The beginning of an expansion is usually a bad time to write deep, meaningful, and typically pompous posts on the "state of the class" and whither the druid and all that crap. For that matter, the beginning of Mists of Pandaria struck me as an especially bad time, because so much of what we were used to in WoW got changed and sent everyone scrambling. Toss in a brand-new hybrid class (the monk), and you've got the perfect storm of elements that make evaluating healer performance a dicey proposition at best. I poured myself a nice cocoa, kept an eye on World of Logs and Raidbots, and watched as the numbers rolled in and a legion of holy priests tore their garments and cried out in despair.
Given that patch 5.1's now live, it seems an appropriate time to swirl that cocoa, take a look at how healers did in tier 14, and ask what's likely to change. As of now, it seems apparent that:
- Holy priests were actually right.
- Monks kicked your dog, seduced your mom, stole your XBox, and drove off in your car.
- Paladins are still topping the charts on certain encounters, but they're no longer dominating all of them.
- Shaman have improved a lot from their lackluster performance in Dragon Soul.
- Resto druids are back in same boat we were in at the beginning of Cataclysm, and it's not a very nice boat.
This bears repeating: Class balance is not the same thing as raid balance. I won't rewrite the portion of the January 2012 article that deals with this, but just keep in mind that we're examining healer performance in tier 14 raids, and not healer performance in 5-mans, battlegrounds, arena, on world bosses, etc. A spec that overperforms in raids is not necessarily a spec that's tearing up arena and vice versa, and raid mechanics that are excessively punishing to one class over another means that class will perform poorly, even if its underlying design is sound.
And, although this hardly merits mention in a Shifting Perspectives post, this is written by a druid player who has limited experience healing on other classes. I can tell you how your spec has performed, and but in most cases, I won't be able to tell you why.
Overall trends for healers from the MoP release to present
MoP will have been out for just about two months by the time this article goes live, and in that time, a few distinct trends have emerged from tier 14's data:
- Healers are a lot closer to each other in 10-man than 25-man.
- Monk, shaman, and discipline priest performance scales from 10-man to 25-man content better than anyone else's.
- Paladins are nowhere near as dominant in 25-mans as they used to be.
- Holy priests have taken over from shaman as the "sick man" of the heal team.
- Monks are/were overpowered.
- Druids are currently reliving their tier 11 experience.
- Ranking the healers according to their most representative output, there's a pretty obvious progression of monks, discipline priests, paladins, shaman, druids, and finally, holy priests.
Healers are a lot closer to each other in 10-man than 25-man. This seems like it's been true forever, and the MoP changes didn't fix the "scaling" issues that plague certain specs. This is an example I've used before, and it may not even be the best example given that paladin performance in 25-mans has nosedived, but it's instructive to compare Holy Radiance to Wild Growth. While Holy Radiance's effect on more than 6 targets isn't that great, it still enables a paladin to heal up to 100% of the raid on either 10-man or 25-man. By contrast, Wild Growth (the druid's workhorse AOE spell) goes from healing 50% of a 10-man raid to 20% of a 25-man raid (60% and 24% respectively while glyphed). While the druid has other options for AOE healing, their lack of mana efficiency and/or target requirements aren't making up the difference. We'll talk about this more in a second.
I genuinely don't know whether the answer is to enable all AOE healing spells to scale to the same degree, which seems like a potential balancing nightmare. But unfortunately, the current scaling problems are another blow for 25-man raiding, which is really ailing badly right now. 10-mans are a lot kinder to healer balance.
Monk, shaman, and discipline priest performance scales from 10-man to 25-man content better than anyone else's. This is the case whether you're looking at top parses or a more general slice of the population. Put bluntly, monks are usually at the top of the meters no matter where you look, but they're really top of the meters in 25-mans. Discipline has risen strongly over the last two months, although I can't tell if it's because the spec benefits from gear more than other healers, or -- perhaps more likely -- experienced holy priests are jumping ship. Shaman get the biggest bump of any healer while moving from 10-man to 25-man content; they're pretty average in 10-mans, but consistently do better in larger raids.
Overall, it also looks like shaman performance is the one most affected by the skill of the player in question. At the very least, it's the most volatile.
