Symbiosis and raid balance
When Blizzard announced Mists of Pandaria most of us were of course interested in the new content, but also how the classes that exist in the game would develop. There were a couple of gems already in the renewed talent system, such as Void Shift for priests, Grimoire of Supremacy for Warlocks, or Execution Sentence for Paladins, to name a few. It will be very interesting to see how they'll work in the game when it goes live. However, probably the biggest fuzz didn't come from talent tree choices, but a baseline spell that was added to druids. The name of this new threat to humanity is called Symbiosis, and it's coming for you!
From the in-game tooltip:
Creates a symbiotic link which grants the Druid one ability belonging to the target's class, varying by the Druid's specialization.
In exchange, grants the target one Druid ability based on their class and combat role.
Lasts 1 hour and persists through death. Cannot be cast on other Druids. Effect cancelled if Druid and target become too far apart.
The cast time is 6 seconds for now, so this is not something that druids will be just throwing around when they feel like when they want a new ability. EDIT: The spell itself doesn't say anything about it at the moment, but a blue post states that it cannot be cast in combat. If the target of the spell can be changed in combat it will make it even more "game changer in MoP", like it was stated elsewhere.
Like always in beta, spells are changed every few days and nothing is final. In that spirit, the point of this blog post is to reflect on the consequences of Symbiosis in the 25-man raiding scene, not to whine about Blizzard's not yet finished decisions. As said, a lot of this probably will be changed when MoP hits live servers, but it's important to recognize the problems (and advantages) of the situation already.
At the moment is not important to stare at which ability will be given to which spec, but rather what kind of abilities are there on the list. Some of them are quite basic stuff, like Rejuvenation or Frost Nova that have been baseline skills of the class. On the other hand, there are also a lot of old high tier talents (if not final talents) such as Mirror Image, Dispersion, Feral Spirit, and Spiritwalker's Grace, or Demonic Circle: Teleport. Many of these can be game breakers, as was seen on for instance our Lich King heroic mode kill. We took in all the Warlocks we could, because Demonic Circle was just so overpowered with the Val'kyr.
Blizzard playing pvp vs pve
So some classes are given some basic stuff (of which a lot is pvp-oriented like Death Coil or Frost Nova), and some the more powerful spec specific abilities. The problem starts to take shape and we are again at the root of one of the oldest questions of World of Warcraft: pvp vs pve. How to balance the game between these two? And the answer so far has been: you can't. Some of the classes are left underpowered in pve (like Resto Shaman for some time) because it was too powerful in pvp. Another class is too powerful in pvp, so the nerf hits and affects pve as well. This battle for balance has been going on for the whole history of the game, and now Blizzard has made it even harder for themselves to keep it together with just one spell.
So far the stacking situations have occurred in pve when some class has a specific ability (or two) that are superior in a boss fight. Rip was insane on Nefarian, magic immunities meant the world on Al'akir first kill. Mages and Rogues were needed on Spine, and Balance Druids shone at Ragnaros. Now the problem runs deeper. Some of these abilities will be given to different classes. Need to soak some very high damage every few minutes that kills through immunity? No problem, put in Shadow Priests and Feral Druids, they can both disperse. Need to take in classes that can reset their stacking debuff? No worries, stack Mages, Rogues, Death Knights. In addition, Balance and Resto Druids can use Cloak of Shadows and Ice Block, so they are good as well. The good in this is that it's not only those special one or two classes that can do the job, but at the same time Druids are getting a massive arsenal of very good abilities.
Np, I Blocked!
Assuming that only one application of Symbiosis can be active per player, you'll also need the target classes to grant as many good abilities as possible for the druids. So if you add a Mage to the raid, you can two Ice Blocks (if you have a Resto Druid). So every small change you make in your raid composition stacks up very fast with just one spell. The classes that offer mostly pvp abilities or weaker pve abilities will be left out easy. Someone has to sit out always, but now it's not only because of their dps or healing value, but can also because of what Symbiosis would do on them.
It will be good to be a druid
The "what other classes will get" side of the spell is more incomplete than the druid side, but at the moment it looks like Druids will be the bigger winner on this. If the spell can't be cast in combat, the situation won't be that unbalanced though. In case it could be, we'd end up in a situations where druids have become jacks-of-all-trades. Let's take a Feral Druid as an example: In phase one he needs to soak damage, so Symbiosis is on Priest (who gains either Tranquility or Entangling Roots). In phase 2 there is a lot of target swapping, so he puts it on a Warlock (who gains a heal). Phase 3 is all about dps, so Symbiosis will be on Shaman (who gains Solar Beam or Prowl). Phase 4 is all about survival of the tank, so he helps the Warrior out and gives him Frenzied Regeneration (gaining Shattering Blow for himself for some nice extra dps for the raid).
