I had the foresight to park my main in Taunka'le Village last night and set my scribe alt up with an array of inks. However, I belatedly realized that a few balance glyphs that I never bothered to get on my druid (as she hasn't been balance in years) may turn out to number among the new and fun glyphs I enjoyed on the beta. Well, I'll guess we'll find out what I'm missing soon. Man, life is tough for the lazy.
All druids will probably find Chase's recent article on the 5.0.4 changes for feral and balance to be useful, as he included a section on very general changes for the class that I feel is kind of pointless to repeat here. Otherwise, let's go ahead and tackle the more guardian- and restoration-specific information for patch 5.0.4. I'll be publishing new 101 guides for both specs soon, but this should get you up to speed fairly quickly.
- Bears New baseline cooldowns. The new or revamped abilities from talents are often legitimately valuable to a tank (e.g., Typhoon). Some would argue that the new active mitigation model has resulted in a more interesting rotation for bears. A lot of damage from the now-defunct prime glyphs is now baseline. You'll have much better healing capacity from the heals that remain to you. You are no longer dependent on your rage pool in order to do damage: Rage will be used to trigger defensive abilities.
- Trees More DPS in cat, more survivability in bear, better AoE healing, and much less annoying Lifebloom and Harmony timers. Glyph of the Treant has returned the old version of Tree Form to our arsenal as well. (Technically it's available to all druids, but restoration is the only spec that can realistically use it while fighting.)
- Bears Pulverize. A lot of cat DPS. (The "bearcat" approach to content is safely dead.) Bash unless talented; the baseline stun is now Bear Hug. Frenzied Regeneration in its present form as a major cooldown; the benefits have now been farmed out to other cooldowns like Might of Ursoc. If you pick Feline Swiftness over Wild Charge, you'll be losing Feral Charge. You will also be losing most of your heals, although the ones that remain will be significantly more effective.
- Trees Very little. Resto isn't really losing much in the transition to Mists of Pandaria, unless you're really attached to a few damage skills to which you'll no longer have access. However, intellect will no longer increase the size of your mana pool; it will solely affect the power of your spells. Spirit continues to increase your mana regeneration. This didn't seem to have a significant effect on mana efficiency in the older Cataclysm heroics or MoP 5-mans at 85. You'll have to be a little more careful when the expansion hits and combat ratings decay sets in as you level.
- Bears Just about every offensive skill in your arsenal is one you've got now. You won't be using them in the same order -- no spammable abilities remain in the bear's toolkit -- but your rotation is still recognizable. Your big job during this content patch is to get comfortable with active mitigation and your new cooldowns in 5-mans and raids with which you're already familiar.
- Trees The "rotation" is largely the same barring access to the healing versions of Wild Mushrooms. The most significant difference you'll notice during general play is not having to arrange your spellcasting around the former 10-second chunks of Lifebloom/Harmony. They are now 15 and 20 seconds respectively.
It's impossible to quantify the effect that most (not all, but most) of the new talents will have on your play experience, so you should just go with the talent that feels best to you personally. These are really just a few suggestions and observations from the beta.
- Tier 1 (level 15) Whether you're guardian or restoration, you will probably get the most general use from Feline Swiftness. However, this means giving up Wild Charge as a tank, which is a fairly agonizing choice. Displacer Beast wasn't taken by many players because it doesn't remove bleeds or debuffs that break Prowl, which kind of negates the whole point of the talent. Personally, I think this is still a needlessly problematic tier for bears.
- Tier 2 (level 30) While specced guardian, I've gotten the most personal use from Renewal as an emergency insta-heal. Nature's Swiftness is more attractive to restoration, and even bears might get more from NS as it allows you to heal (albeit less) more frequently than Renewal. You'll have to train yourself into using Cenarion Ward as resto, although it wasn't as strong as I'd hoped.
- Tier 3 (level 45) Typhoon is now useful as an offensive interrupt for both specs, although it doesn't work on bosses. Faerie Swarm and Mass Entanglement are both situationally useful for kiting, but since Infected Wounds is baseline for guardians, Faerie Swarm isn't that great.
