NOTE: As of patch 1.11 this guide is out-of-date. I'll be writing a new one as soon at some point after Storm Legion comes out. In the meantime, the spec recommendations are still largely correct, although you'll need to adapt them a bit for certain changed talents. The rotations are also basically the same, although Wrath of the Planes has replaced Annihilate as the second finisher. Follow the basic concepts in the theorycraft section and you should be fine.
Most of the current rogue tanking guides are fairly out-of-date and no longer maintained, so I decided to make a new one.
1 The Spec
3.1 Tips and Tricks
3.2 Defensive Cooldowns
4 Stats and Gearing
4.1 Runes and Consumables
7 Final Words
1 The Spec
When it comes to talents, there are only really two valid choices.
51 RS/8 Rng/7 Bard is the standard choice for 20-man raiding. The idea here is fairly straightforward: with these talents, you get a lot of extra health, which gives you a nice survivability buffer when dealing with hard-hitting bosses.
51 RS/8 Rng/7 BD is a slightly more avoidance-focused spec. If you're focused on tanking 5-man dungeons or most 10-man raids, then this is going to be your go-to build, due to stronger AoE threat. You also get Side Steps from Bladedancer, which is a very powerful defensive cooldown. For certain raid bosses, this can be a better choice.
What about going 17 points into Bladedancer for Turn the Tide?
Turn the Tide is, in general, not worth it. In order to pick it up, you lose 7% endurance from Improved Guardian Phase, 5-10% bonus health from ranger or bard (depending on which you choose to drop), 6% mitigation from Bolster, 3.5% mitigation from Improved Rift Guard, and Scatter the Shadows. You will, on average, take about the same amount of damage, only it will be spikier and therefore less predictable, making it harder for your healers to anticipate how much healing they need to give you. Furthermore, it's never up when you taunt a boss off of the other tank for a swap mechanic, meaning that you take even more damage during a risky healer transition. It's just a bad trade-off all around. The relevant math can be found here, for those who want to see the numbers.
What about going 8 points into Bladedancer for Meditative Trance?
Not worth giving up the point in Bolster. Meditative Trance scales off of your AP, which you don't get much of as a tank. You're looking at incredibly small amounts of healing, and most of it will be wasted on overheals anyways. The skill is designed for solo specs, not tanking.
What about taking a point out of Street Smart for Anthem of Glory? Isn't the armor better than the avoidance?
Yes and no. The armor is absolutely better, but it doesn't stack with the armor buff that Archons provide, so in a 20-man raid, AoG generally goes to waste. If you mostly run 5-mans (or 10-mans without an Archon), then you should spec into it. That being said, if you're mostly doing 5-mans or 10-mans, I would recommend speccing into Bladedancer rather than Bard.
Are there any other useful sub-souls or talents?
Not really. The only other defensive abilities are generally either far too deep in a soul to be worth it (like the Nightblade defensive cooldowns), or compete with other vital talents. Conceivably, future tiers might have bosses where you'd want utility-based skills (for instance, Saboteur's AoE slow would be useful for kiting large packs of enemies for extended periods of time), but there aren't any encounters like that in any raid that's been released so far.
There are only a couple of macros that you need.
#show Planar Strike
cast Phantom Blow
cast Planar Strike
cast Quick Shot
#show Shadow Assault
cast Shadow Assault
cast Shadow Blitz
cast Shadow Stalk
That's all you need. If you're comfortable with the rotation, then you can take Phantom Blow out of the first macro and only use it every 20 seconds rather than every 10, since it does slightly less damage than Planar Strike... but honestly, it's such a tiny difference that I wouldn't put it as a priority, particularly if you're just starting out.
I also recommend keeping Shadow Blitz and Shadow Stalk as separate keys for flexibility. On single target fights, you can just use the macro to maintain Planar Vortex, but in other situations (particularly 5-man dungeons), you may want to use Shadow Blitz or Stalk at certain times when the other ones are already off cooldown, which the macro alone can't do.
