Just like last year, this December brings both new beginnings and endings. A new raid, with new toys, but the end of an expansion, with likely no significant changes to mechanics until the release of Mists of Pandaria. As we sit around the fire with mugs of cider, enjoying (or loathing) our new sweaters, let's take a moment to look back at the events of 2011. Those of you who have already set them on fire, feel free to follow along from outside. (Bad cat! Bad cat!)
Patch 4.0 blues
Let's face it: Life was not so hot in early Cataclysm for us ferals. It's long enough ago that it's hard to remember, but our AoE damage was just pathetic. Swipe hit so weakly that our best AoE strategies revolved around multiDoTing, which was quite difficult and even then wasn't very powerful. Heroic Maloriak really brought this out; feral was consistently the lowest DPS spec, a good 10% below the next spec and almost 50% below our fellow balance druids. While most of the balance issues are typically ironed out quickly, this one persisted for quite a while.Thankfully, our single-target damage was passable, but only just.
Discussion on the issue dominated the druid forums for months. Initial hope that "it was just a PTR testing change" proved for naught; in the end, it went live exactly as promised. While Blizzard has relented somewhat and allowed Dash and Stampeding Roar to still break roots, feral druids still remain one of the easiest classes in the game to control. Ferals can still put out significant damage and can put out control very well via Cyclone, but their weaknesses have largely shut them out of the higher-level Arena brackets.
4.0.6 had one silver lining, though: Unheeded Warning. This trinket's proc was quietly changed from +25% auto-attack damage to +680 weapon damage. It didn't garner much attention, because that still made the trinket meh for every class -- except ferals, who use weapon damage to calculate the damage of their direct damage specials, such as Mangle and Shred. So yeah, that weapon damage was worth somewhere around 3,000 AP. Sadly, it did not affect Swipe, so our AoE was terrible ... but we had some fun burst in PvP. Of course, all good things must come to an end; it was hotfixed early in Patch 4.2.
Patch 4.1 wasn't much of a help. In a "PvP fix," damage was taken away from our bleeds and added to our direct-damage abilities. While this was supposed to be DPS-neutral, this actually ended up being a slight DPS loss for fights involving significant movement (which, coincidentally, was most of them). While our overall average DPS went up due to people's gearing up in the troll heroics, our overall single-target DPS in comparison to other classes declined to the bottom of the charts, neck and neck with the poor ret paladins. To add insult to injury, druids lost Rebirth as an exclusive class spell. There was a bit of light at the end of the tunnel, however; kitty Swipe damage was doubled (yes, that's how bad it was), which at least fixed the AoE issue. Overall, though, things were very dark, and many ferals (including me) unsubscribed for a time.
Beyond every winter lies a spring, however, and Blizzard had a nice surprise in store. Admitting that feral damage had been scaling poorly with gear (which all the top druid theorycrafters had been saying since release), Blizzard came out and buffed all our abilities. These changes didn't make us godlike; in fact, we were still worse than average. However, they did make our damage competitive with other players of equal skill, which was all we had asked for. Admittedly, I wouldn't have complained all that loudly if we had gotten a buff like retribution did in 4.3. Unfortunately for our bear brethren, however, they got the "scaling too fast" side of the coin and had their damage nerfed.
The other big news was the introduction of gear that modified our feral form for the first time. Fandral's Flamescythe was fairly rare (until the big Firelands nerfs), and it was awesome. Maybe I'm being bribed, but the trend of weapons with cool effects (first Fandral's, now Kiril) is perfectly fine with me. If this keeps up, we'll finally see a feral legendary in Mists of Pandaria.
In contrast to patch 4.2, the arrival of Dragon Soul and patch 4.3 didn't really herald any large changes. Annoyances persist, such as being penalized for our rotation on Ultraxion; however, we're pretty solidly in the middle of the pack for normal modes, which is perfectly fine after the horrors of 4.0 and 4.1.
Things weren't all bad this year. Feral druids kept one massive bit of utility that only the could contribute, even after things like Innervate and Rebirth were marginalized. I speak, of course, of the bearcat.
A quick refresher: Bearcatting is essentially taking advantage of the fact that the feral tree covers both a tanking and a DPS role, and thus has many talents that affect both Cat and Bear. By speccing, gemming, and reforging correctly, a bearcat player can have 99% of the survivability of a standard Bear player, plus 90% of a Cat player's DPS in Cat Form. (A slight modification, what I call the catbear, can push 95% of a normal cat's DPS with a small survivability cost.)
Now, for one-tank fights or two-tank fights with constant adds/switches, this isn't very helpful. However, many fights require an off tank for only a small amount of time. This ability to do 90% DPS when not tanking (compared to a regular tank who probably does 30% DPS in tank gear and spec) can make a huge difference in 10-man DPS checks. It's also a great way to go if you're interested in raid soloing.
Of course, there are big changes afoot, as announced at BlizzCon. Feral is seeing what is likely the game's biggest revamp, with a majority of the bear talents and abilities removed and allocated to the new Guardian specialization. While this will eliminate the majority of our bearcat abilities, the new talent trees reveal many new tools for us to play around with, and the new Symbiosis ability represents additional utility, for the first time in some time. While I was mostly disappointed with the feral class in a large part of 2011, we're in a good place now, and I'm looking forward to continuing awesomeness in Pandaria.
Looking for the latest and greatest in feral cat druid guides? Shifting Perspectives has the answers! Check out our cat 101 for Cataclysm. Also don't miss gearing your cat for Firelands raiding, addons for cat druids and raiding strats for feral cats, as well as our feral cat Firelands boss strats.