20 February 2009

Tiering Up

I wanted to launch part 3 of my healing series this week, but it's not going to happen. As Crash Davis said, "We're dealing with a lot of sh*t!" I was going to zip it out, but I'd rather it be worth the time. I'll be out on vacation next week, so you'll see the series pick up early in March. Thanks for your patience!

Last night was a milestone for Alamein because she got her first piece of T7 gear, the [Heroes' Dreamwalker Robes]. In itself it's a minor upgrade over the [Robes of Crackling Flame] I was wearing previously, but my hope is to add more T7 gear to it over time. The set bonuses will make a significant difference in its value.

The odd part about getting that piece, though, is that I bought it with Emblems of Heroism rather than getting a drop. In some ways that's a bit cheesy; you'd rather know that the gear represents a raid accomplishment. Some players will complain that you can run 20 heroics and get the same gear that requires a full raid otherwise.

There's a couple of sides to this. One is that I can say that I've killed Four Horsemen (who drop the token for this) a few times now. We always have at least another Death Knight and Rogue in the raid, plus we usually have either a Mage or another DK along. I don't remember how often the token has dropped, but the others have won rolls on it when it did, and frankly everyone who's won it has needed the gear more than me anyway. Token drops are a nice way to mitigate the randomness of drops, but they're still random, and especially with the plethora of DKs around, I think your odds on the Lost Vanquisher token are slightly lower (despite its increased drop rate).

The other side, though, is that I have no patience for the arguments about how you earn your gear. When I hear complaints about 'welfare epics,' I hear people who need to define their success externally. I don't care how exclusive your gear is, it's never going to be the single signifier about your skill or accomplishments.

You and your friends and your guildmates know what you accomplished. They know if you were dead in the first 30 seconds of the fight, if you are #1 in DPS in your guild, or if you have been around for every Naxx run plus helping newer players run heroics for gear. Or all of the above. The external signifiers should be treated as a bonus, not as the evidence.

I like having current tier gear on Alamein. We never raided seriously in BC, and I never had any T4 drops until people started PUGging raids late in the game. But it's more important for me to know that our guild has worked hard on Naxx. It took us a few tries to get Four Horsemen down, and when we did, that felt really good. I didn't need to win a roll to make the effort worthwhile.

18 February 2009

"I don't get the regen nerfs"

No time for a long post today. Thanks for the great response to the two intro healing posts; I have good plans for part 3.

There is a great thread ongoing on the official forums about the incoming nerfs to mana regen (through the five second rule) and how that relates to healing overall. For reference, here is the overall thread and here is the BlueTracker which highlights the Ghostcrawler (Blizzard developer) responses.

I don't have a complete response to this, and it's an ongoing discussion anyway. But I wanted to call out a few interesting points.

We actually want for healing to be less spammy and more about decisions and coordination. But if we did that sans other changes, everyone would be out of fsr even more and the content would be too easy. Make sense? Making regen more consistent is also the key to making healing more tactical and less monotonous and frenetic.
This really helps understand what they're striving for in 3.1, but I think it elides a significant point. 5SR regen doesn't directly make the content too easy, it makes regen too easy. That in turn means there's no penalty to spamming heals, so that becomes the right strategy to beating the content, and your best strategy is to cast your biggest heals as fast as possible.
Sunwell and similar content were tuned to where you couldn't realistically stop casting for regen anyway. If you are stopping now, it's because Naxxramas is easy. On challenging content, all 4 classes already spammed heals pretty consistently. That meant the out of FSR breaks came mostly from clearcasting procs or encounter mechanics that forced you to pause. When that happened, mana felt limitless. As I've said, we would rather shift back a little (A LITTLE) from GCD-constrained healing to mana-constrained healing.
This helps clarify the intent even further. In my IDH Base Concepts post, I intentionally put GCD before mana. GCD-limited healing is by far the biggest concern — today. The goal for 3.1 is that you're weighing it more against mana management.

The tough part is that in that kind of design, if your raid is undergeared or handling the encounter badly, you'll find yourself spamming heals to survive and then wiping when the healers go OOM. That will feel weird, and we'll need to adapt.
This change won't change the relative values of Int and Spirit. Int was already a good regen stat (in part because it provides other bonuses). However, you are rarely ever choosing between a +100 Int chest and a +100 Spirit chest (though you might be with gems). More to the point though, the regen formula is SQRT of Int * Spirit * a constant. We are just lowering the constant. If Spirit was good for you before, it will still be good for you.
This is really only partially right. Spirit gets hit harder because it no regen value outside this equation, while Int also builds up your mana pool (and adds Crit besides, which procs some mana-saving talents). So if you're going OOM, you'll first stack Int and MP5. Spirit will still be a Spellpower stat for Druids (Improved ToL) and (I think) Priests, so that should help mitigate a bit.
If you mean these changes will nerf Innervate, yes, it will. On live Innervate can be 120% of your bar, say 25,000 mana. Historically it was more like 75% of your bar, and it should be closer to that with these changes.
Pretty clear answer. This will feel like a nerf, for sure. It will definitely affect your choice to pop Innervate. Right now, I wait until I'm just about OOM... and even then it's a license to spam (even more) for a few seconds.
The problem is simply, the 5sr adds too much variance into your regen that non-spirit classes don't deal with. Blizzard wants to make fights that challenge your mana pool, but they have to be able to model what your mana pool should look like over the course of the encounter. When luck based factors can greatly affect that, there's no way to model it.
(Not a blue post, but endorsed by Ghostcrawler.) This is very good at explaining the motivation behind the change, and it clarifies how the developers got from point A (want more interesting fights/less spammy healing) to point B (nerf the 5SR regen). That linkage was unclear before.

