Monday, July 18, 2011

The Case Of Haste v. Crit

...the honorable Judge Throughput presiding.

Actually, mastery should be in there too, of course, but the title seemed punchier with just two parties. This post is really concerned with haste versus crit and mastery, though.

As any healer who wastes spends time reading about World of Warcraft knows, haste achieves its throughput at the cost of mana longevity*. In order to realize the gain of haste, you need to push more spells out in the same space of time...which means more mana burned through more quickly.

 *Disclaimer coming in the next section, druids.

However, haste provides a consistent, predictable gain to every spell (unlike critical strike). And, unlike mastery, the gains are unambiguous: when you measure heals per second (HPS), every second you remove from the denominator is going to increase the HPS ratio. It is throughput in its purest form.

This has led many people to make statements along the lines of: "If raw throughput is what you're looking for, haste is ideal. If mana efficiency/longevity is still something you need, then it becomes trickier." Explicit in this is the belief that haste is the clear winner for throughput and implicit is that critical strike/mastery are better for mana longevity.

I certainly am not going to debate the second part. Haste is clearly not the best stat to stack from a mana longevity perspective. It is the healer equivalent of the proverbial "burning the candle from both ends." You're going to get a burst of production, but at the cost of sustainability.

But Is Haste Really King For Throughput?

Let me make this disclaimer right off the bat: This entry regards non-HoT healing classes. Haste has a pretty significant effect on HoTs and without any adverse effect on mana longevity. HoT classes need to be dealt with as a separate category when it comes to haste, so none of this is meant to address druids, holy priests or even holy paladins (while perhaps not thought of as a HoT healer, their heavy reliance on Holy Radiance tends to throw them into this category).

That leaves discipline priests, primarily, and potentially restoration shamans (this article can apply to a shaman who largely tank heals and doesn't make heavy use of Healing Rain).

So for these healers, for whom haste is primarily a means to reduce cast times (though lowering the global cooldown is also potentially useful), how should we value haste even if we do not consider the longevity aspect?

Simulations and spreadsheets will generally show haste providing the biggest throughput gain (unless you are a disco priest that primarily spams shields). However, there is one major problem with this, which is not generally priced into tables of throughput per stat, though can be verified with certain simulations.

Any interruption in casting instantly devalues haste-boosted throughput. A lot. This includes purposeful, chosen interruption (a period with little to heal or a desire to regenerate some mana) and forced interruption (due to mechanics or movement). This also means that if you run out of mana mid-combat (or slow your casting due to the danger of doing so), the benefit of all your haste plunges nearly to zero.

The reason for this is obvious: Haste is all about pushing more spells into a space of time. For an encounter, this means pushing more spells into the entire encounter than you could have otherwise. To do this--to push more spells into the entire encounter using haste--you'd need to be chain-casting from start to finish. If you do not currently do that, you can already "haste yourself" by filling those periods of inactivity. If mana issues prevent you from doing so, haste will not help you. Haste will only ensure you cast the spells you already do a bit faster, actually lengthening your periods of inactivity.

Even if mana issues don't prevent you from chain-casting, if you ever stop casting to move, there's a good chance you're losing most or all of your haste gains. The amounts of time you're acquiring from haste, at these gear levels, are objectively quite small, measured in seconds over an encounter length. Those numerically small gains are significant from a throughput perspective (after all, healing power is all measured in small percentage gains)...if you're not losing those seconds here and there by not casting.

Most people aren't chain casting powerful spells from pull to kill (if you're using weaker spells in order to keep activity up, you're simply trading one form of throughput loss--inactivity--for another--low throughput spells). Even if they have strong mana regeneration and are good about finding things to do on the move, it's the very rare healer that keeps pushing out large heals with no interruption at all. If you can do that, then haste will perform pretty similarly to the simmed value and should, indeed, be tops (assuming you're not a shield spammer!).

However, for most people, haste is simply not as strong a stat as is often claimed. That is not to say it's a poor stat or useless. Far from it: there are those who actually don't care about encounter-long output and are there to provide bursts of healing over small periods of time, so inactivity later is not a concern. However, even for those people, it bears noting that haste actually has a "ramp up time" for value. It takes a reasonably significant amount of time (as compared to the encounter length) to realize the benefit of haste; that is, to have saved enough time to be able to push out one extra spell due to haste. This amount of time is on the order of a minute or more, so if you're attempting to use haste to power "bursts" over shorter periods of time than a minute, you may not find that the gains are worth the opportunity cost (of the secondary stats you could have had in place of the haste you stacked).

The Final Act

At the end of Wrath of the Lich King, it made sense to have a ton of haste. Mana pools were large, unspoiled and filled with plentiful and delicious fish. You could stand on one end of a healer's mana pool, look out over it and not see the other side even on a clear day. It felt like mana was infinite.

