Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Hibernation of Style

One of my biggest complaints about playing a Druid is that when I tank, I have to have a gigantic furry bear ass filling my screen, and trust me, when you're backed into a corner while tanking, it really IS what you see.

At level 10, I was excited and pleased to be able to transform into my first animal, a bear. I was sturdier and it was a lot of fun and whetted my appetite for my panther form to come at 20.

On my way to 20, Bear form was really of limited use (I did this prior to the 1.8 feral overhaul), but I used it. I wasn't fond of the visual, but I figured, "I won't be spending all my time in that form!"

How wrong I was.

As it happens, I am only effective when in a form. The same applies to dps Druids (whether Cat or Moonkin) and healers (Tree of Life, to be sure). So when we play, we look like fat-assed bears, purple panthers, malnourished saplings or giant laser-chickens from space. In and of itself, this is not a problem. We're turning into something, after all. Animals or laser chickens or trees.

The problem comes, especially for Ferals, in that you spend all your playtime in this form. At least Balance and Restoration Druids have some of their leveling time able to see their character and that character's gear, but even they eventually find that all their time is spent in a single form in order to do their job.

Maybe that's the real reason for the popularity of a Dreamstate healing build.

Regardless, one of the fun things about all of the MMOs I've played is the ability to play dress up. I know that sounds silly but hear me out.

One of the draws of this sort of game for me and for many others, is the ability to take on this fantastic persona, to pretend to be a different person with pointy ears and massive swords and particle effects, maybe a different race or gender. As characters in these games progress, the gear they wear gets progressively more spectacular. It is used as a gauge of competence, bragging rights, and personal vanity. It is integral to the experience of the game.

Sadly, Druids largely miss out on this unless they want to spend a lot of time standing around posing for the masses. Aside from speccing Dreamstate Healer, though, Druids can - and typically do - spend the vast majority of their playtime looking just as they did at level 10. They look about enviously as their compatriots get neater and neater gear they get to adventure in while they wonder if some epic waterproofing gel will drop for their fur, feathers, or bark.

Are there solutions to this? Most likely.

First, find a way to display armor on a Druid in forms.

This is likely the most problematic. In spite of watching the Golden Compass and wondering why I can't have badass bear armor like that I understand that Malorne shoulders might be hard to skin onto the bear model and if a healer dropped into Bear while wearing the Panties of the Naaru* they might look a bit silly.

It would require the most effort from the art team and is hence the least likely option.

At least one friend of mine said that it would also put more strain on the systems running the game by bumping the models per zone...but I see so many effects and models and such that I have a hard time buying that.

So what about basing appearance on level, and at 70, changing appearance based on total iLevel of the gear worn by the Druid?

This enforces some standards while still allowing a form of progression.

Suppose every 10 levels, each form gets an overhaul with flashier effects or more accoutrements and so on. Who wouldn't want their bear to look something like this?

Then at 70, certain iLevel totals would be assigned a new look, allowing for Druids to continue progression of appearance just like other characters busily fighting for life and loot.

Additionally, this provides quick identification of a Druid's potential capability, something you can eyeball with any other class in Arenas and BGs.

A third option would be allowing Druids to, at the point of getting each new form, to select the animal they like from a list. While the least capable of fulfilling the request, it would be the easiest to implement. Beasts already have models and animations necessary for their use and it'd be easy to slap a Druid sigil on their shoulders for identification.

For example, Bear form could be re-described as Tank form with Dire Bear becoming Dire Tank. Players could select a Brown Bear, Polar Bear, Boar, Turtle or Crocolisk. At 40 with Dire Bear, they could again select from this list, but with larger and possibly slightly more ornate versions of those animals. True ambition might include a Worgen as an option...but that one could wear gear...and show weapon animations...gah, I'm getting sidetracked.

Cat form could be re-labeled Melee form. Options would include the standard panther, snow leopards (yay!), raptors, spiders, lions, wolves, or hyenas.

Travel form would include the standard cheetah, foreststriders, talbuks and so on.

Aquatic form seems pretty self explanatory.

Moonkin could be given the option of selecting a furbolg or maybe one of those big trolls from ST.

Trees of Life...treants or small ancients?

Sadly even this option would require a rather sizable code implementation that is unlikely to ever occur.

Until and unless we see a new form or WoW 2.0, I seriously doubt that Druids will look any different at 80 with Wrath of the Lich King than they do now at 70, or than they did at 60, or 50, or 40...you get the picture.

So there you have it. The real reason Druids whine...we don't get to look as cool as you.

*Not that there's anything wrong with the Panties of the Naaru.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Heresy in the Woods

So apparently the official forum search function blows today. Therefore you'll have to take my word on the following statement:

It is generally considered that the Wildfury Greatstaff is better than the Earthwarden for tanking.

When my guild went on their first trip into Serpentshrine Cavern, I wasn't able to go, but another Feral Druid did. While she was there, the Greatstaff dropped for her. She linked it and all were happy.

I checked it out (as I couldn't remember the stats on it at the time), and I came to the realization that I didn't really want it. For months and months I've been reading from other Druid tanks that this is the best tanking stick they've found and many claim to have vendored their Earthwarden within moments of leaving the Caverns.

People that speak in favor of the Earthwarden are frequently belittled and marginalized.

The thing I can't understand is: why?

I understand it brings significant dodge, that it has almost 500 more health than the Earthwarden, and that it's significantly more Feral AP. These are all good things for a tank.

When I considered what I'd lose, though, I couldn't bring myself to use it as my tanking stick.

First and foremost is the Defense rating. While a great many Druids are engaging in PvP for the Resilience gear with high armor and mitigation stats, not all do. I am doing some arenas for gear (as my Armory likely shows), but this really only reinforces my point. There just isn't enough other gear in the game to abandon a stick like the Earthwarden without very careful consideration. For a PvE-only Druid, there is no other viable option for this slot if you are using the Defense.

Before 2.3, there was Feral Combat Skill, but since that's no longer in place, we'll deal with its replacement, Expertise.

My GM is a tank and as such we occasionally lament tanking issues. One thing that both of us agreed was extremely high on our wishlist for tanking gear was +Hit. Now, with recent additions to the game via Heroic gear and Feral PvP-re-itemization, there's a lot more of that available than there has been in the past. That said, the Expertise on the Earthwarden is extremely appealing in spite of it.

Expertise provides a reduction of 0.25% per point to your target's chance to dodge or parry attacks. Earthwarden has an Expertise rating of 24, which becomes an Expertise of 6. -1.25% chance for all my targets to dodge or parry when I tank.

Best of all, it's immune to Defense skill. That's HUGE.

I'm not sure I can express how vital this is especially if you deal with undisciplined dps or run Heroics where healing aggro (due to the major heals required) can be fatal to your lifeline, your healer.

The Wildfury Greatstaff gives me none of that. There are times, no matter how rare they appear to various individuals, when that missed attack can mean the difference between keeping aggro and losing it to someone that can't survive the attention.

So in spite of the dodge and health buff, the rest of my gear isn't yet at the point where swapping out the Earthwarden for the Greatstaff makes any sense. Until I do some math with a gear list, I'm not sure that day will ever come. I'm incredibly durable as it is, and while I never scoff at mitigation stats, I've come to realize that there are some items that may - at first - look outdated, but that retain value due to factors often overlooked.

I tend to think back to when people were complaining in the early days of the Burning Crusade that the Kara epics were sidegrades rather than upgrades for the lion's share of gear. Back then I learned to realize some rares were better than epics and that's a philosophy I'm trying to hold to. Just because the iLevel is higher doesn't mean the item is necessarily statted appropriately.

