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Shifting Perspectives: Predictions for Cataclysm druids


Every Tuesday, Shifting Perspectives explores issues affecting feral/restoration druids and those who group with them. This week, Allison hauls out the crystal ball again.

I enjoy the business of prognostication. Nobody remembers the crap you'll get wrong -- and if you get anything even vaguely right, you'll be considered a visionary, thanks to a wonderful little thing called confirmation bias. Personally, I've had it up to here with beta dungeon groups. I'm sick of idiots who start to AoE off the pull while I'm tanking and tanks who say, "Give me 10 minutes to fix my bars" while I'm healing. I've had quite enough of titchy little numbers that insist on changing from patch to patch. It's time to return the Tuesday portion of this column to form -- hog-wild speculation and completely baseless conjecture!

The bear

Wrath of the Lich King saw a phenomenon that we might call the Age of Plate. Death knights and paladins were the two most popular classes for the length of the expansion, and warrior numbers held steady. Between that and the protection warrior spec's becoming the hell a lot more popular in the transition between The Burning Crusade and Wrath, there was a glut in the population of potential tanks even if you didn't count druids (whose numbers increased as well).

So how'd this happen? These are my guesses:
  • The early death knight was overpowered. That wasn't Blizzard's intent, but there were a lot of factors that led to it.
  • Burst ruled PvP. In the effort to combat the "drain team" boredom that infested arena toward the end of The Burning Crusade, Blizzard gave more classes access to on-demand burst on top of its more generalized effort to improve hybrid DPS. Plate classes, with higher armor and traditionally higher health, weathered this better than most.
  • The retribution paladin's damage stopped sucking and tankadins finally got a decent (if uncontrollable) cooldown. Retribution became a viable spec in the leap to Wrath (too viable, for a time), and protection got the new version of Ardent Defender.
  • Paladins became a "one-man army." Ghostcrawler (lead systems designer) singled out the paladin especially for being able to do too much regardless of spec, and the death knight was plagued (if you can call it that) with the same problem. I always thought that Zardoz's battleground statistics were a subtle commentary on this, although the trend was more intense earlier in the expansion.
  • Protection warrior gameplay rocks. The protection warrior, after a great deal of work on Blizzard's part in the Wrath beta, is widely believed to be the most interactive and fun tank in the game. While that's ultimately a matter of personal preference, it's a very common sentiment on the forums, and I'm disposed to agree.
What does this have to do with us? Nothing directly, but if it's true, it would explain why plate classes were so popular -- and thus, a large part of the reason why bears vanished. As the only class that can perform any role in the game, we're unusually sensitive to demographic trends -- which is another way of saying that if all your buddies reroll death knights, you should reasonably expect to hear the question, "Do you have a resto set?" at some point in the near future.

It's been a year since we ran the column Shifting Perspectives: The disappearance of the bear, and I still think this was one of the more important factors behind the bear population's nosedive. It was a hard lesson on the extent to which the druid's fate is driven by other players' choices, regardless of how well it's doing at the time, and that's something I've thought about a lot in any discussion concerning the future of the spec.

So what's ahead? Here goes:
  1. The "plate glut" isn't fated to last. The paladin faces the introduction of an additional resource system (holy power) that (beta coverage aside) is likely to confuse a lot of players. Paladins are also facing the loss of their traditional status as the premier AoE tank with Blizzard's efforts to standardize (read: nerf) threat tools. The death knight faces an equally uncertain future with the restriction of tanking to the blood tree and a number of changed mechanics, and both classes are in designer crosshairs for too much survivability at too little cost. Neither augurs well for a return of the sometimes-lopsided population stats we saw of either class, and the death knight's worrying lack of crowd control is going to be an unfortunate issue in early heroics.
  2. Savage Defense/Vengeance/block are going to get tinkered with a lot. As of now, Vengeance increases raw attack power, which itself increases the size of the shield granted by Savage Defense. As a fight winds on, the bear's damage taken gets lower and lower -- until and unless Vengeance drops or decays (e.g., tank rotation or waiting for add spawns), at which point it shoots back up. But right now we're taking too little damage (or at least that's my impression) on the beta in comparison to our shield tank colleagues, and I expect this to change.
  3. The tanking forums will host a huge number of fights concerning the above. Really, I should go on tour as a psychic with the brilliant insight here.
  4. Dungeon finder waits for anyone other than a tank are going to get ugly. I've touched on this in the patch 4.0.1 bear article, so let's be frank: Pugging as a tank on the beta is usually a frustrating experience. Some of this is the natural result of people familiarizing themselves with new dungeons (tanks included), but a lot of it's behavior from players unaccustomed to serious consequences for pulling aggro or screwing up a pull. If I had a nickel for every time someone launched World War III on a mob I was line-of-sighting, I'd be writing this from the Riviera. With guild achievements contingent on all- or mostly-guild groups and the unpredictable nature of group quality through the dungeon finder, I don't expect the tool to be as widely used by tanks for a while.

