Why do players choose the Incarnation talent as Feral?

Something that I have noticed is that it is common for Ferals to take the Incarnation talent, despite the superior dps of the Soul of the Forest (SotF) talent in the same tier. It’s been well established since Mist of Pandaria went live that SofF provides the highest DPS of that talent tier. Popular sources where players can find information about how to gear their character (Official Forums, The Fluid Druid, Icy Veins, Elitist Jerks, Noxxic) all recommend SofF over Incarnation stating that it gives the highest dps. So why do players still take the talent? To give the research I’ve done some context, I’m going to do a compare and contrast of the SofF and Incarnation talents, weighing up the pros and cons of each one and then discuss reasons why players chose the talent.

Talent Description
Each talent operates in a different manner and have several factors can could influences a players decision. I’ve found four main factors that are defining of the each talent.

Incarnation IconIncarnation Soul of the Forest IconSoul of the Forest
On use ability Passive ability
Change in appearance No change in appearance
Emphasis on burst damage Emphasis on finishing move
More management timing other burst spells Less management – more consistent play

Incarnation – Pros & Cons
Each talent favours a certain kind of play style. Incarnations big points are its burst potential and its transformation of the regular Cat Form model. However, due to its timing and burst nature, its usage is limited and the full dps potential of the talent can be lost. The effectiveness of the talent is also increased by taking the tier 6 talent Nature’s Vigil to boost its burst potential.

Pros

  • Large dps number while active. When used with Berserk, Ravage‘s damage per energy is extremely high and hits really hard.
  • Looks cool. The armoured Cat Form model looks great is and a good visual effect for a class that doesn’t get the same benefit from armour models or transmog as other classes.
  • Lines up with Berserk & Nature’s Vigil for high burst damage output.

Cons

  • Situational usage. It is best used on cooldown however if not used on cooldown and saved for burst phases, it becomes an overall dps loss.
  • Long cool down. Fights that fall short of finishing at 3 minute intervals result in a dps loss from not being able to use the ability another time.
  • On the GCD which is difficult to macro and affects output with Berserk. If macro’d
    together, you lose 1 sec of Bersek when the GCD triggers, a dps loss.
  • Loses effectiveness after Berserk ends. Berserk reduces the energy cost of abilities
    by 50%. Incarnation allows the use of Ravage. When Berserk is not active, Ravage’s energy cost is higher compared to other combo point generators; Shred, Mangle & Rake. Continuing to use Ravage after Berserk has ended leads to slower combo point generation and an overall dps loss.

Soul of the Forest – Pros & Cons
The biggest strength of SotF is its ability to create a smoother rotation from gaining more energy. There are less “lulls” and GCDs with nothing to press. This talent synergizes very well with the tier 6 talent Dream of Cenarius. However it gets it’s strength form finishers. Low level gear and mobs with low health can make it difficult to use the talent to its fullest.

Pros

  • Highest dps talent.
  • Works with any other talent choices.
  • Smoother rotation from higher energy gain.
  • Passive. No macro’s required or forgetting to use the ability.
  • Works at full potential in most situations and not effected by the encounter duration.

Cons

  • It’s strength is dependent on using 5 combo point finishers. This can be difficult at low gear levels (where CP generation is low) and when mobs die faster than combo points can be generated.
  • Potential to energy cap. This is most prominent when used with the Dream of Cenarius talent. The energy refunded from using finishers plus spending GCD’s on Healing Touch’s instead of spending energy on damage abilities can cause you to energy cap.
    Note – Energy capping is bad because while your energy is capped, you are unable to generate energy. Feral dps is constrained by energy more than GCDs. For example, if your energy is capped for 4 seconds, that’s a potential 40 energy that has been lost and could have been converted into a Shred.
  • No definitive change. This is important to some people. Selecting a talent is meant to be significant. With incarnation, is changes your appearance and alters your play style. Soul of the Forest only makes your regular play style more fluid.

Discussion
Based on experience and the advantages of the talent, SotF is the clear winner in my opinion. There are just too many issues with Incarnation to make it a viable choice. I sent this question in to the most recent Feral Druid Roundtable on the Team Waffle Podcast. The hosts echoed the same arguments I’ve made here.

