Sunday, January 31, 2010


Powershifting is a technique that involves instantaneously changing form from one's current form to a different form and back.  For example, you would drop out of your Bear Form and immediately back into Bear Form.

There are two major reasons for powershifting.

First, changing forms breaks roots such as Entangling Roots and Frost Nova.  This is invaluable in a tanking setting as it allows you freedom of movement and the ability to move dangerous mobs away from your rooted teammates.

The second reason for powershifting, especially as a Bear, is that it "procs" or activates the benefit conferred by the talent "Furor" and instantly give you 10 rage if the tank is dry.  This, essentially, turns mana into rage.

I will only discuss powershifting from Bear Form into Bear Form, with Caster Form as the intermediate step.

There are two ways to powershift.  The first method is to manually press the button, either on your keyboard if it is mapped to a key or to a slot on your action bar, wait for your character to change forms back to caster form, and then press the button a second time in order to change back.  The second method is to press a button that activates a powershifting macro, which will instantly transform you from your current form into your current form, without visibly halting at the caster form stage.

I have not tested whether there are actually practical reasons to use the macro, in the form of taking damage while in caster form.  But, my intuition tells me that for that split second while I am in caster form, I am vulnerable in a way that is circumvented by the use of the powershifting macro.

The basic powershifting macro is simple:

/cast !Bear Form

Once you reach sufficient level you will need to switch this to Dire Bear Form, but the general principle is the same.  You put the commands to drop your current form, and to assume Bear Form on the stack.  They are executed in that order, in one action.  The effect of each happen at the same time, and you thus receive 10 rage.

If you are forced to shift form in order to escape a root during a dungeon encounter, this technique helps you prevent the complete loss of all of your rage in the bargain.  It also helps you prime the pump for the first several seconds of an encounter.

I've heard stories of people being roundly mocked during pick-up-group instance encounters for taking five points in Restoration talents so early in their leveling process.  I'll examine whether five points in Furor is worth the tradeoff for Feral talents in my next installation.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

On Technique

A professor of mine suggested this week during a lecture that a "technique" is a trick that you can use more than once.  To me, that is a very good working definition.  When I categorize techniques on this blog I will try to make sure that they are not just one-off tricks, but those which are generally applicable.

Friday, January 29, 2010

A Bear's First Glyph

I chose the Glyph of Maul, doing myself the disastrous disservice to put it off until L14.  What a difference a glyph makes.

Aside from being able to get more mileage out of your Light, Sweet, Rage for the damage meters, it also keeps your corpse off the turf.  If I could do it all over again, I'd have had this precious addition to my arsenal on standby when I hit L10, no question asked.

On other notes, without any form of instant root or means of slowing down fleeing opponents, I've been using Moonfire as a finishing stroke if I'm low on rage.  But if it doesn't stop the fleeing mob from bringing back help, it's probably effort--and especially mana--wasted.  In that case it might be best to double down, self-cast Healing Touch and grit your teeth for the adds.

Form-flow gets expensive until we rank in Natural Shapeshifter, but it's definitely my style of play so I cut corners on mana where I can for now.  While Moonfire has an attractive element of instant gratification, it chews through mana like porcupines through the outhouse wall.

When I get the 5th rank of Furor I'll write a bit about powershifting.  For the next couple of levels its still just statistically likely to be useful so I don't risk wasting mana on it.

Two more levels and I'm going to hit pause and run some instances for a few nights.  I hope everyone has a great tanking weekend!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Attacking While Backstrafing

I use a Belkin n52te device when I play WoW.

I have all key strobing turned off, and the first four keys in each of three rows mapped to 1-4, 5-8, and 9-= respectively. I also have shift and control mapped to keys. Target next and target previous are mapped to the scroll wheel, and having everything well within reach saves me some wrist strain.

But it's the little thumb toggle that really helps me with backstrafing. In order to completely eliminate the possibility that I'd truly run from an enemy, and by doing so lose my dodge bonus, I decided to map the up, down, and back positions on the thumb toggle to "q", "e" and "s", respectively. The important thing to note about this is that I do not have "w" mapped on the Belkin, which means I can only reach full speed by strafing or using my mouse.

In order to turn or change direction, I use my mouse. To run forward I use the mouse. When the time comes to backstrafe, I take over on the Belkin, and use the mouse to control my direction. This has been good practice, and I'm finally starting to really get the hang of it after a couple of false starts. But it's not easy mode by any means. In order to get the benefits from this you have to keep a careful eye on whether or not, as you are strafing away, the enemy is running along in front of you or behind you.

