Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Discipline Priests Style-Nerfed Again

No, discipline priests weren't nerfed in power. Apparently, Blizzard decided that they were out of balance style-wise, as we've been seeing a steady stream of nerfs to the spell graphics for discipline priests.

It started a month or two ago when Blizzard style-nerfed Penance. Penance, aka the holy machine gun, aka the three shards of golden power, is a channeled heal that fires three blasts of holy power at a target, each one healing the target pretty significantly. It's a very noticeable spell and an iconic discipline priest spell. A further visual effect it had was to cause the target to flinch/jerk slightly upon impact of each golden shard.

Blizzard ended that, apparently permanently. I would explain the terrible ramifications of this, but Sanctùs on the official World of Warcraft forums described it best, with this instant classic:

Penance - 1. An act of self-mortification or devotion performed voluntarily to show sorrow for a sin or other wrongdoing.
2. A sacrament in some Christian churches that includes contrition, confession to a priest, acceptance of punishment, and absolution. Also called reconciliation.

Penanced - To impose penance upon.

What has happened to my Penance? 

I used to provide absolution for my tanks sins as evidenced by the wracking pains he suffered as acknowledment of his iniquities when I penanced him.  Now, my tank just stands there. No wracking pains, no self-mortification.  How is he supposed to receive absolution for his wrong-doings if he no longer has to suffer for them.  I can just see it now, drinking and cavorting with loose blood elfs on the weekends.  Why not he says, penance no longer causes him to suffer for these sins.  Lustful thoughts, no concern, penance is painless.  Coveting his off-tanks ass, no consequences from his spiritual savior.

I worry for the spiritual future of my tank if my I can no longer impose penance upon him with the least degree of suffering.  My tank needs to suffer for his heals, otherwise, he will continue to sin.  Next thing you know he'll be stacking stamina.

Bring back the suffering of my penanced tanks to ensure their salvation in the kingdom of god.

However, today's patch has revealed a new style nerf. Divine Aegis, a shield that procs around a target when the disco priest hits that target with a critical heal, has lost its translucent golden bubble visual. Instead it now looks like a standard Power Word: Shield.

Glowing Disco Ball

That's what Divine Aegis used to look like. This is what Power Word: Shield looks like, and what Divine Aegis now looks like:

Not Pictured: Broken-Hearted Disco Priest

I like the Power Word: Shield graphic. It looks magical and holy. But I also loved the Divine Aegis graphic, because putting people in bubbles was immensely satisfying. I did that.

I've gone through endless World of Log parses and cannot find justification for this change. Discipline priests were undoubtedly overpowered from a stylistic point of view, but rightly so. We're all about style and if you get healed in addition, great. More importantly, we raised raid morale with our spectacular beauty.

I'm sure Blizzard has its reasons and maybe we'll be seeing some style buffs in the coming months. That said, my soul weeps today. Translucent golden tears.

Update: It appears that this may be merely a bug, not an intended change. That, at least, is what a Blizzard blue on the EU forums suggests:  http://eu.battle.net/wow/en/forum/topic/2313881411#6. Call off the panic...for now!

Monday, June 27, 2011

What Is Pride?

Recently, I was (very indirectly and not in any sense singled out) accused by a guild member of not having enough pride in raiding. We hadn't defeated an encounter prior to (what is expected to be) the next tier of raiding coming into existence tomorrow.

What made her angry was that most people (myself included) didn't choose to devote the entirety of the (anticipated) final raid night of this tier to trying to complete the encounter (we killed off our farm bosses in Blackwing Descent first). She felt that this displayed the weak nature of the raid team, a "wimping out" (my words, though I don't think it's a distortion of her feelings), if you will.

I cannot speak for anyone else on the raid team, I only know my own motivations and it led me to wonder: what is the role of pride in raiding? In what ways should one display pride?

Pride In Effort

This post will in no way be a response to that guild member. She's perfectly entitled to feel as she does and I'm not interested in changing her mind. I only mentioned the context in order to explain why I was provoked to think about this issue. I'm not going to spend any time "justifying" the event that annoyed her (because, like many things, it's only right or wrong depending on your approach) but I will mention her occasionally simply to note the differences in our outlooks that may have led to the difference in reaction (which I think is something everyone should bear in mind when evaluating others).