A maxim took hold then, known as "ABC," or "always be casting." The first step was to, as I put it above, haste yourself by filling every period of inactivity. Even if there was nothing to heal, start a cast on someone (like the tank) just in case damage happened before your cast completed. If you were a discipline priest, you were encouraged to fill any free moment putting a shield on someone. Do something--anything. Inactivity was the mind-killer.

In such an environment, haste makes plenty of sense. If you're straining to find ways to use your mana to increase your throughput, having lots of haste allows you to spend even more mana (that your cup runneth over with) to squeeze more spells into the encounter.

That is not the situation healers found themselves in, in tier 11 raids and, largely, it still isn't the situation for most healers today in tier 12 raids (as partially evidenced by the outcry from many priests about the lack of spirit cloth drops from Firelands bosses). If you do feel you're in that position, knock yourself out with haste and be sure to always be casting. However, for most healers, that situation may only arrive in the final half year or year of this expansion.

Until then, you'll want enough haste to feel "comfortable" that you're not going to lose your tank during a Greater Heal or Greater Healing Wave cast, but you don't want to overdo it. It's not head-and-shoulders better for throughput and has an adverse effect on sustainability over an encounter. Look into adding critical strike and mastery to your portfolio. As in the stock market, diversification is your friend.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Circle Of Healing

I've seen this filled out by healers on their blogs and I thought it was interesting, but since my blog has what you might call a small audience, I assumed it wouldn't come around to me. However, the writers of a few blogs of larger audience actually deign to look at mine and one of them, Khizzara of [Blog of the Treant] tagged me. So I've been picked!

I always enjoy reading the answers that other healers provide, and Khizzara was no exception, so I'll try to provide thoughtful answers.

As others have noted, the originator of this questionnaire (that's bouncing around the WoW-based blogosphere like a Prayer of Mending) appears to be Miss Medicina. I've noted the more-than-capable blogger who tagged me above and I'll tag someone in turn at the end. (The big question then being whether she'll even notice that I did.)

The Rules

Post this questionnaire, with your answers, on your blog. Pick the healing class you know most about (or is the focus of your blog) for the questionnaire, and then send it over to another healing blogger you know and love who heals with a DIFFERENT class. Include a link to the blogger who sent you the questionnaire, as well as a link to the blogger to whom you are sending it.

1. What is the name, class, and spec of your primary healer?

Shanthi, a disco priest.

2. What is your primary group healing environment? (i.e. raids, pvp, 5 mans)

I do 10-man raids. I prefer the style of fewer people and more personal responsibility (since every failure to perform or death has a magnified effect with so few people) to the equal but different challenge of having to manage more assignments and people during encounters (to say nothing of the potentially nightmarish logistical issues in assembling 25 people every night).

3. What is your favorite healing spell for your class and why?

Penance. I love a lot of the spells in the priest toolbox, but nothing beats Penance to me. It looks stylish, it has a machine gun feel and really provides the sense of pouring healing into a target. Power Word: Shield may be the symbol of discipline priests, but I think Penance is the most evocative example of a priest harnessing the Light and channeling it into holy healing.

4. What healing spell do you use least for your class and why?

Renew. It's more of a holy spell (though even holy priests, from what I can tell, are rather split on how much it should be featured) and I really have no talents, as a discipline priest, to get more leverage out of the spell. It's purely niche, at best.

5. What do you feel is the biggest strength of your healing class and why?

Flexibility. Whether in discipline or holy spec, a priest can handle just about any assignment, switch roles in mid-combat and cross-heal effectively. We have one of the largest and most varied toolboxes, so we can really adapt to whatever the encounter demands. Further, discipline priests bring all three types of ways to handle incoming damage: healing, absorption and mitigation. Their combination of all three factors is unique.

6. What do you feel is the biggest weakness of your healing class and why?

At least as a discipline priest, flexibility. *smile* We're not the absolute best at anything. In Wrath, we filled a unique niche...other classes brought best-in-class raid or tank healing, while discipline priests brought absorption to supplement everything else. These days, discipline priests still bring absorption, but they can't blanket the raid in bubbles. Yet we remain not the best tank healer (holy paladins still edge us there) nor the best raid healers (druids, shamans and holy priests beat us out). So we can't claim a raid spot purely from being the best equipped for a single role.

7. In a 25 man raiding environment, what do you feel, in general, is the best healing assignment for you?

I've done only a few 25-man raids and I've found that, with my lack of experience in that environment, tank healing is definitely the way to go. I would need more experience to handle raid healing with so many people involved, but watching one or two people like a hawk...yeah, I can do that.

8. What healing class do you enjoy healing with most and why?

That's a really tough one, since I basically just enjoy healing with people who play other classes, so we're complementing each other. To break the tie, I'm going to have to select restoration shamans, for their delicious Mana Tide Totem. Mmm, spirit.

