Cataclysm Final Grades: The State of the Resto Druid
Today’s post is my contribution to the Cataclysm Final Grades. Sorry for its length – I couldn’t quite help myself. A list of posts evaluating Warcraft classes at the end of Cataclysm can be found at the end of the link above. If you are interested in writing something similar I encourage you to do so on your own blog, or if you do not have a blog, please send me an email as I would be happy to provide a space for additional guest posts.
Working Within a New Healing Model
Healing a heroic as a Resto druid in Wrath and healing a heroic as a Resto druid in Cataclysm have exactly nothing in common. Few in-game experiences I’ve had were as jarring (and humbling) as when I stepped into my first few heroics shortly after the Cataclysm’s release. We had been warned that mana would be an issue, that we would have to learn to “triage,” and that CC would not be optional. But still, for someone who regularly had “OOM fights” in the streets of Dalaran (how long can you cast your biggest heal before your OOM yourself?), there was no amount of reading that could have prepared me for what it would feel like to be healing a heroic dungeon and feel utterly helpless.
Things got better quickly, with more gear and a better understanding of the dungeons themselves. But the early days of Cataclysm really did teach us that we had to prioritize our healing and that we couldn’t be wasteful anymore, and these were essential lessons to carry into T11 raiding. For druids who were used to our Wrath healing model, it was really shocking to see ourselves running out of mana and to encounter bosses who put out more raid damage than we could heal. Slowly, and with plenty of internal conflicts along the way, healers re-learned their spellbooks and began to pay attention to those little blue bars. Druids had a long way to go – we’d long been guilty of being able to heal most heroic dungeons by tossing a Rejuv on the tank and then DPSing to our heart’s content, sometimes even in our balance specs.
The numbers probably would prove that I’m in the minority because I like this new model, given that my guild often had to sit healers or ask them to DPS in ICC and now we can hardly find enough healers to make our raids function. But I have to say that, for me, healing now is exponentially more interesting than it ever was during Wrath. I also imagine that getting into healing is probably much more intimidating for people who haven’t tried it than it used to be, which is understandable. There is a lot more to learn than before, and PuGs can still be a difficult place to figure out a new spec or class.
But now, on to the good stuff … druids.
Something Old, Something New
Sadly, none of the new 81-85 abilities introduced in Cataclysm were specifically designed for Resto druids. Thrash obviously has no benefit for us, and while it can be fun to detonate Wild Mushrooms on trash and – for one glorious, shining moment – see yourself at the top of the DPS charts, it was really only Stampeding Roar that we could put to any use. Though it did require us momentarily to shift into cat form, Stampeding Roar was situationally very helpful. Any fight that required quick movement from the entire raid group (Magmaw, Ragnaros, Yor’sahj – off the top of my head), was a great opportunity to give everyone a brief speed boost so they’d be out of harm’s way and could get where they needed to go faster.
Of the changes to our individual spells, Lifebloom was perhaps the largest at start of the expansion. During Wrath, Lifebloom could be cast upon an unlimited number of players, making it a nice buffer to cast on anyone who you knew would be taking damage within a few seconds. Now, Lifebloom is limited to one person and is automatically refreshed when we cast Healing Touch, Nourish, or (since 4.0.6) Regrowth on that person. The only exception to this is when we are in Tree Form, which allows Lifebloom to have unlimited targets once more. This change has meant that we exclusively keep Lifebloom rolling on the tank, and we generally strive not to let it bloom at all. The new and improved Lifebloom also provides the Replenishment buff to your raid group – something that was an absolute must have during the constant mana-issues all the healing classes had in T11 content.
I really enjoy the reworking of Lifebloom to make it a more interesting mechanic for tank healing, and I can conceed that limiting its maximum number of targets was necessary – particularly because of how powerful it can be in PvP. The only lingering concern I have with the current design of Lifebloom is that it’s extremely clunkly to switch from healing one tank to the other. It costs us 3 GCDs to get Lifebloom up on one tank and another 3 GCDs to switch it to the second, which is a lot of globals I’d prefer to use casting other things. This was a problem that I saw discussed multiple times when the Blizzard designers called for class feedback a few months ago, and I really hope they can find a way streamline the process for Mists.
(And as a brief, but hopefully related, aside – I am not at all excited about the changes to Wild Mushrooms that will make them a ground-effect healing spell in Mists. Personally, I never understood the push from the resto community to add these to our toolkit. Wild Mushrooms are a clunky enough spell for balance druids – 3 GCDs to place, 1 to detonate, endless praying that your tank doesn’t move the boss away from where you’ve placed them, etc. – and I have absolutely no desire to add another clunky, GCD-heavy element to resto healing. Beyond this, I think one ground-effect healing spell per healing class is plenty. I’d rather not need to depend on a second spell that requires me to trust my raid to stand in it, no matter how good they’ve gotten at recognizing that Efflorescence isn’t going to kill them.)
