So, i've been doing a lot of talk about bears lately... and i'm going to talk about them more now, so deal with it. This is going to be more of a comprehensive "how to" guide for people who want to start bearing it up, but it's mostly focused on the 80-85 experience. To be perfectly honest, bears were relatively weak while levelling BEFORE the swipe cooldown was implemented. I'm not saying it's impossible for bears to tank in low levels now, but things are a lot harder that way... and honestly you'd have a much more difficult time of it. So... First thing I am going to look at is the talent spec. I know I posted about this a few weeks ago, but after having experienced the new content, I feel like I am pretty sure of my talent tree decisions now.
This will be the level 85 talent tree you want to shoot for. I seriously underestimated the importance that Perseverence would have, and I definitely feel that 6% is indeed worthy of 3 of those precious talent points you're given between 80 and 85. You'll notice there's 1 open point here... Not a lot of leeway to go with, I know, but it's better than nothing. I think I am going to put mine in Stampede for a bit of extra threat generation. Personal preference, of course.
This will be the tree you start off with at level 80. You can finally spec into Master Shapeshifter again! I know you've been eyeing it for weeks. Sadly, Master Shapeshifter is really a decent talent, but having it tied to Natural Shapeshifter is absolutely horrible and I hope that Blizz reconsiders it at some point, but nonetheless, your first point at 81 should probably go there.
I didn't specify any minor glyphs because really... there's not much to choose from. I pick Demoralizing Roar for the reduced cooldown, but otherwise you can do whatever. Prime glyphs really offer no customization... pick those 3 because they're the only ones that are of any use in bear form. Major glyphs are a bit more tricky. Maul is a definite must-have. Rebirth is damn nice if you actually get a chance to USE that ability... the 3rd major glyph I used is Frenzied Rengeration. I would rather hang on to my own rage stockpile and have my healer's heals hit harder (unintentional alliteration for the win?), than not be able to keep threat because I was suddenly rage-starved and had more health... your mileage may vary.
Now before you queue up to tank anything in Cataclsym, there's one thing you should do first.Hit... level... 81. Honestly, whoever decided that bears should only have 1 real AOE ability before 81 should be forced to tank Blackrock Caverns and Throne of the Tides at level 80 until they renege... but I digress. Seriously, do yourself a favor and wait till level 81 before even thinking about tanking. Thrash really does make THAT MUCH DIFFERENCE in your ability to tank.
The second thing you want to do is familiarize yourself with your damaging abilities and your offensive/defensive cooldowns. Unlike most times in 70-80 dungeons, you should be ready to use your cooldowns a lot. Especially once you hit 85 and start looking towards heroics, but that's jumping the gun a bit. I'm going to give a brief rundown of your major abilities, and when you should use them.
Swipe - Low rage cost, low damage, moderate aggro. 6 second cooldown. 360 degree swipe, no target limit. Use judiciously when out of range of CC'd targets (8 yard range)
Thrash - High rage cost, moderate damage + bleed, moderate aggro. 6 second cooldown. Also 360 degree swipe w/no target limit. Best used in conjunction with swipe to ensure solid aggro on groups. (8 yard range)
Demoralizing Roar - Very low rage cost, does no damage, and thus does very little threat as well. Best used in larger groups to reduce the damage you take. Lasts for 30 seconds.
Challenging Roar - Low rage cost, long cooldown (3 minutes baseline, minor glyph reduces by 30s), produces no actual threat, just force-focuses* target's on you for 6 seconds. This is a sort of extreme situational use with patrols and unexpected adds.
Single target -
Mangle - Low rage cost, very high damage, very high aggro, 6 second cooldown. Your bread and butter single target ability. This should forever be on cooldown.
Lacerate - Low rage cost, low/moderate damage + very low damage bleed, no cooldown. Stacks 3 times. Your main filler ability. This has no cooldown other than the GCD, so use it often. It's also a good idea to tab target and lacerate mobs on groups in between swipe/thrash cooldowns. A nice way to keep extra threat, as well as proc rage-free mangles (which i'll get to in a bit)
Pulverize - Low rage cost, moderate/high damage, moderate/high aggro, no cooldown. New ability as of 4.0. Consumes lacerate stacks to increase your crit chance 3% per stack for 10 seconds. For single target boss-type encounters, this is an amazing ability for you. More crits = more Leader of the Pack heals, and more Savage Defense shields, and it does a good bit of damage to boot. I personally use this as soon as my Lacerate is stacked to 3 on bosses because, usually, by that time the buff is about to wear off.
Maul - High rage cost, moderate damage, moderate aggro, 3 second cooldown. Maul is no longer the king of the road that it used to be. I listed it as a single target ability because, baseline, it is. It can be glyphed to hit a 2nd target for 50% damage, and you definitely SHOULD do so, but generally you won't use it much in multi-target situations. This is your excess rage-bleeder ability more than anything else. It's off the GCD so throw it in anytime you're sitting above ~60 rage.
Faerie Fire - No rage cost, low damage, low/moderate aggro, 6 second cooldown. This is one of your only ranged abilities, and gives the target a debuff reducing their armor by 4% per stack (up to 3 stacks). Great way to make line of sight pulls, or tag a target who might be casting off in the distance. This can be talented to instantly stack 3x with one application.
