What’s happening to bears in 4.1?

Quite a few people have asked me about this, so maybe the world needs to know!

Here’s the TL;DR:

  1. Bears will be have comparable AoE mitigation to other tanks.
  2. Bear damage has been increased, as well as AoE threat, but single target threat remains the same.
  3. Bears get a few quality of life changes and should probably take a look at their spec.

From ALAMO teeches u 2 Burnin Croosaid!

First, the biggest change is that our good ol’ awkward block mechanic, Savage Defense will no longer be a psuedo-bubble that falls off after one hit. It will be much more like a real bubble. The official patch notes say:

Savage Defense has been redesigned slightly. Instead of a single charge absorption, it now places an absorption effect on the druid absorbing up to 35% of the druid’s attack power (modified by mastery, if applicable) in damage and lasting 10 seconds. There are no longer any charges on the effect.

This is a pretty minor change as far as functionality goes. Almost everything will stay the same when the new Savage Defense is implemented; the one key difference is that a 10k SD shield will no longer disappear after a mob hits us for 3k, which will enable druids to respectably AoE tank in raids.

Things that stay the same:

  • Savage Defense will still create a shield that will absorb up to 35% of our attack power.
  • Savage Defense still has a 50% chance to proc off a melee crit.
  • Savage Defense still scales with Vengeance, and therefore maintains all of the weaknesses associated with that dependency.
  • Savage Defense single target mitigation does not change. Bosses hit hard enough that an SD shield will get eaten up by one swing.
  • Savage Defense still only absorbs physical damage. The wording in the patch notes isn’t clear, but it’s been proved on the PTR that it does not absorb magical damage. A Death Knight’s Blood Shield has similar wording, and also only absorbs physical.
  • Savage Defense will still have no charges (I don’t know what the hell the patch notes are talking about, it never had charges).

Things that change:

  • Savage Defense won’t disappear after one melee hit, and will instead absorb the entire shield. Druids will have comparable mitigation to other tanks in AoE situations.
  • Savage Defense will appear in the combat log! (though it’s difficult to read)

I don’t yet know how AoE damage will look on a druid (I really should go test things on the PTR, but I need a healer with a lot of patience to help me). I imagine we’ll take burstier damage than a block tank, due to the binary nature of either completely absorbing some hits or taking the entire hit un-shielded.

Some druids, such as Reesi from The Inconspicuous Bear, have done a bit of preliminary testing on the PTR. The results so far are confusing to say the least, and make it look like Savage Defense is bugged (and in a bad way). However, a blue poster confirmed that the problems we saw in the Savage Defense implementation are simply combat log errors. If you’ve ever examined the combat log in depth, you’ve surely noticed how events can be mixed up and out of order. There are even times where the combat log says you’ve died when clearly you’re still alive. Savage Defense is extremely susceptible to these confusing out-of-order events because of how quickly the shield gets applied and how quickly it changes. In the end, Blizzard believes that the new Savage Defense is working as intended (and very similarly to a DK’s Blood Shield).

Next up, Bears have some interesting changes to our damage abilities.

  • Swipe (Bear) cooldown has been reduced to 3 seconds, down from 6, and is now trainable at level 18 (training cost has been reduced). In addition, the bonus threat from this ability has been removed and replaced with increased damage done.
  • Thrash bonus threat has been removed and replaced with increased damage done.
  • Lacerate bonus threat has been removed and replaced with increased initial damage done.
  • (undocumented bug fix) Bleed component of Thrash is no longer mitigated by armor.
  • (undocumented change) Faerie Fire (Feral) bonus threat has been removed and replaced with increased damage done.

The reduction in the Swipe cooldown will help bears with AoE threat, as well as rescue low level bears from their pit of despair. It will also render any “reset=6” Thrash/Swipe macros unusable.

Three of our abilities, Swipe, Thrash, and Lacerate all have had their bonus threat replaced by actual damage. Bonus threat is why we used Lacerate — even though it did only like 300 damage, it had a decent amount of static threat tacked on to it so we still used it. Now Lacerate does 2000 extra damage (approximately)! Our actual threat should be slightly increased, though that increase is only due to the Thrash bleed fix. Our damage will go up a decent and probably overpowered amount.

