Making the switch
Before getting into the items themselves, let's talk about one of the really big challenges that you'll encounter when first gearing up in Firelands: breaking your tier 11 bonuses. The four-piece bonus took a really huge hit this patch because it was simply that good previously. The new effect isn't really all that bad, but it doesn't have quite the same punch that it used to.
Without question, the best thing that you can do until you break your old set bonus is to wait until you manage to get two pieces of tier 12, but with the changes to valor points and the drop location of the rest of the gear, it could be a while before that is actually possible. In those situations, you have to make an additional choice. This choice is further complicated for players who have either a mix-match of heroic gear or full heroic gear.
If you are using nothing but normal tier 11 gear, then I would say it is comfortable to break it with two items from Firelands raids. The overall ilevel difference between the gear, alongside much better itemization that we see in a number of pieces, should more than offset any DPS difference that you might notice, particularly in high-movement or AOE encounters that don't allow you to constantly cycle through Eclipse.
Having heroic gear makes that a little bit more tricky, because the ilevel difference isn't quite as high. In those situations, I really wouldn't suggest breaking the bonus unless you can manage three pieces of Firelands gear. This may seem high, but caster leather is only useful to two specs, and other druids are just as loathe to drop their set bonuses as you are. The other big thing is hit juggling, which can be tricky any time you transition sets, since which pieces have hit on them tends to change.
Ideally, you are going to want to shoot for getting the tier 12 helm. The downside to this is that it drops off of Ragnaros himself, which may take a while for players to get to. Both items, however, are really good choices for balance druids, as they have everything that we could ever ask for (especially if you can use the hit).
An important thing to note should you transition into heroic gearing is that the Cowl is a very good off-set piece to snag in heroic to use as an interim piece. Getting your heroic tier 12 helm off Ragnaros is probably a long way off for a majority of players, and you can get the most out of your gear by using whichever heroic pieces you can get. The Cowl is a very good option for that piece.Necks
The last two on the come from valor point vendors, which can be an option should you get unlucky in drops, but neither of them is particularly great. If you do end up getting one, then you want to snag the Firemind Pendent, as mastery is far better to get than crit is, and you have to take hit either way.
If you do need to pick up some hit in your neck slot, then it is a rather difficult choice between the Heartstone and Firemind. While both have spirit and mastery on them, their values are slightly different. Frankly, I would favor the valor piece, as it has more mastery, but which actually ends up being better all depends on your gear and how your hit cap gaming works out.
The ultimate goal should be to get the Flowform Choker from Majordomo Staghelm. This is going to be a highly sought-after item, though, as there isn't any other non-spirit caster neck outside of valor points, which most players are probably going to be spending on tier items first.Shoulders
I might be missing something, and I really think I am, but that is the only leather casting shoulders that I can find at all. Regardless, this would be the one that you want anyway. Crit/mastery may not be perfect itemization, and you'll definitely want to reforge some of that crit into haste, but they are really good shoulders all the same.Cloaks
I mention this one only because it is the only caster cloak that drops within Firelands at this time (or at least the only one listed on Wowhead). The Avengers of Hyjal cloak that you can buy at friendly will easily be the cloak of choice, but it lacks a heroic version, which technically means the dropped cloak will be better at some point. Go, go, Blizzard itemization team.Chests
Much the same as with the helm, the non-tier chest isn't a bad option when you need a heroic off-set piece, but otherwise, it is vastly inferior to the heroic chest. There isn't really as much of a reason to choose to use the chest piece as your off-set item, since you can get the heroic tier chest if you can get the heroic off piece, but it is worth mentioning should you want it.Wrists
The vendors offers BOE wrists this time around, but they really just aren't worth it for balance druids unless you simply weren't able to get a pair of wrists from Chimaeron. Even then, I would suggest going back and farming Chim for those bracers instead of wasting your valor points on those. The drop from Baleroc, however, is exceptional and definitely the pair that you want to have.Gloves
I generally do not like listing restoration tier gear simply because it isn't often a very viable alternative. You are only going to end up wearing a single item from the restoration set, if any, and in most cases, our tier gear has better itemization. Even here, our gloves are the better choice.
That being said, there aren't any non-spirit options other than the restoration gloves -- which is just silly. I'm am totally envisioning a world where restoration druids wear our gloves and we wear theirs. It could end up happening. If you need to drop hit from this slot, then the restoration gloves are the way to go.
Also worth noting is that the crafted gloves simply aren't worth it at all. The tier gloves are just as good, and those mats aren't going to be available to a majority of players any time soon. Given the limited number of mats that you can have, it is far better to spend them on crafting boots instead -- which by the time you could make the gloves, you should have tier ones already.Pants
In an ideal world, this is where you want to have your non-tier item located. There is no possible way to avoid having spirit in this item slot, and the off-set piece is just so much better because of the haste.
Who finds it funny that we'll be wearing the Firecat Leggings while feral druids get the real fire cat? Frankly, I'm a little miffed.Boots
Another slot where it is absolutely impossible to avoid spirit. Not that this is a terrible thing, mind you; we do need some spirit. Until you hit heroic level gearing, you really want to get your hands on those crafted boots, if you can manage it. They are quite a ways better than the ones that drop. That being said, since the dropped items are the only one that come in a heroic flavor, you will need them at that point. At least it isn't crit, and you can always reforge.The weapon
There are other weapons from this zone; there are a few staves, a dagger, that stuff. None of it is even worth mentioning when there is this. At first, I was rather pissed off because mages/warlocks get a really awesome haste/hit sword that we couldn't use -- but now, I feel there is justice.
The hammer drops from Ragnaros, it has spirit/haste -- oh, and it is a higher ilevel than any other weapon aside from the legendary. Simply put, you want this weapon, and nothing else matters. Seriously, nothing at all. Get it. Get it!Off-hands
Do I even have to tell you which of these is better? Do I? If you can't figure it out, well, there might not be hope for you. Hint: You can drink from the good one, and the other should send you running away screaming.Trinkets
I generally don't like judging trinkets all that much because it really can change a lot as to which one is best for you. There are a wide variety of good choices this raiding tier when it comes to trinkets, but the Necromatic Focus is more than worth mentioning. Pure intellect and passive mastery that should be up constantly? Yes, please!
The VPLC isn't a bad choice either, again because it has raw intellect on it, which is just worth so much in terms of damage. The only thing that might be holding it back right now is the proc, which can be a bit iffy. Also, don't forget that the Avengers of Hyjal have some really amazing trinkets, notably a really good hit trinket that you may want to keep your hands on.Missing items
You may notice that belts and rings are not currently listed. This is for a good reason. On the ring side, there simply isn't any reason to list anything new that drops because the ring rewards from the Avengers of Hyjal are the best of the best that you can get, and you can get two of them. Most other specs can only make use of one of the rep rings. Because of this, you should really pass on any ring drops until you are the only person in the entire raid who could possibly make use of it.
Belts are not listed because from everything that I have seen, there are no dropped leather belts in this raiding tier at all. Your only belt option comes from the Avengers of Hyjal faction. Hopefully, this is just an issue where we haven't seen all of the items yet, but I feel datamining should have picked it up if something is there.
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.