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Shifting Perspectives: How to make the switch to balance

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.

It's another glorious patch week. Patch 4.1 had a few major balancing changes, but a majority of them were to address specs that were a little low or weak in certain areas. Balance druids, although taking a hit, didn't have too much going on for them this time around. Rather understandable -- we're in a good place damage-wise, and this patch was more a focus on new content and features anyway.

Instead of spending gross amounts of time rattling on about such small things, I thought this would be a good time to address a question that I get asked pretty frequently. Cataclysm brought about a lot of changes, both to healing and DPS. Each player reacted differently to the new design, and there are many restoration druids out there who find they just aren't quite happy with the way things are for them any more. And I mean, who could blame them? They have to be trees -- who wants to be a tree? Trees are boring. The natural thing to do is to flow into balance; the gear is kind-of-sort-of the same, anyway.

So how is it done? Well, I guess that's what I'm here for.

Patch 4.1 changes

I didn't want to spend a lot of time talking about the patch changes, but I suppose that they are worth mentioning for those who might be curious. In terms of damage, there were only two changes in the patch that matter to us in any way, one of which isn't even a druid change.
  • Starsurge's damage has been reduced by 20%.
  • The DoT-increasing proc from Dark Intent has been reduced from 9% to 3% for non-warlocks.
The first change, which was the only change that druids actually saw, honestly isn't that big of a deal. On most encounters, this would result in around a loss of 3% DPS, which while noticeable, isn't going to make or break you and shouldn't really impact your position within your guild in any way. It sucks -- it's a bad change that attempts to address a problem in the completely wrong way -- but it is what it is.

The Dark Intent change, however, hurts a lot more. Truth be told, it is difficult to say that this is a nerf for anyone. While balance druids were one of the priority targets for Dark Intent, not every balance druid got it, and even those who did often were already sharing with shadow priests, fire mages, and feral druids anyway. When you consider that this nerf impacts all of the beneficial specs in the same way, it's hard to actually call it a nerf. Not that it doesn't reduce player's damage -- it clearly does -- but it reduces everyone is pretty much the same way, so it balances out in the end.

I'm actually glad for this change. Balance druids weren't all that reliant on Dark Intent on single-target encounters, so despite the protests from shadow priests, we actually took the largest hit from this change (along with, arguably, fire mages). Dark Intent was strongest for balance druids during AoE situations, where we started multi-DoTting everything.

Despite how much players dislike this change, it is better for game balance. If DoT-based specs end up too weak with this change, then they can be adjusted more accurately without the development team having to worry about those with Dark Intent becoming too powerful. In terms of balance druids, while it is primarily an AoE nerf, we are feeling it less now than before due to the previous Wild Mushroom changes.

Given that Wild Mushroom is now a much stronger AoE ability (and in fact is now our strongest AoE spell), we don't suffer from this change as much as we would have previously. In a lot of AoE cases, you won't always be able to even cycle both DoTs on targets. Between using Wild Mushroom on cooldown and prioritizing Sunfire over Insect Swarm, the time constraints for getting both DoTs rolling on all targets is difficult to meet. You only have 6 seconds between each Detonation in order to apply DoTs, and each DoT lasts around 18 seconds depending on haste. Most people will probably have a GCD around 1.3 or 1.2 seconds on their DoTs, which means you can get at most 13-14 DoTs cycling -- or basically, you can only maintain both DoTs on seven targets.

You won't even begin to get Insect Swarm on targets until after the second Detonation. There aren't many cases when AoE adds are going to even last beyond three or four explosions, so your DoTs wouldn't have had much time to tick anyway.

Basically, the change sucks for balance AoE, but more of our damage has already been shifted to Wild Mushroom anyway, so it isn't as crippling as it would have been. Balance is still the strongest AoE spec in them game, so people can just keep QQing about us.

