This week, I am honored to bring you a guest post from Karthis Winterleaf, author of the well-respected Feral blog, Of Teeth and Claws. I asked Karthis to educate a noobish Tree like myself on what I’d want to look for when building a kitty cat set for dailies, soloing, and the occasional catnap under a tree.
Druids, no matter what their final spec, all start life walking down the same path: we spend nine levels exclusively in caster form dabbling with a mix of Restoration and Balance spells before earning the durable Bear Form at level ten, and then the fierce Cat Form at level twenty.
I distinctly remember the great power that seemed to be granted to me upon reaching that magical level twenty milestone all those years ago – no longer was I stuck as a frail caster or a curiously weak bear, instead suddenly I could shift into the form of a graceful killer and deal some real damage. The joy that I felt when I first sunk my claws into a foe and then proceeded to tear its face off remains unsurpassed by anything since. Bliss.
Surely, gentle trees, you too sometimes wish to leave your stiff limbs behind and slink into the shadows? Surely you too wish to taste something more fulfilling – far richer – than just simple water and sunshine? Surely you too wish to feel bones snap between your jaws, watch flesh part beneath your razor claws, and hear howls of helpless pain fill your ears as you destroy those who dare to stand in your way?
If so – and I know that in your heart of hearts you all do – then read on.
Evaluating Feral Gear
Druids are nearly alone in being able to utterly change their play style from healing to DPS (two flavors) to tanking with a single respec. It is because of this innate versatility that many Druids collect multiple sets of gear for when they want to step outside of their traditional role, and do something different for a while. It can be a great change of pace to heal a battleground after off-tanking a heroic raid, and I’m sure that the reverse is also true.
If you are to truly unleash your inner kitty, it pays to understand what makes a cat tick, and to ensure that your off-spec gear collection is as potent as it can be without passing up usable main spec items. Gear-wise, Cat Form benefits from the following stats: Strength, Agility, Hit Rating, Crit Rating, Expertise Rating, Haste Rating, Armor Penetration, and (Feral) Attack Power. If that seems like a lot of trade-offs to juggle, then you’re not far off the mark.
Attack Power (and for now, Feral Attack Power) increases the damage that all of your attacks deal. Both white and yellow attacks scale directly with attack power, and thus the more of it you have the harder you will hit. Although the bonus attack power that you see on gear often looks enormous, it pays to calculate the equivalent Strength or Agility this converts to (or vice versa) so that you can compare apples to apples when making a loot choice.
Strength is a strong stat on Druid gear in WotLK, which is a change from the later stages of TBC. Each point of Strength is worth roughly 2.2 Attack Power, which as discussed is the underlying stat that all kitty dps abilities scale with. Picking up leather gear with lots of strength is never a bad idea, and often times strength gems and enchantments are your best choices.
Agility used to be the key stat for all feral Druids, however it has fallen behind strength in terms of DPS utility. Offensively, agility increases both your Attack Power (1 Agility = 1.67 AP) and your chance to score a critical hit on a foe (1 agility = 0.013% chance to crit). Despite losing some prominence in WotLK, Agility is still an excellent stat to stack, and the ideal piece of cat gear will have a healthy dollop of Agility AND Strength on it.
Hit rating decreases the chance that you will miss with your attacks, and thus indirectly boosts your overall damage. While it is not as flashy a stat as Attack Power, Strength, or Agility, it is probably the most important stat to pay attention to when building a Feral DPS gear set, since missed attacks deal zero damage no matter how much attack power that you have stacked. Against raid bosses the best current theorycrafting suggests that you need enough hit rating to overcome an 8.0% miss chance – this translates to +263 hit rating. If you are sticking to level 80 mobs you will only need to overcome a 5% miss chance, which requires +164 hit rating. Please keep in mind that stack hit rating beyond the cap is wasting stats, so some critical thought is required to maintain a good balance.
