It is fairly common knowledge that I am not an avid PVPer. It isn't so much that the balance spec is weak in PVP (even if it is); nor is it a matter that I find the system frustrating. It more has to deal with my having to be exceptional at what I do, or I won't do at all. Sure, I may not be an instant superstar at everything, but normally I feel I can learn, improve. The PVP learning curve is steep, further complicated by playing a very difficult spec in that environment -- so for me, I avoid it.
That being said, I do throughly enjoy watching PVP, theorizing on the balance of PVP, and keeping up with the scene in general. This week, I want to bring my newest PVP observations to you in hopes that I can help those out there who want to give balance PVP the shot it deserves. We aren't as terrible as people would lead you to think!
The PVP style of choice
The original WoW PVP was fairly directionless, eventually moving on to Battlegrounds, which provided one of the harshest grinds that this game has ever seen. The Burning Crusade brought about a drastic change to the PVP landscape with the introduction of Arena gameplay, and since then, Arena play has been one of the central focuses. Blizzard soon learned that this rather left BGs in the dust; sure, they were fun and people played them from time to time, but they didn't much have a point beyond honor farming. With Cataclysm, Blizzard sought to correct that with the introduction of RBGs.
It has taken some time for the community to catch up with this duality, the existence of both Arenas and RBGs as a PVP progression path, but we are finally reaching that point. Serious PVP isn't restricted exclusively to Arena gameplay any more, which is fantastic news for balance druids everywhere. Arenas just haven't been our cup of tea since S2 brought about harsh druid/rogue nerfs, but one place we have always done rather well is in Battlegrounds.
True to that mark, balance druids have actually become rather desirable for RBG play. While arguments can be made over which classes or specs are better to take along, there is no denying that balance does hold a viable place in this environment. If you're looking for balance PVP, I wouldn't focus too much on Arenas. They can work for you, but RBGs are easily our stronger suit. It's a harder order to fill, but it holds many rewards. Certainly, RBGs are less frustrating for balance than Arenas. Give them a shot, you may find yourself surprised.
Destroying teams in CP
The absolute strongest ability that balance druids bring to the table is their massive AOE damage. It's an odd concept, because PVP has never really ever held any true AOE concepts to it, but the design of many RBGs has created a new niche that we can take advantage of.
One classic rule of any control-based game where players need to hold onto various nodes is to always fight on the node. Not doing so can easily leave it open to capture without you having a means of interrupting them. Further, this style of play also supports players grouping together, which offers up easy marks for us.
Our primary AOE abilities are Sunfire, Insect Swarm, and Wild Mushroom, all of which are powerful in their own right. The standard multi-DOTing method of AOE holds many advantages despite out inherent weakness to dispels. Even though our DOTs can easily be stripped away, doing so takes up precious healer time. Mana, despite Blizzard's best efforts, just doesn't become an issue, yet what healers do with their time does. Forcing healers to constantly dispel their DOTs off various targets leaves those players vulnerable to raw damage attacks from other players.
On the same token, ignoring those DOTs is just as dangerous. We can deal a wicked amount of damage to multiple targets if our DOTs are allowed to tick out, which makes ignoring them a non-option. Games are always won by one thing: controlling healers. Stuns and interrupts are one method of healer control; forcing the use of certain abilities is another.
Wild Mushroom also holds its own niche. WM's damage is simply absurd at this point; in fact, balance druids have the highest sustained AOE damage purely because of this ability -- not to mention, it can burst for substantial amounts of damage if all three hit you. What this creates is an offensively defensive ability. Players want to focus a single target, yet having a group of melee all on one target opens them all up to eating some nasty WM damage. Thus, WM creates a form of deterrent. Melee are actually wary of stacking on a single target if it means they leave themselves open to a huge burst hit followed by a quick target swap and their eventual death.
Balance has ridiculous AOE damage at this point, and node-based PVP sets us up to fully abuse that strength. Players are forced to cluster in specific locations where we can be free to run around, spreading instant-cast DOTs, and cripple an entire team.
