In a way much different than its predecessors, Tier 12 was not so much a race to the finish line as much as it was a trial of endurance and determination. But after a whopping 461 attempts, spanning 7 weeks, and summed up in a 30-page strategy thread on our guild’s forums, Ragnaros fell under the resolute pressure of Pie Chart’s raiding team last Thursday, marking the end of our efforts to finish out current raiding content. And although it wasn’t the top 10 kill we were hoping for, I think it’s safe to say that it was an immensely satisfying victory nonetheless. For me personally, it was a triumph over a tier unlike any other, and hopefully unlike any to come.
But I think there’s more that we can take away from this tier, aside from stories of personal inspiration and a deep abiding appreciation for the red-yellow-orange color spectrum, both in regards to class design and resto’s overall performance. If you recall, Tier 12 marked a number of changes to our class—from Mana Tide’s nerf, to the introduction of Resurgence, and the actual testing of SLT and Resto Shamans’ globally applied Mastery in a world progression setting. So what I want to do today is two things—first look at some of the overarching issues/themes of Resto Shaman in Firelands, and then second, talk about what I think can/ should be done to address them.
The Short List
Shaman continue to have issues maintaining competitive HPS when players are spread out
Frankly, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that this tops my list of observations about this tier, as it is an issue that shaman have long struggled with. We are the undisputed kings of stacked healing—if the raid can stack and we have the mana to do so, HR+CH filler constitute absolutely incredible throughput (second to Tranquility, which is just cheating, IMO). Don’t believe me? Check out this segment of Phase 2 HM Beth’tilac, where my HPS can be credited with just those two main spells.
Butas good as that throughput is, ask a raid team to spread out and take that same damage, and we fall to the bottom of the pack. I think of fights like Firefighter and Freya +3, or more recently HM Council, HM Magmaw, HM Domo and HM Rag (to some extent) as prime demonstrations of this situation, not only because they required players to spread out, but also because each fight actually punished players for stacking up.
Now, that’s not to say that I don’t understand why a developer would make a design decision to include such a mechanic—because who wants the basic raid strat to be “stay stacked”—but what’s important to note here is that there is one healing class and one healing class who’s performance is directly tied to player density and has a much smaller margin of error on that density. And I know my fellow Restos in 10s will absolutely get behind me when I say that this circumstance is only exacerbated in the smaller raid setting. There is a significant difference between nagging players to be within 30 yards of eachother (WG, PoH, CoH) and needing them to be within 12 yards (when the mechanic range is 6,8, or 10 yards).
In the end, while healers’ abilities should be a consideration when designing any strat, with the constraints placed on Resto Shamans’ healing by HR and CH, it oftentimes comes to pass that raid teams must make a decision to either cater to their shaman healers or make do with less throughput from them. And that latter option is what concerns me the most, because that’s one step away from being benched.
There is a price to pay for slow, expensive heals
If there was a boss that highlighted some of the flaws in the Shaman healing model, it was my BFF Baleroc, the Gatekeeper. An absolutely punishing fight on HM 25, pre-nerf, what the encounter demonstrated more than anything was that in a world where speed and efficiency make the largest difference in HPS, shaman will be on bottom by a mile. As a point of reference, the top shaman parse on the encounter is at 33k dps (major props to Stormingire of Simple Math for some amazing Vital Spark stacking), but that’s only 40% of the healing done by the top parse on the encounter, set at present by Adaqeu from Slashcry at 79k hps, which was recorded pre-nerf. (For what it’s worth, druids are similarly constrained in throughput, as the other healing class who lacks an absorption mechanic).
So, if shaman were looking to an encounter to point to as one that was significantly hampered by putting a resto in raid (I shudder to think what stress two Resto Shaman would bring), this would be it. So why don’t we do so well? First and foremost, our heals are slow, very slow in comparison to those of other healers. So we simply can’t land as many in a short window of time. Secondarily, our single-target heals are dependent on Tidal Waves to maintain equitable throughput, which means that our output looks more like rolling hills because we simply can’t spam GHW to our heart’s content. Thirdly, our single-target throughput is adjusted to work with Nature’s Blessing, which means that HW, HS, and GHW are weaker when we don’t switch ES to a target.
