In an amazing break from tradition, WoW’s Patch 4.0.6 heralds a number of insanely OP buffs for Shaman and Restos in particular, addressing a host of issues raised by shaman and other healers alike, and has absolutely no minor fixes to icons or tooltips … *blink blink* No wait, that’s not right, let me try that again … *ahem* … In an amazing break from tradition, Patch 4.0.6 brings with it several changes, both nerfs and buffs, to a class which may be absolutely fabulous or absolute crap depending on who you talk to … Yep, that’s about right.
When the Patch notes for 4.0.6 were released last week, I and likely many of you, sat at the computer and blankly stared at a list which included absolutely no adjustments for shaman whatsoever. And so, I composed an angry diatribe in my head, bitched to my healing teammates (was quickly rebuffed and cut down to size by our resident spriest), and then went back about the business of trying to prep myself for our continued efforts in hard modes. So, it was a bit of a surprise to read yesterday morning that resto shaman, and shaman in general, were not the victims of yet another “working as intended” side note, but were actually a belated mention in a patch ostensibly aimed at tweaking the performance of all of the classes.
But, despite the minor tweaks and the MAJOR change to Mana Tide (which I’ll discuss a bit later in this post), this patch left me thinking—just how good are resto shaman right now?
It’s been just over a month since Cataclysm release, and despite the gear that I’ve gained during that time, I do still feel that heroics are holding their own as challenging content. For resto shaman, heroics hold the opportunity to acclimate yourself to the triage philosophy and become accustomed to the kind of “healing rotation” to be had from interweaving RT and UE with single- and multi-target heals.
In this respect, shaman healing holds up nicely against the AOE and tank damage abilities commonplace in most heroic mode encounters. Tidal Waves, as usual, provides for a seamless transition between healing styles. And despite CH’s low baseline heal value, heroics provide a good opportunity (because the group is typically in close proximity), to boost output by setting up UE + CH through tank combos. Even HR has its situational uses for tempering some of the incoming damage in boss’s AOE abilities.
If there’s any complaint that I have right now for Resto Shaman healing in heroics, it would be the underwhelming nature of HW in comparison to tank health pools. Whereas on my druid, with Lifebloom rolling, I can get Nourish casts that hit for around 12k on average, my resto shamans’ HW casts seem to average 9-10k even with ES up. This definitely can lead some newly level 85 resto shaman to disregard the spell as worthless, when really it does serve a buffering purpose, allow you to slowly chip away at incoming damage while not blowing your entire mana pool on fast, expensive heals.
Finally, in heroics, RT firmly emerges as a stand-out, star-studded spell. It’s quick, it’s easy and it’s cheap as hell. And if its performance in heroics doesn’t convince you to set up an RT PowerAuras alert, then I don’t know what will.
In normal raid modes
Once you make your way into the normal modes of T11 instances–Throne of the Four Winds, Bastion of Twilight, and Blackwing Descent–a whole new world opens up, one where you will have ample opportunity to use your entire arsenal of heals. Whereas in heroics, AOE healing sees situational usage, normal mode encounter mechanics in both 10s and 25s give you room to expand your application of Chain Heal and Healing Rain. And although I can only speak from a 25-man perspective, (as my second shaman project was sidelined to focus on Cata release), I think I can safely say that Resto Shamans’ single- and mutli-target heals are more than sufficient to accommodate every group composition. Whereas in BC and in Wrath, raids suffered the vapors if, for instance, they didn’t have a paladin for tank-healing, it’s now a role that just about any healing spec can slide easily into.
In terms of healing tools, if you are running 25s, you should be seeing your CH numbers being chipped away at by HR, RT, and Earthliving (the latter two generally each contribute ~10-14% of my healing on each encounter). And on the single-target side of things, you’ll likely learn that HW has even less of a place in raids, although it can be a very efficient way to bring players back up if there’s a lull in incoming damage. (Glyph of Healing Wave still gets the evil eye from me). As of late, players have been siding more with HS instead of GHW for tank healing, although we’re likely to see this preference normalize a bit when 4.0.6 releases and our GHW receives a fairly big boost to output.
