This is a supplementary post to the 8.1 Druid Megathread on Reddit. You can follow the discussion there.
Authors: Nick, Slippykins, Tettles
Balance is in a decent state with decent DPS across all categories, but no considerable strengths. The Streaking Stars nerf hit ST DPS hard. Lively Spirit mechanically feels odd: it provides delayed burst DPS and inefficient use of a healing CD. Additionally, it places a contingency on someone else to maximise your own damage. Bottom line: Lively Spirit does not feel good to play, but it’s strength relative to other traits makes players incentivised to take it.
Talent builds have never varied so little. Most content in the game favours burst DPS over sustained: content where you have breaks between DPS (ex: Mythic+, World Quests), content with periodic damage modifiers (ex: Raid), and content where priority targets must be focused down (ex: Mythic+, Raid). Thus, we have a cookie-cutter talent build of Force of Nature/ Incarnation: Chosen of Elune/ Twin Moons/ Fury of Elune that emphasises burst DPS at the expense of sustained DPS. Not only that, but the clear damage difference between talents on specific rows (ex: Twin Moons vs. Stellar Drift/ Stellar Flare) is just too big.
There is very little synergy between traits and talents, and this seems to be a design choice (ex: the hidden 2/3 modifier on Streaking Stars with Incarnation: Chosen of Elune). This makes it feel like two disjoint systems where one system (talents) is predetermined and the other (traits) is completely at the mercy of Raid/Mythic+ Weekly Chest RNG. In aggregate, this makes us feel like we have almost no control over our character.
Starfall feels unimpressive with the loss of Stellar Empowerment. Suffers from the same issue it always has: long ramp-up leading to very little DPS in real, bursty AoE scenarios. The only trait that affects Starfall, Lunar Shrapnel, further emphasises this ramp-up DPS of Starfall that almost never happens. As a spender it has zero interaction with the other parts of the kit, as opposed to Starsurge, which grants empowerment stacks. This makes Starfall feel clunky compared to the rest of the kit and unrewarding with respect to the ramp-up DPS. Not only this, but our talents assisting with our sustained DPS ( Stellar Drift, Shooting Stars) are undertuned to the point of not taking in any situation. Thus, we’re left in a position where our AoE DPS suffers from long ramp-up times and underwhelming DPS from our only AoE AP spender.
Overall: the utility of Boomkin is in a great place, and is enjoyable in Mythic+. Our spec-specific Azerite traits either feel boring ( Dawning Sun, Sunblaze), incentivise degenerate and unfun rotations ( Power of the Moon, High Noon), feel awkward and unintuitive ( Lively Spirit) or were hit too hard with the nerf hammer ( Lunar Shrapnel, Streaking Stars). As such, most of the top builds for Boomkin involve two or three pieces of Archive of the Titans/ Laser Matrix (as can be seen on our theorycrafting site, ChickenDB).
We feel the biggest improvements that can be made to the spec are: 1) rebalancing the underperforming talents that are seldom picked, 2) design of interesting and interactive traits ( Streaking Stars is a good example), and 3) tweaking of spec-specific traits (ex: Lunar Shrapnel needs a larger AoE and do slightly more damage to be useful).
PTR: The new Balance trait Arcanic Pulsar looks interesting, and has clear synergies with other talents/traits (notably: Streaking Stars). This is an example of a good trait moving forward.
The state of feral is in a bit of flux. As few people can have missed, at the start of the expansion Feral was in a rather weak spot. In the early weeks, a combination of M0s and a rather hard dependency on secondary stats conspired to make feral feel (and indeed perform) particularly poor. Availability of better gear (including some specific, strong Azerite traits) over time, as well as the hotfix changes we received has alleviated these issues somewhat and I have personally felt it’s possible to perform alright in Mythic plus, although it would be a stretch to say that I’ve felt strong.
An unfortunate aspect of Azerite system is that some traits are overly situational, for example, traits like Iron Jaws and Raking Ferocity while great on single-target oriented fights, provide very little to no benefit in an AoE or a mixed situation, which is what M+ fundamentally is. Traits like Twisted Claws are good on AoE but instead suffer on single-target where it has a minor benefit making it very hard to gear. The only trait that is seemingly flexible and strong in most situations, Wild Fleshrending, suffers from being very hard to get at a high item level, only one raid piece has the trait for example, which means that you are at the mercy of RNG from M+ caches or Warfronts. Much like for balance, it makes it feel like you have very little agency over how strong your character actually ends up being in this content.
In Uldir, Feral suffers from a variety of issues that severely hurts the spec. One big issue that also plague several melee specs. We don’t have any particular utility that elevates us into the tier of “must bring”, unlike for example Havoc that has a raid debuff – which means that several melee slots are already “reserved” for these buffers and debuffers. That might not have been a critical problem, except for the fact that several fights in Uldir are very melee-unfriendly which radically limits the number of melee slots available in the first place.
