Can I stop typing "rotations" now?
I lieu of talking about a specific rota--set of abilities hit in a specific order, I'm going to go over the tools we have as a bear when when you should be looking to use them. I'll also try and give an idea of something that might somewhat resemble that "r" word. But don't get yourself locked into that. Tanking is much more situational than strict rotations allow for.
Say rotations again! I dare you!
I'll stop now.
There are 4 main direct damage abilities in the Bear arsenal. These are our primary threat-building tools and the ones you'll be spending more time than not hitting.
Mangle - Mangle won't be the attack you're hitting most often (probably), but it's probably the most important one in your arsenal. It has a 6 second cooldown, but with your Lacerate stacks proccing Berserk, you rarely have to wait the full time. Absolutely use this every time you have the free one.
Maul - Maul is one of the most misunderstood abilities for Bears. It's a powerful attack, and glyphed it's a very effective way to hold threat on a secondary target. But it's a complete Rage hog. You have to be careful using it, or you'll find yourself Rage starved and unable to do anything else.
In Wrath, the idea was to spam Maul, or at least bind it to every other attack on your bar. It used to replace your auto-attack with a much more powerful one. Blizz didn't like that design, so it's gone now. Instead Maul is an instant attack that's off the global cool down. That's an important distinction. You can hit Maul at any time. Any time you're sitting there with a near-full Rage bar (75+), you should be using Maul to dump some of that Rage.
Lacerate - This is probably the one attack you'll be hitting more than any other. The general strategy with Lacerate is to apply a full 3 stacks, then consume them when your Pulverize buff expires. At the start of a boss fight this means you'll be spending 7 GCDs stacking, consuming, and restacking Lacerate in rapid order.
Lacerate is also one of the few abilities we use that doesn't have a cooldown, so it fits that "I need a button to push" niche when everything else is still locked out.
Also, Feral Druids, Rogues, and Warriors all have abilities that do increased damage on bleeding targets. When a Bear tank is in the raid, Lacerate is the primary source of that bleed since it's a pretty standard part of our rotation. That means that you want to keep its uptime as high as possible.
Pulverize - Pulverize is one of the new toys Bears got in Cataclysm and it seems to be the one a lot of Bears are having the hardest time fitting into their rotation. It definitely complicates things a bit. The model of stacking, consuming, and restacking Lacerate added a new dimension to a rotation that used to be sleep-inducingly simple.
Even with 2/2 Endless Carnage, your Pulverize buff only lasts 18 seconds, and you'll be spending a minimum of 4.5 seconds of that restacking Lacerate. A full third of your attack rotation (excluding Maul) is consumed by this pattern.
The crit buff is a big deal, though. Crits give us extra rage and a temporary shield that we would like to have on near-100% uptime. Not to mention the increased threat generation and damage.
Also, you can see in this post how I user PowerAuras to help track the Lacerate/Pulverize synergy.
AoE tanking is a lot harder than it was in Wrath. Gone are the days of Swipe-spam. We did gain a second AoE tanking ability, Thrash. But both abilities are on a 6 second cooldown, which makes management very important.
In an ideal situation, you'll be hitting these 3 seconds apart to minimize any long waits for cooldowns to expire, lest you lose control of a bunch of mobs and are forced to wait until you can get them back.
Swipe - While it's your main AoE tanking ability through most of leveling content, once you hit 81 and get Thrash, this becomes secondary. It still needs to be in your AoE tanking rotation to help offset the 6-second cooldown of Thrash. But it's just not as good.
Thrash - Thrash has two components. Cast-time damage for snap threat (that's higher than Swipe's damage) and then a bleed that lasts the full duration of of the 6 second cooldown. For AoE tanking, this is going to be your primary threat building ability.
The other very nice way to use Thrash is on single-target fights just before using Pulverize. This ensures that you will have a 100% bleed uptime by bridging that gap between the time you consume Lacerate and subsequently start reapplying it.
Taunts are a major part of any Tank's arsenal. They're what allow us to quickly regain aggro on a target, regardless of how much more threat someone may have than us. Of course, in an ideal world, we'd never need them (except for boss fights that require Tank swapping). But we don't tank in an ideal world.
Growl - Growl is our primary taunt. It makes a target focus on us and puts our threat level even with the highest person on the threat table. It's important that you don't let this lull you into a false sense of security. It's fairly easy (especially early in a fight and/or when a mob you taunted has to run back to you from range) for someone else to jump back past the threat threshold and gain aggro. More often than not, you're going to want to immediately cast F3 after a Growl to give yourself a little extra lead on the threat list.
Challenging Roar - While not a true taunt, Challenging Roar can be very useful in emergency situations. I've used this more so far in Cata than I have in the preceding 4.5 years combined. CR makes all enemies within 10 yards attack you for 6 seconds, but it does not modify any threat tables. At the end of that 6 seconds they'll go back to attacking someone else if you haven't managed to gain aggro.
CR is most often used when a large pack of mobs gets out of your control and is attacking the party/raid. Use CR to gain temporary aggro, then get off a quick Thrash and Swipe. Hopefully you can pick most of them up that way and deal with any individual stragglers appropriately.
