While I sincerely hope the rumors about the patch hitting soon aren't true because I'm sitting on all of 43 badges of justice right now (g@^#(*% mother-expletive piece of $%^@ fire resistance set), I am forced to admit that the times may possibly have caught up with me. I confess that for a long time I hadn't even looked at the new badge loot that will become available ingame, partly because things have gotten markedly busier with my guild of late and partly because I'd planned my 2.3 badge acquisitions very carefully and wondered if I could get away with keeping myself somewhat unspoiled for 2.4. That lasted until I found out just how expensive the 2.4 gear is actually going to be ("150 badges for a new weapon, Zach? Are you @*(#&#% kidding me?"). Noble effort while it lasted, though.
Well, no more. If 2.4 does hit next week, I'm going to be ready to stand in front of the badge vendor and know exactly what I can't afford to buy for all three specs.
This treatment looks exclusively at the new leather gear offerings available in 2.4 and assumes that you won't have access, or at least immediate access, to the new 25-man raid Sunwell Plateau. For my part I am still using six -- count 'em, six -- pieces of badge gear for various tanking purposes in Tier 6 content, which either says a great deal about the general quality of badge gear or says a great deal about how bad feral itemization is in endgame content. I'll be magnanimous today and say it's both.
By far the worst-itemized of all three Druid specs, balance looks to get three badge upgrades in patch 2.4, but don't count on new badge gear to get you kitted out completely. You're likely to wind up using a mixture of 2.3 and PvP gear in order to supplement slots that aren't given new upgrades, which means it's pretty much business as usual for the pewpewlazerchikin spec. One of the following is at least a /cheer-worthy upgrade to existing gear.
Barbed Gloves of the Sage: +15 spell hit, +43 damage, plus one yellow socket. Pretty solid piece given how difficult it can be to get yourself +hit capped outside of tier gear even with 2/2 Balance of Power. Slightly inferior stats-wise to their Tier 6 counterpart, Thunderheart Handguards, but what you'll really miss most is the lack of +crit. You can slap a Blasting enchant on them to make up some of the difference, but still. Ouch, baby. Very ouch.
For reference, the 2.3 badge equivalent is Grasp of the Moonkin, which has neither +hit nor +crit but a rather odd +spell haste, +40 damage, and no sockets. I am extremely dubious about the merits of spell haste for the balance spec, mostly because the talent Nature's Grace already procs a haste effect following a crit on what's already a crit-dependent spec. If you're looking for discussions on the balance spec and spell haste, there was both a good look at this back on the forums and also on the Elitist Jerks board.
Badge cost: 75
Worth it?: If for no other reason than they're better itemized than the current ones, I suppose -- and +spell hit on leather is notoriously tough to come by outside of tier.
Crystalwind Leggings: Eerily enough this time it's the +spell hit that goes missing while the +crit shows up, as compared to Thunderheart Pants. +61 dmg and +28 spell crit (which is actually an improvement of 7 +crit over tier), which is nothing to sneeze at, and two sockets (red/yellow) as compared to Thunderheart's sole blue socket. Not a bad piece by any means but it looks like Blizzard is using a pattern whereby the "Tier 6 equivalent" badge gear mimics Tier 6 general stats but omits one or two components. Overall, however, very very nice piece and the firmest real upgrade in the bunch. Legs seem to be a major problem slot for moonkin. Outside of raiding or PvP, I don't believe there are leather leggings with spell damage past the Tempest Leggings/Kurenai Kilt, and as T4 leggings drop from Gruul, even the earliest version of tier is out of your reach unless your guild can handle 25-man content.
Badge cost: 100
Worth it?: Hell yes.
Embrace of Starlight: Hmm. 36 +spell crit and +60 damage. Once again it's a crit improvement over Thunderheart Vest but lacks +spell hit, and has one red socket to Thunderheart's three (B/B/Y). If you're using the "badge set" over (or before obtaining) its tier counterpart, in all likelihood you will wind up having to socket for +spell hit or else use cloth. However, the 2.3 equivalent for the above is the Blessed Elunite Coverings, currently available for 75 badges. Embrace has more raw damage and +14 spell crit rating, but with three sockets (Y/R/B) on the Blessed piece in addition to 7 mp/5, I'm not so sure that Embrace constitutes a significant upgrade to anything but spirit, which is really only useful to a moonkin insofar as it returns more mana with Innervate.
