Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sustainable HPS theorycrafting

Tangedyn writes:
I was not satisfied with TreeCalcs having 2 different metrics. Although sound in theory, in practice hardly anyone knows how to use the 2 different metrics which is why most people seem to simply ignore MPS and look at HPS... which severely overinflates the value of Haste Rating. My model combines the two into one measure called "Sustainable HPS", basically the maximum sustainable HPS given available mana.
I'm delighted to see this kind of theorycrafting. Here is a link to the spreadsheet.

Tagedyn calculates over several healing models. To give an idea of the results, here are the relative stat values for the model where you roll lifebloom and rejuvenation on a tank and then focus on the raid:
  • int: 1.0000
  • sp: 0.3907
  • spi: 0.3707
  • mastery: 0.2099
  • crit: 0.1694
  • haste: 0.0756
A few things to note:
  • Intellect is the best, followed distantly by spirit, followed distantly by mastery and crit.
  • Haste is rock bottom of the barrel, both for raid healing and tank healing. This is counterintuitive, because it is king for max throughput. Max throughput just isn't that important.
  • Intellect is way ahead of other stats. Always choose higher-intellect gear when you have a choice. Notably, trinkets with int should be the better choice even across ilvls. Trinkets with both int and spirit are vastly better.
One thing I wish Tegedyn would add is support for raw mp5. This would be helpful in evaluating, for example, the on-use effect of the Jar of Remedies.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Always be casting?

At current gear levels, the best rotations for maximum sustainable throughput are a little counter-intuitive. The maxim "always be casting" does not hold for us right now!

To see why, start by looking at some heal-per-minute (HPM) estimates from the invaluable TreeCalcs spreadsheet on Elitist Jerks.
  • Lifebloom: 18.94 (assuming a rolling 3-stack)
  • Swiftmend: 9.94
  • Wild growth: 9.67
  • Rejuv: 5.53
  • HT: 4.96
  • Nourish: 4.92
  • Regrowth: 2.11
The exact values will vary depending on gear, raid buffs, and boss debuffs, but these give a rough idea. Also, these values will change in patch 4.0.6. Rejuvenate will get much cheaper, thus having a much higher HPM. Wild growth will do 30% more healing, which means 30% higher HPM. The 4.0.6 changes only further emphasize what I describe below.

These values assume that there is no overhealing. For progression content, if you can afford to let people drop to 80-90% before healing them, then this is pretty realistic. The main exception is that lifebloom on the tank will probably do a lot of overhealing, but you really need to keep that lifebloom stack rolling no matter what. If you let it drop, you don't just lose the healing from it, but also the mana regeneration.

Other things equal, you want to cast high HPM spells. At the top of the list, keep lifebloom up and cast wild growth and swiftmend whenever they are off cooldown. At the bottom of the HPM list is regrowth. Regrowth is just abysmal for sustainable throughput, so save it for emergencies or for omen of clarity. Overall, the extremes of the HPM list give us the usual conventional wisdom for sustainable throughput.

The spells in the middle are more interesting. They all have roughly the same HPM. Nourish and healing touch are nearly identical, and rejuvenate is a little bit higher. This similarity in HPM leads to a counterintuitive result: for sustained throughput, it doesn't matter very much which of these three spells you use! The only thing to be aware of is that if you cast the mana-heavy ones, you need to cast them less frequently. Thus, the more you cast rejuvenate and healing touch, the more dead time you need to sit still and let your mana regenerate.

If you are tank healing, then the thing to do is keep rejuvenate up and then cast healing touch every once in a while. How often you should cast healing touch depends on how much mana regen you have. This is a counterintuitive approach, because most druid bloggers recommend constantly spamming nourish and then casting an occasional healing touch whenever you can. However, I don't see the advantage of doing so. You do just as much healing and use just as much mana, but by casting healing touch you are able to move around between casts.

If you are raid healing, then matters are simpler: just cast rejuvenate. Rejuvenate has better HPM than any other option, and it's an instant cast, so nourish and healing touch have literally no advantage. The only time you'd want to cast something other than rejuvenate on the raid is if you need to heal someone that already has rejuvenate on them. All these rejuvenates are expensive, but like with tank healing, simply insert enough dead time that your mana doesn't drain too fast.

