If anyone had any doubt in their mind about Blizzard’s commitment to speeding up patch releases, I think it has been firmly extinguished with the flood of PTR data hitting WoW websites in the last month. In conjunction with the much-debated nerf to Firelands content and recent PTR testing, it seems like it won’t be long until we find ourselves facing the adversary that taunted us since last December. (Yes, it’s only been a year!) For Resto Shaman, and actually shaman in general, patch 4.3 is looking to herald some major changes to the class, some of which have me scratching my head and others that have me screaming “hallelujah!”
(This is actually going to be a two-part post, with the below discussion about the proposed Resto Shaman adjustments in 4.3, and part II, a discussion about healer parity. As is common, verbosity got the better of me, and what was intended to be a mere conclusion paragraph for this post morphed into something worthy of its own page. So stay tuned!)
Tier 13 Resto Bonuses
Restoration, 2P — After using Mana Tide Totem, the cost of your healing spells are reduced by 25% for 15 sec.
Restoration, 4P — Increases the duration of Spiritwalker’s Grace by 5 sec, and you gain 30% haste while Spiritwalker’s grace is active.
My sentiment on both the 2pc and the 4pc is divided at present, and let me tell you why. First off, I think the way the bonuses are designed constitutes acknowledgement of two of Resto Shamans biggest shortcomings in this expansion—lack of adequate regen and lack of burst capacity. The fact that our T13 bonuses are designed to address those two issues is amazing. However, what has me confused and ultimately worried is that both of the T13 bonuses seem misaligned to the element that they’re tied to.
When looking at 2pc T13, (and I do hate to say this), I don’t think that there was sufficient consideration given to how Resto Shaman use Mana Tide, only that the developers needed to tie a mana savings to a regular CD. So, while on paper, a reduction of healing spells’ costs after you drop Mana Tide might seem like a good thing, there are a couple factors which make the idea less than ideal. Firstly, MT is something you need to optimize, so most shaman looking to get the greatest mana return for themselves and their team will drop MT as early as possible during an encounter, and then on CD after that point. Generally, I try to make sure I time it for when healers are clumped up, so no one misses out, which means I tend to drop MT when things aren’t as intense, and when I see that my healing teammates can benefit from the mana. (Remember, they have their own independent regen sources to utilize, so Resto Shaman should always be mindful of overlap with a Priest’s Fiend, Druid’s Innervate, or Paladin’s Plea, lest some of that mana restore goes to waste).
This ties into the second issue with the 2pc–MT is not something you drop when you’re about to dump mana because you’re typically too busy setting up your heals, moving into position, etc. Moreso, the times at which I want to save mana, are not necessarily aligned with those times where I think it’s ideal to restore mana. I want to save mana when I’m cycling through my most expensive heals (HR+CH spam), but who’s to say that those periods align with the CD of MT? To me, it would make more sense if T13’s 2pc simply buffed the shaman’s own regen for a period after dropping Tide, so that we’d see a constant benefit and would be afforded the opportunity to choose appropriate timing for us and our teammates.
Now when it comes to Resto Shamans’ 4pc, the only thing that I can say is … about time. Given that Spiritwalker’s Grace has a short 2min CD with a 15sec duration, this amounts to a personal BL every time it’s cast. And more haste, as all resto shaman will admit, is a tasty thing indeed. This 4pc will constitute a substantial boost to throughput, when used appropriately AND provided that the fights are designed to allow us to optimize high-throughput combinations, like HR+CH. However, the one objection I have is that, again, the 30% haste buff is tied to a spell we use to address our lowest throughput moments. So Restos will need to be very careful to plan out fights so that they aren’t caught with SWG on CD when there’s a ton of movement to be done. From the PTR testing I’ve done thus far, on both normals and hard modes, it seems that we’ll have ample opportunity to capitalize on this bonus.
Lastly, I feel inclined to point out … as we work our way towards the T13 bonuses, Resto Shaman need to bear in mind that we’ll be losing out on the T12 4pc bonus in the process, which not only constituted a change in playstyle for resto shaman using the 4pc (which is now a playstyle that we will have to unlearn … *sigh* … thanks for that), but also netted those of us a significant boost in HPS, which we’ll be losing when we upgrade. 10-man Resto Shaman will have to forgive me on this point, since you’ve been suffering under an ill-designed 4pc all tier long, and thus have been seeing a lot less HPS boost than those of us in 25s. You will be happy to know though, that even on 10s, there are a handful of T13 fights that favor heavy CH+HR usage.
