A guide to SWTOR Defense Guardian Tanking for PvE. Written and edited by Invinc and Vindrik of Harbinger.
The Defense Guardian class is the all-rounder of the tank classes, being relatively good at everything. They have high mitigation and damage reduction, the best defensive CDs available, and above average group utility, but below average threat control and dps. Most of their threat generation comes from high threat abilities instead of raw dps. They have some procs and buffs to maintain that make the rotation a little less balanced than Vanguards, but keeping them up is really simple and doesn’t require RNG to get an edge. They lack any ranged ability besides Saber Throw, and Focus generation could be considered worse than the other tanks’ resource management, especially when it comes to burst damage. The Guardian is also the worst off tank class other than for applying an armor reduction debuff, as a lot of their rotation and Focus management requires them to be regularly taking damage. Saber Reflect is an incredibly powerful cooldown, and the most versatile and useful CD you have access to.
- Combat Focus: Immediately generates 6 Focus.
- Enure: Increase your maximum HP by 30% for a short while. The extra HP is lost when the effect wears off
- Saber Ward: Increase user melee and ranged Defense chance by 50%, and reduce all Force and Tech damage taken by 25% for a short while
- Saber Reflect: Reflects any targeted ranged, Force or Tech abilities back at the attacker for a few seconds, and generates a high amount of threat on all nearby enemies
- Focused Defense: grants 10 charges of Enraged Defense for 30 seconds. Whenever you take damage, a charge is consumed, healing you for a moderate amount. Can be used while stunned, but cannot be used while above 70% max HP
- Warding Call: Reduces damage taken by 40% for a short while
Tricks of the Trade:
- Single target and AoE taunts
- Guardian Leap: Leap directly to a friendly target, lowering their threat and reducing their damage taken by 20% for a few seconds
- Awe: 6 second AoE incapacitate
- Force Push: Pushes an enemy backwards a significant distance
Defense (36 / 8 / 2): http://swtor.askmrrobot.com/skills/guardian#13201221022212122120232-3203-20
Note: Points from Guard and Thrust in the Defense tree could be used in Expeditious Protector (36 / 8 / 2) to get a speed boost on certain boss fights that require constant movement and deal consistent AoE damage. Two points in Accuracy in the Vigilance tree can be placed in Perseverance for more DPS but this is up to personal preference.
1.1 Rates (1-10):
- Single Target Dps / Threat: Dps 3 / Threat 8
- AoE Dps / Threat : Dps 5 / Threat 7
- Group Utility: 9
- Rotation Difficulty: 5
- RNG Dependant: No
- Defensive Cooldowns: 10
- Spikiness: 2
- Signature Ability: Saber Reflect
1.2 Gearing & Stats Priority:
Secondary Tanking Stat Distribution
a) Author Recommended
Note: To get your total secondary stat pool, add up your shield, defense, and absorption in the character stats with a stim on.
- Shield Rating: 30% – 39% of your total secondary stat pool. 35% = 850 Rating
- Defense Rating: 34% – 42% of your total secondary stat pool. 37% = 900 Rating
- Absorption Rating: 25% – 30% of your total secondary stat pool. 27% = 650 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||974||728||498||Augmented Arkanian (2181)|
|2700||1005||931||763||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 War Leader’s
- Soresu Form
1.3 Tanking Strategy:
The Guardian’s Defense spec could be considered the most typical tanking class in the game compared with other MMO tanks. They are built with heavy armor and strong defensive CDs, a decently difficult threat rotation and a good combination of both passive buffs and procs. Its main strength comes from Guardian Slash, which deals a significant amount of damage and triggers one of your most important buffs to maintain. Blade Storm is also very useful, thanks to its damage as well as the benefit from the Blade Barrier talent and the set bonus. Riposte is a non-GCD ability with a short CD, which can’t miss and also grants an important buff to maintain. Besides that, Sundering Strike builds Focus and applies an armor reduction debuff, Force Sweep also applies the debuff but also has higher damage and threat, Hilt Strike for high threat and Force Stasis as a filler to generate extra Focus. With a great balance between passives, procs and strong cooldowns, the Guardian is an excellent all-around tank class to play.
- Guardian Slash is the most important ability in your rotation, as it triggers a +3% damage reduction buff that should be consistently maintained, as well as generating a high amount of threat and dealing a significant amount of damage.
- Blade Storm is another high priority ability, particularly thanks to Blade Barrier and your set bonus, as it grants you a protective shield that will absorb some incoming damage.
- Riposte is an ability that gains more buffs from talents than any other. It becomes usable when you defend an attack, so it’s rarely usable while off tanking, however, Lunge increases its critical chance, Guard and Thrust reduces its CD while Saber ward is active for Riposte spam and Blade Barricade increases your defense chance by 5% for 10 seconds after using it. All this utility and potential damage in a non-GCD 1 Focus cost ability with a short CD, makes Riposte a must-use ability for at all times.