Maybe I'll use the Greatstaff for a resist fight but I can't see any other place for it right now. For me, the Earthwarden has a continuing role as my primary tanking stick.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Heroic-Sized Ursine...

...it still comes with fries.

So wow. After all my bitching and whining about terrible idols...very little has changed. On the other hand, everything has changed. Things are looking better for Bear Tank itemization.

First of all, with the publication of 2.3 to the PTR, we have a plethora of new gear available for Badges of Justice. One of them...wait for it...is an idol. A tanking appropriate idol. I very nearly fainted from excitement when I saw it.

So here's a quick look at some of the gear a Bear Tank may be interested in with some comments and maybe a few comparisons.

Let's start with the big news, the Idol.

The Idol of Terror now stands as my newest best target for badges. While the 85% proc rate being reported seems a bit over the top the linked page shows several mitigating factors. Still, 4.4% dodge and about 3.25% crit - even with unreliable uptime - is a monstrous buff both to mitigation and threat. I'm guessing all the popular Bears will be wearing this the day the patch launches. After all, it's only 20 badges!

While this is less an actual fix to general itemization, it sure does take some of the sting out of it. This is a good idol that still uses the design conceit of 1-2 narrowly focused abilities being buffed.

Next up, for a mere 35 badges, is Slikk's Cloak of Placation. Now the name is bizarre and several jokes have already been made about placating the Bears, but the stats on this are...nice. Very nice, making this an outstanding alternative to the Illhoof cape.

The new cape offers somewhat lower armor and Defense, but adds 7 STA and 25 Dodge rating. While Agility would have been preferrable, this cloak can still stand up as a very fine tanking cloak, especially for those unable to readily access and defeat Illhoof.

According to some, if you don't need the Defense Rating it's even better than Illhoof's.

Next up is the second 35 badge item, the Band of the Swift Paw. Sporting more armor, Strength, Agility, and Stamina than either of the other PvE alternatives (Umberhowl's Collar or Forestheart Bracers), this is a clear upgrade that I'd recommend to any Bear tank. It has 6 less Int than the Forestheart (Oh Noes!) but sports a Yellow socket for added customizability.

Now come the pricey items.

Earlier, I discussed some boot options you could go for should you find you don't need the Def from the HCH boots. Two options were from Kara, and another was a Heroic drop. I don't know about you, but my luck with Heroic drops is pretty spotty. I got my Forestwalker Kilt my first trip to the Mana Tombs, but I haven't been able to score the Heroic Ramparts belt for anything.

Coming up are the Footwraps of Wild Encroachment. These are so far and away better than the Barkchip Boots that it is more appropriate to compare them to the Treads of the Den Mother.

Now, no one can realistically argue that the badge boots are better, but they're FAR easier to obtain and can be socketed to grant more health than the LW alternative, or may be socketed for Defense should a Bear find themselves short. Very nice. If I can make up the Defense elsewhere, I'll be upgrading to these.

Right now, I'm wearing the lovely quested Manimal's Cinch. In Heroic Ramparts, there is the Tree-Mender's Belt. With 2.3, we're getting the Waistguard of the Great Beast.

Setting aside that it's socketable and a clear upgrade in every way from the green item and in many ways to the epic drop, this thing has +Hit on it. Many many times I have lamented the lack of +Hit on my tanking gear. A few unlucky misses at the beginning of a pull coupled wtih dps that won't wait or feels that it's somehow your fault you can't hold aggro when they're the only ones hitting something and you immediately start wondering if you can swap in some Cat gear instead of mitigation gear.

Never fear, 60 Badges of Justice will get you what you need! It isn't a lot, but it's something and I'm taking it.

Finally, there is one rather questionable item. The Vestments of Hibernation. Obviously a dps piece, it may tempt people with its high armor to think that it is a viable tanking piece. I'd advise against that line of thinking. If you're well geared enough to not need the stamina a real tanking chest would provide, then you likely don't need the armor or other stats from this item either. Still, I can see there may be setups where it becomes viable to use this, and lets face it...sometimes you just want out of your last few blues.

On the plus side, this can make a very nice chest piece for Cat to Bear work. That isn't common but it does happen and it's nice to be geared for the eventuality should you find that's something you encounter with any frequency.

Sadly, this is one slot where I almost have to advise you to hit the Arenas to find an upgrade from HCH if you haven't managed to get the T4 alternative or, like me, don't stand a good chance of doing so in the forseeable future.

But lets suppose I manage to upgrade my belt and bracers as noted above. Gemming the way I do (all Solid Stars) this nets me +46 Stamina. Switching to the Vestments, I actually gain 1 Stam over what I have now. Hmmm...

While I don't like dumping Stamina gained, I sport a large health pool as it is, and the added mitigation and threat from this item...is tempting. Maybe it's a tanking chest after all...

I can make up the lost Def with enchantments for my head and shoulder slots.

If, however, I decide to swap out my boots instead while using the Defense enchants, I gain significanly in mitigation and lose a mere 2 Stamina. I'll have to sit down and do some math on which option is better.

One thing I've learned is that sometimes, making a sacrifice of Stamina is required for a nice upgrade in other areas. That said, give yourself a benchmark to operate from, a minimum you won't fall below while gearing and go from there. For me, that's 14k Health in Dire Bear while only self-buffed.

However, it looks like one way or another unless I grab a piece of PvP gear, I'll be stuck with at least one piece of HCH for some time to come. Now to farm up 285 badges...and that doesn't even count the dps gear I want.

Hmmm...this blog isn't running the way I wanted it to. I'll tell a story next time...or something.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Baseline Bear...Freebase Feral?

I just had to plug this because it cracked me up:

Valenna the Rogue Tank!

I'm going to have to whip up a Rogue tanking talent spec soon.

In the meantime, what are the mandatory talents for a Bear?

It is often said that Druids are overpowered due to our Feral tree combining our Cat DPS options with our Bear tanking options. Disregarding two mostly separate gearsets and competition for the DPS one, what ARE the differences between a Cat and Bear spec?

Maybe rather than do a spec comparison, I'll outline the baseline talents any good Bear should have and why, before discussing some of the optional talents.

First of all, let's cover the counter-intuitive: the Restoration Tree.

For any serious Feral Druid, this part of their spec will look extremely similar. There are only 3 requirements, though.

First is Furor. Valuable for both specs, it grants a much needed resource immediately upon shifting. You cannot - I repeat: cannot - skip this one. If you do, you will find yourself lacking in situations where you need that resource, be it Rage or Energy.

Next is Naturalist. I cannot count the number of new Druids that stop reading at "Reduces the cast time of your Healing Touch..." The critical part is the 10% damage boost you can get from this talent when specced 5/5. Damage is what Cats are all about, and Bears use it to generate threat. Critical talent.

Finally there's Omen of Clarity. Regardless of its proc-rate, any clear-casting effect is a good one, and that this applies specifically to melee attacks makes it a vital tool for holding aggro and dishing pain.

Now, this isn't all you'll find here of value for the Feral. Two other choices present themselves but both are purely optional.

Some Ferals like picking up Intensity to further the Hybrid nature of the Druid class. After all, Naturalist boosts healing power and Intensity provides that all-valuable mana regeneration, further boosting healing power.

Personally, I like to Power-Shift. What's that? Well, it's popping into caster and back into Cat or Bear for the Rage or Energy. When I'm scratching things with wild abandon, sometimes it's faster to shift out and back for Energy than to wait for the ticks. In Bear it's trickier. Still, it's doable with macros and more practically, between pulls. Both of these habits make Natural Shapeshifter a happy target for my talent points. I can also state with no apologies that many times I've only been able to shift at a critical point due to this talent. Maybe Intensity works just as well, though.