The damage buff is confusing. Blizzard spent the first few weeks of hotfixes nerfing bear damage, so why do they buff it now? I’d like to think that Blizzard likes the idea of druids being the dps tank, and maybe they’re trying to push that idea a little harder while getting rid of bonus threat (something they’ve wanted to drop before Cataclysm). Who knows if we’ll be getting a damage nerf to balance this out. I’ll be pretty happy to see Lacerate hit for more than the original hunter lacerate did, thougth.

Another concern about these buffs (you heard that right, we don’t quite like these random buffs!) is that our damage/threat rotation will get very crazy with high levels of Vengeance. Lacerate, despite these buffs, will continue scaling horribly when our attack power increases. Thrash, on the other hand, will scale even better, and will be our hardest hitting ability behind Mangle, forcing Maul into position # 3. However, Swipe‘s scaling is what breaks our rotation. With a reasonable amount of Vengeance, Swipe will provide more threat than Lacerate, meaning that bears will have to use their multi-target abilities over their single target abilities in a single target rotation. That just sounds weird.

Also, Faerie Fire (Feral) is apparently getting a buff. However, other than pulling and the occasional lucky string where I don’t get parried (and therefore can fit threat moves in) and already have an SD proc up, I don’t plan on squeezing it in my rotation. Faerie Fire doesn’t have a chance to proc Savage Defense and the minor threat isn’t worth risking mitigation in the content I tank. If you feel like you need to do more threat and aren’t worried about mitigation, feel free to weave Faerie Fire (Feral) into your rotation.

However, despite all these potential changes to our single target rotation flying about, we still have to keep reality in mind. It’s difficult for a mitigation-geared bear to maintain a Pulverize buff while squeezing in Thrash and Faerie Fire (Feral) to maximize threat (if you even want to bother with the latter). Parries and misses are all too common for us. Maybe a day will come when my rotation is smooth enough to add Swipe, but it’s not today, and I doubt it will be the day 4.1 comes out, either. For now I will continue to focus on threat in the beginning of a pull, and focus on mitigation once I have a strong lead, like I always have.

And finally

  • Enrage no longer increases physical damage taken.
  • Stampeding Roar‘s duration has been increased to 8 seconds, up from 6. The movement speed effect has been increased to 60%, up from 40% and is no longer cancelled by canceling shapeshift form.

Both are very nice quality of life changes. Stampeding Roar is now slightly more useful, though it still has the small range (and obnoxious cost in cat form). I primarily use it as a sprint for bear, so the buff is still useful. I think Blizzard is trying very hard to keep Stampeding Roar from being too strong, so they started out low and are gradually buffing it into usefulness (as opposed to starting out over powered, then nerfing it to the ground). I also didn’t expect the Enrage change until next expansion (bitter bear says: “Blizzard fixes feral quality of life issues about an expansion too late”). But hey, a pleasant surprise! Young bears who haven’t learned about macros yet won’t be unnecessarily handicapped! Maybe they’ll make Feral Charge give us rage, too.

With the change to Enrage , I would highly encourage dropping some talents to fill out King of the Jungle. Having 15% extra damage every minute will be awesome for our threat and dps over time, and that talent was already great if you spent any time in cat form. Personally, I drop Brutal Impact and my floater point for it, since a 25man raid usually has plenty of interrupts. Others recommend dropping Feral Aggression since they will be incorporating Faerie Fire into their normal rotations. My opinion is that unless you have another feral with Feral Aggression providing it, getting a major armor debuff up quickly on all targets is invaluable to your raid’s dps. Any way you look at it, the points you drop will depend on what your raid needs and the encounter.

Overall, looks like this patch is way too kind to ferals. Brace yourselves for nerfs! Or laugh at the paladins you’ve displaced from the “best tank evar” position.

If you want to read more about how to react to 4.1, check out my recent post: 4.1 To-Do List and Tanking Changes.