What does this have to do with Druid pride?
Well, properly approached and prepared for, being a Druid in Karazhan can open your friends' eyes as to the usefulness of our class... and if you're real good, the whispers of "OP....." will follow you around.
No matter what your 'preferred' spec, we are a hybrid class, and should be proud of it. Like all true hybrids, our strength is in being able to improvise in fast changing situations, adapt our playstyle to what is needed at the time, and overcome any unusual obstacles.
Yes, it's true that we each choose a particular playstyle to specialize in. Resto Druids optimize for healing, Balance Druids for ranged spell damage, and Feral for melee DPS and tanking. And as that is our focus, we typically concentrate on getting the best gear to perform that role in PvP, questing, groups or raids.
But as a hybrid spec, each Druid should also at least look at and consider building a set of gear to perform those other roles when necessary.
With experience as a feral Druid, and keeping our strength as hybrids in mind, I'd like to pass on some of the things I've learned from running Karazhan over time.
Just a little friendly advice on preparing for, and playing in Karazhan for the up and coming feral Druid.
Let's start in this first part with what you, as a feral Druid, should do to be as prepared as possible. In the next part, I'll talk about each boss and trash pull and get into some specifics.
Make sure you are carrying the gear to do ALL your jobs.
First, of course, is your feral bear tanking set. Obviously, you're thinking, "I'm feral, I'm gonna be doing some tanking or off-tanking in there at some point." Your feral set is built with an eye towards your final stats in dire bear form; 19k+ armor, 11k+ health and uncrittable at the minimum for reliable tanking and off-tanking.
Next, you need your kitty DPS optimized gear. In Karazhan, you want to aim for a set of gear that takes your tanking set as a foundation for high armor and health, and change out items to gain enough Hit Rating and Attack Power (and Crit) to do some serious damage behind the bosses and mobs if you're NOT tanking. You want to be helping with DPS when you are not tanking, but you want to maintain the potential for high survivability in Dire Bear form if a mob breaks and you need to shift to pick it up and off-tank or main tank in an emergency.
You'll need a healing set. It can be cloth and leather mixed together, it doesn't matter. What matters is that, in situations where your team needs one extra healer, even though you don't have the BEST healing gear or an optimized talent spec, you can still make the most of your HoTs. Remember, even if you don't have the best +Healing in the world, or the most mana-efficient build, your mana pool is MUCH larger than 'zero', which is what your team had for extra healers before you helped out, and one more healer equals one more person looking for ways to help.
And let's face it... if your raid has a lot of melee DPS, then the more time you spend healing the ones the regular healers normally can't help, especially in AOE situations, the less time the melee DPS spends bandaging themselves out of combat. Flexibility is the key.
Next, make sure you have the UI and Addon tools to do the job
Now that you're thinking gear sets, you need an Addon that allows you to switch gear at the touch of a button so your team isn't sitting around for 5 minutes every time you need to swap stuff out.
Outfitter comes highly recommended, but I have been using ItemRack for years, and even though it's not updated, it still works. You can set up various configurations of gear for any purpose you want.
If you are shifting in and out a lot, one other very useful Addon which has been mentioned many times before is Druid Bar, an Addon that displays a positionable mana bar no matter what form you may be shifted into.
As far as saved gear sets in ItemRack, I like having a full-on tanking set, a high AP and Hit Rating kitty DPS set, a healing set, a 'swap my mount speed trinket only' set, a 'swap my tanking weapons and Idol for DPS or healing' sets, and a 'give me max armor and health in kitty while having high Hit Rating' set. Your mileage may vary.
So you have your gear planned out. Your toon and bags are full of two and a half sets to three sets of gear, buff food, flasks, potions, weightstones... you clank when you Stealth, don'tcha?
Finally, you need to be prepared to generate and manage threat.
As a feral Druid, yes, you know you want to tank. You are dying for the chance to get in there and stick your face into trouble. And to do that, you need to generate and manage serious threat.
You might think, "Hey, Mangle, Lacerate x 3, Mauls thrown in when the Rage is there, Feral Faerie Fire when it expires. Mangle again as soon as the third Lacerate is over and the cooldown is up. Demoralizing Growl when my Rage is high enough to still Maul."
That's not a bad plan for a basic threat rotation, actually. As a foundation, assuming you don't have a lot of Haste Rating (and if we're talking Karazhan basics, you don't have a ton of Haste Rating), the basic Mangle + Lacerate x 3 rotation is very reliable.
But once you get a lot of Badge rewards and high level crafted gear and good drops, and PvP gear, how do you know if your threat generation is better using Swipe, even on single target pulls? Do you even KNOW what the difference in your threat generation is on a single target if you are substituting Swipe for Lacerate? Or what effect frequent Mauls are doing to your Rage generation? Every time you use Maul, it replaces a white attack that would have generated Rage. Are your Mauls leaving you starved for the Rage to use Lacerate or Mangle when you need to?
An FYI, since Patch 2.4, Lacerate damage is now supposed to scale slightly with Attack Power, and of course the Bleed effect now works against mechanical targets and non-corporeal undead. I don't think the scaling is as high as Swipe, but it is still more effective than before. Sorry for the digression.
Remember; the higher the threat you generate, the more room all DPS and healers have to use their full abilities without pulling aggro.
That's the key. As a tank, you set the pace of the fight.
If your threat output is poor, then no matter how well geared, skilled or powerful your DPS and healers are, they are limited to sitting on their butt waiting on you to build up more threat, and more, and more, just so they can throw another DoT or Sinister Strike.
