Monday, March 21, 2011

What Can Healers Learn From Great Athletes?

It's quite a conceptual twist to compare healers in World of Warcraft to elite athletes. After all, the image of healers is that of somewhat effete, scholarly individuals in robes (bafflingly, even mail- and plate-wearing healers often get robe-like garments) who worry over injuries. The clinical term for this image is "sissies." But, in fact, healers perform the most like elite athletes and, hey, it's a good self-image to foster, so let's go with it.

Since WoW is not a physical game (outside of dextrous fingers, perhaps), it is really the mental side of things that I'm discussing. I'm a fairly big fan of watching great athletes perform and one trait has become clear to me as common among all top athletes and that trait is crucial for top healers. That trait is how to think in the heat of the moment.

Thinking Is Bad

I know, I know. You've always been told that it's good to think. When it comes to the mental side of life, you won't find many people who are anti-thinking (opportunity for political joke purposely passed up). But honestly, where has it gotten you? If you're an athlete or healer, the answer is "Not far." At least, not while you're in the midst (opportunity for sexual joke purposely passed up).

You see, athletes struggle when they fall into the thinking trap. Professional sports moves at far too quick a pace to be pondering your next move. If you get the ball, turn to face the defense and think about what you're going to do next...chances are, by the time you decide, the ball has already been taken from you and scored on the other end. That's too slow. The state you have to be in is having encoded a high level pattern-matching into your neural pathways such that you can see the defense and instantly transform what you see into an action. We could call that instinct, but that connotes a born-in nature that is not necessarily the case. You can acquire some or all of this from massive amounts of practice and experience. In some sense, you're completely bypassing the conscious thought center of the brain and operating on a subconscious level. This level is woefully inadequate to handle life in general, but can possess specialized synapses for transforming a scene in front of you, in a specialized situation (like a basketball game), into a series of commands to your muscles. By the time your conscious mind catches up, it's only to realize what you've already done...the play is over.

That kind of read-and-react magic is instrumental for healing in a raid, for anyone who's not a dedicated tank healer. A dedicated tank healer is much like a DPS...they don't have to process as quickly (though, quicker processing is always helpful) because they tend to fall into a more reptitive rhythm with much tighter constraints. DPS, these days, is no longer the purely reptitive "rotation," but even with a priority-and-proc based system, the range of possible situations is quite a bit lower than is faced by healers. This is in no way meant to diminish the difficulty of DPS...great DPS is just as difficult as healing, but in a different way. A way that I'm not concerning myself with here (but, if I were to use a metaphor for it, I'd use a great musician, not an athlete).

As a healer who has multiple people to keep alive, you simply cannot be operating at the relatively slow speed of: "Okay, what heal should I cast now? Let's see, four people are hurt, but they're not all in the same party...further, one is especially hurt...but a different person is more important to keep alive...maybe I should cast..." Even at the speed that the mind can go through all those conditions (much faster than it took to write or read those words), it is still too slow. You can't consciously be breaking down the situation every GCD in order to make a decision. Damage goes out far too quickly for that, especially in certain stages of the fight.

No, you have to be Michael Jordan or Gale Sayer or Barry Sanders (yes, that was an awfully American-centric list of great athletes; I'm American, that's how it goes. Okay, okay, I'll throw in Pelé for the international crowd). You have to be moving before your conscious brain has processed what you're doing. It has to be pure pattern-matching automatic reaction. Developed instinct.

How do you develop that instinct? Lots and lots and lots of practice. You have to heal a massive amount of fights. And the fights that will help you the most are the hard ones...the ones that make you think healing is a shitty, thankless job of keeping stupid people alive despite all their stupid mistakes. The more damage that is happening, the more you have to do in every moment, the more you're burning in patterns by a very natural and biological process of automatically connecting actions with results. In this situation you cast a Prayer of Healing and it did a laughably bad job of saving anyone. In this situation you used a Greater Healing Wave followed by a Riptide followed by a Chain Heal and kept everyone alive when you thought they'd die. The process of successes and failure creates patterns of neural activity that are then better equipped to match an action to the next scene of healing it sees...which reinforces and refines those patterns of neural activity that are then better equipped to match an action to...well, rinse and repeat. It's the feedback loop of learning. But it takes a lot of exposure to what you're learning.

