After reading that great feral thread, and in light of recent changes to innervate, I think a balance spec could become viable in raids.
My personal reasoning for speccing balance come 1.11:
1. I'm currently 20/0/31. I don't like feral much at all, so that's a no go for me. HOTW is a good talent but its pretty useless as regen > total mana. There aren't many good talents past NS in the resto tree from a raiding perspective (I am under the impression Gift of Nature and Imp Rejuv don't scale with +heal.
2. +dmg gear is also +healing. Also, druid itemization in this regard has improved greatly. This kind of solves the gear problem that seems to plague a raiding feral druid.
3. You dont have to do costly form switches in order to contribute some damage between your heals.
4. Moonglow and Nature's grace means you actually have an increase in staying power and healing speed over the x/x/31 build.
Now onto some dilemmas:
The first is what exact spec to go for. I feel moonkin is really a joke apart from allowing mages to pull aggro and die. I'm thinking a 30/0/21 spec is ideal as you get to keep NS.
For a 30 balance spec, would you go moonfury or imp starfire? I haven't found much in terms of numbers or if moonfury scales with gear.
And for anyone that has already explored this spec, what kind of dps do they get from it?
Edit: It actually seems like a druid in this manner would be pretty close to the role I think an elemental shaman would play. Since I'm alliance and have no experience with them, can anyone share thier experiences with them in raid?
Balance druids do not enjoy the same levels of raid performance as a mages and warlocks, for three reasons:
#1. Mana-management. Innervate will help this, but it is still a problem. Why? Well, you won't enjoy nearly the mana boost you've come to expect in healing gear when you are wearing contemporary +damage gear. Spirit has largely been forsaken on nuking gear (as appropriately demanded by mages and warlocks).
#2. Difficult Gear Choices. Helped minimally by AQ Loot, but in general you'll have to steal cloth items and other highly-contested offensive caster rings/trinkets to gear yourself properly.
#3. No aggro reducing abilities. This is the current barrier to mage and warlock dps on most encounters. And they have talents and set-bonuses to help. You don't.
Nonetheless, if you're willing to try to overcome these hurdles, you'll find that balance druids can deal reasonable DPS in a raid, but just like cat-druids vs rogues, I've yet to see a compelling example to take the former over the latter if performance is the goal.
Let me talk about the gear problem a little bit more though. The largest dilema with trying out this build (and a feral build) is that you need an entire set of different gear to pull it off competitively. In most cases, this is gear that mages and warlocks want, and they probably won't be willing to pass to you for your experiment. Either 1: you've specced moonkin already and deal sub par damage because you don't yet have the gear, or 2: you are collecting it for future use and you have to convince them that they should give you an item that you won't even use for two months. Neither are attractive negotiating options. If your mages/warlocks/loot-distributors are willing to take a chance on you without causing a mutiny, more power to you.
I was specced moonkin once for a MC clear a while ago (I'm resto for life) to play around with the build and see what kind of numbers I could put up, wearing mostly green +arcane gear, and I did pretty well. Particularly on trash mobs, where I could enjoy the extra DPS of a moonfire or two on offtanked mobs. I ran into serious problems remaining competitive on boss fights due to extreme mana problems (probably because of my statless greens). Even with some charity innervates from my fellow druids that were rooting for me, boss fights were not the highlight of the clear for me. I think the mana problem would become less of an issue with better offensive caster gear, but then aggro issues would rear their head.
If you are still willing to try the path of the battle-chicken, here's some numbers and analysis about your DPS:
Wrath vs Starfire
I think its important to spend talents in both Impr Wrath and Impr Starfire. Overall, starfire is a better spell to use in raids.
Some things to consider:
#1. Wrath scales better with +damage gear.
Both wrath and starfire use their base cast-time to determine the amount of +damage they receive. When you reduce the cast-time of a spell through talents, you are getting a +damage "bonus". The greater the cast-time reduction as a portion of the original cast, the larger this bonus is. Thus, Talented Wrath gets 0.381 DPS per +1 spelldamage and Talented Starfire gets 0.333 DPS per +1.
#2. Talented Wrath can't benefit from Nature's Grace. Reducing the Wrath cast tme from 1.5 sec to 1.0 sec doesn't help your DPS, because you still need to wait 1.5 seconds for the global cooldown. Starfire is usually a better choice.
#3. Curse of Shadows affects Starfire. Nothing affects Wrath (stormstrikelol?). This is enough to tip the scales in Starfire's favor for most levels of +damage gear.
Here's my quick calculation of the DPS of Wrath vs Starfire. It doesn't factor in crits, or white resists. Both are fully talented, and include a 10% bonus to base from Moonfury.
With 0 damage gear (values in DPS):
NG+Star: 237 So with no damage gear, we can see that Starfire is superior
With 400 damage gear (values in DPS):
Starfire : 331
NG+Star : 397 At +400 damage gear, Wrath has overtaken Starfire, but its still better to use Starfire when NG procs
However, lest we forget that only starfire can benefit from a warlock curse (I took this to be 10% after +dam gear, correct me if I'm wrong)
400 damage gear, with CoS (values in DPS):
Starfire : 364
NG+Star : 437 So in situations where CoS is up, Starfire is still the better spell to use.
