Sustain-tanking for anyone
The term “sustain-tanking” is a common reference to the way of tanking that does not require any healer in the group. Contrary to the common belief that this way of tanking is better suited for experienced and/or highly geared / overgeared (compared to your currently considered highest elite tier) tanks, this way of tanking is in reality applicable very early (I started doing it as soon as E1 back in the time), it makes it possible to undergear content if you become experienced and competent in this role (literally by several tiers – been tanking E9 tiers with as low of a tanking gear as full mythic lvl 1 gear pre-Pulverise nerf, nowadays it is possible to do the same with up to E8 tiers and regional lair bosses).
Commonly used abbreviations
- DD: damage dealer - also commonly called “DPS”.
- DPS: damage per second - a metric to evaluate performance in damage output. Also referred to as a role in a group for a player supposed to focus on dealing damage (see DD).
- HPS: healing per second.
- APS: aggro per second.
- PoV: point of view.
- HR: Hell Raised.
- HE: Hell Eternal.
- DW: Darkness Wars.
- Pol: Polaris.
- HP: health points.
- EHP: effective health points.
- AA: anima allocation.
- CD: cooldown.
Pros and Cons of sustain-tanking
- Works on 100% of the current content.
- An experienced sustain-tank is a game-changer: they are in very high demand, can easily get in groups through the groupfinder, and are pretty much always leading any endgame activity, as they dictate the flow of the encounters.
- Enables to farm efficiently with 4 DDs in the group, which makes the whole grind less of a chore and lowers risks of failure by making fights shorter / straight out easier.
- Gear requirements are low, and gearing is very flexible from upgrades PoV, and multi-role PoV.
- Gives a deep knowledge of pretty much all the tanking, self-healing and aggro mechanisms once mastered.
- Can still add utility contributions such as an interrupt or a purge with the gadget slot.
- Hard to learn (but quite easy to master) – the pressure that is usually shared by healer and tank is now shared by the tank only
- On fights that usually require a healer for different purposes than healing the tank (such as the few encounters with adds / group damage / group cleanses), the DDs of the group should be contributing more than usually to compensate, and communication is required (example: for fights involving Lifeburn dots such as HE3, you’ll need for example 2 DDs with a Clean Slate rotating cleanses).
- Ground Pound
- Thick Skin
- Twist Fate
- Pain Suppression
- (optional / flexible gadget: Electrogravitic Attractor (check the gadgets’ section))
- Rock Hard
- Unbridled Wrath
- Percussive Maintenance
- No Pain No Gain
Variants of the build
- (Twist Fate + Backlash) can be removed if (Evulsion + Mass Evulsion) is desired (HR1, HR5, Ankh6 notably).
- Unbridled Wrath can be swapped with Die Hard or Forged in Fire, it is my personal go-to choice though, as it provides a permanent EHP buffer, and improves all %-based selfhealing.
- Unbridled Wrath can be swapped with Fast & Furious for some extra aggro.
- Die Hard can be a life saver in somewhat random circumstances, but is somewhat bugged and sometimes stays randomly active even when you get above 35% life (the tooltip doesn’t state that it works only when you are under 35% life, but this is most likely how it is supposed to work). This passive drains quite an amount of rage, thus giving up on some potential selfhealing. This is especially a big issue while under Immutable (or if the tank happens to self-shield while being under 35% life) – the rage will just get wasted.
- Forged in Fire is a decent option with low gear when self-healing might be an issue because of the lack of crit chance.
Standard rotation without elite CD reduction, 4 cooldowns
Pain Suppression overlaps Thick Skin alone (after Rock Hard fades or gets destroyed), as well as a part of Twist Fate / Backlash.
Standard rotation without elite CD reduction, 3 cooldowns
The 3 CD rotations require a decent gear and good selfhealing to sustain long-enough through unbarriered Thick Skin and to avoid getting one-shot under Pain Suppression alone.
3 cooldown rotation with elite CD reduction
The following idea of a rotation can be performed to get a use of elite CD reductions (coming from the head signet and/or Efficieny weapon affix and/or Recursive Circle).
- Possibility to face-tank very high damaging abilities more often, especially those that can’t even be mitigated by Rock Hard (Drink Deep in the highest difficulties, Klein’s big waves, etc…).
- An increased aggro generation.
- Requires good gear to be able to stay alive for small periods with little to no cooldowns.
