Of Tanks and Healers

It’s a special moment, isn’t it? You look into each other’s eyes. You think to yourself, “Now here’s someone who would make a Last Stand for me.” They see a certain something in your gaze, a spark. You might even say, a Flash of Light. You know that this is The One. A tank that you can trust.

There’s a certain something about a tank and healer pair, something that people who’ve never played either might not understand. I don’t mean this to be exclusionary, after all – my main raiding character is primarily a damage dealer. But I’ve been a healer and played many healers and it’s truthfully the thing that often draws me back to healing. I find myself missing it.

The tank and healer must cooperate in a way that no other role does. Tanks work together to coordinate pulls, taunts, and specific tasks. Healers work together to know who’s going to heal who and when. You have to be able to trust everyone in your raid team (more about that another time). Of course the tank is watching out for everybody, if they’re a good tank. But your primary task is to keep them alive, and they know that if you die – their grisly demise comes shortly thereafter.You have to be able to depend on each other.

I’ll never forget the time we went back to Ulduar with a new tank. He was new to our group and the encounters. One of the first bosses we tackled was Ignis. This tank was a paladin, and his job was to keep the angry automaton adds off the rest of the raid. We had a Discipline priest healing with myself (resto druid) so the obvious choice was for me to heal the raid, and the OT. Okay. So I was healing this paladin and he missed one of the adds, which merrily proceeded to try and eat my face. I popped Barkskin, started hotting myself up, and then I called out in Vent, “Add on me!”

He snapped back, “I’m a little busy here.

I made a scoff-choking sound of indignation and rage, and then yelled at my monitor (without pushing to talk, naturally), “SO AM I. I’M BUSY TRYING TO HEAL YOUR SORRY *SS.”

I know that he was stressed out because he was new to the encounter, and possibly he’d forgotten that I was a healer… I used to play a DPS role. But I was left with a feeling of betrayal. This tank and I weren’t headed for a good relationship.

The tank’s just not that into you

All the signs are there. They’re pulling away – way, way ahead of you. She says things like, “Heals?” or asks where you were. Actually, amendent, the tank calls you “Heals.” She’s gone while you’re drinking. He doesn’t taunt when something is trying to kill you, or he AFKs when he should be throwing heals your way. There’s no trust there.

I hope we’re not talking about a tank in a raiding situation – but the tank-healer relationship exists in a pug too. Except that pugging is like the equivalent of blind dating fifty people in a row, each less attractive than the previous. They chew with their mouth open or you split the bill and they don’t tip. So what can you do to foster some good tank-healer vibes, both in the short and the long term?

What we have here is a failure to…

I can’t stress this enough. In a pug, communicate, communicate, communicate. If you’re tanking, ask your healer to let you know if their mana is low. Watch their mana. Ask them if they’re comfortable with you making larger pulls. When in doubt about anything, just ask. The healer will know that you are a responsible tank who wants the group to succeed. And you’ll get to know what you can expect from your healer. Even if you’re only together for an hour, you still have to work as a team to get the job done. Don’t ever get accusatory with a healer who seems to be struggling – a bad situation can go from bad to worse. Perhaps they’re new to healing, or maybe you’re harder to heal. If you ask, you can pace yourself accordingly – or maybe even consider things you could do with spec, gear, or glyphs to make healing you easier if you’re inexplicably squishy.

As a healer, I’m going to say it again, communicate, communicate, communicate. You need to drink? Let the tank know. Make a macro if you have to. I made a stupid one for my druid while I was leveling her that was really corny, along the lines of, “Don’t leaf me behind, I’m watering the plants, otherwise I’ll have to bark at you.”

Yes, I know. I like stuff like that, but you’re here reading this, so you already knew. It was lighthearted and a bit nerdy, but it got the point across. Very simple things like owning up to mistakes and just being forthright with how things are at your end can help smooth over what might otherwise be a nightmare pug. When I got lost, I admitted I was hopelessly lost, and my group helped to find me. When I had to continually ask to stop and drink, I confessed that I’d been having mana troubles lately. Especially in pugs while you’re leveling, everyone is in the same boat. They may have struggled with mana, or something else that led to them dying. Most people are just regular, good people. Yes, there are well-documented exceptions.

So if you need to give the tank pertinent information, or something is bothering you, or you aren’t sure about something, ask! There are no stupid questions (except “Who’s the tank?” There’s a shield next to your name, doofus.)

