It has come to my attention that as we move forward in trying to find a “good” place for druids with Mists, the first step in doing so is to pinpoint what needs to be fixed. And to do that, it’s important to explore where druids struggled in Cataclysm. In a world where there are not only multiple raid sizes, but multiple difficulties of each encounter, this becomes increasingly difficult to do. The issue is that not all problems are seen at all levels of play, so while you may have one druid screaming from the rooftops about the quality of their life, you may have another sitting around scratching their head going “I don’t know what they are talking about, I feel fine”.
This great diversity leads to a pleothora of thoughts on what is, and isn’t, working for druids currently. That is to say that where a druid whose raid experience is solely with LFR is likely to have a different perspective on druid healing than a druid who is running normal mode raids. And that druid is likely to have a different perspective on a druid who is healing in hard mode raids. As each raid difficulty grows, the challenge that each druid faces changes. Where mechanics seem fine in one setting, when they are being pushed in another they may feel underwhelming or insufficient. However, those who don’t experience that, don’t have a full understanding of those struggles.
As such, I want to take a few minutes to analyze the issues that arose in Cataclysm for those who were experiencing Hard Mode 25 man raid content. Which is where I, personally, feel many of the shortcomings of the druid class were highlighted throughout the Cataclysm expansion. It is my hope that in doing so, we can come to a consensus on what issues need to be resolved in Mists to put druids in a better place moving forward.
The Issue: Druids lack a effective and efficient way to deal with burst AE damage to the raid.
A History: Before we talk about what happened in Catalcysm, I think it’s important to look at how we got to where we did. For the purposes of this post, I’m only going to go back as far as WotLK because I think that is as far back as I need to go for this history to be pertinent. Wrath of the Lich King ushered in a new style of healing for everyone. However, one of the most prominent things that it did was introduce a style of raiding where constant raid damage (and spike tank damage) was the norm. As such, most healers spent much of their raid time spamming a handful of buttons at the raid, and never having to think much about what they were doing. For paladins it was Holy Light, for priests is was PW:S, for shaman it was Chain Heal, and for druids it was Rejuv x5 WG x1.
While some people loved this “whack a mole” style of healing, Blizzard decided that they weren’t terribly fond of it – or more, they weren’t fond of the lack of concious decisions that had to be made on the part of the healer. As such, going into Cataclysm they decided that they wanted healing to be more about thinking through your heals and not about spamming the right button (or two) as fast as you could. As a whole, this was well received by much of the raiding community.
However, there was one problem for resto druids. In an effort to reign in the Rejuv/WG rotation of WotLK, Blizzard made casting Rejuv quite costly so that it was prohibitive to rely heavily on that spell to heal. While this seemed like a good fix on paper, it quickly became apparent that it was not good in practice. As druids started entering into raid content it became clear that they didn’t have the appropriate tools to deal with raid damage: Rejuv was too expensive and WG was ineffective. Druids were struggling, and many at the end game were being asked to sit out of content for healers that were more adept at handling the healing required by the raid.
As Blizzard saw this occuring, and tracked the numbers, they realized that there was a problem. Without being able to heavily rely on rejuv and with WG healing for so little, druids were not competitive with the other classes. In response, with patch 4.03, Blizzard reduced the cost of rejuv (and subsequently gave it a slight increase), increased the healing done by WG and decreased the CD on WG.
While this bandaid worked for awhile, as gear levels increased, Blizzard became unhappy with how much healing WG was doing. They felt that it was too powerful for a “fire and forget” spell (and they weren’t wrong, per se), and when 4.3 released they reverted the changes to WG – again leaving druids in a difficult prediciment. Rejuv was still quite costly to use, and while gear inflation had permitted druids to utilize the spell more freely, the cost still throttled it. This, coupled with WG hitting for much less, and the other healers receiving buffs to their AE healing, left many druids at a loss for what they were supposed to be doing to remain competitve and justify their spot in the raid. They found themselves, once again, struggling with a way to deal with burst AE damage and constrained by their toolkit.
