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Shifting Perspectives: Bear Tanking Strategies Part 1


Every Tuesday, Shifting Perspectives explores issues affecting druids and those who group with them. This week John Patricelli, sometimes known as the Big Bear Butt Blogger, launches into part 1 of a 2 part discussion on Bear Tanking Strategies.

I'm going to go over a lot of information related to how Bear Tanking works over the next two articles, because I am often asked about how all of the various elements of Threat management fit together.

Much of this discussion will center around tanking after reaching level 70, but the foundation of this series will explore information valuable to bear tanks of all levels, including exactly how Threat works, various methods of pulling, and how to work with your group to keep the target's attentions on you, and not your squishy friends.

Part 1 will focus on the most basic fundamental issue of tanking; How Threat works in a group.

Let's go ahead and get started after the jump!

Threat Meter Addons

Before we begin, let's make sure you have the most fundamental tool used to identify and manage Threat in a group. And that tool is a Threat Meter Addon.

At the time of this writing, there are two that are very popular; KLH Threat Meter, and Omen.

Both Threat Meters function similarly, but as of now Omen is much more popular in the raiding circles I personally frequent. The reason for this is that Omen uses much less processor power and memory to perform it's tasks. It's not that it is prettier, although it does, to me, look more attractive and is more readable to my tired old eyes. No, it comes down to performance.

When you're running a lot of different mods and Addons to enable raiding unit-frames and threat analysis and buff counters and such, faster operation with less resource use makes a difference.

I prefer Omen, but that is my personal opinion. Please feel free to share the reasons why you enjoy one over the other in the comments. With the way Addons get updated all the time, maybe things will change in the future. For now, Omen is my Threat Meter of preference, but either one will get the job done.

Okay, now that a Threat Meter is installed, what do they do?

Threat Meters display a visual representation of the current Threat on one selected target for each member of the group. You use this tool to see what your current level of Threat is on that target, see a live comparison of that Threat level with the designated tank, and see what your TPS (Threat per Second) generation is, so you can see if you are gaining on the tank, falling behind, or holding steady.

If you are the tank, this tool is your key method of seeing how much Threat you are generating per second, and helps you stay aware of the Threat the other players are generating, to be ready to intercept if a strong critical strike pushes a particularly close player's Threat over the top.

Everyone in the group needs to have and use a Threat Meter to see how much DPS or Healing they can do without going over your Threat. It removes the guesswork as to who is causing Threat, and how close they are coming to pulling aggro away from the tank.

In raid boss fights, the Threat Meter tells the DPS just how much damage they can be causing before they will go over the tank and pull aggro away. During the course of a long fight, the tank will be trying to cause as much Threat as possible, in any way possible without running out of rage, because the higher their Threat, the more damage the DPS can cause before pulling aggro. If the tank is putting out weak Threat, the DPS will have to throttle their own damage output back or risk pulling aggro.

You can see this is not a joke. You can play World of Warcraft without using Addons or mods of any kind, but if you intend to raid successfully with other players, it is critical that you install and use a Threat Meter that will communicate with the rest of the party.

There is some speculation that Blizzard intends to implement their own integrated Threat Meter into the game in a future patch or expansion. Until that time comes, however, installing your own is necessary for success.

Okay, now that we've got Threat Meters covered, let's get to how Threat itself works.

What is a pull?

Let's assume that one person in a party just drew the attention of a target. The means are not important at this time; Whether by casting Feral Faerie Fire on the target, or by charging in and getting close enough to enter it's physical threat radius and having it notice you, or by casting a ranged damaging attack such as Wrath or Starfire. We start with the target noticing one member of the party first.

When you gained the attention of your target, you were added to the threat list of every mob in the group that the target is tied to.

This is an important distinction. Some targets are solo, wandering around and able to be pulled individually. Some targets, even if they are physically a far distance way from any others, are still tied to a group, and when you get their attention, their awareness, the entire group will become aware of you.

That is what we mean by a Threat List. The group of targets you just attracted has a Threat List, which they use to determine who they hate the most at any given time.

If you did not do any actual damage, or use any ability on any target that causes actual Threat, you have gained awareness with the group of mobs... but you have not caused any true Threat.

This is the situation that results from 'body pulls', when you blunder too close to a mob and draw it's attention to you. The target will come charging at you, but it's not really filled with hate yet. Any little thing could pull it away from you.