Selfhealing generates aggro at the rate of 1:0.5 – 1 point of healing/barrier generates 0.5 points of aggro. Overhealing does not generate any point of aggro however. What this means is that a sustain-tank will generate more aggro than a regular tank + healer since the healing part of the equation will also be provided by the tank himself instead of the healer. You can see it as follows:
sustain-tank’s aggro ~= regular tank’s aggro + healer’s aggro
Pain Suppression’s heal occurs before the damage, which means that using Pain Suppression while being full life is a waste, and that if the tank is at 1 HP, the tank will live no matter how hard the direct hits hit him for, as long as the hit does not one shot the tank.
Pain Suppression only works with direct damage, which means it does not provide any heals on damage dealt by dots such as Lifeburn.
Pain Suppression currently does not provide any heal on a glanced hit due to a bug (most likely).
Backlash is a damage redirection barrier that gives indirectly 50% mitigation by reflecting 50% of attacker’s damage, so if the tank uses (Pain Suppression + No Pain No Gain) alongside (Twist Fate + Backlash), the tank will effectively get healed for 226% of damage taken instead of the regular 113% by No Pain No Gain, and this fact will allow the tank to avoid dying during Twist Fate / Backlash.
Rock Hard and Backlash provide instant aggro on everything being in combat with the tank.
The default AA for this build is 100% in survivability, however it can be moved to 80% survivability and 20% damage if needed in case of aggro issues, watch out for the loss of mitigation.
Protection and HP
The most important stats outside glyphs are protection and life – that’s the stats you get baseline from gear, with extra protection potentially coming from extraordinary talismans / weapons and/or passives. Each 1000 protection grants additional 4% EHP (effective health points).
There is a damage mitigation %-age written in every character’s sheet. It is mostly not that useful to get fixated on as it is “exponentially” harder to approach 100% (and therefore, impossible), because at 100%, you become immortal (opposed to 100% mitigation = taking 2 times less damage and so on, in this situation, you take 2 times less damage at 50% damage mitigation, 3 times less damage at 66.6% damage mitigation, 4 times less at 75%, etc…). It is wiser to think about protection granting a fixed amount of reduced damage taken. For a same amount of HP, having more protection means being able to take more damage before dying, so that means that your health points are worth more than their base amount. Example, with 10k HP and 0% damage mitigation, you can sustain 10k damage before dying. With that same 10k HP and 50% damage mitigation, you’re able to sustain up to 20k damage before dying, that makes you having 20k “effective health points”, or EHP.
Essentially, the protection multiplies the value of the HP, just as much as getting extra HP multiplies the value of protection since it now buffs more HP – it means that the best way to increase your survivability is to keep upgrading your talismans while being in allocated as much as possible in full survivability AA – which will both boost your HP and protection.
In the current state of the game, an offensive DPS-like glyphing setup is the most efficient way of glyphing: 1 hit, 5 crit and 2 crit power glyphs. Why is being loaded with crit is better than defense/evade glyphing? Here are the reasons:
- Tanking in this game, even more with this build, is reliant on cooldown rotations to mitigate and/or heal all the damage taken reliably. Defense and Evade glyphing does not suit well in this way of tanking since they add an extra RNG layer of mitigation, which means glances or evades might happen in circumstances you won’t need them to happen (when under Immutable for example), and that they might not happen in those tight situations you might need them to happen (weak points in the cooldown rotations).
- Having a crit glyphing setup is more flexible since it’ll allow to transit to a DPS build easily with Anima Allocation, and to do scenarios easily in the same fashion.
- Crit chance and crit power improve DPS, hence aggro.
- Critical hits provide extra energy, hence more aggro through more Pulverise usages instead of Ground Pound usages.
- With more Pulverises used, more rage will be generated, so more selfhealing will be provided by Percussive Maintenance.
- Critical hits will proc the luck signet more often. Since the go-to tanking luck signet is Cruel Delight, it will proc more often, providing more selfhealing.
- All selfheals can crit (in theory, that includes barriers – Rock Hard and backlash, though currently, Rock Hard barrier is bugged and cannot crit, despite Backlash being able to crit), even %-based ones and fixed heals provided by Cruel Delight. So, having more crit chance and crit power will provide more selfhealing through crit heals. Having, for instance, 150% total crit power will make a critical heal of Percussive Maintenance go from 6% of your max life to 15%, and will make Immutable heal you to full life instead of its base 40% max life.
For the offhand chaos focus, 2 options exist:
- Sanity’s Aphelion
The Flame-Wreathed gives 1850 protection for 5s every 10s, giving an average of 925 protection.