The more you refine those neural patterns, though, the less your conscious mind will interfere with your ability to "feel" the situation and fire out the right action, moment by moment. Just like Jordan attacking three defenders near the basket, or Barry Sanders encircled by five defenders all intent on doing him harm. They don't "know" how they get through those defenders...they just do get through the defenders and they do it automatically. Later, maybe they or an outside analyst could break down what they did...but it was all by the magic of pattern matching at the time. They saw the defenders, their neural circuits transformed the vision into actions and their muscles carried it out. That is how you heal Magmaw or Chimaeron or Lady Sinestra. See the damage in your Grid, see the fail spot that may be under your feet and let your neural circuits transform it into actions.

Thinking Is Good

Wait, but isn't thinking bad? Didn't I just write an obscene amount about that very topic? Yes, yes I did. But I changed my mind and didn't want to delete everything I just wrote.

Well, not really. There are different levels of thinking. There's the short-term "What do I do next?" thinking and then there's the long-term big picture thinking. This second sort of thinking goes more like: "Where are we in this fight? How should we be deploying our resources for the next phase of the fight? Why were we put here on this Earth? What does it all mean?"

Those last two questions are beyond the scope of this piece. But, hopefully, you get the idea. Not having to consciously think about what you are doing moment to moment does not mean you should zone out and dream about winning the lottery. You could do that, but what a waste...what, then, would you think about when zoning out in work meetings? No, what freeing up your conscious mind does for you is allow you to monitor the fight overall, figure out how it's going and start determining your personal strategy for later on in the fight.

After all, there are cooldowns to be employed and possibly large scale positioning changes to be made and maybe you'll want to hand off a healing target to another healer, or take on theirs, for one reason or another. All these things are good things to be pondering while your fingers are busy doing what they do (opportunity for masturbation joke bypassed). Your subconscious mind is hard at work pattern-matching while your conscious mind is hard at work monitoring and strategizing. You see, contrary to popular legend, we use all of our brains...we're just consciously aware of only a part of it.

I Think I'm Done Here (The Big Finish)

Healing and DPS are as different, as I alluded to before, as being a great athlete is from being a great musician. They are both exceedingly difficult, but in different ways. For DPS, it's about muscle memory and establishing a dynamic rhythm. For healers, though, it's about creating specialized patterns of neurons that have "learned" what patterns of damage visible in your raid frames result in what actions. There are an infinite amount of patterns of damage, so these neurons don't work like a list of damage->action rule pairs. They see the damage as overlapping courses of action, with one of those courses of actions winning out at any given time.

So be like Mike, as our corporate overlords urge. Develop these instincts and free your conscious mind for wondering why you're even in that raid, healing a bunch of losers who stand in fire. It's a much better question to be pondering than what healing spell to cast next.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Do You Have The Winning Spirit?

Healers have long split stats into efficiency and throughput categories. Throughput stats were the ones that increased your healing done per second...the volume of healing you could push through any given time. Among secondary stats, these stats are/were spellpower, critical strike, haste and mastery. The efficiency stats were the ones that increased your healing done per mana spent...the healing longevity that your mana pool could sustain. These stats are/were mp5 (mana per 5 seconds) and spirit.

Mp5 is largely gone as an actual stat (though it exists as a concept, as things like a shaman's mana spring totem, Tyrande's Favourite Doll, the Corrupted Egg Shell and others essentially work as mp5 return), so we'll leave it aside. That leaves spirit as the single efficiency stat. And it's been a pretty important one for healers in the first few months of the expansion, as healing spells were far more expensive relative to mana pools than they were at the end of the Wrath of the Lich King expansion.

However, the logic for healers gearing through the previous expansion was expected to continue into this one. In fact, it seems too common sense to ever not be true: stack spirit until you feel that mana pool longevity is no longer an issue for you, then focus on throughput stats. After all, if you can last through a fight without being reduced to bandaging people, surely it's time to work on making your heals moar bigger?

I'm here to tell you that, while that may hold true later in the expansion, that almost surely won't be true in this tier of content. Even if you're healing heroics sitting at 90%+ mana and never running a risk of going out of mana in raids, it's unlikely you've outgeared the need for spirit.

The reason for this is simple.

For this tier of content, spirit is a throughput stat.

