In summary, a lot of bears aren't happy getting all of their ability to tank solely from talents. Between SotF, the new changes to SotF, the large amount of dodge, static threat, and stamina that bears innately get and the total lack of scaling stats for bears, we have a class that is essentially set for tanking regardless of gear level. There are no juggling of stats, they say; there's only agility. There's no balancing dodge vs. mitigation; there's simply getting the best ilvl leather you can get for your mitigation and then getting a couple more points of dodge from trinkets and rings, or maybe getting a couple thousand more armor if you stack it. Threat isn't important. Damage is still high. There's no impetus to gear up. There's no incentive to get better gear or even progress; druids are already awesome.
And make no mistake - druids are really, truly awesome right now. Remember Kara in 2.0, when druids did tons of damage, tons of threat, and were easily geared for Kara right out of the box? Same deal here.
And remember how lame it was when T6 came and there was nothing?
So it's not a matter of ability; from all indications druids are king of the hill for a large chunk of the fights in T7 right now, and that's not going to change meaningfully with 3.0.4. It's a matter of satisfaction.
What's unsatisfying? Gearing up. The rogue gear isn't that interesting for bears right now, and it would be good if a change was made to make it so. The multiplier on leather armor makes it kind of silly not to upgrade to the highest levels possible no matter what, but equally makes that brainless. It's not satisfying to not worry about things like being uncrittable, and it's not satisfying to have no 'large' upgrades in your future because everything is baked into your class. It's also unsatisfying to not have to balance threat. It's really unsatisfying to have all gear somewhat okay for you. It's not fun to have only one mitigation talent and one avoidance talent. Any solution should try to address the gear issue, the single source of mitigation issue, the single stat upgrade issue, the threat issue, and the fun issue.
Here are the more popular ideas on how to fix this.
- Do nothing. Seriously, a lot of people advocate for this. Regardless of whether or not you think druid itemization and abilities are fun right now, the fact is that druids are just fine for tanking most things. They're still great on mitigation and damage incoming, especially on harder-hitting physical bosses. They do adequately against magic-using bosses thanks to barkskin, PotP and huge HP pools. There's nothing mechanically that says they suck right now, and there's no indicator that they're going to suck in Ulduar. That being said...it doesn't make the rogue gear or the tanking jewelry any more desirable, it doesn't make druids scale any better, it doesn't make gear exciting, it doesn't make tanking fun, and it doesn't answer any AoE issues.
- Give bears parry. There are lots of sub-suggestions for this, such as having a strength->parry conversion, an AP->parry conversion, no conversion at all, and all with varying nerfs to dodge, armor, or other values. The big advantage is that tanking jewelry gets split between two groups: the blockers and the non-blockers. And the non-blockers would want the same gear, basically. This is even nicer, since with the changes to FAP you can have druids wanting the same amulets, trinkets, rings, cloaks and weapons. It makes defense better than dodge and makes it another stat that would be nice. It gives higher avoidance, which bears seem to be somewhat lacking (though this will be reduced in issue with the 3.0.4 changes allowing all different kinds of jewelry). Itemization would look better. What it doesn't do is make rogue gear any more useful, nor does it make druids scale all that well with anything other than agi except at high values of dodge. It doesn't have any offensive->defensive conversion. It doesn't give mitigation at all, though at least it makes less of a mana sponge. It only helps scaling marginally.
- AP->armor. The advantage of this is that it's obvious and clear what the conversion is. 1 AP is one armor, period. FAP becomes a great deal for any bear no matter what. Strength becomes both an offensive and defensive stat. Rogue gear becomes far more valuable, and pvp gear becomes less valuable. The armor multiplier can be reduced so that it's not quite so insane and not quite so important to have the highest-ilvl leather you can. AP is also on every single piece of leather, so it's not like you won't get it. It even makes rogue jewelry fairly interesting. Both rogue leather and tanking jewelry become more valuable. The disadvantage is that AP gets multiplied a LOT by raid buffs, so you'd have to balance around that (I'd argue that this doesn't matter, as dodge/stam/armor already get boosted in raids). And it's not all that elegant, and may not be enough; bears only get around 4k armor. And it butts up against the armor cap issues yet again.
- Crit/haste/ArPen/hit->avoidance. Similar advantages to AP->armor, except it only improves avoidance. The advantage is that it makes some rogue leather more valuable and some less valuable, differentiating what is 'bear' loot and what is 'rogue' loot. It gives another offensive->defensive conversion that is on the gear.It makes rogue jewelry better. The disadvantage is that only a few pieces have any one of those things; look at the feral tier gear to get an example of the stat differentiation; some has haste, some has expertise, some ArPen, all has some crit rating. It makes rogue gear only slightly more valuable. It's also unclear whether more avoidance is what bears need.
- iLotP's cooldown removed. The advantage is that it's an ability that bears already have. They know how it works. It's a simple change. It makes crit better, which makes most rogue gear better. It makes hit and expertise better. 2% health every other attack (roughly) is pretty decent. This is downright overpowered when fighting multiple mobs, making it a nice fix for dealing with AoE. The disadvantage is that it's entirely reactive and based on luck, which means healers can't rely on it like they could an actual HoT, which basically means that it's useless in terms of making a druid more healable.
- Give bears some kind of damage shield. There are lots of ways that I've seen this presented, but they all result in almost exactly the same thing - a way to give a bear block without actually giving bears block. Have iLotP prevent damage on the bear instead of a heal, have maul's damage do the same, have some amount of AP automatically reduce all damage by a fraction, make defense provide straight-up reduction of damage, etc. The advantage is that it is a separate, scaling form of mitigation that will allow for high armor without absurd armor as the only way to stop mitigation. The disadvantage is that they all feel a bit clunky mechanically; it would be hard to put them into a tooltip for a talent, for example.
- Give bears block. Simply, give 'em block. Make block rating work for bears. Have block value calculated exactly the same way as warriors/paladins do. They would do it less, obviously - they do not have a lot of block rating gear compared to warriors/paladins, and have less strength - but they could keep higher armor in exchange for worse blocks. The disadvantage is that it really homogenizes the tanking classes, doesn't make rogue gear any better, and really feels like a thoughtless solution to a thoughtful problem.
But that's just me. I'm curious what y'all think, and what I've missed. Thanks!
PS: I've gotten a lot of reader mail and a lot of comments I've not answered recently, and I apologize for that. I'll be trying to catch up in the next few days. I really do appreciate the feedback, criticism, and kind words from everyone though, and if I don't respond to you immediately it's not because I don't want to; it's just that I haven't gotten the time yet. I will soon, or I'll shamelessly steal your idea for the next blog post. :)