Buffs: Planebound Resilience, Predatory Instincts, Guardian Phase, Fanfare of Vigor (only if you have bard in your spec, and this will be overwritten by other buffs in most groups), Combat Pose (only if you have Bladedancer in your spec, and this will be overwritten by other buffs in most groups)
The Riftstalker rotation is fairly simple. You have several buffs and debuffs that need to be maintained. They are, in no particular order: Guarded Steel, Annihilate, Phantom Blow, Planar Vortex, and Rift Disturbance. I strongly recommend using an addon to track them-- I'm a fan of Karuulalert, but other addons can work just as well.
For a single-target pull, you'll open up with Shadow Assault, immediately use Guarded Steel, then begin to mash your combo-point building macro. Weave in additional teleports and Rift Disturbance in order to keep Planar Vortex and the AP/SP debuff active. Annihilate does slightly more damage than Guarded Steel, so if GS is already up and is not about to wear off, use Annihilate at 5 CPs.
For AoE pulls, most of your threat will come from Planar Vortex, so it's even more important that you teleport every 8 seconds. Rift Disturbance also does very high threat, so use it as frequently as possible unless there are going to be more adds incoming that you want it for. Take note that Rift Disturbance and Shadow Blitz both have a limit to the number of targets they can hit, while Planar Vortex does not, so act accordingly when dealing with very large groups of enemies.
3.1 Tips and Tricks
- You have a LOT of mobility, which can give you a lot of flexibility when dealing with certain mechanics. Always look around: if there's somewhere that's better to be, you can be there almost instantly.
- However, be careful not to move TOO much. Every time you make enemies move, it makes it harder for the DPS to attack them, particularly melee DPS. Don't go teleporting around more than necessary, and enemies will die faster. The best tanks are those who move as little as possible, and try to take mobs in predictable directions so they're easy to follow.
- Planar Switch is off the global cooldown, which means that you can use it to generate extra combo points. If you do this too much, then you'll end up energy starved, so keep an eye on where your energy is at.
- Rogues are very good at using line-of-sight to force mobs to move. If you want to move a pack of mobs, try placing your Memory Capture point behind a wall, Blitzing in, then using Flashback to move back behind the wall-- all of the mobs will run right around the corner, stacking up nicely.
- Planar Attraction is great for stacking up spread-up groups, particularly those with caster mobs or archers.
- You probably won't use Planar Reversal much as a tank, but it can be useful right off the pull so that the boss starts off facing away from the group.
- If you're not needed to tank something at the start of a boss fight, you can begin in Stalker Phase, letting you push out a little extra damage until the times comes for you to get your face smashed in. Just don't forget to switch back to Guardian Phase!
3.2 Defensive Cooldowns
Rogues have a lot of defensive cooldowns, but it's important you use them appropriately. Some of them are much better for certain things than others.
Planar Refuge - This is a fairly straightforward ability. It's best used pre-emptively, rather than reactively: that is, if you're already at low health and you're worried that you're going to die, then this is not a great choice. Learn when bosses use certain hard-hitting abilities, and plan your use of this ability accordingly. It's also useful if one of your healers dies: the damage reduction can keep you alive until the healer is resurrected.
Scatter the Shadows - Scatter is definitely one of the most unique cooldowns in the game. It'll let you survive almost anything, and can even prevent certain debuffs from applying while it's active. The trade-off is the very short duration. If a boss does very heavy damage in a very short period of time, this is the cooldown of choice... and on some fights, such as Guurloth, you can use it to cover every such usage.
Defer Death - Defer Death is unusual in that it's very easy for it to be completely wasted. While Scatter and Planar Refuge will always reduce any damage that you take, Defer Death might not proc at all. For this reason, it's most useful as a reactive cooldown-- that is, a panic button when you're about to die. However, on some fights, such as Ituziel, you may want to sync it with particularly nasty hits.
Side Steps - This one is only available if you have the Bladedancer soul, but it's remarkably powerful. First off, it lasts 15 seconds, which is a very long time compared to your other cooldowns. Secondly, 50% extra dodge means that you'll take almost no melee damage for its duration. This is particularly good if you accidentally pull an extra pack of mobs, or if a healer is temporarily unable to heal you for some reason (IE you're out of range, they died, or they have some debuff that's limiting what they can do). Unfortunately, Side Steps doesn't affect unavoidable damage at all, which makes it less effective against many hard-hitting attacks, such as Inquisitor Garau's Obliteration Beam.
