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Reflections on Heroic Healing

Posted by Malevica on April - 18 - 2012

Now that heroic Dragon Soul is over with I find myself in an interesting position: this is the first time in my WoW career that I’ve completed an end boss on heroic while it’s been current content. It’s been a fascinating experience, and I’d like to talk a little about how heroic raiding and healing has felt to me. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

 

Context is King

I’ve been flirting with heroic raiding for the last two expansions, but it took me a while to work my way through the ranks of guilds raiding progressively closer to the cutting edge before finally ending up in a guild that was in the running for the top of the server charts.

WotLK was the first time I managed to join a guild that was running hardmode and heroic content, but we didn’t manage to kill heroic Anub’Arak or heroic Lich King on 25-man, only on 10-man with 25-man gear. Not that I’m not proud of the team I achieved those feats with, we all worked hard for them and they were a great bunch of people to raid with, but I still felt we fell short of what some members of the guild could, and probably should, have achieved in the expansion.

In Cataclysm I only got a couple of heroic bosses down in Tier 11 before rerolling yet again to Oceanic so that was a bit of a washout, and reaching 85 midway through Firelands pretty much put paid to my chances of earning a heroic Ragnaros kill before Dragon Soul (although we did go 6/7H post-nerf after starting the guild only weeks before). So DS with <;Abraxas>; was my big opportunity to really push progression and I’m very grateful for the opportunity and for the victory.

What my previous experience gave me was a sense of what heroic fights entailed mechanically but what I’d missed out on from being late to the heroic party and not raiding heroics relatively early, with less gear and thus at the difficult end of the progression curve was a sense of what those fights require of raiders personally.

 

Heroics Require Focus

And by this I mean total, full-time concentration. When an encounter is really stretching your team’s limits, when your tank is fractions of a second away from dropping dead and when those green bars just don’t seem to ever want to come up again you absolutely have to pay attention the whole time. Glance at your chat log and someone might end up dead. Fail to spot an enemy spell cast and don’t hit your cooldown in time, someone’s dead. Stand in the fire for a second too long and your HPS will be zero for the rest of the fight.

And it’s not just paying attention, it’s also having to constantly think. There’s so little time that you can spend just mashing the same button and waiting for a big blue DBM warning; instead you’re watching timers or learning to feel the fight so you can be ready for the next big thing to come at you, switching spells and healing targets on the fly, and working out what your fellow healers are doing.

And let me tell you, this gets exhausting. We raid 9½ hours per week spread over three nights which isn’t much by some standards, but we generally raid hard for those hours with quick re-pulls after wipes and as little downtime as possible. By the end of good progression nights I’m quite often completely frazzled and no use to anyone for a while afterwards. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy myself, but it’s hard work, mentally, and if you can’t keep it up for the duration of the raid then you’re just going to be wasting time by the end.

 

Heroics Require Motivation

So we’ve established that healing heroics is sometimes hard work and tiring; that inherently means you need to find your motivation.

You can be intrinsically motivated – motivated by your own reasons like killing bosses makes you happy or you have a desire to be the best healer you can be – or extrinsically motivated – motivated by something outside the task, maybe so your raid leader will stop yelling at you, or for bragging rights or a shiny mount – or a combination, and neither is inherently “better” than the other.

Whatever you use, you need to be able to stay motivated because healing heroic raids is not going to be fun all the time. For me, it’s a combination of factors, and they come in and out of play as progression rolls on, for example:

  • At a basic level I want to kill bosses because it makes me happy to overcome a challenge I’ve been set, but I’ll admit sometimes I wonder if it’s worth the stress.
  • I also keep turning up because my team needs me and I don’t want to deny other people the opportunity to raid and beat encounters. That’s partly intrinsic because I know that turning up is the right thing to do, and also partly extrinsic because I’ll lose my raid spot if I leave people in the lurch.
  • I also set myself targets like improving my usage of a certain spell or cooldown, or beating my numbers compared to last week. Those small, measurable, achievable goals keep me coming back even when a boss takes weeks to move past and it’s frustrating as hell.
  • And yes, I want to stand around Stormwind showing off the title and mount that are the metaphorical carrots dangled in front of me every tier. Nothing wrong with that as a motivational tool!

