This week, we're going to break away from Mists of Pandaria talent speculation and look more at concrete matters: how to improve your DPS in a raid. Judging from the mail I've received recently, several newer feral players have mastered the basic rotation but are having troubles dominating the meters. Forgive the Cosmopolitan-esque title, but I've compiled four helpful tips to help ferals in their quest for blood, destruction, and nice purples.
1. Work out keybindings and movement. While you're still learning your rotation, clicking your abilities is fine. Unfortunately, it's very difficult to succeed in a raid setting as a "clicker." Our primary DPS ability is facing-dependent, necessitating constant awareness of our position. Modern encounters are heavy on quick-reaction movement. By keybinding your main abilities, you'll be able to free up your mouse for situational awareness and positioning.
Personally, I use keys 1 through 5 for my most commonly used abilities (Shred, Rake, Mangle, Tiger's Fury, Faerie Fire), Shift-1 through Shift-5 for finishers and cooldowns (Rip, Savage Roar, Ferocious Bite, Maim, Berserk), and Alt-1 to Alt-5 for shapeshifts, which flip the first two rows to separate abilities. At this point, I ran out of keys I wanted to use, so I mapped the remaining critical abilities to mouse buttons. I have a four-way mouse wheel/button, so middle-click is my Feral Charge/Ravage macro, mouse wheel left is Barkskin, mouse wheel right is Survival Instincts, mouse wheel up is Dash, and mouse wheel down is Stampeding Roar.
If you don't want to use the mouse for abilities, the ~/Q/E/R/F keys are easily rebindable and easy to reach, if you're using the typical WASD setup. (Also, make sure A and D are used for strafe, not turn; all your camera movement should be via mouse.) This will change a bit with the new tier 13 set bonus, as I'll have to find another button for Ravage, but this setup is perfectly workable for raiding. If it's not listed here, it's something you're probably safe clicking. Everyone has their own setup for keybinds, so feel free to experiment and use what works best for you.
Once you work out your keybinds, then practice! If I listed it above, you need to be able to use it on the move. Once you can execute a full rotation and stay in melee range of a boss that your crazy tank is dragging all over the place, you'll see a large DPS increase. Once you master that, than start mixing in your movement abilities. Whenever you need to close a gap, Feral Charge. Whenever you need to run out and back in, Dash or Stampeding Roar, etc. Maximize your melee time, and you'll see your DPS improve markedly.
2. Get used to quicker (or no) global cooldowns. Feral druids, rogues, and death knights (in unholy presence) are the only DPS classes in the game with a 1-second global cooldown. This means a couple things. First, if you're coming to feral from a 1.5-second GCD class, you'll have to adjust to pressing your buttons significantly faster. (It also means playing another melee class after one of those feels unbearably slow.) This doesn't mean you always want to be spamming abilities heedlessly; after all, maintaining high uptimes on Rip, Rake, and Savage Roar is still the key to feral DPS. During things like Berserk, though, hammer away on that Shred key.
Second, realize that there are a few abilities with no global cooldown at all -- specifically, Tiger's Fury and Survival Instincts. You'll definitely want to get in the habit of hitting TF and the next ability you want to use simultaneously, since you want to get off as many abilities as you can while under the 15%+ damage from TF.
3. Manage your energy regeneration. Back when I played a caster, I asked my raid leader for tips on how to improve my DPS. His response: "Just follow your ABCs: 'Always Be Casting.' We can work on your spell selection for marginal improvements, but ensuring you always have a spell queued will greatly improve your numbers." Thankfully, we ferals don't work quite like that, but it's similar.
The only time you want to see a full energy bar is before the fight starts. At any other time, full energy (or energy capping) means you're not regenerating energy, which is a large waste. If you see that bar get to 90, just go ahead and hit Mangle. It's probably not the optimal choice in the situation you're in, but it'll always work and prevent your energy from capping for a couple of seconds while you figure out where you are in your rotation.
The concept of energy pooling is similar; just as too much energy is bad, too little is also bad (though not as terrible). If all of your DoTs and Savage Roar is up and you're simply Shredding, there's no reason to hit the button as soon as it lights up. Delay a few seconds, let your energy get to 70 to 80, then Shred. Getting into this habit will prevent you from encountering situations where you're low on energy and multiple DoTs are expiring, killing your uptime.
4. Maintain chemical superiority. Potions of the Tol'Vir are frequently overlooked by many players, and I don't understand why. First, they're not that expensive; according to The Undermine Journal, they only run about 10g each or, if you're willing to buy the components for your neighborhood alchemist, less than 5g each. A few dailies should give you enough for a stack. Second, they have a significant impact. A single potion (used in conjunction with Berserk for best effect) will boost your DPS by 10% to 15% during the duration, giving you an overall boost of about ~2%.
That's not even addressing pre-potting. Simply, this means taking a potion immediately before your tank pulls. Since you're not in combat yet, the one potion per fight rule doesn't kick in, so you only have to wait for the standard 2-minute potion cooldown to use another, typically with your second Berserk. This doesn't work on all fights, but if you can get your tank to count down his pull over voice chat, you'll be able to reap the benefits of most of the second potion.
Starting next week, I'll be focusing on preparing you for patch 4.3 content. Got more tips for fellow ferals? Feel free to share in the comments!
Looking for the latest and greatest in feral cat druid guides? Shifting Perspectives has the answers! Check out our cat 101 for Cataclysm. Also don't miss gearing your cat for Firelands raiding, addons for cat druids and raiding strats for feral cats, as well as our feral cat Firelands boss strats.