The bigger picture: Balance Druids are better than we used to be

I know that Icecrown Citadel brought with it a lot of worries to moonkin. A lot of moonkin are worried about keeping up with the other DPS in the raid. However, while moonkin are lamenting about how bad things are now, they are forgetting how bad it used to be. While they worry about possibly losing their DPS spots, they forget that we didn’t used to ever get those spots before.

So, lets take a little trip down memory lane.

The original balance druid: Hurricane was the original end-tier talent. I didn’t see my first hurricane until I was probably almost level 60, and it was someone else casting it. I remember seeing the spell in Western Plaguelands for the first time & not knowing what it was. It’s also a spell that was centered on the moonkin, and was still channeled. Barkskin talent didn’t come into the game until after several patches. There was no such thing as moonkin. The first tier of the balance tree had Nature’s Grasp. There were also other melee-oriented talents in the early part of the tree that feral or resto druids desired. Omen of clarity also used to be in the balance talent tree. I remember picking up the talent and having to melee in caster form to get omen of clarity procs.

The OOMKIN druid in patch 1.8: Moonkin form was introduced late into the original WoW patches. At this point, Lissanna was already level 60 and was raiding as a resto druid. When people tested things out on the PTR for this patch, they were primarily wearing feral or healing gear. The biggest complaint was running OOM. Why? Well, moonkin form’s mana return proc only came from smashing things in the face with your staff/mace. Yes, the original melee for mana moonkin proc. I tried to go moonkin for my raids, but moonkin’s damage was too low and they didn’t take me seriously. So, out of rebellion, I healed as moonkin spec (No innervate or Nature’s Swiftness) through all of Blackwing’s Lair and AQ-40 until we hit the Twin Emperors in QA-40 and Swiftmend was introduced in the resto tree. At that point, I finally caved and went back Resto spec with some reservations.

Testing before Burning Crusade. During the Beta testing phases for BC, I spent a lot of time trying to help give feedback that would get moonkin back on track. The very first of my epic feedback posts described what moonkin were, and why the melee moonkin design failed. Note how this feedback wasn’t even about being raid viable or PvP. It was just about trying to get mechanics that worked as intended. In my second round of feedback, I was still rebelling against the melee moonkin design (OR trying to make it work), along with discussing PvP problems, as they had recently introduced arenas (a place where moonkin still aren’t strong).

Burning Crusade Boomkin Era: The Burning Crusade changes did fix some of moonkin’s problems, and they became Boomkin instead of OOMkin. Around the 2.1 patch (even after Burning Crusade came out), I was still talking about how moonkin weren’t desired by raids. So, even after Burning Crusade came out, moonkin weren’t in a good place for PvE. During this time, I was healing with one of the original “restokin” builds that I designed for use in PvE healing. This only lasted through Karazhan, as a full-resto build was required for healing the 25-mans. I remember crying a little when they made me spec into tree form. I hated tree form healing, and I couldn’t raid as moonkin – so there was a point during Burning Crusade where I quit raiding with my druid and re-rolled shaman for PvE healing just to feel viable. I had switched back and forth between a bunch of guilds, transferred servers twice, and never felt at home regardless of where I was. If you weren’t a feral tank druid or a resto healing druid (who liked lifebloom-spam), then BC wasn’t a good era for moonkin. There were Restokin PvP builds that worked out good for arena/Battlegrounds during this era. Some moonkin also started becoming raid viable, as some people brought them for buffs & battle res. However, damage still lagged behind considerably.

Testing before WotLK: Beta testing for WotLK started after I had already switched to raid healing with my shaman. I think I was star-struck by the original WotLK beta trees.  By this point, they had addressed a lot of my major issues. At the beginning of WotLK testing, they had even increased moonkin utility so that moonkin would be desired even if their damage was low.

At some point, they followed all these utility buffs with a utility nerf – none of our new utility toys would stack with buffs that other people would bring. This meant that they had to buff our damage to compensate.

