Can druids tank in Vanilla? If you answer yes, then you’re right! If that question sounds like a meme in the making then this treatise is for you. You have heard a lot about druid tanking, and probably most of it is negative. Things like crushing blows, def caps, itemization and more are brought up. A lot of negative comes up about druid DPS too. Trying to replace fury warriors or rogues and numbers and sheets for viability. Yes there are a lot of people who have opinions about feral druids and on the surface there is plenty that is negative that can be agreed upon. But a lot of the naysayers often don’t have the full picture, are trying to argue the feral’s optimization based on the wrong composition, or haven’t had the opportunity to see a feral in action in a raid. I hope that this write up can present the full picture and an unbiased view for where a feral druid fits into a raid comp for every tier of content.
My WoW history started on release day back in 2004. I started off leveling the ever-popular Night Elf rogue and managed to do some casual stuff in MC. At that point I decided that I wanted to play a priest and leveled him. He took me into BWL and AQ and even a very small venture into Naxx. After Vanilla turned into TBC, I took a break and came back in Wrath and played through early Cata. There I leveled a druid and I loved what the class was like. But the game didn’t feel right so I turned to private Vanilla servers.
The first time I leveled a druid to 60 was on The Rebirth. I had just hit 60 when the great data rollback happened. It killed the server but we were fortunate enough to hear of another server coming up as a fresh experience. My guild rerolled there and we were able to join the rush to 60 on Nostalrius. Throughout leveling and during pre raid I was feral and tanked dungeons to get gear fastest. For raiding I healed but after getting enough feral loot and with the guild’s willingness to try new things I became full-time feral about a few months after BWL was released.
Since then I continued to be feral full-time with the guilds that I was a member of. For AQ and Naxx content I was on the tank roster during the entirety of progression and with well over 100 days /played have had many opportunities to see how a feral fares in raids at the highest levels of Vanilla content.
History of Feral Druids
This short section may seem silly and pointless but I think that it helps explain how mentality of the negativity of ferals came to be. I remember back in the beginning of Vanilla times that most players knew nothing about the game – myself included. It took until many levels in for us to actually discover resources like Thottbot or Allakhazam. But one thing I did know back then was that druids could not tank! Well how did I know it? Because in the beginning druids actually couldn’t tank.
Before patch 1.2, druid armor scaled horribly. Patch 1.2 changed armor scale from 65% to 180% for Bear Form and 125% to 360% for Dire Bear Form. That is a huge difference. I can’t imagine tanking as a druid if my armor at level 60 only added 125%. Any druid that tried tanking back then probably was extremely squishy to the point of being a total liability. It’s no wonder that the idea that druid tanks were bad stuck and stuck hard. It was not until late Vanilla where people were actually willing to even entertain the idea of druid tanks. But it took until TBC or later for them to be accepted as something real. For some I think, the idea that druids can’t tank was so entrenched from their early memories of Vanilla that this misconception looms as a shadow over anything having to do with the conversation of viability, even today.
During Vanilla it also didn’t help that itemization was not something that players (or even Blizzard) had a handle on. The idea of spell power or +healing stacking was really only understood by a few and followed by fewer. Druid tank itemization is an even odder list. Those that knew what they were doing would have been extraordinarily rare. Today we are more fortunate with extensive knowledge and theorycrafting to be able to push the game far beyond anything that people during the Vanilla days would have hoped to do. This includes itemization of druid tanking gear.
TBC Feral Buffs
It’s interesting to me how we have the Vanilla perception of the feral druid on one hand and the TBC and beyond one on the other. You would find very little argument about the quality of TBC druids. In fact people loved ferals then. So what happened? Some talent buffs and better itemization mostly. But how deep did those changes actually impact the class? Most were buffs to damage dealing with Mangle being introduced. From a tanking perspective the changes are actually minor. Here is a complete list of every talent that impacts feral tank survivability (note that I’m not listing damage/threat increasing talents).
Feral Swiftness (2/2): Increases dodge by 4% in Dire Bear Form
Survival of the Fittest (3/3): Reduces crit chance by 3% and increases stats by 3%
Improved Leader of the Pack (2/2): Heals for 4% of health upon critical hit
That’s the list. All of it. So you can see effectively that druids gain a base 7% avoidance plus whatever 3% stats would equate to. Additionally there’s the bonus healing when you crit. As a Vanilla example with 8000 health this would heal you for 320. Not exactly world changing though nice. So from a survivability standpoint druids gain between 7-10% avoidance, which is great but is 7% the difference between viable and “garbage” as so many people like to say? I would argue absolutely no.
Feral druids are most misunderstood right here. Or at least the ones that want to tank are. Those who are not ferals need to understand there are two mentalities with ferals and you should figure out what type you are talking to first.
One is the DPS feral who likes to powershift and see what kind of leet DPS he does. He’s generally happy to tank because that’s the point of being a flexible feral. But he wants to do damage mainly. The other is the tank feral. He wants to tank as much as possible. DPS is an offshoot which is fine when you need less tanks but please don’t replace him with some fury who complains all the time when he has to tank thankyouverymuch. Both of these ferals can do the same job but they definitely would rather be spending the majority of their time doing very different roles. The first is much closer to your fury warrior who has a tank set. The other is much more like your prot who Nightfalls.
Unfortunately it is extremely common to jump into feral conversations for raid comp with people and have everyone presuming we are talking about feral number one, the fury replacement dps doer. For me personally I don’t like arguing that standpoint because I don’t think that a feral doing that job is optimal. I think they work, so please not too much hate out there guys! But if you are talking bottom dollar what should we bring to a raid I do not think a dps feral is optimal. Their dps is too low to justify from a min/max standpoint and they are so similar to a fury that the concept of extra innervates and battle rezzes just doesn’t offset the difference. If you are talking equally geared equally tryhard and skilled the fury will win every time.
However if you are talking about a tank feral and comparing them to what you want in a raid comp I think it’s pretty easy to justify simply having one less prot or fury tank and instead have that be a full time feral tank spot. Most raids run with three or four dedicated tanks. Fights that may require more than four tanks usually supplement with the fury who has good tank gear. Probably in an ideal world you could have 2 prots or furys with fury dps making up the difference needed. However no guilds that I have yet seen on a server (with plenty of examples) ever ran just two dedicated tanks. I think it’s fair to say that whatever your comp would plan to be, if you stuck your feral in that last full-time tank slot then that’s what is being argued here.
