Bear Bomb

The life and times of a feral druid

Feral Tanking Rotation

To continue with the theme started in this post, let’s take a look at another facet of play that is posted all over the web but hardly ever explained; your rotation.

What does it mean?

When someone refers to their rotation, they’re talking about the order in which they use their character’s abilities.  Depending on their role in the group, the rotation will be set up to either achieve maximum threat, maximum burst damage (that is, “I need a lot of damage NOW, and I don’t care if I can maintain it”), maximum sustained damage (or “I have no idea how long this fight will last, so I’m going to pace myself”), maximum burst healing (“Holy crap the tank’s almost dead!”), or maximum sustained healing (“I’ll top you off, and you, and you, and you…”).

Rotation Precedence

That being said, it’s important to note that your rotation isn’t a fixed sequence of keypresses.  If that was the case, we’d just macro the optimal rotation and sit back and watch the fight.  Even in ideal circumstances, where there is only one mob with no adds, your next ability choice depends on several factors.  Bears actually have it pretty easy compared to some of the other tanking classes, from what I’ve seen, but it’s very important to keep up with the following:

  • Your target’s debuffs
  • Your current rage
  • Your ability’s cooldowns
  • Self-cast buffs on yourself
  • Your current health
  • The amount of threat you have on the target
  • Whether or not one of your party members has pulled aggro

You don’t have to know absolutely everything about each of these factors at all times, but you need to get in the habit of checking each of them regularly.  Addons like NeedToKnow and Omen Threat Meter will help you keep track of some of it.  NeedToKnow provides a configurable list of timer bars that can track buffs and debuffs on yourself, your target, or your target’s target.  Omen gives a continually-updated display of your target’s threat table, showing who’s currently top on their hate list (hopefully you), and how quickly the DPS is catching up to you.

Our Rotation

For a bear tank, your rotation is going to be a sustained DPS rotation.  We have very few ways to generate pure threat, but several of our bear abilities (Mangle, Faerie Fire, Lacerate) generate truly grotesque amounts of threat.  Your decision list will look something like this:

  1. Maul as often as possible.  Unless you’re low on rage, you should never take a melee swing that isn’t a Maul attack.
  2. If the mob isn’t bleeding, Lacerate.
  3. If the mob is bleeding, and Mangle is off cooldown, Mangle.
  4. If Mangle isn’t off cooldown, but Faerie Fire is, cast Faerie Fire.
  5. If FF and Mangle are both on cooldown, and you’re just fighting the one mob, and he’s got fewer than five stacks of Lacerate, Lacerate again.
  6. If FF and Mangle are on CD, and your buddy has five stacks of Lacerate, swipe.

Okay now; why?

Maul is your primary damage dealing ability.  It doesn’t cost much rage and can hit every time you take a melee swing.  If you use Glyph of Maul (I’ll do a glyph post later), Maul will also help you with holding aggro on multiple mobs, since it will randomly choose a second target to hit every time you use it.

Bleed effects are a must to sustain damage and therefore generate more threat, due to our wonderful Rend and Tear talent.  At max ranks, RnT gives us a 25% damage boost to Maul on a bleeding target.  Therefore, if nobody else is using bleed effects, or you don’t have something else to spend the rage on, Lacerate becomes your best buddy.  As an additional bonus, Lacerate generates an inordinate amount of threat for the amount of damage it deals.

Mangle should be used as often as possible due to the 30% increase to bleed damage debuff it applies.  That will increase the amount of damage dealt to your target by anyone using bleed effects.  In addition, if you read the Maul ability, it points out that effects that increase bleed damage increase your Maul damage, meaning that combining Mangle with RnT gives you a 55% damage boost to your main attack power.  Double-dipping for the win! :)

Faerie Fire is mostly a filler ability, since it deals a fairly small amount of damage, but the bear version of the spell also generates extra threat.  Since it’s a free cast, that’s an easy win.  Just don’t use FF at the expense of any of your other abilities!  An extra stack of Lacerate or an additional use of Mangle will almost always be more effective in the long haul.

Swipe is a filler ability that mainly exists to keep your damage output high while other things are on cooldown.  It’s very useful for maintaining aggro in a large group of creatures, however, and since the damage it deals scales up with your attack power, it can do some serious damage when you’re in good gear.

One additional note about Swipe:  If you’re in a large group of enemies, it’s typically better to use Swipe instead of Faerie Fire, and only cast FF if you’re low on rage.

So that’s the bear tank rotation, hopefully explained a little more thoroughly than elsewhere on the web.  The main thing to remember is that your “optimal rotation” is only optimal in, well, optimal circumstances.  For example, in a multiple target fight, you’ll probably end up Swiping more, and I tend to cycle through the targets to add Lacerate stacks.  Also, if you’ve had a bad pull or one of your DPS members is constantly pulling aggro, you should switch things up to try and get the encounter under control as quickly as possible.  Unfortunately, exactly how to do that varies with the situation, and isn’t something that can be summed up in a blog post.  Experience is the best teacher for that.*

Please feel free to leave comments if you have any specific circumstances where you found a good use of your abilities, or if you have an alternate viewpoint on any of the tips I’ve given.  Happy gaming!

— Luxul

* – Actually, the very best teacher for that is to level your tank from 60-75 with a Ret paladin and an Unholy DK who have good gear, an excellent grasp of their abilities, and absolutely zero sense of self preservation.  The massive pulls, random burst damage to random targets in the pull, and general mayhem is good preparation for heroics and raiding.  Yes, I know this from personal experience, and the perpetrators know who they are, even if I refrain from naming them.  I still run randoms with these guys, and the rules to their favorite group-time game are, “If I pull aggro from the tank and die, I win!”. ;)


February 4, 2010 - Posted by | Mechanics, Play Tips


  1. Heya Lux, just wanted to shoot out an addon for this excellent priority list. Mik’s scrolling battle text is good on several levels. I am recommending it for those folks who have a hard time keeping track of what ability is on cooldown. If you are having a hard time keeping track of who is doing what in the area around your bear butt, having a big red text flash right there in front of you saying, “Mangle is Ready!” can be helpful.

    [EDIT (by Luxul): Added a link to the addon.]

    Comment by Jay | February 4, 2010 | Reply

  2. Thanks, Jay! I added a link to your comment so people have an easier time finding it. *browses the site* Hmm…I might give that one a try. I see a lot of TankSpot, et. al., videos using it.

    Comment by Luxul | February 4, 2010 | Reply

  3. One more helpful thing to note about FFF is that it is the only ranged ability bears have. It can be particularly helpful in getting threat on those ranged mobs who just won’t join the scrum, or for an initial pull when you don’t want to charge in.

    Comment by paperclip | February 8, 2010 | Reply

  4. Growl is ranged too :-)

    Comment by Peter | May 23, 2010 | Reply

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