09 October 2008

WotLK: Balance druid abilities

Here's a new catchphrase for Alamein: "Balance for show, resto for dough."

Feel free to quote it! I may be goofy, but that's a pretty accurate way to describe my druid experience. Resto is the real payoff for a mana-using druid; it fills the biggest need in either PvE or PvP. But Balance is a lot more showy. I mean, come on... lazer chickens! Don't get me wrong, I love healing, and it's going to be my first preference in groups or raids. But I really have a lot of fun switching back to Balance.

So I did my look at Resto already, but now I want to spend some time with Balance. To be honest, I've spent less time with this, because I think it's easier to learn on the fly, simply because I can't learn healing skills in solo play. (Even with tanking, you can try your stuff for a while on your own. But there's nothing in solo play that's comparable to healing a group — your only practice option is to run battlegrounds.)

New Balance Abilities

There's only two new Balance spells, both coming from talents. I still don't feel like I have a firm grip on how to use them, but they both look like they'll be pretty cool.

Typhoon (talented): This is an instant cast cone attack; it does both damage and a knockback effect. (They should have named it Tsunami, which makes a lot more sense. The visual effect even looks like a wave.) It requires 40 points in Balance, so it's comparable to Force of Nature — deep Balance. It's got a chunky mana cost (36% of base mana) and does moderate damage; it's on a 20-sec cooldown.

This is a killer spell for PvP. The instant-cast damage is good, but its biggest use will be to knock away melee attackers. It'll also be good for interrupting spell casts. The knockback also has potential to be deadly if players are near an edge or cliff; I shudder to think of the carnage on the bridge leading to Dun Baladar, for example.

I'm less sure of its use in PvE. From a pure damage perspective, you'll want to save it for groups of mobs. Against single targets, Moonfire will do a bit more instant damage for 60% of the mana cost. So you about break even on 2 mobs, and get ahead of Moonfire against 3 or more. You'll have to be tactical about the knockback effect. I can imagine a Typhoon-Roots combo being useful against single mobs, or using it as an escape mechanism when you're jumped by a pack. But you'll have to be careful about where the knockback will take your mobs — don't knock them back into another group or (egads!) over a bridge in an instance. They'll come looking for you, and drag half the instance with them.

Starfall (talented): This is the new crowning 51-point talent: the ultimate Balance ability. It's another instant-cast effect, doing pure damage. It operates in a circle around the caster, dropping up to 20 stars on targets within 30 yards. If you move, the effect will move with you. The stars do direct damage to the target, and then splash damage to targets 5 yards around the target. Overlapping circles! Costs 35% of base mana &mdash about like Typhoon — and it's on a 3-min cooldown.

The interesting thing is that this is both an AoE and a single-target spell. If you have one target in range, it will receive hits from the stars every second. (I believe half the stars are 'lost,' however.) But if you add more mobs, the stars spread around, and you also get the splash damage effects. If everything is tightly packed, the synergy will grow quickly, as each target will get its own star and splash damage from all the other stars falling nearby. Damage will fall off somewhat if you can't get things packed in around you, but the stars will do good damage.

This will rock in both PvP and PvE; the only challenge will be the cooldown. It'll mostly be used to deal with groups, but I can also see popping it to up your DPS against a boss or other elite target. It'll be very cool for AoE grinding, except that it's only up once every 3 minutes. And don't forget, it's an instant-cast buff, so you can do other things while it's working. Even better, it uses Celestial Focus just like Starfire, so you can talent for a chance to stun the targets it hits (especially nice for PvP).

There you go — two new abilities. Pretty cool stuff! But there are big changes to our existing abilities too.

Changed Balance Abilities

Entangling Roots (baseline): This now works indoors. Wow — you'll be able to CC using roots in your instance runs. This burden will mostly fall on Balance druids; a druid who can kite and chain-root a mob will be really useful. Also nice in PvP of course. But remember, the target is still awake and active. Don't bother rooting a caster, and make sure everyone stays away from rooted melee.

Hurricane (baseline): Pretty simple, really: no cooldown. Hurricane still uses a big chunk of mana, so it's not like you can endlessly chain-cast this. But it's there when you want it. Nicest for AoE grinding and battleground PvP.

Hibernate (baseline): Now works on Dragonkin, which should help you CC in some of the WotLK instances. No PvP impact.

Nature's Grasp (baseline): Yeah, Nature's Grasp is now baseline. It's also bumped to a 100% chance to proc — no more Improved NG to worry about. This will be great for PvP and somewhat situational for PvE. It also means the damn button will stay on my action bars when I respec. Yay for that!

Soothe Animal (baseline): Now affects Dragonkin too. Um... might be slightly situationally useful in a few pulls in dragonkin-infested instances? I'm struggling here. The only time I use Soothe Animal is when I'm fishing in Terrokar Forest and want the wolves and warp stalkers to leave me alone.

This should really have been with the Resto stuff, but:

Barkskin (baseline) is now useable in Tree form. It's a great change for trees, and also removes the biggest source of druid irony.

So: some significant changes for Balance druids. The new spells are pretty cool, but the biggest effect is going to be indoor roots and dragonkin CC. These won't make Moonkin into CC kings, but they do make us a lot more useful, and will really change our playstyle.

The Balance talent tree has seen a pretty big overhaul too. I'll talk about that next.

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