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Shifting Perspectives: Balance 101

Tyler Caraway

Every week, Shifting Perspectives explores issues affecting druids and those who group with them
. This week, we're preening our feathers, practicing our dance moves, and polishing up on our slaughtering skills.

There has recently been an in pouring of requests to make starter guides for all of the various classes and specs. Originally I refused such a topic on the standing that any player that wishes to play a balance druid is already 100 times more awesome than every other player out there and wouldn't possibly benefit from such a things. Then a guild mate of mine showed me the light. Balance druids themselves are quite an amazing bunch, but balance druid alts are a completely different story. In all honesty though, even the veteran balance druids cannot agree on talents from time to time. I figured, after a few threats of maiming, that a beginner's guide would actually be a really good thing; providing the caveat that some of the more controversial talents be explored more in-depth.

As with the Restoration 101 and Cat 101 guides, this is mostly going to be a post geared towards players that have limited knowledge of the balance spec but cannot resist the allure of having the single best dance in the game that other players can only dream of competing against. This is a light guide, not a Holy Bible for balance damage dealing. Although the basics of the balance rotation are not as complex as, say, a cat druid's; there are intricacies within the play-style that can be used to boost DPS in very minor ways. If you happen to be a long standing balance druid, you will probably know most of this, or even have developed a differing way of doing things. That is fine, the one great thing about balance druids is that there are multiple ways to achieve the same goal, but please understand that some topics may just be glossed over. If you feel that I have left out something of noteworthy importance, just drop a comment and I will be happy to add/fix it.

Last month, Graylo made a very good blog post outlining the basics of the balance rotation and spells. As a quick reference to the balance rotations, Graylo's post is a very good resource. There is also the long standing Raiding Basics: Moonkin Druid post by Wisprunner on the World of Warcraft forums. A fair warning that Wisp, at times, can be a bit abrasive, but he honestly is there to help people that need it. At the bottom of Wisp's post are also a great set of links to the Moonkin Raiding Basics video guides that were made by Foofy. Watch them, if not for the solid information they provide, but for Foofy's awesome voice. As a final resource, there is the Elitist Jerks page on balance druids. Be warned though, it can get a tad math heavy and difficult to understand at times.

1. What is balance?

Balance, also referred to as Moonkin, Boomkin, Doomkin (basically anything death-y sounding with -kin added to it) is the druid class' caster DPS tree.

2. Advantages of playing balance:

  • Competitive levels of DPS when played well.
  • Provides more raid utility than virtually any other class/spec combination in the game. Bringing with it 3% raid wide Haste, 5% spell Crit, 13% increased spell damage on a target, 3% increased spell hit, minor armor reduction on a target, and reducing the target's chance to hit (depending on Glyphs.)
  • The ability to switch to healing in a pinch that can easily save a raid.
  • As with any druid, balance also has the ability to resurrect a dead player in combat and Innervate others to provide them with mana.
  • Sweet dance moves and the best sounds when struck in combat.

3. Disadvantages of playing balance:
  • Damage potential is mostly regulated by RNG factors, especially burst capabilities.
  • Certain talent set-ups are heavily dependent on outside mana sources in order to sustain it.
  • Gearing can be somewhat complicated and very frustrating at times.
  • The casting speed of Wrath is going to break your 1 key.
  • Shifting out to do any emergency healing is going to come at a very high mana cost.
  • Perpetually stuck in Moonkin form.
4. Stats to look for:
  • Spell power: Our best stat hands down. Get as much of it as you possibly can.
  • Critical strike: This is a very important stat for balance druids. Eclipse is based around crits, as is Nature's Grace. You want to pick this up as much as you can.
  • Haste: Our third core stat to grab for. There are issues with haste and Wrath once you break the 400 mark, but that does not mean you should avoid haste after reaching the 400 mark.
  • Hit: Needed for every caster and balance is not an exception. Our hit cap is 263 once you factor in Balance of Power and Improved Faerie Fire. If you are Alliance and always have a Space Goat in your party, then you can drop it down to 236. You should always be as close to this mark as possible; not over it, not under it.
5. Stats to avoid like the plague:

  • Intellect: There is absolutely no reason at all to attempt to stack intellect. You will get more than enough of it via standard gearing. Never, under any circumstances, gem or enchant for intellect.
  • Spirit: While not entirely worthless, spirit is far from a good stat. If you can avoid gearing for it, then do so. Point for point, spirit is always worse than haste or crit. There is one, and only one, circumstance in which you gem for spirit. You need to use two Purified gems in order to active the Chaotic Skyflare meta gem; only two of these gems, no more, no less. spirit itself should belong in it's own stat category, to be honest. It isn't 'bad,' but it also isn't 'good.' In many cases, an item with spirit will have much more spirit than it would if the stat was converted to crit or haste, plus spirit gains the advantage of Kings. Generally speaking, an item with spirit is only a few, literally 3 or 4, theoretical DPS behind an equal ilevel item without spirit. A higher ilevel item with spirit will almost always yield higher a higher DPS return than a lower ilevel item without spirit.
  • Any other stat: Even though we have Feral forms, we have no talents to support them and no real use for them a majority of the time. Never, never, never gear, gem, or enchant for agility, strength, attack power, or expertise. Further, spell penetration is a PvP only stat. If you are going to PvE, there is no reason at all to gear for spell penetration.
Gearing for a balance druid is generally going to be far from optimal, even at the ICC level; at least when it comes to spirit. There are going to be times where you are going to have spirit on your gear. This is fine; spirit is not a completely worthless stat - it just is not one of our best stats. Generally speaking, if the item in question is a higher ilevel than your current piece, it is most likely going to be an upgrade even if it has spirit. This is due to the stat inflation on higher level gear. The other gearing issue you will probably run into as a balance druid is needing to use cloth items. Aside from Tier sets, there is very little leather gear out there that is itemized with balance druids in mind, most of them are geared more towards restoration druids. Using cloth as a balance druid is perfectly acceptable, and often times it is your only option. Keep in mind though that, due to how the current LFG tool works, getting these cloth items can be rather difficult as we cannot roll need on them. Before you enter an instance, know what can drop from the bosses and let your group know if there is a cloth item than you will need. Try to talk them into either passing or rolling greed on this item instead of disenchanting it. Disenchanting holds the same roll value as greeding the item, and results in the item being completely destroyed.

For gearing help, you can use Rawr but know that it is not perfect when it comes to balance druids and is prone to making mistakes at times. Although it takes more effort on your own part, using Graylo's gear list is usually the best option for evaluating gear.

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