So on to Feral.

At Tier 1, Feral Aggression is crap. No druid interested in DPS will be using Ferocious Bite over Rip...maybe a PvP Feral but we aren't dealing with masochists in this post. The Demoralizing Roar boost looks impressive, but when you realize that it only boosts the AP reduction from 240 to 336, it becomes an obvious waste for Bears.

The obvious choice then, is Ferocity. Reductions in costs are always nice to have.

In Tier 2, the critical choices are Feral Instinct and Thick Hide. Feral Instinct gives us the threat modifiers we need to stay competitive with Protection Warriors. This is a talent you cannot skip.

Thick Hide may not look like much, but as Druids cannot mitigate Crushing Blows in any practical way, high armor is the only avenue we have to minimize the impact when we take one. Someday, when your armor gets to insane totals, you can spec out of this, but most of us reap significant benefit from armor increases. Don't forget, if you have 4000 armor from items in caster form, when you shift to Dire Bear this talent will net you over 2000 more total armor. That's big.

Tier 3 is all mandatory for a serious Bear Tank. Feral Swiftness adds mitigation through dodge (critical since we cannot parry or block). Feral Charge emulates a Warrior's Charge and Intercept abilities in one beautiful talent. This talent alone is what made me a viable off-tank for Gruul.

Sharpened Claws, like Naturalist, may appear to be more of a dps talent than one for tanking. Remember, damage=threat. While our reliance on damage for threat has gone down, it hasn't gone away, but most importantly for this talent is how we use it with the subsequently available Tier 4 talent, Primal Fury.

Primal Fury gives a 50/100% chance to gain 5 rage on a critical strike. So yeah, you guessed it, Bears want Agility not just for the mitigation. Bears want to be crit monkeys for the Rage generation, too.

Predatory Strikes has value not just for opening later talents, but because added AP is added dps is added threat. Savage Fury is valuable for the same reason*.

Feral Faerie Fire is one that might be contested, but here's why I think it's valuable: If you have a significant rage bar (i.e. more than 10 Rage) it can be advantageous to pull from Dire Bear form. Feral Faerie Fire allows this option to be practiced at range. While pulling with Moonfire or Starfire/Moonfire and then switching to Bear will usually offer more inital threat, having a viable pool to work with can make a FFF pull from Dire Bear more feasible. The lowered armor on the target is gravy.

Now we get to the juicy stuff.

First is Heart of the Wild. In Dire Bear this is a 20% Stamina buff. Coupled with the natural 25% boost, this talent is what gives Bears their reputation for crazy health totals. The bigger cushion you can provide your healers, the better off everyone is.

Next is the talent that enables us to stare a raid boss in the face: Survival of the Fittest. 3% to all attributes is nice, and can't be overlooked, but the real reason we all take this is for the Crit reduction. This provides 3% to our ability to avoid critical hits, meaning we only have to make up another 2.6% crit reduction through gear in order to stand toe to toe with a Level 73 Big Bad. Given the horrific Defense itemization in leather, this talent is not optional.

I've seen a few Druids that skip it and go full Resilience, but I have no idea how it works in practice to do that. I wouldn't recommend it, offhand.

Leader of the Pack. Crit crit crit. Not only does this help your rage generation, but it helps dpsers in your groups dish more damage. Coupled with Improved Leader of the Pack and you even show up on the healing meters! It isn't much, but sometimes that little bit of healing is all the cushion your Healer needs to keep up or avoid catastrophe.

Predatory Instincts offers two bonuses. One is to damage and threat. Like the other talents of this nature, it doesn't seem like much by itself, but look at all the other things we've done to increase our damage on the way up this ladder and you can see that the additive benefit is impressive. The secondary benefit is in the avoidance of AoE effects. It isn't much, but given the damage potential of some AoE effects, PI can be a life saver.

Last, but certainly not least, is Mangle. In Cat this replaces Claw. For that alone it's worth having. But in Dire Bear, when tanking, it becomes even more fun. First, it's instant. On a 6 second cooldown, the instant nature of it offsets the percieved drawbacks because unlike Maul, it won't be spending rage on a swing you could be generating it. It's cost can be additionally mitigated by the significant chance that it will crit, resulting in an effectively reduced rage cost for significantly more damage and threat. It also has the relatively minimal benefit of boosting Lacerate damage.

Rogues, however, will love you. Those that pay attention will throw bleeds on any target sporting a Mangle debuff...and EVERY Bear Tank's target sports this debuff...or should.

Bleeds already ignore armor, and this adds 30% to their damage potential. The magnitude of that benefit cannot be understated.

So after all this, you'll still have 8 unspent talent points. What do you do with them? Well, ideally, you should have some ideas and it will depend on how much time you forsee either healing or spending in Cat form.

If you're like me, you might decide that tanking really IS what you want and will work to maximize that with talents like Natural Shapeshifter for power-shifting, or Primal Tenacity for Stun and Fear resistance. Brutal Impact is also popular.

If you are looking for more Cat time, Brutal Impact is still good, and some PvPers find value in Nurturing Instinct. But if you're going to spend a lot of time in Cat, you'll want Shredding Attacks. Certainly there is some Bear benefit there, but the advantages it provides to a Feral dpsing in raids is measurable. Smarter people than I have done the math on it, but if you're a serious Cat, don't skip this one**.

So for the record, this is what I think the baseline Bear spec should look like, leaving 8 points for customization: BEAR TANK MINIMUM SPEC

As always, feel free to pick and choose, and not every talent will work for every person dependent on skill level, gearing, and situation, but this seems to be the best baseline I can find, the most universal and utilitarian.

* Savage Fury used to add to Bear talents as well as Cat and I wrote this with that still in my head, even though it's been quite some time since that was true. One of my readers pointed out that it's a Cat-only talent. So it is!

** The same reader that caught my Savage Fury error pointed out that in that light, Shredding Attacks becomes a more baseline talent for a Bear. Any and all Rage adjustments are valued to a tank, and since we use Lacerate as one of our staple moves (even on non-bleeding mobs), this shouldn't be overlooked. In fact, I need to go respec. =P

Thursday, September 27, 2007

What Not to Wear

Last night I was priveleged to be with my guild for yet another downing of Gruul the Dragonkiller. I get swapped into raids when people need to leave since I rarely make start times, but I'm okay with this. I do what I can.

Long story short, we got him after several attempts (we seem to only marshall ourselves after several wipes to a big bad and then go, 'Okay, this is our last shot for tonight' which true to tradition, worked again last night).

I was the lucky Druid to score the Leggings of the Fallen Defender. Afterward, a quick trip to the Scryer terrace and the Greaves of Malorne were mine! Finally, if and when I upgrade to T5, I won't lose my T4 2-piece bonus!

But wait...is all as rosy as it could be?

As anyone who knows me can attest, I'm a Stamina whore. For a very long time, I stacked Stamina and little else in an effort to exploit the strengths of my class as a tank. I couldn't do anything about Crushing Blows, so I decided to stack Armor and Health. Many Bears prefer AGI and the dodge and crit it brings, but I've always looked at that more as a luxury for the mostly or all-epic Bear. I still wear quite a bit of Blue.

As a result, I wore my Heavy Clefthoof Leggings for a long time, and every gem socket I have is packed with a Solid Star of Elune.

This gave me roughly insane health totals, especially when raid buffed. I was a happy and contented Bear.

