Hail and well met, Druids. For the next three Shifting Perspectives columns, I'm going to take a look at Druid class roles on Ulduar fights. If patch 3.1 hits earlier than expected (I'm currently betting that it hits in late April/early May), I'll try to squeeze these in a little bit faster than once per week. But with luck (and, I hope, a parade of annoying bugs for Blizzard to hunt down and squash before they let the patch go live), we should have some information to chew on before we set foot in a live Ulduar.
Now watch Blizzard deploy the frickin' patch next week.
I have not gotten the opportunity to test all of these fights personally because I'm only on the North American PTR, and some fights -- like Yogg-Saron -- haven't been available for testing at all. What I write here is going to be a compilation of personal experience, details concerning boss abilities available on the PTR version of Wowhead, information I've gotten from pestering various people on both PTR's, and news available around the web, principally from WoW Insider's previous PTR testing, Wowwiki, MMO Champion, and World of Raids. Bear in mind that some things here may wind up being very different when Ulduar actually goes live, so take numbers and conjecture here with a grain of salt. I'm going to assume that basic boss mechanics are likely to remain the same or similar, so let's get started with the first three encounters.
This isn't a fight where class abilities will really wind up playing a serious role. Most of your time will be spent in vehicles blasting the living snot out of everything that moves, or looks like it's thinking about moving, or even if it's not moving anymore and you just need more explosions in your life.
If you're a DPS or a healer in a Salvaged Demolisher, however, at some point you'll probably need to get your ass into a catapult for the Throw Passenger ability (side note: best ability name ever, and I think Blizzard should use that instead of the mealymouthed "ask (passenger) to leave" option you get on the Traveler's Tundra Mammoth, because sales would triple) to go destroy one of the Leviathan's four turrets. Once the turret is down, you can Overload Circuit to stun the Leviathan, causing it to take extra damage from player vehicles, so just be aware of this if you're a Cat/Boomkin/Tree.
A lot of the current difficulty of the fight lies with people learning how to use the different vehicles and their abilities on the fly, but it's not too difficult to figure out with a bit of practice. My guild was able to 15-man the 25-man version down to about 60% health with a lot of people completely new to the fight in the single attempt we got before Ulduar was shut down that night.
Regardless of spec, root around your inventory and bank for the highest i-level gear you've got in order to improve your vehicles' health (which is currently how item level affects vehicular "scaling" -- we haven't observed a damage bonus from better i-level gear, but the extra health helps a lot). Are you Balance but you've got, say, a Journey's End sitting in your bank? Pack it.
As an additional side note, this one fight temporarily turns WoW into a third-person shooter and is an awful lot of fun, although it may also give you the opportunity to discover that you are terrible at third-person shooters.
IGNIS THE FURNACE MASTER
From what I've seen, the biggest deal on this fight for Balance and Resto will be not casting while Ignis is charging up his Flame Jets ability. Flame Jets is a 2.7-second cast that deals fire damage to the raid while tossing players into the air, with an additional 8-second silence penalty if you were in the middle of casting something when it hit. This will be a slightly bigger problem for Resto with the 3.1 changes pushing direct heals, and because you typically won't have Ignis targeted, but in general the penalty should still be easy to avoid. /Focus Ignis, make sure you have options enabled through the default UI or your mods to see enemy cast bars, and try to have Wild Growth and Swiftmend off cooldown immediately afterward. You should reasonably expect that a lot of players learning this fight will suffer the 8-second silence, and with three insta-cast heals we are much better placed to deal with this than Paladins and Shamans.
Balance players will also have to be vigilant about not getting caught casting when the Flame Jets ability hits (8 seconds is a huge DPS loss), and may want to take the opportunity while tossed in the air to refresh Insect Swarm or Moonfire (if this is possible, and on early versions of the fight I don't believe it was). Ranged DPS will probably be dealing with the adds that Ignis spawns -- more on this in a moment.
