Space Chickens to the Rescue: Balance Druid Fundamentals and Mechanics
This post is an effort to condense and consolidate all the various Balance Druid information that's floating around our forums and others. I will not delve too deeply into the theory or mathematics, as the good folks at Elitist Jerks
have already done far more work than I. Follow the links below if you want to feed your brain, but I take no responsibility for any exploding heads that may result.
Elitist Jerks - Theorycrafting Think Tank: Balance Druids
Elitist Jerks - Moonkin DPS Spreadsheet
I. Frequently Asked Questions
V. Gear, Enchants, Consumables
VI. Spell Rotations
I. Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What should I call a Balance Druid?
A: We answer to "Moonkin", "Boomkin", "Doomkin", or occasionally "Space Chicken". "Oomkin" is a good way to get yourself Starfired to the face. (Hey, where'd my Shadow Priest go?) "Panzerkin" is a special moniker reserved for Balance Druid tanks, which is an entirely separate subject.
Q: Can Balance Druids do effective DPS?
A: Yes, when geared and played properly, and allowed to make effective use of group synergy.
Q: Where does Balance rank in terms of top DPS classes/specs?
A: This one is very gear-dependent. At the T4 level, Boomkins compete for top honors with Shadow Priests, Warlocks, Hunters, and Mages. At the T5 level, Destruction Warlocks pull ahead by a very wide margin, but Balance is still more or less on par with Shadow Priests. At T6 and beyond, expect to fall to the middle of the pack (T5 4-piece bonus notwithstanding).
Q: What do Balance Druids bring to a raid other than DPS?
A: 5% spell crit to the group they are in; a crowd control ability usable on Beasts and Dragonkin (Hibernate); an emergency short-duration CC (Cyclone); additional armor reduction (Faerie Fire), if not provided by a Feral Druid; a battle rez; an extra Innervate; and depending on spec, a 3% reduction in the melee hit cap for all raid members. Balance Druids can also backup heal (but not main heal), and can serve as ranged tanks on some encounters.
Q: So what's with the "Oomkin" thing?
A: Balance Druids have limited ability to recover mana while casting. They have talents to improve base mana regeneration, but overall they have less options than a Warlock or Mage. Innervate is great but is on a 6 minute cooldown and is often held in reserve for healers. Thus, a smart raid leader will ensure that a Boomkin is placed in a Shadow Priest group if one is available. Otherwise, bring mana pots and lots of them.
The core Balance abilities are as follows. I will discuss below all spells that can be cast while in Moonkin form, as this is what you'll be in for most of the raid. Casting any spell not on this list will shift you out of Moonkin.
* Indicates spells whose range is improved by Nature's Reach.
2 sec cast (1.5 sec with talents) direct Nature damage, 30 yard range*.
Spell damage coefficient: 57% (67% with Wrath of Cenarius)
This can be the Druid's highest DPS nuke when spammed, but is less mana-efficient than Starfire and doesn't synergize as well, since Curse of Elements doesn't boost Nature damage. Nature's Grace also has no real benefit, since it does not lower the GCD. The fast casting time makes your chance of critting in a given period higher, though, so creative weaving of Wrath can give you more NG procs for your Starfire casts.
3.5 sec cast (3 sec with talents) direct Arcane damage, 30 yard range*.
Spell damage coefficient: 100% (120% with Wrath of Cenarius)
This is the core Druid nuke. It has slightly lower DPS than Wrath but much greater mana efficiency. It is designed explicitly to benefit from Nature's Grace, as each crit improves the casting speed of your next Starfire by 0.5 sec (a 20% increase).
Instant cast direct Arcane damage with a 12 second DoT, 30 yard range*.
Spell damage coefficient: 21% on the direct component and 50% on the DoT, divided across all ticks.
This spell is a nice DPS booster and has additional uses in certain spell rotations. However, it is by far the least mana-efficient Balance spell and spamming it will drain your mana dry. It is only effective in rotation when you have enough raid mana regeneration to make it sustainable. Due to the high talented crit chance, it makes a good trigger for Nature's Grace.
