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The Shadow Tanking Primer

7 replies
Mav a
The Shadow/Assassin Tanking Primer

In the right hands Shadow Tanks are highly regarded and some would argue the best tanks in the game for a majority of fights. Number crunchers and theory crafters will tell you that Shadow Tanks have the best overall mitigation but are the worst at dealing with spike damage. I have very marginal tanking experience so I'll be requiring input from others on this topic, so bear with me.

The Spec: http://swtor.askmrrobot.com/skills/shadow#1220322123212110223322-3-220

This is the spec I've settled on after doing some research on the SWTOR forums and this seems the best for Operations boss tanking. However, arguments could be made to incorporate Martial Prowess as a quality-of-life talent for use in HMFP's and such, some would also advocate the use of Celerity, but I don't find it worth the points lost in other areas.

Gearing and Set Bonuses

Nothing fancy here, for the most part the given end-game tanking sets are terribly optimized and try to incorporate Alacrity due to the new change to that stat, but it still sucks for us. However, the 2 and 4 piece PvE set bonuses are both very beneficial to us and there isn't any reason not to make use of them. The augments you want to use are going to vary depending on how the rest of your gear is optimized, but we will get to that in just a bit when we talk about stat allocation.

When talking about BiS relics from what I have read so far the proc healing relic is still our best relic and it is followed by the new proc defense relic, which can only be found as a random drop in operations. If you're wondering why the healing relic, well our self heals will proc the relic increasing our self healing thus increasing our 'mitigation'.

Stat Allocation

Alright, so with 2.0 stat formulas and stat weights got a major overhaul therefore our stat balances have all been changed. First of all I'm going to link you over to KBN's Ideal Tank Stat Distribution thread on the official SWTOR forums. That thread is loaded with great informational debate and theorizing, but at the very least you can look at the very first post which KBN keeps updated and you can see how you should, in theory, distribute your stat points.

For arguments sake I'm going to generalize and say that we're building a Shadow Tank to the Arkanian gear level. I'm also going to make a few more assumptions based on what I've read through some research and digging on the SWTOR forums. Using the B variants of the Shadow tanking mods so Reinforced Mod 30B and Robust Mod 30B at a full Arkanian Gear level you're going to end up with approximately 2000-2100 secondary stat points available to you to allocate as you see fit. For an explanation as to why Shadow Tanks may want to use B mods, look at this post here.

Anyway, knowing that we can't actively trade out Shield rating for anything useful, at the Arkanian gear level based on a quick build I did on AMR our shield rating is going to end up around 720, leaving us with approximately 1300 points to split between Defense Rating and Absorb Rating, and if we take a look at KBN's post for ideal stat distribution we'd see the following:


Now the nice thing about 2.0 is that with 14 Augments contributing 32 secondary stat points per augment you can freely reallocate 448 secondary stat points at any time, so searching for those gear pieces with the perfect Mods and Enhancements isn't really mandatory as long as you know how to properly distribute stat points via augments.

Understanding Tanking and Game Mechanics

With the way that Shadow Tank mitigation and cooldowns work it is critically important, more so than the other tanks, that we understand the types of damage that exist and our best counter to those various types of damage.

With 2.0 came a change to how shielding works, generically speaking prior to 2.0 you could only shield "White Damage", however in 2.0 Shielding is now also effective against "Yellow Damage" which typically is your Force/Tech damage. This is fantastic news for Shadow Tanks as fights that previously featured lots of non-shieldable F/T and I/E attacks hurt us greatly, fights such as Soa and TfB's Kephess. But now those attacks can be intercepted by our shield making it theoretically much easier on us, however seeing as how were were able to perform fine in those fights prior, to counter the new increased effectiveness of our shield they once again lowered our Armor rating. Our cooldowns are still among the best in the game and Battle Readiness got buffed and is even better now.

Cooldowns and Abilities

Resilience/Force Shroud

Resilience will mitigate 100% of all F/T damage during the 5 seconds it is active and with the talent points in Elusiveness it will come off cooldown every 45-50 seconds of active tanking. As if that wasn't enough it also purges you of any Debuffs or DoTs that are able to be purged by healers. Hands down the best cooldown in the game it can break so many boss mechanics it is laughable.


Deflection increases our Defense by 50% when you take into account that we are gearing for 20%+ this jumps our Defense Chance up to 70-80% which makes us practically invulnerable to M/R damage for 12 seconds. Although often overlooked because Resilience steals the spotlight, Deflection is arguably the second best defensive cooldown in the game behind Resilience. Better yet while most tank's primary cooldowns are 3 minutes Deflection's is only 2 minutes allowing for possibly three uses during boss encounters.

