Feral druid and PTR 4.0.6 changes, in depth

ptrThe PTR 4.0.6 changes might be bigger change for feral druids than 4.0.3 was, i.e. the arrival of Cataclysm. Let’s see what are the changes affecting us ferals so far (as of 28th January 2011) – and analyze them below.

Changes

  • The night elf racial trait Shadowmeld can now be used while shapeshifted.
  • The tauren racial trait War Stomp can now be used while shapeshifted.
  • Barkskin is no longer dispellable.
  • Entangling Roots now has a PvP duration of 8 seconds.
  • Hibernate now has a PvP duration of 8 seconds.
  • Lacerate damage has been reduced by approximately 20%.
  • Mangle (Bear Form) weapon damage (at level 80+) has been reduced to 235%, down from 300%.
  • Mangle (Cat Form) weapon damage percent (at level 80+) has been increased to 460%, up from 360%.
  • Maul damage has been reduced by approximately 20%.
  • Mount Up: This guild perk now applies to Flight Form and Swift Flight Form as well.
  • Nature’s Grasp now has a PvP duration of 8 seconds.
  • Prowl is no longer broken by enemies using Demoralizing Shout or Demoralizing Roar.
  • Rake damage has been reduced by 10%.
  • Rip damage has been reduced by 10%.
  • Shapeshifts: Entering or leaving a shapeshift no longer cancels root effects. It continues to cancel movement slowing effects.
  • Shred weapon damage percent (at level 80+) has been increased to 450%, up from 350%.
  • Skull Bash’s lockout time has been reduced to 4 seconds, down from 5.
  • Soothe is now instant cast, down from 1.5 seconds.
  • Berserk (instant Mangle proc) now has a new Spell Alert identifier. In addition, Berserk no longer breaks Fear or makes the druid immune to Fear.
  • Blood in the Water: Timing on this effect has been improved so that Ferocious Bite will immediately refresh Rip, rather than be slightly delayed (which gave a chance for the Rip to expire despite being refreshed).
  • Infected Wounds now has a PvP duration of 8 seconds.
  • Pulverize weapon damage percent has been reduced to 80%, down from 100%.
  • Glyph of Entangling Roots redesigned. It now reduces the cast time of Entangling Roots by 0.2 seconds, rather than making it instant cast.

Analysis

Introduction

A majority of the changes are there to make ferals weaker in PvP. Gone will be the brief period when ferals were competitive – well, for arenas, feral was just the 12th (!!!) most popular PvP DPS class/spec combo.

For years, ferals were known as “look, free honor!” in PvP. Sure, there were a few feral druids achieving high ratings in arena – but those were far and few, absolutely top notch very skilled players. “Average” player versus other average players, as in battlegrounds, ferals were a joke. Pretty much every other class (with a possible exception of warlocks) was able to kill kittiebear without breaking sweat. We could only do reasonable damage while standing behind the target, so all it took was to turn and face the kittie – and that was it. We had one stun in catform, Maim, but it required precious combo points – and another stun, Bash, in bearform, but that needs rage – and both abilities had a long cooldown.

Come Cataclysm. Kitties were suddenly competitive – thanks to Mastery, our bleed damage was good even if druid was unable to stand behind the enemy. Skull Bash doesn’t need combo points and interrupts quickly. We were able to start from stealth and keep our target stunned for enough time to get bleeds running on it (Feral Charge –> Pounce –> Ravage –> Mangle –> Maim, get Rake up and a couple of Shreds, Rip – and we’re home free on clothies).

We were competitive, although not nearly at the level as Death Knights were at the start of Lich King, or retribution paladins pretty much always. We were about the same as frost mages, not insanely strong but holding our own. It almost made up the fact that druids got shafted when it came to the new high-level abilities in Cataclysm – Trash at 81 for bears is the only useful new ability. Stampeding Roar and Wild Mushroom… what kind of [censored] [censored] did even come up with such nonsense?

Of course this situation couldn’t last.