9. What healing class do you enjoy healing with least and why?

Khizzara worries that I'm going to say druid, because druid HoTs snipe damage before I can cast spells and therefore they lower my meter numbers. And she's right! No, in fact I enjoy healing with druids. The HoTs they provide, especially from Wild Growth and Efflorescence, really provide a soothing blanket on the incoming damage, smoothing it out and making the fight less stressful.

So which healing class do I like healing with least? Blood death knights. Hey, death knights, make up your you want to tank or heal? Leave the healing and absorbing to me and go do your jobs, which is letting monsters slam their teeth into your faces. kthx.

10. What is your worst habit as a healer?

Being too conservative with my mana. In my history as a healer, I've too often ended fights with mana left in the tank. I've been working on it the last few months, trying to be more aggressive with my mana pool without trying to snipe heals.

11. What is your biggest pet peeve in a group environment while healing?

People getting out of range. This is not always their fault, but there are times when I feel people scatter a bit too precipitously and trying to run around to get someone into range (and thereby having someone else fall out of range) makes me so angry. Not at my raid mates. At god. For making such a cruel world where people get out of range when they're at 10% health and dropping.

12. Do you feel that your class/spec is well balanced with other healers for PvE healing?

Absolutely. I think priests are in an excellent place right now. Whether you play holy or discipline, you can pretty much handle any assignment. Priests don't feel much more powerful or less powerful than other healers. They shine especially bright on certain fights, but are overshadowed in certain other encounters. I think each of those axes (plural of "axis" not "axe!") are important in evaluating whether a class is well-balanced.

13. What tools do you use to evaluate your own performance as a healer?

For the most part, I really go by whether bosses are dropping in what "feels" like an appropriate pace. Additionally, I'll pay attention to whether my assignments are surviving (last night, I had a rough couple of attempts on Shannox, as Face Rage targets were dying...ugh, fail Shanthi). I will also occasionally use our guild World of Logs reports to focus in on my activity patterns and spell usage.

14. What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about your healing class?

That we (in this case, discipline priests) are mostly about shields. I wouldn't say that that's true anymore. Certainly, we can situationally spam out a number of shields but only for special circumstances and rarely. We definitely can't do that throughout an encounter. No, we heal a lot, too, these days.

15. What do you feel is the most difficult thing for new healers of your class to learn?

When to use each spell in the toolbox. Honestly, there are a lot of spells, especially when you count in cooldowns. Mastering the entire toolbox lends itself to being extremely versatile (as mentioned above) but it takes quite a bit of practice and experience.

16. If someone were to try to evaluate your performance as a healer via recount, what sort of patterns would they see (i.e. lots of overhealing, low healing output, etc)?

Good throughput (counting in both healing per second and absorbs) but low(er) activity rate. Remember that stuff about druids heal sniping? Yes, well, sometimes I don't have much to heal (short of trying to rush in a heal to beat a HoT, which would be silly) and so I stand there watching and letting mana flow back into me. I view myself as something of a "sprint" to provide really good bursts of healing when the time comes. Of course, I don't just wait around for that...I will also provide sustaining heals when there is damage to be healed.

Of course, our healing make-up used to also include a shaman, who's healing totem and Healing Rain also put out ticking healing. He has switched mains to a holy paladin, so perhaps my activity rate is going to be on the upswing.

17. Haste or Crit and why?

Haste. Today. Maybe crit tomorrow. Discipline priests have valued haste, crit and mastery this entire expansion as they all have synergy and upside. Currently, there's a lot (I mean, a lot) of debate over how to prioritize secondary stats. I've been trying a haste-heavy set-up but I keep swapping around reforging and gems, looking for the mythical "perfect" gearing.

I have to say, though, there's really nothing more satisfying than seeing a big green number on a crit, like "89723." (Side note: I vigorously believe that a critical heal on a Face Rage target should end the Face Raging. Maybe the dog is taken aback by the mighty heal. I should absolutely be on the Blizzard game design team with gems like that.)

18. What healing class do you feel you understand least?

Druids. They're weird. Like, taurens-on-shrooms weird. Any healer that thinks they can transform into a host of animals (including some chicken-antelope hybrid) is clearly experiencing drug dreams. And the worst part is, we're all sharing their delusions.

But I digress,

Actually, druid is the healing class I've played least. I've raided with a priest (obviously), holy paladin and restoration shaman. But my druid still languishes at around level 75. Poor thing.

19. What add-ons or macros do you use, if any, to aid you in healing?

  • Grid (with quite a few plug-ins)
  • Clique
  • Decursive
  • DeadlyBossMods (it helps me heal by outsourcing some raid awareness)

20. Do you strive primarily for balance between your healing stats, or do you stack some much higher than others, and why?

I largely strive for balance, since everything is fairly valuable, but I get all the spirit I can (and obviously, intellect always wins). Right now, as I said, I'm stacking a little more haste, but I waver in my stacking priorities and sometimes aim for close to straight balance (among haste, mastery and crit).

