Last time, we looked at some basic tanking concepts, basic numbers, the attributes, spec and stats important to feral druids who choose to tank.
As promised, this blog entry is going to cover some of the abilities that beartanks have and how to use them most effectively in tanking situations. First, lets take a look at the bread-and-butter abilities that come with bear form:
Maul: As the tooltip suggests, this is a next strike ability, much like a warrior's heroic strike. What does this mean to a beartank? Well, two things: first of all, it will generate a lot of threat. A LOT more than its damage would indicate. Remember that bear form grants an inherent 30% increase in threat and, if you are spec'd for it, Feral Instinct will provide an additional 15% for a total of 45% increase in threat. Over and above that, each time Maul lands on a target, a flat 322 threat is applied to that target's threat table, relative to the beartank (threat table is the list in the head of the mob, telling it whom to attack. If a melee attacker passes 110% of the current target's threat the mob will switch to that attacker. If a ranged combatant (healer or ranged dps) passes 130%, the mob will move to them; so you can see, it is advantageous to be at a certain range from the mobs). The second thing to remember about Maul is that it costs more rage than its tooltip would indicate. As a next strike ability, it takes the place of your normal swing (sometimes called "white damage", indicating the color of the scrolling combat text on the screen) and in doing so prevents that swing from generating any rage. In high damage situations (raid bosses, for example) this is fine, since you will be generating a lot of rage from being hit. But you have to take 3 points of damage to generate as much rage as you would by dealing a single point of damage, so it is much less efficient. In other situations (e.g. single elite mobs or a couple of non-elites), the mitigation of a beartank may be so high that you cannot generate enough rage to use enough abilities to keep up enough threat on the mobs you are tanking and so you NEED the white damage to generate more rage. While using Maul depends on the situation you are in at any given time, it remains one of my favorite bear abilities.
Swipe: is what differentiates a druid from a warrior when tanking multiple targets. There are several things to remember about this ability. First of all, it doesn't do a whole lot of damage. Even though it is spammable (i.e. it doesn't have a cooldown other than the global cooldown, so it can be used over and over again in rapid succession) it costs a fair bit of rage and it won't generate enough threat by itself to hold a target that is taking damage from sources other than you. Unlike Maul and it's warrior somewhat-equivalent, Cleave, it is an instant ability (meaning its effects happen as soon as it is used), not a next strike ability. Also unlike Maul, Swipe does not have any inherent increase to the threat it generates (other than the usual 30% or 45%, depending on talents, that bear form applies to all damage done). However, its damage DOES scale with attack power, meaning the more AP a bear has the higher the damage swipe will do, though overall damage is still quite a bit lower than white damage (at level 70, it adds 7% of the bear's AP to damage). The other thing to remember about Swipe is that it is indiscriminate about whom it hits. If you use it while close enough and facing towards a crowd controlled (CC'd) mob (sheep, shackle, sap, freezing trap, etc.), swipe will strike that target and break whatever CC kept it out of combat. This will inevitably make the person who applied the CC yell at you; and with good reason. The best way to use Swipe is to manuever the group you are tanking backwards, making sure you are out of range of CC'd mobs before using it. How do you hold on to the mobs while you are doing that, you say? That is a very good question and one I will go into later on in this article.
Mangle: the flagship of feral druid abilities. Mangle is the reason a beartank needs rage. Although it starts off somewhat expensive at 20 rage, Ferocity, a staple in any feral druid build, reduces that cost to 15, a much more manageable figure. In addition to the considerable immediate damage that it does, mangle also provides three other advantages: first, like Maul, it has a flat threat modifier (the exact amount is somewhat nebulous right now, but it is in the neighborhood of 300-400 just like Maul). Second, it applies a debuff to the mob, that increases bleed damage by 30%. This applies to ALL bleeds on the target, whether caused by you or someone else. So if there is a rogue or a second feral druid in the group, the bleed damage they cause will be augmented by the mangle debuff. Thirdly, it is an instant attack so it can be used in between white damage. Mangle is the beartank's primary threat tool and should be used whenever possible, i.e. whenever its 6 second cooldown allows.