Druids, friends, brothers and sisters, we need to have a right good talk. Earlier in the week, Blizzard released the ability list and talent calculator for every class and spec in the next expansion. As we all knew, there were many significant changes that were made in terms of what abilities each spec received and, in some cases, how these abilities worked. Oddly enough, this seemed to cause something of an uproar within the druid community over several choice changes. It's strange to me that a community preaching patience quickly froths at the mouth, but fret not, nothing is nearly as bad as it seems.
The changes are massive -- of that there is no doubt -- but at the core, everything that we've known is still there. The majority of the balance druid spec as it exists today is virtually intact; as far as changes could go, this is close to the best that we could have hoped for. There are still tweaks that should be made, but those shall come in time. For now, allow me assuage your fears.
The curse of Lunar Shower
Oh, Lunar Shower, Lunar Shower, what are we to do with you? First, there is a large amount of misinformation within the community about why it is that we currently do not take Lunar Shower. Make no mistake, we really don't want to have Lunar Shower as a base passive. It isn't that great of a talent, but the flaws are entirely different from what you might gather were you to go read half of what is being said on the forums.
To start with, Lunar Shower isn't a direct DPS loss. What's that? Oh, it's true. Lunar Shower is useful for what it was intended to do, that is, in a movement DPS situation. The problem that we have is that it is far more limiting than merely movement. Lunar Shower only works in periods of extended movement when you would actually build all the way up to three stacks, which would require at absolute minimum of 3 seconds (usually slightly more) in order to reach. Even with the Eclipse energy generation pushing you out of Eclipse, Lunar Shower is a DPS increase. In fact, the talent is invaluable for heroic Ragnaros.
However, in every other situation, it does not yield a DPS increase or can be a DPS decrease. The largest issue with Lunar Shower is how it interacts with our ability to AoE, which is to say that it utterly destroys it -- well, partially destroys it. You can still AoE just as effectively with Lunar Shower as without; you just have to game Eclipse a little bit differently. The other problem is that it doesn't work for short bouts of movement.
Need to only take a few steps to avoid a Lava Wave? Running out of Staghelm's Leap? Moonfire, and by extension Lunar Shower, isn't of use to you there. In periods of short movement when you don't have time to fully stack and utilize Lunar Shower, it can result in a loss of DPS or a neutral change in DPS.
It isn't the end of the world
The current implementation of Lunar Shower is a bad design. It needs to be tweaked. But it isn't the end of the world. It's a bad design purely because it doesn't function as it was intended to function, which is to say that it doesn't increase movement DPS in all situations, only some of them. The factor that it holds on our AoE is irrelevant. Either Hurricane is fixed to be a proper AoE ability in which case Lunar Shower holds no bearing on AoE, or we keep using Moonfire and merely stall Eclipse at the start of a proc instead of at any point. Either way, our AoE isn't going to be changed.
Ideally, Lunar Shower would be scrapped entirely for a real movement ability, but it isn't impossible to balance the talent out. That, however, is a different topic for another day.
On nukes and cast times
Another thing that people were actually slow to notice but quick to bandwagon on top of once it was discovered is the cast time changes for Wrath and Starfire (although it would be more accurate to say that we merely lost Starlight Wrath). Wrath actually has a base cast time of 2.5 seconds currently in game; we merely talent to take 0.5 seconds off of that. Starfire's base cast time is 3.5 seconds, again with 0.5 seconds taken away. The listed Wrath cast is the same 2.5 that we have today. Nothing has changed other than the loss of Starlight Wrath.
Starfire's cast time, however, was tweaked, brought down from 3.5 to 2.7, yet whether this is an actual change or merely a database error isn't really clear. 2.7 isn't a spell's usual cast time -- in fact, I don't think any spell has a base cast time that isn't a factor of 5 -- so it's highly unlikely that 2.7 is legitimately the new cast time for Starfire. I would count on Blizzard introducing Starlight Wrath back in some form or another, but it may also be toying with the idea of keeping Wrath at 2.5 and dropping Starfire down to that level. It would certainly be an interesting direction considering the concerns that Ghostcrawler noted last beta about Wrath and Starfire becoming too similar to each other, but you never know.
Old things becoming new
Other important though less controversial changes were nothing more than old talents being baked into existing skills. Genesis was baked into its respective skills; Nature's Grace, Sunfire, and Euphoria were all baked into the passive Eclipse gained at level 10. Fungal Growth was baked into Wild Mushroom -- oh, and we get to keep Owlkin Frenzy, because that was super-important; without it, we'd have no reason to stand in lava during encounters, and that would just be wrong.
There were some interesting additions as well. Starfall now resets its cooldown upon reaching a Lunar Eclipse. Currently, if you use Glyph of Starsurge, you might get lucky enough to hit Starfall's cooldown on a Lunar Eclipse every single time, but most often you either forced to use it outside of the Eclipse because it came up just as you left, or you have to hold onto it for merely half a minute in order to reach Lunar. Now, it will always be up every single Eclipse cycle and will definitely have a much shorter cooldown than 1.5 seconds.
What's interesting about this change as it completely removes the need to have Glyph of Starsurge or Glyph of Starfall. Both do nothing more than offer cooldown reductions for the ability, but neither of them, even together, would be enough to reduce the cooldown enough to where you might get two Starfall's per cycle.
Insect Swarm changes
Jumping back into the heavy, more drama-causing changes, it seems that Insect Swarm is no longer going to be a traditional DoT as we know it today. Currently, Insect Swarm is listed as being a raw debuff that increases the damage of Wrath, Starfire, and Starsurge by 30%. While that may seem as though it's a huge gain, it might even be slightly low-balled when you consider that Insect Swarm's damage currently accounts for around 15ish% of our total damage. That isn't what has people upset, though. There seems to be some strange community attachment to Insect Swarm.
A quick review of Insect Swarm: It was once a talent, introduced back in The Burning Crusade, during which time it wasn't actually used in the balance rotation because its damage was far too low. Blizzard first attempted to correct this in Wrath, but the original changes fell flat and we still didn't use Insect Swarm until it was buffed for a second time. Even then, we came close to dropping the ability by the end of Wrath due to the utter lack of scaling it had. Why people are upset that Insect Swarm might not be retained as a DoT is beyond me. It isn't like it has been a strong part of our rotation for any long sense of time.
If we lose Insect Swarm as a DoT, then we lose Insect Swarm as a DoT; it isn't the end of the world either way.
Everything will be fine
Finally, I want to leave people with this: The talents and ability list that you see today are entirely pre-alpha, as Zarhym had mentioned the day after their release. Abilities that should be listed potentially aren't listed, abilities that have already been changed might not be up to date on the list that you see ... There's a wide array of hemming and hawing still to be done before anything is finalized. No need to get your knickers in a knot just yet.
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.