(If you haven’t already checked out Part 1 of this two-part analysis, you can find it here).
Continuing on with this incredibly verbose commentary on the Alpha Patch Notes … On top of all the changes we’ll be seeing with the healing game, we’ll also be seeing some changes aimed squarely at Resto Shamans’ arsenal and our role in a healing team. From the Alpha notes:
Restoration Shaman had the most passive and smart healing of any healer, and so received some reductions in that area, along with buffs elsewhere to keep them competitive. One particular change is to Mana Tide Totem, which we made less effective for other players, but still just as effective for the Shaman. We like that Shaman could help other healers out on mana, but it was just too strong, significantly impacting how those other healers gear themselves.
It’s a tantalizing hint at what could be in store for us in WoD, especially the mention of “buffs elsewhere”, but admittedly, it’s not the tip of the hat that I would have expected, especially given the roller-coaster performance of Resto Shaman throughout the expac. Mana Tide changes? Really, that’s the biggest news? Thankfully, there’s a ton of more interesting material to be found in the details. Read on!
Changes to: Spell Functionality
To give us a more concrete idea of what “reductions” and what “buffs” we can expect to see once we get into a beta healing environment, Blizzard did announce some very specific spell changes. (Bear in mind, these are likely not the only adjustments we’ll see over the course of the beta and things can change significantly once they get into the actual process of balancing healers).
Reasonably, I think most Shaman could have expected to see a reversion to the jump-based reduction model for CH, given the stated intent of the expansion is to reduce smart healing. But, it is surprising to see the jump penalty set at 15%, because it does lessen the steep drop off that we saw in Wrath and Cata, resulting in a more evenly distributed heal (prior to the effects of the CH Draenor perk).
As I mentioned in Part 1, I think what concerns me most about CH (and HR) in WoD is how much it will be affected by the dumbing down of heals. Chain Heal’s strength, since I started playing WoW around 8 years ago, was the fact that it was a smart heal, making the design of the spell almost as iconic as the spell itself. So, although no spell is impervious to change, I think there are much greater ramifications when you modify the functionality of a spell that is not only the sole targeted AOE healing option for the class, but also a spell upon which an entire class was built. That’s a lot different than, say, modifying Atonement, which serves as a supplemental ability in a diverse arsenal of heals.
Although I’m sad to see super-powered Healing Rain be eliminated so casually, I do think this is a good change for the class overall. Not only does it remove what was an incredibly awkward timing in the Resto Shaman “rotation” in Mists (do I wait the 2+ seconds until UE is off CD? Do I not?), it also significantly decreases the impact HR has on shamans’ throughput.
It’s not every day you hear a theorycrafter arguing for nerfs of their own class, but when it comes to Healing Rain, I strongly believe (and have argued the point in the past) that Resto was adversely affected by having a passive, CD-based heal be such a strong contributor to our throughput. What it essentially did was set a very high point for Shamans’ mana equilibrium (the point at which your regen is sufficient to drop HR on cooldown for the duration of the encounter), while providing no substantial tuning after that point. What this meant is that even after the legendary meta, even after other healers started dropping Spirit like it was the plague, Shaman were still constrained by their high throughput ground heal. So, what the reduction of power does (and hopefully, what the corresponding mana reduction will do) is lower that equilibrium point and free up the shaman rotation to exist in something other than 10-second intervals.
ABOUT. DAMN. TIME. The fact that Earthliving Weapon (and AHEM WATER SHIELD) have endured through multiple expansions as fixed values with absolutely zero scaling has always been boggling to me. So, I’m excited to finally see Shaman have some sort of throughput scaling akin to what is granted by Priests’ Inner Fire. Yay buffs!
Yes, despite the reduction in its mana cost, this is what the nerf bat looks like when it hits one of our precious smart heals. HST went through a major transformation post-Cataclysm, moving from a previously minor contributor during our battles with Deathwing, to the role of primary heal (enabled by Rushing Streams) at the end of Mists. So, I do think that a reduction in its power is appropriate and necessary to bring this spell back into the realm of minor contributor.