Bear PvE changes

  • While nelf Shadowmeld is not insanely useful for bears, it may have its situational uses. But War Stomp in bear form… YEEEEEE-fricking-HAAA! AoE stun/interrupt we’ve never had. A bit longer cooldown than I would like, but still better than nothing.
  • Lacerate damage down. Meh.  Lacerate is there only to get free Mangle procs or increase crit chance (and therefore Savage Defense) by 9% through Pulverize. An utterly underwhelming ability.
  • Mangle damage down. This will hurt – like it has been often said, bear tanking is centered on Mangle. Almost all our abilities are there to give us free Mangle, make it stronger or hit several enemies at once. Our damage was good for a tank, but so was the damage of other tanking classes. Right now this won’t be a big deal, but I suspect as DPS gears up, we might start to have aggro issues, especially at the start of the fight.
  • Maul damage down 20%. As if bear AoE tanking wasn’t weak already. On the other hand, Maul is often just a rage dump – and when glyphed for multi-target, unusable with heroic trash due to CC. Same as Mangle nerf, this will hurt us in the long run and for the same reasons.
  • No root removal with shapeshift. Situational – occasionally this was very useful, like when Asaad (last boss in the Vortex Pinnacle) does his static cling and healer is low on mana – we could easily go kitty and run to the safe spot. Same for Erudax’ Binding Shadows in Grim Batol – it isn’t supposed to hit the tank, but occasionally did anyway when he threw us away or tank went to help with the adds. Overall, not a big loss for bears.
  • Skull Bash lockout time reduced. Total meh, it is important as an interrupt in PvE, lockout is secondary.
  • Soothe becomes an instant cast – excellent! Enrage mechanics of great many HC and raid bosses can be removed – but as tanks, we simply couldn’t lose two thirds of our armor and a lot of dodge for two seconds (cast 1.5 seconds + back to bearform). It would be better, if we could cast such spells like roots and soothe while shapeshifted, like we can cast Nature’s Grasp. If it would cause issues with PvP, just make it bearform-only.
  • Berserk no longer removes fear. Damn. That will hurt with some bosses (think Onyxia). I am not sure if right now there are any bosses that fear the raid, but there will be in the future.
  • Pulverize damage down 20%. Who cares, it hits mobs like a bunch of wildflowers – increased crit chance was the only useful thing about Pulverize anyway.
  • Glyph of Entangling Roots now reduces cast time by 0.2 seconds, instead of making it an instant cast. Ouch. This is gonna hurt – I often used it to CC trash either at the start of the fight or, more importantly, during the fight to CC escaped mobs. The glyph is dead – and this is about the dumbest change you could make to it, Blizzard. If it was overpowered in PvP, the correct way would have been to increase the cooldown (to 15 or 20 seconds, up fom 5), not make it to reduce casting time from 1.7 seconds to whopping 1.5 seconds. Well, at least we’ll gain a glyph slot, for which we have no bear glyph…

Unofficial changes also have an increase in the bear armor. This is something which is badly needed – bears have quite a bit lower armor right now than shield-using tanks. Death Knights have about the same armor, but they have parry mechanic that bears lack, plus better self-healing. Low armor makes bears extremely squishy in AoE trash fights – we simply get hit more and harder than other tanks. Thanks to the bad AoE abilities and low armor, trash fights are often harder than boss fights for bears and harder to heal, too. Add to this lower hit points as well (equally geared paladin or warrior tank has about 5% more life) and the situation is rather sad for bears.

There have been rumours about bear Feral Charge becoming free and rage-generating, same as warrior’s Charge. That would be an extremely useful, many bears do not charge mobs because the instance mobs often cannot be immobilized, so charging would be just a loss of rage.

Overall, this patch will hurt bears, but not very badly. Some of the changes are needed and useful, especially the undocumented changes to armor and charge, if they come to pass. There are a couple of pointless changes and couple of changes where PvE ability gets nerfed hard because it was too good in PvP, a reason for change that developers should avoid harder than vampire avoids holy water and sunlight.

Cat PvE changes

Most from the bear PvE section applies to kitty PvE as well – instant Soothe, War Stomp, lack of root removal, Berserk no longer removes fear, Glyph of Entangling Roors becomes useless.

However, Shadowmeld will be very useful for Night Elf kitties – if you aggro or the group is about to wipe, macro /cast Shadowmeld, /cast Prowl – and you are good to go.

Overall, cats will get a shift from the bleed damage to direct damage. PvE DPS numbers should not change much for the kitties – depending on the fight, though. If there are target changes, then the DPS might be down even more than it used to be – we shall see.

  • Rake and Rip damage down 10%. That is due to the PvP bleeds being alledgedly too good
  • Mangle and Rake damage up – this is solely to compensate nerfs to Rip and Rake.
  • Blood in the Water timing issue – just a bugfix