I think that a good team community helps a lot with motivation. If you feel loyalty to your raid team you’re more likely to want to come back day after day to help them out even when you’re not personally having much fun, and some healthy competition and banter can provide side-goals to keep you aiming at something.

 

Heroics Require a Thick Skin

This is probably the thing that I’ve struggled with the most. We don’t have a culture of yelling at people in Vent as a general rule, but I know when I’ve missed a cooldown or got myself killed or got someone else killed. I am my own worst critic and I set myself standards which are probably too high, and I’m very good at beating myself up when I don’t meet them.

At the end of the day, you need to remember that heroic raiding is difficult. You will make mistakes and you will cause wipes, everyone does. And because of that you’ll probably be the target of other people’s frustrations at times and even if you don’t get yelled at immediately or called out publicly you’ll probably feel it anyway.

Heroic raiding requires you to pick yourself up, acknowledge your mistakes (to yourself or to your team or both), learn from them, and move on.

 

Heroics Require Flexibility

Unlike normal modes, where the tuning is a bit more forgiving, heroic raids require the right composition. Over the years the definition of the “right composition” has been made a little more reasonable than stacking your raid with Shaman and making everyone take up leatherworking, but (pre-nerf, at least) 3-healing Ultraxion on heroic just wasn’t happening. So you need to be able to adapt yourself to the demands of the encounter.

For healers (and tanks too, probably more so than for healers) that often means being competent at a DPS spec or being willing to sit out for a mainspec DPS when there’s not a spot for you. I’ve sat on a few bosses and I’ve even tried DPSing, albeit without much success. Fortunately we have healers in the team who are competent in their offspecs, and they make up for my inadequacies!

I’ll also mention that you will sometimes need to work harder, and it might feel like you’re being asked to “carry” another role. We’ve all been there, when you’re dropping a healer because you’re hitting a berserk timer instead of giving your DPS the kick up the backside (you feel) they really deserve. Maybe it’s not fair to make you work harder, maybe other guilds manage just fine with 3 healers instead of 2, but you have to at least be willing to give it your best shot. Whatever it takes to get the boss down, even if that means going way outside your comfort zone.

Flexibility also means tailoring your spec and glyphs to the encounter you’re currently working on, and that’s something everyone will end up doing to some extent. Every fight is different and you can’t rely on one spec, one glyph setup and one reforge and never change anything for an entire tier. You need to think ahead about the mechanics, and look back at logs, to see where you can improve or what needs to change.

 

Heroics Require Analysis

Which leads nicely to the last thing on my list: you have to be analytical. Not your raid leader or your healing lead, you! And by “you” I of course mean “everyone”. You need to analyse your own performance, your raid’s performance and your strategy and also be able to communicate your ideas to the team (or at least to your raid leader) clearly and concisely.

Your raid leader will have an idea of the strategy they want to employ; they’ve watched the videos, read the guides, understood the mechanics and come up with a plan. Yet the boss is still defeating you. WTF?! Your raid leader will have questions you need to answer, and they can’t answer them on their own. Questions like:

