Every week, Shifting Perspectives examines issues affecting Druids and those who group with them. This week, we reach our 31-point talents and rejoice, for leveling is now...pretty much the same as it was before we got our 31-point talents, but nonetheless, level 40 is a milestone.
In the wake of the announcement concerning the upcoming abolishment of spell and ability ranks, I'm wondering whether it's worth our time to continue noting and linking the presence of new ranks while leveling. For now, I'm going to keep linking them; when Cataclysm hits, it shouldn't be too much trouble to go back and delete them, because I'll be revising the guides anyway to reflect any changes Cataclysm makes to the class. Also -- werewolves. Who saw that coming? Have you seen those racials? Sweet Sister Mary Clarence, those are overpowered. And the transform animation? Well, don't we all feel stupid now for rolling something that barely manages a weak whumph when it shifts. But I'm an optimist at heart, and I firmly believe that Blizzard has something special in mind for us. Maybe a bigger whumph.
On a completely unrelated note that I am going to write here just because I can, I was tanking a VoA-25 PuG earlier this week and we lost our offtank to a disconnect right before Emalon. We then spent the next 30 minutes trying to find another tank...with 7 Death Knights in the raid.
Hero class, my giant furry newly-improved butt.
As with many other classes, the rate at which you'll pile up new skills slows considerably between levels 31 and 40, and you'll finally be settling into a grinding/questing playstyle that resembles what you'll see at 80.
Three of the skills that make Cats pretty cool to play arrive at this level, although one's only usable popping out of Stealth:
- Ravage: Ravage is more or less a copy of the Rogue skill Ambush, and it's a once-per-fight ability that has to be used as an opener from Prowl while behind an opponent. Even at this level, it does a respectable amount of damage, but whether it's a better opener than Pounce (which you'll get in 4 levels) depends on how you've specced and the type of opponent you're facing. Versus a low-armor target (e.g. caster mob) or any target that's sitting down (which guarantees a critical strike), your enemy will almost always die faster to a Ravage than a Pounce. However, if you've talented into Brutal Impact and Shredding Attacks, Pounce will keep your mob stunned for 4 seconds, which is long enough to get at least 2 and sometimes 3 "discounted" Shreds off. That's better damage than you'll get from Ravage, but it's still a great opener if you don't particularly care about the stun that Pounce provides, or if you're grinding on a bear build without either of the aforementioned talents. As an aside, although Pounce is by far the more popular opener in battlegrounds and arena for what should be obvious reasons, a Ravage on an opponent who's just sat down to eat/drink will produce the kind of monster crit that people are so fond of putting in PvP videos. Make sure you have some sort of heavy metal going on in the background or at least some deeply emotional song on how no one understands you and you're going to show them all. Preparation, people, that's all I'm saying.
- Ferocious Bite: Ravage is your brand-new opener, and here's your brand-new finisher, which -- unsurprisingly -- is also a copy of a Rogue ability (in this case, Eviscerate). As you level and your gear improves, Ferocious Bite is often a better finishing move than Rip if for no other reason than its likelihood to finish off a low-health mob quickly. As with Ravage, you'll see better damage from it on low-armor mobs and enemies. The one potentially problematic thing about Ferocious Bite is that it will gobble up to 30 additional energy you have pooled and convert it into additional damage. Sounds like a good deal, right? It's what makes Ferocious Bite into one of the more difficult skills to incorporate into the Cat DPS rotation in raids, simply because any energy you have up to 65 will be gulped in an instant. It's also annoying while you're out grinding and moving from mob to mob quickly, because you'll find yourself auto-attacking your next target because you don't have the energy to do anything else. For these reasons, it takes some practice to learn when to use Ferocious Bite effectively, so experiment with it and Rip versus a variety of targets and see what works best for you.
- Track Humanoids: I confess I have absolutely no idea why Cats have this ability, although come to think of it, my own cats have no trouble finding me whenever they feel like standing in front of the door having a lengthy internal debate over whether to go outside, so...eh. As you've probably figured out, it's a great PvP ability and should be the first thing you switch on in battlegrounds or arena, particularly if you're stealthed at a node somewhere. Being able to see the angle at which an enemy is approaching will give you advance notice on where you need to approach from in order to stay behind them. You do not want to be directly in front of an oncoming enemy; as we've noted before, eventually every player will see you if you're anywhere in front of them, but even if you don't have any points in Feral Instinct, they can't see you if you're behind them. For that reason alone you want to have Track Humanoids up in order to swing around to the rear as they're heading your way, but you'll want to open on them from behind as well. Track Humanoids is also enormously useful in PvE on any quest requiring you to kill a named humanoid NPC or humanoid mobs period -- even if you're Balance, just pop into Cat, mouseover all the dots on your map, and you'll see what you need to kill and where -- and you'll also want to be running it constantly if you're leveling on a PvP server so you'll have advance notice of any trouble heading your way.
