It seems like just yesterday that I was finding my way through Pandaria, leveling up through a world of new zones and getting acclimated with our newest tools. But, here it is on the launch of the second tier of the expansion, and I can hardly believe that it’s been over 5 months since we took those first tentative steps on a new continent. Like many others, I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed by the thought of a new content patch so soon; my MoP bucket list has been growing since late September and will likely balloon even more in the time ahead. (Who ever thought I’d complain about too much content? Sheesh!)
But, fortunately, Patch 5.2 doesn’t contain any groundbreaking changes for Resto Shaman, but rather some slight modifications to our toolset. So those of you who might be worried about having to make significant changes to your gameplay as you launch into Throne of Thunder—don’t fret. There will be some slight tweaks to make as a result of these changes, but the core of Resto will stay quite solid. To help you get an idea of what to expect, I’ve put together a handful of tidbits about class changes, what to expect in the actual raid instance, and what gearing options will become available.
Resto Shaman Changes
Most of the changes that are being put in place for Resto Shaman in 5.2 are actually changes to the class as a whole and not just our spec. (Patch 5.2 Notes can be found here). I’ve divided this section into two parts—changes that should make you sit up and take notice and changes that you should make note of but which won’t have that big an impact on your gameplay. So, let’s get to that first category:
- Stone Bulwark – buffed to offer 25% more absorption. SBT was a favorite of mine in Tier 14, especially on fights with continuous damage, and will likely be even more a favorite in the content to come because of its unbeatable efficiency. With a solid increase to the absorption effects, this totem should help shaman survivability a tad and provide you with a mini CD for frequent heavy hits.
- Elemental Mastery – cooldown decreased to 90 seconds. The impact of this talent is that it will now be possible to line EM up with Ascendance and Healing Tide, provided that you stagger them appropriately. For HTT, this means you’re going to be gaining a handful of additional ticks, and for Ascendance, it means that if you pre-cast and EM-powered HR, you’re going to net a ton more blanket healing on the raid. The downside of this change is that you’ll be trading in the passive 5% haste from Ancestral Swiftness, which means that you’ll need to tack on at least 2,168 more haste to meet the first breakpoint for Earthliving (if you were already above the 871 haste mark).
Now, onto those changes that, while noteworthy, won’t have as significant an impact on your gameplay:
- Nature’s Guardian – will now preserve your health increase, making it a pseudo-instant heal similar to priests’ Angelic Bulwark, triggered when you drop below 30% HP. With ~450k HP, Nature’s Guardian will result in a 112,500 heal on a 30-sec CD, making its max contribution over a 6-minute encounter (assuming it procs on CD, which it will won’t likely do) 1.35M healing done. HOWEVER, (<- note big caps here), it is unlikely that you’ll see that level of performance, so overall, SBT is going to be the better-performing option.
- Healing Rain – Mana cost reduced by 15%. If you were a shaman who was dropping HR on a very regular basis (say, every 12sec), this means that on a 6-minute encounter you’ll have an additional 116,370 mana at your disposal now. While not a huge change to shaman mana or throughput, on the premise that every little bit counts, this is a welcome change heading into the new instance.
- Conductivity – received two changes aimed at making this talent more attractive to Resto Shaman. First, the talent no longer requires that the target of the GHW, HS, or HW be in the HR; so your heals on a ranged target will still be distributed to those players in your HR. Second, the amount distributed has been increased to 30% of the healing done. Unfortunately, I don’t think this is going to have Restos flocking to the talent, because it’s still unlikely that it will rival the throughput of the powerhouse of that tier, HTT. (To put it in perspective, if one drop of HTT yielded 3M healing done, I would have to do 10M combined healing from GHW, HS, and HW in a 3-minute window, for Conductivity to yield the same throughput).
- Ancestral Guidance – now copies 60% of the amount healed to 3 nearby targets. This constitutes a 150% increase (120% v. 180%) to total throughput for the talent. Unfortunately, AG’s 2min CD creates an awkward alignment with complementary cooldowns like Elemental Mastery (1.5min CD) and Ascendance (3min CD), making it a talent more suited for situational use (a la HM Tsulong) that permanent integration into your arsenal. That being said, it’s on this list because I wouldn’t be surprised to see some good applications arise in the upcoming tier and beyond.
What to Expect in Throne of Thunder
So, beyond the shaman stuff that is coming as a part of 5.2, what can you look forward to in the newest Zandalari raid instance? Well, although the experience is nothing like the first time you exited the sewers of Black Temple and stepped into Supremus’s courtyard, one of the major things you’ll notice about Throne of Thunder is that it is HUGE. The daily quest zone surrounding it is huge, its exterior is huge, and the zones and rooms within it are huge. And once you get past the scale, the second thing you’ll notice is that it’s bloody gorgeous. Like the rest of Pandaria, the art design and detail of the instance and all its themes is just downright impressive. (And my crappy screenshots don’t even do it justice).