Expertise is a stat that feral Druids love to hate; it reduces the chance that enemies will dodge or parry our attacks (which is great) but seems to either appear in huge doses or else not at all (which makes stacking it a pain). Similarly to hit rating, capping your expertise is advisable if you intend on aiming to maximize your DPS. Against raid bosses you need to counteract their 6.5% chance to dodge which requires +214 expertise rating (parry is of lesser importance since you will be attacking from behind most of the time). Level 80 mobs only have a 5% chance to dodge, which +163 expertise rating will take care of. (Note: The Primal Precision talent – a core of any serious feral build – grants 10 expertise, or 82 expertise rating, so subtract this from the above numbers if you have specced into it).
Crit rating increases the chances that you inflict double damage on your foe with either a white or a yellow attack. It is difficult to exactly quantify the DPS increase that crit rating grants you since a properly talented Feral Druid will have their Primal Fury talent maxed out, and thus receive an extra combo point in addition to double damage when they score a critical hit. More combo points leads to easier management of the complex Feral DPS cycle, which indirectly leads to higher sustained damage. Still, the consensus seems to be that crit rating is less important than raw attack power. Number junkies will want to know that every 46 crit rating that you acquire will bestow a 1% increase to your chance of scoring a critical hit.
Armor Penetration Rating
Armor Penetration Rating decreases the effective amount of armor that an enemy has to protect itself with against your attacks. While an increase in armor penetration leads to higher DPS, this is not a stat that feral Druids should go out of their way to acquire – if the gear has great other stats and some armor penetration thrown in then it’s not a bad thing, but armor penetration should rarely make or break a gear decision. Every 15.4 armor penetration reduces enemy armor by 1% (and keep in mind that enemy armor values are far lower than most players).
Haste speeds up the time between white damage melee attacks. Since Druids in cat form have an attack speed of 1, this stat is of minimal impact to our bottom line DPS. Like armor penetration, having gear with haste on it cannot hurt, however it is not nearly as beneficial as the other stats that could be found in its place. Every 32.8 haste rating will increase attack speed by 1%.
If your head is spinning a little bit right now, I don’t blame you – Feral Druids have a lot to consider when selecting their gear. As a rule of thumb, however, here is a guideline to follow:
hit > expertise > strength > agility > attack power > crit > armor penetration > haste
If you reach the cap for hit rating or expertise, then they drop to the back of the flow chart.
For an in-game numerical comparison of gear, I highly recommend that you use an addon like Pawn. Pawn allows you to assign weights to stats and that calculates a composite "score" for an item and displays it within the item tooltip. For reference, here is the Pawn scale that I use for evaluating cat gear:
Ap = 1, FeralAp = 1, Strength = 2.2, Agility = 1.565, CritRating = 1.025, ExpertiseRating = 1.033, HasteRating = 0.786, ArmorPenetration = 0.922, HitRating = 1.133, RedSocket = 25.04, BlueSocket = 16, YellowSocket = 24.264, ColorlessSocket = 25.04, MetaSocket = 32.865
Always remember to keep the Hit Rating and Expertise caps in mind when making gear decisions, as their value cannot be modelled with a simple number in a scale like this. A composite stat-based gear score is no substitute for a little bit of critical thought.
If you want to plan your cat gear in advance, I have prepared a Loot Rank template that can be used to get a listing of kitty gear ranked by slot: Karthis’ Kitty Loot Rank. If you do not expect to be raiding then you can uncheck some of the boxes on the Loot Rank form, and click the "View Loot Ranking" button to regenerate the list to get a bigger list of gear that is relevant to your situation.
It can be a wonderful change of pace to play a different style than you are used to for a while, and the Druid class offers the ability to do this without having to roll an alt and level it up. It only furthers your enjoyment if you have a functional set of gear that makes your transition even smoother. In the end the Feral path may not be for everyone, but all Druids owe it to themselves to surrender to their inner beast for at least a little while, and get up close and personal with their foes.