The Healing Meta: 4 Cups In
Healer balance has been a topic of contention during the opening season of the Arena World Championship. Four Cups for each region in now, Restoration Druids are still the most prevalent, even with recent mana and throughput nerfs, but a few other healers have still managed to find their niches as well. The effectiveness of Restoration Shaman and Mistweaver cleaves is fairly self-evident from the success of teams such as Wildcard Gaming (Zeepeye, Blizo, Loony, Maro) from Europe and Method Orange (Cdew, Trill, Samiyam, Mes) from North America. Holy Paladin, Discipline Priest, and Holy Priest, however, have struggled to make even a dent into the spring season, aside from Rubcub and a few decent, yet unfortunately uninspiring showings from Discipline Priests who sneakily found their way into the top eight before the sweeping mana nerfs.
While I think diversity is slowly starting to find it's way back into the AWC, there are a few identifiable reasons why the healing meta has been hard stuck favoring our Restoration Druid overlords. Back in Cataclysm, there was a homogenization of healers in which each specialization, for the most part, was given similar basic healing spells to standardize rough rotations across the board. Despite the gradual "pruning" of abilities throughout recent years and general changes, such as the addition of Mistweavers in Mists of Pandaria, many classes still hold on to the remnants of this system. As a result of this grouping and then step-by-step shearing of abilities, healing rotations and toolkits, for many healers, certainly feel the ramifications. This in combination with the newly introduced mana regeneration nerfs ensures that for now, the best healing classes will most likely always be the ones that simply heal the most.
Below I've assembled some visuals for each of the spring season's top eights to help demonstrate this and show how the present meta has been evolving around each of the recent healer changes.
Both of the first EU and NA Cups were before the mana readjustments, so being that they had just been recently buffed, Restoration Druid was far ahead of the pack. Unsurprisingly, Europe in particular barely even experimented outside of the class; historically speaking many of the best Rdruids have been from this region.
Cup 2 brought with it the aforementioned mana nerfs, so the meta shifted as teams scrambled to adapt. Discipline Priests vanished, North America, regularly known for its Rshaman play, seemed to default towards blue, and Europe saw a fair amount of Mistweavers in their arenas, a trend which would continue for them and NA would start to conform towards later.
Restoration Druid continued to be the alpha healer in Cup 3, but both regions started to individually settle themselves. Unsurprisingly, Restoration Shamans were the prominent alternative pick in NA and Mistweavers seemed to be fully embedded into the EU meta.
Cup 4's numbers are from just the top six series, as the lower bracket top eight games were not broadcasted. Europe's healer demographic remained largely unchanged for this cup, but North America interestingly took advantage of the slight Rdruid nerfs and integrated both Holy Paladin and Mistweaver into their meta. Looking forward, I'll be very interested to see if NA establishes themselves more clearly, and if EU decides to add Resto Shamans into the mix or not. At the moment, one or two healer tweaks from Blizzard could really shake things up in the AWC.
Who knows, maybe we'll even see a Holy Priest or two. ;)