I make no secret of it, and have, in fact, talked about the topic in multiple posts, in comments on other bloggers’ sites and even in the whopping two podcasts I’ve participated in—I am a meter junkie. Ever since the early days of BC, when I raided as a dps and fought tooth and nail to distinguish myself from a mage roster of 5, I have been very interested in understanding how meters can be “won”.
It’s an interest that stuck with me when I main-switched to my Resto Shaman, and a curiosity that has endured over the course of 3 expansions (and likely more to come). But it’s something more substantial than epeen that’s motivating me to write this post today—it’s my belief that the path to becoming a great healer starts with understanding how to get the absolute most out of your character and class. And there’s no better way to do that than to become a master of winning healing meters, and there’s no better time to start than the present.
(Yes, I’m well aware this post might encourage more than a few people to turn their noses up in disgust; how to win healing meters has long been a taboo topic. But you know what? It’s time someone talked about it).
The goal of this post is really quite simple—to give you ideas on how to improve. The strategies that I use to heal on Vixsin also happen to be those that I use when I step into DS raids on my other characters. I’m up to 4 separate runs a week now, one on each of my healers, all with separate raid teams. And yes, it’s always my goal, no matter the group I’m with or the toon I’m on, to dominate healing meters. Sometimes I’m successful, and other times, I’m not, but with each encounter I’m playing to win. So, without further ado, let’s get into those tips, (and give those of you with pitchforks already in hand some fuel for the fire).
Domination, through Practical Changes
Just like so much of the professional work I do is associated with the identification and application of “best practices”, so too do my healing efforts focus on identifying practices are neither new nor innovative, but rather are fundamental practices of top healers. The tips in this section are focused on those practical and fundamental opportunities that every healer has to maximize his contribution.
One of the core traits of great DPSers is the ability to keep up those “management tasks” amid everything else that’s going on during an encounter. So, it should come as no surprise the one of the ways to max your healing throughput is to aim for maximum uptime on core abilities. Uptime is an easy route to greater throughput, not only because it adds to your HPS but also because management tasks are so named because they tie to the throughput of your other spells and abilities.
Practical Examples: For Resto Shaman this means Earth Shield, Water Shield, Riptide, Tidal Waves, and Healing Stream Totem—all should have a 100% goal for uptime. Similarly, Druids should be looking for high uptime on Harmony and Lifebloom; Paladins should pay attention to Judgments of the Pure and Conviction; and Disc priests should be looking to maximize Rapture procs.
2. CD usage – Frequency
It naturally follows that the second important foundation of maximum HPS is maximum cooldown usage. For some healers, this is a particularly difficult mindset to adopt, because the concern is that if you use a CD according to a prescribed schedule, you won’t have it available for when the stuff really hits the fan. But, the fact of the matter is that saving your CD’s for potential “oh shit” moments, decreases your overall HPS. Oftentimes, there’s really no reason at all to save your CDs as the particularly heinous moments of an encounter are typically identifiable in the first couple of pulls. Which means that once you pinpoint when the critical healing periods occur, you can start maxxing your CDs around that schedule, and stop hurting your HPS waiting for critical healing moments that: a) never come, or b) you could have predicted.
Practical Examples: Remember, all of the following count as CDs that you should be using to their maximum contribution each and every fight:
- Raid CDs: Tranq, Divine Hymn, Aura Mastery, Barrier, Spirit Link Totem, Mana Tide, Hymn of Hope, Hands, PW: Barrier
- Personal CDs: Avenging Wrath, Power Infusion, Nature’s Swiftness, Spiritwalkers, Divine Favor, Innervate, Divine Plea, Shadowfiend, Archangel, Nature’s Grace, Tree of Life, Desperate Prayer
- Survival: Barkskin, Divine Protection/Shield, Pain Sup, Stoneclaw
- Racials: Berserking, Blood Furry, Gift of the Narruu, Arcane Torrent
- Professions: Synapse Springs, Lifeblood, Alchemy potions
- Trinkets: Jaws, Fiery Quintessence, etc.
