You may know me as an avid Bear Tanking Druid fan. You might even be familiar with my love affair with the Beastmaster Hunter. You might even be aware that I dabble occasionally with the glories of Retribution Paladins, and have dipped my toe in the Paladin Tanking side of things.
I’ve also mentioned, in passing, that I’ve been leveling a Warrior as pure tank, and I’ve even started a Death Knight that’s made it as far as 73 before Patch 4.0.1 sent my poor Blood spec spinning into disarray.
What you might not know is that I have a Mage. I haven’t really been too open about it here, before now.
The reason for my being relatively close-lipped about it is that I am not leveling my Mage at my own pace, nor am I acting as a solo player.
I am playing a Mage that is 100% Frost from day 1, in honor of Krizzlybear (of Frost is the New Black fame) and I’m trying to delight in all things Magey to do justice to the brilliant inspirations of Larísa and Gnomer, who are exemplary examples of Mage excellence in action.
But this story is not about me.
I am playing a Mage, but I never am in the front lines, learning how to survive life in the jaws of the big meanies as I desperately try to fling long cast time Frostbolts.
No, I’m safe and sound in the rear with the gear.
The reason for this is that my Mage never goes anywhere, for any reason, without being just one step back and one to the side of my protector, my stalwart defender, Cassie the Bear Tank.
We made our characters together at the same time, we traveled to meet, and we’ve quested together ever since.
Sure, there have been times when months have passed where we just couldn’t get our schedules in sync to play together. Sometimes, the enthusiasm is on you to level your other characters, such as my time getting my Rogue finally to 80.
But the one thing we have remained true to, is that we keep our characters within 1% of a level in experience with each other. When we go turn quests in, if she dings, I ding seconds later. Twins!
If there are class quests for one, the other does cloth quest turn ins to even out. We have the same Heirlooms equipped for the same bonus XP. If we gather instance quests, we run each other through on our mains, and then try and balance our remaining rested and the mbos killed so we end up even.
We are now both level 53, so we’ve had a pretty good run of it so far.
We’ve played through a lot of the original content, and with all of our kill experience halved, it’s stayed about even with the boosted Heirloom XP. We have skipped some old school stuff, but not as much as you might think.
All along the way, I have been the silent coach, there to answer tanky questions, but mostly to provide emotional support as Cassie levels a tank all the way. No Kitty for her!
As our characters have grown, I’ve been able to see first hand the challenges a leveling Bear Tank can face, especially when paired with a fast cast DPS with strong AoE and an itchy trigger finger.
At times I’ve had to provide a lot of emotional support, because the one challenge that she has had to struggle with was Rage starvation.
Sure, Swipe was an instant cast with a solid 360° effect and reasonable Threat output, and sure Maul was Glyphed, and of course she had and used Feral Faerie Fire. And when it comes to Growl incoming mobs in the middle of a fight, I have rarely seen anyone better than Cassie.
No kidding, one of the hallmarks, in my opinion, of a great instinctive tank is how well they react to sudden changes in the overall environment. How strong their situational awareness is. Do they do a pull, and then get locked in to what is going on with these few mobs, and lose sight of what’s going on elsewhere?
Time after time, we’d have a group of mobs we’re fighting, Cassie tanking and me hopping around and Freezing and blasting with Cone of Cold and having a grand time, and some pathing mob comes around a corner, sees me, starts running towards me and BOOM! Growled in and on Cassie instantly. Or FFF sparks it’s distinctive fireflies on it’s head.
Sometimes I’d see two mobs come in, in close quarters area, from two different areas, and before I have a chance to say anything, there is a Swipe on the existing mobs, a Feral Faerie Fire on one, and a Growl on the other.
She persists in saying she’s not a good tank, because she doesn’t tab target. You gotta love it.
But as good as she is at being aware of her surrounding environment and handling the mobs quickly, she has struggled nearly every step of the way with Rage starvation, and it has made the leveling process a huge pain in the butt for her.
You see, it takes a long time before a leveling Bear gets all the Talents that return Rage on Crits and Dodges. Plus, Enrage has a fairly long cooldown when you’re running from group to group.
