Friday, October 30, 2009

A Primer On Bear Tanking (Part 1)

I won't be able to keep up posts at this rate for long.  I know it, but there's a lot of stuff I want to get out there before it just drains out of my skull to be lost forever.

This post is not intended to be for people who want to be a bear.  That's being reserved for Part 2.  Instead, I'd like to ramble on about how to get the best out of your bear if you're one of the folks working with one.

A lot of folks that I end up running with are used to having Warriors, Paladins, and Death Knights as their tanks, and don't really understand the things that make a bear different.  To take a short detour, in my little world the bear has nearly fallen off the map.  I've only actually seen one other bear in LFG or a raid that I've attended since Wrath came out, and a priest I ran with a couple of weeks ago commented that a) he hadn't seen a bear tank in 2 years, b) except for me, and one literally the day before, and c) he loved healing bears.  This surprises me for a couple of reasons, but that appears to be the state of things, at least amongst the folks that I see on a regular basis.  Maybe it's just my guild, maybe it's just my server, maybe it's just the times and manner in which I play, I don't know.

Also, before anybody says anything, I started writing this post before IceDragon over at Druid Main posted her article on pet peeves, which looks remarkably similar to what I have written and planned to write.  I think I'll shamelessly steal some of her miraculously good metaphors.

Enough with the detour, time to get down to business.

I'll start with the heals.  Those folks that keep us all alive while we beat on things.  If you've never healed a bear before, what do you need to know?

1. A bear tanks with his face (thanks Big Bear Butt for that turn of phrase).  Since we don't get a shield, don't have a bunch of fancy cooldown-based-abilities, and can't parry, we have to make up for it with sheer armor value, and as such we generally take less physical damage per hit than other tanks.  I specifically said physical for a reason.  Because we're good with physical damage, we have a generally low resistance to magical damage, and few ways to mitigate it.

We do get a lot of dodge.  I mean a LOT.  While we're not often at or exceeding the total avoidance of other tanks, we come very close with our one avoidance stat.

What does all this mean for a healer?  Not all that much, really.  You'll probably have to heal us a little less through a lot of physical damage, and a little more through a lot of magical damage, but on the whole it probably ends up a wash.

2. Bears get a LOT of HP.  I've seen a couple of different numbers, based on exactly what raid buffing the bear is getting, we get between 14.5 and 16 points of HP per point of stamina.  Fully raid buffed right now (and I'm not in extremely high-end gear) I have over 51k HP.  As a healer, this means you need to be a little more careful with what you're doing.  If you know a boss has a big hit coming, that druid with half his life probably has quite a bit more HP than the warrior that has half his life, but if  you want them both topped off it's going to take a lot bigger heal to get that bear back up.  It's easy to get behind, but you can cast the bigger heals and not worry that you're overhealing and wasting mana.  As a corollary, you can spend more time healing other folks and just toss the big heal at us every now and again, since we'll have a relatively big buffer of health still left.

3. This is more of a general healing to tanking thing, but despite your gut instinct to run away from all the things that hurt you, the best way to get big nasties off of you is to run TO the tank.  Bears especially - we have exactly 3 abilities that do anything threat-wise at range.  One is a mass taunt with a long cooldown which we would much prefer to use in emergencies.  The second is a single-target taunt, which, if you are far enough away, won't be enough on it's own to get the baddy back to the group.  The third is FFF - but if we're using that in our threat rotation (and we should be!), chances are that's going to be on cooldown.  If we're in a multi-mob environment (which is the only situation in which this should be a problem in the first place), we're going to be swiping much and often to hold down aggro.  Get something close and don't make it any more angry with you and (thanks Ice) it'll go "OMG IT'S A BEAR!!" and ignore you.

4.  If the sh_t really is hitting the fan, bears have a wonderful set of a abilities they ought to have on a macro to use all at once, that will make your job a LOT easier.  I certianly have an OS button.  It burns Survival Instincts, Barkskin, Frenzied Regeneration, a Healthstone, and a Heal Potion, all with one button.  Since I have the Glyphs for SI and FR, this means (using my fully raid buffed self as an example) I just gained ~30k HP instantly, I'm taking 20% less damage for the next 12 seconds, and I'm gaining over 2k a second for the next 10 seconds.  One big heal from you, and I'm probably back at max health before I lose my SI.  Watch the bear, if you see his max health jump by 15-20k, you can probably throw a little less healing his way for a bit.

