This guide was written by Jasica/Ayasilkrose, Warrior Officer of Spaceballs the Guild on Draenor, and 70 Druid on Hyjal. It is reprinted here with the author's permission.
This post is primarily to discuss what I've learned about tanking as a druid, specifically as a feral druid. I learned how to tank first on a druid, and while I'm not going to get into some kind of playground argument about whether druids can tank better than warriors or paladins, I am a huge believer in the efficacy of a druid tank. I'm not going to discuss cat form or healing much (though if people were interested I'd be happy to discuss cats and feral healing at length in other posts, and I absolutely believe in the capacity of a feral druid to main-heal any five-man instance), although some amount of discussion is inevitable. Primarily though this post will be about bears.
This post will discuss the distinctives of a druid tank in terms of play style. Like my warrior guide, I'll then look more specifically at some math that every druid should know. Then "best tanking practices", then gear, and then a discussion of feral and bear talents.
Thematically, a druid tank is big, slow, and powerful. Their mitigation comes from having enormous amounts of armor, and they have enormous amounts of hit points. A big druid distinctive is their lack of high-threat instant attacks. Until level 66, a druid's main threat attack is Maul, which consumes rather than generates rage and occurs every 2.5 seconds at best. On the other hand, far more of a druid's threat comes from damage than a warrior's. It's not (or shouldn't be) all that unusual for a druid to be at or near the top of the damage meters. A druid also has a number of tools that make pack tanking easier. Not necessarily better - a good old-fashioned sunder rotation can be just as effective. But easier, no doubt.
In order to really understand druid tanking you really have to know some numbers. If you aren't comfortable crunching a lot of numbers, at least you need to read this section and understand the conclusions. But you need to understand the conclusions. If you don't know at least roughly how much threat you're generating, you don't know how much dps your party can sustain, and staying ahead of your party's dps is what you're there to do (recall my earlier post on theory).
I'm going to be using numbers assuming a level 60 druid, since level 60 is where we have the best data. To really optimize your tanking you need to look up the numbers for your particular level, if available (see Aggro). But using level 60 numbers as an example will lead us to conclusions that hold regardless of your level.
With that in mind, let's look at how much threat a level 60 druid actually generates:
Druid (partial list)
|Maul||207 + damage|
|Lacerate||154 + Damage|
|All Cat Attacks||Damage|
This is as good a time as any to point out the obvious, that you cannot generate as much threat in cat form as you can in bear form. This should be clear from the threat multipliers alone: 1.3 is 83% more than 0.71. I don't think we have to go through the math with cat and bear abilities added in.
Also note that these multipliers are for everything. If a level 60 cat cowers, he actually lowers his threat by -600 x 0.71 = -426 threat. If that strikes you as lame... well, it is. But that's just the way it is.
Once you've looked at the numbers above, a druid's threat priorities should be clear. Always have thorns up. That should be a no-brainer, but it's worth shifting out of bear form every 10 minutes to recast thorns on yourself. A single proc of thorns is enough to support 46.8 points of healing against a single mob, and there's no reason not to have that threat. Maul generates more threat than every ability but mangle by a long shot. At level 60, maul beats mangle unless your average white damage is greater than 663 per hit (at level 70 that value is 693 per hit).So realistically, maul generates more threat than any other druid attack. And it generates a lot (just spamming maul, my druid can pull down about 477 threat per second, which is enough to support 620 hunter dps or 740 rogue dps).
Of course, the trouble with maul is that it takes anywhere from 10 to 15 rage and prevents you from generating rage through damage every time you use it. Spamming maul is like trying to tank using heroic strike, which every warrior is taught not to do. This is one of the differences between playing a warrior tank and playing a druid tank. A druid has got to maul, and maul frequently, in order to generate useful amounts of threat.
How frequently is frequently? Ideally, of course, a druid generates enough rage to maul every 2.5 seconds and pop an instant ability every 1.5 seconds. This is possible, but depends a lot on your spec. So let me give three scenarios.
First, suppose you're a non-feral druid fighting a single mob. Protocol is simple: maul every chance you get, and pop faerie fire every chance you get. True, faerie fire isn't a lot of threat. But it's not on the same cooldown as maul, and more threat is always better. If for some reason you have extra threat after mauling every 2.5 seconds (which means this single mob hits awfully hard) soak up the extra rage using mangle if possible and swipe if not (mangle generates far more threat than swipe, because it generates far more damage).Note that this is the opposite of the warrior's usual behavior, who uses instant attacks first and soaks up extra rage with heroic strike. The reason for this is that sunder armor generates a lot more threat than swipe (at level 60 you're doing pretty good if your swipe hits for about 100 damage, which is 100 threat. Sunder armor at level 60 is 2.6 times that), and mangle is on a six-second cooldown.
