Being Boomkin

One of the nicer consequences of finally being able to fly in Legion is the gift of time. My very unscientific personal experience so far is that I can do approximately twice as much now in the same amount of time than I could do without flying. I am talking about activities like world quests, profession leveling and mat gathering, and of course the 7.2 Broken Shore dailies.

I have taken advantage of the extra time to pay some real attention to my druid. Back about a year ago, when it seemed possible that I would actually give up my beloved hunter in the face of what I perceived to be the total Blizz sellout of the hunter class, my first choice for a new main was my druid. I have always been fascinated by this class — the only one to offer every role in the game including both melee and ranged DPS — but I have never really gone beyond dipping a toe into it. When I first rolled my druid — years ago, as my second alt in the game — I did it as Resto. I got kicked from my first dungeon for being terribad and was so put off by the whole thing that it was years before I ventured into another instance with my druid. Mind you, the group was completely justified in kicking me. I had not grasped the whole steady-stream HoT method of healing and was trying to just react to health hits. The disaster was predictable, and one further consequence was that I came to think of druid Resto healing as very difficult.

Thus, when I leveled my druid in Mists I switched to Balance, mainly because I have always been most comfortable with ranged damage dealing. I had Resto as my secondary spec but really did not do much with it. I enjoyed Balance in Mists, and I came to really value the sheer versatility of the druid class, especially its wide array of defensive spells. I did level my druid in WoD, but I hated the Balance play style in that expansion — to say it was slow is a real understatement, especially given what at the time was a fantastically flexible and fast-paced SV hunter style that I had as my main. Still, I remained intrigued by the class, and I even ran a few alt run raids as Resto.

With my background of dithering between Balance and Resto on my druid, I was intrigued when Legion came along and introduced the attunement talent. As I am not really by nature a melee damage dealer, and I have never tanked, I was of course drawn to the Balance-Resto attunements. I got both artifact weapons and intended to  play as Resto, but I found the damage options — even with Balance attunement — to be far too puny for realistic soloing (world quests, etc.), at least for my taste. So I reversed and opted for Balance with Resto attunement.

After I first hit 110, I considered just dropping the whole idea, because my boomie seemed very squishy and almost as slow as in WoD. It was frustrating to play. But as I have geared up and gotten into my 7.2 artifact traits, I am finding it more palatable. It also doesn’t hurt that I have actually done some study of How to Boomkin (finally understand that whole solar-lunar power thing) and spent considerable time with target dummies and live target dummies (aka LFR). I am still not what I would call well geared at 880 ilevel, and of my two equipped legendaries, one is the mostly useless crafted one — good really only as a stat stick with 3 gem slots — but I can see the potential if I can manage to get to maybe somewhere around ilevel 900 or so. (This may depend on the good will of my guildies in carrying me on some Mythics.)

I am a bit slow on getting artifact traits because I am trying to keep my Resto artifact within 2-3 traits of my main spec Balance one. And most of the time I have to play my druid comes on the weekend, so it is not exactly a fast process even now with flying. (This is not good for LFR runs, though, as of course the weekend ones tend to be worse than the Tuesday or Wednesday ones.) My goal is to be a useful ranged DPS for our alt raids when we start them up, and to be a reliable fallback healer if needed. Also, I am hedging my bets for the next expansion — if Blizz once again really screws hunters, I want to be positioned to go with another main if necessary.

Probably the most tedious and annoying aspect of gearing up my druid is the whole class hall and profession chase. (It took me weeks to even find my way around the druid class hall, although now that I am comfortable with it I find it to be vastly superior to the hunter one.) I still am confused by what seems to be an endless number of quest lines and achievements necessary to get your champions, your third relic slot, your artifact research 7.2 addon, your class hall research, and so forth. I think I have gotten most of the important ones now on my druid, but I have not even begun to think about artifact appearance quests. (This is a holdover from my BM hunter, where I pay almost no attention to them because they are pretty bad and don’t even affect Hati.)

I have finally gotten level 2 on all my alchemy flasks, but I am not sure I will get the level 3’s just because of the hundreds of flasks you have to craft in order to get the rare RNG drop of the next level for each. And I am still working on my last herbalism level 2 — just can’t seem to get that dreamleaf quest to drop for me.

