A guide to SWTOR Shield Specialist Vanguard Tanking for PvE. Written and edited by Invinc and Vindrik of Harbinger.
The Shield Specialist Vanguard spec is the most balanced tanking spec in the game. The Vanguard has the highest base damage reduction for any tank, the most balanced defensive stats, and is by far the most versatile and easiest tank to play with. They have one really good defensive cooldown, but lack variety. It is the only tank with ranged dps abilities, which is great for helping dps while offtanking, have a high threat generation due to a good dps rotation as a tank. They don’t rely much on procs and have decent AoE threat, as well as Storm, Hold the Line, and Harpoon for increased movement, with Hold the Line being an excellent way of avoiding certain mechanics. Unlike the Shadow’s Force Pull, Harpoon doesn’t generate much threat, so using another ranged ability before the pull such as Sticky Grenade or just Storming in is more beneficial.
- Reserve Powercell: Your next ability costs no Cells
- Battle Focus: Increases your critical strike chance by 25% for a short while
- Adrenaline Rush: Gives you a buff for 1 minute, whereby if you fall under 35% HP, a fast-ticking self heal will trigger that will consistently heal you back up to a maximum of 35% HP for a few seconds.
- Reactive Shield: Significantly Increase your base damage reduction for short while.
- Riot Gas: Creates an area on the ground underneath you which reduces enemies’ melee and ranged accuracy by 30% and movement speed by 70% while within the AoE
Tricks of the Trade:
- Single target and AoE taunts
- Hold the Line: Increases movement speed and gives immunity to knockbacks, snares and physics effects for a few seconds
- Harpoon: Pulls an enemy target to your location
- Neural Surge: Brief AoE stun
- Shoulder Cannon: Load 4 missiles over time which can be fired at your target. Firing these missiles does not respect the GCD and can be fired while stunned
- Stealth Scan: Reveal stealthed enemies in a small area
- Recharge Cells: Instant Heat reduction.
Option 1: Shield Specialist (36 / 7 / 3): http://swtor.askmrrobot.com/skills/vanguard#121221021022102122320232-20320-300
- This build has 2 points into the Frontline Defense talent
Option 2: Shield Specialist (36 / 7 / 3): http://swtor.askmrrobot.com/skills/vanguard#121221021022102122320232-2000320-300
- This build has 2 points into the Tactical Tools talent
1.1 Rates (1-10):
- Single Target Dps / Threat: 9
- AoE Dps / Threat : 7
- Group Utility: 4
- Rotation Difficulty: 2
- RNG Dependant: No
- Defensive Cooldowns: 6
- Spikiness: 0
- Signature Ability: Energy Blast
1.2 Gearing & Stats Priority:
Secondary Tanking Stat Distribution
a) Author Recommended
Note: Vanguard tanks have two possible play styles that are both viable. To get your total secondary stat pool, add up your shield, defense, and absorption in the character stats with a stim on.
Method one, Maximum Shield Rating:
- Shield Rating: 40% – 48% of your total secondary stat pool. 44% = 1100 Rating
- Defense Rating: 16% – 24% of your total secondary stat pool. 20% = 500 Rating
- Absorption Rating: 32% – 40% of your total secondary stat pool. 36% = 900 Rating
Method two, Maximum Defense Rating:
- Shield Rating: 32% – 40% of your total secondary stat pool. 36% = 900 Rating
- Defense Rating: 40% – 48% of your total secondary stat pool. 44% = 1100 Rating
- Absorption Rating: 16% – 24% of your total secondary stat pool. 20% = 500 Rating
b) KeyboardNinja’s theorycrafted numbers for ideal distribution
To use these numbers, you must add up you shield, defense, and absorption in the character stats with a stim on to get your stat budget. These numbers assume you are using Reactive Warding and Fortunate Redoubt relics as they are less accurate with other relic types. Lastly these numbers are for hardmode Dread Fortress/Dread Palace averaged and may not be accurate for future operations/Nightmare mode. Read this post by KBN if you want the full run down.
