This guide was written by Jasica, Warrior Officer of Spaceballs The Guild on Draenor, and 70 Druid on Hyjal. It is reprinted here with the author's permission.
In a previous guide I discussed the general theory of tanking. The take-away point of that post was this: everybody in the party plays a role in keeping the tank alive, but only the tank can raise the party's dps cap. Survivability is a necessary tool in a tank's bag of tricks, but threat generation is his job. Consequently all tanks, regardless of class, should prioritize threat generation over survivability.
This post is to convey what I've learned about tanking with a warrior following the principle of threat before survivability. I'll break this post into five sections. First I'll look at a general comparison of warrior tanks compared to druid and paladin tanks. Then I'll look more specifically at some math that every warrior should know. Then I'll look at gear, from the perspective of what types of gear a warrior tank should look for, rather than posting a comprehensive list of the "best" tanking gear in the game. Then I'll look at the protection tree, which I think is the most frequently misunderstood of the warrior talent trees. Finally I'll discuss what I consider to be "best practices" for a warrior tank.
There's been a lot of talk about warriors getting nerfed, or losing their place as the preeminent tank class in the game, and so on and so forth. Frankly I don't think there's a whole lot of point in discussing whether warriors are pointless, or whether they're still the best at this and that. I think the better approach is just to look at what's distinctive about a warrior as compared to the other possible tank classes, and just know how they're different.
Thematically, warriors are active, nimble tanks. Their mitigation is themed around skills and abilities: a high defense skill, shield block, disarm, shield wall, etc. They also have lots of high-threat instant attacks. A tanking warrior should be hitting at least one button every 1.5 seconds until the fight is done. What this means is that a warrior has more potential to control a fight than any other tanking class. No waiting 2.5 seconds for maul, no waiting 8 seconds for judgment.
In order to really understand warrior tanking you really have to know some numbers. If you aren't comfortable crunching a lot of numbers, at least you need to read this section and understand the conclusions. But you need to understand the conclusions. If you don't know at least roughly how much threat you're generating, you don't know how much dps your party can sustain, and staying ahead of your party's dps is what you're there to do (recall my previous guide on theory).
I'm going to be using numbers assuming a level 60 warrior, since level 60 is where we have the best data. To really optimize your tanking you need to look up the numbers for your particular level, if available (see the WoWwiki section on Aggro for the most complete list I know of). But using level 60 numbers as an example will lead us to conclusions that hold regardless of your level.
With that in mind, let's look at how much threat a level 60 warrior actually generates:
|wow spell:Battle stance (2457)]]|| |
|Berserker stance|| |
|Defensive stance|| |
|Defensive stance with 3/3 Defiance|| |
|Demoralizing Shout|| ||Improved Demoralizing Shout|| |
|Battle Shout|| ||Improved Battle Shout|| |
|Hamstring|| ||Shield Bash|| |
|Cleave|| ||Heroic Strike|| |
|Devastate|| ||Sunder Armor|| |
|Revenge with stun from Improved Revenge|| ||Revenge|| |
|Shield Slam|| |
In my opinion, every tank should know how much damage is necessary to pull aggro off his abilities. The formula for that is very easy to run through with a four-function calculator. The generalizable form is this:
(threat caused by ability) x (warrior stance modifier) x (1.1 or 1.3, depending on whether you're calculating for the 10% rule or the 30% rule) x (assist's class modifier) = damage needed to pull aggro
Just to be clear how these numbers work, let's walk through a few examples:
Q: How much threat does a level 60 sunder armor generate in defensive stance?
Answer: 261 threat x 1.3 = 339.3
Q: How much threat does a level 60 sunder armor generate in battle or berserker stance?
Answer: 261 threat x 0.8 = 208.8
Q: How much threat does it take to pull aggro from a single level 60 sunder used in defensive stance?
Answer: depends on whether we're pulling aggro using melee (meaning we use the 10% rule) or at range (meaning we use the 30% rule).
Q: How much damage would a Rogue or a Mage have to deal in order to pull aggro from a single level 60 sunder used in defensive stance?
Answer: See the WoWwiki section on Aggro if you want other classes' threat numbers.
