Friday, February 6, 2015

Shaman Healing v.6.0

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow
of death, I will fear no evil: For Merinna art with me.

Merinna got to go on her first real raid in a long time. And you know what? She sucked.

The problem was that HPS was in the dumps. The raid itself, a normal jaunt into Highmaul, wasn't altogether unsuccessful, but I don't feel that I contributed a great deal towards it. Blizzard has acknowledged that "shaman" as a class is having trouble in their metrics, and that deserves some examination. The bigger problem is that I didn't know how to heal very well anymore.

In my defense, it's been four years since I did any raid healing. Long-time readers will know why that was. Raiding in Warcraft was one of the first things to go, and as the Cataclysm unwound and it became clear that LFRs and LFDs were awful places to try and make friends...or even just be civil... I gave up healing and have been casually blasting things with lightning ever since.

But here I am, four years later, hoping to restart my raid career and it's not starting well. One can moan and complain about the bad balance that Blizzard has created, or one can expect that to be addressed sooner or later and try to come to terms with the new mechanics.

Which do you think I should do?

Healing: Back Then
Shamans were designated raid healers as recently as Wrath of the Lich King. Chain Heal was the tool for topping up large batches of raid members. Shamans almost completely lacked any heal over time mechanic and had a big, slow heal and a small, fast heal to use on individuals. There were healing totems, but back then, you were more likely to place your mana stream totem instead and bolster the entire raid's mana regeneration. Earth Shield is the one shaman healing spell that hasn't changed significantly in all that time, and tanks would remark on how special they felt to get to wear it.

Chain Heal was somewhat special in that it was a smart heal. You'd point it at one target and then it would jump where it was needed. In the expansions that followed, most other healing classes would acquire "smart" heals, (shaman would get more of them too) and they would proliferate to the point that at the end of Mists of Pandaria, I think developers revolted and started chopping them away. There was no reworking the basic mechanics of Chain Heal, so they just cut the numbers there, making it significantly less effective than it used to be.

Macro so you shout "Ice Bucket
Challenge!!" each time you use
Riptide and then see how long it 
takes to get old when you are
spamming that spell on everybody
in your raid.
Riptide was also new to the Lich King-era shaman in that it dumped a fair amount of healing and a small HoT. It was a fair boost to hps, but not because of the HoT. Time would see that revamped as well.

All in all, Shamans in the Burning Crusade and Lich King eras could largely point and shoot. There were a few mechanics that would improve upon cast times in particular, but the HPS of the spells was where it was and didn't fluctuate too much, except to reflect any time you didn't spend casting.

Healing: Today

Let's pretend that I want to heal a tank.

My single most efficient spell is Healing Wave. But I can't just cast that. It'll be slowly delivered with a 2.2 second cast time, and perform only a moderate amount of healing.

Before I cast Healing Wave I need to cast Riptide on him. Besides delivering a HoT on the damage-taking jerk, it also reduces the cast time of my next two Healing Waves. We're still not ready to go.

I need to Unleash Life on him, a spell that gives him, again, a little bit of healing, but will boost the next thing I cast after this. Since he's a tank, I've already put my Earth Shield on him to boost other heals by 20%.

But basically, after shielding him, dumping a bucket of riptide on his head, and then unleashing life in his general direction, Healing Wave is good to go! Again, the shield should be on before the fight starts, but that still leaves two additional GCDs to invest in getting a max HPS heal on the tank.

And it's not going to be that spectacular still unless he was really low in health in the first place, because Resto Shaman's mastery, Deep Healing, only really delivers when the tank has lost more than 50% of his health.

If, say, the resto paladin standing right next to me casts her big heal on the tank while I'm doing those power-boosting casts, I end up overhealing and getting crappy numbers on the meters.

Crappy Numbers
See, that's me, just nudging out the DK tank on healing.
The net results of this are that Shaman healing looks low on just about every raid meter there is. And those low numbers are exacerbated if you have "too many healers" in the raid (which is apparently a wide-spread problem. I can understand that problem though. Just how many healers do you need when there are 14 raiders? That's kinda up in the air with the new raiding paradigm.)

Resto mastery is built for deep healing, not shallow top-ups and the current healing model of "triage and pick your heal carefully" doesn't play to this strength. When tree druids are posting on the WoW forums "You guys need love in a bad way," you know it's bad.

I'm sorry I can't find this link again but in researching all this, I read Stoove, a resto shaman blogger, and Resto Emeritus at Icy Veins report that among the top guilds finishing Highmaul (in the first few weeks that it was open), shaman healing was 5-12% behind every other class. He laid this largely on the way Resto:Mastery works and pointed to Disc Priests, who are kinda the opposite of Shaman, being the Highmaul leaders. And there have been no significant changes to resto in the meantime.

What to Do?
Well. Apart from rerolling Disc Priest, we just gotta make gravy.

Stats: Stack your Mastery. Every Resto shaman has a love/hate relationship with Deep Healing, but the data doesn't lie and well-stacked mastery will have greater pay-off than any other stats you could pile on. After that, I'd love to squeeze in more Haste and cut a tenth of a second or two off some cast times. But I've gotten absolutely no haste benefit as my iLevel went from 610 to 652. Since reforging no longer exists, and the "reroll your stats on crafted gear" mechanic is so #$%ing horrible, I'm not sure I can recommend pursuing your second or third most important stat anymore. It's just too painful. Hardcores are always gonna do it, but that doesn't make it right.

