I’ve always been interested in the way game mechanics in WoW scale from beginning of expansion to end – in the way that stats interact with each other to produce sometimes unexpected results. We’re just starting out in Cataclysm, but already some trends are starting to emerge, particularly for healers, and it has some ramifications for the raiding game. It’s worth a quick discussion of some of the background, so we’re all on the same page.
Scaling with gear works in different ways for different classes. For some classes gearing is as much an art as it is a science, and for others you must follow the proscribed spreadsheet or be perennially castigated by peers and raid leaders alike. But for healers in Cataclysm, the way in which they scale has some interesting and perhaps unforeseen consequences for the raiding game. It’s all a question of how raid encounters balance out against character scaling.
Tanks tend to primarily focus on scaling survivability by balancing stamina, avoidance, and armor. How they choose to gem and enchant to maximize on or the other will be based on damage patterns, on their healers, and even personal preference. We generally ignore threat until there isn’t enough of it, and then scale that up to the bare minimum required level, and go back to stacking survival. The community may well have a consensus on what’s optimal, but it’s always a somewhat handwavy debate based on principles and assumptions, and it’s difficult to actually prove any point. More of anything is better, but which stat is most important is always up for a little bit of debate. Well and good, it’s interesting and diverse – there are multiple routes to success.
Tank gear ends up helping out the healers in a mana-constrained environment, because when they can spend less mana on a tank, they can spend more on the raid. From tier to tier, Blizzard tunes boss damage output around what a tank can survive, and so long as the four tank classes are relatively close in total damage reduction, cooldowns, and burstability then it’s relatively easy to tune boss damage output to be dangerous but survivable, and it’s relatively easy to tune tank threat in comparison to DPS threat as needed.
DPS scales with lots of stats, there’s generally one optimal way to do it – although some fights might reward doing things a bit differently (100% haste buff at Sinestra, for example, changes haste values for some classes due to hard caps on haste). They scale fairly well because their stats all have a great deal of synergy, so boss health tends climb as an expansion goes on. That’s still a relatively simple tuning knob for Blizzard to adjust, though – raid DPS climbs, bosses die faster, fights get easier. Increasing raid DPS is generally going to be very noticeable for healers in a mana-constrained environment, because when they don’t have to last as long, they can spend mana at a faster rate, and therefore heal more.
Healers don’t just scale with lots of stats, they scale in two different ways that are extremely synergistic with each other. They scale with regen, allowing them to use the expensive high-throughput spells more often, and they scale with everything else. Healers generally value consistency, so they avoid crit and take haste/mastery as their main secondary stats. They end up able to “do more” in two different ways – this has lead to the current situation where in early progression, with raids in blues, healers were running OOM easily, but in heroic gear, healers have virtually unlimited mana – even while stacking a ton of haste. Regen limited models are fine, but healers have a regen limited model tacked on top of the other scaling model, and it’s already causing issues. Currently, in many ways, gearing healers will have the biggest impact on a raid because they’re scaling so amazingly well with gear. More regen plus more “other stuff” makes for massively more powerful healers. It’s also worth noting that the regen limited model is notoriously difficult to balance, because so many factors affect fight length and spell selection.
Is this a good model? Maybe. But if so, regen has scaled too far and too fast. If large adjustments aren’t made, healers will be chasing the haste/mastery cloth and jewelry that all the casters want, because spirit will be of minimal use to them, having reached the plateau of “enough”. If they need more for a fight, or less, reforging can make those swings fairly rapidly. There’s lots of subtle interactions in the way various different classes and abilities scale, but right now I’m wondering about the double-scaling model of healing. Have they scaled too well and leveled off or does this mean damage in Firelands so terrible that it’s only going to be able to be healed with Flash Heal equivalents, and healers will have to find enough regen to manage? That’s basically the next (and final remaining) step in challenging a manapool. It won’t be easy to do with raidwide damage, that’s already easily healable, and something that can be stacked against – it almost has to be heavy individual damage that required Flash Heals to start impacting healer mana in a real way.
Triage healing? Out the window. Firelands healing is much more likely to follow the Wrath model, where global cooldowns and raw throughput are the only things that matter, spell selection is rapidly going back the way of the dodo.