So while Baleroc was likely one of the most unique and innovative fights I’ve killed to date, I can’t help but think it highlighted those factors which are an intrinsic part of our class design and which will be consistent constraints on our functionality as healers.
Mana Issues remain, especially in regards to personal regen
While our PVP counterparts can sit back with an almost full mana pool for an entire 30-minute arena match, many PVE shaman seem to be crutching ever more on TC to stay competitive. With Resurgence returns still incredibly low in comparison to other healers’ personal regen mechanics, it’s oftentimes the case that a quick glance at Group 5 mana pools will reveal a stark comparison.
For example, on our recent HM Rag kill, the regen breakdown for each of our 4 healers (excluding returns from Hymns and MT) was as follows:
Now there are two things I want to call out about the above, aside from the differential in return from T12 2pc , which is highlighted, (and which, arguably, I did not do an admirable job of maintaining). The first point is the incredible difference in stat allocation and in-combat regen between our four healers. Whereas our holy paladin remains almost even with me in terms of Spirit and in-combat regen, our resto druid runs with a mere 2227 in-combat regen (which when you factor in that his passive regen remains on the level with our other healers, would indicate to me that he operates at a lower mana consumption level). Granted, I don’t expect stat levels or mana consumption to ever be equal across 4 different specs, but what I think it reveals about shaman is just how much more mana they need to remain competitive.
Secondarily, and most importantly in my eyes, consider the difference it would make if I removed TC from that regen table—I would lose almost ~8400 mana per minute, or 700 mp5. That is a massive chunk of passive regen and something which should, by all accounts, be a completely optional choice. But my point here is precisely that—118k mana over the course of a progression encounter is not optional, it’s not mana-neutral, and if you assume that I made the right spell choices, it was mandatory to being able to perform my job.
SLT’s applicability is limited in AOE damage environments
When introduced, Spiritlink Totem was intended to be the normalizing CD that Resto Shaman had been looking for and a way to keep us competitive with other healers. But I’ve always felt that SLT’s true design intent was a bit ambiguous—whether it was intended to be a tank CD or a raid CD, I can’t precisely say. And I think that ambiguity, and the (I hesitate to say it) gimmicky design, are qualities that were highlighted in Firelands, and not in a particularly good way. In truth, SLT’s use in Firelands was completely one-sided. By way of example, here are the mechanics I used SLT for during our raids:
- Shannox – Never
- Rhyolith – During Stomp (AOE Damage)
- Beth’tilac – Venom Rain (AOE Damage) and Ember Flare (AOE Damage)
- Alysrazor – Burnout (AOE Damage)
- Baleroc – Never
- Staghelm – Flame Sycthe (AOE Damage)
- Ragnaros – Seed Eruption (AOE Damage), Magma Trap Explosions (AOE) and Superheated Stacks (Pseudo-AOE)
Now, what’s wrong with the above list, aside from the idea that there are some encounters where I can’t use my CD at all? Answer: The fact that all of the uses for SLT in Tier 12 involved damage that was already spread out on the entire raid, thus negating one of the key selling points of shamans’ raid CD. So the effective use of SLT was a mere 10% damage reduction, which generally needed to be used when effects were are lower levels of damage (eg: early Flame Scythe hits) or in conjunction with another raid CD (eg: SLT + Rallying Cry), because of the CD’s comparative weakness versus a spell like PW: Barrier.
Again, this is a case, I think where the developers have a choice to make—between an effect which plays into SLT’s mechanics or an effect which can be addressed by a much larger spectrum of CDs. And therein lies the problem, because if you make SLT required, then you are limiting the healing team that can handle the encounter. But the flip side of it is, if you don’t play into the gimmick and instead make an effect that can be handled by Aura Mastery, Tranquility, and Barrier, then you’re left with a very weak CD in SLT.