Returning to the current expansion, one of the biggest changes to our spells didn’t come until 4.2, when Tranquility got a reduced cooldown lumped into our Malfurion’s Gift talent. Not all resto druids were thrilled about the change, particularly because we were promised a ” new raid cooldown” alongside the announcement of Spirit Link Totem, and were hoping for something that would offer damage mitigation rather than even more throughput. Tranquility’s 3 minute cooldown has proven helpful, particularly in Dragon Soul with its massive raid-wide damage fights, but druids still find ourselves lacking any kind of mitigation and are often accused of meter-padding when we make best use of this spell. C’est la vie – we always have been misunderstood flowers.
Efflorescence: The Little Spell That Could
When the Cata changes were first announced for Resto, Efflorescence was easily the one I cared the least about. As originally designed and implemented in the beta, Efflorescence was supposed to have a chance to proc from Regrowth critical heals. I couldn’t understand why on earth druids needed a second AoE healing spell when Wild Growth already did the job so well. I also couldn’t imagine what could possibly be desirable about (and worth the expense of talent points) a spell that we would have so little control over. We used Regrowth much differently in Wrath in that we used it more for the HoT than the direct heal – essentially the opposite of what we do now. Regrowth was a spell that we generally kept rolling along with Rejuv and Lifebloom on our tank(s), so we might have a decent chance to see Efflorescence proc but it would probably be under the tank’s fight 90% of the time. That’s fine for bosses with small hitboxes, but on the vast majority of encounters an Efflorescence centered under the tank’s feet is unlikely to hit the melee who should be standing behind the boss. Everything about this new heal sounded pretty lackluster.
Fortunately that version of the spell never went live, and Blizzard’s designers instead decided that 3/3 points in Efflorescence would give us a 100% chance for the spell to proc on our Swiftmend target. Though a nice supplement to our healing arsenal, Efflorescence was still undervalued and underpowered enough at first that not all druids chose to take it in their specs. Originally this spell was linked to Living Seed, so we had to spend 6 talent points on it – 3 to fill out Living Seed, and 3 in Efflorescence itself. But a greater part of the problem with Efflorescence lay in the mechanics of the spell … until a PTR bug for the 4.1 patch turned Efflorescence into one of the most powerful spells in our toolkit.
Keeva’s post on the PTR bug that turned Efflorescence into a “smart heal” describes (and maths!) the full story better than I could. Essentially, Efflorescence went from being weak and wasteful to being an extremely powerful and mana-efficient spell nearly overnight. Thanks to a positive response from the community, the WoW developers eventually decided to make the change permanent and Efflorescence became a smart heal in patch 4.1. To make things even better, the spell was finally unlinked from the less-desirable Living Seed, ensuring that Resto Druids would have no qualms about spending talent points on it.
Today, it’s rare that a fight on Dragon Soul ends without Efflorescence being either my second or third top healing spell, generally only beat by Rejuv and Wild Growth. It’s still at its best in fights that allow (or require) the raid to stack tightly, though when we do have to spread out it provides a solid amount of healing to the melee pile. (As additional incentive to cast it on melee, when druids use Swiftend to proc Efflorescence on a rogue with Quickening, a cat druid with Nurturing Instinct, or a warrior with Field Dressing, those talents will increase the healing done by our Swiftmend – and therefore our Efflorescence – by 20%/20%/or 6%, respectively.) Efflorescence is easily one of my favorite changes to resto druids in Cataclysm, perhaps second only to …
Resto mastery has been through a lot since its inception. At the start of Cataclysm, our mastery was “Symbiosis,” and it was awful. I imagine that the designers tried to mimic the mechanics of Nourish, in that they created a Mastery which made our direct heals stronger if we used them on targets which already had our HoTs on them. Cool idea, but miserable in practice. Symbiosis had decent applications for tank healing, but for any other targets it only encouraged overhealing. We might put Wild Growth up on the raid and then chase it with Nourishes for the healing bonus, but WG alone could probably have been enough to top people off. In 4.0.6, Symbiosis was buffed to make it more attractive, but the same problem was still true – good for tank healing, awful for everything else.
