Feral has been my usual spec since May 2007 in the interests of never suffering a bad PuG tank who wasn't me. "Hey!" I said. "I can suck at least as well as some of these people!" Subsequently I tanked all the way to Kil'jaeden wondering when any raid pull was going to be as tough as tanking Shattered Halls without CC.
Well, no. Tab-target Lacerate, tab-target Mangle, tab-target Lacerate, Swipe Swipe, tab-target Swipe, Demo Roar, tab-target Mangle -- zomg rage -- Maul Maul -- tab-target Lacerate -- oh f%#*, that f#^#*$ warlock isn't f^%##*@ watching the f#$^&*% threat meter again, Feral Charge, Bash, Growl, /p PLEASE WATCH YOUR THREAT, Mangle, tab-target Lacerate, Swipe, Maul. Ah yes. Those were the good old days. Not really.
After an early 2007 nerf to out-of-control bear damage (which would later resurface as jaw-dropping bear damage in Wrath, where apparently it was fine and dandy), ferals settled into what was typically a 0/47/14 PvE spec, capable of tanking anything in the game and then doing amazing DPS as soon as they switched to cat. At least, that was the story peddled by the other tanking classes, although I assume that they did not dps as Ret or Fury while equipping Slikk's Cloak of Placation and Violet Signet of the Great Protector in order to more closely approximate the feral offtanking experience.
Fury of the Sunwell (also known as patch 2.4.0) hit in March 2008 and exposed Tier 6 bear tanks to an amusing new mob buff called Sunwell Radiance, which effectively reduced our dodge by a flat 25%. "Hey, wait a minute," said the bears. "We don't have any other form of avoidance. Isn't that kind of unfair?" "No," said Blizzard. "Yes," said Blizzard (5 months later). "Balancing bears is very tough, especially when they're dressed in those cute little circus clothes and riding a motorcycle on a highwire." Maybe they didn't actually say that; we were all too busy getting pasted by Brutallus to tell. Stack dodge or stam? Ask 5 bears and you'd get 12 different answers.
As for the other half of the feral tree, Cat damage in Tier 4 was pretty damn good, even chart-topping on occasion. Cat damage in Tier 5 was OK. Cat damage in Tier 6 was...ha ha. Little joke there. Cats weren't actually doing any damage in Tier 6 because they were too busy battle-rezzing the idiots who killed themselves overnuking on phase 2 Reliquary of Souls. More seriously, cat damage in Tier 6 was abysmal, and was -- did you see this coming? -- designed to be abysmal. I remember seeing an application to my T6 guild from a T4 feral confidently stating that he was an excellent cat ("but I tank when I have to") and used to "pissing off the rogues with my dps." Come here, small one. We must have a talk, you and I. Do you see that rogue over there? Yes. The elf with the implausibly giant legendary weapons on his back? That one. He's hard to miss.
Listen to me closely; you will never, ever, out-dps him.
Then again, "never" is such a fluid concept. Blizzard approached Wrath with a few goals for feral in mind:
- Bear AoE threat needed to not suck.
- Cat damage needed to not suck.
- Bear AoE threat sucks less.
- Cat damage sucks much less, to the point of actually qualifying as "great," which would be really happy news for all those of us who are not --
- Competing with Death Knights for melee and tanking drops while occupying the same Vanquisher token. 40% drop rate my ass.
Bear damage has returned to its former "outrageous and unacceptable!" early 2007 levels, but bears doing actual damage is apparently OK now that said damage is necessary to maintain threat over the loldps. Mostly, anyway. Swipe's threat got buffed by 50%, we'll see how that goes on the Skadi event, because right now it's -- Hey, where'd that Frost Vrykul go? Hey! HEY! Get back here! Oh, for the love of Mary, I hate this boss. I'm among the people who thought that Swipe's threat was more or less OK as it was, but mob pathing mechanics and the lack of LOS nooks in Wrath dungeons are a headache. Bears are pretty damn good raid tanks in Wrath from my experience, and -- hallelujah! -- we are no longer required to track down virtually nonexistent +defense in order to tank, but gauntlet-style events in 5-mans are definitely not our strong point. Oh well. Berserk is pretty cool. And now, with our traditionally overpowered soloing capability (a cherished bear right), we can solo heroic Sethekk Halls in the hopes that Anzu can be coaxed into dropping....uh, himself. Good luck with that.
Tauren cat form is still in the game, though. You can't have everything.
Barkeep! More cough syrup. This column's not gonna write itself, you know.