Feral is an energy-based class with a strong emphasis on damage over time. Due to the nature of energy as a limited resource, you will always have the same amount of energy generated per second over the course of the fight. Because of this, doing nothing and allowing energy to regenerate is a net neutral DPS change.
What is Pooling?
Pooling is the method by which you turn this neutrality into a positive effect. The general idea is that you ensure that you have your DoTs ticking, you generate 5 combo points and then you wait, or “pool”. This allows you to regain energy: increasing your damage immensely at best, and maintaining your current damage at worst. Successful pooling will result in higher energy amounts when you cast your finishers; smoothing out the rotation and allowing you to react to procs, additional mobs, or other changes in your situation as efficiently as possible. It also has benefits in playstyle and limiting the impact of RNG on your uptimes.
With the advent of Legion and the introduction of the ability “Ashamane’s Bite”, pooling is now an important aspect of DIRECTLY increasing throughput. Ashamane’s Bite has a 10% chance per generate cast (Shred, Rake, Moonfire, Swipe etc.) to proc an additional rip that mirrors the duration and power of your existing rip. Therefore, your goal is to use generators quickly and get up to 5 combo points while your current rip duration is high, gaining a higher typical uptime of Ashamane’s Bite. While you cannot control the chance of Ashamane’s Bite occuring, by pooling you make the most of it. Pooling to 100 energy will give you 3 chances to proc Ashamane’s Bite (once at 15s at the Rip’s application, another at 14s, then again at 13s), while spamming and not pooling would give you your first proc chance at 12.5s of the Rip.
STATS AND YOU:
Unlike past expansions, in Legion feral’s stats are very balanced. The spec has no real hard caps or break points, and for the most part all stats directly contribute to your damage (haste being the slight exception). The typical recommendation for a better understanding of which stats to prioritize for optimal DPS is to sim yourself. Running your character through a simulation provides you with stat weights, or how much DPS you will gain per single point of a stat. These weights being multipliers are not static, and will vary depending on your current gear (For the most accurate weights, you should sim yourself every time you put on a new piece of gear). On single target, you generally should focus on equipping higher item level items, and avoid stacking too much of one stat, especially haste. Haste will naturally fall behind the other stats once you are maintaining uptimes consistently, the only benefit with further haste being more Ferocious Bites (which is a rather underwhelming damage gain).
However, for AoE our resource to damage conversion is different and a lot more efficient because of multi-dotting (applying bleeds to multiple targets). This improves our ability to convert energy into damage (as much of feral’s damage comes from bleeds), and because of it haste climbs vastly in damage contribution, making it great for AoE*. Haste also excels when playing Brutal Slash due to reducing the recharge time on the ability. Mastery and crit also climb in value, mastery due to the increased bleed damage (a large portion of your damage) and crit for the same reason as haste: increased resource generation.
*Important Note: This refers to cleaving with Savage Roar, Soul of the Forest kills the value of haste due to the already immense energy generation included in the talent.
AoE ABILITY USAGE:
AoE talents as feral depends on the number of targets and the amount of time they will live. By choosing the correct talents for your situation and using your abilities effectively, you will do optimal AoE damage.
It is worth using thrash at as low a mob count as 2 targets, though its priority remains low. Swipe pulls past shred at 2 targets or more.
Brutal slash is the best talent choice for sustained AoE at 2 targets or more. When using this talent you want to avoid capping charges, and always dumping charges on big packs. Once out of charges, proceed to multi-DoT mobs until your charges regenerate then repeat. If the pack is 9 mobs or more, spamming thrash during your recharge time is more effective than multi-DoTing.
On short-lived mobs it is almost always better to Bloodtalons buff Swipes over any other ability, however on sturdier mobs you will want to use at least one charge on a rip. Which ability to use on your second charge depends on your legendaries and relics:
Luffas - With Luffas you will always choose to Bloodtalons buff Thrash over Rake at 3 or more targets regardless of the number of Rake relics you have.
Only 3 Rake relics- With 3 Rake relics and no Luffas, you will Bloodtalons buff Thrash over Rake at 5+ targets.