The right conclusion is that yes, this will have a big impact on how we approach healing. At first it will be less obvious when you undergear the content — you can keep everyone alive, after all... until you go OOM. You'll feel like you just need more potions/Replenishment/Innervate/faster DPS. Adjusting to that mindset will be a challenge. It probably means some low-intensity long-duration fights. It also means a lot more attention to healing assignments (overheal is now a lot more painful) and the mana efficiency of heals (do more with less).

I'm still not completely settled into an opinion on how well this will work. We'll have to see what happens first on the PTR. In the meantime, my advice is twofold. First, don't make major adjustments to your gear choices, but you might start backing off just a hair on Spirit. Second, chill out. More changes will come, so there's no point to getting mad at this yet. At the least, save your nerdrage until you see problems on the PTR.

16 February 2009

Intro to Druid Healing 2: Tank Healing

This is Part 2 of my Intro to Druid Healing series. The five parts are:

Tank healing is the closest thing we get to a rotation. Your tanks should take, depending on the encounter, somewhere between 70% to 100% of the overall incoming damage. That's... the definition of a tank, I guess: he takes the damage, so you don't have to.

Sections on tank healing:

Know Your Tanks

This all starts with knowing who are the tanks. In a 5-man instance, that's usually pretty easy. (Though it can be confusing sometimes. I ran heroic Gundrak over the weekend with four Death Knights. Honestly, I'm not even certain which talents separate a tank-spec DK from DPS.) In a 10-man raid, it's a bit more confusing. You'll usually have a main tank (MT) and an off-tank (OT). 25-man raids will likely have 2 or more off-tanks.

On trash fights, you'll typically see the MT and OTs splitting up the mobs, unless the trash is pretty easy. Usually this plays out as one tank grabbing initial aggro, then the other will peel off some of the mobs onto himself. Be ready for this.

On boss fights, the MT is defined as the player who's tanking the boss. That often but not always means he'll be taking the most damage. The OTs usually have the job of grabbing aggro from "adds", the additional mobs that show up as part of many fights. Another common OT task is to grab and hold the boss when the MT can't; the Archavon fight in Wintergrasp is an example.

Be aware too that the MT and OT may change roles at different times due to class differences, skills, or gear. For example, in our guild our feral Druid is usually the MT, but in the Military Wing in Naxxramas our Paladin usually switches to MT, as Paladins have special tools against the undead that populate that wing. (I might eventually post an advanced topic about each tank class's special abilities and how they affect healing.)

The Foundation

Your HoTs (Heal Over Time spells) will form the base that do most of your tank-healing work. I'm talking about two spells: Lifebloom and Rejuvenation. On some fights, they'll be all you need.

Lifebloom (LB)

Lifebloom is the defining spell for Druid healers. It's also the centerpiece of your tank healing.

LB is a great tank healing spell because it's fairly powerful, ticks every second, and is mana efficient. On your tanks, you'll want to keep up a stack of 3 Lifeblooms, without letting them bloom. You should be able to keep a Lifebloom stack rolling on up to 3 tanks without too much trouble, depending on spec and glyphs. (Practice this if you need to.)

Don't let the stack expire. Your mana efficiency and healing throughput take a big hit if you have to rebuild the stack. The key here is timing your refresh cast: earlier hurts your mana efficiency, but too late and you'll lose the stack. (Lag can hurt you here too.) I usually shoot for about 1s left, or 2s if I'm being careful.

Rejuvenation (Rejuv)

Rejuv is a nice complement to Lifebloom. It ticks every 3 seconds but its ticks are fairly big. Another reason to keep Rejuv up: you can Swiftmend off it when needed.

Rejuv is unlike Lifebloom: you want to let it expire before you re-cast it. That's because it only ticks 7 times. If you re-cast it before it hits 0, you'll lose that last tick - almost 15% of its healing power (and mana efficiency). Remember, if you're looking at a timer, "0" usually means "less than 1 sec" and not "expired".

(Regrowth can bridge the gap between your foundation and spike damage. More on that in the next section.)

So for basic tank healing, keep Rejuv and a full stack of Lifebloom up at all times. Do this, and you've done 75% of your tank healing. But the other 25% comes at really important moments — when your tank is in a bit of trouble.

Spike Damage

When your foundation starts falling behind, you need to get caught up. We have a few heals in our arsenal that do this. The three most important are Swiftmend, Nourish, and Regrowth. Unlike the foundation, these are more of a choice: what's appropriate for the situation? They each have strengths and weaknesses.


This is an amazing spell, and you'll use it a lot. It is your biggest quick-cast catch-up heal, especially with its high chance to crit. So it's a good spell for when the tank has a sizeable health deficit. But it also leaves its HoT behind, so it's useful as an additional piece of your healing foundation. Its biggest weakness is that it has a fairly high mana cost. Use it when your basic HoTs are losing ground, or when the tank is less than 50% health.

Swiftmend (SM)

Swiftmend is a great spell: instant cast, decent healing throughput, decent mana efficiency. It requires an existing Rejuv or Regrowth on the target; that's why you'll always have Rejuv up — right? Its biggest weakness is the 15s cooldown. That does limit its use, but don't be shy: use this as often as possible.

The Glyph of Swiftmend is almost mandatory — it stops the Swiftmend from consuming your HoT. Basically, it saves you a GCD every time you cast Swiftmend. Highly recommended.