We're now prepared to intelligently discuss how a warrior should tank, assuming his goal is to generate as much threat as he can. Here we go:
There are two "always, always, always" rules about warrior tanking. The first thing you should know about warrior tanking is that you always, always, always tank in defensive stance. This is not about your spec. It is not about your gear. I don't care if you're specced 51 fury and geared for pure dps. Never tank in anything other than defensive stance.
Here's why: In berserker or battle stance all your threat is multiplied by 0.80. In defensive stance, even without 3/3 Defiance, all your threat is multiplied by 1.30. 1.30, for those of you who are bad at math, is 62.5% more than 0.80. In order to break even with your threat in untalented defensive stance, you have to generate 62.5% more threat thanks to berserker or battle stance. Again, for those of you are bad at math, the 3% bonus from berserker stance doesn't come anywhere close. Basically, if berserker or battle stance raises your dps by 62.5% compared to defensive stance, you have my permission to tank in those stances. Otherwise, don't try it. You're losing threat unnecessarily.
Okay, defensive stance. That's pretty obvious. The key thing to remember about warrior tanking is that you should always, always, always be in your global cooldown. A naked warrior at level 60 with a level 1 gray dagger can generate 226.2 threat per second just by hitting the sunder armor button every 1.5 seconds. That's enough to keep up with 315.0 rogue dps or 294.06 ranged dps. Now of course a fully geared warrior should be able to keep up with much, much more dps than that but the point is that if you never, ever stop hitting buttons, you can generate a surprising amount of threat. You're a warrior. If you want to play a tank that doesn't have to frantically pop abilities, play a paladin. Don't worry about not having an ability available when you need it. Worst case scenario you have to wait 1.5 seconds before you pop your taunt, or sunder, or whatever it is you need to do. And if you generate as much threat as possible by always being in your global CD, you'll need your panic buttons a lot less often.
Which abilities should you be using? The ones that generate the most threat, obviously. By now pretty much everybody knows the standard threat priorities. You can figure it out for yourself using the numbers above, but to state for the record: shield slam is the highest-threat attack in the game. Never pass up an opportunity to use it. Revenge is next on the list; use it whenever it's available. If you can't shield slam or revenge, use sunder armor. Use mortal strike whenever possible, as long as it does more than 261 damage and as long as it doesn't use up so much rage that it makes you stop hitting buttons every 1.5 seconds. If you have extra rage after using whichever of these four instant attacks is best, hit heroic strike. Heroic strike is actually an excellent threat generation tool, but it isn't worth using if it's going to take you out of your global cooldown. These five abilities (Shield Slam, Mortal Strike, Sunder Armor, Revenge, and Heroic Strike) are the only ones you should ever use in an ideal tanking world. Start off restricting yourself to those. If it turns out you need additional abilities to survive with a given party, toss those in as needed, but understand that they are a concession.
By now you're probably rolling your eyes at me and wondering how anybody can stay in their global cooldown 100% of the time, especially given the rage normalization of patch 2.0. There are two keys. First, get the highest dps weapon you can. Before rage normalization, the amount of rage you generated from a given amount of damage was a straightforward linear function. After rage normalization, it's still a linear function (if you don't believe me, look up the formulas at ). They just changed the slope of the line. This means that, even after rage normalization, more damage = more rage. True, you'll generate less rage than you would have before normalization. But more damage is still better.
There's a school of thought that says a warrior weapon should have a speed of around 2.0, on the theory that we need to be able to kick out a fairly steady flow of threat and a really slow weapon is too spiky. This is not a school of thought I agree with. The reason has nothing to do with devastate (although that's a nice bonus). It has to do with the simple fact that more damage per second equals more threat per second, and it doesn't matter how many seconds are in between swings. For paladins, I think the fast tanking weapon theory has some merit (and of course druids have an attack speed of 2.5 when tanking no matter what). A paladin can only generate a significant amount of threat through his weapon swing or through judgment (which is only up every 8 seconds at best), so it's very possible that a paladin with a slow weapon will find himself needing to kick out an appreciable chunk of threat and caught between swings. But warriors have four very good high-threat instant attacks. My own philosophy is that a warrior should take the highest dps weapon he can find, regardless of its weapon speed, and use his instant abilities to generate a steady flow of damage, in order to maximize his total threat per second.