Okay, okay … on to the practical stuff. Based on my raid testing experiences for both NM and HM, 10s and 25s, here’s what Resto Shaman can look forward to in this new 12-boss (plus one bonus!) spectacular:
- Lots of spread raid healing. I hate it, you hate it, (okay, maybe just I hate it), but it’s going to be a big part of our world in 5.2. Most of the fights that I tested had mechanics that required or strongly encouraged players to spread out (splash damage = strong encouragement). Even in 25s, this will equate to more single-target healing making its way into your rotation. It also underscores the importance of high HST uptime, since our efficient single-target heals, GHW and HW, are notoriously slow even with the benefits of Tidal Waves and we still don’t have the regen to support a straight RT-HS rotation.
- Lots of healing, in general. While I wasn’t able to get a feel for the entire length of most encounters (since PTR testing is generally engineered to assure that you don’t kill the encounter), I think it’s fair to say that ToT isn’t going to hold many fights that feel like the main platform on Sha of Fear—healers won’t be in any danger of nodding off. Raid damage is fairly heavy in NM, which makes Healing Rain a pretty valuable staple of our rotation, and it only gets more intense on HM, where you can pretty much concede that HR should be down 100% of the time if you want to maintain competitive throughput. Which makes it especially wonderful that the fights also have …
- Lots of movement. Spread/collapse mechanics, dodge-the-bad-stuff challenges, fixate-kiting, maze-running, Alysrazor tornadoes, Rhyolith fires, Vezax’s shadowcrashes, and a host of other things will keep you on your toes. So, part of the challenge of this tier will be finding smart ways to stay stationary for longer, making the most out of Spiritwalker’s Grace, and properly placing your Healing Rain so that it isn’t just a pretty blue circle out in the middle of nowhere.
In terms of performance, with healing meters bouncing all around during testing and almost every healing class being on top at one point or another, it’s difficult to guess where the ultimate shakedown of classes will be. Resto Shaman started out strong in the early days of 5.0, but we saw ourselves slowly sink through the progression of the tier, as absorbs got stronger and more players became adept at using them. But, with the reduction of Spirit Shell stacking and the integration of more constant-damage mechanics, I do feel like it’s anyone’s game at this point. Druids felt especially strong during HM testing, so I’m really looking forward to seeing them in action.
The majority of the loot that you have to look forward to with ToT will be collected from the bosses in the instance, but a new faction–the Shado Pan Assault–will offer you some useful rewards as you progress. So, with Valor NOT being transitioned to Justice points at 5.2 launch, you should be in a position to pick up a couple of valor upgrades in your first week (or so) of raiding. Joining the likes of BC’s Ashtongue Deathsworn and Cataclysm’s Avengers of Hyjal, reputation for Shado Pan Assault will be gained through raiding. Trash will, presumably, offer some reputation up to possibly Honored, at which point, further rep progression will only be achieved through bosses (if Blizzard stays true to the Firelands rep model).
The Kirin Tor (Alliance) and Sunreavers (Horde) will also be putting in an appearance in the new zone, and will be the source of many of the new daily quests. However, with the rewards offered by these factions capping out at 496ilvl, their pieces will really only serve to augment gaps in your current gearing or catch characters up before they make their way into the new raid zone. (But a fancy Direhorn mount will keep this faction relevant even to those of us who won’t be using it for gearing).
We’ll be picking up some new bonuses in Tier 15 as well, trading GHW, HS, and HW buffs for … well … more of the same … but different! (lol):
- Tier 15 2pc: HST will gain an additional 25% healing on a second target. A straight throughput gain and something worth breaking your T14 4pc for, this bonus will be a boon to our lowest overhealing spell. In raid testing with the t15 2pc, I was consistently seeing HST as one of my top heals for every encounter.
- Tier 15 4pc: Non-critical hits of our single-target spells–GHW, HW, RT, HS, and UE–will have a 50% chance to trigger to trigger AA. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m still very much against this set bonus because of the incredible variability it sees in application. But, there’s no denying its helpfulness in an instance where raids are consistently spread. I’ts worth mentioning that the bonus will devalue crit rating (something most PVE Resto Shaman are favoring these days) but not to the point that you need to consider alternate gearing strategies.
In terms of other gear, we have some interesting trinkets to look forward to, tier with lots of haste and plenty of sockets, and even a healing fist-weapon (oh the transmog options with that one!) But, that’s a topic for another day. Suffice to say that as you make your way into the instance, you’ll want to continue prioritizing primary stat upgrades (Intellect and Spirit) over any secondary stat changes.
The Thunder King Comes
Regardless of timing, I’m quite excited to see all that Throne of Thunder has to offer the raiders of Pandaria. Blizzard set a pretty high bar for themselves with Tier 14, but with a substantial amount of bosses (remember: Firelands only had 7!) and some interesting and unique fight mechanics, ToT will, for good or for bad, definitely be a tier to remember.