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Shifting Perspectives: Bear 101

Allison Robert

Every week, Shifting Perspectives explores issues affecting druids and those who group with them. This week, we rage against the dying of the light, the nearest raid boss, and the Gunship battle chest until it barfs up a Corpse Tongue Coin.

UPDATE: This article has now been updated for Cataclysm as of January 2011. Please go
here for the new Cataclysm bear 101 guide!

Titles rejected for inclusion in Shifting Perspectives this week: Editors: You tried to use that last week.
Allison: They still suck.

As with our other 101 articles, I'm addressing this to people with no prior knowledge of the spec who want the tools to become reasonably competent tanks quickly. By necessity, that means we're going to gloss over a few finer points (particularly with respect to cooldown usage and pulling); this is a cheat sheet, not an encyclopedia. If you think I've skipped past something truly important, please drop a comment and I'll direct readers to anything they need to know.

1. What is bear?

Bear is a sub-spec of the feral tree allowing the druid to tank.

2. The bear's advantages
  • The highest average health of all four tanking classes, and the highest average effective health before cooldowns.
  • Excellent single-target threat and decent, spammable AoE threat.
  • Traditionally a high-damage tank.
  • The only tank with a cooldown usable while stunned or otherwise incapacitated (Barkskin).
  • Fear immunity/break on a 3-minute cooldown (Berserk).
  • Immune to polymorph, seduce, and disarm (more accurately, the worst effect of disarm).
  • Able to supply an improved attack power reduction, Faerie Fire, Mangle's bleed debuff, a debuff to boss/mob attack speed (Infected Wounds), and a raid healing buff (Improved Leader of the Pack).
  • When not required to tank, can shift to cat to generate more damage.
  • As with all druids, can supply Tranquility, Innervate, and a battle rez to the raid (although bears are generally the least able to do so at any given time).
  • The tank of choice for thoroughly awesome people.
3. The bear's disadvantages:
  • Bears are the only tank without a ranged silence, which makes pulling and positioning caster mobs a messy affair. I liked Priest With A Cause's recent take on this -- "Druids (are) still stuck having to make line of sight pulls, in a world where every other tanking class (has gotten) the DPS used to the idea that strategies like that are obsolete."
  • Lackluster cooldowns. While Survival Instincts mirrors the warrior's Last Stand ability, Barkskin is among the weakest damage-reduction cooldowns in the arsenal of all four tanks. This is problematic on encounters with boss abilities designed around the use of stronger cooldowns.
  • Due to stamina's impact on survivability and the stat's abundance on PvP gear, it is not unusual for high-level arena pieces to play starring roles on best-in-slot lists.
  • Boring "rotation" in 5-mans, which often devolves into Swipe and Maul spam to stay ahead of the AoE threat generated by geared DPS.
  • No burst AoE threat outside of a 3-minute cooldown (Berserk).
  • Druids face more competition for gear than any other tank.
  • Static form design. Once you get Bear Form at level 10, that's what you're going to look like for the rest of the game.
Many of these issues have previously been covered in a Shifting Perspectives article on "The disappearance of the bear." The good news is that Blizzard is well aware of all of them, and has expressed interest in altering some for Cataclysm. Ghostcrawler has noted their desire to change the bear's less-than-engaging rotation.

4. Stats to look for:
  • Stamina: Hands-down more important than anything else, stamina gives you health -- and you're going to need a lot of it. For better or worse, we are still designed around soaking rather than mitigating or avoiding certain boss abilities.
  • Agility: The bear's other best stat, agility will give you armor, crit, and dodge.
  • Expertise: Expertise reduces the mob's ability to dodge or parry your attacks. The latter is particularly important versus mobs with the parry-haste mechanic, wherein a mob that successfully parries an attack will hit you faster on the next blow. You will need 26 expertise (the soft cap) to push all dodges off the mob's hit table, and 56 expertise (the hard cap) to push all dodge and parries off. Beyond 56, you will get no benefit from expertise.
  • Hit: Hit increases the chance for your attacks to land, and also increases the chance that your Growl (taunt) will land. While threat generation is not expressly designed around being hit-capped, a bear with little to no +hit will have difficulty holding aggro against geared DPS. The hit cap versus a level 83 mob is 262.
  • Crit: You'll really have more than enough crit from the agility on your gear, but raw crit is a nice bonus. Crit contributes to rage generation and Savage Defense procs.
5. Stats that aren't as good:
  • Defense: With 3/3 Survival of the Fittest, you do not need any +defense to be immune to a mob's chance to crit (a boss mob, which is always assumed to be 3 levels higher than a capped player, has a 5.6% chance to crit you). That doesn't mean that +defense is worthless -- you'll be wearing a lot of +defense pieces anyway, and our avoidance actually scales better with +defense than agility past a certain point -- but it is not crucial for bears the way it is for plate tanks.
  • Parry: We are unable to parry. While pieces with +parry are sometimes good for us, you should not take them ahead of a plate tank.
  • Block: We are unable to block. As with +parry, some +block pieces are good for us, but you should not take them ahead of a plate tank.
6. Typical PvE talent setup:

This is a good all-purpose build giving you everything you need. Dedicated bears often run two talent builds that swap talents in and out as required for raid composition. See our talent overview on the next page for discussion of talents you may wish to add or drop subject to individual circumstances. Thatgrimguy's sticky on the official druid forums also contains a series of links to alternative bear builds.

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