Every week, Shifting Perspectives explores issues affecting druids and those who group with them. This week, we are proud to welcome a new generation of cats.
Of the three druid specs I cover in the Tuesday column, I think it's arguably toughest to gear a cat. Bears are pretty straightforward; they want armor, agility and gobs of stamina. They're not particularly fussy about the array of DPS stats that otherwise infests melee leather, and because all three of their primary stats appear in spades on PvP gear, they've got another set of reasonable options as long as they're willing (and able) to dump some threat.
Trees are even easier. If leather with spellpower drops, the rest of the party/raid groans, and you'll often get these items whether you wanted them or not. For a long time I've wondered if the continuing popularity of the tree has anything at all to do with how easy it is to build a functional healing set even when you're not trying.
Cats, on the other hand, tend to face a lot more competition. They have neither the bear's indifference to DPS stats, nor the tree's benefit of playing a relatively uncommon armor/stat combination. As a cat approaching the end game, you'll probably find yourself rolling against a beggar's army of melee and hunters drooling over melee leather.
Two words: armor penetration. These days every Two-Hand-Harry and Shadow's-Edge-Sally has a raging lust for armor penetration, and we band of buggered restricted to melee leather are paying the price.
Oh well. This article gave me an excuse to dig up a bunch of cat-related YouTube videos, and you can't stay mad for long.
I'm assuming you don't have access to ICC-10 or -25, at least not on a regular basis. If you're playing on a realm where not having heroic Arthas on farm means you're a bad person, feel free to disregard all of the following list. Otherwise, my assumption is that you're gearing a new cat druid in order to raid (or at least make the content you're doing easier). I have listed gear you can get from the first four bosses in Icecrown Citadel due to reader requests, and indeed, quite a lot of good cat gear does drop there.
I'm assuming you probably have access to Onyxia, Vault of Archavon and (maybe) some ToC. Most servers have PUGs running this content fairly regularly (if not, feel free to start one). I've listed the ilevel 245, tier 9 pieces available if you get your hands on a Trophy of the Crusade. Many players are in the process of upgrading to tier 10 and aren't that interested in them. But touch their Death's Choice and they'll murder you.
I'm not assuming you're an arena star. You'll find a few PvP pieces listed here, but one of the differences you'll note between this and the bear list is that cats get comparatively little use from PvP gear. The item budget for resilience comes directly out of offensively oriented stats, and while the bear may not care much, the cat sure does.
This is not a comprehensive list. I've eliminated most of the pieces we previously covered in our early 2009 guides to cat gear. If you're still leveling your druid, or you're hitting 80 penniless and alone on a faraway server with no one to call friend but a little match girl or something, I would recommend reading that first.
I am a huge cheapskate. If your rich uncle just died and willed you 75,000 gold and his priceless collection of frost emblems, feel free to go nuts on BoE and badge gear. Otherwise, I've tried to point out when an expensive piece might be worth it and when it might not be.
A note concerning tier set bonuses: two-piece tier 8 for cats is really, really, really good. It's essentially a free Omen of Clarity on top of the real Omen of Clarity you should already have talented (see our article on Cat 101), and it has a chance to proc off all cat bleed effects as well. As a matter of fact, two-piece tier 8 is so good that it's still giving the tier 9 bonuses a run for their money. This is a familiar situation to anyone who played a feral during BC and probably used two-piece tier 4 through Black Temple. In both cases, the underlying issue is the cat's general inability to improve or affect resource generation, and both of these overpowered tier bonuses are essentially free energy. That's also why King of the Jungle is a required talent for cat DPS.
One of the things that keeps jumping out at me while modding this stuff is that there are a lot of cats who, while gearing up, will actually get more DPS out of continuing to use two-piece tier 8 than heading straight for four-piece tier 9 (assuming that the tier 9 in question is ilevel 232). Recognizing this, you may want to save Emblems of Triumph from dungeon-running and convert 116 of them into Emblems of Conquest to purchase the tier 8 helm and chest. For the other two slots, use two pieces of tier 9 (two-piece tier 9 is also extremely good) unless you can get four-piece ilevel 245 (or above) tier 9. At that point, the stat improvements will almost always override the tier 8 bonus. And no matter who you are, your priority should be getting to four-piece tier 10 as quickly as possible; nothing else in the game will beat it.
As with any other advice I can give concerning gear, Rawr and Toskk's are invaluable. Don't take this list as gospel; different pieces of gear will be better or worse for you within the context of your existing gear. In particular, this list suffers from the assumption that you're aiming for either the armor penetration soft or hard cap. If you're not in a position to go for either, take the following with a grain of salt, use your best judgment, and remember; if you get to 1399 passive armor penetration, you will get no more use from the stat. The Cat 101 piece will shed a bit of light on why this is, but if you want a more in-depth explanation of the hair-tearing, soul-killing mess that is armor pen, I would highly recommend reading the following:
This slot is easy if you're aiming for the two-piece tier 8 bonus; run dungeons until you get 58 Emblems of Triumph, convert them into Emblems of Conquest, go buy a Helm of the Wayward Vanquisher from the Conquest emblem vendor in Dalaran, and buy a tier 8 helm.
This slot doesn't have a huge array of options outside of raiding, unfortunately. However, the Conquest badge neck is still pretty good if Wodin's is ridiculously expensive or you're unlucky with Onyxia.
Wodin's Lucky Necklace This is an Icecrown zone drop, and it's pretty good for a lot of classes, so you may have difficulty finding it on the AH. Ask around.