Kinetic Ward/Dark Ward

This ability should always be up and active when tanking and should be refreshed right before it is about to expire. The ability lasts 20 seconds and has a 15 second cooldown and more importantly is off of the GCD and does not cost Force. However, using it will interrupt a cast bar, such as that of Telekinetic Throw. In 2.0 this ability was changed from 8 to 15 stacks in an attempt to prevent it from being speed stripped off, however trash packs don't give a shit about your extra 7 stacks. You will also talent into being able to build 8 stacks of Kinetic Bulwark which will increase your Absorption by 4% so refreshing on cooldown is not always the best idea.

Battle Readiness/Overcharge Saber

Battle Readiness underwent some significant changes with 2.0, every spec now gets a 15% heal instantaneously, however Shadow Tanks also gain a straight 25% damage reduction when talented with Impact Control. This additional effect turns the ability into a fantastic defensive cooldown. This ability is on a 2 minute cooldown just like Deflection, and is a very effective cooldown to use when you know a period of burst damage is incoming that either cannot be mitigated by Deflection or Deflection is on cooldown.

Phase Walk/Phase Walk

Phase Walk is our new ability that we get at lvl 51. It's very interesting in the ways you can use it as a Tank, first of all when spec'd into Shadow's Shelter all healing done by those within 5 meters of the mark receive a 5% bonus to their heals. So if we know where our healers will be standing we can give them a 5% buff to their healing. We can also use the ability to escape possible high damage AoE's done by bosses. We need to be careful however to not inadvertently move a boss out of an intended location. Once again creativity and strategic thinking are going to determine if you are using this ability effectively or not. Further cementing the requirement of Shadow Tanks to be the smartest tanks in the game. :p

Force Potency/Recklessness

This is primarily an offensive cooldown that admittedly I do not use as much as I probably should. As Shadow Tanks you will ideally use this before a Harnessed Shadows Telekinetic Throw. Also of note, Telekinetic Throw has a 30m range with Force Potency.

Force Cloak/Force Cloak

A complete agro dump as it drops you out of combat and into stealth, obviously not a lot of use while actively tanking. However, don't underestimate its raid utility usage, not all Ops bosses require two active tanks, in the event someone dies you can drop out of combat and revive them. There are also certain boss mechanics that can be exploited with this ability, but I will leave that for later boss specific discussion.

Force Speed/Force Speed

Another fantastic cooldown of sorts, this is our gap closer, and with the points in Mind Over Matter it also removes snares and movement impairing effects.

Force Pull/Force Pull

"Grapples" a target and pulls them to you, all Ops bosses are immune to the pull, so the pull tends to be used to control positioning and group agro during trash pulls. However, as Shadow Tanks we have very limited abilities that can be used from range so if you want to start the initial pull of a boss fight from range, even if you don't pull the Ops boss to you, you can still use Force Pull to start the fight.

Mind Control and Mass Mind Control

These are your single and AoE taunts respectively, all tanks should know what a taunt is and what it does so I won't spend much time on this. Just keep in mind that in this game, taunts work by placing your threat at 110% of the top threat if you are in melee range and 130% if you are outside melee range.


Guard has a 30m range and whomever you Guard will take 5% less damage and generate 25% less threat. Also if the guarded player is within a 15m range of you, half of the damage they take will be transferred to you. In the PvE end-game Guard is primarily used to reduce the threat generated by other players to prevent them from pulling boss agro.
Posted Dec 30, 12 · OP · Last edited May 3, 13
Mav a
Rotation and Abilities

The most dangerous part of the fight for tanks is usually the very beginning as we are trying to build threat early we can sometimes have trouble holding boss agro against strong DPS. The most common mistake that tanks make is opening with a taunt, with the way taunts work in this game, you are generating ZERO threat when you open the fight with a taunt.
Also before we even look at rotations we need to talk about our threat generators and offensive abilities and be sure we understand how they work.

Project, Slow Time, Harnessed Shadows and Telekinetic Throw // Shock, Wither, Harnessed Darkness and Force Lightning

As a Shadow Tank, Project and Slow Time will grant you 1 stack of Harnessed Shadows, at 3 stacks of Harnessed Shadows not only will Telekinetic Throw do 25% more damage, but it will also heal you for 8% of your total health over the duration of the channel. This makes a Harnessed Shadows Telekinetic Throw our highest threat generating ability.

Force Breach/Discharge

This is an AoE with a high amount of threat generation, more importantly it also applies a debuff on the target that lowers the target's accuracy by 5%. This debuff needs to be maintained on a boss at all times.