|Stat Budget||Defense||Shield||Absorb||Full set|
|2200||575||986||640||Augmented Arkanian (2181)|
|2700||522||1277||901||Dread Foraged (2721)|
- **Must Have** Accuracy: 104% Force – 94% melee (1% from companion + 3% from talent = 0% from Gear)
- **Must Have** Alacrity: 0%
- **Must Have** Surge Rating: 0
- **Must Have** Critical Rating: 0
- **Must Have** Power: 0 (except for that gained by augments)
- **Must Have** Augments: Shield (Shield) / Defense (Redoubt) / Absorption (Absorb) to meet the above percentages
- Relics: Shield Amplification, Fortunate Redoubt, Reactive Warding (dependent on the fight, you can pick whoever two you need).
- Set Bonus: 4 piece Supercommando’s
- Ion Cell
1.3 Tanking Strategy:
As a tank Vanguard, your main focus is to build Power Screens from shielding attacks and Ion Cell procs in order to use Energy Blast, as it is your best ability. It has a short CD, and buffs your Absorption for a short while on use. Stockstrike and High Impact Bolt, thanks to the Ion Overload and Supercharged Ion Cell talents, will trigger your Ion Cell to build Power Screens. The Pulse Engine talent causes any attack or ability have a chance to trigger a fast-channeling Pulse Cannon, which is one of your most damaging attacks. Vanguards have the only AoE taunt in the game that can be used a range, meaning you can use it on an enemy up to 30 meters away, and the taunt radius will emanate from them instead of from you.
- Energy Blast is free of cost, but requires and consumes 3 stacks of Power Screen, regenerating 8 Cells and increasing Absorb chance by 25% for a few seconds. Energy Blast should be used on cooldown, and not held onto for any length of time to function as a cooldown.
- Stockstrike is one of your harder hitting abilities, as well as triggering your Ion Cell, doing some damage, proccing Power Screens and enabling the use of High Impact Bolt. It should be used regularly due to the cooldown being reset by the Static Shield talent.
- High Impact Bolt is your best ranged ability. It can be used at 30 meters, will generate a high amount of threat, trigger Power Screen charges and trigger an AoE Ion Cell proc on multiple enemies close to your target.
- Pulse Cannon is your highest damaging ability, and thanks to the Pulse Engine talent it will have its cooldown refreshed and channel twice as fast. It should be used on cooldown for high damage output and to hit multiple targets.
- Ion Pulse is your best filler ability, and should be responsible for the majority of your damage due to its lack of cooldown.
- Shoulder Cannon could be considered a defensive CD, but it is also considered part of your tanking rotation for threat generation, as the Guard Cannon talent increases its threat generation and causes each missile to heal you upon firing. Due to this, it is a great ability for extra initial threat, as well as for on-demand healing throughout a fight.
- Explosive Surge is an important part of your AoE rotation, but for single targets should only be used to capitalise on the Static Surge talent, which gives you 2 charges of free Explosive Surges after using Storm.
- Hammer Shot is your free filler ability, but should only be used when you are struggling with Cell management. It’s not entirely useless beyond Cell management due to causing procs of Ion Cell and Power Screen, so it’s still better than doing nothing.
- Mortar Volley is an excellent burst ability that deals high damage, and generally should be used when offtanking for more dps, and as a ranged ability to kill adds or distant enemies without moving, even while tanking. Unfortunately it does have a minimum range, so while you can use it on some bosses with large hitboxes while you are tanking them, it does require some aiming to make sure it doesn’t miss smaller targets.
- Full Auto also deals a high amount of damage, but suffers significant pushback while tanking. As such, it’s generally a good ability to use at range while you are not taking damage.
- Sticky Grenade is another option for ranged dps. It’s not recommended for use as part of your single target main tank rotation, as the cost is not worth the damage it deals, but some tanks prefer to use it as an initial pull, followed by a Storm for the increased initial threat. Other than that, it’s another good choice while at range when your other abilities are on cooldown.