And, beware the trap of thinking that you can only have 2 uses of a 3-min CD in a 7-minute encounter—if you get your first use in before the 1-minute mark, your max number of uses in a 7-minute encounter is 3. Likewise, even a 9-minute encounter can include 2 Hymns of Hope, not just 1.
3. CD Usage – Timing
The one caveat to the CD Frequency rule, as it applies to HPS, is that timing really matters. Like a DPS, you could conceivably hit your Tranquility or your Wings right off the pull, but if the damage isn’t there to heal, then your CD won’t have nearly the effect it could. So, the question to someone seeking to up his HPS becomes: when is the earliest opportunity to use the CD while also enabling it to be substantially effective?
If your guild actively and regularly logs their encounters to WoL, you can see the best time you use your CDs by looking at the “Damage Taken” page. The spikes in Total Incoming Damage are your signal that those are the points when you should be using some major CDs. But you also want to be asking yourself—what other CDs are being used in that same time frame? Timing your Divine Hymn to be used in concurrence with Anti-Magic Zone or PW: Barrier will translate to less effective healing than if you were to pair it with T13+Vamp Blood / Frenzied Regen.
Practical Examples: Healer CD’s are critical to the latter portion of the Ultraxion encounter, but that doesn’t mean you need to wait until 5 minutes have elapsed to use them. Don’t be afraid to use Tranq or a Holy Divine Hymn at the onset, because rest assured, it will be up again for the end of the fight. Similarly, boost your HPS by popping Tree of Life before Morchok’s first stomp, use Guardian of Ancient Kings when you have a Purple Phase and everyone is stacked (to take advantage of the AOE healing), and time T13-enhanced Spiritwalker’s Grace to align with the Amalgamation’s explosions on Spine
4. Optimize your heals
This may sound like a fairly simple task, but in reality one of the most challenging aspects of playing a healer is choosing the “right fit” heal for the job. Your ability to accurately assess, and even predict, incoming damage is something that will give you the edge when it comes to making the most of your healing and your mana pool. The point in the encounter where a tank is going to take spike damage (think: Zon’ozz and Psychic Drain or Deathwing’s Impales) versus points where raid damage will spike (think: Yor’sahj’s red phase, Morchok’s stomp), versus times when healing is incredibly sporadic (think: Hagara Ice Lances, Phase 1 Fireship), are all examples of information that should inform the healing decisions you make.
The topic of timing also comes up under the category of optimization as well, because there’s a significant difference between brute force healing (chain-casting heals and hoping they will land at the right time) versus setting up your heals to hit after, or your bubbles to be fully applied before, damage hits.
Practical Examples: One of the key indicators that I use to evaluate the “fit” of spells is to look at their average overhealing value for each spell on progression encounters. High values (>60%) on active-cast abilities generally indicate either spam healing or poor spell choice. Low overhealing (<20%) generally indicates good decision-making but can also be an indicator that you should be using that spell a bit more. Likewise, for expensive heals like Healing Surge, Flash Heal, Regrowth, and Flash of Light, I aim for as close to 0% overhealing as possible; it’s typically a waste of mana to turn to these spells if they’re going to overheal.
When it comes to timing, a well-positioned enemy cast bar, updated boss timers, and simply watching boss cast animations, should all be ample indication of damage to come. And nothing beats simple knowledge of the encounter—like the fact that Ultraxion’s AOE damage accelerates over time or Hagara will always picked Shattered Ice targets from the people in front of her.
5. Make fight mechanics work for you
This tenet should be something that Resto Shaman are incredibly familiar with, as we’ve kept a close eye on +damage fight mechanics ever since the introduction of Telluric Currents. But the concept is something that all healers should have in their cross-hairs–fight mechanics, even the scripting of the fight itself, all contain opportunities for efficiency and greater HPS. Sometimes it’s as simple as Essence of the Green in the Alysrazor encounter, or a little less obvious like phase transitions that are just the right amount of time in which to sit and enjoy a Potion of Concentration. Let’s get into the examples so you can see what I mean …
Practical Examples: The best example I can give on this one is Yor’sahj’s blue phase—which is a fight mechanic that healers should love instead of hate. The blue phase, if done properly, is a free refill of your mana bar. So, instead of trying to be stingy with your heals prior to a blue phase, you should aim to have as little mana as possible when the mana drain goes out, because you’re going to lose it anyways. If you have any hot or absorb components in your healing toolbox, you should be spending the time before a blue phase emptying those heals on the raid. Essentially, you’re “front loading” the phase’s healing, with the added bonus of providing a buffer on the raid while your healing team is waiting for the Mana Void to die or regen abilities to kick in.
