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Shifting Perspectives: Balance druids in patch 4.0.1

Tyler Caraway

Every Friday, Shifting Perspectives explores issues affecting balance druids and those who group with them. This week, we once again see the return of the infamous shroomkin as we jump onto the newly released PTR for a glimpse at how balance druids will function in the next expansion.

So, it is all finally coming to a close, it seems. The patch that will start the Cataclysm expansion process has hit the PTR, and all players are finally able to test some of the content that the WoW community has been abuzz about for months now. For some classes and specs, this is a day of revelry and excitement as they test their newfound glory, talents, abilities and resources. For balance druids, some are finding themselves more than a little disappointed over the changes that have been made thus far. They're a tricky thing, new expansions -- new abilities and talents, along with completely rebalancing damage potential across a wide array of concepts. Luckily, we are not also undergoing a major shift in DPS philosophy this time. This may seem like all bad news, but there is a load of good to go along with it.

Before I begin a discussion about the available changes, I first want to encourage everyone to download the PTR and test everything that you possibly can for yourself. While there will certainly be many players talking about the changes on the forums and their personal blogs, it is always better to get a first-hand knowledge and see the concepts for yourself; your own experiences are always a far better judge than anything that anyone writes. Remember to try and focus on those things that you love the most; while raiding content may be difficult to try, PvP content, solo content and dungeon content are also on the PTR. Trying specific content will better allow you to judge specific issues that you may personally find within that content. The tools that are useful in each situation vary significantly.

To start with, here are a few general points on the major changes:

  • Balance druid PvP is in a much better state now than it ever has been. There is a glyph for instant Entangling Roots that comes without any real drawbacks; we finally have a silence/interrupt ability that's only on a moderate cooldown; and we've been given several new tools to deal with melee, including a spammable AoE snare and a knockdown effect on a short cooldown.
  • Eclipse is everything that I have been talking about these past few months, be that good or bad in your opinion. Although I have my views on the matter, as does the rest of the balance community, you should judge the mechanic for yourself. To clarify, Eclipse is now our mastery bonus instead of a talent. It is no longer based around a proc chance but is rather a bar that represents the sun and the moon. Each proc effect, not only Wrath and Starfire, now boosts arcane and nature damage.
  • Moonkin Form is no longer the primary source of our mana regeneration. Instead, all players have moderate amounts of innate mana regeneration in combat, and our primary source of mana is from the Euphoria talent, which refunds mana on Eclipse procs.

What's bad

Let's just get all of the bad stuff out of the way at once. Starting with Eclipse is probably the most sound plan of attack, but I really do not know what else there is to say on the matter. There are plenty of things wrong with the way that Eclipse exists now, and there's been quite a lot of talk all over the internet about these flaws. One of the most prominent concerns is that Eclipse is essentially useless in nearly every situation except boss encounters. During solo play such as leveling or farming, there simply isn't enough time in which to proc Eclipse; the rate of decay once out of combat on Eclipse is particularly harsh.

There is simply no doubt in anyone's mind at this point that Eclipse, as it currently stands, isn't working out. The system is exceptionally well balanced for boss encounters of all varieties -- moving or stationary, it doesn't matter -- but it fails in every other aspect of the game. This needs to be addressed, and there are mountains of suggestions as to how floating around.

Another major concern players are noticing is that mana is a huge issue for balance druids. In Wrath, it was DPS that had a major shift in design philosophy; this time around, it has been the healers, with a particular focus on mana regeneration. Unfortunately, balance druids have taken a few sideswipes as a part of this rebalancing effort. Mana might be better on the PTR -- I have heard reports that it is shaky, but my focus has been on beta, so I haven't gotten much PTR testing in myself -- but it is certainly terrible once you get above level 80.

Particularly during leveling and PvP, mana issues are especially bad. This is due to the fact that our main mana source is Euphoria, which is dependent upon Eclipse, which we cannot proc frequently in either setting. There is a reason that our innate mana regeneration is rather poor, and that is because we are now balanced around needing to use Innervate on ourselves at every cooldown.

The fear seems to be that if balance druids aren't forced into using Innervate on themselves, then raids will stack balance druids in order to circumvent mana issues for healers by having the druids feed Innervates to the healers. How much truth there to that concern, I cannot really say. The practical side of me wants to protest that it's a situation that would never happen; the utility and damage potential downside of such a move would never pay off in the long run, and fights just aren't created in a method which strains healers to such a capacity to the point that it would be considered viable. That aside, higher-end raiding guilds have been known to do stranger things in the past, and we certainly don't know enough about the Cataclysm raiding scene to predict how healer mana is going to actually pan out -- but is the threat that balance druids would suddenly be taking up five raid slots if they could pump Innervates into healers real? Who can say?

Finally, we come to the talent tree itself. Many people (myself included) have contended that the balance tree is exceptionally flat. This is a notion that beta players have been stating for a long time now; unfortunately, it continues to get worse with each new pass, most recently with the change to Nature's Grace that made it a flat 3 percent haste.

The real issue with our talents isn't so much that a vast majority of them are nothing more than simple flat percentage buffs, but rather that our core rotational mechanic is our mastery, which isn't true for any other spec. Most specs have talents that influence their rotation or change it in some way; balance druids, instead, have Eclipse to do that. Given this, very few of our talents end up having any real impact on our rotation; instead, the impact comes solely from our passive mastery effect. How boring the balance talents might seem is more an issue of how our core rotation concept derives from our mastery instead of our talents -- opposite from the mechanics of most other specs.

The good

Everything isn't all doom and gloom, I swear! Despite what problems that balance druids may have, there is just as much good with the balance spec that is often overlooked, probably because it is much easier to point out flaws than it is to discuss the finer points. First and foremost, balance druids have gotten a lot of very useful PvP tools to work with. As I mentioned earlier, we now have Solar Beam, which is a prolonged AoE silence effect that is far more awesome than words. Starsurge, which does pretty high amounts of damage in its own right, also has a knockdown effect that's useful for creating a small gap with melee or even interrupting a spellcast, if timed perfectly. The recently released glyphs also held a great surprise, offering up a way of getting instant-cast Entangling Roots. Plus there is Wild Mushroom, which won't come until level 85, coupled with the Fungal Growth talent, for a spammable AoE snare. All in all, our PvP tools have shaped up rather nicely on the PTR.

Lunar Shower is much more useful now than it ever has been, and through it, Moonfire is actually a rather powerful movement tool. With the most recent buff to Lunar Shower's damage boost, Moonfire is particularly powerful once you get a three-stack, which is helpful in a large variety of situations. More key than the damage is the mana reduction; with mana being such a major factor for us, it does matter to have a very low-cost, spammable ability to use while on the move. I will caution that Blizzard hasn't done a damage-balancing pass yet, so any of this is subject to change at any time.

The Thorns change is also a significant improvement. Although the spell is excessively expensive at the moment -- nearly prohibitively so -- the damage that it can put out against a target is fairly destructive, particularly against fast-hitting ones. Thorns is not just a PvP tool at this point, though; it also has some fairly clear PvE uses on tanks. While Thorns may or may not find its way into our standard rotation -- how that will work out at this point is debatable -- it certainly offers higher damage than Moonfire while on the move, so there is at least going to be that option. Another idea would be to use Thorns on, say, an add tank to help quickly take down an AoE pack. Thorns' finally becoming a valid ability is a major plus, considering it's spent the entire game as nothing more than a filler buff.

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, from a look at the disappearance of the bear tank to thoughts on why you should be playing the class (or why not).

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