A warrior who is in the third or fourth slot is going to be frequently used to tank trash pulls between bosses and generally about half of a raid’s bosses or so. When they are not tanking they increase their usefulness by swinging Nightfall if prot or DPSing if fury. Tanks in this position aren’t generally needing to worry about situational spells (Shield Wall, Last Stand) and they aren’t taking the beefy hits like the MT does from bosses. The marginal increase to healing required to keep up a feral for this role is offset by the increased raid dps as well as the multiple flexible things that the feral can bring to the raid, compared to the warrior offtank.
For me the bottom line of being a tank is do you have the gear to survive the encounter without being a drain of healer resources, as well as the class abilities to use for boss mechanics? If the answer is yes, then that is a successful enough tank that will be useful for the role. Druids do take more healing than a warrior. How much more? It depends on the tank role you are in and the content level you are at. Generally you take 10-20% more damage when hit and also have lower avoidance. However this changes hugely (in the feral’s favor) depending on what level of threat gear the tank needs to choose. Does that amount matter when you are the third or fourth tank who is picking up the stragglers and dealing with the random adds for boss encounters? No of course not. And then you gain all of the flexibility and DPS increase that feral provides that the extra warrior tank doesn’t.
Druid Vs Warrior Tanks
To go into more detail about raid comp and how druids stack up against warrior tanks I want to get into the weeds with the differences. I tried to list absolutely every single advantage and disadvantage in the most neutral way possible to not seem biased. Each brings advantages and disadvantages to the table. In some ways druids are absolutely better tanks than warriors. And vice versa. This lists the advantages of druids over warriors. Druid disadvantages are mostly warrior advantages.
More inherent armor makes pure mitigation fights easier
More inherent health pool makes high damage spikier fights require less consumes, easier progression for after wipes (because of lack of world buffs), or provide an easier barrier for entry (less healer coordination required)
Provides a constant aura to 4 top melee that boosts their crit by 3%. This adds between 40-130 dps depending on the encounter and quality of melee benefitting from it
Provides the most raid DPS increase compared to all tank roles (prot, fury, feral) (more details on this later)
Can output the highest single target TPS in the game (more details on this later)
With a larger inherent health pool druids can be advantageous tanks for magic heavy mobs since magic damage is taken equally the same between tank classes minus defensive stance
Can output excellent TPS against a single target even if not the mob’s focus without becoming rage starved
Can use Faerie Fire as a pull. This instant cast spell at 30 yards is an excellent tool for surgical pulls – better than hunters even except for hunter’s extended range.
Provides innervates to top performing healers or casters
Provides a battle rez
Provides excellent uptime of Faerie Fire since restos sometimes can’t and don’t usually bother
Can’t be disarmed
Can’t be polymorphed
Can sometimes save self from fall damage death by switching to cat if flung high in the air
Can switch in and out of form to remove slows
Absorbs most gear deemed to be worthless as upgrades
Doesn’t absorb tank tier gear, allowing more and faster gearing of other prots/furys (this is far more beneficial than you’d think to not need to gear up a whole tank with 8 pieces of tier gear for each tier)
Can be strong but not max level DPS when not tanking
Can switch gear and heal for heal intensive fights that don’t need extra tanks
Can switch gear and dispel/decurse for decursive intensive fights (also has highest mana pool for this too with Heart of the Wild)
Doesn’t block or parry so more damage is taken by default
Can’t push crushes off the hit table and generally has low amounts of defense so can be crit (this is offset by more armor mitigation making it less potent)
No situational spells so not able to substitute as MT for encounters that require it
Not able to transition to an MT position for temporary or permanent guild needs
Can’t drink potions or eat healthstones while in form
Can’t drink rage pots for extra initial rage (though this has not seemed to affect me negatively ever)
Bad at aoe tanking
Can’t stance dance for fear mechanics (this is much less of an issue for Alliance druids)
Not able to talent to get 2 seconds shorter cooldown for Taunt
No secondary taunt ability (Mocking Blow)
Not able to disarm
Not able to silence if mob is immune to stuns (often)
Sometimes can’t battle rez because actively tanking
Sometimes can’t innervate because actively tanking
Would never be able to provide the Thunderfury debuff (if the guild was lucky enough to have more than two)
You can see that the disadvantages generally center around a general lack of survivability – more damage taken, less situational spells, and less quick saves. This is all critical for a main tank. This is far less critical for off tanks. If offtanks are popping potions left and right and have to hit Shield Wall or something to stay alive then either the raid is on the way to wiping anyway or the healers aren’t doing their job. Again the bottom line question I’d ask is can the tank handle surviving the content? If so then they are geared enough to make the role work. At that point compare advantages and don’t worry about the survivability issue.
Stats, Rotation, and Talents
Feral tanks rely on better mitigation and a larger health pool as opposed to warriors who generally stack defense. This is because with itemization as it is you can’t get to def cap and additionally the advantages of def loses its appeal since you can’t parry or block as a bear.
5.06*Base Armor (with 5/5 Thick Hide)
Armor cap is 75% at mob level which translates to:
Level 60 Armor cap: 16,500
Level 63 Boss Armor cap: 17,265
Hit Chance: Need 8.6% to be hit capped
Attack Power: 14 AP = 1 DPS
Strength: 1 Str = 2 AP
20 Agi = 1% Crit
20 Agi = 1% Dodge
Agility does not give AP
Agility does give 2 armor per point but it does not benefit from the armor multiplier
Stamina: 1 Stam = 12 HP (with 5/5 Heart of the Wild)
Defense: 1 Defense = 0.04% chance to be missed, not be crit, and to dodge.
Bear form is 149.5% threat (with 5/5 Feral Instinct)
Bear’s damage is multiplicative for threat. Maul and Swipe also do 175% threat in addition to base threat
Example Maul or Swipe threat: Threat=Damage*1.75*1.495
Faerie Fire: 108 Flat Threat
Weapons: Equipped weapons do not add DPS to forms except with their stats. Weapons with chance on hit do not proc. Weapons and armor with “equip” will work.