  • Why did you die? – Not “what killed you”, plenty of addons will report the proximate cause of your death, but “why were you able to be killed”. The answer might be that you stood in fire for too long, but was there a reason for that? Was everyone too clumped up? Were you preoccupied by too many things to watch? Is something preventing you from seeing the spell effects? Do we need to call out that mechanic? When your raid leader asks a question like this, pretend they’re really asking “how can we help prevent this from happening again”.
  • Why didn’t X get healed? – Maybe X got 2-shot and you couldn’t have healed him up, that’s good information. Perhaps a healer was out of commission (Ice Tombed, maybe) and no one noticed. Maybe someone took an unexpected damage spike and everyone switched off the tank to heal him up. To answer this question well you need to understand your assignment and how it relates to everyone else’s, and bear in mind that those assignments might not be formal, they might just be what the healers expect each other to do.
  • Why is your HPS (or DPS) so low? – Bad answer: “I don’t know”. Worse answer: “<;myClass>; sucks on this fight. Better answers should relate to the strategy or mechanics. Is there too much movement? Are you missing buffs? Are you not maximising AoE (or cleave, for DPS) opportunities? Bad timing for cooldowns? You get the picture.

I’ll repeat myself, because I think this is one of the most important things I’d tell a new heroic raider: When your raid leader asks a question about why something happened or didn’t happen, don’t stop at answering the question they asked. Instead pretend they’re really asking “how can we help prevent this from happening again?” and answer that question.

Sometimes you might not get your wish, but if you never ask then how will your raid leader know there’s a problem at all? They’re only one person, playing one role, they’re not omniscient.

 

Is It Worth It?

Absolutely, one hundred per cent, without a doubt.

But do bear in mind that heroic raiding will not always be fun. In the words of the great Del Preston:

It will not be easy.

You will get tired. You will get blisters. You will get aches and pains.

But you will also get good.



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Categories: Anecdotes, Opinion

The First Cataclysm Raid

Posted by Malevica on December - 14 - 2010

Last night, less than a week after Cataclysm went live, my guild mustered up a 25-man raid and advanced upon the Bastion of Twilight.

Ill not keep you in suspense: we didn’t manage to kill any bosses. We were not, as they say, Prepared!

We did learn an awful lot though and I’m pretty sure we’ll get our first kill on Thursday when we go back, once we’ve got a bit more gear and experience under our belts.

Trash

My experience of the instance is still extremely limited, but I like this sort of trash. Pulls of 10 mobs make you think very carefully about what CC you have and where it needs to be applied, but there are also some genuine AoE packs mixed in to provide a bit of welcome relief.

The first few pulls were pretty messy, but it didn’t take long for everyone’s tired old CC muscles to tone up again and pretty soon we were taking down the trash without incident.

Halfus Wyrmbreaker

We got to the first boss after about 45 minutes of trash clearing, and had a look at the buffs. We had the Storm Rider, Nether Scion and Time Warden active, which is a pretty nasty combination for the first week.

Our best attempt was 39%, so we have a way to go but the strategy and execution feels pretty good now. We’ll test it out on Thursday and see, by which time we should have got a bit more gear and practice under our belts.

One lesson that came out of the Wyrmbreaker attempts is the need for communication. We were taking out the Storm Rider first, because his Shadow Nova was extremely disruptive, but we were still losing tanks despite having 4/6 healers assigned to them and only the boss and one add active.

It eventually transpired that the tank healers were switching off their assignments to cover the raid; that was why we were losing the tanks, rather than because the tank healing load was so excessive. Once we realised what was going wrong, we pulled the Time Warden along with the Storm Rider, which dropped the raid damage hugely. Even though we had 3 tanks engaged now rather than 2, they were staying up much more easily because the tank healers could focus much more on their assignment.

So healers: don’t be afraid to say if you are finding yourself healing outside your assignment a lot, it’s vital for the raid leader and/or healing lead to know where the stresses are being applied, and you probably know that better than they do.

Disc Healing

I’ve read mixed opinions on Smite healing from early experiences. From watching other healers, I definitely agree that Holy is the ‘path of least resistance’ at the moment, but I’m a stubborn sort so I’m sticking with Disc for the time being.

At the moment Disc is lacking in ‘throughput’ at current gear levels. The trouble is that with the 5-7% crit available from blue gear we’re not seeing much Divine Aegis, and without a lot of Divine Aegis procs we’re not getting much of a benefit from the Mastery on our gear either. With Disc’s absorbs being low, we’re having to heal more to make up for it, and that’s costing a lot more mana.