- Tier 4 (level 60) Incarnation was the most popular all-around pick on the beta, not least because it gives you a sweet new armored model in bear and results in a lot of damage. Soul of the Forest is also good for bears as it amounts to a passive rage increase, but it's pretty blah for restoration. Force of Nature was a lot of fun but a bit fiddly. The trees will taunt off guardians and assist in healing with restoration. However, they didn't follow me at all (at least on the beta builds I'd specced into them), and that was a problem during movement-sensitive fights.
- Tier 5 (level 75) As much as I would like to say Ursol's Vortex, it was not quite as useful as I had hoped and became even less so after a nerf. Guardians will probably get the most direct use from Mighty Bash. Restoration can use Disorienting Roar or Ursol's Vortex as an escape tool in the event that you attract attention from mobs.
- Tier 6 (level 90) You won't have to worry about this at present. Heart of the Wild is mostly attractive for the passive buffs. Dream of Cenarius is significantly more attractive to balance and feral; its benefits are likely to be wasted by healers and tanks. Nature's Vigil is intriguing as a burst cooldown for both specs with offensive/defensive perks.
The new rotations
- Bears Mangle on cooldown, as Mangle is your primary damage ability. Use Thrash to apply the Weakened Blows debuff and keep that on your target/s. Keep a three-stack of Lacerate running on your target in addition to Faerie Fire. Use Savage Defense as much as possible. Don't feel bad if you don't have it running all the time, because that's actually impossible. Use Frenzied Regeneration when rage allows, when you need to heal up, or when you can't hit Savage Defense. For AoE tanking, Thrash and Swipe on cooldown, and spread a few Lacerates around the group to keep proccing Mangle. Don't worry about Maul until and unless you've got more rage than you can possibly use. Weave cooldowns as necessary or desired to avoid or address damage. EDIT: I've changed this section to reflect some disagreement on Thrash's contribution to DPS and Swipe's use as a filler in the single-target rotation. More to come when we see what happens on the live servers, as there's been an inconsistent experience on the beta.
- Trees Keep Lifebloom running on the tank: You can (and should) continue to refresh it with direct heals. Either way, use a direct heal (or Swiftmend) at least once every 20 seconds to keep Harmony running as well. Nourish as a maintenance or spot touch heal. Rejuvenation for heavier, but less time-sensitive, healing. Regrowth as a flash heal. Healing Touch for heavy damage. Wild Growth for light to medium AoE damage: Tranquility for massive group damage. Swiftmend a HoT to address burst damage. When you have free moments, you can either set up Wild Mushrooms for later AoE healing and detonate them as needed, or DPS.
- Bears The selection of glyphs available to bears isn't terribly inspiring. For the most part, you'll be glyphing or unglyphing cooldowns like Glyph of Might of Ursoc or Glyph of Survival Instincts to suit encounter conditions. Glyph of Maul has been heavily devalued given how rarely you'll be using Maul. Arguably, the only new and interesting option is Glyph of Fae Silence, but increasing Faerie Fire's cooldown creeps me out when it leaves gaps in our rotation. (I am still at a loss to explain how Blizzard can give the druid a dedicated tanking tree while continuing to withhold a ranged silence, which is a baseline ability for every other tanking spec in the game.) Glyph of Frenzied Regeneration may or may not be worth your time. I'm hesitant to write anything serious about it until more people try it in raids, because it wasn't a popular choice on the beta.
- Trees Glyph selection continues to be equally uninspiring for resto. Glyph of Lifebloom is by far the most compelling new choice for tank swaps in PvE and focus swaps in PvP. Your options are otherwise the same as they are now, barring a few interesting but non-healing-oriented glyphs.
- By far the most interesting glyphs now available to druids are all minor. Glyph of the Chameleon is oodles of fun for guardian and feral, and Glyph of the Treant returns perma-tree to resto.
There are a few new mods available to assist with Symbiosis, like SymbioTeller and SymbiosisAid. Granted, you won't have need of them until you hit level 87 more than a month from now, but they look intriguing, and I wanted to point them out.
Shifting Perspectives: Bear and Resto Edition takes a peek at healer balance in Dragon Soul, discovers why bears and PvP gear are a pretty good mix, lends advice on gearing up to hit the Raid Finder, and helps you level a druid in the Cataclysm era.