Both rotations have a lot of dead time in them where you just sit there twiddling your thumbs and watching the pretty graphics. How much dead time is enough? It's a matter of theorycrafting, and I don't know. As a rough ball park, though, I believe it should be substantial, something like 40% of the time. Instead of nourish spam, which you can do indefinitely, you cast spells that are roughly twice as expensive, roughly half as often.

I know this dead time is counterintuitive. Dps casters must Always Be Casting to get their highest dps, but that's only true when they are in a position of never running out of mana. Also, all the blogging restoration druids are recommending never-ending nourish spam whenever your mana is tight. Perhaps their intuition is that nourish is "free", because while you cast it you regenerate enough mana to cover the cost. However, you still have to pay the cost of the spell. If you instead don't cast, for the same amount of time, you get to cast rejuvenate or healing touch sooner, and this makes up for the lost healing from nourish.

If Blizzard wanted to change this situation, they could make nourish do much more healing and thus have better HPM than healing touch and rejuvenate. Then what we'd cast nourish as much as possible and only use the more expensive spells because we become GCD locked. However, honestly, I kinda like the idea of having some free time to think and move around. It's a nice change of pace. It makes healing more deliberate and less spammy.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Jinxed Thoughts strikes a chord for me in talking about healing easier content:
I love healing with my priest, but basically only in raids. I don't enjoy doing anything else on her. Maybe healing is such that if it isn't really challenging, it just isn't much at all. I don't know. Remember how healing heroics was in Wrath? You mostly just stood there. I'm not saying that's what heroics has become in Cata yet, but it's not far from.

I feel the same way. When dpsing, you can always try to get higher dps. With tanking, you can also try to get higher dps, plus you have to deal with marking targets, watching aggro, evaluating a path through the instance, dealing with patrols, and many other things. As a healer, though, once you have it down it's the same thing over and over, in five-mans.

Yet, raiding gets boring much more slowly. Perhaps it's because the fights have something to do even for the healers.

There are ways to improve this situation. One would be for healers to minimize their mana use, thus making a game out of efficient healing the same way dpsers try for higher dps. It would be great to have a mps or hpm meter instead of the usual dps meter.

Another way is to have healers start sneaking in some dps. The main problem I have with this is that, for restoration druids, you run out of mana very quickly unless you spend two points in Fury of Stormrage. However, talent points are hard to come by, so I wouldn't want to do this on a spec that I also use for progression content.

All in all, I feel the pain. I'm not there yet for healing heroics in Cataclysm, but it probably won't be too long before I am.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Druid love in 4.0.6

The 4.0.6 patch notes are out, and druids are getting a lot of little improvements.

The Mount Up guild achievement works in flight form. Yay! This achievement is much better for druids now. I hardly ever use a mount other than flight form, and now this achievement works for it.

For restoration druids, the most interesting change is that nourish is now very fast if you have at least three rejuvenates up, and rejuvenate takes much less mana now. Lissanna has some good discussion of the issues. This means that when raid healing, you can sprinkle around rejuvenation just like in Wrath, but unlike in Wrath, you can use nourish instead of regrowth as a top-up spell. Additionally, when you have mana problems and have to cast fewer rejuvenates, your hps won't drop as much as much as it does right now. All in all an interesting change; it leaves maximum throughput exactly the same, but it significantly increases sustainable throughput.

Among other tweaks to moonkin, wild mushrooms are improved. However, it's still not clear anyone will use them. Gray Matter writes:
It's fair to say that Wild Mushroom has been a flop in Cataclysm so far. They are difficult to place. It's difficult to make them affective given their very small radius. Overall they just weren't worth the effort. I've tried to use them in several fights but in most cases they were a waste. The question is will these changes cause people to use them?
For my part, I don't think it's worth bothering making wild mushrooms do more raw damage, or damage to more targets. They will either do more than hurricane and starfall, or less, and whichever one does more is the one that will be used for aoeing. Instead, focus on what's interesting about them: they can be targeted during quiet periods of the fight, and they can trigger fungal growth, an aoe debuff. The former strikes me as hard to make an interesting feature, so I'd focus on the latter.