(Talent) Instant cast 12 second Nature DoT, 30 yard range*, reduces target's chance to hit with melee and ranged attacks by 2%.
Spell damage coefficient: 100% divided across all ticks.
This spell is a supremely mana-efficient DoT and has the benefit of indirectly increasing the tank's avoidance, which can help greatly in some fights. Once you reach very high levels of spell damage, however, you may wish to drop Insect Swarm from your rotation, as its net DPS is lower than Moonfire.
45 second debuff that reduces the target's armor (Nature school), 30 yard range*. With talents, also increases melee and ranged hit chance by 3% for all raid members against the target.
Improved Faerie Fire is the reason many Boomkins get into raids. Its benefit is clear: it reduces the hit cap for all your dual wielders when talented, adds a not insubstantial increase to melee DPS due to the armor reduction (which stacks with Sunder), and indirectly improves the tank's threat generation by increasing the damage his attacks do. You have to weigh the benefits of using Faerie Fire in your spell rotation against the loss to your own DPS, plus the sacrifice of talents that could go into increasing your DPS or mana longevity.
20 yard radius targeted Nature AoE, channeled over 10 seconds, 30 yard range*. Increases the time between melee and ranged attacks of affected targets by 25%. 1 minute cooldown.
This is a Druid's only AoE spell. Since it's channeled, you don't want to be interrupted while casting it, making Barkskin a perfect companion. Its DPS is quite high, plus it slows all targets it applies to, significantly reducing damage sustained by whoever's tanking them. The only annoying part is the 1 minute cooldown, meaning you can't sustain AoE against targets with lots of health or when waves come less than a minute apart.
1.5 sec cast, 45 sec sleep on Beasts and Dragonkin only (Nature school), 30 yard range. No diminishing returns in PvE.
It's very limited in scope, but this spell provides an additional crowd control ability in certain situations, and Blizzard has
designed some encounters with Hibernate in mind. You may have to remind the raid leader that you have it, though! Note that mobs with high Nature resistance will tend to throw off Hibernate very quickly.
1.5 sec cast, 45 sec root/Nature DoT, only works outdoors, 30 yard range*. No diminishing returns in PvE. Can only affect one target at a time.
Oh, if only this worked indoors. Since it doesn't, you can forget about using it in 95% of dungeons (ZF, ZG, AQ20, and ZA are the only exceptions). Like Frost Nova, affected targets are unable to move but can still attack and do still pay attention to threat. It has a chance to break on damage, which includes damage taken from its own DoT. As a result, it will rarely last the whole duration.
1.5 sec cast, 6 second banish (Nature school), 20 yard range. Diminishing returns in PvP and PvE. Can only affect one target at a time.
Targets of Cyclone become immune to all damage and effects for 6 seconds. The second application within 15 seconds last 3 sec, the third 1.5 sec, and all subsequent casts have no effect. Cyclone is a situational spell. You can use it to rescue someone (including yourself) from messy death at the hands of a trash mob, but as soon as it breaks the mob will go after them again. If someone was about to apply a longer term CC or stun, Cyclone will make the mob immune to it. Learning when to use this in PvE is an art form.
Instant cast, dispels one curse effect on a friendly unit (Arcane school), 40 yard range.
This is exactly what it says. Druids and Mages are the only classes that can remove curses. Don't forget about this spell! Unlike Abolish Poison, you can cast it in Moonkin form, while your Tree of Life companions can Abolish Poison but must shift out to cast Remove Curse.
Instant cast, increases Intellect/Spirit-based mana regen by 400% and allows full regeneration while casting for 20 seconds, 6 minute cooldown.
Innervate pretty much refills the mana bar of any raid-buffed caster, unless they have really abysmal Spirit regeneration to begin with. When you have Innervate, the five second rule no longer applies and you can freely cast while regenerating mana at the maximum rate. As a Boomkin, you're kind of in a tricky place with respect to Innervate. If you don't have a Shadow Priest, you may have to use it on yourself to avoid going OOM. However, late in a long fight, the healers will be screaming for it too. Discuss with your raid leaders how you should prioritize your Innervate so that there are no misunderstandings later.
