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Shifting Perspectives: Balance druid gearing and stat break points

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Shifting Perspectives for cat , bear , restoration and balance druids. Balance news comes at you every Friday -- learn how to master the forces of nature, and know what it means to be a giant laser turkey! Send your questions, comments, or something you'd like to see to tyler@wowinsider.com.

I think I have said it once before, but I swear I'll end up saying each and every raiding tier: I do not like gear guides, especially best in slot lists. While it is good to have a list of gear that you want and a goal to reach for, aside from Graylo's posts back in Wrath, I have never seen an actual list that is realistic. Yes, it's nice to know what you'll want to have once you've been farming a zone for months, but when you're just starting out, you take what upgrades you can get. Period.

More so now with reforging, getting new gear is a huge PITA, and I've yet to see a gear guide that could actually help a player address those issues. I wouldn't ever expect it to; it's unreasonable to make a contengency plan for every single gearing combination possible. Plus, half the slots are always Get the only pair of X that drops in this raid or Get the tier gear. Duh.

What I do like, however, is information on gearing. Gearing can be tricky, and it's nice to know some of the ropes so that you can make informed gearing choices. With that in mind, let's talk about gearing.

Stat priorities

The first question that always comes up when it comes to fleshing out your equipment is: What stats do I look for? There's not a huge combination of options to choose from, but you do have to pick between hit, haste, crit, and mastery. So what's a moonkin to do?

In the simplest of terms, follow a few basic guidelines:
  • Intellect/spellpower are king.
  • Gear for hit/spirit until the cap.
  • Gobble haste like a hungry, hungry hippo.
  • Favor mastery over crit.
Follow that, and you won't end up with anything totally wonky that'll end up hurting your DPS. Despite my numerous complaints, gearing in of itself isn't all that difficult on the "normal" level. If you follow gear planning the same way you did in Wrath and prior expansions and pretty much only use reforging in order to adjust your hit levels, then none of this will be frustrating to you.

What's more, your DPS will actually be perfectly fine. Going out of your way to min-max your gear to the extremes that it can be done doesn't hold that large of a return, particularly in relation to the investment that you'll have to put into it.

Always remember one thing as well: If you can reach the hit cap without reforging any gear, you're probably better off. The only major exception to this is with trinkets. When it comes to trinkets, everything always gets sloppy.

If you are comparing a hit trinket to a trinket that provides another secondary stat, such as crit, then the two trinkets are of equal value. You aren't going to gain anything spectacular switching out a trinket that gives 200 hit for one that gives 200 crit. All of this assumes that the secondary effect of the two trinkets are equal (which in this raiding tier, they all are, with only Heart of Ignacious being the exception).

If you are comparing a hit trinket to another that provides intellect/spellpower, then you'd want to switch to the non-hit trinket if you can. Do not switch if doing so would result in losing intellect from other pieces of gear, but you can sacrifice other secondary stats in order to gain more spellpower.

A difference in priorities

More hardcore balance druids might notice that my stat priorities are a little bit different than what they might have seen else where. This is true -- it is different. For practical purposes, haste technically equals hit/spirit in value. This, however, is a relatively meaningless notion, and I think it creates more confusion than intended or is needed.

At any given time, you should be at the hit cap. Period, end of story. There is absolutely no reason at all to ever be significantly below the hit cap -- being .02 or something off isn't a big deal.

Haste is a very important stat, as is hit, but you should never find yourself in a circumstance where you drop a significant amount of hit just for the sake of getting additional haste. You can reduce your hit/spirit in order to gain haste, but after doing so, you need to drop your crit/mastery in order to regain that lost hit. In essence, you never actually trade out hit for haste; you are trading out crit/mastery for haste, just in a roundabout way.

Considering spirit/hit

I have brought up the hit cap a few times already but not said what it is yet. Silly me. For raiding, you need to have 17% hit in order to never miss with an attack. This ends up being 1,742 hit rating or spirit. Both spirit and hit function as the exact same stat due to the Balance of Power talent, so it doesn't matter which you end up with. Generally speaking, you'll only find hit from non-armor type items such as rings, necks, cloaks, weapons, and off-hands.

Sadly, there is a small theoretical hiccup in the whole spirit = hit situation. Although balance druids rely exclusively on spell hit, we do have one ability that we use that is based on melee hit. No, not Bash -- Force of Nature. That's right, Force of Nature does scale off of our hit chance, but it's only from our melee hit, not our spell hit.

Melee hit, spell hit, what's that? There is no gear with spell or melee hit on it! That's right, there isn't. Blizzard removed the distinction between the two types of hit a long, long time ago. Sadly, there are still a few exceptions to this, and one of those exceptions is Balance of Power. Balance of Power converts spirit into spell hit only, not melee hit, meaning that Force of Nature does not benefit from any of your hit rating provided by spirit.

Quite frankly, this isn't a big deal. While the damage from Force of Nature is significant enough for us to care about using the ability, it isn't enough for us to change our gearing patterns for. That being said, technically, true hit rating is worth more than spirit -- a very, very, very tiny fraction of an amount, but still, it's there.

Haste and break points

If you troll around WoW information sites like I do, then you've probably heard tell of this new contraption called a haste break point. What is it? Well, allow me to answer.

Haste break points are the specific value of haste wherein a player's DoTs and/or HoTs gain an additional tick per each application. Haste functions to reduce the time between each tick of a DoT, yet it doesn't change the duration of the DoT. As the time between ticks decreases, you eventually reach a point where the DoT will be able to tick an additional time before it expires. That's called the break point.

People seem to obsess over break points; however, they are rather meaningless to balance druids. You see, DoTs do change their duration based upon haste; they change in relation to each and every tick. As an example, Moonfire has a duration of 18 seconds for a balance druid who has no haste, and it ticks every 2 seconds for a total of nine ticks.

