Guardian Druid Tank Rotation, Cooldowns, and Abilities — Shadowlands 9.1
On this page, you will learn how to optimize the rotation of your Guardian Druid, depending on the type of damage you will be tanking. We also have advanced sections about cooldowns, procs, etc. in order to maximize your survivability and DPS. All our content is updated for World of Warcraft — Shadowlands 9.1.
If you were looking for TBC Classic content, please refer to our TBC Classic Feral Tank Druid rotation.
Welcome to our Rotation page for Guardian Druids. On this page, you will be able to find everything that you will need to know about playing the spec in Raiding and Mythic+ content.
While it is highly recommended to go over this entire page to get a better understanding of how the class plays, you can also quickly browse the Easy Mode guide linked below for a brief rundown of just the basic important information.
This page will cover the rotation in general content, but, if you are looking for a more in-depth Mythic+ oriented guide, you may want to head over to our Mythic+ page linked below.
Single Target Rotation for Guardian Druids
The single target rotation for a Guardian Druid is based on a priority system, and its goal is to keep your damage over time effects ticking and to use your strong, Rage-generating abilities on cooldown.
- Keep Moonfire ticking.
- Use Thrash if your target does not have 3 stacks of the bleed yet.
- Use Mangle.
- Use Thrash.
- Use Moonfire with a Galactic Guardian proc, if talented.
- Use Maul to dump Rage, if you do not need the Rage for Ironfur or Frenzied Regeneration.
- Use Swipe.
If you are talented into Incarnation: Guardian of Ursoc, you will prioritize Mangle for Rage generation, or on up to 3 targets for damage output. On 4 or more targets, Thrash deals more damage per cast. Using Maul to dump excess Rage is a damage increase on up to 3 targets. It is also worth maintaining Moonfire on one target during Incarnation, keeping in mind that you should refresh Moonfire just before you enter Incarnation so that you only need to refresh it once during the cooldown.
Multiple Target Rotation for Guardian Druids
Defensively, the rotation does not significantly change as the Rage you generate does not depend on the number of targets.
Offensively you will use a similar priority, except at certain numbers of targets you will begin to leave certain spells out of the rotation.
- Keep Moonfire ticking on up to 2 targets.
- Use Thrash.
- Use Mangle on up to 4 targets.
- Use Moonfire with a Galactic Guardian on up to 3 targets.
- Use Maul to dump Rage on up to 3 targets, if you do not need the Rage for Ironfur or Frenzied Regeneration.
- Use Swipe.
Active Mitigation for Guardian Druids
As a Guardian Druid, you have one ability that acts as active mitigation: Ironfur. In addition to this, you have a self-heal Frenzied Regeneration. While Frenzied Regeneration is not strictly considered "active mitigation", it is nevertheless a core part of your rotational toolkit and you will make frequent use of it.
Ironfur increases your Armor by 100% of your Agility for 7 seconds. Multiple applications of Ironfur may overlap and stack their Armor increases, but their durations will not stack. For example, if you use Ironfur, and then use it again 3 seconds later, you will have 2 applications of Ironfur for 4 seconds, granting you 200% of your Agility as Armor. After 4 seconds, the first application will have expired, leaving you with 100% of your Agility as Armor for 3 more seconds. Agility buffs and procs increase the amount of Armor you gain from Ironfur.
Armor is extremely effective at reducing Physical damage intake, and as a result, having at least 1 stack of Ironfur up as often as possible is recommended. Additionally, you will occasionally want to pool your Rage in order to put up multiple stacks of Ironfur for a short period of time to deal with a spike in damage. There is a hard limit to how much Armor can reduce your incoming damage by, at 85%. This is unlikely to be reachable with any real consistency outside of Bristling Fur, but it is worth noting.
Armor does not normally reduce Bleed damage (typically this is presented in-game as a "Physical DoT") or Magic damage, although there are exceptions to these rules which appear on a case-by-case basis. When faced with Bleed or Magic damage, you will find Ironfur ineffective, and should instead use your defensive cooldowns to reduce the damage, or a well-timed Frenzied Regeneration to heal yourself. Keep in mind that if you are tanking a boss, you are almost always taking auto-attacks in addition to other damage sources. Auto-attacks are Physical and as such it is still worth maintaining Ironfur on most encounters.
