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Shifting Perspectives: First look at tier 13 for balance druids

Tyler Caraway

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Shifting Perspectives for cat , bear , restoration and balance druids. Balance news comes at you every Friday -- learn how to master the forces of nature, and know what it means to be a giant laser turkey! Send questions, comments, or something you'd like to see to

Welcome back, druids! Last week, we started the discussion on how to properly read and review your World of Logs parses in order to spot any places where you might be having issues. While I would like to complete that series, recent events rather pushed that back for the moment. In case you aren't in the know for some strange reason, Blizzard has released patch 4.3 onto the PTR and with it, a slew of new information.

For good or ill, there hasn't been any balance druid information as of yet. Druids for the most part remained pretty much untouched, with the only spec seeing any changes being a minor restoration nerf. We have, however, seen the set bonuses for the upcoming tier 13, and that alone is enough to worry about. Normally, I'm rather passive when it comes to set bonuses; they are bonuses, after all. While some might be weak or strong, generally sets are pretty well balanced. This time around, though? I'm left with my head scratching to figure out what Blizzard was thinking. Let's take a look at why.

The two-piece bonus

Balance, 2P -- Insect Swarm increases all damage done by your Starfire, Starsurge, and Wrath spells against that target by 3%.

There isn't really anything wrong with the two-piece bonus at all save for the fact that it might seem excessively familiar. Perhaps it reminds you of your tier 9, which increased Wrath and Starfire damage by 4%? Or maybe it brings back lovely memories of tier 5, which increased the damage of Starfire by 10% against targets that had Moonfire or Insect Swarm on them? Then again, you could also just be thinking about our not-so-old talent Improved Insect Swarm that increased Wrath damage by 3% against targets debuffed with Insect Swarm?

The tier 13 two-piece bonus is one that we've seen time and time again in one form or another; in fact, you could say that we've seen it every single expansion thus far, and we have. Being only a 3% bonus makes it rather weak, though -- far weaker than the others that we've seen in the past -- and there a slight issue that our tier 12 four-piece is really, really good. It's unlikely that you wouldn't want to break your old four-piece for the new two-piece, but it might actually be possible depending how heroic tier 12 compares against normal tier 13. In terms of set bonuses, tier 12 is actually worth just slightly more DPS, so it's up to the raw stats in order to fill in that gap, which we don't know if it will or not at this point.

While I would honestly prefer for Blizzard to go back in and redesign this set bonus to something just the least bit interesting, I'm rather fine with it right now. It should be increased to an even 5% in order to make it slightly more comparable to our old four-piece bonus, but otherwise it's fine -- boring, but fine.

The four-piece bonus

Balance, 4P -- Starsurge generates 100% extra Lunar or Solar energy while Eclipse is not active.

Since writing this article, the set bonus has been changed; whether that's for the better or not will be discussed later. However, it is still important to understand why the old set bonus didn't function the way that the designers originally had planned it to. Better choices are born out of better understanding.

First, the set bonus did not work within our rotation at all, even more so if you happen to have the legendary staff. Most people will average around 25 seconds per Eclipse -- if you happen to have the staff, then you might average as low as 20 seconds -- while Starsurge has a cooldown of 15 seconds. While that average will increase slightly as we lose the old four-piece bonus, the additional haste gains from the new set should equalize out most of that in the long run. Now, Starsurge is a cooldown-based ability and one that we want to use on cooldown, every cooldown, with only a few exceptions.

Lunar Eclipses are rather special. Starsurge generates 15 Eclipse Energy, while Starfire generates 20. Each Eclipse proc lasts for 100 Energy. See where this is going? Your first Starsurge cast in a Lunar Eclipse is essentially free, as it doesn't alter the number of Starfire casts that you'll get. You can choose to cast five Starfires to break Eclipse, or you can choose to cast a single Starsurge and five Starfires. Which sounds better to you? We all know the answer to that. Sadly, though, in having to force yourself to now use a Starsurge each time that you drop Eclipse, you have to pretty much pray that you get a Shooting Stars proc in order to get one off when going from a Lunar Eclipse to a Solar. We simply cast far too quickly in comparison to the cooldown.

While it may seem nice that the set bonus makes our rotation interesting on the surface, that isn't what it does at all. This bonus would have forced us to hold onto Starsurge until we're outside of Eclipse before we use it so that we might gain the bonus. Overall, this isn't good for our DPS. Oh, but wait, there's more! You see, Eclipse, like many other buffs, can be abused in so many ways. In the case of this set bonus, what you would do is wait to use Starsurge until it is the cast that would take you outside of Eclipse. The moment that you complete the cast, you would then use a cancel aura macro in order to remove Eclipse.

You see, damage is calculated on spellcast, which means that your Starsurge would gain the benefit of that Eclipse -- yet Eclipse Energy is calculated when the spell lands, so it wouldn't be accounted for until the spell actually hits the target. By that time, you don't have the Eclipse buff anymore, even though you're technically still inside of Eclipse in terms of bar position, so you'd gain the additional energy bonus. This setup wouldn't work on the Lunar side of things, but it'd be practically required for Solar. How's that for an interesting rotation?