BUT, the thing that I do want to mention here is that HST’s strength, bolstered significantly by Rushing Streams, was that it gave Restos some way to handle healing on a spread raid. It didn’t give us much control over the solution, but it was something that we could do outside of the failure that is Glyph of Chain Heal. With this nerf in place, there’s no doubt that Resto will need something else to fill the gap–Hide Tide looks like it could be just that. But it begs the question, why are shaman continually pushed towards a talent or glyph solution to bolster a niche that we consistently fail to hold on to?
While I should have expected this change, given Blizzard’s handling of Resto Shamans’ other “free mana” card from Cataclysm (Telluric Currents), I have to admit that seeing this nerf in the Alpha patch notes was a bit of shock. Yes, Totemic Recall allowed shamans much more disposable mana than we would have otherwise had, but the fact that we had a veritable shitton of additional mana (pre-legendary meta) in ToT and still couldn’t compete with other healers should throw up a little red flag for developers.
Is the loss of this glyph going to impact every Resto out there? No, definitely not; I would wager the players out there who used it to gain a competitive advantage are few and far between. So, what I’m hoping this note is indicative of is an effort to give shaman sufficient regen that we aren’t looking for creative and sneaky ways to solve our leaky mana bars.
Added tidbit: notes from Celestalon and Zarhym’s recent interview from Convert to Raid indicate that the plan is to drastically increase Resto Shaman regen to account for Healing Wave’s removal. (Source)
I mentioned this one in Part 1, so I’ll keep it short here. My mana tide = my spirit = my cooldown. Whee!
And rounding out the specific Shaman changes is this tidbit which had me absolutely stumped until … I considered it in the context of a Twitter exchange that I had about Telluric Currents. Had Conductivity remained as it currently stands with no restriction, in WoD Resto Shaman would have been able to keep Healing Rain down during periods of low activity, and simply extend its duration by casting Lightning Bolt (7.1% of base mana) instead of (Greater) Healing Wave (19.5% base mana). With personal regen rates increased and Glyph of Telluric Currents seemingly increased to 100% mana reduction, it would have been a way for Restos to regen mana, still do a fair amount of healing and get around the intended constraint of needing to spend mana to benefit from the additional time on HR. So, consider this “creative use of game mechanics” averted. Restos can still use the glyph to contribute DPS in lieu of standing around regenning, but they will be constrained to contributing much less HPS while doing it.
The Holy Trinity Gets a Revamp
Our Ghostcrawler, who art at Riot, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom’s gone, thy will withdrawn; thy influence is no longer.
And so it comes to pass that as the power of Ghostcrawler fades, so too will Resto Shaman lose one of the three spells handed down from on high from our former crustacean overlord. As part of designers’ efforts to reduce button bloat—and yet for some reason leave the large majority of our mini-totem cooldowns intact (WTF)—Healing Wave is being given the axe.
- Healing Wave has been removed.
- Greater Healing Wave has been renamed to Healing Wave.
Thus, come WoD, shaman will be restricted in choice between the new Healing Wave (the spell formerly known as Greater Healing Wave) and Healing Surge. The distinction between the two being:
- Shaman Higher Efficiency: Healing Wave, Riptide, Healing Rain
- Shaman Higher Throughput: Healing Surge, Chain Heal
Now, as the illustrious Olivia Grace and PVP-Live guru LazerChicken were discussing on twitter, the elimination of Healing Wave is actually a pretty big hit to the Resto PVP community, who rely on the spell to fill the role of small-mid-sized efficient heal. And, despite the fact that Healing Wave saw little use in PVE content this expansion, it has in the past served a very crucial role as the incredibly affordable single-target heal, which … ahem … is quite valuable if we’re returning to the days of “mana matters”. And even more especially when you start to talk about an environment where Mastery plays a much bigger part in shaman throughput (as it does in PVP).
Of course, the contention might be that, with spells being scaled down in value to the point where they represent a smaller fraction of a squished player’s health, is the need for a spell at that level still there? From a numbers perspective, I could see the argument that there really isn’t. If our bottom-end heal (Riptide) stays at relatively the same percent, at maybe 5-10% of player health, and the top end comes down so that it can, excluding crit, only do 15-20% healing, that constitutes a much more narrow window between the current differential between RT and Healing Surge. So, maybe there’s an argument to be made based on the numbers.
