So, one of the big news pieces to hit the streets about the Wrath of the Lich King beta is that "downranking" has been nerfed. There's a little bit of history that you need to know to get why that matters.
Downranking isn't actually that complicated, in and of itself. When you learn a new rank of a spell, you keep the lower version of the spell available in your spellbook. Not all classes function that way, but all spell casting classes do. When you "downrank," then, you're casting a lower level version of a spell than the highest one you have available to you.
A reasonable person might ask "Why would you do that?" The number one reason to cast a downranked version of a spell is mana. The simple answer is that the lower version of the spell usually costs less mana. If you don't need the big oomph of a higher level spell, why waste the mana on it? A Rank 1 Moonfire is perfectly ample for knocking out a totem, for example. If you used the Rank 12 version, you just wasted over 450 mana for the sake of overkill. In a few cases, the lower version of the spell even casts faster than the higher version (Frostbolt 1 versus Frostbolt 14, for example).
Shaman got a class-specific call out on the issue, with the promise to replace Rank 1 Earth Shock with some kind of equivalent. Since they were mentioned specifically, I want to take this opportunity to talk about commonly downranked Druid spells. Maybe someone will notice, and give us the same kind of call out. At any rate, veterans to our class should understand how the changes will affect us, and new druids might want the chance to downrank for a few months before Wrath actually comes out. And, heck: Wrath is still in beta, and downranking might make a comeback before it goes live.
The very first pre-written macro I ever saw as a young Druid-cub (kitten? Boomkinling?) was the Totem Smashing macro. Very simply explained, it had a priority list of hated Shaman totems. When I mashed my totem killer, it would cast Rank 1 Moonfire at the highest priority totem. It was huge in Warsong Gulch, but is equally awesome in the Arena.
With downranking no longer a possibility, it'll run you 21% of your base mana. There's no point in casting the Rank 1 Moonfire instead of the Rank 12. Exactly how much more that 21% is going to be is hard to say, since the level cap in beta isn't all the way to 80 yet. Still, the mana for a full-rank spell is a pretty hefty surcharge when all you're looking to do is beat up something with 5 or so hit points. Totem smashing macros will still be around for quick targetting, but they'll include the Rank 12 version instead.
The Rank 1 iteration of Entangling Roots holds your target in place for 12 seconds. The Rank 7 version does so for 27 seconds. So, downranking this spell frees up about 110 mana, but at the cost of 15 seconds of crowd control. It's pretty situational. But when you're already dryhumping your mana bar, sometimes 110 mana can make a difference.
The WotLK version of Entangling Roots will run you 7% of your base mana. It's not hugely expensive, so I don't really feel as penalized about this spell. Still, the option to go for the economy-cheap Rank 1 is a tool that won't exist in the beta, as things currently stand.
Heals, Heals, Heals
This is almost entirely a PvE concern. Druids on the forums have mentioned that they'll use lower ranked HoTs to top off raid members against situational damage. They're just handling incidental damage that comes up, that isn't really key to keeping the entire party alive. In other words, not worth the mana for a full-blown high level spell.
Mana is mana, and if you're trying to conserve against the cost of casting, then you're going to see an effect on your over-time longevity. Druids have the reputation for being pretty mana-efficient, however, so I'm not entirely convinced downranking is a huge deal here. Still, it's definitely a fair point to raise.
Eggs which have not yet hatched!
Cyclone has only a single rank in The Burning Crusade, and that holds true (so far) for Wrath of the Lich King. With the downranking change, it may not even be necessarily for developers to put together an upgrade to this key Arena talent.
Other spells -- Starfire, for example -- may still see some yet-unrealized benefit from downranking. As it stands now, I guess we'll never know.
A final warning
Two fair warnings come to mind as I'm wrapping up here. First and foremost, Wrath of the Lich King is still in beta. Things can change, changes can be reverted, and we have no way to know (for sure) what's coming down the pipe. So, while it may seem like doom and gloom for downranking right now, we don't know what the future brings.
Second, and this is really the key: we lack context. We don't know everything about the game environment as it will be, in order to judge the new situation. The downranking change sounds like it's gamebreaking, like it's totally going to wreck any number of our tactics. But the reality is that we can't gauge with 100% certainty how downranking is really going to play out. If our gear is tricked out so that we regenerate over 9000! mana a second -- casting the bigger rank spells won't make a difference to our pool.
And, not to mention, they can still balance. "Base mana" is what your mana pool would be completely naked, not wearing any gear. So while going by a percent of mana makes the casting cost sound like a big number, we don't know what it'll actually be relative to gear standards at level 80. Mana pools gained from gear's Intelligence isn't calculated when you consider "base mana."
This wraps up this week's look at downranking and the furry set. I really feel that the change affects us -- but it's not the end of the world.