Mastery change + Crit change + PVP = trouble
The last observation that I have about Tier 12 is something that I don’t think many of us in the community could really have predicted, or even pieced together. Back at the end of April, patch 4.1 went live and broadened the application of Deep Healing from a select few spells to all of those in Resto Shamans’ arsenal. Subsequently, in Patch 4.2, the decision was made to increase the bonus healing from all critical heals from 150% to 200%. And when these two healing adjustments united in 4.2 PVP, they made a perfect storm and almost single-handedly secured Resto Shamans’ spot on every arena team. 100k crits on a target near death? Yes please!
But those Mastery changes that made Resto Shaman such powerhouses in Arena and PVP play, are also those that bolstered shaman endgame healing, affording us the opportunity to do more with our limited mana pool and rack up some absolutely insane critical hits on tanks (my highest to date is a 180k GHW on a tank on the brink of being squashed). However, you didn’t see the same effect in PVE because of the difference in damage patterns—while PVP is about making good decisions about when to heal and when not to, PVE is about pumping out massive amounts of consistent healing to cover your raid’s ills. And thus in PVE, our Masetery’s benefits are going to be tempered by other healers.
Ultimately, the core of the problem that I see with Deep Healing isn’t what players often complain about—weaker heals as the tier progresses, the linear application—but rather that Masteries should not be game changers. They shouldn’t turn the tide of a PVP match, and likewise they shouldn’t account for a 4k HPS differential in the span of several months. And if it takes a nerf to make it less of focus and more of a bonus, then hand me the waffle bat, please.
Opportunities in 4.3
Consider the benefits of decoupling HR and CH …
Tying into the first point in the preceding section, one of the solutions that I’ve been musing over lately is how to address the problem of shaman being ill equipped to cope with a raid that cannot or will not respond to shamans’ density constraints. Whereas previously a spread raid would have resulted in the Resto Shaman turning to a RT+HS rotation (a la Razorscale), with the nerf to HS that unfortunately is no longer an option. So I think my best argument would be that we need to see some of the overlap removed from our two density-based heals.
At present, CH and HR synergize well with each other, and are able to operate on a stand-alone basis. In fact, one of the things I appreciate about HR is that it allows the shaman to choose the right level of supplemental healing to apply over the 10 seconds that HR is down. (In other words, I can HR and then fill with LB or HW in times of lower damage, or ramp it up with HR+CH during intense damage periods). But, the crux of the problem lies with the fact that both CH and HR are incredibly range-dependent, and thus the downside of one spell is the same as the other—both reward player density. And as I’ve said before, sometimes that isn’t an option because of fight constraints and other times it isn’t an option because of player choice.
And so, I think the solution is to stop asking shaman to fight with and nag their raid teams. It’s one thing when a priest asks players to stay on one side of the room so that everyone will be in range of a PoH, but it’s another thing entirely to ask them to set their proximity meters to 12 yards so that I can get 5 jumps of CH. Enabling Healing Rain to make it a directional Tsunami, a heal that emanates from the shaman, or an area-wide effect with a longer cast time, would remove the some of the stress that Resto Shaman are asked to introduce into a raid strat for the simple reason of optimizing their own healing.
… Or think about a Resto Burst CD
I haven’t harped on this too much in this tier but it’s something that’s been at the back of most of Resto Shamans’ minds since we lost our only throughput CD (RIP Tidal Force)—we really don’t have any way to throttle our healing, outside of letting Tidal Waves fall off (which I think most shaman would agree is like suggesting that a feral druid throttle his dps by letting all his bleeds fall off). In fact, one of the reasons that I’ve chosen to remain a troll through this entire expansion is because of the Berserking racial, and the mini-CD it affords me, which either allows me to nab another tick of HR or power my RT+GHW single-target rotation.
