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[Paladin] Tannyr's Guide to the "96969" Paladin Tanking Rotation


Purpose


The purpose of this guide is to introduce, explain and illustrate what is often referred to as the "96969" Paladin tanking rotation. A practical method for using the rotation is provided as well as techniques for handling interruptions and using additional abilities with the rotation.

Background

A Paladin tank generates extra threat, damage or mitigation only when using class abilities. Therefore idle time between ability uses should be avoided. The 96969 rotation effectively uses five key Paladin threat and mitigation abilities as often as possible with no idle time. Most raiding Paladin tanks use the rotation and it should be mastered by aspiring Paladins who intend to tank.

This guide was created during patch 3.0.9

Table of Contents:

  1. It's All About the Cooldowns
  2. Rotation Abilities
  3. Requirements
  4. The Rotation
  5. Implementation
  6. Weaving in Other Abilities
  7. The Future of Exorcism?

It's All About the Cooldowns

When most spells or abilities are used, they trigger the "Global Cooldown" (GCD), a 1.5 second period during which no other spells or abilities can be used.
During the GCD all of the action buttons get dimmer and then brighten in a spiral fashion. When a button is fully bright, it can be used.
Many abilities (including all of the ones we'll discuss here) also have their own Cooldown which is a period during which you cannot use that particular ability again. The spiral-brightening of the button associated with the ability will occur more slowly, taking the entire cooldown time to become bright again.

                     The action associated with this button is a little over 25% through its cooldown

Below is a graphical depiction of the cooldown concept for "Ability 1" in a format that will be used shortly to show the entire rotation. All of the abilities in the rotation are instant-cast, so no cast-time is shown.
                  
  • The bar represents Ability 1 being used with time flowing from left to right.
  • The red denotes the Global Cooldown during which no abilities can be used.
  • The yellow denotes the remainder of Ability 1's cooldown. Ability 1 cannot be used again until the end of the yellow bar.
  • However, the Paladin can use another ability as soon as the red GCD allows.

Here is how we would show two different abilities executed one after the other using this graphical notation:

                  
  • Ability 2 is used as soon as the GCD from Ability 1 allows.

And for the last graphical example, here is the previous 1-2 sequence followed by using Ability 1 again.
                  
  • Ability 1 cannot be used for the second time until its yellow cooldown is completed.
  • Since abilities cannot overlap their own yellow cooldowns, each distinct ability will be shown on its own horizontal line like Ability 1 in this example.

Paladins have an arsenal of abilities that (with a little talent and glyph help) can be used in an endless rotation that uses an ability every time the GCD allows.
This rotation is called the 96969 rotation. The 9 and 6 refer to the cooldown-times of the spells.
The abilities can be tightly packed in rotation because (among other happy mathematical coincidences) 9-seconds and 6-seconds are even multiples of the 1.5 second GCD.
The rotation effectively applies the component abilities as often as possible for maximum utility and effect.

  • Each of the 6-second cooldown abilities is used every 6 seconds.
  • Each of the 9-second cooldown abilities is used every 9 seconds.
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Rotation Abilities


Two 6-second cooldown abilities are used in the rotation:

             
Shield of Righteousness   Available to Paladins at level 75. High damage (scales with block value), high threat and low mana.
Hammer of the Righteous   51-point Protection talent. Hits target plus up to two nearby enemies. Damage scales with weapon DPS.
Three 9-second cooldown abilities are used in the rotation:

             
Consecration   High mana cost. Generates aggro over time for all enemies near the Paladin.
Holy Shield   Increases block chance and damages attackers when block occurs. With Blessing of Sanctuary, can help regenerate the Paladin's mana.
Judgement   Triggers an effect based on the Paladin's active Seal plus invokes another effect based on the specific Judgement used. There are three distinct Judgements, the first two are the most commonly used:
   Judgement of Wisdom
   Judgement of Light
   Judgement of Justice
Actually, none of these "9-second" cooldown abilities has a cooldown of exactly 9 seconds.

Consecration and Holy Shield both have 8-second cooldowns. But this is not a problem since the Paladin can still use these abilities every nine seconds and that is the key.