Going Steady

Maybe you’re lucky enough to be in a guild with a tank you really like, or you just have a tanking buddy you get to hang out with often, or a similarly fantastic healer. This is a great place to be. If leveling a character via pugs is like blind dating, a solid tank or healer you can trust is like a marriage. She leaves toast crumbs on the counter, but you expect them. You know he’ll be your Guardian Spirit and you’ll be there with a Shield Wall when he needs it.

Often tank-healer pairs really are married in real life. My husband plays a tank, and when I was healing him it was great. We’re sitting in the same room, so I could always say to him, “Go ahead and pull these next three packs, I’ve got you,” or he’d hear that chokey yelp noise I make when I’m throwing out HoTs as fast as my branches can toss them and know that he needed to use a cooldown to give me some breathing space – or I would say to him, “Use something NOW.” It’s a pretty handy situation, but you don’t have to be married to your tank or healer to have a good relationship with them.

I’m going to keep harping on about this, but when you aren’t in the same room with your tank or healer, communication becomes even more vital. Use Vent. The more you run with someone, the more you’ll get to know their idiosyncrasies. “Slaphappy always charges ahead when he’s going to engage a group of mobs, I’ll have to make sure to stick closer to melee than otherwise, so I don’t get left behind,” or “There’s a lot of movement in this fight so I know that Shamtastic might be distracted and need me to use a cooldown at some point.”

You won’t always know exactly what’s going on with the other person – but that’s when you ask. I actually went through a bit of these growing pains myself, when our guild was doing hardmode Mimiron. My job was to tank the head in phase three, and at that time our awesome pally healer would switch off and heal me. It was a bit strange for me to be in a tanking role, and I was goofing it up. His healing skills amazed me. He kept up my squishy self through damage I would’ve never expected to be able to live through, even with mitigation talents. But a few times, I died. I whispered him. Guess what I said.

“Heals?”

NO! I said, “Gee, I’m still getting the hang of this. What can I do better?”

He said that my blinking was making it a bit tougher for him to always keep up with me, and that a few times when I had been line of sighting Mim’s head around a corner, I’d left him completely behind. I was more careful the next times to watch where he was before I blinked away willy-nilly, we stuck together, and his healing kept me alive while I was tanking. We made a great team.

Always Depending on the Kindness of Strangers

I’ve met a lot of tanks during the course of my pug leveling. Some have been good, and I connected with and liked them a lot. Some of them have been very bad. (Maybe they thought that about my healing, too). It’s possible to have a positive experience and a tank-healer combo that communicates well in a pug, but I won’t lie, it is more rare especially in these LFD days when many folks queue as a tank or healer simply because they know it will get them a group instantly and not because they enjoy it or actually know what they’re doing.

To borrow my earlier analogy, if pugging is like blind dating, lately the rejection has been starting to get to me. I struggled for a way to end this entry because I realized that the reason I was writing about tanks and healers was that I was weary of feeling I couldn’t trust the person nominally ‘in charge’ of each run. It became clear to me during my last few Mana Tombs run. In one, the DK tank zoned in, pulled all the trash and nearly died although I was healing him the whole time. “This isn’t right,” I thought, although in party I said “um, omg.” He responded cleverly, “omg ur mom.” So I just said, “Why did you nearly die? That was just trash.”

“Oh, my gear is mostly red and yellow,” he said. “Guess I should go repair.”

Yes, DK, I guess you should. He disconnected instead and we voted to kick him, bringing in a marginally less clueless DK.

Another Mana Tombs run saw me zoning in with a different tank – “Misspladin” [sic]. It didn’t start well, beginning with my usual “Excuse me I just have to respec and regain my mana,” statement. “Please hang on a sec while I drink,” I told the tank. She started pulling right away and didn’t stop, period. I was completely OOM, but I managed to type, “OrĀ  you could just ignore me and start chain-pulling, that would work too.” By some miracle we managed to down the first big shadow boss guy, and then the tank did a curious thing. In chat, he typed only a sort of wicked, evil emoticon… crashed into the next three groups of mobs, and then bubble-hearthed and dropped group.

“OH NO HE DIDN’T,” I shouted in party chat. I’m not going to dwell on what causes people to do things like this. One of the DPSers said she could get her boyfriend to come in and tank. He was a 70 DK. It’s Mana Tombs. How hard can this be, right?

Hard enough that we all nearly died with the exploding arcane wyrm things. Enough that when I said, “Mana,” he ran ahead and kept pulling regardless and we all did die. Again. I said, “And that’s what happens when you pull and your healer is OOM.”