The Sanity’s Aphelion gives up to 880 protection while being at 0 paradoxes, which will always be the case, except in those very rare fights were Evulsion might be used instead of Twist Fate.
While Flame-Wreathed appears to give more protection on average, it alternates between giving 0 and giving 1850, so it isn’t quite as reliable as Sanity’s Aphelion is. Moreover, it is a purple weapon that comes from Infernal caches, so it is quite expensive, and costs more than Sanity’s Aphelion at the moment.
Sanity’s Aphelion is a blue weapon which comes from Haunted caches. Its only negative side at the moment is the fact that the protection buff vanishes if you die, but it comes back if you reequip the weapon after dying. It also works the other way around: once equipped, the weapon can be removed/replaced and the protection buff will stay until death or zone change.
Sanity’s Aphelion is the go-to weapon for this build – despite providing on average 45 less protection than Flame-Wreathed, it provides constant protection at an uptime of 100%, which is an important parameter.
Any other chaos focus will have close to no effect since no skill besides defensive CDs is ever used in this build.
Many choices here, some of my insights are subjective and need more tests to determine the exact damage/other benefits, to be done later. Let’s see what each hammer provides, and how it might suit this build.
Anima-touched: “Whenever you hit, you have a 33% chance to deal 0.85CP physical damage. You are healed for 100% of the damage dealt.” With 100% survivability AA and a level 70 hammer, we have 700 combat power, which translates into damage procs (hence, heals) of 595 every 3 hits on average, which turns out into 198 DPS, 198 HPS and 297 points of aggro per second if no overhealing and outside Immutable. Overall a decent weapon from flexibility point of view, since if switching into a DPS build, this hammer will provide some additional decent damage (more than for a tank, since more combat power), and it is a good option for scenarios. The proc is unaffected by any aggro modifiers besides Immutable.
Flame-Wreathed: “When you enter combat, you gain 1,850 Protection for 5 seconds. Once this effect expires, it will return 5 seconds later. Multiple weapons with this effect do not stack.” See Flame-Wreathed chaos focus described in 3.2.1. A purely tanking option, and not the best in its category, decent-enough however.
Plasma-Forged: “Whenever you hit you have a 25% chance to deal an additional 0.565CP physical damage to the target. The amount of damage dealt increases to 1.125CP physical damage the second time this effect triggers on the same target. The third time this effect triggers on the same target, the damage dealt is increased to 2.81CP physical damage and the count of the number of times this effect has triggered is reset.” Just like for the anima-touched hammer, this hammer’s procs are unaffected by any aggro modifiers besides Immutable. Even if quite flexible, it is never a top-tier weapon for any role.
Frost-Bound : “Whenever you hit you have a 20% chance to deal an additional 1.5CP physical damage to the target and reduce the amount of damage you receive by 7.5% for 6 seconds.” This hammer provides more DPS than the anima-touched version, but less than Plasma-Forged. However, its additional 7.5% damage reduction buff has an uptime close to 90%, and extra flat reduction is multiplicative with the mitigation provided by protection, which turns out this weapon is the best mitigation-wise with advanced gear after 18187 protection (see maths in the discussions).
Shadow-Bound of energy MK2: “Whenever you hit, you have a 20% chance to summon a Revenant who will cast Raven Blade. 15 second cooldown. Raven Blade: An attack that deals 2.25CP physical damage.” The procs provides less than half the DPS that Anima-Touched would give, without any aggro modifier, and clunks the vision when spawning the revenant. To avoid.
Flanged Mallet: “Hammer abilities which consume Rage deal increased damage. This damage bonus increases based on your maximum health, up to a maximum of 20%.” The tooltip isn’t very accurate – in this context, it scales with max HP, and reaches maximum bonus at roughly 14k HP. It is a decent option from flexibility PoV, but far from the best (even if while being DPS, the bonus is closer to 10%).
Fuming Despoiler: “Your Rage consuming abilities deal an additional 0.825CP physical damage to the target and nearby enemies.” Again, unaffected by aggro modifiers other than Immutable. Decent option from flexibility PoV, but not the best.
Hell Forged Warhammer : "Consecutive Hammer ability uses generate increased Rage. The amount of bonus Rage generated increases with each Hammer ability use and is reset when a non-Hammer ability is used.” Gives up to 6 additional rage per consecutive hammer hit, starts at 0. Using offhand’s chaos focus’ cooldown won’t reset stacks – only a damaging ability will. Good option for additional selfhealing provided by the additional rage, and the best option for pure hammer DPS builds for fights lasting more than roughly 45s, so an overall good option from flexibility PoV, but not the best.