Finally, always consider your situation carefully before deciding to use Ironfur. Since it is proactive in nature, no matter how low on health you have been brought, using it if there is no new incoming damage is pointless.
Frenzied Regeneration heals you for 32% of your maximum health, in the form of a 3-second HoT. It costs 10 Rage and has a maximum of 2 charges with a 36 second recharge time (reduced by Haste). Frenzied Regeneration can be used both proactively and reactively, either to top yourself off in anticipation of incoming damage or in response to being brought to low health after a big hit.
A key element of using Frenzied Regeneration effectively is ensuring that you do not inadvertently cause overhealing, both for you and for your healers. To do this you will need to anticipate how much damage you are likely to take in the next 3 seconds, and compare it to how much healing you are likely to receive. Since your self-healing is very limited, making good use of each charge is critical.
Another consideration when using Frenzied Regeneration is the recharge timer. It may be tempting to Frenzied Regeneration every time you are brought moderately low, but doing this could leave you without charges for a truly dangerous moment later on. Try and save at least one charge of Frenzied Regeneration for periods where you may not receive the assistance of your healers (if they are busy healing the rest of the raid, for example).
Growl is your taunting ability. Growl forces the target to attack you for 3 seconds. During those 3 seconds, you generate additional Threat against that target. Growl has an 8 second cooldown, but can be reduced to 1.5 seconds during Incarnation: Guardian of Ursoc.
Guardians have no additional taunting mechanisms.
Cooldowns for Guardian Druids
As a Guardian Druid, you have three important baseline cooldowns.
- Barkskin reduces all damage you take by 20% for 12 seconds, on a 60 second cooldown. Barkskin is usable will stunned, incapacitated, or asleep. This will be your first line of defense against dangerous spike damage, as well as your primary way of reducing magic damage, or simply as risk mitigation to smooth your damage intake for your healers. It has a short cooldown, so use it liberally!
- Survival Instincts reduces all damage you take by 50% for 6 seconds. Survival Instincts has 2 charges and a 3 minute recharge time. This is your major defensive reduction, to be used against lethal spike damage or "tankbuster" mechanics. Its short duration and long cooldown means it should be used sparingly.
- Berserk reduces the cooldown of Mangle, Thrash, Growl and Frenzied Regeneration by 50% and also reduces the Rage cost of Ironfur by 50%. This means all of our best spells have severely reduced cooldowns and can be used far more often.
More details about how to best use your cooldowns, and about the cooldowns you can gain from your talents, can be found in our detailed cooldown section.
Optional Read: Mastering Your Guardian Druid
Tanking as a Guardian Druid is fairly straightforward; the information provided above is sufficient to perform at a reasonable level of proficiency. However, there are several more advanced topics that you should understand in order to fully master your character. Some of these are explained in our Spell Summary linked below.
Guardian Druid's primary resource is Rage.
The Rage bar has a maximum capacity of 100, and is empty by default. Rage decays quickly out of combat. In combat, Rage does not decay.
Rage is generated in the following ways:
- Activating Bear Form grants you 25 Rage (leaving Bear Form empties the Rage bar).
- Auto-attacks generate 4 Rage.
- Being auto-attacked generates 3 Rage (can only occur once every second).
- Mangle generates 10 Rage (+4 with a Gore proc and +5 with Soul of the Forest).
- Thrash generates 5 Rage.
- Moonfire with a Galactic Guardian proc generates 8 Rage.
- Bristling Fur generates 1 Rage per % of max health taken in damage while active.
- Blood Frenzy generates 2 Rage every time a Thrash bleed ticks on any target (Thrash ticks once every 3 seconds, reduced by haste).
Mastery: Nature's Guardian
Your Mastery is Mastery: Nature's Guardian. It increases your maximum health and healing received, as well as your Attack Power. The exact increase amount depends on how much Mastery you have. For every 1% Mastery, you gain 1% increased health and healing, and 2% increased Attack Power. Guardians start with 4% Mastery baseline.
