A little recap
Before we talk about what the changes may mean, let's lay down what we're talking about. I mentioned armor specifically, but really I'm going to be talking about changes to Damage Mitigation, Avoidance and Survivability.
First, in the latest WotLK Beta build (9038) it is confirmed that Dire Bear Form has a decreased armor contribution from items, from 400% to 370%. This reduces the 'always on' Damage Mitigation that Druids in Dire Bear form receive from the armor we have equipped.
Second, leather gear in the Expansion has been designed to have standard point values for armor based on item level. There will be no more items with 'green' armor values.
Examples in the current game with green armor values include;
So as you can see, items that in the current game we eagerly seek out for a Bear tanking set, in the expansion, will not exist in the same form. No more intentionally high armor values on leather.
In fact, in Patch 3.0, even the existing items are getting changed to have their armor values dropped. The item level/point value of the gear is staying the same, those points used for enhanced armor are being redistributed to the other stats on the gear.
As an example, here are the same three pieces shown above, with WotLK stats;
As you can see, the armor has been reduced, but other stats have been raised to compensate for this. Depending on the individual item, armor values have been reduced from 40% to 60% across the board.
An interesting thing to notice is that the point value is not always just used to increase other pre-existing stats. On the Heavy Clefthoof pieces, they added Dodge Rating, just as an example. So it's not necessarily a straight stat boost.
At this time, Rings, Trinkets and Weapons seem to have had their armor values unchanged, making them even more desirable for Bear tanks after the Patch. There is a bit of consternation about this, since now we will be trying even harder for those few item drops that will maximize our armor.
Third, the Talent Natural Reaction, when fully invested, increases your Dodge in Dire Bear form by 6%, and generates 3 Rage every time you Dodge an attack.
Fourth, the Talent Protector of the Pack, if all 3 points are fully invested in it, increases your Damage Mitigation by 3% for every player present in your party at the time you shift into Bear.
Fifth, Survival of the Fittest, fully specced, reduces the chance you'll be critically hit by 6%, effectively making you uncrittable by raid bosses in PvE.
Sixth, the AoE Damage Reduction of Predatory Instincts will only apply to Cat form, and the Feral Swiftness speed buff WILL now work indoors. I'm really only mentioning the Feral Swiftness thing, since it's pretty cool. I mention Predatory Instincts, because there was some confusion iniatially that made it seem like the latest plans were to have it work in Bear form at the enhanced 30% value. It will not.
A little analysis
As you can see, these changes mean that we will have a LOT less 'always on' physical Damage Mitigation from our armor, from 0 to +12% direct magical and physical Damage Mitigation from Protector of the Pack (depending entirely on how many players other than the Druid are grouped with us at the time we enter Dire Bear) that adds much-needed magical Mitigation, but doesn't quite at this time make up for lost physical Mitigation from armor, and we will no longer need to balance item choices based on remaining uncrittable through Resilience or Defense Rating.
Along the way, we have lost our ability to avoid magical AoE damage from Predatory Instincts. With the addition of the 12% magical Damage Mitigation from PotP, I personally can see how that would have been a Developer choice to scale back our magical Mitigation. And now that nothing in Predatory Instincts is usable in bear form, for the dedicated tank that frees up those Talent points for other uses.
Where we are now, and how some of our tanking-specific capability has been reduced, seems to be based on current testing the Devs are doing. From what Ghostcrawler has said, most notably here, the impression I've been left with is that Feral Bear tanks were performing so well in comparison to other tanks that they were forced to begin making adjustments, or face a situation where the Feral Druid would be the only tank invited to serious raids.
In the short form, tests were indicating we were taking far less magical AOE damage, less physical damage, and had more overall health than the other three tanking classes. So to date the adjustments have been aimed at slight reductions to our physical Damage Mitigation with the change to the Dire Bear armor from item percentiles, and the removal of Predatory Instincts as usable in Bear form.
Things are certainly going to change more. Maybe testing will show we are now too far below other classes in terms of magical AoE avoidance. Perhaps we will still be a bit too high on physical Mitigation. Who can say?
As of now a few things I'm noticing seem to be fairly certain.
Although the changes to leather armor have made it so that more drops will be able to be shared among Rogues and Feral Druids, the armor values on Rings, Trinkets and Weapons will make those particular drops even more highly prized. Since armor and associated values are also highly treasured by all other tanking classes, expect a bit of a struggle, if you try and ask for special consideration for those items. Please remember that every tank desires those stats as well, and our multiplier does not automatically make any item "Druid Lootz".
