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[MoP Beta] Priest Mana Regen Revisited

Posted by Malevica on June - 24 - 2012

This is a follow-up to my previous post on the subject, to look in a bit more detail at actual, not just potential, returns from From Darkness, Comes Light.

As of 1st July 2012 I’ve merged the corrections and the discussion on the various options from here into the previous post to keep it all in one place. The big change is that the recent buff to Mindbender with Build 15799 (1.0% per swing -> 1.3%) it’s a stronger choice now and competitive with the others, although still probably not an automatic go-to since PW:Solace and FD,CL have greater potential.

FD,CL Procs and Regen

In my initial comparison of FD,CL procs I chose to simply treat them as occurring on 15% of casts, and thus attributing 15% of the mana saving (19,500 mana) to each eligible heal.

That’s fine in spreadsheets and for simplifying the analysis, but how can we quantify the randomness? One way is to simulate a lot of encounters and see what sort of range we might expect.

Considering a 5-minute fight, and two usage scenarios, here’s what I get from an arbitrary run of the sim (10,000 iterations):

  1. Bare minimum – 2 casts per minute – Mean saving per fight: 29,253 mana – StdDev: 22,456 mana.
  2. Tank-healing heavy – 20 casts per minute – Mean saving per fight: 295,563 mana – StdDev: 70,406 mana.

The standard deviation (StdDev) is a measure of the size of the variation from the average, and that’s the important figure here. The more statistically-minded will already have drawn their own conclusions, but for the rest of us the short version is this:
If you’re casting FD,CL-eligible heals infrequently you might get lucky and nearly double your returns but you’re just as likely to end up with practically nothing. If you cast frequently you’re better off, but you could still end up losing out on a quarter of the returns you were expecting.

Obviously over a longer fight the numbers will even out a little better, but the majority of the fights do fall into the ~5-6 minute range, at least in Cataclysm.

The point of all this is that because of the huge variations of FD,CL’s procs you really need to be casting a lot of eligible heals to be sure of getting the benefit. When comparing PW:Solace and FD,CL, you should underestimate the value of FD,CL, particularly if running out of mana is likely to be a killer rather than an inconvenience. PW:Solace gives you flexibility that FD,CL does not.

Again, this doesn’t change the conclusion that PW:Solace is better for raid healing and FD,CL only if you’re tank- or single-target-healing a lot, but it does shine light on the massive unreliability you can expect to see in FD,CL returns.



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[MoP Beta] Priest Mana Regen Options

Posted by Malevica on June - 22 - 2012

Tier 3 of the Priest talent tree for Mists of Pandaria will be all about mana regeneration. But which is the best option: From Darkness, Comes Light? Mindbender? Or the shiny new Power Word: Solace?

Updated 24th June, see the follow-up post for details.
Updated again 1st July, to take account of the 1.0% -> 1.3% bump in Mindbender’s mana return. This changes the conclusions a little: originally Mindbender was barely an advantage over Shadowfiend, now it is a viable option.

For another take on this, Derevka at Tales of a Priest has carried out a similar analysis including presenting the data in some slightly different ways. That’s well worth a read as well; more eyes and more opinions are of course always a good thing for the community, as are different ways of explaining and presenting things.

It Depends

Obviously it’s going to be situational, there’s no question about that. Each of the talents has a different focus and will help in different scenarios:

  • From Darkness, Comes Light – Gives you a 15% chance on casting a Smite, Heal, Flash Heal, Binding Heal or Greater Heal to get a free, instant-cast Flash Heal. You can store up to 2 free heals.
  • Mindbender – Replaces Shadowfiend with a Mindbender. With Mindbender you get 1.3% Mana per swing instead of 3%, but a 1 minute CD instead of 3 minutes. You also get an extra two swings from the Mindbender because it has a 15s duration compared to the Shadowfiend’s 12s. The Mindbender’s damage is around 5.5k per swing (for me at level 88) compared to around 6.5k for the Shadowfiend.
  • Power Word: Solace – New! Deals light damage to an enemy, but grants 2% of mana back per cast. Priestly Telluric Currents, if you will. (Currently this restores mana even against immune enemies or if you miss, which is convenient).

First I’ll look at Mindbender and compare it to the other two options, then discuss the comparison of FD,CL with PW:Solace. If you just want the short version, then skip to the conclusions.