Hagara is another great example of making fight mechanics work in your favor—a smart disc priest who has the Ice Lance debuff on raid frames can benefit from Rapture on demand while also boosting his healing done. Druids and Holy Priests practice this same mindset when they ensure that Searing Plasma targets always have a hot on them, while Paladins can do the same with Beacon-healing-through-pets on Yor’sahj. And shaman should be more than well aware of the mana potential for TC on Madness.
6. Minimize extra mana
This is one of the concepts that I really struggled when making the move into the upper echelons of progression, and a topic that Derevka discussed from a more global perspective in a post back in February—Zero Sum Mana. For a conservative person like myself, it was difficult to cut into the mana buffer I had on most fights because I always found myself thinking “but what if I need it?!” But the reality is that the extra mana that you have at the end of an encounter represents stats that could have been put to use elsewhere, and by keeping them allocated to regen you don’t need, your HPS ceiling is lower. So, you should always aim to end an encounter bone-dry, with as much effective healing as possible (this is much different than simply spending 5 minutes spamming heals into all and sundry and thinking “well, I spent all my mana, so I did good”). Because the more tightly tuned your mana, the more conscious you become of how your consumption changes based on your rotation.
Practical Examples: Although mana management isn’t generally an issue at the start of an expansion, since at that point, your stats don’t allow you free reign with your healing arsenal, the need for tuning ramps up as the expac progresses. My first time into any progression encounter, I’ll try to head in with as much mana and regen as possible. Then, during the first couple of pulls, I’ll look for areas where I can carve off some regen for other secondary stats. If there is a +damage modifier in the fight, and I’m on Vixsin, I know that I can knock off a couple hundred mp5. If there’s time enough for me to TC, then I can shave off another couple hundred or, as was the case with our first kills of HM Spine and Madness, I can swap out a regen trinket (Jaws of Defeat, in that case) for a throughput one (Seal of Seven Signs).
7. Utilize External Influence
Naturally, the benefits that DPS get from external cooldowns, apply to healers as well. So, if you’re lucky enough to be able to lie, beg, cheat or steal your way into getting a DI, Focus Magic, or Power Infusion, expect to see your HPS jump as a result. Likewise, pre-potting with Int Potions can help you get some power-charged hots or shields up. And, if you’ve stopped drinking mana potions during your kills, because “I don’t need the mana”, then in combination with #6 above, consider using Intellect pots along with a personal CD for added results.
Domination through Philosophy
Now, if this were a post about topping damage meters, I don’t suspect you’d see a section dedicated expressly to the philosophy behind DPS. But, as a healer, your success is largely influenced by the application of your healing philosophy. Every decision you make is based on a belief you have about the “right” way to heal and the “right” choice to make, so sometimes, in order to break into a new level of success as a healer, you need to really question your decision-making process
1. Always Be Casting / Always Be Active.
Although the prominence of the ABC healing philosophy has declined since its popularization in Wrath, it nonetheless remains a core operating principle of healers looking to eek every little bit of healing out of their character. It stands as true today as it did in Wrath—for the 6, 8, or even 12 –minute duration of an encounter, it’s important to treat every GCD as an opportunity. This tenet goes hand-in-hand with being a proactive healer; if you’re not healing the damage that has gone out, then you should be preparing for the damage that is going to go out, whether it’s making sure you have the appropriate people blanketed in hots, handing those critical “management tasks”, stacking absorbs, or even moving into position for the next event in the encounter.