Which brings us to the second key to generating enough threat - Always be in your global cooldown (and therefore free yourself to use the highest dps weapon you can): tank as many mobs as you need to. Depending on your gear and the level of the mobs you're fighting, it may take anywhere from 1 to 4 mobs to generate a sufficient amount of rage. Don't be afraid of tanking multiple mobs. If you have enough rage to always be in your global CD (and if your assists are disciplined about only hitting your main target), tanking four guys shouldn't be an issue.
Before we get into how you tank four guys at once, let me say a word about crowd control and off-tanking. Remember that your goal is to tank at least as many mobs as it takes to get enough rage to always be in your global cooldown. If that means you tank four mobs at once, so be it. If that means you tank one mob at a time, that's fine too. Try to CC before you off-tank, though. As main tank, you have the best mitigation in the party by definition. If anybody other than you is getting hit, the healer has to spend more mana to fix the hurt than he would if you had taken the same blow. That means your healer has to heal more, which means he generates more threat, which means you have to generate more threat to stay ahead of him.
So, finally, how do you tank four guys at once? Easy, right? That's what demo shout is for? Wrong. Don't tank packs with demo shout. Suppose you're tanking four mobs at once. You know that healing generates AoE threat, so you want to get some threat on each of the mobs before you start taking healing. A lot of warriors will pop their demo shout and proceed to tank their main target, where the party's dps will (hopefully) be focused. Those warriors are quickly going to lose aggro to their healer. Here's why. That demo shout generated, at most, 42 x 1.45 = 60.9 threat per mob. Now suppose the warrior instead tossed a sunder on each mob and then went to tank his main target. The warrior has now generated 261 x 1.45 = 378.45 threat per mob. To get that much threat using demo shout he would have had to shout six times, which would take 9 seconds. One sunder per mob takes only 6 seconds. Demo shout is AoE threat, it's true, but it's very little threat.
The take-away point is that you shouldn't use demo shout unless you need a very little amount of aggro on a lot of mobs in a very short amount of time. Those occasions do arise, but they're few and far between. Far better to pack-tank the old-fashioned way and use real threat-generating abilities on each mob in the pack individually. Again, you're a warrior. You have the best threat-per-second single-target instant abilities in the game. Use them.
I think by now most people know how taunting works, but let me just write it out here for the record, because it's pretty hard how to figure it out from the tooltip.
A real taunt does three things: it applies a debuff to the mob forcing it to attack you for a few seconds, regardless of threat, it makes your threat equal to whoever has the most threat on that mob, and it gives you aggro regardless of threat until somebody else puts additional threat on the mob.
So to clear that up, let's suppose you and a buddy are fighting a mob. Your buddy starts the fight off by doing 1000 threat on the mob. You have 0 threat on the mob. You're a warrior, so what do you do? You taunt. At this point the following happens:
If you understand those three things, it becomes pretty clear when to taunt and when not to taunt. If you've already got aggro (meaning the mob is already attacking you), taunting isn't going to do a whole lot for you. At best it might give you a tiny bit of extra threat – suppose you're at 1000 threat and have aggro and a hunter is at 1200 threat, more than you but not enough to trigger the 30% rule. Taunting will move you up to 1200 threat, so it has some effect, but not much.
Now suppose somebody legitimately pulls aggro off you. What do you do? You could hit them with a shield slam, Revenge, or sunder armor and hope that causes enough threat to push you over the 10% rule to steal back aggro the old fashioned way. But that's often risky. Instead, the better rule is to taunt the mob and then hit them with your threat attack.
Now, strictly speaking, you don't need to hit them to keep aggro. Several patches ago taunting didn't automatically give you aggro, but now it does. So why slap on some extra threat? Mostly just to be safe. After all, if they pulled aggro off you once, it doesn't hurt to give yourself some extra threat on that mob.
As a side note, there are only three true taunts in the game: Taunt (Warrior), Growl (Druid), and Righteous defense (Paladin). There are no true AOE taunts. Challenging shout and challenging roar only apply a debuff that forces mobs to attack you for a few seconds. They do not do anything for your threat levels (in fact they don't generate any threat at all).