Trinkets: Trinkets can be used in form
You can see with the stats that right away the feral druid has two advantages compared to a warrior: total armor is a multiplier off of base armor and stamina gives 20% more health than other classes. Itemization for mitigation gear should be: Armor>Stamina>Dodge/Agility>Defense>Hit>Crit>Strength/AP.
Stats at 60
With our server, to keep things competitive world buffs of any kind had been disabled for Naxx. For one week for some reason they re-enabled buffs. So we were able to go out and get Dire Maul and Darkmoon Faire buffs. I got the stamina darkmoon buff just to see about maxing out my health. Normally for Patchwerk I was running at around 11,000+ health. This is what the stats look like for a near fully BIS druid tank.
Fully buffed here’s what a druid tank stats pan out at:
Armor: 16.2k+ (with Inspiration or Lay on Hands armor gets above cap to around 18.5k)
Spell Hit: 1% (for Taunt and Faerie Fire)
First few attempts at Patchwerk we were playing with max armor capability. This is as high as I got.
Druids naturally have very high threat ceilings as mentioned above. The reason is because threat is multiplicative as compared to warriors, whose threat is additive. Even with bad itemization early, feral sustained threat is still better than warriors for all of the content. With AQ gear available, ferals get a lot of gear with multiple pieces of this gear being BIS for feral tanks and also very high up the list for DPS as well. So quality tank gear is also quality threat gear.
When tanking any type of mob, druids are almost entirely running in a state of unlimited rage. Since druid tank focus is about mitigation and larger health pools we get hit harder than warriors. This translates to more rage. Swipe funnily enough is the only rage dump druids have. Note that you need to be careful using it as a rage dump if there are multiple mobs around you.
The very simple tank rotation for maximum threat is:
Maul (on cooldown)
Swipe as a rage dump
Faerie Fire if situationally unable to Swipe or when building rage
Maul is by far the best ability for threat. Swipe adds threat but it is also the most rage costly and also doesn’t scale with attack power so Maul is always more optimal. When talented and with the tanking idol, Maul costs 7 rage and swipe costs 12. Whenever we crit, if talented into Primal Fury, we gain back 5 rage. With crit at 30-45% depending on buffs, it’s virtually impossible to get rid of rage fast enough. If you feel rage starved then stop swiping and transition to casting Faerie Fire. It is free to cast and causes a flat threat increase but will allow rage to rebuild quickly so that swipe spamming can continue.
It is important to understand that, while you as a feral are using Maul and Swipe continuously, you are always hitting with yellow hits. What this means to you is that against a boss, bears are immune to the problem of damage (and subsequently threat) loss of glancing blows. Glancing blows occur on 40% of white hits and causes crit cap issues as well. They aren’t normally avoidable and the only way to mitigate the damage loss is to stack +skill. Since druids can’t utilize skill in form, the ability to remove glancing blows by always hitting with yellow hits is a huge benefit to stable and high threat and damage amounts as a tank. Plus you don’t have to reitemize gear based on crit or hit caps.
Because of our rage and threat mechanics, druids do an especially good job as an offtank attempting to gain threat while a main tank has the boss’ focus. Often warriors quickly burn through their rage doing their threat rotation and are stuck auto attacking to build rage up. Druids don’t have this problem at all. At the very minimum a bear can shift out of bear and into it again (bear powershifting!) to utilize the Furor talent and keep working on threat generation with Mauls. If tanking while in a situation where you aren’t being hit, stop spamming Swipe and focus on reserving all rage for Mauls.
As a real life example, my fully buffed druid routinely hits Mauls for 800, and swipes for 75. Crits double it and with a crit chance of 45% fully buffed I’ll tell you it crits all the time. With those numbers and druid formulas for threat that means that just regularly doing Mauls is over 1000 TPS. With Mauls and Swipes it’s over 1300 TPS. For a five minute fight that’s 390,000 threat.
But wait, it gets better. Introducing the wacky world of Vanilla WoW itemization: The Manual Crowd Pummeler!
This item is obtained in Gnomeregan and takes less than 5 minutes to farm and instance reset. You can carry as many as you have bag space for and there is no cooldown for the charges and yes it works for cat and bear attack speed.
This takes 2.5 second Mauls and turns them into 1.66 second Mauls. You can even add an Iron Counterweight to make it even faster if you’re really crazy. With that activated while tanking, your Maul can now output 40% more threat. For fights where you want a large threat ceiling, pop all three charges of the pummeler and have 90 seconds of insane threat. You can even switch to a second pummeler in the same fight if you need it but there’s a 30 second cooldown before you can use the charges of the second one. For warriors to get to the same level of threat generation as a druid using a pummeler, they have to tank as a dual wielding fury warrior who is actively sitting (to force automatically getting crit for the rage and to proc Enrage) as well as popping Death Wish and Recklessness. And when warriors do it they are taking over 50% more damage than a druid while outputting equal threat.
Here’s a view of my KTM while main tanking Thaddius for maximum threat for no DPS ceiling. At this point, Thaddius was at about 46% health. This is without world buffs. When they were enabled it was shocking that even that initial threat advantage wasn’t enough to keep the DPS from pushing the ceiling so I was going to use two pummelers for future raids with world buffs since one pummeler wasn’t enough threat to let them go crazy.
A new idea that is suggested in the feral community but is untested is the idea of druids being used in a main tank capacity for much of a raid. This would be particularly applicable for speed running guilds. Usually with speed runs, maximum buffs are used and TPS is an extremely important aspect of tanking. Druid’s ability to do such consistently high threat may make them a desirable MT to cut down clear times. Speed runs are done when guilds have content very much on farm so situational spells and survival is often a lower worry than damage and speed.
Raid DPS Contribution
A big issue in the community is the lack of clear understanding of the raid benefit of ferals. The benefit of a battle rez or Innervate is widely accepted but numerically very intangible. And on paper it is also clear that looking at a feral as compared to a fury warrior will show the theoretical feral DPS output as lacking. As of the writing of this the general community consensus is under the presumption that ferals are a net raid DPS decrease. Unfortunately this cursory analysis is inaccurate to the druid’s detriment. Druids are in fact a net increase to raid DPS. There are three main aspects that need to be understood about the difference between ferals and warriors when it comes to raid damage.