I can confidently say that I do feel a sense of pride in raiding. I think that any time one engages a lot in an activity that involves a skill, one tends to discover a desire to do it as well as possible. Pride, then, comes from the degree one meets that desire. I am certainly not exempt from this when it comes to raiding in the game.

When I raid, I want a few things from myself. I want to be geared well, gemmed and enchanted intelligently (no pun intended as a caster) and possessed of a talent spec that I carefully considered (both based on research and my own experiences playing the class). That's the first and most basic standard: proper preparedness. Secondly, I want to focus as deeply on the task of each encounter as possible. Finally, I want to learn (both encounter mechanics and my own role) swiftly and whenever possible.

Those are where my points of pride come from. I do believe in perseverance. I'm actually quite willing to beat my head against an encounter for days or even weeks. But this is probably the first place where my angry guild member and I part ways a bit. For me, there is no pride in perseverance. For me, perseverance is always balanced against fun.

Generally, this is not an issue that takes consideration. There have not been any raid encounters I've yet run across that I didn't enjoy. Sure, some were difficult and frustrating at first, but even that was fun in a way: trying to unlock the secret. Al'Akir was frustrating at first, because it felt far too random. I actually came to enjoy that encounter, though, as I discovered ways to ameliorate the randomness. That learning process is extremely enjoyable for me.

So, if a boss is blocking progression, I'm happy to fight him for the next ten weeks (though I'd be a little concerned if we, as a group, were taking that long to defeat an encounter). If the boss in question is not blocking progression, and the raid wants to switch to a different boss, I am fine with that, too.

Pride In Being Relevant

A further point of pride that I experience, which is unrelated to my personal performance, is feeling that what I'm doing is "relevant." That quite simply means that I'm working on, at least, the highest current tier of raiding. I don't have to be on the bleeding edge of progression, but I certainly don't want to be working on the tier behind the one that most raiders are on.

I don't, however, have much of a sense of pride in getting a certain achievement or title while it's relevant, "just to say I did." In fact, achievements are relatively unimportant to me in general. I raid for the social aspect of working as a team and the excitement of defeating a difficult boss for the first time. I don't care if I can say that I got the "Light of Dawn" title before patch 4.0.1 dropped (which is good, because I can not say that). This I know is another point of departure between myself and the guild member who felt I (we) lacked pride. I know she feels fiercely passionate about "being able to say" that she did certain things when said things were considered relevant. That's fine, it's simply not where I derive my pleasure or pride.

So Wherein Lies Pride?

I'm a healer. I'd like to heal well. I'm a raider. I'd like to raid on tier. I'm a guild member. I'd like to be considered an obliging, considerate team member.

So my points of pride essentially revolve around those fairly straightforward statements. I don't really consider my place in the greater World of Warcraft universe (world- or server-progression). I have my own views on what healing well entails, but I rarely compare myself to even my fellow healers. Foremost, I'm raiding because it's a game I greatly enjoy playing with others. Pride may goeth before a fall but it sure doesn't goeth before fun, as far as I'm concerned.

I feel badly that my guild member is unhappy about not accomplishing her (guild) goals for this tier. I understand why it upsets her. While I cannot speak for anyone else in the guild, I can say that her goals (in a general sense) diverge from mine subtly but crucially, which leads us to very different concepts of where pride comes into the game and, therefore, what issues are a matter of pride and what issues aren't.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

(Will I Still WoW) When I'm Sixty Four?

I was recently pondering* which was of bigger importance in my life: World of Warcraft or music? The way I decided to evaluate it was, which would I eliminate from my life forevermore, if I had to?

*I was pondering it because I decided to start a music blog, since I enjoy blogging and music is my other great enjoyment. The blog is located at http://havethestoneskilled.wordpress.com/. That is, of course, a shameless plug but only click the link if you're interested in music and my thoughts on said music. I'm not trying to generate stray clicks.

