SWTOR 4.0 Vanguard PvE Tanking Guide written by Sonete.
Introduction to Tanking
Being a tank is more than taking damage. You must know each boss fight inside and out, backwards and forwards—so well that you can improvise in a moment’s notice to prevent a wipe. There is a high amount of responsibility; one wrong move can lead to a room full of dead toons. This fact frightens some players and causes them to shy away from the role. This guide has been crafted in order to assuage those fears and make its readers able to tank at a higher level.
One common mistake for tanking is having tunnel vision. Whether it comes from focusing too hard on quickbars or the boss’s health, it has to stop. Situational awareness is the key to tanking; you should be scanning the room at all times, looking for something that may wipe the group. Having your camera able to zoom out all the way is a must (Preferences -> Controls -> Camera).This way, you can always be on the lookout for ways to mitigate damage to the raid (and sometimes yourself). Also turn on Target of Target (located in the Interface Editor). This tiny, but important icon will tell you at what your target is looking, e.g., who the boss is attacking. Other than some special circumstances, you or your co-tank should always be the boss’s target. If that is not the case, you or your co-tank should immediately taunt. I also have my group’s health bars large enough so that I can keep an eye on them to see when the healers are stressed (and thus should use a personal cooldown or raid cooldown) or if people are suddenly taking lots of damage (suggesting they have aggro on something or a mechanic is not being followed properly).
While on the topic of taunting, let’s discuss threat. Everyone generates threat by healing, doing damage, or taunting. The person with the most threat is the person the boss will target and start attacking. Often times in the beginning of fights, DPS will perform several high damaging moves. These high damaging moves will generate a lot of threat on the boss, possibly causing the tanks to lose the boss’s attention. To avoid this situation, the DPS can use their threat dump before their threat becomes too high (but after the tank taunts the boss as part of their normal rotation), tanks can guard DPS who have high threat, or tanks can perform the triple taunt rotation. Guards should almost always be on DPS, not healers. In PVE content, whoever is being guarded will receive a 5% damage reduction and a 25% reduction in threat generated. The small amount of damage reduction will not make or break groups, but the decrease in threat generated will. (Having a high burst class pull the boss during the fight will lead to sudden burst damage on the group, which can lead to many deaths.) Thus primarily use your guard on DPS. (The only time I do not is for the final phase of NiM Brontes since a healer being stunned by the boss’s Fire and Forget is detrimental. This attack is based on aggro, so I still use the guard for its threat reduction rather than its damage reduction.) The triple taunt rotation is as follows: perform 2-3 high threat attacks on the target, single target taunt during the GCD, and continue attacking the target while watching the taunt debuff on the target’s bar. When the debuff is about to wear off, use your AOE taunt and continue attacking. Once the AOE taunt is about to wear off, perform the single target taunt again. This will give you a massive amount of threat which makes it almost impossible for DPS to steal threat. Never open a fight with a taunt since taunts multiply threat on the boss. At the beginning of the fight, everyone has zero threat, which means your taunt will be wasted. Additionally, feel free to continue taunting the boss through the fight (if your taunt does not need to be saved for a tank swap mechanic). Due to the 4-piece tanking set bonus introduced in 3.0, single target and AOE taunts actually have much shorter cooldowns than 15 seconds and 45 seconds respectively. How short depends on how many times you are able to use the attack which is mentioned in your tanking class’s 4-piece.
When maintaining threat on a group of adds, you should constantly be switching who you are attacking. AOE attacks, while initially useful to generate threat on all the adds in the group, will not be able to maintain enough threat for the entire fight. Thus, tanks need to perform their single target rotation on the adds, while occasionally using an AOE ability to maintain threat on the group. A few attacks (two to five, depending on how many adds are in the group) should be performed on each enemy before switching targets. This method will help ensure the tanks have the highest threat on every target. If this fails, use your taunts. Due to how quickly taunts cooldown thanks to the 4-piece set bonus, tanks should never be afraid that they are wasting a taunt by using it to get an enemy back from a DPS. To practice tanking mobs, queue for flashpoints. The only person the adds should be targeting is you as you are the only tank in the group. If target of target has anyone else’s icon, you should immediately taunt. For extra practice, run the flashpoint with some friends or guildmates and instruct them to pull mobs in succession as quickly as possible. This will teach you how to get threat on a target when you were not prepared. (Although not ideal, having a DPS pull an enemy before the tank will happen and tanks need to know what to do in those situations to prevent as many deaths as possible.)