However, the Judgement abilities all have 10 second cooldowns. This would leave the Paladin standing idle for one second every nine seconds which would greatly diminish the effectiveness of the rotation. Fortunately, we can (and must) spend one point for Improved Judgements (Rank 1) (a 2nd-tier Retribution talent) to reduce the cooldown by one second. Spending the second point in Improved Judgements (Rank 2) is considered wasting a talent point since you will not be able to use Judgement more often than every 9 seconds in the rotation.

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Requirements





The Rotation


How do these abilities fit together in a perfect rotation?

Like this...

                  
  • One-letter reference codes (A-E) are used to refer to each ability inside the GCD section of the ability usage. Please don't confuse A-E with the keys bound to these abilities. A-E is simply for reference within the chart.
  • The complete 12-part rotation block is A-B-C-D-E-B-A-D-C-B-E-D.
  • The three 9-second abilities can actually appear in any order in the rotation and the 6-second abilities can switch places. It doesn't matter to the rotation integrity, as long as the cooldown sequence is 9-6-9-6-9.
  • The rightmost edges of the cooldowns stair-step perfectly so the 12-part block can be repeated.

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Implementation

It is risky to try to give advice to a knowledgeable audience so instead I will describe my method of implementing the rotation. You may adopt or adapt as you see fit.


Challenges

The 12-part sequence is not easily memorized or recalled during battle.
Stuns, knockbacks, silences or lag can disrupt the cycle and cause confusion.



My Setup

During battle, my right hand is on my mouse for moving and targeting. My left hand is on the keyboard in "home row" position (like a touch-typist).

Spells and abilities used during battle are all mapped to keys associated with the left hand.

I created an over-sized (150% size) hotbar for the five abilities in the rotation.

  • The 9-second abilities are on the left
  • The 6-second abilities are on the right
  • A blank button is in between

                  

I mapped these buttons to left-hand keys (S C D R and F) and displayed the bound keys on the buttons as shown above.

Since I am glancing at it constantly, I put the bar below my avatar's feet, about 1/4 to 1/3 up from the bottom of the screen. This is well inside the periphery where most buttonbars are usually kept.

I use OmniCC, a fantastic Cooldown Counter addon by Tuller that puts cooldown timers directly on buttons.
I also use RedRange by Iriel, which turns buttons red when your target is out of range. You will know instantly if your target drifts out of range, especially for the 6-second abilities which only work in melee range:

                  
    Off topic: RedRange is also great for knowing how close you must creep to pull with Avenger's Shield.

My Method

Here's what happens on a pull:

As the target approaches I use a 9-second ability, usually Consecration ("C") to start building aggro over time. For a boss or otherwise hard-hitting mob, I might instead use Holy Shield ("S") for mitigation up front.

Then as soon as I can (when the GCD allows which is 1.5 seconds later), I use a 6-second ability following this simple logic:


The simple key to making the rotation managable is to realize that "left" and "right" abilities are used alternately.

Knowing that I just used an ability on the "right" side (Hammer of the Righteous), I glance to the "left" side and pick an available ability.
OmniCC makes this a lot easier since any button with a cooldown number on it is not available.
Assuming a Consecration (left) followed by a Shield of Righteousness (right), my hotbar looks like this and I am ready for an ability on the left:

                  

I have a choice of either Holy Shield ("S") or Judgement ("D"). I choose quickly, the decision can only take 1.5 seconds.

I choose Holy Shield ("S), and now I see this, looking to the right side for my next ability:

                  

Obviously I can only choose Hammer of the Righteous ("F"). From here the choices are automatic, only one ability per side is ready when needed. I just keep alternating sides and the rotation falls into place!

Note that the key-letters are hard to read in these screenshots, but by the time the GCD is completed, the buttons corresponding to available abilities are completely bright and easy to read as they are in the first sample action bar above.

Here is a graphical depiction of the left-right alternating sequence:

                  
This is the sequence followed, but you don't need to memorize this. The logic shown above unfolds automatically when using the left-right system.


Quiz - Try it yourself!

You have just cast Judgement, a left-side (9-second ability). On which side is your next ability? Glance below to determine which key to press.

