(With only a proposed 3 weeks until patch 5.2 hits and the Throne of the Thunder is unlocked, I’m not sure the topic of this post is going to be entirely relevant but … what the hell, I spent time writing it so I’m just going to get it out there just in case it isn’t too late to see some useful change).
Something I obsess over in the weeks preceding a new patch and then promptly forget about until progression is mostly done, set bonuses are the one-size-fits-all Snuggy of the raiding world. Designed as an answer to a question that hasn’t yet been asked (and might not ever be), the implication is always that more pieces equal more power. But, as any class would point out, set bonuses don’t always hit the mark. And naturally, that’s to be expected, because designing something that helps every player equally is a nigh impossible task.
That being said, I do think there’s still valuable information that can be found in the tier solutions of the past. Resto Shaman are not a particularly complex class–we were long known as 1-button wonders–but in recent years we’ve seen our class splinter a slight bit due to the impacts of raid sizing on our “niche” strengths. And it’s in that regard that I think the decisions of tiers past become important in figuring out just how to give us a helping hand going forward.
Learning from Tiers Past
Since the start of Wrath, when a distinct effort was made to pull us away from Chain Heal spam, Resto Shaman have had two very distinct toolboxes—one that favors single-target spells and one that favors AOE spells. This is not unique from the divisions that exist in other classes between their AOE and single-target toolsets. A druid healing a tank might use less Rejuv and more Regrowth, while a Priest healing a raid will use less Flash Heal and more Prayer of Healing. But what makes shaman unique is that it’s not only assignment that determines our healing style, but also the design of the fight and the raid size.
As a result, it’s not uncommon to see a fight where a shaman has a “raid” healing assignment but still defers to a majority of single-target spells. Likewise, it’s not uncommon to see a distinct difference between the healing distribution of a 10-man shaman versus a 25-man shaman, even on the same fight with the same general healing assignment. It’s the ability to easily flow between these two styles, without a significant loss of throughput, that I’ve long regarded as one of the strengths (and fun elements) of the class.
As you would expect, set bonuses have struggled with how to address two very divergent playstyles. In Wrath, although inroads were made to synergize the toolsets, we still didn’t see much overlap between the two healing styles. And so, set bonuses that we might look at today and consider to be beneficial to both styles, were in fact very specialized (with the exception of T7).
- Tier 7 2pc: Your Water Shield is 10% stronger.
- Tier 7 4pc: Increases the healing done by your Chain Heal and Healing Wave by 5%.
- Tier 8 2pc: Reduces the cooldown on Riptide by 1 sec.
- Tier 8 4pc: Reduces the cast time of Chain Heal by 0.2 sec.
- Tier 9 2pc: Increases the healing done by your Riptide spell by 20%.
- Tier 9 4pc: Increases the critical strike chance of your Chain Heal spell by 5%.
- Tier 10 2pc: Your Riptide spell grants 20% spell haste for your next spellcast within 10 sec.
- Tier 10 4pc: Your Chain Heal critical strikes cause the target to heal for 25% of the healed amount over 9 sec.
Looking at the above, do you notice how, with the exception of T7, every 2pc bonus buffs Riptide while every 4pc bonus buffs Chain Heal? I have no way of knowing if this is a result of a deliberate design decision to have the sets only address those spells, but I will say that it’s quite the coincidence that it also reflects the spells which served as the core of the of two different healing styles. I remember that from Naxx until ICC, I maintained two very distinct gearsets for raiding that I would swap based on what size raid I was participating in (since, like many progression raiders, I did multiple runs a week to maximize drops, up to 4 a week during ICC). Crit/haste was for 10’s, because there I used RT-LHW/HW, while regen/haste was for 25’s, because there I used CH almost exclusively. (Because we still couldn’t get away from our iconic ability).