But when I got a new cloak with Defense on it and realized I could get rid of a different piece of gear with Defense on it, I picked my legs and got myself a Forestwalker Kilt. The gods of the random number generator smiled on me and I got it on my first trip to Heroic Mana Tombs. I was ecstatic. Not only did I get a pair of legs that only minimally dropped my armor and Stamina (these things have 3 sockets on them, after all) but they added threat and mitigation through STR and AGI. Hell, I even got a small INT boost for my feral mana pool.

In all, very nice.

I was wearing these up until last night, when I got the Greaves. After kitting them with a Nethercleft Armor Kit (still need a Nether for that), I'll be losing even more Stamina (21 points to be exact, as I've Netherclefted the Kilt), but I'll be gaining significantly in Armor (around 900 in Dire Bear, putting me just shy of 30k), and a small amount of AP, dodge, and crit.

It is an upgrade given that the Stam I'm giving up isn't even a single trash mob hit, but sometimes that sliver of health is what gives your healers time to catch up, that proves the difference between surival and wipe.

But...and there's always a but...the added survivability from Armor and AGI are also impressive. I'm too lazy to do the math, so instead, I'll be keeping my Kilt (and indeed I have yet to dispose of my HCH pants) for Stamina fights, fights where perhaps I don't have the best resist gear, but where my armor and dodge are less valuable.

Once again, the upgrade involves more of a consideration of playstyle and situation than in the past game, perhaps adjusting that playstyle to fit the gear. But it is also in part, a significant source of the fun in that there are so many factors to consider.

Plus, I'm out of my skirt...for now.

Monday, September 24, 2007

False Idols

Once upon a time, there was a set of classes that could neither use nor equip weapons in their ranged slot. No wands, no guns, bows or crossbows, no throwing knives or axes or anything of the sort was to be found on these characters.

Thematically it seemed appropriate that a Paladin would not carry a gun, that a Druid would not draw a wand, and a Shaman would not string a bow...right?

Well, no, it never made any sense at all.

At the time, all three classes were fairly marginalized and shoehorned into end-game healing and cleansing and buffing. They got cast-off gear and their class sets were all specifically healing sets.

Prior to the advent of the Burning Crusade, however, the change was made to allow these classes to equip certain items in the ranged slot. This became known as the relic slot for them and allowed them to equip Librams, Idols, and Totems.

There was much rejoicing, even if the best Resto Idol was from the Dungeon 2 quest chain and the stats on them were singular. Oddest of all was the fact that so few of them existed.

Time progressed and more relics were introduced to cover the roles, thus removing any concern for this previously unused slot.

Originally the Idol of Brutality provided a reduced Rage cost for bear tanks. Not long after, itemization changes were made and Burning Crusade launched and the Idol found itself in its current state. Speculation and, I believe, CM comments stated that it was to ensure that there were idols worth upgrading to over the next 10 levels.

Unfortunately, nothing has surfaced that really replaces the idol.

I am a Bear tank and I have had this idol since I was 60. I still use this idol. Certainly the Idol of the Wild is an option but the biggest reason to talk about it at all is to discuss what's wrong with hybrid itemization.

Each of the Idols available to Druids give a single bonus to 1 or at most 2 abilities. The Paladin Librams and Shaman Totems are similar.

On the surface this may not seem to be a big deal, but consider what other classes can gain from these slots, even if they never attack with the weapon in question.

It is generally held that the Idol of Brutality is the best general tanking idol available due primarily to the Swipe bonus (swipe threat was nerfed hard not long ago).

Looking just at guns, I found the following items requiring level 70 and having Stamina on them. This list does not include ranged weapons 'of the Champion' or in other flavors.

Jumping out at me are two options. First is the Gyro-Balanced Khorium Destroyer, a weapon with 27 Stamina and a Yellow socket with a Stamina socketing bonus. Almost better is The Boomstick, a weapon with 21 Stamina and 13 Defense! Now, one is expensive and craftable and the other is a Heroic drop that only unlocks with a Druid that has done or is doing the epic flight form quest, but the fact remains that these are options Druid tanks do not have.

Ranged sockets serve as stat blocks and secondary attribute boosters to every class but 3, who make do with boosts to individual abilities more often than not, abilities that are often not necessarily the best choice.

When the Idols sported +50 to Rejuv or -3 Rage pre-Burning Crusade, they were amazing and justified the focused itemization. Now, however, Druid tanks are still hitting raid instances sporting a L60 blue Idol, or worse a quested green one.

It seems a little thing to people not playing the class, but it is a facet that will stare you in the face every time you watch something amazing drop that could go in a ranged slot, you open your character sheet and look at +10 damage to your Swipe and wonder to yourself why you can't at least equip a Windspear Longbow in Monkey, Beast or Champion flavors...anything to fill in the gaps we continue to see in itemization.

I'm still looking for the new tanking idol the nerfs to the Idol of Brutality should have facilitated.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Gruul vs. Bear

So like Moroes, I've been off-tanking this guy since we started the instance, but unlike Moroes, I got to be there for our 2nd kill.

Because I don't get on in time for most start-times, I am typically swapped in for people that leave for sleep, get too frustrated to continue, and so on. So I tend to miss Maulgar most nights and the quicker this goes, the less likely it'll be that I'll see Gruul again in the future. Therefore, I try to be available to come when I am on.

Last night was one of those times.

My job on Gruul has always been to eat the Hurtful Strikes. Hurtful Strikes target #2 on the aggro table (who is also in range) and start at over 12k unmitigated damage. Every so often, Gruul grows and gets stronger. As he does, his Hurtful Strikes get nastier and nastier, and starting around Growth 2 or 3, he's one-shotting anyone not in Plate or Bear form.

This makes it critical to pace the MT and stay in range when you're eating the strikes. You can imagine my horror when on the second attempt I was present for, my WoW client crashed.

Our Main Tank is also our Guild Master (Devilcs) and he's an awe-inspiringly good tank. He does things that reassure you that Warriors well-played are in no danger of replacement by Bears. He cares about his gear and his role and it shows. The only problem is that I can easily outstrip his aggro if I'm not careful.

My job is to stay #2 and in melee range. It's not a hard job, really. What's hard sometimes is keeping behind him while also maintaining a comfortable lead on the more enthusiastic dps. Still, more than once, he asked for a Misdirect to get a comfortable lead back, all while I had reverted to auto-attacking and keeping my Lacerate stack up.

So we wiped once and ran back. I think I wasn't in range quite fast enough and a couple dpsers dropped, people panicked and shatters started the cascade to doom.

On the second try though, we were amazing. People avoided Shatters, we battle rezzed the fallen quickly, and Devil and I kept our aggro way over the rest of the raid. Then it happened: WoW crashed.

Everything stopped moving, the client started to ding repeatedly at me, and suddenly Devil said over Vent (I was still in Vent - where I listen but don't talk due to where I play), "Where's Currant? I can't see her on the aggro list."

Everyone started to mention it and they started to look for my character while I frantically tried to shut down the crashed instance of WoW to restart it. They found me still under Gruul and online but off the aggro list.

I killed it and fired the game back up and logged in as fast as I could. When I got back in, no one had died and I was still second on the aggro list! I rushed back to building threat, knowing that Devil had a lead I'd never overcome, and we nailed Gruul only losing 3 people by the end.

My character never left the game and kept her spot as second on the aggro list as far as I can tell because when I got back in, I almost immediately ate another Strike.

Score one for the Bear.

Monday, September 10, 2007

What to Know...