With less than 3 Rake relics and no Luffas- With less than 3 Rake relics and no Luffas, you will always choose to Bloodtalons buff Thrash over Rake at 4+ targets.
TALENT CHOICES WITH CoF (Convergence of Fates):
Convergence of Fates is a trinket that drops from Grand Magistrix Elisande, the penultimate boss in the Nighthold. This trinket is an agility main stat trinket with a RPPM proc* that reduces the cooldown on Berserk (and by extension Incarnation) by 5 seconds for each proc. This trinket has adjusted RPPM values for each spec and talents selected for feral. For feral the base proc rate is 6.7 RPPM, and for Incarnation: King of the Jungle 3.7 RPPM (45% reduced). This results in an average 1:40 cooldown with Berserk and 2:15 cooldown with Incarnation.
This trinket substantially increases the value of Incarnation (in combination with the 4set). With CoF, Incarnation and Savage Roar are approximately equal in pure single target, however typically Savage Roar is better by a small margin. When it comes to cleave, Incarnation is vastly superior due to not worrying about Savage Roar (and therefore more Rips) and the 100% increased rakes. Incarnation also provides an easier rotation, making it more valuable in progression raids. Finally, Incarnation provides much greater burst capability, packing a lot more damage in a shorter period of time (this is useful for fights like Star Augur Etraeus, where there is a great need for burst damage to push past the tight enrage timer in phase 3).
Playstyle with incarnation changes slightly with the 4pc, during incarnation it is a dps loss to use ferocious bite other than to generate bloodtalons, for this reason you will continue to build combo points over 5 unless you need a bloodtalons for a rip or rake refresh. If you have the legendary boots you will not bite at all, if you have the legendary legs you can use maim to generate the predator’s swiftness proc. It is also not worth using bloodtalons charges on shreds as it is equivalent to just casting another shred.
VALUE AND USAGE OF THE NIGHTHOLD TIER 19 SET:
Nighthold, while a part of the same tier as Emerald Nightmare and Trial of Valor, is the first raid which grants set pieces; this set has 2 bonuses.
(2) Set (Feral): Thrash now generates a combo point if it hits at least 1 target.
Together they are a significant boost to single target damage. The 2pc is a marginal gain in single target (to thrash on OOC), however in combination with 4pc it is a far greater one (~7%), making it one of the better set bonuses in the raid. The set does not have significant playstyle changes, the only change being that with 4pc you always want to use thrash on Omen of Clarity procs providing it will not consume a bloodtalon’s charge intended for rip or rake and providing the dot is either not on the target or in pandemic range.
TIER 1 TALENT CHOICES (PREDATOR V. LUNAR INSPIRATION V. BLOOD SCENT):
This tier of talents is one of the easiest to swap between; typically Blood Scent will be superior to Lunar Inspiration in most cases, however Lunar Inspiration does gain some value on cleave. The DPS difference is typically minimal enough that the choice comes down to personal preference, however depending on personal stat distribution one may be much better than the other.
Predator, however, is dependent upon the fight. By itself with no procs Predator is a significant damage loss and not worth considering, however once you have approximately 1.5 PPM (procs per minute) it overtakes Blood Scent. This means that on fights like Skorpyron with high resets Predator would pull ahead of Blood Scent even for single target damage. However, on fights like Krosus where you would barely get 3 resets every 2+ minutes, Blood Scent would be better.
LEGENDARIES AND YOU:
Feral legendaries’ effects have a fairly small impact on single target, with the theoretically best legendaries (Cinidaria or Maimers) being a ~3% DPS gain. Because of this, the stats granted on the legendaries are usually much more important. However, on AoE and cleave fights the value of certain effects and stats shift significantly.
Fiery Red Maimers: This is a high-value legendary in two main scenarios: single target or priority target burst. Despite the fact that this Maim hits 3 targets, the legendary still falls behind on AoE since it almost always better to apply a Rip damage-wise. Since the Fiery Red Maimers occupies the leg slot, it is a high stat budget piece (meaning you get much more power for the ilvl) and boosts crit and mastery, providing a preferred stat stick compared to some of the other feral legendaries. This leg will usually grant a reasonable damage increase (~3% DPS).
