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Aggro is a jargon word in WoW, probably originally derived from the English words "aggravation" or "aggression", and used since at least the 1960s in British slang. In MMORPGs, such as WoW, aggro denotes the aggressive interests of a monster/NPC.
Some examples are "We've got aggro!" and "Go aggro that monster".
For example, you may read of a player who died while fighting one mob because she aggroed another mob — that is, another mob decided to attack her because she got too close to it, or for other reasons. See Aggro radius. Aggro is closely associated with the concept of threat. If a mob is under attack by more than one player (or by a player and her pet), then the mob will aggro onto (i.e., will begin to attack) the attacker with the highest threat.
Aggro is understood to be the condition of a particular mob attacking a particular character, while threat is the numeric value that each attacker has towards each character on its threat list. The basic behavior of aggro is controlled by the rules outlined below. Some mobs will have secondary attacks which have different targeting procedures; even for a normal creature, the target who has aggro is not necessarily the player highest on its threat list. Managing aggro is one of the most important aspects of grouping because it determines how much damage the group receives and where the damage ends up.
Holding aggro is done by (usually) one person (the tank) who uses his abilities to make the enemy attack him and no one else. For hunters and warlocks, the pet usually operates as a tank in solo play.
Aggro control is the art and work which is done by all members of a party to force the mob to attack the tank(s).
For a long time it was thought that players would never be able get a sound understanding of how aggro works because it was assumed that it is based on complicated AI algorithms which can't reasonably be deduced from the little information Blizzard has made available to us. Thanks to the work of some dedicated individuals, however, it is now known that this is not the case. Today there is a quite thorough theory on aggro which explains most of the factors involved in a mob's target selection.
Attackable mobs come in two varieties: neutral and hostile. Neutral mobs, which are most mobs near starter towns but many others as well, will attack only after you begin attacking; these are surrounded by a yellow circle when you target them. However, most mobs are Hostile, displaying a red circle and will attack as soon as you get too close. The maximum distance at which a hostile mob will attack is known as a mob's aggro radius or aggro range, which is affected by both the mob's and the character's level (some mob types, such as Wolves, may have a larger aggro radius than another mob of the same level).
Aggro, Build, Grouping, and Survivability
Holding aggro and staying alive are the two main jobs of any tank; while almost any class can accomplish the former, only specific class/spec combos can do the latter.
When playing on your own, all mobs you attack will attack you back. However, in a party, the role of the tank is very important, especially in the higher level game. Monk, Warrior, Druid, Paladin and Death Knight all have specializations allowing them to act as tank in instances, if they have the right gear. The job of the tanks is holding the aggro of the mob while the rest of the party attacks or heals. This prevents the mobs from attacking the DPS and healer characters, which, by nature, have less ability to withstand damage.
Some advanced players and theorycrafters claim that other classes can be viable tanks as well, albeit only in the hands of expert players, or by use of tanking pets. Whatever the viability, this is widely considered a poor first choice (except in solo play), and an irresponsible choice, full stop, in group play; understanding a tank's strategy, determines the success of the healer, and thus the whole team; "experimental" tanks (including tanks in the correct spec but using incorrect, "experimental" or outdated gear and stat priorities) therefore are widely regarded to be trolling or under-prepared/unfit for the role of tanking.
Aggro-control in a party
Controlling aggro is not only a tank's responsibility. Each and every member in the party is responsible for aggro, and most classes have the ability to control the amount of threat they generate. For example, a priest has the Fade ability, which lowers the priest's threat temporarily and helps the tank hold aggro or break an aggro lock.
Tanks can use taunt to pull back a mob (or up to three mobs for a paladin tank) if someone else aggroed it, but in the best groups a tank will only rarely need to taunt — though many still will just in case. (The effectiveness of taunting a mob that is already focused on you is controversial.) A tank can hold aggro without ever having to taunt if every class is aware of how aggro works.
The following conditions will cause a mob to attack a character if it isn't already attacking someone else:
- Using certain abilities on the mob (including attacking it), or
- Moving inside the aggro radius of the mob
- For warrior tanks doing single-mob pulls, they will want a short period of time to apply some threat to the mob. Damage dealers should wait a second or two before attacking and should not start with any moves that cause a lot of threat. On pulls where the warrior is holding aggro on one or more mobs while the rest of the party focuses fire on another target, do not attack the tank's target(s) until the first target is dead.
- Druids bear form works exactly the same as warrior defensive stance in terms of bonus threat. Lacerate can replace sunder for basic stacking threat, but a single Mangle often creates enough starting threat. Some druids choose to pull with Starfire or Moonfire before shifting, other prefer Feral Faerie Fire.
- Paladin tank's pulling is slightly different from the other two classes. Tankadins who have spent at least 41 points in the Protection tree can usually pull with Avenger's Shield (sometimes followed with a Judgement of Righteousness), which is a very good initial load of aggro such that DPS can normally open fire once the tankadins engage the mobs in melee range. Paladin tanks are very capable of holding aggro on multiple mobs.