Mangler: “Whenever you become Enraged, your Crit Power is increased by 9% for 3 seconds.” Decent option from flexibility PoV, but not the best.
Manticore Riot Suppressor : "While you are protected by the Hammer abilities “Enter the Fray,” “Thick Skin,” “Raging Volcano,” “Juggernaut,” or “Die Hard” your Hammer abilities deal 8.5% more damage and attacks against you generate 2 more Rage.” Pure tanking hammer. It should be worth it to replace Unbridled Wrath by Die Hard if using this. Provides good additional aggro generation, and somewhat negates the occasional aggro degen from Die Hard. Still not the best pure tanking hammer for this build.
Orochi Motivator : “Whenever you spend Rage, your Protection is increased by 450 for 8 seconds. This effect can stack up to 5 times.” This is a pure tanking option, and it provides a total of 2250 protection once fully stacked, which is equal to 9.2% EHP, which makes it the best pure tanking option at lower level gear. However, it takes quite some time to stack the protection stacks, and is only reliably doable with crit glyphing since a lot of energy is required to generate enough rage for it without dropping the previously acquired stacks – crit glyphing is the whole theme of this build, so this is a strong and viable option, even if not optimal from flexibility PoV. Best defensive weapon before 18187 protection, after what Frost-Bound becomes better.
Pneumatic Maul : “Whenever you critically hit with a Hammer ability, you gain a benefical effect which allows you to gain the benefits of the Enrage bonus effects on your abilities without spending any Rage and without being Enraged. This effect can only occur once every 10 seconds.” With a full crit glyphing, this hammer has a very good value for tanking because of the additional selfhealing (thus, aggro) it gives through Percussive Maintenance, and it is currently considered being the best-in-slot for DPS roles, so a win win option from flexibility PoV.
Red Hand Destroyer : "While your Rage is above 50, your Hammer Basic Abilities deal 30% more damage and generate twice as much Rage.” Decent extra aggro if Pulverise is only used under 50 rage (or to refresh the buff) and Ground Pound above 50 rage. For DPS role, it isn’t the best option either since it is inconvenient to use alongside Fast & Furious, which is the best hammer passive if managed right.
The Tenderiser : "Whenever you hit an enemy with a Hammer ability, you gain an effect which lasts 30 seconds. When this effect expires, your Hammer damage is increased by 7.5% for 4 seconds. Using Hammer abilities speeds up the initial countdown and spending Rage increases the duration of the damage increasing effect.” Decent option from flexibility PoV if managed correctly.
Flexibility sorting (cross DPS/tank roles), from best to worst:
- Pneumatic Maul
- Hell Forged Warhammer
- Frost-Bound / Anima-touched
- The Tenderiser / Mangler / Fuming despoiler
- Flanged Mallet / Red Hand Destroyer
- Anything else
Pure tanking sorting (for someone who won’t care that much about optimizing a DPS role alongside tanking):
- Frost-bound (multiplicative with protection)
- Orochi Motivator
- Flanged Mallet / Red Hand Destroyer / The Tenderiser / Mangler
- Hell Forged Warhammer (longer than 45s fights) / Pneumatic Maul / Anima-touched
- Anything else
For the chaos focus:
- Anything else
For the hammer:
Flexibility sorting (cross DPS/tank roles), from best to worst:
- Energy / Havoc (Havoc ends up being the default best option for burst fights, energy is slightly better for sustained fights)
- Efficiency / Alacrity (I consider this being a very good option for melee DPS as well, but this is subjective, looses its value if already present on the offhand since the offhand can be taken out when running is needed)
- Anything else
Pure tanking sorting (for someone who won’t care about a secondary DPS role that much):
- Warding / Restoration (better at lower gear, worse at higher gear (with better crit glyphs and Mark of the Starspawn)) for pure performance
- Efficiency / Alacrity (looses its value if already present on the offhand) for extra options
- Anything else
For this build, going full DPS extraordinaries is not a bad choice at all from flexibility PoV, or for someone transitioning to the tanking role from main hammer DPS role. This is what I am playing with, thanks to AA.