So now you know about taunting, and you're all ready to be some kind of multiple-mob-tanking sunder-armoring whirling dervish of a warrior ready to amaze your friends who think that warrior tanks are always starved for rage. You know what to do. But what to wear?
Let's start with what you're holding. Your main hand, obviously, is gripping a weapon—the highest dps weapon you can get your hands on, as discussed earlier. What is your off-hand doing? It can do one of four things:
Remember that our goal is to generate maximum threat. That means #4 (off-hand item) is out, except in the very rare cases where you use an off-hand item with magic resistance instead of a shield. Shield... what about wielding a shield?
The key thing to remember is that your off-hand should be hurting people (i.e., generating threat). For arms and fury warriors, shields don't hurt people. Sure, you can shield bash, but that generates less threat than sunder armor, so why waste your global cooldown on shield bash when you could sunder instead for more threat? For an arms or fury warrior, wielding a shield lowers your threat in return for extra damage mitigation, which is precisely the wrong thinking for a warrior tank. Now of course, sometimes you just have to admit that you need additional mitigation, and you have to wield a shield. But it's a concession, and one you should fight. Arms/fury warriors should use their off-hand to wield a weapon. Two-hander or dual-wielding doesn't matter; the only question is which option raises your dps (and thus your threat) more. Generally speaking that means two-handing for arms warriors and dual-wielding for fury warriors, though there are exceptions to that rule we can discuss in another thread. Now, if you're specced protection, things change radically. Protection (as we'll discuss in a later section) turns your shield into a weapon. A really, really high threat weapon.
So, for weapons: maximum dps (or maximum dps + shield if you're protection). I cannot emphasize enough the need to maximize your weapon dps. Your weapon is the most scalable part of your threat generation; don't neglect it.
I don't believe in very many hard-and-fast rules when it comes to itemization, but I do believe in this one: always always always have at least +5% to hit. Why? The simple answer is that sunder armor can't crit, but it can miss. There's simply no excuse for ever missing a sunder once you have access to +hit gear. +hit is the only way sunder armor scales with gear, so you should max out your hit chance. Your miss chance (when not dual-wielding) is 5% against mobs your own level, so you want to bring that down to 0%. If you can manage it, try to get +8% to hit (0% miss chance vs. mobs three levels higher than you) or even +9% chance hit (0% miss chance vs. mobs four levels higher than you) if you fight mobs that high.
Other than the "don't miss, ever" rule, you've got a lot of leeway in what you use for gear. Don't be lured into the trap of going for armor sets just because they're sets. Go for what gets you the most threat, first and foremost. As a general rule that means attack power, strength, +crit, and agility.
What gets priority over what? That's really a question of your gear and your spec, and there is a mathematical "best threat" answer for every potential upgrade if we know the rest of your gear and your spec. As a general rule, though, I favor raw attack power (whether derived through strength or +AP gear) over crits, with the exception of fury warriors (who should strive to proc Flurry every three swings). My preference for AP over crit as a source of threat has nothing to do with AP being consistent and crits being dependent on "luck". As I said before, we're warriors - we get consistency through our instant attacks, not through our weapon swings. That's for paladins. It's just that you shouldn't fall into the trap of being "over-critted", with an insane crit chance and very little actual attack power, and +crit increases your overall dps up to a certain predefined limit (that limit being 2x your non-crit dps), whereas AP raises that overall limit.
So now we should talk about mitigation. The fact of the matter is that if you're a warrior, you're going to be forced (through itemization) to get a lot of +defense skill gear. Might as well embrace it; +defense is one of the warrior's distinctive mitigation techniques. Defense skill is kind of this mythical answer to a lot of warriors, so we should probably discuss what it can and can't do.