So whats the break even point? Well its at about +2400 spell damage that Wrath overtakes Starfire+CoS.
So overall, if you choose to go Moonkin or heavy balance with the intention of DPS'ing during a raid, you have a lot of challenges to overcome. But, the potential for DPS is there with some good gear. Unfortunately, if you ever get there, you'll run into serious aggro issues. The only hope you have for leading DPS-meters is by asking your fellow druids not only for innervates, but for some combat-rezzes.
As for improved starfire, starfire is always less dps than wrath, but better mana efficiency.
Doesnt shadow mastery show up in both of the links that you posted?
I suppose it could be that one is from an old set of information while the other is from a new set. But the general concensus seems to be that SM does take into account +damage gear.
However, improved drain life seems to not take damage gear into account. I can't really find any corrolation other than the fact that talents that seem to list a particular skill do not take into account +damage but those that list the spell school/type do. I would have to go back and check through all the different talents though.
Until they change moonkin to be more beneficial, or change the way druid +damage scales, balance will never be more than a novelty.
And when OOMkin lives up to its name, and runs OOM, all damage ceases. Although mages may run out of mana, when they wand, they're still doing upwards of 70 DPS with wands. Although that's pretty weak on it's own, it's 70 dps more than the OOM balance druid.
3. You dont have to do costly form switches in order to contribute some damage between your heals.
I don't think your characterization of shifting as "costly" is accurate. Yes, shifting has a relatively large mana cost compared to Starfire, for example. But that cost is all up front; once you've shifted, you can DPS away while regaining mana at your max rate. Cast 2 or 3 Starfires and you've just spent as much mana as you would've for a shift. Plus, not only are you not regaining mana at your max rate, you're actively spending it to contribute damage.
Compared to nuking, shifting isn't costly at all, unless you're completely schizo with it and shift like your wife's cat is standing on your F3 key (purely hypothetical analogy). The Feral druids I've raided with don't shift unless they anticipate using that form for a relatively long time, barring emergency. A druid who follows a pattern of tossing out a couple heals, shifting to Cat for 2 or 3 swings, and then shifting back to start healing again would raise serious questions as to his competancy. Balance and Feral DPS are really suited for different things. Cat is best for situations where you can afford to do nothing but DPS for an extended period, nuking is best for (judiciously) supplementing the raid's killing power when you expect to be healing but happen not to be.
So as a corollary to the mana management issue that Sirloin discussed, a Balance druid will always face the obstacle of his effective utility. If you run with a hybrid spec like 30/0/21 as you suggested, sure, you're retaining enough healing power in the Resto tree for the raid to consider you a healer. The problem is, unlike Feral DPS, Balance DPS consumes the same resource you need for healing: mana. It's one thing to invest 21 points in Resto so you have the ability to heal effectively. If you don't have the mana to make use of those talents, though, they aren't worth a damn. And the catch is, if you want to put up remotely competitive DPS, you aren't going to have much mana to heal with if you have to change roles on the fly.
I think that currently a feral/balance/resto or feral/resto druid is a better choice than a hard balance spec if the hybrid use of your healing and damage capabilities is the primary goal.
Changing to cat/bear costs 472 mana with swiftshifting. Even in a caster heavy hybrid gear config - lets say a combination of genesis and SR - you are going to be able to decent DPS - at almost no mana cost - while also regening mana at full spirit regen rates. This is facilitated largely by items like the druid hammers and the massive total stat allocation on genesis items. You regen mana pretty fast with even moderate spirit if you do absolutely nothing. Feral druids can do this while generating 10 energy per second which can be converted into DPS. If they suddenly need to heal - bam they shapeshift, can spam regrowth like a madman from a full mana pool, and then go back into DPS/regen mode. This ability to be doing good damage while keeping a hefty reserve mana pool is what can make feral/hybrid playstyles very useful to the raid. Anyone else blows all of thier mana in emegency healing and they stand to the side for a while. The druid can jump in and spit out 200+ additional DPS in even pretty caster heavy gear.
A balance druid could go for the same regen approach - but I am not sure it is as effective. I suspect that this idea of a melee-capable offensive caster - in close and meleeing/regening/procing OoC - was the vision that Blizzard had for the 31-point talent in a raid setting. Use your mana to do damage and then when low, whack on the evil dudes with your hammer. You regen mana and proc OoC - which you can translate into max-damage starfires with no penalty to regen and no mana cost. This is basically a better version of how many of us grinded to 60 back when cat was utterly useless for damage.
Genesis is ideally suited to this approach, other than the low spirit/passive regen. However, I am not so sure it really works in the end due to aggro issues and the fundamental design of the offensive spells and the predominance of aoe magical damage in encounters. If I was not so heavily invested into a feral role I would likely try this approach out in detail for a few months to estimate overall viability.