Saturday, 29 January 2011

The Current and Future State of Druid PVE Healing

I’ve been thinking about this topic for a while as I’ve been feeling through my healing since Cata Beta and on into Cata dungeons, raids, and now Heroic 25 man raids. Part of me wanted to wait for the upcoming patch, however, with changes already announced (and all pretty positive so far), I decided I could instead focus on some of the other areas.
In particular I’d like to touch upon:
- Some thoughts/suggestions on current and patch druid healing
- ’Why bring a Resto Druid to our progression raid?’ - what is needed to gain positive answers to this question.
- A few suggestions for adjustments to the Resto tree, particularly to help alleviate talent bloat.

ETA: Also posted this on the WoW Healing Forums, Current and Future State of Druid PVE Healing, join the discussion! :D 
Current and patch thoughts on druid healing:
Overall, druids are doing reasonably well when looked at of their own accord (ie not comparing with other healers). Nearly all of our spells see good use, and clever healing with good use of our innervates and Omen of Clarity procs makes for good mana management. I feel able to meet the challenges of heroic raid content and below and, again through use of smart healing and mana decisions, I am not in fear of going OoM each fight or feeling unduly restricted by it.
The changes slated for 4.0.6 are positive steps in the right direction overall. The buffs to Wild Growth will hopefully bring our raid healing back up to par. I’m interested to see just how the reduced WG cd combined with reduced Rejuv cost and the Symbiosis buff plays out in progression content - theoretically it’s looking like a positive change, though as ever we’ll see how it plays out when it hits live servers.
Regrowth is still a bit of a problem child, even with the upcoming changes. Its inclusion in Empowered Touch is potentially a positive change, most useful I foresee when instant Regrowths are used in ToL so you don’t lose LB stacks when popping Regrowth on OoC procs, as well as for some quick heals on a tank without losing your LB stack. The changes to Nature’s Bounty are more interesting and potentially appealing for the hasted Nourish casts it provides for Raid and Tank healing. Just how many points are worth sacrificing for this talent remains to be seen. 
The bigger issue lies with Regrowth itself. As our ‘flash’ spell - a quick, expensive heal - it doesn’t measure up to the corresponding flash spells of the other classes (quickly checking on my own Priest, Flash Heal ~14k, Shaman Healing Surge ~10k, Pally Flash of Light ~14k). The HoT component is of course part of that - our main hit healing for ~7k with an additional 2k over 6 seconds. The main issue is that in general when that quick heal is used, it is precisely because an immediate heal is needed - in the majority of situations where that’s needed, it’s an emergency where a lot of healing is needed immediately, hence why we would even want to risk that much of a mana expense to begin with. The HoT component is negligible and usually quickly overwritten in instances where several quick Regrowths are needed in succession on the same target.
I can understand the desire to keep Regrowth different from the other classes’ flash spells to keep the Druid flavour, but currently the only real distinguisher for Regrowth is a weak HoT tacked to the end of it. The simplest fix would be to just increase Regrowth’s initial heal, roughly 10-10.5k direct base heal at 85 would be reasonable, with the HoT component’s 2k over 6 sec settling Regrowth right amongst the other flash spells. 
An example of the shortcomings of Regrowth (apart from its lack of punch in emergency spot- or tank-healing) is Chimaeron - those ~5 second windows between Caustic Slime or Massacre hits are crucial for quick heals to get targets above 10k heath. The other three classes can achieve this with one of their flash heals without needing the heal to crit or for a HoT to tick. By contrast, a druid has to rely heavily on the initial Regrowth heal critting or hope there is time for those HoT ticks to carry that last bit of health before the next attack. While it may not be devastating and other heals can be utilized, or even assigning the druid to tank healing, you can see where the inequalities can be spotted (which can correspondingly be seen with other heals in comparison to the other classes).
Why bring a resto druid to our raid?
The biggest concern with current Druid healing is it’s very difficult to give a positive answer to this question, ‘Why bring a Resto Druid to our raid?’ This topic was discussed some by Xaar of Paragon in his excellent post on the EU Healing forums (The State of 25-man Raid Healing). Apart from the healing disparity issues discussed by Xaar in his post, some of which have already been addressed in the upcoming patch (namely WG buffs and the Mana Tide Totem changes), the biggest issue is that a Resto Druid brings nothing of real significance to the raid along with their healing. 
The things a Resto Druid can bring to a raid are: 
-Replenishment (easily covered by other classes, especially in 25 man settings) 
-Battle Rez (provided by other druid specs) 
-Innervate (provided by other druid specs, albeit obviously stronger from Balance than Feral)
-Tranquility (provided by other druid specs, again strongest with Balance over Feral, though also good with cats specced into Nurturing Instinct). 
The flexibility of the class is of course a key component and I by no means wish for any changes for the other specs - simply highlighting that although a druid is still very desirable in a raid, specifically as a healer it looks like a lackluster choice.
