First, I'm going to tell you straight up, my opinion is that we as Feral Bear Tanks are going to be just fine in Patch 3.0 and WotLK.
A lot is going to change. But I think that the end result is going to be very positive.
Let's dive right into all the wonderful things that will be changing to how Druid Tanks work.
First, and this applies to all classes, Crushing Blows are being removed from raids.
Just a reminder, as mentioned in a previous article, that Crushing Blows as a mechanic will no longer apply to us when we are fighting raid bosses three levels higher than us. So keep that in mind, and realize that our final armor and health values might very well be lower than you would think realistic.
Weapon Enchants will be fully operational in Forms.
Mongoose? Crusader? Now they work for you in Kitty or Bear. No longer will Feral Druids only get the passive stat bonuses of our Enchants, leaving us with Major Agility. Big change? I'd say so.
You will be able to use consumables in all Forms.
No more having to powershift with a macro, risking a failed reshift into Bear or an inopportune Crushing Blow, just to use a Super Healing Potion or Healthstone. A delightful change. I feel like there should be little fireworks going off while reading this. Just, yay!
Barkskin is now useable in all Forms.
You will now be able to use our Instant Cast, 12 second duration, 20% Damage Reduction ability (with a 1 minute cooldown) in all Forms without shifting.
Now, inevitably someone will point out that Warriors get Shield Wall, which is a 60% Damage Reduction for 12 seconds on a 5 minute cooldown, and which is a far more effective 'panic button'.
That's very true.
However, we can use Barkskin far more often that Warriors can Shield Wall. Due to our higher overall armor and health (which will continue even after the changes), we can survive sudden bursts of damage and Enrages a little better than Warriors can. Typically our 'panic buttons' have been using Trinkets such as the Idol of Tenacity or Commendation of Kael'thas to boost our Dodge. So while I agree that the base mechanics of Barkskin and Shield Wall are similar, I think the shorter cooldown means we should stop looking at Barkskin as a 'panic button', and instead use it as a continuous damage reduction to help healer mana conservation.
The point is, we were not able to use Barkskin in shifted Forms before, and now we can. Awesome!
Swipe will affect all mobs within a 'cone of effect' in front of you.
This change is considered one of the ways we will be gaining better AoE Threat capabilities. It hasn't been added in the Beta or PTR yet, but Ghostcrawler says it is pretty much a done deal.
There is still debate over how much Threat we will see generated from Swipe, and of course there are folks that will be upset that Swipe is a cone effect rather than a 360° area effect.
Since mobs in large quantities spread out rather than overlapping, and mobs attacking from behind still apply a Daze effect (which slows movement speed by 50% and cannot be removed by shifting), this means you will need to be very maneuverable to keep that Swipe going across a lot of mobs. Rotating, back stepping, shifting around, we're not going to be simply standing still and spamming Swipe.
I like this, myself. Part of current Bear Tanking is maneuverability. I am already used to moving and twisting and turning to keep the mobs in front of me. This adds the benefit of not having to try and use Tab Targeting or Mouseover Swipe macros to apply Swipe on various different mobs in the hopes of having the extra hits spread out over more than 3 targets.
We are Druids, not Paladins, and I like the Swipe cone mechanic. Of course, I may be alone in that.
Although we won't have a true 360° AoE threat ability, having the cooldown reduced from 10 minutes to 3 minutes on Challenging Roar is very nice, and we can choose to reduce it even further with Glyph of Challenging Roar. None of that really applies to this very nice change to Swipe.
Feral Instinct now increases Swipe damage by 10%/20%/30%.
Speaking of Swipe, how about some increased damage from one of our Talents?
Bash will now interrupt spellcasting for 3 seconds.
This change to Bash adds a very nice interrupt to spellcasting. The reason this is a nice change, is that Ghostcrawler has said the idea is that the spellcasting interrupt part will still work, even if the target is immune to being stunned. A 1 minute cooldown prevents this from being used every time a boss mob spell is being cast, such as Julianne's Eternal Affection heal, but it should help quite a bit to prevent a spell or two if your Rogue is unable to Kick in time.
Feral Faerie Fire is now a base ability (not a Talent), applies damage to a mob, and also enhanced threat in Bear or Dire Bear form.
How many times have you pulled a mob in cat form with FFF, only to have someone else tag it first and take it away from you, because you hadn't actually done any damage to it yet? Well, now FFF applies a teeny little bit of damage, preventing that from ever happening again. It also has been redesigned to add a little bit of enhanced Threat when cast in Bear or Dire Bear form.
Feral Charge now works in both Cat and Bear forms.
In Cat form, this is basically a version of the Rogue Shadowstep ability, with a longer cooldown. It can be used both in and out of stealth, and does not break stealth. The early versions of this did not require a legitimate path to the target to work, like Bear Feral Charge does; you were able to Feral Charge (Cat) up to a ledge or up in the air if that was where the target was. In the latest build, that has changed. You can now only Feral Charge them if you would be able to reach them normally. Still, this is a lot of fun, has a great leaping animation, and is a great addition to our Talents.
