SWTOR 3.0 Defense Guardian Tanking Guide by Artorias of Ebon Hawk. Updated August 2, 2015 for patch 3.3[toc]
Introduction to Defense Tanking
Defense is one of the three tanking Disciplines to choose from. Similarly to the other two, it has its own play style and stat specialization. If you take a good look at the Discipline’s passives and the name of the Guardian spec; ‘Defense’, it gives you a fair idea where your priorities lie. The spec has a few rules to abide by both in single-target and AOE situations. We’ll touch on those as we go.
The outlines utilities make use of buffs to assist your job in assisting and protecting the group you are in. You can also choose to take the self cleanse on Focused Defense, how ever this job should be fulfilled by your healers to allow you to take a more worthy utility. Daunting Presence above all other utilities is necessary and should always be taken.
The following are varients of your utilities you can take to assist assist against boss mechanics.
- Single Target Threat: 7
- Single Target DPS: 4
- AoE Target Threat: 6-10
- AoE Target DPS: 6
- Group Utility: 9
- Rotation Difficulty: 5
- Defensive Cooldowns: 10
- Spikiness: 3
- Mobility: 7
Gearing and Stats Priority
Accuracy: 10% given from Tank Stance + 1% Companion buff = 101% Melee Accuracy
Tank Mitigation: Defense is the main component of your gearing and shares a tertiary slot in your gear against Absorb, as such for mods, implants, earpiece and enhancements, you will need to decide between Defense and Absorb. Shield is separate and as such is passively stacked along with these stats.
Priority for statting: Defense > Shield > Absorb
A goal to start heading towards in 186’s from the Yavin Vendor:
This goal was taken from KeyboardNinja’s optimal tank distribution board and is someone I personally consolidate with for tanking matters and discussion.
Augments: Unlike the other roles (DPS, Healers), your augments are not predetermined and will change due to drastic gear changes you will go through while upgrading your gear. As such you will need to constantly look to your stat pool and see if you’re too low or high on certain stats and make adjustments accordingly.
Set Bonus: Set Bonus is of course the War Leader 6-piece set bonus, purchased from the Strength Vendors. Unlike prior updates, Alacrity and Accuracy are not present in these gear sets and as such these stats should not find themselves into your gear.
Armorings will be high endurance due to your set bonus but you should take Might Hilt and Armorings in your non set bonus pieces which contribute to things such as your Enraged Defense Heals and Sonic Barrier threshold (works off of Force Healing which increases with your strength level).
Mods: Should be unlettered mods. The name should read Resilient Mod 36, not Resilient Mod 36A. Unlettered mods are optimized and give the best stat gain of their field.
Enhancements: Immunity and Sturdiness enhancements have made a return. These enhancements were not available in the (162) Arkanian gear tier all the way to (186) Dread Master. These enhancements are high mitigation similar to the unlettered mods and again, give the best stat gain of their field both for absorb and defense.
Relics: Fortunate Redoubt (Defense Rating) and Reactive Warding (X amount of Absorb Shield).
What you need to know
The Defense Discipline has no stack maintaining unlike Shield Specialist and Kinetic Combat. It how ever has the maintaining of passive buffs that will replenish due to procs or rotation. The sooner these can be reapplied and maintained the better. Once these are constantly kept active, your resistance to incoming damage is increased as a whole via increasing your various mitigation ratings and granting flat Damage Reduction buffs and absorb shields similar to the Reactive Warding Relic.
- Warding Strike: Increases Damage Reduction by 3% for 20 Seconds.
- Blade Barricade: Riposte Grants Blade Barricade, increasing your defense chance by 5%. Lasts 10 seconds.
- Expeditious Protector: Increases armor rating by 15%. Movement speed increased by 30% for 6 seconds when guarded player is attacked.
- Blade Barrier: Blade Storm grants Blade Barrier, which absorbs a moderate amount of damage, lasts 10 seconds. (Absorb limit scales with Force Healing).
- Courage: Parrying, deflecting, shieding or resisting an attack has a 50% chance to grant Courage, reducing Blade Storm and Dispatch cost by 1 per stack, stacks to 3 and lasts 12 seconds. Consumed on use.
- Warding Power: Warding Strike increases absorption by 3%. Lasts 20 seconds.
- Impaired: Targets damaged by Guardian Slash become Impaired, dealing 5% less Tech and Force damage to all enemies, lasts 45 seconds.
- Unsteady: Targets damaged by Force Sweep or Cyclone Slash become Unsteady, reducing Melee and Ranged accuracy by 5%, lasts 45 seconds.
- Trauma (PVP): Targets damaged by Cyclone Slash receive Trauma, reducing all healing received by 20%, lasts 6 seconds.
Guardian tanking is about maintaining your buffs and reapplying them as they come off cooldown. Unlike the other tanks you wont be dealing with stacks (besides Courage) to make your mitigation increase over time as you deal and receive damage.