Beyond the points above, the only other objection that I can possibly muster on these T13 bonuses is that I intensely dislike perks that require contortions or optimization to take advantage of. Where every other healing class is assured a passive gain (source) –druids have a proc chance, paladins a flat healing increase, and priests a gain to shields/mana/spells—we’re forced to make a weighted decision once again. In Tier 12, we had to change our healing style to optimize our 4pc. In Tier 13, we’ll be asked to choose between being able to cast and move or maximizing throughput. And while these decisions might seem like “fun” or “valuable” choices, in reality, I’m starting to become ever more aware of just how much Resto Shamans are being asked to manage and adapt in order to stay competitive.
Wind Shear CD Increased
Although I was tempted, upon first reading about the WS nerf, to be critical about the change’s impact to PVE content, I really don’t think that critics have much to cry about on this one. Yes, the increase of WS’s CD will impact Resto Shamans’ ability to be reliable interrupters in raid groups, but I feel obliged to ask “were many of us dedicated interrupters in the first place?” Likely not. (Yes, some of you will argue that you were and that you did it well, in which case someone else will need to step up to the task). So although I can understand that this change will impact those few of us who played critical roles on select encounters in T11 and T12, the greatest impact will be on Resto Shamans’ dominance in PVP. And if I understand the sentiment on Arena Junkies, this nerf has been a long time coming.
Riptide HoT increased
Even after the acknowledgment that Resto Shamans are, once again, falling behind other healers in terms of HPS and performance, the sole healing buff in store for us come 4.3 is an increase to the healing done with Riptide’s periodic healing:
Riptide’s periodic healing coefficient has been increased by 50%. The initial direct heal is unchanged.
As always, I’m skeptical that this change is going to be the one that brings us in line with other healers, because a harder-hitting hot on a 6-second CD is still a spell on a 6-second CD. In general, RT can be rolling on 3 players at any given time (technically, depending on your haste, you’ll have overlap on a 4th target for a couple seconds), so its benefit is limited by its CD. For me personally, RT’s hot is ticking for 2k base and 5k critical, and even on our first HM Rag kill, was clocking 40% overhealing. (To put that in perspective, our druid’s Rejuv overhealing on the kill was about the same). So, I’m a slight bit confused as to why developers believe that a buff to a spell with almost 50% overhealing is a normalizing change.
My skepticism is further increased when we consider that we’re moving towards a healing environment where healers are flush on mana, and thus can turn to less efficient spells to handle incoming damage. In this type of environment, hots become less powerful unless they’re applied in a blanket approach—druids can attest that this is why Rejuv spam became the go-to healing method late in Wrath. And unless damage is such that hots can be allowed to tick freely, the healing boost will have little effect on total throughput, insteading contributing a portion of its increase into overhealing done.
In the handful of PTR raids that I’ve done thus far (on 10s and 25s), I have seen a slight increase in RT’s percent healing done—it’s averaging 15-20% healing done per encounter, with 30-40% overhealing (sample parse). But to be quite honest, the throughput contribution simply isn’t substantial enough to close the gap created by Paladin’s Holy Radiance spam, Priests’ super-charged Divine Hymn, and Druid’s onslaught of hots.
Try as I might, I fear I simply couldn’t muster the excitement that some of my Resto Shaman peers are sharing when it comes to our newly-revamped Ancestral Healing talent:
Your critical heals reduce physical damage taken by 10% for 15 sec, and heals you cast increase allies’ maximum health by 10% of the amount healed, up to a maximum of 10% of their health.
Remember that the spell, as it currently stands on live, simply reduces damage taken by a certain %, so long as Ancestral Fortitude is on the target. In its new incarnation, a target affected by Ancestral Fortitude (the damage reduction buff) will now also gain Ancestral Vigor, which will be applied at the moment of the critical heal and can be refreshed by subsequent critical heals on a target.
