura as your standard aura, but swap to an elemental resistance aura if you’re fighting mobs that do a lot of elemental damage (such as Fire Resistance Aura for Fire Damage mobs). If your healer is bored, you can use Retribution Aura too, but only if your healer needs assistance staying awake.
  • If Art of War procs (note that this will only happen in a ret spec), you can cast an instant Flash of Light on yourself. Otherwise, avoid casting while tanking. While you’re casting, you’re getting hit and you’re not hitting anything. It’s a lose-lose situation.
  • Herbalism is a great profession for leveling and it’s healing ability is fantastic for low leveling tanking. It’s been a lifesaver on my BRD runs. Whenever I felt my healer couldn’t keep up, I’d hit the healing ability to take some edge off the incoming damage.


In case anyone was wondering, I did eventually get a daily reward in Blackrock Depths. Yes, it was after the last boss. It was another of those runs where I started off dps (I was hoping that, at level 57, I’d get instances like Dire Maul, Strat or Scholo, but noooo) and ended up tanking.

I’m hoping to a few hours this week to grind through the 60s so I can actually answer the initial question. In the meanwhile, I suggest that anyone looking to tank as they level to read through Honorshammer’s Tankadin Leveling Guide.

Explore posts in the same categories: Baby Paladining, Teh paladin

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9 Comments on “Adventures in and Reflections on Lowish Level Tanking”

  1. Iris Says:

    Makes me wish I tanked as retri during those levels! I got dual spec around lv45 and only tanked prot.

    With regards to Otherwise, avoid casting while tanking. While you’re casting, you’re getting hit and you’re not hitting anything. It’s a lose-lose situation. that’s a good tip. On my priest I notice a LOT of paladin tanks at lower level casting exorcism while tanking.. In addition to getting hit and not hitting, you also can’t dodge/parry/block while casting so you potentially take lethal damage spikes.

    • Ophelie Says:

      I must admit that I’m a little guilty of casting exorcism on my lowbie, due to the lack of other spells. Fortunately, in ret spec, Art of War is procced more often than not and my exorcism becomes instant.

      Very true about the dodge/parry/block thing. I used “getting hit” because I didn’t want to have to explain what dodge/parry/block means, but I’ll try to elaborate more when I do a more formal writeup.

  2. Analogue Says:

    If you use Vuhdo instead of Grid, you can manage your buffs with it and skip PallyPower. My pally tank sets up Vuhdo to show her Righteous Fury, aura, seal, and the various blessings assigned to classes in my group in one nice spot, and I just click on the icons when they are down.

    I specced Prot after about level 45 or so… sort of wishing I’d done more Ret tanking but I found it hard to get much done with a shield and one-hander in Ret.

    Oh, and at 57 you can queue for Hellfire Ramparts. Not saying that’s a good idea, but you can queue for it.

    • Ophelie Says:

      I’ve been doing randoms in hopes of getting the satchels, but it’s good to know I can potentially get the much shorter Ramps.

      The one hander Ophie has is slightly higher level than her two hander, so she actually does about the same amount of damage with both weapons. I think at one point, you couldn’t use all of your ret abilities with a one hander, but either they changed that, or I haven’t learned any 2h-only abilities yet. I also use equipment manage to switch between dps-type gear and tank-type to make life easier.

      I didn’t realize that about Vudho. I keep meaning to give it a try since I’m told it’s just like Grid only better, but I’m terrible about trying new addons. One of these days…

  3. Echo Says:

    I tanked as ret and I annoyed a fair few healers. Once you’re deep enough in the prot tree its fine for threat and provided you pull big you keep your mana at acceptable levels thanks to sanc.

    I’m looking forward to divine plea now!

  4. addunaway Says:

    Excellent post! There is a lot of really good information here that I’m putting to good use. Currently I’m leveling a Paladin alt (56, and leveling mainly as prot).
    I really enjoyed the post you linked at the end from the Honor’s Code blog as well.

    Thanks again for the great post.

  5. Loved this! Thanks so much for the mention for me and @amypage. You’re a brave soul tackling the topic!

    When I was levelling I was totally *thinking* like a tank, even as I found I liked the ret talents better. This led me to this spec:

    I waited for the longest time to go into the third level of the prot tree, because ret was just so much yummier and in_my_face_awesome and usable. But when it came to harder hitting mobs and bigger pulls, that’s when I knew I wanted protection spec. After 18 in ret is when I started filling up the prot talents. After this set up though, the rest was just fill in as I liked.

    Then again I levelled with a mage, so my job was to hold aggro and live, while he murdered the world around me…

    • Ophelie Says:

      And here I thought you had been tanking things in a pure ret spec! The only reason I dared give it a try was because I thought you said it was possible! Oh dear, hahaha.

      I tanked Dire Maul East last night (yes, in my pure dps spec) and it really wasn’t bad either. I do have to use my CDs frequently, generally at the beginning of a big pull, but the damage is manageable. I keep an eye on the healers, but I take their complaints of my only pulling one group at a time to be a sign that they’re not overworked.

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