But where I fail to see an argument for the removal of Healing Wave is when you start to consider the impact on Resto Shaman’s available arsenal of heals, which is limited from a PVE perspective, and even more restricted in PVP. Prior to this pruning, we had a total of six target-based active-cast heals that could be used to counter incoming damage on a specific player:
- Healing Wave
- Healing Surge
- Greater Healing Wave
- Chain Heal
- Healing Rain
If I was being generous, I could include Earth Shield in that list, since it will counter some damage. But, because it is dependent on incoming damage to trigger, and can’t be used to address a deficit in HP, I don’t think you can reasonably include it. And, under no scenario can I include Unleash Life, because as a heal, it barely registers. So, of the 6 total spells, 2 don’t get used in PVP, and of the 4 remaining, one is being eliminated. Which means for you PVP folk, in between Riptide cooldowns, you have the very exciting decision of choosing between: your slow heal that does some amount of healing, or your fast heal that does … the same amount of healing.
My point here is that while I understand the intent of reducing button bloat, it needs to be done within the context of both: a) numbers, and b) the class’s arsenal. While Shaman are like everyone else in having more abilities than screen real estate, when it comes to Resto, that ability bloat comes from our Warehouse Store of totems, and not from the abilities that we actively employ to do our jobs.
So, with that rant out of the way, there are a few more abilities being removed from Shamans’ spellbook:
- Ancestral Awakening has been removed.
- Flametongue Weapon is no longer available to Restoration Shaman.
- Frostbrand Weapon is now available only to Enhancement Shaman.
- Healing Tide Totem is now available only to Restoration Shaman.
- Magma Totem is now available only to Enhancement Shaman.
- Rockbiter Weapon has been removed.
- Stormlash Totem has been removed.
- Water Shield is now available only to Restoration Shaman and replaces Lightning Shield.
Again, nothing too surprising here—the removal of Rockbiter means that I’ll no longer be able to taunt cleaving mobs onto AFK guildmates and the loss of Stormlash Totem means that I’ll gain a macro slot. But, I think we can all file these away and move on to something far more exciting …
Draenor Spell Perks
Pitched as bonuses to reinvigorate the leveling process and keep you looking forward to every DING! on your way to 100, Draenor Perks will provide some additional bonuses to core abilities:
- Improved Reincarnation – Increases the health that you Reincarnate with by an additional 50%.
- Improved Lightning Bolt – Increases the damage dealt by Lightning Bolt by 20%.
- Improved Riptide – Reduces the cooldown of Riptide by 1 sec.
- Improved Chain Heal – Increases the healing on the primary target of your Chain Heal spell by 50%..
- Improved Healing Wave – Increases the healing from Healing Wave by 20%.
- Improved Healing Surge – Increases the healing from Healing Surge by 20%.
- Improved Tidal Waves – Increases the cast speed reduction and critical strike chance of the Tidal Waves effect by 10%
- Improved Earthliving Weapon – Increases the direct heal from using Unleash Elements with Earthliving Weapon by 50%.
- Improved Healing Rain – Increases healing done to targets in your Healing Rain by 10%.
In all, none of these perks really provide a significant change in functionality. For example, while Improved Riptide will allow you two more Riptide casts within a 60-second window (and provide absolutely no benefit if you choose to use Glyph of Riptide—that doesn’t make much sense), it’s hardly going to alter your choice about how to use the spell. Likewise, the boost to Earthliving Weapon is much-appreciated, and may cause me to need to revoke my previous statements about it being an inconsequential heal, but the strength of the spell is still derived from the benefit it provides to your next cast and not from the small CD-based heal that you gain.
Level 100 Talents
Annnnnnd, rounding out this massive list of changes are the proposed level 100 talents, which have undergone some slight modifications since we last saw them at Blizzcon back in November. Let’s take a look:
Condensation Totem (Restoration) – Summons a Water Totem with 5 health at the feet of the caster for 15 sec that collects 5% of all overhealing, and grants it to the Shaman as spell power toward their next Healing Wave, Healing Surge, Chain Heal, or Riptide. Instant, 30 sec cooldown
(Changed from Blizzcon preview where it was 25% overhealing for 1 minute).