- Sundering Strike is your main Focus generation ability as well as your most important providing great group utility in the form of an armor reduction debuff. It should be used as often as possible.
- Force Sweep serves the same purpose as Sundering Strike in giving an armor reduction debuff thanks to the Purifying Sweep talent, as well as having its cost reduced through the Courage talent’s proc. It will also give a 5% Accuracy reduction all enemies it hits, so using Force Sweep in your rotation is a must regardless of how many enemies there are.
- Hilt Strike does exactly what it says, with little room for interpretation. It’s damage isn’t particularly impressive, but it’s free and generates a lot of threat, making it ideal for holding aggro.
- Force Stasis could be considered a dot due to the Stasis Mastery talent, which removes the channeling time of the ability, making it a 3 second dot that generates Focus at no cost.
- Master Strike is often confused to be a Guardian’s best ability for holding aggro because it deals the highest damage, however that doesn’t take threat multipliers into account. Using Master Strike in your opening rotation will only cause you to lose aggro, as even though it has a high damage output, its threat generation is nothing special, and it’s a long channel. Using it on for dps and as part of a burst rotation, as well as a filler once your threat is secure, utilises its strengths much more efficiently.
- Dispatch gains nothing special from any talents, but is your hardest hitting ability once your target is below 30% HP. Using it when available as often as possible is useful, as long as it doesn’t interrupt your defensive proc abilities, and should take priority behind those.
- Slash is your dps filler. It’s basically an ability to burn excess Focus, as it does little else except damage and a mediocre amount of threat.
- Strike is your filler Focus generation ability. While in Soresu form, however, it will only generate 1 Focus per hit, and as such is particularly lackluster. It’s best to use only when you are low on Focus and have no other abilities to use.
- Force Push is a free ability on a 1 minute CD, which does higher damage than Strike and costs less than Slash. You should use it any time you are short on Focus to fill an extra GCD, or just as some quick burst damage instead of a Strike.
- Saber Throw is the only ranged ability available for the Guardian. It does some decent damage and generates Focus, and should be used in your opening rotation. In fights with multiple targets, it may be worth using Saber Throw on a distant target instead of using Strike on your own target.
1.4 Defensive Cooldowns Explanation:
- Saber Reflect is your most powerful cooldown, as it has the ability to absorb a variety of abilities and avoid several mechanics, similar to Resilience, with the added bonus that it also works on ranged attacks, reflects damage back to the attackers and generates a great deal of AoE threat due to Daunting Presence. Using Saber Reflect early on after pulling a group of mobs is an excellent way to generate aggro, and should cause them to stay on you for a while without requiring an AoE taunt.
- Saber Ward is your best long duration CD, and it does a little bit of everything. It gives you +50% ranged and melee Defense, as well as decreasing all incoming Force and Tech damage by 25%, and thanks to Blade Turning and your set bonus, gives you 100% ranged and melee Defense for its first 3 seconds.
- Enure is a great short-term healing talent, since it increases your maximum HP by 30%. There are two methods of using it, either by predicting an incoming hard hitting phase and using it regardless of your HP, allowing your healers to keep you as high as possible, or as an emergency heal while at extremely low HP, which will basically heal you up 30% HP instantly. Keep in mind that after the 20 seconds run out, you will lose the buff and excess HP, meaning that if you are below 30% as it expires you will have 1 HP.
- Warding Call is overall your worst personal CD. It lasts for a decent amount of time, and the -40% damage taken buff is good thanks to the high base damage reduction you already have, however it’s only a poor cooldown because your others are so effective.
- Guardian Leap could be considered a CD, however it’s more a defensive CD for one of your party members rather than yourself. This is because it will reduce your target’s damage taken by 20% for 6 seconds after you leap to them, in addition to lowering their threat. In order to utilise its effects, you can use it on a dps to lower their threat while off tanking in a burst rotation, particularly to help with early initial aggro, you can use it on a dying target or someone that is about to be hit, or you can coordinate with the main tank to use it on them during a particularly heavy hitting phase to reduce their incoming damage, in conjunction with their taunt to counteract the loss of threat.
- Focused Defense grants 10 charges of Enraged Defense for 30 seconds. Whenever you take damage, a charge is consumed, healing you for a moderate amount. Can be used while stunned, but cannot be used while above 70% max HP.