Badge cost: 100
Worth it?: If you've socketed Blessed Elunite Coverings correctly, then odds are pretty good that Embrace is a sidegrade barring what's likely to remain a small improvement to crit and the addition of spirit.
So the gloves look like a solid upgrade from the oddly-itemized gloves already available, the leggings look fantastic, and the chest is kind of meh. The 2.3 badge chest may actually be preferable for a raiding moonkin without ready access to a tier chest if for no other reason than the mp/5. YMMV, but the small difference between the two chestpieces doesn't, in my opinion, merit shelling out another 100 badges if you've got the 2.3 one. You can get it eventually if you want, but save your badges for the legs first.
Feral has famously bizarre itemization at 70. In your tier gear you're simultaneously a tank without +defense and a cat nearly devoid of +hit, so mixing and matching gear is part of the feral lifestyle. If you're someone who enjoys having absolutely no bank space, you've come to the right spec (to say nothing of the right class). As always, Emmerald's gear list is a good starting point for purposes of quick comparison; for more in-depth examination of how pieces function in relation to each other, use Toskk's and/or Rawr.
Belt of the Silent Path: Obviously a cat/rogue piece so I'm not going to bother comparing it to the new Thunderheart Waistguard (although the amount of +agility and +hit on the new Druid tier piece actually makes it competitive in a DPS role). Currently the best cat belt in the game in Don Alejandro's Money Belt off Anetheron in Hyjal (who resolutely refuses to drop my Pillar of WTF). Silent Path is, for most people, probably still inferior DPS all around -- the critical strike bonus to Alejandro's is what distinguishes it as a superior cat piece, to, say Shadow-walker's Cord off Shade of Akama -- but this is a thoroughly decent substitute.
Badge cost: 75
Worth it?: +Hit can be few and far between on leather with proper kitty stats, although admittedly it's not our most important stat. Worth picking up if you're not going to see Don Alejandro's or Tier 6 anytime soon - and that's a healthy amount of agility for a belt, especially once socketed.
Embrace of Everlasting Prowess: Bear tanking chestpiece with, of all things, +haste on it. I had to stop and stare at that one for a little while to be sure of what I was seeing, but glory be, folks, it's actually haste on what purports to be tanking gear. This actually has the potential to be a decent bear stat for aggro generation, although I really question whether you can (or should) stack enough of it on a tanking set to result in a huge difference. For comparison, here's the Thunderheart Chestguard. The really interesting thing about these two pieces is that Embrace is, pre-socket, the superior piece for agility, stamina, and intellect. While the differences for the former two stats aren't likely to remain once Thunderheart's been socketed, and Thunderheart retains the edge in mitigation simply due to superior AC, that's still an impressive amount of agility on Embrace, especially once you slap in an Agi or Agi/Stam gem. Re: AC, Embrace is better than the Tier 4 Malorne chest and comparable to the Tier 5 Nordrassil chest.
Raw-stats-wise Embrace is also decently close to the Nether Shadow Tunic off Supremus (minus the +hit, of course), currently best in-game for cat dps. Wowhead commenters make the case that Embrace is ultimately better as a cat piece compared to a bear piece, but there's no getting around the fact that a lot of the item budget did go to armor, and haste isn't that awesome for kitties. If you're curious as to why, this page in the Elitist Jerks "Feral Druid Megathread" should cover it.
Badge cost: 100
Worth it?: If we're being realistic, it's very tough to get either the Tier 4 chest (even with the nerfs, I don't see a ton of people wanting to run Magtheridon for lolz) or the Tier 5 chest (hi, Kael). Even if your guild is or is planning to run this content, chestpieces tend to be very competitive drops. Embrace is a pretty good hybrid piece and I admit to a certain amount of curiosity over haste's ultimate effect on overall TPS. Faster Mauling is always good if you've got the rage for it, although for most 5-mans you probably won't.
