Oct 232009
 

Allison Robert, wow.com’s excellent druid columnist, recently posted an excellent article asking “what has happened to all the feral tanks?” She gives a list of complaints, which I reprint below:

Complaint #1: Bears just aren’t as visually compelling as other tanks.
Complaint #2: Gear consolidation had a more demoralizing effect on druids than other tanks.
Complaint #3: The need to use DPS leather has resulted in an uncomfortable opportunity cost associated with gearing bear tanks.
Complaint #4: Early Wrath weaknesses in 5-mans left a bad impression on players, and this bled through to raid content.
Complaint #5: Bear gameplay is boring. Too much of the bear’s effectiveness is baked into talents rather than being determined by player skill.
Complaint #6: Gear consolidation often results in druids looking insanely stupid in caster form.
Complaint #7: If the raid needs more tanks, it’s easier and faster to gear up a plate class than a druid.
Complaint #8: A druid who’s dual-specced into healing or DPS has more difficulty returning to tanking than other classes.

I think she has some great points, but I also have some criticisms of her article. The way I see it, these complaints can be summarized into five areas: effectiveness, aesthetics, fun, gear, and opportunity costs. I’ll cover each in a little more detail, in what I consider increasing order of importance.

Effectiveness
Bears were not as capable a tank as other classes in early Wrath.

This was certainly true, back when our AoE was a cone attack and before Savage Defense was implemented. We had an HP/armor advantage over other tanks, but it was small; we had no block ability, which led to us taking a good bit of damage from trash; and holding threat was hard. However, those problems have been fixed for quite some time now, so I don’t think that’s still affecting class/role decisions.

Aesthetics
Bears don’t usually get to see gear upgrades because we’re always stuck in form, and our gear looks like crap anyway, being a hybrid of rogue leather and tanking jewelry.

This point is very real; but it really depends on how much concern you have for your appearance. Me, I’ve always been a numbers guy. I get more of a thrill out of seeing 500 more HP, or 200 more DPS, than I do by seeing a new boot upgrade. Plus, I LIKE looking like a bear when raiding; it’s very visually distinctive. I typically have to mark our other tanks with raidmarks for identification purposes, but everyone always understands me on Vent when I say “run to the bear to get cleansed,” etc. It would be very nice to have something on the form that changed as your gear evolved, though. One of the comments recommended having tattoos, or scars, or some other kide of visual representation, and I wholly support that idea. Also, our animations could use some reworks; the forms look great, but the attacks are underwhelming. Overall, while looks are nice, I don’t think post people care too much about looks, if the gear/abilities are good.

Fun
Bears are boring tanks compared to the other classes.

As with aesthetics, this is more a matter of personal opinion and grass-is-greener syndrome than anything else. I still have plenty of fun when tanking. (Psst. Try changing some stuff up if you’re bored. Glyph Berserk and try to top DPS meters. Do a couple NINJABARE pulls. It’s okay. Really.) I think people have a valid argument that ferals have a smaller toolbox than the other tanks do; we have some warrior abilities, but our druid abilities are limited, mainly because of the form restriction mechanic. If Pallies can bubble others while tanking, why can’t I brez or innervate someone? Hell, let me use ALL my druid baseline abilities in feral form, and we’ll have all kinds of tools to use. (moonfire for pulling, hurricane for AOE tanking, Roots/Cyclone for adds, etc.) Kalon mentioned this in his latest post.

Gear
Bears are much harder to gear than plate tanks, due to stat consolidation and poor itemization.

This is a VERY common complaint…common enough that I decided to run the numbers and check. Let’s look at TOC 25 (normal). There are 10 leather drops (of which 5 are caster) and 16 plate drops, of which 5 are tank plate, 4 are caster, and 7 are DPS plate. There’s an equal number of tank plate and melee leather items. While this seems balanced in theory, it’s actually not. Let’s assume a 25m raid with 3 tanks, 6 healers, and 16 DPS (typical comp).

  • Plate tank items: Desired only by three specs, of which you only have 3 (maybe 2, if druid is tanking). Let’s say a bear tanks half of the time, so your roll odds (or people you have to compete with on DKP) are 1 in 2.5, or 40%.
  • Leather melee DPS items: Desired by the rogue, hunter, enhancement shammy, kitty druid, and bear druid. There are 16 DPS slots in the raid. Some quick mental math tells me, assuming random dps class distribution, that roughly 1 in 4 DPS slots goes to one of the above 4 DPS classes; so your chance of winning an item is 1 in 5. This is slightly mitigated by hunters/enh shammies having mail items to pick from as well, so we’ll call it a 1 in 4.5 chance, or 22%.

So, it is almost twice as hard for a bear to get upgrades as a plate tank, unless your guild runs with tank priority for loot drops. Yuck. Combine this with Opportunity Cost (see below) and I think you have the main reason that feral tanks are disappearing.

Opportunity Cost
The raid stands to lose the least by a feral tank switching roles.

I can’t back this up with numbers, but in general, Druids and Paladins are the most flexible tanks, since they can both dualspec dps or heals. Combine this with the fact that spellpower leather and caster plate is very easy to get off-spec, and that heals are much harder to find than dps, and guess who gets to be the one to switch to benefit the raid? Great! Thanks for switching! BTW, for many guilds, you now can’t roll on tank plate/leather, so you get dropped even farther behind the gear curve, and before you know it, you’re a fulltime healer. Druids take this much harder because they’re much more likely to have a resto off-spec. (According to armorydatamine, roughly 60% of ferals are also specced resto, while slightly under 40% of protadins are also specced holy.)

Is this fixable? Sure, but Cataclysm’s going to shake things up anyway (heh), so we’ll have to see how it goes. Until then…learn to be fluid. :P

  One Response to “Bears, whither art thou?”

  1. A nice benfit of being kitty MS/ resto OS at higher gear levels is you can also easily tank heroics. I switched my bear OS couple months back as it was never required. It is a pain because the gear doesn’t flow like a kitty/bear MS/OS.

    I believe the way the raids are designed slowly pushed me this way. We have 2 tanks on the majority of our fights while using 5-6 healers. Didn’t take long to figure out OS resto would be more of a benefit to the raid.

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