Holy, on the other hand, scales quite a bit better at this end of the raiding spectrum.

I intend to stick with Disc for a while though, but I’ll be swapping my offspec back to Holy again and learning how to work with the Chakra mechanics.

While I’m talking about Disc healing, Smite still seems to be suffering from range problems. 8 yards just seems to be a bit too small. I shouldn’t have to keep nagging my tank to move closer to the boss, especially when some bosses are (or have been, at least) twitchy and will overcompensate if you move too close to them.
This isn’t a problem on trash, generally, but bosses have much bigger hitboxes.

Mana and healing in general

Disc’s current shortcomings aside, I clearly have a lot to learn about the new healing model as well! I reforged as much spirit onto my gear as possible, but I still managed to chew through it very quickly, especially on the early attempts, and I’m certainly struggling to last through a 6-minute fight. That will improve though, once I get a few more 346 items to replace my 333s and below.

It’s quite difficult after two years of WotLK to get used to being stingy with heals, but it really is important not to heal when it’s not needed. I’ve put the /stopcasting back into my Greater Heal macro (which also fires Inner Focus on cooldown) so I can both boost throughput immediately and interrupt a cast if it’s going to be wasted, and I’m trying to stick to Smite/Heal/Penance until the tank is under 50% and actually needs that Greater Heal.

The thing is, you really do have to trust that the tanks aren’t going to fall over in the next 5 seconds, that you have the throughput to dig yourself out of the hole, and that your other healers are going to be landing heals as well so it’s not all on your shoulders.

Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Northrend any more!



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Categories: Anecdotes

Cataclys-meme

Posted by Malevica on December - 9 - 2010

Ah, why not. I like the idea of a “time capsule”, and I love looking back a year later and marvelling at just how wrong everyone was, myself included!
This was suggested by Janyaa at Muradin’s Musings, and I heard about it from Enlynn at Bubblespec.
 

  1. Disk or Download?
    Disk. Like Tobold, I’m baffled that it’s significantly cheaper to buy the box retail than to buy direct from Blizzard. I’d accept a couple of pounds more for the convenience, but a 40% higher cost for the direct download is a big difference.
  2.  

  3. Did you experience any difficulties? IE: Login servers crashing, late delivery, etc?
    My box arrived on the Tuesday morning, so I was able to log in and play on the day of release. It’s actually been a very smooth release for me.
  4.  

  5. What are you doing first? IE: Speed leveling to 85, rolling a new race, completely avoiding the new content, etc?
    Levelling to 85 so I can gear up for heroics and raids. I’m also tinkering with Archaeology, which is strangely addictive.
  6.  

  7. Mt. Hyjal or Vash’jir?
    Mt Hyjal – I hate 3D in WoW because I find it impossible to work out where I am or where mobs are relative to me. I can only stand so much “The target must be in front of you” before running off and sobbing in a corner.
    Plus, I love how solid and earthy Hyjal is, compared to the winter wonderland of Northrend and the wierdness of Outland. And flying into the sun from Orgrimmar to Nordrassil and seeing the shadow and flare effects are gorgeous.
  8.  

  9. Worgen or Goblin?
    Neither yet. When I do, it’ll be Worgen because they’re more interesting than Goblins. Although the “British” accent grated on beta -why is it so hard for American companies to just hire a Brit to do the voiceovers? I’ll do it, and I won’t even demand a fee!
  10.  

  11. Questing, dungeons or both?
    Questing. I prefer to level quietly and solo, so I don’t have to deal with the rushing and competition. Although I’ll be doing some dungeons with the guild, and I’ll need them to relearn how to heal.
  12.  

  13. What was the first piece of gear you replaced and with what?
    I had to look this up, but my first upgrade was replacing my T10 legs with Kilt of Reborn Future
  14.  

