Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Primer on Tree Healing (Part 1, Mechanics and Everybody Else)

It's time to start another primer, this one all about how to be a tree.  Not the kind of tree that stands around and looks pretty all day, though, I'm talking how to be the kind of tree that helps all the rest of your buddies kill things by keeping them alive.  Since I just finished a primer on bear tanking, you can probably guess that I'll use a similar structure to attack the complexities of being a tree druid.  I might cover it a little quicker, perhaps one post shorter, but the general idea is the same.

Or not, since I'm covering healing this time, instead of tanking.  Since there's a lot less interaction from other roles to healers, there's a lot less that really needs to be talked about, so we can condense a good chunk of the discussion.

The Mechanics

Much like how bear tanks are a little different than other tanks, tree healers are a little different than other healers.

I'll get to the part that most people talk about, but start with the other part.  I don't know much about shaman healers, but unlike priests and paladins, trees have no shields with which to absorb damage on their healing targets.  As a tree, this means that you have to use your instant-cast heals appropriately, and make sure they are off cooldown when you need them.

I said instant-cast heals, not HoTs.  Healing over Time spells are not for what I am talking about.

With rare exceptions due to set bonuses, glyphs, etc, none of the druid's instant-cast HoTs cause a heal when the HoT is placed on the target.  This means that your instant-cast heals are your only real way to try to pull out emergency healing, with the quick-cast Nourish a close second.

Speaking of HoTs, that's the second difference between druids and other healers.  We have 8 total healing spells, over half of which are pure HoTs or cause HoT effects.  We have only 1 spell that is always an instant heal, and unless we're using the associated glyph it costs us a HoT on the target to use it.  We have 1 way to turn any spell into an instant spell, but it's on a cooldown.  We have only 2 spells that can heal more than one target at once, but they're both range-limited and one is both channeled and has a long cooldown, which means in most situations it's reserved for emergency use only.

The other important thing to note about trees is that they generate the Tree of Life aura buff, which increases healing received on all targets in its range by 6%.  That's right, the first tree druid you add to a raid means every other healer in the raid just got 6% better.  It's really hard to judge just how effective healers are in comparison to each other because how do you account for something like this?  You can't.

So we come down to healing rotations.  Frankly, I've never focused on specific healing rotations, especially when healing raid-wide.  However, it's important to understand how different spells interact.

Even after it's been nerfed a couple of times, the spell you have to "manage" more than any other is Lifebloom.  This instant cast HoT has a short tick down in which it heals every second, then when it either falls off or is removed it "blooms" for a large single-hit heal and returns half of the mana cost to you (of 1, 2, or 3 casts depending on how many stacks are on the target.)  One of the nerfs it got was to nearly double the mana cost of it, which makes dropping 3 stacks on a target an expensive proposition.  It also means that maintaining (or, "rolling") 3 stacks on more than 1 target (which you used to be able to do on 2 tanks at the same time) nearly impossible.

So we have 3 basic schools of thought on how best to manage Lifebloom.  I've used each at different points depending on length of fight, tank healing needs, healing role I'm performing, and the angle of moon from the equator at 3:14 AM that day.  Which is to say at random.  Anyway, here they are.

Fast cast and roll... cast 3 stacks quickly and recast 1 stack before the bloom to keep the HoT portion rolling.  Costly from a mana perspective - three times the base cost to set up and one times every so often to maintain the stacks without getting the big bloom, but an excellent method during high-damage periods on tanks as it keeps our fastest HoT rolling, and we need it at max strength asap when these high-damage periods come.

"Slow roll"...  similar to the first method, but do not cast the 3 stacks immediately at the beginning.  My preferred method, when I can control my OCD and leave a tank without 3 stacks for a bit.  Gets the benefits needed for high-damage periods with a slower mana output at the start.

"Slow no-roll!"  Similar to the second method, but rather than continually rolling the 3rd stack in, let the stacks bloom after you get to 3 stacks on the target.  Reduces the mana load on the tree and gets the best healing-per-mana ratio, but requires even more attention to the lifebloom stacks and doesn't provide the best HPS.