Nourish is a pretty good spell, though most Druids are having a tough time deciding when to use it. It's quicker than Regrowth and uses less mana. But since many Druids have more mana than they can use, there's little motivation to be efficient.

My current recommendation is to use Nourish if the tank is between 75% and 50% health, and if Swiftmend is on cooldown. I expect however that Nourish will get buffed, probably through an added glyph, and that Regrowth might see a bit of a nerf. Watch for developments in this area.

Panic Buttons

When the tank gets below 25% or so health, you need to start reaching for heroic measures to keep him alive. Druids are a bit lower on panic buttons than many other healers, but use what you've got.

Start by hitting your Swiftmend if it's not on cooldown.

Your big panic button is the combination of Nature's Swiftness (NS) with Healing Touch (HT). This gets you an instant cast HT, which hits big and can crit for even more. This can restore 25% or more health on even a well-geared tank. It's on a 3 minute cooldown, so you get maybe one or at most two of these per fight. Put these into a macro for best use.

If Swiftmend and NS+HT are on cooldown, your best bet is a combination of Regrowth and Nourish. Nourish will hit faster, so use it if the tank is really low. Beyond that, the key variable is whether you have the Glyph of Regrowth. Without it, Nourish is more efficient and about the same at healing throughput. With the glyph, Regrowth is about as efficient and a lot more powerful. See Phaelia's Direct Heal analysis for the details — but expect this to change with later patches.

Finally, there's Tranquility. This is a wonderful spell in 5-man instances; it can keep the whole party from death — not just the tank. It can be pretty good in raids, too — if you're grouped with the tank(s). Just remember that it has a 30-yard range, so you need to get at least a little bit close. If you're taking damage, you'll need to pop Barkskin to prevent Tranq clipping.

Other Considerations

One of the biggest things you can do to improve as a healer is to anticipate the fight. Make sure your HoTs are refreshed before stuns, if you know when they're coming. If an aggro switch is on its way, start stacking HoTs on the next tank. This kind of anticipation is what distinguishes the really good healers.

Be ready to use Abolish Poison and Remove Curse when necessary. It helps a lot if you know what kind of curses or poisons you're dealing with. Many are actually not that painful, and you can either delay cleansing them or just heal through them. But some are deadly. One example is Maexxna's Necrotic Poison. It reduces healing received by 90%, so you're basically locked out of healing your tank until you get rid of this.

Finally: practice. This is the most repeatable part of your healing job, and the piece that will benefit the most from refinement and repetition. Practice will help you time your HoT refreshes better and will help your reaction time to damage spikes. Polishing your tank-healing skills will really help you shine as a healer.


  • Know who your tanks are.
  • Start tanks with a base stack of 3 x Lifebloom and a Rejuvenation.
  • Spike damage: Use Swiftmend when it's available, Regrowth, or Nourish.
  • Also use Regrowth for its extra HoT.
  • Panic buttons: Swiftmend and/or your NS+HT macro.
  • Remove curses and poisons, especially the worst ones.
  • Know the fights and what the mobs will do.
Next up: raid healing. That should be interesting!

12 February 2009

Breaking News: Details on Dual Specs

Blizzard just released a Q&A Session on Dual Specs. If you're not familiar, this is the long hoped-for capability to have and switch between two talent specs. This is currently in development for the 3.1 patch, and the Q&A between Nethara and Ghostcrawler reveals the details as they exist today.

First, keep in mind that this is all under development, and could change along the way. My biggest fear is that some problem shows up that keeps it out of 3.1. Hopefully unlikely, but definitely possible. The details can change too with testing. I'd say that it's unlikely there will be wholesale changes from this setup, but that there will probably be some changes.

Key details from the Q&A:

  • You'll be able to have two specs: your current active one and a "saved" spec. You can toggle between the two. (Old news.)
  • Switching between specs will also change your glyphs and action bars. (Old news.) I get tired of pulling Typhoon, Starfall, and Insect Swarm back onto my bars when I respec for Balance, and this will eliminate that.
  • We'll also get some kind of gear manager that makes it easy to switch gear sets. This won't be tied to spec switches but instead complements it. (New news.) Probably eliminates one of my addons - cool!
  • Switching specs will happen in cities (old news) at the Lexicon of Power (new news). There will also be an Inscription ability that allows Inscribers to summon a Lexicon of Power, much like a Warlock can now create a summoning stone. (New news.) So, you'll be able to switch specs if you're in a city, or if you're in a group/raid with an inscriber.
  • We'll also get a better respec system, so that we can play with specs (much like you can on web sites today) and then 'commit' them when we like what we've got. (New news.) This makes mistakes a lot less likely, and probably eliminates another of my addons.
  • The feature will only be available to level 80 characters. (New news.)
  • Some hunter details that I won't analyze. (Mostly old news.)
This will inspire me to make my first ventures into the PTR, and I'll report back what I find. But in the meantime, my first impressions are: DROOL!

PS. Anyone who calls it "Duel Specs" is immediately banished to Goldshire.

Intro to Druid Healing 1: Base Concepts

I see a lot of referrals that come from people searching for "druid healing rotation" or something similar. Think of this post series as "Intro to Druid Healing" — it's first-semester calculus, but designed for math and physics majors and not liberal arts. You'll go on to bigger and better things, but this should give you a good foundation.

The intro-level course will span five posts:

So, on to DH1: Base Concepts

Like I mentioned, everyone wants to know a healing rotation. The secret? There is no healing rotation, Neo. Healing is, more than any other WoW role, fundamentally about reacting to what's happening. A plan is good, but you have to be willing to toss it out when the situation changes.

