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A Shield Vanguard's Primer (Tanking Guide)

STAR WARS: The Old Republic > English > Classes > Vanguard / Powertech
A Shield Vanguard's Primer (Tanking Guide)

anoiktos's Avatar

01.05.2012 , 03:43 PM | #1
A Shield Vanguard's Primer (Tanking Guide) 0.00

The following is a general guide to tanking on a Vanguard. This post was inspired by ColdAsBlueSoul's 'Trooper Tanking Vanguard Guide' thread, but as its length grew I figured it might be better to put it in its own topic.

Note: This guide is very much a work in progress. I will endeavor to keep it updated as the class, and my interpretation of it, changes throughout this game's history. Feel free to comment / disagree with it or suggest things I should clarify or add; I will incorporate whatever I feel is helpful to new players, and your input, positive and negative, is valuable to me.

Table of Contents

I. Vernacular / Terms
II. Key Concepts
III. Ability Priorities
IV. Talents (Incomplete)
V. Gearing (Incomplete)
VI. Edit Log

Vernacular / Terms

Note: Not all of these terms are used in this primer. Some of them I personally do not like. They are listed here to make other discussions in this forum more legible for new players.

AoE : Area of Effect : Abilities or effects which target a group of enemies or an area.
PbAOE : Point-Blank Area of Effect : AoEs centered around the caster.(Explosive Surge)
Channelled : An ability which begins its effect at the start of casting. (Mortar Strike)
Charge : An ability which launches the caster towards its target. (Storm)
Cone AOE : Cone Area of Effect : AoEs cast in a cone (Pulse Cannon)
Targeted AOE : Targeted Area of Effect : AoEs cast at a targeted area (Mortar Volley)
Aggro : Enemy 'aggression' towards a player, based on various factors (primarily damage dealt or healing done)
Avoidance : Abilities or statistics which grant or increase your ability to completely avoid attacks. (Defense)
CC : Crowd Control : Abilities which take enemies out of the fight (usually until they're engaged by a player) or otherwise help the group enact a divide-and-conquer approach.
Disable : An ability which temporarily prevents the target from taking an action.
DPS : Damage Per Second : The players called upon in a group to deal damage to your opponents. Traditionally, also the people who irritate you by getting aggro from your targets and making your job difficult. Good DPS (Those who do reliably high damage, don't pull aggro, and use their utility and CC well) are like precious gems; hoard them accordingly.
EHP : Effective Health Points : Used to refer to your 'effective health' after mitigation; thus with 2000 health and 50% mitigation, your EHP would be 4000.
Healer : The player called upon in a group to heal other players' health and keep them alive directly (as the Tank does so indirectly.) Also traditionally used as a scapegoat when players don't understand encounter mechanics. As a tank, respect this player above all others in your group. (Unless they're truly incompetent or meanspirited)
Hold : An ability which prevents any and all actions by its target (Cryo Grenade, Sticky Grenade)
KB : Knockback : The feature of an ability which knocks its target around. (Sticky Grenade)
KD : Knockdown : The feature of an ability which knocks its target prone. (Mortar Volley)
Mitigation : The amount of damage reduced (by armor or shielding)
Mob : 'Mobile' : Another term for 'NPC'. Common usage: any enemy NPC.
NPC : Non-Player Character. Any mobile game entity that is not a player. Sometimes used only to refer to nonhostile NPCs.
Pull : The act of initiating an encounter.
Proc : Process : An effect which takes place some of the time when a condition is met. Usually refers to some effect which triggers on an attack (Ex: Cell abilities add a 'proc' of some sort to all Vanguard attacks.)
Pushback : Cast time increase or reduction from being hit.
Root : An ability which prevents its target from moving.
RNG : Random Number Generator : Values based on a pseudorandom algorithm.
Snare : An ability which slows its target. (Neural Overload)
Stats : Statistics : Values which affect your character's performance (Aim, Endurance, etc.)
Stun : Same as a hold, but usually shorter duration.
Tank(ing) : The person who takes or act of taking damage for your allies in order to mitigate total damage done to the group and concentrate that damage in a single, (relatively) easily-healed target. Frequently also called upon to lead the group, pull, mark targets, and take the blame.
Taunt : An ability which forces an opponent to attack the caster. (Neural Jolt, Sonic Round)

Key concepts:

Awareness: If I had to choose a single paragraph to emphasize for new tanks, this would be it. Know your surroundings. Watch your allies' health bars. Know what your enemies do, and when they do it. If some of your enemies keep attacking other people, consider that they might have skewed aggro tables. Get out of the fire (anything on the ground is assumed guilty until proven innocent.) Know when your enemy uses cone attacks, and face him away from your allies. Know when your enemy buffs his allies, and separate them. Be flexible, be intelligent, and above all be willing to think about what's going on.

