Be grateful I'm not pulling some lame Travolta picture out of archival footage, and pasting a bear head on top. I do have some standards, after all. I think. Okay, now I'm tempted.
All right, it's safe, you can come out of hiding. The urge has passed.
The value of Armor
Survivability and Mitigation each have their own purpose in gear selection, but both are superseded by one thing; Armor value.
In Dire Bear form, druids gain a 400% bonus to armor from equipped items.
This bonus does NOT apply to enchants or armor kits. (Please, no more +120 armor cloak enchants. Please? Use the Greater Agility enchant, and save my sanity.)
As an example of how the Dire Bear armor multiplier works, if an equipped item has 100 armor, in Dire Bear form it would be worth 100 armor + (100 armor * 4) = 500 armor total.
Armor provides a percentage of damage reduction against physical attacks. The higher your armor, the less actual physical damage that gets through per hit.
There is a hard limit of 75% damage reduction. The formula for determining damage reduction for targets level 60 or above, taken from Wowwiki, is;
DamageReduction% = Armor / (Armor - 22167.5 + 467.5 * MobLevel)
As you can see, the level of your opponent is important, but your level is not.
Using the above formula, and assuming that you are preparing to tank against level 73 targets (the max level of targets currently in game), then it becomes;
DamageReduction% = Armor / (Armor - 22167.5 + 34127.5)
If your armor is 32,000, then you would enjoy 74.48% damage reduction against physical attacks. Each successful physical attack against you would be reduced in damage by 74.48%.
This formula shows that, with a cap of 75% DR, the maximum armor that you can use before hitting the 'cap' is 35,880. Above that value, you are no longer receiving a benefit.
Oh yeah, just a measly little 35,880 armor, huh? Sure, sure.
Well, it's not as hard as you might think to attain that level of armor, once you begin reliably tanking 10 man and 25 man raid encounters.
Magical damage reduction
Before I get on to actual gear examples, I'd like to discuss that whole physical damage thing in a bit more detail.
When you are planning on facing opponents whose primary damage output is magic based, the normal reaction is to seek out gear high in the type of resistance appropriate to reduce the damage you will take. And when possible, this is probably the best method available to you.
However, there will come times when you are doing an excellent job against foes of all different types, and you will be faced with one particular boss that is magic based out of a horde that are not. In this situation, I refer you to my little friend, the Earthen Elixir.
Now, for my Battle elixirs, I typically use the Elixir of Major Agility to the exclusion of all else. It may be lazy, but I like my level of health, and the Agility gives me increased Mitigation and Crit chance all in one go. Many people would recommend using the Elixir of Mastery, but hey, I'm an agility guy myself. As always, if you are unsure of which you would like better... try them both, and make your own informed decision.
But for Guardian elixirs, the Earthen Elixir is a nice tool for bear tanks, because it actually gives us at least some damage reduction against magical attacks. In a long battle, that reduction can add up nicely.
For most tanking situations, I rely on the Elixir of Major Fortitude, but for those fights heavy on magical damage, keep a few Earthen Elixirs handy. You won't be sorry.
Armor and damage reduction examples
There are lots of very nice pieces of leather gear that have high armor values, and with the Dire Bear multiplier, you can climb to over 20,000 armor very quickly prior to running any 5 man instance content at all.
In fact, let's take a quick look at a common set of pre-Karazhan leather gear, gear that can be obtained without Heroics, or even instances (except for a single Arcatraz run), gear appropriate for bear tanking, and see where it gets us.
This gives us a total of 4,138 armor. Multiply that by the Dire Bear form multiplier, and we have 20,690 armor.
And looking at our formula, 20,690 armor vs level 73 mobs gives us 63.36% Damage Reduction. Not bad. Not Heroic level, but certainly solid regular 5 man instance tanking armor values. And that's without taking into account better gear from normal 5 man instances, Heroic Badge of Justice rewards, or PvP.
The Heavy Clefthoof set, by the way, can be worn by anyone, regardless of if you have Leatherworking or not. The set bonus only applies to the extra stats, not as to whether or not it can be equipped. Heavy Clefthoof will carry you well into Karazhan. It's like vitamins, it's just chock full of good stuff like armor and defense rating. Just an FYI.
And yes, I do get asked that a lot. It's not a silly question, when you think about the Tailoring requirements on the Shadoweave and Spellfire sets. People do get used to the idea of the good stuff being reserved for crafters. And Heavy Clefthoof is, for feral druids, the good stuff.
If you're interested, the gear I suggest a brand new level 70 feral druid or someone getting darn close should seek out for a starter tanking set can be found here. It's fairly good if you are in the position of being able to solo a lot, but find it difficult to run a lot of instances. And never forget the awesomeness and availability of PvP gear to carry you over the rough spots.
So that's all about armor value, the first stat we need concern ourselves with.
Of course, you already know from my previous article about Hit Rating, Defense and Expertise that, as feral druids with 5/5 Talent points in Survival of the Fittest, we must have 415 Defense Rating to be uncrittable. So you have to work towards that, with gear stats, enchants, glyphs and gems when necessary. If it seems very difficult to balance your gear choices and still keep 415 Defense Rating, guess what? You're right! It can be very hard to do so, and when you get that tasty new drop you might very well find yourself losing all sorts of other enchants or gems to get your Defense Rating back up.
Moral of that story? Don't ever throw away or disenchant an otherwise perfectly good item you outgrew, if it has a solid amount of Defense Rating on it. You may find yourself needing it later.
So you need to build your armor up to increase damage reduction across the board. That, plus obtaining a Defense Rating of 415 with 5/5 Survival of the Fittest, are your top two priorities.