Skull Bash - Low rage cost, zero damage, 1-minute cooldown, unsure of aggro generation but it's a spell interrupt off the GCD! /cheer. Druids have been aching for an actual non-stunning interrupt for who knows how long... 4.0 delivered with this blessed ability, talented down to a 10-second cooldown... there's nothing negative I can say about it. Oh... did I mention it charges too?
Charge - Very low rage cost, zero damage, zero threat generation, immobilizes mob for 4 seconds, 15 second cooldown. Nice way to get a "runs away in fear", or to get a mob chasing after your healer awfully quick. 30 second cooldown is... annoying at times, but more than fair as you shouldn't have to use it TOO much in-combat. This no longer interrupts spell casting like it used to, but we have skull bash for that now.
Bash - Low rage cost, zero damage, unsure of threat generation, 1 minute cooldown (talented to 50 second cooldown). Stuns a mob for 4 (talented up to 5) seconds. Decent secondary spell interrupt, and last-resort crowd control. I believe I remember reading that it would still interrupt a stun-immune mob, but don't quote me on that.
Growl - No rage cost, no damage, taunt* mechanic. Be sure to actually hit a mob after taunting him, or they'll just turn around again.
*I should clarify the difference between a taunt mechanic and a forced-focus briefly. Challenging Roar forces the target(s) to focus on you, but does absolutely nothing to the threat table. If you don't hit them in that 6 second time span, they'll go back to whomever they were looking at before. Growl on the other hand is an actual taunt. It will put your name on top of the aggro list just above whomever had current aggro.
Cooldowns - (both offensive, defensive, and otherwise)
Frenzied Regeneration - 3 minute cooldown. Baseline, it increases health by 30%, and converts 10 rage/second into health for 20 seconds. Glyphed, instead of converting your rage into health, it increases the effectiveness of all heals on you by 30%. I personally went with the glyph, because I like keeping my rage to actually generate threat on the mob(s). Feel free to try it either way and see which you prefer though.
Survival Instincts - 3 minute cooldown. Reduces damage taken by 50% for 12s. Basic shield wall like all classes have now.
Barkskin - 1 minute cooldown. Reduces damage taken by 20% for 10s. This should be used OFTEN. 20% makes a huge difference... and at a 1 minute cooldown, can you really afford to NOT use this all the goddamn time?
Enrage - 1 minute cooldown. Instantly gives 20 rage (talented to 32), and generates 10 more over 10s. Best used in between pulls, but you need to be careful as this makes you take 10% MORE physical damage while it's active.
Berserk - 3 minute cooldown. When I mentioned "otherwise" under the cooldowns part, I was referring to this. This is an offensive cooldown, with an added benefit of a random proc when you don't use it. When lacerate deals damage to a mob, it has a chance to refresh the cooldown of mangle, and make it rage free... that's a berserk proc. But, when you USE berserk, it makes your mangle have no cooldown, and it also makes it a 3-person cleave for 15 (glyphed to 20) seconds. Great way for insanely high threat at the start of a fight.
Take a minute and go to some older, yet semi-challenging content, to play around with your abilities and get a feel for how your cooldowns work. Perfect place to do that would be BC dungeons. Go try and solo Hellfire Ramparts or Sethekk Halls... or if you're up for a challenge, try turning them up to heroic, provided you have the respective keys. I've found that soloing these have given me a real great way to learn what kind of damage I can handle, when to pop my cooldowns, how much healing I can take from Leader of the Pack, and what kind of mechanics to learn to watch out for... maybe that's just me though.
Next thing I want to look at is gear. I'm hardly a theorycrafting expert, and ElitistJerks tends to make my head hurt when I go read through it, but this is basically how I feel about gear right now.
Agility and Stamina are king... Strength also gives us 2 AP per 1 point, but strength gear is generally saved for plate wearers. Parry is a useless stat for us so try to avoid it, unless the piece is SUCH a significant upgrade as outweigh useless stats... AND unless no one else really wants it. Poorly itemized upgrades for you do not give you priority over someone's offspec... please don't be a dick about your gear.
As far as "green stats" go, I don't have specific weights, but I figure it will be something on the order of: Dodge >= Mastery > Hit/Expertise > Crit > Haste
Other stats like resilience or parry give us zero benefit from a tanking perspective, so they have very little business being on any gear we pick up.
There has been discussion in some camps about taking Strength items with dodge rating (cloaks, rings, and necklaces primarily), but this will still end up coming farther behind taking an agility item without dodge rating. Here are a couple images to prove my point... taken with my very own bear, completely unbuffed, in bear form.
Now, as you can see in the first image, I picked up a strength ring with dodge rating on it, and in the second shot I have an agility ring with no dodge rating. Both rings are the same item level... they even came from the same reputation faction, so they're even budgeted comparably. Yet, the agility one comes out with more dodge, and it can even be reforged with the excess hit rating into more dodge rating. So unless the item is a MAJOR upgrade for you, then there's no reason to pick strength items over agility items.
Now that you've got a basic handle on your abilities and what they do, grabbed yourself some gear to work with... and you've made it to at least level 81 (you HAVE made it to 81, haven't you?) it's time... Press that random dungeon finder! Better yet, ask some guildies if they want to run with you. Guildies tend to be a lot more forgiving if they know you're just learning.
"Your dungeon group has been found!" /flail OGAWD WHAT DO I DO!
Well... Part two will get into that! I'm breaking this up for the sake of walls of text critting you for 800 million overkill.