Okay, that's it for me. Questionnaire filled out in full, and it was fun thinking about the answers (I had never asked myself whether I prefer healing with certain classes or not).

And, now, I'm taking a tick of damage so this Prayer of Blogging pings on over to Zinn at Jinxed Thoughts. I think she's a very cool and interesting blogger, so she should do a bang-up job with this if it tickles her fancy. Now, I know the rules state choosing a healer of a different class and she is also a priest...but, truth be told, I don't know a lot of healers who blog and most of them seem to have already done this. Zinn, so far as I can tell, has not yet.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Love Poems To Priest Spells

Oh yes, it's that time again. This time, the object of my affection is Binding Heal.

Oh, Binding Heal
You always know how I feel
When I'm not hurt
You remain inert
Because your mana efficiency is just so poor.

However, when I'm in trouble
And unable to simply bubble
You provide me the link
Without being a mana sink
To keep me alive without my assignment hitting the floor.

My love, you are heaven sent
When adds attack with murderous intent
I can cast you with impunity
Before the tank has full threat, you see
You are such a paragon of virtue, you refuse to be an aggro whore.

For all these reasons and more
Binding Heal, you I adore.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Problem With Meters

It's been said so often that it's cliché: Healers cannot be properly be measured by meters (like Recount, Skada, World of Logs, etc).

What is perhaps less discussed is why that's the case, though everyone has a vague sense that healing is not purely about numbers (nothing is purely about numbers, but DPS is maybe a little closer to it).

Therefore and hence, I have decided to chat a little about this topic and explicate my own ideas on what makes for a good healer.

Your Assignment Doesn't Die

This is not so much insight as it is the most basic requirement. First and foremost, if you've been given an assignment, you keep that assignment alive for as long as necessary to win (bonus points if they survive the encounter, but winning's the thing). It's great if you can help out with other targets that another healer is struggling with (thereby boosting both your real value and metered value)...but if your assignment dies as a result, your real value drops like the corpse of what used to be your buddy (while your metered value doesn't take a hit).

You can see, then, the first approach to answering why meters can provide an inaccurate view of the action: losing your assignment really doesn't affect your numbers. But it sure affects your chances of winning. And every member's value is tied to how much they assist in defeating an encounter.

So always focus on your assignment (even to the exclusion of yourself, if "yourself" is not a part of your assignment unless you are on the verge of death)--trust your fellow healers and only help out if otherwise you'd turn into an onlooker because you have nothing else to do. Or if your fellow healer dies or goes out of mana and therefore is not available to trust.

Different Assignments Yield Different Numbers

Tank healing yields less healing numbers than raid healing. A tank requires less total healing, generally, than the rest of the raid. However, the tank generally needs more stressful, urgent healing. That's why different healing classes exist.

Unquestionably, Blizzard has brought all healing class-specs closer together in versatility. However, while any class-spec can potentially handle any assignment, certain class-spec toolkits shine more than others at specific tasks. You could ask a pastry chef to make some dinner entrées, and he or she would probably do a credible job, but why not have your, um, entrée chef (I'm clearly very knowledgeable about the chef scene) do them and have the pastry chef make desserts?

When you're assigned to healing a tank, here's an abstract description of your job: You will heal less but more urgently and swiftly when you do heal.

Similarly, the abstracted description of your job as a raid healer: You will heal near constantly, but in a more gradual and smoothly predictable manner.

The second job heals more. The first job heals more swiftly. They're equally valuable roles, but the raid healer (assuming strict adherence to roles, which is not always true and shouldn't always be the case) will generally out-heal the tank healer.

The Shape Of Healing Output Is Different By Class

Some class-specs are designed to be strongest at burst healing. Some are designed to be stronger at continuous healing. I often joke that the restoration druid in my raid is a "heal sniper" because her HoTs are always ticking, so they address small damage immediately, before I can heal. Her HoTs snipe a lot of healing, therefore she's bad and cheating me out of my numbers!

Well, not really, but it does help to illustrate the point. When I look at World of Logs, I see a few things:

  • My DPS (even healing is placed in a "DPS" context on WoL) is usually highest
  • My DPS(e) is usually lower than said restoration druid
  • My Active Time Percentage is always the lowest

The third point explains the difference between the first two. On World of Logs, DPS measures the healing/damage done when one is active (using a skill/spell) while DPS(e) simply divides your damage/healing done by the encounter length.

I'm not refusing to heal or unable to heal due to mana concerns. I heal when my assignment needs healing or when other targets seem to be unstable (the damage they're taking is not being easily handled by another healer). Small damage being tossed around I know will be addressed by things like Wild Growth, Healing Stream Totem, Healing Rain, etc. All those silly little heal snipers! Where I feel I shine, as a discipline priest, is providing bursts of healing when torrents of damage are hitting targets. Then I swing into action and my burst healing is pretty strong.