Guilds heavily in progression content have primarily been stacking Holy Paladins and Priests for their healing comps. Pallies and Priests have risen as a choice above druids for several reasons: For straight healing output, especially at higher gear levels, those two classes have been extremely strong (which will hopefully even out some among the four healing classes with the changes coming in 4.0.6). Holy priests have been performing better on raid heals and have a valuable cooldown in Guardian Spirit. Although Disc priests have been a bit sub-par currently, they are still extremely useful for Power Word: Barrier, Pain Suppression, and, in some specific fights (ie Halfus Heroic), do immense healing through Atonement specs.
Although the Druid tank-healing toolset was upgraded in 4.0 and has a good mechanic using LB+Empowered Touch et al, in terms of tools it falls behind Paladins as a strong choice for tank healers - a Paladin has many +healing cooldowns (Avenging Wrath, Guardian of Ancient Kings, Divine Favour), damage reduction cooldowns (Hand of Sacrifice, Aura Mastery), Beacon, and Lay on Hands. The druid can pop Tree of Life but has only this cooldown, whereas the Pally can chain cooldowns throughout an encounter if desired. As one of our healers described, druids seem like half-assd paladins’. We do have a bit of a haste cooldown/proc in Nature’s Grace, however, this talent has its own issues for Resto, discussed later in this post in the Talents section.
Although Shamans are having some similar difficulties to Druids in current content, these are sometimes overlooked in order to bring a Mana Tide Totem for the Pallies/Priests. I’ll leave thorough discussion of Shaman concerns to someone more involved with the class, though.
So what could druids have to make them more competitive and useful for raids?
One solution would be to provide Resto Druids with either a damage mitigation cooldown or a raid cooldown. Arguably we have a raid cooldown with Tranquility but, as addressed earlier, this is easily provided by the other specs. Again, this is great for the flexibility of the class, but still not a reason to bring a specifically Resto druid to a raid. 
The most obvious damage mitigation cooldown one could give to Resto Druids (and has been suggested by others I’m certain) is to give Restos the ability to cast Barkskin on other targets. Making this a deep Restoration talent would restrict it to healers only. 
Another option is to bring back a form of the Tree of Life aura, granting a +x% increase to healing received to raid/party members within range. This could be a part of the ToL talent - speccing into ToL could provide both the ToL cooldown (unchanged 3 min cd) and provide a +healing received aura which would be active both in caster and ToL form. This would also realign Resto with Moonkin Aura and LotP.
There are plenty of other potential options and I’m sure many have some creative ideas. A raid damage mitigation cooldown would be a massive ability though may require an additional/new talent/idea. Something perhaps in a druid theme could be an ability, say, ‘Nature’s Guardian’ in which ‘the druid calls upon the forces of nature to surround his allies with roots and leaves, reducing their damage taken by 20%’, etc. This could be a deep Restoration talent.
Other talent tree suggestions
There are a few talents I also think could use some adjustments. There does seem to be some bloat in the Restoration tree. The expressed desire by Blizzard to have us make some difficult choices in our talent trees is there, and some are fun and effective - we have to make conscientious decisions on, say, mana conservation talents in the other trees vs +healing talents in the Resto tree(ie, what to drop for points in Moonglow? in Furor? etc). 
There is a fair bit of extra talents in the Restoration tree though where we’re simply having to decide what to straight sacrifice as there are simply not enough points, rather than making more ‘fun’ decisions. Currently Gift of the Earthmother and Nature’s Bounty seem to be the either/or for the chopping block in many talent trees, with NB being the one more frequently dropped it seems (hence the upcoming NB changes). We’re having to make choices like this, and though there’s certainly decision-making occurring (and even healstyle analysis occurring - ‘How do I, personally, use Rejuv and LB? Is Regrowth worth the points in NB?’), I think many would find these the less fun decisions, as opposed to ‘Can I pick up Fury of Stormrage and do some damage for this fight?’ Another talent ever-increasingly dropped is Nature’s Swiftness (a further knock to our tank-healing toolset) as many are finding it not worth the point. 10 man raiders could also argue for Nature’s Cure being a frustratingly necessary dropped point, as they may not have additional dispels in their raid comps to compensate (25man raiders generally will).
With this in mind I’ve been considering the Resto tree and have the following ideas for our talents:
Living Seed/Efflorescence
Many have suggested this already - these two talents should be unlinked. Efflorescence is a good talent but people are increasingly feeling the 3 required points in Living Seed are too heavy a cost for it. 
Living Seed itself is lackluster. It accounts for extremely little of our healing done and is an extremely costly talent at 3 points. Although the concept is fitting for a druid (a heal blooming after a hit), it is also much less useful than damage reduction talents like a Priest’s Inspiration or Shaman’s Ancestral Healing. Certainly, the Living Seed is useless if the hit it was going to bloom on actually killed the target because none of the damage was mitigated. Adjusting this talent to a damage mitigation tool would be much more useful, particularly in the context of our tank healing tools. Perhaps it may be better to simply overhaul or scrap the entire talent, or drop it down to 1-2 points rather than 3. In the very least, though, it would be extremely helpful to unlink this talent from Efflorescence. Certainly I’ve found myself wanting to (and actually doing so) drop a point or two in Efflorescence for points in abilities like Perseverance for certain fights (ie Heroic Conclave).