The answer, pretty easily, was World of Warcraft. Part of that, however, was that I expect music to be important to me all my life whereas it's kind of hard to imagine still playing World of Warcraft when I'm 80 years old (rather an understatement). In fact, will World of Warcraft even exist in ten years, when I turn 80?

So Let's Change The Question

Instead of comparing World of Warcraft (which is a single game and will assuredly not last for many years) to music, how about MMOs in general to music? To this point in my life, it's one and the same, as I am not an "MMO player," I am a "WoW Player." I'm really not much of a gamer...you could almost draw a straight line from my Nintendo-playing days as a kid to Prince of Persia in the 1990s to World of Warcraft in terms of my commercial games-playing history. It's sparse.

That said, World of Warcraft has definitely captured me. It's a very big part of my life now, and I can certainly imagine moving to another MMO whenever WoW reaches the end of its run of relevance, which is inevitable (even Blizzard is preparing for a post-WoW reality by developing its new MMO, codenamed Titan).

So the real question is, what about WoW is it that has enthralled me so thoroughly and, therefore, what would need to exist in the future to make it likely that I'll remain addicted to playing MMOs in the way that I am (seemingly) irrevocably hooked to music?

The MMO Magic

There are three main components that attract me to playing World of Warcraft and at least two of them don't seem even remotely close to optimized in my view.

  • Character As Self Expression : Any time you create an avatar, whether it's an icon and profile on a discussion forum or a virtual person in a game, you are representing something of yourself in it (unless you are filling out all the fields purely randomly). It stands to reason that you can therefore use the character in a game as a form of self expression. The more you can customize it to your tastes, the more of your creative being is being expressed.
  • Social Connections : Obviously, a major part of an MMO is the "massively multi-player" portion of the acronym. It's a world not just in terms of virtual geography but in terms of society. There are a whole lot of people to potentially meet, in addition to any friends you knew prior to the game that you now have a new way to relate to. Playing with other people, socializing with other people is a big part of the power of these games.
  • Challenging, Skill-Based Combat : This can be achieved in various ways but the way that World of Warcraft achieves it is through either Player versus Player games or Player versus Dragon encounters (that's right, PVD...that's what playing a fantasy game does, and should, boil down to!). I'm not much for PVP, but I just adore PVD (okay, okay, PVE).

Blizzard does a pretty damn solid job of the third one, in my opinion. It's not inconceivable that it could be better, but there are no glaring flaws with the end-game, in my opinion.

The second aspect is kindof there by default. I don't think Blizzard does a whole lot to maximize the social aspect of the game...which is fine. Blizzard has limited resources in terms of spending time to expand the game and there are a wealth of other ways people can connect on the Internet. Blizzard correctly prioritizes the game aspect to work on.

The first one is a trainwreck for a game of World of Warcraft's magnitude, in my view. You are supposed to feel attached to your character(s) and desire to progress with them, but the opportunities to set them apart from cookie-cutter archetypes are few and far between. The character creation process is surprisingly limited, there's virtually no ability to choose how you want to look from a fashion standpoint and all melee essentially have the same animations as do all casters. Essentially, your only in-game ability to look different is to choose from the tiny selection of hair styles not offered at the character creation screen and tabards. That's about it.

But I didn't write this post to vent about WoW. I came to praise it, didn't I? This is the game that, taken as a package, I love. Isolating what makes the game fascinating to me helps me identify what a future game would need to have to potentially draw me in after WoW.

So Might Future Games Be Even More Addictive?

As computing power and connectedness increases, one can certainly imagine each of those aspects being expanded, honed and made more powerful. Leaving aside end-game content (as what makes fighting dragons fun is awfully subjective and the subject of game design, which I don't feel like getting into here), I think it's clear that the social and self-expression aspects can be increased substantially.

An MMO could allow players to hook their IM clients into the game, whereby whispers, chats, etc, go to an IM client window/tab...even if you are not currently in the game (if you so choose). If you meet someone and don't yet feel like exchanging e-mails or even more personal information, you could still socialize in and out of the game. You could follow guild chat discussions even when you don't have the time/inclination to run the game. It's a fairly simple idea and much more elaborate social immersion could be fashioned, but I'm not trying to paint a "Turn the galaxy into one big computer!" vision of the future...just a simple step forward meant to illustrate that there's more power here to be tapped.

