3.2 approaches! Sort of. The PTR itself isn't up yet (at least, not as I write this), but nonetheless, 3.2 approaches on little cat feet.
I'm going to examine the 3.2 PTR patch notes line by relevant line, just because there are several changes that impact Druids while not being class-specific. If you want a quick summary without being massively spoiled, Balance is getting a huge and welcome change to the functionality of Eclipse, Cats are getting bonked by the nerfbat, and PvP-Restos are really getting bonked by the nerfbat. Bears, well...not much is going to happen to bears this patch, which is a little demoralizing given the improvements being made to Pally tanks, but that's OK. We still have our, uh, amazing Tier 8 set bonuses and...um...the best -- sort of -- tanking cooldowns in, uh, the...uh...
...Oh, screw it, just stack the hell out of stamina and pray to the gods of RNG if your guild's dumb enough to try Ulduar on hard-mode. Congratulations; you have now done all you can possibly do to prepare yourself for modern tanking.
Sad lolbare is sad. But cough syrup for everybody! Is nise! Now let's take a look:
New druid art for cat and bear forms has been added. There are now five unique color schemes for each form and faction. Changing hair color (Night Elves) or skin tone (Tauren) via the barbershop will change the look of one's cat and bear forms.
We've already covered this, but if you've been holed up in a cave somewhere since Wrath hit, you'll find the new Tauren bear form here, the new Night Elf bear form here, the new Tauren cat form here, and the new Night Elf cat form here, with a Shifting Perspectives column devoted to the new art here.
Long story short, I will be permanently retiring the I hate Tauren cat form tag as of the release date for 3.2. I will do it with a song in my heart, a spring in my step, a gleam in my eye, and a carbonated malt beverage in my hand. Also, as soon as the 3.2 PTR goes live, I am going to try to make my first ingame video to show everyone what the new forms look like in motion, so stay tuned.
Mana Regeneration: All items that provide "X mana per five seconds" have had the amount of mana they regenerate increased by approximately 25%.
So something like Unraveling Strands of Sanity is going to go from 19 mp5 to around 24-25 mp5 if my math's right. I'm not sure is whether this bonus also applies to trinkets with mp5 procs like Spark of Life, so I'll schlep it along when the PTR goes up and see what happens.
While an mp5 bonus may sound like a great deal, it's actually happening because of this --
Replenishment: This buff now grants 1% of the target's maximum mana over 5 seconds instead of 0.25% per second. This applies to all 5 sources of Replenishment (Vampiric Touch, Judgments of the Wise, Hunting Party, Enduring Winter Frostbolts, and Soul Leech).
I was all set to go into the usual Righteous Indignation routine over this until I had a somewhat disturbing epiphany.
Longtime readers of Shifting Perspectives will know that 3.1 and my computer haven't gotten along very well, so I haven't seen much of Ulduar on the live realms. Recently I've edged back into raiding as much as my gasping hardware will allow, and I've been coming to raids as Resto in order to cover for the scheduling difficulties of our two usual tree druids. Now, while my Resto gear isn't awful, it's far from being exemplary, and I'm two months behind the gear progression of everyone else in the guild. Moreover, while I've healed all of the game's existing raid content outside of Ulduar and consider myself to be a competent healer, I am no great virtuoso. An experienced Resto at my level of gear would trounce me on the healing meters with less overheal, better mana efficiency, and better healing output -- and that's exactly what both of our usual Resto Druids can do.
So I will say this concerning mana regeneration in raids; I popped into a hard-mode Iron Council in Ulduar-25, which is a truly unenjoyable healing experience wherein you will almost never stop frantically spamming everything in your arsenal, and still managed not to go OOM (or even close to it) in my clownish ensemble of Tier 7/heroic/blue gear.
So I am forced to the conclusion that either: A). I'm a friggin' genius at playing a tree, or: B). mana regeneration is still too good. For the sake of my withering self-esteem, I could choose to believe A, but rational observers would conclude that B is more likely. It is still exceptionally rare for me to encounter complaints among Druid players concerning either Balance or Resto mana efficiency.
B it is. Nerfing Replenishment reduces mana efficiency in raids without impacting caster soloability, so you shouldn't see a difference while you're out grinding -- and honestly, the change from 0.25% maximum mana per second to 0.20% per second is not exactly a disaster in the making.
Flight Form: Can now be learned at level 60. Flight speed increased to 150%.
Travel Form: Can now be learned at level 16.
This is the result of Blizzard tinkering with earlier and/or better mount mechanics to help nudge the leveling process along, so it made sense to bump Druid travel bonuses forward a bit.
Balance of Power: Now reduces all spell damage taken by 3/6%, rather than reducing the chance to be hit by spells by 2/4%.
Per Ghostcrawler, Blizzard didn't like the RNG feel of this component of the talent (which otherwise increases the Druid's chance to hit with all spells by 4% -- and I assume that portion will stay the same), and the change will also affect Shadow and Holy damage that can be caused by Death Knight and Paladin melee attacks. This will make you slightly easier to heal while raiding, but the general effect will be felt most versus caster enemies in PvP. Actually, between this and the Owlkin Frenzy change (see next), I get the feeling that Blizzard is really trying to shore up moonkin arena performance which, after a strong early start (helped in no small way by what was then an amazing talented stun proc from Starfall), has stuttered badly.
The thread just linked will reappear in our discussion of the Lifebloom nerf, so keep reading.
Owlkin Frenzy: Now also restores 2% base mana every 2 seconds for the duration (10 seconds) in addition to its current effects.
Owlkin Frenzy tends to be a hit-or-miss raid talent. I see a number of PvE builds that incorporate it in order to get a boost from the common-as-dirt raid damage that's especially prevalent on hard-mode encounters, but it's not among the first talents in any high-DPS lineup. The mp5 bonus is (at least currently) superfluous for raiding given that most moonkin can easily afford to blow potion cooldowns on Wild Magic rather than a mana pot. So if you're using Owlkin Frenzy already, the change is nice, but not sufficiently good on its own to move OF to a first-pick PvE talent.
This will, however, shine in PvP, and Owlkin Frenzy finds its best use there anyway. The change is probably inspired partly by the Innervate change (discussed below), as moonkin are much more vulnerable to going OOM during a match than their Restoration counterparts. My guess is that Blizzard is trying to avoid punishing Balance for changes made that will weaken Restoration's seemingly-limitless mana supply in arena.
Eclipse: The Starfire and Wrath buffs from this talent are now on separate 30 second cooldowns. In addition, it is not possible to have both buffs active simultaneously.
This is a big change. As a matter of fact, it's so big that I will be devoting this week's Shifting Perspectives to it. This wrecks all of the arguments surrounding the lunar/solar rotation deal, has some fairly important implications for how a moonkin should choose gear, and it also has the potential to smooth out moonkin DPS somewhat unless Blizzard monkeys around with the proc rate in order to compensate for the likelihood of its being active twice as often (possible, but not likely given Blizzard's efforts to improve moonkin damage).
I could write a lot more and actually did before I realized it was rapidly turning into an article all on its own (hence the upcoming "Shifting") but the TL;DR version: if you don't have Eclipse, get Eclipse. If you do have Eclipse, it'll be getting the hell of a lot better, and you're going to want to take a close look at your gear and stats before 3.2 hits. A high-DPS rotation will obligate you to switch Starfire and Wrath frequently in order to benefit from as many Eclipse procs as often as possible, and the two spells do not prioritize +haste and +crit in the same way (nor, with present itemization, does each benefit from a single idol).
Read on for the rest of the Druid changes in patch 3.2!