But in Cata we saw more spells introduced into the shaman arsenal, and as a result, the lines between those two very distinct healing styles began to blur just a slight bit. HR, our new AOE heal, was useful in some 10-man encounters, while HW and RT saw their prevalence increase in 25-man raids due to both the presence of triage and the design of certain encounters. And, assumedly because of this shift, we saw set bonuses depart a slight bit from the Wrath structure of 2pc for 10s and 4pc for 25s. Cataclysm’s set bonuses, for the most part, were ones that bridged the gap:
- Tier 11 2pc: Increases the critical strike chance of your Healing Wave spell by 5%.
- Tier 11 4pc: Grants 540 Spirit for 6 sec after you cast Riptide.
- Tier 12 2pc: Your periodic healing from Riptide has a 40% chance to restore 1% of your base mana each time it heals a target.
- Tier 12 4pc: Your Chain Heal spell no longer consumes your Riptide effect on the primary target.
- Tier 13 2pc: After using Mana Tide Totem, the cost of your healing spells are reduced by 25% for 15 sec.
- Tier 13 4pc: Increases the duration of Spiritwalker’s Grace by 5 sec, and you gain 30% haste while Spiritwalker’s grace is active.
Of these set bonuses, I think two are really important to consider. First, Tier 12 4pc is important because of how out of place it was in a series of set bonuses that transcended raid size. T11 2pc’s crit strike on HW? Good for both raid sizes, and especially at the start of a tier that emphasized triage. T11 4pc’s more spirit/regen after Riptide? Great for both 10 and 25s, and for underscoring the importance of Ritpide in any shaman rotation. But a CH-specific bonus? Not only was this bonus out of place in 10’s, where CH is situational and hardly a staple heal, but the bonus also managed to be situational in 25’s—CH’s core audience—because almost every fight in that tier had players spreading out across big environments in response to fight mechanics which had them soaking, fleeing, moving and dodging. (Shannox, Alysrazor, Baleroc, Domo, and half of Rag, 4.5 of the 7 fights of the tier, had me using an RT-GHW/HS rotation … in 25’s!).
In stark contrast to T12 4pc, was a set bonus that I would select as my favorite over all the tiers of raiding: Tier 13’s 4pc, which gave me a personal Bloodlust every 2 minutes. Power aside, it was usable and applicable in both raid sizes, with any rotation, and during any kind of fight. It was broadly applicable, without coaxing me to use another playstyle or go through contortions to optimize its use.
Tier 14, an Inauspicious Start
Coming off the high of Tier 13 bonuses, I think it’s reasonable to concede that almost anything short of completely OP would have been a let-down for Pandaria’s starting tier. New expansions are always a tumultuous time for players’ sentiments, as they find themselves no longer in easy farm content mode where big numbers rule, but instead back at the beginning once more, questing, leveling, gearing, farming, and learning to play their class again. It’s arguably not a time for flashy or divisive tier bonuses, and that is precisely what we got:
- Tier 14 2pc: Reduces the mana cost of your Greater Healing Wave spell by 10%.
- Tier 14 4pc: Your Tidal Waves ability grants an additional 5% cast time reduction to Healing Wave and Greater Healing Wave, and an additional 5% critical chance to Healing Surge.
But the interesting thing about these tier bonuses is that, while arguably beneficial, their applicability to Resto Shamans’ two healing styles was quite disparate. To give you an idea of the differences, I pulled two WoL parses from back in December, one from a run of 10-man HM MSV and one from a subsequent week’s run of 25-man HM MSV. Looking only at data from boss kills, I tallied the total healing done from each source and then grouped it by category—single-target healing, AOE, totem healing and other. Healing done by Earthliving was distributed into the single-target and AOE healing categories based on the ratio of healing done by the category / sum of healing for both categories; Restorative Mists was left in “other”. Ultimately, when the dust settled, I was left with the following totals:
|MSV HM 10-man||20,326,230||15,074,778||9,848,373||3,886,924|
|MSV HM 25-man||26,574,220||36,247,635||17,143,708||11,314,674|
Admittedly, I was a little shocked to see that the percentage of healing from each source was so perfectly aligned, with single-target and AOE healing being flip-flopped between the two raid sizes. And, I was a little more shocked to find that of the single-target healing above, GHW did a similar amount of healing in each data set (5.6M in 10-man and 5.2M in 25-man). But, what I wasn’t shocked to see and what I wanted to highlight here, is the ~10% spread between the two healing styles—a spread that is actually lessened by the fact that 25-msn MSV has two fights (Stone Guard and Gara’jal) where single-target is the rotation de jour.