That's really all I've got on that front.  On to the DPS!

1. All tanks do not generate threat the same way.
a) This is especially true when it comes to AOE threat.  Paladins get consecration.  DK's get death and decay.  Warriors have their own methods of generating AOE threat, that I'm sadly not all that up on, as my warrior alt is all of level 20.  Maybe.  Bears get that mass taunt I mentioned earlier (once again, emergency use only), and bears get swipe.  Swipe generates a reasonable amount of aggro, but if you go nanner-nuts with high aoe-damage abilities before the bear has a decent aggro lead, you will probably pull all the bad things away from him, and then you will probably die, and consider yourself lucky if the rest of the group/raid doesn't die too.  Most raiders have learned not to stand in the fire.  Why?  Because you will probably die.  This is no different.
b) This is true for single-target threat as well.  Thankfully Blizzard has done pretty well with making all tanks pretty darned good at single-target threat, and a bear with proper threat rotation is difficult to pull aggro from.  Glyph of Maul extends a bear's single-target threat generation and makes them pretty good at 2-target threat as well.

2. Much like point 3 above, this is more of a general tanking thing, but you really need to be attacking the bad guy the tank is focusing on.  Even if it means you can't max your DPS because... well, any reason really, it means you won't generate enough aggro to pull the mob off your tank.

3. To expand on point number 2, bears are like warriors, or maybe angry nerds.  We rage, and need it to function.  If things aren't hitting us (or at least making us dodge), we probably won't generate enough rage to keep generating enough threat to hold the mob on us.  If you pull a mob away, you are simultaneously making your bear's job harder and making it more difficult for him to continue doing said job.

"But," I hear you say, "you can enrage, right?"

Yes.  But you don't want me to.  The only good time to enrage is out of combat.  The armor loss complicates the healer's job, even if we can use barkskin at the same time to mitigate some of the damage, and anything that makes the healer's job harder is a bad thing.

4. See healing point number 3.  Yes, DPS, this applies to you as well.  Run TO the tank, not away.

And finally, for the Raid Leader...

1. A bear's hp is not the proper measure of his gear or abilities.  While it can be a good indicator of the general level of his gear (a bear with 40k hp when raid buffed does not have a high end set), a bear with 51k hp and 1200 agility is in a better position, gearwise, than one with 55k hp and 1000 agility.  Likewise, one with 51k hp and 40% crit rating is in a better position than one with 55k hp and 15% crit rating.  That's right, crit matters (I'll cover that in detail in part 2).  Don't look at a bear and dismiss him just because you ran with one with a lot more HP the other day.  Look at the gems - a bear who does nothing except stack Solid Majestic Zircon probably isn't the best one to take.

2.  If you're worried about massive hits, a bear is probably a better choice than other classes.  We have more hp, which means that the 30k hit is only going to take three fifths of our life, instead of four fifths or five sixths.

3.  A lot of bears have a second spec (or at least gear set) in DPS or healing.  If you work with them, a lot of times you can shift your raid a little bit based on the individual boss fight to maximize your potential.  Got a heavy-hitting physical boss?  Bring in the bear!  Facing down a magic-wielding monster?  Trade out for a paladin.

Comments?  Thoughts?  Kae's an idiot?

Happy Halloween folks!  Don't eat too much candy, and have a safe and fun holiday!

Coming soon:  A primer on bear tanking (Part Deux!), some thoughts on healing assignments,

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Now for the tree part

So I told you Wednesday that I was main spec bear and off spec tree, but that I had never done Onyxia as a tank until last week.  Allow me to explain, briefly.

There was a time, back before Blizzard released dual spec, that I was only a feral spec.  It's what I leveled in, it's what I wanted to do when I got to raiding, it was just generally the only thing I did.  I had no intention of bowing to the will of anybody else for what I played in the game.  Then I got to the point where I could be invited to raids and learned a hard lesson.

My guild and especially our raiding crew had, and still has, an overabundance of tanks and a ridiculous shortage of healers.  In addition, I was a little slower than a few of our folks at getting to a gear level capable of raiding.  As such, the best way to ensure I got invited to raids was to be willing to spend the money before raid time to respec to tree, and spend the money again afterward to spec back.  One of our paladins (who prefers to go retribution and DPS) was already doing the same thing.  It's a lot easier to cover a little gear shortage on a healer than it is on a tank when doing progression, at least the way our guild runs, and so I started raiding primarily as a tree.

