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Raid Rx: Raid healing rotations and fun-ness

Matt Low

Every week, Raid Rx will help you quarterback your healers to victory! Your host is Matt Low, the grand pooh-bah of World of Matticus and a founder of No Stock UI, a WoW blog for all things UI-, macro- and addon-related. If you're looking for more healing advice, check out the Plus Heal community.

Do you find healing fun? Are healing "rotations" going to be needed?

I mean, obviously you find healing fun if you've been playing a healer for a while. You enjoy the challenges, the reflexive nature of the role, and the potential adrenaline rush. Hopefully, you're not being forced to play a healer because your group doesn't have enough others to do it. I know I curse myself when I screw up and let one of my players die. It's something I take seriously because I enjoy healing.

As we're all aware, the switch to Cataclysm will yield a shift in healing philosophy and execution. I know some players have expressed either reluctance or caution because of fears that this new style of healing will not be fun in comparison to current or older models of healing.

If I had to summarize healing styles in each major expansion, it would go something like this:

  • Classic More talking than actual healing. On Chrommagus, for example, there was a point in time when 40 minutes were spent planning out which healer was standing where, regenerating when and healing who. Then 20 minutes were spent on the actual kill. (Note: OK, it may only have felt that long).
  • The Burning Crusade Multiple ranks of different spells. Champion healers defined by ability to maintain raid integrity while using their mana pool at a reasonable rate. More time spent farming herbs for mana potions than actual raiding.
  • Wrath of the Lich King Healers with the best reflexes won. Damage came in fast and hard. Any healer who faltered could potentially compromise the raid. In some cases, you had two global cooldowns or less during which to keep the tank alive. Some players would often get 1- or 2-shot for reasons beyond their control.
Believe it or not, different players find the various healing models fun. Some players like the tactical and macro-like aspect of classic. Others embrace the slightly quicker pace and increased options found in The Burning Crusade. The rest bought into the mouse-clenching, fast pace of Wrath.

GMs shouldn't be surprised to see healers who are not happy with the new healing model stop playing. By the reverse token, there might be some new players who will love the new healing model and will thrive on it. The ultimate end goal is to make healing as fun as possible for as many different players. If there is a wider appeal, then there are bound to be more healers!

My idea of fun

I'm not saying this is right or representative, but I find various elements from the different styles appealing.

I liked the pace of healing in classic WoW. I think the rate of damage was about right in some areas. We had time to think two or three spells ahead and had the ability to recover in case we made one wrong decision. But I suppose having a cushion of 40 players wasn't such a bad thing at the time. Maybe 11 healers was overkill at the time.

In The Burning Crusade, it was mostly the encounters that got to me. Kil'Jaden and Illidan are both up there in terms of "best healing fights of all time." I don't know if that's due to the complexity and multiple phases of the encounters or because of the healing style, with the extra spells and downranking. Now, don't get me wrong! Downranking spells was present before, but it became a little more important with reduced raid sizes. Smaller raids meant you had to bring fewer players (and conversely, healers), which further meant that every player became that much more valuable. With 40 players, you could get away with a full group dying and still taking down a boss. Encounters became increasingly challenging with fewer players.

Downranking provided a solution to mana constraints, because we could select the strength of the heal and adjust our mana usage. If our target had a health deficit of 25 percent, no problem! We used a smaller heal. If our target had a 75 percent health deficit, we used a larger one. If we risked it, we could use a slower one, assuming that player wasn't going to die any time soon.

Healing rotations

Are we going to see the implementation of a healing rotation during raids? Is this going to be "fun" for healers?

The idea of a healing "rotation" isn't unheard of. That trend came from DPS players, who would use a precise sequence of spells in order to maximize DPS. Unfortunately, that doesn't really translate well for healing. There isn't an equivalent; you can't compare the two. DPSing is typically focused on one boss (and maybe other, additional mobs). When you're healing, you have 25 targets, and there is a cap at which extra healing doesn't simply won't matter. The overheal ends up being wasted.

I mean, have you heard of someone over-DPSing?

I really don't foresee there being some kind of optimal healing rotation, because healing is dependent on the encounter (and to an extent, the class). So far, I've been able to get away without having to rely on DPS spells. The way I see it, there is simply too much stuff happening for me to spare even one global cooldown. That could be a product of gear or encounter, though.

Now, here is the flip side of the argument. Tanks at level 85 will approach 100k health. Everyone else will have around 80k and up. This means in a party environment, there is always going to be someone who will need a heal. It could be one player, or it could be the whole party. There needs to be enough healing done so that players don't die. Heh, sometimes I feel that 50 percent health is the new 100 percent health. Once you get to that point on a player, move on to someone else and let whatever HoTs or AoE healing do the rest.

Another argument that could be made is that some of the mana-restoring or cost-reducing talents that come from DPSing will be needed.

Another take on healing rotations

I've spoken to Joe, our resident resto shaman columnist, and he disagrees about the no-rotation idea. When he is healing on the PTR, by default, he casts spells in a manner such as this:
Healing Wave > Healing Wave > Earth Shock > Healing Wave > Healing Wave > Lightning Bolt
This is largely due to a combination of talents like Telluric Currents and Focused Insight. He might've done a better job adapting to the new healing game than I have. Personally, I'm afraid of not having enough mental bandwidth to keep the raid alive and hitting enemies with DPS spells. I think Joe has the right idea, though.

Either way, I'm going to do my best to master the new healing game, whatever it may be, and you can count on me to pass on my stories of success (and failures)!

Need advice on working with the healers in your guild? Raid Rx has you covered. Send your questions about raid healing to For less healer-centric raiding advice, visit Ready Check, and don't miss our strategy guides to Icecrown Citadel and Halion/the Ruby Sanctum.

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