Equally geared and skilled fury warrior DPS will always be more DPS compared to a feral in a DPS role
Ferals in a tanking role will always be more DPS compared to a fury or prot in a tank role
Feral aura provides a measurable amount of raid DPS that is logged for the melee and not the feral, hiding the aura’s value
When people look at the problem quickly on paper, adding up point 1 and point 3 shows that ferals are inherently inferior to maximum possible fury warrior output. The aura is not strong enough to counteract the weaker feral DPS. The difference is actually pretty small, however it is consistent. This is where the community analysis has usually stopped.
As a quick aside, guilds that aren’t interested in pure min/maxing should note that a feral DPS who does 100% effort here is going to be only the most minor of DPS losses compared to another equally tryhard fury. If the difference is between a tryhard feral and a casual fury the feral DPS will probably win out.
So point 1 and point 3 show that pure druid DPS isn’t optimal. However the key issue is point 2. Feral tanks aren’t amazing damage dealers but they are decent. Fury and prot tanks however are absolutely lousy DPS. Any time a feral is tanking, that feral is doing more DPS than a warrior. That compounds with the aura making their raid DPS actually quite strong. I have parsed complete raids of serious tryhard guilds for BWL and Naxx, and for each tank role the feral makes for a net DPS increase. The more time spent tanking, the better that feral DPS increase it is. Even with the limited time needed for a 3rd or 4th tank in BWL the benefit still outweighs the loss when the tank is DPSing. Given that, while they may take more damage by being a tank, a feral should be considered a net raid DPS benefit over choosing a fury offtank.
The difference between a full DPS feral and a full tank feral is not too large for talent points. This is an advantage for ferals in that any feral is a feral with the same capabilities to a certain extent. They will be close to equally able of doing DPS or tanking with a simple gear swap.
You can see that the tank and DPS build loses very little of either for potency. In fact there are only two talents for a total of 10 points that are specifically tank related that are useful for tank survival: Thick Hide and Heart of the Wild. It is common for people to skip Thick Hide for Feral Aggression so it’s up to you to figure out how important threat or survival is and that’s mostly up to your role. The rest of the talent points are all based on better DPS or TPS.
Gear and Itemization
Feral druids have to follow the same rules that fury warriors do when it comes to gear. We do not focus on our set pieces because set pieces are geared toward the classes’ “main” focus. So gear has to be found all over in every corner of the world and dungeon and it’s a hodgepodge of whatever works to get you the stats you need for success.
Early on I made a spreadsheet that lists all of the gear for healer, tank, and feral DPS for myself and the druid community. It has had a lot of community input and missing holes filled. It’s important to not treat the list as an absolute in terms of higher equals better. There are trade offs that you might want to take into consideration like +hit or Stamina vs Armor or what is better for TPS. It provides the list of gear and general strengths. From it, you can make the best decision for what you need given what holes you have.
Some things for up-and-coming feral tanks or any druids to consider is that there are some critical pieces of gear that require hard decisions. The biggest is the quest to kill General Drakkisath where you have to choose from Eye of the Beast, Blackhand’s Breadth, and Mark of Tyranny. All are excellent trinkets. Blackhand’s Breadth is phenomenal for feral DPS and only a select few trinkets can replace it but Mark of Tyranny has no parallel. This is going to be one of the hardest decisions you can make as a druid because you can only have one.
The big drama that comes about with loot with ferals is when people are doling out Band of Accuria and Drake Fang Talisman. There is no question that these items are phenomenal for warriors and rogues. There’s also no question that they are phenomenal for a feral druid as well. Often people don’t want to give ferals a chance for these. It’s odd because if the feral is a full-time raider, giving a lot of effort with that role, why would they not deserve loot that boosts them as equally as a rogue or warrior? It’s not exactly the most fair situation to say that druids underperform warriors and rogues but then also never give loot to help even that out.
From my opinion the druid can use those items the most compared to a warrior or rogue. The ability for us to get +hit on gear is extremely challenging, especially for DPS ferals. Having a 2% hit trinket or ring is huge for gear flexibility. I myself was sitting on solid DPS upgrades that were banked for months that I couldn’t use because I didn’t have enough +hit options. If your guild chooses to run a feral then choose to give them equal treatment for good gear. End of story.
BIS lists are never a perfect thing as each fight needs to be tailored slightly differently. However a general baseline set is a good starting point. Each list presumes that itemization follows gear progression available with dungeons as released.
Pre Raid>MC>BWL>ZG>AQ40 and 20>Naxx
World boss gear is skipped as that is extremely challenging to get and unreasonable for most people. The same will be for any PVP gear beyond rank 11. Also as idols can be swapped in combat and only one per role is available anyway I won’t list it.
Depending on the tier, druid tanks have different comparative strengths when looking against warriors. I’ll touch on my interpretation for each tier.
Head: 1% Dodge –
Alternatively ZG Enchant
Shoulders: Fortitude of the Scourge
Alternatively ZG Enchant
Back: 1% Dodge
Chest: +4 Stats
Wrist: +9 Stamina
Hands: +15 Agility
Legs: 1% Dodge Alternatively ZG Enchant
Feet: Minor Speed
Weapon: +25 Agility (2h) or +15 Agility (1h)
You’ll want to note that armor enchants do not gain from the armor multiplier that your armor from gear does. The rule for understanding what will multiply or what won’t is if the armor is colored white it will multiply. If it is green it will not. This is not to say that the armor enchants are bad but they are not especially good either.
Initially pre raid druids are actually extremely strong. Warriors aren’t using set pieces since pre raid sets are generally very bad. Druids instantly initially get pieces that are BIS or near to it as well as some long lasting items. Stepping into MC, druids would be strong tanks and close to or slightly below the same damage incoming as warriors. With their larger health pool they would be especially useful for Ragnaros.
Molten Core BIS druids stepping into BWL would be doing very well and be gaining about the same amount of ground as warriors do here. Warriors get their full T1 which is a good set but nothing compared to T2.
BWL druids gain a bit of gear ground but while they are gaining, warriors gain faster because of their excellent Tier 2. Proportionally druid TPS is very low (unless utilizing pummelers) since much of the gear at this point is pure mitigation to keep survival up. I think at this point druids are at their worst compared to warriors.
