I do apologize about the wait here, folks. There's been a lot of contradictory information from both the beta and an array of Druid bloggers on how moonkin are shaping up for Wrath. While a lot of this is just the normal ebb and flow of changes in the alpha and beta, most of it is fueled by a few new talents and the set of glyphs that will become available. All of these have the potential to seriously impact your gameplay and rotation choices, so Balance DPS is going to be (at least, from current appearances) a lot twitchier and more proc-dependent than its counterpart in the feral tree. In addition, you'll probably have to make a few hard choices that will be affected by what your raid's going to need from you (although there is a truly amazing talent deep in the balance tree that, no matter what else you pick, is going to be a significant raid DPS contribution). As Balance is the only spec that I haven't gotten to raid on, I didn't want to go live with this until trying to figure out which pieces of information were accurate and which ones weren't. Bear in mind that Blizzard is still tinkering with Balance as I write this.
For the guide to feral in 3.02, head here; for the guide to resto in 3.02, head here. You'll probably want to be familiar with the resto changes, as balance has traditionally depended on a few key talents in that tree, some of which have changed. Otherwise, read on for a comprehensive look at balance's new talents, updated skills, and glyphs!
Either way, I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that the balance spec is more viable than it's ever been, with a better raid buff, better individual DPS, and significantly more group utility. Moonkin have literally never been better than they are right now, and that's about the only thing that everyone can seem to agree on. The bad news is that Blizzard caught that amazing Typhoon bug that basically allowed you to solo Tier 7 bosses and walk home with all the loot. C'est la vie.
Gray Matter also an excellent post here about stats you'll want at 80 so you can plan ahead.
First off, there are a few ability and talent changes you'll need to know about:
- Moonkin Form has gotten a big overhaul. The armor bonus has been adjusted to 370%, reflecting the new bonus given Dire Bear form. There's no more of the somewhat illogical melee-for-mana mechanic, but spell crits have a chance to restore 2% of your total mana (a friend of mine on the live realms last night was highly entertained to discover that he could actually gain mana while using Hurricane). Between this and the Replenishment buff likely to be in any raid you're in, most of the moonkin I've met in 5-mans on the beta have all agreed that mana efficiency has taken a huge leap forward. And, as always, you grant 5% spell crit to your group -- and now raid, with buffs now raid-wide, casters can quit the fistfights over who gets the moonkin and the Shadow Priest.
- Nature's Grasp is now out of the tree and a baseline skill for all Druids.
- Insect Swarm has been improved to decrease the target's chance to hit with all abilities by 3% (up from 2%), and numbers-wise looks like it will remain the most mana-efficient DoT in the game. This is one of the skills that stands to be drastically changed by the addition of a glyph, though, so read on for Part 3.
- Moonglow is now a tier 2 talent and one of the prime candidates for a restokin spec.
- Starfire and Wrath are both seeing their damage coefficients increased, which is particularly good news for Starfire as it was already the best-scaling DPS spell in the game.
- Soothe Animal is now instant-cast and affects dragonkin as well. I use this spell mostly while herbing without wanting to attract attention from nearby hostiles, but there's a few trash clears in Sunwell Plateau that are very dependent on the Priest equivalent, Mind Soothe. The fact that dragonkin are now legitimate targets here makes me wonder what kind of pulls Blizzard's got waiting for us in the Eye of Eternity.
- Entangling Roots can now be used indoors. This is a huge buff to balance viability in both 5-mans and raids, as it will allow you to CC any melee mob (and also any caster mob which can be line-of-sighted).
- Brambles has gotten a major overhaul, and will greatly increase both the damage of your Thorns spell and also your treants from Force of Nature. It will also grant you or your treants a 15% chance to induce a Daze effect on attacking targets while you've got Barkskin active. I'm of two minds about this talent. It's pretty obviously more PvP than PvE-oriented, and the reactive damage works out to around 200-300 a pop. But as Phaelia observed a while back on Resto4Life, Brambles isn't actually half-bad for tanks in PvE encounters. Still, most people right now are complaining about the rather hideous bloat in the balance tree, and there's a decent chance you may wind up skipping both this and Force of Nature.
- Improved Faerie Fire has also been changed, and...well, the jury's still out on how helpful this is going to be. Don't get me wrong, it's probably worth taking either way because of a free 3% spell crit you're going to get on any target it's slapped on, but the 3% spell hit component is going to be progressively less and less useful as your gear (and your group/raids' gear) improves. Also, if you have a Shadow Priest in the raid with Misery (which they are almost guaranteed to have), the raid's already getting +3% spell hit as a part of the Priest's normal DPS rotation -- although I should note we've discussed the problems that Misery also has. The former Improved Faerie Fire gave 3% melee and ranged +hit, but I think I can pinpoint why that component got axed; most Fury Warriors will be taking Titan's Grip, which imposes a fairly harsh penalty to +hit. It would be virtually necessary to have a moonkin to compensate (somewhat) for that, and Blizzard seems to be trying hard to move away from the need to have particular classes/specs in raids. With decent gear, even the crit bonus from Faerie Fire may not be worth the DPS loss from having to spend a global cooldown on it. The crit is nice to have, but it's fairly troubling that it's yoked to a much less useful bonus, and this one talent is somewhat representative of the current problems with Balance.
- Nature's Reach now reduces your threat in addition to extending your range with Balance spells. This takes the place of the Subtlety talent in the Resto tree (which now reduces aggro only from Restoration spells).
- Celestial Focus now grants 3% spell haste in addition to a 15% chance to stun the target. This is a somewhat tough call. 3% spell haste is no small matter and +haste is a marvelous stat for raiding moonkin anyway, but the talent has traditionally been the province of PvP moonkins and restokins.
- Control of Nature is now bye-bye, and a (less helpful) version is found in the first tier of the resto tree as the new Nature's Focus. With that said, as the melee-damage interrupt mechanic on spellcasting is now restricted to 1 second total, this is a lot less important than it used to be.
- Lunar Guidance has been nerfed to grant about half the amount of spell damage it used to, although that's possibly just in response to the insane damage that would have been granted by increasing +Int stats on gear. Raiding moonkins at 80 right now are seeing mana pools in the range of 18-20K.
- You'll now need to invest 3 points to get 0.5 seconds shaved off a cast with Nature's Grace. I can understand where they're coming from here with so many +haste effects (and with moonkin a crit-dependent spec on top of it), but this is yet another contributor to the current bloat of the Balance tree. More on this in Part 3 because there's something that a lot of Balance Druids are concerned about with respect to +haste, Nature's Grace, and Wrath.
- Hurricane has seen major changes: no cooldown, a huge damage boost, and a slight nerf to the movement impairment effect (25% to 20%). It's still a relatively expensive spell, but it's significantly more competitive with the Mage spell Blizzard (which Hurricane most resembles) and other AoE abilities now. and with a separate chance to crit on each lightning bolt, you may (like my aforesaid buddy) find yourself gaining mana.