The evolution of a talent
Dream of Cenarius, in its first incarnation, was relatively useless to ferals. The "30% damage to next melee ability" buff was only granted for non-instant casts of Healing Touch, which wasn't likely to occur in any typical scenario. Most of the discussion revolved around whether the passive bonuses from Heart of the Wild would outpace the burst damage from Nature's Vigil, given that NV could be stacked with Berserk.
Then, about two weeks ago, beta build 15929 completely shook things up. It changed the Balance buff from "next spell's damage increased by 70%" to "next two Moonfire/Sunfire casts increased by 100%," which got the lion's share of the attention. However, that same change increased the number of melee abilities buffed from one to two, and more importantly, also removed the non-instant requirement. This provided an opening for Predatory Swiftness.
Now, Predatory Swiftness has been around for a little while, but it was largely a solo/PvP tool for Cataclysm. Sure, you could throw an instant Healing Touch with it, but it forced you out of form, which caused a significant DPS loss. Other than Rebirths as needed, my Predatory Swiftness procs went unused the vast majority of the time.
In Mists of Pandaria, though, casting an instant heal like this doesn't shift you out of form anymore. Once you combine this fact with the realization that ferals have lots of free GCDs to burn and that the Dream of Cenarius buff can increase the power of our bleeds, things got interesting real quick.
Cenarion Dreaming for you
Using the talent is actually relatively simple -- just execute a feral rotation as normal. (If you don't know what that is, don't fret; I'll have a feral 101 guide for Mists posted in a few weeks.) Any time you use a finisher and gain Predatory Swiftness, you'll want to use the instant Healing Touch before you need to refresh Rip or Rake. If you combine Predatory Swiftness with the Nature's Swiftness talent, you should be able to get off four to five of these instant HTs every minute, which means you can buff the majority of your bleeds. The damage increase compared to Nature's Vigil or Heart of the Wild is considerable -- up to 10% more overall DPS, in some cases.
Is it balanced? Well, that's a tougher question. Clearly, Dream of Cenarius elevates feral's DPS significantly when working on a dummy; in fact, the recent DoC buff from 30% to 50% landed feral near the top of the SimulationCraft charts. It remains to be seen, however, if that significant advantage can be maintained in an actual raid environment. Having to babysit short Predatory's Swiftness procs until the right time to use them adds significant difficulty to the rotation and makes our ramp-up time for target switching even longer, since more of our damage comes from bleeds.
Actually, the extra bleed damage could force a change for PvP reasons. The developers already felt like bleed damage was getting out of hand in early Cataclysm and shifted damage over to our direct-damage abilities to compensate. Bleeds are about a third of our damage on live realms currently; with Dream of Cenarius, that jumps up to over half. (As you might have expected, that also means mastery becomes massively more important than crit/haste, though our overall crit rates are still low enough that we'll want to reach hit/expertise caps before we do anything else.)
Don't discount the healing that gets thrown out, either. Most of the Healing Touches that go out will gain the healing buff portion of DoC, resulting in HTs that are pushing 120k in size. (For comparison, that's roughly a third of an average DPS/healer's HP and a fourth of a tank's.) Tossing one of those out every 10 to 12 seconds adds up to some considerable healing, if you can successfully target low-HP players. I've seen some beta raid parses where feral healing has been 10% of the raid's HPS -- not decisive, but certainly significant.
Overall, I'm a fan of whet they're doing to the talent. It definitely adds a new dimension to the rotation that it lacked with the loss of Stampede from Cataclysm. I understand some might not be a fan of the healing aspect of it; in that case, simply macro HT to always target yourself and just treat it as a new damaging ability that also keeps you alive (which also helps your DPS!). I am concerned, however, that too much of our damage relies on it. If DoC gets nerfed for ferals like it did for balance, we'll take a similar tumble in terms of damage potential.
What are your thoughts? Do you like adding heals to do damage, or would you rather all the healing stay over with the dedicated specs?
Oh, and a quick feral public service announcement: There is currently a bad bug with Soul of the Forest and its interaction with Rip, which is hurting dummy DPS tests. Tinderhoof's got more information about the bug; if you can reproduce the bug, please post there as well. Thanks!
Looking for the latest and greatest in feral cat druid guides? Shifting Perspectives has the answers! Check out our guide to soloing instances and raids, as well as our top gear recommendations and feral guides to the Siege of Wyrmrest Temple and the Fall of Deathwing.