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Shifting Perspectives: When healers run out of options

Allison Robert

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Shifting Perspectives for cat, bear, restoration and balance druids. This Tuesday, the upcoming Wild Growth nerf gets us thinking.

As with our previous Shifting Perspectives on tanking and healing the Zandalari 5-mans introduced in patch 4.2, I'd like to run an edition on tanking and healing the new Hour of Twilight, Well of Eternity, and End Time heroics. While I prep that, we've been left with an unpleasant but perhaps not totally unexpected nerf to Wild Growth as of last week's PTR patch notes.

Let us be frank, my brethren. Is Wild Growth overpowered? Yep.

Is it doing too much healing for too little effort? Probably. When even I can keep your ungemmed, unenchanted premade group's collective ass alive on my first trip into a new heroic despite getting lost and arriving at the group a minute late, a spell is way too good.

But is that completely irrelevant to why Wild Growth is really a problem? Yep.

Patch 4.3 PTR Notes

These are the changes introduced into the first patch 4.3 Public Test Realm (PTR) build that went live this past week. While this is something we try to stress with every new patch on the horizon, it should be repeated that nothing on the PTR is ever set in stone. Blizzard may revert the nerf, make it worse, leave the glyph alone, change the glyph but leave the spell alone, introduce a requirement that you /dance while casting, or put Deathwing in a Groucho mask.

But that's not ultimately what this problem is really about. Nerf or buff Wild Growth as you will, but either way, I think it's less important than the restoration druid's crippling dependence on this one spell in raids.

Glyphed Wild Growth on the patch 4.3 PTR.
So why was Wild Growth nerfed?

As useful as the spell is, it's a pretty brainless way to do a lot of healing ... and Blizzard has shown an increased and marked dislike for brainless spells.

My initial thought on seeing the nerf was a touch of pique. The 3-minute Tranquility that restoration got in patch 4.1 in place of a damage reduction cooldown guarantees that druids will be putting out all kinds of absurd numbers for raid healing purposes. Consequently, it was tough not to bristle at something that Blizzard had to know was basically inevitable.

But from how Ghostcrawler (lead systems designer) described the situation in the most recent Dev Watercooler, my assumption is that Blizzard bypassed the numbers that Tranquility adds to druid healing while evaluating the issue. Everyone involved acknowledges that a 3-minute Tranquility pads the meters, but the developers are (probably) willing to tolerate this as long as druids are otherwise competitive but not overpowered raid healers.

We're now alone among the five healing specs in not bringing a damage reduction cooldown or other form of damage mitigation to raid survivability, and something else has to recommend the spec in its place. Rogues have long argued that, when you don't bring anything to a raid but damage, you had better be doing consistently higher damage than anyone else. If you find this line of argument compelling, the restoration druid could arguably be said to be the healing equivalent.

But given Blizzard's stated aims for how healers are meant to operate, Wild Growth is clearly hurting for a visit from the nerf bat. It does too much healing for too little effort on the player's part, and that's something that the developers have expressly been trying to avoid in Cataclysm. While it's possible that they'll reconsider the nerf after some testing, I would bank on something unpleasant happening to the spell in some capacity as the developers gear up for the next expansion.

Restoration druid healing in End Time.
Effects on the Dragon Soul raid

What effect will this have on the Dragon Soul raid? Your guess is as good as mine. As far as I'm aware, the raid isn't yet available on the PTR, so no one's sure what to expect from the various encounters. However, as we discussed last week, it's likely that heavy raid damage will figure prominently on the various boss encounters. While the last raid of each expansion has always made use of extensive and dangerous raid damage, the extra cooldowns that have been granted to each tank spec imply that you'll have ample opportunity to use them.

For the moment, I'm banking on the usual raid damage-palooza you'd expect of an end-expansion raid, and it'll be interesting to see exactly how the druid fares under the circumstances.

Restoration druid healing in End Time.
Why Wild Growth is a problem

How shall I describe this? Wild Growth is like running around naked in a house with a ceiling leak, broken windows, bullet-ridden walls, no fans, one moth-eaten sweater, and a top-of-the-line heating and central air system controlled by a remote thermostat. Sometimes you're cold, sometimes you're hot, and sometimes you're just right, but your only reliable means of temperature control is that thermostat. The developers can fiddle with it in order to make you warmer or lower it whenever you're too hot, and that's all very well and good. The thermostat has a demonstrable effect on your health, and you're glad that it's there. However, you can't help but wonder if you'd be better off if you weren't so reliant on that one dial for your overall comfort and if the root of your problems weren't the terrible to nonexistent options you've got outside of it.

Wild Growth could be the worst spell ever invented, scale terribly, gulp more mana than it already does, and add to the national debt each time it ticks. We'd still use it. Once WG is on cooldown, the druid's other options for AOE healing are all ... well, terrible to nonexistent.
  • Rejuvenation is a great spell, but each global cooldown you spend putting Rejuvenation on a player is one you didn't spend on someone else.
  • Lifebloom is restricted to a single target, and you're not going to take it off the tank unless you've just blown Tree of Life.
  • Nourish is a maintenance heal and only reaches its real potential on targets with HOTs already running.
  • Neither Regrowth nor Healing Touch is designed for raid healing purposes and, over the course of a lengthy fight, can't be used with impunity.
  • Efflorescence is great when you can Swiftmend someone who needed it within a small pack of people who could also benefit from some healing. Using it on the tank, using it on fights where people are spread out, or blowing Swiftmend on someone who needed quick healing among a pack of otherwise topped-off raiders means a portion of the yoked spells inevitably goes to waste. Actually, Efflorescence's dependence on an ability that shouldn't logically be yoked to it is one of the more compelling reasons why the restoration druid would benefit from a bit of an overhaul in the run-up to the next expansion.
  • The druid's mastery is now entirely dependent on healing with direct spells or Swiftmend at least once per 10 seconds. A portion of your healing has to be occupied by these abilities to get any use from the mastery stat at all, so the druid is literally obligated to spend a portion of time on single-target healing (or keep Swiftmend on cooldown) so as not to waste the stat.
Feral druid in End Time.
Once you look at the rest of the druid's arsenal, an unhappy truth emerges: The druid is not well situated to deal with raid damage outside of its traditional overreliance on Rejuvenation and Wild Growth. In rereading a Shifting column I published more than a year ago when Cataclysm was still in beta, I'm struck by how much the description of what the druid brought to a Wrath raid is still true today. In the absence of significant changes to its mechanics, the class has resettled back into the questionable niche it occupied then -- providing massive, constant throughput. Except when it can't, and that's when the real trouble starts.

A heavily nerfed and longer-cooldown Wild Growth has already played a role in Cataclysm and mostly did so with very poor results for the spec between patches 4.0.3 and 4.0.6. Between an expensive Rejuvenation and an expensive WG with what was then a baseline, 10-second cooldown, the druid sank to the bottom of the healing meters and stayed there. We couldn't compete with priests' and paladins' throughput, mana efficiency, or cooldowns, and once RJ and WG were somewhat unnerfed, we could still only compete on the former two.

As Blizzard examines each spec in its approach to the next expansion, I think it might be worthwhile to consider adding another AOE heal to the druid's arsenal. Wild Growth is a problem, not because it's a bad spell or an overused one but because it's the primary means by which a druid can reasonably close the healing gap between itself and other specs and, in so doing, stay relevant to a raid.

Shifting Perspectives helps you gear your bear druid, breaks down the facts about haste for trees, and then digs into the restoration mastery. You might also enjoy our look at the disappearance of the bear.

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