Spirit Is A Throughput Stat

Ask yourself this: In a raid, can you use your fast, inefficient heal exclusively? This spell is either Flash Heal, Flash of Light, Regrowth or Healing Surge depending on what class you are. Can you spam that spell as a solution to any damage that visits the raid?

The answer is probably of course not. (If your answer was "Sure I can," I'm happy to know Paragon's healers read this blog.)

In the final half year of Wrath of the Lich King, my discipline priest could use Power Word: Shield, Penance and Flash Heal (or it's hotter twin, Binding Heal) pretty much exclusively. I didn't need to resort to any other healing spells to protect my mana pool. That's a good reason to ignore spirit (or mp5 which existed as a stat then) and go for pure throughput stats.

However, right now, virtually all healers are constrained by their mana pool. The first raiding spirit benchmark, which is being met by many healers including yours truly, is being able to get through entire raid encounters without going out of mana, with efficient healing and intelligent cooldown management. This is being confused with a much higher benchmark, the point at which you should be switching from spirit to throughput stats (haste, crit and mastery--we'll ignore spellpower at the moment and get back to why a bit further down).

As long as you can't use your most mana-intensive and higher healing-per-second, your mana pool is constraining your throughput. That means that spirit counts as both an efficiency and a throughput stat. More spirit means better mana regeneration which means more of your better throughput spells can be cast. We are still in the era of spirit being the ultimate secondary stat...better mana regeneration will likely never be a throughput cap during this tier of content, as it was in the latter stages of Wrath. Better mana regeneration means getting to make a higher and higher percentage of your casts of the higher throughput variety. Fewer casts of Heal, Healing Wave, Holy Light or Nourish and more casts of your stronger spells.

So What's The Deal With Spellpower?

Spellpower is almost never a stat on its own (though weapons are the major exception) and it's not a stat we can explicitly stack as a secondary stat. It comes almost entirely from our primary stat of intellect.

Intellect is still our most important stat. This is because it is also both a throughput and efficiency stat. It provides spellpower (throughput), a tiny amount of critical strike (throughput) and increases our mana pool (efficiency, since there are key mana regeneration mechanics that work as a percentage of one's total mana pool). It's a more powerful combination stat than spirit and should remain so throughout the expansion and throughout the existence of World of Warcraft until Blizzard changes how stats work.

However, it hardly matters. Most of the time, you can't select spirit over intellect. Intellect, being primary, is generally budgeted separately from spirit, a secondary stat. Being primary, you cannot reforge out of or into intellect.

Gemming/enchanting are the only places where you could end up making a choice between them. Pick intellect. But pick spirit over everything else. It's a throughput stat right now. And an efficiency stat.

Wait until gearing has made the concept of mana the mere rumour that it was at the end of Wrath before you start ditching spirit.

(Pro tip: Remember to build a [Basic Campfire] in the middle of your raid. +4 spirit for free is basically #winning.)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Playing Multiple Healers

This is not a post about dual-boxing to fill out your raid, I'm afraid. I know I just lost the huge dual-boxing audience, but I will never lie to you to generate more readers. That's just not how I roll.

This post regards having several characters who heal that you play semi-often. It can be a tricky situation because most healers build up instinct and muscle memory to deal with both having large and diverse toolboxes and yet having to make decisions constantly in a split-second. Oddly, you can't think as you heal...that's too slow.* You need to work instinctively.

*Let me re-phrase that: you can't think in a micro manner, spending time deciding on your next heal. You should be thinking in a macro manner...big picture thoughts about how the fight is going, when you'll need to employ cooldowns, possible strategic changes, etc. Maybe I'll write an actual post about thinking while healing.

So how do you handle switching classes as a healer when instinct and muscle memory are so important? Let's talk about that!

Fundamentally, healing really is the same, no matter what class you are using (outside of blood death knights...they're a freak of their own category). Blizzard has done a good job of making healing classes feel unique (in my opinion, there are definitely those who would argue otherwise) but we can break healing down into certain categories to establish a pattern that we can employ no matter what class we are on.

Core Heals

One major change Blizzard instituted going into Cataclysm was the creation of a set of core heals that, with occasional tiny differences, were constant between all classes. Every class has:

The slow, small, efficient heal: This is Heal for priests, Holy Light for paladins, Healing Wave for shamans and Nourish for druids.

The slow, big, mildly efficient heal: This is Greater Heal for priests, Divine Light for paladins, Greater Healing Wave for shamans and Healing Touch for druids.

