As Wrath of the Lich King winds down, and the days of Northrend slowly tick away, the WoW community seems alive and boisterous once again, a mere couple of months after the summer lull. Players tick the last items off bucket lists, goblins stock up on materials, and posts abound on the where’s, why’s and how’s of the coming expansion. But, as all eyes look forward to Cataclysm and all that it has to offer, I’m sadly reminded of everything that I’d hoped to have accomplished. Faction reps, pets, and even a Red Drake were on my list of “things to do when I have time”, but they were upended by a heaping helping of work, alts, and some recent and very addictive game titles (darn you Black Ops).
Among my to-do’s in the end of the expansion was a 30-question survey, half serious / half humorous, that I had intended to distribute to some of the Resto Shamans out there from top US and EU guilds, in an effort to pull some of their voices into this all-Vixsin-all-the-time world. Unfortunately, a new project at work (which doubled my monthly billable hours, yeouch) meant I didn’t have the time to see this one to fruition.
So, instead, I’m going to give you some of my own thoughts and reflections about the expansion, and hopefully spark some memories of all those places we’ve been. All you Restos and non-restos out there, feel free to chime in, and remember the best and worst of these past 2 years.
Healing In General
1. What encounter really showcased your [class’s] healing potential?
There are a couple of fights that really stand out in my mind as having demonstrated various key aspects of Resto Shaman healing. First, and probably closest to my heart, is Razorscale. If anything, I honestly believe that Shamans’ performance in this fight was one of the reasons that Tidal Waves was changed to affect the crit chance of HS (then LHW) instead of haste. With the way RT+LHW combos worked at the time, we could simply out-snipe our healing compatriots (while being dangerously close to the GCD). Secondly, I’d go with Lich King—Yogg 0 and Anub HM had nothing on the level of complexity and focus this fight required. For resto shaman, it was a great demonstration of the value of utilizing a complete toolbox. Not to mention, Infest challenged Restos to actually give a hoot about the timing of their CH, instead of just relying on mindless spam. When we finally managed to down Heroic Lich King, I was shivering with excitement and, of all things, I remember that my feet were so incredibly sore, because I had been clenching my toes for the entire thing.
2. What was the most challenging fight for you and/or your guild?
I don’t even need to think about that one—Firefighter. Bar none, it was the most movement that I’ve ever been asked to do in one encounter. For a shaman, there’s no greater challenge than needing to heal and move. And the level of controlled chaos it orchestrated through each of the phases really tasked healers, and the rest of the raid, to be aware of everything that was going on. That’s why it was all the much sweeter that Firefighter was also the fight which convinced one of my former guilds to keep me as Resto (instead of having me play through Ulduar as Elemental). I stutter-stepped and micro-managed my way into a raid spot!
3. What was one talent that your class underestimated in WotLK beta which turned out to be amazing?
Tidal Waves, for sure. When I first got into Resto Shaman healing in BC, our “tank healing” rotation consisted of exactly the same thing as our “raid healing” rotation—Chain Heal. It was the solution to everything at that point.
- Are you taking damage? Chain Heal
- Is someone else taking damage? Chain Heal
- Is the stuff hitting the fan? Chain Heal
- Is nothing going on? CHAIN HEAL, DAMMIT.
But when the “new” 51-point talents were introduced, along with the tree revamps that accompanied 3.0, we actually had motivation to stop casting Chain Heal at every opportunity. The long, clunky single-target heals that had been a leveling staple made a reappearance, and Resto Shaman started pulling some more tank healing weight. Ultimately, Tidal Waves is what I think enables the synergy that exists in the Resto Shaman toolbox (and it’s why, after all the Beta testing, I still feel like Healing Rain sits on the fringe of our arsenal—because it has no relation to Tidal Waves.)
4. Were there any changes to the class during WotLK that really improved your functionality as a healer?
Even though I think we’ve all forgotten about it by now, but I remember a time where we spent the first couple of GCD’s in a fight dropping totems, one-by-one. In terms of class changes that had a huge, yet subtle, impact, I think the “Call of the …” multi-totem drops take the cake. It was such a natural, common-sense change that I oftentimes forget about the days where I’d use a cast sequence macro depending on the group’s buff needs.
5. What is one thing you personally struggled with as a healer?
Mana, above and beyond everything else. In Ulduar I was bribing druids to macro their innervates to me. Even after the changes to Water Shield in 3.2 (when a good number of shaman, myself included, transitioned from Intellect to Haste gemming), my mana bar still felt the pinch of chain casting. It wasn’t until the middle of ICC that I actually had sufficient regen to be able to cast with actual abandon and stop using Alchemist and Nightmare potions. All through WotLK, whenever someone would post about “healers’ endless mana supplies” I always wanted to shout “not me!”
Granted, part of that was adherence to the ABC (Always Be Casting) practice but part of it was trying, sometimes successfully and sometimes unsuccessfully, to find that fine line of “just enough but not too much” mana. I’ve no doubt that Cataclysm will prove to be a pretty big challenge for my leaky mana bar, but I know at least when I scream “Gah, I need mana!”, that I won’t be alone.