Consider if you were facing away from a target. You could circle strafe it with your back facing it the entire time, if you wanted. But in order to always keep it in front of you you need to be facing the other direction. It's the same way with backstrafing. If you go off at the wrong angle the enemy will be behind you, and you won't be able to dodge or use your attacks. Fortunately the game gives an audible whenever you try to attack something that is behind you, so I advise that you keep Maul on cooldown when practicing your backstrafing.

By the time you get Bear form, you should be able to head back to Teldrassil or Mulgore and practice your professions while getting in some backstrafing practice. You can use your keyboard, or get all fancy with the peripherals if you prefer. But practice makes perfect. Once you've got it down you should be able to switch orientation so that you're traveling in the same direction but facing the opposite way. Any opponent that was just behind you is now "in front" of you again. You can still move away at a running pace, dodge and attack as normal.

With practice you should be able to switch back and forth effortlessly, always keeping your enemy "in front" of you as you backstrafe. Once you have that down, we can talk about ways to do this with some semblance of situational awareness, so you're not running blind.

Simple Target and Attack Macros for Bears

You creep just into range of your quarry. The Moonfire icon lights up, signaling that you are ready. You steel your nerves and begin casting Wrath. The green bolt flies through the air even as you cast Entangling Roots. As the bolt hits the target it lunges at you, but becomes ensnared in the roots. The white bolt of Moonfire bursts out of the sky. Knowing you have only moments, you let loose a second bolt of Wrath as your quarry tears free of the entangling roots and races toward you. With only a split second to spare, you slide into Bear Form and then . . .

Nothing happens. The mob sits there hitting you, but for some reason you're not hitting it back. What the hell? Frustrated, you scramble with your mouse to right click the target and start the melee attack. There it goes! You see that rage bar slowly inching upward, but by now you're no longer in the zone, and the rest of the fight is just waiting for that Maul to proc and hoping you can sneak in Bash when the mob tries to self-heal.

This has been my experience for the last several nights. Whether I'm pulling with a complicated opening sequence of Wrath-Root-Moonfire-Wrath or with Growl, I pull and then grit my teeth when the mob comes in and I realize I'm still not attacking them. I finally broke down last night and cobbled together a very basic targeting macro, which I'll share now.

/cleartarget [help][dead]
/targetenemy [noexists, nodead, nohelp]
/startattack [harm]

This does the following:
  1. If I am currently targeting something that is dead, or friendly, drop the target.
  2. If there is a nearby enemy that is not dead and not friendly, and if I do not presently have a target, target that enemy.
  3. If the current target is an enemy, start attacking it.
Now comes the fun part. A targeting macro is something I will be using over and over again, as long as I play. I'll need functionality similar to that above throughout the game and eventually will want to augment it for special scenarios such as party assist, healer innervation, emergency threat snaps to pull mobs off of DPS and Healers. Moreover, I'll want to have the functionality above in most of my other combat macros.

In the Escape > Interface > Action Bars panel, there is an option to show the "Right Bar" and "Right Bar 2". These are caolled the "MultiBars" and we want them both visible. I place my new targeting macro icon in the bottom slot of the left MultiBar. Once the macro icon is in place in slot 12 of the left MultiBar, I can now create a second macro:

/showtooltip Growl
/click MultiBarLeftButton12;
/use [stance:1]Growl

As you can see, my new Growl Macro references my targeting macro.

Now, I pull Growl off of my action bar and replace it with my new Growl macro. Whenever I use the Growl Macro, it goes out and looks for a nearby target, with preference to ones that are directly in front of me. Once it has the target, it sets my state to "in combat" with the target, and then uses Growl. The instant the mob gets within range of my autoattack, I start swinging. No right clicking in panic involved.

I use a similar simple macro for Maul:

/showtooltip Maul
/click MultiBarLeftButton12;
/use [stance:1]Maul

The nice thing about this is that if I'm fighting two or three mobs at once and every millisecond matters, the instant the mob I'm fighting dies, if I jam the maul macro button I immediately get a new hostile target and start swinging. If I have sufficient rage, I start out with a Maul.

Most importantly, however, if I want to upgrade my targeting macro later on, I only have to do it in one place.

These are intentionally very simple, very basic macros and should be usable by any Bear Druid level 10 and up. Once we get Faerie Fire, Growl will take on a completely different role. There are very complex limits to what we can do with macros, which I will not enumerate here. For now, this is a simple macro that I use regularly, and it's a good introduction to macros for baby bear tanks.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

On Bricks, Backstrafing, Talents and Professions for Baby Bears

After doing more work last night with backstrafing, I wanted to share a couple of my observations. But first, a note on the name "Brickflank". Since choosing this name for my new Bear Tank, the word "Brick" has been marinating, infusing itself into my whole mindframe regarding Druid tanking. Bottom line is that it's just a fun word, and a damned fine metaphor for the tank role.

But enough on that. On to the sauce.