Which brings us to the present. However, before we move on to how to fix the issue (a topic for another day) let’s continue to analyize the need for burst AE healing throughout Cataclysm.
Exploring Cataclysm: For the purpose of this analysis, please keep in mind that I am looking at these encounters solely from the chanllenges that they presented to a druid raiding Hard Mode content. I understand that some of these issues were not present in different iterations of the encounters, however the microscope I am utilizing is confined to how this issue played out in my preferred raid setting. My intent in the below analysis is to illustrate which encounters had a need for burst AE healing, so that others might better understand where we struggled and why we feel that our toolkit needs something to keep us viable moving forward.
In reviewing the below, please note that Rejuv/WG spam isn’t “burst” healing. And in many situations that healing model was severely constrained by your available mana pool, meaning that it wasn’t efficient and was, often times, prohibitive. While that style of healing can be effective, it takes time to work, and in many circumstances, based on the damage patterns of the encounters, your raid did not have the time available to sit and wait for your HoTs to top up the raid.
Magmaw: Anytime that the head was not exposed on Magmaw, and sub 20% especially, there was a need to get your raid topped up quickly while dealing with both Magmaw’s lava spew and his spit. Depending on your raid’s strategy, you were either grouped up or spread across the room (we spread). If the raid was not in a position to survive the incoming damage, you were going to lose people to the mechanics of the encounter.
Omnitron Defense System: Anytime that Magmatron or Toxitron were out, or during Electron’s special you had to keep your raid topped up. You needed to keep your raid’s life stable through raid wide damage that came quickly and changed frequently throughout the course of the fight. Your raid was generally groupped up for most of this encounter.
Maloriak: The Red Phase required an enormous amount of healing, to be done quickly, so that your raid was topped off and ready to take the next burst of fire. Phase 2 of the encounter also had steady, increasing damage throughout the phase, coupled with the poison bomb that did significant damage to the raid. Your raid was groupped during the red phase, but generally spread (and moving a lot) during phase 2.
Atramedes: The sonic scream things (I don’t recall the proper title), as well as the tick from the AE that occurs in the split second before you hit the gong both required fairly heavy and quick healing. However, this is one of the encounters where I felt druids had a slight advantage due to their mobility.
Chimearon: This encounter actually presented multiple challenges for druids. The AE raid challenge was when the bile-a-tron was offline. The raid was grouped up, but the damage came extremely quickly and the bile hit very hard. The second issue that druids had was selecting a soingle target spell that could quickly, and efficiently, get their assigned target’s life high enough to survive the spit. Nourish was ineffective without prior HoTs and HT was very slow and expensive. Regrowth only healed for enough if it crit and was extremely costly.
Nefarian: Healing the platforms during the airphase. Oh god. I think this is a perfect example of where our toolkit was lacking. Constant, hard hitting, damage that had to be quickly topped up. I made sure that I had tranq up as well as ToL to try and ensure that I could support my platform to the best of my abilities, but I was almost always in the bottom quarter of my mana bar coming out of the phase. Just so you don’t think that I forgot them, I don’t really feel that the electrocutes count. At least not while T11 was “current content”. This is because you had an enormous amount of time to heal your raid up before the next burst of damage and there wasn’t a large danger of them dying if they weren’t topped up within 5 or so seconds of taking damage.
Halfus: Roars. Fire from the drake. You name it. This encounter has so much damage going out that it required an enormous amount of quick healing done to keep your raid alive from one burst to the next. Not to mention the insane amounts of tank damage that goes out early in the encounter. While I would say that the tank damage was key to the healing of this fight, the raid still had risks. I don’t think Disc Priests will ever have so much fun again.
Valiona and Theralion: Topping off the raid after blackout dispells and making sure that they had enough life to survive other incidental damage in the encounter, as well as keeping your melee topped off for debuff explosions. I may just be misremembering this one, or it may be that I did it after the first nerf, but of all of the encounters in T11, this one didn’t seem to have as much burst requirement. Outside of the blackouts, I think damage was fairly steady and relatively easy to heal.