- Death knights will tank very similar to warriors in that they will want a couple seconds to build threat before any attacks from DPS classes. Typically, a Death Knight will want to cast Icy Touch, then Blood Plague, then Pestilence or Death and Decay against multiple mobs. This rotation would mean that a Death Knight will need a minimum of 4.5 seconds to threat lock a group, but the benefit is by this time no DPS class should be able to top the tank's threat.
- Every level 70 hunter can and should learn Misdirection. If the hunter is pulling, he should apply Misdirection to the tank before he pulls, so that the mobs will attack the tank instead of the hunter. Hunters should generally turn off their pet's Growl in instances.
- Damage dealers should give the tank time to build hate on the mob before attacking if it is going to be a long fight, and not use any of their high-damage spells close to the beginning of a fight.
- Healers need to be smart in timing their heals, and may need to avoid attacking at all so that they do not generate too much aggro. (Over-healing is not a problem concerning threat, as threat is only generated for the actual amount healed.) Some healers like to use lower-level versions of their healing spells unless absolutely necessary to minimize the amount of aggro they pull; others prefer to heal early, but with heal over time spells that use less mana, although most likely generating the same amount of aggro.
During the fight
In general, the more damage an attack does (or the more healing a heal does), the more 'hate' or threat it generates. Some abilities have added or lessened threat generation (and that's often listed in the tool tip for that ability) and there are talents you can take to decrease or increase your overall threat. Damage- or healing-over-time spells tend to generate less threat than a big, all-at-once nuke, and debuffs like Demoralizing Shout tend to generate threat greater than the damage they actually do.
- Rogues can use the skills Feint or Vanish, mages Invisible, warlocks Soulshatter, catform druids Cower, and hunters Feign Death before they attract aggro. Other DPSs should stop attacking if their threat level is high.
- Rogues should not use Cheap Shot at the beginning of a fight. The tank may want to pull the mobs into a desired place, or get hit at the start of the fight to generate rage to allow them to establish sufficient initial hate. (Usually only caster or healer mobs would be okay to cheap shot, as the tank's added damage on their low armor means extra hate, and this prevents them from casting spells for the first few seconds of the fight. Some tanks will still ask a rogue not to cheap shot, however. If you don't want to or can't Ambush – which can also easily pull aggro off the tank – consider Garrote as a starting move.)
Who a mob attacks
Most mobs will go by the threat list or "hate list" or "aggro list" to determine who they are hitting, but some mobs have abilities that ignore or change this:
- Knockback – Some mobs with knockback abilities will drop the character who has been knocked back down on their hate list. If you are fighting a mob that has a knockback ability, it is a good idea to be aware of when the tank has been knocked back and lower or even stop your damage until the tank has regained aggro.
- Random Secondary Targeting – Some mobs, especially high-end bosses, will randomly target a party member within range and attack them, without changing the hate list. Generally, they will charge this random target and then immediately go back to the person on the top of their hate list. This can be really frightening in high-end boss fights, say when Wrath-Scryer Soccothrates suddenly runs at your healer...but, once you realize he goes right back to the tank, it's less stressful. Just try to keep every squishy's health high, and don't run around like a chicken with its head cut off if you grab the aggro for a sec. For this type of boss, if they target you while you are sure your aggro is not high, wait a second before you use your threat mitigation abilities, as unexpectedly being charged by a boss often means that it does these random attacks.
Activity commonly performed by tanks. This is where other classes hold back DPS and healing until the tank has a certain margin of threat built upon one or more mobs.
Frequently a tank would perform this by:
- Spamming threat generating abilities:
- For paladin tanks, a large proportion of threat comes from reflective damage caused by Retribution Aura, Holy Shield, etc.
- Taunting the target (to set his threat to the same as the person currently holding aggro)
The following conditions will cause a mob to attack a character if it is already attacking someone else:
- Taunting the mob.
- Exceeding the Threat Cap by:
- Exceeding the threat level of the mob's current target by 10% while within melee range of the mob.
- Exceeding the threat level of the mob's current target by 30% while outside melee range of the mob.
- The player with aggro leaves the leash range of the mob, leaves the instance, successfully uses an ability to leave combat (such as feign death), or dies.
- If certain abilities impair the access of the mob to its higher threat-ranked targets (e.g., root spells), the mob will attack the highest threat-ranked target in its ability range (usually visible for melee mobs or silenced casters, which have a combat range of 5 yards)
- If certain abilities apply a debuff to a character that cause the mob to consider the player an invalid target. Usually these debuffs have a chance (or certainty) to break on damage, but there are some that don't but still cause the mob to consider the character an invalid target. Examples include Polymorph, Gouge, Fear, etc. These aggro reduction effects are temporary in most situations. When the ability wears off, previous aggro levels are restored immediately.
- If the current target lowers his threat (either from a player or mob's ability), then anyone exceeding that target's new lowered threat gains aggro (thus working around the 10/30% rule when fading or feinting, for example)
If healers/DPS draw aggro
If you do draw aggro, and you are not the tank, the first thing you should not do is run around. Stand where you are and use your threat reduction abilities: Fade, Feint, Feign Death, Invisibility, etc. Do not attack the mob if you want it to be pulled off of you quickly, and stop healing if at all possible. If the tank does not seem to notice it, type a quick 'help aggro' (or even 'agg') into the chat. Remember: every point of damage that you do to it and every point of healing you do makes you more threatening, and when something unwanted is attacking you, the last thing you want to do is further entrench yourself on its hate list.
