I am currently my guild's premier Druid tank (though I may be losing this distinction soon due to my lousy playing schedule). As such, I ought to have a lot to say about tanking and how to do it...but I don't know that I'm really qualified to teach people to tank.
That said, I am often asked how I tank, what advice I can give other people when they tank, and so on. Well, for what it's worth, here you go:
LOOK BEHIND YOU, BEAR!
The number one thing to keep in mind with a tank - any tank, not just a Druid tank - is situational awareness. More than anything else, the player of a tank must be in a state of zen-like unity with her or his surroundings.
Though this seems like common sense, you'd be surprised how many tanks have what amounts to tunnel vision. They grab a single target and lock it down. Unfortunately, the rest of the spawn is running amok during this time.
Don't be afraid to rotate your camera to watch the battlefield. Patrols are common in instances and can often wander into the spot you've chosen to fight in if you're unlucky or careless and it's imperative that they get picked up either by you or by your CC options.
IF YOU LOVE SOMEONE, SET THEM FREE
One of the hardest things to realize when you're tanking is that sometimes, you need to let a mob go. This is less of an option in a Heroic, to be sure, but sometimes, you need to just watch a mob peel off and let your dps handle it. Counterintuitive? You bet, but it's critical to effective tanking.
The biggest hurdle to this tactic is trust. You have to be able to trust that the rest of the team is as interested in keeping up the squishies as you are, and that they'll re-apply CC or burn the loose mob fast. Sometimes, keeping the mobs you have is all you can do while your dps is burning them down and only one of them has to hit the loose one.
Sometimes you can't, though, and it's crucial to know when you can and can't. I'd rather break a sheep than let a mob run amok with the squishies, but if you can exercise the self-control needed and have the trust necessary, let a few of them go.
I most often exercise this option with caster mobs, even in Heroics, especially with a good Rogue around. The Rogues I run with are excellent at grabbing a caster mob and burning them down all while stunning, kicking and gouging the crap out of them to keep them from doing much of anything in return. I find I can usually ignore 1-2 casters completely while my Rogue friends demolish them.
Find dps like this. Love them. Feed them the blood of your enemies.
GOOD GRIEF THAT'S A LOT OF BAD GUYS!
Crowd Control and Kill Order.
One of the jobs you'll often have as the tank is marking targets. This can be EXTREMELY intimidating if you don't know the instance and the mobs in question, but it's crucial that you know how to do it.
Without getting specific, it's hard to say what's best but there are some general guidelines you can follow to make things easier on the rest of the group.
This is usable not only on Elementals, but on demons. Banish removes the target from combat completely for 30 seconds. While situational, it can be incredibly effective in the Shadow Labyrinth schoolroom or in Botanica.
The best part of Banish is that it doesn't heal the target like Polymorph does.
You can't screw this one up.
Even more situational than Banish, Enslave Demon can be used only on...you guessed it...farmers in Elwynn Forest! Oh...wait.
Enslave Demon is a bit like having another pet but lasts up to 5 minutes. Sometimes I go into a second pull with an enslaved demon in the group. It's re-applicable, but not reliably. I recommend killing it between pulls more often than trying to get maximum mileage. Most Warlocks I run into these days have pitiful Stamina pools and don't often survive the loving ministrations of their erstwhile companions.
This is another one safe from Tanking mishaps.
The most frequently seen Hunter trap is the Freezing Trap and it'll be the one you mark for. Thematically, the blue block raid icon works almost universally for this.
The most important thing to keep in mind with this trap is that it is more difficult for a Hunter to use this trap on a ranged mob. Casters and Hunter mobs are notoriously difficult for a Hunter to coax into this trap. What that means is that short of a short ranged silencing shot or counterspell you shouldn't generally be assigning a ranged mob to the Hunter for CC.
This CC is re-applicable which means you can leave the CC'd mob alone while you focus on the others, provided it isn't resisted and the Hunter is aware enough to re-apply it. Watch for resists.
Most importantly with respect to Freezing Trap is that you will sometimes find yourself chasing a loose mob only to have it stop moving in a block of ice. Do whatever you can to avoid tagging it because that's the number one way you'll break Freezing Trap. Though it is re-applicable it is not as quickly re-applicable as some other forms of CC.
Your CC. While beasts are not common in most instances, they do exist and you shouldn't write yourself out of the CC responsibilities. As a sleep effect, Hibernate will break on damage and the aggro from the CC effect is questionable.
While Hibernate is technically re-applicable, you'll be tanking so unless you have a Druid healer or Boomkin, it is effectively a weak Sap for beasts though usable at range.
If someone else is doing this for you, keep an eye out for the target because it's easy to miss with only little green Z's coming off their heads.