Each point of defense above your attacker's weapon skill (for mobs, weapon skill = 5 x level) increases your chance to dodge, parry, block, not be hit, and not be critically hit by 0.04%. Thus 5 defense = +0.2% to dodge, +0.2% to parry, +0.2% to block, +0.2% miss chance for your attacker, and -0.2% crit chance for your attacker. That's a total of a little over 0.8% damage mitigation (plus 0.2% of your block amount) every 5 +defense, which is pretty good. Thus, for a mob your level, you need 125 +defense to become immune to critical hits (since 125 x .04% = -5% crit chance). But don't get hung up on not getting critted. Long-term (and long-term is what you should be measuring yourself against in a pve context) crits only add 5% to a mob's dps. The bigger benefit from +defense is the chance to not be hit at all through dodge, parry, and misses.
+defense does not protect against crushing blows (if a mob is 3 or more levels above you, it has a flat 40% chance to deal 50% extra damage, which is called a "crushing blow"). It used to, but not any more. The only ways warriors have to defend against crushing blows are the shield block ability (which makes it impossible for the mob to land a crushing blow on you, as long as it's up), shield wall or lots of armor.
What about armor? Armor is nice, but not the sort of thing a warrior should worry too much about piling up to the sky. If you want ridiculous amounts of armor, play a druid. There is an equivalence for armor vs. +defense, but itemization is more or less going to force you into prioritizing +defense over armor. If you're deciding between armor and defense, you can use the equivalence formula as a guide, but the short answer is to take defense over armor. And remember that, in general, more threat is better than more +defense.
Finally there's stamina. Stamina is also nice, but also not the sort of thing a warrior should worry too much about piling up to the sky. That's also for druids. When deciding how much stamina you need, it's important to understand how stamina actually keeps you alive.
Hit points are not, by themselves, going to keep you alive. It doesn't really matter how many hit points you have; you can have 17,000 HP and you're still going to die in a matter of seconds in the boss fights. The point, simply put, is that there's a big difference between dying in 2 seconds and dying in 4. If you die in 2 seconds, you're dead before your priest can cast a single greater heal. If you're dead in 4, your priest can cast a greater heal. If you're dead in 5, your priest can cast a greater heal and a renew before you go down. And so on and so forth.
Hit points are, in other words, a buffer that gives your healers time to act. The longer you can last on your own, the more time your healers have to respond to the fight: your healers will thank you if they have enough time to toss a renew on the rogue, greater heal the mage who decided to AOE three elites, and then get back to you. And you will thank yourself if you can last long enough to sunder every mob in the fight before you need to be healed. There's nothing more frustrating than responsibly going through your sunder rotation only to have your priest panic, heal you for a measly thousand HP, and pull aggro on the mob you were about to sunder but now have to chase down. The more HP you have, the less likely that is to happen. In an ideal world you don't really need more than 3.6 seconds of survivability (the time it takes to cast the slowest heal in the game), but in the real world you need several times that at least. Just how big a buffer you need is something that only you know, based on your damage intake, your faith in the healers you generally run with, and how much damage the other members in your party take (even if you're the perfect tank, they'll take some damage from mob AOE). But if you stick with the idea that HP = healer reaction buffer, you'll have a good guide to work from. If you're a "give-me-hard-numbers" type, I would shoot for at least 4000-5000 HP around level 60 minimum.
So, to summarize: go for dps (i.e., threat) before mitigation. You'll know when you need to add some more damage mitigation, but you'll be surprised by what you can do if you let your assists just cut loose, all the time. Don't intentionally nerf your dps just because you think that's part of the main tank's job description. When you do go for mitigation, remember what hit points are for, and remember that one of the things that makes warriors special is their high +defense. Might as well use it.
Finally, I'd like to look at the protection tree. I want to talk about prot not just because I love it, but because I feel like protection is the most misunderstood of the warrior trees.
Here's what protection is not. Protection is not just for main-tanking raid instances. It is not for pvp'ing, although a number of guides have been published on how to pvp in prot and I've beaten comparably-geared shamans in duels with my prot spec. Prot is okay for grinding if you get two really high dps one-handed weapons and dual-wield, but it's harder than grinding fury and probably harder than arms, no question.
Here's what prot is. It's for any warrior who wants to kick out as much threat as his class can possibly kick out. I can run through the math with you using any gear and any spec you want, but I defy you to come up with a profile that generates more threat using arms or fury than an identical profile specced prot. A warning, though: it's possible to build a prot spec that turns you into little more than a turtle. If you build one of those, taking all the obvious mitigation talents, my guess is that prot will disappoint you. On the other hand, if you load up on the threat-enhancing talents, I think you'll be surprised what you can do.