The fast, somewhat big, not at all efficient heal: This is Flash Heal for priests, Flash of Light for paladins, Healing Surge for shamans and Regrowth for druids.

This is where you should start, where you should ground yourself, as a healer. Get completely familiar and comfortable with these three heals. Try healing a dungeon using only those heals. Everything else you do should work as an outgrowth from these three heals.

I think this is key whether you have one healer or four different healers, but really making these three heals instinct will make healing over multiple classes much easier. Even if you have just one healer and wish to master it, these three heals are the essence of "triage"--doing only what is necessary (keeping everyone alive), not what would be nice (keeping everyone at full health). Having an automatic feel for when you have to use each heal will simply make you a stronger healer.

Returning, though, to playing multiple healers; consider reserving the same buttons on your mouse (if you are a click-healer as I think most healers are) or reserving the same keybinds (if you use your keyboard to cast healing spells) for these three types of heals. For example, I bind the efficient heal to my middle mouse button, the big, less efficient heal to shift-middle mouse button and the fast, inefficient heal to control-middle mouse button. Whether I am on my priest, paladin, druid or shaman, that's the layout for the core heals. I'm not suggesting you use the same buttons I do, but consider using the same ones between classes for those three heals.

Use On Cooldown

Every healing class has certain spells, usually instants, that are supposed to be "used on cooldown," meaning use it every time it's available. (This is only meant to be literal in raids, when there's always some damage, or difficult situations in dungeons...don't cast them when everyone's at 100% and killing critters while the tank is AFK!)

As a priest, for example, we have two of these spells: prayer of mending and either penance (if the priest is discipline) or circle of healing (if the priest is holy). A druid has switfmend and wild growth. Etcetera, etcetera. While the "use every single time it is up" is extreme in order to make a point (use it a lot!), I'm not arguing usage patterns here...sometimes you may want to hold back a swiftmend for a burst of damage you know is coming, for example. What I'm saying is that every healing class has a couple of spells meant to be used about as much as possible. Unlike the core heals, they are largely without drawback (they tend to instant, pretty efficient and make a difference) and so you use them guilt-free and with abandon. Identify these spells for your class and bind them to the same (hopefully the easiest to hit) buttons.

Special Attacks

Every video game has special attacks and WoW is no exceptions. For healers, these special attacks tend to heal people and be rather different. Holy Radiance is fairly different from Power Word: Shield is fairly different from Chain Heal. There is not a lot pulling these things together, in terms of a unifying logic...they are simply the extra moves you can and should use. Ideally, bind them to mouse buttons by binding the most used ability to the easiest-to-hit remaining button, etc.

Binding It All Together (i.e The Big Finish)

The idea that I'm putting forth in this post is to create a "healing logic." Rather than thinking in terms of actual spells, think in terms of a logic or concepts: "Time for my slower, efficient spell. Now my direct heal cooldown. Now my fast, inefficient heal." If you do that, and you bind concepts to buttons, it doesn't matter what healer you're using, outside of the special attacks. Your slow, big heal is always in the same place. Your Always-Use A ability and Always-Use B ability are always in the same place. Suddenly, you can port the same instincts over from healer to healer.

You do still need to change mindsets a little, so you don't Power Word: Shield the rogue (who currently has no aggro) when you were thinking of Chain Heal. But a lot of what you do simply transfers.

I mean, in the end, we're all just tapping into the Great Healing Delicious. We call those methods of tapping it different things and argue over who's Great Healing Delicious is the true Great Healing Delicious...but we're really all seeking the same truth. So bind accordingly!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Hey Janelle

A little background first. In a raid the other night, our main tank who's a death knight (and a cheerful complainer) suddenly burst out, while we were fighting some trash, "Hey Janelle...I can't death strike while silenced!" Everyone was a little baffled by why he'd angrily inform another member of our raid (one of our raiders is named Janelle) about this admittedly annoying dynamic.* It then was revealed that he had burst out "Hey, didjaknow I can't death strike while silenced?" But due to way people often shorten words (even already-shortened forms), it came out as "Hey ja'know I can't..." and "ja'know" had sounded to everyone like "Janelle."