“But, what about a pure AOE healing fight?” you might ask, because surely on a fight where players are more grouped up and taking raid-wide damage, the healing tools for Resto Shaman in the two raid sizes should be similar. Well, I don’t have quite the options in terms of data sets for that one, but I do have a 10-man HM Vizier kill from the end of December that I can use as a reference. Compared to a HM Vizier 25-man kill a mere 6 days prior, here is the distribution of healing (using the same constraints as above):
|Vizier HM 10-man||9,338,826||7,398,792||5,724,815||2,765,280|
|Vizier HM 25-man||5,354,604||9,048,507||6,670,578||4,593,827|
As you can see, the spread gets even bigger—8% separates single- and multi-target heals in 10-man, but in 25-man the spread is 14%, with an even more substantial contribution coming in the form of Restorative Mists, which is what is bumping up the “Other” category so substantially. And this is on what, I think, most would consider an AOE fight that favors Resto Shaman.
In the end, the take-away from all of this should be that, these days, if a set bonus is centered on specific type of Shaman healing, then the benefit that the bonus provides in going to be noticeably inconsistent between the two raid sizes.
Tier 15 Evaluation
So, the question of the hour becomes—how should this data and these past experiences inform the set bonuses for Resto Shaman in Tier 15? Well, in light of everything I’ve just blathered on about, let’s take a look at those bonuses again:
- Tier 15 2pc: Your Healing Stream Totem now heals an additional target for 25% of its normal amount.
- Tier 15 4pc: Your Ancestral Awakening now has a 50% chance to trigger on non-critical heals.
Obviously, for shaman who have been taking care to get the most out of HST over the past tier, the T15 2pc is going to be an easy way to increase its healing done by up to 25% (not accounting for overhealing). As bonuses go, it’s a solid one that won’t tip the scales and will lend a little additional assistance through its smart healing. But, since it was announced, it has been the 4pc that has given me the most cause for concern.
(Note: I apologize for not having logs to offer at this point. I ran some of the testing and an LFR with the T15 4pc, with the intent of having some WoL examples to draw from, but WoL is having difficulties parsing the T15 logs at the moment, so I don’t have sample data to offer outside of screenshots. /sadpanda)
Firstly, I’m concerned because the success and benefit of the 4pc bonus are tied to the use of single-target heals, which as we saw in the preceding section, have very different usage percentages depending on raid size. To give you an example, if I were using the T15 4pc on this week’s HM Elite Protectors kill, my only gain would have been from potential AA procs from the initial cast of Riptide and the 3, yes only 3, single-target heals that I cast. So let’s do a little math:
- First, let’s look at how much the T15 4pc gives you. Assuming 20% critical chance, this means that on any single-target spell I would have an 80% chance to score a non-critical heal, which would then have a 50% chance to proc AA, which would net me a 30% heal based on the original amount. So, 0.8 x 0.5 x 0.3 = 12% increase on non-critical heals.
- Next, let’s look at how much of my healing in this example could have procced that 4pc. Riptide did 3,482,933 healing. Assuming that 25% of that healing done was by the initial cast and that of that portion, 20% were critical strikes, this leaves us with 3,482,933 x 0.25 x 0.8 = 696,587. Add in the three single-target heals I cast, none of which were critical strikes, and you have 818,485 total healing which could have procced a non-crit AA.