                  
With practice, a glance can tell you your next two keystrokes. Highlight here: (Next is R. After that would be S.)

Practice #1: Set up your action bar, map your keys and find the target dummies in a major city. Practice until the rotation seems natural and you are alternating sides easily without delay.


Interruptions

If I am silenced, stunned, thrown, slowed, CCd, victimized by lag or otherwise incapacitated or interrupted for several seconds, I don't panic or get confused. As soon as I regain control, I simply choose an available ability on the right side, then one GCD later choose one on the left side. I'm back into a rotation in no time. It might not be the exact sequence I had before the interruption, but that does not matter. By alternating sides I am into an efficient rotation.

I don't think there are any boss fights where the rotation is used uninterrupted from beginning to end. Some attack or scripted event will disrupt the cycle and you will invariably need to recover. I believe the left-right system is a very effective method for establishing or re-establishing a 96969 Paladin rotation.

Also, in the next section we'll discuss using non-rotational abilities and the same "recovery" skill will be used to do this, so we should be very comfortable with it.

Practice #2: While executing the rotation on a target dummy, interrupt yourself (I suggest eyes away from screen) for 2 or 3 seconds, then recover. Practice until you can smoothly get back into a rotation. Recommendation: Let your first ability after being interrupted be a 6-second ("right") ability.


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Weaving in Other Abilities

Paladins have other useful abilities besides the five in the 96969 rotation. I will show how I weave these into the rotation. Here are the most common abilities I use shown in increasing order of their cooldowns, so that those at the top of the list can be woven in more frequently:

             
Hammer of Wrath   Efficient finisher and can be thrown at fleeing enemies. Should definitely be used when enemy health falls below 20%. The button will light up for you.
Exorcism   Big damage to Undead and Demon enemies and should be used often against them. Blizzard has announced upcoming changes to have this spell affect all enemy types.
Hammer of Justice   Stun and spell interrupt. Cooldown can be reduced with Improved Hammer of Justice (3 Ranks, 10 second cooldown reduction per Rank.
Divine Plea   Restores mana over time during battle. Essential for long fights, use early and often!
Avenging Wrath   Damage (hence aggro) boost when every bit helps. Use on bosses and long skirmishes.
Weaving these into your tanking arsenal is extremely important. These abilities are just too powerful (even if situational) to ignore.


If you want to know the practical method for weaving abilities and skip the GCD explanations, go to the summary at My Weaving Setup.

If you want to know the How and Why, continue.


When I first sketched out the rotation cycle (repeated below), I thought everything packed together so perfectly that introducing any new ability would wreck the cycle.

                  
     Where could you possibly cram anything else? and is anyone still reading this?



But the key to understanding weaving's simplicity is to realize that we are attempting to stack red GCDs as closely together as possible, not necessarily yellow ability cooldowns. The yellow ability cooldowns simply constrain how closely we can pack the GCDs on the same line.


Our focus is really on the red GCDs as shown below. We just want them to be back-to-back-to-back so that we are using Paladin abilities as often as possible.

                  



When we weave in an ability that is not normally part of the rotation, we can simply insert its GCD into the chart.
The GCD chart below represents weaving Hammer of Justice into the rotation.
                  



Below, the yellow ability cooldowns are added to the diagram. Inserting the new ability simply postpones every rotation ability for one GCD (red arrows).
                  
     Gaps are OK as long as red GCDs are packed.
     Notice: Weaved ability results in five GCDs worth of delays (five red arrows each 1 GCD induration).


First Unmodified Rule for Weaving: After a non-rotational ability is used, simply pick up where you left off, using the rotation ability that was ready when you used the non-rotation ability as illustrated above. (This will certainly work but we can make improvements.)


First Refinement to Weaving

In practice, the 6-second abilities Shield of Righteousness and Hammer of the Righteous are so efficient compared to the 9-second abilities that we don't want to postpone them by even one GCD.

If you look carefully at the previous diagram, you will notice that there are actually two abilities that can be cast after Hammer of Justice's red GCD ("F"). Consecration ("A") which is the one shown as being cast next and Hammer of the Righteous ("D") which is postponed in the diagram.


