It has long -- or, okay, over two years -- been a tradition at WoW Insider for me to exploit the germs conveyed by my relatives to the domicile in the interests of writing a yearly druid post. How does this work? I get sick, go out and buy cough syrup, get trolleyed on the devil's own brew, and then stagger to a computer with no one on the editorial staff able to stop me from publishing in time.
This year, I didn't get sick around Christmas, nor immediately after it. In the interests of not disappointing our readership, which seems to enjoy articles written while under the heady influence of dextromethorphan, I secured lodgings on the floor of a bus station bathroom overnight and came back trying to restrain myself from barfing up a lung. Holding my head above the toilet was a certain semi-but-not-entirely-fictional person by the name of Letitia, whom you will have met earlier in Shifting Perspectives: Fun with race choice. Keep in mind that no small portion of this article was written from that position.
Letitia: Out of intense curiosity, why are you so coherent?
Allie: That was written two bottles and three hours ago.
Letitia: (checks the bottle) Ah, vintage 2009.
Allie: The pharmacy hired a sommelier for the cough syrup aisle. I'm told this was aged in oak.
Letitia: Now they're just screwing with you.
Allie: I suspected as much. Why are you here, anyway?
Letitia: I'm your Snark Passenger.
Allie: (declines to comment)
Letitia: So. Anyway. The bear.
Allie: Da bears. According to the always brilliantly informed forum posters --
Letitia: Oh, it's going to be one of those days.
Allie: As I was saying, according to the always brilliantly informed forum posters, bears were the most overpowered tank of all time, but no one was actually playing one. That's a troublesome issue in a game where a not-inconsiderable portion of the player population tends to migrate to the most effective classes for each role.
Letitia: The number of times that druids are overlooked in the discussions concerning which tank a new player or reroller should pick up is a bit disheartening, I'll grant.
Allie: I never got it. During Wrath of the Lich King, I wrote two very lengthy articles about not getting it. I'm starting to suspect that the bear's popularity during The Burning Crusade was mostly about the niche the spec occupied in those days -- the dedicated off tank -- that no other tanking class was really designed to do. Once that was gone -- and it was a consequence of changes to raid dynamics, plus dual specs and more division between the cat and bear -- maybe there just wasn't a whole lot to attract players. With the introduction and subsequent popularity of the death knight and plate classes more generally, tanks in WoW became "three plate classes with unique and interesting mechanics ... and the bear, Warrior Lite."
Letitia: That sort of changed on the beta.
Allie: Well, they tried. And then bleeds lost the ability to proc Savage Defense, and it felt like a lot of that work went out the window. I can understand why it happened, but it felt like such a /facepalm moment, given all the effort to get bear players to have to think about the rotation and watch their bleeds. Swipe's pretty much garbage now (ask anyone leveling from 36 to 81), Maul's a cooldown, and you can condense the bear rotation to "hit Mangle as much as possible, spam Lacerate, and Pulverize at three stacks." Seriously, you can tank through current raid content with that one sentence. Even Thrash, the big new skill, is sort of pointless for single-target tanking these days. You can hit it and it does nice damage and threat, but there's no mechanical advantage to it. It's just there if you want. Hit it, don't hit it -- who cares?
Letitia: See, that's good! Just let that anger out! Preferably in the toilet this time, because holding your hair above the hallway carpet was less fun.
Allie: I'm gonna kill whoever gave this to me.
Letitia: If your coughing last night was any indication, someone else might have done you that favor just to get a little sleep.
Allie: Oh, I'm so sorry if my descent into the mouth of plague-ridden hell was inconvenient for you.
Letitia: The column, darling. By the way, you got it wrong earlier.
Allie: You'll have to be more specific. I have a long and illustrious history of getting things wrong.
Letitia: The bear isn't the warrior's idiot stepchild, it's the warrior's idiot child. You can see the family resemblance, and the kid has a savant-like ability to do one thing really well --
Letitia: Well, I was going to say scale with offensive stats, but okay, Miss Negativity -- but deep down, you know the kid's never going to be more than a tragic version of the parent. You still running that little experiment?
Allie: The tank count? Low-level tank classes in the dungeon finder?
Letitia: Yeah. What do the numbers look like now for bears?