Improved Bloodrage - At 2/2 gives you an extra 6 rage from your bloodrage ability. I consider this a must-have. A warrior without rage is like a paladin without mana, and it's surprising how fast a fight can spiral out of control if you spend just a few seconds out of your global CD. This can be either a quick shot in the arm of rage mid-fight, or extra rage at the start of a fight if you can't start the pull by charging.
Tactical Mastery - Now that all warriors get to retain 10 rage when changing stances, you might be tempted to skip this. After all, it's not like you should be changing stances a lot when tanking anyway. I personally like this talent because it lets me start a fight with the maximum amount of rage. I can charge into a pull and immediately have enough rage to shield slam my main target, which gives me plenty of time to sunder each of my off-targets and be ready to unload on my main. TM + charge = always in global CD, right from the start of the fight.
Anticipation - As I've said, +defense is a very effective method of damage mitigation for a warrior, and one of our class specialties. Nevertheless I give this talent a pass. It's pretty much a flat damage reduction buff of 3.2%, and I prefer Toughness, which scales better even if it doesn't get me the big sexy +defense numbers.
Shield Specialization - This is a talent that gets better the more mobs you tank at once. If you're tanking one mob you're getting hit once every 2.0 seconds, so this talent means +2.5% chance to proc Revenge and +.025 rage per second. Not very impressive. If you're tanking four mobs at once you're getting hit once every 0.5 seconds, and 5/5 Shield Spec gets you +10% chance to proc Revenge and +.10 rage per second. Much more attractive. The rage proc isn't all that big a deal, but four mobs and 5/5 Shield Spec means you can proc Revenge almost every time its cooldown is up, which reduces your rage consumption and boosts your threat per second at the same time.
Toughness - While nowhere near as attractive as the equivalent druid talent, I still prefer this to Anticipation. Recall that +20 defense is about 3.2% damage reduction. It takes 218 armor to match that amount of DR against level 73 mobs. Toughness will get you 218 armor if you have 2180 base AC, which by the end of the game every warrior will have several times over. A far more efficient use of talent points to get mitigation.
Last Stand - I've got this talent and I like it a lot. It heals you for 30% of your maximum HP for 20 seconds. That's usually enough to cover the situations where your healer is asleep at the switch, or had to go save somebody else. Basically it gives your healers a little more emergency flexibility, which I'm always in favor of. Not necessary, but I find it surprisingly helpful.
Improved Shield Block - Some warriors use shield block to force a Revenge proc. For the most part I consider that a waste of time and rage; if you want more Revenge procs just tank more mobs. For those who subscribe to the sap/sheep/freeze-everything-in-sight philosophy of tanking, I suppose that makes sense. The main point of this talent from my perspective is to make you immune to crushing blows for an extra 1 second whenever you pop shield block. Of course, there's only a 20% chance for any given second that you're going to suffer a crushing blow in the first place, so this isn't a whole lot of damage reduction overall. If you tank a lot of bosses 3+ levels above you, this could be attractive. If you need it, odds are you'll know.
Improved Revenge - Unlike all the other talents that improve your basic skills, this one actually adds threat. The stun from imp. revenge is worth 25 threat when it lands. I think that's the main point of this talent, and I don't consider a 40% chance of 25 threat worth the talent points. You could use this to reduce your damage intake in pack tanking scenarios, though (where you'll be using revenge quite often if you've got 5/5 Shield Specialization).
Defiance - The best talent in the protection tree. Even arms and fury tanks should seriously consider investing in 3/3 Defiance. This changes your threat multiplier in defensive stance from 1.30 to 1.45. In other words, it scales every single point of threat that you generate. Absolutely worth it.
Improved Sunder Armor - One of the best (I'd say fourth, after Focused Rage and Shield Slam) talents in the protection tree, and another talent arms and fury tanks should seriously consider. If you've been worrying about how you're supposed to generate enough rage to always be in your global CD (and if you've done any amount of tanking, you probably are) here's half your answer right here. Even if you aren't, the less rage you spend on your instant attacks, the more you have saved up for even more threat using heroic strike. True sunder spam (i.e., sunder every 1.5 seconds) generates a surprising amount of threat and gives a warrior a surprising amount of control over the battle, and this talent makes it much easier to achieve that ideal.
