With so many of our skills just out of reach at higher levels, low level bear tanking has become quite the pain-filled challenge. That does not mean it is impossible. And while I realize the extra effort required to tank well may discourage people from playing bears, I, for one, enjoy the challenge.
For talent choices, please view Lissanna’s Feral Tank Leveling guide. There are some kinks in the spec to be worked out (mostly what to take in tier 2 first), but I agree with everything there.
Have a read through the comments, as well. Helpful suggestions surfaced quite rapidly after I made this post. :)
If you want to do this successfully 90% of the time, you will most likely need the outside help from a few mods and macros.
Tidy Plates and Tidy Plates: Threat Plates, or any name plate mod. Threat Plates is absolutely amazing for tanking. Mobs name plates that are attacking you shrink down, and those that aren’t grow in size, making them easier to target.
Any unit frame mod or hud that lets you see your rage easily (I use Shadowed Unit Frames positioned near the bottom-middle of my screen.)
OmniCC or a mod that tracks your cooldowns.
A growl mouseover macro that will also taunt your current target if you have no mouseover.
/cast [target=mouseover, exists] Growl; Growl
/cast [@mouseover, exists]  Growl
And last, but not least, a very thick skin.
In order to tank well at low levels, there are a few things you need to keep track of, and the above mods will help with that. With everything we have being on a cooldown until Lacerate at 66, you need to plan ahead and maintain a good amount of situational awareness. That means zooming out and moving your camera around a bit while fighting to make sure you’ve got everything covered, monitoring your ability cooldowns and monitoring your rage bar.
Additionally, it really helps to keep your main abilities in an easy-to-reach place.
Within the first few pulls, you should have an idea of what your group will be like. If they follow along behind you and only attack when you do, you will have a very smooth run. If they go ahead and pull for you and lay down everything they possibly can before you’ve established a lead, you’re going to have a “fun” time keeping the mobs in line.
You are going to be hugging your growl button. DPS that pull threat and pull for you may deserve to die, but it’s a part of tanking and still your job to get threat back. There is a point, though, where growling off a DPS isn’t worth it. If you’ve asked them to stop and they antagonize you or ignore it, it’s not worth your time to stress out over it. Let them hit what they want to, and keep the rest of the mobs off the others and your healer.
That brings me to my next point: Don’t stress out while tanking. If things are rough because the group is being impossible, don’t let it get to you. Harder than it sounds, I know, but if you keep calm you’ll be able to tank that much better.
One last point before I get into specifics. I know a lot of people say “just tab target and you’ll be fine.” I say it as well, and it’s true… to a point. The point is: Blizzard’s tabbing system sucks. It’s not a “smart” tab and it will target whatever the hell it wants. I actually don’t tab target most times. I click target. With threat plates, it’s easier to click target a mob not on me and way more reliable than “tab and hope it gets the right one”. With the mouseover growl macro, you can grab something without switching targets.
There are a few ways to pull that will get mobs on you from the start. Before you get FFF (level 26), you have 1 option for ranged pulling: Growl. It’s not that effective and can be a pain if you need it early on, but it gets the job done.
Most of your pulls will only be about 1-4 mobs. The easiest way to go about this is to growl one, switch targets, mangle that one, switch targets, maul one and then go back to the original target.
With pulls that are large groups (the gnome groups in Gnomregan spring to mind), there is almost nothing you can do to effectively get all of them on you. You would do the same method as above (plus FFF if you have it), but as soon as they’re in melee range, you will want to hit Demoralizing Roar to at least keep them on you for the first second. Now, Demo Roar is really terrible threat. It’s a set amount that gets divided amongst the number of mobs it hits. But, with pulls like these, get the elites on you if there are any, then methodically go through and get the other little ones. Don’t pull your fur out trying to do this.
Another option for huge packs is, if you have Enrage available, use Thorns on yourself, go bear, enrage, run in and demo roar. This should get them all to hit you at least once and give you slightly more time to get them under control. As always, change targets as often as possible.
When you get Feral Faerie Fire, threat will get easier. At low levels, FFF’s threat is amazingly good. However, there is an oddity with FFF and Feral Aggression. If you use FFF to pull and are not already in combat, you will not receive the bonus threat of the extra stacks of the armor debuff. You need to be in combat to receive this bonus threat, so I still recommend pulling with growl, and then hitting your next target with FFF.
