This guide on how mages as tanks could perform was written to help other crazy mages make the attempt to tank. Mages, although designed towards being DPS casters are also able to fulfill the tanking role (outside of Krosh Firehand in Gruul's Lair as well). It takes some doing, with spec and gear, but it is possible. Players will be exceptionally busy herding mobs, but it is doable.
Do not expect that others will welcome the idea of a mage tank. It's odd. Experimental. There are few if anyone on your server making the attempt. But don't give up. At some point you'll find a group of friends that like to do odd things. And maybe start seeing this message in trade chat...
"LOL! We just ran an instance with mage tank!!!"
Tanking theory overview
Tanking is about control. Most tanks do this via holding aggro through threat and taunts. They use high armor to mitigate the amount of damage they receive.
A mage is slightly different in that they will rely much more on their crowd control (Frost Nova) abilities to keep mobs at arm's length. They will use AoE spells to hold aggro on multiple mobs. Instead of high armor values, they will use magic shielding. Instead of taunts, a mage uses instant damage spells (fireblast) to boost threat and frost nova to halt scattering.
One strength a mage has over traditional tanks is that they can talent for very high magical resistance.
As for gear, it's all going to be Stamina v. Intellect and Spell power. Which is simple, just grab PvP gear, the better the gear the better you'll be. Cloth gear will never have defense or dodge on it, which you can get some if you want to, which will be all from your:
- Back piece
That will be major for hard hitting mobs and bosses.
Mainly look for stamina (cannot stress this enough, health is key), then next best thing is to look for gear with Intellect, spell damage, and spell crit. Then at the bottom of the list is MP5 and Spirit. A good set of gear is primarily PvP gear for high stam and int, with spell power and crit, and maybe a few green pieces of "of stamina" gear. A good model is the stats of a paladin tank, because they have health in exchange for a lower mana pool, this is the exact problem you will be facing!
Note that with the right talents, intelligence transfers directly to armor. Even so you can only hope to have a mere fraction of the armor of traditional tanks. Mana also transfers as hit points via Mana Shield, but only up to 1300. Ice Barrier gives you another 3300 hp.
One good spot about the mage is that they should end up with very high resistances.
There are actually some very nice talents to mitigate damage and control the area. One recommended build is this.
Arcane tree (31 points)
- Arcane Focus & Arcane Stability x 5: Not all that useful for mage tanking, but you need to put the points in to get to tier 2.
- Arcane Fortitude: Armor increases with intellect. Very nice...
- Magic Absorption: +80 to all resists at top level? Essential.
- Arcane Concentration: Free spells helps with the mana issue you'll be having.
- Arcane Shielding: Absolutely necessary. Lowers mana costs of mana shield.
- Arcane Meditation: Mana regen while casting. Very nice.
- Improved Blink: Cheaper blink, but also gives 30% hit reduction!**
- POM: Hit this then a fire ball or frost bolt as your main 'taunt' when fireblast is still on cooldown.**
- Arcane Mind: +15% intellect. Remember intellect = Armor because of Arcane Fortitude.
- Prismatic Cloak: Reduces damage taken by 6%.
Frost tree (40 points, max all picks)
- Frostbite: Chance to freeze enemies. An immobile enemy is good. Controversial because it tends to break up a moving pack of mobs. You may want improved frost bolt instead for better single target dps.
- Ice Flows: Reduces cooldown of Frost Nova, your main spell (along with blizzard).
- Ice Viens: Faster casting, stops interrupts. Great on bosses.
- Ice Shards: Bigger crits!
- Frost Warding: More defense = good for tanky.
- Permafrost: Longer freezes. Good for control.
- Improved Blizzard: Your other main spell.
- Arctic Reach: BIgger nova and blizzard.
- Shatter: +50% crit? DAMN! Threat is not a problem here.
- Cold Snap: Resets cooldown of your nova...essential in emergencies. Long cooldown though...
- Frozen Core: Spell damage mitigation. Good.