What does it have to do with Tanking? Nothing, I just wanted to mention it.
Frenzied Regeneration is buffed to scale with Health.
Frenzied Regeneration used to do a flat 250 Healing at the cost of 10 Rage per second for 10 seconds. So 2500 Health, at the cost of draining 100 Rage.
The new Frenzied Regeneration has the same Rage cost, but restores 0.3% of your Max Health each second instead. This is simply outstanding. Assuming you will have 20,000 max health when Patch 3.0 is released, this means your Frenzied Regeneration will heal you for 6000 Health over 10 seconds. Not too shabby at all, especially with a 3 minute cooldown.
Couple this with the Major Glyph of Frenzied Regeneration in the expansion, which increases the benefit you receive from healing spells by 20% while Frenzied Regeneration is active, and it will make for a very useful situational emergency heal.
Survival of the Fittest now reduces chance to be critically hit and increases attributes by 2%/4%/6%.
With this change, we will no longer need any Defense Rating on our gear whatsoever to remain uncrittable by raid bosses 3 levels senior to us. Ghostcrawler has also stated elsewhere that raid bosses will continue to be no more than 3 levels higher than the max attainable level. No tricks here, this removes our need for gear with Defense Rating on it, and makes it easier for Blizzard Developers to itemize for us.
Mangle and Improved Mangle have shorter cooldowns and increased damage from Bleed effects.
Now this is interesting. When fully Talented, your Mangle cooldown will be only 4.5 seconds long, and the damage caused by Bleed effects is increased by 30%. Maul and Shred still get the 30% increased damage from Mangle, they left the Bleed effect buff on Mangle and added the ability to benefit from it into Shred and Maul. So a very nice damage buff for Maul, and the corresponding Threat increase. We'll still need to deal with losing Rage when Maul replaces one of our white attacks, but a 30% damage/threat increase is very welcome.
Savage Fury 10%/20% damage increase now also applies to Mangle (Bear) and Maul.
As long as we're talking about things that are making Mangle and Maul even better, how about even more damage?
New Talent: Survival Instincts.
Welcome to our version of Last Stand. A 30% Health increase for 20 seconds, on a 5 minute cooldown. There is little else you can say, with our earlier example of 20,000 health, you would gain 6000 health for a short period of time. Now this is a new 'panic button'.
New Talent: Natural Reaction.
A wonderful Talent that increase our Dodge in Bear and Dire Bear forms by 2%/4%/6%, and gives us 1/2/3 Rage every time we Dodge.
Free Rage. Every time we Dodge. I for one welcome our new Dodge overlord. The higher your Dodge, the faster you will generate extra Rage. And when you trigger a Dodge-based 'panic button', you will also be increasing your rage generation. This makes me very happy.
New Talent: Berserk.
This is the big one. At least, if you go by its position in our tree.
Our new 51 point Talent. It has a 3 minute cooldown. It lasts 15 seconds.
In any form, when you trigger this, it clears any existing Fear effects and makes you immune to further Fear effects for the duration of Berserk.
In Bear form, your Mangle can now hit up to 3 targets simultaneously and the Mangle cooldown is removed.
In Cat form, Energy cost is reduced by 50% from all abilities.
So right up front, you have the ability to remove a Fear effect and become immune to other Fear effects once each 3 Minutes. In Bear Form, you have multiple target Mangles with no cooldown for 15 seconds. In Cat Form, you can spam some serious Shreds back to back if you time things just right.
I think that this is going to have some interesting effects on tanking. There should be more interest in hoarding Rage, building it up early in order to gain the most advantage over triple-target Mangle spam. It'll be a lot of fun to play with. Of course, the most common use of this will probably be coupled with Feral Charge to catch runners and quickly regain Aggro. But I'd certainly like to see more imaginative uses of it when it goes live.
And finally, the big controversy; Armor removed from gear and Protector of the Pack.
Protector of the Pack is a new Talent that is group based. The more people in your group, up to a full 5 person group (including you), the better the benefit you will receive. For every person other than you in your group, the damage you take in Bear or Dire Bear form is reduced by 3%. So in a full party or raid group, you will have +12% Damage Reduction from Protector of the Pack. It also increases your Attack Power in Bear and Dire Bear form by 6%, unaffected by how many people are in your party.
So, a big boost to Damage Reduction, but only when in group. Okay, that's pretty awesome, but there is a reason why this was added. this is to make up for the new gear itemization, because there will no longer be leather items with enhanced armor. There will still be plenty of items that have armor on them, such as Rings, Trinkets, and Weapons. But regular gear, and armor sets, will not have any enhanced armor.