This one is tricky. Sometimes your Priest will be your only healer, and other times, the Priest won't be overly comfortable with the practice. While re-applicable, it can take your only healer out of the equation, though if it doesn't it is very effective.
Often, the Priests I run with will grab a Melee mob to dps with, or a caster mob to burn off all their mana and maybe heal for us.
Note that the longer a Priest does this the harder it'll be to peel the mob off them when it breaks. Other than not re-acquiring the mob quickly, you can't hurt Mind Control.
Perhaps the greatest CC option in the game. Usable on Beasts and Humanoids (oh, and Critters, but who cares beyond the humor value of turning a sheep into...a sheep), it covers a LOT of ground.
Polymorph in all three flavors (Sheep, Pig, Turtle) is usable at range, is reapplicable, and lasts a long time. Additionally, Mages can Frost Nova for distance then pause to reapply and go back to blasting.
There are two major concerns when using Polymorph.
First is that when it breaks, any patrols that are nearby may be brought to the fight by the angry mob. For this reason, smart Mages often wait for the mob to close a little rather than pulling with the spell (which also gains them other unwanted attentions).
The other problem is breaking the sheep. This is your bag, and that of anyone in melee or using AoE. Broken sheep is the surest way to annoy a Mage aside from asking for Water with a Warrior. Many mages adopt a You-Break-It-You-Tank-It approach, but those with more experience under their belts understand that things happen and sheep WILL be broken from time to time.
Reapplicable CC is why I made my earlier admonishment to let mobs go sometimes, too. I most often break sheep trying to grab a loose mob that a Mage is already working on.
Your Rogue CC. VERY effective, doesn't break stealth in any spec now, but only applicable out of combat.
The biggest thing to consider when marking for Sap is to pick something the Rogue can actually get to. Marking something on the inside of a spawn will only annoy the Rogue. They tend to Sap whatever they want when you do that.
Additionally, there are some mobs that cannot be approached for Sap due to the ability to see through Stealth. As Sap is not re-applicable, the Sap target should be prioritized over re-applicable CC victims.
As the Sap target will often be a way off, you have little fear of breaking this one. Just be sure you give the Rogue time to apply it before you pull.
Yet another Warlock spell, and one that's frequenly overlooked. It is perhaps the swapping out of pets that makes so many Warlocks resist this one, but it is often crucial. It's very short duration so the target should be prioritized immediately after single-use CC, however, and seems to break a lot. Happily, the target usually seems more concerned with the Succubus than the Warlock.
It is only usable on Humanoids. Still, use it when you have it just watch it like your life depended on it.
Polymorph for Undead targets. Your Priest should be doing this for undead mobs the same way you should be using Hibernate on animals. If your Priest is healing though, don't expect it to be re-applied and treat it as such. Multiple applications in addition to healing aggro can make the targets of this spell VERY hard to peel off. Keep Growl handy and watch for the golden chains.
One misplaced Swipe and your Priest could be eating a Cleave.
Fear is an often mis-used ability. Priests, Warriors, Warlocks, Hunters and Paladins all have usable Fears that vary by target and targetability.
Priest Fear is multi-target and indiscriminate. Warrior Fear hits multiple targets but leaves their target unaffected. Hunter Fear works only on animals and Paladin fear works only on Undead.
Warlock Fear...now this is fun. The same reason we all hate Warlocks in PvP is why we should love them in PvE. More than once I've watched a Warlock fear a mob and dot them to death, effectively locking down and soloing the mob. I kept trying to grab it only to have it run away and finally it just dropped dead. I didn't know what to think until the Warlock explained it to me.
Back when 60 was the cap, I remember using my Paladin's Turn Undead to frighten away an undead add during the Alexei Barov fight. It made an otherwise very difficult fight very easy.
Cheap Shot, Kidney Shot, Hammer of Justice, Blackout...all these things are cheap but sometimes effective mitigation and crowd control. Don't be afraid to use them.
The point with all this is that knowledge is your greatest asset while tanking. Knowledge of your surroundings, knowledge of other classes, knowledge of your enemies...all are critical. Tanks need to be smart and aware in marked contrast to the popular image of tanks being stupid meatshields with no finesse. Just because it's your job to get hit, doesn't mean you have no call to understand more than just how crits and crushes work and how to juggle Stamina with Dodge.
Generally, CC that isn't reapplicable should be top priority after finishing with loose mobs. You should also consider CC that seems to be breaking often or early and tend to those if you have time, sometimes before going after the Saps or your own Hibernates.
Burn casters before melee if you can, they're squishy and the expenditure of party resources has the highest payoff in doing so. Melee targets are the least of your worries as a Druid tank.
Be aware and your teams will love you. In a future post I'll cover gearing, grouping, and more.