Thursday, March 4, 2010

Keeping Aggro at Low Levels

One of the old complaints about Bear Tanks, which (lucky for us!) is just a myth, is that Bears have an innate difficulty in getting snap aggro at the beginning of a fight, and in keeping their threat high throughout the fight.

There are some things that we can do to overcome the challenge of keeping aggro during fights at low levels. The first, clearly, is to be know how much threat you're actually dealing out.

  1. Install the Omen Threat Meter add-on.  This is the most important tanking add-on you will use.
  2. Install the Aloft add-on.  This surrounds the name plates of all mobs that you have aggro on with a highly visible red bar.  When you get close to losing aggro for a mob, the nameplate border turns yellow, warning you so that you can change to that target for your next FFF-Maul combo.
  3. Use the Glyph of Maul.  In the end game, you might have good reason to remove this glyph, but while leveling, it's your bread and butter.
  4. Always always always show name plates for mobs when you are tanking.  Do this by pressing "v".
  5. Cycle your targets by clicking on the nameplates of the mobs you are attacking.  Make sure to spread out your Maul, so that every Maul attack hits a new primary target.
  6. If things start to go badly, jam Enrage and lay down a Swipe to remind all the mobs within 5 yards of you who's in charge.
  7. Fight with your back to the wall.  This lets you keep the mobs in an arc in front of you, further ensuring that you are able to distribute your Maul damage across the crowd.
  8. Backstrafe, never run away.  You can't dodge attacks that come from mobs behind you, and you sure as shootin' can't auto-attack or Maul them back.  Backstrafing will eventually add up to faster rage gain.
  9. Keep Thorns up all the time, but don't be lazy about it--skip the Glyph of Thorns.
  10. Always keep Faerie Fire (Feral) on cooldown.  Start your pulls with it.  Then, every six seconds, pick a new target and hit them with FFF.  Consider this a permanent part of your tanking rotation, from now until forever.

Assume that most players ignore raid targets--the end game has spoiled a lot of players into expecting every trash pull to fall to AoE damage.  You can try using raid targets, but will probably catch flack for it.

If you try to establish threat dominance over a crowd of 4+ mobs using only damage superiority, you'll probably fail.  Particularly if you are new and grouped with a bunch of fire-hardened raider alts in bind-to-account gear.  The truth is, it's pretty easy for dealers to pull a mob out of your threat-well if you are trying to spread white damage out over a large group.  In the early game, Swipe doesn't really give a good return on the Rage investment per use--it's a great tool for establishing a fast burst of threat at the beginning of a fight, but you'll be experiencing relativity directly, as time seems to slow down when you have no Rage, Enrage is on cooldown, and you're losing aggro to multiple dealers.

Your only real chance of keeping high threat (and thus aggro) on multiple mobs is to target cycle Maul, and keep Faerie Fire (Feral) on cooldown.  If you're dealing with a mix of caster and melee targets, catch the melee with a Maul and FFF, then drag those bastards over to the caster.  If he tries to root you and run away, power shift and punish him.  Let the melee mobs fall to your Maul splash-damage, the caster's attacks ignore your armor anyway.

Keep an eye on your healer, too.  If you body pull a mob and catch a heal, you might inadvertently transfer aggro to your healer.  FFF comes in handy for these situations.

In many ways, tanking is like fighting with your own party members.  The threat game is a tight rope, but can be quite a bit of fun.  If you think one of them is really trying to pull a mob off of you, drop an FFF-Maul-Maul combo on it to discourage them.  If one of the mobs you're fighting breaks and runs to get help and your ranged dealers let him run, and you aren't ready for adds, if you decide that the situation warrants it, shift to Cat form, punish the bastard with Shred for showing his back, then back to Bear form before your healer can complain.  If nothing else is attacking you, why not?  If the mob gets a head start, you can hit him with an FFF-Moonfire combo the same way.  If you look at your threat bar on Omen and see that you've got 5x as much threat as the next contender on a mob, cycle to the next one.

It's like boxing.  Stay on your toes.  Cycle your mobs, watch for incoming and pull them with FFF before your dealers body-pull.  Spread out that Maul damage and save your Swipes for when you've got Rage to burn.  Keep an eye on the nameplates.  And you will see, when you bring your A-game, there'll be nothing that your dealers can do, at least while you're leveling, to take your aggro away from you and keep it.

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