Advice for More Advanced Tanks
This next piece of advice is for tanks who are interested in running ops with a consistent group. Get to know your co-tank. Know their strengths and weaknesses. Know what they will be doing before they do it. This takes a lot of time, but it is a great bond to have. There may come a time when you two are unable to communicate verbally and you will have to trust that your co-tank will do exactly what needs to be done. Until this level of bond is created, however, talk to your co-tank as much as possible. You do not necessarily have to tell one another every time each of you taunt (feel free to do so if needed), but tell one another when it is time to perform a tank swap or pick up a newly spawned enemy. Always let your co-tank know what is going on in case they do not see it. The most common statement that should always be communicated is “I am out of taunts/cooldowns, please taunt the boss.” Taking NiM Brontes as an example, tanks need to taunt and run into orbs. An easy way to communicate which orb you are about to taunt is to put a target marker* (like fire) on the orb and say “I am going to take fire, ignore it.” That way, your co-tank can spend his or her time paying attention to other mechanics rather than focusing on that one orb.
*An effective way to do this mid-combat is to keybind several target markers (Preferences -> Key Bindings -> Targeting). I use F for fire and Shift + F for lightning.
One skill that many tanks overlook is being able to offtank. This is the time when you are not in the spotlight of the boss’s Target of Target icon. Some tanks seem to get anxious when this happens and taunt the boss. The results can vary from the former main tank being mildly annoyed to the new main tank quickly dying due to not respecting mechanics that require a tank swap. If you ever feel bad about not having your energy regenerate as quickly or not being in the spotlight, just remember you are still essential to the group. If the main tank does die, you have to be ready to taunt a split second later and continue the fight like nothing happened while the DPS or healers combat rez the fallen tank. Tanking is a team job and when you offtank, your co-tank still needs you to be alert and ready in case something goes horribly wrong.
If possible, record yourself or watch recordings from other people’s videos with you tanking. Figure out what you did right/wrong and what to do next time. Figure out why you died each time, whether it is due to poor cooldown use, ranging healers, taking spike damage, etc. Additionally, watch other people tank content on Twitch or YouTube. See what their strengths and weaknesses are and learn from them. There were no mechanics added to [in fact, some mechanics were removed from] the boss fights in 4.0, so older videos are still relevant (although the health stats may not be). The handful of exceptions to this include HM Revan and HM Master/Blaster. The former’s fight was repeatedly changed during 3.X and Hydraulic Overrides were given a longer cooldown timer in 4.0, which prevents people from being able to ignore every “pull in” on the third floor. As for the latter, the community-dubbed “Flying V” or “Mighty Duck’s” formation is no longer possible due to the changes to Hydraulics. In this case, look for a video which has a shadow in the group.
Introduction to Shield Specialist
Amongst the tanking disciplines, Vanguards suffer the least amount of spike damage. They have the fewest cooldowns, easiest rotation, and also provide raid utilities unique from the other two tanking classes. This promotes taking different pairs of tanks into operations.
Introduced with 3.0, utilities are the spice of life when it comes to deciding your spec. At level 65, you have seven points which you can use in the different tiers of utilities; at least three points must be at Skillful level to unlock Mastery and at least two more points must be at or below the Mastery level to unlock Heroic. For Vanguard, they are as follows:
For every boss fight, the utilities I use are Battlefield Training, Muzzle Augs, Iron Will, Advance the Line, Sonic Rebounder, Shield Cannon, and Charge the Line. I will swap Battlefield Training for Reflective Armor and Advance the Line only if we are consistently hitting enrage on a boss and I do not need the full 10 second duration of Hold the Line. Several disciplines which mention Cryo Grenade, Neural Surge, and Explosive Surge may be useful for adds in various fightsand SM/HM Revanite Commanders, however I personally do not use them.
Ratings and Gearing
Before stating how tanks rate against one another, I want to emphasize that each tank has advantages and disadvantages. What is most important is the tanking class with which you feel most comfortable. We play PVE content to fight bosses, not the controls. Ratings are 1-3 with #1 corresponding to best or easiest.
