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Shifting Perspectives: The rage extends life. The rage must flow.

Allison Robert

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Shifting Perspectives for cat, bear, restoration and balance druids. This Tuesday, fortune favors the furry.

There's been an outbreak of worry among druids concerning the new guardian spec. That's not surprising, as the spec is new, its rotation is different, and bear mechanics got a substantial overhaul as well. Resto wasn't changed anywhere near as much -- indeed, its existing mechanics got easier, leaving us plenty of time to engage in Typhoon Wars with DPS we don't like (more on this when I feel like writing something really, really evil) -- but I think two weeks in a sort of clinic for both specs is warranted.

Bottom line: After the many tweaks it's had on the beta, active mitigation tanking is not as scary as it looks. This is not to say that the bear doesn't have its issues: Arielle outlined several here over on the (Guardian) Consolidated Feedback Thread that you should visit if you want to leave feedback for Blizzard on the problems you're having. But before you do that, let's make sure that the problems you're having can't be fixed some other way.

This, my friends, is your new mantra as you navigate the sociopolitical conflicts of Azeroth:

The rage extends life. The rage must flow.

Arielle recently published an extended guardian druid 5.0.4 guide over at The Inconspicuous Bear's forums. I would highly recommend reading that for an in-depth understanding of what we'll be discussing today.

Help! How do I manage the new rotation?

The new bear rotation is actually pretty simple once you realize that every offensive ability now fits into one of three categories. In descending order of importance:

  • Rage generators Mangle and auto-attack
  • Don't generate rage but have a 25% chance to let you use Mangle Faerie Fire, Lacerate, and Thrash
  • Don't generate rage and do not have a chance to let you use Mangle Swipe and Maul
Rage allows you to use Savage Defense and Frenzied Regeneration, so anything that generates rage, or has a chance to let you use skills that do, is of much higher importance than anything that doesn't. (The rage extends life, we chant. The rage must flow.) Knowing this, the bear single-target "rotation" can be condensed to the following:

  1. Faerie Fire for the pull.
  2. Mangle.
  3. Thrash to get the Weakened Blows debuff running on the boss.
  4. Mangle when it's off cooldown or whenever you get a proc.
  5. While Mangle's on cooldown, use Lacerate and Faerie Fire (in that order). Refresh Thrash as necessary to keep Weakened Blows going.
  6. When you have 60 rage, use Savage Defense. If Savage Defense is on cooldown, use Frenzied Regeneration.
That --once we remove cooldowns and talents from the equation -- is what the bear rotation looks like. I've corrected last week's guide after parking myself in front of a target dummy and confirming that Thrash on cooldown is ultimately a DPS loss.

The rage extends life. The rage must flow.

What about the AOE rotation?

For AOE threat, Thrash and Swipe on cooldown in addition to using Mangle whenever possible. Use Swipe after you've applied Thrash as it deals 20% more damage to bleeding targets, and always prioritize Thrash.

What happened to Maul and Swipe?

Swipe is something you only need to incorporate into the AOE rotation. Remember: Your priority is to use Mangle, or an ability that can proc Mangle, as much as possible. Swipe doesn't qualify, so using it in the single-target rotation will always come at the opportunity cost of rage or potential rage.

For lack of a better way to describe it, Maul is currently an ability in search of a purpose. By definition, you will almost always have a better use for the rage you'd spend on it than additional damage. If you're not actually tanking and are just hitting the boss for funsies, go wild, but you'd be doing more damage in cat. (However, as Reesi observes, if a boss is doing a lot of AOE damage, your healers will like you a lot more if you just stay in bear.)

So that's why hit and expertise are better for us in Mists of Pandaria?

Correct. Every Mangle and auto-attack that hits your target equals rage, which equals survivability. Every Mangle and auto-attack that doesn't hit your target will make your ability to keep Savage Defense running more difficult. Crit has also gotten a lot better (and may even be better than both hit and expertise in MoP, I'm struggling to remember offhand) as a critical strike more than doubles the rage gain from auto-attack and triples it from Mangle.

