I first got a lesson on how to read healing meters while raiding Serpentshrine Cavern. One of our healers, an otherwise very competent holy priest, consistently ran OOM early on Morogrim Tidewalker and was next to useless during the final phase of the fight. The head of the heal team took an hour to look over the logs, and decided to give me a lesson on how to read them while doing so. It quickly became apparent that the priest was unwittingly covering for a resto shaman, who not only wasn't pulling his weight, but also seemed to take an unusual amount of damage.
"Why aren't you doing anything during the add phases?" asked the head, a paladin.
"Because our off-tank can't hold aggro for s$#t and I'm tired of dying to murlocs."
This was actually true. Our head healer pondered for a moment. "Can't you just Chain Heal after he's already gotten all the murlocs?"
"No, I die that way too. And we have to save BoP for the clothies who have to AOE the murlocs." Also true.
Our heal team gets curious, the heal lead gets furious, and Allison dies to a rogue
So the head healer went to our raid leader and explained the situation, which didn't really get us anywhere. The off-tank was a new warrior who was genuinely trying his best, but Thunder Clap hit three mobs, and Cleave hit all of two. This was problematic given the 12 murlocs that Morogrim periodically summoned.
"We can't get rid of this guy," said our raid leader. "I can't find a warrior tank for love or money on this server and we're still looking for a decent pally tank too. We'll be on Kael soon enough, and then what are we going to do?"
"Could we switch tanks? Put the warrior on Morogrim and Allie on the murlocs?"
"Christ, no," I said. "Swipe is worse than Thunder Clap. Aren't you supposed to run Righteous Fury or something and heal the casters to keep the murlocs off them?"
"We tried that. Your gear sucks and when I stop healing you, you die." Also true!
"Oh," I said.
The situation finally resolved when:
- I stomped off to arena to pick up two upgrades, and --
- The head healer got tired of the rabbit hole -- priest to shaman to warrior to me and then back to him -- and started running Righteous Fury.
I think we can all agree that the obvious lesson here is, never look at the meters. It just results in a parade of suck that ends with you faceplanted in Nagrand Arena with a rogue dancing on your corpse.
No! What I mean to say is, you can read the meters, but it isn't necessarily apparent what's really going on until you can place the numbers in context. That's the moral.
So why tell this story?
I feel obligated to begin any examination of healing numbers with a caveat. Healing is a tricky thing. The team's ability to keep the raid alive is tied up in many things -- familiarity with the encounter, the skill of the players, timing, latency, how well abilities interact with boss mechanics, and assignments -- that untangling what's actually going on is best accomplished over several hours at World of Logs with a big, stiff drink.
Pour yourselves that drink, folks -- or several. We looked at how healers were doing back in November, and it's time to see how things panned out over the following months. As I've said previously, this column is written from a druid player's point of view, so I apologize for my general inability to provide more meaningful detail for other healers.
So what happened during patch 5.1?
Looking at the data that's reached World of Logs and Raidbots from the cusp of patch 5.1 through the recent release of patch 5.2, there are a few obvious trends:
- Monks, druids, and holy priests have been extremely close to each other in 10-mans.
- That balance still isn't as good in 25-mans.
- Discipline priests and paladins have fared best overall.
- Something weird's going on with shaman.
- Overall performance runs from discipline priest/holy paladin, mistweaver monk, holy priest, restoration druid, to restoration shaman.
Holy priests may be also pulling ahead in patch 5.2 content (at least, that's what the trends imply), but it's too early to tell. I'm uncomfortable about making long-term predictions on stuff that the average raider is pretty far from having on farm status.
25-man balance is more finicky. Druids still have scaling issues. 10-mans have always been more balanced healing-wise than 25-mans. We wondered about this back in November -- principally, whether it has something to do with spells like Wild Growth having less coverage in 25-mans, while spells like Holy Radiance can still theoretically heal 100% of the raid in both contexts -- but there are probably more reasons for it than that. Figuring out a solution to this, if it's a genuine problem at all, is above my pay grade.
Having said that, druid performance quickly falls to the bottom (or close to it) of the pack in 25-man content whether you're looking at normal or heroic, and that's worrisome for a spec that's otherwise turning out at least average performance in 10-man.
However, druids got buffed in patch 5.2, with lower Rejuvenation costs, Naturalist, and a nice buff to our mushrooms. I do think there's something to the criticisms being made of Wild Mushrooms and how deploying them is a bigger hassle than it needs to be, which might be among the reasons that the leap to 25-man isn't as fluid as we'd like. I adore the spell from both a "fun" and conceptual level, but it's much less user-friendly than, say, Healing Rain. Not that shaman are really the people to point to right now as an example of who's got it better ...
The reduction to mana costs for Rejuvenation is interesting, but sort of dumps us back at the age-old "thermostat" problem of whether tweaking one spell back and forth in order to balance the spec could mean we're over-reliant on it. And it's probably way too early to tell how Soul of the Forest changes are going to impact the general population. I never thought I'd live to see the day where our signature ability is actually worse than one that's, well, kinda boring.
Discipline priests and paladins have fared best overall. Not surprisingly, these are the two "shield" healers, so it might be more accurate to say that the presence of these two healers in a raid group necessarily affects the numbers that other healers can put out. You can't heal damage that other people don't take.
Something weird's going on with shaman. The beginning of a patch, with raids tackling content with which they're not familiar, should be prime time for resto shaman. They've got an array of raiders in front of them taking damage that they'll soon learn to avoid or negate, and you'd think their mastery, Deep Healing, would kick in all over the place. That's not happening.
I'm actually starting to wonder about the extent to which "smart heals" -- i.e., the heals that automatically prioritize lower-health players -- and preemptive shielding are having an impact on resto shaman output. Their mastery is oriented entirely around healing more on lower-health players, but shields tend to prevent players from getting all that low in the first place, and then smart heals snipe the damage without the healer in question having to put any serious thought into it. Having a stat whose usefulness is determined by other players can't be a good thing for balance concerns.
EDIT: Arielle on Twitter just mentioned something else that I hadn't thought of, which is the array of self-healing tools for tanks making its own contribution to shaman mastery problems. So not only do we have "bubble" healers preventing a lot of damage in the first place and "smart heals" automatically sniping players who get low, but tanks will turn to self-healing tools like Frenzied Regeneration over Savage Defense if health is a concern. And, as Juvenate points out, a tier full of heavy movement fights probably isn't helping either.