- Winter's Chill: More Crits. You may go with Piercing Ice instead so as to have more steady DPS.
- Ice Barrier: Absolutely essential. Top rank will absorb over 3k damage.
- Shattered Barrier: Ice barrier breaks as a frost nova. Essential.
- Arctic Winds: +damage and mitigation.
- Fingers of frost: Ups crit frequency in conjunction with shatter. May choose piercing ice for more consistency. But who doen't like crits!
Note: You can skip on the improved blink and POM and go for more DPS or quicker cooldowns in the frost tree. Depending on what you like to do.
Glyphs help out this build quite a bit.
- Glyph of Frost Nova: 20% more damage before it breaks. Very good.
- Glyph of Ice Armor: More armor! Good!
- Glyph of Ice Block: You can bounce in and out of ice block very fast, and have another frost nova to use. Essential.
- Glyph of Ice Barrier: +30% to ice barrier. Very important. Basically like an extra 1000hp to your ice barrier every time you put it up.
- Glyph of Evocation: 60% health regeneration while channeling Evocation. Adds a lot of survivability when used in conjunction with Ice Barrier and Mana Shield. Very good life saver.
NOTE: That's 5 glyphs. You can only have 3...ice block and barrier are essential.
None are that great, but 3 are at least applicable.
- Glyph of Frost Armor: Duration increase.
- Glyph of Fire Ward: Ward buff...cool.
- Glyph of Frost Ward: Same as above, 5% reflect bonus.
NOTE: You might go with the penquin and slow fall minor glyphs. For fun.
What do professions have to do with it? Well I'll tell you. Alot. Herbalism will give you a nice heal over time, taking some of the heat off of the healer. Also mining will get you a healthy stamina boost. And both of those professions will get you the money you need to buy all the glyphs, scrolls, elixirs and potions you need to attempt this crazy stunt!
Frost Nova guide
You can keep using frost nova several times in a row, and this is essential for success. Here are some ways to get off a frost nova.
- Normal Nova. Start with this. The cool down is fairly quick if talented correctly.
- Ice Barrier Breaks (nova 2). Reset ice barrier immediately. Note that ice barrier takes damage BEFORE mana shield. Never let ice barrier stay down.
- Ice Block and Nova. Ice Block in and out quickly. This will reset your nova if you have the correct glyph (see above).
- Cold Snap and nova. Note this also resets your ice block (see method 3).
In this manner, you should be able to keep enemies under control long enough for them to be cut down and burned down by your team.
Limited testing in Sunken Temple reveals a couple of insights. It works in that the mage was able to keep mobs off of the other players. Control is what the tank is about, and so it worked.
This was achieved by putting up all shields (frost armor, mana and ice barrier and wards if applicable) and running into the group with frost nova. After this the mage spammed blizzard on himself causing threat via tons of DPS. Any casters outside the blizzard were sheeped. Any guys running after the healer were hit with Fire Blast to regain aggro or chased down and nova'd.
When things got hairy, the mage could blink out, and the slowed mobs would chase. The mage could then start up the blizzarding once more. Alternatively the mage could ice block for a second while being healed, and prematurely break out of it and let off a frost nova then regain aggro.
The key seemed to be to keep the enemies frozen so they weren't all on the mage, but still under control. Use fire blast as a single target save/taunt. Have your shields hot keyed so you can put them up as they go down. Also, having Ice Barrier break with a 'nova' was fantastic, as it enabled the mage to maneuver out of melee range and continue Blizzard. Drinking/evocating between fights was essential. Mana gems are your best friend. Also Life Blood (from the herbalism ability) helped keep the mage alive and aggro off of the healer.
It should be noted that having other melee characters around, or a solid pet or two, helps immensly.
One challenge was keeping all the mobs together, and not having too many on the mage at any one time. Another challenge was single target threat. Area threat is easy, single targets tended to want to wander. Judicious use of nova and other freezes helped a lot in this respect.