There is likely concern that no one would take Living Seed if it were unlinked from Efflo, though this itself should really bring up red flags about the value of the talent. Another possible solution to revamping Living Seed would just be to do away with it as a separate talent and instead perhaps combine it with Efflorescence, so 3 points gets you both talents instead of spending 6 for them.
Malfurion’s Gift
I mention MG in the context of the upcoming 4.0.6 changes to Omen of Clarity and MG. With Clearcasting procs from Omen of Clarity set to only proc on healing spells by speccing into MG, this talent essentially becomes mandatory for all Resto druids. I would be shocked if any Resto would choose not to spec it, and even more shocked if they felt they didn’t need to spec it. This then essentially takes all the choice out of this talent and it’s simply stealing talent points.
A solution which could help reduce some of the talent tree bloat would be to simply remove MG as a talent and grant its ability (OoC for healing spells) as one of the Restoration specialization abilities. This would free up 2 talent points for some more customization in the rest of the tree. 
Another solution would be to incorporate another ability into the talent, however that may simply bog down the tree even more than it already is.
Nature’s Grace
Strictly speaking a Balance talent, though it has good uses for Restoration druids as well. I do think it could use some minor improvements for Resto use. It already had an update for Resto (adding in Regrowth to trigger the Haste proc in addition to MF/IS) which was very helpful, particularly in a PVE progression healing context in which the GCD and mana for a MF/IS can’t always be spared. 
The biggest issue for Resto at the moment is the ICD on the Haste proc - the ability has a 1 minute cooldown which Balance druids can reset through Eclipse. Resto druids can’t reset the cooldown, which makes this a difficult talent to make full use of. Although it’s possible to time gaining the haste buff for certain events in an encounter, the nature of healing will often require the use of Regrowth in situations outside of when we might want the haste buff. Consequently we are locked out of gaining the haste buff again for another minute. This then restricts us to either limiting our Regrowth/IS/MF only to times when we want the buff (preventing us from using RG as needed), to using our RG as needed but locking us from the haste at key times, or to attempting to keep track of the ICD. Perhaps the latter is intended, but it feels restrictive, again in particular when compared with abilities like Tidal Waves, Serendipity, Borrowed Time, Infusion/Speed of Light, Judgements of the Pure. The changes to Nature’s Bounty may assist in providing druids with a comparable ability (depending on how the talent works practically on live and how many points can be worth spending in it), however I still feel the ICD for Nature’s Grace needs to be adjusted for Resto druids.
These are just some of my current thoughts on Druid healing and really only a small portion of the ideas and discussion circulating at the moment. Druids are certainly far from bad at the moment and can perform well in Heroic content. The spec and our ability strengths still need some adjusting, and the mass data from logs et al after patch 4.0.6 goes live will be the most useful in determining how successful the upcoming changes are in bringing our heals closer to par with Priests and Paladins. There are definitely movements in the right direction, but there is still a ways to go. 
Crucially, I feel Resto druids could do with an ability to increase their value to bring to a raid. Certainly in the context of the expressed desire for raiders to bring ‘the player, not the class’, druids are harshly behind Priests and Paladins (and arguably behind Shamans as well w/o MTT to contribute) in terms of what they can offer apart from just being a healer. Even assuming equal gear, equal player skill, and (assuming relevant buffs/nerfs upcoming in 4.0.6 across the 4 healing classes) equal healing output, druids will rarely, if ever, be preferred due to lacking the cooldowns/abilities possessed by Paladins and Priests. While it’s good to keep the different classes unique to a degree to prevent any homogenization in healing styles and strategies, the classes should still have some equality in terms of each bringing effective healing and abilities which can contribute positively to the raid and encounter. 
Assuming the status quo, there is also a potential argument for simply increasing the strength of all of the druid’s heals so that they are superior to the other classes’ heals. This could theoretically even out the desirability of bringing a druid, as although they lack raid cooldowns et al, the increase in healing would compensate. Personally, I feel the utility of some sort of additional cooldown would be a more valuable change, as I imagine simply increasing our healing strength would ultimately be a poor decision for class balance. If the heals were increased too much it could just as easily lead to stacking druids, as the healing would just be more valuable than any cooldowns provided by other classes. 
Ultimately, the best aim is for a roughly equal balance so that a reasonable mix of all the classes are included, rather than stacking of a particular class. Of course, this is extremely difficult to do, but I hope that ideas like those above will help to lead things in that direction.


