Becoming A Better Tank

Updated for Patch 5.4

The beginnings of optimizing as a tank
– Torael Valdis (Jenova)
Table of Contents

What is Tanking?

Tanking in Final Fantasy 14, in the most basic of ideas, is controlling the Enmity of the enemies and reducing the damage you take from said enemies. The ultimate goal for a tank is to provide the most comfortable experience for both healers and DPS to do their jobs. Comfortable DPS will be able to output more damage, while comfortable healers will be able to heal less, and in turn output more damage.”

At the most basic level, a tank who can hold the boss and use cooldowns for things that otherwise would kill them, i.e. tank busters, will be able to clear almost all content. However, what about tanks who want to go beyond just the bare minimum and want to really push their gameplay? What about tanks who don’t just want to be considered “okay” or “good” tanks? What if they want to become great tanks? Furthermore, what even makes a great tank? This guide is aimed at exactly that. Being a great tank is about much more than just popping bare minimum mitigation for tank busters and holding the boss willy-nilly wherever they want to. Moreover, having high DPS alone doesn’t make a great tank. 

A great tank is one who:
  1. Has a good mindset, including being open to feedback and advice
  2. Optimizes their mitigation to cover the most damage possible, including working with their co-tank and other party members to incorporate their cooldowns; 
  3. Facilitates uptime for everyone in the party, whether through boss positioning, mechanical execution, etc.; 
  4. Maintains high uptime and DPS, especially while playing into raid buffs for maximum damage contribution; 
  5. And is consistent and adaptable.

This guide aims to take an in-depth look at all of these aspects in order to help you improve not only your personal DPS, but your tanking as a whole. The majority of this guide will be aimed at raid-type content (Extreme, Savage, Ultimate), but some dungeon information will be sprinkled throughout. This guide also assumes that you are familiar with the toolkits of each tank, as well as the basics of tanking. Please refer to the basic tanking guide and each job’s individual guides (found below) for more details. 

Tanking Guides

Basic Tanking Guide

Gunbreaker Guide

Dark Knight Guide

Paladin Guide

Warrior Guide

Mindset

Why Attitude and Approach are Important

The way a tank mentally approaches content and group interactions significantly affects personal performance as well as party cohesion. There are many important aspects of a positive mentality for tanking (or any role really).

The first aspect is being open to communication. It is impossible to work out issues with a person who simply refuses to cooperate and communicate. Be open to feedback among your group, whether that is feedback regarding boss positioning, or mitigation, etc. Remember this is a team game, and great tanks will do their best to be a team player in every regard. This includes being open to criticism about your gameplay. If you think you know a better way to handle a mechanic, mitigation plans, etc., communicate it! Openness to communication will go a long way in helping you and your group be better.

Second, be open to trying new things. Sometimes your group will ask you to try something that you aren’t necessarily comfortable with, or that sounds like something you wouldn’t normally want to do. Be open to trying it. If it doesn’t work out, you can always go back to doing what you were doing before, or you or your group may get new ideas for how to approach your specific situation. Being blatantly stubborn about something will only frustrate the group which can hinder group performance.

Third, drop the mindset of a set Main Tank (MT) and Off Tank (OT). Fights in FFXIV are generally structured so that both of the tanks will spend at least some time “main tanking” the fight, even if it’s short. It is often more valuable to think of the other tank in your party as your “co-tank” rather than your MT or OT. Some mechanics can be resolved differently depending on how you and your co-tank want to approach it. Sometimes it may even be useful to have a tank swap at certain places to make boss movement, mitigation, etc. easier for your co-tank. This will be discussed more in depth in the mitigation section, as a significant part of mitigation optimization is making effective use of your co-tank’s cooldowns as well.

Mitigation

Why We Don’t Just Push Rampart on Cooldown

Mitigation at high level gameplay is as integral a part of a tank’s gameplay as doing their damage rotation. Optimal mitigation usage will vary fight to fight as well as vary with group compositions. However, two things will always remain constant: optimal mitigation use will always aim to:

  1. Cover as much damage as possible under each cooldown, and
  2. Maximize the number of uses of each cooldown (where applicable).

Covering the most damage possible under your cooldowns can make a world of difference for your healers. For example: if a fight has a long string of auto attacks (autos) leading into a tank buster, then no damage for ~10s after the tank buster, optimal mitigation usage would be to pop your mitigation early to cover the auto attacks and the buster. Popping your mitigation right before the tank buster would waste at least 10 seconds of the cooldown where the tank is taking no damage after the buster in this example. Mitigating the string of autos leading into the tank buster could be the difference between needing a GCD heal from your healers to survive or not.