Jacemora figures that melee stat priorities might be changing:
My only problem with the changes is that we are coming into content that supposedly is melee unfriendly according to Paragon who is on the edge of raiding progression… So I see this as a nerf because I have a feeling to be viable we have to run out of the action a lot. Even without that info I have this strange feeling they hid a nerf in there somewhere. My guess from these changes is that Mastery value just fell some… maybe haste too. I am thinking (without any math) that after agility, Crit might be the more attractive stat now… but probably not. It does however look to make our DPS more weapon dependent now though doesn’t it… bah, I suppose that has been the case for a while now anyway ever since the fixed our poor scaling in BC.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Blizzard buffs AOE healing... sorta

I just read, via Rank 4 Healing Touch, that Blizzard is improving resto druid's ability to AOE heal:
Nature’s Bounty no longer affects Swiftmend, but now has a new effect. When the druid has Rejuvenation on 3 or more targets, the cast time of Nourish is reduced by 10/20/30%.

This is a great mechanic. When there's raid-wide damage to heal up, and we have to do it in a hurry, what we will do now is cast a few rejuvenates and then a lot of nourishes. As our mana gets more plentiful, we'll cast fewer nourishes and more rejuvenates, except for situations where rejuvenate is too slow. I'm not clear how often rejuvenate will be too slow, however. In Wrath, rejuvenate was plenty fast for just about everything except Infest.

Note that this doesn't entirely answer the challenge Xaar raised, tohugh, which is a little disappointing. Xaar claims that our heal-per-cast-time of rejuvenate is significantly less than that of the similar fast-raid-spam spells that other healers cast. His combat logs show him getting about 17k whereas other healers get well above 20k per cast.

Xaar's objection doesn't matter much for T11 content, because we will run out of mana anyway if we chain cast rejuvenate. It suggests, however, that we might come off as feeble in later content when mana is more plentiful.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

AOE Healing Woes

A number of bloggers are complaining that Restoration druids have no emergency AOE abilities.

Kae at Dreambound writes:
AoE Healing? no longer our forte. Wild Growth has a monstrous cooldown, and Tranquility's is even longer. Swiftmend has a cooldown for its use and subsequent green puddle of aoe healing, but the puddle itself is insufficient for healing more than a sliver of health at current gear levels.

Lissanna writes:
The reason R4HT and Xaar are concerned is really because we have NO tools to deal with the spiky large burst AOE that is happening in Heroic-level raid encounters (which is a problem that only druids in guilds like Paragon are having to deal with now, but unless Blizzard does something, this is going to become a bigger problem with time).

Rank 4 Healing Touch writes:
So by now it’s no secret about Xaar’s (of Paragon) post on the Warcraft forums. In his post he calls out some rather serious issues with restoration druids at the higher end of this current tier of content. As of right now, due to poor scaling with gear and lack of burst AoE healing druids have fallen pretty low on their healer priority list for heroic content.

It's now the common lore among resto Druid bloggers, right up there with haste having a cap and the new Tree of Life being a travesty.

The discussion is a little odd to me, though. We have just as good of tools for dealing with raid-wide damage as we did in Wrath. What's different now is that rejuvenation has been doubly nerfed: it takes far more mana, and it doesn't last as long. Rejuvenation is mana expensive, but what exactly do you expect if you want to heal everyone, a lot, and quickly?

If you look ahead to later tiers of gear--or back to 4.0.1 in Northrend content--mana will be plentiful and we will be able to chain cast rejuvenation whenever there's massive raid damage. Meanwhile, we will still use rejuvenation, but we'll have to cut back on it in one way or another. Either we can't chain cast it, or we'll have to have responsibility over just part of the raid rather than the whole raid, or we'll have to alternate between times of furious chain casting and then times of sitting back and letting mana regen.

I haven't raided any yet, but I've done about all the heroics. So far, there aren't that many cases where there is massive, unavoidable damage to the whole party. In such cases, I tend to spam rejuvenation and then try to hold off after the emergency to regain mana. It works fine so far. Perhaps raids are different, but we'll see. In a raid, there are more people to heal, and the fights last about twice as long, but there are also more healers.

Overall, you look at these problems differently if you take the point of view of sustained throughput. The question is not whether you use rejuvenation or not, but how often you can insert a rejuv without going out of mana, and then whether or not you can keep up with the damage by doing so.

Personally, I haven't raided yet, but I must say the balance is pretty good for heroics. Lots of fights are a real mana drain, but if everyone executes well then I can keep them healed. That said, if any change is to be made, I'd rather it not go toward buffing wild growth. Wild growth just isn't much fun: you just press your "heal the world" button every ten seconds. I'd rather they added the healing mushrooms that Lissanna describes, or that they add a mini-rejuvenate that was low mana and low healing.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Kill the healer?

