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Shifting Perspectives: Bear druids in patch 4.0.1

Every Tuesday, Shifting Perspectives explores issues affecting feral/restoration druids and those who group with them. This week, sum durids is bare.

Unannounced changes on the most recent beta build:
Actually, that last part's a little misleading; I think our pal Gravy's been tending bar since the alpha. I found out about him a few builds ago and have been trying to sneak him into an article ever since.

As a general note concerning tanking once patch 4.0.1 and then Cataclysm itself hit, I think we are very likely to see an instancing model reminiscent of the pre-3.0.2 world. I got my start as a 5-man tank in the dungeons and heroics of The Burning Crusade and was known as one of the few people on my server willing to tank Shattered Halls, Shadow Lab and Magisters' Terrace PUGs. As a result, I got very familiar with the need to mark mob packs, assign crowd controllers, use line of sight and tab targeting, and maintain situational awareness. I was equally familiar with the effect that an inexperienced or incompetent player could have on a group under those circumstances (particularly when said inexperienced or incompetent player was me).

This is not an indictment of the more difficult instancing model to which Blizzard seems to be returning, because I've genuinely missed tough heroics. However, the dungeon finder is perhaps more suited to a world with greater margin for group error. Tanks are generally unwilling to confront instances requiring heavy crowd control when they don't know what kind of group they're going to get. Guild achievements and reputation are also oriented around guildies' instancing together. I wouldn't go so far as to say that the dungeon finder will become obsolete, but I'm reasonably certain that the wait for a tank is going to get longer. When CC is more of a concern, a tank's control over the dungeon's outcome is necessarily limited, and there are increasingly few incentives to ply your trade for a random group.

As I noted last week, of the three specs I cover in this column, it's become pretty obvious that cats will change least. Restoration will probably change most. Bears are somewhere in between but lean more toward the restoration model. As of the most recent build (12984), you definitely get the sense that the developers are moving the bear more and more toward the warrior-tanking model, as we've gotten an interesting Sword and Board equivalent for Berserk, and Lacerate's within shouting distance of Devastate. This works to both good and bad ends, as you'll see below.

We're not really "done" on the beta or PTR right now, and I'm reluctant to write anything with real certainty here as a result. I would take this as a general set of observations and guesses on what to expect in patch 4.0.1, with some (or many) specifics changing between now and then.

Talents

Talent trees as we know them are going bye-bye and being replaced with versions emphasizing more active and interesting choices. The trend has been to bake passive talents into spec bonuses (i.e., the goodies you get on the side simply for speccing into the tree) and leave more things up to the player.

Consequently, you'll get the following as freebies when you spec feral:
  • Mangle Still among our bread-and-butter threat skills and (short of the brief, happy period on the beta where it had no cooldown at all) more accessible with the redesigned Berserk. More on this below.
  • Vengeance All tanking specs will have this. Over a lengthy fight, the attack power bonus can build to a stupefying level, and right now it's possible for me to add up to 9,500 attack power. Ha ha! Just kidding; I'm always dead by that point.
  • Savage Defender Our mastery causes Savage Defense to absorb more damage. Unlike the paladin and warrior masteries, it does not affect our chance to trigger a shield, which remains a static 50 percent on each crit.
Abilities

Everything with the exception of Demoralizing Roar, Lacerate and Pulverize is currently a cooldown. This leaves me nervous about events with spawning adds (e.g., Halls of Reflection), particularly with Swipe and Maul's new cooldowns.

Feral Charge This retains the immobilization effect but loses its ability to interrupt your target; that functionality's been moved to Skull Bash. Several commenters have been clamoring for Feral Charge to generate, rather than spend, rage in the same fashion that the warrior's Charge does, particularly because Enrage is now suicidally foolish to use before or during combat. The change is one I could get behind, given that 5-man tanking basically demands a quick Swipe or Thrash when you come into contact with the mobs to keep them from stomping your healer, and both are very expensive.

Demoralizing Roar
Now a flat 10 percent reduction to enemy attack power. If someone else isn't applying the debuff for you, get it up and keep it up; you will need the mitigation.

Feral Faerie Fire
Unless you talent into Feral Aggression (and you should), this is now a debuff you'll have to stack to get the full effect (much like Sunder Armor; in fact, the two buffs are now the same and do not stack with each other). It continues to damage your target upon application but does not seem to scale from weapon damage now (as Kalon noted last week). Feral Aggression is also functional as of the latest beta build, and you will only get the damage of one FFF cast despite applying all three stacks to a target.

Swipe Now a 6-second cooldown and has -- I hope -- a significantly higher threat coefficient to compensate. The skill is otherwise unchanged and is basically Thunder Clap without the debuff.

As far as these changes relate to the period between patch 4.0.1 and Cataclysm's release, I'm most concerned about how the Swipe cooldown is going to work in the absence of Thrash, which we don't get until level 81 (see below). In the interim, we will not have another AoE threat tool, and I am not optimistic about DPS players' capacity for restraint.

Mangle
A much beefier damage skill than it is now, but its damage been vastly outclassed by its warrior counterpart Shield Slam. Rossi tells me he's still critting for about 19k on the beta post-nerf; by contrast, Mangle crits for about 9.4k for yours truly with the 12894 buff. I don't know how much of this is Mangle and how much of it is (or might be) the feral damage bug. However, the latest beta build introduced a Sword and Board-esque wrinkle to Berserk of which I am already very fond, allowing a 30 percent chance with Lacerate for Mangle to come off cooldown and cost no rage. A free Mangle? A proc you can watch for? A reason to use Lacerate that does not involve spamming it for Pulverize? Yes, please.

The Infected Wounds debuff is still restricted to Mangle and Maul, which is more problematic for 5-man tanking than it is now. The former's availability is now subject to Berserk procs, and the latter will destroy your rage supply if you use it in anything other than a high-rage moment. However, I think death knights and paladins are still in the same boat, so it's possible that warriors will remain the only tank with a multi-target form of this debuff (outside of a glyphed Maul, of course, but you're probably not going to be using Maul as much as you think).

Filed under: Druid, Analysis / Opinion, (Druid) Shifting Perspectives

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