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Shifting Perspectives: Gearing a fresh balance druid

Tyler Caraway

Every week, Shifting Perspectives explores issues affecting druids and those who group with them
. So that picture has nothing to do with gearing nor balance druids, but it's a priest, on a stack of rocket clusters, and it amuses me. I tried to do it too, but Moonkin are too fat and I brokesded it. Also, there's some shocking revelations in this weeks episode! Stay tuned!

I admit it; I'm a bit of an elitist. There, I've said it, please stop hating me now. I talk a lot about balancing this game, the deeper aspects of theorycrafting that drive it, and how to best optimize every aspect of your druid, yet I ignore a much larger portion of the community. I have a tendency to throw out terms and concepts that isn't entirely relevant to a significant portion of WoW players. For example, the discussion of when to limit Moonfire and Insect Swarm from your rotation is a very good one, but it only applies to those druids that are already fairly far along in Icecrown Citadel. While a resource to that portion of the community, it is largely useless to those whom only play mostly on the side, or PuG 10's and 25's when they can get the time.

This week, I am going to change that stance. This week, instead of an article that isn't as useful to the more casual faction of players, I'm rallying against the more involved raiders. Fighting the man, raging against the machine, and all that jazz. If you're a raider deep in ICC, then I'll give you permission to stop reading now, because none of this is going to change how you play or raid. If you're not one of those balance druids, or merely have a balance druid alt whom you're a bit wary of playing, then I implore you to keep reading as I hope this can prove to be a solid resource for you.

So, you've finally reached the goal that you've been working towards for so long, hitting level 80, or maybe you've been level 80 for a little while now and are just a tad unsure about where to go at this point. Don't worry, reaching level 80 in WoW, especially for the first time, can be a rather daunting experience. The game hasn't ended for you, no, it's just beginning. Level 80 is where everything changes, and you've got to be ready: Torchwood. Okay, maybe not, but I still think we should lock up all the Draenei like Weevels.

Selecting a spec:

Although this guide is predominately going to focus on gearing out you're fresh druid, first I want to brush up on the points of speccing it properly. In the balance druid 101 guide, I went over many of the basic talent choices; what's good and what isn't. I won't waste too much time going over all of that again so much as to say that you will most certainly have to spec much more heavily into mana regeneration until you end up getting much better gear. When you first hit level 80, the best spec for you is probably going to look something like this.

should provide you enough mana regeneration to last for a vast majority of boss encounters, and prevent you from needing to drink after every pull or so in 5 man content. If you find that you are still having some mana issues to where you cannot complete most encounters without going OOM, then you can drop the remaining 2 points in Improved Insect Swarm in order to pick up some in Dreamstate. If you are still having mana issues after that...then the problem really boils down to doing something incorrect.

Gaining entry into heroics.

Even though the random LFG tool will allow most players to instantly jump into heroic content right after they hit level 80, I strongly advise against doing this. Yes, the method I am going to suggest is going to take a little bit longer for you to gear up, but it is a great service to other players. Running heroics when you are in all quest loot is not an easy task, and in some cases it is going to be down right impossible without being heavily skilled. If you don't believe me on that, I've got over 20 wipes in Halls of Reflection logged on my paladin where the only reason we wiped is because the DPS was simply not fast enough to kill the mobs before Arthas killed us that will beg to disagree with anyone that says gear doesn't matter (and, frankly, that's the easy part of the dungeon.) The chances that you will get put into a group that has a high enough gear level to carry you through content is fairly high, but doing so is not going to earn you many brownie points with the other players in your group.

What to do then? There are two options, both of which work really well, but are mostly going to be determined on if this is an alt or if you are a first timer.

If this is an alt, or you are just far better at leveling than I and have loads of money, then I would strongly suggest getting the higher end crafted gear that is available. If you are new to the game and just hit 80, though, then going this route isn't all that advisable as it is going to get very expensive very quickly.