*It turned out later he was pacified, not silenced. For those of you wondering why a silence would prevent one of a death knight's strikes

In any case, being the edgy cut-up that I am, on the next trash pack, I (angrily) announced "Hey Janelle! I can't cast healing spells while silenced." Which led to another couple similar comments from others. Much amusement had by all, including the death knight tank in question.

Anyway, we then had "Hey Janelle...!" as our guild message of the day for a while. But it got me thinking...that sounds like a good title for a pop song. So I pulled out my guitar, penned some lyrics and recorded a catchy pop song to capture the spirit. All of the last sentence is a lie except for the lyrics. I have no music writing capability. So here are the lyrics. (This is not going to by my blog gimmick, each post a poem or just happened to be the case for two consecutive posts. Rhyming pieces of writing will be rare, in general.)

Hey Janelle!

As I walk the streets
Past the park, the houses, the mall
You keep popping into my head
For absolutely no reason at all

I keep wondering...

Hey Janelle, did you know that I can't buy things
When I'm completely broke?
Hey Janelle, did you know that I can't breathe
When the emotions cause me to choke?

I sit by the lake where we watched the ducks
As the morning burns away
The dreams I once had
Well, they seem determined to stay

I keep thinking...

Hey Janelle, did you know that the unmployment rate
Is a lagging indicator for economic health?
Hey Janelle, did you realize that spirituality
Is not measured by material wealth?

Tonight, I sit alone by the window
With all the lights switched off
And as I look out at the stars
I hear your voice in my mind, soft...

And I ask...

Hey Janelle, did you know that an aisle seat
Doesn't get any sort of view?
And, hey Janelle, were you aware that I can't tell you I love you
When I'm silenced? Yes, it's true.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Ode To Prayer Of Mending

Ping! You are an emissary of holy power
I summon you, my heal on golden wings
And you do strong work in my name
(Just check the healing meters in game.)

Ping! The rogue has just pulled aggro
But elsewhere the tank is dying in fire
You keep the rogue alive while I shield the tank
I don't know why we bother, to be frank.

Ping! This boss likes to visit agony
Upon each and every benighted soul
You flutter from player to player
I can imagine no harder working prayer.

Indeed in all my travels, in every exotic locale
You are my constant, golden companion
You are loyal, smart and efficient
My love for you was (GCD-capped) instant.


Who Gives A Damn(ina) About Stamina

Yes, I really just did commit that title atrocity. It amused me, which is the only way I judge success.

Stamina stacking has been pretty common for tanks for a while. Stamina was generally seen as the default go-to stat for any tanking class at least throughout the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. It was the best way to increase effective health, which was ultimate in tank survivability.

I think, though, that Cataclysm has changed that. The only benefit to increased stamina, really, was the initial buffer before dying. Health pool measures only one thing: How much damage you can take, without healing, before you die. That's it. That was useful when most tanks had between 20k-60k (depending on when in the previous expansion we're talking about) and hits could take 10-20k health. An initial buffer to allow tanks to take some hits before healers stabilized things was valuable.

However, Cataclysm has completely changed the landscape in terms of the "spikiness" of encounters. It's a combination of overall size of default health pools (the health you get from level and unmodified gear) and bosses having less damage potential per hit, generally, if mechanics are obeyed. Tanks are no longer at any risk of dying within two to three bad hits. That means the value of an initial buffer has been reduced massively.

Let's take an example. An average raid-ready tank will have around 10-12 gem slots available. Let us say this tank gems straight stamina (and is not a jewelcrafter, so has no access to Chimera's Eye cuts). At 12 gem slots, with a +60 stamina gem in each, this adds up to 720 extra stamina. Each point of stamina is 14 extra health, so the tank gains 10,080 extra health. The average raid tank has around 140k default health, so the extra from gemming pushed him or her to 150k or so.

What does this mean when fighting a raid boss? It means only this: the tank can absorb an extra 10k health before dying if he or she gets no heals. That's all. As soon as the tank falls below 140k health in this example (i.e. essentially the first time the tank takes damage), the value of the extra stamina is gone. After that, the entirety of his or her ability to survive until the end comes from the tank's own avoidance and mitigation and the output of the raid's healers. Total health pool has no more impact.

In Shocking News, Health Is Not The Same As Mana

Stamina for tanks is not akin to intellect for casters, because total health pool does not have the same effects as total mana pool. Even leaving aside the fact that intellect has other benefits (spellpower, most notably), there are key mana regeneration mechanics that operate as a percentage of total mana pool. Therefore, having a larger total mana pool has a direct relation to longevity of that mana's not merely an initial buffer.

