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.