A short summary of bear-related changes in the recent Cataclysm pre-patch. It will turn out to be a pretty long post, since there are simply so many changes.
The first thing to note when respeccing is that before you're allowed to invest any talent points, you first have to pick a tree to specialize in. This specialization unlocks a key ability for the spec as well as some passive bonusses. For Feral, the key ability is Mangle and the passive bonusses are +25% AP, Vengeance (more on this later) and the mastery-ability Savage Defense (bear) and Razor Claws (cat). More on masteries later. So some of the most important things that set Ferals apart from other Druids (Mangle & more AP) are available immediately to leveling Druids. After picking a specialization, you need to get all the way down that talenttree before you can place points in the other trees.
The total number of talent points was cut in half. As a consequence, most talents gives considerably more benefit per point and some talents have been replaced by the specialization-bonusses mentioned before. The Bear spec is fairly straightforward:
Tier 1: Furor and Feral Swiftness
Tier 2: Everything (Infected Wounds and Feral Aggression are optional depending on raid-setup)
Tier 3: Feral Charge, Stampede and Thick Hide
Tier 4: Leader of the Pack
Tier 5: Survival Instincts, Endless Carnage and Natural Reaction
Tier 6: Rend and Tear and Pulverize
Tier 7: Berserk
Resto Tier 1: Heart of the Wild
If you spec this way, you have 2 talent points left at level 80 that you can put in King of the Jungle (more threat) or Brutal Impact (better stuns / interrupts).
A new tier of glyphs was added: Prime Glyphs. These are the most powerful glyphs that simply buff your stuff without any drawbacks. Currently there are 3 Prime Glyphs affecting Bear abilities (Lacerate (+5% crit), Mangle (+10% damage), Berserk (+5sec duration)) and 3 slots for Prime Glyphs. Do the math. For the Major Glyphs there's slightly more choice. The Maul glyph now causes the 2nd target to only take 50% of Mauls damage. The Frenzied Regeneration glyph now removes the self-healing effect and adds a 30% bonus to healing received. Then there's the Faerie Fire glyph, extending its range by 10yd. And finally the Feral Charge glyph, reducing the cooldown by 1sec. For raiding, I'd say FR is mandatory. Maul I would keep whenever it's OK to hit more than one mob (so not on Saurfang). Between Faerie Fire and Feral Charge it's up to personal preference, I'd say. Minor Glyphs were unchanged.
Pretty much all our abilities were changed and we even gained some new tricks.
Mangle - The ability itself is one of the few to not have suffered any changes, but the Berserk talent now has the added effect of making Lacerate DoT ticks have a 30% chance to reset the cooldown of Mangle and make it free (similar to the Sword and Board talent that Prot Warriors have).
Maul - Maul is no longer on-next-attack, it is now an instant attack that's not on the global cooldown. The rage cost has been increased to 30 and it has a 3 second cooldown.
Lacerate - Lacerate has had its DoT damage lowered and the direct damage increased. In addition, it now only stacks to 3.
Swipe - Swipe now has a 6sec cooldown, but deals significantly more damage.
Faerie Fire - Faerie Fire now applies the Sunder Armor effect instead of its own armor-reduction. It stacks to 3. Feral Aggression allows you to apply 3 stacks of FF in one go, but it doesn't noticably improve the threat of the ability.
Demoralizing Roar - Now decreases physical damage done instead of attack power.
Pulverize - Consumes Lacerate stacks on the target and deals damage based on the number of stacks. Gives you 3% crit per stack consumed for 12 seconds (18 talented).
Skull Bash - New short distance (<13yd) charge and interrupt ability.
Survival Instincts - Now reduces damage taken by 60% for 12secs, 5min CD.
Frenzied Regeneration - Now has the old Survival Instincts effect (+30% max health) as well as its original rage-to-health conversion.
Rage gains were normalized, which effectively means that the amount of rage you gain has decreased. This means that rage management is more important. Maul is the rage-dump, just like before. But unlike the last years, you can't always expect to have all the rage you need to Maul as much as possible. Users of Maul-macros may suffer.
Stat changes & Mastery
Defense rating is gone. Items with this stat have had it converted into other stuff (mostly dodge rating). Armor penetration is gone as well, it's mostly been converted to crit. Finally, attack power (as a stat on gear) has left the building and is now fully replaced by agility and/or strength.
A new stat was added, mastery rating. This stat does not natively appear on current gear, but can be obtained via Reforging. Mastery has a different effect for every spec. As you choose your spec, you are granted one mastery-ability which is enhanced by your mastery rating. For Bears, this bonus is Savage Defense, a 50% chance on crit to proc a shield absorbing up to 65% of your AP on the next attack. Mastery improves the amount of damage absorbed by the shield, you start out with 8 mastery points (not rating), providing a 32% increase in the absorption.
Finally, the weapon damage -> Feral AP conversion has been removed. The base damage of a bear (before any contributions from strength, agility or attack power) is now determined directly from the weapon you're carrying, modified to the bears native attackspeed of 2.5. So if you equip a 600 DPS weapon, your base DPS in bearform will be 600. As a consequence, your total AP will be lower than before the patch, though the damage will be unchanged.
Vengenance is a spec-specific bonus that all the tank-specs are getting. It causes you to gain a stacking attack power buff whenever you are hit by a mob. The size of the stack that's added depends on the size of the hit and the maximum of the stack depends on your maximum health. This provides a scaling mechanic that lets your threat generation ramp up as you get into harder content (bosses hit harder -> faster stacking) and as you gear up (more HP -> higher maximum AP bonus). It does require the tank to get hit, so tank-swap fights like Saurfang may see some threat-issues. When a tank is not getting hit, the Vengenance stack decreases in strength until it disappears or until the tank is getting hit again.
The basic rotation on bosses will be roughly the following:
- Keep FF up (once every 5 minutes)
- Keep Demo Roar up if needed
- Mangle whenever it's available. This is either every 6 seconds or whenever Berserk procs (free Mangle from a Lacerate tick).
- If Lacerate isn't at 3 stacks, stack it up.
- When Pulverize is about to run out, Pulverize the Lacerate stack.
- Use Lacerate as filler when you have enough rage, use FF if you're low on rage.
- Use Maul every 3 seconds only if you have sufficient rage to keep your normal rotation going. You need 45 rage to be able to Maul and still have rage for the next attack.
On smallish groups / trash:
- Swipe whenever it's not on cooldown.
- Keep Lacerate up on a few mobs to cause Berserk to proc often (3~4 mobs should do it).
- Mangle when it's available (this should be often). Tab between targets.
- Use Lacerate as filler. Try not to stack it when there are still mobs without Lacerate around as free Mangles are very strong.
- Use Maul every 3 secs if rage allows it. If you get plenty of Berserk procs, then your Mangles are free and rage should not be a problem, so Maul can be used plenty.
The three core concepts of the rotation are Mangle as the main threat-move (use it before anything else unless important debuffs would fade otherwise), the interaction between Lacerate, Pulverize and Berserk-procs and finally rage-management through dosed usage of Maul.
There's not much indepth analysis behind this, but it should keep a bear going until the fine details are worked out. In 2 months everything will change anyway, with Cataclysm and 5 more levels.