Monday, October 15, 2007

Heroic-Sized Ursine... 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 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 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