That's right. It's all on you. If you are putting out low threat as the tank, and taking a high amount of damage at the same time, it's a lot easier for the overworked healers to exceed your threat, pull aggro away from you, and die.
If you are putting out weak threat, then that awesome Mage or powerhouse Warlock are sending just a scant few damage dealing spells downrange... and then they are sitting there, doing nothing, maybe wanding while they wait for your threat generation to slowly catch back up so they can cast some spells again. And while the DPS has to wait, the fight drags on longer... and you take more damage over time, and your healers' mana is stressed even more than normal.
Let me reiterate that point. It should be your number one goal at all times when you are tanking, to generate as much threat as you are possibly capable of. More threat from you equals more damage done by everyone else in a shorter length of time, and a better chance your healers can keep you alive before running out of mana.
You want to be a legend among tanks? Learn to generate the kind of threat that other players use as a yardstick for bragging.
Blusummers the Mage; "I must be doing something right... I was able to pull threat from Windshadow on that last pull."
When someone is happy that they can put out the sheer power to top your threat... that's high praise. Not because they could, but because they weren't expecting to be able to.
The truth is, all DPS classes have the potential to generate a ton of threat... if someone wants to, they can grab your mob away, eventually. But to have the reputation that it takes real effort to do so is a very nice compliment. It shows that when you group for a mission, you're doing your job.
And of course, your party has to work with you. Many times feral druids will pull a mob with Feral Faerie Fire, and someone in the party may strike early before the mob reaches you, and since FFF causes no actual threat, they'll pull it from you.
Shame on them for acting too soon, but you can try to mimimize the chance of that happening by using Starfire to pull the next mob, casting Moonfire on the mob's friend to get threat started rolling on him, then shifting to bear to prepare to receive the enemy. If your party Mage then unloads a ton of Frostbolts on mob three before they all reach you... well, he's got aggro. Not much you can do about it, except hope he can Ice Block.
Oh, and FYI, Ice Block does not remove threat, it only temporarily pauses it. If a Mage does happen to pull aggro on a mob and Ice Blocks, the mob will lose interest in him, but the threat level remains. You need to pick the mob up and start generating some threat, or as soon as Ice Block is dropped the mob will be right back on the Mage. Just so you know.
Anyone remember the good old days of pre-BC raiding, when a commonly heard call on Ventrilo was, "Everyone wait until you see three Sunders on the target before beginning DPS." Well, it's still the responsibility of your team members to know they can't just unload on a mob the second you pull. If you seem to have problems holding aggro in the first few seconds of a pull, even using damage-dealing ranged spells to pull, it might help to go over some of the basics of how threat works with your party.
Testing and fine tuning your threat generation
You've got Omen as a threat meter, right? It lists both max threat levels on your targeted mob, and TPS or threat per second. You'll get spikes on this as you crit, but it's a good indication of how your technique is working for you.
If you think you need to work on it, grab a healing friend and head off into the boonies. Much like Eustacious and Doodlebug, the Feral and Resto Laurel and Hardy of the WoW world, a tank and his healer can be a beautiful combo for testing stuff out. After all, sooner or later, you're GONNA kill it, as long as your buddy keeps you alive.
Find a nice, tough, high armor, high health mob that'll last awhile, and that won't do something annoying like fear you or spawn little adds as you beat him down. Those darn Rock Elementals and Elite Trees would be great targets if it weren't for those stupid adds they spawn.
At upper gear levels... a Fel Reaver is a good choice. Just saying.
Get to work tanking your chosen sucker... work on various methods of generating threat, and watch your TPS meter on Omen. Its very, very good practice.
One thing you will find out early, is that Mangle should be used as soon as the cooldown is up. It may be tempting to hit Feral Faerie Fire if it expires at the same tim your Mangle cooldown is up, to keep that armor debuff on a boss and help all DPS out, but the Global Cooldown from FFF will delay your Mangle, and slow down your threat generation. In the end, keep Mangle as your top priority when there is a choice, and FFF afterwards.
Want to increase your threat output other than with a rotation? You have plenty of options to help.
The first thing, of course, is to have Thorns up on yourself (and of course, ONLY on yourself and the tanks). Every mob that hits you takes a little damage, which means on multi-mob pulls you're getting a little extra threat generation no everyone. It's very nice. Always refresh this, because it is on a short 10 minute timer. And if you are not the tank, make sure you are casting it on the tank to help them out.
When you pull, hit him with a Starfire or Wrath from range, followed up with a Moonfire to get some steady bonus Rage going.
Ask your friendly Priest for Prayer of Mending, which applies the threat generated from healing done to you, not the Priest.
Ask your Hunter for a Misdirection (Especially Misdirection followed by a single Multi-Shot for a multiple mob pull), and for a long fight ask the Hunter to keep using Misdirection every single time their cooldown is up.
And finally, since the more damage you do, the more threat you generate... work towards reducing your misses with Hit Rating and Expertise. There are some nice items, such as the Exalted SSO neckpiece, that have either Expertise or Hit Rating on it to help increase your hits. Items such as this can be very nice to help increase your threat generation.
At the early stages of Karazhan, though, you should be thinking of surviving and making it as easy as possible for the healers to keep you alive. Later on, you can worry about Hit Rating and Expertise.
You have plenty of options to help you generate the initial threat, better to worry about surviving the fights first.
Enough for part the first.
Next time, we'll talk about entering Karazhan itself, and the specifics of various encounters and the things a feral druid can do to make the entire run move a lot smoother. The lessons learned here, if learned properly, will serve you well in the more advanced fights of 25 man content.