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Shifting Perspectives: An additional dimension for the balance druid rotation


Every week, WoW Insider brings you Shifting Perspectives for cat, bear, restoration and balance druids. Welcome to our DPS edition, brought to you by Chase Hasbrouck, aka Alaron of The Fluid Druid blog. This week, we ready our spreadsheets for battle.

Well, it looks like those who said the balance rotation was dull carried the day. Insect Swarm isn't back, but interesting developments are afoot. A few days ago, Ghostcrawler dropped a minor bombshell on the balance rotation, and I'd like to do a bit of theorycrafting and explore the implications.

We are experimenting with some changes to the rotation. No promises that these changes will stay, but we definitely look forward to your feedback (both in terms of theorycrafting and how fun it is). Shooting Stars should occur much more frequently, and Starsurge should be a more important (read: high damage) button. Additionally, we're adding a new passive that has some interesting implications. Should you choose to ignore it, your DPS will likely be only a few percentage behind someone who uses it optimally, but it should hopefully provide some more varied gameplay. To use some game designer jargon, we're happy with Moonkins' macro level rotational gameplay, but think they needs some more mirco-level decisions.
  • Shooting Stars chance increased from 20% to 50%.
  • Starsurge damage increased by 30%.
  • Fae Empowerment: New passive for Balance Druids. When you cast Faerie Fire, you gain Lunar Empowerment and Solar Empowerment.
  • Lunar Empowerment: Increases the damage of your next 3 Starfires within 15 sec by 15%.
  • Solar Empowerment: Increases the damage of your next 3 Wraths within 15 sec by 20%.
Please note that these changes are straight DPS buffs, and we don't think Moonkin need a buff right now, so we need to reduce overall damage (probably across the board) so that overall DPS stays the same. These nerfs may take a few builds, because we need to evaluate if these rotation changes are worth doing.

Fae Empowerment

Tackling the second change first, Fae Empowerment is a very deceptive buff. On the surface, it looks like a huge gain. "Whoa, no cooldown! I can just keep it running all the time and get free bonus damage!" Well, there are a few niggling things that get in the way of that.

First, and most obviously, it costs a 1-second global cooldown. That hurts you in two ways. You're not putting out any damage for 1 second, and you're delaying your transition to your next Eclipse, which means reduced DoT and Nature's Grace uptimes. Balance is very dependent on keeping up Nature's Grace, so any reduction needs to be looked at carefully.
Second, in order to overcome the DPS loss of doing nothing for a second, you have to make sure you can fully utilize the buff. It's only going to buff your DPS if you actually get off three empowered Starfires and three empowered Wraths. Any less, and you're breaking even or losing damage. Logically, then, we'll only be able to use it at two points in the rotation: three casts away from a Solar Eclipse and three casts away from a Lunar Eclipse.

Third, the timer's pretty tight. Without accounting for haste, three Wraths will take 6 seconds, and three Starfires will take 7.5 seconds. That doesn't leave a lot of time for you to do the usual things you do when transitioning Eclipses, such as putting up Moonfire/Sunfire or hitting Starfall. That's not even accounting for unexpected events such as Euphoria, which can cut out a nuke pre-Eclipse, or Starsurge procs that you want to use ASAP. What else? Oh, right, that newfangled idea of actually having to move during a fight. In order to solve this, they've already increased the duration to 18 seconds, and I wouldn't be surprised to see it increase more.
On the positive side of the ledger, however, this gives balance an additional something to cast while moving that doesn't require mucking around with targeting reticles. I haven't run the numbers to see how FE would compare to Wild Mushroom or Lunar Shower, but it'll likely be optimal to use it a second before you have to stop moving. Combined with the extra Starsurge procs, Balance's movement DPS is moving from "crippling weakness" to "acceptable weakness."

One concern I have, though, is it opens the spec up to critter abuse again. While Astral Communion eliminated the desire to find critters to charge your Eclipse to the desired level, now you're going to want to get FE up immediately pre-pull if possible. Admittedly, it's pretty minor and may not be worth cluttering the tooltip, but the FE buff should ideally only proc when Faerie Fire is used on "enemies that grant experience or honor."
Shifting Perspectives An additional dimension for the Balance druid rotation

The Starsurge change is simpler but ultimately more significant. Previously, Starsurge had been nerfed several times for PvP balance reasons, which ended up with its being only slightly more powerful than Wrath or Starfire. Now though, it's clearly the hardest-hitting ability we have; you'll always want to prioritize it, either using the instant-proc ability or simply hard-casting it.

Some people have already expressed concerns about burst damage causing nerfs again. Personally, I don't think a 30% buffed Starsurge offers too much burst, but it may be trending into dangerous territory. One thing to note is that the proc rates actually aren't going up that much in comparison to the current rotation. That 50% chance looks large, but crit rates will be significantly lower in MoP. This also has the side effect of creating an avenue for crit to scale better than it has in the past. Of course, that opens up the possibility that Starsurge could become "too" good in 5.3. We'll have to wait and see on that one.

As Ghostcrawler said, though, they'll have to reduce the damage of other abilities to compensate. Most of that reduction is likely going to come from Starfire and Wrath, which makes sense from a design perspective. SF/W are your filler spells. You don't want them to be known for their damage; you want them to move you along to something more interesting.

What's your take? Like the idea of stronger Starsurges and weaker everything else? How do you feel about Fae Empowerment?

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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