Physical Wellness - I actually don't recommend using this as a personal cooldown. The personal health boost isn't bad, but it's not particularly powerful, either, not compared to the benefits that it gives to the raid. Save this for when you expect heavy raid damage, but be sure to pop it 5-7 seconds early: the healers will need to fill people up once it affects them, and there's a small delay between when you use it and when people get the buff, and that delay increases the further away from you that they are. I tend to use this for things like Grug's knockback after a tower phase, or on Garau if an add reaches him and he gets the damage buff, but there are plenty of other situations where it can really help out, such as on Dark Tide.
Shadow Blitz (with HK 4pc bonus) - This set bonus is, ultimately, not very powerful. Most of the time, you'll just continue to use Shadow Blitz to keep Planar Vortex up-- the reduction is small, it only lasts 5 seconds, and it'll be back up in 25 seconds. Together, that means that it's usually not worth trying to time it, except in specific situations where you take predictable damage spikes, such as Sicaron. If you're holding Blitz in reserve for such a situation, you can use other abilities to keep Vortex going, such as Shadow Warp or Flashback (with a capture point at your feet).
When should I use my cooldowns?
As a tank, it's very important that you properly manage your defensive cooldowns. Many bosses have hard-hitting abilities that happen at pre-determined times throughout the encounter, and it's often worthwhile to plan a cooldown rotation ahead of time. For instance, on Inquisitor Garau, my planned CD rotation looks something like this:
1st Beam: Planar Refuge
2nd Beam: Scatter the Shadows
3rd Beam: Call for a Sentinel to give me Healer's Covenant
4th Beam: Planar Refuge (which has recharged)
And so on.
This allows me to hold Defer Death in reserve in case my health gets low at any point, and it ensures that there's something to ease the healers' burden for each beam. Try experimenting with CD rotations on various boss encounters to find what works best for you and your healers.
In a 5-man dungeon, you can generally have a cooldown up for most trash pulls. On particularly large pulls, Planar Refuge is your best bet, but Scatter the Shadows is fantastic if you're dealing with particularly painful dispellable debuffs.
Also, it's worth noting that you'll almost never want to use more than one cooldown at a time. Not only do they interfere with each in certain ways, you never really need more than one at a time. In particularly painful situations, you're generally better off with chaining them-- throwing up a new cooldown when the previous one expires.
4 Stats and Gearing
First off, we'll go over the stats that rogue tanks can get, and the benefits that each one provides.
- Endurance - This stat increases your health. Point for point, it's one of the best stats that there is for surviving burst damage-- that is, making sure that you don't die so fast that your healers can't react.
- Armor - Armor reduces the physical damage that you take.
- Dexterity - Each point of dexterity gives you 1 point of dodge and 1 point of deflect. It also increases your attack power and your physical crit.
- Strength - Each point of strength increases your attack power and your parry.
- Dodge - Each point of dodge will increase your chance to avoid basic melee attacks. It has no effect on magical damage or most special attacks. Some bosses also have certain special effects that apply when they hit you, and dodges can prevent those from stacking up. Caor Ashstone in Iron Tombs is a good example.
- Parry - Parry is identical to dodge, except that it converts into avoidance at a much lower ratio. You cannot parry attacks from enemies that are standing behind you.
- Deflect - Deflect is exactly like a warrior's or cleric's block, except that you do not need a shield equipped. However, you can only deflect attacks while in Guardian Phase. Deflect works similarly to dodge, except that it has a much higher chance to occur per point, it only stops a portion of the damage instead of all of it, and it will work on some attacks that cannot be dodged, such as Sicaron's Moldering Decay. Aside from T1 and T2 set pieces and certain planar essences, you won't find any gear with deflect outside of Infernal Dawn. You cannot deflect attacks from enemies that are standing behind you. Deflect reaches a soft cap at 927 rating, after which its value is sharply diminished.
