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Shifting Perspectives: Balance DoTs in Cataclysm

Every Friday, Shifting Perspectives explores issues affecting balance druids and those who group with them. This week, are taking a look at those two abilities that some druid seems to have forgotten. What sad, sad times these are.

Do you like that screenshot? That would be what happens when you cross a bugged version of Lunar Justice -- I don't even have the talent, I never had the talent -- with a large AoE group that swarms around you. You can hide entire Ancients in that thing; seriously, you can.

I have something that I must confess to all of you today; I've been a bit remiss in the work that I've done with all of the Cataclysm information that's going around right now. I've spent a lot of time focusing on topics such as Eclipse, mana regeneration and Moonkin Form -- all of which are very important -- yet I have completely failed to take into account the whole picture. How Wrath scales, the way in which Eclipse is influenced by RNG, how useful Moonkin Form may or may not be to a player -- these are all important, but so too is the value of our entire spell arsenal. To that end, I'd like to take you back into the downward spiral that is my life as a beta addict as we take a not so quick gander at how our lovable Moonfire and Insect Swarm are holding up their end of the bargain thus far in the next expansion.

Before that, let me say that I haven't done any testing of the new instances as of yet, mostly because I'm scared to -- very, very scared to -- so everything I've been doing is limited to questing and work on target dummies. These are nice tools, but they aren't quite the same as seeing how everything works out within a boss setting. Movement and other caveats to every boss encounter can heavily sway the importance of any single ability at the drop of a hat, so I am saddened that I haven't been able to actually get in and try my hand at any real encounter. There's a reason for it, though. Like I said, I'm scared; I'm scared because tank threat is really, really, really, really, really screwed up right now, and I have this thing against seeing my face splat against the ground, eating dirt. I cheat on my balance druid with a protection paladin from time to time, and running anything makes me want to cry at the moment. Until that's fixed ... you probably won't see me running much of anything.

Anyway, back on point of DoTs -- let's get right into it, shall we?

Insect Swarm

I like starting out with positive things; it makes the entire piece seem that much more happy instead of the whiny rant fest this will probably devolve into. Thinking happy thoughts, Insect Swarm is certainly in a pretty decent spot at this point, damage-wise. A normal Insect Swarm tick will hit for pretty much what you see on live right now, given that there have never really been any talents that we take to boost its damage (and there still aren't any). Since Insect Swarm is only barely hanging in our rotation right now, this may not seem to be the best of news, but several things have changed.

First, Insect Swarm, like all other DoTs, now benefits from crit and haste. That is going to be a very sizable change for DoT scaling all around, and Insect Swarm certainly reaps a good benefit from it. As things stand right now, Insect Swarm doesn't crit for 200% damage, instead only critting for the standard 150% damage. This is something that will hopefully change, and probably will. We still don't have our mastery yet, and that's the only place left to put the increase in critical strike damage, since Vengeance has been removed from our talent tree -- although just to point out how things are currently mucked up in beta, Wrath and Starfire still crit for 200% damage.

The haste portion of the scaling is still a bit more unknown at this point, but I am still excited to get my hands on it. Currently in beta, it doesn't seem as though any of the DoTs or HoTs (or maybe just the ones that I've tested) are benefiting from haste as they should be. This may have changed since I last checked, but I haven't heard anything about it, if it has. Regardless, the ability to gain more ticks per cast is going to significantly boost the performance of Insect Swarm. I am a touch worried about how it may end up scaling in comparison to other DoTs, given that Insect Swarm ticks every 2 seconds instead of every 3 seconds as most other DoT effects do. But I am sure that Blizzard has accounted for this -- it isn't the only DoT to tick at this rate, after all.

The other thing worth mentioning is that while Insect Swarm's damage has remained relatively the same, Wrath's damage has gone down drastically. A single Insect Swarm crit is roughly the same amount of damage as a standard Wrath cast. This is still in "old" ICC gear, so there isn't any real indication of how scaling might end up changing the DPSC values of our spells. There really isn't any indication that Insect Swarm will end up scaling so poorly in comparison to our direct damage spells that we drop it from our rotation again. Insect Swarm has great spellpower scaling; it always has, and now it has the crit and haste scaling that it needs as well. So there's little reason to think that its damage will plummet so drastically.

I suppose, just to be fair, that comparing Insect Swarm and Wrath's damage on beta is a bit remiss at the moment given that Wrath hits like a wet noodle -- not completely, but you notice the difference from live. Depending on how our overall damage spread gets balanced out in the end, it's possible for Insect Swarm to drop in power, but highly unlikely.