Instant cast, reduces all damage taken by 20% and prevents spell pushback for 12 seconds (Nature school). 1 minute cooldown. Usable when stunned, incapacitated, feared, or asleep.
This spell is much improved from the old days, when it used to increase the casting time of all your spells. It's basically designed for two purposes: to allow you to reduce incoming damage when you can anticipate it coming (e.g., you get a nasty DoT that you can't dispel, pull aggro from mobs that won't one-shot you, get Stoned by Gruul when too close to other players, or get Water Tombed without enough health to survive the damage plus fall.); or to prevent spell pushback when you really can't afford it. The latter's principle benefit is to allow you to channel Hurricane or Tranquility without risking pushback. Another good use is when you get an Inner Demon from Leotheras. Do not forget about it.
Instant cast damage shield reflecting 25 (up to 44 with Brambles talent) Nature damage on melee hits. This buff gives a minor increase to tank threat generation. 10 minute duration. Since threat is always valuable, it's worth it to cast Thorns on the tank(s), and if you happen to have chosen Brambles, your buff will be more powerful than any other Druid's.
Force of Nature
(Talent) Instant cast targeted summon, 30 yard range (Nature school). 3 minute cooldown.
This spell summons three Treants at the target location, which automatically melee the nearest enemy unit for 30 seconds or until they are killed. This is one of those spells that looks neat but is tricky to use effectively. In essence, it's a 30 second threat-free DoT that can go to a new target if the one it's on dies. On a fully Sundered target with Faerie Fire on it, and given time to do maximum damage, you can expect anywhere from 8-10K total damage for a very modest mana cost. Just about any AoE or cleave type effect will kill them instantly, however, which means timing is essential. Some more tree facts:
* They are considered your pets, but you cannot control them (there's no pet action bar).
* Their health and armor are increased by your Stamina and armor values.
* Their melee damage is increased by your spell damage.
* They are valid targets for mob RSTS abilities, meaning sometimes they'll eat a spell that may have targeted one of your raid members instead.
* They do take environmental damage.
* They do not generate threat for you, but have their own entirely independent aggro tables.
* They initially target the hostile unit closest to where they are cast, within a certain radius. Afterwards, they may go after another target or may just stand around stupidly until they expire.
* They are not supposed to attack CC'ed targets unless no non-CC'ed targets remain. (This doesn't always work; use them in CC environments with great care.)
* Like all combat pets, they will attempt to attack their target from behind whenever possible, so you don't usually need to worry about them getting the tank parry-gibbed.
There are several basic Balance raiding specs, based on some inevitable tradeoffs - i.e., there just aren't enough points for everything you could possibly want. These include:
Max DPS and mana efficiency, minimize threat
Maximize raid utility
Be a ranged tank
There's a fourth spec, the Panzerkin, which I won't get into because it's impractical in progression raiding - just know that it is
possible for a Balance Druid to tank just about every 5-man dungeon and many raid bosses, with the proper gear and excellent healers.
A quick review of the key Balance talents follows.
- For 5 points, improve Wrath DPS by 33% and Starfire by 17%. One of the best tier 1 talents in the game.
Nature's Grasp/Imp NG
- Worthless in raids and 99% of dungeons, but semi-useful for soloing, one point in this talent is necessary to move you into tier 3 if you don't pick up Control of Nature. Do not put any points into Improved Nature's Grasp for a raid spec - this is a PvP oriented talent.
Control of Nature
- The choice of this talent versus Brambles depends mainly on your style. You won't be casting Entangling Roots in a raid, and if you have to cast Cyclone through enough incoming damage to make this talent worthwhile, something's badly wrong.
- 4% extra crit for your core DPS spells and necessary to move you through the tree. Get it.
- 10% extra damage and crit for Moonfire. Get it.
- Up to 75% boost to Thorns is nice for tank threat but otherwise quite unremarkable. The boost to Entangling Roots is great for soloing, turning it into a respectable DoT. This talent fights for points with Control of Nature, as you have to put at least 2 points in one or the other to advance in the tree.