Finally, with the release of Firelands in 4.2, our Mastery became what it is today – Harmony. Essentially, Harmony did the opposite of what Symbiosis had. Rather than increasing direct heals on HoT targets, it provided us with a buff which increased our HoTs as long as we cast a direct heal once every 10 seconds. I remember being cautiously optimistic when the change was announced, but now I can hardly imagine our healing rhythm without it. Harmony is an extremely elegant solution to the long-standing problem of (not very good) resto druids casting only their HoTs while ignoring direct heals, particularly in 25 man raids.
I also especially enjoy our Mastery because it is one of the only Masteries in the game (aside from, of course, that of Arcane mages) which is completely interactive. The vast majority of specs have a Mastery bonus which is passive – it increases their Fire damage, or bleed damage, or makes their shields stronger, or gives their heals an added HoT, etc. In contrast, Resto druids are constantly aware of our Mastery since we need to make sure that we keep up the Harmony buff as close to 100% of the time as possible. Many of us even use add-ons to track it, because the increased HoT healing we get from it is so worthwhile. Personally, I’m thrilled to have such an interesting and fun mechanic for our Mastery and I’m glad that Blizzard’s developers chose to ditch Symbiosis and start over from scratch. Harmony appeals to our versatility, and encourages us to multitask as we heal – and that’s something I already loved about our spec.
The Most Important Part of This Post
And now, we will all take a moment to mourn the loss of perma – Tree Form. Please bow your heads, dear readers, as we observe a moment of silence for Grumpy Trees everywhere.
… … … … … … …
I’ll admit to being, um, furious when I heard that Tree Form was going away. I recognize that not everyone liked the form, but for me it was an essential aspect of what it meant to be a druid healer. Tree Form hadn’t been around forever – it was introduced at the beginning of BC – and druids who healed in Vanilla were already used to running around in caster form. While I’ve gotten used to my caster form over the last year or so, and while I have now grown even to appreciate it thanks to Transmogrification, I still can’t shake my love for the perma-Tree.
When I first downloaded WoW, I had a long conversation with the friend who convinced me to start playing regarding what class I should try. I read the descriptions of each class on the forums and tried to decide what sounded the most fun to me. When I came to druids, I liked that they were able to do a little of everything and that they had a connection to nature. I asked my friend what he knew about druids and whether they were any fun to play, and he responded, “Druids are pretty much all about their forms. They get to shapeshift.”
Threads crop up on the official forums now and again asking people why they play the class they do. When druids respond to these threads, the response is overwhelming – they created a druid because they wanted to play as a cat, a bear, a moonkin … or a tree. Shapeshifting is, by far, the thing which most defines us as a class and it is also the thing from which resto druids are now largely excluded. I like my pretty Transmog sets, but I’d take ugly, grumpy, ol’ Tree Form back in a heartbeat. Was it goofy? Of course. A pain in the ass for PvP? Ugh, I don’t even want to think about it. But an essential part of who we were/are? Yup, you betcha.
Now, all that complaining aside … well, I completely love the application of Tree Form as a cooldown. Tree of Life as it now functions is just such a fantastic idea – whoever worked on it really understood which spells it should affect, and how those spells should affect each other. The unlimited number of targets for Lifebloom is an extremely cheap way to spread HoTs over a raid who are taking significant group damage, and the instant Regrowths provide us with an interesting choice. In the event that someone is close to death, we can spam Regrowths on them in hopes that it will keep them alive at the cost of a good chuck of mana – Regrowth is an expensive spell and even in T13 gear we will burn through mana if we cast too many in a row. Alternatively, we can use the additional Clearcasting procs we get from having Lifeblooms ticking all over the raid to cast free, instant Regrowths on anyone who needs it. It’s just a really well-designed, synergistic cooldown, and one I certainly won’t want to live without come Mists.
The state of the Resto Druid is … strong!
(pause for applause)
Yes, there are things that we lack – most notably, a mitigation cooldown – and there are things that other classes can do better than us. But by in large, resto druids have a more complete and significantly more interesting range of spells than we ever did in Wrath. We use each of our healing spells in nearly every fight, and our throughput cooldowns are strong enough to help keep our raids standing through massive incoming damage. We were, perhaps, the healing class which had the most to learn with the changes to the healing model and we’ve come out of the experience more versatile and adaptable than ever before.
Most importantly, we can no longer merely blanket a raid in Rejuvs and Wild Growth and then AFK through the rest of a fight. While the majority of resto druid mains (myself included) will vehemently deny that we only used those two spells throughout much of ICC, the dirty truth is that we could have used only those two spells and gotten away with it. Druid healing is more complex now, but hopefully not in an unnecessarily complicated way that would make it difficult to learn for a fresh 85. The spells work well together and our healing style has a definite rhythm that it lacked before. Being a resto druid is more challenging now than it was in Wrath, but it’s also infinitely more rewarding when we get it right.