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Shifting Perspectives: Bear druids in patch 4.0.1, part 2

Allison Robert

Lacerate Lacerate's undergone a lot of changes. While it was always a pseudo-Devastate in the sense of being a filler skill with a stacking debuff, as of the latest build, the developers have increased its initial damage by 200 percent and de-emphasized its bleed damage. Now, it's closer to Devastate than it's ever been. That's actually a good fit for the mechanics of both Pulverize and the new version of Berserk, and a not-so-good fit for the rest of the tree. The bear plays like it's got one foot in The Burning Crusade and one foot in the protection warrior spec as a result.

Pulverize I go back and forth on the merits of Pulverize a lot. For its admittedly brief existence, it's been more irritation than benefit. It still hits with all the force of an emo teen denied tickets to a Radiohead concert (at level 85 with around 6,400 attack power, give or take some Vengeance stacks, it's hitting for 2,900 on average -- and that's Pulverizing three Lacerates). It costs you a full Lacerate stack in return for what's now 6 percent crit.

Thing is, I can see what Pulverize is trying to do, and it's a unique and interesting angle for a tank. But under the current design, it means you devote a lot of global cooldowns and attention to something that under the worst of circumstances won't happen at all and under the best of circumstances has minimal impact on both your survivability and threat.

Maul Usable only every 3 seconds, but an instant attack off the global cooldown. Strictly speaking, you can still macro it to other abilities if you want, but you'll find yourself with an empty rage bar if you do. Maul remains a great skill for threat, but don't use it for anything other than a rage dump.

Bash No real changes, although Brutal Impact is a far more accessible skill in a tanking build now than it's historically been. Mercifully, no longer our only option for shutting down a pesky caster.

Berserk Still the same deal we've got on live, barring the very nice benefit to Mangle described above. I still think it would be really cool to get the Bestial Wrath animation for this.

Skull Bash An interrupt that's not also a stun. It's off the global cooldown, and it'll get you in a mob's face to boot. What's not to love?

Frenzied Regeneration This is now basically Survival Instincts with a self-healing effect, unless you've got it glyphed. I would not necessarily recommend doing so for the leveling process or 5-mans. In raids it might be worthwhile, but healers are still really struggling with mana and the self-heal still feels too valuable to give up.

Enrage The 10 percent increase in physical damage taken is ... well, not the most inspiring thing ever. It won't be an immediate concern for anyone rocking the tier 10 bonus, but once you start dumping your Icecrown epics (and you'll be dumping all but the cloak faster than you'd think), Enrage will become more problematic. Allow me to vouch for the fact that healers will hate you for causing yourself unnecessary damage, and that's why players have asked for the debuff to take long walk off a short pier.

Barkskin All I can say is I'm amazed this hasn't been nerfed yet, although I've wondered if the masteries of shield tanks (and the unfortunate RNG element of our own) will scale to the point that we're balanced around having to use Barkskin on cooldown rather than using it on big boss abilities. Not that Barkskin was ever great for big boss abilities -- but it was a nice gesture.

Survival Instincts I've wondered for a while if we'd ever get a beefy, reassuring "I want to live!" damage reduction cooldown akin to Shield Wall, and here it is. Actually, you could argue we needed it for Cataclysm anyway in the event that huge tank cooldowns are still needed, because the present version of Survival Instincts is a terrible fit for an expansion with such reduced mana efficiency among the heal team.

Thrash Yeah, I'm cheating a little bit here. You won't get Thrash until level 81, which the keen-eyed observer will note is somewhat difficult even for ambitious players in patch 4.0.1. Nevertheless, it'll form an indispensable part of both your single-target and AoE threat in Cataclysm, and with Swipe's new cooldown, we're going to feel its absence, even though we've never had it on the live servers.

When all's said and done, I think ferals would probably benefit from another tango with the class designers to see if some skills can be shuffled to earlier levels. The bear still spends the vast, uncomfortable majority of its leveling existence Mangling things it can't actually put a bleed on.

Thorns It's good threat if you cast it on cooldown -- which, as a bear druid, you will almost certainly not be doing. It's somewhat disheartening that the only druid spec to get much PvE use out of the new Thorns is the only one that can't really use it. Actually, that's not fair to our caster brethren either; as Tyler observed in his look at moonkin in 4.0.1, Thorns is nastily expensive. I'd moved it to a convenient hotkey for use on tanks in 5-mans, looked at how much mana it cost to use as a resto druid (6,708 mana out of an unbuffed mana pool of about 51K) and then hastily moved it off my bars.

What spec should I use?

I'm not sure it's worth our time to discuss potential tanking specs, as talents will almost certainly change again before patch 4.0.1 hits, but this is a tentative bear build I'm looking at for level 80. However, there are two problems with it from a raid tank's perspective:
  • You will be forced to put a point somewhere in Fury Swipes, Predatory Strikes, Nurturing Instinct, King of the Jungle or Blood in the Water in order to get Berserk. If you're just looking for a talent that'll have some appreciable impact on tanking, Fury Swipes or King of the Jungle are your only two options. If you have four-piece tier 10, I would go with KotJ; if you don't (or once you break it), I'd go with Fury Swipes.
  • No 3/3 Perseverance and no way to get it at 80.

Bear glyphs are, to be charitable, a mess right now, and I can't really give you much advice. We do not have any real tank-oriented prime glyphs at the moment, and our major glyphs are restricted to a nerfed Maul and the often less-than-useful Frenzied Regeneration. Blizzard isn't done with the glyph system right now, so we'll keep an eye on that.

Every week, Shifting Perspectives treks across Azeroth in pursuit of truth, beauty and insight concerning the druid class. Whether you're a bear, cat, moonkin, tree or stuck in caster form, we've got the skinny, from a look at the disappearance of the bear tank to thoughts on why you should be playing the class (or why not).

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