March 27, 2009

Patch 3.1 and Shamans - The PvP patch

So far, if you look at every PTR round up for shamans we've done here at WoW insider, you'll note that the changes are primarily aimed at PvP balance. There have been a few tweaks to resto aimed at mana regen (like Mana Spring going exclusive with Blessing of Wisdom) but in general, it's safe to say that 3.1 will be the shaman's PvP patch.

The most recent PTR build has a confusing bug fix to Totem of Wrath (Okay, so it's not changing to 30 yards, because it was 30 yards anyway and now it will be the 40 yards the tooltip reads) and a nice buff to Storm, Earth and Fire. Each new tank reduces the cooldown on Chain Lightning, meaning that at max rank the six second cooldown will be reduced by 2.5 seconds. Combined with Lightning Mastery, you will be able to cast a Chain Lightning every 3 seconds. While shorter cast times are always good for PvP, this change will affect PvE just as much by giving shamans more casts of chain lightning during AoE pulls. It doesn't really match true AoE, not even with the glyph on, but it's something to add to dropping Fire Nova or Magma Totem. And unlike those, it won't cost you Totem of Wrath to use. There was also this nice discussion of Totem Stomper macros, which I call a nice discussion because it's blatantly in favor of destroying them and scattering their virtual ashes across the wide and bitter plains.

So then, if we're patching shamans to be better in PvP, what then is the current status of the class therein? We know that the arena isn't actually setting many people's hearts afire lately, where do shamans fit into this decline? Well, actually, better than some folks... if you're resto, anyway.

Now, clearly resto isn't dominating arena healing. (And even if it was we wouldn't be able to tell from a sample this size, the top ten US Tournament teams does not enough data make, even a guy who failed statistics like me can see that) But it's alive there, and I'd assume it's in part due to the fun bag of tricks shaman healing now has. Going resto myself for Wintergrasp I've noted a few things.

  • I am a terrible healer. Honestly, I'm astonishingly bad. It's amazing to me that I used to be able to main heal ZA and even healed the thing solo twice. Seriously, did I forget what healing is? (The answer to this would appear to be yes, yes I did.)

  • Even as a terrible healer, I have pretty solid survivability in PvP. I'm no paladin, but with totems, Earth Shield, Nature's Swiftness, Riptide, Ancestral Awakening and Blessing of the Eternals I can keep myself (and even a couple of others) up for a while. Unless a Death Knight focuses on me. Even then I can stay up longer on the resto shaman than on my warrior, but I'm not doing anything productive aside from spamming heals on myself and hoping someone comes along and peels the DK off of me. Also, Strangulate and Mind Freeze make me unhappy. And then usually dead.

  • Rogues still kind of drink my milkshake. They drink it all up.

  • As a shaman I may have the single most potent arsenal for keeping a group of offense up. One WG match had me in a cluster with an ele shaman, ret paladin, rogue and mage. While a priest might have been able to match my AoE healing (or even exceed it) with ES and the crit-based proc talents plus Ancestral Healing (now that my crit rate's higher, AH is a really nice effect for a melee DPS in PvP I find) I can make one focal player much, much harder to kill while also healing the rest of the offense, so long as I'm kept relatively clear of things like the aforementioned DK or rogue.

  • I'm not terribly fond of MS effects. Big surprise there. They're not as nasty as the raw damage some classes can deal, though. I got jumped by a well geared fury warrior and was half dead before I could even cast a single spell, and the rest of the way dead while ES was trying gamely to heal me.

  • Did I mention that I'm a terrible healer? Well, perhaps what I should say is that I'm a terrible PvP healer, although I haven't really tested the PvE waters yet. I need to improve my use of Nature's Swiftness and Riptide, get more mobility and become more comfortable with healing with two guys trying to pull my face off and show it to me.

