Every week, Raid Rx will help you quarterback your healers to victory! Your host is Matt Low, the grand poobah of World of Matticus and a founder of No Stock UI, a WoW blog for all things UI-, macro- and addon-related.

The other evening, I had a conversation with a healing priest. She expressed some slight concern over the gems she was using. Turns out she wasn't happy with the current setup and wanted to tinker with it a bit more until she hit the right balance of stats. She ended up asking me how I gemmed my priest. I have to confess that I predominantly stick to intellect. Right when I said that, I immediately warned her that it may not be the best thing for her to do. Different healers are wired separately. There are advantages and disadvantages for leaning towards different stats. Last thing I mentioned was that stats wasn't the only aspect of a healer that needed to be focused upon.

For whatever reason though, I kept replaying that conversation in my mind. When conversing with other healers in game or around the community, I notice that things like augments (gems and enchants) as well as glyphs are the most important things that healers are evaluated on. Applicants to a guild are scrutinized based on their choice of gear, gems and so forth.

I can't seem to help feeling that something isn't right here. What is it that really matters?

First, I don't want to give the wrong impression that it is acceptable for a healer to gem entirely for nothing but agility and get away with healing Lich King. There must be some care taken when augmenting your character, where the gems or enchants selected actually contribute to something beneficial. For healing, that becomes any combination of throughput (spellpower or crit), speed (haste) or regeneration (intellect or spirit). Again, I don't want to downplay the importance of stats. They are a necessity, but I want to shine a brighter spotlight on other aspects of healing.

You see, World of Warcraft is like a massive mathematical equation. If you plug in the right stats and balance, every class will reach the "perfect" combination where they have hit their peak. But there are a couple of additional variables that throw a wrench in the plan whereby it becomes difficult to be perfect on every fight.
  • Different bosses Each raid encounter is going to have a different set of obstacles and mechanics designed to thwart you and your group. Not even the most dedicated player can hope to get different combinations that will optimize them for every raid encounter. I don't think there are that many bag slots to pull it off, anyway.
  • Latency We all lag. Every once in a while, I'll see a healing spell go off, but it fails to land on a player. It becomes the equivalent of my unloading a full clip of bullets on a player in Counterstrike before his single shot takes me down. Sometimes the bullets just don't register, and we get robbed of a kill. It sucks, but there isn't anything we can really do other than make sure we're on a connection that is better than two cans and a string.
  • Human element Not every person is created equal. For instance, it is entirely possible that I could be a terrible player at first-person shooters. Player skill is another variable where either someone improves or there is no improvement. I've experienced mixed success when coaching other healers. Some of them seem to get it right away and go on to become fantastic players. Others just have a hard time grasping concepts or just aren't able to actually execute at all no matter how much effort is invested.
So this leads us back to the question of stats. Is all that scrutiny necessary? Why are we not as critical when it comes to things like cooldown management or player smarts?

I would guess two reasons:
  1. Stat tracking is much easier to eyeball. Numbers are fairly straightforward and easy to understand. If item B has more stats than item A, then I obviously will gain some kind of benefit. The more I have of some stat, the better off I will be.
  2. Healing can be too dynamic. It can be challenging to separate great healers from average healers. Even though you might ace a raid boss on the first try, how do you know if certain healers aren't pulling their weight? How do you know if a death is the cause of a healer or the fault of the rogue? (Note: It is always the fault of a rogue, even if there aren't any). It takes time and repetition to properly evaluate it. I've been playing the game for over four years. It took me that long to develop a system of understanding for gauging healers, and I've done nothing else but heal.
When you think about it, how many attempts can you think of where your wipes were due to a specific player's not having enough regeneration or muscle to finish off the last percentage of a boss? To be fair, I did suffer a 20k wipe to Lord Marrowgar on heroic mode last week. No one had a fish feast. We probably would have taken him down then if we had had that fish feast. It took another hour of wipes and my getting lit up by assorted fires before he was put down for good. But seriously, in most cases, a raid isn't going to live or die because of 100 spellpower or 50 intellect. The differences are simply too small to make any kind of meaningful impact. It always boils down to people's standing in fire or taking careless deaths.

Take a step back and start considering your healing from an overall perspective. In addition to gearing, be just as critical about how healing is actually done. Stop overly stressing about the numbers and start working on the skill elements. Start cycling the cooldowns. There still appears to be a reluctance by healers to use cooldowns until it is absolutely necessary (which almost feels too late). Really make an effort to understand and interpret the healing side of combat logs, but remember that context is just as important. Work on the actions per minute and cut down on any idling time. I could not agree with Penance Priest any more: Always. Be. Casting.

Want some more advice for working with the healers in your guild? Raid Rx has you covered with all there is to know! Need raid or guild healing advice? Email me at matticus@wow.com or follow me on twitter and you could see a future post addressing your question. Looking for less healer-centric raiding advice? Take a look at our raiding column, Ready Check.

This article was originally published on WoW Insider.

The Art of War(craft): Paradigm shift