  15. Did you take any time off from work or school?
    Nope. I’ve just come back from 3 weeks abroad, so it would have been a bit cheeky to take more time off work for WoW!
  16.  

  17. Will you be keeping the same spec and main, or changing to a different toon?
    I fear change! I’ll be sticking with the same toon, and probably with Discipline as my spec too, until such time as it proved to be entirely unviable.
  18.  

  19. What’s been your favorite aspect of Cataclysm so far?
    The upgraded graphics and tightened up zones, I think. There’s so much to explore, and it really makes it feel like a new game.


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Categories: Anecdotes

Venturing Forth into the Cataclysm

Posted by Malevica on December - 9 - 2010

I noticed after posting that this week’s Blog Azeroth Shared Topic is “Initial Thoughts on Cataclysm” (suggested by Jaedia of Jaedia’s Menagerie. So if you’re looking for a range of opinions and views from across the blogosphere, you could do a lot worse than to look there.


First, in case you’ve not noticed, and in case you’re interested, I’ve got very rough strategies for most of the new raids hammered out now (I don’t have Blackwing Descent finished, or a Sinestra strat yet).
You can find them in the menu above, or they have their own index page. I’ll update them, but I’d appreciate feedback from anyone who experiences the content on Live before me. Leave a comment on the strategy page!

First impressions

My early experience of Cataclysm is a good one. I played through each of the zones on the beta but bugs prevented me from really experiencing the flow of the new zones, so it’s been really nice to see how well the quests link up to tell you a story as you progress through a zone. The variable respawn rate on quest mobs seems to have been refined pretty well, so there’s not many bottlenecks to overcome either.

People, though, are a constant source of frustration. I’m absolutely not a competitive person by nature, so spamming a target/SW:P macro to try and be the first to tag a slowly respawning mob isn’t fun for me; but I can only be so patient before I start getting annoyed at the people who don’t seem to understand that if someone’s at a spawn point before you you should a) try and group with them, and b) let them go first. Special mention goes out to the people who try and ninja a quest mob spawned using a quest item you get given

Levelling

The pace of levelling seems about right to me. I logged in briefly at Tuesday lunchtime to find that we already had a handful of level 85 players and a Realm First tailor who had started at midnight and not slept, but since I’ll be levelling in the evenings only it’ll probably take me until the weekend to ding 85. I made 83 last night in Deepholm after about 9 hours of play time.

I’m levelling as Discipline, which is working out quite nicely. The healing from Atonement means I have to try really hard to get killed, and the DPS isn’t too bad either. I’ve always levelled as a healing spec, and I just accept that it’ll take a bit longer to kill things. Since I intend to use my second spec for Holy once I’m 85, I really don’t want to reconfigure all my bars for Shadow only to have to put them all back again in a few days’ time.

Instances

I haven’t run many instances yet on Live, partly because of a shortage of tanks and surplus of healers in my guild, and partly because I just prefer to level solo, always have.

But my guild will be running guild 5-mans on our regular raid nights for the next couple of weeks, so that’s what I’ll be doing this evening, and of course I’ll share my thoughts.

Early priorities

Well clearly I’m aiming to get to 85. Preferably on Saturday so I can spend some time at 85 on Sunday and maybe run a few heroics.

I’m also keen to get my Guardians of Hyjal and Therazane reps up fairly quickly so I can get access to the Arcanum of Hyjal and Greater Inscription of Charged Lodestone head and shoulder enchants.

Then comes the rest of the gearing for starting to raid. I’ve been glancing at gear lists on other blogs, so my priority after getting my Guardians of Hyjal rep to Exalted for the Cord of Raven Queen will be the Earthen Ring, to fill in a few more gear slots.

