Life in Group 5 – A Resto Shaman Blog
A resto shaman perspective on raiding


April 22, 2010

Is Your “Best” Healer Really Helping Your Team?

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Written by: Vixsin
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In the world of competitive raiding, we oftentimes depend on key people—guild leaders, raid leaders, healing leads, main tanks, uber dps—to carry heavier loads than others, to hold the reigns and contribute a little more than average on our way to victory. And, as I have [sadly] discovered multiple times over the course of my WoW career, sometimes the glue holding everything together is just one person’s tenacity. When it comes to healing, we’ve all played on teams where there’s the player you need to have there on progression nights. Maybe it’s an amazing pally that the main tank trusts implicitly or an awesome druid who can rejuv blanket the entire raid while coordinating everyone else’s activities. But in an environment where being dependent on that one key guy can have such negative consequences, I wonder—is your best healer holding your team back?

When this article came through my feed reader a couple weeks back, I must say that I was a little bit blown away by the premise. In fact it was the article headline that caught my eye more than anything—“Figure out who’s indispensable, then get rid of them”. As I struggled to reconcile this concept in my overachivers’ brain, where being indispensable is regarded as the penultimate goal, I could see that the philosophy the author was proposing was applicable in other organizations striving for success, like say, a guild.

It’s called a Healing TEAM

In the above example, I talked about the linchpin healer, the special snowflake among us Group 5 residents. Although on some healing teams the distinction is more evident than others, the fact remains that there is someone on your healing team that has more responsibility than the rest. Whether it is the person coordinating healing assignments, the one who times their CDs just so, or the one that everyone feels more at ease around, there is someone you count on (and expect) to carry a larger load. While you may be delighted to have this person around, because they make things easier on leadership and/or the raid team, not many of us stop and consider what would happen if/when they decide to bow out.

The worst case scenario is not something many guilds plan for, for the simple fact that they don’t have the luxury of an endless stream of capable leadership-quality players from which to make a raid. So, invariably, some segmentation of duties and allocation of responsibility is inevitable—you work with what you have. But good leaders know that change is a constant, and the person you’re depending on today might not be available to you tomorrow. Thus, cross-training and mentoring become key in assuring that you have the assets to continue on. And when it comes to healing, this is so incredibly true.

Ultimately, the goal should be to develop a healing team that is competent in any combination, and has the capacity to function at high performance levels in the absence of that linchpin. This means that every healer should know healing assignments and everyone should be ready to step into a different role at any given point. Yes, I am suggesting that druids tank heal and pallies get switched to the raid occasionally, because the more we stick to the same routine, the more shocking a deviation becomes. You needn’t fire your best healer, like the article suggests, but you should make sure that you enable the rest of your team to function without them.

Towards Homogenization

As we look towards Cataclysm, and look back on Wrath, the buzz word that every class and every spec seems to be throwing around quite liberally is “homogenization”—homogenization of classes, of talents, of spells, of gear, of buffs, etc. And generally speaking, most players hold it to have a negative connotation.

But in reality, I would maintain that some degree of homogenization is a good thing, for the exact reasons that the eminent Ghostcrawler points out below:

We might be okay with the tendency for groups to still assign paladins to tank healing because they are particularly good at it. What we want to avoid are those cases where a group feels like they can’t possibly keep tanks alive because they lack a paladin or they can’t possibly keep groups alive because they have too many paladins.

Not that I’m picking on holy pallies here, but as the reigning champs of tank healing for 2 xpacs, when it comes to specialization they are a prime example of the pros and cons. Their exceptional single-target (and later dual-target) healing performance, has earned them a definitive and limited role to play on healing teams everywhere. The result of this is that the large majority of them have never been tasked to raid heal; likewise, the large majority of the rest of us healers have never been asked to tank heal. In fact, the specialization of holy pallies is so strong that not only are other classes not asked to tank heal, we’re all perceived as much weaker single-target classes because the perception is so strong. And as someone who believes that skill > class, you can imagine how this chafes.

Now the Forbes article would seem to suggest that the best way to alleviate raids’ dependence on one class, for example, would be to eliminate them entirely from the game. And while this would force other classes into that role, the ultimate effect for most mix-maxing players is that the strata would quickly be re-established with another class as the de facto standard. All that eliminating the first class would do would be to shake things up a little, which is fun for a short while but not an enduring solution.