I am currently my guild's premier Druid tank (though I may be losing this distinction soon due to my lousy playing schedule). As such, I ought to have a lot to say about tanking and how to do it...but I don't know that I'm really qualified to teach people to tank.

That said, I am often asked how I tank, what advice I can give other people when they tank, and so on. Well, for what it's worth, here you go:


The number one thing to keep in mind with a tank - any tank, not just a Druid tank - is situational awareness. More than anything else, the player of a tank must be in a state of zen-like unity with her or his surroundings.

Though this seems like common sense, you'd be surprised how many tanks have what amounts to tunnel vision. They grab a single target and lock it down. Unfortunately, the rest of the spawn is running amok during this time.

Don't be afraid to rotate your camera to watch the battlefield. Patrols are common in instances and can often wander into the spot you've chosen to fight in if you're unlucky or careless and it's imperative that they get picked up either by you or by your CC options.


One of the hardest things to realize when you're tanking is that sometimes, you need to let a mob go. This is less of an option in a Heroic, to be sure, but sometimes, you need to just watch a mob peel off and let your dps handle it. Counterintuitive? You bet, but it's critical to effective tanking.

The biggest hurdle to this tactic is trust. You have to be able to trust that the rest of the team is as interested in keeping up the squishies as you are, and that they'll re-apply CC or burn the loose mob fast. Sometimes, keeping the mobs you have is all you can do while your dps is burning them down and only one of them has to hit the loose one.

Sometimes you can't, though, and it's crucial to know when you can and can't. I'd rather break a sheep than let a mob run amok with the squishies, but if you can exercise the self-control needed and have the trust necessary, let a few of them go.

I most often exercise this option with caster mobs, even in Heroics, especially with a good Rogue around. The Rogues I run with are excellent at grabbing a caster mob and burning them down all while stunning, kicking and gouging the crap out of them to keep them from doing much of anything in return. I find I can usually ignore 1-2 casters completely while my Rogue friends demolish them.

Find dps like this. Love them. Feed them the blood of your enemies.


Crowd Control and Kill Order.

One of the jobs you'll often have as the tank is marking targets. This can be EXTREMELY intimidating if you don't know the instance and the mobs in question, but it's crucial that you know how to do it.

Without getting specific, it's hard to say what's best but there are some general guidelines you can follow to make things easier on the rest of the group.


This is usable not only on Elementals, but on demons. Banish removes the target from combat completely for 30 seconds. While situational, it can be incredibly effective in the Shadow Labyrinth schoolroom or in Botanica.

The best part of Banish is that it doesn't heal the target like Polymorph does.

You can't screw this one up.


Even more situational than Banish, Enslave Demon can be used only on...you guessed it...farmers in Elwynn Forest! Oh...wait.

Enslave Demon is a bit like having another pet but lasts up to 5 minutes. Sometimes I go into a second pull with an enslaved demon in the group. It's re-applicable, but not reliably. I recommend killing it between pulls more often than trying to get maximum mileage. Most Warlocks I run into these days have pitiful Stamina pools and don't often survive the loving ministrations of their erstwhile companions.

This is another one safe from Tanking mishaps.


The most frequently seen Hunter trap is the Freezing Trap and it'll be the one you mark for. Thematically, the blue block raid icon works almost universally for this.

The most important thing to keep in mind with this trap is that it is more difficult for a Hunter to use this trap on a ranged mob. Casters and Hunter mobs are notoriously difficult for a Hunter to coax into this trap. What that means is that short of a short ranged silencing shot or counterspell you shouldn't generally be assigning a ranged mob to the Hunter for CC.

This CC is re-applicable which means you can leave the CC'd mob alone while you focus on the others, provided it isn't resisted and the Hunter is aware enough to re-apply it. Watch for resists.

Most importantly with respect to Freezing Trap is that you will sometimes find yourself chasing a loose mob only to have it stop moving in a block of ice. Do whatever you can to avoid tagging it because that's the number one way you'll break Freezing Trap. Though it is re-applicable it is not as quickly re-applicable as some other forms of CC.


Your CC. While beasts are not common in most instances, they do exist and you shouldn't write yourself out of the CC responsibilities. As a sleep effect, Hibernate will break on damage and the aggro from the CC effect is questionable.

While Hibernate is technically re-applicable, you'll be tanking so unless you have a Druid healer or Boomkin, it is effectively a weak Sap for beasts though usable at range.

If someone else is doing this for you, keep an eye out for the target because it's easy to miss with only little green Z's coming off their heads.


This one is tricky. Sometimes your Priest will be your only healer, and other times, the Priest won't be overly comfortable with the practice. While re-applicable, it can take your only healer out of the equation, though if it doesn't it is very effective.

Often, the Priests I run with will grab a Melee mob to dps with, or a caster mob to burn off all their mana and maybe heal for us.

Note that the longer a Priest does this the harder it'll be to peel the mob off them when it breaks. Other than not re-acquiring the mob quickly, you can't hurt Mind Control.


Perhaps the greatest CC option in the game. Usable on Beasts and Humanoids (oh, and Critters, but who cares beyond the humor value of turning a sheep into...a sheep), it covers a LOT of ground.

Polymorph in all three flavors (Sheep, Pig, Turtle) is usable at range, is reapplicable, and lasts a long time. Additionally, Mages can Frost Nova for distance then pause to reapply and go back to blasting.

There are two major concerns when using Polymorph.

First is that when it breaks, any patrols that are nearby may be brought to the fight by the angry mob. For this reason, smart Mages often wait for the mob to close a little rather than pulling with the spell (which also gains them other unwanted attentions).

The other problem is breaking the sheep. This is your bag, and that of anyone in melee or using AoE. Broken sheep is the surest way to annoy a Mage aside from asking for Water with a Warrior. Many mages adopt a You-Break-It-You-Tank-It approach, but those with more experience under their belts understand that things happen and sheep WILL be broken from time to time.

Reapplicable CC is why I made my earlier admonishment to let mobs go sometimes, too. I most often break sheep trying to grab a loose mob that a Mage is already working on.


Your Rogue CC. VERY effective, doesn't break stealth in any spec now, but only applicable out of combat.

The biggest thing to consider when marking for Sap is to pick something the Rogue can actually get to. Marking something on the inside of a spawn will only annoy the Rogue. They tend to Sap whatever they want when you do that.

Additionally, there are some mobs that cannot be approached for Sap due to the ability to see through Stealth. As Sap is not re-applicable, the Sap target should be prioritized over re-applicable CC victims.

As the Sap target will often be a way off, you have little fear of breaking this one. Just be sure you give the Rogue time to apply it before you pull.


Yet another Warlock spell, and one that's frequenly overlooked. It is perhaps the swapping out of pets that makes so many Warlocks resist this one, but it is often crucial. It's very short duration so the target should be prioritized immediately after single-use CC, however, and seems to break a lot. Happily, the target usually seems more concerned with the Succubus than the Warlock.

It is only usable on Humanoids. Still, use it when you have it just watch it like your life depended on it.


Polymorph for Undead targets. Your Priest should be doing this for undead mobs the same way you should be using Hibernate on animals. If your Priest is healing though, don't expect it to be re-applied and treat it as such. Multiple applications in addition to healing aggro can make the targets of this spell VERY hard to peel off. Keep Growl handy and watch for the golden chains.

One misplaced Swipe and your Priest could be eating a Cleave.


Fear is an often mis-used ability. Priests, Warriors, Warlocks, Hunters and Paladins all have usable Fears that vary by target and targetability.

Priest Fear is multi-target and indiscriminate. Warrior Fear hits multiple targets but leaves their target unaffected. Hunter Fear works only on animals and Paladin fear works only on Undead.