The rage extends life. The rage must flow.

How do cooldowns fit into all of this?

The interesting part of cooldowns like Incarnation and Berserk is that, while they're nominally offensive cooldowns, they let you generate rage so quickly that they're effectively defensive cooldowns as well. So they, too, have their own categories:
You still want to be hitting Barkskin on cooldown or close to it (depending on the natural ebb and flow of a fight). Survival Instincts and Might of Ursoc should still be used for major boss abilities, during raid emergencies, or when your healers desperately need breathing room. Berserk and Incarnation fare well during burn phases, when an add/adds need to die quickly, or during periods of heavy melee damage. They will allow you to keep Savage Defense at maximum uptime. This is why Incarnation is generally valued higher than either Soul of the Forest or Force of Nature in the same talent bracket, although FoN is still a nifty little talent that has potential on future raid fights if it gets tweaked a bit.

After MoP hits and heroic/raid encounters are stable, we'll revisit the subject of cooldowns and when they'll do you the most good. But remember: A cooldown that you never use is functionally the same as one you don't have at all. Don't worry about using the new stuff at non-optimal times right now. Worry about getting comfortable with them and whatever new keybinds you may be using.

Isn't Savage Defense a gamble compared to other tanks' active mitigation abilities?

Yes and no, weighted heavily towards no.
  • Yes in that the additional 45% chance to dodge from Savage Defense is just that -- an additional 45% chance to dodge. Obviously, that doesn't feel good when you look at the warrior's Shield Block or the paladin's Shield of the Righteous.
  • Yes in that eventually the law of averages will kick in, and some raid boss undergoing genesis in Blizzard's Department of Sadistic Bastards will hit you like a freight train even while Savage Defense is running. Statistically speaking, you're guaranteed at least a few times when you'll blow through 60 rage for absolutely no return on survivability. That sucks.
  • No in that the 45% chance to dodge has an enormous impact on the bear's damage taken. You're likely to sit there dodging massive hits while other tanks are simply reducing the blows.
  • No in that probability is actually on your side more than it's not. If you're worried about the math, look at it this way: You're far more likely to dodge every hit that comes in while Savage Defense is running than you are to eat all of them. The world is unfair, but it's unfair in our favor, which strikes me as eminently fair.
Whether Savage Defense is crap compared to other tanks' active mitigation tools is ultimately a less interesting question than what we should really be worried about.

OK, what should we really be worried about?

The more interesting question is whether Blizzard's programming boss abilities into future raids that will be a poor fit for the guardian's survival mechanics. As of now, the bear doesn't really have a great answer for, say, a significant bleed, or anything that entirely bypasses both armor and dodge. The encounter that comes to mind here is the old Gormok the Impaler in heroic Trial of the Crusader.

The idealist will argue that Blizzard isn't going to program any boss mechanic that's hugely discriminatory to a particular tank's mechanics. The realist will point out that Blizzard has done exactly this on multiple occasions. The histrionic are already rerolling monks or death knights. The Allie is eyeing the departure scan on a shipment of cough syrup leaving Amazon's warehouse in Kentucky.

And on that note ...

Blizzard is looking into warrior and druids on the beta right now. Ghostcrawler observed that, "At the moment DKs and Brewmasters require too little healing and warriors and druids require too much." One of the proposed solutions is improving warrior and druid rage generation, which is good news for all those of us who have paid attention to this column's, shall we say, leitmotif.

The rage extends life, chants a legion of advancing, cold-eyed bears. The rage must flow.

Shifting Perspectives: Bear and Resto Edition takes a peek at healer balance in Dragon Soul, discovers why bears and PvP gear are a pretty good mix, lends advice on gearing up to hit the Raid Finder, and helps you level a druid in the Cataclysm era.

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