If there’s anything I’ve discovered over my years of blogging, it’s that we authors can be a volatile bunch, dedicated and sometimes overly devout to the causes that have in some way shaped our experiences in WoW. Positive experiences are plentiful, and although cause for a celebratory post or two, it’s typically the problems that we encounter that inspire some of the most passionate and kneejerk responses. Such was my reaction to a recent Dev comment in the Beta Class Balance thread that suggested that Resto Shamans’ challenges of healing a spread raid, challenges which will persist into Mists, are different but acceptable mechanic of the class. And the question that Ghostcawler’s statement begged, “Where do you draw the line between a weakness and a gap, when it comes to class balance?”, has been rattling around in my mind ever since.
For numerous fights over the past two expansions, Resto Shaman have relied on single-target, Tidal Waves powered heals to respond to raid-wide damage that could not be addressed through Chain Heal, and then through Healing Rain. In 25s, this gap in Resto Shamans’ toolkits is often masked by the presence of a larger melee team, which enables raid groups to assign Resto Shaman to heal a specific group of clumped players (which has long been considered a “strength” of the class). However, in 10s, the problem is more starkly highlighted because there are rarely sufficiently grouped players to assure a consistent 4-hit CH. Spread raid healing was a topic that was discussed at great length during the mid-Cataclysm player feedback threads and was highlighted by developers during several Q&A sessions and blue posts, so it is of particular concern to Resto Shaman who are coming off of an expansion where our performance was oftentimes lacking.
Mists of Pandaria
In Mists, the problem of healing a spread raid is addressed through several means—a) Tier talents: Healing Tide Totem and Ancestral Guidance, b) Spells: Ascendance, c) Totems: Healing Stream Totem, and d) Glyphs: Glyph of Riptide and Glyph of Chaining. Given that (a) and (b) are tied to standard CDs, they really don’t constitute baseline solutions, but rather represent low-uptime, high-power tools to be used on a more selective basis. So although they do aid in addressing the problem (hence why I mentioned them), they are no more a “raid healing solution” than Divine Hymn or Tranquility. Healing Stream Totem (c) is in a more unique position, because of its 30-second CD, but again suffers from being a low HPS, uncontrollable heal, similar to Ancestral Awakening, making it nice to have, but not something that will significantly impact your ability to handle AOE damage on a spread raid.
Thus, the burden of a solution lies in the combined forces of (d) Glyphed Riptide and Chain Heal, which augment both spells to make them “spread raid friendly”, while also diminishing their throughput in order to offset the improved application. As I have experienced, there are several problems with this as a solution:
- First, the pairing of these glyphs is punitive in fights where both spread and collapse conditions are present. Forcing Resto Shaman into this situation isn’t asking us to make informed healing decisions; it’s asking us to take a gamble and sacrifice our flexibility to respond to dynamic raid environments.
- Second, because the spread raid dynamic is present more often in 10s than in 25s simply by virtue of raid density, these two glyphs will likely be considered necessary for shaman on the smaller raid teams to offer their group the same tools afforded to other healers. Although that will be contingent upon the point below being addressed …
- Third, Glyph of Chaining effectively introduces a ~6.5sec window in between heals, which the spell is decidedly not balanced around. At present, Chain Heal has two effective reductions in its power—the first being its long cast time and the second being its depreciation in spellpower per hit. By introducing a cooldown on the spell, the power diminishes significantly. Let’s say that my CH hits 4 targets for a total of 29k healing. With a 2.5sec cast time, this would give it an HPS of 11,600. Now, when I go into Mists with the same spellpower and use Glyph of Chaining, my 2.5-sec denominator becomes 6.5sec, which makes the HPS of the spell 4,462. That’s a reduction of ~61.5% in exchange for added jump distance. Even worse, you can theoretically achieve nearly identical HPS for relatively the same mana cost by using RTx2 + HSx2 + HW in the same 6.5sec timeframe (versus CH + HSx2 + RT).
- Fourth, Glyph of Riptide fundamentally changes the application and usage of the spell, moving it from something that emphasizes spell-weaving in order to maintain Tidal Waves, to a spammable hot (a la Rejuv). And although the baseline effective healing is less per cast, something I noted in a previous post, that lower HPS can be made up in the ability to use the spell more frequently. The unfortunate thing is that “more frequent” usage is translating to a lot more frequently for most Beta testers. In some parses that I’ve looked through, shaman have recorded over 50% or more healing done with Riptide alone. And as happy as I am to see us doing somewhat well in testing (excluding the comparison to Mistweavers), I’m absolutely dismayed by the fact that this one glyph obliterates the flow of Resto Shaman healing. (It’s also worth noting that Glyphed Riptide does not currently proc AA, a small loss in throughput, nor does not proc Resurgence, creating a greater strain on the shaman’s regen).
Further highlighting the problem that Resto Shaman are facing is the fact that, throughout healers’ arsenals in Mists (to a lesser extent on Live), we see distinct solutions for handling AOE healing spread raids v. collapsed raids:
- Priests – Prayer of Healing or Circle of Healing or Halo/Cascade v. Sanctuary or Divine Star (and Holy Nova?)
