Balance druids (and druids in general) have a lot of control abilities. We may not be as potent as the dreaded frost mage, but we can certainly render several targets incapacitated at the same time. You can choose to capitalize upon this control even further by building yourself up to be an amazing support caster. The focus of building this way is to push our strong suits even further; balance druids are all about control. The primary attributes you want to focus on are haste, health and then damage.
Haste is our numero dos offensive and defensive stat that's going to be key for any playstyle that you choose, but you really want to get as much of it as you can eke out -- sometimes at the sacrifice of defensive stats, if you feel you are survivable enough. Haste allows not only for better damage output, but also for faster use of our control abilities, which is the more important factor. Your focus here isn't entirely upon damage; it is in mitigating and controlling as many players as possible to allow yourself and your teammates the opportunity to unleash on an enemy.
Unlike the tanking variant spec, you don't really want to be the primary focus of your opponents (although it may be the case that it's better for enemies to target you rather than a squishier teammate); rather, you want to be at the sidelines causing as much frustration as you possibly can: rooting targets, Cycloning them, using key Solar Beams on healers and DPS to shut them down -- this is your purpose, the reason that you are brought into the fray.
Although it may seem like the Entangling Roots Glyph is best choice for this setup, it actually may work against you and should be chosen with care. Having the glyph gives Entangling Roots a cooldown, which means that while you'll be able to quickly stop a single melee target, you won't have the option up for a second target if it gets dispelled. When focusing on control, that is a very key aspect that can actually work against you in a BG setting. In arenas, particularly 3v3, there usually won't be more than a single melee that allows for the glyph to shine; however, in the larger BGs, there can be significantly more melee to deal with. Nothing is worse that wasting your Entangling Roots only to have a gnome use Escape Artist, a healer dispel it, or even have a melee blow their trinket in a clutch to snag a kill.
Although haste is harder to stack, particularly in PvP, keep in mind that all CC has been slowed down and that you can still reduce the cast time by quite a good deal if you manage enough haste. Keep your setting and team composition in mind before making this glyph choice, especially if you are planning on playing the support role.
Nothing speaks of balance druids more than knocking the everliving snot out of someone, and there are plenty of Moonkin out there that have taken this to heart. Even though balance was never really known for its stellar burst abilities -- the buffed Starfall notwithstanding -- building yourself toward being a killing machine has proven to be a viable prospect as well. Hard casting, particularly with the new Wrath cast time, is slightly more difficult now, making this option a little more difficult to pull off, but in the right hands and in the heart of BG battles, it can shine more than people give it credit for.
The issue surrounding gearing yourself up for raw damage is that you become more reliant upon other players to be your control. Although balance druids bring a strong amount of control themselves -- and given that haste is one of our primary DPS stats, which will also help support your control -- that lack of survivability that this build has leaves you fairly squishy, and your control abilities alone aren't going to be enough to keep several players off of you if you should be focused. Being focused is the downfall, the primary weakness; you cannot function as a proverbial glass cannon when under heavy fire, and you are going to need help to keep the pressure off of you.
That aside, the damage output that an unharassed balance druid can put out is stunningly impressive, and you can certainly be an asset to any group that you are a part of, provided that they understand keeping things off of you. For a rated BG set, it's certainly viable, but I wouldn't much try it in arenas, as you'll be focused far too often and shut down rather easily.
Last but not least, we have the skirmish-kin -- the annoying little hit-and-run tactician that has actually become a lot more common than people care to admit. The skirmish setup is pretty much how balance druid PvP has been pushed thus far in terms of how Eclipse works. Given that it is more difficult now for us to free cast, and how strong Lunar Shower makes Moonfire, many druids have taken to the Moonfire spam, multi-DoTing method of PvP play. More effective now, this tactic isn't as powerful damage-wise once players hit level 85, but it is still viable in certain situations. The goal of this playstyle is to be as annoying as possible, providing as a heavy mix of consistent, yet low damage as well as plenty of CC.
It is very similar to the control style with one notable difference -- instead of stacking haste for faster CC, you want to stack mastery as much as possible. Stacking mastery allows for a higher coefficient from Eclipse, which is your primary source of damage output, given that your goal is to get a Solar Eclipse then run around spamming Moonfire and Insect Swarm. Within an arena setting, this tactic really does not work all that well at 85, given that the damage isn't really high enough to pose much of a threat to anyone when they have a constant healer, but it can work well in BGs. Multi-DoTing large groups and the constant pressure of Moonfire spam on a single target can give results -- healers are forced to dispel more, which distracts them from healing. Not dispelling allows for your rather wicked DoTs to stay on their targets longer, causing more damage spread out across the group.
You won't really be able to go 1v1 against anyone of reasonable gear level using this tactic, but you can be beneficial to a larger group with your high amount of damage spread, wide array of crowd control and the difficulty in shutting you down. By not casting much at all, you are very hard to interrupt -- if you can be at all -- plus remaining highly mobile makes it more difficult for melee to catch up with you. On top of Moonfire and Insect Swarm, you also have Wild Mushroom, which benefits from Solar Eclipse as well and can deal a decent amount of damage, plus providing a spread of slowing effects to snare melee in a wide area.
Given that you don't want to find yourself casting that much nor do you want to stop moving, I'd highly suggest taking the Entangling Roots Glyph and the Solar Beam Glyph for this. The third option would be either Starfall or Barkskin, depending on which you feel could best suit you.
A few general pointers
- Remember that Typhoon can be used defensively and offensively. Knocking a ranged or fleeing melee back into your own teammates can score a valuable kill -- plus the snare ensures they aren't getting away any time soon.
- In a BG, try and save Starfall for when multiple targets are available if you can. Two targets is optimal; three or more works well, too. Using Starfall on a single target wastes half of the possible number of stars.
- Do remember that Thorns isn't self-cast only -- it's very easy to forget this. If you see a group of melee focusing on something, Thorns them! It isn't just for your own personal protection.
- Use Entangling Roots frequently, yet smartly, especially if you have the glyph. Don't just start rooting the first melee you see, particularly if they are loaded up with DoTs, as it's going to break early and they could have various means to get out of it. Don't be afraid to toss a root out to save someone else or yourself, but don't go casting it all over the place either.
- Remember your healing spells! They probably won't help much to save you if you are being focused, but a few simple Lifeblooms on an endangered teammate can easily save them.
- Never get cocky in a BG -- just because you think you see someone standing off alone or rushing down a path doesn't mean you need to go chasing after them. Balance is rarely a good 1v1 spec, and chances are you'll end up getting ganked.
- Don't be afraid to run. Getting out of a tough battle can save your life and those of your teammates and score the kills you need to win. Time that players spend chasing you is time that you teammates aren't being nuked and time that they have to kill others; be a distraction if you have to.
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).