I previously went over how to play with a bear. The next logical step in this crazy little path I've laid out in my head is to cover how to play AS a bear. We'll divide it up to try to make it sane, and looking at the length of this it'll take more than one or two posts. I'll try to split it at spots that make sense.
In order to understand why we'll make certain decisions in the spec and gear we choose, you need to understand the mechanics that make a bear, a bear. I'll try to cycle through each of the major categories. For tanks, this means, in no particular order, threat generation, damage mitigation, damage avoidance, and what to do in an emergency.
Step 1: Threat.
A tank's number one job is to hold aggro on the mobs that are going to try to do bad things to your party or raid. As such, the number one thing a tank should be worried about (almost) all the time is threat. How to maximize it in different situations is therefore very important.
Every class of tank generates threat a little differently. Bears have a set of abilities for single-target threat, and couple to generate AOE threat. I highly recommend marking targets as a bear, even when not needed, since your single-target threat generation is much stronger than your AOE threat generation, and if your DPS stays on YOUR target, it's much less likely that anything's going to get loose. If your DPS complains that this means they can't max their DPS, tell your healer to let them die when they pull mobs off you. What follows is how I work on generating threat, not necessarily the best method, but it works for me.
Once I have my first target (and more, if it's necessary) marked, I try to start my pulls with a feral faerie fire (FFF) on my main target. It's ranged, it does a small amount of damage, and generates a reasonable amount of threat. If I'm not corner-pulling, I follow that up with a charge to put myself either right on the single target, or right in the middle of a group. If it's a group, SWIPE, if not, Maul and Mangle. Once that's accomplished, I follow these simple rules to keep enough threat on target.
Maul is an "on-next-attack" ability and doesn't use the GCD. Use it every single attack.
If FFF is off cooldown, use it.
If you are focusing on a single target:
If Mangle is off cooldown and you either have 5 stacks of Lacerate on your single target, or the Mangle debuff is about to fall off the single target, use it.
If Lacerate is off cooldown and either not at 5 stacks or the debuff is about to fall off, use it.
Even if you are focusing on a single target, if there are multiple mobs toss an occasional swipe out there to keep up the group aggro, especially if a DPS or two is going to AOE.
If your DPS crew is going to go nuts with AOE:
Swipe. Much and often. You don't have much other choice.
I try to find time to use Demoralizing Roar, especially against large groups of mobs. The attack power reduction isn't huge, but every little bit helps.
You don't want to have to use your taunts, but when things go a little awry, don't forget that you can Growl or use Challenging Roar to try to reestablish your aggro.
I don't have the link handy, but some folks have gone into exquisite mathematical detail of the optimum rotations for threat generation depending on whether you have the Improved Mangle talent or not. I prefer a more fluid approach such as this.
Also note that using Berserk and Mangle-spam is a very effective method against small groups, and should be used against single-target once the 5-stack of Lacerate is up and rolling, barring the need to save it to stop a fear-related wipe.
Tied in to threat generation as a bear is rage generation. We need rage to use most of our threat-related abilities (FFF is cool, we don't need to be angry to light you up), and we need things swinging at us to generate rage. We have talents that allow us to generate rage when we crit, and when we dodge. Since we're not limited by our attack speed in dodging, AND we get rage for being hit anyway, it becomes very important for us to keep things mad at us instead of everybody else. Just in case you didn't already have enough reasons to believe this is your number one job.*
Step 2: Damage Mitigation.
I'm going to group a couple of couple of different items in here that probably aren't technically damage mitigation, but given the nature of tanking they might as well be.
The first and biggest piece of damage mitigation is armor. As druids, we can't wear plate or mail and we can't use a shield to block parts of incoming attacks. So we have to rely on our leather armor affected by our dire bear form and talents to boost our armor to respectable levels. Fully talented, we get a nearly 400% increase (I can't quote you the exact number off the top of my head, I believe it's 380%) to our stat sheet armor when we shift into bear form. I sit around 6500 armor pre-bear form, and nearly 30k after the shift, currently. We'll typically have the highest base armor of any similarly geared tank, but again, we have no shield to help further mitigate attacks.
We do have a faux shield, however. The trained ability savage defense gives us a shield-like damage reduction based on our attack power any time we deal a critical strike. This turns two stats that would otherwise only relate to threat generation for us (namely attack power and critical strike chance) into mitigation stats. This makes it important for us to have every chance we can to crit, and makes talents such as Primal Gore key to our survivability.
We also get Improved Leader of the Pack, which further increases the importance of critical strike chance with a bear. Bears already get more HP than anybody else, and thus we get a bigger boost than any other class. While not directly mitigating damage, this acts much like Savage Defense, extending our survivability by giving us small boosts at periodic intervals.
Speaking of HP, you may have heard, bears get ridiculously large HP pools. Stamina is very important to us, but once we have enough HP to survive burst damage (51k fully raid buffed is a good target at the moment) it becomes important to focus on the stats that provide other avenues to suvivability - agility, dodge, crit, etc.
Finally, we have Barkskin, which reduces damage taken by 20% for 12 seconds when used. Depending on the fight, use this as often as possible to reduce load on your healers, or save it for emergencies if you think you have to.
Step 3: Damage avoidance.
There's not a whole lot to talk about here. Dodge is the only avoidance stat bears get, and so we get more dodge per point of agility than anybody else. Stack agility and/or dodge rating until you get to about 50% dodge, then feel free to use defense rating. Agility provides ancillary benefits vs. dodge rating (higher crit chance, armor, kitty attack power), so that's the route I've gone, but either way works.
Step 4: Emergency Situations
Bears don't have a whole lot of emergency options. We have a mass taunt for losing aggro on a group, and we have SI + FR to save ourselves. While it can be useful to use each of your various cooldowns individually, I have a macro built to use my entire arsenal at once, for when I need to buckle down, reduce load on healers, and save myself. It performs all of these abilities at the same time, since none of them use the GCD: Barkskin, Survival Instincts, Frenzied Regeneration, Fel Healthstone, and Runic Healing Potion. With the glyphs for SI and FR, this is a ridiculously powerful button for keeping me alive. Fully raid buffed, I exceed 75k HP while SI is up.
Keep in mind that the multi-use Berserk is also an emergency button - when the emergency is fear.
*I think some folks would probably say that your number one job is staying alive. That's job 1b. You have healers whose sole purpose in life (or at least WoW) is to make sure you stay alive. While you should be doing what you can to help them, it frees you up to worry about what's most important.
Stay tuned for Part 3, where I'll go in-depth into the talent choices for a bear. Also coming soon, Kae's monday night raid report.