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A look at what's changing for feral and balance druids in patch 5.4


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 await breaking news.

The PTR has returned with patch 5.4 goodies, and I'm back to discuss what this means for your feral or balance druid. Remember, numbers at this point are completely unbalanced, so focus on the substantive changes!

First, the nerfs

  • Cyclone no longer has a 20-second cooldown for Feral Druids.
  • Predatory Swiftness no longer has a chance to make Cyclone instant, free, and castable in all forms.
Let's face it: some things are too good to last, and one of those things was instant Cyclones from Predatory Swiftness for ferals. Pre-5.2, a feral could go on full offense and reliably keep a second target locked down with Cyclones. The developers attempted to fix this with a tweak in 5.3 that gave feral, and only feral, a 20 second cooldown on Cyclone. However, it was quickly apparent that this wasn't a long-term solution, so now they've taken the somewhat drastic step of removing insta-clone entirely. While this is a large nerf (and one made worse by the removal of Nature's Swiftness, discussed below), I understand the rationale, and hopefully this portends the further removal of other instant CC from the game.

  • Force of Nature: Treant summoned by the Feral version of this talent will now cast Entangling Roots instead of Bash.
See! They're already working on removing the instant CC! Admittedly, multiple instant ranged stuns (which I believe were not on any diminishing return table) are just a bit overpowered.
  • Moonkin Form now increases the Druid's armor by 60%, but no longer reduces all damage taken by 15%.
This is just a flat nerf for balance druids. The "increased armor" portion was added later as a sop to try to soften the blow, but it didn't soften it much. Sure, if you're only taking physical damage, an extra 60% armor is roughly equivalent to 15% damage reduction (give or take a few %), but what class/encounter is purely physical damage? Rogues have poison, DK's have diseases, paladins have holy get the point. That also doesn't address PvE, where the vast majority of damage taken is non-physical. I'm hopeful that they're planning some form of additional active damage reduction, perhaps as a buff to Barkskin, but I'd start planning on being more squishy. There is some compensation with additional self-healing, which I've discussed below, but that's not a huge help when you get bursted down.

Talent options
  • Nature's Swiftness is no longer a talent, and is now an ability learned by Restoration and Balance Druids at level 30.
  • Ysera's Gift, a new talent healing the Druid for 5% of their maximum health every 5 seconds. If the Druid is at full health, it will heal the most injured friendly target nearby instead. This talent fills the spot vacated by Nature's Swiftness.
Balance druids get a small buff to self-healing; they get to keep NS and pick a new level 30 talent. A NS+HT with renewal is a pretty good all-in-one self-heal which should hit for upwards of 50% HP. Feral druids, unfortunately, don't get to keep it, which is unfortunate and (in my opinion) unnecessary. Having an on-demand heal was very helpful for the DoC rotation, and saved lots of tanks...or instantly brought them back to life with a NS+Rebirth when the heal didn't get there in time. (I've lost count of the times my raid leaders have said over voice chat "quick someone brez the offt...never mind, he's up.")

As for the new talent, it's inarguably extremely useful for leveling druids to keep your health topped off. For endgame content where you have a healer, however, it's less useful as the heals tend to be just a drop in the bucket. I'll still end up recommending it as a default choice; just be aware of fight dynamics, and switch to Renewal or Cenarion Ward if you have a chance of taking burst damage.
  • Dream of Cenarius has been completely redesigned to reduce complexity and increase usability, but maintain the spirit of the effects. Benefits now vary by specialization.
  • Balance: Increases the amount healed by Healing Touch by 20%. Casting Healing Touch increases the damage bonus of the Druid's next Eclipse by 10%.
  • Feral: Increases the amount healed by Healing Touch by 20%. Casting Healing Touch increases the damage for the Druid's next two melee abilities by 25%.
So, the feral version of DoC didn't change at all (after an initial attempt at simplification that was quickly reverted). It's still a slight DPS increase that requires a bit more rotational complexity to pull off successfully. I'm assuming they want the balance version of DoC to work out similarly, and this is a decent way to do that. However, they'll need to buff it considerably; the bonus needs to be around 30% or so to make it worth choosing over the passive intellect gain provided by Heart of the Wild.
  • Soul of the Forest has been partially redesigned to make it more attractive to Balance, Guardian, and Restoration Druids.
  • Balance: Wrath, Starfire, and Starsurge casts have a 8% chance to cause Astral Communion to grant 100 Lunar Power or Solar Power instead of activating the next Eclipse.
This is a huge change to the Soul of the Forest talent....and I still don't like it. The goal here is kind of unobvious by reading the notes, so let me explain better. Basically, each of the single-target spells you cast has a chance to proc a buff called Astral Insight, which supercharges Astral Communion from a slow channeled spell to an instant power buff. The proc chance is fairly low, so you won't get it on every cycle. When you do get it, though, you'd use this to skip the post-Eclipse "charging" period and go straight into your next Eclipse. Sounds good, right?

Well, the problem is Euphoria. When they made that change (relatively recently), the amount of time druids were spending in a non-Eclipse state went down significantly, which means occasionally getting the ability to skip those states doesn't feel all that special. The proc rate is also in an awkward place; according to the math on Elitist Jerks, it's got about a 70% chance to proc if you're attempting to skip every post-Solar Eclipse. That takes it out of "hey cool I got a buff" territory and into "it's really frustrating when this doesn't proc" territory. Finally, it's getting away from the passive model if you have to click a button to activate the ability. Personally, I'd prefer something that doesn't touch Eclipse energy and does something else, such as a permanent cast-time reduction, or an upgrade to Shooting Stars that allows it to affect Starfire/Wrath as well.

Then the rest
  • Faerie Fire now has a duration of 20 seconds while in PvP combat (down from 40 seconds).
This is both a nerf and a buff, actually. Yes, it reduces it's effectiveness...but remember, Faerie Fire can be applied to you, also, and unlike a rogue, you can't remove it by yourself. My general feeling is that this is a buff for feral and a wash for balance, but I'd be interested in hearing other opinions from those who use it (or, more appropriately, have it used on them) more often.
  • Eclipse now energizes the Druid for 50% of their maximum mana when triggered, up from 35%.
  • Wrath has its mana cost increased by 50%.
  • Starfire has its mana cost increased by 50%.
  • Starsurge has its mana cost increased by 50%.
This change is somewhat irrelevant for balance, as far as I can see. The main goal here appears to be reducing the ability to camp out in a single Eclipse state, but since it doesn't affect DoTs, Solar is largely unchanged, and Lunar preferred to cycle Eclipses anyway for Nature's Grace uptime. Overall, I'm guessing that you'll be forced to cycle faster (if you chose to stop cycling for some reason) but the overall regen, counting Eclipse minus spells, will be higher as well.
  • Glyph of Ferocious Bite now causes Ferocious Bite to heal the Druid for 2% of their maximum health for each 10 Energy used (up from 1%).
I'm including this not because it's all that relevant, but because this is about the only thing that feral received that was indisputably a buff. There aren't a lot of contenders for the third glyph slot, and extra healing that I get for free is never a bad thing.

That's it for the major changes. There's a few minor changes to glyphs and things that I didn't mention, which I'll cover if they become more important. For the next DPS column, I'll be focusing on the new set bonuses and trinkets, and how it affects your rotation. Until then, have fun, and may your (Titan Runestone/Rune of Re-origination/Unerring Vision of Lei Shen) drop this week!
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