The rotation isn’t too dynamic and has a rough outline you can continue to follow as abilities do not have a hard premature reset via a proc or ability use, giving you a rough priority system you can follow. The main ability that will grant your two most utilized buffs and buffs that will maintain a near 100% uptime is Warding Strike, which in turn will build your Focus. Blade Storm is also useful when granting Blade Barrier, allowing you to withstand a decent percentage of the next incoming attack. Riposte will grant your Blade Barricade, increasing your main mitigation pools percentage. Guardian Slash now applies Impaired to your enemy, reducing the effectiveness of their Force and Tech abilities. Force Sweep will reduce the active accuracy of your target, allowing the chance for them to miss + chance for you to dodge to increase on top of Blade Barrier.
Abilities highlighted in green are new for 3.0
- Guardian Leap reduces damage taken on the target by 20% as well as vastly reducing their threat. Should not be used on your fellow tank and should be used on the DPS’ without guard to reduce their opening burst if it in turn does not hurt your threat generation or boss positioning.
- Guardianship grants a similar barrier to your Blade Barrier on all allies within 15 meters. It has a massive player capacity as such can cover a 16 man operation.
- Inspiring Force increases the speed of all allies within range of your Freezing Force by 50% for 8 seconds assisting in high momentum required situations.
Managing your cooldowns and using the correct cooldowns are what makes you a good tank. Mindlessly pressing a random blue button to mitigate an incoming attack or bounce back from a massive spike is not the mentality you want to go through. Each cooldown has its own damage type it specializes in defending against, if you can learn which cooldown to pair with which damage you’re taking, you can reduce your damage taken even further. It takes practise to understand what damage is being applied.
When opening a fight, it is fundamental to hold aggro on the target and ensure all the damage the enemy is throwing out is on you. As such threat is what you worry about and it’s why certain abilities are used (or even not used) to ensure you’re generating high enough numbers against the massive opening bursts your DPS are doing.
- Riposte (off GCD, can be paired with anything)
- Blade Storm
- Warding Strike (Vs Guardian Slashw/ 2 pc-set bonus)
- Guardian Slash
- Force Sweep
- Hilt Bash
- Master Strike
- Force Push
- Saber Throw
- Strike or Force Stasis
The opener above is used purely to make the most threat in the short amount of time you have before the DPS threat catches up and over takes you. Force Leap will close the gap to your target while Enrage grants extra Focus to spend, circumventing the use of Warding Strike in the early opening stage. Guardian Slash generates the highest threat of your abilities follow by Hilt Bash, the second highest. Force Sweep then applies your accuracy reduction and deals the third highest threat.
Saber Reflect is deterministic in its threat generation. The threat generation of Daunting Presence only occurs AFTER you take damage, as such if you take damage in an earlier stage of the opener, pop Reflect as soon as this happens. How ever if Reflect has use later on to mitigate a big attack or several attacks, its best to remove it from your opener but you lose a rough 10,000 Threat as a result. Blade Storm and Riposte do near exact same threat, Blade Storm has a more useful and applies a buff with a shorter uptime as such, it’s best to get that on the CD as soon as possible.
Riposte will apply your blade barricade, thus your two defense buffs (accuracy and barricade) are now in play. At this time, your big threat abilities are burned and you’re going to be in a down time threat wise, hence Taunt is used to boost Threat numbers and forcing the target to attack you for 6 straight seconds, allowing you to fit Master Strike and Warding Strike in, now all your buffs are flowing freely. It is time to reapply Blade Barrier and Blade Barricade and spike your threat with Guardian Slash and secure it with Challenging Call (AOE Taunt).
You may be asking; “Why don’t I use saber throw?” The answer is that Saber Throw generates barely any threat, only a bit more than Force Leap. In 3.0, the Focus generation of the spec is massive and you do not need any more Focus than what Leap and Combat Focus grants. You’re delaying the Threat generation of your rotation by 1.5 seconds, which is all the room a DPS needs to rip aggro from you. Saber Throw does a lot more harm than good. It does have its use.
When Opening from range and letting the boss gap close to you rather than you to them (rare cases where this occurs example; Dread Master Tyrans or The Dread Council). You substitute Saber Throw for Force Leap, you will build the exact same amount of Focus and do a small bit more threat in comparison. But there is only room for either your gap closer or a Saber Throw, not both.
The above rotation is roughly you’ll be following, not precisely in this order but due to how the opener is handled, you’ll notice abilities coming off cooldown in a certain order and if you are not Focus starved or dealing with a large down time, you’ll see a rotation form.
When engaging in AOE situations, the rotations will all depend on your current standing of Warding Strike. Warding Strike is what turns your Guardian Slash into an AOE rather than your target having Armor Reduction which is no longer applies by the Tanking Discipline.