And so I bring this up again as another way that developers could enable shaman to handle high-damage situations or those scenarios when it’s ill advised to try to stack for healing. A personal CD could be positioned to address any one of a number of things that Resto Shaman struggle with, and maybe could take one of the following forms:
- Give RT no CD for 15 seconds and made the initial hit 150% stronger (similar to ToL’s effect on Regrowth)
- Empowered HST to be raid-wide for a short time (*cough totems matter cough*)
- Enable our Stoneclaw totem to power-shield us (because survivability is something else we struggle with in PVE, and Glyph of Stoneclaw doesn’t scale)
This would essentially give us control over our output and enable us to keep pace when the going gets tough. And for anyone who thinks that shaman keeping pace isn’t an issue, let me show you something:
The above graph represents the HPS of our healing team over the course of Phase 1 and Phase 2 of our HM Rag kill. What’s particularly important to note (and you wouldn’t know without me telling you), is my HPS in two very specific periods of time—from 23:06:10 – 23:07:00 and from 23:10:20 to 23:11:00. These are the two transition phases where, as you might guess, I cannot efficiently use CH or HR. As a result, you can see my HPS drop significantly below my healing teammates’, who capitalize on their own healing CDs to power them through the burst damage period.
Again the emphasis here isn’t about “X class has this thing so I want it to”; the emphasis is on enabling Resto Shaman to make meaningful decisions about when and how we spend our mana. And a cooldown that helps us tackle some of the issues we struggle with (spread players, burst, and survivability) enables us to take control of our output and our own performance.
I hate using the word “gimmicky” because I think it’s thrown around quite carelessly by players wanting to trivialize mechanics that they don’t like or that they believe to be sub-par. But as it relates to SLT, I find it’s the only word I can use to describe a CD which can function in radically different ways depending on the effect it’s attempting to mitigate. Whereas other CD’s take a blanket approach to their effects, SLT remains the only CD which will not provide the same predictable benefits when applied to a single 200k hit versus a 200k hit spread out between all raid members. In fact, as I wonderfully discovered over the course of those 461 attempts, SLT can actually kill your tank (during the only phase where it’s of use anyways).
As to what can be done to improve this confused Resto Shaman CD, I think effort needs to be channeled into making it less of a gimmick and more of the CD that can address the same issues as others:
- Increase the damage reduction component to 20%, so that the totem can serve as a significant and stand-alone CD, or
- Have SLT heal players for 30% of the redistributed amount, something that will assure it scales based on density, or
- Remove the spatial constraints so that SLT can be equivalent to Prot Paladin’s Divine Sacrifice
But what I do know is that if it continues to need to be supplemented by CD’s like Tranq or Rallying Cry to be effective, then it was only a half-step towards bringing Restos in line with other healers.
Reconsider WS Design
Although I am not an avid PVPer and the mere thought of arenas are enough to send me screaming into the hills, I will be the first to admit that Resto Shaman are in an odd position when it comes to our personal regen mechanic. While our dueling brothers in arms are able to use it as a pure regen tool, trading the on-proc mana return for the incoming damage from the attacker, we PVE’ers aren’t afforded the same benefit. And when you compare the average healing done for an 8-minute arena match versus an 8-minute encounter, it’s clear to see the large disparity between PVP and PVE resto shamans’ mana needs.
When it comes to how we compare to the other healers in group 5, I would speculate that the growing regen differential is due in large part to the limited scaling of WS. Whereas other healers have their mana return scale based on their total mana pool, making regen a function of their primary stats, Resto Shamans’ regen is tied to a secondary stat (Crit), and is thus limited by the 179:1 conversion of crit rating to crit %. Further, because our WS is limited to a static value, it fails to respond to increased mana consumption due to less efficient / more powerful heals, which will become more required as the expansion progresses.