In this example, after casting Hammer of Justice, let us have the Paladin use the 6-second ability Hammer of the Righteous. So we use Hammer of the Righteous right away and postpone Consecration by another cooldown and see what that does to our chart. I shaded the exchanged GCDs purple for clarity when compared to the previous diagram:

                  
     Can you spot the problem? It will get fixed soon (several GCDs are stacked/simultaneous)
     Notice: One GCD delay is shifted from 6-second ability to 9-second ability (purple shift D to A).

Now after the cast of the Consecration (purple "A") there are again two abilities available: Holy Shield ("C") which is the one shown as being cast next and Shield of Righteousness ("B"). Though there are possibly rare exceptions, the Paladin will usually prefer the 6-second ability to a 9-second ability.

So lets exchange these two abilities (exchanged GCDs are purple again):

                  
     Almost there
     Notice: Another GCD was shifted from a 6-second ability to a 9-second ability (B to C). The strong 6-second abilities ("B" and "D") are now packed with no gaps.

Now after casting Holy Shield (purple "C") we have a little GCD collision between Hammer of the Righteous and Judgement. Both are available but we can only cast one. Again the Paladin will typically choose the 6-second ability, so we'll push back Judgement (purple below). I'll also add another dimmed Shield of Righteousness to line "B" to show that no GCDs are missed:
                  
      Order is restored!
      Notice: The 6-second abilities should not affected or postponed due to weaving since all of the inserted GCDs (red arrows) have been shifted to the relatively weaker 9-second abilities ("A", "C" and "E").

First Modified Rule for Weaving: Treat the weaved ability as a 9-second ("left") ability and return immediately afterwards to a 6-second ("right") ability. Continue rotation from there. This uses the 6-second abilities as often as possible.

Note that upon returning to the "left" side (9-second cooldown side), the Paladin actually has two abilities to choose from as shown by the circles below:

                  

This is very similar to starting out the rotation where we have more than one ability on a side to choose from. Our choice determines the ensuing rotation order. Being able to change the order of the 9-second abilities is a side-effect of weaving since the yellow cooldowns for the 9-second ability that got "skipped" plus the next natural 9-second ability are both completed by the time we get back to the left side.



Second Refinement to Weaving

Lets extend the GCD-shifting idea by making a switch to the previous diagram. Lets switch A and C:

                  

Finally lets switch A and E:
                  

We have effectively placed all of the GCD delays into the original ability that was due when we wove the non-rotation ability. ("A" was originally due when we wove in "F").
Due to the meager damage and aggro caused by the Judgement abilities and the 20-second duration of their effect, Judgement can be skipped for an entire 9-second cycle after weaving in a non-rotation ability. This keeps its special effect up for your party but allows you to use the two stronger 9-second abilities as often as possible.


Second Modified Rule for Weaving: Weave a non-rotation ability by using it in place of Judgement. Then do not use Judgement again until it is the only ability off cooldown on the left side. This will skip Judgement for a 9-second cycle, keep its effect up throughout (it lasts 20 seconds) and use all of the stronger abilities as often as possible.



My Weaving Setup

Here is a slightly expanded view of my action bars:

                  

The abilities I weave most often into the rotation are right beneath by my left-side abilities as a visual cue to use them in place of left-side abilities.


Summary:

  • Non-rotational abilities should be used when you are due to use a 9-second "left" ability.
  • Return immediately to the "right" side since these abilities are stronger than the "left" side abilities.
  • You will have two "left" abilities to choose from. Put off using Judgement until it is the only "left" ability off cooldown since it is the weakest ability in the rotation.
  • Apply this same method of rotation recovery when you are interrupted from the rotation.

Practice #3: At a training dummy, practice weaving Divine Plea, Hammer of Justice and Avenging Wrath into the rotation in place of a 9-second ability (note that Exorcism and Hammer of Wrath cannot be used on training dummies since they are not undead/demons and their health does not fall below 20%). Recover the rotation by starting with a 6-second ability and do not use Judgement until you must. This is actually easier than Practice #2.