Ahn’Qiraj is where druid tank threat goes from being situational to a constant thing. Every item is a small to medium upgrade for survival and each item is also a massive boost to TPS. Warriors are getting Tier 2.5 to up their threat as pure Tier 2 doesn’t cut it anymore because of all the upgrades the DPS are also getting. Stepping into Naxx, fresh with BIS AQ level gear I think druids are more able to handle hits and threat to keep up compared to warriors who must choose between wearing tank or threat gear.
Naxx BIS druids sit at a comfortable level. At this level they are taking hits similarly to Tier 2/2.5 warriors although the avoidance isn’t as good. Full T3 warriors have amazing gear but their threat is low, and often they will be in more threat gear anyway so it’s a tough comparison to make. Regardless every tank in BIS gear is trivializing all levels of content.
Feral Raid Role
To properly play a druid as a feral you need to be the quintessential support class. The bottom line is you are the best flexi player possible and step number one is to fill gaps where needed. If you need to be a tank or DPS or healer or decurser or whatever, jump in and do that role. If you are one that will be frustrated to have your role decided by circumstance then you are limiting the value that the feral provides to the raid. Ideally the raid is going to have the roles they need to succeed but in the real world stuff comes up. That’s why your first response should always be to offer your abilities where there are shortcomings. I have routinely done tanking, DPS, and healing all in the same raid on the same night. And that’s the fun of it because you get to constantly do different roles to keep it fresh.
As far as what to do I will go into a little detail for each role. It isn’t going to be as detailed as a pure guide might be but hopefully it’s a good enough overview for you to play around and get you going in the right direction.
For a list of consumables you should look to use refer to the Druid, DPS Warrior, and Prot Warrior tabs of this sheet:
Even though you are taking on the support class role this will be your main focus. You are probably going to be the 3rd or 4th tank depending on your guild and tank roster. You will be frequently tanking trash and dealing with bosses that need tanks up to your requisite tank role. Make sure to know the fight and know the strength of the spec so you can be taking on the correct role for the fight. More boss fight details are outlined below.
For raid comp except for very specific fights you should always be in a melee group. The group needs to consist of at least one DPS warrior and will probably also have a hunter. The rest of the group will be furys or rogues.
During general tanking you will be able to use Faerie Fire to pull mobs to you but keep a heads up because often the threat won’t be much to keep the mob focused on you for long so make sure to get a Maul and Swipe in as fast as possible to minimize problems with misses which would cause the mob to agro on someone else. As with any tank role the biggest thing to keep track of is mob placement. As long as you do your rotation especially as an offtank you will have no issue with agro.
While you may have mobs on you, a primary role will be to make sure that you keep Faerie Fire up on the boss at all times. This debuff is extremely important for raid damage optimization and a feral’s ease at applying it means that the uptime should be 100%.
Make sure that you are using a gear swapping addon that allows for gear presets. Switching gear between tank and DPS and other specialty sets is critical and should be preset before entering raids. You also need to have an addon that will automatically remove salvation when entering bear form. This makes sure that you are never trying to tank with that buff and helps you to not have to worry about it.
Any time you aren’t tanking generally you’ll be filling in as DPS. This could be mid fight if your tanked add is dead or this could be preplanned depending on the boss strategy. Your tank role will most likely dictate the spec you are running. You may be tanking a majority of the time and have a full tank spec or you may be mostly DPS. You will want to have your spec match your tank/DPS role ratio to be most optimized.
Regardless of how often you DPS you should practice powershifting. There are some good macros out there that makes it pretty easy. Once you have that then you can work on the timing. Often just spamming the macro is not as useful as timing the abilities to energy ticks and shifts that work with the global cooldown (GCD). You will find that this is very mana intensive so you will need to make sure you have the caster buffs and consumables on you for maximum effectiveness. Note that healers are often lazy and might skip you for mana buffs and paladins routinely don’t bother to buff the feral with Might.
As with tanking it is imperative to keep Faerie Fire up on critical mobs. You will want to always be using Shred where possible and not Claw except where necessary and use Ferocious Bite as a finisher when it hits 5 combo points unless the mob is imminently about to die. 5 is always the optimal number regardless of spec.
If you are really trying to focus on doing maximum damage then Manual Crowd Pummeler is your ticket here too. While active its DPS increase is stronger than any weapon in game including Atiesh. Farming it can be taxing though so use them intelligently in fights or prepare to farm a lot of them.
Some fights are simply not optimal for you to be DPSing when you are a tank focused druid. Understand that and be willing to look at healing as your role for these fights. Otherwise it’s quite possible that you’ll find yourself sitting on the bench until after the boss dies. Even though you may think that you can’t effectively heal with no healing talents at all that’s not true. You will be at the bottom of the meters but as long as you are assigned decursing duty or tank healing where your slower heals won’t be sniped then you can be very effective. Druids often don’t add points to the Rejuvenation talent so your HOTs are pretty close to the same as anyone else.
Your mana pool with Heart of the Wild makes you the most effective decurser in the game so where needed remember that you excel at this. Keep an MP5 gear set in mind for this purpose. And also think about installing an addon to help facilitate that as well.
At this point you probably will feel like your bags are overly full given that you have three full sets of gear plus resistance gear and other odds and ends. That plus a whole bag of consumables does make some preplanning with the raid leader very helpful. If you can leave sets in your bank and have a plan for your role you will do alright. And I’d suggest investing in 18 slot bags if you can. If there’s one class that is strapped for space it’s the flexible tanking druid.
Dungeon and Raid Notes
The ins and outs of certain fights can be interesting to document. So I wanted to go through what I’ve found as being doable for each fight in each dungeon, what gear I may use for a particular fight, and what role is best suited to the feral druid tanking in raids. The answer is always “you can do anything you want!” But anything isn’t always the most wise or reasonable option. Druids have a niche and there’s no faster way to lose that niche spot than to try to suggest you can do something that you shouldn’t. You need to be a responsible tank as your survival is priority. If you die then bad things happen to the raid rapidly.
5 and 10 Man Dungeons
I mostly included these for thoroughness. Nothing in 5 mans or UBRS were situations where I worried about viability for tanking as a druid. I frequently tanked while gathering pre raid gear since tanks always can get dungeons going faster. Never did I get complaints about my survivability and my usefulness to add an Innervate here or a quick battle rez there was always helpful.
