feral dps powershifting rotation guide in tbc
  • Author: Oxykitten
  • Date: January 19, 2022
  • Expansion: TBC Classic

The purpose of this guide is to give important information on the Feral DPS rotation in WoW: Burning Crusade Classic. It will cover what powershifting is, how to do it and how we maximise our DPS. This is an ever-evolving topic and I will do my best to keep it as up-to-date as possible, but the true focus of the guide is to establish the basis of the rotation, which will not change. For more information on other aspects of playing a feral druid, I have already published SoM guides and am working on TBC guides which will be published in due time.

Energy and global cooldown

The most important resource to consider for a feral DPS is energy. We have 100 energy, which regenerates in discrete ticks of 20 energy every 2 seconds. Our main abilities cost between 30 and 42 energy. In cat form, our global cooldown (GCD, the time period after casting a spell in which no other spells can be cast) is 1 second. In caster form (and when shifting into any form), our GCD is 1.5 seconds – this will be relevant later on. This means that if we stay in cat form, the rate-limiting factor in our rotation – that is, what we need to wait for in order to cast our abilities – is energy, as our GCD allows us to spend energy much faster than we regenerate it.

Shifting into or out of cat form does not impact our energy ticks – they continue to tick every 2 seconds, meaning if we leave cat form 1 second after our energy tick and immediately re-enter cat form, we will still receive our next energy tick after 1 more second.

Powershifting

Powershifting is the basis of the feral DPS rotation in Classic WoW. It is possible because of the resto talent, Furor, which awards 40 energy when entering cat form, and the level 40 crafted helmet, Wolfshead Helm, which awards 20 energy when entering cat form. Together, these give the druid 60 energy when entering cat form. Therefore, after expending all our energy, we are able to exit cat form (which does not start a GCD) and re-enter it immediately, ‘resetting’ our energy to 60 with the click of a button. We call this powershifting, and it is easily done with a simple macro:

#showtooltip
/cast !Cat form

Powershifting gives us the energy to cast abilities at a much faster pace; specifically, we are able to cast 2 abilities every 4 seconds, as opposed to every 8 seconds without, massively increasing our DPS and allowing us to be relatively competitive with other classes on a single target. 

This of course means that the Furor talent is absolutely mandatory, and Wolfshead Helm is an incredibly powerful helm throughout the entire game. By casting abilities more often, Wolfshead Helm scales with how strong your abilities are – this means that the more stats you get from all your other gear, the stronger Wolfshead gets, and no other helm can come close in a normal rotation. The sole exception to this is in late TBC, where the 2 piece tier 6 bonus allows a different rotation in which Wolfshead Helm is not needed. Even then, Wolfshead Helm in a normal rotation is comparable DPS to strong helms such as Duplicitous Guise and Thunderheart Cover in a non-Wolfshead rotation. Note that in a non-Wolfshead rotation, you still powershift just as often, if not more; you simply do not use the extra 20 energy and instead benefit from the stats on a different helm.

Because powershifting allows us to get energy on command, energy is not the rate-limiting factor in the feral rotation (for the most part). Instead, we maximise our use of GCDs to cast as many abilities as possible.

Powershift rotation and ‘cycles’

We describe our rotation of powershifting and casting abilities in terms of 4 second ‘cycles,’ where, generally, we:

Powershift (bringing you to 60 energy – 80 after an energy tick)
Cast an ability (bringing you to around 40 energy)
Cast an ability (bringing you to less than 20 energy)
Powershift (bringing you back to 60 energy and restarting the cycle)

This is done continuously in blocks (‘cycles’) of 4 seconds. The diagram below illustrates these cycles, showing our casts in blue, the GCD in red following casts, and energy ticks in yellow throughout.

pve feral druid powershifting cycle

As seen in the diagram above, each cycle starts with a powershift 1 second into an energy tick. This starts a 1.5 second (caster) GCD, during which we get an energy tick to bring us to 80 energy. We then cast an ability as soon as the GCD ends. Here, we wait for the next energy tick (0.5 seconds after the GCD ends) so that we can cast a second ability. Once the 1 second GCD ends, we immediately powershift. While we do wait for energy in the middle of this cycle, what is essential in maximising your overall DPS is to time your powershift at the end of the cycle as soon as your GCD has ended and you are able to shift – the focus is not on the energy tick, which will line up correctly in your next cycle if you have shifted as soon as possible.

