Nov 082010

A few weeks ago, I listened to the Druid Roundtable podcast on Raid Warning, which featured pretty much everybody who is anybody in the druid blogging community. (Unfortunately, they went with a straight Q&A format, and 90% of the questions were resto/moonkin related.) Late in the show, someone asked a question about hybrid specs for ferals, and the UNANIMOUS answer was that it was “unviable.” This has been the consensus of the WoW community for a long time. Some random forum quotes from a quick search:

You won’t be viable for both tank / dps (feral) if you try and go hybrid. You’ll be wasting the raids times. As far as 5mans go (if you only plan on doin 5M) then I’m sure your brain can come up with one and I hope your healer or dps can support your “lol” hybridness.

You could derive a spec that would make you “equally good” (whatever that really means!) at DPS and tanking, but that doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily be “good enough” at either.
A hybrid spec is probably adequate for non-heroics, as long as you have two sets of gear and swap between them appropriately.
For lvl 80 Heroics and raiding, you’ll be well behind the curve on DPS, and essentially an ineffective tank, if you don’t specialise.

Guess what? Wrong. It was mostly wrong in WOTLK, it’s wrong for 4.0.1 WOTLK, and it’s definitely wrong for Cataclysm.

Assessing Viability

Determining the viability of a build for DPS is pretty easy- set it up, and run it through a calculator, such as Mew. Here’s the builds I’m using:

Using my DPS/talent point figures that I determined previously, I’ve dropped Primal Madness, Stampede, Predatory Strikes, and a point from Feral Aggression to pick up the key Bear talents (Infected Wounds, Thick Hide, Natural Reaction, and Pulverize). Everything else stays the same. Using the Yawning profile from Mew, here’s my results using the simulator:

  • Full Cat: 16554 DPS (100%)
  • Hybrid: 16355 DPS (98.8%)

1.2% DPS. That’s it. That’s all you lose from the cat side. I’m sorry, anyone who condemns a talent build that does 98.8% DPS of the full build as “unviable” has been drinking the EJ kool-aid. There’s even an option if this is too low for you: Drop Infected Wounds (debuff is applied by DK’s via Frost Fever) so you can max out Feral Aggression, and your DPS rises to 99.3%. Really, the biggest thing you lose is utility/survivability; if you skip the low-DPS talents as a Cat, you can either pick up the essential Bear talents, or get stuff like Brutal Impact/Nurturing Instincts, but not both.

As a Bear? Well, that’s a little harder to quantify, but you essentially lose the small haste buff from Stampede (helpful, but not necessary), the extra rage from Berserk (who cares), and the 50s Skull Bash cooldown reduction from Brutal Impact (ew). Of the three, only the cooldown reduction on Skull Bash is a big deal for self-sufficiency. You’ll have to rely on your DPS to do any necessary interrupts…but that’s always been the case for raiding, so that’s not a big change.

Now, there will obviously be some tradeoffs in regards to gear, if you only use one gear set. However, it’s not nearly as bad as it was before. Gemming straight agility (which you’ll be mostly doing anyway for cat) is a very acceptable choice for bear now, whereas stamina gemming used to be nearly required. Your reforging will be mastery, which is a very good choice for bear as well. Really, the only things you’ll want to switch out will be a helm (so you can use the tanking meta) and possibly jewelry/trinkets, depending on whether you want to emphasize survivability or threat.

Of course, glyphs can be switched as needed, as can consumables. In the worst-case scenario (an emergency in-combat switch from DPS to tanking) you’ll lose about 5-6% DPS/TPS from not having the Mangle/Lacerate glyphs in, you’ll lose 2% armor + some stamina from not having the tanking meta, and some additional avoidance/mitigation from not having tanking jewelry (but you’ll probably make up the DPS/TPS loss from the glyphs)…and that’s it. In short, while you’re not as great a tank as you could be, you’re MUCH better than, say, a DPS-specced Warrior switching to Defensive Stance and grabbing a shield. You still have crit immunity, you still have most of your mitigation, etc.

What about 85?

Let’s take a quick look using the Premade profile in Mew and see what the outlook at 85 is for the Hybrid Spec. From 80-85, two interesting talents unlock in the resto tree, Master Shapeshifter (+4% crit, 3 points with the useless Natural Shapeshifter prereq) and Perseverance (-2/4/6% spell damage). Every feral build will be picking up NS/MS, but Perseverance presents an interesting tradeoff for the Hybrid build. You can skip it, and get 2/2 FA + 1 free point for something else (let’s call it the CatBear build). Or,  you can max it for Bear survivability, but you’ll have to drop down to 0/2 Feral Aggression (we’ll call this build BearCat). Results:

  • Full Cat: 16739 (100%)
  • CatBear: 16584 (99.1%)
  • BearCat: 16482 (98.5%)

Either way, we’re not anywhere NEAR what I would call “unviable.” If your guild is in a fight where enrage timers are super tight and you need every bit of DPS you can muster (Heroic ICC end bosses, for example), than sure, go for the full Cat build. For anything up to that, though, and especially for 10-man content, the extra flexibility provided by the hybrid build FAR outweighs that 1-2% extra DPS.

But should we?

We are a unique snowflake. No other class has anything CLOSE to this level of hybridization, as far as I’m aware. (I’ve heard that a paladin caster DPS/healer hybrid shockadin build is pretty good now, but I don’t know any specifics.) We’re definitely the only tank spec that can still bust out great DPS when not tanking. There are problems with this, though:

  1. Blizzard doesn’t like it. They don’t want classes that can do multiple roles to be able to do them simultaneously, as that devalues other players.  (There’s a blue post on this somewhere, but I can’t find it right now.)
  2. Non-druids don’t like it. (Waah, druids are OP!)
  3. Bear-only players don’t like it. (Yes, I know it’s best if I’m the OT since my DPS in Feral kills WarDude’s DPS in Prot, but dammit! I want to MT!)
  4. Cat-only players don’t like it. (Tank? Wut? How does that help my mad DEEPS? Make the lolret go prot, they’re faceroll anyway.)

Honestly, I really don’t know what to say to these objections. Yes, Blizzard could have fixed this, but it would have taken a serious redesign of the feral tree, and quite possibly gutting one of the feral tree’s two roles. For those who want to ONLY be bears or ONLY be cats…well, I understand wanting to specialize, but you may be hurting your raid by refusing to embrace your flexibility. (Now, if you really want to tank/dps but your RL keeps asking you to do something else, simply talk to the other guy and your RL about rotating from time to time. Your other tank might want to DPS occasionally. In most guilds, it won’t be an issue. If it is, it might be time to find another guild.)

Personally, I LOVE being the “swing” guy. I’ve had raids where I tanked, melee DPS’ed, and healed (dualspec…we’re not that OP), all in the same run, without needing to hold everyone up by respeccing. Hell, that’s why I titled this blog what I did. I’ll be rolling in my “tri-specs” for Cata, and having a blast doing it.