With Warding Strike active going into an AOE situation, the AOE threat generation is vastly easier due to the fact Guardian Slash deals a massive amount of threat and the damage cap of 8 targets meaning you’ll be hitting all possible targets in your vicinity without problem. Following this is Force Sweep, your next biggest threat generator with the Accuracy debuff following Impaired as well as some Cyclone Slashes for fluff threat. Once you take damage from enough targets to satisfy you, Saber Reflect can be used to shoot up your threat as well as Taunt to secure their aggro for 6 seconds. Finally, the use of Warding Strike or Combat Focus to rebuild Focus.
Without Warding Strike, you may need to delay Warding Strike and Guardian Slash further down the line due to the terrible threat generation it provides. In response to this, it is ideal to use Force Sweep and some Cyclone Slash threat fluff before popping AOE Taunt to lock in mandatory aggro, followed by Saber Reflect to spike your threat. Warding Strike and Guardian Slash will fall inside this massive threat window as well as some Cyclone Slashes for added damage.
Your AOE threat will only work with the use of Guardian Slash or Reflect, the lack of both will leave a very weak threat generation and target loss, meaning you’ll not be the priority of your enemies, and DPS or healers will.
Things to know when tanking
Tanks are like any other role, you need to know how it works before you step foot into an instance. When you’re leveling you should get an idea of how your rotation works i.e. buffs, gaining stacks, what CD’s affect what abilities/damage and so on.
Becoming a tank is not impossible but difficult if you are not ready to learn the basic mechanics of combat. A tank first of all should sit down and look at the class they’re playing as many of the tanks diversify in play style, not by a lot but enough that each tank will feel unique, which is good. To get a better idea of how your tank operates, again look at your skill tree and buffs, even the tank specs tell you how you should be gearing also: Defense Guardian, Shield Specialist Vanguard and so on. But regardless let’s start from scratch.
Learn about threat. It is the mechanic which the entire premise of tanking is based upon. Your job as a tank is to control the boss and make it that the other roles can do their job without having to worry about survival or positioning. Threat is what determines if the boss is looking at you or them, make sure you and your co-tank are the top of the aggro table. Taunt and your rotation determine your aggro and the effectiveness of your rotation will determine how solid your threat is, hence why you see people discussing; AOE threat, high threat opener etc. It’s so they can ensure that upon engaging a target, that target will be fixated on them from beginning to end. And for the love of Lana Beniko’s butt use Target of Target! (Enable it in UI Editor)
Learn about basic mechanics of fights and how to work with them. Fights in this game are not too different from one another. You’ll need to swap, reposition, kite, aim frontal cones away from the raid and pick up adds. If you master these points then you can adapt to any fight.
Learn your rotation to ensure your DTPS (Damage Taken Per Second) is as low as possible. The buffs you gain as a tank are there to minimize incoming damage while not having to resort to your Cooldowns, this is your priority once threat is secure. Rolling these buffs and making sure your damage intake is as low as possible (I.e maintaining Dark Bulwark, Heat Screen or Sonic Barrier.)
Learn when to use your cooldowns. Popping Saber Ward then beginning the fight is the worst thing you can do. Cooldowns are not there to make you remain at 100% for the opening of a fight, they’re there mostly to bounce back from a huge spike or incoming spike. Popping them when damage intake is low so you can maintain a 85%> HP is not needed,
Learn to use Guard effectively and why it is used on certain targets. There is a reason for everything when tanking, DPS always get guarded with the exception of maybe 2 fights in End Game. DPS are guarded NOT for the Damage Reduction, it’s used for the 25% threat output reduction so you do not get pulled off of.
Know when to taunt and when not to taunt. If you’re the main tank, taunting to gain some added threat is fine, but taunting off your co-tank when they’re holding the boss if you are not asked or it is unjustified should never be done. You should also not neglect threat generation while not being the target of the boss, if you do a poor job, once the threat debuff fades, you’ll lose aggro.
Know how to gear. I touched on this above, your class gives HUGE hints of how to prioritise your gearing. If that wasn’t obvious enough read KeyboardNinja’s ideal tank stat distribution.
Lastly, don’t take advice with salt. Tanking takes work, you will make mistakes, a lot. But bounce back from them, accept them and better yourself. Don’t be deluded and think that a DPS pulling aggro is their fault or you not kiting a boss into a mechanic correctly was due to a bug. If you admit your mistakes, you will become a good tank, if you blame everyone but you, you’ll be nothing better than that of a Black Talon tank at the end of the day.
About the Author
My in game name is Artorias/Sinais, depending on which faction you’re on of course. You may have seen me on the forums or /r/SWTOR as Luckygunslinger. I raid with Aisthesis on the Ebon Hawk and have been playing Juggernaut since 1.3 and DPS spec since 1.5 all the way until 3.0. I’ve been tanking as well as DPS’ing on my Juggernaut and Guardian and have been for a long time, tanking from SM’s all the way to Nightmare content.