Making the Switch: Gear

The first thing that restoration druids are going to have to look at once they switch over to balance is their gear. Balance and restoration share a lot of the same gear in many slots simply because there aren't really any items that are designed specifically for balance druids -- any leather item is actually designed to be shared with both of them. Due to this, any leather item that you are already wearing is pretty much exactly what a balance druid would be wearing; the only obvious exception would be restoration tier gear compared to balance tier gear. Even then, restoration tier is actually pretty good for balance druids too; in fact, the restoration tier helm is a perfect off-piece for a balance druid.

The only items that restoration druids will probably have to look into changing immediately would be their non-armor specific item: rings, cloaks, necklaces, and trinkets. These slots can go either way for balance druids, depending on their needs. While most healers always prioritize spirit into these items, balance is more flexible. They can use spirit items here if they need the hit, or they can use "pure" DPS items. Whether or not you need to change out these items all depends on your hit levels, which I'll mention in a moment.

First and foremost, trinkets are usually going to be your downfall. Most trinkets are designed to work either exclusively with healing or damaging spells; there aren't too many that can go either way. Always doublecheck your trinkets to make sure that their secondary effect works with damaging spells or isn't a spirit proc that doesn't help balance at all. These will be your priority to change. I can't really tell you what to change them to; there's a wide selection out there, depending on your progression. Basically, look at the other casters in your guild; the trinkets they are using should be the ones that you aim to use as well.

Adjust for spirit

Restoration druids are very spirit-heavy, which isn't a problem for switching over to balance at all. Balance druids use spirit for their hit, so it all works out in the end. However, most restoration druids will have spirit on every single item, while balance doesn't need quite that much. As a balance druid, you only need to have 1,742 spirit in order to reach the hit cap of 17%. In full restoration gear, you will probably be well over this limit.

To start out, switch to any non-spirit items that you have. Although ilevel is a major concern here, it can be okay to switch from a higher-level item to a lower-level item in order to drop spirit, but only in certain circumstances. Only switch out a higher-ilevel spirit item for a lower-ilevel spirit item if you will gain at least twice as much haste/crit/mastery as you lose in intellect. Technically, you can get away with a bit less than double for haste, and you probably need close to triple if you would gain crit, but the double rule is a good one to follow in general.

After you have done that, it's time to hit the reforger -- but before rushing off to tweak out your gear, make sure to read the next section on gemming first! First, any item that has spirit on it but not haste should be reforged to have haste. Period. Every item that you own should have haste on it in one way or another, be it naturally or through reforging. No exceptions. If you are still too high on spirit after doing this, go back through and adjust any item that doesn't have mastery on it to have mastery. If you still have too much spirit even after all that -- and it's possible, but unlikely -- then change spirit out for crit.

You may have to favor crit over mastery in some situations; it all depends on what you need to do in order to get as close to the hit cap as possible. That is fine. Do not, however, under any circumstances not reforge an item to not have haste. Haste is worth just as much as spirit.

Gearing: Gems and enchants

The glorious thing about Cataclysm is that nothing at all has changed in the gemming and enchanting department for DPS. DPS have always had it easy when it comes to these things, and this expansion is no different at all.

For gems, follow your color slots in pretty much the same way that you would for any restoration spec. Red slots are for intellect, blue slots are for intellect/spirit, yellow slots are for intellect/haste gems. Simple, clean, effective.

There is a little bit of a tweak here, however. There is a small little hiccup in gemming that usually isn't any issue for balance druids in balance gear, but it can come up if you are wearing a lot of restoration gear. Blue sockets are usually filled with intellect/spirit gems to give minor amounts of hit; however, you'll likely be looking to drop hit. Further, it's common for items with blue sockets to also have spirit bonuses for using the proper gem color. If you are over the hit cap and need to drop spirit, then you should replace all gems in blue sockets with red gems.

Only do this, however, if the socket bonus is also spirit. If the socket bonus is intellect, then leave everything how it is. For haste/mastery/crit bonuses, it's a little bit more tricky. To keep it simple, I would say to leave them as is. If you want to be more hardcore about it all, then you can change out the gems for any crit bonus as well. For haste and mastery, only swap them out if doing so would put you closer to where you need to be for the hit cap.