The Boomkin wrath in WotLK: At the beginning of WotLK’s release, moonkin were in a good place. At level 70, with access to the new talent trees, moonkin looked and seemed to be coming out ahead. The mechanics were still a little clunky. Moonkin underwent a series of buffs & nerfs & other changes. Eclipse & typhoon underwent several re-designs across this latest expansion. Now, post-3.3, moonkin are running into problems where there is so much stat scaling through talents that gear is running the risk of not providing good enough benefits. With low hit, haste, & crit caps for either wrath or starfire spells, moonkin are worried about scaling well enough to keep up with the other damage dealing class/specs to be able to feel like they can contribute to the DPS-race mechanics on some of the ICC bosses. Coming in near the bottom of the pack overall for damage dealers, moonkin can start to feel like things aren’t as good again. However, moonkin are still better than where they were in Vanilla & Burning Crusade. It’s just that when you start so far behind, it takes a long time to catch back up.

The future: Another revamp for Cataclysm promises a lot of changes to talent trees. The hope is that Cataclysm will be the patch where moonkin finally catch up to their damage dealing peers in a real substantial way.

Blizzard gave us a small (hopeful) hint during their Twitter chat this afternoon:

Q. Any plans on looking at Balance Druids, in particular Eclipse procs? RNG sometimes is detrimental to our DPS.
A. We don’t mind the RNG aspect that much per se, but losing an important proc because it happened at the wrong time (say just before you moved) is a problem. We have a pretty cool solution for Cataclysm if we can make it work. It makes Eclipse cooler but also gives Balance more of a kit in general.

The twitter feed also answered one of mine relevant to moonkin:

Q. Both balance druids (moonkin) and elemental shaman feel like their DPS is falling behind in Icecrown Citadel. Any damage boosts for these hybrid casters currently planned?
A. We have small buffs coming in the next patch. We’ll see where they are after that when more encounters are open (including the hard modes) and once more players have tier sets and higher gear in general. We have no problem buffing them more if we need to.

I am both worried and excited about the future of moonkin. I’m glad that we can look forward to DPS improvements for classes that fall behind in ICC (rather than having to wait until Cataclysm, like I had expected). If the Earth & Moon buff isn’t enough, then we could see other improvements before Cataclysm.

The first statement also means that they plan on keeping Eclipse for Cataclysm (in some form or another), but it also looks like “more of a kit” should mean more spells to cast and such. Given that each expansion has come with substantial improvements to moonkin, I am hoping that Cataclysm really puts them in the place that they need to be.

10 Comments

  1. Posted January 16, 2010 at 12:10 am | Permalink

    Loved reading this post Lissanna. Brought back so many good memories.

    “It’s just that when you start so far behind, it takes a long time to catch back up.”

    I had to quote that because it’s very well put and does set my mind at ease when I think back on the past. I remember being beyond excited when I’d encounter that other rare Moonkin out in the world. We have come a long way and while the current issues are still prevalent in my mind, I do appreciate all of the hard work the devs have placed in our class.

    Seeing the twitter Q&A put my mind at an even greater ease, I also thought that another buff, aside from the Earth and Moon change they’re proposing, was out of the question but it looks apparent that they are willing to continue with more buffs if needed! :D Can’t help but smile.

  2. Robert
    Posted January 16, 2010 at 4:04 am | Permalink

    You know, if they stay with their plans to not add another talent tier for cataclysm, doesn’t that mean that the restokin will become viable again? That it will be possible to make a build that has both tree form and boomkin form in it?

  3. Alithea
    Posted January 16, 2010 at 4:53 am | Permalink

    I did raid as a moonkin in TBC, but I just had to accept that I was always the last one on the meters, and by the time we began practising M’uru and KJ, I didn’t get chosen for raids unless there was no other dps available. Still bitter about that :)

  4. Treeboi
    Posted January 16, 2010 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    The old days brings back memories….

    I healed all of MC, BWL, AQ40, and Naxx using the 0/30/21 PvP feral spec. Albeit, my guild never got that far in either AQ40 or Naxx.

    Like you, I rebelled, but rebelled as feral, even though I only raided as a healer.

    However, what that rebellion made me realize is that having a perfect spec has a low correlation with your performance.

    Aka, skill and gear can *easily* compensate for a spec that is even highly wrong.

    In fact, I found that I could heal just fine, as long as I had a single talent: Intensity. Aka, as long as I could regen mana, I could heal.