EDIT: Some of the comments here make me think that some of the volatility is being driven by the shaman's mastery, Deep Healing, which obviously sees more benefit when players have taken more damage. Consequently, shaman performance will see more of a boost from bad or inexperienced raids than good or experienced ones.
Paladins are nowhere near as dominant in 25-mans as they used to be. No idea why, but they reverse the shaman experience by doing better than average in 10-mans and then falling to the middle of the pack in 25-mans. The two encounters that seriously buck this trend are Will of the Emperor and Sha of Fear, but overall it looks as if the two major balance concerns are/were monks and discipline priests.
Holy priests have taken over from shaman as the "sick man" of the heal team. Shaman definitely had the most problems toward the end of Cataclysm, but they're consistently running from the middle-to-high end of the pack in tier 14. By contrast, holy priests are suffering no matter where you look. They don't even have the small consolation that shaman once had, which was superior performance on encounters like Spine/Madness of Deathwing. I'm unable to find any encounter in the present raid tier with the exception of Gara'jal where holy priests have a snowball's chance in hell of truly competitive performance.
EDIT: I've had a few commenters take issue with my characterization of shaman performance in Dragon Soul, which makes me think they probably did a lot better past the early 2012 period in which I looked at it. What I can say is that they were pretty routinely at the bottom of the meters at that point, but I do not know enough about the spec to evaluate how or why its performance changed later.
Keep in mind that past performance does not mean that mistweavers are perfect and don't have their own share of issues. Personally, those little healing sphere thingies would drive me crazy, and while I'm tanking, they're pretty tough to see while the rest of my screen's covered in raid warnings, cooldowns, and ground effects.
Druids are currently reliving their tier 11 experience. Longtime resto druids probably remember our dismal performance during Cataclysm's first raid tier, which was the result of Blizzard's attempt to discourage the "Rejuvenation blanketing" that had dominated Wrath of the Lich King raid healing. The correction went too far and left druids gasping for mana while largely sidelined by priests and paladins. (Shaman were in the same boat, although they got dragged along for what was then a very, very good Mana Tide Totem.) The class simply did not have the capacity to keep up with the AOE healing pumped out by other specs -- or, more accurately, the druid had the capacity to keep up only for the short period that his/her mana pool permitted.
To the extent that I feel comfortable generalizing about us in relation to others, I get a very "tier 11" feel from tier 14, which is possibly just the result of early gear levels. Why? Because "Rejuv blanketing" still works (this is very apparent from top druid parses), but it just isn't possible to sustain before a certain spirit threshold. Our AOE healing seems to be significantly more affected by spirit levels than other healers', which means that tier 11 is doomed to keep repeating itself at the start of every expansion, unless something major about the class' underlying design changes.
Overall, I think druids are doing pretty well, but we're definitely one of the healers saddled with scaling problems in the transition between 10- and 25-man raids, and early mana inefficiency is a very effective throttle on our AOE output.
While our mana efficiency is much better than it was at this point in Cataclysm, I also keep thinking about the "thermostat" problem with druids that we talked about more than a year ago.
So how do patch 5.1's changes affect resto druids?
They don't. Most of the changes being made to druids this patch affect Symbiosis and a new triggered ability for guardians called Tooth and Claw. (We'll discuss Tooth and Claw in an upcoming guardian article.) This is all good stuff, but if you were hoping for a major buff, that ship don't dock here.
So what does this mean for us? I suspect it means that Blizzard's okay with the druid's current performance, and that advancing mana efficiency for us and a set of corrections for other classes is likely to bring the heal team closer to each other. In other words, the monk's being overpowered only renders us underpowered by comparison, and the solution is to fix the monk, not the druid.
What about everyone else?
Monks got nerfed. Holy priests got buffed. Paladins are like druids in that they didn't seem to get any changes of note. Shaman got nerfed, although the changes are significantly more likely to impact PvP than raiding.
Shifting Perspectives: Bear and Resto Edition takes a peek at healer balance in Dragon Soul, discovers why bears and PvP gear are a pretty good mix, lends advice on gearing up to hit the Raid Finder, and helps you level a druid in the Cataclysm era.