Okay, got the "Whoa" out of my system.
One reason that I thought it was so surprising is that Blizzard had mentioned before how they want to keep druid's flavor by making them like certain items over another, and that included getting high-armor items in every slot they could possibly do. Apparently folks were convincing enough about the gear choices that they changed their mind.
And to be absolutely, 100% clear on this: I am all for this change. This is a great change for bear tanks. No other tanking class - heck, no other class - had that much importance on a single stat. By removing bonus armor from leather they've opened up a larger variety of gear that could be good for ferals. By removing the bonus bears get from non-leather it similarly opens up a larger variety of gear. It allows for the possibility of removing Feral Attack Power and allowing all staves, maces and polearms to be used as weapons. At least for me, one of the most frustrating aspects of BC was that there simply were no options. The tier drops were best in slot because they had more armor. The non-tier drops that didn't have bonus armor were not interesting. That is simply a poor design, especially when no one else cares about bonus armor. This opens the door for a host of new mechanics.
It gives the potential for more gearing options. And that's a good thing.
Of course, if they simply up the bonus that ferals get from leather armor to compensate, it will make druid theorycrafting very, very boring. Basically at that point it comes down to what has the most raw stamina, agility, dodge, defense, and expertise (in basically that order). That's it. That makes evaluating gear fairly easy, but it also makes things fairly dull. I really hope they don't go that route exclusively and add some kind of conversion values. Heck, simply adding parry into the mix would go a long way towards making up for this.
I realize this is vague, but that's deliberate; at this point we do not know what will change or how it will change.
Here are some things you shouldn't do when faced with this news:
1. Freak out. Seriously, the mitigation is going to be the same as it was before. We'll just be getting a different way to get there.
2. Get rid of shit. We still don't know how the mechanics are going to change to address this, at least not all the way. Don't throw anything out.
3. No, seriously, don't get rid of a damn thing. In addition to all that, we don't know when these changes will be made live. There's a good chance that around the time you're hitting 80 and are wanting to run heroics the patch will come out - or it won't. It might be well into Naxx before these changes hit, in which case you'll be using gear that has bonus armor on it now and wanting to.
4. Randomly collect loot that's bad for you now in the hopes it gets better. Don't get parry gear because you think bears will be able to parry. Don't get block value. Please don't load up on crit rating because I said that they'll do some AP/crit -> mitigation conversion. Please don't pick up spellpower gear because they might have a spellpower->stamina conversion.
So what do we absolutely know?
1. Feral Staves have no armor on them. Just to be really clear on this, they're removing armor from all feral weapons. It's not going to give you only the 500 or so - it's all going to be gone. I am presuming that staves with armor will get their itemization re-jiggered, but even so what the values are now are likely close to what they'll be in that 3.0.whatever patch as armor isn't that valuable. Some things that this does:
- It means that Staff of the Forest Lord is the best pre-WotLK tanking weapon, and yes, better than Stanchion of Primal Instinct (though obviously not as good on threat)
- Enraged Feral Staff is still the best pre-Naxx, but Stave of Shrouded Mysteries is only slightly behind - and even better, Witch-Doctor's Wildstaff (which is a drop from a normal instance) is better than the Mysteries staff.
- The Undeath Carrier is just a smallest smidgen better than Origin of Nightmares, though I expect this to change as they futz with the armor.
However, we're losing a potential 15,000 armor after removing the trinkets, rings, amulets, cloak and feral staff buffs at Naxx-level gear. (currently Naxx-25 gear only provides 17200 armor total from leather). To make up for that by itself, we'd need a 1000% armor boost from leather. In that case, going to another epic level gives 803 armor. Going up from blues to epics gives 1071 armor. That's not insubstantial, and should factor in to whether you upgrade a piece or not.
3. Most jewelry you had before will be good, or even best in slot. Because most of the armor items in the jewelry slots had stats that druids wanted anyway (dodge, defense, expertise) and most items with armor did not have block rating or value, the items that have extra armor are probably going to be the best anyway. What this does mean is that you can take the best of the lot and go with that. For example, before the Titanium Earthguard Ring was simply not that good due to the lack of armor, even though it had a ton of avoidance on it and a ridiculous amount of stamina. Even with that, the Keystone Great Ring is #2. And something like Medallion of the Disgraced is okay, but it's only slightly better than Necklace of the Deep - and Titanium Earthguard Chain is still #1.
4. At least for Pre-Naxx, Jewelcrafting got a LOT better. With Figurine - Monarch Crab and Figurine - Ruby Hare being equivalent to Essence of Gossamer, a jewelcrafting bear can pack a LOT of stamina. Defender's Code is still quite strong, but it's not nearly as required as before, and one could go either with the stam trinkets or Darkmoon Card: Greatness or some other on-use trinkets instead. Trinkets are really going to be the place where you customize your bear to each fight instead of requiring two armor trinkets.
5. Badge of Tenacity really is going to suck. If you take one thing away from this, it's that the good ol' reliable BoT sucks. Don't grind for it if you don't have it; 300 armor is just not that special. Keep it around, because it will be useful while this hasn't been patched, but after the patch chances are you'll not use it again.
6. Expect Living Root of the Wildheart to get nerfed. I doubt seriously that they'll allow a trinket that gives a 4070 armor boost that's up 40% of the time to exist with these changes. If they don't, hey, go get it.
What is up in the air?
1. How good will PvP gear be? With these changes, boosts to stats and armor levels become more important. PvP gear has a lot of stats and the deadly/hateful gear has the same armor levels, but will that stay? If we do get some kind of AP/crit conversion to mitigation or avoidance, PvP gear will go from good to meh. If we don't, PvP gear will stay king.
2. What about parry? Clearly parry could easily fit the bill for something to make up for all that lost armor. It's not worth stacking now, but grabbing things with more defense is not the worst thing that can happen.
3. How the hell will we scale? With the last 'big' stat removed from scaling consideration for druids, bears are left looking at stamina, agility, dodge, defense and expertise as the only mitigation/avoidance stats they care about. That's not a lot of stats to look at, and there simply aren't that many non-leather pieces with stamina and agility on them. By itself this speaks ill to future advancement, but Blizzard is aware of this potential problem.
Really, this change is the best news I've had for weeks about druids. I can't wait to see how they do it.