Now, say you have enough haste to where Moonfire ticks every 1.9 seconds instead. With an 18-second duration, you would still only get nine ticks out of a Moonfire. The key difference is that Moonfire will now drop off after 17.1 seconds instead of at 18 seconds. This is because a DoT will never remain on a target if it won't produce another tick. Since Moonfire would only last .9 more seconds after the last tick, and the next tick will come in 1.9 seconds, the DoT will fall off after the ninth tick.

I know that it's a lot of math, and it can be confusing, but it's very important to understand this concept. Haste is perhaps one of the most absurdly complex systems in WoW, and a lot of it has to do with in-game rounding and other things that go on behind the scenes that players don't even see.

Suffice to say, haste break points do not increase the DPS of a DoT; they only increase its DPET (damage per execute time.) Because of this, haste break points don't actually hold any significant weight to the way that DoTs function, so you don't need to worry about them.

Reaching a new break point, however, is still a good thing -- it just doesn't have a huge impact on your DPS or on the value of haste from gear. No matter how much haste you have, you always want more!

For propriety's sake, here's a table with the various haste break points that you might come across.

Number of additional ticks Moonkin Aura Nature's Grace Dark Intent Nature's Grace and Dark Intent
1 68 N/A N/A N/A
2 1423 N/A 1009 N/A
3 2778 746 2324 351
4 4134 1924 3640 1495
5 5489 3102 4956 2639

While this table is accurate to a degree, as I had mentioned, there are things at work with haste behind the scenes that make it a bit complex. While theory says that you should gain an additional tick at 1,924 haste when Nature's Grace is up, testing shows it actually occurs at 1,930. Presumably, this is because of some rounding factors that we don't know about.

Either way, it isn't a huge deal. You should never, never hit a specific break point and be done with haste. You always want more haste! Always.

Mastery and break points

Oh look, there's that phrase again -- break points. Aside from haste, balance druids actually have two different break points that they have to worry about, and this one actually does matter just a little bit. For all intents and purposes, mastery is your second-best secondary stat -- and, yes, I was just looking for a chance to toss that phrase in there for the double second usage. You pretty much always want to favor mastery over crit. However, mastery is a very evil little you know what and can't be that simple.

Since patch 4.0.6, ~180 mastery rating equals out to a 2% increase in Eclipse damage; obviously, however, you won't always find 180 mastery rating on your gear. Instead, mastery works based on rounding to the nearest 1%. This means that every ~90 mastery rating you gain 1% more damage from Eclipse.

So what about all that extra rating? Any mastery that you have over/under -- depending on your outlook in life -- that magical 1% number does absolutely nothing. Eclipse will never boost spells by 40.5% or 41.2%; it will only increase in whole numbers.

What this means is that you need to watch your mastery values via your character sheet. When you scroll over the mastery value under the spell subheader, it should display a value of your mastery from gear in decimal form. For example, I currently have 12.64 mastery. That 0.14 mastery that I have over 12.5 isn't doing anything at all for me. So, if possible, I should probably try and drop it down.

This level of gear tweaking is very min-max based, and you don't have to get that involved with it. Mastery break points occur at every ~90 rating, so the there is very little room to work with when adjusting the values. The DPS difference that you'll see by adjusting mastery for break points is quite low, so in reality, you don't have to actually worry about it.

However, if you're crazy-fanatical about getting the absolute most out of your character, then the option is there.

Reforging

The bane of my existence, if there ever was one. Reforging was introduced in order to allow players to customize their gearing options. The main point of this was to allow players to have an easier time reaching things like the hit cap and to avoid situations where they have to pick up an item with crit/mastery on it when haste is the better stat.

I'm of the opinion that reforging has done nothing but make gearing a huge convoluted mess -- but that's just me. Other people can disagree. That being said, there are a few tips on reforging that you should follow.

Reforge haste onto any piece of gear that does not already have haste on it. Usually this will be items that have spirit on them, but they could also have mastery/crit. Some people favor lowering spirit/hit for haste, and that works ... sometimes. But really, the best option will change based on the outcome of the second step.

After reforging every gear to have haste on it, reforge anything you need to reach the hit cap. Whenever possible, sacrifice crit in order to do this, then mastery. You shouldn't ever find yourself in a position to drop haste in order to get additional spirit/hit. This is the part about reforging that makes my head hit the desk so many times.

When reforging to reach the cap, you want to put yourself as close as possible to it. Which combination of reforging will reach this is a true nightmare. Sometimes you might end up comfortably close to the cap, but readjusting in some convoluted way would bring you closer. How far you want to take this level of min-maxing is up to you.

There are a plethora of sites out there that will make automatic reforging suggestions, but I haven't found any that I particularly like. Instead, I've found that using WrathCalcs or CharDev to import my gear and tweak things around manually to be the best option. That's my choice, and you can use one of the websites that will run an auto-check for you, if you wish; just know that not all -- if any -- are optimized for balance druids.

After you have put haste onto everything and gone through and adjusted your hit levels, there's one last check that you can make. If you have any piece of gear with spirit on it that hasn't been reforged, then you want to switch the spirit into hit. This goes back to the whole spirit granting spell hit which doesn't work with Force of Nature issue. Doing this is a very minor increase in effectiveness, but it's there should you want it.

Every week, Shifting Perspectives: Balance treks across Azeroth in pursuit of druidic truth, beauty and insight ... from a moonkin's perspective. We'll help you level your brand new balance druid, analyze balance racials and abilities, and walk you through PvP as a balance druid.

Filed under: Druid, (Druid) Shifting Perspectives

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