Communication: Awareness's best friend. Don't know what a boss does? Ask. Don't understand how your healers' energy works? Ask. Don't know why your DPS is dying? Ask. Wonder why they're off in some corner while you're attacking something? Ask. Hate it when they do (X)? Tell them. Be civil, not aggressive; be prompt, not overly tolerant. Your job is not to be their best friend (though that can help), it's to make sure you keep them alive, come what may. Conversely, your job is NOT to make their run miserable, or to berate them for things they weren't aware of, or to complain that they aren't doing it right without giving them constructive alternatives.

Pacing: I personally like to go through flashpoints at a fast pace. If someone asks you to slow down, however, consider their request. If they are the healer, take their request as an order. In general, keep an eye on your healer's energy - if it's below 50% as a Sage / Sorcerer, or 75% as any other healer, wait for it to regen before engaging. If you're going to be fighting a boss, wait for everyone to be at full health/energy.

Energy Conservation: If your ammo is getting near a lower regeneration tier, spread out your priority rotation with hammer shot, or push it upwards with Energy Blast, if available.

Taunt Conservation: Try not to use Harpoon Shot, Neural Jolt, or Sonic Round unless you're doing so for a specific reason. Strong attacking the healer? Hit him with a hammershot; if that doesn't work, taunt. Ranged mob persistently dropping aggro? Harpoon shot to get him within AOE range. Accidentally aggro another group? Sonic Round them to pick up stray aggro, pop a last stockstrike on whatever you're attacking, and Storm into range to keep your allies from getting pummeled.

Guard: If you have trouble with area of effect threat (you're losing mobs left and right to healing aggro), use this on the healer. If you're having trouble with single target threat (one of the DPS keeps pulling), use it on that DPS. Guard is an excellent tool, nothing more. It will not magically save your healer from being eaten by a rancor, nor will it help stop your DPS from breaking CC.

Cooldown Conservation: You have cooldowns - Adrenaline Rush, Reactive Shield, and Smoke Grenade. They're short. Use them. One of the hardest things for a tank to get used to (at least, for me) when they start out is knowing when to use cooldowns. Unless you know that your enemy will spaz out and do massive damage soon, use your cooldowns whenever your healer's energy is getting low, whenever there's AOE damage (which means your healer needs to pay attention to other people), or just on cooldown (if you're taking reliably heavy damage but things seem under control,)

Interrupts and Disables: Proper use of interrupts (Riot Strike) and disables (Cryo Grenade) can make or break an encounter. Some enemies are immune to interrupts, and for those this paragraph is irrelevant, but every 'full auto' you interrupt, every 'force quake' you interrupt, is a load off your healer's mind.

Crowd Control: Know what classes can crowd control, and what enemies can be crowd controlled. Know when it is necessary. If you're having trouble with an encounter, encourage your sage to force lift. Droids getting you down? Have the smuggler slice droid to keep them out of your way. Also be aware that some targets are immune to CC despite their type.

A quick list of CC by class/advanced class:

Consular: 8s 'Force Lift' (Any target)
- Sage: 60s 'Force Lift' (Any target)
- Shadow: 60s 'Mind Maze' (Non-droids, from stealth ONLY)
Smuggler: 60s 'Slice Droid' (Droids)
- Scoundrel: 60s 'Tranquilize' (Non-droids)
Jedi Knight: N/A
- Sentinel: 60s 'Disable Droid' (Droids)
Trooper: N/A
- Commando: 60s 'Concussive Round' (Any target)

Note: All forms of CC seem to have a 60s cooldown. If they're broken, deal with it.

Ability Priorities:
'Priorities' are an advanced form of 'Rotations' that are especially useful with proc-based cooldown modifiers (Ex: Static Shield's Stockstrike cooldown reset.) If an ability is prioritized over another ability, it does not mean 'use this ability, then that ability', it means 'favor using this ability over that ability if both are available.'

In general, you want to be near your targets as soon as possible - a number of your hardest-hitting abilities are close range (Ion Pulse and Stockstrike in particular), so the sooner you can use them, the better the chances are you won't lose aggro. Positioning is important; keeping enemies within easy AOE and attack range is very useful for ensuring you are ready to deal with emergencies. You have a range advantage over other tanks, but you are still most effective in melee.

Single Target:

Open with Storm.

Stock Strike > High Impact Bolt > Energy Blast. (Assuming 31 shield. If you're 30 shield/11 Tactics, ignore the energy blast.) If you have excess energy, Ion Pulse is your best bet.

In addition to this, there's a debuff priority list:
Static Field (Ion Pulse) > Gut DoT (Assuming 30/11. If not, ignore)

Multiple Target:

Open with Mortar Strike (if available), then close distance (with Storm or without) or Storm -> Explosive Surge (if not).

