Getting to the level cap
While I won't spend quite as much time on this topic as I did in the Blood Pact version -- if you want to read a more in-depth explanation, then you can find it on the link above -- yet it is worth repeating that how you level to 85 is just as important as what you do at 85. Being a druid, you have different, unique opportunities that aren't open to a pure class, which might make this slightly less important, yet it still cuts down on your grind very significantly. What am I talking about? PVP.
That is right: There is a drastic advantage in leveling using nothing but PVP instead of any other method, and that advantage is justice points. While leveling, you won't be able to get justice points until you hit Northrend, where you can earn 12 JPs for every random dungeon you complete, but only seven times per week. This number might reset at various levels; it does reset once you hit 80 and start earning 120 JPs, at the very least.
You can, however, earn honor points starting at level 10. All honor points can be converted into JPs. This means you can easily farm honor starting at level 10 and have both honor and JPs capped by the time you hit 85. In fact, you'll cap both of them well before you hit 85. If you mainly level through PVP, you can earn enough JPs to buy every single item that you could possibly want from the vendor by 80.
From there, you can then switch to leveling from questing and dungeons in order to pick up Cataclysm-level gear for the slots that you would be missing, such as a secondary trinket or a second ring. Even once you hit 85, farming honor is a faster way of getting JPs than chain-running dungeons. You could totally bypass the queue for dungeons by going feral and tanking, and you still earn less JPs doing dungeons than you would by doing PVP. Short of it is, if you need JPs, do PVP.
Another topic that I don't plan on spending too much time talking about, because this could really apply to anyone: Hyjal should be your absolute first stop once you hit 85. (Okay, second stop, with the first being the JP vendor.) Here, there are two really import things that you need to get done before you should even think about queuing up for a single dungeon. To start, there's the Thrall quest chain. I'm so not going to spoil what happens, but I can tell you that it ends with Aggra knitting you a flipping sweet cloak that should be your new pride and joy.
Once you've managed to stop admiring how an orc managed such fine needlework, it's time to head on over to the Shrine of Malorne, where there's this group of druids that needs you help. Personally, I'm not one for dailies. I do try, but I can never keep up with them, as I always end up distracted by, I don't know, fun things. You really don't have to get into the whole dailies thing, though. Your only objective here is to complete the first quest chain that will unlock the Molten Front.
There aren't all that many quests involved. I think you end up doing a total of 10 or so once it's all said and done -- maybe slightly more than that, but it shouldn't take more than an hour max. Once you have the Molten Front unlocked, head down into the tree where there's our fearless non-cooked druid leader Malfurion accompanied by an equally awesome troll who will sell you a fantastic necklace. Those two things done, it's time to hit the real grind.
Filling in the rest
At this point, you should actually have most of your slots already filled out with relatively great gear. Through JPs, you can buy:
All of those together will set you back a grand total of 12,550 JPs. That's seemingly a lot, and certainly if you start out with nothing at level 85, you are going to have a large bit of farming ahead of you. But if you leveled primarily though PVP, then that amount is actually rather trivial. Just remember, once you hit the max of 4,000 honor points, you need to convert it over to JPs and then actually spend those JPs. The boots can also be purchased from any character that happens to have spare JPs on hand as well, which can save you even more time.
Overall, this leaves you in a pretty amazing situation. From this point, the only slots that you need to be looking to fill would be your belt, shoulders, helm, wrists, and second trinket slot. Overall, that's a pretty easy sell.
You have a few shoulder options to choose from, depending on what it is that you're looking for. Your best choices are going to be out of troll heroics, obviously, but the purpose of this guide is just to get you to where you can run them. The Hide isn't all that good itemization-wise, but if you have loads of spare coin to toss around, then they can be a great choice to pick up from the AH. Or perhaps your guild has a pair rotting in their bank that they couldn't get rid of.
If you are running heroics and looking for something to snag, then go for the MoBW. It's not the only dungeon drop, but it's the one worth getting. There's also an ilevel 333 pair of shoulders that you can get from your faction's respective ... faction in Twilight Highlands. It only requires honored, which you can reach solely by questing in the zone and is probably your best bet.
Again, there are a few additional options, such as a drop out of Halls of Origination, but the choices here are the easiest to obtain and, frankly, the best. Actually, the Withered Dream Belt, (or your Alliance alternative) is still the best belt that you can get until you start raiding Firelands. Or you kill heroic Nef. I'd imagine the Firelands would come first there. Grind out that TH rep!
Once more, there just aren't great options here; ahh, I remember saying that back so many months ago. The JP helm was the best pre-raiding helm, and that still holds true. There's a helm from Deadmines that you could snag, but honestly, the choice comes down to if you want to specifically queue for the dungeon and face a longer wait time, hope the random queue loves you, and then hope the helm drops, or just farm a bit more JP and buy a better helm anyway. Tough choice.
Also, don't mock the heirloom helm. It's actually really good for just starting out. Yes, the crit on it is our worst stat and it doesn't have a meta socket so it's terrible as far as helms go, but when you've just hit 85, it's still a good bargain. Just keep a leather helm of any type in your bags; otherwise, it counts as an ilevel of 1 and you'll have trouble queuing for anything.
I'm not even going to bother listing the one and only pre-raiding choice that you would have in this slot. I haven't a clue what it is this expansion, but Blizzard is seriously hating on the wrist slot, having only one option for every single spec per tier, including dungeons. You can go farm Blackrock if you like, but that's silly. Go buy yourself the bracers
for valor points, either with gold, valor points from another character, or save them up and buy them yourself-- I don't care, but get them. They suck as far as balance itemization go, but they suck just as much as the drop that you might be able to get.
Unlike wrists, there are a plethora of trinkets that you can find virtually everywhere. Trinkets are the one thing that Blizzard hasn't skimped out on this expansion, and it really seems like you can flick a fly and not hit one. You can go do Tol Barad dailies for a hit trinket. You can buy the Darkmoon Card. You can do Hyjal dailies for one. You could dungeon, which is totally a verb now, for multiple trinket choices; trinkets are everywhere. Just go trip over a rock and find one.
Remember, you don't need to fill all of those slots out with the best gear possible in order to hit the troll heroics. The gear from the rest of your item slots will be high enough that you really only have to get a piece here or there in order to have a high enough ilevel to queue.
The one thing I wouldn't suggest to any fresh balance druid is to think you can heal you way through heroics. If you have practice healing you should do well enough, but if you reforge your gear for balance, then you simply won't have the mana regeneration to sustain yourself. In a 5-man where mana isn't as bad, you might be able to pull it off, but you really aren't going to have the same throughput that a standard healer might have.
Just be careful following the healer who's really a DPS route. It offers faster queues, but it comes with some risks if you aren't used to druid healing as of yet.
Every week, Shifting Perspectives: Balance brings you druidic truth, beauty and insight ... from a moonkin's perspective. We'll help you level your brand new balance druid, tweak your UI and your endgame gear, analyze balance racials and abilities, and even walk you through PvP as a balance druid.