johnmlinn said...

Great post, Derwent. I agree completely with what you're saying -- the biggest issues druids face is a reason to bring them in place of a priest or paladin. There are simply too many moments in current content where raid cooldowns aren't just beneficial, but essentially required. Shaman are missing these too (MTT not withstanding), and in fact, may be in a worse position considering they even lack a basic healing % CD such as ToL. Sadly, we've also begun to stack priests and pallies and have seen greater success doing so.

Anyway, keep up the good work!

Feral Tree said...

Cheers :D
Yeah Shaman are definitely in a bad spot as well. I wonder a bit how the MTT changes coming in 4.0.6 will effect their position - its still a great CD but no longer as OP as it is currently when timed with /use Spirit trinkets. Definitely both they and druids are in dire need of some improvements.
As you say, raid CDs are essentially required for a lot of the content, and both druids and shamans are at a massive disadvantage without them.

Jasyla said...

Great post. I don't think druids are in a bad spot, my healing never feels subpar compared to priests or paladins, but I agree with many of your ideas on how to improve druid healing.

I would love for Living Seed and Efflorescence to be unlinked. Your idea of combining them into one talent sounds really good too.

Lately I've been thinking on our lack of damage mitigation/raid cooldowns a lot. In Wrath I didn't think we were too bad off without one, but now (probably because I've been playing a disc priest a lot) I'm really missing having a cooldown. Not only would it make us more valuable to raids, but it would also give us another ability to learn how to use effectively, making druid healing that much more engaging. I feel like druids and shamans could both use an extra ability or two.

Feral Tree said...

Cheers :D
Yeah I'm a bit undecided at the moment. I feel we're only slightly behind priests/pallies at the moment (which will hopefully even out more with the 4.0.6 changes). Pallies and priests are still a little too strong at the moment, pallies mostly I think just weren't scaled back enough from beta (where they were ridiculously op) and priests (who were pretty awful in beta raid testing) were buffed a ton. It still has a way to go but I think with the patch things are heading in the right direction... *touch wood*

The lack of some sort of cooldown is definitely massive, though; that's the biggest thing, really. Even if all of our healing is equal, which its fairly close to being, those cooldowns are just so important that it's hard to justify a spot for druids and even for shamans when we can't bring those things to the group.

siirah said...

Hey, nice website found some great stuff here. I want to first say the druid class is a little behind the others not just in resto.

I really wanted to point out that if you consider our maastery which is about 30% bonus to heals if a hot is ticking on the target Regrowth is then at about 12k and equal to flash heal/light. To me it seems absolutly absurd that maastery, which is supposed to be a bonus is need to just keep up with the other healers. So silly. Anyway I hope blizzard fixes us. I was sidelined from raiding this week to a pally in pvp gear! I think druids in general need to be redesigned so we arent a half ass mage/warrior/rougue/preist depending on spec and are actaully a class that feels unique. I have loved druids since warcraft III but I am thinking of switching to mage just bc druid class seems to be broken right now. I mean really to do the damage and heals of the other classes so much more work on gear and even more buttons are being pushed just to keep up.