One thing that I think I am underestimating the desire for people to see big dps numbers from burst. While looking through various forums researching this topic, I came across several posts by Tinderhoof, a prominent and respected member of the Feral community. He made some comments which are similar to my views on Incarnation;

In general a lot of Ferals end up picking Incarnation because at the start of a fight with the crit buff, Pot, Berserk, and sometimes Lust you will jump out ahead on the meters. It looks really cool at the start. The problem is after those first 15 seconds when Berserk drops you only get maybe 3-4 more Ravages if you ignore everything else. After that you start to drop like a rock.”

~Tinderhoof, The Fluid Druid Forms

I think the armoured Cat Form may have a large influence on peoples choices. I have had a similar experience. During Cataclysm, Frost was the strongest Death Knight dps spec. But I liked to play Unholy and didn’t like Frost. What drew me to play Unholy was the permanent pet. So I can understand the draw of Incarnation. However one key difference is that the Death Knight was an alt and my Druid is my main. Other players, like me, I think would be inclined to make choices for max throughput over fun on their mains and make fun choices on alts. Low representation could mean that people prefer Ferals as alts. But it also could mean other things.

Incarnation Cat Form

Armoured Cat Form from Incarnation looks pretty bad ass. Could this be the reason why Incarnation is popular despite it not being the best dps talent?

It is hard to say exactly why people make their decisions. Blizzard has stated on several occasions that few players search for information outside the game. This could be why I’ve noticed people with the talent. The number of people I saw which promoted me to write the post was really small, and they came from LFR, major cities and world bosses. Places you are more likely to find the types of players Blizzard is referring to.

What are your thoughts on the Incantation talent? Do you use it and if so, where and when? Are their specific encounters you have found it useful or is it is better in PVP or challenge modes? Are big numbers the major reason why players chose Incarnation? Let me know what you think. You can leave a comment on the post, send me an email at fileunderferal@gmail.com, follow me on twitter @Elamari_ or like and comment on the File Under Feral Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/FileUnderFeral.

~Elamari
<Naenae> Frostmourne, US

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8 thoughts on “Why do players choose the Incarnation talent as Feral?

  1. Data mining shows that for Feral druids there is a pretty even split between Incarnation & SotF (Src: http://www.wowpopular.com/Druid/Feral/Talents). SotF may be “better” for sustained PvE encounters (i.e. Raid Bosses) or for people who can’t / don’t want the hassle of maximising their cooldown usage without suffering a DPS loss but Incarnation (and burst in general) is arguably superior for questing, scenarios, dungeons or PvP where SotF doesn’t really have time to shine.

    Some PvE mechanics (i.e. periods of extra damage caused/taken) or particular trinket combinations with powerful procs may also merit an on use cooldown being more inherently useful than the sustained DPS buff of SotF.

    I don’t think there is an “incorrect” choice most of the time, there are compelling arguments where each talent would be stronger in certain situations but ultimately this is what makes for more meaningful and interesting choices!

    Just some ideas of my own to help promote discussion, great article!

    • Thanks for the comment Hadouken. You are correct that generally in most cases burst is better for solo or group content where mobs die quickly. It can be macro’d with an on-use trinket or engineering tinker, Berserk and Nature’s Vigil for that massive burst. However, Incarnation isn’t a burst talent that simply increases damage done like Avenging Wrath for example, it allows the use of abilities not normally used i.e. Ravage. Also, the talent is only viable during Berserk (which lasts only 15 secs while Incarnation lasts 30 secs) when Ravage’s energy cost is halved from 45 to 23. After Berserk has ended its better to use Shred or Mangle because of the higher DPE and faster combo point generation. So from a numbers standpoint, it’s a question of whether the the 15 secs of Ravage Spam while Berserk is up equating to 9-11, is greater than the amount of energy gained from SotF over that 3 min period.

      Some points that I forget to include in my post. Incarnation also suffers in fights with movement / downtime where SotF doesn’t. You need to be attacking the mob to get benefit from Incarnation. With SotF you can have down time but come back and complete a finisher and still receive the full benefit. Where both talents fall down is target swapping, a major weakness of the Feral spec. SotF is slightly better in that you will still benefit if you use a finisher with less than 5 combo points, while Incarnation will be a straight loss during switching/travel time.

