Have I mentioned how much I actually do love balance druids as of late? I mean, sure, we may not have amazing off-healing capabilities, and there's the factor that we are a rather weak PvP spec, but we are absolutely dominant in the PvE scene. Single-target, maybe a bit washy, sure, but AoE? We are kings; more than kings, we are become death.
The only thing that stands between you and total AoE domination are those pesky shadow priests who try and steal away our rightful Dark Intent. Seriously, they should just give up at this point; balance druids are simply better recipients for the buff, and shadow priests need to play the second fiddle like the good little things they are. It's nothing against shadow priests personally; balance druids just happen to be better. Superiority should come with its due rewards, that's all.
The death of the storm
Hurricane was once the master of our AoE abilities, and it has seen so many changes throughout history. At one time, it was a talent and was centered around the caster; it also had a 1-minute cooldown. From there, it was actually made halfway viable, with increased damage, talent support, a removed cooldown, and even a short period when it provided infinite mana to spam. Yes, Hurricane has had many glory days; however, those days are long since past us.
Simply put, Hurricane is now a spell that has been left in the dust. There are a few very specific situations in which Hurricane can be gamed to be useful, but it is not a system that will last, nor does it give the spell any true meaning. Blizzard went more than slightly overboard in many things when it attempted to rebalance the AoE capabilities of the classes, and Hurricane is one of the losses that has suffered.
Hurricane is no longer a staple portion of our AoE rotation. As mentioned, there are a few highly specific cases where it can be of limited use, but in most situations, there is absolutely nothing to gain from using it. Predominantly, one of the harsher penalties of the spell is the ridiculous mana cost that it carries. Out of all of the AoE spells out there, Hurricane is the most expensive, and you will certainly notice that fact every time you use it.
The burning moon
Instead of favoring the traditional AoE method that we had once grown to love -- or hate -- balance druids take a more untraditional approach. It isn't a shock to know that Moonfire and Insect Swarm have both seen a large benefit from the changes that Cataclysm brought. The overall strength of our DoTs has virtually doubled in this expansion, and it's an ... adjustment that is all the more evident with the Eclipse system. While under Eclipse, our DoTs are some of the most powerful in the game, a fact we are all too happy to abuse.
Of the two, Moonfire is easily the strongest (or Sunfire, should you be in Solar). Again, it's not all too surprising; Insect Swarm has always struggled in the damage department, and the one brief time it shined saw it brought down quickly. For this reason, getting Moonfire on your targets should be a high priority. During any AoE situation, you want to remain mobile to stack Lunar Shower and roll Moonfire on every target that you can.
Having enemy health bars up really helps in this, and there are several mods out there that will track Moonfire on each of these targets via an icon on their bar as well. The latter isn't required, but it is certainly of use. High Moonfire uptime is essential to our AoE DPS.
After you have Moonfire rolling on every target, then you can worry about rolling Insect Swarm as well. Generally, you only want to do this if you know that the target is going to last for at least half the duration of the spell. If all of the AoE targets are at low health, then ignore Insect Swarm and continue to cast Moonfire.
Of warlocks and Dark Intent
It may seem like arrogance to claim balance druids to be the single best Dark Intent target for warlocks, but I honestly am not lying. The most recent simming puts balance druids about fourth on the list for those that gain the most benefit from Dark Intent, but the data used is actually quite incorrect and is for single-target damage. Not to get too involved into the math-y details, but this was simmed having balance druids at 25% DoT contribution, when the actual figures are closer to 32-35%.
That's all single-target, though. In AoE situations, we're AoE powerhouses. Not even the often-lauded shadow priests match our DoT damage contribution in AoE encounters. There's just no denying it -- balance sees a tremendous benefit from having Dark Intent during AoE encounters.
Another thing of note is that balance druids offer the warlock the best return from their buck. That's right, balance druids: Shadow priests can be all giddy with their three DoTs and Mind Flay proccing DI as well, but they still fall short in comparison to balance druids when it comes to keeping the buff up and running. Now, a significant portion of this is due to our T11, but that is neither here nor there.
To put it simply, warlocks should love balance druids, and balance druids should love warlocks. While we're all loving each other, might as well give the gift of awesome that is Dark Intent.
Growing a forest
Wild Mushroom took a lot of flak when it was first released, and for rather good reason. In PvP, the cast time, despite being short, was an obvious flaw, but the PvE drawbacks were more tied to a buggy Lunar Shower than the actual cast time itself. Either way, both have been fixed; further, Wild Mushroom's damage has been substantially increased. While it was always a good theoretical AoE option before, it's simply stellar now.
Case in point: grow some shrooms and watch them explode in glorious retribution every chance you get.
Along with the increased damage, WM was also given a much larger range -- double the previous range, in fact. It may seem like a huge boost, but it's still only 6 yards; that isn't much shorter than the range of most traditional AoE.
Many people may still think that the use of Wild Mushroom is a bit clunky, but with practice, you do get the hang of it. Harder than planting them perhaps is using Detonate correctly. Few people seem to remember that Detonate is not on the GCD, so you can use it and another spell at the same time, which in this situation should be Moonfire. The easiest solution to this is to macro Detonate into Moonfire. You can either do this with your "standard" Moonfire button or in an entirely new one; both actually work for just about all purposes.