The cat

The cat has traditionally played second banana to its ursine cousin for two reasons:
  1. Crap damage.
  2. "You can tank, right?"
... both of which mercifully changed in Wrath, although it came at the cost of gear competition from every Tom, Dick and Harry in the raid. Every time you turned around, somebody else's best-in-slot list was crammed full of armor penetration leather. While this had something to do with the weird DPS plate itemization in Icecrown Citadel (you could get any stat you wanted, as long as it was +hit), it was the inevitable result of armor penetration's huge contribution to physical DPS. With the stat's disappearance in Cataclysm and armor class specialization nudging folks in the direction of their own gear, hopefully that's fixed.

So what's ahead? I've only got one big guess here, because overall, cats really aren't changing all that much:
  1. Cats have a bright future in rated battlegrounds (until we get nerfed). Arena has always been a touchy subject for hybrid DPS, which can approximate a pure class' damage but falls woefully short of the control they exercise over a fight. This is significantly less true of battlegrounds, and the cat's speed, burst, instant spells, Roots, snare and cooldowns are a deadly mix. Add to that two gap-closers, a new interrupt off the global cooldown and access to the best PvP gear outside of arena ... yeah. I'm a little concerned that cats, bears or both will come in for a nerf as a result. With the new talent trees, cats should have fairly easy access to most of the bear's goodies, with most of its damage now free of having to keep Savage Roar running. I think that puts us within a stone's throw of being the ultimate nightmare opponent.
The tree

A moment of silence, please.

Restoration

If you've read any amount of beta coverage, it's obvious that a lot of healers have had a miserable time. As with tanking, some of it's the result of players' simply being unfamiliar with new content, and healers are in the unfortunate position of having to pour their mana bars into others' mistakes and inexperience. However, the truth is that druid healing has improved a great deal even in the two months I've been privileged to be in the beta, and my quality of life in dungeons also took a nice leap once I reconciled myself to the idea of just letting over-aggroing DPS die. But even now in a heroic, it's difficult to untangle whether you're having a lousy time because you don't know the boss, the tank is undergeared, the DPS isn't doing a good job, people are taking unnecessary damage or something's wrong with how you're healing. I think I'm on shakier territory here as a result, but there are a few trends I still see happening.

The resto druid is still a healer oriented around HoTs: HoTs are really, really good for fights with constant damage auras, when it's virtually guaranteed they'll never be overhealed; encounters featuring it were extremely common in Wrath in Blizzard's quest to make healing require any amount of thought at all. Consequently, the resto druid became way too effective, in part due to its own mechanics but also due to raid design (in a situation that I would argue mirrors our discussion of plate classes above). By contrast, if you're facing more discrete raid damage, your HoTs are in a race against the direct heal your shaman buddy's charging up -- and that's not a race we've historically won. Even in Wrath, the resto druid became a fairly ordinary healer on encounters like Deathbringer Saurfang, with damage confined to only a few people at a time.

So what's ahead? Crossing my fingers that some of this won't happen, but:
  1. We will not be competitive raid healers, at least not immediately. This has less to do with us than with the content I expect Blizzard's programming for early Cataclysm raids. The developers can't put a Blood Queen Lana'thel or Twin Valks doppelganger in tier 11 without causing healers to reroll en masse; we just don't have the efficiency to deal with widespread, constant raid damage anymore. By necessity, the nature of raid damage has to change, and I doubt it will change in a way that will benefit HoTs.
  2. We will be mandatory tank healers, similar to (though less effective than) paladins now. Lifebloom is back and it's hungry for more. It also just so happens to be our ticket to Replenishment, regen on tier 11 gear, and extra Omen procs, so even if you're a raid healer, count on being a tank healer.
  3. Our mastery bonus will get changed again. The current form of mastery is weak unless you're a (stop me if you've heard this one before) tank healer. We no longer have any long-duration HoT, so the window of time to take advantage of any HoT you've slapped on a random raid member is generally small.
  4. It'll be a patch or two before we see the new version of Tree Form. I still find it a little ironic that the model's finally getting an upgrade right when the form's artistic quality ceases to be a concern.

Every week, Shifting Perspectives treks across Azeroth in pursuit of druidic truth, beauty and insight. Whether you're a bear, cat, moonkin, tree or stuck in caster form, we've got the skinny, from a look at the disappearance of the bear tank to thoughts on why you should be playing the class (or why not).

Filed under: Druid, (Druid) Shifting Perspectives

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