As already stated many times, everything is incomplete, so many things will change during the next 3-4 months. However, we can already see what's on the plate to be served: a mixture of pvp and pve abilities that will be hard to balance. At the moment it seems like there is only two ways this can end: an even more unbalanced pvp and pve scene where Blizzard tries to balance new talent trees and Symbiosis at the same time (which usually takes a lot of time). The other option is a massive nerf to the spell, which changes the level of spells which the ability grants. Maybe what Warlocks have at the moment is a premonition of times to come: everyone gets a Rejuvenation from Symbiosis.
Thoughts on the new abilites
We took a fast look on how the abilities look like for different classes and specs in a 25-man raid environment. We realize most of the abilities are quite pvp oriented, but it was still interesting to see the difference between what different classes got. The question I asked was: on a scale from 1 to 10, how good is symbiosis on your class?
Paladin: 1/10 for Holy, 8/10 for Protection. In the end rebirth is quite useless as you can only use a set amount of them during one fight, and usually there are more than 3 combat resses in the raid. For Protection, Barkskin can be quite ok, even when Frenzied Regeneration might have been better. - Ilonie
Mage: 5/10 It's clear that the spells haven't been finalized yet. Mages will be getting a heal (Healing Touch), which isn't that useful for a Mage in my opinion. Of course it's great that you can heal, it can be a raid-saver in some situations, but I can't really see why they are giving a full dps a heal (might have something to do with pvp though). - Robinboy
Priest: 8/10 Tranquility is a great tool to use when it's needed, but channeling it is always a dps loss. Though I wonder if even more utility was really what a Shadow Priest needed. There is so much of it already in our talent tree. To be honest, I think Symbiosis is the worst ability ever in the game :/ - Kyylol
Shaman: 1/10 for all specs. Resto prowl in pve, nuf said. Also, even more interrupts for enha and elemental? Got plenty already. The fight needs to be a very special one to have any benefit from those. - Kahva
Hunter: 3/10 Dash for each spec at the moment. Because Hunters have Disengage we can already move from spot A to spot B efficiently. The ability is usable only if you are in a tight spot when your Disengage is on cooldown. We also have Aspect of the Cheetah (glyphed) which gives you 30% more movement speed, so for a Hunter dash is good in only very specific situations. - Deva
Death Knight: 2/10 for dps. Wild Mushroom: Plague will be completely useless if there won't be an encounter where the boss will spawn adds for 30 seconds to a place far away from the player. At the moment the tools to spreading diseases are quite efficient, so there is no need to an ability like that especially with that cd. Might of Ursoc would be 7/10 for DK tanks. A panic button with 3 minutes cooldown is a good addition and will most likely scale nicely with with Death Strike. - Ironi
Warrior: Dps: 1/10 Stampeding shout is quite useless for a Warrior as we already have good mobility, and you rarely need like 5x Stampeding Roars in a raid. - Verdisha
Protection: 6/10 Assuming that there won't be too much rage to throw around, the 60 rage cost makes it a choice between using Frenzied Regeneration and Shield block/barrier. The 20% of maximum hp heal could be useful (comboed with last stand and your own self heals for example) in some situations, but most of the time you would want to get the damage reduce from your own ragedump cds.
If there is a lot of excess rage then it would of course be a welcome addition to our bag of abilities. - Fragi
Rogue: 2/10 The new ability is Growl, but I don't really see why a rogue should act as a tank when other classses got actual specializations for that. On top of it the duration is 30 seconds for the armor buff so we could be playing as a tank 1/6 of the fight so it's pretty situational. Of course this could be pretty decent for some situations when for some reason 1 more tank is needed. With evasion and combat readiness there wouldn't be much melee damage taken for sure, so I don't consider it completely useless. I would much rather like a pure dps class like rogue getting a damaging spell from the symbiosis rather than becoming an emergency tank for a short duration, but after all that will possibly be the case when things go live or other classes will seemingly have much more use for this skill. - Vivanda
Warlock: 4/10, In my opinion giving warlock HoT (Rejuvination) in raids may be good in some cases. But it's hard to tell yet if that's gonna be the case. You already have healers to keep you up. Anyway, a self heal can help healers if they have their hands full already. - Tauno
My symbiosis goes to...
I also talked to our resident Druids who should be more than happy with the direction their class is going with Symbiosis. The question I asked them was: If you had to choose your Symbiosis target considering only your own benefit, which classes would be your top 3 and why?
Feral: A very interesting question. A Priest looks the best target at the moment since you gain Dispersion from them. As they are removing the shield wall from cats we are left with no "oh snap" button. I think the second best choice would be a Shaman, which grants Feral Spirit which is nice for dps. The third would be Warlock, from which you'd get Soul Swap that swaps your dots to the next target. Makes target switching a lot easier. - Llilja
Resto: The obvious first pick is a Mage which gives Ice Block. You can never have enough cooldowns for though situations. The priest is my second choice, Leap of Faith is a very good ability for a healer to have. Warlock would be my third pick, Demonic Circle: Teleport gives you great mobility, especially as you don't have to drop the circle yourself in the current incarnation of the ability. - Arx