First, I have absolutely confirmed that while backstrafing away from an enemy, I can not only dodge their attacks while withdrawing, but also deliver my own attacks. And, at the moment of my choosing, I can drop a Nature's Grasp for the root and make a little distance. This could be very useful for tricky pulls where you are forced to pull two mobs but need a little one-on-one quality time with one of them.

All in all, it led to quite a few interesting encounters. Imagine me, strafing into trees and shrubberies while trying to learn how to backstrafe while still remaining aware of my surroundings. I still feel like a baby bear, batting around bunnies in the backyard. But, I tell you, there's a Brick inside, just waiting to claw his way out.

The day after I got Bear Form, I continued to struggle with what professions I'd pick up, and spent an evening doing prep work and chores. First, I took the long boat and train ride to Ironforge and trained up maces, happily ending my fishing pole's reign as the best weapon I could afford. After that I decided to grind out some startup capital and get the old economic engine up and running, churning out about 30 gold with various fish, herbs, leather, and other farmed goods, as well as a few well placed local recipes that tend to sell for a lot on the auction house. Some poor guy also bought a stack of Refreshing Spring Water from me for 10g. Now I know how Coca Cola Company feels.

I immediately dumped this income into a couple of green tanky items and a respectable lumberjack shirt. Let's face it. I'm going for the "Brick" effect, and nothing about a wiry pink-skinned Night Elf with his chest-bits showing says "Brick" to me. Lumberjack shirt took care of that issue. I now feel that I can call myself an ursine of promise. That shirt will be with me forever, I have a feeling about this.

Fully recognizing that these profession choices are temporary, I picked up herbalism and skinning, and started to make the most of them. While doing so I had time to think about the three main gathering professions. Each of them "feeds" one or more of the crafting professions (I'm not talking one-off recipes that require a crossover item, but honest daily working relationships here). Skinning feeds only Leatherworking. Herbalism feeds both Inscription and Alchemy. Mining feeds Engineering, Blacksmithing, AND Jewelcrafting. Experience tells me that there's a glut of glyphs on the auction house, because people rarely need to change their glyphs out, so there's not a great deal of income in Inscription, effectively negating it from the list of potential professions I could feed with a given gathering specialist. Some time ago, I recall reading a comparison of the end-game profession benefits on Druid effective health, and Engineering was high on the list. Experience confirms that engineering makes for fun tanking. So, I can guarantee I'll switch Brickflank into Engineering at some point. It's also worth noting that as you go through the leveling process you tend to accumulate tremendous amounts of various materials. I don't think that maintaining two serious gathering professions on the same character is in the cards for me, at least not for very long. Brickflank is destined to be an engineer, but I'm not resolved on whether or not I'll make him a miner as well. Skinning begets Crit and leather for tanky gear as I level.

I had a proverbial "moment of fear and pain" deciding how to allot my first handful of talent points. It really comes down to two choices. First there is Furor, which gives us that rush of Light, Sweet, Rage upon first switching into Bear Form and helps to prime the line for an opening Maul. The second is Ferocity, which reduces the Rage and Energy requirements for a host of our front line skills such as Maul, Swipe, Claw, Rake and Mangle.

You want them both. It's true, but until L19 you can't handle them both. Too much power in one so young leads only to the dark side. Or so I'm told.

I went with Ferocity, because it comes with a guarantee, whereas climbing the ladder to Furor 5 still leaves a chance of zero effect in the crucial opening moments of an encounter. It could mean the difference between holding aggro on a group fight and wiping on a pull.

Level 12 brought with it Enrage and Revive, both of which will prove tremendously useful for when I get in over my furry little head or things go South in a fight. And I will. I've got a full slate of quests lined up in Darkshore and plan to pound back some levels tonight and push for L19, at which point I might actually turn off XP for a bit and do some tanking in Deadmines and Wailing Caverns, try out the new random dungeon feature, and get back out in front of a crew.

Coming up: A glimpse at glyphs, tanking cuisine, bartender and macros for baby bears and a special surprise for old times' sake.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

First Encounter in Bear Form

Fresh from the Moonglade at level 10, and flush from having just achieved my Bear Form, the first thing I did was savor the beautiful new druid bear model, then promptly ran off into the forest to pick a pixel fight and get a sense of where I need to improve.

Immediately, insight. Armed only Growl, Maul, and vendor whites, I took a few nasty hits and a year and a half of tanking memories came flooding back to me.

The lesson I took away was this: the essence of playing a druid tank is knowing when and how to use your abilities from non-bear forms to amplify your bear abilities. In my case, as a level 10 Bear fresh from the press, this means using Thorns, Mark of the Wild, Wrath, and Moonfire, and then switching to Bear form. In the first few levels as a feral druid, we really need to learn to get the most out of our other abilities, and to get used to switching between our forms.