As first impressions go, Condensation Totem’s description was enough to get my wheels turning. A Shaman version of Druids’ Mushrooms, presumably to capture the waste that’s inherent in Healing Rain? Immediately, I thought of it as a direct complement to Ascendance, where it would take the innate overhealing present in the cooldown, and cycle it back into useful throughput. Speculatively, this would mean that Ascendance’s power would escalate over the duration, with overhealing cycling into more spellpower, which would result in more power heals, resulting in more Ascendance healing, which would then (presumably) increase overhealing, and so forth for the 15-second time period.
But, outside of that narrow application, I really struggle to get excited about a healing cooldown that’s based on overhealing in an expansion where the intention is to massively curb overhealing. If players are spending more time between 0 and 100%, and my heals are doing significantly less in comparison to HP, then how is a 5% portion of that overhealing, contributed to my next heal, going to translate into smart gameplay? How am I going to track the spellpower gain? Will the spellpower bonus accumulate if I choose not to cast anything? Wouldn’t this really devalue Mastery? And most importantly, why would a talent encourage a healer to waste mana, by say, fully overhealing a pet, in order to gain a more powerful subsequent cast?
Pair up all those questions with the fact that the 30-second cooldown makes this one more cooldown in my already overflowing list of cooldowns, and the excitement that I had about lots of big, green Ascendance numbers becomes the hope that this talent get a revamp before WoD goes live.
(No changes from Blizzcon) Worth mentioning that on Celestalon’s twitter, he clarified that Storm Elemental will have abilities by virtue of primal elementalist (Source)
Leaving aside the “One more bloody cooldown?!” argument that I hit on above, Storm Elemental appears to be a fairly straightforward choice for Resto Shaman working to improve their stacked healing niche. The scaling of the heal will obviously depend on how much damage the Storm Elemental accomplishes (meaning that Resto Shaman will want to keep an eye out for fights or phases of fights that include increased damage taken mechanics), but it appears fairly straightforward otherwise. As Celestalon also pointed out, their other abilities will include:
Again, not the most thrilling talent, and one who’s selection will likely depend on the constraints of the encounter. (Imagine the /facepalm if your Storm Elemental goes off and pelts some add in the corner, healing absolutely no one. What fun!)
Changed from Blizzcon, where it previously had not removed the jump-reduction on Chain Heal.
Last but not least, the tribute talent to increase Resto Shamans’ spread raid healing and turn Chain Heal into the Super-Beam it was always meant to be. (But which also renders Glyph of Chain Heal quite useless—I do hope that cleaning up these odd overlaps is on someone’s to-do list). Presumably, without a spatial constraint on the jump, High Tide will enable you to prehot a number of targets—the number being a function of whether or not you choose to pair this with Glyph of Riptide—and fire off one beam that will bounce to 4 primary targets and then all those with Riptide. With no jump penalty, and using the boost from Unleash Life (let alone Unleashed Fury), that could be one hell of a heal. In all honesty, I’m going to need to rely on some cynics in the community to cut this talent down to size because I’m having a hard time seeing any downside.
Leaving Aside the Nitpickiness
Now, as talents go, these are a marked improvement from our level 90 talents, which sadly remain unchanged from the disappointment that they’ve been for the entire MoP expansion. (Seriously, can we have an Elemental Blast that’s useful to Resto? Have Primal Elementals provide a passive buff to healing/damage instead of being a channel?) But, as we get ready to see some actual numbers behind the ideas, I find myself wondering what direction we’re headed, in an expansion that is, at first glance, full of contradictions.
- Is adding more cooldowns to our arsenal actually adding meaningful depth to our class or simply filling our bars with buttons to push, just when it looked like we’d have some spare room?
- Is the ever-expanding range of self-buffs (like Earthliving Weapon, Tidal Waves, Unleash Life, RT before CH, Elemental channels) rewarding skillful play or constraining us by tying throughput to multiple dependencies?
- How superior will I feel over disc priests and how often will I be able to lord my throughput over them? (Seriously, this is the most critical question of the bunch)
I suppose that the one thing that’s for certain at this point, is that we’ll have to wait and see.
Credit goes to Russ Petersen (@nite_moogle) for the dapper Warlords in gentlemen’s evening attire.