Juggling the hit cap
Juggling items around the hit cap isn't a new occurrence; we've been doing it since the days that hit actually became a real stat that you could stack. However, the method by which we juggle hit is completely different. Reforging has totally changed the face of gearing as we know it. While reforging may seem to be a minor tool for a lot of players, the truth of the matter is that reforging is perhaps the most gamey, significant change to gearing that we have ever seen.
Previously, players had little choice about where they got their hit. There were very few items designed with hit -- barring the notorious ICC itemization that had hit bleeding everywhere -- and the secondary stat that was with it was the only choice that you had. The choice between haste and crit didn't matter quite as much, because wherever there was hit was pretty much where you had to take it. Players weren't in a position to be all that picky.
Things have changed completely. In previous expansions, gearing toward hit was always most important and always your top priority. The dogma was always hit first, then worry about the rest. That simply isn't the case anymore. Now, we follow a completely different gearing pattern: haste first; hit will come where it can.
Always gear for haste first. If there is an item in a particular slot that has haste, then you can pretty much be assured that it's going to be the item that you want, with very few exceptions. Why? Because hit is literally everywhere, thanks to reforging. Not only that, reforging allows you to choose which stat to sacrifice in order to get the hit that you need.
That is the truth of the matter: You will always, have always, sacrifice a secondary stat for hit. This cannot be avoided. Every point of hit you have is one less point in something else. Ideally, you want to give up crit in order to get the hit that you need; now, we can make that choice. We can choose to reforge which stats that we want.
When looking at new gear, always keep that in mind. If you have to give up hit to trade up in ilevel, then that isn't the end of the world. You can always reforge more hit, and you can hopefully always do so at the expense of crit. Even if you don't have to give up crit, you will never, ever have to give up haste for hit, nor should you ever.
In fact, that's the very first principle of gearing as a balance druid (and honestly for virtually every caster): Every single piece of gear should have haste. Period.
The other set of tier gear you should know about
If you remember back all the way to vanilla WoW, then you probably remember that there wasn't such as thing as "balance" tier or "restoration" tier. Every class only had a single tier set, and it didn't matter what spec you were -- that was the gear you had to work with. It wasn't until The Burning Crusade that we first saw itemization to support individual specs.
Since then, most specs almost exclusively remain wearing their own tier sets. This makes sense; after all, there wasn't exactly any reason for a balance druid to wear restoration gear back then. Times change, though, and now there is relatively little difference between balance and restoration gear. Both favor haste heavily. Both also favor mastery over crit, and both need spirit. Honestly, the only true difference is that we stack more haste and less spirit than they do.
It may come as a surprise, but the T11 restoration gloves and helm are actually entirely valid item choices for a balance druid. Both of them have spirit and haste, which are two highly important stats to us. You probably won't see them on too many BIS lists, but using them isn't exactly frowned upon.
And yet it is. We almost never hear about balance druids wearing restoration tier gear, and in fact, it seems almost silly that anyone would even think of doing it. I would also imagine that such a person would probably face a little bit of ridicule, especially from non-balance druids who simply don't understand. After all, we're balance druids; we should use the balance tier set, not the restoration tier set.
The line between restoration and balance gear has been heavily blurred to the point that it almost doesn't exist anymore. Most restoration tier pieces have both haste and spirit on them, and if they don't have spirit then they'll probably have haste and mastery -- which are exactly the same stats that we are looking for.
It isn't that the balance tier items are bad; in fact, our itemization has been pretty good so far. It's merely that restoration has the other side of optimal. We want haste/mastery every chance we can get it, but we also need to take some haste/spirit gear. Restoration uses both of those. It's a perfect match.
Choosing the right ilevel
There is one thing that everyone does, myself included, that really we shouldn't: We get all of the items that we need out of normal mode, and then we look exclusively for those items out of heroic as well, with small consideration given toward slightly reducing our hit needs. It makes sense to gear this way -- it's highly optimal, and you always make the most out of every item that you get -- but it is also totally wrong.