But overall, I feel like I am on my way to being able to play a decent Boomkin, and to be able to make myself useful as a healer as well. Balance seems solidly in the middle of the pack in terms of DPS charts, I doubt if there is any chance it will be a sought-after spec for top raiders in Legion, but I am fine with that. I only intend to do alt raiding with it anyway. And really, I am having fun with it, which of course I tend to forget is the point of this whole game.

When you think about it, what could be more fun than turning into a tree and healing your friends, and then turn around and start killing monsters as a giant chicken? And in between, turn yourself into a cat for quick getaways or a bear for maximum protection or a raven for soaring? It just doesn’t get much better than this!

Monk Meditations

I was out of town most of this past weekend, but I managed a couple of hours playing late Sunday night. I used my time to finish out my weekly LFR run for runes on my Mistweaver panda.

For me, the whole LFR experience is vastly different for my healer than it is for any of my DPS. For one thing, it feels fantastic to queue for an LFR and get in within a few minutes. I soooooo hate the hour long DPS queues, Blizz just has to try something else with that. For another thing, I have to say I actually enjoy LFR on my healer, whereas it is just a drudge chore on a DPS. Part of that may be because if I find my healer in a really toxic or dysfunctional group, I have the luxury of dropping group and immediately finding another. This is not true of my DPS characters. But I think another  factor in my enjoyment is that I find the raid mechanics for a healer to be less hectic. Mainly all I have to do is stay out of bad stuff, stay in range of the raid, and do my thing by focusing on my HealBot bars. Finally, healing is a relatively new role for me, so it still feels fresh and fun, I am not jaded by years of doing it, like I am for damage roles.

This is not to say it is easier or less stressful. I find healing to be quite stressful while I am engaged in it, but when a fight is over I feel an enormous sense of accomplishment — something I never feel as a DPS in LFR. I consider healing to be challenging, but I think that is because I still am very much a novice at it. I do notice that many of my moves are starting to inch into the realm of “muscle memory”, which is desirable because it means I can start to focus on some of the class nuances, not put my entire conscious attention on basic spells and rotation mechanics.

I don’t know what it is about Mistweaver healing that I enjoy, but something about it is very fun for me. MW monks are by no means the healer of choice for this expansion, however. We are mediocre as raid healers, pretty useless as tank healers, and decidedly below average as hybrid damage/heals when we fistweave. We have very little burst heal capability, beyond one raid cooldown, no fancy absorbs like disc priests, and our HoTs have a fairly complex implementation mechanic. Checking WoWProgress, there are only something on the order of 3-4 monks in the top 150 healers on almost any server or in any region. And those are the elite of the class. For the rest of us, “dismal” is a pretty good adjective.

Still, I find the MW mechanics fun. I have dabbled in other healing classes — holy and disc priest, pally, druid, even a bit of shammie — but I could never get past a few levels, maybe to about 40 or so, before I gave up on them. Each time, I could tell that I was just not getting the proper feel for the class. Also, I was put off by what seemed to be a requirement to level as a non-healing spec, then switch to heals in groups. This seemed horribly inefficient to me, and I still think it is. Blizz owes to healers to configure the leveling experience so that it is not so completely skewed towards all damage all the time.

It is this bias that will make ring completion challenging on my MW. Getting the final set of 33 runes will be easy, but slogging through the dailies in Tanaan to get the oil and other things needed for the naval part of the ring quest line will be awful. I am not looking forward to it, even though MW’s have it comparatively easy when it comes to damage abilities while in healing spec. (Of course, I am spoiled by having 2 hunters and a warlock, for whom the dailies are really trivial.) Grouping up for them is an obvious solution, but at this late point in the expansion, at least on my server, almost no one is interested in doing that when they can easily solo everything.

But back to what I was saying. I loved MW from the start. I was fascinated by its power at early levels, entranced by the idea that I could actually level as a healer. And MW healing prior to WoD was very powerful and fantastically fun to do. It is less fun now, with the huge nerf to instants, but I still enjoy it. I like working to maximize raid heals with the Renewing Mist/Uplift mechanic, there is something extremely satisfying about getting ReM up on a large number of the raid just at the point where there is a ton of raid damage, then blowing 4 Uplifts in a row to keep everyone healthy. It is a beautiful thing when you get the timing just right. And — coming from a history of hunters, which have zero raid cooldowns — having Revival in my arsenal really feels good. I also like the complexity of the interplay of Soothing Mist with other healing spells.

