First off, a Happy New Year to everyone! I hope everyone's had a good start to the new year.
What better way to start than with the announcement of a new patch finally on the horizon! Patch 4.0.6 has been deployed on the PTR, along with a lot of updates and changes pretty much across the board. I think they were waiting on a patch until after the holidays, but this should update and fix a lot of things, as well as apply many client-side things that were hotfixed but not fully updated (mainly things like tooltips, quest texts, etc). There may also be several new things broken in the new patch, but we'll cross that bridge when we get there.
There are a lot of druid changes coming up which seem to comprise a mix of buffs and nerfs. Full patch notes can be seen here.
Let's start with Resto changes.
Nourish / Healing Touch: Healing Touch is now trained at level 78 (up from level 3), Nourish is now trained at level 8 (down from level 78).
This is a nice little buff for levelling druids. Healing Touch seemed to be too expensive of a heal at low levels, so this swap should ease mana concerns some for levelling Resto druids.
Omen of Clarity: OoC can no longer trigger from helpful spells (aka heals) unless the Restoration talent Malfurion's Gift is chosen.
This is an interesting change which seems to be their solution to prevent OoC from accounting for too much mana savings. This basically means Malfurion's Gift will be a must-have for Resto druids. I'm not positive whether OoC will only have a chance to proc from Lifebloom (as MG right now causes Lifebloom to increase the proc chance) or whether it will change so that all healing spells have a chance to proc it when talented. I'll have to check that on the PTR or closer to/on live release date. If anyone has seen it on PTR already and knows with more certainty, do let me know.
Rejuvenation: Rejuvenation is now trained at level 3 (down from level 8) and its mana cost has been reduced from 26% to 16%.
This is a pretty big change and one I'm very glad to see. The high mana cost on Rejuvs at the moment is really mana intensive and can really limit druid heals, particularly on the raid. I realise they have been hoping to get away from the Wrath era of Rejuv spam, but such a high mana cost really took it a bit too far and was more limiting than anything. Hopefully this is a step in the right direction towards fixing that, and should also help druid raid heals more but also hopefully help make it easier for us to benefit from our mastery.
Regrowth: Empowered Touch now also affects Regrowth, and the Glyph of Regrowth now causes the HoT effect to refresh itself on targets below 50% health (up from 25% health).
This is a somewhat interesting change, clearly trying to push druids to resume using Regrowth, as many (including myself) have found it to be much less valuable, especially considering the high mana cost and low healing punch. Honestly, I'll likely continue using Regrowth primarily as I do now, which is largely on OoC procs during Tree of Life for the instant free Regrowths. This change will actually be quite nice for that - casting the Regrowth on a target with a LB during ToL will refresh it now, so you don't risk losing some of your LB stacks out on the raid during ToL.
While the buff to the glyph is nice, I still don't see that glyph as being particularly useful. The only fight I really see any potential value for it is Chimaeron, when the entire raid spends so much of the fight below 50% or less health. Even then, it's such an expensive heal in an already mana-intensive fight, that apart frm ToL OoC procs I again don't see it as more valuable than other glyph choices.
The Regrowth changes do make it at least a bit more interesting though and perhaps it will come into play a little more. This also leads us into our next change,
Nature's Bounty: Nature's Bounty no longer affects Swiftmend, but now has a new effect in addition to the increased Regrowth chance. When the druid has Rejuvenation out on 3 or more targets, the cast time of Nourish is reduced by 10/20/30%.
This is an interesting change to the talent Nature's Bounty and actually has me in a bit of a spec dilemma when this goes live. Currently I don't have any points in Nature's Bounty as I just don't feel it's useful enough, as Regrowth doesn't pack enough punch to make the increased crit chance worth it, especially with the high mana cost. The reduced cast time on Nourish is a very nice change, though, and should hopefully boost our raid healing a bit more. Assuming we have 3+ Rejuvs out on raid or party members, the reduced Nourish cast time allows for some quicker heals, which will likely be benefiting from those Rejuvs boosting both the Nourish and our Mastery. Combined with the reduced Rejuv mana cost, this should theoretically help our raid healing some. How this ends up in practice, though, is less certain. Certainly still our raid heals are in serious need of a boost, and though this might help, it's not a full fix. But more on that later.
Rake / Rip: Rake and Rip damage has been reduced by 10%.
Pretty straightforward reduction here on our bleed DoTs. I've heard some of these reductions have been for some additional PvP balance, which may be the case.
Shred / Mangle: Shred weapon damage percent (at level 80+) has been increased to 450% (up from 350%) and Mangle weapon damage percent (at level 80+) has been increased to 460% (up from 360%).
In contrast to the Rake/Rip nerfs, we have a decent buff to Shred and Mangle, so hopefully overall these changes will balance out.
Berserk: Berserk no longer breaks Fear or makes the druid immune to fear.