Ultimately, if I came away from normal modes with any golden nuggets it’s these three things: first, that there no longer is such a thing as a pure tank healer. With the removal of spike damage from normal modes (don’t worry, it comes back in hard modes), healers have significantly more overlap in healing than they once did. Mindless Holy Light bombing is not required. (I swear I heard paladins cheering there …) Secondly, precise mana management will make or break your performance. More so now than ever, slipping into the easy groove of topping people with HS, or letting your WS fall off, or saving your MT for <60% mana instead of <70%, has a big impact on your longevity. And lastly, that there are more lulls in encounters than you might think. While the urgency is always there to keep players as high as possible, it behooves shaman to learn how to, and become comfortable with, topping players as slowly as you can within the confines of the fight. This ability to let hots, HST, and AA take players that last 10% was incredibly helpful in making sure that I could last during normal modes without heaping helpings of gear. (And definitely comes into play in hard mode raiding).
In hard modes
Last week FH spent some time on a number of hard modes—Halfus, Tron Council, Maloriak, and Conclave—getting a feel for what Blizzard has in store for us “hardcore” raiders of the expansion. Unfortunately, our hard mode raid week fell victim to incredibly glitchy toggle mechanics, as our main holy priest and rogue officer were completely locked out of BWD for 3 of our 5 raid nights. But, despite the very frustrating lockout problem, I did walk away from the week with a better understanding of where Resto Shaman stand as we undertake more hard mode kills.
Suffice to say, my perspective differs a little bit from the stance taken recently, and infamously, by one of Paragon’s members on the EU forums. While I agree that there are some areas where shaman feel a bit weaker than our healing counterparts, the proposed adjustments from patch 4.0.6 look to be targeting the right areas:
Greater Healing Wave now costs 33% of base mana, up from 30%. Base healing value increased by 20%, from 7473 – 8538 to 8968 – 10245.
Cleansing Waters now has a 0.5 sec cooldown.
Chain Heal’s effectiveness has been increased by approximately 10%.
Deep Healing now Increases the potency of your direct healing spells by up to 24% (up from 20%), based on the current health level of your target (lower health targets are healed for more). Each point of Mastery increases direct heals by up to an additional 3%. (up from 2.5%)
Cleansing Water changes aside, my take on this is pretty simple—what we’re seeing is a boost to shamans’ top end potential, which is what specifically comes into play in hard mode encounters. The boost to Greater Healing Wave was warranted by the very low differential in output between HS and GHW, leading many tank healers (as I mentioned in the preceding section) to favor the former much as they had in WotLK. In regards to the Mastery buff, with multiple hard-mode fight mechanics that apply heavy AOE on the raid, our Mastery is being engaged more often than not. So the increase of Deep Healing is a logical way to help Shaman in hard modes while not making them overpowered in normal modes. As it stands, with the additional 0.5% per Mastery rating, I’ll gain ~6% more Deep Healing benefit. Combined with the potential buff to CH output, this should amount to a good boost in HPS in hard mode encounters.
This being said, there are still some underlying points of concern that I have for Resto Shaman performance in T11 hard modes and beyond. (None of these are game-breakers, and lest anyone be under the impression I’m claiming that Resto Shaman are absolute crap, let me state for the record: I still think we kick ass.)
- State of regen: It’s become apparent over the course of the past month that Resto Shamans’ Water Shield is not providing nearly as much regen as it once did through procs. When looking at my own mana gained versus a shaman with almost 8% less crit (on the same encounter, with similar spell distribution), the difference amounted to around 100mp5. Given WS’s poor scaling, and with crit levels being what they are, this divide between the returns granted by our static values and other healing class’ stat-based returns will continue to expand as gear increases. (Remember: Innervate, Shadowfiend, and Divine Plea are all based on max mana, a value which will increase as we gain more stats). One potential solution would be to make Shamans’ WS scale partially from our Spirit, which would encourage us to keep a more balanced perspective on stats and underscore the value of spirit in our regen mechanics (both WS and MT).