Instead, what I am suggesting is that Blizzard’s philosophy of homogenization is actually a good thing for raiders, players, and healers. By eliminating the clearly defined lines between classes, by taking away our “best at X” options, we as raiders don’t need to operate within the confines of a rigid system (namely the one that requires that certain people be on in order to raid). We can chose classes based on play preference and know that while we may maintain our own sets of strengths and weaknesses, that the divide between us and the next guy isn’t a gaping chasm.

So while I may bemoan the fact that mages are getting my prized Bloodlust ability, or that a DK’s Horn overlaps with Strength of Earth, the ultimate effect is that our raid team is more able to “bring the player and not the class”. And as someone who likes to be relied on for my skill and not my spec, that’s a wonderful thing.


  1. I have mixed feelings toward “homogenization” – I like being different – but I agree with your points, because I, as a Druid, am perfectly capable of being a tank healer, but I will probably never be asked to do that unless I heal 10-man raids with at least one other Druid healer.
    .-= Kaethir´s last blog ..Cataclysm Changes! =-.

  2. This is really interesting… I think we have a few factors going on in unequal healing distribution:

    (1) Meters. Oh, I hate meters. So very much. If I have higher “numbers” than the person healing the tank, it doesn’t mean crap, because I’m sprinkling the heals through the raid with AOE. But then the tank healer feels pressure to bring up his numbers (if it’s a holy priest, for example, who is an excellent tank healer, without bacon her numbers are VERY low when healing the tank, because that’s life with single-target non-bacon healing). When they feel like they have to bring up numbers, they start going outside the scope of assignment, throwing extra heals if they have the GCD, perceiving that they have to. Ugh, I hate that. Banish meters.

    (2) If someone consistently carries a too-large load for whatever reason, the other healers feel like they don’t have much to do, and bad things happen. (Trust me, a disc priest can bubble spam like crazy, leaving the other healers scratching their nuts with nothing to do.) And THEN they start saying “we can 2-heal this” or they “stealth dps” (sneak in spells/hits while in healing spec/gear). The “superstar” needs to lay off and let everyone else do their job, and has to TRUST that they will.

    (3) I am a big fan of everyone being able to do every role. Quite often when I’m assigning healers, I have to not just remember what the class is “good at” but what the player is “good at” and plan accordingly. And the truly flexible healer is a rare commodity. Just like there are some DPS who can’t kite worth a crap, and you can’t rest your encounter on their shoulders, there are some healers who just can’t adapt to another role.
    .-= zelmaru´s last blog ..Prot Warrior Haiku =-.

  3. Somewhat amazingly, I managed to miss Matticus’ post last week on which approached the “right” healer problem from a different perspective:

  4. Lon

    Once again Vix, another nice article. This is one of the things I feel my guild handles rather well. Yes we do have healers of varying strengths but in a predominantly 10 man environment (25 mans aren’t easily formed in guild) most if not all of our healer team could step into any role. That said, if we have a Pally healer raiding, they do tend to be a Tank healer and raid heals are given to Resto shamans when they are around.

    I do like the idea of a range of classes having the tools needed to perform any role, but feel that it’s a knife edge balancing act to make sure that classes retain their individuality.

    “(1) Meters. Oh, I hate meters. ……. Ugh, I hate that. Banish meters. ”

    I don’t think meters are the problem here. The crux of the problem is how much worth people put into the numbers shown. If you were around in those days, take a think back to the days before mods and meters were heavily prevalent. The way you determined you performance was based on whether or not the boss or target was dead now.
    Though I would also strongly support the widespread adoption of “meters” which merely displayed Effective healing/over-healing/HPS, damage taken/avoided and completely left off anything to do with DPS

    All in all, I will see what happens as the Cataclysm information is refined, tweaked and confirmed and base my decisions on the state of play come 4.0

  5. Hey Vix, I’m going to second the ‘another great post’. People need to look outside of WoW sometimes to understand group dynamics and organisational improvements.

    Regarding the Forbes article, I’m not sure if you deliberately made the original argument more generic or not but note:

    “If ‘Fred’ turned out to be deliberately hoarding information to protect his own position, Sciambi says Fred would be the first person he would try to get rid of.”

    Now I’m not poking holes in your article, I like the direction you went to get to the discussion of homogenization and role dynamics. One possible solution that the Forbes article doesn’t mention (I’m not a fan of the article as a whole to be honest) is information dissemination.

    I’ve had some experience with the Fountain-of-Knowledge perception inside a company; reliance on any one person or even a group of core team leaders is always bad structural organization. Instead of forcing your core expertise to shift their focus onto other areas to provoke other members of the team to pick up slack and experience along the way, it’s also good to ensure that the experts are sharing knowledge.