You might say that it’s okay if Enrage is on a comparatively long cooldown, except that as a Human Mage, I don’t have little Heals I can send her way. And with the large groups we’d been pulling, after each fight she’d be down by a third of her health. So, she’d shift out and toss some self-heals before shifting back… leaving her at zero Rage for the next pull, with Enrage still on cooldown.
I finally leveled my First Aid to be able to use Heavy Frostweave, and she’d started getting used to calling out “Need a Bandage”, instead of shifting out, but still. Of all the experiences we shared, Rage starvation was the single biggest roadblcok keeping her from truly enjoying what she was doing.
I don’t know how long it may have been since you’ve leveled a character that uses the Rage mechanic, but it can be incredibly painful. Where other classes start with every possibility available to burst out of the gate, Warriors and Bear Druids start with zero… and only a very, very few abilities available to us.
It’s incredibly frustrating to start any fight at zero Rage. It means that most of your good stuff is locked out while you struggle with a limited selection of low cost or free spells, and auto-attacks, waiting for the Rage to build so you can get to use the “good stuff”.
Anyway, that all marked the state of our play until a few nights ago.
As annoying as the Rage thing was, we were still wildly successful. We certainly never had a worry that we’d die, no matter what we pulled, up to and including my bullying her to pull Elite Dinosaurs in Ungoro Crater… “C’mon, you can do eeet… pull him! Trust me, you’ll be fine! I swear I’ll shoot him!”
Turns out elite dinosaur tastes just like chicken.
Cassie had the Threat generation, no matter what we fought, and I had the tools to kill everything in about three seconds, mostly with Frost nova and Blizzard. Frostbolt? What’s that? Heck, that takes too long. Who cares that half my Talents were all about Frostbolt?
So it’s been successful, and mostly fun… but the whole Rage starvation thing, plus the way it left Cassie feeling behind the curve when it came to doing damage because so many abilities weren’t even ready before I had finished blowing everything up made it kind of a drag.
Well, all that was before Patch 4.0.1, and I’m here to tell you… this patch worried the heck out of me.
I’ll be straight with you… my playtime with Cassie is one of the few things I still really enjoy about the game. That, chatting with friends online like Chawa and Regis, and leveling new stuff in new(ish) places.
I really looked at the Patch as having the potential to ruin our shared playtime.
We had two seperate and distinct roles we’d fallen into. Cassie grabbed the mobs and pinned them in place, keeping them focused on her with Threat, and I had the DPS to burn them all down faster than they could kill her.
With the new Patch, and most specifically the changes to Rage mechanics and the addition of a Swipe cooldown and 30 Rage cost, would Cassie be able to build Rage and hold threat?
Last night, after having created our new Glyphs, determined our new specs, arranged our new spells where we thought appropriate, and having trained up, we decided to try it all out by moving to a new zone; Searing Gorge.
I was fully prepared to sacrifice my glorious Frost Nova/Blizzard combination in favor of single target attacks, but I wasn’t happy with it. Frostbolt’s cast time is so damn slow! I wanna shoot ’em up FAST!
But with cold.
We didn’t even have the flight path to Searing Gorge, so we flew on into Loch Modan, rode through the Badlands, and as Cassie stopped for a few Herbs, we learned that not only did she get XP for herbing, but it was shared with me! That’s pretty interesting.
Entering Searing Gorge, we rode through the zone, grabbed all the quests and the flight point, and started the circuit.
WTF was Blizzard smoking?
Cassie fired up Feral Charge, and that’s about the last time she stood still for the rest of the night. I spent the whole rest of the night running my ass off trying to keep up.
Frost Nova? Yeah, right. Blizzard? Well, maybe, if she had grabbed enough she felt like slowing down long enough to kill ’em in place.
Frostbolt? Get real.
Hey, you know we were in there two hours before I remembered I had a Water Elemental perma-pet now. Never did bother summoning it. Why bother? The mobs were dead before the damn thing’s cast time would have mattered.
Self heals? Wouldn’t that require leaving Bear Form?
I’ll cut to the chase.
With the new Talent Tree, at level 52 I had told her that every core Bear Tank Talent was available to her. As a Feral, she now gets Mangle up front. Maul is instant when and if she wants it.
She never really had the chance before to know what it felt like to be a Bear with all the tools before. She hadn’t even had all three points in Thick Hide in the old Talent Tree, and of course she’d just finally gotten Leader of the Pack before the Patch hit.