Notably, the increased healing component of Mastery: Nature's Guardian does not increase the healing from Frenzied Regeneration or Restoration Affinity, although it does affect the two spells in that both heals scale with maximum health, which is increased by Mastery.
Your Thrash, Swipe, Maul, and Moonfire have a 15% chance to trigger Gore, which resets the cooldown of Mangle, and causes it to generate an additional 4 Rage. Making quick use of Gore procs is essential to ensuring that they are not overwritten by new procs and the Rage wasted.
Detailed Cooldown Usage for Guardian Druids
Guardian Druid is a primarily proactive tank. You must be prepared with active mitigation and defensive cooldowns before you take damage. This is in contrast to reactive tanks, who first take the damage and then react to it by healing themselves up.
As such, preparation plays a large part in tanking effectively. Wise use of cooldowns and coordination with your healers is critical, and can be the difference between a boss kill and a wipe. The best way to prepare for an encounter is to look at the damage profile of the fight (either from a log, or by reading the Dungeon Journal) and plan out what cooldowns you'll use, when you'll use them, and whether any gaps need to be covered by healer external defensives.
You have two baseline defensive cooldowns, as well as a few more that you can talent into. In general, unless you are sure you will die otherwise, it is not advised to overlap your defensive cooldowns as it is often overkill and wasteful to spend them that way.
Barkskin is the go-to cooldown when damage starts ramping up or when there is magic damage that you cannot otherwise mitigate, or just as a general damage reducer to take some of the burden off of your healers. A 20% damage reduction may sound small, but it lasts for quite a while and is on a fairly short cooldown, so be sure to use it frequently. Guardians have a lot of health and passive mitigation, and the amount of damage you can prevent with liberal use of Barkskin may surprise you. Keep in mind Barkskin can be used while in most forms of crowd control and in most shapeshift forms, in case you find yourself caught out of Bear Form or unable to move out of a mechanic.
Survival Instincts is best used pre-emptively. This means that you should use Survival Instincts before taking a large amount of damage (generally a boss mechanic). Additionally, you can use it to prolong your survival if your healers are dead or incapacitated. Unless your strategy requires you to use both charges at specific times, you can get away with making frequent use of at least 1 charge.
Except for in emergencies, do not wait until you are already low on health to use Survival Instincts, as it is usually too late to save you at that point.
Abilities and Cooldowns from Talents
Tier 1 Talents
If you have the Brambles talent, you are more likely concerned about damage output rather than survivability, meaning that you want to use Barkskin as often as possible, preferably when tanking multiple mobs.
If you have talented Bristling Fur, you want to use it before you take a large amount of damage to gain Rage quickly. Try and avoid overlapping it with other cooldowns if you can avoid it (as long as you won't die otherwise, of course), as you will take less damage and therefore generate less Rage. Make sure you are also spending the Rage you gain before you cap, so it does not go to waste.
The formula for Bristling Fur is rather simple:
- BristlingFurRage = 100 * Damage / ExpectedMaxHealth
Basically: If you take 30% of your maximum health in damage, you generate 30 Rage. If you take 65% of your maximum health in damage, you generate 65 Rage.
Tier 5 Talents
Incarnation: Guardian of Ursoc is mainly used as defensive cooldown. The reduced cooldown of Frenzied Regeneration and reduced Rage cost of Ironfur allow you survive significantly better while this is active. Alternatively, it can be taken when you need to make extensive use of Growl, for example if you are having trouble holding threat on multiple enemies. Remember that Mangle hits up to 3 enemies while this cooldown is active. Your Rage generation is significantly increased during Incarnation, so keep an eye on your Rage bar so you do not cap out and waste Rage.
Tier 6 Talents
When using Guardian of Elune, you want to make sure that, if possible, every Frenzied Regeneration and Ironfur cast you have is empowered by Guardian of Elune. Against a single incoming nuke, it is obviously fine to get a non-Guardian of Elune powered Ironfur, as its duration will not be a factor (especially if there is a tank swap after the nuke).
Tier 7 Talents
Kindred Spirits is always good to use off cooldown when bonded to a DPS; if you are tethered to a healer or tank you can use this as a defensive cooldown.