Mindbender

The graphs below show the amount of mana returned for Mindbender compared to Shadowfiend for a range of fight durations from 3 to 12 minutes. Because Mindbender replaces Shadowfiend, this is the net benefit of taking the talent.

The first shows the best-case situation, where you cast Shadowfiend or Mindbender pretty much on the pull and none of the mana returned is wasted. At level 90 this is consistent with chain-casting anything but Heal. This also assumes a 15% miss chance (healers are likely to have no hit bonus, and 15% is the standard chance to miss a boss-level mob).

Mindbender and Shadowfiend mana returns for a range of fight durations (Level 90, Immediate first cast)

Mindbender and Shadowfiend mana returns for a range of fight durations (Level 90, Immediate first cast)

Under this scenario Mindbender generates additional mana, both because of the extra swings and higher mana per swing, and because of the greater granularity (so you can fit more casts in.

If you don’t need the mana in the very early stages of the fight and delay the first casts of both until you’ve opened up a suitable mana deficit, the effect is more pronounced. The second graph shows the effect if you choose to delay Shadowfiend for a minute after the pull compared with waiting 20 seconds to cast Mindbender (in both cases the delay is sufficient to let a sufficient mana deficit build up, even being fairly frugal with mana).

Mindbender and Shadowfiend mana returns for a range of fight durations (Level 90, Delayed first cast)

Mindbender and Shadowfiend mana returns for a range of fight durations (Level 90, Delayed first cast)

In this case the greater granularity of Mindbender lets you fit an extra cast in much earlier, opening up a slightly larger gap over most fight durations.

However, remember that the benefit of Mindbender is the difference between Mindbender and Shadowfiend. So the possible advantage of Mindbender over Shadowfiend needs to be weighed against the potential benefit of the other two talents.

Looking at the graphs the gap widens and narrows as the encounter duration changes. For a 12-minute fight the gap is the largest, at 162,180 mana. To compare that to the other talents, consider that PW:Solace gives 2%, or 6,000 mana, per cast. So Mindbender equivalent to 162,180/6,000= 27.03 PW:Solace casts over the course of the fight, which is 2.25 PW:Solace casts per minute over 12 minutes. So if you can squeeze in just over 2 PW:Solace casts per minute, PW:Solace beats Mindbender. Since 2 FD,CL-eligible heals are worth roughly 1 PW:Solace cast, double those figures to see how Mindbender compares to FD,CL.

Let’s look at how the gap looks over the same range of fight durations as before:

Advantage of Mindbender over Shadowfiend, expressed as PW:Solace Casts per Minute

Advantage of Mindbender over Shadowfiend, expressed as PW:Solace Casts per Minute

The dotted line is where things used to be at 1%, and the solid line is the current state, including the buff to 1.3%.

While there is a lot of variation depending on the fight length, the range is generally between 1 and 3 PW:Solace casts needed to break even, and typically comes out around 2, on average.

The bottom line is this: if you can cast at least 3 PW:Solaces per minute of the fight then Mindbender is simply the weaker choice. If you’re not sure, check the chart and consider the likely fight length, and decide whether you think you can hit the target number instead.

Mindbender does have other advantages to be aware of though that could change the equation in specific cases:

  1. If your Shadowfiend is likely to get killed, the Mindbender gives you more bites at the cherry. 2/3 of the mana if one Mindbender dies is better than 0/3 if you lose the Shadowfiend. But this shouldn’t be a huge problem. More importantly;
  2. Mindbender is very much fire-and-forget. When the button lights up you just cast and get a nice mana income. No fuss, no bother. Usually encounters aren’t non-stop from start to finish, but if you find yourself really struggling then MB isn’t a bad option
  3. The Mindbender does a lot more damage over the course of the fight. Each SF cast is good for about (depending on crits and misses etc, of course) around 50,000 damage; Each Mindbender cast also accounts for around 50,000 damage but you get 3 Mindbenders to every Shadowfiend, so you’re comparing 50,000 to 150,000. When DPS counts, Mindbender gives an advantage, albeit a small one.

FD,CL vs Power Word: Solace

Power Word: Solace

Power Word: Solace

If you’re not casting single-target heals very often, the choice becomes simpler because you’re not going to see the benefits of FD,CL. But if you’re doing a bit of both, how do you decide?