- Hit - Hit rating reduces the chance for your attacks to miss. In higher tiers of content, you will need more and more hit to ensure that all of your abilities connect with their intended target-- you can see how much you need by mousing over your hit on your character screen.
- Toughness - Toughness reduces the damage multiplier of critical hits made against you. Just like with Hit, you'll need more toughness in higher tiers, and you can check it in the same way. There's no benefit to having extra toughness beyond the cap for the relevant tier, unless you're dealing with a boss who can reduce it, like Murdantix.
- Attack Power - Attack power increases the damage dealt by your attacks. This stat doesn't directly appear on your gear, but you will get some of it from the dexterity/strength on your equipment. AP will also increase the effects of certain other abilities, such as Meditative Trance, but none of them are very relevant to tanking, and the effect is miniscule to begin with.
- Physical Crit - Physical Crit increases the chance that you will score a critical hit with your attacks, dealing extra damage. Like attack power, you won't get this on your tanking gear, but you don't need any extra.
- Resistances - Resistances reduce damage from specific element types (life, death, fire, water, earth, and air). You can get them from planar essences, resistance runes, or vials. They also grant a small chance to completely mitigate attacks of the relevant element.
- Block - Certain planar essences and jewelry will have block on them. This stat does nothing for rogues, so such items are generally not worth using unless there's some other stat on the item that you're in desperate need of (such as elemental resistances).
Here are your priorities, in order:
Get enough hit that you can hold aggro. This is generally just the hit cap for the relevant tier of content.
Get enough toughness for the relevant tier of content.
Get enough endurance and armor so that you don't die to burst damage.
Get enough dodge/parry/deflect so that your healers can keep you up over longer periods of time, ensuring that you don't die to attrition.
Prior to reaching 927 deflect, it's your best stat for overall damage reduction (the last step listed above), followed by dodge and then parry. After 927, deflect and dodge are roughly equal.
How much endurance/avoidance do I need for <boss name here>?
There's no definite answer, other than "enough". How much health you need will depend on what your healers are comfortable with and capable of handling. Talk to them and figure out what they find easiest to deal with. As a general rule of thumb, if you're dying before your healers can react, then you need more endurance. If you're dying gradually while your healers are spamming you, you need more avoidance and deflection.
In most cases, endurance is going to be more important than avoidance. This is covered more in-depth in the Theorycraft section below.
4.1 Runes and Consumables
Helm - Icewatch Bandit's Rune
Shoulders - Blazing Tough Rune
Chest - Blazing Resolute Rune (Incandescent Indomitable Runeshard if you need extra toughness)
Gloves - Radiant Elusive Rune
Belt - Mathosian Tumbler's Rune
Legs - Crafty Dragonslayer's Rune
Boots - Incandescent Adamant Rune (or Blazing Resolute Rune if you're cheap)
Weapons - Blazing Dexterity Runeshard (or Incandescent Precise Runeshard if you need extra hit)
Seal - Blazing Rage Runeshard
For consumables, you'll want Thick Armor Plating on your chest, an endurance vial (or a resistance vial in certain situations), and Lightning Glyph on your weapons. You can also use insoles on your boots, although on many fights it's not necessary because you either don't need to move or can easily teleport around. Ember Steak provides the best possible food buff for tanks, but anything that boosts your endurance or max health will help if you want some food that's cheaper. Elder Tablets will slightly boost your avoidance if you want to use them.
Once you've mastered the basics, it's time to move on to a more complex part of tanking: movement, and how to minimize it.
I see a lot of tanks who ignore this, because it's not necessarily something that you think about unless you've played melee specs while dealing with a jittery tank. The general assumption is that "if I'm holding threat, it doesn't matter where the mobs are going". In some ways, that's true-- but the melee DPS will frequently end up out of range if you move enemies out of range unpredictably, and that will hurt your group a lot. On many DPS-intensive fights, it's important that you move as little as possible, and that you move in predictable directions when you DO move.