Bears should expect to keep Ignis turned away from the raid at all times in order to avoid his frontal cone ability, Scorch, hitting anyone but themselves. Scorch will leave a 3-K per tick fire damage slick in its wake, and you should rotate or move the boss in order to avoid this area. If you're offtanking the Iron Constructs that Ignis will spawn at various intervals, you'll want to drag them up and down the Scorch slick until the Construct turns Molten (It should be possible to position the Construct in such a way that you can strafe outside of the slick while keeping the Construct within it), at which point it can be dragged into nearby water. It will turn Brittle and can be easily killed, removing the 20% damage buff Ignis gains each time a Construct is active. As of the mid-March version of this fight, PTR forum posters claimed you couldn't afford to have more than two Constructs up at a time before Ignis started treading into "one-shot-the-MT" territory, so with a little napkin math I think that means you can realistically expect his melee damage to have been buffed to somewhere in the region of 15-25K with a corresponding increase to Scorch as well.
For Cat DPS, I will tentatively say that this is a melee-friendly fight, at least in the sense that you are functionally immune to the silence from Flame Jets and are likely to be on Ignis for the duration of the fight. Because Constructs will probaby have to be kited on the live version of this fight, it makes a lot more sense for ranged DPS to handle them as they're not likely to suffer any damage from Scorch's AoE.
If you're the target of Slag Pot, all Druids regardless of spec should pop Barkskin and Bear Form as quickly as possible (if it's possible -- and if you're Resto, you may just want to stay in Tree and heal yourself).
Remember Skadi from Utgarde Pinnacle? This fight is kind of like Skadi, but with a bunch of Dwarves running around repairing the harpoon launchers and shouting, "I canna go any faster, cap'n! I've given her all Ah've got!" Well, not really, but it would be amazing if they did. There's also a touch of Shade of Akama and Illidan to this fight, as:
a). A lot of the encounter will be spent handling adds while Razorscale flies around.
b). You'll have a lot of AoE to avoid from Razorscale's air phase.
c). You'll need to spread out once you get Razorscale to land, and:
d). She'll take additional damage harpooned and stunned.
The story is that in Phase 1 you've got to keep the adds off the Dwarves, who will fix the launchers so you can get the maddened drake harpooned and weakened and Queequeg will sacrifice himself in an act of incredible valiance to -- dammit, no more Moby Dick for me this week. In Phase 2, Razorscale hits the deck and it's a DPS race to see how far you can knock her health down before she takes off again. From what I've read on World of Raids, at 35% health she's on the ground for good.
Restoration's role should be pretty straightforward, pending more information on add abilities and damage. Yell at the raid to spread the hell out on phase 2 once Razorscale lands, because healers should not under any circumstances have to deal with the splash damage from Devouring Flame. Be prepared for Flame Buffet to increase Flame Breath damage on the main tank significantly.
Bears on main-tank duty should keep Razorscale turned away from the raid in Phase 2 at all times to keep Flame Breath from hitting anyone but themselves, and be prepared to pop a cooldown or a health potion for Flame Breath if necessary. Bears on off-tank duty will get the chance to see how well the new Swipe mechanic works at picking up adds. I want to say pretty well, and the increased damage from Feral Faerie Fire should help out a lot here too on single-target snap aggro, but I still don't know what the adds' spawn pattern or frequency is like.
Moonkin may or may not get a chance to DPS Razorscale herself while she's in the air; from reports I've seen, she is within range of ranged DPS at times and you may be able to spare a few players to put some damage on her before she gets harpooned. I do not know whether or not she's tauntable, however; if she is, this is a viable tactic, and if she isn't, it's a no-go. Otherwise, consider yourself an add nuker on Phase 1 but save your trinkets and cooldowns for Phase 2. Ideally you want to get her to 35% as quickly as possible.
Cats, by contrast, are out of luck on Phase 1 Razorscale damage no matter what -- she'll never be in range. Your job is DPS the adds down and chortle at how much damage you can get out of Swipe. For Phase 2, make sure you have Feral Charge - Cat hotkeyed somewhere convenient due to the boss' Wing Buffet ability. As with Balance, save your trinkets and cooldowns for Phase 2.
Razorscale seems to be popularly considered the easiest Ulduar boss to learn and execute as things are currently tuned, but as always, this may change.