PvP

  • War Stomp and Shadowmeld while shapeshifted – both are good situational abilities. If above-mentioned Shadowmeld macro works, then Night Elf druids have a rogue-like ability to stealth during combat. I predict this will be nerfed soon.
  • Barkskin is no longer dispellable – I don’t think it happened often anyway, but this is at least some kind of ray of light in otherwise bleak patch.
  • Entangling Roots, Hibernate, Nature’s Grasp, Infected Wounds all have PvP duration of 8 seconds. This is to bring these abilities on par with other CC. Not really a big deal, 8 seconds is an eternity in PvP – and usually no character was rooted for much more than 8 seconds anyway, as damage broke the root.
  • Bleed damage down, direct damage up. The reason for all the nerfs – feral druids had become viable in PvP. We were doing too much damage against cloth wearers, agreed – and as our bleed damage is not mitigated by armor, we were able to actually kill plate-wearers. After patch, DK’s and warriors will be a somwehat harder to kill, paladins a lot harder.
  • Prowl is no longer broken by enemies using Demoralizing Shout or Demoralizing Roar. Bug fix.
  • Shapeshifts: Entering or leaving a shapeshift no longer cancels root effects. It continues to cancel movement slowing effects. Ouch. Double-ouch. Triple-ouch. We will become the only melee class/spec, which cannot break out of roots.  Paladins have Blessing of Freedom and bubble, Arms warriors have Bladestorm and Fury has the “rage thing”, Rogues have Vanish, DK’s can pull caster to them or sit in the anti-magic bubble. We have… nothing. We’ll trinket out the first root if we are lucky and the trinket isn’t on a cooldown. After that we will just sit and wait to die. We don’t even have anti-magic abilities, other than 6% spell damage reduction through Perseverance talent – and that is practically worthless for PvP. We cannot stun or interrupt from range.
  • Berserk no longer breaks Fear or makes the druid immune to Fear. Same as previous, change to a core mechanic of the feral druid. All locks and Shadow priests will wipe us off the face of the Azeroth with impunity. It was hard to counter affli lock or spriest unless we started from stealth – but now it has become a whole lot harder.
  • Glyph of Entangling Roots now reduces the cast time of Entangling Roots by 0.2 seconds, rather than making it instant cast. Great idea – ferals will no longer able to break out from roots, therefore let’s take out the last hope, we cannot root our attacker near us and DPS/stun/interrupt them. Of course, as they have abilities to break roots, it was not much of an help anyway.

Sad, sad changes.  I don’t think there ever were any real complaints about Berserk breaking the fear or Shapeshift breaking the roots. This is an example of a solution in search of a problem. In their quest for class normalization, Blizzard has destroyed feral PvP.

Before Cataclysm, we were good for one thing – we were decent flag carriers. Not as indestructible as paladins or warrior, but thanks to sheep immunity, breaking out of roots and snares, one-time fear escape and higher running speed, we held our own and often got the flag home. In Cataclysm, we actually became competitive as fighters, not only flag carriers. But after this patch…

A couple of years ago, Ghostcrawler said something like “Stop your endless complaining, druids. You already have one competitive spec for PvP.” We will be back to those days – although then it was Resto that was good for PvP, now it will apparently be Balance in post-4.0.6. Feral PvP is more or less dead.

Sure, we can still go to big battles (think Tol Barad) where we can hide behind others and get our damage off while our target is fighting someone else. Sure, we still have 30% indoors speed buff for Warsong Gulch corridors, but what good it will do if we need three healers on us to get through the open area?

How should these changes have been implemented?

Instead of using a lancet, Blizzard has opted to use a sledgehammer. In case if some of druid abilities were deemed overpowered, there would have been a much better solution, which would have left feral still a viable PvP spec. We shall see how bleed damage reduction will play out – quite possibly this will not overly affect PvP, so I am not commenting on that.

  • Shapeshift and roots. Implement debuff – think Power Word: Shield mechanic. Once you’ve escaped roots via shapeshifting, you will get a 15-second debuff, during which shapeshifting no longer breaks out of roots
  • Berserk. Whether or not a 15-second ability with a 3-minute cooldown (that is 7.7% uptime!) really needs to be nerfed is another question, but if it was so horribly bad and overpowered, why not make it just to remove the fear when you start it and not giving a fear immunity for the duration?
  • Glyph of Entangling roots. Instead of making it useless 0.2 second cast time decrease, why not incease the cooldown of Roots to 15 or 20 seconds? Roots of other classes are instant cast by default – why not make even unglyphed roots instant cast with 25 second cooldown, glyph would reduce the cooldown by 10 seconds?

Conclusion

There aren’t that many end-game feral druids as it is. In my fairly large guild (as of this morning, 100+ members at 85), we have 13 druids at the level cap. Out of those, I am the only one who raids as feral, either tank or DPS. Many of the others have a feral spec – but they use it to solo content or do dailies. And after this patch, raiding feral druids will be even rarer in end-game.

Which is a shame.

Sure, as DPS we suffer 5% hybrid tax and have one of the most complex rotation (out of the hybrid DPS classes/specs, by far the most complex). Sure, as bears we are far more vulnerable for magic damage than other tanks and need more healer’s mana to keep us alive. But we are a fun to play.  I have tried pretty much every other class besides warrior and hunter, nothing comes even close to the versatility and joy of the druid.

Kitties will still be okay’ish for raiding, bears will get some buffs that hopefully will make us more competitive. But destruction of core class mechanic will be simply devastating for PvP.

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