- Lack of cooldowns: As would be expected, early normal-mode and heroic kills have, thus far, entailed significant use of raid cooldowns. Aura Mastery during Maloriak’s Fire Breath, Tranquility during Chimaeron’s Fued, Divine Hymn during Cho’gall’s Phase 3, Power Word: Barrier during Halfus’ Roar, etc. (Not to mention the timing of personal CD’s). But at no point during these encounters can Resto Shaman offer a raid any respite. I cannot elect to make HR more powerful, I cannot fire off CH more rapidly—one instant-cast CH or an instant-cast GHW does not constitute a viable raid-saving CD. (And if the healing isn’t needed while the raid is moving, then Spiritwalker’s Grace offers me absolutely no benefit.) This deficiency in the shaman arsenal was put into harsh relief when, in our attempts on HM Conclave, I was relegated to the only platform which does not require a CD to address incoming damage. In the discussion of who needed to pop what when, I was left to twiddle my thumbs in silence. Resto Shaman are the odd healer out when it comes to cooldowns of any sort, and quite frankly, it’s about bleedin time that something was done about it. Because as funny our guild’s running joke is about my lack of CDs is (“how could you possibly die to that when Vixsin’s ES is on you?!”) it’s damn depressing as well.
- Lack of triage in hard modes: (this is really a point that affects all healers, not just Resto Shaman) One of the characteristics of heroic dungeons which I greatly appreciated, and which I mentioned above, was the continual reinforcement of the principle of “triage”, wherein a healer is allowed to use judgment on who may or may not need immediate healing. It was delivery of a concept which had been hyped to healers for the year preceding Cata release. However, the concept of triage is notably absent in hard modes, where players consistently need to be kept at > 90% HP to avoid instant-death mechanics. Now, I’m not arguing for a greater margin of error in heroic encounters, because I appreciate the level of effort that they require, but this inconsistently in approach inherently stresses healers who have been acclimated to a different pace in the preceding content.
- TC + Healing Rain Spam – It generated a good amount of buzz in the resto shaman community, but from all evidence, Paragon’s resto shaman utilized the infamous 7/2/32 spec for a number of their world-first kills in hard modes, including their Heroic Nefarian kill on Sunday. In essence, this spec is designed to maximize the mana return of Telluric Currents so that the shaman can afford to cast Healing Rain on cooldown. By picking up Convection and Elemental Precision, a resto shaman can almost completely mitigate LB misses and gain an increased amount of mana back per cast. Although I haven’t had the opportunity to test this setup in a raid environment, I can at least testify that from a pure numbers standpoint, continual HR (HR + LB filler) constitutes one of the highest HPS “rotations” that a resto shaman can use (topped only by HR + CH filler). And while I give Kahva an immense amount of credit for his application of this spec, I have some concern about how it might influence the future of shaman healing. Not only does it highlight the current misalignment of philosophy and application of Telluric Currents, but it also puts into stark contrast the tension that exists in shaman healing. And while the former condition is easily addressed in the form of a TC nerf, the latter condition is not as easily handled. Because HR is such a high HPS spell, with a small limiting CD, resto shamans will naturally try to cast the spell more frequently, as their mana will allow, in an effort to increase their healing contribution. Should the limits on mana become imbalanced (as they are with TC usage), then the spell will become a new 1-button to victory, casually disregarding qualities like selection, judgment and overhealing in favor of a brute force approach. This is not a direction I care to see shamans go, and it’s hopefully something that the watchful eyes at Blizzard have on their radar.
In the end, while Shaman aren’t dominating the top HPS parses on WoL, I’d be hard pressed to argue that we’re not in the race. From the parses I have looked at, from guilds across the raiding spectrum, shaman performance is comfortably riding in the middle of the pack (and sometimes coming out on top, depending on the encounter). The 4.0.6 buffs, at least as they’re described at present, will narrow the margin on our baseline contributions, but it will remain up to the shaman in question to excel beyond that point.
Without our beloved Uber Mana Tide
Yes, I suppose it was only a matter of time before our beloved Mana Tide hax was nerfed into the ground. (And yes, now I feel guilty for dedicating half a post almost entirely on how to capitalize on the mechanic). As of the latest 4.06 patch notes, restos and our Group 5 will be operating under the confines of a new Mana Tide mechanic:
The totem no longer multiplies the Spirit of those affected by it. It instead gives a flat amount of Spirit equal to 400% of the casting shaman’s Spirit, exclusive of short-term Spirit buffs affecting the shaman when the totem is dropped. In addition, its effects are now raid-wide.