The new, not-so-improved set bonus

Balance, 4P -- Reduces the cooldown of Starsurge by 5 sec.

The new set bonus isn't a drastic change from the previous incarnation. As you can see, the four-piece bonus will now reduce the cooldown of Starsurge by 5 seconds, which seems like it's a really good bargain. After all, we like casting Starsurge. It's a pretty awesome spell. So more Starsurges could never be a bad thing, right? Right -- but the truth of the matter is that any bonus, be it from a talent or item set, isn't nearly as good in practice as it might seem at first glance.

To start with, we have to deal with the reality that a 5-second cooldown reduction doesn't actually play out to be a 5-second cooldown reduction. While we almost always want to use Starsurge on cooldown, there are times where we aren't able to do so. The first that should spring to mind is when heading towards a Lunar Eclipse. Casting Starsurge inside of a Lunar Eclipse is paramount; you absolutely have to do it. When Starsurge comes off cooldown just before proccing a Lunar Eclipse, it means you have to hold on to that cast sometimes for up to two or possibly three Wraths. While having a lower cooldown on Starsurge gives us more leeway in when we can cast the spell, it doesn't absolve the risk entirely, so we can often negate the bonus completely.

The other time where Starsurge isn't of much use is when going from Lunar to Solar. It is more than possible to hit a point on the Eclipse bar where another Starfire cast would push you into a Solar Eclipse, whereas another Starsurge cast wouldn't. In this case, you have to default to Starfire instead. In either case, you're probably only looking at a loss of no more than 2 or 3 seconds, but that's 2 or 3 seconds where that set bonus isn't being all that it could be.

Another issue is that a majority of our Starsurge casts don't actually come from waiting out the cooldown. In a standard encounter, anywhere between 45 to 55% of your Starsurge casts are going to come from Shooting Stars procs, not from hard casting Starsurge itself as it comes off cooldown. This naturally lowers the expected cooldown of the spell to lower than the stated 15 seconds. You might think that with a lower overall cooldown, nothing should change, right? Sadly, it does.

Once you factor in Shooting Stars, you expect to cast a Starsurge every 12 seconds on the average. That's not a hard and fast rule -- Shooting Stars can proc at any time -- but averaged out over the course of the encounter, that's about the spacing you see. Adding in the new tier 13 bonus, that average cooldown time only drops to around 9 seconds, a meager 3-second reduction in overall time. More than that, the number of hard cast to instant-cast Starsurges increases, with instant Starsurge casts only accounting for around 40% to 45% of your overall casts.

In the end, this set bonus is worth slightly more than a 1% DPS increase, which is virtually the same as the old bonus offered. While Blizzard fixed the functionality of the set bonus to make it more usable, the damage contribution remains the same. Perhaps that is the goal that it was aiming for, though this seems entirely unlikely. Past set bonuses are a fairly unreliable mechanic of measurement, but none of them have really ever fallen this low before. With not even a 2% gain from the two-piece and barely a 1% gain from our four-piece, our overall damage is going to scale significantly lower than it has in previous tiers; you'll likely see a DPS increase because of stat gains, but the overall increase will be significantly lower. This is quite worrisome for a majority of druids out there; if you have the staff, well, your position is set.

What needs to change

The four-piece bonus clearly needs to be reworked once again, the damage that it provides is simply far too low to be worth it. Improvement though it may be, that doesn't really excuse the fact that it's still a weak bonus. More than the four-piece, however, is the two-piece bonus to consider.

Our old four-piece bonus is the one that we'll have to break first, and it's a rather powerful one at that. While not overbearingly so, as with some of our other set bonuses, whether or not it's worth breaking our current four-piece for the new two-piece is entirely reliant on the gear level of the next tier. For those players who are in heroic gear, it probably won't be worth breaking until you hit the next level of heroic itemization or get your entirely four-piece set. That's bad, and it needs to be fixed.

In any given tier level, the two-piece bonus of the next gear should always match the relative power of the old four-piece bonus. If the prior tier's four-piece bonus is weak, then you want to have a similarly weak two-piece bonus on the next tier, while you should match a strong four-piece to a strong two-piece. We're leaving behind a strong four-piece, but we're gaining a fairly weak two-piece bonus. While I certainly feel that both of the bonuses need to be adjusted -- with T13's four-piece being completely redone -- it's highly imperative that the two-piece bonus be increased in damage. As I said, boosting the damage contribution from 3% to 5% would actually go a long way in making up for the disparity that we currently see, and it wouldn't be unbalanced by any means.

Balance druid DPS is finally in a good spot, it would be a shame for that to all come crumbling down simply because of horribly weak set bonuses.

P.S.: Foofy and Rhadei are my favorites druids of the month!

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.

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