However, when you, for example, cast Wrath on your selected target, every mob in the group became aware of you, and they are all running to kill you. But you have only generated Threat with the one you damaged.

When you select a target, and use a Threat generating method to attract the targets' attention, we call it a 'pull'. You established positive Threat with your targeted mob, and zero Threat, but awareness and placement on the Threat List with every other mob in the group. You have pulled the attention of the group to you.

The rest of your party, so far, is invisible to the mobs. So long as the other members of your party are not close enough to any mob to register on their awareness, or cause any damage, or heals you or buffs you, they remain out of combat and can be drinking water, eating food, or whatever.

Now, you have pulled the group. You have generated Threat with one target, and you can see that Threat on your Threat Meter. The other members of the enemy group are aware of you, and they are attacking you. The rest of your party, if they are out of range, are invisible to the mobs. As soon as they join in the battle, they will appear on each target's Threat List, and the fun and games will begin.

How do party actions generate Threat?

There are two types of threat that will be generated in the fight; Direct Threat and Global Threat.

Direct Threat

Direct Threat is what you, the tank, are generating on your targeted mob. You Lacerate him, the ability causes Threat and the bleed damage causes more Threat; he gets a little angry with you. You Mangle him, he takes a larger lump of damage, he gets even more angry. In general, every point of damage done against a mob equals a point of Threat. In Dire Bear form, with 3 points in Feral Instinct, you actually gain 1.45 Threat per point of damage. Isn't that nice? So the more damage you can inflict, the more Threat you will cause.

Direct Threat is what is caused when any player is causing direct damage to a target. There are ways to increase the Threat you are generating, such as by choosing to use attacks and abilities that add bonus Threat to the damage they cause. You can also use enchants on your gear which increase your Threat multiplier by minute amounts, or by selecting Talents such as Feral instinct.

Remember, direct damage causes Direct Threat. It does not cause Global Threat. Not one single point. We'll see how this works in our example, later.

Just as there are ways to increase the Threat you cause, likewise there are ways to reduce the amount of Threat caused by direct damage or healing spells, the most famous being the Paladin Greater Blessing of Salvation, which reduces all threat caused by a player by 30%. Casters love this buff, tanks cry if they have it and didn't realize it until too late.

Global Threat

Global Threat is Threat that is generated by healing, by buffs, or by using a Mana Potion or Rage Potion, anything that increases a friendly players' power.

It is important to note that a player not on a Threat List can be using these abilities freely on anyone else not on a Threat List. As soon as you heal someone on the Threat List, you are in combat. And if someone heals or buffs or Innervates YOU, they're also now in combat.

The Threat generated by healing is .5 times the amount of damage actually healed. Any over healing done causes zero Threat, it's only the damage that was actually healed that counts.

Energy regeneration is exempt from this, regaining Energy from something like drinking Thistle Tea does not go on the Global Threat list.

And the most important point, Global Threat is divided equally among all the mobs that are aware of you.

We'll have an example of how Global Threat and Direct Threat work in a minute. For now, there is one last area to discuss before we tie it all together.

Threat range modifiers

Unless there are special circumstances, such as the special ability some mobs have of resetting their Threat List (such as Arcane Anomaly), or of ignoring Threat (such as Shade of Aran), whoever has the most Threat with a target is the focus of that target's attention.

But if your Threat goes above the current high Threat player, you do not automatically steal the focus of the target, the 'aggro'. There is a little bit of a buffer before you steal aggro away and the target comes gunning for you.

There are two different ranges that determine how much Threat you need to generate to pull aggro away from the top spot; Melee and Ranged. These ranges are based off of how close you are to the target.

If you are in Melee range of the target, you will draw aggro away from the person at the top of the Threat List when you exceed their Threat level by 10%.

If you are outside Melee range of the target, you will draw aggro away from the person at the top of the Threat List if you exceed their threat by 30%.

So if you are a caster, you are safer if you stand at extreme casting range from your target. It'll take more effort, or a worse burst of Threat such as that caused by a critical strike, to overtake the tank and pull aggro.

Welcome to party combat dynamics. I know this all seems difficult and complex, but it really isn't when you put it all together.

Putting it all together

Let's take a look at a purely hypothetical fight.

The only person actively causing threat at the start will be the Tank. He uses Wrath to pull one mob before switching to Dire Bear form, causing Direct Threat to his targeted mob from the damage, and pulled the mobs' three friends.