Some of you out there probably already know where this leads.  A lot of our guild think of me as a healer only, or a healer first.  I'm a tank that happens to heal because if I didn't I wouldn't get to go, dangit.  I have found that I enjoy healing given that I get opportunities to bear up sometimes, and I've read a couple of good posts lately on why people heal.  I do it because it expands my usefulness and thus the likelyhood I'll be invited to do things.  To keep my sanity, sometimes I have to refuse simply because I much prefer to tank, but that's neither really here nore there.

Whilst I would prefer to focus on the bear's view of being a druid, I'll spend a fair bit of time talking about the leafy side of life as well.  To whit:

I healed on my guild's weekly run into the 25 man versions of Onyxia and Trial of the Crusader Wednesday night.  We've had Onyxia on farm mode since essentially the first night we went in, and last night was no exception.  We haven't made any of the achievements yet, but we haven't wiped since that first night.

ToC, on the other hand, tends to give us a few issues.

We've been going at it for awhile now, and have pretty much locked down on the Northrend Beasts as well as Lord Jaraxxus, and last night was no exception as we one-shotted each.  The Faction Champions have for quite some time seemed to be our kryptonite.

I've had several friends that play on other servers tell me this is one of the easiest fights.  When I say we've had trouble with the tree putting out too much healing, I get told, "The tree doesn't put out enough healing to worry about!  If he is, just Banish, Banish, Fear, Fear, Cyclone, Cyclone, Cyclone, and then he dies...."  My guild, for the most part, does not PVP, and high-end raid content (with the exception of mind control in the Instructor fight in Naxx) has not required coordinated use of CC in quite some time, especially not on the scale that is needed to make this fight doable.

I know, some of you are saying my guild just needs to "l2p, nubs."  Go away.

Before tonight, as a guild, we'd managed to kill 1 or 2 of the Champions a couple of times.  Last night, after 3 or 4 wipes, we finally managed to get half of them down.  Unfortunately we had lost too many people by that point to be able to keep it up, and wiped again.  Then, on our last attempt of the night, we broke through.

Their priest went down, we lost a mage.  Their shaman went down, we lost a warlock.  We've got CC flying everywhere, 5 druids on the night means cyclones and HoTs going crazy, our raid leader is keeping the warrior busy, our hunters are keeping a broad patch of white in the middle for folks to drag melee across to slow them down, cleanses, purges, dispels, hexes, fears, sheeps, roots, freezes, and just general chaos.  The warlock gets a battle rez and suddenly we've got the distinct advantage.  The druid falls and it's all downhill from there.

By the end of the fight (it lasted around 15 mins in total) I've dropped tree form and started adding to the dps.

I can't go tonight but my guild is going back in to take our first shots at the Twins.

I can't decide if I'm truly happy or not that Blizzard decided to put a PvP fight in a PvE raid.  I'm happy in that it forces each of us to use our class to its full potential, but I'm not in that it is so radically different in the style of play that it has taken a group of relatively seasoned (if somewhat casual) raiders literally over a month to figure out how to get through it.  I know this is a little late to be commenting on this as this raid boss has been out for quite awhile, but seeing as I just started this (possibly ill-advised) little experiment in social networking yesterday I'm still interested in getting people's opinions.

On the definite plus side, I picked up a trophy from Icehowl, and will be able to complete my T9 tanking set (three pieces "of Conquest," two "of Triumph") once I gather up the 75 badges to buy the headpiece.  Just a ring and trinket or two after that and I can turn my triumph badges to my healing set.

Coming soon: Kae's primer on bear tanking, or working with one, and should you assign healing roles based solely on class or worry about the gear and spec too?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

RAWR!... and the bigger they are...

Thus I begin my foray into the blogging world.

Since I don't expect anybody to know who I am, a (very) little about myself before I venture into the real content of my first post.  I'm a Systems Engineer at a communications company, I got married earlier this year, and I've been playing WoW since before TBC came out.  I didn't get to 70, however, until a month or so before Wrath was released, so most of my end-game experience is colored by that fact.  My main is an alliance druid, main specced into bear tanking and offspecced into tree.  Enough about me, on to the show!