Let’s get a feel for the numbers first.

  • Assuming no internal cooldown, FD,CL has a 15% chance to proc from one of the named heals. We can (very roughly) say that each eligible cast you make is worth 15% of the mana cost of Flash Heal, or 2925 mana at level 90.
  • PW:Solace is worth 2% of your mana per cast, or 6000 mana at level 90.

With those numbers in mind, have a look at your logs or just make an educated estimate of how many times you’re casting an eligible heal in a fight. Divide that by 2 and that’s how many PW:Solace casts you’ll need to squeeze in to come out ahead.

Remember that Evangelism procs from Penance in MoP, so if you’re heavily raid healing then you may not need to cast Smite at all. This means that FD,CL is not an automatic choice for Discipline even if we’re using Archangel liberally.

As a general rule of thumb to get started, if I were going to be primarily raid-healing I’d lean towards PW:Solace to begin with, while if I knew the tank might need more attention on a given encounter I might try FD,CL as my first pick. But the key to maximising this is actually reflecting on your healing style and the number of PW:Solace opportunities in a given encounter and making an informed decision.

 

Conclusions

For tank healing FD,CL looks like the strongest choice. If you’re able to cast more than 6 FD,CL-eligible heals per minute (and you should be if you’re healing the tank) then FD,CL beats Mindbender. Deciding between FD,CL and PW:Solace is trickier, but bear in mind that you need to fit in at least 1 PW:Solace for every FD,CL-eligible heal you cast. If you’re throwing a stream of Heals and Greater Heals (with PW:S, Penance, PoM and Smite/HF woven in) at your tank then you’re looking at somewhere on the order of 10 PW:Solace casts per minute to break even.

For raid healing PW:Solace should be your first choice. To guarantee to beat Mindbender you need to fit in 3 Power Word: Solace casts per minute on average, but you can often come out ahead with just 2 PW:Solaces per minute.
However, if you’re finding yourself in a ‘floater’ role and you find that you’re casting more than twice as many FD,CL-eligible heals (Heal, Greater Heal, Binding Heal, Flash Heal and Smite) PW:Solace casts, then you might see a greater benefit from picking FD,CL. I’d recommend starting off with PW:Solace and looking for as many opportunities to cast it as possible, and then checking your logs and seeing what’s most appropriate for your playstyle.
Remember that PW:Solace has the most potential if you can find and take the maximum number of opportunities and cast it as often as possible.

Mindbender is valuable for non-stop raid-healing when you aren’t going to benefit from FD,CL but also can’t squeeze in enough PW:Solace casts. Its fire-and-forget nature leaves you free to get back to what you’re doing without much thought and management.



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What Makes Healing Hard?

Posted by Malevica on March - 9 - 2010

A hot topic lately is the level of challenge in the game. In this post I will look at the factors that add challenge to healing, and ask if healing is challenging enough, and where the future lies for stretching healers as Cataclysm information trickles out.

Game Mechanics

The designers of classes and encounters have several different aspects of healing to work with to set the difficulty. Those this post will deal with specifically are: spell availability, reaction time, the need for triage, mana management and coordination.

Spell Availability

Consider a “standard” 25-man healing team of 6 people. You might aim to include one or two paladins, a disc priest and then at least one each of the other specs, ideally no more than two of each. This allows you to have a baseline level of cover for sustained tank damage, increase the general raid survivability, and then have a full range of spells to use against the various extra types of damage thrown out in the encounter, from raid-wide auras to targeted flame patches and everything in between.

Depending on your guild you may or may not choose adapt the healing team to the encounter; it seems sensible if you’re interested in min/maxing, although these days for most raid groups this isn’t necessary as long as your composition isn’t too pathological. I have happy memories of 2-healing Ulduar as a Disc Priest alongside a Holy Paladin, and adapting just fine.

Blizzard’s stated design is for most encounters to be accessible for a most healing teams, and they succeed to a large extent, but in my experience this is one thing that can dramatically increase the relative difficulty of 10-man compared to 25-man raiding. In the previously-mentioned Disc + Holy Paladin example we lacked the tools to handle raid-wide damage fights effectively, Kologarn being a good example. We managed, but a Holy Priest or Resto Druid would have laughed that off.