Cast priorities

The cast priorities within a cycle can be very complex, and depend on which rotation is used. I will preface this by saying that deciding which actual abilities you use is far more complex and far less important than following the cycle pattern and casting any (decent) ability as often as possible. This section will get quite complicated; don’t worry too much about it, and note that I’ve tried my best to summarise it at the end.

There are many different rotations for feral DPS in TBC. When using Wolfshead Helm, there are three different rotations based on which finishing moves are used: “full rip,” “bite weave,” and “bite only.” There is also the “Non-Wolfshead” rotation, which is used when equipping 2 pieces of Tier 6 and not using Wolfshead Helm.

Which rotation is the most DPS depends on gear, raid buffs, boss armour, and whether Feral Aggression is talented. For example, a phase 2 BiS geared cat with fully optimal raid buffs and debuffs should use a bite weave rotation on all bosses. However, a cat in phase 1 gear missing some raid buffs (like improved expose armour) should likely use a full rip rotation. Similarly, the Non-Wolfshead rotation is generally less DPS than the Wolfshead rotation in Phase 3. However, it is more DPS than the Wolfshead rotation in full phase 5 BiS gear. The best way to know which rotation to use is to simulate them for your character, with your gear and raid buffs, using the simulation tool available on the Druid Discord.

In a bite weave rotation, rip is used as a finishing move if at 4 or 5 combo points. When reaching 5 combo points with rip still on the target, ferocious bite is used instead. This rotation is used on the vast majority of bosses, assuming the player has decent gear and raid buffs. The following priority order can be used for the bite weaving rotation:

  1. ≥30 energy, ≥4 combo points, no rip on target: Rip
  2. 35-56 energy, 5 combo points, rip on target: Bite
  3. ≥40 energy, no mangle on target: Mangle
  4. ≥42 energy, mangle on target: Shred
  5. (optional and niche) 40-41 energy, >1 second away from energy tick: Mangle
  6. ≤20 energy away from next ability and ≤1 second away from tick: Wait for energy
  7. ≤20 energy away from next ability and >1 second away from tick: Powershift
  8. >20 energy away from next ability: Powershift

In a full rip rotation, only rip is used as a finishing ability. When reaching 5 combo points with rip still on the target, the cat continues to shred or mangle until rip falls off, then immediately reapplies it. This rotation is generally best on a high armour boss if the cat is poorly geared with no points in feral aggression. The following priority order can be used for the full rip rotation:

  1. ≥30 energy, ≥4 combo points, no rip on target: Rip
  2. ≥40 energy, no mangle on target: Mangle
  3. ≥42 energy, mangle on target: Shred
  4. (optional and niche) 40-41 energy, >1 second away from energy tick: Mangle
  5. ≤20 energy away from next ability and ≤1 second away from tick: Wait for energy
  6. ≤20 energy away from next ability and >1 second away from tick: Powershift
  7. >20 energy away from next ability: Powershift

In a bite only rotation, ferocious bite is the only finisher used. This rotation is only used on bosses with low armour if the cat is very geared, has full raid buffs and 5 points in feral aggression. In fact, there is no boss in t5 content (with current bis gear) where this rotation is best, but it will likely become relevant in later phases. The following priority order can be used for the bite weaving rotation:

  1. 35-56 energy, 5 combo points: Bite
  2. ≥40 energy, no mangle on target: Mangle
  3. ≥42 energy, mangle on target: Shred
  4. (optional and niche) 40-41 energy, >1 second away from energy tick: Mangle
  5. ≤20 energy away from next ability and ≤1 second away from tick: Wait for energy
  6. ≤20 energy away from next ability and >1 second away from tick: Powershift
  7. >20 energy away from next ability: Powershift

The Non-wolfshead rotation is only used with the 2 piece tier 6 set bonus and a strong enough helm to outweigh the energy loss from not using Wolfshead Helm. The 2 piece tier 6 set bonus reduces the energy cost of Mangle by 5, bringing it to 35 energy. Without Wolfshead Helm, you are left with 20 energy less than in a normal cycle. Continuing from the cycle descriptions in the previous chapter, this means that after the energy tick following your first cast, you have 38 energy instead of 58 energy. The lower cost on mangle means that you can mangle instead of shred at this point, since 38 energy is enough for a discounted Mangle.

This will likely only be relevant for a pure DPS player in phase 5, but will be used often by “Warden tanks” (Feral druids who tank and DPS in the same encounter) from Phase 3 onwards. The following priority order can be used for the Non-Wolfshead Rotation:

  1. ≥30 energy, ≥4 combo points, no rip on target: Rip
  2. 35-56 energy, ≥4 combo points, rip on target: Bite
  3. ≥35 energy, no mangle on target: Mangle
  4. ≥42 energy, mangle on target: Shred
  5. 35-41 energy, >1 second away from energy tick: Mangle
  6. ≤20 energy away from next ability and ≤1 second away from tick: Wait for energy
  7. ≤20 energy away from next ability and >1 second away from tick: Powershift
  8. >20 energy away from next ability: Powershift


The lists above work as flowcharts for the entire feral rotation, however I feel getting into the rhythm and muscle memory of a cyclical pattern is far easier to learn.

Assuming a “Shift, Cast, Cast, Shift” cycle as described in previous sections, your cast priorities (i.e. which ability you use in a “cast”) for all four rotations can be easily summarised as:

  1. Use combo points on a finisher if you have them (but do not bite above 56 energy as it will waste your excess energy)
  2. Keep up the Mangle debuff
  3. Shred (or Mangle if you have enough energy for Mangle, but not enough energy for Shred)

Note that refreshing rip does not carry ticks over, meaning you should never reapply it until it has fallen off. If you have 5 combo points while the rip debuff is still up, you should use Ferocious bite instead if bite weaving, or continue to shred if using the full rip rotation.

Also note that your uptime on the boss does not affect which finisher you should use. It is a common misconception that if you are about to lose uptime on a boss (e.g. Leotheras is about to Whirlwind and you will run away) you should use Rip instead of Ferocious Bite as the damage will continue to tick while you are not attacking the boss. However, if Rip does 1000 damage over 12 seconds and Ferocious Bite does 1000 damage instantly, the end result is exactly the same DPS. The exception to this is if a boss is about to die, or if they are about to enter an invulnerability phase where they are immune to damage or take reduced damage. In these cases, Ferocious Bite is better as Rip does not have time to deal its full damage. Similarly, if the boss is about to enter a vulnerability phase where they take increased damage, Rip is a better option as a portion of its damage will be increased. Alternatively, you could continue shredding until the vulnerability phase begins, and then bite. If you are in a vulnerability phase that is about to end, you should again bite, as rip would go back to doing normal damage once the phase ends.

‘Leeway’ (advanced)

Looking at the diagram in the ‘Powershift rotation and cycles’ section, you may notice that there is a 0.5 second period where we are not under GCD, while waiting for an energy tick. There are certain scenarios in which we are able to take advantage of this gap by fitting an extra ability into our cycle at no extra cost to increase our DPS. We refer to this as ‘leeway.’ There are three main scenarios where leeway is relevant:

Applying Faerie Fire (Feral) (if you are the only druid in a group)
Having your first cast in a cycle miss, or be dodged
Getting an Omen of Clarity proc early in your cycle