Unfortunately, I’m less than impressed with this new “buff” to Resto Shaman after having seen it in action during PTR testing. This is firstly because the talent results in absolutely no net healing increase, and artificially inflates healing numbers to reflect “effective” healing that will be lost when the Ancestral Vigor buff expires. Further, WoW’s combat log even fails to track the temporary HP increase granted by Ancestral Vigor, meaning the most that it can show me is that a player gained X number of stacks over the course of an encounter. Do I know if that helped him survive something? No. Do I know how much HP the target gained? No again. Do I know if I provided any value at all? Nope.
The second bone I have to pick with Ancestral Vigor is what happens when the buff falls off—both your actual HP and your Max HP are adjusted by the amount of “extra” HP granted by AV. If your target is at max HP when AV falls off, then he remains at max HP (albeit at his now lower Max HP value). However, if your target is less than full HP, say at 130k / 135k, and AV is granting him 10k max HP, then after AV falls off the target will drop to 120k / 125k. So whatever healing he gained during the period when AV was active, is lost. Aside from being a mind-boggling design decision—because it truly makes any healing done between the actual max HP and buffed max HP value PURE meter padding—it also means that you could potentially run into an issue if the target takes a fairly big hit right before AV falls off. (Like say, a tank on Baleroc).
And the last issue that I have with AV … there’s no benefit if you bring multiple shamans. Presumably, while each shaman could refresh the application of AV, the benefit of this buff is reduced for every shaman you bring to raid. So if you bring 3 shaman, the gain is the same as if you only brought one (again, with maybe slightly more uptime on the buff). To me, and to my resto shaman brethren still struggling to put on a good show, this harkens back to the days of Vanilla WoW, when hots were exclusive to the target, not the healer. (For those who didn’t play in Vanilla, in those days, no matter the number of priests or druids you had in raid, a target could only have 1 version of each hot on them. So if druid #2 or priest #3 threw up a Renew or Lifebloom when another was already present on the target, it would simply overwrite the existing hot). At this point, given the negative public perception of Restos, it’s simply mind-boggling that Blizzard’s developers would make a decision to further discourage multiple Restos being brought to raid.
So in the end, AV is a buff that I can’t track in a combat log, will reduce the target’s HP once it falls off, and provides the same benefit to a raid with three resto shaman as it does to a raid with one resto shaman. I’m sure it doesn’t come as a shock to anyone that it’s not something I’ll even been looking forward to. Quite frankly, I’m absolutely baffled as to why this idea even saw the light of day, nonetheless remained unchanged through multiple PTR patches.
It wasn’t all that long ago that GC released his own take on the state of Resto Shaman, in his Explanation of Balance Changes, Part I:
After checking in on thousands of raid attempts, we were concerned that Resto shaman were not competitive with the other healers, especially on 10 player-content and on fights where the raid needs to stay spread out. It’s okay for healers to have niches where they really shine, but we felt like Resto wasn’t experiencing enough of these. We buffed Riptide outright and gave Ancestral Healing a new mechanic of boosting the target’s max health. These buffs are also intended to help offset some of the loss of Wind Shear for PvP.
If the above comments sound familiar to you, let me refresh your memory with the Blues’ comments on 4.0.6 healing balance, released mid-February 2011:
We think that shaman healing per second is not as competitive with other healers and while we hoped to bring down Holy priest and Holy paladins (in particular) in 4.0.6, which we did, shaman still appear to be behind. In this case, it is simply easier to buff Restoration shaman rather than nerf everyone else or rebalance the encounters.
So as much as I want to look to 4.3 on the horizon and see a patch that will finally alleviate some of the low PVE performance issues that resto shaman have been battling against FOR AN ENTIRE EXPANSION THANK YOU VERY MUCH, I just don’t see the answer that I’d hoped for. Believe you me, I would love to be able to point to 4.3 and say that Resto Shaman will finally have a tier where we don’t have to read these same comments again. But, the reality is that after almost a year of feeling like I’m working my ass off to just keep up with my healing teammates, my outlook isn’t all that sunny. Blizzcon was a wonderful reassurance that there is hope to be had, but with every PTR test and every revision to the 4.3 patch notes, I grow increasingly more concerned about what 4.3 holds in terms of healer parity.
But that, my friends, is a topic for another day. Stay tuned for part 2 of this post: Tier 13 and Resto Shaman: Thoughts on our Final Chance at Parity (Part II), soon™!