If any enemies are outside of easy AoE range, harpoon them now and on CD, prioritizing elites > strongs > weaks.

Now back up, and use Pulse Cannon (if up.) Otherwise mix Explosive Surge with stock strike and energy blast (if available) on CD, using hammer shot as filler and your taunt (Neural Jolt) to grab stray enemies. If you still have excess energy, try tab-gutting everything (if you have that skill) or adding more Explosive Surge to the mix.

Sticky Grenade can also be useful here, though I like to reserve it for its short hold on weak enemies that heal, and use it sparingly in AoE situations because its knockback makes subsequent AOE more difficult to pull off.

The debuff priority list is thus simple: Use Explosive Surge whenever the Static Field debuff is expiring.

These are what I would consider 'base tanking talents' in the Shield tree. (Minus Steely Resolve and Neural Overload in Tier 2.) There may be an optimal configuration of later talents, but this early in the game's lifecycle I don't consider it productive to create a 'FOTM' build. If any of you forumites have suggestions for builds you use, and link them with some commentary about the playstyle, I may put them up here so that other Vanguards can get an idea of what's out there.

Gearing: Still working on this. At the moment, I feel it's probably better for troopers to focus on shield chance/absorption than defense, due to our naturally high shield chance through talents, but I've yet to have numbers to run.

Edit Log:
1/6/2012 - Added 'Vernacular' and 'Edit Log' sections.

Twulff's Avatar

01.05.2012 , 04:31 PM | #2
I wish I had some actual discussion to bring to the table, but with my Vanguard currently still sitting in the mid-forties, I unfortunately cannot comment a whole lot on the various aspects of Vanguard tanking.

I will give you my thanks however, I was looking for a compilation like this and as far as I can tell, everything in this compilation is sound advice that all tanks should take to heart, especially the awareness and communications part.

Big thumbs up from my side, I'll contribute to the discussion once I actually get some experience under my belt.

I actually had a question for some of you experienced Vanguard tanks out there, I've yet to do much serious tanking except for the occasional Flashpoint, having played a MMO like World of Warcraft for a long time however, I was just wondering how useful a talent such as

Neural Overload
Ion Cell damage now lowers the movement speed of the target by 50% for 2 seconds.

Actually is.

I remember in WoW, where talents that would slow mobs could make it a chore to lure them around to the proper positions, both to tank and AoE in and if a mob would ever need slowing, pretty much any of the DPS classes could deal with that, rather than the tank.

I understand that this is vastly different game than World of Warcraft, but during my Flashpoints I've yet to see this talent "shine" as they say.

anoiktos's Avatar

01.05.2012 , 05:00 PM | #3
The primary use I've found for neural overload is in reducing the danger of enemies quickly reaching my allies should they get aggro. Unfortunately, trying to ensure the debuff is on all enemies simultaneously is difficult enough that that's only relevant to your primary target, and bosses seem to usually be immune (or not usefully affected) by the slow anyway.

As such, though I haven't had issues with it harming my ability to tank (most enemies are ranged, so it doesn't usually make it any more difficult to gather them), I also don't feel it's particularly helpful.

What it is useful for, however, is dealing with melee elites/champions when you're soloing or at low health; it makes 'kiting' them possible. This is such a specific (and relatively unusual) set of circumstances, however, that I believe the talent is, at best, a matter of taste (or PVP, which I do not deal in and so will not comment on).

Thanks for the comment - I'll update the talent section accordingly.

Elradrielas's Avatar

01.05.2012 , 06:11 PM | #4
Thanks for this. I'm only lvl 15 right now with my Vanguard so I've got a long way to go before this becomes useful to me. But I'm bookmarking this for sure.

Having spent most of my MMO time as a healer I'm a bit nervous but excited about making the switch into tanking. Anyone come across any good threads/blog posts that cover how to level as a tank? Not the solo/leveling part, but flashpoints. It's a bit daunting contemplating a flashpoint knowing that I won't have most of my important tanking talents for some time.

happyhappyjoy's Avatar

01.05.2012 , 06:18 PM | #5
Thank you for this. We are going to need several guides up eventually. I'm wondering if anyone has found any excellent tanking pve gear. I'm using the champion pvp gear to tank pve content because it's just some much better.

I'm also thinking that a focus on shield rating is probably going to be best for death avoidance. If an attack is shielded (even if absorbtion is only 30-40 percent) that attack can't crit. Spike damage is what wipes group. Anyone have any thoughts on this.

Adjunta Pall

anoiktos's Avatar

01.05.2012 , 06:32 PM | #6

I could certainly add that to the guide. In general, though, you don't get your tanking stance (or guard) until 14, which means you won't be able to usefully hold aggro until then. Taunt comes around level 18, and that makes things much easier (because having a guaranteed snap aggro is fantastic).