I think the obvious change to make, to bring Resto Shaman in line with other healers and allow us to use those less efficient heals as they become more necessary, is to make our WS scale based on our primary stats. But beyond that, there are a variety of directions that WS could go to keep a cap on the “limitless” mana pool of Restos in PVP:
- Have Resurgence function like Jar of Ancient Remedies, where each healing spell cast applies a small multiplier to WS’s effects. Introduce a new version of Unleash Elements for Resto (Unleash Water?) which would consume all WS charges but give the shaman a % of his total mana and place Resurgence regen on CD for a short duration. These WS charges would be purgable/dispellable in PVP.
- Leave WS as a shield, but change Resurgence to apply an additional % of regen for each critical heal within a 15-second window. Because secondary stats are naturally limited in PVP, this would enable shaman to maintain the same baseline regen and encourage us to value crit more in a PVE environment.
- Simply remove the chance to proc on attack, and increase the amount of passive regen to be a function of Spirit.
But, these proposed changes to WS assume that the developers don’t want to explore TC as Resto Shamans’ secondary regen source, which is at least in my eyes, a potential path that we could go down. TC scales with gear, it limits regen in PVP, and provided that something is done to remedy the miss chance that Restos currently have, TC could very well distinguish us once again as a “hybrid” healer and lead to some very interesting discussions about balancing dps and hps throughput.
Quality of Life is a Function of Expectations
One of the questions that you saw crop up quite frequently during the Sinestra kerfuffle over lack of shamans, and subsequently during the HM Rag PR nightmare, was a very basic one—“why would you bring a [resto] shaman to the raid?” Sitting in Mumble with one member of my healing team shortly after Paragon’s first kill, he asked me that question, and to be quite honest, my first answer was not about the class but about my skill as a healer. Not to be deterred, he asked me again—“What is Resto Shaman’s niche?” (Ahhh, the old “niche” question …)
The interesting thing is, I think the answer is different for 10s versus 25s. In 10s, were a raid leader to ask me why he should bring a Resto Shaman into raid, I would unequivocally answer: versatility. Flexible buffs, the capacity to adapt and fill gaps in your healing roster, ranged interrupts, extra mana—those are valuable commodities in a limited team environment. But in 25s, where versatility is not a valuable commodity (and I talked about this in my post last February, Shaman: The Last Vestiges of a Utility Class), I think shaman really struggle to identify what our “thing” actually is.
Although on the official WoW website, it identifies that shaman are masters of the elements and summon totems to support our allies or punish our foes, the fact of the matter is, in my 25s team, I rarely need to drop totems. The only ones I feel a deep connection with are HST, MT, and Stoneclaw (<3 16k shields), but the others aren’t necessary at all. To be quite honest, that absolutely boggles me—one of the “core” capabilities of my class and I don’t even have to use them? But the unfortunate thing is that my bafflement rarely stops there. With particular regards to Resto, I admit that I’m oftentimes confused as to what my intended raid role is—what do I bring to the table? Resto druids bring an army of hots, paladins bring intense single-target healing and a ton of raid CDs, priests bring shields and powerful aoe healing, and resto shaman bring … all of that in a weaker amount? I know we’ve made great strides to normalize healers, but I feel like somewhere in there, the identity of Shaman healers was lost.
Ultimately, what Nethara and the developers asked for in their recent appeal to the class communities was discussion of Quality of Life, which I find interesting because it’s actually something that comes up quite often in Blizzard-player discussions. To me, what Quality of Life in WoW boils down to is simple—it’s all about expectations. So if I’m asked about my Quality of Life on my resto shaman, to me that’s like being asked if it’s everything I expected it to be. And therein lies the problem, because at this point in the game, I don’t think anyone knows what to expect of the shaman class. Least of all, me.
Edit: Forgot to include the link to my comments on the Shaman feedback thread! Vixsin’s Class Feedback, and also there were some good ones from Yibsu , Jinto , Ranixxi , and Mistiya . I’m sure there were a number on the EU side of the house as well; I’ve yet to start pouring through that thread!