This was a pretty straight PvP adjustment, which is quite disappointing for PvE I feel. I can understand it for PvP balance, but there are definitely PvE encounters both when DPSing and tanking that the fear immunity/clearance is a great help. It would have been nice if it simply didn't work against player-cast fears, but that may have been more difficult to implement. Either way, we're stuck with it now!
-Barkskin is no longer dispellable.
-Mount Up guild perk now applies correctly to Flight Form and Swift Flight Form.
-Wild Mushroom is now instant cast and the radius of detonation has been increased by 6 yards and damage done increased by 15%.
-Night Elf racial trait Shadowmeld and the Tauren racial trait War Stomp can be used while shapeshifted.
There have also been some changes for our Bears (mostly decreased Mangle (Bear), Maul, and Lacerate damage) and Moonkins (Shooting Stars buff duration has been increased).
Overall, some decent changes so far. From what I've heard (hearsay from friends and guildies) this patch will likely go live around the 25th of January, but I haven't seen any official dates yet (if any have been posted, I've completely missed them). That also means that there's still time for some of these things to change. With that in mind, I won't be updating the guides until these changes go live. The feral nerfs and buffs will hopefully balance out so there's not an overall net loss to our PvE damage.
Resto Changes and PvE Healing Imbalance
The Resto changes are a step in the right direction, but I think there's still a ways to go in that area. While healers are seeming decently balanced in the 5 man dungeons and heroics, the four healing classes are definitely not balanced when it comes to raids, particularly 25 mans and 25 man heroics.
There was an excellent post by Xaar, a Resto druid from Paragon, on the EU WoW healing forums, which I really hope the Blizz devs have looked over. You can see the full post here: The state of 25-man raid healing.
In short, he discusses the imbalances that many of us are seeing and feeling in raids amongst the healing classes. Both druids and shamans are fairing poorly in raids, particularly when compared with paladin and priest (holy) healers. Shamans are a bit fortunate in that they provide Mana Tide totem, which can grab them a spot in raids, but many are finding they feel like mana-batteries for the priests and pallies. Druids unfortunately do not have such luck (and innervates are easily supplied by feral and balance druids) and, particularly in high progression guilds, are having a hard time being valuable to raids. While our tank healing tools were greatly improved, we lack the external cooldowns in damage reduction on tanks or increased healing that pallies have, so pallies will likely always be the preferential tank healers. The high mana cost to Rejuv and longer cooldown on Wild Growth is hitting our raid heals and holy priests are pulling ahead on raid heals. Although Disc priests are a bit below standard at the moment (they will be getting buffed in 4.0.6), Atonement discs have their place in certain fights and priests still provide external cooldowns in both specs (Pain Suppression and Guardian Spirit).
What we'll likely see happening is raids will begin stacking priests and pallies, especially for heroic modes, and both druids and shaman will likely get the bench. Shaman may still get in to provide a Mana Tide, but, as Xaar also mentions, as players attain more gear and mana conservation becomes less difficult, they too may end up by the wayside. Overall it ends up as very low balance in PvE healing, and both druids and shaman are in dire need of buffs. There are several paladin and priest buffs also slated in this upcoming patch (the priest buffs seem to be in reaction to PvP imbalance, where they were lacking), so there will likely be even more catching up to do for shaman and druids.
I'm really also in favour of some additional changes to druid healing. While Tree of Life now gives us that boost to healing cooldown, we're still lacking in what special things we can really bring to the raid to validate that raid spot. In the very least, especially as our tank-healing tools have been boosted, we need some sort of damage reduction ability. This could be in a similar vein to Shaman's Ancestral Healing and Priest's Inspiration, damage on the target is reduced by 10% for 15 seconds after a critical heal lands. In the very least this would be helpful, as we currently have no ability that reduces damage taken, which really knocks our tank-healing strengths. Living Seed is arguably a similar ability, but a damage reduction would be much more valuable in terms of aiding tank survivability. In fact, Living Seed would be the perfect talent to adjust to either include or change to a damage reduction ability.
Another option would be, as many have mentioned, to provide a deep Restoration talent which would allow Barkskin to be cast on another target, ie to be used as an additional external cooldown for a tank in the same vein as Pain Suppression. I certainly see this as being a very valid option and, if there are concerns about balance with such an ability, it seems there's automatic balance in keeping Barkskin on the one cooldown - the resto druid would only be able to cast it on one target, so they couldn't throw it on a tank and also use it on themself, they'd have to choose one or the other.
So, there's definitely a ways to go on druid healing, though hopefully the Rejuv changes and potentially the Regrowth changes will be a step in the right direction for us. We'll have to see how it plays out and, as more data and feedback comes in, especially as more players and guilds are able to get in and experience the new raid content, hopefully there'll be more changes in store. Certainly at the moment it's feeling like Lich King Heroic all over again - stack priests and pallies, maybe a shaman for mana tide if you're lucky, but druids are by the wayside.