To use Adaptive Swarm optimally you will want to wait until it is about to expire to refresh back up to 5 stacks, however using this just off cooldown is only marginally worse DPS-wise.
Catweaving is a playstyle where you shift back and forth between Cat Form and Bear Form while not actively tanking, in order to squeeze extra damage out of the Feral abilities you gain when talenting into Feral Affinity and Heart of the Wild. Catweaving is an advanced topic and significantly complicates the rotation. It is not recommended for those who are just picking up Guardian Druid, or when you are learning a new fight. That being said, when done correctly, it is a significant DPS increase over staying in Bear Form on single target, and, with a bit of caution, it can be done with a low risk factor.
Catweaving does not work on every encounter. It requires there to be frequent periods where you are not tanking or taking damage, since you have far less health and damage mitigation in Cat Form. If you are unsure if catweaving is possible on a fight, it is always better to play it safe and stay in Bear Form. It should go without saying that catweaving is 100% focused on dealing damage, and does not compromise for survivability whatsoever.
First, we must discuss resources in Cat Form, because they are significantly different from Rage in Bear Form. You have two resources in Cat Form — Energy, and Combo Points. Energy is used to cast all of your abilities in Cat Form. You begin with 100 Energy (the maximum amount you can have) and as you spend it, it regenerates at a rate of 10 Energy per second, increased by Haste. Combo points are a secondary resource that you build and spend through your rotation. You can generate up to 5 Combo Points using your generator spells Rake and Shred, and you can spend those Combo Points on finisher spells like Rip and Ferocious Bite. Finishers will always consume all Combo Points, and the more they consume the more damage they deal when cast. Energy regenerates while you are out of Cat Form, including while you are in Bear Form, which is what enables catweaving in the first place.
The primary goal of catweaving is to apply your powerful Feral bleeds Rake and Rip to the target. In order to do this, you will need to build Combo Points while in Cat Form using Shred and Rake until you have 5, and then spend them on either Rip, or Ferocious Bite if Rip is already ticking. However, you are limited by how much Energy you can spend in Cat Form at any given time, and once you run out of Energy you want to shift into Bear Form to continue using your powerful Guardian spells while waiting for your Energy to regenerate. Typically you will be able to cast 3-5 spells before you are out of energy. This process of shifting into Cat Form, spending your Energy, then shifting back into Bear Form is known as a "cat cycle".
Cat cycles will typically begin when you cannot cast anything but Swipe in Bear Form. That is, your more powerful Guardian spells ( Mangle, Thrash, Maul, and Galactic Guardian-empowered Moonfire) are either on cooldown or unavailable. It is at this point when it is worth shifting into Cat Form to spend Energy. While in Cat Form, the priority is as follows:
- Cast Heart of the Wild.
- Cast Rip if you are at 5 Combo Points and Rip is either not ticking, or will fall off before you have another chance to re-apply it.
- Cast Ferocious Bite if you are at 5 Combo Points.
- Cast Rake if Rake is either not ticking, or will fall off before you have another chance to re-apply it.
- Cast Shred.
Make sure that you do not begin a cat cycle that you cannot finish before you have to resume tanking, as that time is usually better spent pooling Rage for Ironfur.
When you are catweaving, you want to start the fight in Cat Form, in Prowl. Your co-tank will pull the boss and you will immediately begin a cat cycle from stealth. This is because applying Rake from stealth empowers it, causing it to deal 100% more damage. If possible, you should let this Rake tick all the way to completion, as you will lose any remaining empowered ticks if you overwrite it.
Here are the recommended talents for catweaving. Rows that do not affect performance are omitted, and should be treated as personal preference:
- Level 15: Brambles
- Level 30: Feral Affinity
- Level 35: Heart of the Wild
- Level 40: Galactic Guardian
- Level 45: Survival of the Fittest
- Level 50: Rend and Tear
- 28 Jun. 2021: Reviewed and approved for Patch 9.1.
- 22 Apr. 2021: Added covenant ability section.
- 09 Mar. 2021: Reviewed for Patch 9.0.5.
- 23 Nov. 2020: Updated for shadowlands release, added berserk.
- 12 Oct. 2020: Page updated for the Shadowlands pre-patch.
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