If you want to make waves in the Shaman community and you don’t want to mention the now-taboo Spirit Link, then you would be well advised to follow Ghostcrawler’s lead. His response to a fairly innocuous forum post on Monday raised many an eyebrow in the Resto and Healing communities and might have permanently affixed a winkled crease in my brow. But one thing’s for certain, no one could accuse the crab of giving too much away, beyond of course, that Shaman are performing “as intended”. So what does that mean for the future of healing?
In case you missed out, here’s the except from Bluetracker:
I think it’s fair to say that the shaman was probably the closest to the Cataclysm healing style even in Lich King. On the other hand, you are getting some new toys that should change your moment to moment decisions from level 80 upwards.
Was Shaman healing a big factor in how you wanted other people to heal because of how fluid Shaman healing is?
Yeah that was a big part of it. The other 3 classes (a little less so Holy priests) basically had their favorite spell and used it nearly all the time, with other spells just being filler. Shaman really did feel like they had a choice between HW and LHW and then Chain Heal more situationally. (Source)
The first time I saw GC’s brief response, I confess I actually mis-read it—thinking that he was referring *only* to the Lich King fight and not the whole of the shaman experience throughout Wrath. Upon realizing my mistake, my brow managed to furrow even more than it already had been as I wondered—um, which fights is he talking about? Surely not fights like General, where ES and stop-casting reigned supreme, or fights like Twin Valks, where I mashed CH with the fury of a pissed off pterodactyl, or fights like Valithria where I switched to a very strict Tidal-Waves-or-bust rotation. No, if we’re talking about fluidity, then it makes sense that LK would be the fight that epitomized the shaman healing model, because it is a fight where everything finally came together.
Based on everything I’ve compiled about Blizzard’s stance on the Cata healing model and everything I’ve experienced on the PTR, it’s an easy parallel to make. Consider what we’ve heard thus far from Blues on the intent/design for Cataclysm healing:
“… the healing game ultimately becomes more about using the right tool for the job” (Source)
“Mana efficiency is ideally part of this calculus.” (Source)
“…we’d like to see more coordination among the healers (again because the risk of going OOM exists).” (Source)
“You care more about your whole arsenal of heals instead of just the biggest, fastest [heal].” (Source)
“Occasional stress is more fun than non-stop stress.” (Source)
As I think we all agreed during the Resto segment of the Shaman Roundtable, for most Resto Shaman, the LK fight (especially the hard mode version) is all of these things. While for disc priests, LK is bubble x 9000, or for Holy Pallies it is HL x 9000, or for our leafy friends it is all about Rejuv and WG, or for spell-overloaded holy priests it becomes mostly about CoH+Renews, for Resto Shaman the fight asks us to use it all, arguably not an insanely difficult feat when our “all” is a whopping 4 active healing spells, and use it at just the right time. Yes, I’m biased in this perspective, but before anyone starts arguing that the fight is more than that to them (holy priests and druids have a good argument there), let me explain what I mean.
The Shaman Lich King Model
When we first started into Heroic Lich King attempts, all those months ago, before I ever had an inkling that there was a very precise order of things to the fight (link), I really disliked the Lich King encounter. To me, it felt disjointed, and the overlap between “hey, you need to heal now” and “hey, you need to move now” was enough to make me one cranky shaman. But as we started getting deeper into the fight, and we became more adept at designing and defining healing assignments, I started to have a new appreciation for the mechanics. The fight became my shaman heptathlon, with circuits for each healing tool I have (CH, RT, LHW, HW, ES) and the two healing practices that restos seem to struggle with (movement and timing).
When I went into the encounter on Wednesday night, and recorded my best performance to date, I tried to pay particular attention to the various “circuits” in each of the phases. As a matter of practice, I’m generally responsible for healing G2 and G3, our tank and melee groups, and providing direct spot healing on any targets still suffering from Infest. What this means, is that I generally do the following (bear with me through the technical stuff here, there is a point to it):
- Phase 1: Base practice: RT + LHW Tanks + ES on OT. On Infest: CH on melee, start cast 1sec prior to Infest cast, followed by another CH on melee, with RT+LHW on first target, HW on second target (since they’ll be dipping pretty low by that point). Tank heal until next Infest.
- Transition: RT on self or ranged as needed, ES on MT, CH through tanks into melee (pop Glowing Twilight Scale and watch hots fly)
- Phase 2: Base practice: RT + LHW + ES on MT, with a switch to HW if either paladin is picked up. On Infest: CH on melee, start cast 1sec prior to Infest cast, followed by another CH on melee, with RT+LHW on first target, HW on second target. (If a holy pally has Defile, switch to CH through tank). Tank heal until next Infest.
- Transition: RT on self or ranged as needed, ES on MT, CH through tanks into melee
- Frostmourne Room: HST in mid for max coverage, ES left on MT, RT on CD, CH through raid (pop Glowing Twilight Scale and watch hots fly)
- Phase 3: Base practice: RT + LHW Tanks + ES on MT/soaker. Soak: RT on soaker + CH on initial hit, CH on raid until soak is complete.
If you’re not a shaman and reading this, I hope I’ve blown your mind slightly, because this is the resto shaman toolbox at work. This is the antithesis of the mindless CH spam used by the stereotypical Resto. And although my WoL for the encounter would seem to indicate that I simply threw out a number of CH’s punctuated by some other spells, the point in fact is that I didn’t stand there spamming my highest HPS spell (CH) because I had the mana pool to do so (I don’t). Nor did I use my biggest fastest heal (RT+LHW) exclusively. Nor were healing assignments so loose as to allow me to just “heal raid” (g2 + g3 are my babies and no pansy Infest or badly dropped defile pool from a slightly drunk Elemental shaman is going to take my groups down).
