Using all of your abilities
Druids are the masters of nature. While each specialization focuses on a specific subset of our class, no druid should ever forget that you have a wide array of tools at your disposal that can save a failing group at the drop of a hat. We're spectacular in that way. It is for this reason alone that I started my WoW career as a druid and why I have never been able to leave the druid class behind.
The most basic fundamental of our toolkit is the ability to heal. The ability to heal in a pinch is something that I have been fighting for druids to do since time began. Although I am excessively angry over the changes that Cataclysm brought to hybrid characters (particularly that any class capable of off-healing had their healing potential significantly hamstrung), our ability to heal as boomkin hasn't been removed. Never forget that you can heal. This alone can save lives.
What you should do Balance druids are not exceptional healers. We lack the specialization bonuses, we lack the benefit of mastery, we lack the talent support, and we lack the raw mana potential to do any real healing in a raid situation. The smaller the group, the better our healing abilities are. Healing in a 5-man is peachy; in a 10-man it is rough but can still have an impact; and in 25-man content, it can be worthless save a few specific situations.
Regardless of which position you play in, there are two times when you should always be conscious of your healing spells. First and foremost is during heavy AOE raid damage that you can easily mitigate via Tranquility. Even lacking the raw strength that restoration druids hold with this spell, a well-placed Tranquility can easily save lives. When the raid hits a rough healing spot, do not be afraid to toss out this amazingly powerful spell to assist in keeping people topped off. You lose damage, but losing a DPS is an even greater loss.
Second is the ability to heal yourself in a tough situation. In tier 11 content, this really shone in the Conclave of Wind encounter on the Rohash platform. In more current content, it is just as easy to find yourself in a situation in which healing yourself is a valuable tool. On Beth'tilac, healing between phases is a good thing at times. The entire raid is taking damage, there shouldn't be many (if any) adds for you to personally deal with, and you can easily find yourself out of range from the healers. Tossing a few Lifeblooms on yourself is a good amount of healing that a healer doesn't have to do. Ragnaros is another good encounter in which players can find themselves spread thin, especially in 10-mans, and taking some heavy damage.
What you should not do Do not think that having healing spells makes you a true healer. In 5-man content, this might be true, but if you think that you have near the healing output or the toolkit to handle actual healing in a raid, then you are fooling yourself. A balance druid simply will not be able to keep up with the healing requirements of most boss encounters. We simply don't have the raw output to match the incoming damage. At best, you're buying seconds.
Roll Lifeblooms, Rejuves, and spam Healing Touch all you want; it isn't going to save a tank for very long. Unless you are merely filling in for a few seconds while a real healer gets back on his feet, you really shouldn't waste time trying to be the savior. If the boss is low enough that the raid is going to kill him off anyway, then you're just as well off DPSing. If the boss isn't low enough for you to simply burn down, then your healing isn't going to make a difference, either.
The golden rule of this entire expansion has been how much damage you can mitigate. Healers just don't have the mana to keep up with the raid constantly taking avoidable damage. Knowing that you need to move out of fires or other bad stuff is basic gaming knowledge that everyone should know by now. There is so much more to mitigating damage than dodging what you should already be dodging.
Knowing how to spec is one the most important features of mitigating damage. The glorious change a few patches ago to switch Moonkin Form's increased armor to a flat damage decrease was fantastic for us. A vast majority of the damage that you take inside groups is going to be magical in nature, which means that your new Moonkin Form is going to mitigate that. This is pretty basic -- I mean, we're all going to have Moonkin Form.
What people often don't look at, however, is Perseverance. Located in the second tier of the restoration tree, this mainstay talent is a huge benefit to any serious raider. At a minimum, you should have two points invested into this talent at any given time. The 4% damage reduction may not seem all that high, but it really does make a vast difference. Knocking a solid 2,000 or more damage off an ability adds up over an encounter.
Knowing your cooldowns is the second feature to always remember. Sadly, druids in general don't have all that many defensive cooldowns; in fact, we only have Barkskin. Most of our cooldowns are all tied up inside the feral tree and well out of our reach, but you should be making use of what you do have.