It's also useful in raids if another tank is taking too much damage and is about to die. You can give your healers 6 seconds to get the other tank back to reasonable health. Just be sure you're in a position to take the hits for 6 seconds so you don't die instead.
For the sake of simplicity, I'm not going to mention Entangling Roots, Cyclone, or Hibernate here. They are CC abilities that we do have as Bears, but they're rarely abilities we use while actively tanking. I have a different post for another day that will include those spells.
Skull Bash - Skull Bash is my new favorite Druid toy in Cataclysm, by a long shot. I absolutely hated tanking fights that required interrupts and not having a reliable one on a reasonable cooldown to use.
Speccing 2/2 into Brutal Impact lowers the cooldown of Skull Bash to 10 seconds, which is enough for you to handle nearly every must-interrupt situation on your own.
It's also worth noting that SB is not tied to the GCD, so you're able to use this instantly at any time, as long as you have the Rage to do so. If you're not the key-binding sort, I still recommend you bind this one ability to a key that you can reach quickly and easily and get used to using it that way.
Bash - With the interrupt component of this ability moved to Skull Bash, it's seen a significantly reduced role in the Bear toolkit. But it shouldn't be ignored. It's still a very powerful ability that's actually been improved with the addition of Skull Bash. Now you don't have to save this for some kind of emergency interrupt situation. You can use it every time the cooldown is up...and I suggest you do.
While most bosses will be immune to the stun, it's very effective against trash. It gives you a 5 second reprieve from damage from a single mob. Additionally, a mob that's stunned cannot Block, Parry, or Dodge, meaning it's going to take full damage from anyone attacking it. If you need to burn something down quickly, this is a very effective tool.
Nature's Grasp - I debated on whether or not to include Nature's Grasp in this post, but I think it's finding enough use that it may be worth mentioning.
NG is an ability you're going to be using on occasion when you need a pack of mobs to stop attacking you for a time. You're able to cast this in Bear form, which makes it particularly helpful. The next 3 physical attacks you receive over the next 45 seconds will temporarily root the attacker in place. Damage done has a chance to break those roots, though. So you want to be careful not to attack (including Swipe or Thrash) rooted targets.
Normally you're going to use this in fights where you have to kite something. Or multiple somethings. The Setesh encounter in HoO is a good example of when NG becomes very handy.
Another use is when you have too many mobs attacking you. Pop this, let a few of them get rooted, and then run off a short distance to continue tanking the rest. It'll give you a short reprieve from massive incoming damage.
Faerie Fire (Feral) - The primary debuff used by Bears if Faerie Fire (Feral) (or F3, as I commonly refer to it). Not only does this reduce the target's armor, but in Bear form it does damage and a hefty bit of threat. It's the only ranged ability we have.
Most pulls are going to be done with F3, even if it's as you're running up to or Charging the eventual target. Using F3 to pull from range and then ducking out of line of sight is also a key way to round up mob groups with casters.
As I stated above, you'll also want to use F3 immediately following Growl on any target that you're trying to get aggro on.
Demoralizing Roar - All tanks have some ability that mirrors Demoralizing Roar. Paladins and DKs don't even have to hit an extra button for it like Druids and Warriors do, (although Druids and Warriors have an easier time applying it to a whole group of mobs). So if you're raid tanking, you may not have to worry about this, particularly against bosses. But in Dungeon situations, you'll want to try and keep DR up as mush as possible. Your healers will appreciate it.
While you'll generally want to use these cooldowns on a rotation, using all 3 at the same time can make you nearly invincible and fill your health bar significantly for a short period of time.
Using Survival Instincts and Frenzied Regeneration together is also a fairly common tactic, as they're on a mirrored cooldown and have great synergy. However, if you're in a fight where you need to roll defensive cooldowns fairly frequently, it may be better to use them separately.
Barkskin - With its relatively short cooldown, you should pretty much be hitting Barkskin every time it's available unless you know there's something specific coming up that you should be saving it for.
Barkskin is particularly helpful right at the beginning of a pull when your healers may be focusing on getting in position more than healing you or when you'll have a large number of trash mobs hitting you.
Survival Instincts - SI has a much longer cooldown, so it should be used with more caution. The damage reduction can save your life and, ultimately, a wipe. But if you use it haphazardly you may not have it when you really need it.
At the same time, don't be too gun shy. If you always "save it for later," then you may never get the chance.
I generally use SI any time my health drops below 20% for more than a few seconds, or if I know some big damage ability is incoming that I won't be able to survive otherwise.
Frenzied Regeneration - FR is an interesting ability in that there's two different ways you can use it. There's the base state, where you can convert extra Rage into a fairly powerful self-heal. Then there's the glyphed state, which removed the self-heal but increases all healing done to you by 30%.
Either way, you get the bump to your current and total health.
Which one you use is probably a matter of personal preference. Right now I'm mostly running with the unglyphed version. I like being able to tell my healers "don't worry about me for the next 20 seconds, heal the group." It's also an excellent survival tool for when your healer dies and you need just a little more time to down that boss.