Outside of Lifebloom, we have Rejuvenation, which is one of our go-to spells as it is instant-cast, heals for a reasonably large amount per mana, and lasts for a fairly long time.  The only downside is that there is no instant heal (at least not normally), and it only ticks every 3 seconds.  Our other long-running HoT is Regrowth, which applies a decent heal when cast and an 18-second HoT effect.  Our two group HoTs are Wild Growth (which I will bow down at the altar of in a moment) and Tranquility.  Tranquility is an emergency-use only type ability, but it is a very strong medium-length AOE HoT, although it has a long cooldown and is channeled.  I should note that technically Tranquility is not a HoT, it will not get any benefit from bonuses to "Healing Over Time" spells, but it might as well be one.

Wild Growth is the single most amazingly awesome healing spell I have ever seen.  The limited 15-yard range on the splash heal is the only thing that keeps it from complete brokenness.  It's pretty strong, it ticks quickly, it has a relatively short cooldown, it hits 5 (6 with the glyph) targets, and it's instant cast.  It's a smart heal - you get to pick 1 target, and the other 4 or 5 are chosen according to who needs the most healing in range of the spell, and that's raid-wide, not just party-wide.  When assigned to raid healing (and even when not) it's an awesome tool, especially when groups that have to be close together (hello, melee!) are going to be getting a fairly large chunk of damage.  It's almost always among the top 2-3 spells for the heals I generate, and on fights with a lot of raid-wide damage it's number 1.

Healing Touch is our long-cast big single-target heal.  I use it most often in 2 situations: first, in situations such as Lord Jaraxxus' Incinerate Flesh, where you need to fulfill a large healing requirement, and two, when I need big heals fast and Nature's Swiftness is up.  A lot of folks Macro NS and HT together so that they don't use HT without NS unless they absolutely have to.

Swiftmend is our instant cast heal.  Even glyphed, it requires a Regrowth or Rejuvenation stack on the target, and if not glyphed it eats that HoT off the target.  If it didn't have a cooldown it would be one of my most-used abilities.  As it is, it is an excellent spell for emergency situations, allowing you to pull a tank or dps out of danger quickly.

Nourish provides the tree with a fairly large medium length cast time direct heal.  Without the glyphs and talents to properly support it, it is a solid but not amazing spell.  Many trees that focus on tank healing glyph and spec to make this as powerful as possible, as it quickly becomes a very strong spell for its mana cost and casting time.

Move along, nothing (more) to see here...

How to Deal with a Tree

Anyway, since most dps and tanks don't have major interactions with healers during fights (it's almost all the other way around, healers acting on other raid members), this doesn't alter much with the way other raid roles work with healers.  For most folks, the healers are just there to keep us alive, and maybe sometimes we need to distract/kill something that's trying to eat them.  What I've laid out here is good information to know, but really doesn't affect much in your raiding.

For raid leaders, however, it's important to understand how healers do things so that you can make healing assignments with respect to each of your healer's strengths.  So what do you need to know?

Properly talented, glyphed, and geared, trees can be excellent at either major raid healing role, be they tank healing or raid healing.  Even if you assign them to the role that they are not properly set up for, they're still fairly powerful healers, but you won't be getting the most out of them.  Trees that have focused on lifebloom or nourish tend to be better at tank healing, and trees that put emphasis on rejuvenation and/or wild growth tend to make better raid healers.  More than any other class, though, I see trees as hybrid healers - they keep HoTs up on one tank and spread around Rejuvenations and Wild Growths on everybody else.  Still, though, you need to find out how your tree is set up and what they, as a healer, are comfortable doing.

You'll also need to be able to judge how well geared a tree druid is.  Spellpower and Spirit, followed by Intellect, Stamina, and Crit Rating, are our key stats.  We need a little less stat sheet spellpower than healers of other classes because our Spirit provides us with bonus spellpower, but we should be within a couple hundred points or so.  Trees that forfeit spirit for intellect are hurting themselves for long fights, although they have larger mana pools they won't be regenerating mana as quickly, and it costs them spellpower.  The rest should be mostly self-explanatory.

Thanks once again for reading, I hope you've found this useful.  Tune in soon for a look at the tree spec I run as well as a look at the T10 set bonuses from a tree perspective!

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