New patches -- I'm still not sure how I feel about them every time that they come around. Sometimes, you get the overjoyed feeling of being buffed; other times, you get the heart-wrenching experience of nerfs. I'm not quite sure if the pleasure is always worth the pain. All in all, though, I am not seeing 4.1 as being a major class balancing patch -- if Blizzard is to be believed -- so this should hopefully be a quick, short rollercoaster ride.
As of right now, there aren't too many druid changes in the patch notes, but what there is seems to be rather disheartening for balance. More specifically, though, I want to brush up on the hot button issue of the day: the nerf to Starsurge. There are a lot of opinions floating around out there and a lot more misinformation. Although I wanted to avoid posting about the patch notes until there was more to tell, I think now would be the best time to go into this issue before something gets out of hand.
Why, oh why?!
The first question on everyone's mind when they saw the nerf was why? Why reduce the damage of Starsurge? Our PvP damage isn't particularly high. Our PvE damage isn't particularly high. So why is it that Blizzard would reduce the damage of Starsurge?
No one but Blizzard could provide an answer for this, but I can give a very good logical guess: It's all about the burst. Balance druids are not really known for burst, but it is certainly possible. If people remember back in beta when Shooting Stars would be consumed without any benefit if you were already in the process of casting Starsurge, I had said that fixing this "problem" was probably not going to happen because it would allow the additional possibility of back-to-back Starsurges. I was wrong about the fix, but it seems I wasn't wrong on the theory behind not making it.
Starsurge hits like a truck, and it requires virtually no real setup as other burst abilities do. Yes, we do need to have Eclipse up in order for the damage to be "excessive," and PvP Eclipse is an issue, but that is how many balance druids are playing in PvP these days. Eclipse is horrid to make use of, and there are still a lot of balance druids who do nothing but sit in Solar Eclipse spamming DoTs and using Starsurge for burst.
1v1 and really even in small groups, this strategy isn't going to be that effective. Spamming Sunfire is very low DPS, and our DoTs can easily be stripped anyway by any healer. Using this, the druid relies upon a partner to deal the bulk of the damage; instead, the druid is merely there for control and the burst of Starsurge.
If coupled with another debuff-based partner such as an affliction warlock, balance can be rather deadly in certain cases. Our DoTs become more difficult to dispel, and although we put out little pressure ourselves, hitting someone with even a 40k Starsurge is going to spell bad news for them.
On its own, a single Starsurge isn't going to be the end of the world for someone; it's the combination of back-to-back casts from Shooting Stars that makes Starsurge rather ridiculous. Aside from Pyroblast!, I'm not certain there's another spell that hits as hard as Starsurge can, so getting two of them off within a short time spam is very deadly. This is something Blizzard wants to address.
For all the power that Starsurge may have in the burst department, balance druids really aren't a strong PvP choice right now. This is mostly because all of our other abilities remain far too weak. Our control just isn't on par with that of other specs, and our ability to pressure outside of Shooting Stars procs is terrible. Further, despite the change to Moonkin Form, our defenses still remain on the weaker side.
The burst of Starsurge is really the only thing that balance druids had going for them, and it is quite obvious that it wasn't nearly enough to have us be considered a "strong" PvP option. Which brings us back to square one; if balance wasn't strong in PvP, why then nerf our only "good" aspect?
Sadly, game balance doesn't operate in the way that we wish that it would. Certain combinations can be too powerful, while individual aspects of a class or spec are rather weak. This leaves us where we stand now. The burst potential of Starsurge -- and Shooting Stars -- is simply too high, and the rest doesn't matter. Too much is too much.
From the personal level of playing a balance druid, I find the premise of this change to be revolting. To cut at the one strength that balance druids had while they remain so obviously weak is a terrible choice. The game designer in me knows, however, that it is something that had to be done.
Regardless of the difficulty or rarity of this occurring, it's the simple fact that it can occur that constitutes the issue. If we are going to demand "perfect" game balance from Blizzard, then we have to take the lumps that will come along with that.
