When it comes to gearing, there’s a lot of set parameters and rules that we should be following in order to optimize our characters. It’s the type of stuff that says, “Lol! You’re such a baddie!” if you so much as sneeze in the wrong direction. For years we’ve been taught and conditioned that it’s Cookie Cutter, or get out. This mind set has been instilled in many, many players throughout expansions, guides, and math strongholds like Elitist Jerks. For many classes and specs, it is still the normal and still accepted, because it’s still necessary to maximizing that specific character. Flexibility in gearing has no place. It’s the last thing we, as players, would even consider being and doing with our gear choices. However, the ability to be flexible is something that’s been cropping up since Cataclysm launch here and there, and to that I say, “It’s about damn time”.
I’ve never liked having to struggle to reach caps since I started raiding. It seemed arbitrary, and yet I had to if I didn’t want to be labeled bad. My first serious raiding character was my Enhance Shaman in Wrath. I had to get 26 expertise on top of 17% spell hit because we had no talents to support spell hit, yet 50% of our damage came from spells. It was asinine. In comes feral DPS. Ah, feral. At first it was fantastic. Hit? Expertise? Ha! You don’t need that, have fun! Then Armor Penetration happened. Okay, I loved Armor Penetration. The amount of DPS it could pump out per point was amazing. The amount of hoops I had to jump through just to keep it at the cap was not. Near the end of the expansion, every new piece of gear meant regemming at least 5 gem slots so that I didn’t go over the cap, and in the process, get enough Hit and Expertise so that Crit Capping wasn’t an issue. Again, asinine. For tanking? Forget it. If you didn’t have stamina from every available source, good luck against Heroic LK and Halion.
Flexibility is still a foreign concept, and is certainly not a popular thing amongst theorycrafters. It’s akin to pulling open the curtains in the middle of the day in a vampire’s lair. They’ll either die from burning, kill you first, or turn you into one of their own. The choice to freely play and gear your character however you want is practically non-existent in the raiding world. Throughout the months of first-tier raiding, I’ve come to understand that there is a strong ability to be flexible without being burned at the stake for being a witch.
So why now, after so many years of “do this or die” mentality? Is it a good thing or bad thing? Is it even an intentional game design from Blizzard HQ? We all know Cataclysm was meant to be the “do-over” expansion that removed many of the “obvious talent is obvious” choices, but did that also mean more freedom? Feral Druids are the obvious example of “do whatever the hell you want and win” for gearing. With 4.2, it doesn’t even matter how you choose to gear your Cat(though spirit and intellect won’t do you any favors). You can gear to fit your playstyle and not suffer any crippling damage losses (yes, that even means not zerging haste, despite certain suggestions that it’s The Best™). And Bears? Well, I should think I’m an example of that.
If you were to go back and ask me when Cata launched if flexibility with Tank gearing was a good thing, I would have laughed at you until I cried. I, like many others, refused to believe the possibility of there being any other way to do things other than the Mathematically correct way. Stamina vs. Agi, Hit/Exp vs. Avoidance, X vs. Y stat. Each side has its fanatics that will defend their way to the grave and back. What I’ve come to realize is that there is a choice and the choice won’t make you keel over and die suddenly. This is very good step in the right direction, and I hope it continues.
Despite having said that, there is a certain strength to be had with knowing what optimal gearing should be, and is, if ever it becomes necessary. With everything in this game, there’s a time and place for everything, and admittedly, there is a point at which having too much freedom can be detrimental, so one has to be careful.
So how does that impact us as Bears?
Well, Bear stat allocation is incredibly unique. Not just in that we use DPS gear, but every single stat we use helps our defense in some way, however minor it may be. There is a hierarchy that needs to kept in mind, but it basically means we can change a couple stats around to get our desired effect. I, personally, focus on Bear DPS, so I have more expertise. Others are wanting to focus on their DPS in both forms, so their focus is mastery, expertise and crit. Both of these gearing strategies cater to different playstyles, yet don’t gimp us so much as to render us helpless. Well, so long as your focus isn’t Haste. Like I said… time and place. Haste is neither here nor there for Bears. ;)
Those of you that are afraid to stray from the dodge paradigm, don’t be. It won’t be the end of the world when you take more damage, and you will, because the increase will be quite minor. Cataclysm tanking, while still about surviving, is more about reacting to the mechanics, using your CDs when you need to and learning the encounter. It’s not at all the Wrath paradigm of “if you don’t have the HP to survive two hits, you’ll die”. If this isn’t apparent, then just look at all the different tanks strewn across the progression front. Every single boss has been killed by every single gearing strategy. Full stam, some stam, full mitigation, full CTC (combat table coverage), full agi, and even full DPS gear for DKs and Druids. Aside from the DPS gear part, all of those strategies will have been used during progression.
Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoy this kind of freedom. I like that I can have expertise and have it not be a hindrance to my survival. I like that I will get called stupid for wanting expertise for not only DPS, but threat purposes as well. I know I’m going to survive just fine with the ~2% dodge loss I took to get near the cap. What means more to me is that my Fury warriors will survive and not pull threat after Tricks and MD wear off. “But Vengeance!” Yeah, yeah. Vengeance trivializes it, assuming you’ve built enough and your attacks are hitting, which is where Exp comes in. Plus I hate vengeance, and at some point I’ll likely rant about that as well.
With all this said, what I can’t express enough is the need to have the knowledge of what you’re bending before you bend it. You need to know what you can and can’t get away with and go from there. You need to know what your healers can handle, and how well you know the encounter, and when to CD. You need to know the optimal way of gearing.
Knowledge is power, and if I ever have something to be proud of, it’s a Bear that knows his/her stuff that can then take it and move forward, using it to their advantage as a player and a tank.