At a very basic level, customization of a character can involve more than WoW allows. Body type selections when creating the character (does my elvish rogue really have to be body builder? Seriously, Blizzard). Clothing slots that allow you to wear a set of gear for looks without losing the benefits of the set of gear you need for dragon-slaying stats. And then of course there are the futuristic possibilities, like having a facial creation tool, allowing you to truly fashion a look that no one else will have. This is supposed to be the virtual you...you probably want to be more "you" (by which I mean, your tastes, not necessarily your real life looks) than one of the thousand human clones running around and disco dancing.

Still Music, Though

Even if I make the assumption that I will be playing MMOs and healing til the day I die in real life, it doesn't change my answer. Music is a bigger part of my life today than World of Warcraft is. I don't play much WoW every day...the two raid nights are where WoW really becomes a big deal. Music is important every day.

A future MMO would have to be a lot more compelling, pulling at my daily entertainment hours more strongly to compete with music. That said, MMOs do have quite a lot of potential to grow. I think World of Warcraft did a lot of things right and therefore rightfully jumped to a position of dominance. Now it remains to be seen whether this form of game stagnates and withers on the vine or is evolved further in next-gen iterations and makes the jump to overall life obsession.

Now if only I could marry the two and listen to music while I raid rather than to all those annoying guildies on Vent who want me to heal or something.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Let's Talk About Stats, Baby

I just thought I'd write a few quick thoughts about stats as they pertain to healers, and then a little chatter about stats as they pertain to discipline priests specifically. Because aren't disc priests about the most interesting people in the world? They drive fast cars, move in fast crowds, heal with spectacular style before burning out and dying of a cocaine overdose. (RIP BubblesTheCokeMonkey.)


Stats are generally considered to exist along a couple of axes (plural of axis, not axe): mana efficiency and throughput. Mana efficiency helps dictate how long your mana pool will sustain your healing activities and throughput dictates how much healing you can pour into any constrained period of time. Throughput is always crucial in any current content, while mana efficiency's importance varies with how far one is into the expansion.

The reason why mana efficiency's importance varies is fairly straightforward: spell costs are based on one's base mana (the mana pool you have with no gear equipped) while regeneration scales with your stats. The two tend to synch until you reach level cap, because each level raises your base mana and, therefore, your spell costs. Once you reach level cap, however, your advancement is no longer level-based but gear-based. Your base mana is locked in "forever" (that is, until the next expansion raises the level cap) but your stats keep increasing with better gear. This creates an asymmetrical dynamic and, as the expansion wears on, the mana pool and mana regen that your gear provides will begin to trivialize spell costs.

For now, mana efficiency tends to be useful, but already the use is variable. I find that the only normal raid encounter for which mana efficiency can matter is the Nefarian encounter in Blackwing Descent. Mana efficiency does matter to varying degrees in heroic raid encounters. However, next tier, mana efficiency is going to start fading fast as any kind of priority. Bear that in mind as we go through the stats.

Getting back to my original line of thought, I think that looking at mana efficiency and throughput as separate categories is imprecise. Certain stats have an element of each and each component needs to be kept in mind.

Intellect Is OP

On the World of Warcraft stat forums, all the other caster stats write long, angry posts about how intellect is unbalanced and overpowered. They're right, but tough luck. Blizzard has made a clear and conscious design decision that intellect should always be the #1 choice of any caster. Unless they reverse that decision, and it doesn't seem likely that they will*, you will always want intellect first, any time there's a choice. It provides mana efficiency, throughput and candy all at the same time.

*The reason I say that it's unlikely that Blizzard will ever reverse the decision to make intellect far and away the best caster stat is because it's a standard role-playing trope that there be a certain stat that is defining for a class (generally intellect for magic-users, strength for power-based weapon-users and agility for speed-based weapon-users). A game like WoW might try to subvert common tropes early on, to try to find a "new way," but when it decides to finally adhere to one late in its development (WoW is now about 6 years old, which is pretty far into a game's development), it generally means the design team decided it was a convention worth sticking with. The time for experimenting with that particular aspect is probably over.