Total mana pool would be nothing but an initial buffer if the only mana return that existed was MP5, as that would be a rough analogue to healing. Healing works as raw numbers, just as MP5 does, not as percentage of total health pool. Therefore, the total size of the health pool (in the universe of normal tank tank is going to be sitting at 30k total health nor is any tank going to be sitting at 1 million total health) has virtually no impact on the longevity of the health pool. Only things like dodge, parry, mitigation (armor, block, etc), tank skill in employing cooldowns, healer skill and healer mana really have significant impact on the longevity of a health pool.

Healer skill and healer mana are not within the tank's control and tank skill is not affected by gemming and enchanting choices. Only avoidances and mitigation are, which is why those should be the only focuses of gems and enchants (this can include mastery, of course, since tanking mastery largely seems to be mitigation-focused).

So Is Stamina Useless For Tanks?

Short answer: Yes.

Long answer: ...Yes.

(Okay, to be a little less glib, by "stamina" I mean the stamina acquired from gems and enchants. The stamina you get from your gear is necessary but that's something you get automatically. Thanks for reading. I'm going to end the piece on this parenthetical comment because I'm a writing rebel.)

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A Healer's Primer For Heroic PUGs

Healers have been put into a tough spot in Cataclysm. While tanks have an equally stressful job, they are also usually invested with the implicit leadership that allows them to dictate how pulls should be done to maximize their comfort. Healers have a stressful, difficult job and basically have to go along with how the group chooses to proceed. Unless you're a confrontational, take-charge kind of punk...but if you were, you'd have rolled a tank.

So how to handle running dungeons with four strangers who's lives are in your hands? Here are a set of tenets that will hopefully ease your struggle just a bit.

Stack Spirit

Most groups want to move quickly. Cataclysm was supposed to change people's perceptions of the expected pacing of dungeons because they are, you know, significantly harder than the ones people became used to in Wrath of the Lich King (especially in the final couple of tiers of the expansion, when most people hugely overgeared them).

It hasn't, by and large. Unless you explicitly stop the group, tanks keep moving. Many people are already viewing heroics as the quick, boring and easy task they were back when people were looking for their daily frost. They're not happy with stoppages, even though many pulls can be really brutal on the healer's mana. (This is not to paint everyone with the same brush...there are plenty of sensible, reasonable people...but you don't need these tips when you're lucky enough to group with such people.)

You can always ramp up throughput at need by leaning more heavily on your less mana efficient spells. But for your best PUG heroic results, protect your mana pool. Eat spirit buff food, try to have spirit on all your gear (reforge something to spirit on those pieces that don't) and use spirit enchants/gems. Until mana feels like it's always high, spirit is your best stat (this will change for raids, but we're talking about making heroics easier).

Prepare For The Worst

Define in your mind the worst thing the group can do that you'll tolerate, some combination of not marking pulls, not CC'ing, overpulling, etc. It's a good idea to have in your mind some sense of what the worst you'll put up with is. Once you have that, assume that that is what is going to unfold and be ready to handle it. If the group goes beyond that, drop party. It's as simple as that.

Mind you, I would never advocate dropping party on a group that is honestly striving and has some idea of how to play in instances. Sometimes group composition is not ideal or gear is not high or people are just struggling with a specific mechanic despite generally being decent players. You should try your best to help them succeed.

I'm talking about groups where people really aren't trying very hard and want you to enable their bad play. There is no duty upon you to do so. As a courtesy, you may want to voice your concerns and see if they respond by doing the right things from then on. But dropping party is a perfectly valid response to groups intent on making a mess. It doesn't require being a hardcore player to understand the mechanics of fights, to CC and attack a pull efficiently. It doesn't involve elitism to drop people who aren't interested in putting out that minimal effort when doing heroics.

The main thing is that you have to understand that the responsibility for a successful run does not lie entirely upon your shoulders. In fact, there may be nothing you can do to make a group successful. For your own sanity and enjoyment of the game, develop a sense for those times and cut your losses. 