- Single Target Threat: 2
- AOE Target Threat: 2
- Group Utility: 1
- Rotation Difficulty: 1
- Defensive Cooldowns: 3
- Spikiness: 1
- Mobility: 1
Vanguards are middle of the pack for both single target and AOE target threat. While they do not have the primarily high threat abilities of Guardians or repeatedly buffed AOE abilities of Shadows, Vanguards are able to pull high DPS to maintain threat on single targets and constantly perform AOE attacks over a longer period of time (thanks to Reserve Powercell and Recharge Cells). As for group utility, Sonic Rebounder allows groups to ignore damage taken from several mechanics, and Riot Gas helps with damage dealt by enemies. Neural Surge and Harpoon, while not unique to Vanguards, are also excellent abilities for controlling adds. Having to only use six attacks when tanking a single target makes the Vanguard rotation the easiest. Vanguards are also the least “spikey” among the tanks. With a high level of damage reduction, armor rating, and many abilities given by the skill tree, they are less likely to take sudden large hits from the boss. As a result, they have the fewest number of cooldowns: three personal and two that affect the raid.
For gearing up your Vanguard tank from 3.0 to 4.0, use mods and enhancements from the commendations vendor to pad your health for survival against high-hitting abilities. (HM Raptus can perform attacks which will hit for at least 70k. This will one shot tanks in 198 gear as they will have around 65k health.) Keep your set bonus from 3.0 until you have a full six piece from the current tiers of gear as pre-4.0 and 4.0 bonuses do not stack.Swap out the commendations gear for token mods and enhancements as soon as possible.
I use Bant’s theorycrafted suggestions for stat distributions which are as follows:
- For 216: 2639 Defense; 973 Absorb (5x Augments); 1569 Shield (9x Augments).
- For 220: 2779 Defense; 1005 Absorb (5x Augments); 1617 Shield (9x Augments).
- For 224: 2931 Defense; 1037 Absorb (5x Augments); 1665 Shield (9x Augments).
Relics: Reactive Warding and Shrouded Crusader (as suggested by Dipstik’s post).
If you are going the high-endurance route, take note that all 224 mods and enhancements are unlettered, i.e., they are not high-endurance. As a result, the only part you would use from the token drops is the armoring. (Something your group might like to know before giving you a piece!)
Rotation and Abilities
The Vanguard rotation is the easiest out of the three tank classes since there are so few abilities and has a priority system (unlike Shadow tanks who have more of a DPS rotation). Before looking over the rotation, keep in mind that you should hold off using Energy Blast if a huge damaging move is coming soon (e.g. Heave on HM Revan which has a set timer found in Star Parse) since using Energy Blast increases your absorb by 25%. Use Hammer Shot when your energy is close to or has dropped below60 and Energy Blast/Ion Storm (with Pulse Engine buff) are not available. This will help keep your energy under control. Also, use Shoulder Cannon for when you are below 70% health and healers cannot immediately heal you (due to being busy or out of range). Do not waste Shoulder Cannons on topping yourself off since that is one of the purposes of HoTs.
After this, follow the Single Target Priority, and use your third taunt when the second taunt is about to wear off.
Single Target Priority
After you use Storm, you will get two free Explosive Surges. Use these with your single target rotation to help manage your energy.
Hopefully with these rotations, you will not need Reserve Powercell (makes next ability cost no energy) and Recharge Cells (will increaseenergy by 50 over 3 seconds). However, if you are in a tight spot, feel free to use these. Do not use them as part of your rotation since they both have lengthy cooldowns of 2 minutes.
Use cooldowns proactively but carefully. Vanguards do not have as many as the other tanking classes, so we have to space them out a bit more. If you know you are about to get a big increase in damage from the boss, feel free to pop a cooldown. Do not use them as part of your rotation since they have very long cooldown timers.
About the Author
In June of 2012, I made my first toon—a Shadow DPS named Sonete. I played only as a DPS until the release of Terror From Beyond. My guild eagerly wanted to try the new op but was unable to do so as there was only one tank available. As a result, my first lesson in tanking was a battle between learning new fights, the ins and outs of tanking, and having to run back to the fleet vendor to buy more tanking gear between bosses. Despite all this, I fell in love and continue primarily tanking to this day. I began Powertech tanking in March of 2013 and it became my main tanking role with 3.0 as I jumped on the Bounty Hunter bandwagon. I have cleared all content before 4.0 and currently tank for Provectus and Paramount on The Harbinger.
I would like to thank Yssane, Aria, Dulfy, and the rest of Provectus for welcoming me into their guild and always being so patient. I would also like to thank Andrew for proofreading this guide.