The Mystical Bear-Cat

Sometimes I really wonder why I play a bear.

This past week in raiding has been particularly sad for my little tanking soul. For the first time ever, I was brought to tank heroic Atramedes. This is a one tank fight, and the tank’s job is remarkably simple. Only a few sound rings go in your direction, and it’s easy to dodge them. Get a strong threat lead, strafe away from rings, position boss a couple times, win! Except that Atramedes also hits very hard; sometimes around 90k. And every single wipe was because I died to the melee hits. After a couple failed attempts, the officers swapped in a paladin tank. No more wipes due to tank death; the difference was astounding.

Looking at logs, I was always dying at the beginning of the ground phase, probably because I had no vengeance to buff up savage defense. These transition phases are the most dangerous parts of the fight for a tank, because healers have to run every which way so that they can get into position, dodge fire, rings, etc. The most they can afford to give a tank is a few instants, one or two small, fast heals, and cooldowns. I’m sure I could have eventually tanked the boss for a successful attempt, if given time for me and the healers to learn how to optimize our cooldowns, and maybe swapping in some stamina trinkets. But we didn’t have the time.

I was still in the fight to dps, though. And I actually pulled decent numbers in my bear set. Not totally broken, but I was average!

Next up was heroic Nefarian. My guild has three main tanks (druid, paladin, paladin) and one dps warrior who has an offspec tanking set. Nefarian’s adds have to be tanked and kited around the room, and protection warriors are excellent kiters. On top of that, Nefarian’s Electrocute does a ton of raid damage, so you need one raid cooldown up every time it happens. That means either two disc priests + one prot pally, or one disc priest + two prot pallies. You can guess which route my guild took.

At least I got to dps in bear gear again. I found out that if I reforge my gear to cat-stats, I can easily embarrass the full time dps. I also found out that I don’t really like the whitish worgen cat form, go figure.

These events made me wonder what utility a bear actually brings. We have some planet-sized weaknesses in the AoE department, and no raid utility of which a life-loving bear can easily take advantage.

But wait just one moment, there is this one thing. Remember how there’s just one feral talent tree? I know, people like to pretend there are four druid specializations: restoration, balance, bear, or cat. But just like if a balance druid refused to use Battle Rez because “that’s a resto skill”, a bear druid would be a fool to refuse to use “that cat skill”. Especially when it is so easy to move points around in the feral tree. As a feral druid, you’re restricting your own utility if you refuse to use the other half of your talent tree. A good bear should be using this skill often, because a bear’s utility is cat form.

Magmaw, Maloriak, Heroic Twin Dragons, Chimaeron, Nefarian, Conclave of Wind, Ascendant Council, and Cho’gall all have opportunities for a bear to dps in cat form, or for a cat to tank in bear form. The gear and gemming for both forms are nearly identical. No matter your role, you can pick the required talents for both dps and tanking in one build.

I’m not advocating full on hybridism; jack of all trades, master of none. Specialize to your heart’s content! Maximize one role! But once that role is maximized, a feral still has room to provide some utility, and don’t hesitate to do so. Even if you are running the traditional bear spec, you still have a cat form that can push out far more dps than any other tank that’s not tanking. Refusing to shift into kitty if the situation allows is not maximizing your potential.

If you rolled a bear to purely tank, then one of the more traditional classes might be better suited to your tastes. I’ll admit, this concept was difficult for me to accept. Ever since Karazhan, when I realized that tanking was far more fascinating that dps, I’ve wanted to be the main tank. It can be hard to express to your guild leader that your tanking utility comes in the unconventional form of doing stuff while not tanking. It can be hard to compare this utility in a vacuum, where we assume that we are tanking a classic Patchwerk boss that bear face time from beginning to end. However, the truth is that those fights are rare. Fights where we can kitty shred are not.

A paladin doesn’t need to spec into Divine Guardian if a fight doesn’t require it, but if there’s a lot of predictable raid damage, they sure as hell better use it. A warrior doesn’t need Piercing Howl to tank most bosses, but they really shine when anything has to be kited. A death knight does have to use all of his cooldowns in a single fight, but if he does he won’t have to rely on healers when things get hectic. Similarly, bears don’t need a chance to dps to be decent tanks, but some encounters provide opportunities for those kitty powers to be put to good use. And when they can be put to good use, man do those feral druids look awesome.