It provides mana efficiency because your mana pool is directly increased by your intellect. Larger mana pools mean a larger buffer to cast from before you run dry, but if that's all they were, it wouldn't mean much. However, a number of mana regeneration tools operate by providing your a percentage of your total mana pool back periodically. That means, the larger your mana pool, the more mana you're going to get back over time when these mechanics are in play.

The throughput largely comes from the boost intellect gives the output of any damaging or healing spell known as spellpower. You get spellpower at a one-for-one rate from intellect, but each spell has its own modifier for what fraction of your spellpower gets added to the spell's output (known as the spellpower coefficient). This is added to every spell and is a pure throughput boost.

Finally, don't forget that intellect provides candy. And in a wholesome way, not dispensed from a scruffy stranger in a nondescript van. The form of this candy is a little bit of extra spell critical strike. It's not a massive amount, but the previous effects were enough to make intellect fantastic, so this is just gravy. Candy gravy. Mmm, food metaphor stew.

Spirit Swings

Spirit is a little bit like intellect. It's sort of the little sister to intellect's big sister. It tries to emulate intellect, and does a decent job, but falls crucially short. Just like every younger sibling.* You see, like intellect, spirit is both good for mana efficiency and throughput. However, here's the big difference: it can't do both at the same time. Intellect can.

*If you're a younger sibling that was traumatized by just now reading what the world has been telling you your entire life, please send all psychiatric bills to your parents, c/o a cold, cruel world.

So spirit provides mana regeneration in the very straightforward manner of giving you a constant mana-per-five-seconds rate of return. For most healers, the rate is halved in combat (holy priests, bless their mana-burning hearts, get a talent to increase it to 80% of their  out-of-combat rate). For casters who weren't quite able to pass medical school, spirit provides nothing at all in combat. So, this component is easy and direct: more spirit, more mana provided over time during an encounter.

The less-appreciated aspect of spirit is that it can be converted into throughput. In a sense, this is semantics, because this isn't a separate power, but it's still an important observation: having more spirit, and therefore more mana regen, allows you to cast more mana-inefficient spells (but better throughput ones). The reason this is an important point to make is because healers often start reforging away from or otherwise dumping spirit too early. They've just become comfortable with their ability to last throughout encounters, so decide they should move toward more throughput stats. However, since they aren't at the point where mana is largely irrelevant, they suddenly find themselves in a tough encounter (either a new progression fight, or a fight they've done but isn't going well this time) and suddenly mana is leaking away alarmingly fast. If they had stuck with the spirit, though, they would have their comfortable regeneration rate now when they need it. And on fights where they don't need it, they can cast more fast, strong spells to convert the mana regen into throughput (in much the same way Einstein discovered that you can convert matter to energy).

Spirit is a swing stat. On fights where your mana pool is more than sufficient, you can make it do throughput tricks. On fights where you need mana, you can let it do its usual mana regeneration thing. Intellect gives both at the same time, spirit makes you choose.

The Eternal War Between Haste And Crit

Read ten different blogs dedicated to healing and you'll get...uh, well, two different opinions on which is better. I guess there's not a lot of position choices here. However, let me illuminate the parameters of the schism and you can make your own choice as an informed consumer of stats.

Both of these stats are pure throughput stats, in that neither provides a mana efficiency benefit (the way intellect and spirit do). However, that's not the whole story. One of these stats does impact mana efficiency, just not in the positive direction. Of course, even that comes with a little complexity. Almost like little people, these stats are complicated and multifaceted.

Haste does what you'd expect: it makes you a faster caster. This is manifested in three ways, two of which I'll mention now, one in a moment. The most obvious effect is reducing the cast times on spells that aren't instant. The less obvious but also important effect is to reduce the GCD (global cooldown) that limits how quickly you can do most abilities in succession. Reducing the GCD is important in pumping out instant-cast spells faster.