Moonfire

This is why you need to think positive about Insect Swarm. Moonfire, for lack of a better phrase, totally sucks. Normally I wouldn't resort to such terms, but that's really the only way to describe it. The damage capacity of Moonfire is so atrociously low that it's reached the point of sad. To start with, the DoT isn't actually worth using against much of anything. Even with my 3,800 spellpower, Moonfire ticks for a measly 800 damage. Over the course of a fight, casting Moonfire for the DoT damage generally isn't going to be worth casting. Although the raw DPSC is likely slightly above that of Wrath and/or Starfire itself, given the Eclipse generation that you would have to give up for it, that would probably result in a net DPS loss. There's too little data to tell at this point, since Eclipse isn't functioning.

Aside from the DoT damage, the direct damage of Moonfire is also painfully low. Even when cast multiple times over in order to get the Wrath of Cenarius buff, a Moonfire crit only hits as hard as a standard Wrath cast. That's far too low to be useful as a movement attack. The worse part is that the spellpower scaling on both portions of Moonfire is abhorrently low. For the DoT portion, Moonfire receives 0.18 spellpower per tick compared to Insect Swarm's 0.26 -- and again, Insect Swarm ticks every 2 seconds while Moonfire ticks every 3. The direct damage part receives the same 0.18 spellpower conversion in comparison to Wrath's 0.741 and Starfire's 1. Even once equalized across cast times, Moonfire falls way short.

Clearly, Moonfire cannot have the same direct damage scaling as Wrath or Starfire. That would potentially make it too powerful. But it does need to have an artificially inflated spellpower ratio of some means. Either that or the damage modifiers that it has need to be increased very significantly. Similarly, the DoT portion needs a major upgrade as well.There have been other suggestions, such as Lissanna's suggestion to allow the Moonfire DoT to stack a couple of times and shifting more of the spellpower onto the direct damage portion to compensate. No matter what Blizzard does, something absolutely must be done to fix Moonfire at this point.

DoTs within the rotation

The final point that needs to be made about both Insect Swarm and Moonfire is that neither of the spells really feel as though they are a part of our rotation, nor even our spec, at this point within the beta. Aside from Wrath of Cenarius, there are no talents at all that actually alter or impact our DoTs in any way. Both of them are merely there, just ... there. Something needs to be added as a way to make balance druids want to use their DoTs. Although the raw damage of a DoT is always nice, they are rarely ever a significant DPS increase over a standard nuke -- at least, I should say an overtly significant increase. Certainly the increase is significant enough to warrant using the DoT. Still, our DoTs and our rotation in general are very bland at this moment in time. Eclipse is an interesting mechanic, and while Euphoria certainly makes it slightly more random, the basic premise of the ability is rather flat. You cast Wrath until a little icon pops over your head, and then you cast Starfire until you get another icon; rinse, repeat.

This is why it would really be nice to have our DoTs actually hold a meaningful contribution to our damage rotation: not just to make the DoTs more worth using, but also to make our rotation itself more interesting. From a DPS perspective (since like it or not, that is always the primary focus), it is rather difficult to make any solid suggestions at this time, given that beta still hasn't reached the level 85 damage cap, masteries are still incomplete and buggy, and the talent trees themselves are still in a state of constant, volatile change. That is why, for a change of pace, I'm not openly going to suggest any concrete ideas that I believe should be implemented in order to make our DoTs more meaningful. I'm merely going to float the idea out into the air. There are certainly an infinite number of ways in which this could be done, and I can think of several that might be interesting, but I feel this is more a time for patience than it is for action and testing,

To make such a specific suggestion at this time seem foolhardy when Blizzard is in the process of changing everything to begin with, so I believe that it is best to wait a while until things settle down more in the beta process and then make the more forward suggestions. Still, the notion that this is something that needs to change should not be forgotten, and it is a point that we should all keep in our heads as beta trudges on.

Every week, Shifting Perspectives treks across Azeroth in pursuit of truth, beauty and insight concerning the druid class. Sometimes it finds the latter, or something good enough for government work. Whether you're a bear, cat, moonkin, tree or stuck in caster form, we've got the skinny on druid changes in patch 3.3, a look at the disappearance of the bear tank and thoughts on why you should be playing the class (or why not).

Filed under: Druid, (Druid) Shifting Perspectives

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