Furthermore, Feral has several pronounced weaknesses – our AoE isn’t great, and specializing in AoE (via Brutal Slash and Predator for example) means sacrificing a substantial amount of Single-Target damage, also feeding into the same trait issue we suffer from in Mythic+ gearing where single-target traits might simply not do anything or very little on AoE fights.
Another weakness is single-target burst damage, not overall burst. Incarnation: King of the Jungle provides solid burst on a 3-minute cooldown (especially so when combined with Wild Fleshrending relics). But for smaller more regular burst, like adds on Fetid Devourer, it is not great. Tools such as Feral Frenzy could in theory help, but suffer from the same issue as our AoE. Picking them involves a big sacrifice of overall single-target damage, which makes the choice quite difficult and hurt our competitiveness compared to other melee classes.
The biggest issue with feral might not even be any of these concrete problems however, but rather that feral completely lacks a strength that everyone can point too and say “this is where feral shine”. While a Subtlety Rogue sees a fight like Zul and think “This is where I shine”, or a warrior might see a fight with an important execute phase, like G’huun and say “This is where I shine” there just isn’t anything Feral particularly shines on. Feral instead has tools that in theory would make it flexible, none of them feels strong and Feral often ends up being “jack of all trades, mediocre at all” in practice.
There are strengths in the toolkit however. Our sustained damage done is solid, high even. In addition, the mobility kit with Dash, Stampeding Roar, Cat Form’s high speed in general (and with Feline Swiftness passive) and talent options Wild Charge/ Tiger Dash is excellent. Ferals general survivability is also fine, with two charges of Survival Instincts and the ability to swap into Bear Form, talent options provide Renewal as well as Frenzied Regeneration in Bear Form. Restoration Affinity further provides strong off-healing tools in the shape of Swiftmend, for single-target burst healing and Wild Growth for AoE throughput, which is useful in both Raids and Mythic+.
We have received rather large changes on the PTR, and the general sense of them has been cautiously positive. The highlights include, being able to apply Rip to many targets via Primal Wrath, and being able to pick an AoE talent without hurting our Single-Target potential much. These changes will likely help feral to suffer less by making the kit more flexible. It does however seem like Feral will remain very much an all-around spec without a niche, living and dying completely by whether we end up tuned to be significantly above average overall or not.
You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who can say with a straight face that Guardian is in a good spot at the moment. There are several key factors that contribute to this, which I will explore in this post.
First, how are we faring in raids? The good news is that our mitigation remains quite powerful, and we continue to be a fairly sturdy raid tank in most respects. In my opinion we land squarely in the upper half of the tanking hierarchy where pure “tankiness” is concerned.
That being said: raid tanking is not only about tankiness, and this is where Guardian really falls flat. Our raid utility pales in comparison to what some other specs bring. Stampeding Roar is a shadow of its former self, both in terms of the removal of Guttural Roars, and the fact that it’s just not that good on the Uldir encounters, which for the most part demand very little movement and require the raid to spread out to the point where Roar would not reach everyone if it were cast.
We also can’t ignore the elephant in the room that is the Brewmaster, whose mitigation ( Stagger) thoroughly trounces ours in just about all respects in a raiding environment. Not only that, but Ring of Peace has proven to be the stand-out utility spell of Uldir, being extremely useful bordering on necessary for several encounters in the instance. But I digress; this is a post about Guardians. I only mean to point out how far ahead Brewmaster is of all other tanks, not just us.
Let’s talk about Mythic+. The severe underrepresentation that Guardian experienced as a Mythic+ tank during the final tier of Legion has persisted into the first season of BfA, and for many of the same reasons. If I had to boil everything down into a single statement, it would be that Guardian doesn’t facilitate its group. What I mean is that we lack tools that other tanks possess to actually improve their group’s DPS. Examples of these tools include the ability to group adds together for cleave with grips, sustained mob displacement with Ring of Peace, threat wipes/external damage reductions like Blessing of Protection and Blessing of Sacrifice, sustained slows that allow you to kite to drop Necrotic stacks or let your healer catch up, or even just the ability to sustain your own health to allow your healer to deal damage. Guardian lacks any notable utility in this space, making them a hard sell to any group looking to push the limits of Mythic+.
Not only this, but many of the utility spells we do have are locked out of our primary shapeshift form. Entangling Roots, Hibernate, Regrowth, and Remove Corruption are all unusable in Bear Form, making it a huge liability to cast any of these during combat while you’re actively tanking. A very simple fix would be to allow these spells to be castable while in Bear Form.
Damage is also a significant issue. Guardian already has fairly low damage output relative to the other tanks, and we have to sacrifice a lot of defensive power in order to improve DPS (for example, spending Rage on Maul instead of Ironfur, or talenting into Brambles instead of Bristling Fur), but what is of much higher concern is the lack of a baseline offensive cooldown. Our lack of snap threat/on-pull burst damage is one of our greatest weaknesses, a problem that having an offensive cooldown would directly address.
