Gearing: The where and how
Cataclysm has been a little bit different than the past two expansions in terms of how a player can choose to get their gear. Early in every expansion, there have usually been a few good reputation rewards for certain classes to pick up but not always anything that spectacular. In many cases, there's always been an equivalent or better item found in heroic dungeons.
That really isn't the case now. Each type of DPS has at least two epic-quality items that they can get from reputations that are not replaceable by heroic dungeon gear. Generally speaking, the gearing level follows as such:
- Honored gear regular level 85 dungeon gear
- Revered gear heroic level 85 dungeon gear
- Exalted gear raid level gear
This has made getting your rep up with the various factions very important, as it can cut down on your farming time considerably. In fact, several of the better items that you can get for a balance druid come from reputation rewards. Although most of these items require level 85 to wear, not all of them do, so make sure to check the quartermasters for the various factions as you level up through a zone to see if there's a great item that they're willing to sell you.
Aside from that, there are also justice points, which you earn from running heroics. Justice points can be used to buy heroic dungeon level items as well, further reducing the time that you need to spend farming specific dungeons for that one item that simply won't drop.
Last but certainly not least, there is always crafted gear. Unfortunately, balance druids don't have too many created options for their gear, but there are a few out there -- and again, they can be useful for cutting down on the time you have to spend farming heroics.
For your helm, the best choice to go for is honestly the Cluster of Stars. It has arguably the best stats and doesn't have to really be farmed from any particular place. If you don't have enough to get it quite yet, then I would at least queue up to run normal Halls of Reorigination at least once so you can get the helm from a quest you'll find there. It doesn't have the most appealing stats for a balance druid, but it is probably the best you'll find before entering heroics.
There are tons of neck choices out there, literally tons. The best that you are going to get preraiding is the Yellow Smoke Pendant simply because of the item level. I would suggest steering away from either of the necks from justice points; they aren't any better than what you can find out of heroics, you'll eventually get the Yellow Smoke Pendant, and there are just so many better things to spend JP on.
The Mantle of Bestilled Winds is going to be your best choice because of the haste that it has, but the others can be just as good. I would get the Twilight Highlands faction rewards as soon as you possibly can to hold you over until you are able to get better to drop. Again, don't waste your JP on those shoulders unless you really don't have a choice -- and you do -- because mastery is just that bad.
The JP vest is probably going to be your best choice due to the hit, but the Vest of the Curious Visitor is equally attractive. Choose to go for whichever fits best into your kit, depending on if you need hit or not. The quest reward from Uldum is going to be the best chest that you can really get until you start heroics or purchase the JP one.
The best non-hit choice is going to be the Cloak of Ancient Wisdom; if you need the hit, then shoot for trying to get the Solar Wind Cloak. There are a lot more cloaks out there than I listed; they're pretty much everywhere that you look, but those are some of the better ones to watch out for. However, unless you need the hit, I wouldn't really go out of my way to farm any of them.
There are several BoE items from Cataclysm
dungeons that are actually quite good; the Oasis Bracers is one of them. Each of these BoE items is supposed to drop a normal version from the regular dungeon and a higher version for the heroic dungeon. Unfortunately, the Oasis Bracers are currently not dropping in heroic, so your only option for a 346 bracer is out of BRC.
To be perfectly honest, there isn't much reason to not go for the rep reward gloves, especially considering that you can reach revered merely by completing all of the quests in Hyjal. But if you need some hit, then there are options open to you. I wouldn't really go for the JP gloves unless you really need the hit and aren't having any luck with Slabhide, as there are better things to buy.
I'm honestly not even going to bother listing any other belts out there, because nothing compares to this belt at all. It has high amounts of hit and high amounts of haste, it is one of the very few preraid epics that you can get, and it frankly doesn't matter what you wear until you get it. I personally was still wearing the 264 vendor belt before I finally got mine. Get it or get nothing else. Seriously.
Leggings of Late Blooms isn't a terrible choice if you do not need hit; however, chances will be that you do, in which case you'll want to get the one from the Earthen Ring. Blazewing's isn't that great of a choice, to be honest, and I certainly wouldn't spend any amount of money getting it off the AH, but it can be a nice holdover if you happen to stumble across him.
Decapod and Tarvus' are the exact same item; however, one is a heroic drop, while the other is a BoE drop from a rare spawn, so pick your poison (get it?) on which is worse to shoot for. The Awakening Footfalls are a good item to get if you haven't been able to get the others, as there simply aren't many other options to choose from.
There are loads of rings to choose from, but I highlighted some of the best. Sadly, just like the Oasis Bracers, many of the really great options that are BoE don't seem to be dropping in heroic mode which is rather upsetting; particularly because Ring of the Great Whale
would be our best hit option. There are a lot of copies when it comes to rings; usually one is a drop and one isn't. In those cases, I defaulted to the purchasable option. The BoE epic on the list is quite rare, and even though it is an amazing ring, I personally wouldn't drop loads of gold on it, but it is out there if you want it.
The Ring of the Boy Emperor is perhaps one of the best reason to farm up archaeology as a balance druid. It would be better if it had crit instead of mastery, but as a BoA, epic level item when epics are still rare; there isn't much to complain about. The only downside is that it will be very difficult to get, as there aren't many digs in that area.
Perhaps it is merely my luck, but finding good trinkets for a balance druid has been a trial and a half. Perhaps I am showing a bias, but I swear melee trinkets drop like candy. Anyway, which trinket to use is a debatable topic.
I would venture to say that most of the theory work that has been done supports using one hit trinket and one non-hit trinket at this point, but I honestly didn't look into that enough to see if it is only because they all use Stump of Time, which is our only good epic level preraid trinket. If you do need hit, though, and can't get Stump of Time yet -- it does require many, many days of grinding -- then Anhuur's or Sea Star are both good choices to go with.
In the non-hit slot, it becomes a little bit of a closer choice between Witching Hourglass and Gale of Shadows. The Witching Hourglass is better than the Gale of Shadows ever so slightly simply because it provides intellect instead of raw spellpower, which is worth more spellpower than normal for balance druids. Either way, both are fantastic options, and I wouldn't really go out of my way to farm for the Witching Hourglass if you already have Gale of Shadows.
Main-hand weapons are pretty easy to pick if you are looking for the best; Biting Wind if you don't need hit, Scepter of Power if you do. The crafted item isn't that bad if you can get it on the cheap, which isn't going to happen right now, but it is an option that's there. Until you can get one of the heroic weapons, I'd strongly suggest getting the mace from the quest in Twilight Highlands.
Get it, that's all there is to say. Nothing better drops preraid.
As things stand right now, staves are a terrible option. There is now an intellect off-hand enchant, and there is no comparable enchant for two-handed caster weapons. Blizzard finally realized late in Wrath
that staves simply didn't compare to using two items and made an enchant in order for them to keep up; why it made the situation that much worse, I don't know. Hopefully, it won't take until the last raid of the expansion to fix this glaring issue.
On a side note, these two staves are the only ones in the game worth using, simply because you cannot get anything of equal item level outside of a raid. Plus, they are BoA, so what's not to love?
There aren't many relics to choose from, but there are a few. If you need the hit, then Captured Lightning is your best choice; otherwise, go for the Eyeball. Vanessa VanCleef drops an item that's exactly the same as the Eyeball if you don't want to get it crafted, but the Eyeball is fairly cheap to make as far as crafted items go, so there's little reason to not get it.
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