Gaming the system
While our DoTs are strong, it is Eclipse that makes them really shine, especially Solar. With this in mind, one of the most important parts of the balance druid AoE rotation is knowing how to properly game your Eclipse bar to ensure that you are prepared to blast critters away when the time comes. Depending on the encounter in question, there are multiple ways of doing this.
First, I would highly suggest an addon of any form that gives a numerical display of the Eclipse bar. The standard bar just doesn't show enough information, and it can be difficult to time if a cast is going to push you out of Eclipse or not using it. Nearly all standard UI mods offer this, but there are some out there specifically designed for it as well.
If you are at the point that another cast will break Eclipse, you have a few options to choose from. From there, you can start spamming Starfire instead of Wrath or Starsurge in order to keep up single-target damage without moving the Eclipse bar. This usually isn't the best method to choose, but you can if the situation calls for it -- for example, you are trying to limit movement and stay clumped with the group for Magmaw adds.
Ideally, you want to start spamming Moonfire instead, building up Lunar Shower. You can do this on the boss if that is your only option and your DPS shouldn't suffer too much from it. Alternatively, if you know where the adds are going to spawn or be pulled to, then you can proactively drop Wild Mushroom to get ready for them. Finally, you can pre-DoT the adds if that is an option, such as on Maloriak.
The key point here is to never lose Eclipse. While going through your AoE rotation, you will likely get a large number of Shooting Stars procs. You can use these, as it's a great way to increase your DPS, but only if you won't lose Eclipse by doing so. This is another reason why seeing a number for your Eclipse meter is highly important.
Gaming the T11 bonus
There is another effect that balance druids can use to their advantage: the tier 11 four-piece bonus. DoT ticks do not consume the charges from this effect, but they do still benefit from it; further, all DoTs automatically scale with crit, so you don't have to recast them to benefit from the effect.
In order to abuse this method, you need to stop short of a single cast from getting Eclipse, at which point you again use the methods listed above. Here, though, it should be noted that casting Wrath/Starfire in order to prevent Eclipse gains is better than spamming Moonfire, so if you have no other choice, do that instead.
Once you are ready to enter AoE mode, cast the spell you need in order to proc Eclipse and then go to town. (Well, not literally.) Although DoT ticks won't consume the charges from your bonus, the initial damage from Moonfire will; this is the only time that you want to prioritize Insect Swarm over Moonfire, as it won't cause for your buff to expire early. Ideally, you want to have Moonfire rolling on several mobs before entering Eclipse, but don't waste too much time spreading it around before pushing into Eclipse.
One thing you do want to take care of before entering into Eclipse is planting Wild Mushroom. You want to get all of them down before you start gaming Eclipse should you have to, but if you cannot drop them at that point, then do it before pushing. Once the buff has ticked down to the last second, use Detonate. As with everything else, Wild Mushroom benefits from the bonus; however, it does consume charges on hit. If done properly, you'll have several seconds of rolling Insect Swarms with 100% crit chance followed by a triple mushroom explosion that also has a 100% crit chance. It's a very tasty combination.
Once that is done, just go back into the standard priority. Plant new mushrooms if you will need them again, start rolling Moonfire on everything, and Detonate on cooldown.
As I mentioned earlier, Hurricane doesn't really have much of a place; this is because it has absurdly low damage in comparison to our other abilities. Moonfire, Insect Swarm, and Wild Mushroom all deal more damage than Hurricane. The only time that Hurricane even results in higher DPS than any of those is if both DoTs are rolling on all targets and Detonate is on cooldown, which happens very infrequently in traditional AoE situations.
As with everything else, there is a minor caveat. Hurricane functions just as Insect Swarm, and Moonfire ticks do in respects to the T11 bonus; it benefits from it, but does not consume it. For this reason, Hurricane can result in higher overall DPS to use if you will gain the benefit of the bonus. Realistically, this is only applicable for a single encounter: Maloriak. Even with the 100% chance on it, rolling DoTs is very close in terms of damage to Hurricane and far less mana-intensive; it's for this reason that Maloriak offers the best AoE choice for Hurricane. Here is the breakdown.
First, get within one spellcast of a Solar Eclipse. At this point, you need to plant mushrooms, then start rolling all DoTs that you can onto the adds. Ideally, you want to start this roughly 15 seconds before the green phase begins in order to have enough time to get all of your DoTs rolling onto the targets. As Maloriak tosses in the vial to begin the phase, cast Starfire to enter Eclipse, wait a split second to gain the buff, then begin to channel Hurricane. Just before your T11 buff expires, interrupt Hurricane by using Detonate and Sunfire. If you really want to push the limit, you can also run Glyph of Typhoon for this encounter and cast it at the exact same time as Detonate, and both spells will get the benefit. During this period, you'll have 100% crit DoTs rolling on several targets, Hurricane will have 100% crit, and Wild Mushroom will have 100% crit. Now ... laugh and rejoice at all the lower DPSers you just crushed beneath your heel.
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.