I’m not levelling my professions especially aggressively yet though. I’m not selling off my mats for obscene amounts of gold, but I’m also not buying materials either. I doubt I’ll have Alchemy maxed for a while, since I’m one of the huge number of double-crafters lulled into a false sense of security by the low material prices of WotLK. I’ll get there when I break out my alts.

I’m doing the cooking and fishing dailies religiously though, and making a nice stash of cooking mats in my bank for when I have enough tokens for the new recipes.

What I am slightly obsessed with is Archaeology. I’m having to fight the urge to run around the world digging up artefacts rather than questing. Getting XP for every find I make means it’s not actually too bad, but it’s not getting me gear, and at this stage of the expansion my focus is on getting into those first raids.



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Wrath Raiding Retrospective

Posted by Malevica on September - 2 - 2010

Everblue recently posted a retrospective on Wrath of the Lich King from one tank’s perspective. I liked the format, and I’m feeling nostalgic, so here’s my version.

Favourite instance

I have to agree with popular opinion here, and go for Ulduar. The grand scale of the instance, as well as the tremendous variety of the bosses kept it exciting and interesting right the way through. I also loved the way the hard modes were implemented, generally adding mechanics rather than just bumping bosses’ HP and damage output.

This was also the phase of the game where I also felt at my most flexible as a Disc Priest, being able to keep up with tank heals or switch to raid healing depending on the requirements of the fight. And since most of my hardmode experience of Ulduar was on 10-man, I really used that flexibility.

Most difficult encounter

With the exception of heroic Lich King which we’ve not attempted on either format yet, the hardest boss for me personally and for my guild has to have been heroic Anub’arak.

You had to position the adds relative to the boss extremely precisely or you didn’t have the DPS to keep up with the fight, not to mention the many, many “kersplat” moments we had when an add got behind their tank, and for healers the reaction time needed in Phase 3 was not much fun either, especially combined with the lack of anything much to do in the rest of the fight.

Least fun encounter

If not for the fact that there’s so much else going on to keep the fight interesting, I’d pick the Lich King. Spending 10+ hours a week in 10-minute bursts of bubble-spam is definitely not on my list of fun experiences.

However I’d probably pick Faction Champions, just for the sheer helplessness of it from a healer’s perspective. Random people being nuked before you can react, aggro lighting up everywhere, the inability to properly strategise (we’re not much for PvP in my guild, so we didn’t have people accustomed to calling targets or responding to key deaths); it all combined to make for a very frustrating experience.

Most fun encounter

Firefighter, without question. Mimiron is one of the best bosses I’ve ever come across in WoW in just about every way. From the enticingly cartoonish Big Red Button to the well-written dialog the designers outdid themselves, and the mechanics were tuned very neatly to stretch you without introducing too much RNG; just about every mechanic could be mitigated or controlled through the raid’s actions.

A distant second would be either of the Mind Control encounters: Instructor Razuvious or the Who Needs Bloodlust? achievement. It’s nice to be central to an encounter, and to use a trick that usually doesn’t get much of an outing.

Most rewarding boss to heal

Another tie here.

Heroic Anub’arak-10 felt really, really good when we finally got it down. It demanded a lot from two healers, with tanks being absolutely pounded at the same time as the raid needed complete focus because Penetrating cold could take people out pretty quickly. Those two healers needed to work together to get everything covered.

As my other choice, I’m going to nominate early Mimiron once again. You can’t beat a fight where the focus shifts from spot healing to raid-wide healing (and on to total chaos), and needs coordination and defensive cooldowns to make it work.
Especially one which takes a lot of learning time to defeat, the rejoicing on Vent was amazing.

Proudest moment

Yet another Ulduar memory: getting my hands on the Rusted Proto-Drake. This was pretty much the golden period in Wrath for me, working through the achievements with a really tight-knit group of people. Even though it took a long time to get Firefighter down, spirits always stayed high and we kept plugging away until we got it, and then kept going back for a few weeks afterwards to make sure everyone who’d work for it got their drake too.



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Categories: Anecdotes