Ascendant Council: Phase 3. Oh god, phase 3. My poor little rejuv and WG buttons are worn out and yet still felt so inefficient. Additionally, the Aegis during phase 1 also did significant raid damage that needed to be dealt with fairly quickly, but doesn’t hold a candle to the raid damage you were hammered with during phase 3. Your raid was very carefully spread during phase 3.
Cho’gall: Any shadow phase did a fairly significant amount of damage, depending on your DPS on the elements as they went up. However, phase 2 had a lot of very heavy raid damage that needed to be topped up quickly for your raid to survive until the end of the encounter. Your raid was generally grouped up during the shadow phases, but often spread out during Phase 2.
Sinestra: Sinestra is not really fair to say much about. The essence of the red made druids very powerful because of how they scaled with haste, and the fact that you had zero mana constraints meant that you didn’t have to concern yourself with spell selection. The first 20% of the fight, and the last 15% (or so) of the encounter left a need for strong burst healing on the raid, but overall not so much that I felt I struggled trying to heal the encounter.
Conclave of Wind: Nezir’s platform duing his ultimate. This required a lot of fast and hard healing to match the damage dealt on the platform, and ensure that your raid lived long enough to get back to their platforms. The group was generally stacked up for this, until they travelled back to their platform.
Al’Akir: Phase 2. Navigating through the increased damage as your raid works Al’Akir down. By the end of this phase, it requires a ton of healing out on the raid to keep them stable going into phase 3. Additionally, Phase 1 also had moments of burst healing required depending on the RNG your group saw.
Tier 12 is a wierd bird to talk about. We saw a three minute tranq come down, and the WG buff was still in place. However, I’m going to go ahead and address the burst raid damage that was present for each encounter.
Shannox: Not a ton of raid healing here. In fact, if your group performed well, there was almost no raid healing.
Beth’tilac: Phase 1 has periods of burst healing as Beth spews fire down onto the raid – and if you were up top with Beth, there was constant AE damage that needed to be topped up so that your group up top could sustain themselves while up there. Phase 2, however, is where I feel you saw the strongest need for burst healing. Especially towards the end of the phase as damage ramped up to almost unhealable levels. Your raid was generally stacked up for phase 2.
Rhyolith: I think that both Phase 1 and Phase 2 had a fairly significant requirement for dealing with burst raid damage. However, it is far more prominent with the increased stomp damage in phase 2. Raids varied on how they posistioned for phase 2, but generally you were loosely spread out.
Alysrazor: There are periods of burst healing needed during the ground phase of this encounter, often times requiring cooldowns to survive until she takes off into the air again. The remainder of the encounter, however, your raid should not be taking damage.
Baleroc: There should be no raid damage outside from those soaking crystals.
Majordomo Staghelm: Depending on your strategy, your raid could largely take no damage, or have limited periods of fairly high damage. We used 12 soakers for the orb phase, so there were times when there was moderate raid damage, however it was limited to 6-12 people at a time. I never felt limited in being able to handle the damage. So I’m not sure that I’d state this encounter had any “burst” raid healing requirements that needed to be met.
Ragnaros: Where to even start with this one. I would say that Phase 1, parts of phase 2, during both transitions and phase 4 all have moments where burst raid healing is needed. After trap explosions in phase 1, after seed explosions in phase 2, and while you are navigating into frost orbs in phase 4 (although this is no longer the time consuming event it was originally). I do feel druids have great strengths here due to our mobility, but I also feel that there were times I wish I could have pushed more healing more quickly as well. Your raid is spread out for phase 1, mostly grouped for phase 2, and in stages of spread and grouped in phase 4.
Outside of launch, Tier 13 is where I think the druid’s felt the pinch on their toolkit the most. The revert to launch WG numbers, coupled with boosts to the other healing classes, only served to highlight the shortcomings of the resto druid. Almost all of the encounters in DS had a grouping requirement. Many people felt this lead to “flat” encounter design, but that is a topic for another day.