The silver lining
Not everything is total doom and gloom, however. That Blizzard is recognizing an "overpowered" portion of balance PvP means that it is looking into balance PvP, and I wouldn't be surprised if we saw additional changes in the future that are aimed at helping us fare better in our weaker areas. It would only make sense, after all, to address all areas of balance, not just a single freak incident.
While Blizzard has said that players shouldn't expect major class balance changes within this patch, that doesn't mean we shouldn't expect some changes or that any changes made won't be significant. Blizzard tends to have a very funny definition of "major."
One thing I will caution against is not to get any hopes up that the PvP Eclipse issue will be addressed. Despite being one of the larger flaws that we have right now, tweaking Eclipse isn't as cut and dry as we all would like it to be. Although it may seem easy to call for a talent such as Olwkin Frenzy to help in this matter -- and that might be a change we could expect -- don't think everything is going to get better overnight. It could happen, but I like realistic dreams.
As with any damage nerf, this obviously comes with some PvE implications as well. While there have been some people cropping up here and there to claim that balance's damage is a tad too high, rest assured that is not the case. Before getting into that, however, let's address how this nerf will impact us.
Within a single-target encounter, Starsurge will account for approximately 15% of our total damage. I've seen it be as low was 12% on certain parses, but never really higher than 15% unless there are some really wonky Shooting Stars procs going on.
Overall, this should mean that you will see around a 3% reduction in your single-target DPS if nothing else is changed come 4.1. Not an extreme nerf by any means, and frankly, most players probably won't even notice it over much -- but it's not insignificant. If PvE is your primary focus, then I wouldn't really let this nerf bother you all that much. Your position on the meters may drop just a little bit, but you won't suddenly become dead weight or anything.
Damage is too high?
The main reason that this nerf has excessively little PvE impact is because Starsurge only accounts for 15% of our damage during single-target encounters, which isn't the majority of fights in this raiding tier. The more mobs that are added into the equation, the less of an impact that Starsurge actually has on your total damage contribution. This seems somewhat contradictory, since more adds means more Shooting Stars procs. Let's look at some factors.
On encounters such as TnV where there are only two targets up, the nerf to Starsurge will probably remain at around a 3% reduction in your DPS, but probably slightly less. On encounters such as Magmaw where there are lots of adds and lots of AoE, the nerf to Starsurge won't even dent your DPS by any significant margin.
Here is why this is problematic -- and why the nerf is clearly aimed towards PvP.
Any time that a player comes forward and complains about balance DPS, it is exclusively related to AoE encounters. For example, balance druids remain the highest DPS for the Sinestra encounter, and by a rather wide margin. Why? Balance has ridiculous AoE abilities. Our AoE is entirely reliant upon our two DoTs, which no other spec can really claim, save maybe survival. Since most adds in encounters like Magmaw die relatively quickly, our AoE damage doesn't usually scale absurdly out of control in relation to other specs, although it will still be far higher than most others. Similarly, on encounters such as Halfus, the AoE portion is rather limited, and its cleave/single-target damage that is the main contribution to overall DPS.
During AoE encounters, Starsurge's damage contribution (and really, that of all of our nukes) drops radically. On some of the highest AoE parses for balance druids, Starsurge only accounts for 8% of the damage done, usually with 60% of the damage done being through our DoTs. In these situations, a druid is only going to see a 1.6% nerf to his damage, which is hardly noticeable at all.
If balance's PvE damage were at all an issue, then this nerf would do virtually nothing to address it. Our AoE damage, which is our finest point, would remain exactly as strong as it is now, while only our single-target damage suffers.
Although I am not expecting that balance will see any "compensation" for this nerf in PvE, given how strong our AoE is, I certainly think that Blizzard should consider increasing the damage of both Starfire and Wrath by around 10% to offset the change. This would have absolutely no impact on our current AoE damage capabilities, as we don't use either of these spells in AoE, and would only serve to re-balance our single-target DPS, which is exactly where it is supposed to be at this point.