I could just tell you what spells to cast. But you probably know that already. (And if you don't I'll get to that in later posts.) The key to good healing is to make smart decisions. These base concepts will provide the foundation for those good decisions.

There are four basic concepts I want to talk about in this post:

GCD Management

Global Cooldown (GCD): A global or universal cooldown, frequently shortened to "GCD", is the cooldown which starts every time you start to cast a spell, and it affects all of your class spells. (from WoWWiki)
The number one thing that will make you a better healer is GCD management. One obvious part of that is knowing how to cast spells as fast as possible; that's just a matter of timing your casts to the GCD. But GCD also represents a choice. You only have so many chances to cast a spell. GCD limits that for every class to some extent. But as Druids, four of our main healing spells are instant cast, and a couple more have cast times either sometimes (Regrowth) or always (Nourish) about equal to the GCD.

So GCD management means making the most of your limited chances to cast heals. It's a matter of opportunity cost: spell X will do the most good at this particular time. There are many ways this shows up:
  • If you cast a heal on a target that dies, that's a wasted GCD.
  • If you let your Lifebloom stack expire, you'll have to spend 3 GCDs building it again. That's two lost GCDs.
  • If you forget, and (accidently) cast a Rejuv on a target that has several seconds left on its existing Rejuv, that's a lost GCD too.
Each of those lost GCDs is a lost healing spell. That doesn't matter on easy, boring, casual fights. But it makes all the difference on challenging fights.

Mana Management

If GCD provides the time-bound healing constraint, mana is the resource-bound constraint. Cast too many spells, or too many inefficient spells, and you'll run out of mana.

You'll see a lot of recent references that state "I never run out of mana" or "mana regeneration is currently too powerful, especially for healers." This is both true and false. There's a real problem here for moderate- to well-geared healers, particularly in larger raids. But a newer healer in green-to-blue gear will very likely have mana issues, particularly in a group or raid that doesn't bring the Replenishment buff.

Moreover, mana regeneration is going to change. You will have to manage your mana at some point. I'm not going to analyze the specifics, mostly because I expect them to change at least a little bit. Point is, it's a good habit to be aware of mana efficiency, and to practice managing your mana. Otherwise you'll find the boss at 30% health and you OOM with no remaining options.

There are three basic things to look for:
  1. What is the mana cost of your spells? In particular, what is their Heal per Mana (HPM) amount? This is basically a measurement of your spells' efficiency.
  2. What is the size of your mana pool? How much mana do you start with?
  3. What is your mana regen? Broadly speaking, this is the rate your mana bar refills. This is a whole topic itself, and there are a host of factors that affect it.
We'll talk about mana management throughout the guide. But it's also important to remember that mana management is secondary to healing. Or to put it differently, a mostly-full mana bar does you no good if you're dead. So you do your best to manage mana well, until an emergency hits and you have to toss heals like confetti. That's why good GCD management results in good mana management: you have fewer emergencies.

Gear Levels

I've talked about judging healer gear in this post and this post. I won't repeat that material; it gives some background on what stats you need and why.

The only thing I'll add is the concept of throughput versus sustainability. Throughput basically means how powerful your heals are, while sustainability talks about how long you can keep healing. Stats that modify throughput are Spellpower, Crit, and Haste, while sustainability is affected by MP5 and Intellect. Spirit is primarily a sustainability stat but it has significant throughput effects too, through Improved Tree of Life. (I'm not forgetting about the crit from Intellect, but it's a smaller effect on a less-important stat.)


This isn't some WoW term — it's a medical concept with a history dating back to the Napoleonic Wars.
Triage (pronounced /ˈtriːɑːʒ/) is a process of prioritizing patients based on the severity of their condition. This facilitates the ability to treat as many patients as possible when resources are insufficient for all to be treated immediately. (from Wikipedia)
There's a lot of complexity to true triage, but the most basic form relies on three categories for your patients: (Quoting again from Wikipedia)
1. Those who are likely to live, regardless of what care they receive;
2. Those who are likely to die, regardless of what care they receive;
3. Those for whom immediate care might make a positive difference in outcome.
The word "triage" comes from a French word that means "to sort", but I've always been struck by the "tri = three" resemblance.

For healers in WoW, this means understanding your priorities. Sometimes, if a DPS toon pulls aggro, you may not have enough healing power to save them. Sending heals onto that toon burns GCDs and mana that ends up wasted. Triage also means knowing who can wait because they're not in immediate danger.

Triage also involves knowing who you can afford to let die. Hint: the tank usually can't afford to die. It also can involve choosing among your DPS. Who's the damage leader and who's not quite up to par? Keeping the right one alive can make the difference between winning the fight and dying to an Enrage timer.

A related concept is healing assignment. As you get into 10- and 25-man raids, you'll be working with other healers. Assignments are basically there to help the healers avoid stepping on each other's toes. Again, this is all about resource management. If two healers are fighting to heal the same toon, there's probably another toon that's dying in the meantime.


The base concepts I talked about here are really what
  • You have a limited number of spells you can cast. Managing your GCD is all about choosing the right spell and target with those casts.
  • You can only heal while you have mana. Mana management is a bit avoidable at the moment, but it's going to get more important with patch 3.1. Sometimes, however, mana concerns have to take a back seat to just keeping people alive.
  • Your gear represents a hard limit on how much healing you can do.
  • Sometimes, deciding who lives and who dies is part of being a healer. That's triage.
OK, that's my throat-clearing first post. Next time out I'll look at tank healing.

