A day late and a dollar short, as always. As the World of Warcraft community reels from the drastic changes of the recent patch to prepare us for Cataclysm, balance druids are adjusting to a new life of their own. For anyone who has read the forums recently, it may come as no surprise that portions of the community feel that we are now overpowered. Whether you agree or not, I highly suggest you go and read this post of mine to get a little bit more insight into what is going on.
Instead of going into theories about why our damage might be the way that it is today, I would like to go into a bit of discussion on how to get the most out of your balance druid now and how to best prepare for the release of Cataclysm. There is a lot to get used to with the new changes: figuring out Eclipse, timing cooldowns, glyphs, our rotation. If you are a more theorycraft-based player such as I am, then take a look at this by Arawethion; it has a lot of great information on it. If numbers aren't quite your thing, then stayed tuned; I'll be breaking down most of the information plus some other neat tricks.
Getting the spec down
A few part of the changes to the talent trees was to allow for more flexibility in the way that players can spec. For balance druids, we have a nominal amount of freedom in the way that we spec. Once you first go down the balance tree, you really don't have too much of a choice until you get to around this point. For the two remaining points until Starfall, you have the choice of putting them wherever you like, really, so it's up to you. Gale Winds is probably the best option at this point in time, although Moonglow isn't a bad choice either; Fungal Growth, however, isn't all that useful as of right now. After you get Starfall, you will want to go down the restoration tree and pick up Heart of the Wild. Since we are currently capped at level 80, you do have some choice at this point as to where you want to put your last two points. For a raw DPS perspective, Blessing of the Grove is really your only option, but it's a minor increase and you can choose to skip it. In the end, your spec will probably resemble something like this, but there may be some differences.
Once you start leveling and get 85, you will lose a little bit of that leeway. With the way things are in beta now, picking up Moonglow and Furor are somewhat required. Their mana impact is rather low for the return that you will see from the talents, but when mana is as tight as we have it, every little bit can help. Right now, the standard level 85 build will probably look like this, with only one free point to toss around where you want. Blizzard has noticed our mana issues, and the latest data mining shows they are taking a few small steps towards addressing it, but it remains to be seen if they will have any meaningful impact.
Glyphing has changed with the introduction of the new prime glyphs which are essentially a replacement of the old major glyph slot. Like the talent tree changes, this too was done to allow for players to have more flexibility. For our prime glyphs, we have a small amount of choice. Glyph of Moonfire and Glyph of Insect Swarm are the two clear winners in terms of DPS; there's simply no comparison with anything else. For the third slot, you have the choice between Glyph of Wrath or Glyph of Starsurge. The Wrath Glyph is better for single target DPS, the Starsurge Glyph is better for multi-target DPS; so which you choose to use really depends on the situation you find yourself in most.
For your major glyphs, there's really nothing that you absolutely have to take. Glyph of Starfall/Glyph of Focus are the only two major DPS increasing glyphs at this level; Starfall is a nice option that I'd suggest taking, but Focus still has the range reduction issue that can be tricky to work with. Beyond that, it's really just what you like to have. Thorns is great for helping tanks generate threat, so I say it's worth a slot, and personally I go with Rebirth as my third, but whichever best suits your play style is just fine. For minor glyphs, beyond Unburdened Rebirth, there's nothing really there that's a great sell.
The basics of our new rotation are really easy: Keep up DoTs, use Starsurge on cooldown, rotate between Wrath and Starfire as Eclipse dictates. Starfall should be used on cooldown, preferably timed up to a Lunar Eclipse if you can manage it, and Force of Nature should be used on cooldown as well. Any time that you are forced to move, remember to spam Moonfire now. That's the long and short of it.
There are a few additional tricks that you can use to push DPS a little bit further. If, due to movement, Insect Swarm/Sunfire is about to fall off at the end of a Solar Eclipse, then you are better off refreshing them right before Wrath is going to end Eclipse. Also, remember that Wrath and Starsurge both have a travel time and if you cast either of them before the Eclipse buff ends, they should still benefit from the effect because you do not gain Eclipse Power until the spell actually lands. Even though it doesn't contribute to your personal damage meter, using Thorns, particularly during a Solar Eclipse, also provides a DPS increase.
