Shifting Perspectives: So. Um, do bears suck?

Every Tuesday, Shifting Perspectives explores issues affecting Druids and those who group with them. This week we shelve the column we originally intended to run due to a rather pressing matter.

OK, folks. I have a confession to make. This week's Shifting Perspectives was originally meant to be a full guide to gearing your Restoration Druid at 80, and I'm still going to post that, either this week or next. A lot of people have (correctly, I think) observed that this column has historically paid more attention to Feral than to Restoration or Balance, and it's my aim to balance (har!) that out a bit. Part of it is just that the people who play Druids on staff here at WoW Insider are usually feral, and part of it is that -- at least as of the last numbers we had on it -- most people playing Druids are also feral. I confess I would love to see the demographics on Druids post-Wrath, because I get the sense that Balance in particular has become markedly more popular.

But the Resto post is going to have to wait a few days, not least because my eyes are swimming from so much Wowhead. We found out today that Swipe's threat is getting a significant buff, but over the course of reading the pertinent forum thread and some back-channel discussion here, I ran across a few things concerning bear tanking that really made me sit up after the hell of tanking last night's heroic Old Kingdom and go, "Wait. It's not just me?"

Personally whenever I encounter serious problems in a dungeon I tend to chalk it up to the fact that I suck. I find this to be an efficient and typically accurate means of pinpointing the source of an issue. However, my fellow Druids, our problems may actually be more wide-ranging than that.

I don't mean this to be an inflammatory post, because I despise forum threads whose theme appears to be "LOL BUFF MEH." When Wrath hit, I was pretty sure the future was bright for feral tanks, and I continue to believe this. I also don't believe that the issues being discussed in this article really apply outside of 5-mans and heroics -- but by golly, are they ever a nuisance there. This is about a problem with bear tanking that just so happens to conflict badly with players' approach to Wrath dungeons -- namely, the desire to just AoE trash packs down and get on to the next pull. We are the tank least equipped for that task.

Do I think Druids are bad tanks? No. I think we're excellent tanks, and I see plenty of guilds using them in a main tank capacity on both 10- and 25-man raids. The mechanics of Druid tanks make them superb at raid tanking.

Do I think there are a lot of situations in 5-mans and heroics where the Druid tank is at an unintended, but fairly serious, disadvantage? Yes. And I think the whole "unintended" part was partly the result of more inventive dungeon design that had a somewhat ghastly side effect for a tank so dependent on positioning.

After seeing the forum thread on Swipe, I tracked down another thread referenced there (and one that I'm still not sure how I missed), "Least Favorite Tank To Heal and Why" in the new Healing forum. Long story short, Druids and Death Knights are currently competing for the dubious honor of the forumgoers' least favorite tanks. There are two consistent themes (before it evolves into a more unhelpful clearinghouse of Druid and DK defensiveness, and the usual catcalls of L2PNOOB):

  1. Bears are hard to heal and have problems holding AoE threat.

  2. That's if you can find a Druid tank at all.

#2 is one of the things that keeps me wondering what the class demographics look like right now -- I literally went the entire span of my time in the beta without once healing a Druid tank, and I don't often heal Druid tanks on live -- but #1 bothers me a lot, and it certainly plays a role in #2. And so I started to think about the possible causes of what people are seeing in 5-mans and heroics.

Healer scaling

Healers seem to have issues healing Druid tanks (with their typically higher health pools) to full in a mana-efficient manner. I think this is mostly a problem of gear at the moment, as healing efficiency quickly outscales tank HP, but I do pour a lot more of my mana bar into keeping Druids topped off than other tanks. For the moment I expect this is working as intended because we're in the equivalent of Wrath's T4 -- but it does have an effect on Druid tank desirability in dungeons with heavy AoE damage. Torson of Malygos characterizes it as a sort of healer Spell Lock -- "where nearly every available second is spent actively feeding you health" -- rather than being able to devote attention to other group members or CC.

Mob scaling and numbers

We're not seeing Shattered Halls-style mob packs for the most park, but the vast majority of Wrath dungeon pulls are at least 3 mobs, and they mean business. Moreover, in many dungeons (more on this below), pulls are set up in such a way as disadvantage the Druids' ability to position them correctly.

Player behavior

This is a version of the old joke concerning how much money you owe your bank. When one or two DPS won't control their threat, it's their problem. When all DPS won't control their threat -- or, worse, when they don't have to control their threat with a Warrior, Death Knight, or Paladin tank -- it's the Druid's problem.

Druid Spec

It's entirely possible that players who are having bad experiences with Druid tanks are simply running into people who are tanking on cat specs without talents like Thick Hide, Natural Reaction, or Protector of the Pack. And that's fine, because that means the Druid isn't really meant to be a tank, but that also means they should have the good sense not to offer to tank for heroics.