Icedragon has a fun post up on handling trash packs in Cataclysm. We're back to Vanilla and BC days, where crowd control and single-targeting are important. I love that these are back in the game.

One part of Warcraft strategy lore I am not so sure about, however:
For pretty much any pull, you should follow the High Kill Order. It’s also known as the “Things That Suck to Tank” order.

Healers > Summoners > Gimmicks > Mages/Warlocks > Rogues > Warriors

Killing the healers is so ingrained that whenever the Straw Hat Pirates raid leaders tell us to attack a pack, they always call out over Vent, "Kill the healers!". Okay, they do this as much to annoy the healers in our own raid as anything, but still.

One part I'll agree on is that killing the healers first is the fastest way to dispense with a trash pack. The longer the healer is alive, the more damage must be healed through. Also, in general, ending the fight sooner has big advantages for survivability. Longer fights drain the healer mana and provide opportunities for everyone to slip up and get gibbed by some mechanic or another in the fight.

I started changing my mind about the "kill the healers" strategy, though, when Halls of Reflection came out in Lich King. In Halls of Reflection, there are several waves of 3-5 enemies attacking. The common wisdom for this instance is to first kill the healers, who are named, conveniently enough, priests. Yet, I've both tanked and healed this instance, and let me tell you: the priests aren't particularly annoying! What's annoying is that mage casting fireballs, that hunter casting frost traps, and that rogue that is blitting around and poisoning everyone.

I've come around to thinking that if you are having trouble surviving a trash pack, then you should kill a squishy, high-dps target in preference to a healer. Because the healer is alive, it will take longer to kill that high-dps target. However, once that first target is dead, you have significantly less incoming damage, and the fight becomes much more manageable. It's a more reliable way to get through a trash pack, though not a very common one.

To be sure, there are still times I'd favor prioritizing the healer. If you have enough gear that you aren't bothering with crowd control, then sure, kill the healer first so as to end the fight sooner. Also, as always, follow what the raid leader chooses. It's more important to single target *some* mob than to single target the ideal one.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Sustainable throughput

When people talk about druid gearing, they usually talk about throughput versus efficiency, and they talk about regen rates. Throughput is how much healing per second can be done if you don't worry about mana. Efficiency is how much healing you do per mana. Regen is how fast your mana comes back. All three of these are good, and it ends up being a three-way tradeoff.

In principle, the latter two can be combined, so as to make it a two-way tradeoff. The two goals would be maximum throughput versus sustainable throughput. Sustainable throughput is the amount of healing that can be put out without going out of mana.

Once we get there, I suspect most people wouldn't pay much attention to maximum throughput. You can always use cooldowns and apply pre-hots to get through the hard parts of fights, so maximum throughput should rarely be a problem. The real reason druids want better throughput, I think, is that it indirectly helps sustainable throughput. When lifebloom heals for more, you can spend less time casting healing tuch and more time casting nourish.

The level of sustainable throughput depends on how long the fight is. That's because you start the fight with a full bar of mana. With a very short fight, maximum throughput is the same as sustainable throughput, because even at maximum burn rate you won't run out of mana. As fights get longer, sustainable throughput decreases toward an asymptote. For absurdly long fights, the initial mana bar becomes irrelevant.

I haven't tried to theorycraft the computation of sustainable throughput. I would love to see any work that others have done on it. It is likely helpful to divide it into two components: one for the infinite-length fight that ignores the initial mana bar, and one that figures out the advantages of burning through the initial mana bar over the course of the fight. The full sustainable throughput is the sum of the other two.

Maximum sustainable throughput might not only affect gearing, but spell selection. In principle, it could even be helpful to pause for a few seconds and, let mana regen, and then cast a more effective spell after a few seconds. I don't know whether that's really true or not, but in principle it could help. Sustainable throughput gives a way to analyze decisions about spell selection.

Sustainable throughput is more valuable when damage is less spiky. With spiky damage, you just have to drop big heals on the tank so that they don't get gibbed. With slower damage, you can afford to wait a few seconds and do things more efficiently.

All in all, I'd like to see more emphasis on sustainable throughput. It looks clarifying for gearing and spell selection, especially with Cataclysms smoother damage patterns.

I like the new resto design

Druids love to hate the new design of restoration druids. For example:
Memo to angry boomchickens: Take a look at the resto community – they complained so much that Blizzard KILLED THEIR FORM (almost) ENTIRELY. Is that what you want? I didn’t think so. Go with the flow, take what your given, and Blizzard will show you love when they’re good and ready, AKA soon (trademark Blizzard, 2004-2010).

