All three of WoW Insider's druid columnists have collaborated on a Cataclysm-era druid leveling guide, because we love you very much. Also, Alex Ziebart made us do it ... but mostly because we love you very much.
If you're looking for a comprehensive piece on why X talent will give you a 0.072% increase in awesome at a particular level, this guide is not for you. If you're interested in getting a druid from 1 to 85 and successfully convincing everyone that you know what you're doing, this'll be more up your alley.
For lore junkies, anyone looking to incorporate a bit of roleplay into their leveling experience, or anyone still trying to decide which of the four druidic races to play, you may find the following articles helpful or fun to read:
- Shifting Perspectives: Why (or why not) to play a night elf druid Commentary on night elf racials should still be accurate today. There are a few changes below for the other three races.
- Shifting Perspectives: Why (or why not) to play a tauren druid To update this post, War Stomp is now usable in both bear and cat form.
- Shifting Perspectives: Why (or why not) to play a worgen druid This should still be accurate today.
- Shifting Perspectives: Why (or why not) to play a troll druid The Da Voodoo Shuffle racial is slightly more useful for feral players than it was back then, given that shifting no longer removes roots.
- Dedicated tank players will get the most from night elves' Quickness.
- Dedicated DPS players will get the most from the worgen Viciousness. The trolls' Berserking is the only Horde-side racial that provides a damage bonus.
- As with their DPS counterparts, dedicated healers will probably get the most from Viciousness. Again, Berserking can be helpful during a raid fight's tougher moments, but it won't do as much for you as a passive 1% crit bonus.
- For dedicated PvP players, there's no broad consensus on which race has the most helpful bonuses, and what you pick will probably depend on your spec. The most consistently successful druid PvP spec is restoration (though resto has had a tough time this expansion), and balance/resto players usually get the most from night elves' Shadowmeld. However, War Stomp has always had its fans. Ferals will probably get the most from the worgen Darkflight.
Balance and restoration Many players buy the cloth heirlooms so they won't have to purchase two sets of heirlooms for their druid and cloth-class alts. While Leather Specialization at level 50 is an attractive prospect, it's not worth your time to farm up another set of heirlooms if you've already got the cloth stuff lying around. However, if you're determined to get the most from your armor:
- Weapon The Dignified Headmaster's Charge will save you the trouble of having to keep upgrading an off-hand weapon. It's also more easily transferable to other caster classes than the Devout Aurastone Hammer.
- Helm Preened Tribal War Feathers
- Shoulders Preened Ironfeather Shoulders
- Cloak Ancient Bloodmoon Cloak
- Chest Preened Ironfeather Breastplate
- Ring Dread Pirate Ring
- Trinket Using two Discerning Eye of the Beast is more helpful to a leveling balance or restoration player than using one in tandem with a Swift Hand of Justice.
- Weapon Repurposed Lava Dredger
- Helm Stained Shadowcraft Cap
- Shoulders Stained Shadowcraft Spaulders
- Cloak Inherited Cape of the Black Baron
- Chest Stained Shadowcraft Tunic
- Ring Dread Pirate Ring
- Trinket Swift Hand of Justice This is the only heirloom trinket that has any real effect on feral leveling, although haste is not a great stat for the bear.
This section has been written by Tyler Caraway. If you plan on playing a balance druid, the Friday edition of Shifting Perspectives addresses balance issues, tips, and tricks.
Leveling as a balance druid is a fairly ... annoying concept, particularly for newer players, and as such it can tend to be a bit off-putting. The major factor that you have to deal with is Eclipse, which has tons of peaks and valleys in terms of damage. Thankfully, it isn't as extreme for the lower levels, but it is still noticeable. Despite these factors, following Eclipse as an early balance druid is a key part of the rotation.
- Outside of dungeons You want to focus primarily on a nuke-heavy rotation utilizing Wrath, Starsurge, and Starfire. Even though your DoTs are high damage, most mobs won't last long enough for them to be of much use. It all depends on the situation. If there are multiple mobs in the area, then DoTing them all and then nuking them down one by one is most effective. On a one-on-one encounter, you mostly want to ignore them.
- Within dungeons or while grouped Dungeons are slightly different. During early levels, you'll probably still want to ignore DoTS and focus on nuking single targets that the tank is focusing. While DoTing everything yields higher damage, many early tanks don't have great AoE threat tools. Lay off the multiple DoTing until you're more confident that the tank can hold aggro against you. Once you're more solid on the threat, sticking to Solar and focusing on DoTs with Starfire is the best course to take.
Finished talent spec 31/0/9
Talents, thankfully, are the one area where balance druids make out really well. You first want to make sure that you pick up Starlight Wrath, which is vitally important. After which, Nature's Grace is the better choice in increasing killing speed -- just make sure to use one DoT on a mob after every Eclipse to bring it active. Once you get to the next tier, Balance of Power is the first talent to pick up; it's the only way of making any reasonable use of the spirit you'll find slathered all over the gear you pick up. Round out that tier by getting Genesis. Although the DoT extension won't be of much use now, it still helps.
The third tier is where choices get a bit tricky. Most druids instinctively go for Moonkin Form the moment they can. While that's the best damage increase you can get, Euphoria is a better choice; without it, you have virtually no in-combat mana regeneration. From there you can get Moonkin Form, followed up by Typhoon, and rounding out the last point by getting one snippet of Shooting Stars.
In the fourth tier, there's little that's useful at this level. Owlkin Frenzy is good but still a little bleh, as most things will die before they get to you or have enough chance to proc it. Most procs will also be largely wasted in downtime between mobs. It's better to go back and fill out those things you've missed: Shooting Stars, Genesis, and Nature's Majesty.
It's all elementary from there. Sunfire first, then Earth and Moon, Force of Nature, and Dreamstate. Round the ending out with Fungal Growth and finally getting Owlkin Frenzy to reach Starfall. Once you get to dip into restoration, choices are even easier: Heart of the Wild first, Natural Shapeshifter, and then Master Shapeshifter. The survivability granted by Perseverance is another good choice, and your last point, well -- toss it wherever you please.
As for gear that you come across while leveling, most of it is going to be shared with restoration druids. You'll want to focus on getting as much haste as you possible can, but a lot of your gear is going to end up having spirit on it. While the hit isn't really that important, it's a little useful. Dungeon running will be your prime source of early levels, so until you hit level 50 for the sweet intellect bonus from wearing all leather, you may have to steal a bit of cloth. Make sure that you don't take it from any cloth wearers, though. They tend to get uppity about that.
- Gearing a balance druid in patch 4.3
- Avoiding common balance mistakes
- What to do once you've hit level 85
- How to raid as a balance druid