Kiljaeden’s Burning Wish: This legendary trinket is in an awkward spot; as a trinket itself it is top-tier due to its nature as a significant stat stick and a decent on-use ability that becomes better in AoE. However, as a legendary it is very lackluster in most situations, being one of the best burst AoE legendaries for feral and falling behind in every other area. Due to the limits on number of legendaries equipped as well as the already strong trinket slot it takes up, you will typically sacrifice more than you gain when choosing Kiljaeden’s Burning Wish. This legendary is better the worse your gear is, and on certain AoE fights (like Skorpyron).
Cinidaria the Symbiote: This legendary, while being just a decent stat stick and at a low budget (belt slot), is one of the better legendaries for single target and provides a small AoE benefit due to its effect. In the perfect scenario, this belt will result in around a 3% DPS increase.
The Wildshaper’s Clutch: This legendary is one of the more versatile legendaries, easing your rotation and performing well if not top-tier on any individual fight. It is important to note that when using this legendary Savage Roar is the best option on less than 3 targets, while Soul of the Forest pulls ahead on 3+ cleave. The only real cons to this legendary is that it is not particularly well itemized, and takes the slot of one of feral’s best optimised tier pieces (gloves) and also has some negative synergy with the 4pc.
Luffa Wrappings: This is one of the best AoE legendaries available for feral, however it does not have a significant benefit on single target. With the 4pc set bonus and Thrashing with Omen of Clarity procs, it works out to ~less than 1% DPS increase on pure single target. But, the increased range and damage of Thrash gives you a far greater gain on AoE. The only problem worth mentioning with Luffas is that while the increased range will help you hit more targets (resulting in great synergy with Predator), in Mythic+ accidental pulling using them may occur.
Chatoyant Signet: This legendary does not provide a substantial single target dps gain in the majority of situations, as the 100 extra energy you gain does not affect your ability to pool due to uptimes. Chatoyant has some fringe benefits on fights with downtime that allow you to regenerate more than 100 energy (being able to store more), and on fights where you can get multiple Predator resets. It essentially makes it easier to avoid capping energy.
Ailuro Pouncers: The legendary boots grant you a predatory swiftness proc and additionally allowing predatory swiftness to stack up to 3, the legendary is one of the better of the legendaries for single target. The primary damage benefit of this legendary in single target is being able to bloodtalons shred in addition to using bloodtalons on every bleed. In combination with the 4pc this becomes more valuable. This legendary also has increased value on cleave by allowing you to rake multiple targets with bloodtalons applied. This legendary provides no damage benefit when talented brutal slash
ASHAMANE’S FRENZY MECHANICS
Ashamane's Frenzy both does and does not snapshot. Ashamane's frenzy has two different sections, the dot ticking section, and the dot application section. Bloodtalon's is snapshotted onto the entire effect of the spell.
The dot application section, is over the first 3 seconds after the cast of the ability and you can tell when it is occuring as the duration of the debuff will continuously be refreshed. During this period you will hit the target 15 times over 3 seconds, upon each hit two actions will happen 1) you will deal damage equal to 20% of attack power 2) you will apply a dot. These two actions are seperate but occur at the same time. The dot that is applied "ignites". This dot application section will snapshot buffs such as Tiger's Fury and Savage roar.
Once you are into the dot ticking section of the debuff it works as any other bleed does.
So some examples (excluding bloodtalons),
you cast AF with TF and SR before the cast
for the initial hits of the ability
for the dot damage of the ability
resulting in 1725% total AP
You cast AF with no buffs up during the 3s application period, and only cast TF and SR once the debuff is no longer being applied
for the initial hits of the ability
and for the dot damage of the ability
or 1200% total AP
You cast AF, wait for the GCD (1s) and immediatly cast SR and TF. you will have 5 applications without these buffs, and 10 applications with.
This would result in
for the initila hits of the ability
and for the dot damage of the ability
or 1550% total ap
for those who don't know what an "ignite" mechanic is, it's named after the fire mage mechanic and is essentially a rolling dot where when a new dot is applied any damage left on the existing dot is added onto the dot and duration is refreshed
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Thanks to Swipe for help with formatting and grammatical errors :)