If you ask me, restoration druids got a tremendous overhaul and improvement in Cataclysm. Let me count some ways:
  1. The new form looks awesome. I never liked the rotten brocolli. It looks wimpy and silly, and generally not a character that is going to take down a dragon. Additionally, I like that you now see a little bit of your gear when you shift into tree form. I might even shift into tree forrm for some boss screenshots without everyone wondering which tree is Ohken.
  2. I like shapeshifting. I like how in lowbie dungeons when you are leveling, it can actually make sense to shift out of a dps form and heal a little. It can make sense to shift to bear and hold aggro for a few seconds. That mostly goes away in raids, the main exception being that bear tanks can switch to cat form to do a little bit more dps. Now there's a second exception: restoration druids shift like crazy. I love it.
  3. I like cooldowns. When approaching a difficult fight, one of the things a restoration druid does is decide when to use tree of life and tranquility. It adds an additional aspect to the fight.
  4. Healing touch is fast enough to be useful now. A three second cast is way too slow, but now it's two seconds base, and that's just fine.
  5. There's a good balance of healing spells for speed, throughput, and efficiency. For example, Rejuv and healing touch are efficient if and only if they don't overheal, but otherwise they'll run you out of mana fast.
  6. We can dps. I understand that pure dps classes should be the ones rocking the charts. However, it's reasonable that healers can do 20% of the damage a dps class does, and nowadays we can. People scoff at this, but think about a fight like Saurfang, where the soft enrage does exponentially more damage as the fight goes on. Or, just think how many first kills involve three raid members standing, or the enrage timer 5 seconds from going off. A little extra dps is nothing to scoff at.
I guess you could sum all this up by saying I like having decisions to make. How could anyone really want to go back to rejuv blanketing? Perhaps they just think the new design is too complicated?

Mystery of the mushrooms

Ohken's dps spec is moonkin, and so he has Wild Mushrooms available. These things are cool! However, I'm at a loss as to how to make them useful. For AOE situations, there are better options: dots, hurricane, and sometimes starfall. For single-target situations, I don't believe they are as good as a simple nuke.

The main uses I can imagine are:
  • Fights where adds spawn at predictable times and places. You can put mushrooms up at the spawn location. However, I haven't managed to do this even once. It's hard to get the mushrooms placed in the right place.
  • At the beginning of a fight. If you can get the tank to tank the enemy over your mushrooms, you can get a little dps boost. Emphasis on little, however, and tanks right now have enough else on their minds.
  • A slow zone for kiting. There's a talent that makes your mushrooms leave a slow-zone behind, similar to one of the hunter traps. This might be the best use, though again it takes some coordination. It could be useful, for example, on the last boss in Blackrock Caverns.
I haven't had a successful use of the things even once yet. Some of the difficulties are:
  • Targetting them takes a few seconds. You can't just work them into your rotation, because you have to cast the spell and then place the targeting reticule.
  • They have a tiny, tiny area of effect. You have to get them in exactly the right place.
  • Triggering them takes an extra GCD. So you not only lose time placing them, you lose time when you are ready to blow them up.
  • There are three of them. You can't just drop a shroom and blow it up. You want to drop three shrooms so as to get the full effect.
Given all this, I was interested to read Qieth's ideas for designing a better wild mushroom. For example, he makes some interesting comparisons to hunter traps:
Let us compare the mushrooms to a hunter trap. Both can be placed at a distance, but while the hunter trap detonates when it is hit by an enemy, Wild Mushroom must be triggered in the one second it takes for a monster or character to run over it. If a group of mob triggers a hunter trap, they will all be hit by it, but if a Wild Mushroom is triggered near a group of mobs, only those very close to the mushroom will be affected by the damage.

Personally, I'm not sure how to make them work well as a damage ability. They're either strong enough to use them on cooldown, or they're not, and if they ever got that strong, it would warp the game balance in other ways. For example, now Moonkin would have an inordinately powerful trap to use in PVP. I would rather other areas be focussed on than raw damage. For example, maybe the damage could be taken out, and the debuffs emphasized. They could last longer, they could slow without any modification, and if you get a talent and/or a glyph they could apply some other debuff such as a slowed attack speed. A debuffing mushroom I think I could make more use of than yet another way to cause damage.