There has been a lot of controversy surrounding this change, basically on the order of wondering whether Protector of the Pack and the other Talents (like Barkskin and Natural Reaction) go far enough in compensating for the loss in Damage Reduction from exceptionally high armor.
I can't really tell you, because I'm not tanking Naxx in the Beta and able to test it for myself.
What I can tell you, is that you need to be prepared for how your existing gear will change in Patch 3.0. Because this change to leather armor is retroactive. Our existing gear will have its value changed to coincide with the new Talents. Let me give you an example, using the Feral Druid Tier 4 set, the Malorne Harness.
As you can see, The Tier 4 armor that you may have now is getting the values reduced in armor... but the points spent on enhanced armor are being reinvested as increased Strength, Agility and Stamina.
This is just an example. If you go to Wowhead, you can look up your existing gear (like the Malorne Harness in BC), and then switch over to the WotLK Wowhead page to compare them with the new set yourself. This change to armor is being applied across the board.
My point in showing you this is simply so that you are aware that, when Patch 3.0 comes out, if you intend to tank as a Feral Druid, you might get some new advantages from reprioritizing your gear decisions. With Survival of the Fittest, you no longer have to work so hard on Defense Rating; in fact, you can replace any Defense Rating or Resilience items, gems and enchants with other stats.
You will still want leather gear with the best armor we can get, but high Agility and Stamina will become even more important. And looking for non-leather items with armor on them, such as rings, trinkets and weapons, becomes even more important if you don't already have them.
And of course, we are now free to re-examine Enchants to determine what we want the most.
Please don't see this comparison, and think this means we have become Tanks made of glass. According to Ghostcrawler, the latest figures she is looking at for Feral Druid Tanks in raids shows us as being very successful.
In fact, to quote one of Ghostcrawler's most recent statements,
Druid threat is on par or greater than other tanks, and with the Swipe change, that includes group threat as well. Druid dps while tanking is very high. Druid dps while not tanking may still be the highest of the tank classes.
Druid mitigation is so high in Naxxramas that we're worried they may overshadow the other tanks, in which case we might have to change it.
So I think we can take the opportunity to lok at all these changes, and try and see how we can anticipate applying it to what we know already. And we should be grateful for all the calm, reasoned arguments so many intelligent, capable Druids have made in the Beta forums that have helped Ghostcrawler and the Developers get us to this point. I feel better all the time, when I see how we seem to be keeping the same feel and essence of Feral Druid Tanking, while gaining new abilities or adjustments that are perfectly in keeping with our spirit.
Okay, this has gone three times longer than I intended. I know there are many things I haven't even mentioned, brand new Talents that I didn't even touch on.
I do hope, however, that I have hit all the high points, and you now feel informed on the essence of Feral Tanking in Patch 3.0. And I also hope that we will see some of these changes go live in a build soon, such as the Swipe target limitation removal.
And I am sure that many, if not all, of the things I did not fit in will see a mention in the comments below.
I wish you all good fortune, and happy tanking. Let the flames begin!
EDIT: Just wanted to clarify, as of Beta build 9014 that went live the very night after this article was published, Mangle (CAt) and Rake had their damage increased, Swipe did indeed have the upper limit on number of targets affected removed, and Protector of the Pack now it provides 1%/2%/3% Damage Mitigation depending on how many points the player has invested in the skill, rather than the flat 3%.
And I want to thank you all for the excellent comments and questions below. The issue between Omen of Clarity (which, as has been pointed out, is always active now when a point is spent on it, and therefore no longer needs to be recast) against Berserk is a good one. I was asked this by Adam Johnson, and I agree with the commenter that Omen of Clarity is in many ways, right now, a more desirable Talent for Cat DPS. But I also agree that I want to test Berserk a lot, and see how I like it.
Right now, I'm thinking that in the early levels, Omen of Clarity will provide more benefit to keep a Bear pumping out Threat, but once gear levels bring your Dodge up enough, I'm thinking it might be possible for Natural Reaction to give us enough Rage return that our multiple Crits on Swipe plus multiple and frequent Dodges will give us so much Rage OoC becomes irrelevent. I assure you I will be testing that theory.
And one last note, I do agree with the commenters that the reduced Mana pool and the reduced frequency of shifting makes me very sad. One of the most wonderful things about our class was our ability to improvise by shifting for the moment. I'd rather not be stuck in one form due to lack of Mana. I'm not sure houw that will turn out just yet.
And I also agree that one of the biggest long term concerns that we need to test will be how Protector of the Pack fares when you have fewer than a full group. A drop of 3% or 6% Damage Mitigation might not seem like much, but I'd imagine it will make for some surprises. As commenters have said, it is strange that we haev a tanking ability dependant on how many others are in our group. I think that, if anything, it will encourage me to group more when tackling a challenge rather than barrel on through and see how it goes.
Again, thank you for the most excellent comments. Have a great day!