“Having mana is overrated,” he said to me.

“So is dying repeatedly,” I told him.

Faced with a future of tiresome pugs, Vid contemplates exchanging her healing shield and mace for a metric ton of chocolate.

And I meant it. I left the group, wondering if I’d ever even finishing leveling poor Vid, or just start questing and never look back. I was resolved to do it, but then was prevailed upon to give it one last go.

Mana Tombs again, and this time a bear tank. “Let me know if you need to drink,” she whispered to me, “But I’ll keep an eye on your bar.”

The instance started out promisingly with the usual suspects – a DK who felt that he could go ahead and do all the pulling for our bear. But unlike any other tank I’ve seen in all my pugging, she stopped dead.

“You pulled that,” she said, “You fight it.” She stood there. The DK struggled with the group, flailing around as his health took a massive beating. Taking my cue from her, nary a heal went his way. He very nearly died – oh so close to dead – I think she may have taunted the final mob at the last second, or else he just lucked out. I laughed a lot. “Now, are you finished wasting time?” she asked.

Uber-DK lurched ahead and pulled another group. “Apparently not,” remarked the druid, and we killed his extra group, and then kicked him. The rest of the group was pleasant and easygoing, and the run was completely smooth. We didn’t have any deaths or any problems. My heart wasn’t beating out of my chest, nor was I shouting at my monitor in frustration. I knew when I had to drink I could, but I hardly had to drink at all because my tank was so practiced with cooldowns, surgical with pulls, and threw an innervate my way when I needed it.

In short, it was the absolute most fun I’ve had in a pug in a long while. I could relax and actually enjoy it. We went on to do Sethekk Halls afterwards and it was just as good, enough that someone at the end remarked, “Solid group.” It was an incredibly solid group, unbelievably so, and I firmly believe it was so because the tank and I trusted each other and communicated.

(Incidentally – a DPSer named “Bumpirate?” I don’t have to say anything more about that. This stuff writes itself).

But I have to admit, I’ve been holding back on you a little bit. I’ve told you the story but not the whole story, or the whole truth.

The truth is, I went into those last two pugs knowing my tank. If you ever read my comments here, you may also know my tank – she’s Lara, and she’s awesome. Having no prior commitments and looking for a new server for her character, she chose to move her druid alt to my server. I said that I started this experiment because I wanted to experience the game alongside other people, and that’s absolutely true. Writing about it has been a blast, even if the experience itself has been frustrating at times. Having been able to find a friend I can pug with – that I never would have found if I hadn’t done all that pugging, written about it here – is indescribably awesome. I trusted Lara from the first, and I think we both had so much more fun because of it. So if there’s anything that all this pugging has taught me, it’s that it’s a means, not an end – a way to meet people you want to run with again, so you don’t always have to have an endless merry-go-round of what-are-these-people-thinking. Sometimes the tank or healer you were looking for is closer than you think.

I almost gave up on pugging today, but I’m pretty glad I didn’t. In Lara’s words, “I felt good knowing you were back there with your tuning forks!”

To which I can only reply, there’s nothing like having a bear butt you can trust!

23 responses to “Of Tanks and Healers

  1. Living with your tank can be REALLY helpful. Lus and I made a good pair because we had a lot of time to get used to the other. Also, when I make my choked yelp noise of “AMGAMGAMG” he knows what it means. Since I get to stand in the back and observe things, I could see when patrols were coming in or when someone buttpulled another group and let him know so shit didn’t hit the fan unnecessarily. If there was DPS being an ass and “helping pull” then I could tell Lus not to pull the mob(s) off of him and we were a wall of “The Tank Pulls” solidarity. The tank/healer bond is close but it’s a little closer when the tank and healer are living together imo.

    And you’re right – there IS nothing like having a tank you can trust!

  2. Amen on tanks you can trust.

    Awesome post, btw.

  3. I can safely say that those runs were the most fun I’ve had pugging in ages, and I’m very much looking forward to running with you again soon. :) It’s easy to tank smoothly when your healer is so good!

    In my defense, I really didn’t mean to be a bitch to that Death Knight. He’d started out being all surreptitious about it, death gripping one mob out of the pack to be his very own personal tanking project, and clearly thinking I wasn’t going to notice. Threat Plates makes it pretty obvious, but since nobody got hurt and Vid’s mana didn’t suffer, I wasn’t going to bring it up.