Glyphs: I put on some glyphs that I really wasn't excited to do but resolved to try anyway and let me tell you why:

  • Glyph of Chaining - I love my Chain Heal, so I've resolved to bolster it's effectiveness as much as possible and keep using that thang! Increasing the range of jumps is nice. But honestly, I took this for the three-second CD it creates. One cannot afford the mana costs of Chain Heal spam, so putting on a CD is as much a way to break that habit as anything else. 
  • Glyph of Riptide - Since one isn't to do Chain Heal spam, one gets to do Riptide spam instead. Personally, I don't enjoy running all over spamming HoTs on everybody. If I wanted to do that, I'd have rolled a damn tree. Nevertheless, the durids have gotten really far with HoT spam so I guess it's time to suck it up and try. The main thing is though, that when you stop spamming HoTs and lay out your chain heal, everybody the chain touches who's under the effect of Riptide gets bonus healing. This is important. 
  • Glyph of Healing Stream Totem - Meh. Who gives a crap about elemental damage reduction? It's not measurable on your meters and it doesn't help when an ogre is beating on somebody's head. There's just not anything else worth using.

Talents: I'm not going to go all the way through talents, just explain a few key choices:

  • Echo of the Elements - I'm not wed to this one yet. I've already killed the CD on riptide with a glyph and dispels have been inconsequential. More Unleash Life is good... but it's complicated. Since Unleash is basically an augmentation spell, I just want it to be there on a reliable basis. Its surprise readiness when Echo proccs catches me off-guard too often. And unlike damage spell proccs, Unleash is not necessarily the best spell to use the second it becomes available.  The problem is that the rest of the tier is pretty lackluster, I think.
  • Primal Elementalist - I'd preferred Elemental Blast in this tier, but the data suggests that using the fancy elementals and triggering their Reinforce and Empower abilities gives better HPS. I'm not the smartest person around, but I know better than to argue with maths.
  • High Tide - This one is a difficult choice because the tier has lots of good things in it. Stoove at Icy Veins writes eloquently about going with the Cloudburst Totem option on this tier but admits that using it effectively, and weaving it with your Healing Tide Totem can be hard. Maths has nothing to recommend about the Storm Elemental Totem. Shaman are, of course, jazzed to get another elemental type, but neither the healing nor the damage it does makes it worthwhile. In my opinion, after we've done all else to bolster Chain Heals, High Tide is the last plank of that platform.  Icy and others suggest that if you use Chain Heal with High Tide enough, it does pay off.


  • Always plant your Healing Tide Totem. I've used Power Auras Classic to create visual reminders when it's off CD so I can plunk it down.
  • You can use your Unleash Life anytime you like, but be sure to do it in front of your chain heal, if possible. At this point, I've committed so much to my Chain Heal, well... I'm going to do this one too.
  • If nothing else is going on, be spamming riptide on everybody. It stays up for about 22 seconds, and anytime a Chain Heal touches someone with riptide, they make sweet music together.
  • I'm so on the fence about Healing Rain. Its always been a great spell in concept and yet I'm underwhelmed with its performance. I think it took a bad hit from the nerf bat at patch 6.0.2. I dunno. It has situational use and those situations are screamingly obvious: when the raid is clumped up taking moderate to low damage. I've seen other shamans keep that spell up constantly and it helps, no doubt. But it seems more like meter-padding to me. And if mana is a problem, this is one place I'd cut for economy.
  • Speaking of mana, since shamans have absolutely nothing to aid with mana regen anymore (apart from the requisite Water Shield, but duh! Of course you'll use that.) I can't get enough spirit. It's totally no help that most of our gear won't possibly have any spirit on it. And I hate the amount of time I've wasted trying to figure out which gear pieces might have spirit on them. And I still don't have a definitive list on that. But seriously... apart from "cast fewer spells," I can't come up with any alternative to help with mana management.
  • Oh my poor Healing Surge. It's such a good spell. And once upon a time, y'see, the 1.5 second cast time was what I had for Greater Healing Wave, the old bread-and-butter standard heal. So, sometimes I start casting a lot of Healing Surge and it feels like the good ol' days. Things are getting healed, the cast time is reasonable. And then I look down and see that it sucks 15-20% of my mana each cast and I recoil in horror and resolve to banish that keybind to the furthest edge of my numeric keyboard so I know it's still there but I effectively can't use it. And then something happens to the tank and if I don't use the fast heal, he's gonna die and it goes back just there between Healing Wave and Chain Heal, begging me, taunting me to use it. And we can't. We really can't. It's just too expensive. Except for in an emergency.

Last Thoughts:
I've only got to run with new configurations for healing in raid once or twice because of crappy scheduling for work and Comcast not giving me an Internet connection that can last more than 20 seconds at a time, but I've been generally happy with some results. But I haven't been able to give it a real workout. I wish I could be more positive about it than that. Hopefully that will change soon.

I've resurrected several add ons I used to use for healing, and rewrote several macros to make things go faster. One in particular that I mentioned before: Power Auras Classic is something that creates new UI elements that you can use for reminders, or to monitor cooldowns, or... almost anything. Heh, way back before there was GTFO, I'd whip up UI alarms specific to whatever fire needed to be kept out of in a particular fight. I looked at using a newer, more popular add-on called Weak Auras that I see all over the web, but ultimately, I was more familiar with Power Auras and decided to go with what I know.  One of these days I need to write about this add on because it's been a life saver throughout my WoW career.

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