Hello, fellow SW:tOR fans. It’s Kiran again with another entry into the Guardian Angel blog, a column dedicated to Jedi Guardian tanking. Today I’m going to cover some of the finer details of end game Guardian tanks, namely rotations and tactics. Later on I will also cover stat priorities and itemization.
Ability Priorities and Rotations:
The first thing you should know about any class in Star Wars: The Old Republic is that there is no set rotation for abilities like there are in other MMOs. Abilities instead have priorities which determine which available ability should be used first. You should also know that all priorities are situational. Hilt Strike might seem like a high priority ability having a stun and lots of threat, but against multiple targets, it’s not as effect as say, Force Sweep. As such, I will classify all abilities accordingly.
The first thing we’re going to talk about is your opener. The few abilities that you will want to press in a certain order is your first three opening attacks. These are going to be your main focus generators and initial threat builders. Unless you started the fight fresh out of a cinematic at point blank range, your first two hits should always be Saber Throw and Force Leap. That will generate six focus right off the bat and allow you access to a situational attack against weak, standard, and strong mobs: Opportune Strike. Because Opportune Strike has the same cool down length as Force Leap and requires an effect that Force Leap provides, Opportune Strike should follow Force Leap whenever possible. The third attack will be your Sundering Strike, topping off your focus bar at 8. With loads of focus now available to you, you can start going to work with your hard hitters. For high health mobs and bosses, Guardian slash should also follow Sundering Strike in your opener. This will apply the final three stacks of sunder armor to your target, allowing you and your group mates to inflict maximum damage.
Sundering Strike should be pressed whenever it is off cool down, regardless of spec. This is for two reasons. First off, it generates focus. Since your high damage attacks require focus, you should always strive to keep your focus bar filled. Secondly, it applies and/or refreshes your sunder armor stacks. Keeping up all 5 sunder armor stacks can be a huge boon for your group. Strike should be used whenever focus is low and Sundering Strike is on CD. Other than that, you should strive to avoid it. Riposte is a special case among Guardian priorities, especially tank Guardians, because it does not share the global cool down with all of your other abilities. Because of this, you can hit Riposte while the GCD is up and even while other attack animations are playing. As a general rule, you should press Riposte whenever it is available. It is also worthy to note that Riposte is a guaranteed hit due to the fact that it can not miss, be defended, or shielded.
Guardian Slash > Hilt Strike > Blade Storm > Force Sweep > Stasis > Slash
Now that we have focus, we can move to priorities. In the builds I’ve listed, one your highest priorities will always be Guardian Slash. Guardian Slash hits harder than any of the other abilities available to the Defense Guardian, applies and resets the timer on sunder armor, and hits even harder when all 5 sunder armor stacks are present. Since damage and threat are directly related, you should strive to apply as much as possible. Next up will be Hilt Strike. Even though it’s on a 60 second cool down and almost all bosses are immune to the stun component, Hilt Strike still does a fair amount of damage and generates a high amount of threat. It is also easy on the focus usage when talented. I often follow Guardian Slash with it for my opener on bosses. Your third highest priority with be Blade Storm, but only when talented with “Blade Barrier”. Blade Storm is also among your highest damaging attacks. Force Sweep follows Blade Storm in the priority list only because it lacks the defensive component. If you did not pick up “Blade Barrier”, then Sweep may actually precede it. In fact, Force Sweep will hit harder than your Blade Storm if you chose both the “Pacification” and the “Swelling Winds” talents. Stasis will be near the bottom of the list against bosses because they are immune to the stun component. It still does damage, and when talented it is no longer a channel, but the damage output is fairly low. One thing Stasis is useful for is generating focus. If you’re low on focus and your Sundering Strike is on cool down, using Stasis will be preferable to using Strike. Slash is the lowest priority on your list in almost any situation due to its low damage output and relatively high focus cost. Use it only when all other abilities are on CD.