If the tank is not nearby, help him to regain aggro by running toward him. If he has to come to you, it makes it harder to maintain aggro on the other targets. Get close to him, let him taunt it off you, then move away and use any threat reduction abilities to help him keep it.
A hunter's pet (especially a beastmastery hunter's pet) is REALLY good for saving squishies who have drawn aggro. Turn on growl, and hit intimidation if you have it, and it should pull the mob right off (remember to turn growl back off when you send the pet back to the main tank's target).
For the tanks, if someone else draws aggro from you, you should use the following taunting abilities:
- A warrior's Taunt
- A warrior's Mocking Blow
- A warrior's Challenging Shout
- A warrior's Intervene if the mob is out of melee range.
- A druid in Bear Form's Growl (same as Taunt)
- A druid in Bear Form's Challenging Roar (same as Challenging Shout)
- A paladin's Righteous Defense (note: usually cast using a macro to make it work like warrior's taunt. Please see Paladins as tanks for details.)
- A paladin's Hand of Reckoning.
- For paladin tanks, if Righteous Defense is on cooldown, or the mob is immune to taunt, a paladin tank can cast Blessing of Protection on the one who pulled aggro (usually with a macro similar to that of Righteous Defense). In that case, if the paladin tank is the second on the threat list, the mob will come back to him immediately.
- A death knight's Dark Command
- A death knight's Death Grip
- A short-lived debuff is applied to the mob, which forces it to attack the taunting character.
- The threat level of the character who used the taunting ability is immediately raised to be equal to the threat level of whoever currently has aggro, if the taunting character's threat is lower.
- The taunting character gains aggro. (This feature was added to taunting abilities soon after Burning Crusade came out.)
This only applies to Taunt, Growl, Hand of Reckoning and Righteous Defense. Mocking Blow, Challenging Shout and Challenging Roar do force mobs to attack you (#1), but do not match threat or transfer aggro. Mocking Blow generates a pre-defined amount of threat; Challenging Shout and Challenging Roar do not generate any threat at all!
Threat reduction, sometimes referred to as aggro dumping, is the act in which a player uses an ability to remove some or all threat from a target or targets.
- Aggro reducing abilities
- Priest: Fade will reduce threat on all targets.
- Mage: Ice Block will remove threat for the duration of Ice Block. When Ice Block wears off, some threat is restored.
- Warlock: Soulshatter will reduce threat on all targets within range by 50%.
- Rogue: Feint will reduce threat on the current target. Tricks of the Trade will transfer all threat from the Rogue to the targeted party or raid member for its duration. Vanish will totally remove threat from all targets and place the rogue in stealth mode.
- Druid: Cower will reduce threat on the current target. Must be in Cat Form to use.
- Shaman: Wind Shear will reduce threat on the current target, as well as interrupting any channeling spell from the target and preventing the target from casting for 2 seconds any spell that uses the same School of magic as the interrupted spell.
- Hunter: Feign Death will remove all threat on all targets for the duration of Feign Death (six minutes) if it is not resisted. Misdirection will transfer all threat generated by the Hunter to the targeted party or raid member for its duration. Hunter's pets can Cower, reducing threat.
- Paladin: Divine Shield will cause mobs to ignore you for the duration of its effect, but only if you are not alone in an encounter. Hand of Salvation reduces threat caused by its target.
- Death Knight: Subversion reduces threat by 8/16/25% while in Blood Presence or Unholy Presence. Being in either Blood or Unholy Presence innately reduces threat by 20% to begin with - Subversion's threat reduction is added to this, allowing a maximum of 45% threat reduction.
- Warriors do not have any threat-lowering abilities.
Note: Fade, Feint, and Cower will not be useful in solo situations. Soulshatter will only work if the warlock's minion has accumulated sufficient threat.
- Gemming (not recommended unless you can benefit from the spell power).
- For Night elf characters, using Shadowmeld.
- Have everyone in the party install a threat-monitoring addon, such as KLH Threat Meter or Omen, and actually watch it. It helps a lot.
- Prior to the Burning Crusade, it was wise to let the tank pull, or be the first to gain aggro after a Hunter has pulled and feigned death. Due to the odd way Taunt aggro worked prior to BC, this would cause the tank's taunts to always return aggro to him. As of BC, however, Taunt always gives the taunting character aggro, so this is no longer an issue.
- Two or more tanks taunting targets from each other (and generating threat in various ways between the cooldowns) are great for generating immense amounts of hate very fast - since they always have each other as top reference in the hate list.
- Because characters standing out of melee range will not draw aggro until they exceed the threat level of the mob's current target by 30%, it's important that the tank keep the mobs well away from the casters. If a caster does draw aggro and you taunt it off him, make sure you also move it away.