Artwork by: Paul Mafayon (http://mafayon.cghub.com/)
Admittedly, since its introduction into the game with Mists of Pandaria, I have not been a fan of Glyph of Chain Heal (Chaining). “Punitive” was probably the word I used most to describe it, as the glyph itself draws heavily on the idea that a Major Glyph should affect how you play the game. And while the X-for-Y philosophy hasn’t consistently been applied through multiple iterations of the glyph system, Glyph of Chaining had always left a sour taste in my mouth because of … well, quite frankly … because of how insulting I thought it was to a class yoked to an outdated healing philosophy. Was I supposed to be excited that I was given a vastly inferior option to such spells as Wild Growth, Circle of Healing, Light of Dawn, and Renewing Mist; an option that also adversely impacted the only (crappy) niche I had?
Yeah, this is totally my excited face.
And so, with every major and minor patch, I dutifully tested Glyph of CH out on the PTR, each time confirming that it was a solution couched in the ever-present fear that, if freed of the constraints of player density, Resto Shaman would fall back on something that, presumably, haunts Blizzard developers to this day—the dreaded Chain Heal spam.
It is a fear not without some historical basis, as we saw in Trial of the Grand Crusader (Tier 9), Icecrown (Tier 10), and Dragon Soul (Tier 13). When given sufficient mana, raid damage, stacked players, and, most importantly, no other alternative, we shaman will spam the crap out of our efficient AOE heal, as we have since it was elevated from the Earthfury set bonus into an iconic ability. And so it was with these constraints that designers gave birth to Glyph of CH, the Official Half-Assed Spread AOE Healing Solution.
And yet here I am writing a post about why Glyph of CH should be given a second chance. Do let me explain …
Chain Heal, the Original
When it came into prominence in BC, Chain Heal quickly distinguished itself from the range of healer tools that existed at the time because it was an unrestricted, smart AOE heal in a world with very few AOE healing options. Wild Growth wouldn’t get introduced until 3.0.2, Prayer of Healing was a long cast time, party-only spell (and very constrained by range), and Paladins were left in the cold with no AOE to their name. The only true contender for the unrestricted AOE healing title was Priests’ Circle of Healing, which in the later days of Black Temple and Sunwell, moved into a position of significance as the only spammable, instant-cast spell in game, before a 6-sec cooldown was introduced in 3.0.2. (In fact, I distinctly recall a top World guild who favored stacking Holy Priests over Resto Shaman for Sunwell progression).
When Chain Heal moved into a less dominant position in Wrath, being forced to compete with a handful of other smart AOE heals to handle burgeoning raid damage, it was balanced around a trio of factors:
- Jump reduction, which reduced the throughput of a 3-person heal to a fraction of that amount. (In Wrath, the jump reduction was 50%. Patch 3.2 dropped it to a 40% reduction, and Mists dropped it further to a 30% reduction per jump, before abolishing it completely).
- Long cast time (2.5 sec base), which tempered the maximum output of the heal and gave Shaman a reason to love haste.
- Moderate mana cost, in order to balance the lower healing amount and ensure some spammability (because, post BC, we could no longer abuse the throughput-mana ratio through downranking).
It was with the solidification of this approach to AOE healing balance that our experience in Sunwell was irrevocably shackled to Resto Shamans’ iconic ability. At that point, Chain Heal became both a blessing and a curse—an ability that defined our “niche” in the healing world, but also existed in a constant state of tension between being used just enough and being used to the exclusion of all else. In fact, if you look at the changes that have been made to the shaman toolkit since BC, you’ll see a consistent effort to incentivize other spells (e.g.: the implementation of Tidal Waves, RT hots synergizing with CH, Unleash Life buffing the following cast, the integration of Healing Rain as a layer of AOE, etc.) and drive Restos further away from their roots of being a 1-button class.
But, because Chain Heal was used as the definition of our strength, it also defined our weakness. As fights evolved from relatively stationary execution challenges (think: Gorefiend) into the expertly-choreographed waltzes that they are today (think: Lei Shen), Resto Shaman were pushed further away from the world where CH was an appropriate, and adequate, healing tool, into one where it struggled and oftentimes failed to compete with other raid healing abilities.