Handwraps of the Aggressor: More high-AC gear with +haste on it. Huh. Like Embrace, it's inferior in AC to Thunderheart Gauntlets, and initially superior for agility, stamina, and intellect. The other salient difference is that Thunderheart's sporting a blue socket to Handwrap's yellow one, which mimics the earlier tanking-versus-dps difference in the tier-versus-Embrace chest. The AC is good but inferior to the first piece of tier you're likely to see ingame, Gauntlets of Malorne off Curator; in other respecs Handwraps outclasses Tier 4 and again approaches Tier 5. My general sense of the feral badge gear so far is that Blizzard intends it to be a more hybrid, all-purpose feral set than even tier, which is clearly designed with more raid-tanking in mind.That being said, if you've saved up arena points, Vengeful Gladiator's Dragonhide gloves have a smattering of hit rating and also a spell-school lockout effect on Maim. For cat dps they're probably the better choice if for no other reason than the latter bonus, although you can socket pure +hit in Handwraps' yellow socket.
Badge cost: 75
Worth it?: If you're already getting Embrace, then the Handwraps might be worth it for the opportunity to stack more +haste, but in general this is the weakest of the newly available feral pieces. If your AC from other items is decent and/or you're sitting on a Badge of Tenacity, then it's a good investment. Sorry to be an armor supremacist, folks, but let's face it; as a bear your first, best, and last line of defense is your armor in the absence of the ability to block/parry. The difference between healing a bear with a lot of PvP gear (lackluster AC) and a bear with proper PvE gear (high AC) is night and day.
Tameless Breeches: Rounding out our third "bear piece" among 2.4 badge lewtz is another good AC piece with +haste (I'm shocked, shocked). Thunderheart continues to have the edge for tanking purposes and also has +27 hit, which is very tough to get on tanking gear, but Tameless sports R/Y sockets and excellent agility/stamina/intellect once again. I can't say much here I haven't already said about its two badge cousins.
Badge cost: 100
Worth it?: In general you should probably think of the badge pieces as a more offensively-oriented version of Tier 6. The cumulative effect of wearing all three pieces is an AC that falls between Tier 4 and Tier 5, with bear TPS positively affected by a total of 50 haste rating (3.17% faster white hits; this will not, of course, affect your Mangle or Lacerate but will affect both white hits and Maul) and bear mitigation negatively affected by the relative inferiority of the armor contribution. They are certainly better than Tier 4 with some stats initially exceeding Tier 6, and because T5/T6 tokens for legs, hands, and chests drop off bosses that you'd have to be in a fairly serious raiding guild in order to kill, these are not by any stretch of the imagination a bad compromise. I still don't think haste is anywhere near a fair trade for armor, however.
+15 agility to gloves. +6 all stats or the new 2.4 enchant +15 defense to chest. Nethercleft Leg Armor on the legs. You know the drill. Now go smack that big, ugly boss and tell him that your grandmother hits harder than he does.
Trousers of the Scryers' Retainer: If you know nothing else about cat dps, know this; stack agility until your eyes bleed. These compare pretty favorably to the current best in-game Shady Dealer's Pantaloons off Azgalor, although the armor ignore on Shady Dealer's is situationally more attractive to a cat than +hit is (most of our damage comes from yellow attacks, particularly Shred, that have a better chance to hit than regular white damage -- although I'll grant that armor ignore doesn't affect our bleed damage from Rip, our finishing move for high-DPS cycles on bleedable mobs and bosses, which is affected by +hit). As always, how good these are depend to a certain extent on how much +hit you're already packing. The 2.3 badge version is Shallow-Grave Trousers, which has +30 haste rating in place of Scryers' +hit and are currently the fourth best cat legs in the game (in spite, and not because of, the haste rating, I'm afraid).
Badge cost: 100
Worth it?: These are pretty damn good and certainly an upgrade to Shallow-Grave. Early tier pieces are pretty bad for cat DPS relative to rogue leather, so do yourself a favor and pick these up.
Tunic of the Dark Hour: You've seen me mention the Nether Shadow Tunic earlier, and this is the 2.4 version of the same. Once both socketed, the two pieces are very similar to each other, with the edge going to Nether Shadow due to its R/Y/B sockets over Dark Hour's sole R. Nether Shadow is currently the best cat chest in the game, although it's followed very closely by the Vengeful Gladiator's Dragonhide tunic. Not much more I can say here apart from concluding you'll be ripping face quite happily in any of these three pieces.