It's Okay If People Die

People die. It's the way of things, in game and out of game. In game, though, the consequences are pretty minimal. Try to save people, but if a DPS has to die, so be it. Don't place the pressure on yourself that deaths represent failures. Success is killing every mob in the pull or killing the boss. Nothing else. If a mage and a rogue die, but the boss dies as well, you were successful. As a group and as a healer. The mage and rogue may or may not berate you, but that's because no one enjoys dying, not because you actually failed (regardless of what they say).

Sometimes you have to make cold, rational decisions and let someone die. Either because there's a more pressing target to heal (the tank, yourself, the one DPS carrying the load in getting the boss down) or because you're low on mana and keeping that person alive is not going to be worth the mana it will take. Steel yourself to make those calls and then make them decisively. Don't waste mana on someone you're going to end up letting die (or who's going to die regardless of what you do).

Don't Be Afraid Of Your Expensive Spells 

Blizzard has tried to deincentivize you from using your quick and/or powerful healing spells, because if you used them all the time, healing would be easy. But you are still supposed to use them. I know I told you to protect your mana pool earlier, but a wipe slows the group down more than drinking. Sometimes, you need a burst of healing to save the tank or to stabilize a disaster situation. If things turn grim, pull out the big guns and blaze away. Try to turn them off at the earliest moment you can, though, because you also don't want to run totally dry on mana.

Conserving mana is not an important goal in and of itself. You conserve mana in order to have enough of it when you need to go big. When that times comes, don't hesitate to use whatever you have to.

Remember Your Cooldowns

An easy trap to fall into is to think about your cooldowns as emergency buttons to be saved until you really, really, really need them. The end result, though, is that you'll almost never use them and they'll be wasted. Except in a very few cases, the situation can always plausibly get worse. Maybe a mob will unleash a massive area of effect spell in a few seconds and then you'll really wish you still had that cooldown, right? That sort of thinking is a mistake and paralyzes you from using some of your most powerful spells.

Use your cooldowns at almost any time that you're pretty sure they won't get wasted unless you have an encounter planned out. If there's a specific phase where a cooldown will be maximized, by all means save it for then. But if you're doing a trash pull and lots of damage is happening...start burning those two- and three-minute cooldowns (and fire off 30-second cooldowns essentially any time you can). They'll be back up sometime in the next pull or even later in that fight if you're attacking a boss. You'll maximize your performance by using those cooldowns as much as you can; waiting for the "perfect time" (again, unless you're scripting an encounter with discrete and predictable phases) will almost always lead to sub-optimal cooldown usage.

Cooldowns are there to be used, not to be saved. They aren't panic buttons, they are powerful spells that Blizzard doesn't want you using too much. Don't increase their cooldowns by using them infrequently.

Take Responsibility For Your Errors

You are as likely to make a mistake as anyone else. It happens. There are a lot of mechanics being thrown around most heroic dungeons, sometimes you'll move the wrong way and bang. Dead healer. Or dead tank. If you know you made a mistake, consider tossing a "My mistake, I missed X" into party chat while running back. It amps down any possible tension, people are generally a little more willing to forgive someone who admits they messed up and it gives you credibility. Credibility is important, for those times when you get blamed and it wasn't clearly your fault. If you've already created a track history of admitting an error, you have a much stronger stand from which to disclaim responsibility when you don't believe it was your fault.

Of course, sometimes you'll have jerks in the group who aren't fair-minded or reasonable and they'll abuse you no matter what you say. In that case, don't bother even getting into it with them. Ignore them for as long as you can, leave the party if it becomes too much to be worth it.

In the end, heroics were designed to be stressful. The LFD tool is there for anyone who wants to quickly find people to run with, but it's not there with the intent of guaranteeing an enjoyable run. For that, you'll need to round up some of your friends. These tips aren't meant to min-max your performance, just to make your heroic runs with strangers slightly less painful. Even the tips aimed at performance (stacking spirit, using your expensive spells, using cooldowns) are offered to reduce the pressure, whether social pressure or decision-making pressure.

Healing is fun, but strangers often aren't. This guide is simply aimed at trying to reduce the potential negative effects of strangers and push dungeon experiences more toward the fun of healing.


Minimalism is a popular design term and aesthetic, but it seems to mean something rather different to a lot of different people. Generally when people talk about minimalism, they are referring to a design of theirs that has a varying amount of minimalism. This is fine, but let's flesh out exactly what minimalism is in its pure form, because it's a useful design technique even if a "pure minimalism" is not necessarily called for in what you're working on.