    Why is one Paladin rated above the others? Why is one Druid seen as the raid heal champion over the Shaman? As I understand it, the point of your article was to lead towards homogenization as a positive aspect, but as a side note there are lots of other interesting solutions to the same problem before the Blizz team steps in to make changes.

    Cheers again for posting and keep it up! This is one of the few WoW-related blogs I still actively enjoy reading.

  6. Healistic (Shadow Council)

    Excellent article. Our 25 raiding guild only has 1 Holy pally and he like most people does not have 100% attendance so we run into the issue of class healing quite often. As a resto shaman I end up tank healing with a druid or holy priest if the pally is not available. This definatley took some adjusting from chain heal spamming but it is a nice change of pace.

    I also am not a fan of healing meters. I personally use them as a gauge on my own performance compared to previous fights. Our healing group has gotten past the meters mean everything and stick to our assignments which makes for much smoother raids as we aren’t competing with eachother to see who gets the highest numbers.

  7. Thanks for the good feedback! I do agree that the Forbes article takes a very specific and very limited perspective on the information powerplay issue; I was disappointed that they really didn’t expand on it as much as I had hoped. But, like I said, the premise was just so mind-blowing to me that I couldn’t pass up the inspiration!

    Regarding meters, I’m actually an advocate, partly because I’m so competitive by nature and partly because I think “the boss died” is a horrible and entirely ineffective metric of personal performance. In terms of their ability to appropriately gauge skill, I think they can provide you with a great overall picture, but only if you’re taking the time to read them correctly. If you’re going to the “DPS” or “HPS” tab and thinking that it’s synonymous with skill, then that’s a breakdown in understanding not in data. But what matters most to me with regards to meters is that it’s possible for any class to do well in all the requisite categories.

    Getting back to the idea of information dissemination, I think I could have highlighted that a little bit more in the “Healing Team” section. I couldn’t agree more–parity in class design isn’t the only solution, and shouldn’t be the first thing we turn to. There are a number of things we can do as raiders to close the gap in performance between the guild’s “uber healer” and the guy who struggles every night. But guilds and their leadership first need to realize that they *should* be doing something to ensure that one person doesn’t hold the keys to their success (or failure).

  8. Kaelinh

    I am a little excited about the homogenization like you are – I think if Shaman are given the right tools we can surpass pallies for tank healing because we have such a range of things that can be placed on the tank: ES, RT, EL, AF, and some very strong heals. All we’re missing is the mana regeneration to back up heavy spam. But since we won’t need heavy spam anymore… :)

    It’s not that I particularily want to tank heal, but I think it would be fun to get to play that game and weave in chain heal to help melee. I’m optimistic – especially since they are taking away one of the key reasons for bringing shaman to raid.

    As for healing meters, they frustrate me. I actually had this conversation with someone in my guild. He was talking about the haste cap and not going past the gcd = 1 range. I told him it didn’t really matter because the spell you use most is not limited by the gcd. He argued that you should use RT every cd, and said that a shaman he knew who was really good did this and pulled 14k hps on heroic BQL. I was immediately skeptical because while I didn’t doubt his friend was good, I wondered what the circumstances were for his healing being so high. HPS in logs in completely dependent on the skill of the other raiders in the group. This shaman was doing great healing, but not much different from mine in terms of %. His differences were a much weaker disc priest and resto druid in the group, while the healers in my group were pulling much higher numbers. Now, that could point to me being weaker as well, which is possible, but in order to get such high hps, people need to be at lower HP when CH hits. It’s like Saurfang – sure, if all the marks are in melee I can tear healing apart because my chain heals are critting on them for a ton, and it’s constant, high damage. If they are in range, I am only healing the tank and will look like a paladin.

    I guess this is just a rant about rankings on WoL not meaning anything in terms of being good or not, because if you have one very strong healer in a group of weaker healers, then sure, that healer is going to have ridiculous HPS because they are simply faster than the rest. When ToC came out I would ‘beat’ all the other healers on the meters in Int gemmed gear. When I switched to a highly competetive guild, I needed the haste to keep up, and still have to heal my ass off to keep up with the druids/holy priest.

    TL;DR: Tank healing might be fun in cata, healing meters are frustrating.