11 February 2009


Hi folks! Just a quick post to say hello to all the new visitors coming over from Resto4Life. Thanks for the link, Phae!

I hope you find something useful here. But I wanted to say something about where I'm coming from. Our guild is 10/15 in normal Naxx, and we typically PUG in two players for our raids. We wipe often (currently on Hegian and Four Horsemen sometimes and on Grobbulus a lot). I'm not as strong at theory as Phaelia or World of Matticus or the crowd at Elitist Jerks. I spend as much time on Festival achievements as I do on raids.

That said, I believe a few key things:

  • A casual player might not have the gear that a hardcore raider does, but there's no reason the casual can't have the same skills.
  • The casual player often has to work a lot harder and needs more skill than the raider in a guild that's farming heroic Naxx and EoE every week.*
  • There is an amazing amount of heavy-duty theorycraft and good analysis that's out there.** But it's a very steep learning curve, and casual players often have to spend a lot of time to process and assimilate that knowledge.
That's what I'm trying to do with this blog: connect some of the dots for more casual players — specifically Balance and Restoration Druids — to help you upgrade your skills.

So most of my posts will be pretty elementary for the hardcore players. But hopefully they're useful to a lot of people also. I sometimes simplify stuff, and I'm sure I get a lot wrong too. Call me on it! And if there's anything you want to hear about, let me know.

*The hardcore raider may well be more skilled; that's what got him or her in the hardcore raids to begin with. But those raids are going to see shorter fights, less damage, and fewer mistakes. Casuals by definition are going to have to deal with a lot of crap, so they use their skills more.

**I can't emphasize this enough. The available resources are astonishing. There are whole disciplines of IT that should be so lucky.

10 February 2009

3.0.9: The Stealth Patch

Patching has been weird of late. Last week we had 3.0.8a, which didn't do much other than fix a few bugs and tooltips. Now, today we are getting a 3.0.9 patch. This hasn't been on the PTR at all but as usual MMO-Champion has the goods.

There are a handful of class changes. Some are significant, but for Druids this will be a quiet patch. There's only one Druid note and it's Feral:

Ferocious Bite: This ability now only uses up to 30 energy in addition to its base cost.
I won't try to analyze the change, but you can check out the EJ discussion if you're concerned.

Other classes have more changes, but they're roughly similar in impact. There's really only one that might be relevant for caster Druids. All cast time increase debuffs — Mind Numbing Poison (Rogue), Curse of Tongues (Warlock), and a couple Hunter pet abilities — are nerfed from up to 60% cast time increase to only 30%. So, you'll see that in PvP.

There are also some minor UI and raid changes. All in all, it's a clean-up patch, probably designed to fix some pressing Arena issues while limiting the impact on PvE.

So the patch itself doesn't represent a major change. What I'm taking from it though is some positive impressions that Blizzard is getting more nimble at deploying changes. This is not a trivial thing, and getting even a +0.0.1 patch out the door in two weeks is rather impressive. That speaks to their confidence in both design and implementation, as well as agility in QA.

This is a good thing because it makes it more likely to get quick fixes to problems, as well as allowing new stuff to come more quickly. The complaint of course is that "they're making too many mistakes," but that doesn't hold up to inspection. If you look back at Burning Crusade history, there were 9 patches within the first 4 months of the initial 2.0.1 patch. For WotLK, it's more like 6 patches over a comparable time, and most of the fixes have been for balance issues rather than crashing bugs. Blizzard deserves credit for the development and QA work that they've done on this expansion.

The more interesting question is when we will see patch 3.1 — and what it will contain. I'm not going to start speculating too early, but once it's up on the PTR I'll start adding my thoughts.

05 February 2009

Switching to Balance: Stacking Hit

Last time out I posted about key Balance stats, and in particular hit rating. If you've read that, you know why Hit is important.

Suppose you're a resto druid who's decided to switch to Balance. Maybe you've got Naxx on farm now, so you need fewer healers. Or maybe patch 3.1 has arrived and you want Balance as a second spec. Either way, your Resto gear in general will do pretty well for Balance. The exception is Hit Rating. You'll want to stack up some hit to do good DPS as a Moonkin.

To stack up some hit, take a look at your weakest current gear pieces. Try to replace those with some easy-to-find gear with hit rating on it. There's quite a bit out there that you can get rather quickly.

Balance gear: pieces with Hit Rating and Spellpower
Purchasable, quest reward, or 5-man drops; 187 <= iLvl <= 200

Hit Rating
HeadHat of Wintry DoomCrafted~300g44
HeadTitan-forged Leather Helm of DominanceWintergrasp MoH4044
NeckNecklace of TaldaramDrop - OK (H) 43
NeckChain of Latent EnergiesAH - BoE drop (Naxx)~3000g34
NeckHateful Gladiator's Pendant of AscendancyPvP - honor3800034
NeckEncircling Burnished Gold ChainsEoH2525
BackHateful Gladiator's Cloak of AscendancyPvP - honor3800034
BackDark Solider CapeRep: Revered - Ebon Blade 29
BackCape of Seething SteamDrop - HoL (N) 29
BackShroud of AkaliQuest - Gundrak (N) 24
ChestEbonweave RobeCrafted~1500g68
ChestWater-Drenched RobeDrop - VH (H) 62
ChestRobes of LightningQuest - HoL 55
HandsEbonweave GlovesCrafted~750g51
HandsLava Burn GlovesQuest - VH (N) 36
WaistGirdle of BaneDrop - UP (H) 48
WaistBelt of Unified SoulsDrop - CoS (H) 42
WaistSash of the Wizened WyrmRep: Honored - Wyrmrest 40
WaistPlush Sash of GuzbahEoH4033
WaistFlowing Sash of OrderDrop - HoL (H) 31
FeetTitan-forged Boots of DominanceWintergrasp MoH1536
FingerRing of Northern TearsCrafted~300g31
FingerVoodoo SignetQuest - Gundrak 24
1H WepFlameheart Spell ScalpelRep: Revered - Kirin Tor 34
2H WepGrand Staff of JordanStone Keepers Shard32568
2H WepChilly SlobberknockerQuest - ZD 50
OffhandTelestra's JournalDrop - Nexus (H) 39
OffhandWard of the Violet CitadelEoH2538
Note: The [Deadly Gladiator's Focus Staff] also has hit, but it's a fairly difficult arena item (1930 rating required). Wowhead also lists Hateful and Savage versions of the Focus Staff, but I can't find any other reference that they exist in-game.