    This pretty much changed my way of thinking forever, as I have never had a cookie cutter spec since then.

  5. Posted January 16, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    ” I remember seeing the spell in Western Plaguelands for the first time & not knowing what it was.”

    The first time I saw one, I couldn’t figure out what had proc’d it. Thought it was an in-game occurrence or a heck of a trinket. How do we do that again?

    You know, I thought panzerkin worked out well. If you could find a group to tank with, there was really no reason to shift, and you’d be banging enough that keeping up rounds of moonfire were no trouble at all, mana wise. Even in a dps slot, you could off-tank well, which was occasionally helpful. Going /oom wasn’t all that bad either, since you’re able to swap weapons while in combat. Swap to high melee dps and dive in.

    The thing I liked the most is that I felt like I had to do more thinking while panzerkinning than I do now as a straight boom. You had to regulate mana, spacing, weapons, and do some of the other off-spec stuff (healing). Now there’s really nothing to the rotation, Eclipse or no. I enjoy watching the healer’s health for innervating and knowing when a well-placed tranquility is going to make us avoid a wipe, but ultimately a 13 year-old lock could run a moonkin now.

  6. Lissanna
    Posted January 16, 2010 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    @Treeboi – I think that Intensity was as far as I went in the resto tree for a number of months after 1.8 came out. I just had to out-skill other people I played with to keep up with meter rankings. Talents mattered a lot less back then overall for all the classes, I think.

    :)

    I’m mostly using cookie-cutter specs now because the dual-spec system lets me.

  7. Fleethoof
    Posted January 18, 2010 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    I use more or less cookie-cutter specs because there is a reason why they are cookie cutter: they are the best specs.

  8. Lissanna
    Posted January 18, 2010 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    I think my experiences of playing around with non-traditional talents actually gave me the ability to really have a good understanding of the druid talent trees, because I was able to play with the trade-off of talent X for talent Y.

  9. Treeboi
    Posted January 21, 2010 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    @Fleethoof – I feel that there is no such thing as the best spec.

    For example, ToGC25, the heroic form of ToC25, has a wide range of very difficult, very different fights.

    For Northrend Beasts, you want every single tank healing talent you can get. Tanks can be 2 shot in that fight, so having every single possible way to get them to 100%, every second, is your best spec, even if it results in 80%+ overheals. A raid healer is almost completely unneeded for this fight.

    For Jarax, you want a mixed set of talents. You want some single target healing talents, mixed with some raid healing talents. The fight is constantly switching between single target burst healing (to clear the exploding debuf) to raid healing (to deal with inferno AoE damage).

    For Faction Champions, you want all the PvP talents you can get, because the mobs love to focus fire down healers. Being able to survive burst damage is the most important thing in this fight.

    For Twins, you want every single raid healing talent you can get. You can almost get by with a single tank healer for this fight. I pretty much heal this entire fight with just rejuv and wild growth.

    For Anub, you want fast, single target heals. Like sub 1 second, 10k heals. It’s commonplace for both the healers and the tanks to completely respec, just for this fight. If you see a druid in a high end guild, sporting some weird glyphed healing touch spec, it’s because of this fight.

    Obviously, it is completely impossible to have a spec that works perfectly for every fight of ToGC25. Any spec that’s well suited for one boss is a compromise for another boss.

    Nobody respecs for each boss. Thus, you have to choose the style that fits you the most, and hope that your style complements the other healers in your raid.

  10. Posted January 22, 2010 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    Really enjoyed this article. I’ve only been a moonkin since the middle of wrath, being my guilds only resto druid for quite a while. I’ve enjoyed the change of gears going moonkin, but I find myself constantly frustrated with not being able to do comparable dps to everyone else in the raid. Sometimes I feel like I must be doing something wrong (wrong itemization, wrong rotation, or something else) since I’m always at the bottom. Sometimes I think I’m in 25 man raids just for the moonkin aura and faerie fire. The utility needs on the Saurfang fight made me feel wanted. Rooting and typhoon is really helpful on that fight. Maybe I should start nosing around the official class forums and being more vocal. I like playing moonkin, but I always feel like I’m holding the raid back.