Invulns (Hallowed Ground, Superbolide, Living Dead, and Holmgang) for party share mechanics are a great example of this as well. One example is the Morn Afahs in E8S. The party can either stack together and share the damage, or one tank can just invuln the mechanic, keeping the party from taking any damage. Whether using your invulns in this way is worth it is up to the party and whether or not it saves healer GCDs. The less your healers have to GCD heal, the more damage they can do.

Maximizing the number of uses of each cooldown is also an extremely important part of optimizing your mitigation. For example: let’s look at a fight like Shiva Savage (E8S). At a very basic level, you only need to use mitigation for the tank busters (two Double Slaps, the knockback mirrors, and Banish III during Icelit), as almost all other damage comes from raid wide attacks and autos. However, Shiva autos hit very hard, and you have many “free” uses of your cooldowns before you need them for the busters. To maximize your uses, you would use your mitigations at these “free” spots. Having mitigation active for long strings of autos with some raid wides sprinkled in will reduce your damage taken significantly, which means you will need less healing, and in turn has a high chance of reducing or eliminating healer GCDs. A healer that doesn’t need to GCD heal is a happy healer.

Remember that you are not the only tank in an instance (outside of dungeon content). Managing your cooldowns in tandem with your co-tank is very important. Tank swapping so that you can make use of your co-tank’s mitigation tools can be very beneficial for helping your healers to heal as little as possible. This is going to vary drastically from fight to fight as well as static to static. Work with your team to see how you can take advantage of this, especially if your co-tank is sitting on mitigation for a long time because they don’t need it.

Mitigating as the Off Tank

If you are the Off Tank (OT, also known as Secondary Tank or ST in some regions), remember to use Heart of Stone, Aurora, Intervention, The Blackest Night, or Nascent Flash as often possible on your Main Tank (MT), or for specific places where your co-tank is taking a lot of damage (i.e. tank busters). Specific uses will be fight dependent. (Note: Using The Blackest Night (TBN) on cooldown is often not the best use for it, as doing so would hinder the ability to put damage under raid buffs Please consult DRK specific resources for TBN optimizations.) Additionally, it can be extremely beneficial for the healers if a tank uses their kit to help recover after someone messes up. For example: let’s assume a DPS stood in a mechanic and got a vuln stack and is lower health than normal, and there is a strong raid wide damage cast coming. A tank using Nascent/TBN/HoS/Intervention may save the DPS’s life without the healers having to specifically focus on the DPS. The same is true if anyone messes up. This is, of course situational, but it is something that great tanks should always keep in mind.

Party Mitigation

Tanks also have tools to reduce damage taken on the entire party (Heart of Light, Dark Missionary, Divine Veil, Passage of Arms, Shake It Off, and Reprisal). Most of the time these tools are best used on raid-wide damage, rather than on personal damage, since reducing damage on everyone at once is more valuable than reducing damage only on yourself. Work with your party to see where the best places to use your tools are, as other party mitigation exists and having multiple on one source of damage could be less valuable than having them spread out over multiple sources. Likewise, stacking several for one big source could be more valuable than spreading them out over multiple sources. This will vary among fights and party compositions.

Dungeon Mitigation

For dungeons, mitigation is a bit of a different animal. Ideally, we want to be pulling as many mobs as possible and stack them up to be mowed down by party AoE. Mitigation is hugely important for this because properly using mitigation will let the healer also contribute to the AoE. Healers, especially WHM, are AoE monsters if they don’t have to constantly stop casting to heal the tank. The ideal way to handle mitigation in these pulls is to mitigate proportional to how many mobs are alive/present. Typically, you’ll start with stronger mitigation first (i.e. your 30% cooldown), then rotate to weaker ones as the pull goes on. Remember that Arm's Length is a very strong dungeon cooldown as it puts a 20% slow debuff on your targets, essentially making them hit you 20% less. The specifics of what you use and what order will vary dungeon to dungeon, and may even need to be adjusted based on the party damage/if the healer is just being a healbot or not. You almost never need mitigation for the dungeon bosses themselves, so the only considerations that you need to keep in mind is if there is another pack of mobs before the next boss. If so, you’ll want to try to keep some mitigation for that pack.