I hardly ever do fistweaving. For one thing, I don’t like melee as a damage dealer, and for another I feel like you basically end up doing both crappy damage and crappy healing. If the raid leader asks, of course I will do it, but there are not many situations where it is useful — the only one that comes to mind is if the team already has a couple of superstar healers and needs just a small DPS boost without losing a healer to get past a boss. Just doesn’t happen that often, at least in my admittedly sparse experience.

I really hope Blizz has some decent improvements in store for Mistweavers in Legion. My guild will be looking to switch out some raid roles, mainly to have more healers. Given my disillusionment with what Blizz is doing to hunters, it might be a fun change of pace for me to have a healer main for an expansion, assuming that MW will be a viable raiding spec. (Besides, everyone else will be looking to main their new Demon Hunters.) Hey, life is change, right?

Proving Grounds revisited

Yesterday I decided to try and gear up my destro warlock and discovered, when I went to queue up for the 3 instances needed for round two of the legendary, that I had not yet completed the proving grounds requirement. So I took a deep breath and entered the PG instance.

I have only done the WoD version on my two hunters and on my MW monk, all of them when they were at relatively low ilevels. The instance starts at 615 and scales up the difficulty if your gear is above that level. I think my three characters were all around ilvl 600 when they did it, but the instance does not scale down the difficulty to account for anything below 615.

The DPS PG is ridiculously easy for a hunter — even an undergeared one, and especially a survival hunter — and I had zero problems getting silver on both of mine, first try, plenty of time left over.  (And no, I have no interest whatsoever in getting gold or god forbid endless.) My MW was a little more challenging, it took me about 6 or 7 tries to get the silver. It’s been awhile, but I seem to remember that I got much better results when I pitched in with some damage to help out the pitiful DPS NPCs.

My lock is somewhere around 652 ilevel, and honestly getting silver was not a walk in the park. I got bronze immediately, but it took me a few tries to get the silver. I attribute most of this difficulty to my lack of recent practice with my lock. Once I switched around a few talents to get more AoE power and had regained some proficiency with using my cooldowns, I was fine.

The experience made me think a little about the whole PG concept. I recall that I was pretty excited about it when it was announced for 5.4, thinking it would be a great way — finally — for tanks and healers to practice without subjecting a group to the painful realities of their learning curve. In fact, Blizz promoted it this way, saying it would be a tutorial  experience, a hands-on way to improve your skills. Unfortunately, I envisioned a somewhat grander and more useful tool than what we got, but still it was a good game addition.

In the hype leading up to WoD, Blizz said that the PG would be improved by providing much more in the way of tutorials, and also that it would be a requirement for heroics. I think this was yet another example of Blizz over-promising, as what I see is that the “more tutorials” consists of that NPC “teaching” you to not stand in bad shit and to interrupt casters. Big whoop.

I don’t feel I can comment on the heals PG, as I have only done it a couple times. But I’ve done the DPS one now something like 10 times on various alts, up to silver. It has one or two extremely limited uses, which I will discuss below, but in general it stinks as a DPS tutorial or even as a DPS gate for heroics. In my opinion, it is basically just an AoE race. The single target guys are easy to deal with, and the required “movement” consists of getting behind the shield dudes and kiting that Big Ball o’ Wax so that it hits a mob.

Where the challenge comes is when you have to apply AoE on those disgusting little rabbit creatures as you are killing the single targets. You cannot engage the rabbits one by one or you will run out of time. This is simple for a hunter and a lock, not so simple for some other classes. Classes/specs that lack a robust cleave or AoE will have a significantly harder time completing silver in my opinion. Not sure I will even attempt it on my arcane mage, but that is one example that comes to mind.

The only use I can see for the current PG is that it forces you to practice with your class/spec buttons. That’s it. So if you have not used your character for awhile, it serves as a quick refresher. Or if for example you leveled your hybrid as DPS but really want to play it at level as a healer or tank, the PG  can help you practice a couple of rotations as a practical exercise that is different from using a target dummy. Will it teach you how to tank or heal? Not even close.