Crafted Gear:

  • Bejeweled Wizard's Bracers - This is going to be the first item you want crafted bar none. They are extremely good and will carry you through ICC 25, and what's great is that patch 3.3.3 has made them a lot less expensive than they used to be as Spellweave no longer has a cooldown.
  • Merlin's Robe - These robes are very good and probably the best pre-raid chest you are able to get, however they are only on par with the T9 chest piece. Although you won't be able to get the ilevel 245 chest without running Trial of the Crusader 25, the 231 piece isn't really that much worse. If you have a plethora of mats laying around, then get these made, otherwise I would avoid them.
  • Belt of Arctic Life - Although it is an Ulduar crafted item and you can get better from heroics, it is still a really good investment when you first hit level 80. If you do not require any hit, then this is most likely going to be the best belt for you to craft from its level.
  • Cord of White Dawn - Same as with the Belt of Arctic Life, although the Belt is slightly better. If you are finding yourself way above 400 haste, then this is the better choice, but it is unlikely that you'll be that far ahead in haste.
  • Sash of Ancient Power - Of all the Ulduar belts, this is the best one to have crafted. Technically, for heroic content you do not need any hit since the cap is only 6% which is covered by Balance of Power and Improved Faerie Fire, but if you plan on doing any raiding content, such as the weekly raid quest, then you'll want to reach 262(263) hit rating.
  • Boots of Wintry Endurance - Like the belts above, these are Ulduar level which means you can get better from heroics, but they are still rather good. There is a cloth crit version of these boots as well, but they have less crit and more spirit which makes this choice better.
  • Spellslinger's Slippers - Another pair of Ulduar boots, but like the Boots of Wintry Embrace, they are still very good to have. If you aren't close to 400 haste, then I'd suggest this pair over the leather ones.
  • Deathchill Cloak - The lowest ilevel crafted item I would suggest, but only because it is that good. Many, many players used this cloak until ToC. There is only one caster cloak in the ICC 5 mans, and it has MP/5 on it which isn't an attractive stat at all, so getting this is still a very wise choice.
  • Titansteel Guardian - A solid starting weapon and one that should be fairly cheap to craft now as well. I strongly suggest getting one right off the bat.
  • Faces of Doom - Not the best off-hand out there, but it should be a fairly cheap one to get and it goes really well with the Titansteel Guardian. It's also pretty much the only crafted off-hand you can get.

Beyond the crafted gear, it is straight running regular dungeons to find whatever upgrades you can get your hands on. I won't make a list for that as it is very, very extensive. Be on the lookout for anything that is a pure upgrade in stats, predominately spell power. At this point in time, the distinction between haste and crit isn't as noticeable for it to much matter. You still want to aim for getting to 400 haste and then focusing on crit, but don't be worried about dropping a haste piece for a crit one that has more spell power on it. At this level of gearing, haste simply isn't as valuable as spell power is.

Finally, remember to enchant your gear! You don't have to go all out and buy the best enchant there is for every minor upgrade you get at this point, but don't go without anything. Many of the lower level enchants have a fairly cheap material cost and the materials themselves should be pretty easy to come by if not inexpensive from the AH thanks to the disenchant option for greens. At this point, I can honestly say that you probably don't have to worry too much about the helm and shoulder enchants. While they are very good and it is useful to enchant all of your items, these are, in my opinion at least, decently costly (yes, so they're only, what, 120g?) for items that you won't be hanging onto for a long time.

Making the leap: joining heroics.

Once you have enough gear from regular 5 mans, it is time to step into the big league of heroic content. There isn't a set 'you must be this tall to ride' guideline for when you are 'ready' to begin heroics, but so long as a majority of your items come from normal instances or are crafted, then you are going to do just fine. Don't worry too much about your trinkets before getting into heroics, this is one of the hardest slots to fill for anyone and there aren't many viable options outside of heroic content or emblems.

First and foremost, once you start collecting emblems from running heroics, you'll probably want to focus on getting your Tier 9 set. Although there are very attractive trinket options, those slots can wait a little bit. When it comes to getting Tier 9, you most definitely want to get the chest and the helm. After that, it becomes much more tricky to pin down exactly which to get. The pants are the only other item without spirit on them, but they do have a gross amount of hit which can be less useful depending on what you end up with in other gear slots. If you can make use of the hit, then take the pants by far, otherwise don't pick them up. Whether you get the pants or not, your third piece should be the gloves. There isn't anything special about the gloves that makes them better than the shoulders, however you can pick up a nice 245 ilevel pair of shoulders from emblems which you cannot do for the gloves.