1.5 Group Buffs:
- Sundering Strike: Applies an armor reduction debuff
- Force Sweep and Cyclone Slash: 5% Accuracy reduction to all affected targets
- Challenging Call: Damage prevention shield applied to all nearby friendly targets
- Guardian Leap: Reduces target’s damage taken by 20% for a few seconds and reduces their threat
1.6 Ability Priority:
- Guardian Slash: GS
- Blade Storm: BS
- Riposte: RT
- Sundering Strike: SS
- Force Sweep
- Hilt Strike: HS
- Force Stasis: FS
- Master Strike: MS
- Force Push
- Saber Throw: ST
Defensive Cooldown Priority:
1.7 Opening 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 Combat Focus + ST(optional) + Force Leap + Force Sweep + GS / RT + HS + BS + FS / RT + SS + MS + Force Sweep + GS
1.8 AoE Ability Priority:
AoE Ability Explanation:
- Force Sweep is your most important AoE ability due to its incredible utility, applying both an armor reduction debuff and an accuracy debuff to all targets. It also deals decent damage and high threat to multiple targets, so it should be used on CD when AoE tanking.
- Guardian Slash gives you your most important buff which should be maintained all the time. It also has the ability to hit multiple targets if you hit a target affected by armor reduction, meaning that it synergises perfectly with Force Sweep. This causes it to deal high damage and high threat to multiple targets.
- Cyclone Slash is often overlooked and considered a weak ability when compared to other tank AoE abilities, however it’s actually more powerful than most people give it credit for, primarily due to the fact that it has no cooldown. Most of a Guardian’s Focus generation comes from taking hits, and AoE groups are excellent for that. Cyclone Slash deals relatively high damage and threat for an AoE ability with no CD, and its Focus cost is not excessive, making it a great spammable ability while AoE tanking.
- Riposte is an off-GCD ability with a 1 Focus cost which grants you a very important buff. It should be used on a single target within a group, though depending on the complexity of the group threat, using it on CD is relative. If you can control the group without much trouble, use Riposte on CD for a quick burst of single target damage and threat, but if you need to save Focus for Cyclone Slash spam in order to maintain aggro, use it only to keep the buff active.
- Blade Storm depends on the complexity of the group and threat required as to how often it will be used. For groups where you can control threat easily, using it regularly is a must to give you Blade Barrier, however replacing it with Cyclone Slash for threat is useful for holding aggro.
- Saber Reflect when used as a threat generation CD is incredibly powerful, since it generates high threat on all targets within 30 yds, as well as increasing your threat by reflecting incoming damage back to its source. This excellent threat generation causes Saber Reflect to be considered the clutch threat ability for AoE rotation when needed.
1.9 AoE Ability Rotation:
Note: Considering we can’t measure the amount of Focus you have beginning the phase or gained from hits, we will assume that you will have enough Focus for all the abilities listed in an ideal situation, using Combat Focus or Sundering Strike in the rotation as needed to keep up the rotation. Any group pulled from melee range would remove Force Leap from the rotation and not consider the Focus it generates.
Pulling from range, average complexity:
Force Leap + Force Sweep + GS / RT + Cyclone Slash + BS + Cyclone Slash spam while waiting for CDs to finish
Pulling from range, difficult complexity:
Force Leap+ Force Sweep + GS / RT + Cyclone Slash + Cyclone Slash + Cyclone Slash + BS + Cyclone Slash spam while waiting for CDs to finish
Pulling from range, difficult complexity, can’t afford to lose aggro:
Force Leap + Force Sweep / Saber Reflect + GS / RT + Cyclone Slash + BS + Cyclone Slash spam while waiting for CDs to finish
1.10 Tips and Tricks
- Jedi Knight resources work differently from all of the other classes, and it’s sometimes difficult to manage well and be as efficient as you can. Make sure that you are always generating enough Focus to be able to use your more powerful abilities as they become available, instead of having to delay them because you used too much Focus too early.
- Although Master Strike has a 3 second channel time, the damage that it deals does not actually require the full 3 seconds. One of the most important tricks for Knights is to take advantage of the fact that while the animation takes 3 seconds to complete, the final tick of damage (there are 3 hits total), happens around the 2.5-2.8 second mark. Once you see that third hit in the combat text, regardless of whether the animation is done or not, you should use your next ability. Doing this, and practicing exactly when to stop the channel based on your personal latency, is an excellent way to maximise your damage output.
- Guardian Leap is a great ability to help during heavy incoming damage phases or to save a dps who has taken aggro. Whenever an ops member other than your second tank is about to take a significant hit, either from a mechanic or from taking aggro on the boss, it’s generally a good idea to spend that GCD using Guardian Leap to give them an extra 20% damage reduction, as this could easily be the difference in whether they survive or not.
- Keep in mind that Challenging Call will apply a protective shield to any friendly targets in your immediate vicinity, so every time you use your AoE taunt, you should be trying to maximise its benefit. Using your Challenging Call on ranged dps and healing groups to shield them while off tanking without stealing aggro from the boss is a great way to gain as much utility from this talent as possible.
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.