Warlock Fear...now this is fun. The same reason we all hate Warlocks in PvP is why we should love them in PvE. More than once I've watched a Warlock fear a mob and dot them to death, effectively locking down and soloing the mob. I kept trying to grab it only to have it run away and finally it just dropped dead. I didn't know what to think until the Warlock explained it to me.

Back when 60 was the cap, I remember using my Paladin's Turn Undead to frighten away an undead add during the Alexei Barov fight. It made an otherwise very difficult fight very easy.


Cheap Shot, Kidney Shot, Hammer of Justice, Blackout...all these things are cheap but sometimes effective mitigation and crowd control. Don't be afraid to use them.

The point with all this is that knowledge is your greatest asset while tanking. Knowledge of your surroundings, knowledge of other classes, knowledge of your enemies...all are critical. Tanks need to be smart and aware in marked contrast to the popular image of tanks being stupid meatshields with no finesse. Just because it's your job to get hit, doesn't mean you have no call to understand more than just how crits and crushes work and how to juggle Stamina with Dodge.

Generally, CC that isn't reapplicable should be top priority after finishing with loose mobs. You should also consider CC that seems to be breaking often or early and tend to those if you have time, sometimes before going after the Saps or your own Hibernates.

Burn casters before melee if you can, they're squishy and the expenditure of party resources has the highest payoff in doing so. Melee targets are the least of your worries as a Druid tank.

Be aware and your teams will love you. In a future post I'll cover gearing, grouping, and more.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Cloak Off My Back

One of the biggest problems facing Druid tanks is our itemization. It's worlds better than it was pre-Burning Crusade, to be sure, but where Plate items itemized for tanking veritably jump into the bags of Warriors running instances, Druid tank gear is much more complex both in its acquisition and its value.

Uncrittability is one of the big sticking points of this issue. In order to become uncrittable, a tank needs 490 Defense. The thing is, there are exactly four items in leather that provide Defense Rating (not counting the useless greens 'of Defense') to a Druid tank. One of those 4 replaces the other, leaving us with 3 usable armor items at 70 that provide Defense.

Luckily for Druids, we have a talent that gives us a 3% chance to avoid being critted. What this means in a practical sense is that we need a mere 415 Defense to achieve uncrittable status.

Still, we need to load up on either gems or gear for other slots like trinkets, rings, cloaks and so on to make up for the fact that there are no bracers, hats, shoulders, gloves, shields, or idols capable of providing us with alternatives in Defense. I'm still wondering if I'll ever be swapping out my Clefthoof set due to it having adequate numbers in both Defense and Stamina that are difficult or impossible to replace.

In order to maximize our advantages, some of the slots we fill are filled whenever possible with high armor items. Our ring slots are an excellent example of this. Until our armor is acceptably high, an Iron Band of the Unbreakable will generally be preferable to an Elementium Band of the Sentry in spite of it's obviously better non-armor stats.

So this brings me to the actual topic of discussion.

In my previous post I didn't mention the Gilded Thorium Cloak. In two of three ways, it is a downgrade from the Thoriumweave Cloak.

Because it has Defense on it, though, I took it.

This allowed me to remove the Defense enchantment from my shoulders and re-gem a few slots with Solid Stars of Elune. Pricey but worth it. The net effect was a significant upgrade in Stamina for an imperceptible loss of armor.

With absolutely no buffs running whatsoever, I'm at 25.8k AC and 14.1k HP. I think I'm moving up in the world.

This seriously sets me back from my T4 hat and shoulders, though.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Head, Shoulders, Knees and...oh wait...

So it's widely regarded as the first raid instance to hit, and forum posters tend to gauge each other by the number and quality of purples they wear, so Kara is a good place to set your sights on. Right?

Well, let's find out. What is in Karazhan for the Bear Tank? More importantly, how does it stack up to Heroic Badge of Justice rewards?

Let's start with the necklaces.

The first and most obvious tank reward in the necklace department is the Barbed Choker of Discipline. With nearly the same Stamina as the Mark of the Ravenguard but with the added Dodge of the Strength of the Untamed of Cenarion Expedition fame, this seems an easy choice and perhaps it is. After all, it offers far more Stamina than the Strength of the Untamed.

Heroic rewards offer the Necklace of the Juggernaut. Now, I won't say that this is better than the Barbed Choker of Discipline, but for many Druids, it may be more attainable. In Kara you will, in all likelihood, compete with Warriors for the necklace, but the Badge rewards can never be contested. If you do heroics regularly, it may be worth it to pass on the Choker and save for Juggernaut.

Before we go on, keep in mind that I'm giving preference to things that have Defense or high Armor on them primarily because they are easy tank choices and perhaps more importantly, I need to prioritize what drops I am and am not interested in due to my less than optimal raid scheduling. There is a significant amount of debate over the relative value of Armor, Agility, Dodge and Stamina in terms of mitigation. I don't think I'll be going into that too much except where I feel it's important. Hence I will overlook several nice dps items that are also often used by Bear Tanks. An example for the above is my not mentioning the Saberclaw Necklace or the Worgen Claw Necklace as Tank necklaces in spite of them being viable options if you have enough Defense and Stamina.

Feel free to disagree with me.

Next, let's look at hats.

Pre-raid, most Druids are outfitted in a Stylin' Purple Hat. It's crafted and easily farmed for or acquired from the Auction House.

The only hat I know of that drops in Karazhan is the Cowl of Defiance. Surprisingly, this isn't necessarily a great upgrade from the crafted hat due to the loss of Agility and Stamina. It IS however, an excellent choice if you're having trouble holding aggro. Better than both is the Cowl of Beastly Rage. Despite losing a notable chunk of the same Agility and Stamina I just finished saying wasn't worth doing, the Armor upgrade is around 200 (~1000 in Bear), it adds Strength for added AP and Int for mana along with a Yellow and Meta socket. Easy choice, right?

It is, yes, until you factor in the Tier 4 piece, the Stag Helm of Malorne. The Prince drops the token for this one. It is quite literally a direct upgrade in every respect to the Cowl of Beastly Rage.

In all, I'd recommend saving for the Cowl and then leisurely getting the T4 hat when it drops rather than going crazy trying to get to the prince for the hat.

Shoulders. Ah shoulders. The drama of Sethekk Halls and whining Rogues will never trouble you again. There is exactly one shoulder piece to be had in Kara. They even look like a direct upgrade to the Shoulderpads of Assassination. The only problem is that they lack in Agility. The shoulders we speak of are the Bladed Shoulderpads of the Merciless.

Personally, I would pass these to any Rogue that wanted them and wait for Gruul's Lair to upgrade, but if you are desperate or are wearing Boob Shoulders, you may want to consider these.

There are no chest pieces worth getting in Karazhan, nor are there any bracers worth having unless you really want one of the flavored epics that drop from one of the rare mobs. Pants are another barren area. The T4 chest and legs are from other raid instances and that's really where you'll be looking to upgrade from the Heavy Clefthoof items.

I take that back, there are the Skulker's Greaves. If you don't need the Heavy Clefthoof's Defense Rating, you'll lose some armor and Stamina but gain AP, Hit Rating, and Agility. Very very nice if you can afford to swap them out. Still, I'd let the Rogues have them first. Compete with the Survival Hunters if you must, though.

Boots are iffy, and the reason I say this is that there are upgrades dependent upon what you value. Zierhut's Lost Treads are often though of as the best upgrade despite the serious loss of Stamina from Heavy Clefthoof Boots, between 9 and 21 depending on how you socket. The loss of 4 Armor is negligible. If you don't need the Defense of the Heavy Clefthoof, though, you gain AP and Crit and Dodge in the bargain. Not bad.