Trash Priorities, Strong and Elite:
Guardian Slash = Hilt Strike > Stasis > Force Sweep > Blade Storm > Slash
Because strong and elite mobs are almost always vulnerable to crowd control and because their damage output is relatively high, stunning attacks are now much more important than they are versus non-CCable targets. In flash points like Kaon Under Siege, strong and elite mobs can be extremely dangerous if they aren’t CCed. Infected Mercenaries can hold on to a group mate and bring them from full health to dead if the channel isn’t broken with an interrupt or a crowd control affect. Stuns also open up your access to Pommel Strike, which is a great high damage, free attack. Note that it does not work on Elites(gold star) and above. Hilt Strike is your best stunning attack. It costs 1 focus when talented and applies the stun at the end of the animation effect, leaving the entire stun duration open for you to apply damage. Stasis is also a no-channel stun when talented and costs no focus, but applies its stun at the beginning of the animation, robbing you of around half a second of the duration to use other abilities. On the other hand, Stasis does, as previously mentioned, generate focus. Force Sweep is more important vs. trash mobs due to the area of effect component. When fighting multiple targets, Sweep can help build area threat quickly. Blade Storm is also useful if you’re taking a lot of damage. Slash, as always, is at the bottom of the list.
Standard/Weak and AoE:
Force Sweep > Cyclone Slash > Hilt Strike = Stasis > Blade Storm > Guardian Slash > Slash
Force Sweep is your single greatest area threat generator. Against weak and standard mobs, it stuns them and does more damage than Cyclone Slash. Cyclone Slash should be used for area threat when Force Sweep is on CD. Stuns are also great against trash mobs to lower the amount of damage you take or to halt damage against a group member who has pulled threat. Stuns allow you to use Pommel Strike as well. Against weak and standard mobs, Blade Storm also stuns targets. Guardian Slash is no longer as useful due to the meager amount of health weak and standard mobs have. Slash is your last priority.
Most boss fights in both flash points and operations allow you to start with your complete opening attack sequence. As such you should always start with Saber Throw → Force Leap → Sunder Strike → Guardian Slash → Blade Storm → Hilt Strike. That fills up your focus bar, applies all 5 stacks of sunder armor, erects your Blade Barrier, and establishes threat, all in one combo.
The next thing we need to think about after initial focus and threat generation is positioning. Since many bosses have forward facing area attacks, or cone AoE, you should always position the boss facing away from your group members. Whenever possible, your group mates should always be behind the boss. Many bosses also have point blank area attacks that are not directionally discriminate. You should always move the boss away from your ranged classes and healers to minimize damage to other members of the group. Having already covered your ability priorities, holding threat should be solid as long as your gear is comparable with your group mates’ gear. Even so, there may be occasions where your group mates use their offensive cool downs to increase their damage for a short period of time, drawing aggro. As such, you should save your taunts and use them only when you lose aggro to a group mate.
Some bosses also periodically spawn other mobs during the fight, often referred to as “adds”. In almost every boss fight, you should always have your DPS prioritize the adds over the boss. This is because adds can be killed quickly, thereby reducing the maximum damage output of the encounter. Because almost every fight in SW:tOR is a solo tank fight, you will be expected to pick up threat and tank the adds as well. Saving your Challenging Call for add spawns is key for these sorts of fights since a wave of adds can easily one round any other member of your party before the healer can react.
Most of the bosses in the harder flash points and operations enrage at some point during the fight, either from a timer or a set amount of health. Enrage increases the bosses damage by 200% for the rest of the fight. Saving your defensive cool downs for this phase of the fight is crucial. Without your Warding Call or Saber Ward, the boss is capable of one rounding you, even as a well geared tank. This is also the time tell your group mates to blow their offensive CDs, such as Battle Readiness and Inspiration. Managing your defensive CDs and saving some for enrage can mean the difference between completing a boss and wiping to it over and over again.