Now suppose you're a non-feral druid fighting multiple mobs. You now need to worry about your healer pulling aggro on one of your off-targets. First, don't try to tank the pack with demoralizing roar. The logic is the same as not pack tanking with demoralizing shout: demo roar may be AOE threat, but it's very little threat. And unlike a warrior, who has to sunder or revenge every mob to get a useful amount of threat on it, you're a druid. You have swipe. Use swipe as necessary until you've hit every mob in the pack at least once, using your auto-attack on your main target. If you ever run out of rage, Faerie Fire something (you did remember to faerie fire your main target before the mobs got into melee range, right?). Maul your main target. Wash, rinse, and repeat.
How often should you be swiping? Obviously you want to save as much rage as possible for mauling your main target. This all depends on how much damage you're taking and how many mobs you're fighting. Healing threat is typically distributed over the entire pack so that threat per mob = (threat from heal) / (number of mobs x 2). So suppose you're fighting three mobs and you swipe once, hitting each for 100 damage. You don't have Feral Instinct, and your healer doesn't have any threat-reducing talents, blessings, or totems. That one swipe is enough to keep aggro through (100 threat) x (1.3 bear form multiplier) / (0.5 healing multiplier) x (1.3 30% rule) x (3 mobs x 2) = 2028 HP healed. You can substitute your own numbers for your pet scenario, but the point is you should be able to swipe, use your rage on a couple of mauls, and swipe again after you get your first big heal.
Now suppose you're a feral druid. As will become clear in the next two sections, you can generate a surprising amount of rage. It is absolutely possible to maul every 2.5 seconds and swipe or mangle every 1.5 seconds, and that's what you should strive to do. Pull as much as you need to generate that much rage. Swipe everything you can. After a few seconds you should see your rage building up, and that's when you should start mauling like there's no tomorrow. If you have to pick between maul and swipe, maul. Don't waste a global cooldown on faerie fire unless you manage to run your rage bar down.
What about lacerate? I will admit that I'm still messing around with lacerate, but the numbers and my own experience suggest to me that it's mostly a single-target tanking skill. At best, lacerate generates 169.9 threat per second (for spamming lacerate on a mangled mob). Against a single target (and especially a boss) that's probably better than you can do by mauling every couple of seconds. Essentially what lacerate lets you do is tank more like a warrior: you can mangle, lacerate, lacerate, lacerate, repeat, all while generating rage through your white damage, and toss in mauls as rage permits. Like devastate, though, the use of lacerate in multiple-mob situations is limited.
Let me start this section by stating the most important thing you need to know about druid gear: your gear should match your form. Unless you're shifting in the middle of a fight, where you can't switch gear, you should be changing armor every time you shapeshift. Essentially there are five types of druid armor, corresponding to the five druid roles: bear, cat, healing, Moonkin, and PvP. Personally I think all druids should carry three sets of gear at all times—one for bear, one for healing, and one for either cat or Moonkin depending on spec (yes, that means your bags are perpetually full. Deal with it). Even if you don't carry your gear with you all the time, though, you should have different armor for different forms as soon as druid gear starts to differentiate (which is around the 40s). Speaking personally I strongly recommend carrying all three sets of gear any time you enter an instance. Druids are not true hybrids; shapeshifting is not enough to shift your role in the party.
The reason for this is that each of your forms emphasizes a different set of stats. If you build your bear set like you're going to be healing in it, don't be surprised if you can't tank anything. If you build your cat set like you're tanking, don't be surprised if your dps is terrible (incidentally, if you build your cat set like you're playing a rogue, don't be surprised if your dps is terrible either. Cats—particularly non-feral cats—are a strength- and AP-based class, not an agility-based class). If you try to heal in your bear armor, don't be surprised if you have no mana.
So what stats should bear armor emphasize? Depends on whether you're specced feral or not. All bears need to pile on strength and attack power. Even warriors need to pay attention to their dps in order to really tank effectively, and bears have even fewer pure threat attacks than warriors—hence, they need to pay even more attention to their dps. Strength and attack power are a must for an effective set of bear armor. For non-feral druids, 1% hit and 1% crit are essentially equivalent (each adds 1% to your dps), until you get to level 66 and get lacerate. At that point you should invest in a +5% hit chance, since lacerate (like sunder armor) can't crit, but it can miss. Agility is good for a generic bear but should be considered a secondary stat.
You'll notice that so far bear gear looks pretty similar to cat gear - pile on the strength, pile on the AP, agility after that. Of course the situation changes some when we talk about mitigation, but if you're thinking that generic bear and generic cat gear are pretty similar, you're right.
We'll get into mitigation in a second, but before we do let me talk about feral druids. Feral bear and feral cat gear are radically different from each other. Feral cats should prioritize strength over attack power. This is because a fully talented cat gains 1 attack power for each point of AP on his gear, but 2.46 attack power for every point of strength. A feral bear, however, still gains only 2 attack power for every 1 point of strength, so strength and AP are essentially equivalent.