Facilitating Party Uptime

How to Help Your Party Get the Most Damage Possible

A tank’s job goes beyond just mitigating their own damage taken and holding aggro on the enemies. Your job as a tank is to do what you can to maximize the party’s damage in any way you can. An extremely important facet of this is helping your party get maximum uptime. More uptime = more damage. There are a few ways that tanks can do this: boss positioning, mechanical execution, and use of their mitigation toolkit.

Boss positioning is by far one of the biggest complaints melee DPS make about tanks who don’t know what they are doing. Melee DPS have positional requirements on many of their skills, meaning if the boss is positioned in a way that they can’t meet these requirements, they lose damage. Specific positioning is going to vary fight to fight, but the important thing is to always make sure the rear and flank of the boss is accessible to melee DPS where possible. Yes, melee have access to True North stacks, but that is not an excuse for making the rear and flank inaccessible.

Furthermore, keeping the boss in range, not only of the melees, but the whole party is important. Some mechanics may require specific players to move away from the boss. It is important for the tank to understand where they can keep the boss so that these players are still in range to hit the boss. For keeping melee range, this may mean moving the boss closer to where the melee will resolve their mechanic, if possible, so that they can continue to hit the boss while doing so. This also includes the tank executing their mechanics so that the boss moves as little as possible, or the boss moves into a favorable position for everyone.

Tanks should also be mindful not just of where they move the boss, but how they move the boss. Moving a boss in a way that allows you as a tank to keep uptime, but costs melee DPS GCDs is practicing bad tanking habits. An experienced tank should always look for a way to compromise so that everyone can keep full uptime. If worse comes to worst, melee DPS GCDs are almost always worth more than tank GCDs. As with everything else, each fight will have specific movements and positionings for these things.

In the previous section, we talked about using mitigation to allow healers to heal less and DPS more. Another important use of our mitigation toolkit is using it to allow the party to keep uptime. This may be as simple as just using Reprisal + raidwide mitigation to allow the party to stay in one spot for a mechanic, or as nuanced as needing to use Heart of Stone, Nascent Flash, Intervention, or The Blackest Night on a specific person at a specific time to let them keep uptime by doing something that would normally be fatal, like standing in an AoE that would normally force them away from the boss. A great example of this is in E6S: for the first Vacuum Wave mechanic, a PLD can use Cover on a melee DPS to prevent them from getting sucked in, as well as making the DPS not have to move out of the AoE explosions. For some classes that have a very strict rotation (like SAM), this can be a huge damage gain.

Damage

Why Parses Aren’t the Only Measure of a Tank’s Ability

A tank’s damage is one of the biggest things that tends to be focused on. A lot of people place a lot of stock in how someone stacks up in FFLogs rankings. However, people who think that tank DPS is the most important aspect of tanking are incorrect. A tank parsing purple, but is consistent with mechanics, mitigation, and positioning, is often a better tank overall than someone who is extremely inconsistent or chases parses at the expense of the party. Having 99th percentile parses mean nothing if you are actively hurting your party to get them. That being said: tank DPS is a very important factor. Individually, and in a group of high damage players, high damage tanks account for about 10% of total party damage. There are three core factors to being a high damage tank: uptime, rotational execution, and buff contribution.

Almost every job guide you will find in The Balance includes a section that says something similar to “Always Be Casting, The ABCs of FFXIV.” Uptime refers to how often your GCD is rolling throughout the fight. This guide assumes you have at least a basic knowledge of what uptime is. Please see the relevant job guide or ask in the appropriate questions channel of The Balance for clarity. It is often more overall damage to be doing the wrong thing, but keep high uptime, than to do the right thing with huge gaps between skills.

Personal Uptime

Personal uptime is one of the most critical factors to keeping your damage high. Part of keeping uptime is by doing what is commonly known as Greeding mechanics. Greeding refers to staying at the boss to keep your GCD rolling as long as possible before breaking off to resolve a mechanic. The goal is to minimize downtime (not having your GCD rolling) as much as possible. Sometimes this means losing 1 GCD instead of leaving earlier and losing 3. Sometimes this means you keep your GCD rolling through the whole mechanic. Sometimes this may even mean using your ranged skill (Lightning Shot, Shield Lob, Tomahawk, or Unmend) while you are away, but this is often a last resort and are typically only used in periods of extended downtime (unless you are not mid-combo).

Note

Greeding during prog is often okay to do to an extent. If you are likely to cause a wipe, or you are inconsistent with greeding a mechanic, it is often significantly better to play a little safer and get the clear first, then later you can work on improving your greed.