My fellow healers are not heal sniping and I'm not being lazy. We have different tools at our disposal and it doesn't make sense for me to try to rush in heals to beat a Wild Growth or a totem. Let those gradual, consistent heals soak up the gradual, small damage and be ready to blast away when someone's health suddenly spikes downward.

Utility Can Make Or Break Healer Contribution

As a discipline priest in Wrath, I used to say that I wasn't a healer, I was a shielder. This reflected the originally unnoticed and then more and more celebrated value of absorption that discipline priests brought...and the fact that end-of-expansion infinite mana pools made spamming shields far and away the most effective way to help the raid survive as a discipline priest.

Shield spamming is no longer the rule of the day, and discipline priests are no longer underrated due to the hazily understood value of absorption. Everyone understands the power of absorbs and now paladin healers and death knight tanks have horned in on the industry.

So I moved on to a new place to whine about how I am misunderstood: mitigation. That is, damage that is not healed nor absorbed, but lessened at the time it happens, like so. Or like this. Or even in this manner. Truly, I am the armor of faith.

But this section is not about mitigation (though I could talk for hours about mitigation) or even about the greatness of disco priests (I could talk for days, weeks and years about that). It's merely an example of healer utility that can be crucial to your effectiveness of play and yet won't be measured on meters (so far as I am aware).

Paladins have tons of utility, what with their many Hands and Shields. Shamans have the signature group/raid utility through their totems and druids bring Replenishment and can resurrect in combat (I would have mentioned Innervate but with the latest patch, it's largely been neutered as a tool to help others).

Maximizing the use of these non-healing, non-absorbing mechanics is a large part of what separates a passable healer from a high-level one, in my opinion. It won't make you look any better in the quantitative analysis, but it increases your raid's likelihood of winning an encounter. 

Stand In Fire, Burn Your Raid

Hey, we all stand in fire sometimes. Yes, even you. Sometimes it looks like fire and sometimes it looks like a wall of cyclones. It's still fire.

Everything pictured here = fire (image courtesy of Orcish Army Knife)

Of course, you want to minimize the amount of time standing in fire. Being a healer is not just healing, absorbing and utility-ing. It's also handling the mechanics of the combat and it's the final key component of being an excellent healer: raid awareness.

Being able to see your surroundings, process what's happening and what you need to be doing in terms of movement...all without losing any focus on your job, which is Healing (when capitalized, it folds in [small-h] healing, absorption, mitigation and utility). Moving may prevent you from Healing to your highest potential for a period, which means you need to plan ahead to decide either what measures to take to ensure your target doesn't need your best Healing while you're handling mechanics or else what measures to take later to recover.

Everyone needs raid awareness, but I think it can be most stressful for healers. DPS can often stop DPSing if they absolutely must, in order to get out of Dodge, without imperiling the raid. Tanks are all about raid awareness, but it's almost their entire job since in raids, threat is often an afterthought beyond the first thirty seconds or so.

Healers need to handle mechanics while actively healing non-stop and if they stop, people are at risk of dying. I am not attempting to suggest that healers have the toughest job in raids or that they are the noblest heroes/heroines in your raid (though if you've come to that conclusion on your own, I won't try to dissuade you), but I think they have the toughest row to hoe in balancing raid awareness with other things. It's not that important a point to what I'm saying, so I wouldn't really attempt to defend it more than I have above, but I think it is important to stress that healers evaluating their role and performance should be paying especial attention to how they balance healing with playing the specific encounter's mechanics.

So Are You A Good Healer Or, As The Kids Say, A Baddie?

Who knows? While I have some beliefs on what makes for a good healer, and why meters really won't answer the question, they're very hard or impossible to definitively analyze other than whether the healer keeps their assignment alive...and even failure on that account does not yield cut-and-dry conclusions, as it also depends on factors like A. whether it was a reasonable assignment to give a single healer, B. whether that healer's toolbox was well-matched to the assignment and C. whether that healer's assigned target did stupid things that can't be healed through.

Evaluating a healer is really more art (a euphemism for "bullshit" most of the time, unfortunately, and not just in regards to evaluating healers) than science. The numbers on the meter will give you an imprecise idea of the healer's throughput potential, but considering we're talking about "imprecise," "idea" and "potential," we can already see that nothing particularly conclusive will come of that, except at the extreme margins. If a healer is only putting out, say, 5k HPS they don't have the throughput for the current tier of content. If a healer is putting out 30k HPS (in a significant sample, not in 5 seconds of an encounter before dying), well, they're likely a pretty big asset to the raid.