And, as the march of progress slowly drums along, it's very easy to forget that lesson. I'm glad that I'm coming back to the game in this way--starting from scratch really makes me appreciate my other Druid, and what other players go through on their first journey to the top.

One thing I'm doing right away, as long as I'm relearning how to tank from scratch, is teaching myself to strafe backwards. Instead of tucking tail and running from an encounter, a Bear tank should turn sideways and strafe away from the attacking mob. This back-strafing technique allows us to dodge attacks even as we withdraw at full speed. Tucking tail is (rightly) punished by completely disabling our Dodge ability. This technique can save our skin when shadowmeld is on cooldown.

Remember: A Leatherbelly never runs away from a fight. They backstrafe. Also, a Leatherbelly goes into combat buffed, with the target debuffed, whenever possible.

The Leatherbelly Tank Blog has a New URL!

After a 10 month hiatus from World of Warcraft, I have returned to Azeroth and on January 25th 2010, launched my first Alliance character, a Druid (naturally) named Brickflank. Brickflank is my new main on the eve of the coming cataclysm, and I hope to have him fully leveled by the time the expansion hits.

My reason for the fresh start is this: Right now, today, is probably our last chance to explore and experience "Old Azeroth". With Cataclysm, the whole of the world will change. It's now or never. I've never played an alliance character, so am giving myself a fresh start and hopefully new perspectives on druid tanking.

In order to keep my blogging consistently focused on druid tanking, I have decided to keep the names of my characters out of the URL and move the blog to If you were a follower of the old blog, you'll find that you're still following it, just under a new name.

Choosing a profession for a new druid on a new server

After a ten month hiatus I recently returned to Azeroth and rolled a Kal'Dorei druid named Brickflank on the same server where Etaiu lives. At this time I have six characters on that server, but Brickflank is my first main ever on the Alliance side. I'm reserving the last two slots for my Troll and Worgen druids when Cataclysm hits. I look forward to bringing more Druid Tank content in the coming months.

Aside from the joys of playing an entirely new race and my first alliance character, I'm really excited to be able to write about the Druid tanking experience that corresponds with the leveling process. With the new dungeon finder, I expect I'll get to do a lot more tanking than I ever have in the past. Some folks grind their characters through the levels as fast as they possibly can. But for new players or first characters on a server, since you don't necessarily have your economic engine up and running you have to make some difficult choices.

First, in order to be the best tank you can be, you will need a stable and reliable income source. Whether you need to pick up potions from the auction house, or new armor as you level, being a flash and swagger leatherbelly is a more attractive proposition than being just another mangy and impoverished furball from Kalimdor. But, endgame tanks are usually very concerned with what advantages their endgame professions confer onto them.

So, when choosing professions for a new character, how do you play it? Gathering professions such as mining, skinning and herbalism will bring in a constant income stream, whereas crafting professions such engineering, leatherworking, and alchemy actually cost you gold as you level. In 2009, Blizzard added new crafting recipes for some of the crafting professions to make them more viable and competitive for leveling. But the common wisdom is to stick with gathering professions for your first character. Getting into a guild can help you gain access to the equipment from the crafting professions.

Finally, druids make excellent gatherers. We don't need to leave our feral forms in order to use skinning or herbalism. When we get flight form, this is even more useful. And, if we are smart about what we sell and what we keep as we work our way through the leveling experience, we can end up with a large amount of the rare and difficult to find items by the time we are high level. At that point, if we want to change a profession, we'll have a stockpile of the items needed to do so painlessly. I had a fully trained miner / blacksmith on The Venture Co and when the time came to level up Engineering on my first druid, Etaiu, I had an alt guild bank full of minerals, stone, and other materials, and as a result I brought him from 0-400 in one night.

Having leveled a few crafters before, I know that the profession grinding process leads to a glut of crafted gear on the markets. Also, it's very easy to find someone to craft an item for you while you're leveling, as long as you have the "mats" or material components. So, I've elected, for now, to level my druid as an herbalist and a skinner. My PvP alt has mining and skinning, so I'll have a big old stack of hard-to-find materials when I reach Northrend, if I should choose to switch to a crafting profession.

As a side note, having gone through the leveling process a number of times before, I'm paying a lot more attention this time through to my fishing and cooking skills. Having buff food throughout the leveling process, and having the extra income from these core professions can really come in handy.

Plus, I like to fish. You can even find some tanking booze from early fishing zones, and having some extra cash to spend on my first dungeon tanking gear will be really useful. Since I just hit level 10 yesterday I'll be working on gearing and leveling up for the Stockades and Wailing Caverns for the next day or two, then plan to spend a little time on those instances and really savor them. Hopefully I'll be able to offer useful tips for others who are leveling up their bear tanks.