Before the age of videos and dedicated boss pages, boss kill strategy was extremely elusive. We're talking back during the vanilla era of Warcraft. The time it took for guilds to crush bosses took weeks (sometimes months). The top-end 40-player raiding guilds all consisted of the best that the game had to offer. Guilds below them had a player consistency involving 10 really good players, 25 mediocre ones, and five AFK raiders.
How did those players learn? Who did they get their strat videos from? With no Encounter Journal, everything was done from a trial-and-error standpoint. The general plan for healers in these pioneer raid teams? Heal all the things. Eight to 12 healers were used (at least, when I did them) for learning. It was a race to see if we could stay alive long enough to destroy raid bosses. Some of the bosses in Blackwing Lair took 20-30 minutes.
Fast forward years later, and now we have all these different tools at our disposal. There are videos and the attached commentary that walks players through what happens on select stages of an encounter. Blizzard itself has provided a database of abilities within the game. Walk-throughs are littered across the internet on major information sites, blogs, and forums. Rarely is there ever a unique strategy to a boss, because we watch the pros undergo various attempts with different approaches. Sometimes they work; sometimes they don't. Eventually, they settle on a method that delivers constant kills. That information gets released and filtered down to the rest of us, which we then adapt ourselves.
Originality isn't exactly common anymore.
On the internet, guilds will imitate and copy the strategy approaches of other guilds so that they can experience the joy of killing a boss. It's understandable, and it is definitely expected. This isn't exactly a sport like football where foul play is considered when a team is videotaping the signals and plays of rival teams. We're much more of an open community now compared to before.
Generally, there is one main accepted strategy and two or three other suboptimal but optional methods that do work. Maybe they don't work as well, or they require a specific class or skill to be really considered viable.
Guilds have a much smaller pool of healers to work with, compared to DPS. Strategy changes from the healing side have to be adapted. Chances are, your guild may not have the exact same healing composition as other guilds that successfully killed the same boss.
This is where leaders have to keep an open mind. Unless you want to go out and acquire the specific classes that the successful guilds have, some changes will need to be made to compensate for the lack of certain spells or to account for minor changes.
What can we as healers do to adjust? Easy! We have several options at our disposal.
Scale the DPS
This means cutting back on DPS players and increasing the number of healers or going the other way by lowering the healer count with heavy reliance on extreme DPS. Perhaps raid DPS isn't high enough, and the healers aren't able to keep players alive. Maybe there's an enrage timer involved that places a ceiling on the amount of time you have to work with. I'd say the standard healer count for 25-player normal mode encounters is six. In 10-player raid teams, three is a good number.
That doesn't mean you can't take seven or even eight healers into raids. I know in 10-man, we once took in four healers for Al'Akir just give players a chance to stand in bad stuff more to increase their DPS. Not exactly an optimal strategy, but it did allow them to worry less about themselves and more on unloading as much as they could on bosses.
More or fewer healers
There is a finite amount of damage that your raid needs to deal with. Some of it is avoidable, and some of it isn't. You can have specific healers assigned to targets differently. Maybe a guild likes to use a paladin and a priest on a tank for the extra security. But your guild may not have those two classes, so you decide to use a shaman instead with a raid-healing druid layering HOT spells repeatedly. While it isn't exactly two dedicated healers on the tank, there is enough healing applied that the tank won't take lethal damage and suffer for it.
Cooldown stacking and spell usage
I know at an individual player level, I've adjusted my talents a few times for that slight edge. As a priest, I'd invest points to lower my Shadowfiend cooldown. This gives me the potential to use it as often as three times on a single encounter instead of only two usages. Having all that extra mana at my fingertips means I can throw many more spells out and sustain the raid.
For cooldowns and stacking, it isn't a bad idea to swap out a few players for players with the ability to mitigate incoming damage to some degree. Sometimes that extra survivability is enough to put a raid group over the top and get those new progression bosses down.
Don't be afraid to make small and subtle adjustments to your healing strategy. There isn't a right answer. There are multiple right answers. The trick is figuring out how and what is needed to make that happen.
Need advice on working with the healers in your guild? Raid Rx has you covered. Send your questions about raid healing to firstname.lastname@example.org. For less healer-centric raiding advice, visit Ready Check for advanced tactics and advice for the endgame raider.