Thanks to MMO Champion and it’s data-ming ways, we now have access to a preliminary version of the Tier 8 set bonuses. It’s anyone’s guess whether these bonuses will actually go live. The bonuses for Resto druid appear to be excellent, though there’s one catch: the 4-piece bonus for Tier 8 is much too good.
Here we have a classic example of a good set bonus and a “bad” set bonus. Lest you grow angry at me for complaining about buffs as well as nerfs, I’ll explain what I mean.
What makes a set bonus good?
The two-piece Tier 8 bonus, which gives a 10% boost to the throughput of Swiftmend, will be nice to have. Swiftmend is a spell almost every healing druid talents for, and it can be used by both raid healers and tank healers alike. The bonus doesn’t conflict with or double the Glyph of Swiftmend, which is a different and even stronger throughput increase which allows Swiftmend to be applied without consuming one of the druid’s HoTs (either Rejuvenation or Regrowth). Moreover, if I had one piece of advice for most Resto druids, it would be to use Swiftmend more. Many forget all about it because it’s a two-step spell–HoT setup plus instant top-off. I find that I perform much better if I use it whenever it’s up. Still, this bonus will never be overpowered, even in combination with the glyph, because Swiftmend continues to be on a cooldown. Druids will get this bonus and enjoy it, perhaps giggling to themselves over their WWS reports. However, it will be a set bonus that the druid can bear to leave behind for whatever Tier 9 gear has in store.
What makes a set bonus bad?
We’ve all seen set bonuses that are lackluster or unusable. The Tier 6 4-pc Resto druid bonus to Healing Touch comes to mind as a particularly useless one. I passed on Tier 6 pants in favor of badge pants because this bonus simply wasn’t one. However, a bonus that goes in the other direction, becoming so good that it overshadows all other gear upgrades, is actually more harmful to the class and the game. Take, for example, the much-lamented 4pc Tier 5 mage bonus, which entirely changed the functioning of Arcane Blast, greatly upping its damage output at an increasing mana cost. I still /spit on this bonus. It caused the four raiding mages in my former guild to hold onto 4-pc Tier 5 until they were able to equip 4 pieces of Tier 6 at once. The consternation this caused them probably cost my guild several extra hours of loot debate. The mages also faced accusations of DKP hoarding as they waited to buy the early Tier 6 pieces. They had much more DKP than they could spend because of their need to hang onto T5. Moreover, the mages themselves didn’t always pay the increased mana cost. Instead, the druid healers Innervated them. We didn’t mind, exactly, because mana was plentiful for healers at that point, but I couldn’t Innervate all four of them, and I always felt bad when I didn’t have any juice left for a player who asked. However, the most pernicious aspect of the bonus had to do with play style. It pigeon-holed mages into an arcane spec and a set rotation, turning three trees into one for a tier and a half of content. I know one determined fire mage who switched to her warlock in Tier 5 because she didn’t like the arcane playstyle. In the end, the T5 bonus was judged to be too strong, nerfed, and finally taken away.
Ghostcrawler has actually said in the past that a tier bonus should be just that–a bonus. I wholeheartedly agree. However, the 4 pc T8 bonus isn’t going to just be a bonus–it’s going to radically change most druids’ rotations.
Rejuvenation has always been a good spell, but its limiting factor is that it doesn’t tick for 3 seconds after it is applied. In essence, that turns it into a HoT with a long cast. Rejuvenation is probably the druid’s most over-written spell. Thankfully it’s also our most efficient. With the bonus, I would get a tiny burst of healing–1997 in Syd’s current gear–when I cast the spell. That’s less than a Holy Shock, but it has a huge impact. With even a small initial heal, Rejuvenation would be “fixed.” It would go from being something that some druids don’t cast, preferring the faster-ticking Lifebloom and Wild Growth, into the raid healing spell. I think this is a very innovative and necessary addition to the spell; however, it doesn’t belong in a set bonus. This “fix” would get druids away from using Lifebloom for every situation, and that’s great. However, if this change is truly imagined as a “fix” to the spell, it needs to be made permanent through talents. Hell, I think it’s worth 5 of my talent points–or even the entire space in the tree occupied by Revitalize and Living Seed. This one little set bonus would give druids what they’ve always wanted–a tool to keep others from sniping their heals.
“Sniping,” for the uninitiated, is the practice of going outside one’s own healing assignment to heal someone else’s target, particularly a target that already has a ticking hot or a slower-casting incoming heal. Typically, players snipe with quick heals–Flash Heal, Flash of Light, Chain Heal, even Nourish or glyphed Healing Touch. As I’ve explained before, healers will never stop sniping–in any case, not until the default UI shows incoming heals and HoTs, mana is as scarce as roses in the Alaskan winter, and healing meters go extinct. Druids are incredibly vulnerable to heal-snipers as most of our healing takes a bit of setup before it starts to work. Ghostcrawler has said in the past that heal-sniping is a valid concern, but it’s not going to be fixed through nerfing mana. Other tools have to be used against it, and the new Rejuvenation is a perfect fit. Healers who play without any incoming heal data will be able to see that the target is covered and consequently will turn elsewhere, even (gasp!) back to their own assigned target.
The change to Rejuvenation needs to be either a talent or a glyph–and I would prefer talent, because then it would correspond to priests’ new talented Renew, which just got a similar front-ended burst. Renew has never been as good as Rejuvenation in the past, but with a small initial burst, it might just be better than Rejuv post-3.1.
In any case, if this tier bonus remains unaltered, druids will wear their Tier 8 until they have 4 pc of Tier 9–and maybe even beyond. This set bonus is more powerful than any one gear upgrade–and I would say, probably more powerful than four. It steps beyond what a bonus is supposed to do. At maximum, I’d say the set bonus for a previous tier should maybe give a player pause about equipping just two pieces of the new tier or item level, as it may be. Not all the best pieces are part of a set. However, when it gets to three upgrades over the stats on the old tier, players should be happy about making a change.
I’m concerned, Blizzard–very concerned. Thinking as both a raiding druids and a guild officer, I’d rather not wrestle with this particular angel, as good as that set bonus may seem when we’re sitting at the beginning, not the end, of Tier 8.