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"You Are Not a Tank Healing Spec"

Posted by Malevica on May - 27 - 2010

I came across the line in the title while dipping into the EJ WotLK Priest Healing Compendium recently, and it made me think about how we tend to try and pigeon-hole healers.

Why do we label healers?

Humans are fundamentally pattern-seeking creatures: it is our natural tendency to try and classify the world, to relate it to things we have experience of, and to reduce it to a set of simpler rules.
In WoW, when a raid leader is faced with 5-7 healers to assign, of up to five different specs, all with unique personalities and skills, their natural reaction is to fall back on these heuristics in an attempt to reach as nearly-optimal a solution as possible.

Because the assignment is based on these heuristics, the quality of the classification scheme will directly influence the quality of the resulting assignment.

Common classification schemes

I’m going to focus on two today. The first is the common “tank” and “raid” healer dichotomy, and the second is a modification which divides healers by their abilities rather than by role. I’ll also describe the ideal, which is what guilds should be aiming at.

“Tank healers” and “raid healers”

This is, for the most part, the prevailing paradigm in WoW today. Not in decent raiding guilds, I’m sure, but in my experience this is how the majority of players and raid leaders still think.

The trouble with this model is that it breaks down fairly quickly in the current game. Where does a Discipline Priest fit? What about a Resto Druid? Come to think of it, on many encounters a Shaman might be a weak ranged healer (Rotface heroic leaps to mind) but excel at bouncing Chain Heals through the melee, are they still a “raid healer”?

Typically Disc priests and Holy Paladins get dropped into the “tank healer” box, and everyone else into the “raid healer” box. And the boxes are fairly fixed across a raid, even though, as the Shaman example shows, this can change a lot depending on the fight.

In my experience the biggest weakness of this scheme is that it also tends to lead to over-simplified assignments. “X and Y on tanks, rest on raid” is very often inadequate, especially on challenging content, where healers don’t know each other well, or where healer capabilities are unknown.

Single-target vs multi-target healers

This is a slightly different way of categorising the healing population, but sticking with two groups again. I think this works a little better than the first scheme, because it allows the raid leader to match healers to the damage profile, rather than arbitrary roles.

For example, as a Discipline Priest I’m generally a single-target healer. I know that 25-mans tend to have Disc Priests on bubble-blanketing, but I’m still only handling one person at any one time. I can tank heal, if a single tank is taking sustained damage, but I can also very effectively heal up random secondary target damage (like Lana’thel’s Bloodbolts or Deathwhisper’s Shadowbolts) or rescue individuals who find themselves standing in fire.

It also allows Shaman to be used on tanks on fights where it’s appropriate, Marrowgar being a great example, and Blood Queen Lana’thel another decent example. When you have multiple tanks taking simultaneous damage, rotating Chain Heal across each tank in turn is a very effective tool; far more effective than trying to get a Disc Priest to heal three targets.
As another example, consider using a Shaman or two as part of your tank healing assignment on heroic Saurfang. They can keep a melee Mark up fairly well, while contributing significantly to the healing on the tanks. If you can even free up a Holy Paladin, that allows you to cover an additional Mark at range.

There are some weaknesses of this scheme still. In particular there’s a lot of variation in the “multi-target” group, ranging from Holy Paladins (Beacon of Light) through to Resto Druids, which is not accounted for. In practice, treating Holy Paladins as single-target healers tends to work best conceptually.

This scheme also requires a bit more thought on the part of the person doing the assignments, but can lead fairly naturally to more individualised healing assignments.

The ideal

Clearly, the ideal situation is for the raid leader, or the healing lead, to know the individual strengths, weaknesses, preferences, specialities and foibles of every healer in the raid team, and assign on that basis. There’s not much reliance on heuristics here, and the maximum information is being used to inform the decisions being taken.

As an example, I’ve talked before about healing Ulduar-10 as Disc with a Holy Paladin with few problems. We succeeded because we knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses and could adapt our tactics to each fight, despite the conventional wisdom that we had 2 “tank healers” in the raid.

But a PuG raid leader, or someone with new recruits in a guild, or simply someone who is less comfortable handling so much information, will need to simplify things to some extent.

Conclusions

You’ve probably figured out that I prefer to think about healers in the second way (when I’m not working with a guild group, where I’m a lot closer to the ideal). I prefer assigning healers based on their class’s abilities and strengths, in relation to the damage that will be taken.