Distilling Minimalism To Its Essence

Here are the precise requirement for pure minimalism, so that we have a solid base to talk from:

1. Everything you need must exist
2. Nothing you don't need should exist
3. There should be no redundancy

I'll tackle these one at a time, though they may largely seem self-explanatory.

The first principle is probably the most important, because it's the one most frequently violated by those pursuing minimalism. Minimal design means finding a way to encapsulate all needed functionality in the smallest "footprint" (for the space in question, whether floor space or screen space or whatever else) possible. If you make a conventional chair but then remove one leg, you aren't exercising minimal design--you're making a bad, unbalanced chair. Unless, of course, you come up with a new design to get the same functional power out of three legs.

The second principle is the one that people think about most with minimal design and requires the least explanation. Anything that doesn't add necessary functionality must go!

Finally, you can technically adhere to both of those two principles and still break minimalism by, to put it simply, adding the same necessary functionality twice. One could argue that this is already implied in (2) because a second version of the same thing is not needed, but I like to make this point explicitly, because it's one of the easiest pitfalls for designers.

Minimalism In Your World Of Warcraft User Interface

Let's look at these principles applied to a customized UI.

The least-cluttered interface is also the quickest non-default UI to create. Hit Alt-Z and marvel at your clean, unfettered display of the game. "Perfect UI, right?" I ask rhetorically. "Of course not, don't insult my intelligence by rhetorically assigning me, the reader, such an absurd position," you respond with some asperity. "My apologies, that was a bit condescending, I suppose, and lazy, generic writing to boot," I allow cautiously.

Clearly, there are some rather vital pieces of information that a real UI must incorporate. Your resources, like health, mana, energy, rage, runic power, etc, are pretty important to monitor. Decisions are generally based on the state of these resources and none of our brains are set up to process in-game events to precisely keep track of those resources in our heads. The resources of the enemies that we're fighting are also vitally important, because many of our decisions are made based on the state of those enemies. While this may seem like stating the obvious, and is obvious in these examples, this is the type of analysis one needs to do in determining what is necessary and what is not. What decisions are made based on the piece of information? How important are those decisions? How quickly do those decisions need to be made to be valuable? Are they in-combat decisions, or can they be made out-of-combat?

You can start from a cluttered interface and pare down, or start from a blank(-ish) slate and work your way up. Either way, you need a process for determining what is essential.

Once you've done that, principle two is pretty easy to execute: everything else needs to go.

Principle three is the final pass you need to make. Is any piece of information duplicated? This can be as simple as having both a player frame displaying your health and a raid frames add-on that includes you, therefore showing your health in two places (more on this later, though). Do you have your opponent's debuffs displayed in addition to Power Auras that give you visual alerts for the key debuffs you need to watch? In order to be perfectly minimal, you want to pare away the duplications.

Is Pure Minimalism Good?

So congratulations on your perfectly minimal design. It has every piece of information you require to do your job correctly, it has absolutely nothing that isn't essential and no information is duplicated. It was a grind but success is sweet.

Or is it? (Masterful twist.) Are you happy with this super-minimal UI? Everything's there, but is it easy to quickly process and translate into action? Does it look nice?

In the end, minimalism is a concept and is not always, or even often, a desirable destination in its pure form. Maybe having a larger player frame in addition to your raid frames is a good thing. You may be able to customize your raid frames to show mana bars, but maybe the resulting mana bar in your raid frame box is too small to easily see. Maybe it's simply more important to see your own health than everyone else's and making your health exactly as visible as everyone else's costs you precious split-seconds in making a decision. Maybe you just think it looks nicer to have a proper player frame to create visual balance next to your target's frame. These are all examples of perfectly valid reasons to break away from a purely minimalistic design.

It's good to keep minimalism in mind. The cleaner and simpler your interface is, the less it will get in your a point.Make it too minimal (and this still means in accordance with the principles laid out above) and it can start to get in your way again, by making it harder for you to process that necessary information. I think it's valuable to understand what, precisely, minimalism is...but a UI should balance minimalism, attractiveness and ease of use. There are often trade-offs to be made between those three things and what the right balance of those things are for you will be different than for someone else.

Final pro tip: Reduce all fonts in your UI to an unreadable 4 pt and bask in the minimal glory!