20 Man Raids
Zul’Gurub is a pretty straight-forward dungeon. The bosses have many more mechanics than MC with its tank and spank bosses, however nothing hits unusually hard and tanking is simple gear wise. You can just run your standard tank set, whatever that might consist of. One advantage is that if you use a druid for Jin’do tanking it’s a one tank fight. He polymorphs the tank once in awhile, requiring a tank swap. Druids are immune to it so they can keep threat the whole time.
The Ruins of Ahn’Qiraj is also another straightforward dungeon. At this point in progression if you are BIS geared for the level, AQ20 feels even softer than ZG did at the time. The only notable example is that Ossirian hits very hard. It’s actually a really good boss for druids, however I never got the chance to tank him as the MT needs to have the Crystal of Zin-Malor equipped to cheese the fight and I already did the quest before AQ was opened.
Molten Core and Onyxia
Onyxia is the first official 40 man boss and she is a challenge for early raids mechanically but a complete softie for tanking. There are a few famous videos of her being as low as 3 manned I believe with full T3 geared characters. She hits very softly and her mechanics are simple. I have main tanked her a few times and had nothing special on for gear.
Lucifron and his two adds are an easy start to MC. You can be in charge of an add or the boss. Either works depending on raid comp. As long as others are taking care of curses this is a straightforward tanking fight.
Magmadar is a single tank fight. You should just be DPSing the fight. Additionally if you are Horde, warriors can stance dance this while you can’t.
Very similar to Lucifron you can grab adds or the boss. As long as you stay out of the Rain of Fire and decurses are quickly taken off the tanks this is an easy fight.
You can tank Garr himself or grab an add or two. Druids have a bit of an advantage on this fight because you can shift in and out to help break the slow effect debuff that you get, as well as being able to feral charge. This helps a lot with picking up adds.
This is another one tank fight. Throw on your DPS gear and don’t get eaten by his fire. And don’t blow the raid up like a noob.
You can be the catcher for when Shazzrah teleports. Taunts and moving the boss is easy for any tank to do. Having a high health pool helps for this magic damage intensive fight.
Sulfuron and his four healer adds is similar to the others. Either tank Sulfuron himself or two adds. Not much more to worry about.
Golemagg the Incinerator
Golemagg hits a little harder than the rest of the dungeon. Tanking him is a little bit more of a thrill. You can tank him or his two dogs. Both are quite doable.
Majordomo and his 8 adds requires a few tanks for sure. With the healers all getting sheeped tanks pick up the warriors. You could either grab a couple warriors or tank Majordomo himself. With his teleportation, feral charge can be quite useful.
Ragnaros is where MC finally gets challenging. Initially I wondered if this was going to be a fight that druids couldn’t work with. However luckily enough for us there is a lot of quality fire resist gear that also is good for druid tanking as well. A druid in full fire resist actually has a better health pool than a warrior. It’s quite possible that a druid is a better option for tanking Ragnaros given the stats that you get for the gear you can find. Additionally for safety when you get knocked back you can switch to cat form to minimize the fall damage which can easily kill a tank if healers aren’t being careful.
Here’s my BIS gear set for Ragnaros:
Head: Molten Helm (+20 FR Enchant)
Neck: Onyxia Tooth Pendant
Shoulders: Fireguard Shoulders (+5 FR Enchant)
Back: Fireproof Cloak (+15 FR Enchant)
Chest: Thick Silithid Chestguard
Wrist: Cinderhide Armsplints of the Monkey
Hands: Doomhide Gauntlets or Aged Core Leather Gloves
Weapon: Blessed Qiraji War Hammer / Magmus Stone or Finkle’s Lava Dredger
Some of this gear requires much more content out than what you’d initially have access to. However there are easy ways to get to cap without the higher tier gear. The above gear gives 255 unbuffed FR so having a paladin in group with aura is enough for cap. You can also make a set based around 240 FR if you use Juju Ember.
Razorgore the Untamed
This is a simple fight to start off the raid. As a tank, get assigned a corner and tank all adds that come. The dragons are the only ones that hit with any force and they should be your priority but they are no real trouble. Once all of the eggs are destroyed every tank should be fighting for threat on Razorgore, including you.
Vaelastrasz the Corrupt
This fight is a great one to consider a druid being the first tank in the lineup with the Manual Crowd Pummeler equipped. The strong TPS would be a big DPS ceiling increase and help to get the boss down that much quicker. Even if the druid comes in later in the lineup that will still help DPS as well. Additionally cat DPS is excellent for this fight. Unlimited energy is very good for druid DPS scaling.
Broodlord is another fight where a druid tank can be a big help for early progression. The high mitigation and high health can help offset his brutal Mortal Strikes. Even in late tiers a tank can easily get practically one shot by this guy so early progression has a much harder time dealing with it. Additionally tanks have to fight for threat on this and druids do well keeping agro even when not being focused by the boss.
Firemaw will require you to bust out your fire resist set. It’ll look pretty much identical to what you use for Rag except for your Onyxia Cloak. Apart from that it’s positioning and Taunt timing. Nothing about it makes it a problem to tank.
Blackwing Spellbinders can be helpful for druids to tank. A druid can tank two spellbinders easily as a druid is immune to polymorph. This can help simplify these nasty trash packs. If possible though, a hunter or careful timing needs to be used for pulling as they are immune to Faerie Fire so the initial grab can be a challenge and requires you to get up and actually hit them.
This is a free loot fight, however druids are useful to be out there tanking and help with the Taunt swapping so that he doesn’t heal himself. There is no other gotcha and he doesn’t hit hard. This is an easy fight.
Flamegor is a two tank fight as long as hunters can do their jobs. You should just DPS this fight. It’s even easier than Ebonroc.
This is a two tank fight. Since he has an enrage mechanic, druids probably shouldn’t be offtanking this fight. Generally healers will have the fight under control and you can feel free to do as much DPS as possible here. If the guild is having troubles though this would be a great fight where you can focus most of your effort on just doing decursing and small amounts of healing.
For phase one you can be paired with another tank and take your role on one of the sides where the adds comes out. You can either pick up the one chromatic or the smaller colored dragons. For phase two you should get back over to the boss and do what DPS you can. Remember to do a battle rez on the way if need be and innervate someone during the fight. Main tanking this fight, though possible, would be unwise due to the druid call forcing you into cat form as well as a lack of stance dancing. But sometimes in an emergency…
Temple of Ahn’Qiraj
This fight calls for six tanks usually so being assigned to one platform and being ready to pick up Skeram is the name of the game. He doesn’t hit overly hard. It’s mostly about quick acquisition of target. Since they are all tauntable this is a pretty basic fight for tanks.