1.4 Defensive Cooldown Explanation:
- Riot Gas is an excellent and very underrated cooldown. Unlike most CD’s, however, it affects all targets within an area on the floor, instead of giving you a passive buff, essentially creating a field of +30% defense chance against all targets in its AoE. It can be used when tanking or on long offtank phases, as dropping it on top of your target will still give the main tank the benefit. It should be used as much as possible in a boss fight to gain its full advantage, as its short CD means that it is up for most difficult phases and transitions. As it affects any targets within its AoE, it is useful regardless of who has aggro or how many enemies there are, as long as they are close together.
- Reactive Shield is a great flat damage reduction cooldown. As Reactive Shield increases damage reduction by 25%, while other cooldowns like Warding Call reduce damage taken, there is a slight difference in the way these are calculated. By increasing damage reduction, the reduction takes place before damage is calculated, whereas reducing damage taken causes the calculation to take place after the damage has already been mitigated. This makes cooldowns such as Reactive Shield, which give you increased damage reduction, more efficient at overall damage mitigation.
- Adrenaline Rush is a tricky cooldown to use, but thanks to the Soldier’s Grit talent it has a bit more utility, and considering that you should always be healed as soon as possible in any high risk situation, the best way to use this CD is often to use it while predicting incoming damage. Doing so will instantly start healing you up as soon as you get hit under 35%, while it will continue to heal you via Soldier’s Grit throughout its duration. Be wary, however, that predicting these situations may occasionally lead to a wasted cooldown, as a large incoming heal that you weren’t expecting may mean that you never actually drop below 35%.
- Shoulder Cannon thanks to the Guard Cannon talent, in addition to its excellent threat generation, will heal you by 5% of your maximum HP for every missile fired. While this doesn’t sound like much, with 4 missiles per Cannon use, a 20% heal works out to be rather substantial.
- Energy Blast is not really a cooldown, however it’s already the most important part of your rotation, and due to its large buff can be considered as effective as a CD while active.
1.5 Group Buffs:
- Static Field (Talent): Reduces damage dealt by all targets recently hit by your Ion Pulse or Explosive Surge by 5%
- Riot Gas: Reduces Accuracy and movement speed of all enemies within its AoE
1.6 Ability Priority:
- Energy Blast: EB
- Stockstrike: SS
- High Impact Bolt: HIB
- Pulse Cannon: PC
- Ion Pulse: IP
- Shoulder Cannon: SC
- Explosive Surge: ES
- Hammer Shot
- Mortar Volley
- Full Auto
- Sticky Grenade
Defensive Cooldowns Priority:
1.7 Opening Threat Rotation:
Note: Taunt use is relative, depending on the fight and your ops group. Read the “How Taunt Functions” section to understand when best to use your taunts.
Pre-cast SC + Storm + Battle Focus / SS + HIB / SC + PC + EB / IP + PC (if procced) + IP + SS / SC + ES + IP
1.8 AoE Ability Priority/Explanation
AoE Ability Priority:
AoE Ability Explanation:
- Ion Cell is your general-purpose high threat ability for multiple targets. Due to talents, using High Impact Bolt automatically triggers the Cell on that target, and up to 4 other nearby targets.
- Mortar Volley is your best AoE ability, which is often used to pull groups or as a ranged dps burst your off tank rotation. It is very difficult to use while already tanking a group of mobs due to its minimum range, however if it is a viable option, Mortar Volley should always be your first choice.
- Pulse Cannon is already an important part of your rotation, so it should come as no surprise that it’s even more important for AoE groups. It doesn’t have a high threat multiplier, but deals a significant amount of damage to make up for that. Using it with or without a proc is a must for your AoE rotation.
- Explosive Surge does decent damage, but high threat. Using it in combination with Static Surge charges after using Storm is very important, as it makes a huge difference for your Cell management. Using Explosive Surge without these charges is rather expensive, and should only be used for emergencies. Considering you rarely use Reserve Powercell in any rotation as a Vanguard tank, combining it with Explosive Surge for extra threat in a pinch will give you the benefit without harming your Cells.