6. Name one thing about the class that you know now that you would have liked to have known when you originally rolled your toon.
I’ve mentioned this one before, but it always rings most true to me, because it’s something that I think a good number of players have a narrow-minded perspective of—that the difference between a good shaman and a great one is knowing when to chain heal spam, and when not to. I can’t explain how much it irks me when players say “Only bad shaman spam Chain Heal” because in reality, sometimes that is the best response to the problem at hand. Really, who looks at the AOE damage going out during Sind or BQL and thinks “I should single-target heal this!” Likewise, your answer to single-target damage shouldn’t always be “GoGo Chain Heal!” It’s finding the balance between the two that really sets a great resto shaman apart.
7. When was your latest “Ah-ha!” resto moment? What sparked it?
In beta, while healing phase 2 in the Nerfarion encounter (your raid breaks into smaller teams with one healer responsible for a group of people) and being solely responsible for the lives of this small group, I realized that I didn’t need to spam heal to keep them topped. The first couple of attempts, I poured CH after CH into them, fearful that if I stopped, they would all die a quick, painful death. But then it dawned on me—they’d be just fine with a couple hots. And I found myself thinking, “I hope the rest of the Cata encounters are like this …”
8. New class/race combos: will you be making the switch?
I’ve seriously considered it; I love the look of goblins and I really do like their casting animations. But I’m having trouble justifying the loss of troll’s Berserking, which at this point, serves as my only healing CD. So, as much as I like playing as a little anti-gnome, I think I may just stick with my big blue amazon (for the start at least!)
9. What’s one spell/talent from another healing class that you’d like to poach, if you could?
Actually, I’d like to poach a couple and mash them together. I’ve always liked the visual that Peter Jackson gave in LotR when Gandalf utters those epic words “You shall not pass!” and slams his staff into the ground. I’d love to poach that for shamans, add a cast time and make it into our raid CD. Think a 360-degree Tidal Wave—let’s call it a Tsunami—that, after the cast completes, crashes out in all directions from the shaman, healing everyone one time but for a goodly amount (equal to the total effect of Tanq or Divine Dymn). I think that would be one hell of a CD; even if the heal wasn’t the strongest (maybe 10-15k), I guarantee that animation wouldn’t get old. I suppose I can dream, right? 😛
1. Do you think Riptide filled the gap as our defining Resto 51-pt talent? Why or why not?
Since it was introduced, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with our former 51-, and now our 31-, point talent. Like I said above when talking about Tidal Waves, Riptide is one of those spells that encourages shaman to use their full array of heals. Its application to both single- and multi-target healing makes it an easy, quick heal to weave into a rotation. On the other hand, I do think Resto Shaman in Cata will be constrained by their use of RT, because it has such a substantial impact to our throughput through its ties to Tidal Waves. Whereas in WotLK a shaman could get away with sub-optimal RT usage, that won’t be the case when we get into the next expansion, where you’ll need to eek out every last bit of healing you can.
But, all of this really dances around the question at hand—is it a viable “Preeminent Resto Talent”? A year ago, when it made up maybe 5-10% of my healing on a fight, my answer would have been a solid “no”. But, based on my experiences in Beta, and seeing it perform noticeably better in an environment where I was clocking only 10-20% overhealing, I might have to revise my opinion slightly. If a 31-point talent is meant to be something that shifts play onto a new level, then yes, it does its job well. It took me leveling a second resto shaman to remember what life is like without RT in my toolbox, and to think that my previous disparagements of the talent might have been a bit too harsh. On the other hand, if a 31-point talent is meant to be the “WoW factor” to a talent tree, then RT falls flat on its face. In the end, I guess it suffers from its own subtlety.
2. Ghost wolf indoors: only for baddies who have issues getting out of fire?
A good number of the raids that I tested were dynamic encounters, which required a good amount of movement from players; having instant GW really made some of those movement periods a lot less painful. It’s definitely something I’ll have to work at to get used to, but for those fights where you have to kite a beam of fire or run clear across the room, there’s nothing better than instant GW and run.
3. T10 Talbuks: fancy dress in the best set ever or largely overhyped?
Best set ever. I loved the aesthetics of this set and the proc was just amazing. Not to mention the fact that the 2pc and 4pc bonuses really complimented Shaman healing in a way that previous set bonus hadn’t done. It opened a door for shaman, complimented both 10- and 25-man play styles, and was about as far from the generic “5% crit on LHW” as you could get. T10 will go down as one of my favorite shaman sets to date.
4. Although at the start of WotLK Blizzard said they wanted Shamans “pushing more buttons”, do you think they accomplished this in Wrath?
I think it depends on the context and your frame of reference. Did we press more buttons than just Chain Heal? Yes. Did we still press Chain Heal a lot? Yes. As powerful as the HS+RT combo was, when compared to CoH, WG/Rejuv, and PW:S, it simply didn’t measure up; we weren’t given much choice aside from CH for raid healing. So, although I think the intention was there, in reality we fell back into a groove created by necessity.