Shadow Wrap & Shadow Strike // Conspirator's Cloak and Maul

With 2.0 our new tier of abilities includes a proc based talent that allow us to use Shadow Strike when face-to-face with our target and it also makes it cost half the force it normally would. This allows us to use Shadow Strike both for increased dps and threat generation.

The Opener

As I've said before, I'm not the most experienced Shadow Tank so especially when talking about rotations and such I'm not sure if what I do is optimal, but it is what has worked for me thus far. The way I open is designed in theory to generate as much threat as possible as quickly as possible and place our key debuffs on the target.

Enter fight with Kinetic Ward > Project > Force Breach > Slow Time > Double Strike > Project > Telekinetic Throw with 3 Stacks of Harnessed Shadows > Taunt if necessary

Ability Priority List

Those of you that were Shadow Tanks prior to 2.0 may recall that the majority consensus was to utilize a rotation and/or priority list that for the most part ignored the use of Double Strike to proc Accelerated Projects. However, in 2.0 our force regen has become much more efficient when actively tanking, and Double Strike is very much part of our rotation now. Personally I've removed Saber Strike from my main quickslots, however be careful when off-tanking as since you are not shielding as much your force regen takes a hit and it is possible to Double Strike yourself out of Force.

1. Force Breach/Discharge (for debuff)
2. Telekinetic Throw/Force Lightning (With 3 Stacks of Harnessed Shadows)
3. Slow Time/Wither (on CD)
4. Project/Shock (on CD)
5. Shadow Strike/Maul (with Shadow Wrap)
6. Double Strike/Thrash (Force > 30)
7. Saber Strike

Kinetic Ward is not on the priority list, but it should be painfully obvious you need to keep Kinetic Ward up at all times, and since it doesn't respect the GCD there is no need for it on a Priority List. Next we'll go over a few keys of the spec so that you can better understand how to use your abilities.

  • Always keep Kinetic Ward up it is a plus 20% chance to shield and integral to your overall damage mitigation, but do not refresh on cool down, only if the stacks have already fallen off or right before they are about to.
  • Always keep the Force Breach debuff on the boss, 5% less accuracy is 5% less attacks hitting you, very very, handy. Do not however spam this ability on every cooldown, unless you are tanking groups.
  • Never use Telekinetic Throw without 3 stacks of Harnessed Shadows, you will be doing less damage and no healing and therefore generating way less threat and less mitigation for us Shadow Tanks.
  • Trash packs in 2.0 can be very nasty and for me they are much harder to tank than bosses.

Sort of randomly I want to expand on tanking trash in 2.0. Now that shields intercept all types of damage (except maybe Internal/Elemental?) the devs felt it necessary to further reduce the Shadow Tanks armor rating in order to keep the tanks balanced. Personally I find the change to our armor rating to be justified and it works well, but the one situation where it really hurts us is in these trash packs. If you're used to face tanking trash in pre-2.0 without using cooldowns, you're going to die now and piss off your healers. Kinetic Ward is going to get speed stripped from you almost instantly with certain trash packs and at that point you are barely tankier than your average DPS class. You need to know to use Deflection or Battle Readiness in these situations even if it means slowing down the pulls to let cooldowns on these abilities run out, also strategically plan your pulls to make use of objects such as the freeze containers.

We could literally spend paragraphs talking about every mechanic on every boss fight, but I will reserve that for follow-up questions and discussions.
Posted Dec 30, 12 · OP · Last edited May 3, 13
Mav a
Made a bunch of changes to reflect how the spec has changed since 2.0

For reference the majority of the information gathered and pooled here was found at the following links:

KBN's Ideal Tank Stat Distribution Thread
Optimal Sin Tanking Rotation Thread
2.0 PVE Shadow Tank Builds Thread

Be advised, those are links to thread on the official forums, so useful information is buried in a lot of bullshit and straight misinformation, tread with caution.
Posted May 3, 13 · OP
Very nice Mav, some day I will level my shadow.
Posted May 3, 13
Seijin a
I am going to switch Arathyri over to tank-mode. This guide is much appreciated!
Posted May 8, 13
Not that I ever plan on shadow/Sin tanking, but KBN has put together a really in depth guide to the rotation post 2.5.

Posted Jan 24, 14
Mav a
Yeah I was reading that too, maybe one day I'll update this guide, but considering I'm the only one that Shadow tanks, I lack incentive :p
Posted Jan 24, 14 · OP
Mavynn a
The rest of us know we can't compete with you :d
Posted Jan 24, 14
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