- For 1 point, you get a respectable DoT that is hugely mana efficient, plus a debuff that reduces the damage your tanks take by 2%. Get it. (See the spell description above for more details.)
- Increases the range of most of your Balance spells by 20%. For only 2 points, you don't want to pass this up - many encounters have range-sensitive gimmicks and the farther away you can stand, the better.
- Critical strike damage increased by 100%. This means your spell crits deal 200% of normal damage rather than 150%. This is an essential DPS talent.
- This talent sounds good on paper, but is less so in application. It competes for critical points with a variety of other talents and has a situational benefit at best. There is exactly one raid encounter in the game where you will be more useful than anyone else as a tank (Kiggler), and that one is so easy to tank that Celestial Focus hardly matters at all. The chance to proc a stun from Starfire casts is kind of meh too; you can't rely on it and it only works on trash anyway. Skip this for anything other than the Panzerkin build.
- 25% of your Intellect adds to spell damage and healing. Absolutely a critical talent, since it stacks with everything else in the tree.
- Whenever you critically strike with any spell, your next spell casts 0.5 sec faster. This is amazing for boosting Starfire DPS, but that's about it. Due to the mechanics of the global cooldown, it doesn't help Wrath at all, except to reduce the potential for pushback. For 1 point, don't pass it up. (For math junkies, with this talent plus Vengeance, every percent of spell crit you get improves Starfire DPS by approximately 1.2%.)
- For 3 points, you get a flat 9% reduction to the mana cost of your most common spells. This talent also has synergy with the Restoration tree if you ever find yourself healing. When you start raiding and find yourself mana starved, it's a great investment. Later on, when your mana regen has improved and raw DPS is more crucial, you may consider dropping it.
- It's a straight up boost to all your damage dealing spells, and does stack with spell damage. You did take the Balance tree to do damage, right?
Balance of Power
- Don't overlook this talent. 4% increased spell hit is huge - it saves you 50 points of spell hit rating on your gear at level 70. The 4% extra chance to resist is nice and can occasionally save your life.
- 10% of Intellect becomes mp5. It's hard to pass this up in a core raid spec, since mana longevity is crucial, but with the changes to Intensity and Spirit-based regen in 2.4, it's no longer as necessary as it was. Dreamstate is now on the list of "optional" talents rather than absolutely required, once you hit the T5 gear level.
- 400% additional armor (that's x5 for the math-impaired), 5% spell crit for yourself and party members in 40 yards, and a chance to regenerate mana on melee strikes, but you can only cast Balance spells. The armor and mana regen chance are meh; if you find yourself getting meleed in a raid environment and you didn't mean to, it's bad, but the spell crit is why they bring you to raids.
Improved Faerie Fire
- Your Faerie Fire increases the chance that the target will be hit by melee and ranged attacks by 3%. This is one of those really controversial talents. Some guilds require you to spec for this before they'll consider letting you raid. Others don't seem to notice or care. If you take it (at the cost of useful points spent elsewhere), you allow your melee to swap out some hit rating for other stats to improve their overall DPS, or simply improve it by 3% if they aren't hit capped already.
Wrath of Cenarius
- Increases the spell damage coefficient of Wrath by 10% and Starfire by 20%. Believe it or not, this translates to the same net DPS increase as Moonfury, and also makes Starfire one of the best scaling nukes in the game with spell damage.
Force of Nature
- Despite its position on the top tier of the Balance tree, this is really an optional talent. Think of the trees as a semi-autonomous DoT that lasts 30 seconds and is vulnerable to melee and AoE damage. See the spell description above for more details.
There are some vital raid talents in the Restoration tree, so you pretty much have to go here.
Improved Mark of the Wild
- You need to get to tier 2, and this is the best place to put the 5 points. Furor is worthless to a Boomkin.
- Of the tier 2 talents, this is the only one that makes any sense at all for a Moonkin. You don't (or shouldn't) heal enough for pushback resistance to be an issue (Barkskin handles the problem nicely anyway), and Natural Shapeshifter is only good if you plan to shift a lot. Regardless, this is a matter of preference - if you PvP, you might find Nature's Focus or NS to be better.