Alternatively, there are the Edgewalker Longboots. The loss of Stamina here is about 2 on average (they have two sockets, Red and Yellow), though the loss of Def and Armor will be felt more acutely. In exchange, you gain a significant amount of Agility, some Hit Rating, and AP. Again, these are good boots for a tank.

The loss of armor, Defense, and Stamina means that I will not be prioritizing these boots over my Heavy Clefthoof. At this point, I can still hold aggro provided the dps doesn't start the instant I engage. I do need to think about Agility though...crit and dodge, crit and dodge...

On second thought, Zierhuts might be nice to have on hand for when I can swap out my Heavy Clefthoof.

Gloves. The Druid boards are awash with people saying that the Gloves of Dexterous Manipulation are the best tanking gloves at the Kara point in progression.

Most Druid tanks will be equipped with Verdant Gloves going into Kara. If you're willing to step down your armor, the GoDM do offer more mitigation through dodge, more crit and two sockets.

In all, you can't say they're bad. If you're passing loot to Rogues or are interested in building your Tier 4 set, though, the token for the Gauntlets of Malorne drop off the Curator. These are a near direct upgrade from the Verdant gloves in terms of stats but they lack the higher AGI and sockets of the GoDM.

The biggest point in their favor are the set bonuses that will come with the full or partial Malorne Harness.

Just last night I managed to get the Gauntlets of Malorne, so I won't be picking up the GoDM anytime soon. When I do, I may have access to better things anyway.

Rings are interesting. The Violet Eye reward is a no-brainer. Get it. Love it.

But there are two other nice options at the Kara level that present themselves. First, in Kara, there is the Shermanar Great-Ring. Armor, Stamina, Defense Rating. All good.

Comparable, though, is the Ring of Unyielding Force, available for a mere 25 Badges of Justice. It has far more armor, 5 less Stamina, and 1 less Defense Rating. In all, I have to give the nod to the Heroic reward.

Lastly, trinkets. Moroes' Lucky Pocket Watch is the one and only option. Since it doesn't share a cooldown with Badge of Tenacity a Bear tank can achieve it's own version of a Warrior emergency button.

Okay, that's it for now. This post is poorly organized, but maybe it helps shine some light on what's in Kara for a Bear Tank.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Homer's WoW Patch

So just recently, I finished my rep grind and nailed my Earthwarden. Then I blew some cash to feed my impatience and enchanted it for +35 Agility. I was a VERY happy camper. This was Monday night.

Tuesday, 2.1 went live and my uber tanking weapon of doom...isn't. What the hell happened?

Well, I'm not sure. I may just be imagining things, but there is some support for what I'm seeing. First, though: background.

During the last big patch, 2.0.12 or whatever it was, Bear Mangle was gutted. In addition, Savage Fury, a talent that for 2/2 boosted several moves by 20%, including Mangle, was changed so that it no longer affected Mangle (Bear), and only Mangle (Cat). So the damage nerf to Mangle was incredible, no matter how you look at it. Druids could once do some soloing and handle multi-mob pulls with bear, but the nerf to Mangle's damage in that form took it out of any serious consideration. Maul was, and is, competitive.

They also removed the threat multiplier from Mangle in that patch.

To make tanking remain viable, Blizzard hotfixed the threat multiplier and put in a lesser one than existed before. By the time most of us had logged on, our threat was fine, but the damage...there was none to be had.

So along comes 2.1. By this time, Warriors and Rogues have geared up with 75+ dps one-handers and their damage has skyrocketed, especially in arenas. Blizzard says to themselves, "Okay, we can give some back to the fuzz-butts."

So they give Mangle back 15% of it's damage, but still don't change Savage Fury. Okay, it's not much, but it's something. Cool. They also change the threat multiplier so our threat will remain relatively static. This is reasonable, but given the prior over-reaction, it can hardly be considered a real buff.

But...and there's always a but, isn't there...something's wrong.

My Mangle damage in Bear has gone down. It is virtually indistinguishable from my Maul damage, and both crit for the same in the 800 range. I haven't really paid enough attention to know if there is a real problem, but the boards are starting to talk about Feral AP not being applied correctly. I should be seeing benefits from 200-ish AP and +15% damage here, but my numbers are smaller.

I'm not the smart type that can do the tests that are done regularly, so I'm going to be watching the boards, and I won't rule out that it's my imagination, but people are pulling aggro off me now that were utterly incapable of it before. If my damage has gone down AND my threat has gone down, that's an easy explanation. I do know I didn't suddenly start to suck at tanking and those people didn't suddenly get 4 free epics.

I guess we'll see how this one shakes out.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Bear Ninjas

So lately I've seen another spate of threads on the Shoulderpads of Assassination. Rogues complain that Druids roll on them, that they are selfish and little better than thieves. Druids complain that Rogues are selfish and narrow-minded.

So here's the deal: In Auchindoun, the dungeon complex in Terokkar Forest's Bone Wastes, there is a place called the Sethekk Halls. The final boss of Sethekk drops the Shoulderpads of Assassination. These are one of 3 leather Dungeon 3 armor sets. The set bonuses for the Assassination Armor are clearly Rogue-centric. Still, there is no class label on them.

As a result, Feral Druids want these shoulders for tanking. Tanking, you say? Why the hell would Bears want those things for tanking? Rogues use them for DPS, after all. Well, that's what's at issue.

Short of raiding, there are only a few sets of shoulders that measure up. Common wisdom holds, in fact, that these are the best pre-raid non-PvP shoulders available, primarily according to Emmerald's list. Interesting that they don't actually hold that spot.

Still, they hold spot 13 overall, and of those that meet the criteria there are only 5 pieces that rate better, all greens. Looking down the list to the set that is widely regarded as the 'Feral' set, we find the Wastewalker Shoulderpads clocking in at 24 overall with 5 greens of Stamina or of the Monkey between them and the Assassination shoulders. Sitting at 35 on the list is the one that most Rogues tell us to go get, the Sun-Gilded Shouldercaps, or as we like to call them, Boob Shoulders.

So the complaints are rolling in from random Rogues on the Druid forums complaining that Druids ninja'd their shoulders and Druids shoot back that they're the best pre-raid non-PvP shoulders we can get. Who's right? Both? Neither? Do we care?

Well, the root of the problem is craptacular itemization for Bears. Still. After all the wonderful changes that HAVE gone in for Bear Tanks, the fact is that the people making items still don't know how to itemize for Feral Druids. Certainly we have some apparent flukes like the high armor quest rewards, the Earthwarden and the Heavy Clefthoof set, but when you start to check the Dungeon sets and the Tier 4-5 sets, it begins falling apart all over again.

So what do Druid Tanks do? We pick up Rogue gear. See, high armor is important - very important - but equally important are Stamina and Agility, and Wastewalker is seriously lacking Stamina. I'm not sure anyone can make a good case for a tank settling for an item with half the Stamina sported by an alternative.

What's interesting is that according to the method used by Emmerald to determine the usefulness of an item for a Bear, there are 5 green items that rank better than the Assassination shoulders. Interestingly, the only options of these I'd really consider are the 'of the Monkey' items. Stamina items, while nice, are single-stat items and lack mitigation beyond armor and health. The Monkey items at least add crit and dodge in addition.

So, we ask ourselves, why shouldn't a Bear Tank just pick up some Dragonhawk Shoulderguards of the Monkey?

