Generally, I start each PvP article that I write with the disclaimer that I am not an avid PvPer; this one is not any different. However, this is a caveat that I need to add to that disclaimer: I am not an avid arena player, and due to the dominance of arena play in WoW PvP, it has pretty much closed out what PvP I do enjoy.
I am a BG player. I love BGs, and given the choice, I could play in BGs night and day. In my opinion, BGs are the truest form of PvP. I don't want to be thrown into a little box and told to fight like a Roman gladiator. I want objectives, I want give and take, I want the tactical aspect of a battlefield. Perhaps it's because I was raised by a massive war nerd who drilled tactics into my head night and day -- understanding the meaning of tactical losses, of forcing hands, of overextending.
There is a reason for bringing up a bit of my own history here, and that's because balance druids (in my opinion, at least) are the experts of tactical PvP play. We are a highly adaptive spec that can take on many forms depending upon gear, spec and glyph choices. We can play as a skirmisher, a powerhouse, a controller or even a tank in the right settings. Balance druids have many PvP faces, and each has seen success in a variety of different ways throughout WoW's PvP history. The tanking form held great success in parts of The Burning Crusade, and although balance wasn't particularly strong in Wrath, some players did manage to garner success playing either heavy control or wrecking balls. Today, we re-evaluate all of those faces and see how they might play out in Cataclysm.
To start with, I want to go into a glyph discussion; first are the prime glyphs. For PvE, the choice is slightly more cut and dry than it is for PvP, although the sad thing is that there really aren't that many choices to pick from. The Starfire Glyph clearly isn't feasible, given that Moonfire can be dispelled easily and casting Starfire three times per Moonfire really isn't practical.
This really only leaves you with the choice of the Wrath, Starsurge, Insect Swarm and Moonfire Glyphs. Again, given how easy it is to merely remove our DoTs, Insect Swarm, Moonfire and Wrath aren't always the strongest choices, even though they would provide the highest DPS to a single target. Starsurge is a good choice, but you won't always have an opportunity to cast either Starfall or Starsurge on cooldown and in a BG, there is going to be natural downtime between fights to allow the cooldown to refresh on its own.
Which mixture you end up with is really a personal preference; personally I would probably choose Wrath, Insect Swarm and Moonfire for BGs due to dispelling being more difficult in that setting and the lag time between encounters allowing for Starfall recharge naturally -- but you can easily make a case to replace any of those with Starsurge.
Major glyphs is where the choices become much more interesting. There are loads of options to choose from, all of which can be viable in different settings and depending upon your playstyle.
- Monsoon Reducing the cooldown on Typhoon is a pretty good deal in numerous situations, as Typhoon is great for getting melee off of you. In arenas, it is probably much more useful than it is in BGs. In a BG, most fights shouldn't really last long enough for the glyph to make that much of a difference, and the downtime between fights should be long enough to allow for Typhoon to refresh on its own, making the glyph less valuable.
- Barkskin Given that resilience no longer reduces critical strike chance, the Barkskin glyph has certainly gained a lot more viability, more so when coupled with the overall lowered crit chances across the board. If you are finding yourself heavily targeted by melee, then this would certainly be a great investment to pick up; however, it won't do you any good against a more caster-heavy team. It's a situational glyph, but one that can prove to be excessively useful in the right situations.
- Entangling Roots Perhaps the most lauded glyph that we have seen from the new set; having an instant-cast root is huge against melee, especially now that Entangling Roots have a base 2-second cast time. One thing to note, however, is that it isn't the best in every situation. When considering the powerful root into Solar Beam combination, having a casted Entangling Roots is actually a major benefit. When Entangling Roots is instant, you have to wait for the GCD to be up before you can Solar Beam, which allows for the target to have that GCD time in order to react via using Blink or being dispelled; when you have to cast Entangling Roots, then you have both roots and Solar Beam land at the same time, meaning the player has to either waste his interrupt or find a means to LoS you instead. There is some give or take with this glyph, and I honestly don't think it is cut and dry as people make it out to be.
- Solar Beam This is perhaps the only glyph choice that I feel is practically a must-have. Solar Beam has a very long cooldown, so getting anything extra out of the effect is a godsend. Solo, you probably won't be able to keep a target within the beam for the entire duration, but when coordinated with teammates for additional snares, stuns or roots, keeping a single target locked in the beam is very feasible. Also remember that Solar Beam can lock melee players out of some of their own skills, as well.
- Starfall A flat 30-second reduction on one of our more powerful abilities is fantastic. If you feel that you don't need to glyph for additional survivability or utility, then this is a huge damage option to pick up, even in BGs. That 30 seconds is a lot longer than people give it credit for.
- Thorns With the Thorns glyph, Thorns effectively has a cooldown of only 5 seconds, provided that it doesn't get dispelled. Even though the damage of Thorns has been nerfed heavily in beta, it can still hurt fast-attacking melee significantly. It's a situational glyph choice at best and perhaps not the best option, but it can be useful in the right setup.
Which three you choose is highly situational and depends entirely on the makeup of what you'll be facing. The downside is that although changing glyphs is easier now, it isn't something that you can really do on the fly in the heat of a battle, so there is a lot of predicting as to which is going to be the most valuable.
For minor glyphs, there really isn't anything that is a must-have. Dash is perhaps the only one of any real value, but even then it's rather limited. The only one to avoid at all costs is Typhoon -- you must have that knockback.
When it comes to how you choose to PvP, there is a lot of choice in how to set yourself up. The tank-kin is a setup that was once perhaps the most viable way back in The Burning Crusade, although variants of it still existed in Wrath as well. The primary focus of this build is to make yourself as survivable as possible, sacrificing damage in many cases. Armor, resilience and health are going to be your primary attributes and you want to stack as much as possible. Back in The Burning Crusade, this often came with using your second trinket slot for a PvE tanking trinket that offered high amounts of survivability, and there were many Wrath tanking trinkets that were arguably equally as useful, too; whether or not this will happen again in Cataclysm still remains to be seen, but it is highly possible.
The glory of going with a pure tanking setup is that you are usually able to laugh off most damage and are frighteningly easy to heal, which is certainly a plus in the new healing direction that Blizzard is taking. Your damage output generally won't be the highest that it could be, but your primary purpose isn't so much to dish out damage as it is to make sure that you are the focus target as much as possible to allow your damage-dealing partners to open up freely. This can put you in many precarious situations, so going purely for this route requires a healer, but it can be amazingly successful.
For this setup, you will probably want to snag Barkskin and the Entangling Roots Glyphs in order to boost your survivability and control abilities as much as you can. After that, Solar Beam or Monsoon are probably your other best options, followed by Thorns. Remember, this spec wants to be focused; you want to be the primary target, and you want to keep as many players off of your teammates as you possibly can. Your contribution isn't in how much damage you can dish out; it's in allowing your teammates to freely go about what they need to do be it healing, damage or further control. Stacking defensive stats, at times, has been a generally accepted practice by some balance druids regardless of whether or not they are truly a PvP "tank" solely because balance druids are often focused first, but that is what this setup is meant to capitalize on.
You won't ever want to go out flying off alone to engage in multiple enemies by yourself. You are at heart a support creature meant to rely on the prowess of others in order to score victories -- but you do want to do your best to ensure that it's you taking the brunt of the enemies focus' and not your squishy mage or hunter or rogue fiend.