You absolutely must use Barkskin during any heavy AOE damage phase that you encounter. The cooldown for the ability is silly-short, so there simply isn't any excuse not to use it. Reducing the damage that you take by another 20% is huge, just huge. Healers need all the help that they can get, and you need to be helping them. Group content is just that -- group content. They require the group working together as a whole to complete. Do your part.
It isn't just about healers, though; you gain a pretty good benefit out of the deal as well. Most AOE abilities usually don't induce spell pushback, but that hasn't entirely been the case in Firelands. There are plenty of boss abilities that induce pushback when you get struck with them. As a shining example, look at Alysrazor. During her recharge phase when she constantly pulses AOE damage, you suffer pushback. Using Barkskin doesn't just make this phase easier on your healers, but it increases your DPS by preventing pushback.
Know your escape tools is the last, but certainly not least, principle that you should learn. Firelands especially is a druid's playground. A vast majority of the instance is outside; in fact, all of it is outside, save for Ragnaros. This grants you access to the all-powerful Travel Form. Yes, that horribly modeled cheetah is a huge part of your arsenal. Zipping across the battlefield to reach healers, the group, or a new add or to get out of bad stuff is the best thing that you can do. All of your shapeshifts should be bound for quick access, but Travel Form more than others.
For all the other times where Travel Form isn't an option (which, let's face it, it normally isn't), you have the option of going Cat Form. Dash is tops when it comes to needing mobility. Yes, you lose your ability to DPS while using it, but sometimes it is worth that loss. Did a key healer or tank die on the opposite side of the map? Don't waste time waddling over to them; Dash your feather butt there and make them a part of the living world once more.
Again, this isn't just a matter of utility, but it's a matter of DPS. Lauded as our movement DPS might be -- although now it's not nearly as good as it used to be -- it still isn't nearly as high as our stationary DPS. You want to be standing still casting as much as possible. The less time you have to spend moving over to your Rebirth target, the better.
Your full breadth of utility
One final tip that I want to leave you with is to never forsake your non-DPS utility -- not just the healing, mitigation, or movement side of things, but the control bits as well. Balance has a pretty solid arsenal of control tools. They may not be the best in PVP, but they can really shine in PVE.
Mushrooms, mushrooms, mushrooms should be pounded into your head by now, but I'm going to mention them again. Wild Mushroom isn't just a high damage spell, but with Fungal Growth, they offer a huge amount of utility as well. You often need to kite adds, and even when adds don't have to be specifically kited, slowing them can still help reduce incoming damage. What? It's true.
Adds rarely, if ever, stay stationary. Tanks often have to reposition themselves either to avoid boss abilities or to pick up something else, even just to get to a new location. By slowing adds, you actually reduce the hits that your tank is going to take because there will be time frame when the adds aren't in range. This can be a double-edged sword at times, but that's pretty rare. Slow stuff, it's good.
Typhoon and knockbacks have become the biggest gimmick Blizzard has ever played off. At the start of Wrath when these abilities were first introduced, there was a wide number of complaints that these spells only had PVP implications and that they were largely useless in PVE. The response has been numerous encounter mechanics that all but require knockbacks. In this raiding tier, Beth'tilac and Ragnaros benefit significantly from having these abilities.
Solar Beam and interrupts in general have always played a large role in raiding content. Cataclysm has certainly stepped up the game in this respect by totally abusing the interrupt mechanic. As far as interrupts go, we do have the worst of those available. The cooldown is abusively long, but that doesn't mean the ability itself is useless. Alysrazor is a highly interrupt-dependent encounter. While you certainly aren't on par with a shaman or melee player, who can virtually lock down an add by themselves, Solar Beam should be up for each new add. Better yet, the range on it is a huge benefit should you have to rely on a melee interrupter to control the adds. It buys them valuable time that they may need to reach their target. Never forget the awesome beam of yellow death.
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.