Got it? Good. Now we get into Survivability and Mitigation.
These are two separate areas, and a balance should be struck between the two. Both are desired, yes, but there are consequences. There are always consequences.
As I said before, Survivability is your ability to take damage and live. Mitigation is your ability to avoid damage altogether through high agility-based Dodge.
When you are just starting out, I personally recommend getting to a minimum of about 10,000 health, and then move to focusing on increasing your chance to Dodge through high agility whenever possible, with the aid of enchants and gems.
My reasoning is simple. With a low armor, you will have a low Damage Reduction, and you will be gaining plenty of rage through damage sustained. The higher you can initially get your Dodge, the less attacks you will suffer outright, without seriously decreasing your rage.
As your armor value increases, say into the 28,000+ range, and your damage reduction increases, you will be generating less rage through damage sustained. At that armor range, it's likely you are solid for Heroics and Karazhan, and it becomes more critical than ever to raise your health (Survivability) to better withstand Crushing Blows and spike damage, especially on a health intensive fight such as Prince Malchazaar.
The 28,000 armor range is also when Dodging more frequently begins to hurt your rage generation in lower difficulty encounters. It is more valuable to you to increase your top health rather than stacking even more Dodge.
As I said... a balance between the two is what you want to aim for. If your gear outpaces the content and the challenges you are facing, you will actually tank less well, because you will not get hit often enough and hard enough to generate rage, and your threat generating abilites need that rage to keep the enemy focused on you.
So now our priorities for gear are;
Defense Rating of 415
Agility for Dodge (*)
Stamina for Health(*)
* Remember, a balance. Yes, take the agility, but seriously, get that health up to 14,000 and above as soon as possible or your raiding group will hate your guts.
As you can see, we can have tons of fun just looking at the different stats on leather gear, wondering if one thing is worth more than another.
The decision on breaking points, on where a particular piece of equipment stands in value to feral druids compared to another one, is the single biggest talking point we have today. And as you can imagine, there are many different takes on this subject.
As far as I know, the most famous list of feral druid gear is the one that Emmerald has painstakingly researched.
Make no mistake, I pored lovingly over the original version of that list as I approached level 70 over a year ago, making shopping lists of achievable gear while soloing, identifying 5 mans to run, heroics, etc. It's a pleasant pastime that can make an afternoon (or a week) go by quite happily. I enjoy making gear goal plans.
But there are also other methods out there of comparing the value of gear. And when you actually have some solid gear, and you've got enchants and gems that drain hundreds of gold for any minor change, then you can use all the help you can get.
Enter the incredibly awesome offline program Rawr, created and maintained by Astrylian of Whisperwind (US).
Rawr pulls your Armory data, and allows you to enter in your own choices of potential gear changes, gem changes, and enchants to see what effect it has on your Survivability and Mitigation. It's an incredibly powerful application.
No, seriously. At least try it, and see what you think. It is not a replacement for you making your own intelligent knowledgeable decisions on gear upgrades, but it is a darn good program.
Finally, if you are looking for something a bit shorter for a quick snapshot of what gear there is for a higher level raid, I like the work Hugehoss did to rank bear tank items. He did an awesome job, but I don't think he's been updating it for the last few patches. Hopefully, I'm wrong and will be swiftly corrected.
Okay, and now that I think of it, no list of places to make gear upgrade plans would be complete without a shoutout to Kaliban's Class Loot Lists. I don't visit there much anymore for druid info, since, well, I've been living la vida feral for way too long. But you can be certain my alts bring me to visit Kaliban quite frequently.
You would almost think that Feral Druids were interested in gear upgrades, or something. Go figure.
There is one last thing to mention when selecting your planned gear upgrades; offensive capabilities.
Yes, our first priority is to maximise our ability to stay alive. We stack on the armor for damage reduction, we achieve 415 Defense Rating to be uncrittable, we stack Stamina to have very high health and we stack Agility to have a massively high Dodge.
But we can't forget our second responsibility as a bear tank; Threat Generation.
You know that you gain rage through being whacked by the enemy. But the other way you gain rage is by causing damage to the enemy.
And the more you hit your target, and the more damage you inflict, the faster you generate that rage.
I will talk about how to generate Threat in the last chapter of this series, but what I want to make sure you keep in mind is, if your job is to generate Threat through instant cast specials attacks like Mangle, Lacerate or Swipe, then it is critical that you hit with that attack when you need to.
So, while you are gathering up your gear, keep an eye on those precious items that have Hit Rating on them also. In particular, one precious item I recommend you examine is the Waistguard of the Great Beast, an outstanding item for bear tanking, and available for every level 70 for the sum of 60 Badges of Justice.
In conclusion, the key is to take a hard look at where your own gear is, decide what your own target numbers are, and work towards them with quests, instances, Heroics, Badge rewards, and raids at your convenience.
Now we've talked about the core responsiblity of the bear tank - staying alive, and all the parts that go into it.
The last part of this series will finally deal with our other responsibility - what many consider to be our core responsibility; keeping the target's attention focused solely on us, unless and until we choose otherwise.
Until that time, I will leave you with this incredible footage I saw at Resto4Life of the player-forged druid form shapeshifting skins Andrige's has labored to create. Go take a look, you won't be disappointed*.
Just remember, please, please, don't modify your game files. Don't, don't, don't. If you do, it's totally on you if your game no longer works or you are banned from WoW for hacks. Just go check out the pretty pictures and video, and pray Blizzard admires his work and ideas and implements something like it in the near future.
*Okay, I'm sure someone will be disappointed. But what the heck, I loved 'em!