Do people remember even now what gearing was like when they first started raiding content? I don't mean the first time you personally entered a raid, but when you first started going from greens and blues to getting purples? At that point, you pretty much just jumped up at any item that you could wear because it was an upgrade.
Why does this mentality always change when players start into heroics?
There is actually a perfect example this raiding tier, and I did it the same way that everyone else did. Atramedes drops a helm, Helm of the Blind Seer, that all in all isn't really that great for balance druids. It's a spirit crit helm; most of us favor our tier helm, which has haste and crit, instead. And that's good -- the tier helm is better.
Here is the flaw, however: Getting your heroic tier helm requires that you kill Neferian. How many guilds are currently regularly downing heroic Nef? And now how many guilds are regularly downing heroic Atramedes? Exactly the point.
Using the heroic Helm of the Blind Seer is actually an upgrade over using the normal mode tier helm. Yes, you do have to give up some measure of haste, but the overall increased itemization yields higher DPS all the same. There honestly isn't any reason not to use the helm, yet virtually no one does. Why?
Because it isn't a direct upgrade. When going from regular to heroic, people always look for the direct upgrades. If you're wearing your normal tier gloves, then you want to replace them with your heroic tier gloves. Seems only logical, and it's what everyone does, yet doing so causes guilds to pass up vast amounts of upgrades that could legitimately help them down the rest of the heroic content.
Don't forsake an item just because it isn't BIS. Seriously, there isn't any issue of "settling" here. It isn't a crime to use non-perfect gearing from time to time, because it is an upgrade for you. If another player is going to give you trouble over doing the absolute most that you can to keep yourself optimized for the content you are doing, I don't see how this is a terrible thing.
Gear needs evolve with raid encounters
Gearing should change as encounters change. This will probably be a little bit less true in the next patch after the Lunar Shower change -- assuming Blizzard even keeps it, but who knows on that front -- but which is the most optimal gear setup can change slightly depending on the encounter in question.
AOE and movement-heavy encounters generally favor stacking mastery slightly over haste, simply because we remain in Solar Eclipse for extended periods of time. Haste is important to each break point, but during AOE phases, haste doesn't increase our DPS nearly as much as mastery does, with the exception of those break points.
Crazy, right? I mean, we preach haste superiority, we tell you that break points aren't all that special -- yet here am I saying that mastery can be better than haste and that break points are super-important. It's all true, all of it, on both sides.
Under normal circumstances, haste is vastly better than mastery, and break points really don't matter all that much; however, AOE is entirely different. Haste break points matter during AOE because you are letting each and every DOT fall off completely from each target, so the number of ticks and the length of time on each DOT matters so much more, while superfluous haste matters far less.
Mastery is only slightly better than haste after break points because it isn't being equalized against any downtime. You get 100% mastery effectiveness during AOE, which is a pretty significant boost in how much it adds to your overall DPS.
Even the value of set bonuses changes drastically during these encounters. For example, there are players who use the Solar Cleave rotation exclusively on Atramedes. In this case, using four pieces of T11 is entirely silly. They will never see more than the one Eclipse proc, so they get absolutely nothing from the bonus; instead, they just focus entirely upon stacking as much mastery as possible -- after reaching a reasonable haste break point.
I am not suggesting that you have to or even should carry around a secondary gear set entirely devoted to AOE or movement encounters ... but the possibility is something to remember. If it is the AOE portion of an encounter that is giving you the most trouble, then find a way to stack some additional mastery, even if it means giving up a little bit of haste.
How much damage you can deal to a boss is relatively meaningless if you can't deal enough to handle the adds.
Every week, Shifting Perspectives: Balance brings you druidic truth, beauty and insight ... from a moonkin's perspective. We'll help you level your brand new balance druid, tweak your UI and your endgame gear, analyze balance racials and abilities, and even walk you through PvP as a balance druid.