Morchok: Pretty much the entirety of the encounter had burst AE raid damage. The stomp – crystal combination required your raid to be topped up very quickly in order to survive the incoming damage.
Zon’ozz: The black phase. Oh god, the black phase. There was much swearing and frustration trying to deal with the massive amounts of raid damage that your raid faced during the black phase. It was heavy damage, that required your raid to be topped up quickly for continued survival during the phase. While the damage lessened as the phase went on, the first 15-20 seconds of the phase were incredibly painful and challenging to heal with our toolkit.
Yor’shaj: Depending on your color combinations, I feel that this encuonter probably had the least need for burst healing. That being said anything where you didn’t have a purple generally also had quite a bit of hard and fast raid damage. (Red/Yellow/Black is a good example). Druids had other (significant) problems with this encounter, but I don’t know our lack of burst healing was on top of the list.
Hagara: Lightning phase and Frost Phase. Both of these phases have pretty hard and fast damage that come out at your raid and need to be handled quickly for your raid to survive. While the lightning phase can be mostly mitigated if your raid performs well, if your raid spends any amount of time inside of the frost shell, it is quite healing intensive and ramps up the longer you are inside.
Ultraxion: Constant raid wide damage that ramps up throughout the course of the encounter. I don’t really feel that the burst issue is overly problimatic early in the fight, but by the end you really do feel it. Even with the red crystal, there is only so much that you can do with Rejuv/WG spam on your raid to prevent their demise.
Warmaster Blackhorn: While there is some raid wide damage in phase 1 with the onslaughts, I don’t really feel that is where you feel the lack of burst healing on this encounter. I would say that phase 2 is really where it is noticable with the shouts, that ramp up in severity throughout the encounter. While they are spaced out, it often feels very hectic trying to get people stabilized to receive the next one. Technically you should haven’t people getting hit by the shockwave, but it happens, and it is important to have your raid ready to deal with the damage if they get caught.
Spine of Deathwing: This encounter is somewhat odd. There are brief periods where burst raid healing is needed (novas, right after a roll) but I would say that the majority of the healing in this encounter is centered around clearing the debuff, which we are quite adept at doing with our HoTs.
Madness of Deathwing: The madness encounter is somewhat unique in that the nature of the damage is such that it does strongly favor HoT healing throughout the course of the encounter. You do have to very carefully monitor your mana so that you don’t overextend yourself early in the fight, but all healers have to do this to an extent. However, there are periods towards the end of the encounter where there is a definite need for burst raid healing (the bolt landing on the fourth platform, dealing with the tentacles on the fourth platform, that final push on the final platform from 10% – death) that find druids screaming I’M GIVIN’ HER ALL I’VE GOT CAP’N! and finding they are coming up a bit short.
The Total: There were 28 Hard Mode raid encounters in Cataclysm. Of those 28, only 7 of them did not have a mechanic that required burst raid healing (I took Sinestra out of that number, for the reason stated above, but you could argue that only 6 did not). That means that 75% (3/4!) of the raid encounters this expansion had burst raid healing requirements that Resto Druids struggled to find the tools to effectively and efficiently manage this damage. It’s not that it couldn’t be done – but that every other class was better equipped, either via cooldowns or healing ability, to handle those mechanics than druids were. I think that Atanae said it quite well when she observed that the issue with the Cataclysm druid healing model was that: “the fundamental issue is that as healers, we are supposed to manage mana and our rotation is nothing but wasting it.”.
Conclusion and Restatement of the Issue: If Cataclysm design is any indicator, it would seem that Blizzard tends to favor development of hard mode encounters that present mechanics that deal heavy, often sustained, AE damage to the raid that needs to be healed up quickly. Currently the Resto Druid tool kit lacks an ability that lets them effectively and efficiently counter this damage.
Coming Soon! Part II – Searching for Solutions.