I didn’t need a separate spec to heal tanks effectively (in fact I was slightly below our main Holy Pally in healing done to the main tank, 25 v 22%) and I didn’t require a different gearset to pump out a massive amount of healing on the raid (I did the most non-tank healing out of our raid healers as well). And I used everything I had to do it, including NS, Tidal Force, Beserking, Tide and 2 Innervates (Kaillee and Zb are my saviors). Fluid, is precisely the word I’d use to describe it.
What About Ruby Sanctum Heroic?
In fact, there’s another encounter which I would say better represents shaman healing, and therefore maybe Cataclysm healing, and that’s Halion hard mode on the “inside team”. Frankly speaking, the portal healing experience is a switch-hitter’s delight. With players taking ~4500 damage per 2 seconds while inside the dream realm, and your healing team not only having to deal with an intense amount of movement but also with the possibility that one of the 3-4 inside healers will be rendered almost useless for the 10-15 seconds that they’re handling Mark of Consumption, it is a veritable wonderland of healing challenges requiring very agile healers.
Similar to my role on Sindragosa, on Halion I’m responsible for backing up tank heals and switching to them full time if our tank healers are taken out of commission (on Sindy, by Unchained Magic, and on Halion, by Mark of Consumption). Whereas my spell distribution on LK HM generally has 40 -45% CH (because of the high raid damage on transitions and in the Frostmourne room), on any given night of Halion attempts, LHW+HW makes up 15-25% of my total healing, versus only 30-40% CH. The contribution from my other supplemental heals—ES, AA, ELW, Chained Heal, and RT—fill out the rest of my healing distribution.
While this may not reveal a good lot about healing versatility, let me give you a solid example from this week’s kill. When our inside holy pally fell victim to a bad Consumption tick slightly over halfway into the fight, leaving myself, a disc priest and a druid remaining, it didn’t take any adjustment for me to switch into a tank-healing role while still tossing out the occasional CH. Likewise, the disc priest and the druid threw on their tank-healing hats as well, and together our heals made up for the loss of long-bombs. I don’t know how smooth a transition it was for either of them, but for me it simply meant switching my RT to the tank (instead of Marked players) and substituting HW for the LHW I had been using to supplement the Pally’s HL. And aside from a few dips, and one Ardent Defender proc, we were able to keep things in line. Just the 3 of us, with no “true” tank healer in sight. When the inside druid was taken out by another nasty Mark of Consumption with ~30 seconds to go on the kill, things shifted into overdrive. Another slight adjustment was made and triage mode engaged, but again, the disc priest and I had the tools (and luck) to pull it off. And the kill was had.
It was one of the most thrilling fights I’ve had to date, but the point of the story is not to toot my own horn or that of my healing partner. The point is that the latter half of the fight, and certainly not those last 30 seconds, would not have been possible without the healing versatility that’s currently in place. While it’s true that the handful of Greater Heals that the disc priest threw out might have been the only time in the past several months that he’s even touched the darn spell, designing an encounter or a situation where it was ideal to use them was all it took to dust them off. While shaman may be able to switch between our options without missing much of a beat, it isn’t a far stretch for other healers to do the same.
What this means for Healers
For most of this xpac, I’ve been ranting on and on about shaman’s versatility being a boon, a beneficial move away from the CH-spam that was prevalent at the end of BC and a step towards a healing environment where we could fill in the gaps in a healing team’s composition. As much as I liked being the undisputed king of raid healing in Sunwell, there’s something to be said for having more depth to what I can offer. There’s something to be said for having the option to be what’s needed, instead of trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. And to this end, I’m really looking forward to Cataclysm’s healing changes.
But … (there’s always a “but” isn’t there?) … it’s easy to take on this sunshiney, Kumbaya perspective, and forget that the Resto Shaman model as it exists in ICC/t10 works because of the interplay of spells and the very limited nature of our arsenal. Like pallies, we don’t have a whole host of options to choose from. But, I don’t feel that the same is true for priests or druids, who strike me as a tad bit overburdened as it is. (Maybe I’m wrong?) So, as our spellbooks in Cataclysm expand, and the variations of spells increase, it becomes a greater task to find the right one for the right job. And at some point, when given too many options, a player will stop trying to find the perfect fit and just strive to find an acceptable fit. It is an incredibly fine line, and so I don’t envy the balancing act that Blizzard has tasked themselves with.
Ultimately, I think it becomes a battle of quality versus quantity with a splash of specificity thrown in. In terms of a fluid and agile spellbook, Shaman, right now, are at one end of that spectrum, whereas I would speculate that Holy Priests are at the other. (Druids, I don’t know where you fit in because I don’t have the balls to take my feral druid resto.) So, to me, the 3-level spell change (eg: Lesser Healing Wave, Healing Wave, Greater Healing Wave) is a great step towards that middle area, establishing a quality base that can empower healers to keep a fight going, instead of saying “oh, so-and-so is dead, we might as well wipe”. Maintaining the diversity of the classes outside of those 3 supposedly “homogeneous” spells, then becomes the flavor to the class and the unique approach that they bring to the table. In the ideal fight, you may not need your base spells, but when the shyte hits the fan, you won’t be left without a way to soldier on.
Because in the end, healing shouldn’t be about being the 100-function Swiss army knife and it shouldn’t take a massively complicated If/Then tree to determine the right course of action, but it shouldn’t be about being a 1-trick pony either. Healers should be, need to be, equipped to be MacGuyvers: saying to their team, “Give me a rubber band, a green bean and a twilight scale and I’ll give you a healer who can handle whatever you throw at me.”
So if this is what Shaman have contributed to the Cataclysm healing model, then I say, bravo to you small crab … Now give me my bloody defensive CD and we’ll call it a day.