The uncomfortable truth
At the surface, the balance rotation is very, very simple. Always keep your DOTs up, always cycle through Eclipse, use cooldowns on cooldown. There -- done. While you might think that nothing could be that easy, this is essentially what every single DPS guide for balance druids is telling you. Worse yet, this is what Blizzard would have you believe should be your rotation, that such simple instructions should be all that you need to make it through. Suffice to say, if those basic beliefs are all you know about balance druids, then your DPS is going to be terrible.
Eclipse is a very large amount of your damage potential; as your gear gets better, it is far more important that you stay in Eclipse for as long as you possibly can. If you can manage it, running a full range combat parser such as World of Logs is a highly useful tool for balance druids. This is because it helps you track the most important thing: Eclipse uptime.
If for any reason your combined Eclipse uptime -- which would be the uptime of both Solar and Lunar Eclipse together -- is lower than 50%, then you are doing something vastly wrong. In fact, you really want to have that uptime over even 60%. Should your Eclipse uptime be low, there are two distinct areas that you probably need to work on: movement and AOE.
Know every encounter
As a balance druid, you have a much larger responsibility than any other player in the raid to know a boss encounter backwards and forwards. You need to know exactly when you will have to move and exactly when you will have to provide AOE or dual-target support, and you will have to be ready for that.
This is the curse of being a moonkin. You cannot merely start to AOE, nor can you suddenly jump into dealing mobile damage. Both of these things have to be done in Eclipse. Not only that, both of them have to be done in a Solar Eclipse. Period. No exceptions.
The difference between AOE in a Solar Eclipse and AOE in Lunar -- or worse yet, no Eclipse -- is in the 10,000 DPS range. It is the difference between barely keeping up with the tanks in terms of damage and being at the top of the charts. While not as large of a swing, the exact same is true for movement DPS as well; you will do so much more in a Solar Eclipse.
Start with knowing your Eclipse
Nearly every guide will probably tell you that you should open every encounter with Starsurge and then Starfire until you reach a Solar Eclipse; in fact, I will tell you that if you ask me. This is a good rule of thumb, but it's not true in every situation. Which Eclipse you need to start an encounter with is determined by what you need to do for that encounter and the timing involved.
Atramedes is the perfect example of this. If your guide uses the strategy where everyone is in one large group and moves together, then there's is only so much time you will have to cast. Usually, you can expect to get around one full cycle of Eclipse, meaning that if you start in Solar, you'll end in Solar. The clutch is, with Bloodlust, you'll probably only manage one and a half cycles of Eclipse, so starting in Solar would have you ending in Lunar.
All of that matters because you absolutely must be in a Solar Eclipse for the air phase, no exceptions. How then to plan? It all depends on your guild.
If your guild does not Bloodlust at the start, then you would want to push to Lunar as your first Eclipse. You expect to get one Eclipse cycle in this ground phase; a cycle consists of two Eclipse procs. Since you start the encounter in the middle and not in an Eclipse, the first proc you get is half of the cycle. Thus, starting at Lunar ends in Solar, which is two procs.
On the reverse side, if your guild does Bloodlust at the start of the encounter, then you want to push Solar first. Bloodlust should allow you to get an additional Eclipse proc; in this case, go Solar, Lunar, Solar before you hit the air phase.
Other encounters work similarly. Start heroic Maloriak by heading to Lunar instead of Solar, as you will need to be in Solar to AOE the Dark Swill, but there is enough time at the start before the Swill spawn to do a full Eclipse cycle.
When should you game Eclipse?
More often than not, the times that will need Eclipse cannot be predicted at the start of an encounter. The Cho'gall fight, for example, has quite a large amount of time between the start and the first Corrupted Blood spawn. Instead, you will need to use a different system in order to time Eclipse.
The first thing that you need to learn as a balance druid is how long it takes you to do an Eclipse cycle. Movement and Euphoria procs will change this during an encounter, but you should know a good baseline; what that is for you is a factor of your haste. From there, you have to instinctively know how to line up every AOE phase with your Eclipse procs.
There is nothing a guide or a video or anyone can tell you that will judge how or when to do this. You just have to know. Every encounter, every player, is going to have a different average time to travel from one Eclipse to the next, as movement, mechanics, and haste changes.
At any period of time in an encounter, you have to know when AOE is coming and where you expect to be on your Eclipse bar when it happens. If you will not be in Solar, then you need to do something to make sure you are.
Tips for gaming Eclipse
Gaming Eclipse isn't an easy concept, and it will take you weeks to get it down correctly. The first thing that you can do in order to game Eclipse is to change your haste. As a troll, I can use Berserking for a temporary haste boost; although there are ideal times to use this in a rotation, sometimes I may need it to push toward an Eclipse instead.
Having an on-use haste trinket works the same way. Sometimes you may have been planning to use it a little bit later in an encounter, but you may also not get that option. If the choice is between the ideal time to use a temporary haste buff or getting to a Solar Eclipse in time for AOE, getting to Solar is always the better option.
The other method for Eclipse control is staggering Eclipse by preventing the bar from moving. There are generally two points in the bar that you might want to stagger, the very end of either Eclipse proc.
If you are about to leave a Solar Eclipse but adds are coming within the next 20 or so seconds, there is little chance that you will be able to reach a Lunar Eclipse and then back to Solar -- in fact, even with a 1-second cast time on every spell, it wouldn't be possible without some keen Euphoria procs. At that point, you need to start extending your Solar Eclipse.
This is done by using nothing but Sunfire, Insect Swarm, and Wild Mushroom. Just use mushrooms on cooldown -- save for right before you need them to actually AOE -- and spam Sunfire while keeping Insect Swarm rolling. That is all you can do at this point; anything else would result in not being in Solar for the AOE pack.
Slightly more rare is being in Lunar around 20 seconds before adds spawn. At that point, you could reach Solar and probably get through some but not all of Solar and be fine to AOE with. That's a fine choice, although technically it isn't the best that you could make.
This is where you really need to know how long it takes you to go from the end of Lunar to getting a Solar proc. Because of the way that our current four-piece bonus works, you want to time getting a Solar proc right as adds come out, or at least right when it is safe to AOE the adds. In order to get that, you may need to spend some time in Lunar Eclipse spamming Moonfire.
You never want to spam Moonfire for more than 10 seconds -- and even that is pushing it -- but you do want to make sure that you start delaying your Eclipse at this point and not once you're a single cast away from Solar. It's hard to get down, and I can't say when nor how to judge it; it's just something that you have to know for yourself.
Only you can game Eclipse
Gaming Eclipse is the most important part of playing a balance druid. You absolutely have to make the system work for you; otherwise, you simply won't be able to compete. It is the hardest thing to learn in order to play balance, but that is only because no one can actually describe how to do it to you.
We can show you the ways you can game Eclipse, but judging when you need to do them is something that only you can know and only you can judge. There's no guide or theorycrafter in the world who can say, "Oh, at this point you need to do this," or "Here, you should extend your Eclipse by so many seconds." It just isn't possible.
How predictable Eclipse is and where you will be on the Eclipse bar at any point in an encounter is impossible to know. Starsurge procs, Euphoria procs, movement, and everything else in the world changes from encounter to encounter, attempt to attempt. Sadly, it's a thing you just have to learn for yourself.
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.