Don't be afraid to lose some Spellpower or other stats in favor of hit. A spell that misses does 0 damage regardless of how much SP you're stacking. And how much Hit will you need? Check out the WoWWiki article for a full breakdown. Assuming you have 2/2 points in Balance of Power and no other buffs:
  • Heroics: 53 Hit (0 with IFF up)
  • Raids: 342 Hit (263 with IFF up)
For raids in particular, it's unlikely that you'll have no other buffs, so 342 is probably more hit rating than you'll need in most situations.

Balance gear weights, revisited

This is another followup to my post on stat weights for trees and Moonkin. Last time out I dug deeper into Resto stats, and I wanted to do the same for Balance.

Here are my current Balance weights:

Balance weights:
Spellpower: 12.1
Hit: 11.3
MP5: 10.0
Crit: 6.3
Haste: 5.7
Intellect: 3.8
Spirit: 1.5
Socket-Red: 230.0
Socket-Yel: 140.0
Socket-Blue: 140.0
Socket-Meta: 360.0
Most of the stats are similar to what Resto needs, so I'm not going to revisit everything I talked about last time.

Hit Rating
The one big addition is Hit Rating. This used to be "spell hit" but this was merged with melee hit along with all the other stat normailzation that came with 3.0.2. It's a confusing stat. The WoWWiki article has a comprehensive definition. But the stat stems from the fact that there is a static % chance for your spells to miss, based on the level difference between you and the boss you're fighting, as follows:
Boss type  Level  Base % chance to miss
Heroic 82 6%
Raid 83 17%
To look at it another way, without hit rating, your DPS will go down 6% against Heroic bosses and 17% against raid bosses. That's huge!

This miss chance is reduced by talents and debuffs. Moonkin should always take 2 points in Balance of Power, which cuts that miss chance by 4%. Furthermore, Improved Faerie Fire will increase your hit chance by 3%. (There are buffs from other classes that help with this too.)

Even with those in effect, your miss chance on raid bosses is still 10%. That's why you need Hit Rating. The goal is to reduce your miss chance to 0%. >WoWWiki has a complete analysis, but generally the magic number for a Druid with Balance of Power and IFF will be 263 hit rating.

Hit rating has a hard cap: once you have enough to reduce your miss chance to 0%, more hit has zero benefit. That's why it's a funny stat to weight: it's hugely important until you hit your cap, but more is worthless. But adding Hit can increase your DPS by 10%, with no other improvements; that's a huge benefit.

Other Stats
Otherwise, your Balance stats are very similar to Resto. In general, MP5 and Spirit are worth less, because mana regen is somewhat less important. DPS can stop casting for a few seconds if necessary, in order for mana to regen. Healers generally don't have that option. Intellect also adds Spellpower through Lunar Guidance, raising the overall importance of Intellect.

Crit Rating and Haste are much more important for Moonkin. Every damage spell you cast, except Insect Swarm, has a chance to crit. That's a huge increase to your damage, so you want a good bit of Crit on your gear. Crits also have knock-on effects: they will speed your cast times through Nature's Grace, and to regen mana through Moonkin form. (Increased crit chance also adds to the value of Intellect for Moonkin.)

Unlike Resto, most of your spells (notably Wrath and Starfire) have significant cast times. Haste helps with that. Haste also reduces the time for a full channel of Hurricane, landing its full damage over a shorter time. So Haste Rating will increase your DPS quite a bit.

So to summarize: Moonkin need Hit Rating, probably up to 263 total. They want more Intellect, Haste, and Crit than the trees do, but less Spirit. MP5 is also not as important.

But having said that, your Resto gear is not bad balance gear at all. If you respec from Resto to Balance, you can start with your Resto gear and you'll do OK. The most important thing when you switch is to look for Hit Rating. I'll add a post soon with easy sources of Hit Rating gear.

03 February 2009

Resto gear weights, revisited

I wrote a post last week with stat weights for both trees and Moonkin. Today I wanted to go into the qualitative reasoning behind the numbers.

Here were the weights I had for Resto:

Resto weights:
MP5: 10.0
Spellpower: 9.4
Intellect: 5.8
Spirit: 5.1
Haste: 2.9
Crit: 2.0
Socket-Red: 180.0
Socket-Yel: 130.0
Socket-Blue: 110.0
Socket-Meta: 320.0
I'll look at primary, secondary, and tertiary stats. I'll skip the gems today, but in essence they're based on looking at stat values for the best blue-quality gems of a given color.