Controlling players in CTF
Capture the flag-based PVP is an entirely different animal. Players don't cluster quite as much, plus there's the added notion of protecting your flag carrier while similarly destroying theirs. In this way, balance druids continue to shine with some of the best control options available. We bring rather awesome mobility to the table along with some unique, powerful control abilities that can't be matched by any other spec. Once again, it's all about WM, although it has different support this time around.
Fungal Growth has been a very hit-and-miss talent since it was created, mostly focusing on the miss. In Arena play, it just doesn't have the same effect that one might think, nor does it usually offer a great escape method for the druid. This is because Arenas just don't play to the strength of Fungal Growth, yet RBGs do. FG offers a ridiculously short-cooldown slow that can cover the widest area in the game. It's a simple fact: Balance druids can slow more players than anyone else in the game.
Through WM, you can keep fleeing or pursuing targets constantly slowed. Further, you can add an extra layer of annoyance with Typhoon. While Typhoon's knockback is nearly as strong as people seem to believe that it is. One highly awesome trick it can do is knock a player just leaving an FG patch right back into it, where the player can then be completely surrounded by new fields. Typhoon also has the classic use of knocking players from ledges, useful in WSG and AB.
Last but certainly not least, Typhoon has always be viable as a weak interrupt in extreme circumstances. Normally, the response to this is that Typhoon has a travel time, making it horribly difficult as a form of interrupt. This is entirely true, yet it doesn't accurately reflect what happens in PVP. Casters have a habit of not running from other casters; after all, they want to kill you, so they're going to attempt to stand and nuke your face the best they can and usually, they won't care if you get right up in their face like a melee. Doing this benefits you in that it virtually removes Typhoon's travel time. Healers also tend to suffer from this effect.
A creative use of solar power
When it was first announced, there was a huge hubbub over Solar Beam. Finally, balance druids get a real interrupt, and it's an AOE one at that! That quickly died due to the fact that it is rather difficult to actually keep players inside of the beam effect once it's planted. The go-to tactic has always been to attempt to root the player inside the field. Fantastic in theory, rather impractical in practice.
Rooting isn't the only method of control, though, and we balance druids tend to forget that. Dropping a field of Fungal Growth around a Solar Beam is vastly going to increase the time that targets have to spend inside the beam. Further, you can then knock them right back into the beam via Typhoon once they finally manage to get themselves free. You might not get the whole duration of the silence, but you will easily lock out players for a significant amount of time.
Solar Beam also has other key uses. Not only can it be used as an interrupt/silence, but it can also be a deterrent. Tossing out a Solar Beam in key chokepoints can make the day pretty bad for players. The intersections of the WSG tunnels? You can effectively turn that junction into a no-casting zone that will allow your players to either move into position or escape. Playing a druid is rarely about using skills in their obvious function; sometimes you have to get creative.
Making mana a thing of the past
The largest concern for the PVP balance druid has always been one of mana. The previous Lunar Shower allowed us to virtually ignore mana while we spammed Sunfire night and day, yet Blizzard was rather quick to put a stop to that. Mana, however, isn't a major issue any more. Nothing has changed for balance druids -- we're still horribly susceptible to running OOM -- but the landscape of PVP has changed.
In Arena play, mana is precious. Once you're out, you're generally out. Getting away form the fray to drink is simply out of the question against most good teams, so you'll end up running on fumes until your eventual defeat. RBGs aren't the same, though. In an RBG, mana isn't as much of a concern. While the same weakness is still there, the penalty for death isn't the same. Make no mistake, you certainly don't want to die in any PVP format, but it isn't game over if you do happen to die. Instead, you get right back into the fray shortly thereafter with a full blue bar.
Not only that, but the battles are more sporadic as opposed to being constant. You might run yourself entirely OOM from defending or capturing a node, but as soon as that fight is over, you gain the opportunity to snag a drink before the next exchange begins. Offensive dispels, the bane of our Innervate, are also far less focused on an RBG. There are a lot more targets around, and players don't have the same tools to watch every single buff on your team. Offensive dispel spamming isn't nearly as prevalent in RBGs as it is in Arenas; there's just so much other stuff to do that there isn't time to constantly be checking that balance druid for Innervate.
Balance isn't the strongest PVP spec in the game, but we've certainly built up a spot for ourselves in RBGs. I'd say give them a try.
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.