- Paladins – Light of Dawn v. Holy Radiance or Light’s Hammer/Holy Prism
- Druids – Wild Growth v. Swiftmend or Mushrooms
- Monks – Renewing Mist or Uplift v. Chi Burst or Chi Wave or Spinning Crane
- Shaman – (Glyphed) Chain Heal v. (Unglyphed) Chain Heal or Healing Rain
But, as you can see, Resto Shaman in Mists fundamentally lack this distinction—Healing Rain remains unchanged as our powerful, and incredibly expensive, stacked-raid solution, while CH is moved to a role as a switch-hitter. Riptide, glyphed or unglyphed, remains usable in either setup, although you will be arguably more pressured to use the Glyph when healing a spread raid. However, even when you consider the option that Glyph of Chaining offers, you also see that our approach to raid healing will remain remarkably the same—we’ll hit CH on CD and then … fill with single-target. It’s the same thing that Paladins were doing in Tier 11 with Holy Radiance + Holy/Divine Light filler, only on a shorter timeline.
Finding a Solution
All this being said, I think it’s important to recognize that there is a balancing act being performed here. There’s no doubt in my mind that if CH went unchecked (ie: if its baseline jump range was doubled with no downside) that it would likely push us back to an environment where spell weaving was forsaken for pure CH spam, which is as undesirable as us becoming RT-spambots. And, I also understand the aversion to adding spells with overlapping purpose into the shaman toolbox, which is delightfully simple and yet has such a high level of interdependence between all of its working elements. But, I also know that the feeling that I get when raid testing in 10s is not the same one I had when I saw how developers had responded to other Resto Shaman issues like survivability or self-tuning. At the best of times I walk away frustrated, and at the worst of times I walk away fuming, as I continue to utilize a playstyle that was acknowledged (and shown) as not being competitive in multiple tiers. As I’ve said time and time before, I’m not interested in a free win; I just want to be able to be competitive.
So what could reasonably be done to address this issue, given the confines above? I’m afraid I could fill a whole post with the ideas that fit that bill and not come close to the multitude of creative suggestions that I’ve seen:
- Supplement the Resto Shaman toolbox with a cast-time based hot that centers on one player but splashes to X players within 20 yards.
- Retool Healing Stream Totem (which is pretty brainless in its current iteration—we’re just going to be dropping it on CD for the small HPS boost) to heal multiple (X) targets and be stronger the further away you are.
- Augment Chain Heal so that if doesn’t bounce to other players (as it often doesn’t in smaller raid sizes), that (x% healing / # of targets) is applied to each of the players who were hit.
- Change Unleash Earthliving to an AOE proximity heal (which would make it meaningful to use in conjunction with the Level 90 talent, Unleashed Fury). Or, modify Unleash Earthliving so that any hots on the primary target are duplicated to X targets within X yards.
As it stands, I think it speaks volumes that, despite the changes that have been made over the past 4 years of WoW, I will enter into Mists with the same solution to healing a spread-out raid as I used in Ulduar and every Tier since. It is the same solution that was deemed unfulfilling for Holy Paladins after they spent the entirety of WotLK raid healing with Glyph of Holy Light. And yet, despite the concerted effort to make sure that every healer has the tools to heal every fight, the shaman remain constrained by our iconic spell, and tied to the same rhetoric:
… when your groups are tight and the damage is coming in constantly … then CH is a great spell. (From 6/4/2009)
… Resto shaman look great on fights where everyone can cluster for Healing Rain and Chain Heal and any time everyone stays very wounded for very long. (From 6/18/2012)
The problem is … when that first quote was put out into the ether, there was no Holy Radiance, Light of Dawn, Efflorescence, HW: Sanctuary, Healing Mushrooms, or any of the new range-focused healing mechanics that I listed above. It was appropriate and incredibly accurate to say that Shaman had a niche then–Chain Heal was a unique AOE ability. But (thankfully), that’s no longer the case. Cataclysm went to great lengths to ensure that every healer had an adequate toolbox, bringing in those aforementioned spells and the Holy Trinity in the name of healer parity (and even acknowledging the necessity of raid cooldowns in Patch 4.1). Mists is taking that one step further, and refining arsenals and personal CDs in ways that I think every healing class has hoped for. Through the last expansion and the coming one, Blizzard has redefined what it means to be a healer, breaking the molds the rigidly defined our job descriptions–”tank healer”, “raid healer”, “hots”, “single-target”, etc. With Mists, we are ever closer to be defined by a single job description–”healer”.
So where do I draw the line between a gap in our arsenal and a weakness in our class? When it keeps designers from designing great encounters like those in Firelands and those in Sunwell for fear of highlighting class disparities. When it keeps players on the bench because they lack a raid CD. When it’s easier to bring in my alt than continue on my main. When it keeps me from doing the job that I want to do.
(As an aside, a huge nod to Sensations and everyone who has been contributing to his thread on the Beta forums: 10m Restoration Shaman(Spread Healing). I actually didn’t stumble on it until after I finished putting together the majority of this post, and it was heartening to feel not so alone after all.)