Primary Stats: MP5 and Spellpower

It is just about impossible to overstate the importance of Spellpower (SP). It is the fastest way to increase the size of your heals. This benefits you in all kinds of ways. Beyond having more powerful heals, you'll also have to cast fewer heals, which will save your mana. Spellpower always has been and always will be a key stat for any caster class. There will never come a time when you say "No thanks, I've got enough."

Mana per 5 sec (MP5) provides the opposite side of the equation — more mana. Specifically, it boosts your mana recovery rate. This works on both sides of the 5 second rule (5SR), but its most important when you're casting.

The value of MP5 is much less clear-cut than Spellpower. If you're not running out of mana, you have either enough or too much MP5. As mana regen isn't really a problem for many players, you'll see statements that "MP5 is overvalued". If two items are otherwise similar, but one has MP5 while the other has more SP, most players will prefer the SP item.

When you're evaluating gear with MP5, consider whether you ever go OOM. Don't think about the easy stuff you do; think about when you're really working. (You want to gear for the most challenging situations, right?) If your mana bar is mostly full, give MP5 a lower weight. But don't drop it entirely; you never know when new content will start drinking your mana again.

And also, be prepared for this to change; the developers have clearly stated that they want to look at mana regen. No info yet on whether this will be a tweaking of the numbers, or a complete change to the way the stats work.

Secondary stats: Intellect and Spirit

I only call these 'secondary stats' because they're weighted about half of SP and MP5. But Spirit and Intellect are important.

Intellect (Int) does a few related things for you:
  • Increases your mana pool
  • Improves your mana regeneration
  • Increases your spell crit chance
Our main concerns are the mana implications. A bigger mana pool is helpful in a lot of ways. The 'mandatory' raid buff Replenishment returns a percentage of your maximum mana, so a bigger pool works well with this.

Intellect is also key for Moonkin who have the Lunar Guidance and Dreamstate talents. But we're talking Resto here!

Spirit (Spi) is primarily about mana regen. By default it affects your MP5 only when you're out of the 5SR, but Intensity allows 30% of that to carry over while you're casting too. Spirit directly affects this regen ability, but it's also modified by the square root of Intellect. So Spirit has a much stronger effect on mana regen, but since Intellect also increase your mana pool, it has overall the bigger impact.

Your regen outside the 5SR is also important because of Innervate. Pure MP5 has no effect on Innervate; it's based completely on your Spirit-based regen. A common rule of thumb is that "you need enough spirit to regen a full mana bar within one Innervate." That's a good target but it's neither a firm requirement nor a hard cap on Spirit.

Spirit also affects your Spellpower via the Improved Tree of Life talent. It's a 5/10/15% effect, so 100 Spi adds 15 SP if you have the talent maxed out.

So you'll want both Int and Spi. As it happens, Intellect is found on more pieces of gear, so you'll probably wind up with a good amount without trying. Spirit is less common, so keep an eye for items that have a good bit of spirit on them. If you're close to a 50/50 weight between the two, you're probably in good shape.

Tertiary Stats: Haste and Crit

In the abstract, these are good stats. Crit rating increases your chance for a spell crit, while Haste rating reduces cast times and reduces your GCD. Both these stats used to have spell-specific versions, but in current WoW they are shared with their melee counterparts.

But both are a bit problematic for Resto druids, for various reasons.

Haste has two significant challenges. For one, our most important spells are instant cast, and see no direct benefit from haste. Regrowth, Nourish, and Healing Touch are all affected, but these are not really staples of the healing rotation.

On the other hand, the GCD reduction is nice. The problem here for Resto is Gift of the Earthmother. It already reduces your GCD by 30%, so you have quite a head start. That puts your GCD at 1.05s, but the GCD can't go below 1s. (Edit: With patch 3.0.8, GotEM now reduces your GCD to a flat 1.2s max.) Phaelia did a complete analysis of the relationship. But the upshot is that your GCD is already pretty fast, and so haste is OK but not crucial.

Crit suffers from the same problem: our best spells don't use it, and our talents make it a bit redundant. Our HoTs don't crit, which removes most of the value of crit right away. You won't cast Nourish or Healing Touch all that often, and you will mostly not let Lifebloom bloom, so you just won't get many crit chances from these spells.

The exception is Regrowth; that's used fairly frequently and crits are quite useful. But here we have Improved Regrowth, giving Regrowth a 50% increased chance to crit. So here Crit is just going to have less impact. A change from 15% to 16% crit is a big improvement; you'll crit about 7% more frequently. But going from 55% to 56% is hardly noticeable — only a 2% increase in crit frequency.

Crit is still useful, mostly for your NS+HT combo and for when you want Lifebloom to expire. But, like haste, you'll never feel like it's a stat that you're actively trying to stack. My experience is that you'll have plenty of both without searching it out. Treat it as a tiebreaker between otherwise similar pieces of gear, with Haste just a bit more important than Crit.

Other stats

The other stats you will consider are defensive stats: armor, Stamina, and resilience. These are crucial for PvP, but for PvE instances they're generally not worth sweating over.

Stamina is probably the most important, as you're sure to take random damage at some point. But most gear carries Stamina anyway so you're not likely to go searching for it.

Armor only matters if you're getting whacked by something. So if all's going smoothly, it should be irrelevant. This is why you should feel OK about wearing some cloth gear, when it's available. (Don't take too many rolls from your priest, mage or warlock friends — they need gear too!) Resilience is even less important for PvE, but it will help a bit.

You will see some caster gear with Hit rating on it. This does absolutely nothing for a healer, but you'll see some good caster gear with hit on it. This is designed for Moonkin (or Mages or Warlocks if it's cloth). Leave it for the DPS casters if they need it, but if not, the gear may still be useful to you despite the irrelevant hit rating.

