Well, it's happened again. Once more, I intended for this week to be a first look at balance druids in Mists of Pandaria, but as I wrote the article, I felt that much of it was lacking the proper context. Since we haven't had a moonkin post around here in some time, I'd like to step back briefly and discuss some of the issues with the specialization that were identified going into the new expansion. Next week, we'll discuss the changes Blizzard is implementing on the beta and how they fix (or don't fix!) the issues I've described here.
Overpowered AoE/multitarget rotation For the majority of the expansion, balance druids were one of the best AoE DPS classes in the game. This was due largely to two factors, the relative strength of the moonkin DoT abilities plus Wild Mushroom and the ability to remain in a Solar Eclipse nearly indefinitely during AoE phases to buff those two abilities (aka solarcleave). Even for non-AoE fights, it was still very easy for moonkin to supplement their damage on their primary target with DoTs on a secondary target. Heroic Morchok and Warmaster Blackhorn are excellent examples of this for this tier.
While nobody likes seeing a nerf, this gameplay style went against the original design for moonkin, which was to be consistently striving to maximize Eclipse uptime, only pausing the cycle occasionally for movement or AoE. Poor Hurricane -- it received a brand-new animation in patch 4.3, but due to its poor damage in comparison to DoTs/Wild Mushroom, it still remained virtually unused.
Underpowered single-target rotation While the relative weakness of the spec in a single-target encounter was camouflaged by their strength at AoE, certain Dragon Soul raid encounters exposed that weakness in a big way. Heroic Spine of Deathwing, specifically, was a huge moonkin killer, as balance druids uniformly struggled with being able to generate the large amounts of burst damage necessary to kill tendons. A burst cooldown was needed, in a big way, and Force of Nature simply didn't get the job done.
Now, opinions varied on what form this cooldown was to take. Some advocated for a simple use effect that would boost DPS for a brief time (similar to, say, Archangel for shadow priests), while others argued for more of an Execute-type effect. Either way, however, the single-target rotation needed something to spice it up a bit.
Movement DPS Continuing to DPS while moving was, to put it charitably, not a moonkin's strong point. Of all the casters, Starfire has the longest cast time of any rotational ability, and Eclipse is balanced around us completing our casts. In general, then, moonkin tend to suffer the most when they have to move.
The Lunar Shower talent was designed to give moonkin a movement option but was ultimately a failure. The original version was too powerful and allowed Moonfire spam at a very small DPS cost. By the time it was revised, however, the strength of Eclipsed Moonfire/Sunfire DOTs was so great that overwriting them with a direct damage cast was usually a terrible idea. Unfortunately, without LS, moonkin were reduced to very, very little.
- Eclipse energy gains (and thus a large portion of DPS) are mostly dependent on hard cast abilities, which are frequently interrupted.
- DoTs have no dispel protection. By itself, this isn't a big deal since they're fairly trivial to reapply, but combined with the above, it means it's difficult for a balance druid to put out any damage unless they're ignored.
- The iconic form tends to draw fire in Battlegrounds ... so, yeah, we never get ignored. No more trees running around to draw fire.
- The long cooldown on Solar Beam (compared to Counterspell) can cause problems when we're trying to interrupt something.
- Inability to generate burst on command, as discussed previously, makes it difficult to score kills in Arena.
- Difficult to DPS on the move. Lunar Shower spam works reasonably well for Battlegrounds but fails to generate enough damage if there's an enemy healer around.
Adding to this was some basic polish problems. For example, both Wrath and Starfire added their Eclipse energy when they landed, not when they were cast. Since optimal DPS required switching from one spell to the other as soon as the corresponding Eclipse was triggered, good moonkin had to watch their energy bars like hawks so they could precast the "wrong" spell (which would become the "right" one as soon as the previous cast landed). The default UI didn't do a very good job of signaling which Eclipse players were in, which intimidated many players.
Wild Mushroom, was another ability that was frequently reviled for being extremely unwieldy and difficult to use effectively. Its use during AoE and movement situations was necessary, but it required a full seven clicks/presses every 10 seconds (click, place, click, place, click, place, detonate). While some moonkin enjoyed the complexity, many just refused to use the spell altogether or simply used it suboptimally.
That wraps up the quick retrospective. Next week (promise!) I'll go into some of the new goodies such as Celestial Alignment and Incarnation and talk about what the loss of Insect Swarm means for moonkin. Feel free to discuss old or new issues in the comments, and we'll talk more next week!
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.