Right now Sunfire is currently bugged; it ticks every 3 seconds instead of every 2 seconds, and it doesn't benefit from haste. Because of this, Moonfire is actually higher DPS than Sunfire if you have high amounts of haste, so you can overwrite Sunfire with Moonfire after dropping Solar Eclipse for a larger DPS gain. However, this isn't a habit that you want to get into, as eventually, Sunfire will be fixed and it would result in a DPS loss to refresh a Moonfire over a Sunfire.
Wear your leather, gem your gear
Always make sure that you are wearing full leather. The patch did introduce the passive armor specialization for all classes and we get a 5 percent intellect increase for wearing all leather armor. There is no reason to not have this bonus. Keep in mind that spirit and hit are completely interchangeable for the purposes of gearing and gemming; if you find yourself over the hit cap (which has been increased to 17 percent), then you can reforge spirit or hit into something else. For generic gearing purposes, the highest stat you can get (besides intellect and hit) is haste, followed by crit and then mastery. For your hit items, try and use any spirit/hit and haste items that you can, and always reforge any spirit/hit and crit items first if you need to lower your haste. After reaching the hit cap, your only option right now is to shoot for haste/crit pieces, but keep in mind for later that haste/crit items are the best, followed by haste/mastery, and then crit/mastery. Do not bother with reforging anything into mastery at this point; the stat simply isn't worth it.
A few more notes
There are a few other changes to our mechanics that are worth mentioning. One important thing to note is that the functionality of Omen of Clarity has changed; it now only reduces the mana cost of spells with cast time. Omen of Clarity will not be consumed by Moonfire/Sunfire, Insect Swarm, Starfall or Hurricane, just to name a few of the more important spells. Something interesting that I noticed as well is that each individual Starfall star now seems to count as an independent spell cast. Basically, this means that if you get an effect such as Unchained Magic on Sindragosa, each star from Starfall will proc Instability, so make sure that the two are not up at the same time. Conversely, Mark of the Wild doesn't seem to be considered separate spells for each individual person that it's cast on, and it doesn't proc Omen of Clarity with the regularity that it used to.
Although it is not specific to balance druids, keep in mind that only two people per encounter can be Rebirthed or resurrected from a Soulstone. You need to be much more cautious about whom you cast Rebirth on and when, which is why I highly recommend the Rebirth Glyph to prevent players from accidentally dying the instant that they come back up.
Solar Beam is excellent for controlling multiple caster mobs in PvE, especially if they are grouped around the tank. If you choose to spend a glyph on it, that can account for 15 seconds of non-casting time on a group; make sure your tank knows to try and get any stray mobs into the beam. You can also combine Solar Beam with Entangling Roots to effectively CC a caster mob for 10 to 15 seconds, depending on whether Solar Beam is glyphed or not.
Although we do have Dreamstate, which allows for Innervate to return higher amounts of mana when used on ourselves, you restoration druids might appreciate a slightly different method. If all of you use the Innervate Glyph and cycle Innervate on each other, then each druid will receive 150 percent of each Innervate cast. It isn't really a gain for us, but it is for the restoration druids, and they will thank you for it.
A hotfix has just recently gone out (or will be, depending on when this is published) that is going to lower the damage of some of our abilities, particularly Insect Swarm. From what testing I have been able to do, Insect Swarm's spellpower coefficient was reduced from 20% per tick to 13% per tick; the base damage of the spell was also reduced from 243 to 122 per tick. The reduction in Insect Swarm's damage is rather substantial, close to a 50% loss in damage, but it still holds a higher DPET than our nukes. Multi-DoTing mobs for a substantial DPS increase isn't possible now -- you still want to throw DoTs on adds that you are attempting to kill, but don't start throwing them around in targets that aren't important -- and our single target damage output took a significant hit as well. There are some players that are reporting loss in Wrath, Starfire, Starsurge, and Moonfire damage, however, I have not currently seen any reduction in Wrath, Starfire, nor Starsurge (I haven't yet been able to test Moonfire.) This doesn't mean that none of these spells lost damage, they might have and I just don't have the correct old base damage values, but for now I'm only seeing Insect Swarm as taking any significant hit.
Every week, Shifting Perspectives treks across Azeroth in pursuit of druidic truth, beauty and insight. Whether you're a bear, cat, moonkin, tree or stuck in caster form, we've got the skinny, from a look at the disappearance of the bear tank to thoughts on why you should be playing the class (or why not).