In a 5-man this problem is even more acute since the only spells available are those you bring with you. The contrast between Forgemaster Garfrost as a Holy Paladin and as a Resto Druid is quite simply day and night. The contrast of course reverses once the group moves beyond Ick and suddenly the tank is taking insane damage and I wish I had my spammable Holy Light back.

Has this philosophy of allowing a broader range of compositions to succeed detracted from the difficulty? I’d argue that it probably has not. What has changed is that the more extreme damage profiles which strongly favoured stacking one class or another have gone away, and classes have been strategically nerfed to remove over-reliance on single spells (CoH being the prime example).

I would not like to see a total removal of unusual damage profiles, because drawing healers outside their comfort zones is a huge positive. However the playerbase tends to react to this by insisting that Blizzard has “forced” some sort of odd composition upon them. This can be avoided to an extent by varying the healing requirements throughout the fight, much as Festergut does well in Icecrown.

Reaction Time

Unlike the spells, which are largely fixed as a function of the healers you have available, reaction time is a property of the individual healer. Healers are often called upon to respond to things like spike damage debuffs (Frost Blast, Penetrating Cold), Tank killers requiring cooldowns (Plasma Blast, Flame Breath), or to cover for each other (healers being taken by a Val’kyr, or just about anything on Sindragosa). Reaction time demands can be adjusted by designers to increase the difficulty of an encounter.

The reaction time of a given healer depends on a number of factors. First there’s their client-server latency; then once their client has the information there’s another delay while their UI digests that information and presents it to them; next comes the human response time while they notice the event, decide on an action and execute it; finally there is a second client-server latency while the server notices the action the player chose to take.

Having played on the Oceanic servers I can understand the impact of latency. My guild at the time was working through Karazhan but simply could not defeat Maiden because both of our main healers were running with ~1k ping and could not react to the Holy Fire in time.

As a raid leader or healing lead it is crucial to understand the reaction times of your healers when assigning them roles. Tank healers can often get away with worse latency than raid healers since the rotation and reactions are less demanding, although the players at the top of your external cooldown rotation should be those with quicker reactions.

My view is that this can be a great way to stretch your healers, as long as it is used relatively sparingly. I enjoy being called on to pay attention and it is a good way to distinguish myself as someone with
higher awareness. However obviously the game designers need to allow for a wide range of connections and not unduly penalise those with fairly high latency.

Triage and Throughput

Triage is the art of prioritising limited resources according to greatest need. This becomes relevant when throughput is inadequate to cover everyone, and there is a need for quick decision-making, as opposed to just quickly executing a pre-defined action.

Triage is definitely more of an art than a science: in practice the best triage healers draw on their experience of the damage profile of the fight, the individuals taking damage, and the habits of their fellow healers when making their decisions, reacting almost instinctively.

In Wrath triage has fallen by the wayside in many cases, a fact which has been acknowledged recently by Ghostcrawler when commenting that generally people are not left at low health for extended periods of time. This is as a result of large hits and large heals becoming commonplace, creating a situation where allowing people to be left to be healed to full over the duration of a mana-efficient HoT is a dangerous business.

Generally Wrath felt like it scaled too far: healing output and tank avoidance/mitigation scaled overly high, so boss damage was scaled to compensate, to the point where everyone ended up in real danger of being 2-shotted. I expect lessons have been learned though.

I’m extremely excited by the proposed changes for Cataclysm which will alter the ratio of heals to health pools. When the throughput the healing team is capable of doesn’t overwhelm the incoming damage by so much, the question of where that scarce healing is spent becomes much more important. Currently a 25-man Decimate can be recovered from fully in a couple of seconds with AoE heals, rather than having to prioritise the lowest members until you can get around to the rest. Contrast this to Naj’entus in the Black Temple, where it was a huge challenge to keep as many people as possible above 50% before the next bubble needed to be burst.

I’m looking forward to more orange health bars in Cataclysm. This is a valuable tool to increase the challenge of healing which should get more use.

Mana

In conjunction with the throughput-mandated triage described above, there is also mana-mandated triage: can you afford to use that AoE heal or should you heal only those people under 50%? Can they survive long enough for a HoT to be used instead?