Badge cost: 100
Worth it?: If you have the arena points for it, get the Vengeful chest and spend your badges on the Scryers' legs, but either/both of the 2.4 DPS leather pieces are badges very well spent. Enjoy those Shred crits!
In early Tier 6 we've been seeing a number of non-set +healing leather drops -- Guise of the Tidal Lurker and Kilt of Immortal Nature most notably -- that just don't seem to be itemized for Druids at all. In fact, it's our guild's resto Shaman who are after them most. The debate over the merits of mp/5 versus spirit aside, it's hard to argue that the primary engine of Tree of Life mana efficiency, spirit, can or should be ignored completely.
Grovewalker's Leggings: These are a nice upgrade from Tier 5 in most respects barring the loss of an additional 11 mp/5 -- but, let's face it, the set bonuses on Nordrassil Raiment for a raiding resto Druid are nothing to write home about. Extending the duration of a horribly mana-inefficient spell isn't all that awesome, and a bonus to the final "bloom" of Lifebloom -- which ideally you don't let bloom at all -- is equally meh. The Thunderheart leggings, interestingly enough, are really only an upgrade by +3 healing and 11 mp/5, a difference that's likely to be shaved pretty close to the bone by Grovewalker's R/B sockets to Thunderheart's B.
Badge cost: 100
Worth it?: For an upgrade that's only marginally inferior to Tier 6? Start saving.
Oakleaf-Spun Handguards: Another clear upgrade to the Nordrassil Gloves barring the mp/5, and it comes with a blue socket to boot. Thunderheart is more of an upgrade here with slightly better stats all around and the same blue socket, with a bonus of +4 healing to Oakleaf's +2 spirit. Not a bad piece by any means, but if you're really min-maxing your effectiveness as a resto and you have access to Thunderheart, which is by far the earliest and easiest of the Tier 6 tokens to get, then I wouldn't bother dropping the badges on this one.
Badge cost: 75
Worth it?: If your guild is anywhere near Tier 6 or is going to be taking a crack at it after 2.4 hits and you don't need to be keyed for Black Temple/Mount Hyjal anymore, don't bother. I hate to say it, but killing Azgalor is a lot easier than saving 75 badges.
Shroud of Nature's Harmony: At first glance this looks like another winner of an upgrade over the Tier 5 resto chest, but Nordrassil has three B/B/B sockets going for it to Shroud's sole R. Thunderheart is very close stats-wise before sockets as well -- Shroud has better spirit and intellect, plus +1 heal -- but again is going to outclass its badge counterpart once your trip to the AH for some gems is complete. But this piece is pretty much in the same boat as its feral counterpart the Embrace of Everlasting Prowess; the issue isn't really whether the Tier pieces are better (because they are), it's your ease of getting them in the first place.
Badge cost: 100
Worth it?: Tier 5 or Tier 6 would require killing Kael or Illidan respectively, and competition for those tokens is pretty cutthroat. If you've got Tier 4/equivalent or Gnarled Chestpiece of the Ancients (a very solid non-set piece off Morogrim) with a decent shot at the Kael or Illidan chest, you may want to wait. Otherwise, make Grovewalker's your priority and then save toward Shroud.
AND WHAT THE HELL, I KNOW IT'S NOT LEATHER, BUT ANYWAY
Staff of the Forest Lord: Otherwise known as OMFG THEY PUT A DRUID DPS STAFF IN THE GAME. And it kind of looks cool! It's a huge upgrade to the much-beloved if aging Terestian's Stranglestaff and the lesser seen Staff of Primal Fury from Zul'Aman, and it's a wonderful option if you're among the legions of Druids trying to heal your way through arenas to an 1850 rating and the Vengeful Gladiator's Staff (currently the best feral DPS staff in the game and now approximately equal to Forest Lord, and inferior to the Sunwell drop Stanchion of Primal Instinct). There's no +hit on it but you can't have everything in life. My God, it has strength AND agility on it! AND feral AP!
Wowhead commenter Plasmasnakemg: "This is the kind of staff Jesus would use if he could turn into a bear."
Badge cost: 150
Worth it?: Why are you here instead of beating the crap out of a heroic boss and hoping they barf out a badge?