While Incarnation: Guardian of Ursoc is intended to fill this role, it has its own problems. First, it is on a highly competitive talent row; to take Incarnation is to give up either Soul of the Forest or Galactic Guardian, both of which are extremely powerful rage-generating and sustained damage output talents. Incarnation has to compete directly with —- and in most cases, loses out to —- these alternatives. Perhaps more importantly though is that Incarnation is just straight up not fun to play. Seriously, who wants to spam Mangle or Thrash for 30 seconds during the period where they’re supposed to feel the most powerful?
Talents: There are a few problem areas in the Guardian talent tree, but in my opinion the most glaring issue here is the Affinities row. I think it’s time to admit that the Affinity experiment has failed for Guardians. The tanking meta is in a place now where tanks are almost always receiving constant damage intake —- whether it be in Mythic+ where their active tanking time is near 100%, or in raids where the off-tank takes significant damage through mechanics like Fetid Devourer’s Terrible Thrash, or from Vectis’ Evolving Affliction, or from Zul’s Rupturing Blood —- and dropping Bear Form to use Affinity abilities poses far too much risk for the minor benefit you gain in return. As a result, selecting an Affinity has been reduced to “what small passive benefit do I want on this fight?”, resulting in one of the most boring and least consequential talent rows in the game.
If Affinities are supposed to enable the Druid class to perform hybrid roles (such as a Balance Druid off-healing in a raid, or a Resto Druid applying bleeds in Cat Form during a dungeon), it has not worked out for Guardians. The result is that Guardian is a tank without a niche —- if it can’t be the hybrid tank, there isn’t any one area that Guardian excels in that another tank doesn’t currently outperform.
Regarding Azerite, there is a significant gap between our strongest traits ( Layered Mane, Twisted Claws) and our weakest traits ( Craggy Bark, Gory Regeneration), despite the recent tuning passes. This is inherent in the design of the traits; tying benefits to defensive cooldowns will almost always be worse than ones which benefit from rotational abilities, simply due to how infrequently you use defensives. If I were to make one change to the system to benefit Guardians, it would be to take the focus away from granting defensive/offensive power and focus more on rotational enhancements; traits like Guardian's Wrath are fun to play around, even if they don’t provide as much raw value as a Layered Mane would.
There have been no significant changes to Guardians on the PTR, although in the most recent Q&A, it was mentioned that changes were coming soon to address some of the issues with the spec’s underperformance. It remains to be seen what that entails, as many of the most prominent issues will require more than just a tuning pass to fix.
Authors: Broccoliz, Voulk
Resto is in a comfortable place in the middle of the pack with decent representation in top world kills while still suffering from ‘just not a disc priest’ syndrome in raids. Our talents are the most varied they’ve been in quite some time, with no talent demanding inclusion across all content and all three of our level 100s seeing usage in both dungeons and raids. The playstyle has still altered very little from Legion, with the tighter healing windows being the only major change courtesy of a shorter rejuv duration. The spec is fun to play. If you’ve always enjoyed resto druid then you’ll still enjoy resto druid now.
We have a very strong Mythic+ presence on live with our top tier damage and utility complimenting our versatile healing style, making us powerful dungeon healers. We have multiple viable builds - Abundance/ Germination forming a healing-centric albeit GCD-heavy package, and Cenarion Ward/ Cultivation/ Photosynthesis providing us more opportunities to DPS. The catweaving playstyle offers valuable dps necessary for beating key timers; its high skill ceiling makes it rewarding and fun to play.
In raids, our CD oriented playstyle feels impactful and provides significant healing during difficult parts of the fight. Unfortunately we share a similar healing niche with Discipline Priests who are a bit of a balance outlier. We still excel in mobility and survivability but those strengths haven’t been as relevant in Uldir. Our diverse talents serve us reasonably well and we can fill multiple roles depending on healing composition (while usually being slightly weaker than those that excel in each role).
The recent azerite trait rebalancing has broadened our top tier with multiple combinations now viable. We fall into a similar position as most specs with the majority of our best traits being passive and uninteresting. They aren’t weak - in fact several are very powerful - they just aren’t very exciting. There is an opportunity for creative, engaging traits that have an impact on our playstyle. Azerite could be a good system - the glimpse we’ve received from the PTR suggests they’re getting closer. We’ll stay tuned.
Patch 8.1 PTR Changes
The Tranquility nerf can be acceptable if it comes bundled with sustained throughput increases, as it wasn’t healthy for so much of our healing to come from one spell. The currently datamined 10% buff to Wild Growth is welcome but we’ll need more to offset the Tranquility nerfs. The Autumn Leaves change is a positive one since the old design was irritating to talent around, so long as they keep the tuning competitive. The duration extension doesn’t currently stack; if it stays that way you’ll never run more than one of these. The new Early Harvest trait is interesting but is weak with current tuning. All that being said, remember it is PTR and changes are likely. Keep an eye on the pins in the Dreamgrove discord server over the next few weeks for up to date information on 8.1.