- Get it, max it, love it. 30% of Intellect/Spirit-based regen while casting? That's what all the Spirit is doing on your tier sets.
- As one of the DPS specs that has no aggro dump capability whatsoever, you need all the passive threat reduction you can get. If you don't understand the value of this, try doing Void Reaver without it. 5/5 may not be truly necessary - get however many points of this you can spare and still feel safe.
Note that these stat evaluations are based on the standard raiding spec given above.
- 25% of Intellect adds directly to spell damage, and 10% to mana regeneration. As of 2.4, Intellect also boosts Spirit-based mana regeneration. Get all you can.
- With full Intensity, 30% of Spirit/Intellect-based mana regeneration applies while casting. In terms of raw itemization, at the T5+ level, Spirit is superior to Mana per 5 seconds.
- Get it, enough said. Thanks to Wrath of Cenarius, you get a 20% bonus to the spell damage coefficient of Starfire, and 10% to Wrath. This stacks with Lunar Guidance.
Note: Some Balance Druid players go for Arcane damage
- With 2/2 Balance of Power, 152 spell hit rating is needed to cap. If you are grouped with a Restoration Shaman, this cap goes down by 1% (12.67 rating). If you are grouped with an Elemental Shaman, this cap can go down by as much as 4% (50.67 rating), so you may want to keep an alternate crit or haste set if it's good enough.
- Elitist Jerks has lots of theorycraft on this, but basically once you pass 1100 spell damage and are hit capped, haste is better to stack than anything else.
- Spell crit gets you Nature's Grace procs, improving your casting speed and thus DPS output. With Vengeance, you crit for 200% of base damage. Each crit percent is worth approximately 1% increase in DPS, or 1.2% in Starfire DPS, diminishing slightly the more you have. Still, spell crit has been proven to be weaker than haste at high levels, simply due to the fact that it has a worse conversion ratio.
- Gear for Stamina to the level required by the content you're attempting (e.g., don't go into BT with less than 9K buffed). In most cases, raid drops will provide more than enough, although crafted gear may not.
Mana per 5 seconds
- Since the 2.4 changes to the Intellect/Spirit regeneration formula, mp5 is far less valuable as a statistic. Don't pass it up, but the same proportion of Spirit (Blizzard's itemization formula says 2.5 Spirit costs the same as 1 mp5) gets you almost as good a benefit, and one that increases with raid buffs. However, if you (for some insane reason) passed up Intensity, then mp5 becomes your only source of regeneration besides Dreamstate.
- Sure, leather is nice to have when you can get it, but armor is only useful to a raiding Balance Druid in that it may let you survive one more hit than, say, a Mage. Since you don't want to get hit at all (Panzerkins notwithstanding), it's a throwaway stat. If cloth gives you more DPS, get it.
- If you don't already know that this is not a PvE stat, don't bother coming to the raid.
- That mana regen on melee hit ability you have? Forget about it, unless of course you're Panzerkinning.
V. Gear, Enchants, Consumables
The section on statistics above should cover most basic questions regarding what stats you need from your gear. This section will more closely inspect individual items, sets, and bonuses.
Tier set bonuses
: The 2-piece bonus (chance to regen mana on casts) is nice for when you're mana starved in T4/early T5 progression, but its chance to proc is so low that it's barely noticeable on a long-term basis. The 4-piece bonus (reduced Innervate cooldown) is again oriented towards the poor Oomkin, but just like the 2-piece bonus, it's forgettable.
: The 2-piece bonus (reduced Regrowth mana cost after leaving Moonkin Form) looks like a joke. It is, kind of, but there are some situations in which you may need to get off a fast heal and this bonus makes it almost worth the cost. In fact, with Natural Shapeshifter, it's cheaper to shift to Moonkin Form before casting Regrowth than it is to do it from caster form. The 4-piece bonus (10% increased Starfire damage when your Moonfire or Insect Swarm is on the target), on the other hand, is so insanely good that it's worth keeping all the way through T6 content. In fact, it's the only thing that keeps you even remotely competitive with the other casters at this level.