This obviously has the effect of raising throughput. Your heals per second are going to go up if the seconds consumed by casting go down for the same effect. However, it also has the effect of reducing your mana efficiency. To realize the throughput benefits of haste, you must cast more spells in the same amount of time and each spell still costs what it did before. Net result: your burn through your mana faster in order to raise your throughput.

However. There is an exception to this, and it's due to the third effect of haste. The third effect of haste is that it speeds up the ticking of your HoT (healing over time) spells. HoTs provide a certain amount of healing every "tick" over a fixed duration. The more haste you have, the more healing ticks you get in that duration. Therefore more haste means more throughput from each HoT, notionally. In practice, this is one of the most complicated things to math out, because you need to add a certain amount of haste for the HoT to speed up enough to get one more tick in before the duration ends (known as a "haste breakpoint")...and every HoT has different haste breakpoints. Still, there are online tools and tables that can help you figure out how much haste you need to reach the next breakpoint for any particular spell. The crucial thing to understand here is that this is an application of haste that increases throughput with no ill effects on mana efficiency. Your HoTs will still cost the same and run for as long before they need to be refreshed. They'll just heal for more (if you reach the breakpoints).

So let's now examine critical strike. Critical strike raises your chance of a healing spell cast to be a "critical heal," which means that its effect is multiplied. Right now, it's multiplied by 1.5x. With the coming patch 4.2, a critical heal will be multiplied by 2x. Critical strike does not share haste's downside. You don't have to spend any extra mana to realize the throughput benefits...some of your spells will simply heal for more, no muss, no fuss.

Critical strike, however, has its own dark side: it's random. It's the stuff of chaos, it swirled in the primordial universe before the gods brought order. This presents a problem if you like predictable throughput. You cannot count on critical strike throughput when you need a large heal, because most likely you will not get one on any specific cast. Further, you may get one when you're topping someone off and lose the benefits of it to overheal. This does de-value it to some extent, because you cannot account for it and tailor your heals appropriately to ensure none of it is wasted. You have to heal as though it's not there and let it pop up and surprise you here and there and hope that over the course of the fight, not much of it is wasted.

The added complexity that critical strike brings with it is that there are a number of talents that are activated by a critical strike heal. These talents boost the value of critical strike. They don't make critical strike any less random (nor should they, randomness is its nature!) but they do increase the rewards when you pop a critical.

So which is better? Well, from a philosophical standpoint, if you value more predictable throughput that you can plan for heal by heal, haste is better. If you value increasing your throughput without harming your mana efficiency, critical strike is for you. However, when you factor in the complexities of haste breakpoints for HoTs and talents that activate off critical strike, the question becomes a lot more difficult and is also quite class- and spec-dependent. It's a war that will rage in the cosmos for thousands of years.

Mastery: "I'm Here Too, Guys..."

The thing to understand about mastery is that it (quite intentionally, I assume) marries the benefits of critical strike and haste, thereby carrying the downsides of neither. Like haste, it is predictable...it carries none of the randomness of critical strike. Like critical strike, it provides its throughput with no ill effects on your mana efficiency...it does not force you to expend more mana to utilize it, like haste does. This description of mastery is true for every healing class.

That is not to say that it is equally valuable for every healing class. Mastery sounds a bit like spellpower in terms of it having all the positives of throughput and none of the drawbacks, but there's a crucial difference. Spellpower passively powers up every heal you cast. Mastery only powers up spells based on certain conditions, and those conditions vary by class and spec. That can drastically effect its value, so there's not a lot more to say about mastery that can apply generically.

Stats Get Hotter When Disciplined

So obviously I think discipline priests are about the sexiest and best-designed healers ever to grace God's green MMO. However, I'm a little biased: I love beautiful things.

All that said,  here's a little objective evidence: every one of these stats is awesome for discipline priests. Sure, we may in certain situations want a bit more of this or that...but we don't hate any of the stats and they're all pretty great. The only itemization concerns we ever have is a general striving for balance, because we want everything. You'll rarely hear a discipline priest say "Yeah, I could really use that except it has critical strike" or "My tier pieces are terribly itemized for me" (though complaining about tier set bonuses? Gladly!).

