The restoration druid’s mastery has a long history of changes. This is due in part to the fact that Resto druids are a really difficult concept to design, as we’re the only “HOT-based” healer, where our heals tick slowly over time.These HOTs are intended to be weaved together with a small number of direct heals we have access to (so that we can keep up with some amounts of burst damage). We are once again facing a change in the resto druid mastery bonus. The feedback on the Alpha forums from people doing mythic raiding has been overwhelmingly negative. This thread is going to try and contextualize this change, talk about where it falls short, and suggest what other design options might be available. Ultimately, we need to come up with possible solutions, given so many failed designs that have come before.
The short history of resto druid mastery bonuses
To understand why Resto druids have a new mastery (they don’t like) on Legion Alpha right now, we have to talk about all the failed Resto mastery designs. I inserted links to previous mastery discussions along with short summaries (but people are welcome to visit my old mastery threads to see the controversy & how our feelings about mastery changed over time).
- Mastery #1: Our first mastery made HOTs heal more on low health targets. This mastery never hit the Live servers because it turned out to be numerically terrible, as I documented in early testing. This was similar to the shaman mastery (which shaman really dislike), but actually worse because each individual HOT tick heals for so little.
- Mastery #2: Our next mastery increased direct healing on people who had a HOT. I initially really loved the concept of this mastery, as the post I linked showed. However, it ended up being really problematic in raid healing, where it just didn’t work to constantly chase HOTs with direct heals. Due to the fact that each HOT was on a single person, the minute you had 20 people to heal, the mastery mostly fell apart because having to cast 2 heals on every person was too cumbersome to benefit in raids. This meant that 20-man raid healers didn’t enjoy healing very much during the short period of time where this mastery was live.
- Mastery #3: Next comes the version of Harmony where casting a direct heal gives you a buff that then increases your HOT healing done. I will quote directly what made this so appealing: “The best part of the new mastery is that it puts the buff on YOU, and not on your target.” This version of the mastery is one that people came to know & liked (after knowing what the alternatives were), and some version of this mastery stuck around the longest.
New Legion Resto Mastery Explained
The new resto druid mastery for Legion increases your healing done for each HOT you have on that particular target (which can stack up to the maximum number of HOTs the druid can stack). The current Legion mastery thus requires stacking multiple HOTs on the same target. Importantly different from Mastery #2, this increases all your healing done to that target, and allows for stacking the mastery buff multiple times. While the first HOT gets some benefit from the mastery, you need 2 or more HOTs on a target to get the full bonus. Note that this stacks on your target, and NOT on you, which is an important design consideration.
If you heal one target, it’s possible to stack lots of HOTs on them (lifebloom, 2x rejuvs, regrowth, wild growth). In 5-mans, you’ll have a decent number of HOTs spread around the group, so that most people will have 2 HOTs on them. Numerically, in small groups, the new mastery is the same or better in terms of total healing done today. This also has the potential to be a significant buff to our tank healing, something they want to be relevant in Legion.
The new mastery in Legion is actually similar to the Mastery #2 described above. However, it does something slightly different, since the HOTs boost other HOTs in addition to boosting the direct heals on the target. For the same reason that HOT chasing with Mastery #2 was bad, the new mastery suffers the same fatal flaw. To do good healing, you have to cast a large number of spells on a small number of people, rather than healing the person who needs to be healed the most. This requires a lot of setup time, as the “buff” is specific to the person you are healing, and not to you as the healer. While someone else can jump right in, you have to anticipate who might be taking damage and then cast 2 to 3 heals on them to get the full mastery benefit. This is going to be somewhat tedious in raid dungeons, where you may end up devaluing Mastery to a great extent in 20-man raids (where only the tank will reliably get the full mastery bonus out of your heals).
Druids are designed as HOT healers, where we are slow and require ramp up time to reach our full healing strength. Rather than spamming true AOE heals, we weave multiple single-target HOTs on tons of people between AOE heals that have cooldowns. Stacking multiple HOTs on the same person is a slow process – especially if you are responsible for watching 20 people (at 20 people, HOT stacking becomes a potentially frustrating process).
Sigma suggests (on the alpha forums) that: “I get the impression that people are significantly overestimating how many HoTs one has to have stacked to get reasonable value out of the mastery.” This is exactly the problem that makes the mastery feel psychologically bad, though. The answer is always going to be “more than 1 HOT”, and in that case, you are HOT-chasing like we did with mastery #2. People are always going to feel like the best strategy is to chase a HOT with another HOT so that you can maximize mastery healing. The mastery largely isn’t passive bonuses to your preferred healing style. It requires you to actively make decisions about whether or not you want the full benefit of your mastery or if you are okay only benefiting partially from it. Anyone interested in maximizing their mastery has to cast more heals than they might want on a particular target.
This is ultimately why Mastery #2 failed: It feels bad to have to chase your HOTs with more spells (either direct heals or HOTs). The mastery increases the feeling like you have to cast 2 heals for every person you heal (when everyone else around you casts 1 and moves on). This impact on our healing style in 20-man raids isn’t all that fun and makes it hard to keep up with other healers who don’t have to ‘waste GCDs’. So, for 5-mans, the new Legion mastery works fine, but in raids, it feels bad & taxing. Numerically on paper, the new mastery works out fine – but it feels psychologically wrong. The new mastery changes how we heal in ways that forces you to constantly think about the mastery, rather than constantly thinking about the best way to save someone’s life. In that way, you are investing a lot of time into a small number of people, which isn’t a viable 20-man strategy where your HOT investment in that smaller number of people is ultimately going to be stomped on by other people’s big AOE burst heals and result in overhealing.
Is there another option?
The most important point my trip down memory lane highlights is that the most popular druid mastery (the one we currently have today) works best because it places the buff on the healer. The most obvious solution would just be to go back to the old mastery if the new one won’t work. However, most of the time we were using Swiftmend to “prime” our mastery today, and the cooldown change for Swiftmend means we’d have to rely on a different strategy for getting our mastery buff (which would probably waste fewer GCDs than a HOT-chasing strategy). Overall, looking at the history of druids, it would be more rewarding and feel more natural if the mastery worked with our HOT spreading design, rather than requiring HOT stacking.
It might be possible to change the Legion mastery to put a stacking buff on the druid that increases our healing done for each person who has a HOT on them. We’d obviously need a cap on any type of self-buff so that it didn’t spiral out of control (e.g., maybe 3?). That said, with the fact that druids always spread around our HOTs, that kind of mastery might feel too passive & boring. Then again, maybe a passive & “boring” mastery is better than returning to the days of mastery #2, where you chased your HOTs with other spells just for the purpose of gaining more mastery benefit.