    By the time I did finally call him out on it, he’d twice gripped on mobs not otherwise involved in our pull. I would never normally have had the guts to stop like that, but I knew Vid had my back. (She rocks!) I’m not really the kind of Type A personality that makes a good tank — my defense against pug craziness is to be snarky. In this case, I had just asked everyone to wait a few seconds because my Enrage ability wasn’t quite off cooldown yet from the previous time this DK had pulled us some extra friends.

    Remember how you wrote about that warlock who, back in the Scarlet Monastery days, would dot up a bunch of mobs and then cry out “halp” in party chat? I feel like this DK must have been his older cousin or something. Anyway, it was totally good riddance. :)

  4. Very true post. That was really the thing that terrified me the most about the new dungeon tool shortly after it came out, the way many tanks and healers stopped supporting each other because it felt like *everyone* was easily replaceable.

  5. You two are going to make me wish I had an alt high enough to run with you; all I’ve got are my main and a couple of alts in the 20s.

    And if I played Alliance, that is.

  6. Excellent post.

    I think one of the things I’m very fortunate to have on Traxy is a healer who runs with me regularly, is good at her job, and knows me well. The downside of this, such as it is, is that I’m reluctant to PuG without her. It’s kind of like a security blanket. Never mind that as an ICC-25 geared tank, I should be a snap to heal in these instances (Leafie, my healer friend, often goes kitty in Violet Hold because my self heals are enough).

    I think when you establish a tank-healer relationship, you can do things a lot more easily because the healer can anticipate what the tank will do. Leafie has said repeatedly that she can pre-HoT me and anticipate the timing of the next pulls because she’s run with me so much. It makes the heroic runs go more quickly and also helps maintain the run when DPS are idiots, as they can be from time to time.

  7. Supportive DPS are also just as helpful. Even if the tank and healer are a “the tank pulls” team, if the hunter jumps in with his pet, or the other dps burn the thing, it doesn’t help a whole lot.

    Love supportive people, no matter what role.

    • You’re totally right about that, Rhii! Smart, cooperative players in any role are wonderful to find. I guess it’s just that tank-and-healer synergy can help paper over the fact that many pugged dps’ers don’t know how to do anything but spam their dps buttons. Finding those who do know how to play smart is wonderful!

      As a case in point, I watched a Fury warrior pull an overall 7.5k dps in Heroic Azjol-Nerub last night, and he only pulled aggro off the tank twice, both times about three seconds before the mob in question was dead. That’s not just high dps, that’s smart play! The tank was reasonably well-geared, wearing some nice Triumph badge gear and some epics from Heroic instances, so it’s not like she had a big advantage over him in gear!

      Warms my little tree heart. :)

  8. You hit it spot one when, after dying to Mimi head tanking, you asked what you could do to make it easier.

    Actual tanks never do this. At least, I’ve never seen it. Ok, once I think and you can bet he made it onto my Friends list. Unfortunately I transferred off that server otherwise I would have been following that Warrior around the streets of Dalaran.

    I think there’s a mentality that Tanks must be infallible and perfect and no blame can be laid at their feet. I’m sure I’ve read articles written by tanks that esentially advise: never show fear or weakness!

    • I have myself a Warrior tank at only about 54 now and if in group and a pull goes bad (mobs pealing off me cos my threat is bad or what have you) I’ll be the first to admit “Sorry, that was messy, missed a CD there”. There’s no shame in admitting a fault, and have actually had someone offer advice as to what to do better and it has helped a ton! You are not going to get constructive criticism if you don’t point out that you need help. Not to mention that being honest that something was your fault right away forestalls the “Tanks sucks” comments and makes people more willing to cut you some slack if you are still learning. I often go into a new instance I’ve never done before and let people know right away that this will be the first time I am tanking the instance so please cut me some slack.

  9. I have had a situtation where a DPS pally in BRD kept running in ahead of me to pull the next pack. After twice successively pulling aggro off him and telling him off with an explanation on the Rage dynamics of Warriors (i.e. I no get smacky I no get angry I no smacky back), he did it again, I left him to it with a comment of “You want to do it? Feel free” …. and the ENTIRE group (DPS included) let him tank away at a pack while we moved on together.

    Sometimes its the only way the “I wears plates I can tanks lolz” guys can get it through their heads.