I have a feeling that once I start raiding more and running dungeons less, I might find the glyphed version more useful. The jury is still out on that one, though. If any regular Bear raiders have some insight on this, feel free to share. :-)
Enrage - Enrage is generally used before a pull to give you an initial pool of Rage to work with. Usually you'll want to pull just as the 10 seconds expires to make sure you have maximum rage to work with, but don't start taking damage while you still have Enrage active.
Depending on how you're specced, there's also some in-combat advantage to be gained from Enrage. However it's up to you and your healers whether or not the additional damage you'll be taking while it's active is worth the trade-off.
Feral Charge - Many pulls will start with Charge, especially those where you don't want the boss/mobs moving very far from their pre-pull locations.
You'll also want to use this to quickly close the gap on any enemies that have gone out of range.
Berserk - Besides the free and regular Mangle procs, the actual Berserk button can be very helpful in certain situations. Hitting this button will give you virtually unlimited 3-target Mangles for 15 seconds as long as you have the rage to support them (which, between getting hit and generating a high number of crits, you should). It's great for getting a high level of threat on multiple targets or for those "blow all your cooldowns" moments for high damage. Adding Maul to the mix every time it's off cooldown (again, if have the rage to support it) can send your damage through the roof.
Stampeding Roar - One of the new Druid toys in Cata. I debated whether or not to include this in this post, but ended up going with it for one main reason...it's a mini-Dash for Bears. If you find yourself in a situation where you have to run a long way to get to a safe zone (Erudax, Asaad), quickly get to the other of some void zone, get out of the way of a super damaging ability, or need some extra kiting distance, this is a great ability to use.
Also handy for those times your whole group/raid needs to move somewhere quickly. You know...those other guys.
Thorns - Thorns has seen a very decreased role in Bear tanking since Cata. It has a short duration now (where it used to be a set-it-and-forget-it 1 hour) and cannot be applied while in forms. You'll have to shift to use it, which is dangerous when you're actively tanking. Additionally, the damage done by Thorns is now based on the target's spell power, not the caster's. So we can still have Boomkins and Trees cast this on us so we can stay in form, but it doesn't do extra damage like it used to.
Still if you're going to be tanking a large group of mobs, it can be useful to apply this just before the pull for some additional initial threat. Ditto with bosses. Obviously it works better on mobs that hit faster.
Savage Defense - I want to take a moment to specifically mention Savage Defense because a lot of Bears seem to forget it. Since we can't Block or Parry, we needed something to smooth out our incoming damage. Because of our previously outrageous Dodge percentage, bosses had to hit very fast or very hard to compensate. It put other tanks at a disadvantage, and it meant incoming damage against Bears was very spiky as it was dependent on the RNG.
The SD mechanic works very similar to a shield for blocking. Our crits have a 50% chance to proc this, and with most boss attack speeds, we should be able to have it up near 100%. That's the idea, anyway. We're balanced around that goal.
Additionally, our mastery increases the effectiveness of Savage Defense.
Just to give you an idea of the power of Savage Defense, just before Beta ended they nerfed it significantly. In order to not make boss damage against Bears inconsequential, they were hitting unfairly hard against all other tanks.
Single/Double Target Priorities:
As I said at the top of the post, Bears don't really have Rotations. It's more of a priority list. Each time you do something, go back to the top of the list and start over.
- If Mangle is available, Mangle.
- If there are no stacks of Lacerate on the mob, Lacerate.
- If the mob does not have Demoralizing Roar or a similar debuff, Demoralizing Roar.
- If Thrash is off cooldown, Thrash.
- If the mob does not have 3 stacks of Lacerate, Lacerate.
- If your Pulverize buff has dropped off, Pulverize.
- Refresh F3
- You pulled with F3.
- You're using Maul any time you have the Rage available. (Since it's off the GCD, it doesn't really fit inside the priority order.)
Multi-Target (3+) Priorities:
- If Thrash is off cooldown and you can hit all/most of the targets, Thrash.
- If Swipe is off cooldown, Swipe.
- If there are mobs that do not have the Demoralizing Roar debuff, Demoralizing Roar.
- If Mangle is available, Mangle current target
- Lacerate current target
- Maul any time you have the Rage to spare.
- Your current target doesn't always mean the first kill target. Once you have enough of a threat lead over your DPS that Thrash and Swipe will maintain it, start tab-cycling through the remaining mobs and applying Mangles and Lacerates.
So there you have it. Simple, right?
Keeping all of your abilities in mind, knowing when you use them, tracking cooldowns, de/buff durations, on top of just keeping an eye on your health and the overall tanking situation can be tough.
Not just can be. It is.
Don't let yourself get overwhelmed. In time you'll get more comfortable and you'll be able to do everything while thinking about it less than before. After time, certain things will become automatic. But don't expect there to not be growing pains. And don't fret even when you find yourself messing up a rotation long after you think you're comfortable with it. It's not uncommon, especially when learning new fights.