On that note, while this doesn't have much to do with Druids specifically, I received a question recently from a player who's leveling an Alliance Druid on a PvP server and who unfortunately had the typical "nightmare" experience in Stranglethorn. Unagidon was interested in finding out if particular contested zones for 40+ player were more Alliance- or Horde-friendly in the interests of avoiding more of these problems, and it was a question I wanted to pose to commenters as I haven't leveled anything on a PvP server in more than a year. For reference, Una's Druid is currently 41 and has finished Dustwallow Marsh.
I'm tempted to say that Feralas and the Blasted Lands would be a level 40-55 Alliance player's best bets on a PvP server, but after that I'm hard-pressed to think of any zone that not equally dangerous to both sides. Winterspring and Silithus might be a good pick just because so few people level there right now, period (with Winterspring being the safer of the two due to Alliance players farming for Frostsaber mounts), but for the forseeable future, I would avoid Un'goro like the plague due to the influx of high-level Horde traffic from players working toward Ravasaur mounts. For Horde players, my first picks would be the Swamp of Sorrows and then Un'goro (for the same reason Alliance would be avoiding it). Thoughts from commenters on this question would be very welcome. WoW Rookie also had a good post on "20 tips for PvP servers" that I hope you'll find helpful.
At any rate, the other two skills you'll train at 32 are simply upgrades:
And the same is true at level 34. Part of me can't believe that at some point in what's likely to be 2010 I will be going through all of these leveling guides and just mass-deleting all of these links. I'll strike you a deal, Blizzard; I go to Irvine and make werewolves, and you can sit in front of a laptop linking to stuff that you know isn't gonna exist in a little while. It's like they don't even stop to consider my feelings when they do s^@t like this. Pretty nervy if you ask me.
- Maul, rank 4: standard upgrade.
- Moonfire, rank 6: standard upgrade.
- Rake, rank 2: standard upgrade.
- Rejuvenation, rank 6: standard upgrade.
- Starfire, rank 3: standard upgrade.
- Swipe (Bear), rank 3: standard upgrade.
- Thorns, rank 4: standard upgrade.
One new Cat ability and one new Bear ability! You'll be using the former quite a lot, but how frequently you use the latter will depend on your healer's propensity for tabbing out during pulls.
- Pounce, rank 1: This is one of Cat form's two stuns (the other being Maim, which you won't get until 62), although unlike Maim and Bash you have to be Prowling in order to use it; in other words, it's an opener. One of the nice things about Pounce is that it applies a small bleed effect over a fairly lengthy period (18 seconds), which is invaluable versus tougher targets. As a general rule, you want to get as many bleeds as possible going on more heavily-armored targets in both PvE and PvP because, while armor mitigates a great deal of your damage (to the point where Armor Penetration is one of the Cat's best stats at 80), bleeds completely ignore it. Also, incapacitating more dangerous enemies with Pounce's initial stun may help you squeeze out that extra bit of damage necessary to kill them faster than they'll kill you. Even without Brutal Impact and Shredding Attacks, you should be able to manage a Pounce + Shred combination on just about everything before the target comes out of the stun, and in fact, using Pounce is pretty much going to be your only opportunity to use Shred at all while soloing.
The Cat's soloing rotation at level 36 will thus be a Ravage + Rake + Claw to whatever finishing move you decide to use, or a Pounce + Shred + Rake + Claw to a finishing move. If your gear is poor, you'll probably want to open with a Pounce because it'll help you avoid more damage from mobs, but regardless of whether you open with Ravage or Pounce, you want to get a Rake going early and then use a finisher judiciously. Versus armored or high-HP targets, a Pounce + Shred + Rake + Rip combo will get three different bleed effects ticking quickly, which will often seal the fate of even an elite mob at this level. Versus lesser-armored or lower-HP targets, a Ravage + Rake + Claw + Ferocious Bite may finish them off faster. As previously stated, if you have Brutal Impact and Shredding Attacks, you'll want to open from a Pounce with as many Shreds as you can manage no matter what.