There is no good reason to require PG silver for heroics. Beyond a pre-school kind of “training” it is meaningless as a predictor for competence. I am not saying Blizz should get rid of the requirement, just that it is useless as one. It’s like requiring players to visit Goldshire before they can queue for heroics — possibly interesting, more likely annoying, but completely unrelated to performance in an instance.

I still believe there is a lot of potential for the idea of Proving Grounds. For example, offering a better variety of scenarios would be interesting. You might choose, for example, among scenarios including little to no movement, high movement, single target or lots of adds, tank switching, raid-wide damage versus heavy tank damage for healers to contend with, etc. You could also work on certain mechanics in a PG. For example, the conveyor belt mechanic has been used a lot since 5.4, so having that in a PG  might be useful as an option.

Another nice innovation would be the option to take one or two people into the PG with you. This would be useful in lots of circumstances. For example, someone just learning a new role or class might ask the guild expert on that to give them pointers while in the PG. One or two raid team members might want to work on some specific coordination techniques. Lots of possibilities.

Proving Grounds in their current state are close to useless, in my opinion. But that doesn’t mean Blizz should abandon them. It would be nice to see them expanded and improved in the next expansion.

Ready or not

Well, a week ago I thought I was ready for Warlords, but now I am not so sure. Yesterday I logged on in order to distribute my 13 new bags to my most deserving (that is, soonest to be leveled) characters. Six hours later I was still rearranging bank and bag slots, vendoring junk, reorganizing and cleaning out void storage tabs, mailing stuff to my bank alt for auctioning, and turning in and abandoning ancient quests. I also harvested the last crops from everyone’s Sunsong Ranch, made sure there were no weeds or occupied soils on any of the plots, and said goodbye to the comfortable and peaceful little farm house with its soft bed and bubbling stew pot.

The good news is that I made about 10k gold all together, and now all but one character have clean tidy storage areas and quest logs. The bad news is I discovered that I had still not done the Blasted Lands quests on my druid, and on top of that her gear is a total mess. Not only does she need a ton of gems and enchants, but she has a one-hand Garrosh heirloom and no off-hand at all, heirloom or otherwise. My plan for a while has been to have resto as her main spec, but I am not comfortable leveling as resto and I absolutely hate melee game play, so that leaves Balance. To me Balance seems, well, unbalanced, after all the patch changes. I admit that throughout Mists it was pretty complex to play well — and I absolutely did not play it well, in fact I hardly played it at all — but now it seems like it has boiled down to about 3 spells, all of which take a LOOOOOOONNNNNNGGGG time to cast and require you to stand still.  It just seems clunky and awkward, with no real fun aspects to it. But then I am spoiled by having hunters as my mains.

In the end, I will probably just ignore the one-handed heirloom and use the staff I got on my monk, since the druid will be close to the last one I level. Oh, and I’ll zip through the Blasted Lands quests later today.

Which brings up a question I have had for a while: What is the best way to level a healer and still emerge as a decent healer once you are done? I have never really figured that out. It seems like you either have to level very slowly in your healing spec, or level more quickly in a DPS spec, in which case you do not really learn much about how to heal at higher levels. This is especially true of alts, who have very little opportunity — particularly in the beginning of an expansion — to heal in a supportive group such as a guild, since everyone is trying to blast their mains through to gear up for raiding.

Leveling as DPS is natural, and the skills you hone during the process are the same ones you will need at top level. But that really doesn’t apply to healers ( and may not apply to tanks, although I have zero experience as a tank). This is the main reason I leveled a MW monk in Mists — I actually had enough firepower to level in my healing spec. This meant I could level quickly without assistance and not have to change up much of anything in order to heal a group. Of course, that has changed now, too, with the MW stance changes, but that’s a topic for another day.

All of which means I will stink at druid healing when I finally level, which will be unpleasant for me as well as for the unfortunate groups I will be in ….. Possibly the new healing target dummies and the revamped Proving Grounds will help, though.

I seem to be rambling. Like most other players, I am just marking time until Thursday (well, more like Wednesday night). Three days. I’m ready. Really. No, really.