Enchanting is actually easier -- you just follow the same pattern as you do for gearing. Can you enchant for intellect/spellpower? Then do it. Can you enchant for haste? Then do it. Mastery? There's your third priority. Honestly, going for intellect/haste enchants on everything should cover all of your bases. The only oddity is boots. For lower levels, you should use the run speed/stamina enchant. Once you get really good raiding gear, switch to the grossly expensive run speed/mastery enchant.

Speccing for success

Your spec is determined by your gearing level and the content that you are doing. Balance druids are a little bit odd in their mana regeneration, so how much you need to have all depends on how good your gear is and the type of stuff that you'll be doing.

The leveling spec If you are starting out from level 80 and seeking to work your way up from there, then your spec should start out looking rather close to the link. You can take out the points in Moonglow to favor Owlkin Frenzy if you like, but that's just a personal preference. OF isn't a bad leveling talent, but it isn't spectacular either, so it all depends. As you level up, your points should then be spent into Master Shapeshifter and Furor.

While leveling, you'll probably want to claw your eyes out, sadly. You can take the "interesting" option and just follow the standard rotation: DoTs, then cast whatever Eclipse tells you to cast. If you want to push as quickly as you can through leveling content -- well, then, you get to experience the joys of running around spamming Sunfire on everything. Yay, fun!

Oh, and keep in mind that zoning into dungeons will always reset your Eclipse meter to 0. If you had an Eclipse buff up, then it will still be active, but you'll always lose your position on the bar. There are some other instanced quests that will also do this, so just be mindful any time you are about to be zoned into something. I don't think standard teleports do it (such as zoning into Deepholm), but it's honestly been so long since I've done it that I can't really be sure.

The entry-level spec Once you reach 85, this will be your basic go-to spec. It does emphasis mana regeneration, but if you are going to be doing the dungeon crawl, then you will be thankful for that. In a dungeon, you can't always be sure that you'll have Replenishment and a Blessing of Might-type buff, and balance druids rely on these a lot. When you have both of those, you'll probably be swimming in more mana than you need, but without them, you'll find yourself drinking rather frequently at lower gear levels.

That's why it's always best to spec with the assumption that you won't have them in the beginning. Once you get some gear, it isn't as required, since Euphoria can handle more and more of your needs (but you'll have to reach over 100,000 mana for that).

The raiding gear spec
After getting into full raiding gear, you won't really need as much mana regeneration. From there, you can start dropping out points in Moonglow and Furor in order to pick up the really minor DPS talents. What talents you get is actually rather malleable. If you need Fungal Growth, you can easily get that, and Perseverance is always a great choice as well.

I've currently been running without any points in Dreamstate, Moonglow, or Furor, and I have no mana issues at all for any raiding encounter. The downside is that you absolutely cannot die should you choose this spec, which I learned the hard way on certain hard-mode attempts. Dreamstate is perhaps our most useless mana regeneration talent, yet the most essential. During a normal encounter, you will never, ever need to Innervate yourself, and you will probably be asked to use it on a healer anyway. Should you die and be brought back, however, you have no choice but to Innervate yourself. Without Dreamstate, you'll still run OOM in around a minute even after Innervating yourself.

It's an odd crutch, but for any balance druid working on hard-mode content or just progression content in general, I'd highly suggest keeping Dreamstate as a just-in-case. It's rather pointless to bring you back into a fight if you can't DPS, and you certainly can't do that without mana.

Every week, Shifting Perspectives: Balance brings you druidic truth, beauty and insight ... from a moonkin's perspective. We'll help you level your brand new balance druid, tweak your UI and your endgame gear, analyze balance racials and abilities, and even walk you through PvP as a balance druid.

Filed under: Druid, (Druid) Shifting Perspectives

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