Feral druids (both bears and cats) also care about their crit chance a great deal. This is for two reasons. First, fully talented feral druids deal 2.15 times normal damage per crit. Thus, while +1% to hit still only increases their total dps by 1%, +1% to crit increases their total dps by 1.15% (a level 66 feral bear should still have the +5% to hit, of course).Second, feral bears gain 5 rage any time an attack crits, and cats gain 1 combo point every time one of their special attacks crits. Rage-generating crits are extraordinarily important to the efficacy of a bear tank. Whereas a non-feral bear needs 15 rage to maul once, a feral bear needs only 10 rage to maul, and that maul will return 5 rage if it crits. It is possible (though unlikely) for swipe to crit once on each target, thus returning 15 rage. As previously discussed, bears need to maul as often as possible. This means that crits are A Really Good Thing for a feral druid.
In more mathematical terms, the most rage a fully talented feral druid can spend without Frenzied Regeneration is 14 rage per second (10 rage to maul every 2.5 seconds + 15 rage to mangle or swipe every 1.5 seconds).The amount of threat that kind of rage consumption generates will depend on your dps and level, but it ought to be enough to make the rest of your party cry in frustration at their inability to pull aggro off you. Of course, if you're spamming maul like that you aren't generating any rage from auto-attack, which means you need to be taking 1291.36 damage per second at level 60 (1538.32 dps at 70).That's more than a priest can reasonably be expected to heal at level 60.Now suppose you have a 20% crit chance. If you can get the critical rage mass of being able to swipe every 1.5 seconds, you are attacking 2.4 times per second (3 times every 1.5 seconds from swipe, and 1 time every 2.5 seconds from maul or auto-attack).You have a 20% chance each attack of gaining 5 rage, which works out to 2.4 rage per second. To reach the magical 14 rps number, you now only have to take 1069.984 damage per second, which is a lot for a level 60 priest to heal but is doable. And the higher your crit chance, the easier it is to reach maximum rage consumption.
It's time to talk about mitigation. A druid's most unique defense is his armor. Even without talents, a dire bear receives 5.5 points of armor for each point of armor on an item (yes, 5/5 Dire bear adds 450% to your armor - i.e., it adds 450% to 100%, for a total of 550%). With talents a dire bear multiplies all armor on an item by 6.05 (that's right, thick hide double-counts. It gives you 10% of your base 100% armor, plus 10% of the extra 450% you receive from dire bear form, for a total of 110% + 495% = 605%). When you're looking for mitigation in your bear set, go for armor first.
A druid can't block or parry, so +defense gear is worth less to a druid than it is to a warrior—it takes a little over +8 defense for a druid to get 1% damage reduction out of +defense gear, which is the equivalent of (4.04 + .86(mob's level)) armor, or 66.82 armor even when fighting level 73 mobs. Since it takes only 11 armor on an item for a fully talented druid to get that much armor, it should be apparent that +defense is an extraordinarily inefficient form of defense for a druid.
Dodge forms a druid's secondary form of mitigation. A non-feral druid can treat agility and dodge rating as more or less interchangeable, since a non-feral druid gets no special benefit from critical hits. A feral druid should prioritize agility over dodge rating, since he gets a 3% bonus to his agility and he cares a great deal about getting critical hits.
Finally, stamina. As I've discussed in the warrior tanking thread, hit points are not, by themselves, going to keep you alive. It doesn't really matter how many hit points you have; you can have 12,000 HP and you're still going to die in a matter of seconds in the boss fights where you anybody could conceivably have that much HP. The point, simply put, is that there's a big difference between dying in 2 seconds and dying in 4.If you die in 2 seconds, you're dead before your priest can cast a single greater heal. If you're dead in 4, your priest can cast a greater heal. If you're dead in 5, your priest can cast a greater heal and a renew before you go down. And so on and so forth.
The trick for a druid is that you get a lot of hit points in bear form. Even a non-feral druid gets 12.5 HP per point of stamina, and a feral druid gets a little over 15 HP per point of stamina. It's still nothing more than a buffer, but it's a really big buffer, and one of your class distinctives as a tank. There's no point in having 12,000 HP and not being able to hold aggro on anything, but it's a stat that's worth shooting for when you decide that you can already out-threat everybody in your party by a comfortable margin and it's time to add some survivability.
Finally, when choosing a bear weapon (or cat weapon), remember that you never swing that weapon. The weapon is incorporated into your bear form, but you swing your bear paw. Thinking about it this way should make it clear that you care about two things and only two things when choosing a bear weapon: what stats does it enhance, and does it have any equip: stats? Your weapon will never, ever proc. How can it? You aren't swinging it. Its dps is irrelevant. You aren't swinging it. It's less like a weapon and more like another piece of armor.
Finally, on to talents. I'm going to talk primarily about the feral tree, though there are a few talents in the other trees that feral druids should consider. It used to be that the feral tree was split between bear and cat talents, so druids really had four talent trees to choose from. Happily, this is no longer the case.