So, discipline priests are in a good place. Intellect and spirit are obviously good for us (they're good for everyone, at least in this brief window of time where mana efficiency matters), we have a bunch of talents that activate from critical stike, it's always nice to be able to cast faster at need and our mastery boosts our many glittering shields (and any discipline priest who doesn't love bigger shields is a communist and a fascist at the same time. I don't think that's too harsh).

So, was this final section actually meant to be informative or simply a blatant advertisement for how awesome discipline priests are? Yes. After all, knowing that discipline priests are awesome is valuable information for everyone.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Go On, Blow Your Mana In An Orgy Of Heals

Pacing yourself is overrated. A common healer mistake, one that I am particularly prone to even now, is that mana must be carefully managed and paced so that it's parceled out evenly through the encounter. After all, you don't want to go out of mana, do you? Especially not in Clutch Time, when it's getting late and the clock is ticking down and the home team (that's your raid) is down by a few points?

The problem is that all damage really is created equal. Well, not precisely and I'll get to how it's not, but it's still a good generalized principle which I'll illustrate with some back-of-the-envelope math (I call it Casual Jerks theorycrafting).

Formulas Are Pro

This is your raid's effective health:

Health Pool(raid) + Mana Pool(healers) * HPM(healers) + Combat MP5 Regen(healers) * HPM(healers)

HPM = heals per mana point
Combat MP5 Regen = every source of mana regeneration combined and placed in a standardized "per 5 seconds" frame of reference 

(Bonus points to those who noticed I didn't reduce the equation to its simplest form. I chose not to just to make each element discrete: the literal health pools plus the healing done from the healers' mana pools plus the healing done from the mana the healers regenerate through the fight.)

There may be some slight alterations one could make to that (troll racial health regen for the win?), but that pretty much sums up all the health that the raid will have available to them for the entire encounter. We can view it as one large health pool that the raid draws from collectively. This is clearly not accurate in every way, as individuals do not share in the collective so losing a certain 180k health from that pool (say all the hit points of a particular tank) has a pretty major effect. But it works for the point I am about to make.

All of that health is what is available to you and, beyond making sure that everyone has at least 1 hp at all times, you just need to ensure that the boss health pool goes to 0 before that raid health pool goes to 0. Even if only 1 hp remains to the raid (maybe to an intrepid healer who dealt the coup de grace before being coup de graced herself), if the boss hit 0, you are the winners.

Your mana pool, as a healer, is one piece of that collective health pool and, with certain major caveats that I will detail in a moment, it doesn't matter when you use that mana pool, just so long as you do use it.

Let Me Repeat That With Pizazz

Let me put that another, more controversial way: it is better by far to go out of mana halfway through the fight (bearing in mind the caveats I am about to mention) than to wipe with any mana left in the tank. The reason for this is simple: your contribution to the raid's health pool is fixed for any single encounter. It is the amount of heals you can cast with your mana pool, factoring in the regen you experience during the fight. This and no more. Paced, not paced...it is virtually fixed (with yet another caveat, which is also coming in just a moment).

This means that whether you use those heals early, middle, late or carefully measured out over all those periods, your contribution is the same. Hypothetically, if you burned through your mana in the first minute of an eight minute fight, that means less healing for your other healers and they now have more mana for the remaining seven minutes.

More Fine Print Than A Predatory Bank Loan

Now before I get comments telling me what an irresponsible piece of advice that is, let me finally get to the caveats which are rather important.

All of the above only holds true as long as you are observing all of the following caveats:

Caveat No. 1: You are not overhealing. Well, duh. Any heal that is an overheal is wasting mana and reduces your fixed contribution to the Raid Effective Health. For shame.

Caveat No. 2: You are not causing other healers to overheal. Heal sniping (that is, rushing to cast an unnecessary quick heal to address damage that another healer has covered) is just as criminal as sniping in real life with guns. And if another healer overheals due to you, it's just as bad as you overhealing.