This helps me understand how to relate to Holy Paladins. As a Disc Priest I’m often lumped in with Holy Paladins as “tank healer”, but the big difference is that Holy Paladins are dual-target healers, so on fights with more than one tank they will have a much easier time than me, and it’s noticeable in the raid (in the same way that Bone Storm is a very different proposition with and without a Disc Priest). Our single-target HPS is comparable, but they can double their overall HPS in a GCD, and they can sustain it over long periods of time, while mine is quite bursty.

Every healers is suited to different situations, and it’s much better all round if the person doing the assigning takes account of that.

And stop putting me on tanks, I really don’t like it.



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Assigning Healers

Posted by Malevica on March - 23 - 2010

Something that’s varied a lot over the course of my raiding career, across a number of guilds, is the way the healing team is organised and healing resources are allocated on a fight-by-fight basis. This post will be a potted history of my healing experiences through TBC and WotLK, and a look at the broad approaches I’ve encountered.

My Experience

The early days

When I began healing 25-man raids properly in mid- to late-TBC the raid team was mostly decided by looking at who was online at the time and allowing for decent balance if we had too many healers on the night. At this time we took two priests along where we could with typically the newest, or lowest-geared, speccing 23/38/0 specifically for the Improved Divine Spirit buff. Holy Paladins at the time were highly sought-after because of their ability to heal essentially forever, while Druids would be juggling triple-stacked Lifeblooms on up to three tanks.

The raid leader, who was also the healing leader for a while, would assign healers carefully based on the fight. Typical assignments would call for a healer per tank, usually a Priest or Paladin, a Druid would roll HoTs on the tanks, while the Shaman and spare CoH Priests would be assigned to “raid heal”, spamming those AoE heals on anyone with a deficit.
Looking back on those days, it felt that you first covered your tanks, then made sure you had a Druid (it really mattered to have one, but usually no more), and then the raid healers made up the numbers.

Possibly because of the slower pace of the fights, and the importance of mana conservation at the gear levels we were raiding with (T4 with a smattering of T5), healers often cross-healed in support of other people, and we all knew each other’s strengths, weaknesses and preferences.

Early WotLK

Raiding Naxxramas was a strong crossover point between the more organised style, which was necessary for learning the encounters while healers were relatively underpowered (in terms of mana regeneration and throughput) and a less formal style of assignment once content was being overpowered and encounters were more familiar.
Having become raid and healing lead by this time I made it my business to understand my healers for their individual differences again, especially since, compared to TBC, the class balance made less difference than the players themselves.

With the addition of Beacon of Light a Paladin became more-or-less mandatory: when every encounter uses more than one tank the Paladin effectively becomes two tank healers for the price of one. Druids were able to shift away from constantly maintaining Lifebloom stacks and were able to devote a lot more time to raid healing through Rejuvenation and Wild Growth. Typical assignments would have a Paladin on the tanks, a Druid on the raid, and the other healers assigned as needed to meet the demands of the fights.

Ulduar

At this time I moved to another guild for a short time. This guild took a very different approach to raid composition, switching raiders in and out for individual fights depending on the fight and the needs of the characters for drops from the boss.
Healers were assigned to tanks or to positions in the room, and those not explicitly assigned were assigned to heal the raid. Logs were kept for all fights, this was when WowWebStats was not yet defunct, and used to check who was healing whom.

Unfortunately this guild did not last very long, and I joined a new guild in time for the end of Ulduar and the release of ToC.

ToC and ICC

In a strong contrast to the previous guild, the raid team is set a day in advance, although it may change if short-notice factors prevent everyone from being online for the raid. Unless someone goes LD for an extended period the team is the same for every fight on a given night, and generally there is no particular focus placed on aiming for a specific composition. The guild has 8 healers, all of whom are regular attenders, so there is a relatively high degree of continuity.

The typical culture in this guild is not to assign healers explicitly unless it becomes necessary for some reason. Generally healers have ‘default’ roles which we fulfil: Paladins divide the tanks between themselves and their Beacons, the Shaman Chain Heal through the mêlée, our Druid defaults to Rejuv-blanketing, the Holy Priest takes on the raid healing on the ranged and I tend to either assist with the tanks or bubble/spot-heal the raid, depending on the number of Paladins that night and the damage coming in. These are only broad roles and there is a lot of fluidity.

Specific fights may be assigned specific healers, once it has become clear that healing is the weak link. Some examples recently have been Heroic Northrend Beasts, Heroic Faction Champions and Sindragosa Phase 3.

Assignment Schemes

In my relatively short time healing raids, a mere two and a half years, I’ve seen a number of systems for assigning healers. Each has advantages and disadvantages, and different reasons for their use. Here’s my take on the general concepts.