Beyond that, though, almost all the tanking classes' primary AOEs are fairly low-level, (Guardian/Juggernaut get sweeping slash at 32, but Smash is really their primary AOE) so once you get your taunt, interrupt, and tanking stance you're pretty set. The bulk of post-26 skills are 'utility'.

In terms of the two tanking classes I've leveled (Vanguard and Juggernaut), I'd say early tanking is really a question of letting your allies deal with anything that isn't your main target. Most flashpoints around that level only have one or two elites per group (and the second elite is almost always one that can be CC'd, assuming you have access to a sage/sorcerer/smuggler), and Guard on the healer plus incidental AOE (smash, pulse cannon) should be enough to keep them from dying. You can try to use hammer shot to pick up strays, but keeping them off heavy DPS without taunt (and especially without your tanking 'stance') tends to be futile and unnecessary.

So - following the priority lists above is difficult without Storm or Explosive Surge, but the basic idea is the same; engage with something that hits hard and fast, grab area of effect aggro with a well-placed AOE or some quick tab-targeting, and keep the pressure on. If you're having trouble, your DPS can eat the hits or learn to CC, whichever happens first.


It is also my opinion that Shield rating is important, but I'm not yet clear on the way that shield chance relates to enemy critical chance. If it's possible to push crit chance off the table, a la WoW, that would be a nice goal but I'm almost hoping that's not the case - the 'mandatory' soft cap that game demanded of its tanks was a harsh mistress, and the relatively high health pools of tanks thus far compared to enemy damage seems effective enough at mitigating the possibility of instadeath from crits.

Again, not enough information yet. I plan on testing that more extensively when (if?) we get access to UI / data mods.

Coldasbluessoul's Avatar

01.05.2012 , 07:28 PM | #7
Here is an interesting guide I found that I feel covers most of what we need, however I disagree with the part about stats. Aim is mostly about threat, and while this is important, its nothing without a tanks survivability.

Which brings me to a question. Does effective health hold the same truth in swtor as it did in WoW?

Also, one of the biggest things I think most tanks coming from other fantasy based MMORPG's are going to have issues with. Is that in most other MMORPG's your average mob will be melee, but here its the opposite almost all have range. This makes things like kiting and positioning the mobs a little more difficult.

Aside from that biggest pain is lack of damage or threat meters.

Another thing we should perhaps cover in this thread are things like the ability delay window.

I think we should also try and put as details in our explanations as possible. Such as what the barebone minimum required talents that all tanks should have, and why they are so important. This along with details on our abilities and what causes the most threat.

Guurzak's Avatar

01.05.2012 , 09:47 PM | #8
Quote: Originally Posted by happyhappyjoy View Post
I'm also thinking that a focus on shield rating is probably going to be best for death avoidance. If an attack is shielded (even if absorbtion is only 30-40 percent) that attack can't crit.
No. If an attack is shielded that attack was not going to crit anyway.

-derDo-'s Avatar

01.05.2012 , 10:15 PM | #9
Quote: Originally Posted by Elradrielas View Post
Thanks for this. I'm only lvl 15 right now with my Vanguard so I've got a long way to go before this becomes useful to me. But I'm bookmarking this for sure.

Having spent most of my MMO time as a healer I'm a bit nervous but excited about making the switch into tanking. Anyone come across any good threads/blog posts that cover how to level as a tank? Not the solo/leveling part, but flashpoints. It's a bit daunting contemplating a flashpoint knowing that I won't have most of my important tanking talents for some time.
i can only give u one advise:


if u are reading this forum sometimes and dont think u are a WoW-tank who holds agro by smashing ur face on the keyboard, u cant do anything wrong imho.

Tell ur flashpoint mates to kill from normal->strong->elite->champ and manage ur agro champ>elite>strong>normal, if u know what i mean. Its no prob for a dd to be hit by 1-2 normal/strong mobs, cause they (the mobs) will die very fast. Just agro the really mean ones and there will really be no problem and get aggro on 1boss and 2adds with ion cell + guard.


I was frightended too, but its really easy. U will get ur most important skills (taunt, ion cell, some aoe-stuff, stock-strike) before lvl20 if u dont have it allready.

There are so many bad tanks and if u are really interested in this game, there will be no problem to be better.

PS: dont get low ammo / look at ur teammates / use ur brain

Perhaps u thought of sth like "use ability X and then ability Y an there will be no prob" but i think, that this advise is nearly as / if not more important.

Hope i could help you

Cheeseblaster's Avatar

01.06.2012 , 11:30 AM | #10
forgive my complete ignorance on the subject but when you guys talk about aggro and aoe what are you talking about?

new to this whole set up so the vernacular still escapes me.

"This is war not kindergarten, suck it up"