For solo tank healing, which is something I never really did before WotLK, I do feel like they were more successful. Although it took a while to do away with Healing Way, which in its original iterations functioned like Priests’ Grace, I do think the design of RT’s interactions with our core single-target spells created a synergy that the class lacked before.
Now in terms of Cata’s healing environment, I do feel like we’re going to be given a bit more dimension as a healer. The inclusion of Unleash Elements and Healing Rain affords us a lot more ability to interweave our spells and use them to their fullest potential. Are there some encounters where we’ll still be casting a majority of CH? Sure. But at least that will be because it’s appropriate, not simply because we don’t have anything else available.
5. Far Sight: did you forget you had this in your spellbook?
/sheepishly … Yes. If it isn’t in the Resto tab, I don’t know it’s there.
6. When players think Shaman they immediately think of Chain Heal; do you think this association with a single defining heal has impacted the perception of shaman’s versatility?
Absolutely. I think Resto Shaman have been the one-hit wonder of the healing world post-Sunwell, much in the way I think Disc will experience some backlash to the perceived decrease in power of Power Word: Shield. After having such a bright spot in the sun, Resto shaman actually fell a bit behind other classes in the middle of Wrath (when the power of instant-cast raid abilities like Wild Growth and Circle of Healing really trounced Chain Heal in terms of speed and strength of response). That’s not to say that we didn’t excel at fights after that point—we definitely did—but I think it’s a bit hard to come back from Blizzard’s deliberate (but very much deserved) de-emphasis on shaman raid healing.
Curiously enough, I do think stereotype of the “Chain Healing Shaman” is subtly reinforced because Chain Heal is so noticeable in a raid environment. You needn’t have your eyes trained on the Shaman to see when a Chain Heal goes off, and there’s no more apparent representation of bad judgment than when you see a beam of light head off out of the raid and only hit 1 player. At least in the coming xpac, druids and priests will share our pain of bad AOE healing placement; I’m looking forward to Efflorescence and Sanctuary patches off in random locations. (heh)
7. How have shaman changed in terms of PVP performance, from the beginning to the end of Wrath?
Oh how I wish I had an answer to this one. If there’s one area where I fell short in terms of experience, it was on the PVP side of things. From what I’ve heard about beta tests of Shamans’ PVP performance, however, we’re well-placed to be viable partners to most combos. (And I have it on good authority from a dedicated PVP who shall remain nameless, *ahem* Mr. Tower, that Resto Shamans’ Cleansing Waters heal will “be absolutely OP”. It might, in fact, be enough to lure me back into the Arena ring—only time will tell.
8. To compensate for Shamans’ very long cast time for most spells, what sort of proactive healing strategies/techniques have you found most helpful?
Actually, I like to use a technique that they preach in almost every Drivers’ Education class out there—the 2-second rule. In essence, I try to plan my casting based on what will be happening in 2 seconds, instead of what’s happening in that moment. Naturally, this doesn’t always work as intended; when a raid starts slipping, I can easily find myself playing catch-up. But, keeping my mind on the future not only keeps me engaged for the entire encounter, but it also allows me to get around the fact that Shaman don’t have the luxury of an “Oh shyte” raid heal.
Secondly, and this isn’t really a healing strategy but more something I found incredibly useful, I rely on visual *and* audio cues for boss effects and tracking. As much as I try to stay on top of shields cooldowns, encounter milestones and my mana, I’ve found it’s easy to ignore a PowerAuras alert or boss mod timer, no matter how flashy, jumpy and/or pulsing I make it. Audio cues, on the other hand, are an absolute boon to healing because they give me the information I need without requiring me to take my eyes off the action. (This is also the reason I play with game sound on, instead of some deep trance or techno, because as much as I appreciate DXE’s timer for Goo Explosion, hearing Rotface say “It’s gonna blow” is much more of a motivating factor to move somewhere safe.)
The Blank Slate that Awaits
As I sit here in the airport, anxious to get home and get my last preparations in place for Cataclysm launch, the sound of Christmas music is playing in a store adjacent to the sole outlet in the boarding area (around which I, and naturally a few other techies, are gathered). Normally, I’d be a curmudgeon and find myself a new place to tip-tap away on my laptop, unmolested by songs that play constantly through the month of December. But at this moment, I don’t feel so much like muttering a proper “Bah humbug”. I know it will be with a slightly wistful look in my eyes that I’ll log onto World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King on Monday. I think we’ve come a long way, my friends, and as much as I’ll miss the icy chill of Northrend, I’m excited to go out and make new memories that we can reflect on in another 2 years. So, as the faint strains of that music reach me, singing “It’s the mooooost, won-der-ful time, of the yeeeeear …” I can’t help but agree. Tuesday is looking to be a great day, indeed. See you all at 85. (And yes, there will be a resto shaman guide will be forthcoming after the big ding).