The target's three friends have you on their Threat List, but you have not generated any Threat on them; they are aware of you. They are angry at the Bear, but have zero threat. Your main target's friends will be happy to pound on you for now, but they're ready to go running off after anyone that does anything to tick them off.

This is the perfect time for Crowd Control to neutralize their targets. Crowd Control counts as direct damage; you will appear on the Threat List of the group of targets, but it does not generate Global Threat and you will not pull anyone from the tank except the target you are controlling.

After, for example, some Lacerates and a Mangle have gone in on the main target, establishing a good solid base Threat for the tank, melee and ranged DPS are free to begin attacking the main target, the target that the tank has built up Threat with.

At this time there is no change in the threat levels of the other three mobs, because direct damage causes Direct Threat on the affected target, not Global Threat. The DPS players are on the Threat Lists of the other three targets, they are now aware of you too, but as long as the DPS does not use any area effect ability, such as the Rogue Blade Flurry Talent, they will remain at zero threat with the three additional targets, and will not pull the extra target's attention away from the tank.

But, as soon as any healing is done by any caster on a player currently on a Threat List, those other three targets are gonna start getting angry at the healer and go running to kill. Remember, Global Threat is shared among the entire group of enemies.

Say a Mage has been fire balling away. As soon as he did damage to the main target, all the other mobs became aware of him. He is now in combat and cannot eat or drink. He is causing Direct Threat to his main target, and he is on the extra target's Threat Lists at zero. However, as soon as he drinks a Mana potion, the Mage generates .5 threat total per point of Mana recovered, that total threat then being divided amongst all the mobs. He's starting to get them angry at him, personally.

Say the healers begin healing the Tank. As soon as they heal any damage, all the mobs become aware of them, the healers enter combat and can no longer eat or drink. They are not only added to the Threat Lists of all the targets, but each point of health they restore to the tank generates .5 threat, that threat divided amongst all the mobs that are aware of them. A single big whammy of healing is delivered to all mobs as a single big chunk of threat. A Healing Over Time trickling it's healing out trickles the threat out.

If a Hunter drinks a Mana potion or casts Mend Pet on his pet, it generates Global Threat the same as any other healing or buff.

If a Mage sees that the party's Intellect buff has run out, and, god forbid, casts Arcane Brilliance on the party when the Tank is in combat, that buff is a power increase, and causes Global Threat.

That is how Threat works in the battle.

The Tank must generate enough Threat to all the mobs to counteract the Global Threat that any healing, buffing or potion use may cause. If you are fighting four mobs, and a healer heals you instantly for 2000 health, then the healer generated 1000 threat in one surge, and that 1000 is spread amongst the 4 mobs as 250 threat per mob. (Not counting the effects of Threat reduction abilities, talents or buffs, of course).

Of course, dedicated healers have threat reduction abilities. And if the healers are properly beyond Melee range, the threat they cause would have to exceed yours by 30%. So everyone has a bit of a cushion. If you have two healers on you, and they are working together to alternate their heals, then you are staying healed but each healer is only a small blip on the Threat Lists. If you have one healer desperately trying to keep you alive... well, he's glowing like a pretty little star on the Threat Lists.

And if the tank pulls his target, and the target's three friends come running, and a healer casts a heal on the tank that actually heals any damage while they are running up... then every one of those friends now has the healer at the top of their Threat List, and will head directly for him.

The lesson here is that, as long as DPS is directing their attacks to the tank's main target, only Global Threat is an issue with the additional mobs. And you do not have to generate a huge amount of threat on each individual extra mob to stay on top of things, as long as you are given time to establish base threat on everyone.

Every member of the party can help by easing into DPS, healing initial damage with HoTs instead of big single value Heals, and generally working together and communicating who is healing, and making sure buffing and drinking and maintenance healing gets done before a big pull.

The tank's best healing friend before a pull is, in fact, the Priest spell Prayer of Mending, because not only will it heal the tank of damage when he is first hit, but all Threat caused by that heal is applied to the tank, and not the Priest that cast it. It's a free Threat inducing heal just for you. And since it only travels to someone that is taking damage, as long as no other party member suffers damage, it shouldn't be generating any Threat for anyone else.

That pretty much covers the basics of how Threat works.

Next week, we're going to take this basic foundation of how Threat works, and apply our Bear Tanking abilities to it to explore how best to pull a group, gain Threat, build up Rage, and hold on to our targets with both paws and never let go.

I'm looking forward to seeing you there!

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