  2. I’m not by any means an expert player, but I’ve played for a little while; since sometime near the end of cataclysm.

    When incarnation became available, I initially proc’d into it. I’m not sure if that was an issue of education, or perhaps just my play style (at the time).

    I hear most people saying incarnation “can be” a better choice, but it’s “entirely situational”. And I pretty much hear everyone say that SotF is clearly the more profitable choice for raiding, for nice fluid rotations. I think “situational” should be viewed as “play style”.

    For the record, I now use SotF. I tried it, I wont be going back any time soon…

    But anyways, back to Incarnation. It’s clear that any feral cat who knows anything, stacks mastery.. but I never used to. For whatever reason, I guess I didn’t do my research, or really understand my class as I hit 85, I stacked crit at the time. It worked well, but my rotation wasn’t as bleed centric. I normally did well on DPS, but that was because It felt like I was critically hitting nearly every time.

    My opinion is that while the experts say SotF is superior, they are also basing this against the standard cookie cutter build. Agi > Mastery > hit to cap = exp to cap > Crit > Haste.
    This build really requires people to keep those dots up. And SotF greatly eases that!

    But if a guy was to say deviate, probably for a PVP scenario,
    I dunno,
    Agi > Crit > Mastery > hit = exp > haste

    The argument that SotF is superior doesn’t apply as much any more. and a build like this could be viable. I mean we get big refunds to energy for non-connects (and we’re only trying to hit same level), and PvP isn’t a straight DPS game. So we aren’t trying to stand behind the guy constantly and run our dot/bleed upkeep rotation.

    A build like this abomination certainly wouldn’t win any DPS contests on training dummies, unless they were VERY lucky when they hit cool-downs, but in a 2v2 scenario, the utility is far more reliable. Esp. with Incarnation and heart of the wild.

    For example, added steath while in combat. being able to rely more on Ravage as a combo point builder, and crit off that. In that controlled scenario, a couple critical ravage hits could easily overpower the heartiest, best geared players.

    Somewhat off topic, but I’m a 510 PvE geared feral. I’m using the icey-veins PvE build. When I hit my heart of the wild cooldown, wrath when it crits hits for nearly 700k a pop. What’s intersting is that mastery for me affects bleeds. Crit can do some pretty amazing things.

    I don’t want to take this comment to the point of saying crit should be a serious consideration, but just saying in other situations, like non standard builds, Incarnation could be a really compelling choice. And if you knew how to play a feral well in such a nonstandard build, that could be a situation where Incarnation is the better choice.

    My two cents.

    I just discovered your blog today btw, I plan on coming back. Great stuff!

    • Hey Galaispera, thanks for you comment.

      I can’t really comment on any of the PVP topics, as I have never really PVP’d seriously and have little experience. But I do know what Incarnation has been used in PVP and it’s great to hear that you have used it with success as well. But in terms of serious PVE, Incarnation just simply doesn’t hold up from a numbers point of view. That plus its other disadvantages, makes it a sub optimal choice. However as I have said, I can see the draw of it and why people choose it, whether it be for the looks or play style or what ever. I’m currently in a similar situation – Force of Nature is currently doing higher DPS than SotF. But I don’t like the play style so I’m sticking with SotF even though it would be a dps loss.

      Since Throne of Thunder introduced the Rune of Re-originiation trinket, Feral stat priorities have shifted away from the typical Agi > Crit > Mastery > hit = exp > haste, even then, it was always recommended that you get hit and expertise capped for various reason; Swipe doesn’t get energy refunded and smoothness in rotation for example. As as result, the play style as changed.

      In terms of a crit build, I have personally thought about the idea a lot as far back as ICC in WotLK. I thought that if I could get enough crit, I could go to a 4 combo point rotation, the idea being, that I’m generating so many combo points and completing more finishers that, that damage would out way the loss from a non full strength spell. Never got around to testing it personally. But much like now, if there was to be a significant gain from such strategies, someone would have discovered it by now. At this point, to my knowledge, there is no such build.
      There was a discussion on the Fluid Druid forums about using the old tier 10 2pc bonus (you can use FB to refresh Rip at 60% HP instead of 25%), but the conclusion was that the lose of stats from the 2 slots you replace was greater than the gain from a full strength Rip ticking from 60% hp.

      Thanks again for your comment and I’m glad you like the blog. Cheers,

      ~Elamari

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