Improved Disarm - I personally skip this talent entirely. Disarm is a nifty damage mitigation trick, but I almost never use it. The reason is because using disarm is 1.5 seconds I'm not shield slamming, revenging, or sundering. I'd rather my rogues never have to feint than use disarm.
Improved Taunt - I took this talent because I skipped tier 5 almost entirely and couldn't come up with anything better to put it in. It's not a huge deal one way or the other; if you need to taunt twice in 10 seconds either you or your party is doing something wrong anyway, and the problem can probably resolved through addressing how people play. Still, there are a few times when it's nice to have taunt up earlier, since even the best parties make mistakes, and we very rarely tank for the best parties.
Improved Shield Wall - Shield wall is pretty much a warrior's ultimate panic button. You almost certainly won't die as long as shield wall is up, but if you have to use it, you're probably going to die as soon as it goes down. Effectively, therefore, it's an ability you use to give your healer time to heal you. This talent gives your healer longer to react, which might be attractive to some, but I figure if the healer hasn't gotten to me by the time SW's regular timer runs out, I'm dead anyway. Nor do I like using it on heavy-hitting boss fights to mitigate damage. In my experience SW mitigates so much damage that I can't keep up my sunder spam, and a heavy-hitting boss is one that I particularly want to keep aggro on. I skipped this one.
Concussion Blow - Worth taking just for Shield Slam, and Shield Slam is the talent that turns your shield from a concession into an all-threatening hammer of mob control. One talent for a five-second stun new interrupt isn't a bad tradeoff all by itself, but Shield Slam is the real reason to take this talent.
Improved Shield Bash - An important talent for protection pvp, but for tanking I skip this talent. I almost never shield bash to begin with, since it takes the place of a shield slam, revenge, or sunder, and for the most part I don't care if I get hit by a spell. The few times I do care, a simple interrupt is usually enough. Besides, if I really want to silence a mob for 3 seconds, I'll hit them with concussion blow and stun them for 5 instead.
Shield Mastery - If you've read this far you'll have noticed that I don't mention blocking in my discussion of warrior mitigation. For mathematical precision I'll factor it in when I'm doing number crunching, but in the grand scheme of things blocking is a fairly small part of your damage mitigation. Nevertheless, prot warriors want this talent and they want it bad. Why? Because Shield Slam's damage isn't modified by the block value of your shield. It's modified by the amount you block for. In other words, this talent makes your Shield Slam even more of a massive threat attack than it already is.
One-Handed Weapon Specialization - A key protection talent. This is probably the most important prot talent for solo grinding, since it lets you dual-wield and gain an overall 15% increase to your dps. Grinding in prot is far from ideal but sometimes it has to be done, and this talent makes it a lot less painful. More importantly, though, this talent increases your threat in a tanking situation by a lot, and it just gets better the more damage you kick out. Definitely a keeper.
Improved Defensive Stance - This is a straight mitigation talent, which is inherently distasteful since it's not necessary to get anything else in prot. I can see its usefulness for raiding, but my experience in Outland so far is that magic damage can be mitigated just fine through totems/auras and regular resist gear, which is surprisingly easy to buy. If you need it, you'll know, but I wouldn't take it until then.
Shield Slam - If you're a prot tank, you need this talent, and you need it bad. Shield Slam is the highest-threat attack in the game and it's instant cast. The amount you block for is added to the ability's damage on a 1:1 basis. This ability makes tanking everything easier. It makes tanking bosses easier because it can easily take a 1600-point fireball to match the threat of a single fully talented shield slam at level 60 (that's assuming you block for a mere 100 damage, which you should be able to do far better than at level 60), and you get to do that once every six seconds. It makes tanking packs easier because you can charge, shield slam your main target, and sunder everything else at your leisure. Can you tank without it? Sure. You can tank without the entire protection tree, comes to that. But Shield Slam is still a better threat attack than anything else out there. If you have Shield Slam, look for a shield with a very high block value, and armor with +block value on it.