But outside of somewhat obvious edge cases, everything else is in the murky middle where you're going to have to spend some time raiding with them, watching them a little and getting a feel for whether it seems like they're alert, making smart decisions and taking initiative at appropriate times. In some sense, it's a lot like evaluating a business executive: you can't compare her to the counter-factual universe in which she wasn't your executive, thereby giving you a basis for comparison. You simply have to develop a feel for the processes she's using to do her job and see whether the results are good over time: whether dragons are dying (as important a goal in the corporate world as in World of Warcraft).

If you're trying to evaluate yourself, I would suggest trying to improve along these vectors:

  • Is my assignment surviving to marry and settle down and have a family?
  • Am I being as proactive in using my mana as possible without trying to beat others to healing damage?
  • Am I using all my useful cooldowns?
  • Am I using those cooldowns at times when they'll do the most good?
  • Am I avoiding as much preventable damage as possible?
  • Am I communicating with my raid so that my actions support everyone else's?
  • Have I hidden my cloak and/or helm if they are intensely ugly?

As long as you're paying attention to your performance in these ways and always trying to improve your performance in these ways...then, to be honest, it doesn't matter whether you're a "good" healer or a "bad" healer. You're the best healer your skill and gear will allow and you'll find your natural level. That's all you can ask out of a game.

That and some options for body type at the character creation screen.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Triumphant Return Of Heal

In the first tier of raiding in Catalcysm, tier 11, I almost never used Heal. It was just too slow and weak. It was like a caster DPS blasting away with her wand. It will have some effect, but not enough to matter.

However, I'm noticing something interesting at the start of this new raiding tier: Heal isn't half bad. It's still much, much weaker than Greater Heal, Flash Heal and Penance...but it's actually useful now for a few reasons.

Heal Has Been Powered Up By Gear

One is that with gearing getting better, the speed of the heal is no longer crippling and the size of the heal now has the potential to move raid member's health bars (even if not by a huge amount).

"Sure," I hear you saying. "Heal is better with better gear. Big deal. Every heal is better with better gear, and everyone's health is increasing too. Holy Nova is better now, too. Time to use Holy Nova?"

No, of course not. Don't be silly. There's never a time to use Holy Nova unless it's to run around the Molten Front dailies, spamming it so that you get kill credit on everything.

However, throughput gains from intellect, haste, crit and mastery seem to be scaling with gear more than health pools (and, therefore, boss damage since boss damage output has to be firmly correlated with health pools*).

*Theoretically, boss damage output could be untethered from health pool size...but the only way for that to be viable would be if healing spell output were utterly massive, which would still mean Heal's output would outstrip health pool scaling and move life bars nicely.

Therefore, Heal is actually more powerful relative to this tier than it was relative to the last one. Sure, Flash Heal, Greater Heal and Penance will always do much more, but Heal is cheaper. Which means...

Healer Auto-Attacking (Or Wanding) Has Value

Any time damage is pouring in in a big way, you'll have other priorities, like the aforementioned bigger spells as well as Binding Heal and Prayer of Healing. But at the start of this tier, mana efficiency is going to matter again. Perhaps not quite so much as at the start of the last tier (since base mana didn't go up, so spell costs remained the same while mana pools are increasing) but with incoming damage higher, your larger mana pools will be challenged again.

And if you're a healing priest, Blizzard has a special gift for you: exactly zero of the cloth drops in the Firelands have spirit. That's not to say spirit doesn't exist for us; you can get spirit on valor point gear and there is spirit on some of the trinkets and jewelry (that every other healer will be after too)...but at least for a while, you may be packing fewer spirit pieces than you'd prefer.

Therefore, you want a tool that can have an effect without affecting your mana much. Enter Heal. The spell is at the very least mana neutral and may even be mana positive depending on your spirit levels and any mana regeneration tools occurring at the time (for example, Replenishment). By "mana neutral," I mean that you regain Heal's mana cost during the cast time and by "mana positive," I mean that you regain more than Heal's mana cost during the cast time.

This means you can still make a contribution essentially without expending mana or while (more slowly) regaining mana. This is useful during periods of low damage, to marshal your resources for the more intensive periods, and for when you run yourself right out of mana. Sure, being limited to Heal makes you a minor contributor at that point, but at least you're still in the fight rather than an interested onlooker.

Let's also remember that Blizzard's little surprise for healing priests (no cloth spirit drops) has a benefit: It means more pure throughput stats, since that stat budget has to be filled up one way or another. Now, until spell costs become completely trivialized, I'm a big believer that spirit is the best secondary stat because it can either give you mana regeneration when you need it, or can be converted into throughput when you don't. That said, spirit is definitely not better for pure throughput than mastery, haste or critical strike. Having more of those stats will make your Heal spell (in addition to all your others, of course) even stronger, allowing you in a strange sense to convert throughput stats into mana efficiency: You can cast more Heal and therefore conserve mana.

