There’s no debating that the role of the healer has changed significantly over the years in WoW. From Vanilla raids, with their specialized healers, to Wrath’s niche-styled healing teams, to Catclysm’s holy trinity of heals, the healing game has definitely evolved. And whereas your team might have employed strict healing assignments in fights like Gruul’s Lair, HM Mimiron, and Cataclysm’s restyled Nefarian, in Mists we’ve seen the demand that healers be a little more agile and a little more organized in order to handle new and improved raid mechanics that require dancing, cooldowning, healing and predicting, all at the same time. In fights like Protectors of the Endless, prompt dispel management (of Lightning Prisons) is critical to your raid’s success, and adaptive healing based on random debuffs (Huddle in Terror) is a case of life or death in Phase 2 of HM Sha.
So, what’s a raid team to do? Well, if you were a raider during ToGC and forced to handle one very distressing healer mechanic, I’m sure you already are quite familiar with what I wanted to talk about today—PC-style assignments. But for the uninitiated and those looking for a refresher, read on!
(Feel free to skip this if you have fond memories of endless Immortality attempts in ToGC)
To give you a little background … this solution for healing assignments (healing or dispelling) is one that was popularized in Trial of the Grand Crusader on HM Anub’arak, as a solution for handling Penetrating Cold in the final phase of the encounter. During this final push, Anub’arak would apply Leeching Swarm to the entire raid, which would do half the player’s current health in damage and heal Anub for the amount of damage dealt. Thus, in order to mitigate Anub’s potential incoming heals, the common solution was to leave players at as little HP as possible such that an equilibrium of incoming healing and outgoing damage could be achieved through passive healing like Healing Stream Totem or Vamp Embrace. Yes, this meant that in that final phase, players were sitting a couple hundred hitpoints away from death.
To make this final phase really stressful, Anub’arak continued to apply Penetrating Cold to 5 randomly-selected players in the raid. (He applied Penetrating Cold in his first phases as well, but it wasn’t a big deal since players were likely close to topped and not taking damage from any other sources). But in this last phase, since Penetrating Cold would hit for several thousand a tick, on players who were sitting at less than 1k HP, it would spell death if they weren’t healed before the first tick occurred. The challenge of this came from the fact that the debuffs were applied completely at random, so healing assignments had to be done on the fly and have zero overlap, lest you lose a player to Penetrating Cold’s first tick. (This was the common cause of guilds failing their Immortal run for the week).
Thus, PC-style healing assignments were borne.
Setting up PC-style Assignments
So what is the benefit of PC-style assignments?
The clear identification of dispel or healing targets given a completely random application of a debuff.
When is it useful?
Any time, really. But it’s particularly helpful when group assignments, class assignments, or even player assignments leave gaps in coverage or can result in an overload on a particular healer.
What does it require?
Step 1 – Raid Frame Configuration. For PC-style assignments to work, the members of your healing team all need to be working with the same set of information in front of them. This means that their raid frames need to be organized in the exact same way, such that the 3rd person in Group 4 for one person is the same as the 3rd person in Group 4 for everyone else. You may take it for granted that your raid frames look like everyone else’s but remember—WoW’s default frames don’t make a group distinction, Vuhdo typically puts your character in the top slot of your group, and by default Grid sorts players alphabetically. Don’t believe me? Of course not, that’s why I have some screenshots to illustrate. This is the same raid group displayed in 3 different raid frames:
Looking at the above, tell me, who’s the third person in Group 5? Per Grid, it’s Magnetic. Per Vuhdo, it’s Zatoichy. And per WoW’s default frames, it’s Minxs (my alt resto druid). So yes, this first step is critical.
Do note, however, the distinction between your team’s raid frames being organized the same way and everyone using the same healing add-on. There’s no need for your entire healing team to switch to one specific type of addon; you simply need to ensure that the configuration mirrors everyone else’s. So your Healbot devotees can stay with Healbot (and continue to endure the teasing), your Grid fans can stick with Grid and its eleventy-billion supplemental mods, your Vuhdo players can stick with Vuhdo (and make fun of all the Grid users), and your obstinate Vanilla-UI-is-fine-for-me guy can continue to maintain that he’s a better healer because he doesn’t use addons. You get the point–don’t change the addon, just change how it looks.
