Okay, I know this column is a little behind the Mists of Pandaria power curve. That said, if you happened to fall in love with another class (coughMonkcough) for leveling this time around, and you've just now leveling to 90...here's some tips. And yes, that's a moonkin on a mechanostrider by a fish. Why? Isn't it obvious?
Before your arrival in Pandaria
Well, that depends on what level your gear is at. If you didn't play significantly at endgame in Cataclysm, you'll find that the enemies get a lot stronger as soon as you hit ground in Jade Forest. You'll get pieces of 378 green gear as you proceed through the early quests, but if you're still rocking Mount Hyjal greens like some of my alts, you may want to look at picking up some Misthide crafted leather items from the auction house. If none are available, you can also ride to Dawn's Blossom and visit the gear vendor there for some starter pieces. You can skip this if you choose, but in that case expect the initial quests to be fairly difficult, and you won't have the item level to queue for dungeons right away.
You'll also want to pick up some key glyphs. Ferals will want to glyph Savagery, Cat Form, and either Prowl or Dash; Balance will want to glyph Moonbeast. Aquatic Form is also a helpful minor glyph, as there's quite a few underwater quests.
Best spec for leveling
I see this question a lot, and frankly, the best answer is "the spec you enjoy the most." It's a game, after all. However, I know some people just want to get through the leveling part of the game as fast as possible so they can start working on endgame content, so here's my ranking of the specs for leveling purposes, from worst to best.
Restoration Well, the good part about leveling as resto is you will never die. By keeping Rejuvenation and Lifebloom rolling on you, you'll quickly be able to heal up damage from everything but champions. Of course, the downside is everything else you want to do takes longer. Killing things for quests takes twice as long as a DPS spec, and dungeon queues are still reasonably long for healers (though not as long as DPS queues). If you like healing, though, dungeon queueing is your only reasonable option.
Guardian Tanks get the benefit of instant queues, so that's a good thing if you like dungeons. Unfortunately, there's only four dungeons to cover the entire leveling experience, so that starts to get old after a while. When questing, you're very survivable so you can pull groups of enemies and AoE them down, but it still takes a long time to kill anything. I could see questing as Guardian in Townlong Steppes or Dread Wastes (generally easier to pull multiples, stuff hits pretty hard) but I wouldn't recommend it otherwise.
Balance Of the two DPS specs, I flipped back and forth between each to see which I preferred for leveling, and balance just missed out. It's definitely simpler than feral; pick a target, move to range, and start nuking away. Unlike a cloth caster, you're pretty durable, so you don't need to worry much about taking a few hits from your average quest mob; just keep nuking it until it's dead. You can also self-heal quite well with Rejuvenation as you're moving from enemy to enemy.
Unfortunately, it still doesn't kill quite as fast as Feral. Starfire hits acceptably hard when you're in a Lunar Eclipse, but Wrath-spamming in Solar doesn't do nearly the same damage to a single-target. Unfortunately, you don't have much of a choice in the matter. The special abilities also feel flat; Celestial Alignment just basically lets you prolong a Lunar phase, Shooting Stars doesn't proc enough, and Starfall gets you killed. (There's a new glyph coming in 5.1 to make Starfall less deadly, thankfully.)
Feral Unlike balance, feral's a bit harder to get used to. You have to keep Savage Roar up to do any decent damage, and your self-healing is mainly going to come from Predatory Swiftness procs (which you have to remember to use). The initial set-up can be a bit slow (Prowl, move/Wild Charge to target, Savage Roar, then attack), and AoE situations will leave you starved for energy quickly.
Once you get into the flow, though, the increased movement speed of Cat Form largely negates balance's range advantage, and the ability to regenerate energy between pulls makes feral much faster at killing things speedily. When you add in the strength of Berserk as a cooldown and the ability to stun without leaving form, feral's ahead by a paw.
Talent choices for leveling
While you'll want to change these up for endgame play, here's my talent recommendations to get through the leveling grind.
- Level 15: Feline Swiftness. Wild Charge is fun, but the range is too short. In feral, I always found myself needing to move to put myself in range to charge, and the moonkin bound can't be used out of combat. My feral moves at 144% with Feline Swiftness, which is really helpful (and with the Prowl glyph, you can move that speed in stealth).
- Level 30: Nature's Swiftness. I use a macro to couple NS with Healing Touch; this lets me bust out a free buffed HT every minute, which typically heals for almost as much as Renewal and works better than Cenarion Ward.
- Level 45: Typhoon. Honestly, I've never used any ability this tier as feral (so take what you like), but Typhoon is very handy for Moonkin to keep things off of them. If you're not very good at aiming it, grab Faerie Swarm instead.
- Level 60: Incarnation. While I recommend Soul of the Forest for endgame play, much of SOTF's benefit gets wasted in shorter fights where you're not using more than one finisher (or cycling through multiple Eclipses). Force of Nature is nice, but much of its value comes from the treants's free stun (feral) or root (balance), which is essential for PvP but not as useful in PvE. With Incarnation, you have two 3 minute damage cooldowns, which can be paired for bosses or used alternately for powering through normal trash.
- Level 75: Mighty Bash. Great for interrupting annoying abilities, usable in any form, and completely free of charge.
- Level 90: Nature's Vigil. Well. technically you're done with leveling at this point, but if you're planning on doing daily quests for rep, you'll want NV. This gives you a third CD that you can rotate through to power through the quests. Alternatively, if you're running out of keybinds, just pick Heart of the Wild and enjoy the passive buff.
Mists of Pandaria is here! The level cap has been raised to 90, many players have returned to Azeroth, and pet battles are taking the world by storm. Keep an eye out for all of the latest news, and check out our comprehensive guide to Mists of Pandaria for everything you'll ever need to know.