Now, she’s got everything I consider a core Bear ability except Lacerate, and of course Berserk is still just out of reach.
She specced as I’d suggested for leveling, with full points in Fury Swipes and having 3 insta-stacks of Feral Faerie Fire, but nothing in Infected Wounds yet.
But let’s be honest. That’s not what it’s about.
What it’s about is we went out there in Searing Gorge, Cassie charged in, and from that point on she was never out of Rage, even using Swipe whenever it was off cooldown or if she felt like it.
She never dropped in health or needed heals, ever, from Leader of the Pack.
She darn near didn’t take any damage.
She generated INSANE single target threat out of the gate, with Mangle popping 4,800 threat in the first second alone, forget mentioning FFF or Maul or auto-attacks. My Ice Lance, in comparison, was doing about 230 threat per shot. Yes, for the pedantic, Ice Lance is a weak instant cast attack, but it’s still worth mentioning.
What really made the difference, though, was her damage output. Having played for a few days straight right before the Patch hit, we had a very solid idea of where our respective power levels were at.
She not only had the Rage to use all of her toys, and the health to never have to pop out of Bear form, but she also puts out enough damage to make a Frost Mage weep now.
I’m not kidding. It’s ridiculous. It was all I could do to keep up.
And the change in Cassie’s attitude was simply amazing. She went from always feeling a little uneasy from not having Rage, to being an overconfident Superbear, charging into everything and just tearing it apart. If I lingered for so much as a second to look at quest text, I’d better move my ass and Blink, because the next group was liable to be dead already.
With pungent commentary as to who was carrying whom, I might add.
And the group AoE situation ain’t really bad at all. Swipe is on a long cooldown, sure, but with a Bear that charges in, pops Mangle and then Swipes, if you’re DPS, fire off your single target attacks on that Skull kill target a few times, and then use an AoE.
I never pulled group aggro. And damnit, by the end of the night, I was really trying.
I started having to cheat to pull threat on mobs nearby but not ACTUALLY in our current group of targets, and even then, Growl and FFF pulled ’em back off before I could have the satisfaction of gloating about pulling.
So, yeah, Cassie? Superbear. Ridiculous Superbear. If you were worried about running with your friends while leveling, stop. If they have even the remotest clue, and if you actually Keybind Mark current Target as Skull to your F1, or however you like to get a fast target mark up, and they attack your primary single target for a few seconds before tooling up their attacks, you’re gonna do FINE.
Now, the bad news.
I swear, if someone doesn’t tell me how to customize this new built in Power Aura bullshit real soon, I’m gonna stop playing my own Bear.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the built in Power Aura functionality. I especially love how, when one thing triggers a “free” spell ability on a proc, the spell button that just became free (or instant cast) actually lights up on my bar.
As a Frost Mage, seeing my Ice Lance button light up was cool. For my Bear when I was testing things, seeing Mangle light up because I could cast it for zero Rage cost was nice. Very useful.
Power Auras is proccing every time Savage Defense is procced.
I do not need that. Talk about TMI.
And of course, that’s not the only thing a Bear tank has for a proc, and they are ALL getting displayed by Power Auras.
I looked everywhere on my own last night and couldn’t find an option to customize or turn off any of the procs. Hopefully, there is one, and someone knows where to find it.
Because there is so much awesome about playing last night, the enthusiasm, the fun, the speed…
But at the end of the night, Cassie was not amused at all the flashing lights and symbols from Power Auras that was covering up her screen real estate, for abilities like Savage Defense that she had no actual control over.
Sure, it’s nice to know she had a bubble for a second. If she had to trigger it by pushing a button, that would be one thing. But, you know… I think we can safely turn that one off.
Oh, and for those wondering about how I feel about my Frost Mage this morning…
Wow. Talk about fun. Just, sheer fun. What a great set of changes. I never missed Frost Nova or Blizzard, I was simply having too darn much fun.
Now, if only I can survive Cassie’s newfound enthusiasm for eating great big groups of enemies. We actually did the entire Searing Gorge at a dead run last night, no pauses or shifting or heals, and that includes everything in that underground Dark Iron Swarf area, with the pillows and everything. I’ve never seen taht done at the run before.
At that rate, Azeroth ain’t gonna have many zones left to explore.