Firelands comes and goes, boss strategies are created and refined -- and with each passing encounter, players come up with different ways in which they can push the mold. What may be true for one raiding tier can quickly become the wrong way of doing things in the next, without any changes or direction from Blizzard. While we can sometimes point to spell scaling as the root cause of these alterations, often it is the changes within the design of the encounters that actually force players to adapt in ways that go against conventional wisdom.
In the past raiding tier, using DOTs as our AOE has been the one and only method to perform. Our more traditional AOE was mocked due to the constraints that were placed upon it. That has not changed in the least; what has changed, however, in AOE in general. Throughout the first raiding tier and even into Firelands, Blizzard has made changes to the mobs that we AOE and the strength of other classes' AOE abilities, all of which impacts the way we perform. This week, we take a look at the new face of balance AOE.
Are we seriously talking Hurricane?
Perhaps the biggest news since our last article was the downing of heroic Ragnaros. It was quite a monumental achievement for those involved, and whatever your feelings are on the raiding tier or the raiding group, I at least offer them a hearty congratulations. Originally, DREAM Paragon did not want to release their kill video, which only makes logical sense, but a few days ago, that silence was finally broken.
Why bring this up? If you have not yet watched the video, then I suggest you go do so. It includes my favorite balance druid, Lappe, in action. (Okay, my second favorite balance druid.) Many of Paragon's videos actually show Lappe's point of view, and by watching him, you can glean a lot of the tricks and hoops balance druids jump through in order to deal chart-topping DPS. In the case of this Ragnaros encounter, you'll see Lappe breaking what is perhaps one of the largest moonkin no-no's of our time: casting Hurricane.
Hurricane has been shunned by balance druids for the majority of this expansion. While there are a few rare cases when it could be beneficial in order to game the system to take advantage of Hurricane, that ability has since been removed and that puts a huge dent in the viability of the spell. The other use that Hurricane has seen is as a slow, yet with Fungal Growth, Wild Mushrooms can slow just as well and cover a much larger area.
Why, then, use Hurricane? Has the spell been buffed in some way to finally make it viable? Is there some crazy, super-secret technique that only Lappe knows to make Hurricane worth using? Short answer: no.
When to make the switch
Using DOTs as a form of AOE has always relied upon a single principle -- that the DOTs would last long enough on each mob in order for their damage to actually play out. Unlike other forms of AOE, the damage isn't done up front; rather, it trickles out. DOTs work for AOE purely because the AOE requirements of past tiers were so high and so few specs were able to contribute at the same level. You could easily have several DOTs tick completely out before a wave of adds died. This significantly increased the power of our multi-DOTing capabilities, making us seem like vast AOE powerhouses. While true, that principle held faintly onto the best scaling mechanic in the game: time.
Many specs are now far more powerful in terms of AOE than when this expansion started. Furthermore, the adds in the Firelands have proportionately less health than those in the prior raiding tier. Combined, these facts leads to the situation we find ourselves in now, in which Hurricane can be worth casting.
Notice in the Ragnaros video that each add wave only lasts around 6 seconds tops. In that time frame, you could get out maybe five Sunfires on different targets, and they would tick only a handful of times. While Sunfire would certainly tick harder than Hurricane does, the numbers just aren't there. The adds don't live long enough for the DOT to do it's job; thus, our old friend makes a reappearance. During any time that an add group is going to last for less than a single Hurricane channel, then it is far better to cast Hurricane than to go through the normal DOTing routine.
The unfortunate side of things is that you won't really have much of a way of knowing this until you've seen the encounter itself. Ragnaros phase 2 adds have relatively low health, so Hurricane works; the same is also true of Beth'tilac's Spiderlings. On Lord Rhyolith, it depends a little bit more on your raid composition. If your group doesn't get the adds on Rhyolith down within a short time frame, then DOTing would be the better choice; however, if you have really strong AOE, then you'd want to Hurricane instead. It's all a matter of what fits your raid group.
Matters of damage
Unfortunately, damage was only a fraction of the issues that surrounded Hurricane. The primary concern that should bother every balance druid is that our entire AOE abilities rely on being in Solar Eclipse. It's an old, tired battle, but this really is one that we cannot let up on. Our entire ability to contribute meaningful DPS in any AOE situation hinges upon being in Solar.
Again, refer back to Lappe on the Ragnaros kill. You see him casting Starfire in Solar for a good 15 or so seconds because there's an add phase coming up, and not being in Solar means he contributes far less damage than he would in Solar. That easily makes the difference between killing the adds in time or having them destroy the raid.
Why Blizzard has allowed this obvious and crippling flaw to go on for so long is frankly baffling to me. While it is easy to make the case for player skill or that not every ability should be balanced in every situation, this is an entirely different animal. The entire philosophy of casting the wrong spell in order to delay Eclipse for a specific portion of an encounter is senseless, and it goes against the entire design philosophy for both balance druids and the game as a whole.
How powerful and necessary this tactic is becomes clear when you look at any parsing data. A balance druid can literally give up thousands of DPS for an extended length of time, dealing less damage than any other DPSer in the raid, yet still bounce back to crush everyone within a small window of time. Solar AOE is untouchably powerful. I would gladly trade a portion of that power if it meant that I was actually capable of AOEing at any part of my rotation.
Matters of mana
The other major concern with Hurricane is one of mana. Hurricane is the most expensive AOE spell in the game. No other caster has to spend as much mana as we do in order to use our intended AOE ability, and how much of a hindrance that can be was evident rather quickly. Initially, it was rather difficult for any balance druid to use Hurricane as an AOE ability even as intended because we simply couldn't support the mana cost.
To be fair, a portion of that is our own fault. Blizzard's intention was clear from the beginning of beta: Innervate was not to be a raid utility, and balance druids would have to Innervate themselves. We scoffed at Blizzard for believing that it could create such a system, and rightfully so, yet Hurricane was one of those limiting factors. Still, we found a way to ignore the mana constraints and deal higher levels of damage.
Gear, however, was always the real limiting factor. Balance druids are somewhat remarkable in that our standard form of mana regeneration scales with our mana pool. The more mana we have, the more we regenerate, meaning that as we progress within the expansion, any prior mana concerns eventually evaporate. Yet we have now reached a point at which both of those goals have been reached.
Innervate is no longer a raid utility tool, as the mana that it refunds to targets who are not the casting druid is rather pitiful. Furthermore, gear has advanced in such a way that we're rapidly reaching the point that Eclipse transitions will become mana-positive (meaning that we actually gain more mana than we expend to reach each Eclipse state). Now that balance druids are free to Innervate themselves, we have the spare talent points to pick up Dreamstate, and Euphoria is worth more than it was previously, the mana cost of Hurricane is becoming trivial.
That isn't a real solution, though. Not every balance druid runs around in the latest, greatest raiding purples. Also, gear will eventually reset; come around to the next expansion, and (barring any changes) we'll be right back where we started again. Hurricane will be far too expensive, and we simply won't be able to afford it any more. Blizzard needs to stop being content with the fact that things are somewhat functional in the now and actually look toward the future, for a change. Fix the problems now, before they end up breaking a class, not once the class becomes broken.
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.