Rotational Execution

Rotational execution is the next key factor in keeping your damage high. For tanks this means do your combos and don’t break them, and keep your skills on cooldown. Broken combos cause you to lose potency as well as the additional gauge/mana/healing (if applicable) that a completed combo would provide. Continuously breaking your primary combo will eventually cause you to lose uses of your gauge spenders (or dot ticks/atonement uses for PLD), which will be a significant damage loss. Keeping your skills on cooldown ensures you get maximum uses of them during a fight, which means you get the maximum damage from them. Delaying skills outside of acceptable situations can cause you to miss raid buffs, miss dot ticks, or completely miss casts/uses of the skill, all of which are a direct damage loss.

Furthermore, another facet of rotational execution is to avoid clipping as much as possible. This refers to delaying your GCD by using another skill late into the GCD clock and the animation lock preventing your GCD from rolling immediately. Constantly clipping can cause you to lose GCDs under buffs (for example, getting 8 GCDs in No Mercy on Gunbreaker, or only getting 4 Bloodspillers in Delirium on DRK) which can result in massive potency losses. If you play on high ping, double weaving at all may cause clipping, and sometimes it is better to single weave only to avoid clipping. Please consult your relevant tank’s resources and questions channels for more information.

Raid Buff Contributions

Finally, playing into raid buffs is an important aspect of optimizing tank damage. Some people think that because rDPS exists in fflogs, and is the default metric for rankings, that playing into raid buffs is not important since rDPS gives the extra damage that you did under raid buffs to the person providing the buff. rDPS is a terrible metric for tanks because we do not provide buffs. Tanks who want to optimize their gameplay should play in raid buffs as much as possible. aDPS is a better metric to judge tank DPS by because it better reflects how well you play into buffs, however it is not perfect.

Regardless, great tanks will try to get their high damage abilities under buffs where possible. This may mean pooling resources to put them in specific buffs (without overcapping on resources). Damage buffs interact multiplicatively, meaning the more that are present, the stronger they each are. For example: two 5% damage buffs provide a 10.25% damage buff combined, rather than 10%. This makes it especially important to get big hits under as many raid buffs as possible. Each tank has different ways in which they play into buffs optimally, please consult your respective job resources for how to do this.

Consistency and Adaptability

Do It the Same Every Time as Much as Possible

Consistency is probably the most important facet of being a great tank. A tank should be able to do things as close to the same way as possible every time. That being said, we are human, we do make mistakes. The important part is to try to keep it the same as much as possible. This counts for everything that has been covered in this guide. If mitigation is inconsistent, healers may struggle to keep you alive without having to give up their damage to fix your mistake. DPS that have a tank that is consistent in the way they move/position the boss will be able to plan their own movement and positionals to maximize their damage. Furthermore, having an inconsistent player can be incredibly demoralizing for a group. No one wants to be the person that wiped the group again because they forgot mitigation or failed a mechanic. Consistency is a skill like anything else. If you actively work on being more consistent, you will become more consistent over time.

Great tanks also should be adaptable to a situation. This means not being a one trick pony. Great tanks will be able to help fix group mistakes by covering for mechanics or using their mitigation to keep someone alive. This is not always possible! Some mechanics if they get messed up, the only option is to wipe. Sometimes it is impossible to cover a mechanic as a tank because you would wipe the group by doing so. The important part is to understand what is going on in the fight and be able to change things on the fly to save the group. This also means being able to cover the responsibilities of both the MT and OT. Many players seem to have a mindset of “I only OT so I don’t need to learn how to resolve this and move the boss,” but it is important to learn both roles. You never know if your co-tank is going to die and now you suddenly have to cover their mechanic.

Closing Thoughts

While not exclusive to all aspects that can help a tank be a great tank, the ideas covered in this guide are some of the most important. It is important to remember that tanking, like most things, is a skill that can be learned and improved upon. Continuously working to improve each of the facets mentioned in this guide will eventually produce results. Keep your head up, everyone starts somewhere. Work hard, ask questions if you don’t understand, and keep improving. With time, you too can become a great tank.

Special Thanks
  • Athunin Tried for editing and providing ideas and feedback for this doc.
  • Rin Karigani, Ariane Sephaine, Mox Xinmagar, & Shar Himaa: fellow Balance tank mentors who provided their insight and feedback for this doc.
  • Levi (Alevia#1270) for allowing the use of her job blobs for this guide. 

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