Threat in Combat -
Now, you’re done with pulling, more or less, and your DPS decide it’s “happy aoe fun time”, or “always attack a different target time”. If you focus on one target, you will lose the others. To keep mobs on you, there are a few things you need to do.
1. As always, switch your targets constantly. Use a different spell on each target.
2. Pay attention to Omen as you’re switching through. If you have a high threat lead on a mob you can leave it and go to the next.
2a. There will be times when a DPS is focusing everything into one mob. If you have a threat lead on the others, start focusing on that one mob. The easiest way to tell this is happening (outside of seeing “losing threat” all the time), is to watch the health bars of the mobs. If one is going down quicker than the others, that’s the one you want to focus on. If you don’t have a threat lead on the others (all the DPS attacking different things), then just go back to using your highest threat abilities on the one most likely to pull threat and switching to the next likely.
3. Try to primarily use growl to bring mobs back to you instead of throwing all your abilities into it. When you use growl, yes, you want to use another ability on the mob to bring your threat higher.
Dealing with Adds -
It’s going to happen. Even if it doesn’t happen, you need to expect that it’s coming anyway. This is where situational awareness and multitasking is key. You can’t tunnel-vision and expect everything to fall in line.
If you notice adds are closing in, or a DPS face-pulls, or anyone pulls additional mobs for that matter, your job is to temporarily stop all threat on the mobs you’re currently tanking. If you don’t, nothing will come off cooldown in time and you’ll be stuck. Most add pulls are 2-3 extra, and given your arsenal, you have Mangle, Maul, Growl, and FFF. Plenty to deal with everything.
Getting adds on you is the same as an initial pull (minus thorns, obviously). In the process, chances are you will lose threat on your original pack or on one of the new adds. If growl is on cooldown, don’t sweat it. Just keep switching targets until growl is off CD, then use growl on CD afterward if you need to. Your healer will probably not be pleased, but it is what it is.
Rage Management -
Rage, that I’ve noticed, doesn’t seem to be much of an issue (because damage intake is so high, ouch!). However, you should still be monitoring your usage of it. With Maul costing 30 rage, it’s not a good idea to use it if you have under 40 rage. If you have a threat lead on the mobs your tanking, you can afford to just white attack and use FFF on cooldown to fill up your bar for the next pull.
Getting caught with no rage is rough. Pay attention to it!
Healer Mana and Chain Pulling -
Now, when I say chain pulling, I don’t mean pull as much stuff as possible. I mean maintaining a certain speed that allows you to immediately pull another group after one has died. Pulling this way depends on how competent your healer is and how much mana they have. It doesn’t hurt to tell your healer that if they need to drink, they should tell you and ask you to stop.
If DPS run off and pull more things while your healer is drinking, ignore it until the healer runs to save them or lets them die.
Adding in Swipe -
At the moment, Swipe is severely bugged and is doing very little damage at the moment. At most, it’s best used for initial pick up and not much else beyond that. Even with Swipe, you will still need to change targets often. Obviously you should be using it when you can, but don’t rely on it to keep threat off AoEing DPS as well as target switching does.
Single Target Threat -
Use everything you have all the time (except maul if you’re low on rage). If anyone gets even close to you it’s because you got RNG gibbed and had a streak of misses, dodges, and parries. Single target threat is ridiculously good.
Let’s be honest here: Bears are fucking squishy until they get Thick Hide, and again when they get Savage Defense. You don’t have any kind of cooldown until level 49 when you can talent Survival Instincts (Wtf is that Blizzard?). I personally think it’s bull, but this post isn’t about what I think… It’s about how to tank effectively. :)
Use Demo Roar. Keep it up at all times. It won’t shave off much, but it will shave off damage.
If you have to, warn your healers that you will take a silly amount of damage on bosses so they’re ready for it. (pre-hot, shielding, already casting when you pull, etc)
If you’re running with a class that can stun, ask them to stun as often as possible. Oddly enough, most early bosses aren’t immune to them. If your group is accommodating, ask them to CC, or use roots to pull. Just about every boss can be pulled alone, so make sure you do that.
That about wraps it up. If I’ve forgotten anything, let me know and I will add more information. My success with lowbie tanking stems from my experience, so it’s easy to forget some points. And by success, I mean almost being able to handle this:
“Hay Reesi, I made friends for you!”
(For my UI info , visit this post.)