Two reasons:

First, they are greens with random enchants. This alone ensures that you may never see them drop or see them up for sale. Their very nature means that I have a better chance to see Assassination shoulders drop...more than once. Statistically, the Assassination shoulders are just more accessible.

Second, why should Druid tanks be denied decent enough itemization that they HAVE to turn to Dragonhawk shoulders? Something smells funny here, and it may not just be my wet fur.

I wear the Assassination shoulders. I socketed and enchanted them. I love them. How did I get them? Simple. I ran Sethekk with my friends. I helped a guild Rogue get his and he helped me get mine. I'd certainly have rolled on them against any Rogue I didn't know personally and I'd have made this clear from the start. That way, if anyone takes issue, we get it out of the way before the run commences. Some people may not be happy with this method, but until the shoulders say Class: Rogue on them, they're fair game for anyone that can and will use them.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Night Elves go Dungeonpunk

Ah, the wonders of patch day. What will it bring? How will I react? Will my character's capabilities be recognizable? How many of my mods will break? All questions every World of Warcraft player asks whenever the new patch rolls.

Luckily, we get to see them to up on the Test Realm and since they rarely change before going live, we can safely assume the changes are accurate. Going down the list, here's what matters to Bear Tanks.

  • Epic Flight Form
This one takes us back to Sethekk Halls, a place many of us have come to despise after running it over and over for our shoulders we had to deathmatch Rogues in order to get. According to the testers, we pay for the skill up front before embarking on the quest so those that bought their epic mounts beforehand aren't screwed. This is a good thing. The new boss may be a summonable like those for the Dungeon 2 questlines, or it may just be an addition to the dungeon. No news on that front that I've seen.

So I suppose this doesn't really have anything to do with Druid tanks, but it's something we're all interested in. After all, who doesn't want twin plasma cannons?
  • Barkskin

The duration is dropping to 12 seconds and the cooldown reduced to 1 minute. Not a bad tradeoff considering it can now be used in forms and during some conditions.

  • Feral Charge

Oooh, a nice change here. Anyone that tanked Ras Frostwhisper back in the day or has PvP'd against a Frost Mage will appreciate that Feral Charge isn't affected by slowing effects anymore. I think our groups will appreciate that, too.

  • Mangle

So Mangle, after receiving a fairly severe nerf in the last big patch, is being rebuffed. It's getting a +15% damage shift and an accompanying -15% to threat generation. Theoretically this means it will be more useful for PvP and perhaps when things go south when soloing while not boosting our tanking threat, an area that's showing more and more concern from the developers.

  • Equipment
This is, perhaps, the most exciting thing about the patch notes. In it, at least 6 pieces of Feral gear used by tanks are being reworked. I'll start with the one true nerf.

Supple Leather Boots are losing 30 Attack Power and gaining a mere 3 Strength. A nerf, but it sure makes picking the boots from the Heavy Clefthoof set easier for those that haven't made the shift already. Read on.

The Heavy Clefthoof set is being redone, and when the changes were first announced, I nearly panicked. They told us that the armor would be increased but that the Stamina and Defense would be going down. All I could think was that since my armor already broke 20k I didn't desperately need more but that I did need more health since I don't quite have 12.5k unbuffed health.

My fears were for nothing. Between the three pieces of Heavy Clefthoof, we are gaining 658 armor, losing 23 Stamina, and losing 12 Defense Rating.

Those of us with Thick Hide will be gaining more than 3.5k AC from this while losing a miniscule amount of Stamina overall. Defense also suffers but ultimately it's only a drop of 5 or 6 points of Defense. I have 430 right now myself and since I only benefit from half Defense's features losing a bit for other stats is just fine.

The real balancing of this comes in the buffs to Earthwarden and Braxxis' Staff of Slumber. Both items are getting 39 Stamina, making the Heavy Clefthoof Stamina nerf ultimately a buff. After all, I don't know any serious Druid tanks that aren't using one of those two items unless they've found an epic that's better (I think I saw one on the boards, but I can't remember for sure). Most of us are going to use one of these two weapons, though, due to the fact that any Druid can acquire them given enough time - no access to raiding required. Even those that get better will likely start with these and use them extensively.

What I find funny about this is how many Druid tanks on the official boards are just now saying that this is THE pre-T5 tanking set. In my humble opinion it always has been. Certainly there are other items that previously had more armor, but the sacrifice in Defense and Stamina was rarely worth the tradeoff. Regardless, more and more Druids will now be seen in the getup I'm wearing already, one that makes me look like an extra from a Mad Max movie or a Dungeons and Dragons 3/3.5 character in their dungeonpunk aesthetic.

Regardless, this patch is a good one for Druid tanks, no question.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Bear Ass Tank

Perhaps the single most annoying thing about Druid tanking is our gargantuan ass. As an elf, it's perky and tight and I can see around it and all is well. But the instant I drop into Bear form, it's all ass all the time...and it's hairy.

The worst part is when you get backed into a corner or have to fight in confined spaces where you can't scroll out to give yourself the same real estate of view any other character might take for granted. For this reason and this reason over all others, I nearly dropped my Druid tank for a Warrior. There are, to be certain, other reasons to select a Warrior over a Druid when picking a class to tank with, but this is one of the biggest. Still, if you can get past the fuzzy rump in your face Bear tanking is incredibly satisfying.

Why would you pick a Druid tank over a Warrior tank if what you really like doing is tanking? After all, Warriors get plate armor, shields, ranged weapons, a single form to manage, a fear break, no expectation of healing or buffing, a vast array of tanking tools, the mechanics for parry and block, and the comfort of a community that regards them as indispensible in the role of a tank, a guaranteed spot, if you will.

So why?

Bears bring a few unique tools to the table such as immunity to polymorph effects, a charge indifferent to stance, massive armor totals, pre-combat buffs, and frequently larger health pools. Doesn't look like much does it? In truth it isn't, but it's the balancing act that Druid tanks endure for the versatility of roles they enjoy in contrast to the Warrior's versatility within a role.

Rather than focusing on what Druid tanks don't get, we're going to look at making the most of what they do.

First and most noticeable are the massive armor totals Druids enjoy. A comparable Druid and Warrior will see an average of a 10k AC difference in the Bear's favor. As an example, in gear that largely outclasses mine, my GM runs around 9k less armor than I do at the time of this writing. On the surface, this difference is huge, but the way the armor formula works, this is about a 10% difference in damage reduction.

So the big question that arises from this is: why? Why do Bears have such massive armor totals? There are several possibilities, but one stands out more than the others.

While Critical Hits (200% damage) are eliminated through Defense, Talents and Resilience, Crushing Blows (150% damage) are mitigated by Warriors and Paladins via their shields. Bears eat them. Bears do not have access to shields, and hence have no access to block. In theory this was mitigated in the past both through higher armor totals and higher health totals. In practice, Bear and Warrior health totals are getting more and more in-line leaving just our incredible armor to compensate while we take the Crushing Blows a Warrior can potentially push off the hit table.

So again: why pick a Druid over a Warrior?

Well, mechanically this isn't a question I can answer. Most Druid tanking advantages are designed explicitly to make up for fundamental class and gear differences. Certainly stylistic differences can make a case, but I pointed out at the beginning what I think of my Big Bear Ass (tm). Warriors are, on the whole, better designed for the role.

Well, hopefully I can work to provide an answer to this while also providing meaningful commentary on Druid tanks, the culture that surrounds us, and game mechanics. Every Druid tank will encounter bias no Warrior must deal with, unrealistic expectations, lack of in-game support for the role, and bizarre resentment from the most unlikely quarters.