Sunday, November 14, 2010

Where's the Mana at?

Three Faces of Merinna: Hardcore, Hardcorer, Hardcorest

Well, gentle readers, we are but three weeks away from The Cataclysm. And I have been confused about mana. Like, "Why am I not running out of it?"

Individual heals still seem slower and somewhat weaker, but those "mana problems" I've been writing about did not materialize in 4.0.1. I played like I will on day one of Cataclysm and was healing more conservatively than was necessary and, ahem, not getting the job done.

But really, I've been reading Elitist Jerks and other blogs about these problems and I'm not the only one who has come to see our Healing Surge as too expensive to use on anything less than an emergency. Nevertheless, one can spam it for all it's worth in heroic ICC fights today and still come up smelling like roses. Telluric Currents is fooling people into thinking it's useful because it actually returns mana. Why? How is this happening?

Well, for TC, I'm not sure, though I think it may have to do with crit rating. We'll come back to that another time. The mana thing... the developers said it has to do with spirit-based mana regeneration being higher than they like at level 80. But that's a lie!! It's all about the base mana.

All spells cost a percentage of your base mana to cast. The Surge, for example is 27% of your base mana. Take off every bit of your character's gear and while standing there in your skivvies, you could cast that spell three times and not have quite enough for a fourth cast. Put all your gear back on and now you can spam away as much as you want. With decent gear at level 80, you should have about 8 times more mana than you do naked.

For almost all of our WoW progression, the increases in base mana have been moderately incremental. Most levels, you wouldn't even notice that a spell needs eight more mana than it did before. And nothing about these level increases changed the way we use the spells.

Well, I apologize that this chart looks so crappy. It looked great when I made it in Excel. But I think we can still see what is happening here by that upswing at the end. Base mana levels are skyrocketing in Cataclysm. The base mana level of a level 85 shaman is over five times more than it was at lvl 80.

Incidentally, just about all mana-users follow this pattern. There is admittedly some difference between different classes, but the line is basically the same for everyone. Unless you are a hunter. The number falls to zero at lvl 81 for you focus-using freaks.

What effects is this really going to have on the game? Base mana is going up, but so is gear, right? It'll all balance out in the end.  I think that depends on what you consider "the end" to be.

1. Pretty much all healing spells have increased in base mana cost.
 Lesser Healing Wave cost 15% mana and now Healing Surge costs 27%. When they announced a few weeks ago that the base cost of a Chain Heal was going from 17% to 20%, most shaman probably didn't worry too much. That is the difference of 131 mana right now. At level 85, that difference is 775 mana, which is a bit more stark.

2. Healing is going to be more dependent on gear than ever before.
As if healers didn't have enough pressure to pull all them sloppy dps and a meatshield through a dungeon, we are going to have to get the gear upgrades as fast as possible. Your rate of OOM will depend on a factor I'm calling your base to total mana ratio. Basically, the smaller this number, the better.

This ratio is entirely dependent on gear and accounts for how much of your base mana makes up your total mana. Merinna Lvl 80 is wearing the top of the line heroic ICC Tier 10s and is arguably as leet as could be in Wrath.  Merinna Lvl 85 "Smoking Hot Gear" is wearing solid Tier 11. I think we can expect Tier 12 and 13, whenever they come along to improve this ratio further.

Merinna Lvl 84 and 85 are both wearing the exact same quest greens picked up while traversing new content (and most of that gear was obtained at lvl 83).  The only difference is a few minutes and a "ding!"

Newly-85'd Merinna is the weakest of this bunch because she doesn't have any level 85 gear. She is in greatest danger of OOMing and for lack of intelligence, is also missing out on needed spell power and crit as well. In most regards, she was actually a stronger healer at level 84.

3. Health Pools are huge and more intelligence is the only thing that will help.
What I'm not documenting today, but you'll have to take my word for is that health pools of all player characters have skyrocketed along with the mana levels. That rotten excuse for a spell we know as Healing Wave can heal off about 4k healing at one time today. And at level 85, It'll heal up about 5k. And you'll end up casting it again and again to heal more or less the same percentage of a player's health as you do today.  More intelligence will not only deepen your standing mana pool, but it will also contribute to your bonus healing to try and squeeze that inital Healing Wave cast to 5.5k, so you can pull a character to 100% health in five casts, instead of six. What savings!

This is the biggest problem right now. (and it's the part I just can't rationalize what to do with right now) Before, we could pull out a Lesser Healing Wave and get 10-11k healing out of it and that was just about all most characters would need for most problems. Now, we're probably going to have to be casting a slower spell two times for the same observable effects.

4. We're going to have to work hard to learn tricks to artificially boost our healing.
A Focused Insight boost, or Unleashed Earthliving (even though, Elitist Jerks are discussing the possibility that the mana cost of Unleased Earthliving might be prohibitively expensive to use by itself), along with a greater reliance on HoTs  is what is going to save us. Unfortunately, there's nothing to practice on right now.  Northrend 5-man dungeons of any sort are so beneath any effort now, it really is sad. I could respect places like the Shadow Labyrinth and Shattered Halls up until the day I reset my Hearthstone in Dalaran. But now, I might cast a heal... any heal, maybe four times each time I enter a place like heroic Utgaarde Keep.

5. I don't think our mana-regen mechanics will change much.
In my opinion, Shamans' mana pools are pretty static. The mana we start the fight with is pretty well all the mana we're going to have until the fighting is done (As opposed to a druid with Innervate, or a priest calling out the Shadow Beast).  Mana Tide Totem will need some new strategy because of it's new short CD, but mostly nothing has changed about any of this.

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