Caveat No. 3: Your zeal to heal during a certain portion of the fight is not leaving other healers at max mana. If you burn through your mana to such an extent that other healers aren't healing at all, and therefore sitting at mana cap, then they are wasting potential mana regen...which is part of their "fixed contribution" to raid health. Uh oh, that "fixed contribution" is looking less and less fixed. Didn't I have a caveat about that? Yes, it's coming soon.

All three of those conditions must be met for what I said above to be true, that it doesn't matter when you spend your mana and when you go out of mana. The moment any of those three aren't true, you're not doing it right and if you go out of mana, you've hurt your raid.

Fixed Contribution Caveat: Okay, so about that fixed contribution I kept mentioning. It's not really fixed, but I simplified it to make a point that I feel is valid. First of all, my claiming it fixed based on my cute little toy formula was based on ideal play: you are never overhealing and never wasting mana regen and you are exercising every cooldown to increase your mana regen optimally. People don't play perfectly, so that rather "unfixes" your contribution. Further, even if you played optimally, there's that pesky "HPM" variable in said formula. You can and always will adjust this on the fly and depending on how you adjust this (to balance with throughput aka heals per second), your contribution will be variable.

Okay, that was the caveat. The caveat essentially boiling down to "What I said before isn't really true." However, the overarching point is that there's a limited range to which you can change the raid's effective health pool based upon your stats and, whether we call it fixed or not, it doesn't matter when you use your portion of the raid's health pool, as long as the Basic Three Rules (given above) are met.

Okay, So What's Your Point?

So why am I mentioning this, in such a long-winded manner, at all? To say this: when in doubt, use mana. Don't be silly and spam your most mana inefficient spell from the start of combat until you run dry, but don't cancel a heal because you're unsure of whether you'll need that mana later. That damage must be healed...if not by you, then by one of your fellow healers. If you heal it, then a fellow healer doesn't and she will have more mana later which balances you not having that mana later. However, if you don't heal it and someone dies and the situation devolves and you wipe with 40% of your mana...well, my friend, you just paced yourself out of some shiny purple fancies.

It's tempting to try to use mana evenly over the course of the fight so that you run dry the moment the boss wheezes, falls over and says, "If it weren't for you meddlesome kids...!" before expiring. But since fights proceed in a non-linear manner and the exact time is not always the same, it's generally very hard to pace it out precisely.

From my experience (and we can file this in the "my experiences not necessarily typical" category), most wipes are not due to the healers running out of mana (when it comes to raids; heroic five-mans are another story when the healer is only just barely geared enough). Instead, most wipes (other than ones caused by failure to observe the fight mechanics) occur because the throughput at a certain moment was not sufficient between all the healers. No correctly handled raid mechanic leads to more damage than appropriately geared healers are capable of healing through. So, unless the mechanics were not handled correctly or people were not appropriately geared, these wipes are due to simply not healing enough: either not casting a heal when you could have or not casting a sufficiently strong one because you were conserving mana.

So the take-home, as far as I'm concerned is that it's better to err on the side of running out of mana too early rather than too late. It's better to challenge your mana pool than to play it cautiously. You must observe the three caveats laid out above, but as long as you have, heal away.

You may say I'm being a tad extremist about using mana with wild abandon, but there's a reason for that. I believe that healers are, by nature, overly cautious and it leads to less performance than they are capable of. This includes myself. I think it's worth harping on this, that a point of healing late in the encounter is not worth more than a point of healing early in the encounter. As long as your healing is not being wasted or causing another healer to waste resources, all healing is created equal. Therefore, so long as you are using all your mana and all your mana regen capability, it really doesn't matter where you use it.

Caveat About The Entire Post: None of this holds true for those rare encounters where the boss regularly reduces players to a percentage of their health or to a set amount of health. In this tier, that means Chimaeron and his little brother* Baron Ashbury. In those fights, obviously, there's plenty of chance to waste healing and therefore you do need to pace yourself. But that's one of those freak show gimmicks in which the laws of time and space don't hold true and you do what you must to survive.

*May not be lore-accurate