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Spiritual Guidance: Survivability versus DPS


Every Wednesday (you know, ideally Wednesday, when he's not slacking off), Fox Van Allen grabs hold of Spiritual Guidance from her holiness Dawn Moore and makes everything just a little darker than usual. Don't worry, he usually remembers to unlock the closet and let her out when he's done. Usually.

I wanted to take a brief break from the Spiritual Guidance series on raiding Icecrown Citadel (part 1; part 2) to answer an e-mail I got in response to it, because there's a really important lesson to be learned. Or a chance to complain about stuff. I'm pretty good at that.

Why is "Stay Alive" in the strats? Are there strats where I should die?
It's actually a good question. (The first part, not the second part -- we already know that only gnomes should be sacrificed on Saurfang post fix, and only then for the good luck the act brings.) Why go out of my way to state the obvious -- that your key mission is to stay alive?

Simply put: Because staying alive is just not a priority for way too many DPS players. (I'd go as far as to say that way too many of you stink at it.) And the way some raid leaders treat their DPS, it's not even surprising that this is the case.

The goal of the Spiritual Guidance column -- at least, my wonderful shadowy side of it -- is to help make you better players. Half of you are probably rolling your eyes at the concept here. We all know that we need to stay alive, and we all make at least a C-minus effort to play that way. That's good enough, right?

I have a little bit of homework for all my loyal shadow priests out there. Today, instead of doing your daily heroic in shadow spec, go in and try your hand at healing. We're paying that hybrid tax, so we may as well get some benefit out of it. If you're not dual specced, go pay the trainer the few gold to reset your tree and give yourself a healing build. If you've got at least a little bit of raid experience, you can easily heal a heroic even in shadow gear. If you're not quite at raid level, queue up for a non-heroic instance to make things easier on yourself.

The point of this exercise is simple: To gain the perspective of the raid healer. When running through the heroic, you should ideally only have to be healing one person, the tank. Sure, there are some fights where other players will suffer unavoidable environmental damage (the Brann event in Halls of Stone comes immediately to mind), but this exercise in healing should otherwise be mindlessly simple. Right?

Hesitant though I am to ruin the surprise for any of you, but I don't you'd be shocked to learn that you'll be bouncing heals off at least one of those three DPSers time after time. And often, it'll be because they're barely even putting in a C-minus effort to stay alive.

"Hey, I know I'm standing in fire, but this spell is almost done casting."

"wAT kinda nub priest cant' heal me thru wirlwinds?"

"lol, bloodbeast is attacking me but moving hurts my DPS. MOAR HEALS PLZ"

"Sure I stole aggro but that's why we have healers, AMIRITE?"

Remember how many times you have to take your focus off the tank to heal your DPS players through their stupid mistakes. Now think of a raid situation, where you'd have to heal a good 18 DPS players through their stupid mistakes. Paying attention to staying alive should always be your top priority over dealing damage, because healers aren't gods.

The problem with that logic, sadly, is that while raid leaders agree with it, many only pay it lip service. How many raids are still thrown together on the basis of what players can do 10,000 DPS on a stand-still-and-hack-away fight? (The fact that they jump right into Shock Vortexes on Blood Princes? Surprisingly, not a deal breaker!)

I joined a new raiding team not too long ago, and we've made some terrific progress so far in our 25. We had a few hangups on Professor Putricide and the Blood-Queen, but we worked through them. We're now on Sindragosa.

Seeking a way to motivate the team, push us past our stumbling blocks, and move us towards our end goal of downing The Lich King, the raid leader did something undeniably common. He posted a gear score listing of all the players, followed by a recount DPS listing of all the players. The message was simple and clear: You all need to DPS more.

Aside from the hurt feelings, complaints, and ultra-defensive replies the message generated, it only served the purpose to putting players in the wrong frame of mind. DPS players already understand that our worth is measured in what kind of numbers we're putting out. But those costly wipes suffered in progression raiding are seldom, if ever, caused by a player doing 7200 DPS instead of 7400. Not that it can't happen -- a lot of guilds are still working on gearing up for Festergut -- it's just that it usually doesn't.

If a wipe happens that can be attributed to DPS, it's usually because someone in the raid -- often multiple someones -- put in that C-minus effort to survive because they're putting in an A-plus effort to cause damage. They take needless damage and die needless deaths. They eat up a battle res. They eat up healers' attention.

