This guide is meant to explain how to play a Guardian tank, with the main emphasis being on operation boss fights. While the information here will likely benefit you for leveling, doing flashpoints, and PvP, I don’t participate in those activities anymore. Thus, I can’t guarantee this will improve your performance in those areas.
The guide is split up into many different sections, each of which focuses on a different aspect of playing a Guardian tank. These are Spec, Gear, Single Target Opener, Single Target Rotation/Priority System, AoE (Area of Effect) Opener and Rotation, Defensive Cooldowns, and Utility. Furthermore, each of those sections is subdivided into three sub-sections depending on your level of experience/skill. This makes it easier for you to go to the appropriate area to focus on what you want to learn.
Start with the Beginner sub-sections if you are new to playing a Guardian tank (or tanking in general), go to the Advanced ones if an experienced player who is just looking for more knowledge and ways to improve, and eventually finish with the Master category if you want to play optimally or close to it. In general, everything is written on a need-to-know basis so Beginner sub-sections especially will omit a lot of explanations as you don’t want to get overwhelmed with unnecessary information. The Advanced and Master ones are there to give you a deeper understanding.
It should be noted that while this guide can do a great deal to improve your understanding of Guardian tanking, the most important part is understanding the flow of the fights. What determines your success in operations is your knowledge of the fights, your understanding of your role/class, the skill/experience of your teammates, the skill/experience you have on your character, and lastly, your gear.
To be clear, you do need an appropriate set of gear for the operation you are trying to complete, especially if you are playing with a PUG (pick-up group). In a team with people you know and trust to play well, you can be well below the necessary gear requirements to succeed. Tanking is mostly about understanding what needs to be done and doing it, not about executing the best possible rotation or having the optimal gear setup.
As long as you can hold aggro within the first 30 seconds of the fight, use defensive cooldowns somewhat correctly even part of the time, and do the mechanics needed to beat the boss, you have done everything you *need* to do to win. Of course, there is a great deal more to playing a tank if you want to become good at it, but those are the necessities.
Your spec is how you distribute the talent points you get while leveling into the three skill trees of your class. There is little variation in the Guardian tanking spec as it ends up being 36/8/2, however, there are 2 points in the Defense tree and 2 in Vigilance can be moved around as desired.
This is probably the most overrated aspect of playing a character in general, even more so for tanking. When it comes to being ready for operations, don’t use more than say 10% of your total effort you put into your Guardian to figure out the best possible gear with what you have.
Single Target Opener
How you start a fight is very important as a tank. In fact, your highest priority is to keep control of your opponents. This is because nothing else you do matters if they are constantly attacking the rest of your team. Your survivability (your second highest priority) only really matters if you are the focus of the boss. If you are uncomfortable starting off with the boss, have the other tank take it and practice the opening rotations listed in each section. If you are off-tanking (the tank not holding the boss), remember not to use “Taunt” or “Challenging Call” unless directed to do so by the other tank as they will guarantee that the boss will attack you for 6 seconds (with some exceptions).
The way players control who the enemy is targeting is through “aggro”. Aggro is based on the “threat” a player has built by doing damage or by using certain skills on the boss to cause it to attack a target. Normally, damage increases your threat by a 1:1 ratio so 1000 damage = 1000 threat. For tanks, your threat is doubled by being in Soresu form so doing 1000 damage = 2000 threat. Certain attacks state they have “high threat”, which means instead of your threat from the skill being doubled, the multiplier is even higher. For example, Hilt Strike increases your threat from the skill by 3 times instead of 2 and Guardian Slash increases it by 2.6 times.
Anyways, you hold aggro on an enemy by having the highest threat. If another player surpasses your threat by a significant amount, the boss will change to that target. All you need to know is that your goal is hold threat if you are tanking the boss at the time. If you lose aggro, use Taunt or Challenging Call to regain control of the boss. This will put you at the top of the threat list, forcing the boss to attack you for 6 seconds. If you continue to have the top threat after that, you will keep control of the enemy.
You can use the skill “Guard” on any DPS that you notice is generating too much threat (i.e. they are much more experienced/geared on their character) if you see they are grabbing aggro off of you. You will notice when aggro is taken from you as the enemy will face someone else. A better way to tell if you lose aggro is to have “Target of Target” turned on the interface. You can do this by going into your Interface Editor from Options, clicking on “Target of Target” (it will be a red bar if it’s off), and clicking the “Enabled” check. From there, just hit the Save button to keep this on (it will turn into a blue bar).
Also, you want to position the enemy so that it is facing you and its back is to the rest of your team as most bosses have “cleaves” that will strike the rest of your team along with you if they are in the path of its attack.
Single Target Rotation/Priority System
Your rotation is just the order in which you use your attack skills with your main ones being Force Sweep, Guardian Slash, Riposte, Sundering Strike, and Blade Storm. Around 30 seconds after you start a fight, threat stops mattering since you or other tank should have used your taunts at least a few times to boost threat to the point where no one else can catch up. This is when your rotation focuses on just survivability and damage.
With more experience, you can put a larger percentage of your time into increasing the damage you do, but your main priorities at almost all times are to hold aggro and survive. The more damage you and your team do, the faster the fight ends, which means you and your team take less damage and there’s less of a chance that a disconnect or other random event doesn’t come up.
Guardian tank rotations can seem intimidating at first as you have a great deal of skills to utilize. If you come from another tank class, it will be a lot more than you are used to, but in time, you’ll adapt. Eventually, you will end up using around 15 skills, which means you have 10 other skills that aren’t main ones. As you progress, you can start adding each one to your rotation until it becomes a priority system. This means your skills aren’t used in a set order each time, but instead rely on a number of factors like your total Focus, number of enemies, applying buffs/debuffs, and so on. Resource management is critical to playing a Guardian tank as they must generate Focus to fuel most of their skills.
AoE Opener and Rotation
Controlling multiple enemies at the same time has always been unnecessarily difficult for a Guardian tank. If you are playing a Guardian after coming from another tank class, you will likely notice your lack of ranged AoE options, but despite this, it’s not too bad. You just need to be in melee range to be effective as a Guardian tank and must be aware that your AoE attacks have a smaller range of effect as well. A Guardian who understands the limitations of the class and keeps his/her AoE cooldowns available for the right time will be about as good as any other kind of tank for this purpose.
Force Sweep and Guardian Slash will make up the core of your AoE damage/threat and both of these skills have the benefit of doing good damage, have bonus threat multipliers (as they are high-threat attacks), and provide important buffs/debuffs to aid in your survivability. Your goal is to jump or move to your opponents, keep them off your team, and do your best to stay alive at the same time.
One point I’d like to reiterate is that while your survivability is very important as a tank, it does not matter if you don’t hold aggro. As a tank, it’s critical to keep control of all enemies so when you have to prioritize your skills, do so with the intent of grabbing aggro first, then surviving second. If you are in a flashpoint, your main focus is holding aggro on the strongest enemies while the DPS clean up the weak ones first. This prevents the weak enemies from eventually going onto the healer as they will if no one else attacks them.