This fight is about control and appropriately splitting up the bugs. Each bug has different tank needs but they are all doable. Vem is the most squirrely but feral charge helps that.
This is a manic fight for tanks. Thankfully our mitigation works very well for the hard hitting boss and adds. You’ll want to be on one of the initial adds and try to keep its focus as much as possible while they all fly around.
Fankriss the Unyielding
There are three different tank roles for this fight. You either tank the boss, or the worms, or the many bug adds. Druids can do anything well except the many bugs. Tanking the worms is fine. Tanking the boss is actually the easiest. It’s just a Taunt swap at a certain number of debuff charges.
This is a one tank fight where melee are useless. Throw on that healing gear and go in and cure poisons and heal what you can or prepare to sit on the sidelines. If you are an engineer then use sapper charges at the right time. Otherwise you can usually get a tick of damage with hurricane at the right spot.
This is a two tank fight that is very much geared around situational spells. Your role should be to do what DPS you can as a nature resist soaker. Make sure to gather all of that nature resist gear to be helpful here. If there are an overabundance of melee soakers then you can switch to healing and be the primary poison cleanser for tanks. If your guild is pushing the meters you may be a good choice as MT with pummelers. High threat would burn the boss down making Shield Wall unnecessary.
The Twin Emperors
Most likely you are running two main tanks for the bosses plus two warlock tanks. Druid works fine for tanking the bug adds that spawn during the fight. Focus on them as the fight goes on.
This is at least a three tank fight. You can be the backup tank that’ll run in if the other two both get unlucky with getting kicked out. Main tank with situational spells definitely helps so sticking to a backup role is definitely the safer choice.
Tanking for C’Thun is generally being a backup option for tentacles and eye spawns. It’s completely random who gets sent to the stomach so enough tanks have to be ready to pick up the adds when they spawn. The tentacles can hit extremely hard so it can be useful to pop barkskin right before they spawn and then be in bear in case you grab them. The cooldown is just right that you can do this for every spawn. When you get to the vulnerability phase you can switch to cat to do as much DPS as possible.
The first boss of Naxx isn’t too much different than what you see in AQ. You would tank one of the initial adds. Hopefully paladins are putting blessing of freedom on the tanks. If not, or if Horde you can shift out and into bear to free yourself from webs and get threat back which is a very nice bonus for this fight. After the adds are done you can go cat on the boss until the next add spawns. Switch back to bear and tank that add until it dies. Rinse and repeat.
Grand Widow Faerlina
Faerlina starts off with a lot of adds. You will need to tank at least one. It’s doable to tank two as well if need be. As long as you stay out of the fire, just keep adds off to the side so that a priest can pick them up as the fight progresses. If you lose an add and another tank has two on him make sure to taunt one off onto you.
Maexxna is a one tank fight that virtually requires situational spells. You will not be tanking here. Switch to your DPS gear and DPS her. Or if you have trouble with the spider adds make sure to pick them up as bear.
Noth the Plaguebringer
For this fight adds come from three corners of the room. You should be assigned to one corner and can pick up the adds as they spawn. Make sure to keep them away from others as they have a nasty cleave. They don’t do much damage to a tank though so it’s easy enough tanking.
Heigan the Unclean
This is a one tank fight. Throw that DPS gear on and get ready to dance!
Again this is a one tank fight. You most likely will be doing DPS. If need be this is a fight that totally works for a feral to heal. Healing touch casting speed isn’t the issue at all, instead you need big fat heals. There’s plenty of time to do it so you can easily be part of the tank heals rotation and make it work.
Druids make for very good soakers for Patchwerk especially for early progression. We have that naturally large health pool and with high mitigation the hateful strikes become something more like manageable strikes. As a reminder hateful strikes do not crit or crush, so it’s pure mitigation. On average I was floating about a thousand HP more than other tanks with equal buffs and with how the hatefuls hit me I can absorb about two full hits without kicking the bucket. This kind of buffer helps guilds a lot for learning the fight and reducing the number of soaker tanks needed to succeed.
In saying that, druids do take more damage here. Without the extra avoidance of parry we do soak more damage. Still the healing and overhealing of this fight necessarily has to be sky high so optimization down the road when your warriors are decked out all in Tier 3 is to have the druid either do DPS here or to actually switch to the MT spot and not soak here. The reason being that the main tanks generally have to put on threat gear just to try to keep up with the threat being dished out. It’s not like Vael where you have unlimited rage. Druid tanks are going to be more capable to handle a higher threat ceiling and the MT doesn’t get hit near as much as the soakers for this fight. The damage incoming for the MT is comparable to Thaddius and well within the druid’s ability. Note that tank healers would need to be extra aware at 5% as Patchwerk enrages and will do a lot more damage. Normally warriors will Shield Wall here so it’s a bit of a disadvantage.
This is generally a two tank fight. You can DPS and watch for the tank who is on the slimes. If he gets injected you can switch over to bear and tank the slime until the tank comes back. Unless that happens, extra tanks are excess.
This is a two tank fight plus add pickup. You can do either role. As a tank for Gluth you’d do well keeping up threat as a druid even without the boss focusing on you. For the adds it works too. You can use Faerie Fire to get threat on the adds but you can only do so much. The hunters and mages are doing the real kiting for this boss.
This is an interesting fight. For phase one you definitely do not want to tank. You should DPS since Stalagg always does crushing blows. However for phase two it is not a bad idea for a druid to be the MT for the fight. Thaddius doesn’t hit hard and druids can output extremely good TPS especially because we get the threat boost due to the damage buff when stacked with charges. You can go through two full Manual Crowd Pummelers during the fight and your mages and warrior DPS will love the fact that they can go balls to the wall for virtually the whole time. Even with all of the upside and a guild used to a feral it can still be a hard pill to swallow for warriors to see a feral main tank something…
This fight requires four tanks so you will be able to grab one of the trainees and hold him until he needs to be mind controlled. Just follow the trainee down to the boss and spam Taunt just in case he breaks free. As long as you can control your trainee the fight is all up to the priests to execute. For tanks it’s pretty simple. I know you might be in a habit of hitting Faerie Fire to pull but don’t here. We don’t want excess armor lost for the trainees for tanking. Have a hunter pull.
