So you want to tank with your face

As most folks hitting dungeon queues will tell you, plate is the byword for tanking. Let’s face it – when you’re looking at absorbing blows from sharp, pointy, often oversized weapons, you’re not immediately going to look over at your teddy-bear collection and think, “hey, Mr. Ruffles there looks pretty tough! I’ll roll a bear!”

In time, though, you may look at the lockstepped armies of puckered-up, punch-drunk pansies, and decide that plate is for pussies. So you roll a feral druid.

You poor bastard.

Let’s run through the first 30 levels or so.

1-7: You’re a caster. Not a very good caster. Live with it.

No discussion of druids is complete without Sesebi.

8-14: You’re a cat! Mash Mangle until things drop their things so you can buy more things. Have fun being a cut-price rogue, but be aware that this will in no way, means or form prepare you for your eventual task. Take a couple of points in feral swiftness when you start doing talent tree stuff. It makes Fedexing much more bearable, and it comes with a baked-in bear bonus.

Get used to re-reading your tooltips, since most of your talents do two completely different things.

15-17: Bear form at last! You now realise that many of your abilities have “bear form” and “cat form” variants. Welcome to paying for everything twice. Maybe this is meant to make up for getting two talent points for the price of one. Hope you have an alt to send over a couple of gold. For a lowbie, this shit gets expensive.

Paradoxically, you may feel somewhat alarmed by how empty your bear-bar is. Your abilities come down to:

  • Mangle. This hits like a whiffle bat but leaves a pretty nice bleed going and increases bleed damage.
  • Maul. Hits pretty hard, especially since it’s boosted by effects that amp bleeds. Unfortunately, it’s expensive as hell.
  • Growl. You’ll recognise this if you’ve ever played a hunter. It’s a taunt. It’s also your only pulling tool until the mid-twenties.
  • Demoralizing roar. Honestly, I’m not sure whether it’s meant to demoralize the player or the target at this point. “Wait,” you might think as you read the spell description,* “this is my only AoE ability. Isn’t this tooltip missing the damage?” It is not. What this ability does is debuff nearby enemies. Don’t look down on it too hard, though – it’s the cheapest ability that you have, and in early levels you’ll likely find yourself mashing it just to get some threat, any threat up on groups. In later levels you’ll keep it up simply because you have no cooldowns and it’s the only way you have to keep enemies from turning you into a stylish rug.

This bear is confused by the flowers, because it is a simple creature.

Level 15 is also notable for being the first level where you can pop into the dungeon finder. By all means, do so if you want to learn about tab-targetting and careful pulling. Or if you want to gape jealously at the classes who got their AoE before you did, and then chase mobs across three different rooms while the aforementioned classes run steadfastly away from you with the mobs glued to them.

Ragefire chasm is the lowest-level dungeon, and is fairly linear at first with single-mob pulls, and gets trickier with multi-mob pulls later. I recommend it for bear cubs. The Deadmines are your other option. Good luck with the groups of four or more Defias in there.

You’ll likely get dumped into Wailing Caverns long before you have any AoE. Experienced tanks will often say that any tank that taunts on trash is a bad tank. Swallow that pride and don’t spill a drop, because either you Growl or you have a healer covered in snakes. I can tell you from personal experience that healers react to snakes in much the same fashion as Indiana Jones, except with more invective directed toward nearby, supposedly friendly, fauna.

18: With Swipe, you’ll finally have an actual AoE damage ability. Somehow it costs about half what Maul does. The sense there is no making. Unfortunately, you’ll likely get this in the middle of WC and then spend the rest of the run cursing about how you don’t have it.

19: It’s easy to overlook as a PvP talent, but check out Infected Wounds. This applies a move-speed and attack-speed debuff to anything affected by your major bleeds, making cleanup of running mobs easier and managing incoming damage somewhat. Keep this lesson in mind, because it seems the crossover between what seem to be PvP utility or DPS abilities and the bear’s mitigation model seem to run pretty deep.

20: Somehow I missed reading what exactly Omen of Clarity does when I bought it, thinking it was some pansyish castery-like skill. So I’ll spell it out here.

This is what you can expect from a druid skill tooltip.

It makes bear playable.

I’m not even kidding here. Up until this point, a bear is starved for rage in a way that makes me think that playing up to this point is some sort of test of patience, or maybe an accidentally leaked punishment for captured gold-farmers. What the ability actually does is give a chance of your attacks, spells and autoattacks making your next rage-cost ability free. My advice is if you see those green vines, hit Maul before anything else. Regardless, this marks your exit from the purgatory of early bear levelling, emerging cleansed and tempered.

22: Enrage makes its debut at this point, solidifying your newfound confidence in the ability to, you know, actually have any rage at all ever, but especially when you need it. Somehow Skull Bash sneaked its way out of the purgatory and up here, though. An interrupt on a 1 minute CD, with a rage cost of 15 and no apparent way to reduce that. Spiffing, chaps. Think of it as picking out the last of the obsidian shards gouged into your tender paws. Let the healing begin.

24: I think Faerie Fire is a pretty good ability. Eh applies sunder armour and doesn’t afraid of anything. A free ability with a cooldown short enough to use in rotation, a range long enough for pulling or for grabbing incoming mobs, damage, a debuff, bonus threat and which can be talented and glyphed to be even better? This is your payoff. Your reward. Easily the best ability you’ll get for a fair while.

Getting Faerie Fire made me so happy. You do not even.

29: It’s not strictly an ability, but this is the first level where you can talent into feral charge. It’s also the level where you can start taking Thick Hide, but you may be so starved for buttons to press that it doesn’t even feature as a choice. Bear in mind*** that your new shiny charge has a rage cost, though. So much for being just like warriors.

By this point, the bear actually feels like a pretty good tank. Congratulations! It only took over 1/3 of your character’s lifespan to become functional on a basic level. That said, you still don’t have any cooldowns. The future is brighter than the past, though, so keep running forward!

If only because you don’t have the rage to Charge.

* reading druid tooltips is probably best done after getting some sort of technical writing degree**, or maybe experience in WWII-era cryptology.

** do these exist?

*** after avoiding this expression for most of the post, it somehow sneaked out there into the open. aargh.

  1. Arioch said:

    I no longer feel so bad about the horrible time I had trying to figure out if a low-level bear tank was even plausible.

    • Leit said:

      “We make mistakes, so you don’t have to”.

      This post is probably a little over-critical. They made it really easy, though, since feral tanking is *so terrible* at low level. It’s like they just spread the druid toolkit around without much regard to what levelling characters would actually need for their roles.

      When the bear comes together, though, it really does feel pretty solid. Just wish I had a CD to hit in times of distress. My fiancee’s healer has a damage reduction cd already. How can my tank possibly not?

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