Practice #4: (optional) At a training dummy try to weave the abilities in place of Judgement and then do not use Judgement again until you must. This is an optional technical refinement due to Judgement's relative weakness. Mastering Practice #3 is certainly satisfactory for practically all tanking encounters.

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The Future of Exorcism?

Blizzard has announced changes to the Exorcism ability for PTR 3.1 .

Blizzard Staff wrote:
Exorcism – this spell now causes damage to all types of enemy targets. However, it always critical strikes undead or demon targets.

We must wait and see what they do to the damage, mana cost and cooldown, but if the numbers don't change too much, this will be a powerful spell to add to the rotation. Its cooldown of 15 seconds, however, is not rotation-friendly.

A possible solution is to alternate this strong ability with the relatively weaker Judgement. This would use Exorcism and Judgement every 18 seconds and still use every GCD:

 
 Affected GCDs are shown in blue.

Here is the conceptual sequence logic for this modified rotation:

                  



The 96969 Paladin Tanking Rotation is an efficient way for a Paladin to maximize threat and damage mitigation by stacking key abilities as often as possible.
The left-right system of categorizing and visualizing the 9- and 6-second cooldown abilities used in the rotation is an effective and intuitive way to establish the rotation, recover from interruptions and weave in non-rotation abilities.

- Tannyr

Comments

Simply amazing...It's all so

Simply amazing...It's all so clear and detailed. Will be showing this to the prot pallies in my guild. Not sure if they use this rotation or not.

Tag's picture

Awesome

This is so awesome its not true. Thing is though, on my pally I pushing random buttons one after the other, then when the icon stops being a clock, I push it again! I'm guessing you are a better tank than I am though Laughing out loud

Excellent job!

Tag. Smiling

Tenebrosity's picture

WoW

Wow, this guide is amazing...one of THE best I have seen on this site. The information is excellent, the formatting superb, and the diagrams a great extra touch. I have a level 30 something pally alt that I may have to start working on now. Maybe I can actually tank one day, and I'll definitely be using this guide. My only possible criticism (and I use that word very lightly) is that the diagrams with the GCD's etc. confused me a bit. Maybe it's because it's 1:45 AM where I am and I just have to go back and re-read it at a later date. Anyways, the entire guide is great and I am glad you took the time to make it.

~Tene

"As if you could kill time without injuring eternity."

"As if you could kill time without injuring eternity."

Thanks

Thanks everybody, I'm glad the guide has been so well received.
I am thankful to Jame and his leveling guides, this is just my way of trying to contribute to the community.
- Tannyr

Absolutely amazing guide.

Absolutely amazing guide. After reading the guide, I decided to give it a try on my last night NAXX tanking.
IT IS GREAT. I can hold aggro easily and quickly in any encounter so that I could concentrate on other tactic thing, such as 4DK exchanging tank, shouting on voice channel to those AFK DPS^^.
I read about 96969 tanking rotation before but never try. Because I had no threat problem on tanking and they are too difficult to use. But with your suggestions, 96969 rotation become a piece of cake and make paladin tanking not just a facerolling. I strongly recommend every tankadin to read and use it.

Thank you, Tannyr.(That's why I create this wow-pro account)

Jiyambi's picture

Absolutely excellent. I'm

Absolutely excellent. I'm leveling a prot pally now, I was hoping for her to be my next 80 after my 70 rogue gets up there. Then I would have a tank, healer, and DPS all at 80! When she starts doing instances, I am going to study this in depth. It looks extremely well thought out and well laid out. Great job!

Kwaice's picture

Jesus Now that's really

Jesus Jawdropping!

Now that's really awesome work Laughing out loud

Great job . . . . With the

Great job . . . .

With the incoming dual specs, I'll be leveling up my pally and going prot/holy. This will help a lot !!

Jame's picture

Wow, I totally missed that

Wow, I totally missed that one. It's outstanding! Great job. I'm bumping this up to the top of the list!

I do have one small suggestion though: add "Back to the top" anchor tags Smiling

Shinke's picture

Very nice, high quality

Very nice, high quality guide.

I...I don't even have a tip for improvement!

Good job Eye