One of the most hotly debating topics right now in the coming months until Cataclysm is how will healing really play out at 85. There has been much talk of the game shifting to Triage and the critical management of mana being a new issue for us as healers to worry about. What I wanted to talk about today is healer mentality and safety nets, and the modes of failure of a healing in the upcoming raids. I like to think that we can tie it all together in the end so bear with me.
Due to the semi rant-like nature of this post I want to add the following disclaimer: This post is not representative of anyone I know or raid with in game, but more represents a general (and PuG) mentality that exists in the game as a whole and out in the blogosphere.
Safety Nets and Healer Mentality
Wrath of the Lich King has done a lot of damage to the psyche of the player base of World of Warcraft. Many damage dealing specs/classes have developed a very single minded focus on how they play and how they spec their character. Mana has flowed so free and so endless that we have been able to pull a lot of people’s butts out of the fire when players have been overly aggressive, not using their healthstones at critical times, or spending too much time in a “do more damage but take more damage” situation. There has been too much slack, too big of a safety net for these players. Heroic ICC and Ruby Sanctum have shown that as the expansion moves on the amount of wiggle room is reduced, but this mentality becomes even more dangerous with Cataclysm just around the corner. Triage is apparently the name of the game and things are going to get dicey. People are going to hover at lower health totals, and the whole game is going to get thrown on its head. The players who don’t adapt can expect to die in cataclysm, a lot. I still maintain one of my favorite quotes from a DPS DK’s blog pertaining to Marrowgar normal is:
“Me on the other hand… well I just do work and ignore bone storm, I suggest you do the same If any of your healers complain about excess damage going around just go ahead and gkick them”
DPS have four paths to improving their survivability over the course of a fight:
1.) Use all available consumables for the purpose of healing, including potions
2.) Know the fights and avoid all incoming damage possible
3.) Proactively use cooldowns to mitigate predicted and unavoidable damage
4.) Spec into talents that reduce damage taken or add some form of survivability
In this day and age the first is generally avoided in place of dps potions, the third sometimes happens (e.g. dispersion on pungent blight) and the fourth rarely happens. As things stand right now the only real requirements of DPS tend to be: general raid awareness (don’t get insta-killed by something) and really high damage output.
Healers aren’t looking to play god. We don’t want to be the schoolmarm and scold people by not healing them or start cussing out DPS who keep getting clipped by an AoE effect that may not kill them but definitely hurts. We aren’t asking DPS to play in a way drastically different then what they might be used to (depending on when they started raiding). I think all we would ask is that the player do everything they can to minimize damage and not get too many stacks of mystical buffet, or whatever the debuff dujour is that prevents you from doing damage. The general indifference to healers and a mentality that “I can take more damage to deal more damage and the healers just need to step it up and heal more” is not a healthy one. It seems things are tipping really heavily back towards personal resonposibility for survival. Healers will only be able to do so much in Cataclysm. You might need to actually bandage yourself in fights or take a talent that reduces all damage of some kind by a percent. This is all subject to change based on the challenge of the content we are on and the level of gear the healers have access to.
The fight I really…really wish ALL non-healers could have experienced at the time, in order to educate themselves a bit, was 40 man Loatheb.
Loatheb was an extremely challenging boss back in the day in 40 man Naxxramas. When my guild was first killing him, close to when Naxx 40 was first opened, we actually needed the Dragonslayer buff from Ony/Nef as well as the Zul Gurub buff from killing Hakkar. Once the group was well geared and we were working on fights like 4 horseman, Sapphiron, and Kel Thuzad the buffs were no longer needed of course, but it does serve to give you an idea of what kind of benchmark was needed to kill him before it got out of control. What made the fight interesting was that should you cast any form of healing spell, you were locked out of casting any other healing spell for a fairly lengthy period of time. Loatheb was still obviously hitting the tank and he had his nasty abilities (the reverse lifebloom and curse of doom knockoff). The only way for DPS to live was to have a strict order in which to use all of the healing/preventative maintenance tools at their disposal. It has been a long time since I have done the fight (so this is completely made up) but it might have gone something like:
Pre-Curse 1: shadow protection pot
Curse 2: Bandage
Curse 3: Healthstone
Curse 4: Shadow Protection Pot
Curse 5: Bandage
Curse 6: Healthstone
Curse 7: Healing Potion
This is an oversimplification but the survival of the DPS was entirely on them. We had some spare priests to PoH when necessary but that was a last resort. Tank healing was equally as interesting. We had a rotation consisting of almost all of the healers in the raid. Each healer had to have a macro that cast a big heal on the tank and send a tell to the next healer in the chain announcing that your heal is off, and that they were next all while moving to get the spore buff. We used to practice these macros in healer chat prior to fighting him and if someone screwed up we started over again.
We’ve come a long way from fights like that, but maybe we can learn a little something from them.
We need to remove the safety net from the people we raid with. Everyone, ourselves included, need to be exposed to the harsh reality that failure to move from damage that hurts but does not kill, is the same thing as failing to avoid a hard mode Sindragosa frost bomb. I’m not advocating calling people out, or not healing someone who doesn’t move to the center on BQL…but perhaps keep a line of communication from the healers to the DPS class leads / officers in your guild. Maybe you want to start looking at the “damage taken” and “healing taken” tabs of recount and do a little analysis. The cords will be cut, and the nets removed, and people will fall…that is just how it is going to be.
I respect the idea of Triage that blizzard is adding into the game as a means to create added responsibility for healers and create a more in depth healing model. What I am still skeptical about is how strongly they push this model. Bear in mind that right now the only information I have to base my opinion on is heroic ICC where a momentary failure on the healers part results in someone’s death and a wipe. If the tank healers blink during heroic Lich King 25 it could pretty much mean a wipe. There is a lot of pressure on the healers to keep up or risk the whole attempt going down in flames, and this doesn’t even include our need to adhere to the fights intrinsic mechanics and required movement.
Right now, for DPS, they have one true failure mode and that is dying. If a DPS dies to an avoidable event, then they have failed and cease to do DPS. Tanks have two failure modes currently and that is dying to avoidable effects, and not managing the necessary adds in a fight or taunt a boss when the time is right. Healers have two failure modes: dying, and failing to heal people from avoidable and predicted damage. Mana management adds a third, potentially unforgiving, failure mode to healers. What I mean by less forgiving is that if a DPS fails to perform to a degree during an encounter, but does not die, their overall output wavers and may even be low but they are still contributing. Failing at mana management means squandering a resource that is not quickly replenishable and it seems extremely difficult to undo the damage. I am not saying that I am against us having to manage our mana, I am simply hoping that the devs work on tweaking how much of a penalty each wrong decision turns out to be. As a druid healer staring down the barrel of some extremely expensive raid healing tools this is a rather hot button topic for me. If we cast a wild growth and “whiff” on a couple of potential targets, or cast just a few too many regrowths in an attempt to proc Effloressence just how “screwed” are we? These are things that we won’t know the answer to but I am sure that you, like me, are thinking about the same thing.
Our ability to do our job will be completely linked to the situational awareness of the DPS players in our raid. If they take damage they are not supposed to the burden then falls immediately on us. If it is a fight where there is a lot of predicted damage coming in fast, we will be forced to use fast inefficient means to heal them and then stuff really starts to fall apart. So, here we are again full circle. They will rely on us, but now more than ever we will rely on them as well. Some of you may not like that your fate lies somewhat in their hands, and some might be looking forward to the challenge. I have some confidence in the people that I raid with to help me out, I can only hope you can say the same.
Until next time!