Critical Strike: Now With More Critical Goodness

As I'm sure you're aware, the latest patch brought with it a boost to all healers: critical heals now provide double the original output instead of one-and-a-half-times the original output. That means that when you drop in a critical strike Heal, you'll see a surprisingly large number. I've had Heal hit for 20k+ in heal-y deliciousness. That's pretty not bad for essentially no impact on my mana bar.

You can't count on a critical strike, but you can cast Heal on a target, hoping for a critical strike or two, until the target (or another target) is beginning to look a little green around the gills, in which case you can switch to bigger heals. A run of two or three critical strikes can result in fairly legitimate healing, leaving you awash in mana (which is blue and cooling to the mind and skin).

Tier 11 Two-Piece Bonus: How Ya Like Me Now?

It's still not exciting. That said, it's actually relevant now. I completely ignored the set bonus during the previous tier because I never cast Heal during raids, unless it was while fighting trash and everything was under control with little healing to be done. So the set bonus had no benefit at all for me.

Now, however, until you replace at least three pieces of your tier gear, this bonus will help. As we just noted, critical strike Heals can make a real difference and a 5% higher chance of getting them is a non-trivial effect. It seems like a small difference, our effectiveness is measured in a percentage here and a percentage there. It's a small chance for chaining a couple or three critical strike Heals together and those add up.

Bringing It All Home

Don't forget that Heal (like Flash Heal and Greater Heal) will reduce the duration of Weakened Soul, allowing you to get a Power Word: Shield back up on that target sooner. Similarly, Heal (like Flash Heal, Greater Heal and Binding Heal) has a chance to proc a free and instant Flash Heal if you have the Surge of Light talent. In both cases, Heal is a cheap way to take advantage of those talents, allowing you to more effectively use more powerful abilities.

The main thing to take away is not that Heal is suddenly an incredibly powerful tool. It isn't and is not meant to be. Rather, it's now a viable tool in the toolkit when raiding, rather than merely something to use when things are stable and boring in dungeons. You shouldn't be leaning on it, it shouldn't be a large part of your healing or usage...but it should be used now. It can provide value, essentially for free from a mana perspective. It's drawback is opportunity's a piece of time that you're not using to cast a more powerful spell. Most of the time, you can't afford that opportunity cost...but there are times when you should.

Casting Heal is like kissing your sibling. It's not generally recommended and feels a little shady. But in the right circumstances, especially with alcohol involved, it doesn't look half bad and everyone goes to sleep happy.

I can't see any flaws to that metaphor at all.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Discipline Priest Raid Healing

So my guild was working on Beth'tilac tonight (I'll end the suspense: we won) and while I was healing, my thoughts began to wander as they are wont to do (what else would I be doing while healing a raid encounter? Paying attention? Not likely!).

I began to think to myself, "Self, is this what it's come to, a discipline priest healing the raid?"

You see, our healer make-up was a discipline priest (your selfless protagonist), a restoration druid and a holy paladin. I prefer tank healing. But I feel that our holy paladin is best utilized tank healing and we only needed one dedicated tank healer...the healer that went up-web to heal the tank and DPS that broached the mighty spider in her lair.

So that left me and the druid earthbound, keeping everyone else alive. Sure, we have a tank too, but it felt like both of us needed to be covering the raid. Which left me in the position of needing to heal a lot of people.

Now, philosophically, this isn't something that bothers me. I tend to draw tank healing assignments these days, but in a previous guild (during Wrath), our healing team adopted a "see damage, heal damage" attitude. Not generally recommended, but we had a pretty strong rapport and didn't tend to overheal certain targets while failing to cover others. It seemed to work, at that time and place. In any case, the upshot is we were all raid and tank healers, so I've been quite used to watching everyone's health and responding.

However, I felt like perhaps I wasn't equipped for it. I do have a holy spec, and I picked it up for these eventualities, but I've encountered an obstacle in actually putting it to use. Raid damage is so fast and furious that you have to be fairly instinctive and I'm not instinctive in holy. I've never played it enough, since I've always loved the discipline style. And it's hard, I find, to practice. I could run five-mans, but what I've found is that it's nigh impossible to heal current heroics in holy's sanctuary (AoE) chakra stance. The tank damage is far too intensive (especially since crowd control has flickered back out of style) for AoE healing to keep the tank alive. You pretty much have to be in the serenity (single target) chakra stance. At least, that's how it feels for me, the inexperienced holy priest. And using serenity stance doesn't learn me up for raid healing in holy. If I were going to single target heal, I wouldn't use holy. I'd use discipline. But the chakra stance I'd want to use in raids doesn't feel viable in five-mans. Impasse.

Which brings us back to tonight and my thoughts. How to adapt discipline's tools to healing lots of people? I found a balance that worked for me, which I thought I'd lay out for those rare discipline priests pressed into raid healing.

Prayer Of Healing Heals A Lot Of People

I know, right? It's true: prayer of healing heals many (defined as five) people. This is where you start, when multiple (defined as three or more) people have taken 10-20% of their health in damage. The caveat, of course, is that they must all be in the same party.