Specific (Strict)

Typically this means that every person will be assigned a target or set of targets (maybe groups or roles (i.e. mêlée or ranged)) which they will be expected to heal almost exclusively. Excessive cross-healing is frowned upon because in theory the assignments have been designed to be close to optimal, and too much straying from the assignments could undermine that optimisation.

Except for quite specific fights where this is the obvious approach to choose, such as Heroic Anub’Arak, because several people need focused healing and the limitation is GCDs, this approach depends on the assigner having good information about the fight and the healers, and skill at setting up effective assignments. It also depends on the healers having trust in the assignments and not straying, as well as good feedback from the healing team to help refine the assignments quickly.

The advantages are generally higher accountability and higher predictability. If everyone has an assignment, then that gives a raid leader or healing leader a starting point for analysis of a death, whether the cause is healer distraction, insufficient healing assigned, excessive damage taken or the dreaded ‘RNG’ that person should be in a good position to understand the causes and offer advice.

Specific (Loose)

I distinguish this from the strict approach in the degree to which the healing plan is tuned in advance, and to which cross-healing is tolerated or encouraged. While a strict system might assign raid healers to specific groups or camps, the loose system will simply assign three or four raid healers and allow them freedom to cross-heal and play to their strengths. Alternatively this scheme might include four assigned healers and one or two ‘floating’ who can heal as they see fit.

This approach tends to work better when the damage is changeable or spiky, as the inclusion of floating healers, particularly if they are different classes or specs, allows for healing to be redistributed on the fly to react to a changing situation. It also transfers some of the mental load from the healing assigner to the healers, and can be more empowering for the healers, they may perceive a strict system as respecting their instincts less than a looser system.

The downside of this, compared to a stricter scheme is that typically the ‘base load’, the healing required throughout the fight, such as standard boss swings and raid auras, is only just covered, so there is still the potential for problems if the floating healing is not distributed correctly. This relies on the floats anticipating or reacting to each other’s healing output.

No Assignment

This sort of scheme works on the basis that your healers have default roles which they fall into automatically, and that they can and will cross-heal freely to ensure that heals go where they are most needed.
Generally this is not the chaos that might be imagined. Despite healing specs having been brought much closer together in WotLK compared to TBC, each spec still retains an area in which it specialises. Paladins are best-used on tanks, Shaman are well-suited to healing closely-grouped raiders, and so on. With a non-pathological raid composition and intelligent cross-healing this can be quite efficient for many fights.
This also allows healers to play to their own strengths, gravitate to the role they most enjoy playing, and values the healing corps for their ability to work as a team and react appropriately.

Note that under this scheme specific people can be assigned to specific tasks as needed, this is just the exception rather than the rule.

The downsides to this are a higher degree of unpredictability during a fight, and lower accountability for deaths.

During a fight the damage may shift from one tank to another, or the raid may take a large damage pulse, standard events in any fight. With a stricter assignment scheme there are players specifically assigned to patch these holes, while in a much looser scheme it is quite possible that everyone or no one will switch to patch these holes. What’s more there is an amplification effect which can occur where too many healers, including the tank healers, switch to heal up a large raid damage pulse, which can leave tanks abnormally low; as a consequence tanks may needlessly use cooldowns, and it may be that raid healers throw emergency heals onto the tanks, leaving the raid without heals. And so on.

When someone does die, what often happens is that every healer can point to the productive healing that they were doing, just not on the person who needed it at that moment. The raid as a whole has adequate healing available, there was simply a breakdown in coordination; this is often chalked up to bad luck or a one-off, and the wipe gets written off and nothing is learned.

Conclusions

Having healed under all three of these schemes, I have to throw my weight behind a Specific assignment scheme with a relatively small degree of floating. None of these schemes are perfect, but the accountability of a scheme with more explicit assignments appeals more to the raid leader in me.

The number of healing failures I’ve experienced in recent months due to incorrect assumptions about who is supposed to be healing whom has thoroughly disillusioned me of this way of doing things. I’ve played with a very cohesive healing team in the past, and know how it feels to be able to predict their play and cross-heal seamlessly, but whether it’s because of playstyle differences, or because of the pace of encounters and healing these days this approach just seems to be ineffective at the moment.

The bottom line though is that every healing team needs to find a way that works for them. There should be no stigma associated with using assignments, in fact it shows that the raid leader or healing leader cares and wants to understand their team. Finally a healer should not be afraid to ask for assignments if they seem to be needed, or offer to set them up if there is no natural healing lead.



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