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Raid Rx: A history of organizational healing

Matt Low

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.

Organizing healing continues to be one of the many intriguing challenges that raiding groups face today. In some cases, there are pre-set players assigned to do specific things. Sometimes they are even worked out in advance on a forum or a white board. In looser groups or pickup groups, there isn't the luxury of planning healing in advance and the organizers have to go with their gut feeling and "stereotype" classes in order to figure out assignments. Examples, any holy paladins are told to heal a tank. Restoration shamans are told to heal a specific group and holy priests are told to heal another group.

It wasn't always entirely like that. This week, I want to take you back in time to the era of vanilla raid healing, through the Burning Crusade and to now. I'm also going to include my thoughts as to what Cataclysm might be like.

Healing during vanilla raids

Instances such as:
  • Molten Core
  • Blackwing Lair
  • Zul'Gurub
  • Ahn'Qiraj
  • Naxxramas
If I could describe what it was like to organize healing during vanilla in one word, it would simply be this: Nightmarish.

During the early years, raid instances were designed to hold a maximum of 40 players. Right now, most guilds take somewhere between 5-7 healers for Wrath instances. I remember raiding in Molten Core, we took no less than 10-12. The mechanics of healing at the time were far different. For example, only one Renew could be up on a specific player. They could not be stacked by multiple priests. A separate healing channel was a requirement to sort out assignments. It was a huge mess of figuring out who was standing with what group, which tanks were in that group, and which healers were best suited to do that.

In Blackwing Lair, Razorgore involved 2 healers on either end of the room (that's 4 used) and an additional 4 more spread out at the various corners with extra healers on hand who would float around. It wasn't really a cohesive 40 man unit that was fighting. It felt like 6 individual 5 man groups tanking and destroying the trash that was coming in while hunters and warriors would run around and give a teaching clinic on kiting. It was extremely difficult to pinpoint who the weakest link was especially with so many healers. Some healers would do well in one attempt only to appear non-existent the next. Tools like Recount and World of Logs weren't devised or available. The only mandatory addons were KLH threat meter and CT Raid (and the classic version of Decursive which I selfishly do miss).

Actual healer rotations were set up. Yes, healer rotations, not healing rotations. I'm not referring to spell sequences for healers. I mean that 1 group of healers would stop healing to regain mana at a certain point while another group would jump in for them. This was especially true on Chrommagus were 30 minute kills were not uncommon. I didn't have Hymn of Hope or Shadowfiend. All I could rely on were flasks and hitting chain mana potions.

While I never personally organized healing in my guild at the time, I was there to witness the chaos of it all. I was amazed that my healing lead (a paladin at the time) still managed to retain his sanity. He was excellent at it though. Always seemed to anticipate turbulence before it actually hit. It was as if he possessed the gift of predicting the future. He'd know which healer would run out of mana or die and immediately direct another healer to take over. I couldn't help but wonder if he was an air traffic controller.

However, the actual healing process was different. With full access to ranks and spellpower providing full benefits with no penalties to all of our healing spells, it meant that even a rank 3 Flash Heal could top up a tank in a couple of seconds. In fact, this was the norm. Most healers relied on low rank spells in order to maintain their mana efficiency. Sure we kept a max rank heal around for emergency situations, but we seldom ever used them. Why use a max rank when a lower one did the same job for less mana, right? Or we could use a low cast, but longer Greater Heal instead of a slightly more expensive, but faster Flash Heal. It we could spare the extra second, we'd use the slower one. If we couldn't, then we'd use the faster one. This allowed us to micromanage our mana with ruthless efficiency. The emphasis wasn't on topping players up. It was to keep them alive long enough with minimal mana spent.

I think that this might be the direction we'll be going in Cataclysm.

Healing during Burning Crusade

Instances such as:
  • Gruul's Lair
  • Magtheridon
  • Tempest Keep
  • Serpentshrine Cavern
  • Black Temple
  • Mount Hyjal
  • Sunwell Plateau
During the transition from vanilla to expansion, guild rosters had to essentially cut their forces in half. After all, raids were down to 25-man instead of 40-man. Healing rosters varied in size from 5 to 8. It became easier to logistically set up healing assignments. There was increased emphasis on cross healing with other healers on the same target instead of having 1 or 2 healers on a dedicated tank. 2 tanks could be kept alive with 3 healers with one on each and the third switching between the two as necessary. The skills and capabilities of healers became further magnified. Players who were thought as excellent merely became mediocre without other healers to duck behind.

Spells had changed. Now it was possible to stack more than one Renew on a single player. It actually took me a while before I came to that conclusion. I had grown accustomed to seeing my Renews getting overridden in the past or just failing to apply. Downranking was still in the game so my bars became full of 4 ranks of Flash Heal or 3 ranks of Greater Heal.

Raid encounters grew increasingly technical and every phase of a fight had to be planned out in advance. I remember doing suicidal wipes in Serpentshrine Cavern just to make sure that on our real attempts, our players were in the right positions. As the healing lead in the guild, I slowly created a routine on progression fights: Determine what the gimmicks were, who needed the heals the most, and use the healers I had accordingly. If it worked, great. If it didn't, it was back to the drawing board. In some cases, there were no win situations against bosses. I cursed every time my main tank got parry hasted when we were working on Archimonde. It resulted in an instant death because he died way too fast for anyone to react.

Raid encounters became even more stressing on healers. You'd go into Eredar Twins with 8 healers (half of which would be the resto shaman alts of your guild members) before cutting the healer count down to 5 for Mu'ru. There was a lack of healing consistency throughout this expansion. Some encounters called for a lot more than others. It didn't feel quite as balanced then as it is today.

Read on for more from Wrath and what the future of healing could be like.

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