AoE Pulls and Waves:
Most trash is fairly easy and straight forward to clear, but every so often you get those pulls where you either lose someone or wipe. These pulls almost always involve strong and elite mobs and almost always involve many of them. Knowing how to pull correctly to hold threat over the entire encounter is key to clearing trash mobs successfully. The first mistake most tanks make in area pulling is failing to adjust their opener. While Saber Throw and Force Leap should always be used to open when possible, they do not necessarily have to be used against the same mob. If there is one elite chained to a group of standards that is standing far off to the side, use your Saber Throw to hit him and establish initial aggro, and then leap into the larger pack of standards. This prevents you from having to leap and then walk the remaining distance to get threat off of the black sheep. You may also choose to use Force Sweep right after leaping in order to establish area threat quickly. This may require you to sacrifice using Opportune Strike or other high damage attacks, but holding threat and keeping your group mates alive should always come first. You’re a tank, not a DPS. Damage always helps, but it is not your job.
Using crowd control effectively also helps ease the burden of area encounters. Whenever possible, coordinate the CC abilities your group mates have to incapacitate strong and elite mobs so that you can kill the weak and standards quickly without having to worry about holding threat over a huge amount of targets. Also be familiar with what crowd control abilities your group mates have and what they work against.
Commando/Sage → Concussive Round/Lift → any 1 target for 60 sec, 60 sec CD
Scoundrel/Shadow → Tranquilizer/Mind Maze → any biologic for 60 sec, target can not be in combat
Sentinel/Gunslinger → Disable Droid/Slice Droid → any droid for 60 sec, no CD
When making use of long term crowd control, be sure to adjust your positioning accordingly so that your AoE, and that of your group mates, does not break the effect. You may also choose not to use area attacks at all.
Using your stuns effectively against stronger trash mobs can also determine whether or not you survive an encounter. When faced with infected mercenaries, hunters, or screamers, I always tell my group mates to focus on that target and stun it. This prevents the target from using its abilities and allows us to kill it quickly. Saving your stuns for these dangerous types of mobs takes the pressure off of other group mates, namely the healers. Using your force push against infected bloaters who are at half health or less can also prevent them from exploding in the middle of your group.
Making use of all of the Guardians abilities, not just damage, CC, and defensive CDs, is what separates a good Guardian tank from a great one. Several abilities often go over looked by newer players.
Guardian Leap can mean the difference between the healer catching a group mate at 5% or said group mate dying. Guardian Leap has no minimum range and reduces the damage of the person you leap to by 20%. It’s also on a 20 second CD, so you can use it often. Guardian Leap can also be used to establish positioning at the beginning of a fight or re-establish positioning during the fight if the boss displaces you. In some fights, like against HK-47 on the False Emperor, Guardian Leap is a key element in the fight mechanics. When HK-47 stuns a group mate from stealth to assassinate them, using Guardian Leap on said group mate will break HK-47’s hold, saving that member from certain doom.
Combat Focus is another looked over ability. Using it effectively and wisely can prevent you from ever having to press Strike or run out of focus. It is also off of the GCD, so using it doesn’t interrupt your rotation.
Dispatch can mean the difference between killing an enraged boss and wiping on it. Dispatch hits hard regardless of what spec you are and only has a 6 second CD, so it can be used many times in a row.
Resolute can be used to break a stun or other CC type of effect in order to reestablish threat or save a group mate in danger. Timing is everything when it comes to this ability.
Force Push can either be used to knock enemies near the edge of the cliff off to their doom, saving your group valuable time, or as a meta-CC to knock an enemy away temporarily. It also costs no focus.
Lastly, Guard can be a game changer if used effectively. One should never get in the habit of only guarding the healer. The ability itself is instant and can be used in combat. Rotating your Guard to group mates in need during combat, either because they are taking a lot of damage or constantly pulling aggro, can make many fights, including the Sith Entity on the False Emperor, much easier.