When it comes to the neck slot, there are two real choices for you to go for: Arcane Loops of Anger or Coil of Missing Gems. The former is certainly the best pre-raid choice, and the latter drops in non-heroic. Still, even the normal bosses in the ICC 5 mans drop emblems, so, while you may be missing out on the extra 2 from doing a random dungeon, it isn't a total loss to go for. You can also invest in Evoker's Charm if you end up with bad luck with drops.

As I mentioned for shoulders, you should certainly be picking up one of the 245 emblems pieces. There are three to choose from depending on what you need. Pauldrons of Revered Mortality is the haste piece, Shoulders of the Fateful Accord is there for crit, and finally there is Mantle of Catastrophic Emanation if you need hit. There isn't a best option out of any of these, merely go by which you need the most. If you are sub 400 haste, then, at this point, it would be wise to start reaching that level. If you are over it, then go with the crit item, and if you need the hit then choose that one instead.

For wrists, the only real option is to get the Bejeweled Wizard Bracers. There are ones that drop, such as Bracer of Worn Molars or Ghostly Wristwraps, but none of those compare to the crafted bracers at all.

When it comes to belts, you are going to be forced into a rather odd situation. So far as I am aware, there are no leather belts at all to get from the new 5 mans, but there are plenty of amazing cloth items. While there has been several cloth pieces mentioned thus far, mostly because leather caster gear is almost always geared towards restoration druids, there's usually at least been a leather alternative. Since you won't be able to roll need on these items in a random PuG, you'll have to talk your group into letting you get them. There are several options, though, and all are pretty solid. Strip of Remorse is the one you want to aim for. Barring that, there is also Braid of Salt and Fire or Essence of Anger, though note that the latter drops in normal mode.

If you choose not to go with using the Tier 9 pants, then there is a decent option outside of it, though it only drops in normal mode. Rimewoven Silks are a very nice pair of pants.

With the boots, you will once again have to go with using cloth. The Prelate's Snowshoes are very solid and a nice grab if you can get them.

Next up is rings. If you can manage to get into an ICC rep run, which seem to be common still on my server and usually have a fairly low gearing requirement, then try to snag one to get your Ashen Band of Destruction. If you want to continue farming to get the higher ranks, then do so, but just the base ring is one of the best you can get. For drops, don't expect for there to be too much out there in the new 5 mans. Both Oath of Empress Zoe and Spiteful Signet have MP/5 on them. They aren't terrible rings to get either way, but they certainly aren't going to be the best in the world. A sure bet to get, though, is Band of the Invoker from emblems. Another option is the Runed Signet of the Kirin Tor. The total cost for getting it is around 10k gold, though, so it honestly may or may not be worth getting at this point, but that all depends on how much money you have to throw around. Last, but not least, there is still Band of Channeled Magic from emblems. It will be a lower ilevel than other pieces, but it is still a solid choice.

Finally we arrive at trinkets. This slot is the bane of many people's existence for many good reasons. Good trinkets are very hard to come by, and a lot of people are going to need them since generally all DPS casters want the same thing. To start off, there is Nevermelting Ice Crystal from the new 5 mans. It probably won't be easy to get, but it is certainly a very good trinket. The other non-raid drop worth mentioning is the Abyssal Rune. Although it comes from ToC, it is still a very solid choice for balance druids. When it comes to emblems, there still aren't many choices. Sundial of the Exiled is one of the better ones you can buy and probably one which you'll end up using. Shard of the Crystal Heart isn't terrible if you can use the hit, but hit trinkets are generally losing their practicality at this point. You really want to avoid using Talisman of Resurgence if you can. The only time you should consider using ToR is if you already have the Sundial and can't get anything else to drop.

Once you're fully outfitted from the heroics, you can start to focus on getting into the raiding scene. Congrats!

PS: I am heavily enjoying my new Starfall. The feeling I get by using it and Hurricane on a Horde turtle in AV can be summed up in one simple quote: exhilarating. Oh, and this pear is delicious.

Every week, Shifting Perspectives treks across Azeroth in pursuit of truth, beauty, and insight concerning the druid class. Sometimes it finds the latter, or something good enough for government work. Whether you're a Bear, Cat, Moonkin, Tree, or stuck in caster form, we've got the skinny on druid changes in patch 3.3, a look at the disappearance of the bear tank, and thoughts on why you should be playing the class (or why not).

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