    Oh yes he died, we kicked him and got a replacement :)

  10. It helps both ways around. When I decided to level my baby Tankadin I made my husband level a healer for me because I was uncomfortable with the whole tanking thing and knew that if I at least had a healer I could really trust, it would be better. My favorite pair is still my tree and his bear; we can do amazing things together. I know the exact sound that you mention for the “throwing dots as fast as my branches can wave” moment, I make that same sound and my hubby knows to cue off it.

  11. The pally just wanted the tank shield from the first boss. Unfortunately he already failed and will never be a tank with this attitude.

  12. This is a fantastic tank/healer outlook Vid. My lowbie warrior tank only sees some tanking time when my real-life friend is over at my house to heal, and it makes dungeon runs waaaaay easier – he watches my back, just speaks up if he’s a little low on mana, we can quickly discuss on-the-fly decisions, etc. It’s pretty effective when your healer, who is three feet away from you, yell in a panic I’M OUT OF MANA!! :O :O to let you know it’s time to blow everything, chug a pot, throw a little JC healing statue down, etc. Plus it’s just more fun to be able to chat as you go.

    That’s awesome that Lara is there to join you now! You two will be an invincible bearpally team! I wish I had a suitable-level DPS to come and enjoy the pugging fun. Should be smooth sailing to 80 now!

    Oh, I see you just killed Talon King Ikiss! I just killed him in a pug yesterday as well. Hopefully you fared better than me and remembered that he does that arcane explosion instead of just eating it like a tard and dying (thank goodness for soulstone.)

  13. My tank is a German dude … don’t get me wrong, he’s awesome but I hope I’m not obliged to marry him?

    I’m sorry pugging as been so horrendously demoralising for you, it’s demoralising enough to read about it – but hurrah for Lara, the saviour of your sanity.

  14. Lovely post.

    I’m just now starting out a baby tank in instances, and not knowing how much I can pull and have the healer still be able to heal it is a problem for me. So I tend to creep along cautiously (and I daresay, aggravatingly slowly).

    I’m not sure why simply asking the healer how much they can handle never occurred to me. /facepalm

    • I agree with Vid, asking is the very best way! Even if you run into a healer who doesn’t speak, though (and it’s not too unusual in cross-server pugs!) you can look for some other signs.

      Is the healer always at or near full mana? Do you see the Holy priest casting Smite? Does the healer spend a lot of time jumping up and down or running around? After the pull, do you rarely see him or her sitting to drink? These signs all point to a bored healer, and you can probably pull faster. I find that going faster also helps keep a rein on impatient dps — if you are far enough ahead that they can’t quite reach the mobs until you’ve had a few seconds to grab threat, it can help reduce your stress.

      On the flip side, is the healer always out of range? (I recommend you get a unit frame addon that lets you tell) Is their mana is always low (again, check those unit frames!) Do you see them letting themselves or the dps get low on health just to keep up on healing you? Are they desperately typing “AMNA” in party chat? If so, you are probably going too fast. :)

      My ideal in a pug is when the healer has enough mana to get her job done while keeping the dps as starved as possible for resources. That may sound harsh, but it means you’ll have fewer threat problems and everything will go more smoothly. I never, ever wait for dps to drink, except just before a boss. If they need to recharge, they can do it while you’re picking up the next group. You should always give the healer a break when they need it, though. As a tank, use defensive cooldowns during the pickup (Shield Block, Barkskin, Shield Wall, Icebound Fortitude, Divine Protection), to help smooth out that initial burst of damage while you’re getting everything in front of you. If you can, keep up any damage-reducing effects you have access to, like Demoralizing Roar, Vindication, Thunderclap, and so forth, for the same reason.

      If you’re very, very lucky, smart dps will help you out by interrupting casters, stunning runners, and using threat-drops like Vanish, Feign Death, or Hand of Salvation. You can’t count on that in a pug, though; so you might have to figure out who’s your biggest threat menace and just be prepared to taunt off them. An addon like Tidy Plates: Threat Plates can really help with that!

      Good luck!

  15. I’m so glad I decided to go back through your older entries because I found this gem! This is basically everything I ever thought/felt about the healer/tank relationship but just never knew quite how to say.

    I’m glad you have a tank you can trust. My main has quite a few but my lowbie have to yet to find any but reading this gives me hope to keep going!

  16. Vid!
    I’m happy to hear you have a great tank to share the Perils and Pleasures of PuGing with. I am way behind on my blog reading…thanks for the support over at The Misadventures. I will catch up eventually, and maybe even get a post out too. Keep up the good work :)

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