Focused Rage - The second-best talent in the protection tree. Every attack you have, in every stance, costs 3 less rage. This lets you take appreciably less damage to be in your global CD all the time, which everybody likes, and also gives you more rage for auxiliary threat abilities like heroic strike, which everybody likes. Try it; you'll never go back.
Vitality - This talent has some hidden strengths. Everybody likes more HP, but +5% health for 5 talent points is pretty expensive. The real key to this talent is in its +10% strength. That means you can now prioritize strength over AP (since 1 str with 5/5 Vitality = 2.2 AP), which is nice because strength is much more likely to come with +defense gear than AP is. Remember that strength also increases the amount you block for (i.e., the amount your shield slam hurts for), which is another reason for a prot tank to enhance his strength in any way possible. If you gear for strength over AP this can improve your AP by 10% in all stances, which is a nice threat boost as well as a nice grinding boost.
Devastate - A lot of warriors have been disappointed by devastate. Its tooltip is misleading so I should clarify. Devastate causes 50% of weapon damage +some amount, and adds that amount for each sunder armor on the target (doesn't matter who put them there; in a raid situation you can have other warriors sunder so you can start devastating immediately at full effect). It does not deal additional pure threat; it deals more threat per sunder because it deals more damage per sunder. This is in flat contradiction to the tooltip, I know, but it's been extensively tested. For example, rank 2 Devastate says +25 damage. That means it deals 50% weapon damage + 25, plus an additional 25 damage for every sunder on the target, for a maximum of 50% weapon damage + 150. At 101 innate threat for all ranks, that means Devastate deals far more threat on a fully sundered mob than sunder armor. It will basically never deal more threat than sunder on an un-sundered mob, no matter how good your weapon is. Devastate is worth taking for one talent point, but you need to know what it can and can't do.
So what is it for? Some tanks deride it as a pvp dps tool, kind of like MS lite. I look at it as mostly a boss-only tool. It does not replace Shield Slam. It replaces sunder, in long fights. In a normal boss fight a prot warrior without Devastate will shield slam once, sunder three times (unless revenge comes up, in which case you replace a sunder with a revenge), shield slam again, sunder three times (unless revenge), repeat until the boss goes down. Every sunder will apply threat, but only the first 5 really hurt the boss in any other way. Devastate changes that. With Devastate you sunder five times and then replace what would have been sunders with Devastate (Shield Slam, sunder three times (unless revenge), Shield Slam, sunder two times, Devastate, Shield Slam, Devastate three times, repeat until the boss goes down). Sure, Devastate only does slightly more threat than sunder. But that's not the point. The point is that instead of generating pure threat on the boss, you're now generating an equal or greater amount of threat and doing some damage. Given the choice between pure threat and the same amount of threat that actually hurts someone, obviously the second is better.
I didn't actually write this guide--it was written by a friend of mine, the warrior officer in my guild. The guide is also a little bit outdated--it was written before Thunder Clap got the 1.75 threat bonus. So with that bonus in mind, Jasica and I did some math.
Without factoring in Defiance, a level 70 Sunder does 391 threat. Thunder Clap, in defensive stance, will generate a maximum of 251. I took the formula from the page on Wowwiki:
123 damage * 0.9(defensive stance penalty) * 1.75(threat bonus) * 1.3(defensive stance bonus) = 251 threat.
This means that at maximum level, one Thunder Clap is a little more than half a sunder. However, with Improved Thunder Clap, the base damage of Thunder Clap is DOUBLED - giving us this formula:
246 damage * 0.9 * 1.75 * 1.3 = 504 threat.
So without Imp. Thunder Clap, TC is a handy tanking tool--better than sundering all mobs, but really only if you're trying to tank more than two. WITH it, however, it becomes your second highest priority threat attack on multiple targets--even if you could somehow magically sunder 2 targets at once, Imp. TC would still get you more threat per rage.
There are a few other factors to consider.
So with this in mind, except on very high armor mobs, Thunder Clap is a good choice for multi-mob threat control, and Improved Thunder Clap is a VERY good choice.