Otherwise there really aren't any stats that a Resto druid will care about. Spellpower and MP5; Intellect and Spirit; Haste and Crit.

02 February 2009

Druids: What's the best raid heal?

What raid heal should you cast?

First, let's talk about what a raid heal is. In short, it's the quick heal you throw on someone who's not the tank. It's mostly used when a healer or DPS takes incidental damage. Caught in AOE. Stands in the fire. Draws aggro from an add. Someone other than the tank has taken damage, and you need to fix it. This could apply to 25- or 10-man raids, or even 5-man groups.

The short TL;DR summary:

  1. Nothing beats Natures Swiftness + Healing Touch... except the 3min cooldown. High mana cost. Save for true emergencies.
  2. Rejuvenation + Swiftmend is your best go-to option, especially with the SM glyph. Just watch for the mana cost.
  3. Wild Growth is surprisingly good (but inefficient) for a single toon. It's a no-brainer if it will heal 2 or more toons.
  4. Rejuvenation beats Lifebloom as an instant-cast low-cost raid heal. But they're close. Use Lifebloom if you need those 2 fast ticks, if you might follow with a mini-stack, or if you're just about OOM.
  5. Regrowth is good for a toon that's low on health but unlikely to take more damage soon — say, a hunter who grabbed aggro but then Feigned.
  6. Nourish on the other hand has a niche for players on the brink of death. Use option #1 or 2 if they're available, but if not, turn to Nourish. Spammable — faster cast and more efficient than Regrowth.

Let's look at the numbers. For now I'm not going to worry about mana efficiency or whether your heal will be overwritten. (I'll have a bit to say about that later.) I just want to look what will heal the most.

Calculated based on Alamein's current spec, glyphs, and gear, and including the normal raid buffs I run with (in 10-man Normal raids, as these are what I spend most of my time on). I pushed these into Rawr to get the amount healed for each spell. Alamein is specced 14/0/57 for this analysis. Glyphs include both the Glyph of Swiftmend and the Glyph of Lifebloom.

I did not account for Haste. For these purposes, it means that the cast-time heals — Regrowth, Nourish, and Healing Touch — will land somewhat sooner, depending on how much haste you carry. I also did not account for Gift of the Earthmother. For this analysis it only affects the Rejuv+Swiftmend combo, enabling it to arrive .3 sec earlier.

If a heal can crit, I figured the average heal, based on % chance to crit and average values for a normal hit and a crit. I would have just used the normal values, but Improved Regrowth would make that a bit dishonest.

I did not assume any pre-existing HoTs on the target, which affects Nourish, Regrowth (due to the glyph) and Swiftmend.

Overall, I do not think these assumptions will affect the analysis significantly. The biggest affect comes from the glyph and talent that extend the duration of the HoTs, as well as the Swiftmend glyph.

Caveat lector.

Druid Raid Heals

(You can also see the full duration effects here, but really the first few seconds are the most important, right?) One set of heals are big but either have a cooldown or require standing still. In order of preference:
  1. Natures Swiftness + Healing Touch. 3m cooldown - save for real emergencies (usually on the tank). Chunky mana cost.
  2. Rejuvenation + Swiftmend. 15s cooldown. Really shines with the glyph. Use it whenever it's up.
  3. Regrowth or Nourish. Nourish is faster and more efficient in the short term — it's better to spam. Regrowth is the bigger heal and leaves the HoT behind.
  4. Healing Touch. Too slow for most situations.

But what about the more efficient spells? Surprisingly, Wild Growth wins for even a single target. It surprised me that it beat Rejuv and Lifebloom; you can see the effect here. Of course this isn't the most efficient use, but if more than one toon is damaged, it's a no-brainer.

The real tough comparison is Lifebloom versus Rejuvenation. They're both instant-cast, relatively efficient, and spammable. Which is best?

Raid Heals: Lifebloom vs. Rejuvenation

Lifebloom gets in faster, due to its 1-second tick. It leads in the 1-3s frame as a result. It also leads from 10-12s, after it blooms. (This happens earlier depending on glyphs and talents.)

Rejuvenation takes a couple seconds longer, but leads in the 3-5s and 6-10s frames, with 5-6s a virtual tie. It also regains the lead for good at 12s.

So overall, I argue that Rejuvenation is the better raid heal tool — but not by much. The faster LB ticks can be an advantage, and its mana cost is slightly lower. On the other hand, Rejuv can be Swiftmended later if necessary.

Oh, what about Tranquility? In 5-man groups, it rocks. Used at the right time, and when the healer won't get pushback or interrupts, it's a "do-over" for the group. In raids however it's tough to use, as it only hits your group.

Finally, a note about efficiency and overheal. My belief is that theorycrafters worry about these factors a bit too much. They are important solely because they affect whether the healer goes OOM. (If you had infinite mana, efficiency and overheal would be irrelevant.) It is important to know what's more efficient, and to use lower-cost spells when they'll get the job done. But when things are getting rough, it's more important to know what will give the most benefit.

Worrying about having your heals 'overwritten' is similar. Yes, your efficiency goes out the window if another healer drops a Flash Heal or something on top of your Rejuv, wasting the remaining ticks. But this only matters for the opportunity cost — you don't want two healers wasting GCDs on the same toon. That's not an effect of any particular spell; it's about communication and working well with your partner. Beyond that, it's about efficiency — see above — and healing meters. And if you're watching the healing meters that closely, your raid will suffer from it.