- This leaves us with 818,485 x 0.5 x 0.3 = 122,773 potential non-critical AA healing, which would have been a ~0.3% increase in my healing done for this encounter. In other words, I could get that same amount of throughput through the use of a single healthstone charge.
Now arguably, in this particular occasion where I am wearing the T14 4pc, that set bonus did absolutely diddly-squat for me as well. But, that’s kinda my point. Inconsistent application is going to be a given when considering healing assignments and, more importantly, varying playstyles. But inconsistent application of a 4pc set bonuses shouldn’t have a potential zero value when you’re healing “the way you should be” for a given encounter. If a paladin doesn’t have Beacon on a target and loses out on his set bonus for an entire fight, that’s not an “alternate playstyle”, that’s just lack of understanding of the class. If you’re not using Thunder Focus tea as a Mistweaver, or Rejuv as a Druid, that’s not an “alternate playstyle”, that’s just poor utilization of the tools of the class. But using a universally accepted raid-healing Resto Shaman rotation and missing out an entire set bonus as a result? I have to raise an eyebrow at that.
But, my second cause for concern, and what seems to me to be the obvious rebuttal of the example above is … what if the reason that we’re seeing our set bonus tied to single-target healing is because we can expect to see a significant amount of single-target healing across both raid sizes? Honestly, that idea worries me a lot more than missing out on a bonus because I’m using a CH-HR-RT rotation. Because, if that’s the case, then it would mean that we’re looking at another instance where spread raids are the default condition and Resto Shamans’ gimped-as-all-fucking-hell spread raid healing (in other words: single-target healing) is left to handle the load.
And, although I’ve seen only 6 of the 12 of the fights in 10-man, what I’ve seen in the large majority of those encounters are mechanics that encourage and/or force you to spread out in order to mitigate incoming damage. In that regard, the 4pc was helpful (I have screenshots of my meter showing AA between 8-12% of total healing done), but truth be told, it wasn’t enough to keep me from trailing noticeably behind other healers when players were spread. It was incredibly frustrating to be casting a GHW after raid damage went out only to see an Uplift, PoH, Cascade, WG, or LoD go off, and know that it was the far more efficient solution than the one that shamans have been working with since those early days of Wrath.
Thankfully, I don’t think we’re going to have to wait all that long to get a more complete picture of the performance of T15 across Resto’s very distinct (and applicable, natch) healing styles and across both raid sizes. 10-man testing has been plentiful thus far, although the recent forays into 10-man HM has me wondering if devs are trying to set new records for The Amount of Things that Can 1-Shot You. And the heartening thing, for those 10-man raiders who have made it thus far in this post, is that I do think the 2pc and the 4pc will be noticeably helpful.
But it remains to be seen if: a) it’s going to be enough to bolster a chronic, nagging, and insufficiently addressed weakness, and b) if the weakness will also manifest in 25s, where more specialization is possible due to larger healing teams. With 25-man testing forthcoming in the weeks before 5.2 launch, we shall see. And I’m hoping that developers will either have sufficient data to substantiate changing the T15 4pc bonus to something a bit more well-rounded or sufficient data to wave in my face while saying “We told you so”. If it’s the former, then I’d hope for something that harkens back to T11 and T13, and draws on the overarching nature of those bonuses. But if it’s the latter, then I’d hope that someone, somewhere makes a small note in the margin or maybe underlines one that already exists, saying that Resto Shaman desperately need to be rid of the yoke of being the “niche clumped up healer”. Because if more AA splash is the answer to our “spread raid” healing problems, then that should be sufficient demonstration of the gap in our arsenal, one that I’ve been pointing and yelling about long before I wrote this post in the months leading up to MoP.
Either way, I’ll be looking forward to the time ahead and the amazing instance that will house the next progression push. Because come hell, high water, Garrosh, or single-target raid healing, I’ll be there when the doors open.