Let’s go back to using my own raid frames as an example (this time from a different raid):
I currently have my frames set up in Grid’s default layout, which organizes players alphabetically by group, from left (Group 1) to right (Group 5). Although this is generally the most common raid frame layout, remember that it is not the order that those players would appear were I to open WoW’s own raid frames, which allow players to be placed in any available position in any group. Vuhdo, WoW and Healbot can all be configured to this same layout, so your raid team can use whatever mod they’re most comfortable with.
Step 2 – Creating Assignments. After you have your team’s raid frames set up identically, here’s the basic concept. Let’s say we know that during the course of the encounter 5 debuffs go out every 30 seconds. Using PC-style assignments, we’d set up the following:
- Target 1: Vixsin
- Target 2: Holytyg
- Target 3: Solique
- Target 4: Star
- Target 5: Galapanda
- Floater: Evilkami
Step 3 – Handling Assignments. Note that the above assignments are not group-based and they’re not player-based, but rather require healers to identify the target number in order to determine their assignment. That means that once debuffs go out, healers quickly look at the raid, count debuffs starting from the top of Group 1 until they hit their assignment, and dispel (or heal) accordingly. This would look like:
Meaning that our assignments would be:
- Vixsin – Drarcane
- Holytyg – Ovid
- Solique – Nartas
- Star – Meec
- Galapanda – Warfighter
Because Evilkami’s assignment was “floater” it’s his job to pick up any assignment that a healer can’t respond to because they’re stunned, out of range, dead, etc. A “floater” might not always be necessary, or even possible, depending on the healing requirements of the fight. But, it’s a good practice to build some redundancy in your assignments if you can.
In cases where dispels or bomb heals are less critical, you can easily assign targets on a 2-to-1 basis, resulting in, for example, the following assignments
- Targets 1+2: Vixsin
- Targets 3+4: Star
- Target 5: Holytyg
- Floating: Solique, Galapanda
In the above case, you’d likely design assignments so that your hot-based classes were floaters, thus assuring that each target receives direct heals from their assigned healers and a buffer of healing from hot classes. And by reducing the number of assignments, you decrease the likelihood of your healers not being able to adjust to the RNG of the fight.
Step 4 – Loot Purples. The end result of perfectly-assigned healing given random debuffs? Shiny purples (and in the case of ToGC, horses).
The Easy Answer
I’ve interviewed with a number of guilds over the years, and through them all, I’ve responded to a variety of questions, ranging from my personal feelings about Lady Gaga’s unmentionables to technical class questions like the difference between Unleash Rockbiter and Taunt. Along the way, I’ve picked up a few favorites, including this one:
You have a debuff that goes out on 5 random players in raid. There are no indications of who the debuff will be on before it is applied and it can choose any dps in the raid; it will not choose any of your 5 healers or either of your 2 tanks. The second it’s applied it reduces the player’s HP to 10k, a second and a half later it will tick for 20k, meaning that in that 1.5secs, the player has to receive one instant-cast heal for at least 20k. Because of the way the debuff is designed, incidental healing will not contribute, so targetable AOE heals will not work, nor will totems, ground-based AOE, etc. Because the player is stunned, they cannot healthstone, and the damage cannot be mitigated by any immunities or damage transfers (BoP, HoS, SLT). On the assumption that every healer has an instant-cast that will do over 20k, how do you decide which healer will heal which target while assuring that there won’t be any overlap or confusion in that critical 1.5sec window? One death will wipe your raid.
If you read the above question and said to yourself, “Hey, that sounds like a time to use the PC-style assignments that Vixsin just described!” then give yourself a pat on the back, because that was the right answer and one that (I think) won me a trial position in that particular guild. And while I don’t think it’s likely that a debuff like the one in the question above will ever make it into the game, the point is that if you could use a system that allows you to clearly know an assignment in the first second a random event occurs, why wouldn’t you?
With PC-style assignments, the overall effect is that your healers know their assignment and the coverage every time. (Likewise, you know where the problem was if a target dies). And in the event you have a healer stunned, incapacitated, or otherwise, other healers can cover those targets easily and quickly. Sure, PC-style assignments won’t cover your basics (eg: you heal tanks, I’ll heal raid), but in the event that Blizzard throws your healing team a curveball (like Protectors of the Endless, like HM Sha), it’s an excellent tool to have at your disposal.