When working through the more difficult heroics in my quest blues back in November 2008 I had significant mana issues. I just couldn’t heal the way I had been healing in TBC, so I had to be very careful with who and how I healed. Sometime during the Tier 7 content, and certainly by the time I was raiding Ulduar, I had all but lost the ability to go OOM unless I really worked at it. Clearly it is still possible to burn through an entire mana pool, but under normal conditions there is no compelling reason not to always be casting and to select efficiency over throughput.

Throughput requirements are inextricably linked to mana management: if healers go through phases with lower damage then efficient but slower heals regain their value, while in high-damage scenarios the pressure to use the quick, expensive heals overrides other concerns.
And when throughput or mana are at a premium there is also pressure to reduce overhealing to a bare minimum, another test of healer skill and coordination.

The trouble is that mana management is a difficult balance for class and encounter designers. Spell costs remain fixed over time, while regeneration from gear can more than double as an expansion progresses. Retaining the ability to run out of mana in Icecrown while not making Naxx unmanageable would be all but impossible without also changing the character of healing as the expansion progresses as well, requiring the more mana-profligate style that the acquired gear allows.

The challenge for the designers of future raids and for the class designers come Cataclysm then is to rein in mana regeneration or increase spell costs, and to better differentiate the efficient heals from the inefficient so there is a real choice to be made.

A lot has been posted on forums and blogs about whether mana management is “fun” or not. Personally I would state categorically that yes, it is fun. A mechanic which presents you with a decision to make adds to the interest of playing a healer. These sorts of decisions test your ability to appraise the global situation and predict how that will change, as opposed to the reaction-based mechanics that dominate current raiding.
After all, if you prefer to cast a standard rotation or spell for 5-10 minutes without regard to your blue bar, you’re essentially just DPSing in the opposite direction, without the interactions, procs and target switches which make DPS interesting.

Coordination

Much has been written about the healer rotations in Vanilla, where one group of healers would heal until they ran low on mana, at which point a second group would take over while the former stood around regenerating mana. Few people would argue for a return to this situation, but designing encounters with more coordination in mind would be a good way of challenging healing teams.

How many times have you joined a PuG and been given little or no direction about healing assignments, only to see tanks fall over shortly afterwards? The trouble is, more often than not this actually tends to Just Work. Paladins will gravitate towards tanks, Resto Druids will tend to rejuv-blanket (if it’s appropriate), Resto Shaman will throw Chain Heals left, right and centre and so on.

A good example of a fight where coordination is more valuable is Sindragosa, especially in Phase 3. You will likely have 3 healers out of action at any one time, possibly more if the healers with Unchained Magic are also losing their stacks at the time. Awareness and coordination are vital for this to provide cover for the roles which are unavailable.
Another great example is Anub’Arak, where assigning healers to Penetrating Cold targets is vital, and cover needs to be assigned in case that assignment will not be covered due to death, lack of mana or any other reason.

Where coordination feels required in Wrath is where either a number of healers are removed from the equation, or where the damage profile is unusual enough that “standard” healing practices simply won’t cover it. I hope to see more of both types of encounters in the future, but there needs to be a way to reintroduce more coordination across the board.
Perhaps including larger spaces in which to fight could be another mechanism for coordinating healers, since it is much more difficult to cross-heal when sections of the raid are out of range. Recent painful experiences with Infest + Defile combinations on the Lich King have inspired this thought.

My suspicion is that restricting throughput availability alone, either through constrained mana or low output to damage ratios, will drive us further in the direction of reducing overhealing and getting healing efficiently to where it’s needed, which will in turn raise the level of coordination that feels natural in raids. But of course this remains to be seen.

Conclusions

On the whole I feel that healing in Wrath is still challenging, but isn’t as cerebral as it once was and could be again. Healing is less about decision-making, spell-selection and intelligent cross-healing and far more about maximising throughput on a general assignment. My admittedly rose-tinted memories of TBC have “spam-healing” as a rare exception rather than the rule. Triage has been marginalised in favour of “blanketing”.

For Cataclysm I would be happy to see a return to a slightly slower-paced approach to healing where using the right spell at the right time is the peak of performance, and strong teamwork trumps sniping and heal-stomping.

The lessons learned from Wrath should prevent the kind of massive surplus of throughput and regeneration we’re currently seeing in Icecrown from requiring such large amounts of boss damage, and the proposed change to health pools and mana costs should push healers back towards efficiency again.



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