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,


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I deliberately left my comments unmoderated, hoping that things would stay both civil and on-topic. It figures that my first comment, therefore, would be advertising spam. Thanks for lowering my faith in humanity even more.