Square Peg, Round Hole
Enter Glyph of Chaining. When it was introduced at the start of Mists, with the intent of helping Resto Shaman address those “un-ideal” situations for CH, there were several fundamental problems:
- The application of a 4-second CD to a spell with a loooooong base cast time meant that potential output of the spell was reduced from (x/2.5) to (x/6.5). This more than halved its baseline throughput, widening the throughput gap between it and other free-range AOE heals.
- The 4-second CD meant that Resto Shaman were reliant on spell-weaving CH with other single-target spells in order to address spread raid situations, which either forced the use of Glyph of RT or meant the shaman defaulted to other slow, single-target casts which were the antithesis of burst healing.
- In terms of throughput, Glyph of CH was actually a net loss in HPS over simply using Glyphed RT+HSx2. (Note: it was better HPM / more sustainable to use Glyph of Chaining, but still fractionally less throughput).
And the last problem that Glyph of CH had upon implementation didn’t have to do with the glyph, but rather the spell itself. In the world of Sunwell and limited AOE healing, Chain Heal was a throughput titan. But starting in Cataclysm, and coming to a head in Mists, was the problem that CH simply wasn’t keeping up when it came to AOE healing. Despite the extension of the 3-target heal to 4 players (a transition which happened post-Wrath), a buff to the baseline throughput of the spell in the early days of Cata, the added boost provided by CH consuming RT (a Tier 12 bonus that was baked into the spell in Mists), the sweeping buffs implemented in Throne of Thunder, and the continued reduction of the jump penalty across two expansions, until it was removed entirely—despite all these things—CH consistently struggled to significantly contribute to shamans’ throughput.
As you would expect, given the choice to constrain an already-weak ability even further, a number of Resto Shaman in Mists, including myself, decided that Glyph of CH simply wasn’t worth the effort. (Source)
The About Face
But, as I mentioned in the start of the post, my purpose here isn’t to get you to join me in a forum uprising over Glyph of Chaining. The purpose here today is to explain to you why, despite all the history that I just outlined and despite the fact that I remain butt-devastated (which is one up from butt-hurt) about a poorly-executed spread raid healing solution, I still believe that you should give Glyph of Chaining a try during your Siege of Orgrimmar adventures.
So here’s your motivation, in the form of three seemingly minor changes that have had a big impact on usefulness of Glyphed CH as a spread raid heal:
- Glyph of Chaining’s CD was reduced from 4 seconds to 2 seconds. So, even though you’re still taking a throughput hit (versus the non-glyphed version), you’re now at a 44% reduction instead of 62%. Further, 2 seconds is a timeframe that can easily accommodate the multitude of maintenance tasks that Resto Shaman have to manage, which already eat into your throughput in any given encounter.
- Chain Heal’s bounce penalty was removed, taking a spell that had previously been a 2.533-player heal (1 + 0.7 + 0.7^2 + 0.7^3) spread across 4 targets, and transforming it into an bona fide 4-person heal. This was effectively a 58% buff to CH’s throughput, and puts it on par with AOE spells like Circle of Healing. And while buffs are always good, the reason that this one will have a particularly good impact on CH is that it compensates Shaman in spread raid situations for oftentimes not being able to fully benefit from HR layering.
- Lastly, as of 5.3, CH jumps can occur through full-health players. Now, while this may not seem like such a big deal when people are stacked, this change makes a huge difference when players are spread out because CH can essentially use a full HP player as a bounce point to reach another player who is up to a maximum distance of 50 yards away from the primary or secondary target. So even if your second or third CH hit is pure overhealing, you’re still getting more base healing than you would have even if your old CH had hit 4 total targets (because, remember, those 4 targets would get 2.533x whereas a 3-target CH hit now results in 3x).