Gothik the Harvester
The raid gets split in half for this fight. You have the live side which is caster based and the undead side which is melee based. You’ll always want to get paired on the undead side so that your aura benefits the melee. While tanking here your big focus is to try to get the deathknights as they spawn and trainees as well though they die very quickly. When riders come we felt like druids going for the horses was the best as the horses are last priority so that frees the other tank for other adds that come, but you could do either. Make sure to move the horse or rider away from each other as the horse slows everyone way down. If you get slowed you can shift out and into bear form to be able to grab the adds a little more quickly.
After the adds are dead or all CC’d you get to deal with Gothik. It’s pretty much whoever can grab agro on him first, so often that can be the druid. He has low health and if you have the situation under control it doesn’t matter who tanks him. It’s going to be a kill at that point.
The Four Horsemen
Well you made it to the four horsemen. The hardest fight in many ways in the game is worth being prepared for. And you’ll need to be but the good news is druids can tank this fight without any problem. The general strat that we used and saw others using is that tanks will be either in the front or the back. Front tanks bounce from Mograine to Thane and back. Back tanks go between Blaumeux and Zeliek. There are other strats as well, however druids are effective for any of it.
The front tanks will take a serious amount of damage from Mograine and decent but handleable damage from Thane. Mograine’s damage is significant and for druids it is potentially useful to stack some fire resist for the fight. I saw that with the set I worked up that my avoidance goes down quite a bit – like 8% lost dodge, however I was also getting resists up to half the damage of Mograine’s Righteous Fire. Doing the math, the fire resist was better to stack than the avoidance. You can also look at drinking a Greater Fire Protection potion as well as eating a Frozen Rune. This mitigates a significant chunk of tank damage and makes it so that healing on the tank is much less intensive by the time Mograine is down.
The back tanks have more technical fights to worry about, pretty much entirely driven by Blaumeux’s void zones. If you can avoid void zones and keep the mob where they should be then this fight is extremely easy for tanking. You do not take much damage back in the back at all. Void zone is the only killer.
Before you ask, yes Nat Pagle’s Broken Reel works in form for this boss and is necessary for success or at the very least for a guaranteed tanking position.
Weapon: Blessed Qiraji War Hammer / Jin’do’s Bag of Whammies
Sapphiron is a one tank fight that is extremely healing intensive. You should slap that heal gear on and probably be set to heal the main tank. I found spamming rank 5 healing touch while keeping Faerie Fire up allowed me to not go oom too much while having good enough HPS to keep the tank happy for the circumstances. This fight is very straight forward but extremely long so you will need to have healing consumes on you – oils, mana pots, and MP5 food and anything else.
KT, the last boss in the game. It’s a serious fight that requires a little bit of everything. You’ll want to be in your general tank gear and maybe push towards having a bit more mitigation than usual. Unlike warriors your threat won’t be a problem for phase 2 but you’ll need every bit of survivability here that you can find. Phase 1 you should just stay in cat form. Let the first two tanks take turns getting the abom add while you help with DPS. Right at the end be ready to switch to an add if the MT has to transition to pick up KT.
For phase 2, you can be ready to grab threat after mind controls. If you work hard at it you’ll get it frequently – which might not always be the best option. He hits hard and it’d be more efficient to be a bit more of a deep backup rather than trying to constantly be the tank to grab him. If you are mind controlled there are ways for the raid to control you but it’ll be different than the other players since they are polymorphed. You will need to be hibernated or trapped or scare beasted. Regardless there are options, the guild just has to be ready.
When phase 3 hits you can grab the add or adds depending on the guild strategy. Your ability to do Faerie Fire to build up threat on shackled mobs will be useful for chaotic moments with other adds as well.
Generally world bosses are going to be PVP chaos. In these situations the situational spells that warriors have makes them better options than druids for tanking the bosses. They also are all one tank fights presuming something bad doesn’t go wrong. Generally it is best to be a healer for these fights as it’s never a DPS race, however DPS is also good. If no tank is available a druid would make a fine tank. The bosses do not hit hard.
Opposing Faction Bosses
Opposing faction bosses are pretty similar to world bosses. They are not extremely challenging and are pretty much tank and spank. From my one chance of main tanking an Orgrimmar raid it was fun to find that druids are excellent options for Vol’jin as he is a guy that polymorphs! Well bad luck to you Mr. Troll. The druid tank is immune to that and makes it a trivial one tank fight.
Thrall is also tank and spank but at this point the raid was oom and dying to adds and PVPers so we didn’t quite conquer our dreams of dethroning the Horde. Better luck next time…
Having raided as a feral in all tiers of content I can attest to the versatility of the feral tank as a very useful member of a raid. They have disadvantages compared to a warrior tank by having a little less flexibility in some areas and taking more damage on average. But these disadvantages are well offset by the advantages they bring with more flexible approaches to some bosses, higher overall threat ceiling and all around more raid damage. They will never be a permanent main tank for any roster but they make a very good addition as a full-time offtank that never gets outgrown by progression content.
I would recommend every guild consider finding a dedicated feral tank who is willing to put in the effort to play the role as it should – as a highly flexible and capable holistic raid slot that is only an asset especially when played well. The fact that they aren’t a sponge for tier gear also makes for help in progression as it means your other full-time tanks and deep backups get geared that much faster. Work with the feral to make sure that key pieces of gear goes their way though as there are certain items that are unusually strong for them that are far more than minor upgrades than you might realize (weapons, rings, and trinkets).
For aspiring feral tanks I will tell you that it is a ton of fun to play. But it is also not easy. The role requires mastery of every raid role and the ability to instantly switch from one to the other. Always you will need to think ahead, whether it’s in the raid or in the gear you need. Gearing up can be challenging with multiple BIS items behind long grinds to exalted PVP reputations. As with every offspec role, to do it right requires greater than average dedication to the spec. You should do what you can to utilize consumables so that your survivability and DPS are as high as they can be. If you want a casual raiding experience then this is probably not the role for you.
Thanks for reading and I hope that it was useful to you as a feral or if you were just interested in how they operate. If you have comments or questions you can find me at the Druid Classic discord. Join here: https://discord.gg/uscwdeP