: The 2-piece bonus (your Moonfire DoT lasts longer) is only moderately good by itself, but is really great if you can get the bracers, boots, or belt from Sunwell so that it synergizes with the 4-piece Tier 5 bonus. The 4-piece T6 bonus (5% increased Starfire critical strike chance) is vanilla, but still very nice.
The idol rotation concept is going away in the 2.4.3 patch, so it deserves only a passing mention here. Now, you pretty much have to choose the best idol at the start of a fight and stick with it, or else stop your rotation for an entire GCD.
Idol of the Raven Goddess
- This idol, even buffed, does more to benefit your group as a whole than it does you personally. In a group of crit-dependent casters, it's awesome. When you're soloing or running in a small group, the other idols will do more for you.
Ivory Idol of the Moongoddess
- Many raiding Balance Druids continue to make this their preferred idol. Starfire is the primary nuke, this idol boosts Starfire - it's a winner all around.
Idol of the Avenger
- Wrath spam being one of the least mana-efficient casting cycles, this idol has very limited utility. You could possibly keep it around for Arcane immune mobs.
Idol of the Unseen Moon
- This idol is awesome on paper and has a pretty good proc rate. The trouble is that including Moonfire in your cast rotation is very mana-intensive. Still, with enough mana and an efficient rotation, you should be able to keep the proc up enough that it stays on par with the Starfire idol, and the nice part is that the proc benefits all your spells, not just Starfire.
- Get the Glyph of Power from Sha'tar rep. No questions asked.
- The Aldor enchant is slightly better than the Scryer one. Still, this is pretty easy.
- Subtlety, if anything. Cloak enchants are pretty meh for casters.
- +6 stats nicely complements Lunar Guidance, Dreamstate, and Intensity, while +15 Spirit works mainly with Intensity. 6 mp5 is okay, but if you can afford better, get it.
- Spell damage, no questions asked.
- Again, spell damage.
- Mystic or Runic Spellthread.
- Vitality for mana regen or Boar's Speed if you are dealing with movement-sensitive fights.
- +40 spell damage is good. Sunfire is even better but you give up any bonus damage for Wrath and Insect Swarm. Nothing else is worth mentioning.
- +12 spell damage, if you're an Enchanter.
- +hit/+spell damage up to hit cap, +damage after.
- +hit/+spell damage up to hit cap, then go for haste/damage, crit/damage, or pure haste depending on your needs.
- +spell damage/+stamina is about all that works here, at least to get the socket bonus and/or meta requirement. If you don't care, go with one of the other types above.
- Chaotic Skyfire Diamond is generally considered to be the best here.
- Blackened Basilisk or the fish version.
- Adept's and Draenic Wisdom, if you are concerned about longevity or just don't feel like burning a flask.
- Blinding Light is still slightly superior to Adept's/Draenic in terms of net DPS. Supreme Power is an adequate substitute if you're really cheap.
- Superior Wizard Oil, obviously. Brilliant if you can get it, but that stuff's damn expensive.
VI. Spell Rotation
There are several spell rotations that a Balance Druid may use, and they all have benefits and drawbacks. The damage calculator spreadsheet spends a great deal of computational power on figuring out the best one for you, so I won't even try to cover all the theorycraft here. I'll just discuss the most common.
Note: SF = Starfire, IS = Insect Swarm, MF = Moonfire, W = Wrath.
- The most mana-conservative rotation, this lets you keep up Insect Swarm for tank mitigation (and a cheap DoT), plus chain-cast Starfire. This is where you'll be throughout most of T4, unless you get a well-geared Shadow Priest so you can afford Moonfire now and then.
- The most mana-intensive rotation, you can get away with this when you have absolutely no concerns about mana, need the maximum possible burst DPS, and/or don't have Curse of Shadows to boost your Starfire damage.
IS, MF, SFx3
- This rotation works best with the Idol of the Unseen Moon to maximize uptime of its proc. It burns slightly more mana than the basic rotation, but increases your overall DPS.
There's also a rotation where you try to cast Wrath when NG is not up and Starfire when it is, to take advantage of Wrath's faster casting and thereby greater likelihood to crit over a given period of time. It's tricky and I explained it in my older thread