Months ago, when I transferred to Mal’Ganis to join the ranks of Aftermath, I was excited for two reasons—first, because I was joining an established and consistently high-ranked raiding guild; and second, because my new stomping grounds would be the #1 US Server (according to WoWProgress.com), home to one particular group of players that I’ve followed for a long time—Elitist Jerks. Technically speaking, it’s the forum community that EJ has fostered which has been the recipient of my star-eyed gaze ever since I entered into the raiding world; it’s a community that extends beyond the limits of their own guild and includes top players the world over. The EJ forums are known for hard rules, hard math, and hard facts. They’re known for having the answers; they are the epitome and the apex of theorycrafting. But if there’s anything that I’ve learned from following all of their discussions, it’s that there is a significant difference between theory and application, especially when it comes to healing.
WoW is, at its very core, a game of variables, a series of conditionals all united by formulae. Stats, spells, effects, buffs, etc. all factor into determining your calculated contributions to the fight at hand. And, as with anything in which weighted values are applied to variables, an optimal condition exists. These optimal conditions are often referred to as BiS Lists (Best in Slot) and max dps rotations, designed for the sole purpose of providing players with the “best” possible available stats and output potential.
And such is the community of nerds that we live in that players have taken it upon themselves to design and modify tools to help others achieve the same goal. Over the years, I’ve tried and tested a variety of simulators and even utilized a few of them in making my own gearing decisions. I’ve created character sets in Rawr, looked over gear rankings in Maxdps, and toyed around with spreadsheets, programs and the like, all for the sake of optimizing my character. (Heck I’ve even started a blog to discuss all this theory with people I don’t know!)
Two of my favorite tools at the moment are Daidalos’ Resto Shaman Healing Calcs spreadsheet and Stassart’s Shaman HEP program, both designed to help me achieve higher levels of performance through gearing and stat choices. I recently highlighted the rotational calculations proffered by Daidalos’s spreadsheet, and concluded that some of my highest HPS rotations are based around CH spam and RT+HW. And even then, faced with the cold hard numbers provided by some of EJ’s finest minds, I still choose not to follow some of the suggestions they make. Why?
Every system model (be it financial, engineering or another) is only as good as its assumptions, and unfortunately for healers, the assumptions for our models are plentiful. Unlike dps, healing is a dependant raid role. While our ranged and melee friends have a finite goal for dps (equal to the boss’s health divided by a limiting time factor), healing has no upper output limit.* There is a general level of healing required for any fight, with peaks and valleys based on encounter cycles and variables, but total healing for a fight can vary significantly depending on the skill and strategy of your raid.
Looking at Aftermath’s kills for Heroic Northrend Beasts over the past month, you probably wouldn’t be shocked to know that 37k separated the upper and lower limits of the total damage done during the encounter. Spread out over the 17 dps we normally bring, this means that were everyone operating at the same dps output, each player’s damage would only need to vary by 2k apiece to cover the spread. Alternately, the total healing done over the past month has an upper and lower limit separated by almost 1 million healing. This means that each of our healers some nights had to pump out an additional 170k effective healing over the duration of the encounter. Other nights, there was simply less to heal.
The point here is that no matter how brilliant the theorycrafting is, it simply cannot expect to simulate a role where that sort of differential in output exists. Creating max HPS rotations is one thing, but when there are so many assumptions tacked onto that evaluation–movement, duration, incoming damage, distribution of the raid, area effects, boss mechanics, healing team, raid placement, strategy, etc.–then the value of the theory diminishes. That is not to say that the data is wrong, simply that it is incredibly subjective. For example, what good is it to use a relic which buffs my CH if I cannot maintain its uptime due to inherent movement in the fight? Or, what good is it to use a high HPS rotation if my target is taking minimal damage? In the end, it is up to the healer to understand why the minds at EJ and other sites offer the advice they do, and to use his tools appropriately, with careful consideration of the fact that they may or may not be applicable in every situation.
Early in my graduate studies, I took a class about system failure analysis. It was chock full of formulae, statistics, physics, etc., and although the work entailed a high degree of calculational rigor, the class was in fact designed to teach one thing—your modeling assumptions will never reflect reality. Instead of using a model to provide an absolute answer, our professor suggested, models should serve to help you better understand your element of focus, to define those things which will effect an impact, and disprove alternate hypotheses. Models represent but one set of variables in a constantly-changing environment. And the reality is, healing is more about finding the right fit now, than it is about finding the perfect fit always.