For instance, any time that fire spawns under me, I tend to strafe left. I only move right if moving left is bad for some reason (if there's already fire over there, for instance). I try not to move back if possible, because that'll often force the melee back away to avoid the fire I just moved out of. Moving forward can work if the boss doesn't cleave, although it's not optimal because some DPS specs are reliant on backstabs. (Always moving right instead of left would work, too-- the important thing is consistency).
Because I almost always move in the same direction, the melee that I raid with are easily able to predict and follow the boss (while avoiding cleaves, if any), which means that they rarely end up out of range, letting them stay in range. Over longer movement paths, the ranged and healers know the general direction I'll be heading, which lets them easily reposition during instant-cast GCDs, rather than needing to interrupt cast-spells because the boss unpredictably ran out of range.
On other bosses, you'll always be moving to the same places. In those cases, try to announce when you're moving. For instance, on Sicaron, I always say "Moving after this next Decay!" when we're running out of room for contracts, so that everyone knows exactly when to reposition.
For some encounters, things are very unpredictable. A boss like Ituziel might block off your preferred path with a lava wave. Maybe you get Mind Decay and need to run into the ranged stack. When possible, try to communicate where you're going.
Ultimately, though, your main priority is holding threat and staying alive. Don't let the finer points of exact movement detract from either of those jobs. If you die, or wipe the group in order to pick up a small amount of DPS, then it's not worth it.
Now it's time to talk about some of the underlying ideas, particularly those that support the gearing recommendations listed above. If you don't really care about the reasoning behind this, then feel free to skip this part. Personally, I think it's important to know the basic rules, so that you know if and when they should be broken, and how certain patches might affect things.
As a tank, you have three basic jobs.
- This is the most important part, but also the easiest: you need to be able to get enemies to attack you. If you have no way of doing this, then it doesn't matter how tough you are, because the rest of your group will die. Fortunately, if you're hit capped and you do your rotation properly, then holding threat is trivial.
- The second priority is to survive the worst-case scenario. This is where a measurement called "effective health" (EH for short) comes into play. It doesn't do the group any good if you avoid 90% of the attacks directed against you, but die any time you get hit twice in a row. Murphy's law is in full effect: think about if you'll die if you get unlucky or things go wrong; you want to be as reliable and as stable as possible. The more burst damage that a boss can deal, the more EH that you'll need.
- Lastly, you need to avoid/mitigate/absorb/stop enough damage so that your healers can keep you up over longer periods of time. If your healers are running out of mana, or your health bar is gradually emptying over extended periods of time and they can't quite keep up, then you need to focus on this part.
If you're able to meet those three priorities with ease, then you can consider focusing on other things that may help your group, such as wearing a small amount of DPS gear to help with a rough enrage timer... but to be honest, you're generally better off just dropping a healer from your group in that situation.
In Rift, step 2 is generally the main challenge that you'll face in raids (particularly 20-man progression), because bosses can deal extremely large amounts of damage very quickly-- much too quickly for your healers to react. Stacking endurance is a huge help in this respect. Certain trinkets can also offer EH boosts, such as the passive endurance bonus from the Whitefall Steppes trinket, or the absorption shield procs from Wind's Breath or Way of Water.
In 5-man dungeons, steps 1 and 3 are generally a bigger concern. You'll often encounter players who pull groups of mobs by accident (or on purpose), and many healers are gearing up or otherwise unable to put out large amounts of healing. If you're concerned about your performance, you can adjust your spec/gear accordingly, adding more AoE-based or avoidance-based talents to help. However, 5-mans aren't very tightly tuned, and a raid-focused spec is more than enough to handle anything they throw at you if you don't want to keep a separate role just for smaller groups.
7 Final Words
One thing that a lot of tanks overlook is that their survivability often rests in the hands of their healers. They're the ones who really get a firsthand look at exactly what you have trouble with and what's not a problem, which means that they're the ones that you should talk to if you're considering a change. Healers often have different things that they're good at, and they may want you to try something different so that you can work together more efficiently. Listen to them.
If anyone has any questions, if I didn't cover something in enough detail, or if there's something else that you think belongs in this guide, please let me know.