The net effect of these changes is that Glyph of Chaining is definitely a more viable tool in many situations when Restos might otherwise feel a bit out of place. Spoils of Pandaria is an example that comes to mind—the smaller raid teams on each side, the high movement, the inherently spread nature of your group due to fight mechanics, and the absence of a true “stack and heal” phase, make it an ideal fight to work with Glyph of Chaining. Likewise, Iron Juggernaut and Paragons of the Klaxxi are other fights where I’ve learned to appreciate the smart healing options offered with Glyph of CH—where a CH through the tank can bounce to a melee and then out to two ranged, where it previously would have dead-ended at 1 or 2 targets (given the bosses’ large hit boxes and/or positioning).
At the end of the day, I don’t want to dissuade Resto Shaman from using Glyph of Chaining in this, the final tier of the expac. In fact, when I look back at the quick write-up I did for 5.4, I’m a little bit ashamed that I wasn’t more encouraging about using Glyph of Chaining for Siege of Orgrimmar, because it can have a positive effect on how you heal certain fights. So, if you haven’t gotten the message yet in this post, for the love of Thrall,
TRY GLYPH OF CHAINING ON YOUR NEXT FORAY INTO SIEGE.
It may feel awkward, but it might also feel like the spell-weaving that you’ve done on other classes. And you’d be surprised what you can fit into those 2-second CD windows—refreshing ES, dropping a totem, redropping Healing Rain, moving, recalling totems, using RT, etc.–all the things you normally have to do during the course of an encounter. Worst case, it doesn’t float your boat or fit your style of play, and then at the very least you’ll know what other options are out there. Best case is that you find an alternate way to handle the single-target healing on a spread raid that you’ve been forced to use for the past 3 expansions. Which is going to make some fights in Siege a lot more manageable.
Building a Future Based on the Past
Now, all this being said … there is a difference between a good solution and one that works for the time being. And while I appreciate that devs do recognize that Resto Shaman need some solution other than Tidal Waves-powered Healing Surges and Greater Healing Waves to address spread raid damage, I strongly believe that Glyph of Chaining isn’t a solution that should live beyond this expansion.
Why? First, because Glyph of Chaining is still shackled by that fear that I talked about at the start of this post—the contradictory belief that Resto Shaman’s strengths and weaknesses should be defined by an ability that we also need to be prevented from spamming. Not only is this design incredibly conflicted, but it also yokes shaman efficacy to one very specific type of encounter and affords us absolutely zero flexibility outside of that narrow definition.
Secondly, Glyph of Chaining stands out as an impostor in a design philosophy that emphasizes choice. Even though it’s framed as such, Glyph of Chaining is not a choice, by definition, because there are no other options on the table. In “choosing” to use Glyph of Chaining, I am making a decision as a Resto Shaman to be less crappy at the thing that I’m horrible at. That’s no more a choice than someone taking a demotion instead of being fired—it’s simply making the best of a bad situation.
And while this would be a great time to go on a rant about the Resto Shaman niche and how its rigid implementation has been hurting the class for the past two expacs, I’ll leave that for another day. For now, I want you to remember back to 7 years ago, back to the time when Chain Heal was rivaled by only one other spell. At that point in time, (Holy) Priests were at the same crossroads as Shaman, in danger of forever being defined by Circle of Healing. Much like Shaman, CoH was their bread-and-butter, their solution to every problem. (I know, because my SO and I largely two-healed most of our guild’s progression runs in BT—him mashing CoH, me mashing CH). But instead of restricting the class, instead of defining Priests exclusively by that one tool, Blizzard took a different approach—they gave priests options. They gave them choices.
So, for the next expac, I hope that’s what we see. I want Glyph of Chaining to die, so that a true choice can take its place. Instead of forcing me to invoke a CD on a spell that I’ve been spamming for over SEVEN years (that’s some serious muscle-memory right there), instead of dictating that I must be good at X but conversely horrible at Y, I want to have a choice. I’m able to choose my talents, I’m able to choose my gear and my stats, and I’m able to choose my own adventures. And now, I’m asking like I did after Sunwell … let me choose something other than Chain Heal.