Maximizing your damage calls for taking risks. The sooner you AoE a mob, the more damage on them will be yours, boosting your DPS number (and aggro). Standing in Lady Deathwhisper's Death and Decay until your Mind Blast finishes casting gives you better numbers than if you interrupt casting to move. Switching from the Volatile Ooze to refresh Shadow Word: Pain on Professor Putricide is a net DPS increase. Single targeting Sindragosa while your raid members are trapped in ice blocks or pushing the very limits of the Instability debuff will give you better numbers. And heck, why pay attention to who you're supposed to bite next during your Blood-Queen Lana'thel encounter if you can still rock out those double-damage sized numbers?

In a lot of cases, maxing out your DPS is a selfish endeavor that helps you more than your raid. You're doing more DPS at the expense of your own and others' survivability. Raw DPS numbers seldom tell the tale -- you can pat yourself on the back all you'd like for rocking 12000 DPS on The Lich King, but if you're dying one minute into the fight, you were essentially useless during the encounter.

That sounds a little too obvious, but don't think there aren't raid leaders out there who won't favor a mage who does 9000 DPS (and dies early 20% of the time) over a shadow priest who does 8000 DPS (and never dies early). Looking at that scoreboard is too tempting. Shape up or ship out, kids -- we've got content to clear.

We're not talking about booting that moonkin who is only pulling 2500DPS on a fight where everyone else is pulling double or better (seriously dude, you do need to shape up), we're talking about pressuring people to wring 2% more DPS out of what they're currently doing. In the grand scheme of things, the numerical value of your DPS shouldn't matter more than the question of whether the things you're targeting are dying. Does it matter if you can do 10000 DPS on Lord Marrowgar? 25000 DPS on trash?

Not saying it's not cool if you can see giant numbers. But consider that a solid number of successful Valithria Dreamwalker encounters see DPS putting in a mere 4k DPS or less.

We shadow priests have quite the gift -- our spec is near unparalleled in our ability to last through even stupid damage. Unfortunately, that can lead to us getting pretty lax when it comes to putting in effort to avoid damage. I'll admit that I've messed up more than a few times because I was too focused on my DPS, and not nearly focused enough on, say, not being directly in front of Sindragosa's ugly maw. We can't let laziness get the best of us, especially when we have no control over how well -- or poorly -- the other 4, 9, or 24 people in our groups are playing.

Sure, we can and do phone it in on heroics now and then -- your modern day shadow priest in ICC gear is so overpowered that the special mechanics of Wrath heroics are entirely trivialized. (When's the last time you saw anyone run out for Loken's Lightning Nova? Do people even remember that's supposed to be a part of the fight?) But raid content -- especially new raid content -- is different. These mechanics are key to the fight, and your first priority is always to master those mechanics so you can stay alive. DPS comes second every time.

Good raid leaders put DPS numbers aside and focus on what's really important. First, did the boss die? Second, who died and when? Third, who took damage to avoidable sources, like Malleable Goo? Fourth, who did the most cumulative damage? The question of who did that damage the quickest comes in somewhere near the bottom of my mental list of importance. Getting ranked on World of Logs is awesome, but pissing off 24 other people to do it isn't.

So, what's a raid leader -- and the shadow priest members of the team -- to do if the answer isn't to cry out for "MOAR DPS?" Prioritize learning fight mechanics and staying alive. An interesting suggestion I've heard is to make a few DPS-free attempts on each new boss. That is, learn the positioning and mechanics of each fight free of the distraction of causing damage. A solid learning attempt pushes you far closer to the finish line than another 100 points of DPS ever will.

At the very least, understand that numbers aren't everything. De-emphasize the rate at which damage is done unless close calls with an enrage timer are an issue. Measuring e-peens is counterproductive to a team effort. Understand what your team members bring to the raid besides causing damage. (Have I mentioned that shadow priests are really easy on healers? Load up, raid leaders!) Read between the lines of your logs to see who's putting in effort in all areas -- your best DPSer may be one of your worst team players.

Bottom line, here: Supercharged DPS matters, but only if your teamwork and play style is bad enough that it needs to be supercharged in the first place. What problems are trying to be avoided that higher DPS will solve? When it comes down to it, it's those problems that need to be addressed, not the raw DPS numbers.

We'll pick back up with our Icecrown Guide soon, but in the mean time, be kind to your healers and just learn how to stay alive. (And yeah, dude who died four times in my heroic Culling of Stratholme last night, I'm talking to you. You need some work.)

Hunger for more information about bending the light to your advantage? More interested in watching health bars go down than watching them bounce back up? Think it's neat to dissolve into a ball of pure shadow every few minutes? The darker, shadowy side of Spiritual Guidance has you covered.

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