I had a number of ideas on how to start around here, but on the path of positive thinking, I decided to start with a high note from my past week in the World.

Everybody that's ever pugged in WoW has had at least one experience with a bad group.  The leader can't get the right people, the dps keeps going afk, the healer lets the tank die and then says "sorry I was afk/eating/bio/etc."  In raids it can often be worse, if pugs come in and don't know the fights, or can't play their class.  If you pug, you know how this goes, and just hope that you don't get saved to something before you can escape.

I got an invite to tank a 10-man Onyxia last week from someone I had never met.  Apologies to those involved, I can't even remember their names at this point.  I happily accept and start looking at the raid composition to see if I might be able to get any of my other guildies that are on invited.  That, you see, is where my worry started.

There seemed to be some confusion as to how many healers were there already, and how many we still needed, as well as DPS.  By the time I was able to sort it out we've managed to get a full raid invited in - but from what some folks had said, we had only 2 heals.  This seems 1 light to me, but I'll let the raid leader do his job - then somebody drops.  Another join, and another drop.

By this point I'm groaning on the inside.  The raid channel is full of chatter, half of which makes me think I'm the only one around that actually knows anything.  I tell myself that it'll be ok, it'll be a rough run but we'll get through it.

I should mention, at some point, that I was being told I'll be the main tank, and while I was confident that I could do it, I had never, at that point, even gone in to Onyxia 10-man, and the 25 man version I had only healed.  (Yeah, I know, I said I was main spec tank, I'll address that some other time).

By the time we start in, we've had 3 changes in the last raid spot.

On the first trash pull the raid leader died because somebody wouldn't wait until we could do just one at a time.  At this point I'm quite certain we're going to wipe, hardcore.

You know the feeling.  It's the same one you get watching horror flicks, when you know something bad is going to happen.  You don't always know when, you don't always know how, but you know it's coming, and you can't stop it.  It gets even worse as folks try to run past the Warder that's off on the side and ignore it.  A couple of folks insist that we do need to kill it, and when a DPS gets a little too close and pulls it I growl at it and hope I have a healer close by.  Insert universal expression of exasperation here.

Finally, we get down to Onyxia herself.  In what surprises me as a remarkable show of organization, we do set out roles and responsibilities for each phase - I'm taking her in phase 1, in phase 2 the OT (a paladin) will take the whelps and I'll take the larger adds, and when she lands, if I don't have an add I'll take her, if one is still up the OT will take her.  The raid leader assigns some DPS roles for phase 2, and off we go.

It was perfect.

Phase 1, I get my furry butt backed up against the far wall.  I think the DPS starts going a little early, but it doesn't cause me any issues.  What seems like an amazingly few seconds later, she turns and heads south to take off.  The whelps spawn and are gathered up by the pally.  The AOE starts to burn them down as Ony flies around, and one of the larger adds spawns and comes down the ramp.  I pick it up and turn it around.

I really don't realize, at this point, how fast we are going, and I start to get a little worried about how "slow" the dps is going after the add I'm tanking, and the whelps that are still dying around the pally.  As my big dude starts to get a little low on life, I'm looking around for where Ony is in case I need to move for a deep breath, as I'm sure it's past time for one, whatever DBM says.

Then Onyxia lands, without ever taking a deep breath.  In shock I look for the pally to see if he's moving to pick her up, but can't find him.  A couple seconds later my add drops, and I run down the big dragon, berserking through the first fear.  I pick her up and get her turned back where she should be, and the DPS goes nuclear.  In what seems to me like a remarkably short time from when I first went snout-to-snout with the big girl, she comes crashing down.

My screen spams yellow boxes - More Dots!, She Deep Breaths More, and the achievement for Ony herself, all at once.

To say the least, I was pleasantly surprised.

While I've gotten better, I have occasionally had problems outpacing threat for people with extremely high DPS output.  I had no issues, and we had a 5.9k and 5.2k DPS, plus a couple more at 4k+.  Hats off to all the folks that were on that raid, despite my misgivings on the lead up, everybody performed to perfection and made a bear happy.

If you've somehow managed to find your way here, I hope you enjoyed my little story.  I hope in upcoming posts to do some thoughts on bear tanking, tree healing, life in general, and anything else that happens to strike my fancy.  Welcome, and thanks for reading!