Two things to note about this:

  • Have the Glyph of Prayer of Healing ready for an encounter where you'll be raid healing. And the Dust of Disappearance to switch it in. An extra 20% of the healing done as a HoT, on each person (even if the heal was overheal), is a pretty solid boon to getting people back up quickly.
  • Prayer of Healing automatically procs Divine Aegis on every person it hits, critical strike or not (and, again, overheal or not). If you crit, the Divine Aegis bubble is even larger. If damage is hitting the raid fairly continuously, that's just extra, free effective healing.
If you're reasonably well-geared for the current tier of raiding (~359 ilevel) with a good, solid amount of spirit, Prayer of Healing really won't strain your mana very much. It's not mana neutral, your mana will deplete...but quite slowly. As long as the damage coming in is only mild to moderate, this is your go-to heal. Insightful, I know; "Use your main AoE heal when...AoE healing."

I have more, though! Wait til the end of this post before you feel disappointed. Then you may feel as disappointed as you like.

Remember Whack-A-Mole? It's back! In POG form

That adapted Simpsons quote would have been so much cleverer if "POG" were an acronym for a key priest spell. Instead, it's just a reference shoe-horned in for the sake of a section title.

Still, the old healer favourite game of whack-a-mole is pretty apropos here. If people are taking more than 20% of their health in damage, it's time to abandon AoE heals for a whole new paradigm. That paradigm is called: You Have Ten Tanks So Go To Work, Tank Healer.

You could also call it "This is how you heal low level dungeons with tanks who can't hold aggro."

You pick the lowest health person and cast Greater Heal. Then you pick the new lowest health person and cast Greater Heal. You intersperse Penance whenever it's off cooldown (especially if you have the four-piece t11 bonus, which gives you a large spirit infusion whenever you cast Penance). You just keep rotating Greater Heals and Penances on whomever is closest to dying. Again, it's surprisingly mana efficient. You can pump out a lot of healing to a lot of people without endangering your mana too much.

You can, of course, add in some Flash Heals. Unlike at the start of Cataclysm, the world will not end if you cast that spell. If someone, especially someone important, is right...on...the verge...of dying, then throw them a lifeline with Flash Heal. Just make sure you don't fall into the temptation of casting it over and over. That will run you out of mana in a couple of minutes and very few raid boss encounters are that short. But as I've said's better to use up all your mana and feel embarrassed about being out of mana than to wipe with mana left in the tank.

That Said...

Binding Heal is still your friend. Talk to it. Get to know it over a nice dinner. Keep it close to your heart, because it's the sweetest little heal in your arsenal when used properly.

It costs the same as Flash Heal...but it heals for almost twice as much. It's almost (but not quite) like casting a Flash Heal on yourself and another person...for the cost of a Flash Heal. And at the speed of casting one Flash Heal.

This is still going to run your mana down faster than Greater Heal or Penance, but its throughput cannot be matched. It's a Flash Heal that got an 80% output boost and 100% haste boost. That means it's essentially 3.6 times better the same cost as Flash Heal.

The downside, obviously, is that you cannot choose the entire target of the healing. Half the healing goes on a target of your choice, half goes on you. But you can choose when to use it. If you're hurt, this is a great spell to lean on. The throughput is off the charts and the cost isn't terrible for what you get. It's a key weapon in the arsenal for healing multiple people. You're a person. You need healing. Remember that.

For The Love Of God, Don't Use Holy Nova

It's A Trap!

But if you do, make sure you jump around while spamming it.

Wisdom Of The Ancients

Let me close with something my mother once told me, many years ago: Never, ever forget your big cooldowns. (Sure, it may seem like obvious advice now, but think of how ahead of its time it was in the 1980s.)

Pick the bleakest moment, the moment where everything seems to be about to fall apart (but hasn't yet) and use Divine Hymn. It's one get-of-jail-free card, so use it once every encounter.

Pick any moment where a good number of people are stacked up and most of those people are taking damage and put up a Power Word: Barrier. Then, do it again when it's off cooldown. Try to use it the first time as early as possible (in a situation that makes sense), so you can get it into the encounter as many times as possible (read: up to three times).

Don't hoard cooldowns just in case you need them later. Later never comes to a raid that wipes early. Use them any time things seem at all dicey. It is better by far to err on the side of profligate cooldown usage rather than on the side of miserly cooldown usage. You don't want to wipe with any arrows left in the quiver.

So to sum up:
  • Prayer of Healing, a priest's main AoE heal, should be used in AoE healing situations
  • Greater Heal and Penance are AoE healing tools if you're quick enough
  • Binding Heal heals two people which makes it an AoE heal
  • Holy Nova, which is an AoE heal is,
  • AoE cooldowns should be used. Even when tank healing
I think we've done some good work here.

Have a great night!