Otherwise, here are the choices of extraordinary talismans for each slot for a pure tank-oriented setup:
- Head: Mark of the Starspawn > anything else
- Ring: Recursive Circle > Rurikid Knot > anything else
- Neck: Lycanthropic Essence (useful for additional initial aggro when starting with Immutable) > Fishbone Medallion > Seed of Aggression > Egon Pendant > anything else
- Wrist: Bracer of Forgotten Horrors > anything else
- Luck: Cold Silver Dice > anything else
- Belt: Brawler’s Belt > Grounding Line > anything else (Black Sash is currently bugged and does NOT work)
- Occult: Whalebone Rune > Razor Fossil > Alloy Heart > anything else
In terms of flexibility, here are the best choices:
- Head: Crushed Cities (Mark of the Starspawn is outstandingly good in NY raid only).
- Ring: anything you like - Cobra Ring for hammer damage dealing, Recursive Circle being more tabking oriented, and Skadi’s Ring for a cheaper and more generic option.
- Neck: Egon Pendant
- Wrist: Iron-Sulfur Bracelet
- Luck: Cold Silver Dice
- Belt: Brawler’s Belt
- Occult: Razor Fossil > anything else (cheaper)
- Head : it is fine to have a damage signet if coming from a main DPS role (Paragon / Shattering / anything else), otherwise Transience / Ascendant. My go-to choice is Ascendant for maximum flexibility with potential different creative purposes (works for a healer role as well).
- Ring / Neck: generic signets are more flexible, pure hammer are obviously better otherwise
- Wrist: Signet of Condensed Anima > Signet of Overwhelming Power
- Luck: Signet of Cruel Delight > Signet of Thirst > anything else
- Belt: Signet of Time and Space Alteration > anything else
- Occult: Signet of Quickness > anything else (Quickness if the best occult signet for PvE by far, for any role and pretty much any situation)
The best way to be useful for the group is to take care of any utility required on a given encounter. Since you have a free gadget slot, and gadgets cannot glance nor be evaded, is it safe to take care of extra tasks as a tank even with low glance reduction. Mitigation gadgets should be considered if the tank is undergeared, or in a learning phase. I advise to get at least 1 gadget of each category, and all the gadgets of the “Others” category.
- Interrupts: Electrogravitic Attractor (best option for single target), The Mistress’s Bashosen (aoe), Improvised ECT Instrumentation, Ultrasonic Anti-Personnel Cannon, Borrowed Clairvoyance Drone, Pulsed Energy Emitter (only works as interrupt on crowd-controllable targets – everything besides bosses)
- Purges: Electromagnetic Destabilizer (quality is irrelevant)
- Cleanses: Purification Drone Model UW-0 (group) (quality is irrelevant), Asibikaashi’s Hoop (personal)
- Mitigation: Primeval Jötunn Cranial Fragment (clunky to use, but very strong), Unification Susceptibility Module, The Osmium Configuration, Orochi Buckler Drone (museum), Spectre (museum), True Ancile of the Salii
- Others: Compact Catastrophe Shelter, Manticore X27 Agitator, Sedative Delivery System, Superluminal Bridging Device
- Faction Recruit (+1000 protection, +980 HP)
- Oleg Yablokov (+2.5% all damage, +650 attack rating)
- Thomas Grady (+3.5% hammer damage, +980 HP)
- Warlawurru (+490 HP, +8% power abilities’ damage)
- Sarah Skelly (+325 attack rating, +8% power abilities’ damage)
- Petru (+490 HP, +7% hammer damage)
The best combination of agents for non NY raid content in terms of pure value (mitigation and aggro taken into account) so far are the following ones (in this order):
- Faction Recruit
- Sarah Skelly
- Oleg Yablokov > Petru / Warlawarru > Thomas Grady
For NY raid, the best agents are the most defensive ones, in this order (provided you can manage aggro spikes on birds and/or colossi by using your provoke smartly):
- Faction Recruit (+1000 protection, +980 HP)
- Jayesh Suresh (+1000 protection, +500 defense rating)
- Christina Del Rio (+1000 protection, +500 evade rating)
- Thomas Grady (+3.5% hammer damage, +980 HP)
- Dax Reagan (+2.5% all damage, +980 HP)
The following video comes from one of my twitch stream sessions when i’ve first experienced the sustain-tanking on the Transylvania lair regional boss. You can notice at 0:51 mark that my gear was mainly all purple talismans lvl 1, and one yellow DPS talisman (the neck). The clip has been done quite some time ago (September), prior to the Pulverise nerf and to the AA patch (i had 50% extra max HP back then).
The following video is a highlight of another of my streaming sessions a while ago, again, prior to the AA patch, but after the Pulverise nerf.
For both above videos, i chose them to demonstrate that the sustain-tanking can be experienced and played effectively with very low gear (and, well, because i didn’t bother making any other videos since that time).