  • 10 arena matches. 6 wins. Two wins came from the DPS focusing on me but not getting me dead before our Warrior/Pally combo killed their DPS. One memorable loss came from them killing me so fast I didn't even see it happen, that was a Hunter/DK/Pally setup. Ouch. I need more resil gear fast.
Fine, you might say, but that's the state of one spec in PvP now. (And your own rambling, biased point of view to boot, you might add.) You just said 3.1 was the PvP patch, so what's new there?

Well, we know that talents like Frozen Power (in the enhancement tree) and the change to Earthbind in Storm, Earth and Fire (in elemental) are aimed at giving shamans of these specs some measure of control in terms of rooting/snaring opponents. Toughness is also relatively low in enhancement (15 points in) and with Elemental Mastery now allowing instant casts, a PvP elemental shaman really can afford to go fairly deep in enhancement to pick up the stamina boost. (Yes, that spec is terrible. It exists merely to show you that the points are there, and I hope talented elemental shamans are already picking it apart, as I will gleefully steal your work and apply it to my own shaman as soon as the patch goes live.) The goal seems to be twofold, to increase shaman surviavability (and in this case glyphs are going to be very important) and to give them more tools to help shape the flow of a fight.

Booming Echoes combined with Reverberation will allow elemental shamans to get the cooldown on their flame and frost shocks down to 3 seconds, which isn't too shabby for PvP if you're trying to escape. While it won't grant the rooting effect of Frozen Power, it does give elemental a reliable way to work a Flame Shock/Lava Burst into a rotation while still having frost shock available at a much more reasonable amount of time.

It's unfortunate that Hex hasn't been enhanced yet during all of these changes. Frankly, as the weakest CC in PvP it could use a look, as it's the only disarm/silence style effect that is trinketable. It would be better served by being made into an actual shapeshift spell instead similar to polymorph in my opinion, or to have the ability to trinket out of it (especially since people affected by Hex can still move towards the caster as well) and let it be affected by things that reduce disarms and silences. Or make it a flat pacify effect like the Teromoth's in Terokkar use. While I enjoy Hex for instancing (when I get to use it in our brave new world of no CC pulls) it's been a great disappointment to me in PvP, it barely even slows the pain-train down when it's bearing in on me. The Glyph of Hex will at least help with the amount of damage I can deal while fleeing (I've Hexed, Frost Shocked as I ran, and broke my own Hex immediately, which may just prove how bad I am at PvP) but it's no real solution. And to be fair, Blizzard may not be interested in giving us a solution: they may well feel the Hex is doing exactly what they want it to do.

The move of poison and disease cleansing totem into one water based totem is a positive godsend against DK's and Rogues until they one shot it. Ah well. It's still nice to have only one totem to remove both effects. If you have the Stoneclaw glyph you may actually be dropping that totem instead of Tremor (especially if there's a hunter instead of a warlock in that DK - Pally - X comp) so it may actually live a bit longer. Especially if Blizzard figures out a way to get rid of those horrible, awful, no good totem stomper macros oh how I hate thee totem stomper macros.

In general, resto comes through this patch more or less unscathed and is already in decent shape in PvP, to the point where even a really poorly geared, clueless resto shaman like say myself can still contribute something, and talented players can even do well with it. Both elemental and enhancement are seeing options for survivability and peel/shedding worked in, and elemental may even see some nice burst damage with shorter cast times on shocks, chain lightning, and access to an instant cast ability from within their own tree, not to mention a potential root (which is sadly dependent on Earthbind totem, which means to get it you're sacrificing Tremor and the glyphed Stoneclaw's damage shield). Outside of seeing Hex get an overhaul and perhaps reworking Frozen Power to increase Stormstrike damage as well, I don't know what I'd add. Of course, we haven't really gotten to see these changes in action yet. Will they manage to get elemental and enhancement up to parity with restoration in arenas? Do we even care at this point?

Time will tell, my own personal opinion is no, resto will still be the most popular arena choice, and no, not many of us care anymore. Perhaps this patch will change that.

Next week, I've been healing heroics! (I'm actually tabbing out from a Violet Hold run to write this.) How's it going? You'll find out.

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