For as long as we've been healing, there's always been a pretty solid debate on what the best stats were. Was haste the king of the castle? Was it better to stack spirit and crit? The inclusion of mastery did nothing to help this particular debate and honestly just complicated it a little bit further. Set bonuses from our tier pieces are also something that has been debated. Are they worth it compared to off-set gear? How important is it that I reach my four-piece?
The debate continues on throughout Dragon Soul, and as Cataclysm winds down to a close, those choices will have an impact long into the next expansion. In the eternal debate and questions, there are some very simple answers to be had.
Mastery matters, and here's why
Mastery was one of those stats that was introduced in such a way that we originally didn't know what to make of it. It was at the tail end of Wrath of the Lich King, when things were getting prepped for Cataclysm. The value of our mastery comes in whenever the targets we are healing are at very low health. In fact, the lower their health, the more Deep Healing kicks in for.
The problem with it has always been that the better your raid group is at avoiding damage, or the better your healing team is, the less mastery is valued. If players aren't taking damage, then what good was mastery, right?
When Cataclysm first came out, the debate between mastery and haste was settled with haste plateauing at 916, or the first haste break point. It gave all our HoT effects an extra tick of healing, but anything beyond that required sacrificing other stats that we just couldn't do without hurting ourselves as healers. After that, mastery was next on the list, especially on progression fights and hard modes. That extra mastery smoothed out healing on some difficult fights like Magmaw and Chimaeron, where the damage to the raid was pretty much nonstop and health totals were usually low.
After Blackwing Descent, The Bastion of Twilight and Throne of the Four Winds came Firelands. With it came a whole new set of problems -- mainly, a ton of avoidable damage that rendered our mastery almost null when people were doing what they were supposed to be. We suffered for it a little bit, but in the most recent tier of raiding, we've bounced back. This has in large part had to do with how the current tier of raiding is balanced via its mechanics, meaning lots of grouped-up fights and a lot of raid-wide damage to contend with.
As a result, right now mastery is one of our best stats that we can focus on. With all the raid-wide damage and the lower health totals in general, it just has that much more punch right now. This holds especially true in the hard mode fights for the Dragon Soul bosses. Take Morchok, for example. On heroic mode, he splits himself into two parts and just rains down damage. That amount of damage he dishes out is ideal for our master. Here's visible proof of two attempts of heroic Morchok.
At least for now in Dragon Soul, mastery matters quite a bit. Having a healthy amount of it will help stabilize your raid and give you quite a bit more healing. If mechanics and raid fights persist like this going into Mists of Pandaria, where the amount of damage being dealt and the mechanics play to our abilities, we will see mastery being a strong stat long into the years to come.
How important are my set bonuses?
Every tier of raid content brings with it new set bonuses on the raid gear. This tier is no different than any other, except that our set bonuses have a greater impact on our overall healing than I think many of use would like to admit. While our core stats are always going to be important, the fact that mastery is so good for us in a lot of fights means we'll be skimping on other stats like spirit and haste to make use of it.
The problem is that those stats are still very good for us. So how do we compensate? Well, in tier 13, this is accomplished pretty well by two-piece and four-piece set bonuses. The two-piece bonus itself grants us a reduced cost in our healing spells whenever we cast Mana Tide Totem for 15 seconds. That might not seem like a lot, but if you're aggressively using Mana Tide Totem to recover your mana, that 15 seconds of reduced mana cost will help you regain your mana totals while still healing. It helps out quite a bit, and you'll notice the difference in your mana totals right away. Getting your two-piece bonus will be very important for your healing longevity.
The four-piece bonus is fairly important as well. It accomplishes a few things that are important. While there are not a lot of fights that require us to move around, there are some points where having a few extra seconds on Spiritwalker's Grace could be a life-saver. Think of the lightning phase and ice phase of Hagara, where there's damage to heal but you have to be on the move for pretty much the entire time. That couple of extra seconds will give you just the punch you need.
The other thing it accomplishes is to make Spiritwalker's Grace useful on fights where you don't have to move. It essentially turns it into a healing cooldown that you can unleash every 2 minutes to give you 30% more haste while SwG is active. There are a lot of fights where you can utilize it to deal with burst damage. Ultraxion, Spine of Deathwing and the Madness of Deathwing are all encounters that have perfect opportunities to use it, and with possibly keeping your haste as low as 916, having that extra boost to haste on command can be quite handy.
My suggestion: Get your hands on your set bonuses as soon as you can. It will make your life as a healer much easier. To that extent, even running a Raid Finder group outside of your normal raid schedule might be worth your time. They are generally pretty quick queues for healers, and even with reduced stats on the items themselves, the set bonuses are worth it.
So how has your experience been? Have you found mastery to be super helpful? How about your set bonuses -- do you have them? How big of a difference have they made for you?
Totem Talk: Restoration lets you Ask a Shaman about the tricks of the trade. We'll introduce you to the very latest pre-raid gear and show you how to manage your cooldowns. Happy healing, and may your mana be plentiful!