Now before you scream for joy, there are a couple things to consider. First, it seems unlikely that we’re talking about a raid-wide source of mana return. I would imagine the totem will now function like Hymn of Hope, granting the 5 lowest targets the Spirit buff. (Of course, I could be wrong, but that would be fairly OP if it went in without any restrictions). Secondly, if the Spirit buff is raid-wide, then the question becomes, will the source Resto Shaman receive the buff as well? Personally, I would hope so, because other Resto Shaman are receiving a 1-2 punch in the regen department.
Regardless of how the new MT totem works, I can imagine that most of you are asking: will it be worth it to stack as much spirit as possible? Well, let’s take a look at what you could stand to gain. At present, I have 1997 Spirit prior to buffs, with 5131 Intellect. Testing in this gear yielded the following:
So, with my current gear, applying the new Mana Tide characteristics, I will be getting ~16k mana per MT drop, in comparison to the ~14k I get now when I drop MT without using trinkets. Once the MT change goes live, were I to swap out my Core of Ripeness for Mandala of Stirring Patterns (+321 Spirit), this would result in an additional 3k mana per drop, or an additional 85 mp5 over the course of 3 minutes. Assuming that MT will apply to 5 targets, this would yield 425 mp5 across those 5 people. In exchange for this fabulous 425 mp5, you the shaman would be likely losing out on 321 Intellect (the typical ilvl359 trinket stat), ~5k mana, and 321 spellpower (which based on my stats would amount to losing 4.5% of my total spellpower).
In my opinion, that’s a pretty big hit to take to offer my teammates an additional 3k mana. So, if MT remains as described in the most current 4.0.6 patch notes, while I will try to optimize my gear to afford me the most spirit possible, I will likely not be switching to +Spirit trinkets or gemming Spirit unless other quantitative evidence comes forth. And yes, I’ll be hanging onto my Core of Ripeness (because I will be holding out on farming Tyrande’s for as long as possible).
In light of other assorted changes
In addition to the changes which lie in store for us in 4.0.6, there are a couple other items I thought I’d highlight in the most recent set of PTR patch notes:
Vibrant Alchemist Stone – grants (effectively) 351 Intellect, 194 haste, +40% from potions
An excellent addition for dps and healers, the important thing to remember with this trinket is that it equates to pure throughput with limited longevity contributions. This stands in stark contrast to other “healer” trinkets which provide 200-400 constant Spirit during an encounter.
Enchanting: Enchant Off-Hand – Superior Intellect now increases intellect by 40, down from 100.
A minor nerf to overall stat values, it’s important to remember that this adjustment will also lower your spellpower and result in a margin decrease to your crit rating.
Enchant Bracer – Mighty Intellect – Permanently enchant bracers to increase Intellect by 50. Requires a level 300 or higher item.
The addition of a bracer enchant for +50 Intellect makes the Leatherworking bracer enchant equal in nature to the benefits from most other professions. In light of the change, Engineering steps slightly ahead of the other professions with its +Intellect enchant to gloves (which provides a constant +96 Int in the best case scenario and +XX Int in the worst case).
Flask of the Draconic Mind. / Mats changed to: Volatile Life x 8, Azshara’s Veil x 8, Twilight Jasmine x 8, Crystal Vial
All I can say is … about bloody time. At 12 herbs per flask, and no alchemist benefit to keep me afloat, I’ve been going through 30 – 35 flasks a week, which considering sale prices of ~350g per flask, amounted to over 10,000g worth of flasks a week. It’s only a 3,000g savings for me, but hey, something is better than nothing!
Where do we go, from here?
I think it’s been a bit of a bumpy road so far for shaman in Cataclysm–figuring out new stat priorities, new ways of healing, and doing it all with a mana pool that isn’t very forgiving. And while I think most players who’ve hit level 85 and worked their way into dungeons and heroics have ironed out some of the healing kinks, it would seem that the biggest target for us all at this point is continuing to work at finding a comfortable balance of stats. (To this end, I’ll likely be putting together a post analyzing my own raid performance over the past couple weeks and discussing the impacts of the gearing changes I’ve made.) Is haste really all that important heading into hard modes? Just how much does Mastery help us out? How much Spirit should I have? All of these questions remain open and on the table for discussion. And in my opinion, the only thing better than knowing the answers, is the path to finding them.