There's a bit of a gentlemen's wager going on here behind the scenes at WoW.com; the author of the weekly feature that gets the most hits by the end of the month will get cookies from Elizabeth Harper.
And I like cookies.
The following is a list of titles that were subsequently rejected by the editors for inclusion in this week's edition of Shifting Perspectives:
Shifting Perspectives: Naked women playing Cataclysm alpha.
Shifting Perspectives: Paladins suck.
Shifting Perspectives: Everyone should be nerfed but me.
Shifting Perspectives: Gear Score is amazing.
As with our Restoration 101 column, I'm addressing this to people with no prior knowledge of the spec who want the tools to become a reasonably competent DPS quickly. This is a cheat sheet, not an encyclopedia. Unfortunately, the truth is that cat DPS is less suited to this approach than any other druid spec, due to the complicated mechanics behind armor penetration and the sheer difficulty of the cat DPS "rotation." An experienced cat is likely to notice a number of situational omissions from this article. I have tried to point out resources below that cover these in more detail. As always, if I've goofed or you think I've left out something really important, drop a comment and I'll make sure it gets fixed/added.
Coldbear has an excellent (though at times hard to follow, and most assuredly NSFW!) video on how to DPS as a cat druid, and is also the primary author of the extensive Wowwiki entry on Feral DPS. You will also want to bookmark and use Elitist Jerks' Cat DPS Guide for Dummies (which is essentially an extended and mathier version of this article). I've also been incredibly impressed by Alaron's work on his blog, The Fluid Druid (although due to RL issues his posting will probably be light for a bit).
1. What is cat?
Cat is a sub-spec of the feral tree allowing the druid to perform competitive melee DPS.
2. The cat's benefits:
- Competitive and potentially chart-topping damage in the hands of a good player.
- Provides a raid-wide 5% chance to crit for melee/ranged attacks (Leader of the Pack).
- Can provide passive healing for melee and ranged players (Improved Leader of the Pack) and a debuff slowing boss attack speed (Infected Wounds).
- Can provide the Mangle debuff, increasing bleed damage.
- Able to off-tank when necessary. The hallmark of a competent feral player is the ability to switch seamlessly between tanking and melee DPS, and with dual spec, players can be even better in both roles.
- As with all druid specs, can Innervate casters, pop Tranquility for emergencies, and battle-rez.
- Interesting, dynamic, and challenging rotation. The cat cannot be accused of "faceroll" DPS.
- Maximum damage is extremely dependent on favorable fight conditions (which are not particularly common), next to no latency on the player's end, and the use of specialized addons to watch debuff timers.
- Optimal damage is also dependent on getting Mangle's bleed debuff from another source within the raid (e.g. a bear tank's Mangle or arms warrior's Trauma).
- Must be able to get and stay behind an enemy to Shred, the bread-and-butter direct damage ability.
- The cat's "rotation" is difficult to learn, takes a lot of time to master, and mistakes are heavily penalized.
- Because melee leather is designed to complement rogue tier sets, feral druids in caster form often look hideously ugly.
- While the cat can off-tank when required, he/she will still need gear for it, and a true cat spec lacks the survivability afforded by a bear spec.
- Providing raid utility (the aforementioned Innervate, Tranquility, and battle-rez) arrives at a heavy DPS cost; the odds of multiple debuffs dropping while you're out of form are very high.
- Agility: The cat's best overall stat.
- Armor penetration: The mechanics of armor penetration are fairly convoluted, and the subject merits an article on its own. As a very short gloss on the situation, if you can get to 400-500 armor penetration unbuffed (mouseover the Hit stat on your character sheet to see how much you have), and especially if you have a trinket with a large armor pen proc (Mjolnir Runestone, Grim Toll, or Needle-Encrusted Scorpion), armor pen is the best stat to stack. The armor penetration hard cap is approximately 1,400 armor pen rating; beyond this, you will get no benefit from the stat.
- Hit: You need 262 hit versus a level 83 (boss) mob to be capped. You don't need to worry about being hit-capped as much as other DPS do, because the vast majority of the cat's damage is "yellow" -- special attacks and bleed abilities that have a higher chance to hit than "white" attacks (normal melee swings). However, hit becomes more important as your gear improves.
- Expertise: With 2/2 Primal Precision, you need an additional 16 expertise to reach 26 expertise, the soft-cap. 26 expertise is what pushes all level 83 (boss) mobs' chance to dodge off their avoidance table. Because you should always be behind an enemy, you shouldn't need more than that.
- Stamina: As melee DPS, you are often more vulnerable to AoE and boss-related damage than your ranged counterparts, and a raiding cat will need a certain amount of health. But if you see a leather piece with gobs of stamina on it, it's generally meant to be used by a bear.
- Attack power: We don't scale particularly well with raw attack power (which is why Savage Roar's mechanic was overhauled for patch 3.1). It's good to have on trinkets (and, to be frank, you're unlikely to find anything else), but if you see a piece with nothing but stamina, +hit, and raw AP, you won't get as much from it as a rogue will.
- Critical strike: You'll get more than enough crit from talents and agility. Raw crit is nice, but don't take a +crit piece over an +armor pen piece.
- Haste: Haste isn't particularly useful at early gear levels as it only impacts white damage. As with hit, it's more valuable in better gear. In Cataclysm, haste has the potential to become a much better cat stat.
As with all advice concerning cat gear, Rawr and Toskk's are your friends. All potential upgrades should be considered within the context of your existing gear.