Allie: I think 8% representation last time I looked, although I definitely don't have enough data right now to publish an article on it. Maybe later this month or next. Also, everything I've seen so far as been on my goblin priest, so I gotta roll an Alliance equivalent to see if worgen druids have had more of an impact. I suspect they have, but you'd have to be a masochist to play a low-level bear for any length of time.
Letitia: Oh well. Cats had it somewhat better this past year.
Allie: As long as you didn't have to gear one. Gearing a feral druid sucked with every physical DPS in the raid slobbering over armor penetration leather.
Letitia: I remember your complaining about that ... at great length, might I add.
Allie: Well, I raided as resto past Ulduar, so I was in line behind the raid's fury warrior, two retribution paladins, two hunters, two rogues, and a cat for melee leather. Given my guild's fairly rapid progression from normal to heroic Icecrown raid content and my usual luck with raid drops, I estimated that it would take me until approximately 2019 to get the boots, bracers, and belt.
Allie: Apparently, there were two gear lists for retadins in Icecrown -- the plate best-in-slot list and the real best-in-slot list. Because Icecrown plate had so much frigging +hit on it, the theory went that it was actually a DPS increase to use ArP leather. Not that ArP was a great stat for retribution, but at least it was a damage increase over the millionth point of completely useless +hit.
Letitia: Well, that issue's mostly fixed now, but I still miss dedicated feral gear.
Allie: God, yes.
Letitia: It was pretty.
Allie: None of this "LOL rogue" malarkey.
Letitia: And feral staves were always really pretty. Gear consolidation might be a noble cause, but it's a huge visual disconnect to see a druid in a life- and nature-affirming tier set rocking a polearm that's been dipped in skulls.
Allie: (tears up) I miss feral weapons so much. I mean, I remember tier 5. There I was, a young feral player, and it was my fourth Serpentshrine Cavern raid, and --
Letitia: Are you a shirtless Christian Bale?
Allie: At present, I am neither.
Letitia: Then I don't give a rat's ass about your origin story.
Allie: (chugs cough syrup) More!
Letitia: That's the last bottle, so you're gonna have to speed up here. Trees.
Allie (is sad)
Allie: A lot of people are still mad about missing tree form. Armory Data Mining hasn't updated yet, so I dunno if there's any fallout from that population-wise, but we'll see.
Letitia: Well, they're not exactly burning up the progression raiding charts these days.
Allie: Why am I cursed with the Shifting edition covering the two specs with the most issues?
Letitia: Because you play a bear/resto druid and actually like playing both when you're not otherwise tasked with analyzing the ugly parts or freaking out over patch notes.
Allie: Mmph. To be honest, I don't worry a lot about class representation in the first heroic boss kills, but I do think there's something to the notion that the druid's not hugely competitive with paladins and priests right now. But the patch 4.0.6 changes just make me wonder if we're returning to the era of Wild Growth and Rejuvenation spam. Once Efflorescence (which is to say Swiftmend) is on cooldown, what else do we have as a raid-healing tool? And what do we have anyway if the raid has to spread out?
Letitia: You worried about throughput earlier.
Allie: Well, yeah. We don't have anything else, especially with neutered battle resurrections. The new Tree of Life cooldown is more useful than expected -- I think because of the relatively late addition of unlimited Lifeblooms and the cool new graphic -- so some of us have fun with that.
Letitia: Some of us, and I am not naming names here, also macroed BY YOUR POWERS COMBINED, I AM CAPTAIN DISCO TREE to its use.
Allie: Any port. I still it's weird that moonkin and cats are arguably doing best right now --
Letitia: Moonkin more so than cats, because tier 11 suuuuuuuuucks for melee.
Allie: Every raid tier seems to be either universally good or universally horrible for melee. I wonder why that is.
Letitia: Guilt cycles on Blizzard's end.
Allie: I guess ... But I'm glad I'm not raiding seriously right now. I'm more interested in what's going on with the revamped leveling experience.
Letitia: And the death or dearth of bears in the dungeon finder.
Allie: I am presently bound to the worship of the porcelain god but will totally return to this subject while not contemplating the dust accumulating on the bathroom heater.
What race should you choose for your druid? What happened to Tree of Life? How can you get started as a bear or cat in Cataclysm? Shifting Perspectives has the answers!