2. Go above and beyond “assignment”
Notice here that I’m not talking about ignoring assignments, because the path to being a better healer doesn’t come from shirking responsibility. Bur rather, the emphasis of this point is that assignments should always be a starting point and not a limiting factor. Tank damage has changed significantly since WotLK, when you needed a dedicated healer to spam the tank for the entirety of a fight. And with healers’ toolboxes expanded to encompass a variety of supplemental healing (eg: Beacon, Lifebloom, Earth Shield, Prayer of Mending) and splash/smart healing (eg: Sanctuary, Holy Radiance, Healing Rain, Chain Heal, Wild Growth, Ancestral Awakening, Efflorescence), the fact of the matter is that assignments are no longer a 100% task, leaving most healers with extra healing capacity to (if they’re smart) expend elsewhere.
What this means to you, as a healer, is that an “assignment” should never be viewed as a strict limitation, but rather a priority system. Your assignment is your top priority, but that doesn’t mean that you’re not responsible for everyone else as well. Even in HM Yor’sahj, when the large majority of guilds assign healers to specific groups and/or players, you can still contribute to other players’ assignments without any penalties (think: Beacon healing into pets, pre-shielding and hotting, using pets to proc Ancestral Awakening) and thus increase your total contribution.
3. First-Come, First-Serve
Although I am a major advocate of Mastery-stacking when it comes to progression, I recently made the switch to a set that brings me up to 2100+ haste, right past the second haste threshold. Why? Because when it comes to parsing at the end of an expansion, the rule is: first come, first serve. What this means is that as your team’s average ilvl increases, as the natural result of your guild’s farming efforts, a couple things happen:
- Kill times decrease, the result of increased dps
- Players take less incoming damage, the result of increased avoidance stats and repetition
- The max HPS of your healing team increases, the result of higher ilvl and more familiarity with the encounter
The effect of all of these changes is that, if you continue to go in with the same raid comp and number of healers, your HPS will decline. (If you’re a Resto Shaman, the HPS decline will be even more because of the way our mastery is designed). This is why people like me will always pester raid leaders to drop healers, because it effectively increases the potential HPS that you can do. But, if you can’t convince your raid leader to drop down to 3 healers for your HM clears, then your next best option is to load up on stats that either: increase your absorb value, increase your haste, or both. Because in order to make the most of your heals in a competitive environment, you need to get their first.
4. Push the Limits – Know your teammates’ weaknesses
Despite the multitude of threads claiming that healer homogenization is upon us (Repent! Repent! Soon you will be the Healing Borg!) I can think of no better way to demonstrate how unique healing classes are than by looking at their weaknesses. Certainly, in any quest to top healing meters, your HPS will be heavily affected by the skill, gear, and class of your healing teammates. But it will also be affected by their weaknesses.
For example, as any resto druid would attest, their current Quality of Life problem centers around burst healing. For Holy Paladins, a weakness is a bit harder to identify, since they’re on top these days. But a spread raid taking continuous damage doesn’t play well into Light of Dawn or Holy Radiance, their only two AOE abilities. Likewise, Disc’s major weakness is unpredictable burst (since mitigation needs to be pro-active), while Holy struggles with having no proactive mitigation techniques. And shaman’s HPS plummets if our hots and Mastery aren’t allowed to kick in, if the raid is disbursed over a wide area, or if we’re asked to move frequently.
What this means is, if you want to beat a druid or a holy priest into submission, snipe their hot targets or subvert them entirely with absorbs. Downplay paladins’ and shamans’ strengths by favoring raid strategies that spread the raid out. Or keep a disc priest under control by asking them to spot-heal or move frequently. (Or … you could, ya know, do the opposite and help design strategies that mitigate these weakness. GASP!)
5. Take it to extremes – Capitalizing on +Healing
Now we get into the tips that take it one step further … As anyone on the WoW forums might tell you (should you dare to ask), not all classes are created equal. And this is especially true when it comes to healing taken—some classes have talents that increase your healing done, talents like Resto Shamans’ Spark of Life, or Paladins’ Divinity, making them ideal targets for target-based AOE healing abilities like Efflorescence and Chain Heal. (If you’re interested in the complete list, take a look at this great post from Jasyla). Conversely, targets with incredible amounts of self-healing (paladins, dk’s, warlocks, etc.) and innate damage mitigation (boomkins, spriests, etc.) oftentimes make less ideal targets because the healing potential is much lower.