The single biggest thematic change, of course, is the addition of Damage Mitigation based on how many people we are partied with.
For armor, we will be using leather items with normalized armor values, and relying on having a full party to make up the lost Damage Mitigation.
Yes, that Mitigation also applies to magic damage. But it is dependant on being in a full party.
I have been quite fond of being able to solo tank as effectively as I group. It lets me test my survivability live, by taking a healer and going to tackle nice big things that hit hard.
I've also been quite fond of being able to go into old world instances, and tank groups rather effectively either as the 'big brother bear' helping my friends' alts, or just as often solo farm an instance recipe or drop.
With this change, it seems to me to make the Feral spec a place where, if you intend to spec as a tank, it will be for the specific purpose of tanking for a group, and not as a comparable option for solo adventuring.
It is almost as though we have been balanced to be the opposite of the classic 'Protection Warrior' comparison. A Protection Warrior has historically soloed with very high survivability, and very low DPS output. Previously, our DPS in Bear form was acknowledged as being deliciously high for tank, with awesome survivability. It feels to me that this is a philosophical response to that situation. Instead of reducing our DPS, it seems they chose to reduce our survivability when soloing as a tank instead.
I'm not upset about it. We have long heard how it was unfair that our Feral spec allowed us to have decent DPS in Cat form AND effectively tank in Bear. I think it's an interesting concept, that they would flip us as the opposite of the warrior, having high DPS but weaker mitigation when soloing.
I'm curious to see how things will eventually balance out. And we will find out very soon, if the flurry of Patch updates are any indication.
I'm personally a bit disappointed that my tanking ability will vary depending on who I happen to be hanging with, but since the key times I will need to tank will legitimately be in full groups, I certainly can't complain. Keep me strong in groups, and make me work for it while soloing, and I'll be quite happy.
More worrisome to me, to be perfectly honest, is that the leather gear with DPS stats I'm seeing in WotLK is almost totally devoid of Intellect. With the corresponding reduction in our mana pool, I am seeing a bleak, manaless future staring us in the face. A future of extremely limited form shifting in combat. And that to me has always been my favorite part of the class; frequent shifting to respond to changing situations.
But that may still change, as well. Let's hold off on the /wrists for a little while longer, okay?
I will say one thing. I've seen two different points of view when it comes to discussions on the future of bear tanking.
On the one hand, there are many Druids that want to make sure their concerns are heard, that we want Feral Druids to be able to successfully tank in WotLK.
And then there are those Druids that want to make sure that Feral Druids will be equally as desired as Main Tanks in comparison to each tanking class for WotLK raids.
These are two very different concerns. Early on, the biggest worry was simply that Bears wouldn't have what it takes to git 'er done.
With the latest playtesting, and the comments by Ghostcrawler, that concern seems to largely have been addressed. It seems clear to me that we will be able to tank, and tank well, in the expansion.
At this point, the ongoing concern is balance with other Tanking classes. Concerns over Threat generation in comparison to other classes with the recent changes to Predatory Instincts no longer applying to Bear form at all, for example. Or whether Bear tanks will still be desired if Warriors now have much greater Mitigation to magical attacks and AoE effects.
The balance issue is the one that is going to be the hardest to address. Perception is as much a part of the equation as actual numbers. Paladins are loved for their 360° Threat generation, and how much of it they can generate in a rapid amount of time. Will a Bear tanks' fun factor and multi-mob Swipe overcome that kind of perception?
It's literally a case of fine tuning at this point, a little nudge up here, a little tweak down there. And test, test, test.
For me, the two biggest questions I had going into this whole thing was; "Will I still be able to effectively tank for my guild. And, will I enjoy it?"
Everyone will have to get their hands on the actual, final results come game day and make up their own mind.
But I feel pretty confident at this point that I will be able to keep on tanking on... and having a blast while doing it.
Here's hoping that all of you Bear tanks in serious raiding guilds will also get what you desire, and will continue to be welcomed as Main Tanks in all the coming new raids!
I will be watching, and hoping, and rooting for your success.
Looking for more Druid goodness? Every week Shifting Perspectives provides you with advice, strats and humor for Druids of all specs. Read our previous rundown of Feral changes in Patch 3.0, or take a look at the lighter side of Druids with having fun with all Druid runs!