- Sticky Grenade is a really good AoE ability, but it happens to be the worst out of your arsenal. It deals AoE damage upon detonation, so if the target moves, stays out of range or runs away from the group, it’s basically wasted time and Cells. However, using it on packs you already have under control or can guarantee striking multiple targets, such as at the start of a pull, is a great Idea.
1.9 AoE Rotation
Pulling a group from a distance:
Mortar Volley + Sticky Grenade + Storm + PC + SS + HIB + ES + PC (proc) + ES
Pulling a group at close range:
PC + SS + HIB + Sticky Grenade + RP / ES + ES + PC (proc)
Pulling a group at close range, who do not have boss immunity:
PC + Neural Surge + Run out of range / Storm + SS + HIB + ES + ES + Sticky Grenade + PC (proc) + RP / ES
1.10 Tips and Tricks:
- Hold the Line when used at the right time can be used to avoid many mechanics in a boss fight to simplify fight strategy, as granting you immunity to physics will prevent any pulls or knockbacks.
- Neural Surge is the only AoE stun available for a tank that will affect any kind of enemy, so using it while tanking multiple enemies is generally a good idea to help mitigate as much damage as possible.
- Using Shoulder Cannon before the fight will ensure that your 4 missiles are finished loading before the fight begins, however the actual CD of the ability won’t begin until you fire your last missile.
- Keep in mind that the Into the Fray passive ability lets you vent a small amount of Heat and recover some health when you take AoE damage, with a short internal cooldown.
1.11 General Tanking Strategies
- Differently from dps cooldowns, tank CDs are not something you should be trying to use as much as possible in a boss fight, because you never know when something might happens that may cause the healers to need an extra boost in order to keep you alive. That being said, on fights that have high standard incoming damage with no mechanic potential for burst, it is generally a good idea to hold on to one cooldown in case of an emergency, but cycle through any others in order to mitigate as much damage as possible for the length of the fight.
- A common mistake from average inexperienced Flashpoint tanks is thinking that taunt will basically keep the boss on you no matter happens, without understanding how it actually functions. The reality is that taunts do have 6 seconds where the boss will be forced to attack you, however immediately following that, if your threat is not high enough you will lose aggro again. As such, taunt’s real job is to keep you at the top of the threat meter, since a taunt will always give you aggro equal to the highest person on the threat meter, plus an extra 10%. This means that if you taunt during your initial pull, you will hold the boss for 6 seconds, but that extra 10% will be wasted, as 10% of a small amount of initial aggro is not as effective as waiting for a few seconds until your threat is higher before taunting, which will give you a higher increase and make it harder for the dps to pull off of you. Due to this functionality, you are best off opening with your high-threat abilities to hold initial aggro for the first few GCDs, and once dps start doing their highest peak of damage and threat a few seconds in, or as soon as you lose aggro, use your single taunt, as this will put you above the highest current threat by 10%, at which time the dps should use their threat drops. Good dps should know that after the first taunt is an ideal time to use their threat drop, as it maximises the threat cushion gained by the tank. This will give you enough room to hold boss for another few GCDs at least, before perhaps having to use an AoE taunt to do the same thing again. Following that, your single target taunt should be available shortly thereafter, and this method should secure you as the top threat for the remainder of the fight. If you are worried about threat in general, using taunt as it becomes available will boost your threat generation significantly, just ensure that you aren’t using it on cooldown in fights that require tank swaps, as you should always have it available when it’s needed.
- The highest burst dps done in any boss fight is generally at the start of the fight, since everyone will have pre-cast their abilities and buffs and cooldowns, Bloodthirst | Inspiration, adrenals and relics. Because of this, asking a dps to push their damage as high as possible is essentially hamstringing your ops group, especially for fights that have tight Enrage timers. Initial tank rotations are specifically designed to generate enough threat to hold aggro off of any dps regardless of how good they are, so you should never be struggling for threat.
- A great deal of tanks confuse the Guard tooltip’s PvE and PvP aspects, and don’t quite understand how it actually works. In PvE, Guard reduces the target’s damage taken by 5% and reduces threat generation by 25%. The 50% damage transference is only activated in PvP combat. This means that you should either be guarding the two highest dps if you are worried about losing aggro, or anyone that will be taking excessive mechanic damage as part of the fight.