6. Take it to even greater extremes – use cancelaura macros for hots on yourself
No, I actually don’t recommend doing this one, but I wanted to include it in the “Philosophy” section for one main reason: great healers look to control the uncontrollable. When I heard this “pro healing tip” from someone who was once pushing top 5 world kills, I admit, I was likely as shocked as you are. But, after stifling the urge to call him a padding ass, I thought about his answer—“There’s no other way to assure I get the best amount of healing out of Protector of the Innocent”—and realized that what he was doing was exerting control over something the majority of us accept as unchangeable without a second thought. How much else do we do that with?
Players can choose not to click the Lightwell, not to stand in the Healing Rain, not to use their healthstones, and yes, even to not let your hots tick on them. In order to counter this, healers looking to top meters will go to extremes, in order to assure better effective healing. They’ll place Healing Rain where it is unavoidable (instead of yelling at players to stand in it), position Lightwell in an easily clickable area and at an appropriate moment (instead of in the middle of the group when damage isn’t even going out), know who players typically clump around (instead of bemoaning a wasted Holy Radiance healing on a player in BFE), or stand in the melee stack for well-placed Efflorescence circles (instead of hoping that a Swiftmend target isn’t off by himself).
Now, why do you need this knowledge?
I’m going to guess that a good portion of the people I pissed off in my first couple of paragraphs or somewhere along the way, probably won’t make it this deep into the post, having stopped reading long ago in order to focus their attention on sending me angry emails or submitting nasty comments about how I’m a padding, egotistical jerk (which is not untrue). But for the rest of you, let me expand a little why I really do think it’s important to know all of these techniques about “beating” meters:
The question that I get more often than any other question out there … by a mile … is about why the player isn’t doing well on meters.
And, most times, isn’t a question motivated by selfishness or ego, but rather one asked by players who aren’t confident in their performance or who simply want to improve. These are players who are advised, on forum after forum, blog after blog, that “if the boss dies, then you did your job”. But the problem with this sentiment, and what they’re realizing as they send me an email or post in the healing forums or reach out to friends, is that … THIS ADVICE IS ABSOLUTE SHIT. It’s shit because it does nothing to empower the person who receives it; it does nothing to quantify the conditions of success, nothing to distinguish the myriad of greys between the pass/fail ends of the spectrum. What happens if the boss lives? Well you know that you didn’t do your job, but nothing beyond that. Or, even worse what happens if the boss dies and you still feel unsuccessful? According to the simple definition of success, you’ve nothing to improve upon.
Healing isn’t RNG, it isn’t mystical, and it isn’t uncontrollable. And it’s no where near as subjective as players like to believe. Although the end result of your efforts is binary, the process which produces that result is incredibly intricate and interconnected. Every modicum of success that your healing team has in an encounter can be credited to the choices of its members. A warm fuzzy feeling isn’t going to keep your team alive (no matter the cheerleader approach that some healers tout), it isn’t going to press your buttons or use your cooldowns, and it’s not going to manage your mana—all of that is up to you and the decisions that you, as a healer, make. This is why trite summations of “successful” healing piss me the hell off.
Every single tip that I gave above contributes to you knowing more about your class, your teammates and your potential. Even those last few tips, which I’m confident made a number of healers recoil in horror when reading, will help you make better decisions in crunch time. Think about it … if you know your teammates’ weaknesses, then you know how to supplement their heals. If you know what classes have increased healing taken or powerful self-healing then you know who really should constitute a priority healing target and who shouldn’t.
Why is a disc priest better in a burst damage environment? Why is a druid better with constant damage? Why do resto shaman rock the hell out of purple phase in Yor’sahj? Why is paladins’ HPS so insane when they get the blue crystal? These are the questions that it takes to “game” meters, and to push yourself to new heights. They’re the ones that help you make smarter decisions when push comes to shove and help you understand just where your pixels fit into the larger picture of your healing team. More importantly, they’re also the ones that make it possible for you to turn a critical eye at a meter that you didn’t win, and feel confident that you still did an amazing job.