(Or, feral tanking up to level 20).
I’m one of those people who generally likes their characters to begin as they mean to go on. In WoW, this sometimes leads to less-recommended leveling specs, like subtlety rogues or holy paladins, but for me the challenge is a big part of the fun. Also, I find it’s a lot less intimidating to learn your class and spec from the ground up, rather than suddenly deciding at level 85 when all your PUGs are of the ‘gogogo’ variety that your feral druid is really a frustrated tank. Mind you, I’m not saying I’d never change my mind at later levels (far from it!) – but if I’m planning an alt to be a tank or healer, I usually start that early on.
In the case of bear tanks, this decision is not usually met with universal approval by fellow PUGees. I’ve heard numerous comments along the lines of ‘low lvl bear tank ftl’ and ‘get a real tank’. This is especially true in the very first few levels, before bears have most of the tools in their arsenal; in particular, they’re still missing an interrupt, any AoE or silencing capability at all, and a way to pull at range without having Growl on cooldown for the next 8 seconds.
This post in no way claims to be an authoritative guide – it’s just a collection of the lessons I’ve learned so far (some from my own reading, many painfully taught by Druids of the Fang and Defias Pirates). Also, it doubles as a way to collect my own thoughts so that hopefully my tanking doesn’t degenerate into ‘hit buttons and pray’ mode quite so often. Hopefully, as Taj grows up and adds some more toys to her skill list, it will be followed by others…but we’ll see. At the moment, it stops at level 20, because that’s where she stops!
Firstly, and of course suggested in many places, it’s worth looking into a nameplate addon that shows your threat at a glance. I love and adore ThreatPlates, a plugin for the TidyPlates addon, but there are of course others out there. ThreatPlates has the advantage of changing both colour and size as you lose control of the mob – red spiky nameplates mean ‘save the healer’, whereas a neat circle of green bars surrounding you means you are, as usual, in control. Right?
Obviously (I hope it’s obvious), if you’re planning to tank as a general rule, you’re feral spec. This gives you the lovely high threat skill known as Mangle. Previously not available until you talented into it at around level 60, this now comes as part of the feral package deal. Although the bear version does have a 6 second cooldown, it’s still a fantastic tool for quickly building a lot of threat. I like using it as part of an opener – more on that in a bit.
By level 20, there are 6 talent points available to spend. Predatory Strikes is entirely a kittycat talent, so that makes the first tier fairly straightforward (even for me) – 4% extra dodge and a bit of free rage when shifting into bear form don’t go astray. I usually find myself taking a point in Primal Fury first in the second tier, just because I hate being rage-starved with a passion…particularly when the trash mobs are displaying their great affection for the healer.
Personally, I find single-target tanking as a bear orders of magnitude easier than AoE tanking, especially at this level. No matter what the healer or the DPS are doing, as long as I’m alive, I don’t find it hard to stay ahead of them on threat. This may change in later levels, I’m not sure, but until then most of my worries are caused by packs of trash. Pulling them…ah, yes, that’s a whole different kettle of deviate fish.
My usual strategy when pulling groups is to switch targets quickly right at the beginning. I normally Growl at the first mob while running toward the pack, then switch targets and Mangle one, then switch again and Maul (if I have enough rage by now). This largely depends on whether over-zealous DPS have already peeled them off me and therefore I’m not getting hit, but it also depends on me being quick and accurate with click-targeting. As mentioned above, I use highly visible nameplates, which does help with that (since they can also be clicked to target the mob).
I don’t actually care much for tab-targeting, though I’ve seen it recommended elsewhere, for two reasons. First, you have no control at all over exactly which mob it switches the target to, and trying vainly to Maul an NPC in the next pack 40 yards away wastes precious seconds and throws off your rhythm while you work out what the problem is and fix it. Second, I am somewhat suspicious of the whole thing, because half the time when I do try to use it I hit ‘tab’ and my target stubbornly remains on the same mob. Whether this is my computer or the game (or the user…ahem) I don’t know, but I tend to prefer click-targeting anyway for the ability to pick my prey more accurately.
Because it's pretty. And a good habitat for bears.
Once I (hopefully) have three mobs chewing on me, Mangle and/or Growl is usually back off cooldown or nearly so, and I can then use it to pick up any loose ends. If the pull is more than three, or if the DPS are keen to Slay the Foe in record time, it may be necessary to leave stray mobs hitting various group members for a few seconds while you build up rage. With a reasonable group, of course, you can just ask them to hold off for a few seconds while you do just that…but I’m sure we all understand our chances, realistically, of finding a group who’ll do that. I’m not always lily-white myself in that area when I take Dhak for a spin…Ravage crits are such satisfying openers *cough* In any case, good luck with that, but if the DPS open up the second you do, you might need to let them have their toys all to themselves for a moment while you build the rage to gather them again. Being naturally protective, I dislike it when the mobs are hitting anyone but me, but in that situation I would prioritize peeling them off the healer first (if necessary), and then move on to the DPS in approximate order of proximity and/or squishiness.
There isn’t a lot of crowd control available at such low levels, but it’s not greatly needed either. If you have a Sap-happy rogue who manages not to accidentally get caught, that can certainly be helpful on tricky pulls. So far, though, most of my runs have been basically CC-free zones. One thing that is worth doing ourselves, and that I keep forgetting, is to keep Demo Roar up whenever possible – it’s cheap and knocks 10% off the damage you take, which can ease the load on the healer a little bit.
Speaking of healers – if yours is struggling and you have the opportunity, it is certainly possible to throw up a quick heal on yourself. It does help to watch your timing a little bit, though – you lose all but 10 rage when you shift out of form, so try to time it for when you were nearly out anyway. Also, you’re naturally a lot squishier wearing clothes instead of fur, so right before the boss casts Hammer of Ultimate Doom is probably not the moment! If, on the other hand, your healer is healing you with ease (and your DPS are happy), it’s worth not pausing too long between pulls – that way you don’t lose the accumulated rage you worked so hard to maintain, which in turn helps to keep those unruly packs of trash in line from the get-go.
This is officially a wall of text! Well done if you made it this far. As I said above, this is in no way a definitive guide to doing anything (except perhaps frustrating your PUG members), but it’s helped me collect my thoughts…and after all, that is a major function of a blog.
Back to the altoholic nonsense next time, no doubt…