A little more than a year ago, midnight lines at local retailers marked the release of a new expansion pack for WoW. WotLK brought with it new lands, new mechanics, a new class, new stats, and new challenges. But for Resto Shaman, this past year also brought with it significant changes to our healing tools and, more so than any of our healing compatriots, sharply brought into question our niche in the healing team. So, as this year comes to a close, I thought I’d take a look back on the progression of Shaman healing through the WotLK dungeons and instances, and explain why we’ve come a long way, baby.
The Pinnacle of “Brain Heal”
As BC was coming to a close in late 2008, Shaman were still enjoying the awe-inspiring power of their healing staple—chain heal. Although the limelight had diminished slightly post patch-3.0.2 (where priests’ party-only limitation on CoH was removed), we still were widely acknowledged as the champs of raid healing. In those days, my healing combat log for any fight in BT, MHJ, or Sunwell would appear almost identical, dominated by excessive use of our iconic spell. And I won’t lie, I loved my easy spot atop meters; I was confident in my place in the world.
The Wrath of Reality (I made a pun!)
Like most of the players who leveled furiously those first couple of days of the xpac (yes, I admit it, I took vacation time to hit 80 by that first Monday) I gained the majority of my xp to 80 outside of the world of instances. Although I did get in several along the way, it wasn’t until I hit 80 and started into heroics that I was forced to acknowledge that I wasn’t in BC anymore. My CH wasn’t the powerhouse it used to be, my mana wasn’t limitless, fights were long in comparison to my longevity, and my precious Crystal Spire of Karabor was replaced by a dungeon drop! More than that, I was struggling, really working my arse off, to keep tanks and dps alive and forstall wipes when things went bad. Naxx, however, was the salve to my heroic pains, returning me to my CH roots. And stepping up to tank heal in Patchwerk proved a non-threatening way to develop my RT-LHW rotation, (though admittedly it was more LHW spam than it was a steady interweaving of the two.)
It wasn’t until my guild buckled down and got serious about Sarth3D that I started to understand the new role Blizzard wanted us to play. It wasn’t the 25-man version, (where I, incidentally, really started to see the HPS effects of haste on CH), that drove it home. It was 2-healing Sarth3D with a Resto Druid where I finally heard the death knell of the Sunwell approach. With him on raid heals, and myself on the tanks, CH was finally the underdog of my rotation, used only when I could spare the time in between Sarth’s near-fatal breaths. During that fight I used to refer to myself as the “half-pally”, with all the same tools but half the potential. Little did I know, that description would be applicable in the instances to come.
Ulduar brought with it some amazing challenges for Resto Shaman, outside of those brought on by select members of the community. It didn’t usher in many changes for us in terms of our healing arsenal, though Patch 3.1’s removal of the Blessing of Wisdom / Mana Spring overlap was felt by Shaman’s mana bars the world over. Going through normal modes, I felt that there were some fights designed to make me shine, and others designed to make me feel like shyte. Razorscale was always a favorite, as I abused my Tidal Waves hasted LHW to its fullest potential, Auriaya made me nostalgic for BC, and Vezax encouraged me to appreciate the power of my Earth pellet shield in a way I had never thought possible. But even before hard modes, I still simmered with a little envy at priests and tree druids, who could quickly and promptly respond to the raid damage that I still saw as my domain.
Then the hardmodes came. [Insert ominous music]. And yes, I struggled. I was switched into a tank-healing role, switched to Elemental, and switched back to raid-healing again. I got into the habit of carrying 3+ gearsets with me (one for single-target healing, one for raid healing, and one for elemental). I had to work ten times harder to combat the increased raid damage, learn how to strictly limit my movement to optimize output, and put multiple innervates on reserve. And despite an amazing t8 4-piece bonus, it was easy to fall behind. But, the challenge in front of me was either be versatile or die trying. When our pallies got caught in flames or in a cosmic explosion, I learned how to step in to keep things running; when our priests or druids died to overload or lasher explosions, the raid would still be taken care of. I learned how to fill in the gaps, be what was needed at that time, and earned my hardmode healing spot.
It was with this perspective that I entered ToC, where I switched between healing styles with relative ease. In stark contrast to BC and even Naxx, my healing summaries for fights varied by orders of magnitude, no longer dominated by one consistent spell. And in the release of 3.2, Blizzard further bolstered the Resto Shaman’s healing arsenal by strengthening our long-bomb spell, Healing Wave, finally making me more than “half a pally”. Mana thankfully returned to being a resource that I didn’t have to strictly ration, and the Tidal Waves shift made everything fall into place. Even Healing Stream Totem felt useful as I squared off against Anub, arguably one of the most precise and potentially stressful healing encounters to date.
What a Long Journey It’s Been
From Chain Heal spammers to versatile clutch healers, I certainly didn’t expect that Shaman would have such a path through the course of the expansion. We had some bumps along the way, some slow adopters (*shifty eyes*), and some setbacks. But we emerged in front of the Lich King as the all-around healer, able to bat from the left and right, able to switch from regular to goofy foot without losing ground.
I think this is something that Shaman critics haven’t quite grasped when they look at pure modeling numbers. Druid’s can switch to a tank-healing build, disc priests can respec to holy to counter heavy raid damage, and pallies can provide some splash healing while bombing a tank, but shaman can do it all, and do it well, in one spec. And on fights with select burst damage (eg: Lady Deathwhisper and Faction Champs), we quite simply kick ass. Although we don’t have a particularly large arsenal, the complementary nature of the few spells we do have enables Resto Shaman to be amazingly versatile without needing to make major spec or gearing shifts. Personally, I wouldn’t be against changing our t10 shoulder animation from talbuks to chameleons, because in the healing world that is exactly what we are.
Here’s to another great year for all Resto Shamans (with lots to blog about). Cheers!