Faerie Fire (Feral) and abilities cast with Clearcasting up (the Omen of Clarity proc) do not use any energy, and can therefore be cast while waiting for the energy tick. When you miss a combo-point generating ability, you get 80% of the energy cost refunded to you, which in practice can allow you to cast the ability again without waiting for an energy tick. Here, you may notice that the GCD gap in a 4 second cycle is 0.5 seconds long, but an ability starts a 1 second GCD, delaying your cycle. However, leeway uses the 0.5 second gap from the current cycle as well as the following cycle, meaning that over time there is no delay. This is illustrated in the diagram below, showing two consecutive cycles in which leeway is used to cast Faerie Fire:

pve feral druid powershifting  cycles

In this diagram we can see that while the first cycle is delayed to 4.5 seconds by casting Faerie Fire, the following cycle is shortened to 3.5 seconds and over both, there is no delay. Importantly, the shift happens at 4.5 seconds, and the energy tick comes in at 5 seconds – this is what makes the 3.5 second rotation possible, as further delay in the previous cycle could cause you to “miss the tick,” leaving you without enough energy to cast 2 abilities and therefore delay the next cycle by up to 2 seconds. 

Leeway means that in our rotation, misses are not always punishing – their damage loss can often be ‘recovered.’ Note that finishing moves (Rip and Ferocious Bite) do not refund energy on misses. If you miss on the second cast in your cycle, you can cast the ability again afterwards but it will delay your cycle. For maximum DPS, you should cast your ability only if you have enough energy to do so, or will have enough energy to do so with an energy tick less than one second away. Otherwise, you should powershift to not delay your following cycle. Finally, if you get an Omen of Clarity proc after your second cast in the cycle, make sure you powershift and then use the leeway in your next cycle instead of delaying your current cycle.

Mana management

As you can imagine, shifting in and out of cat form every 4 seconds costs a lot of mana, and in feral gear, we do not have very much mana. This makes feral DPS one of the most mana-intensive rotations in the game. Because of this, it is essential to use as many mana potions (expensive Fel Mana Potions restore 3200 mana on a 2 minute cooldown, cheap Super Mana Potions restore 1800-3000 mana on a 2 minute cooldown) and Demonic Runes or Dark Runes (900-1500 mana on a 2 minute cooldown) as possible during boss fights. More specifically:

  1. After you have used 1500 mana, use a Demonic/dark rune
  2. Soon after, use a Fel Mana Potion (If using a Super Mana Pot, use 3000 mana first)
  3. Continue using consumables on cooldown after this

You may use these consumables within a powershift with separate macros for each:

#showtooltip
/use Fel Mana Potion
/cast !Cat Form

#showtooltip
/use Demonic rune
/cast !Cat Form

Asking your paladins to keep Judgement of Wisdom up on the boss makes a massive difference (estimated at a whopping 240mp5, or 5760 mana over 2 minutes — more than pots and runes combined) as well. While you may notice that shifting in solo content without any of these consumes and buffs means you run out of mana very fast, they make a huge difference and can sustain powershifting even on long boss fights.

If you are still struggling with mana after all of this, consider using a Staff of Natural Fury or Rune of Metamorphosis to reduce the mana cost of powershifting. However, with proper buffs and consumes, this should not be necessary.

Conclusion

Feral DPS uses its powershifting rotation to maximise GCD use rather than waiting for energy regeneration. This allows us to massively increase our DPS and be competitive with other classes. While it may seem complex and difficult to master, getting into the “shift, cast, cast, shift” rhythm just takes a bit of practice, after which you’ll be able to brag to your Warlocks about your engaging playstyle. To help you in-game, I recommend using WeakAuras such as Weave’s Feral Bar, along with any obvious GCD indicator WeakAura – I’ve linked my labeled UI in an image below (and I know, it’s a mess). In the meantime, you can search for your own or ask others for recommendations. I hope this guide was useful; feel free to leave a comment, or find me as Oxy on the Druid Classic discord server.

 

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