- A good tank should always be doing their best to try and make everybody else’s job as simple and easy as possible. As such, the boss should be tanked in place as often as possible, placed in a position where they are easily accessible to all members of the ops group, and never moved out of ground AoE when it’s not necessary.
- Assisting with the group’s overall dps is always a good idea. Doing your best to deal as much damage as possible while tanking will help to push Enrage timers and burn phases, and will still generate a high amount of threat.
- Being able to adapt quickly to emergency situations, such as an impromptu Stealth rez, is a must, and you should always be aware of ways to mitigate your own damage taken, and maximising the chance of a successful rez when this happens.
- Adjusting your user interface to help you perform well is incredibly helpful, including enabling the target of target and focus target windows in your interface editor. Always knowing who your target is hitting and what your focus target is doing will help you to call out predictable mechanics, swap targets when necessary and be situationally aware of what is about to happen next.
1.12 How Taunt Functions
The taunt ability has a really simple mechanic that dictates how it works. Every enemy has a threat meter, which dictates who they will attack, the highest person on their individual threat meter will always be their target. Threat is generated via dealing damage and healing, and some abilities generate threat on higher multipliers than others. Taunting a target will instantly generate threat for you equal to the highest person on the target’s threat meter, plus an extra 10%, as well as forcing the target to attack you for the next 6 seconds. As such, if you are passed on the threat meter after this 6 seconds has elapsed, the target will return back to attacking the highest person on the threat meter. Taunting while you already have aggro will simply give you an extra 10% of your own threat. Keep in mind that the extra 10% threat generation is applied upon using the taunt, and regular threat generation continues accumulating for the duration of the taunt’s effect, so although taunt will give you an edge in threat, if the highest amount of threat on the boss is only low, then the 10% extra that you will gain is not particularly substantial. Because of this, especially early on in fights and during aggro drop mechanics, taunt is not a substitute for good initial threat generation through a proper rotation.
Asking dps to slow down at the start of a fight so that you can maintain aggro is something that will significantly hold back both your group’s dps as well as your own threat. Guarding two of your best dps is generally the best course of action, as it will minimise the chances that they will be able to catch up to you after your initial taunt rotation, but asking them to slow their dps is counterintuitive, as if they are dealing less damage then you can only taunt off of yourself, and as such may actually gain less initial threat. Due to the mechanics of taunt, you should be holding your initial taunts for a few GCDs to ensure that as much threat is built up as possible before you need to use it, and should a dps pull aggro from you that would be an ideal time to taunt. Immediately following this the dps should use their threat drop, so that you gain as much threat as possible, while they lose as much as possible and therefore the gap between the two of you is significantly increased
AoE taunt functions in the same way, and affects each target individually. Because each enemy has their own individual threat meter, each threat calculation is done separately, meaning that an initial AoE taunt on a fresh group of mobs can easily still lose aggro to healers if you don’t maintain threat on each target using other AoE abilities.
About the Authors
Invinc and Vindrik are both members of <Hatred> on Harbinger, an endgame progression guild with world 3rd clear of Nightmare S&V, World 2nd clear of Nightmare TFB, world 1st speed clear (under 2 hrs) of Nightmare S&V, and numerous server firsts at the 8m level.
Invinc is the guild leader of <Hatred> and mains an operative DPS but plays pretty much every and all classes for operations. He currently leads the parses on operative lethality DPS on multiple boss fights and dummy parses. Also known as Carlenux, Carlenix (sniper), Carlenx (Sorcerer), Pyrotec (Powertech)
Vindrik mains an operative healer and is the raid leader for group B in <Hatred> (World 5th speed clear of Nightmare S&V). He is the former raid leader of <Notorious Synergy> on Dalborra, one of the world top guilds pre-2.0 (World 4th).
While the information here are mostly written by these two players, numerous other Hatred raid members and guides were consulted. Questions, comments, concerns will be answered by Invinc, who goes by the name of Carlos Eduardo Mata in the comments section below.