  9. An interesting article, but I think the point should be made that each class will always have strengths and weaknesses, ones that a min-maxing healer (or healing lead!) will take advantage of. Just because classes have the ability to tank heal, that doesn’t mean a min-maxing will put them on tank healing duty. On 10-hardmodes, we almost always run shaman/druid healing, with the tank healing duty switching around depending on the fight. On 25-hardmodes or 25-Lich King, we min-max so that we can bring only 5 healers, keeping the paladin alone on both tanks while the other four cover raid damage. If we wanted to have a Holy priest tank heal and the paladin raid heal, we’d have to at least bring one extra healer, a waste of resources in a min-maxing leader’s mind. With the changes coming in the expansion, druids will still be “best at HoTs” and Disc priests will still be “best at absorption,” we just have to see where the other “best at XXX” chips fall.

    I would have no problem with Blizzard trying to even things out on the healing spectrum as far as tank healing goes, I just wish we weren’t all falling into that “priest three single-target heal” homogenization. That just seems too much to me. I like the idea that priests have more choices in single target spells, but paladins have more choices in cooldowns to keep the tank alive. Something of that nature would be much more exciting. Having to simply choose between Small, Medium and Large heals while tank healing on any of my healers will be boooooooring.

    re: the use of healing meters – During Vanilla, we didn’t have meters in use and the metric was “is the Boss dead.” However, as any raider can tell you, due to the sheer size of 40-man raiding, you were able to bring along quite a bit of dead weight while still downing bosses. These were the days when paladins were being brought to raids to be Cleanse-bots or when warlocks came with bags stocked full of soul shards to be Summon-bots. It wasn’t until the major raids were converted to 25-man raids that quality really became an issue. Meters came into use and it suddenly became clear that some healers/DPSers were being a detriment to getting the content cleared. Really, for healing, meters aren’t about being in competition with your team, it is about showing who isn’t pulling their weight. Any healer in ICC-25 that is doing less than 2k HPS, doing less healing than the Shadow Priests, or is dying every time to completely avoidable things is being carried by the rest and that’s simply unfair to the rest of the section.
    .-= Codi´s last blog ..Recycle-a-Post: Holy Paladin mana regen =-.

  10. Mimdu

    Interesting viewpoint here. I’m sure homogenization will help eliminate one form of this “necessary” healer, the kind that’s based on a classes’ strengths (though I am wondering how Disc priests, with their more unique method of healing will be homogenized in this Cata design). However, I doubt there’s a healing team out there where everyone is of equal skill, reflexes, and awareness. As a matter of fact, homogenization might actually highlight which healers were simply getting by on the basis of their class, and which ones are really holding it all together.

    I’m not entirely sure how a group is supposed to handle this problem, personally. If bench your ace healer, you risk not succeeding, but if you keep him around, you risk your other healers not realizing or addressing their own shortcomings. Maybe pull your ace to the side and ask him to play at 80% for the next few attempts? 😉

    @Codi: Glad to see I wasn’t the only one who found the “3 heals for all” design kinda lame. Even the naming screams generic… “Lesser _____”, “______”, “Greater _____”. These 3 single target heals are nice and all, but since what will really distinguish healers is now everything but these spells, mana efficiency for a class as a whole will really come down to how mana efficient each classes’ unique spells are. It’s kinda making the whole “have 3 different spells for mana efficiency!” model a little off the mark, given their solely single target focus, IMO.

  11. To take the counter viewpoint on the “3 heals” topic, I think of them as very similar to construction tools. Think of the 3 heals like a hammer, a wrench, and a screwdriver, all of which are used by the various trades when constructing a house. For example, you have a framer (who builds the structure of a house), a plumber, and an electrician, who share use of those 3 tools but use so many others to address their particular area of expertise. They still have this area of specialty aside from the fact that they use the same base widgets for the job.

    What was lacking up until this point in WoW was a commonality in base healing skills, a foundation that the classes build upon and branch out from. It isn’t really important to have that same commonality in dps because the goal there isn’t having the right tools to address a variable quantity; dps is the same goal almost every time. So in implementing a set of shared tools between the healers, Blizz enables us to be more versatile and not fully depend on our niche qualities to see us through every situation. As Codi pointed out, we will still have our “best at X” definitions, but those won’t be the whole of who we are as healers and the sum of what we can address.

  12. @ Vixsin: I understand what you’re saying, but part of the reason there will be stratification amongst the healers will be due to the outlier abilities in raid healing. Tank healing will be extremely similar for any class that does it. Let me put it this way: Blizzard is making single target healing about making the choice between three spells (Small, Medium and Large) for every spec except Trees. This means that tank healing on a shaman will be very similar to tank healing on a paladin or a holy priest, possibly even a disc priest. That is what I most take issue with. Each spec will be making the same choices and using the same three base spells to heal the tank. Compare this with tank healing on a Tree, which involves keeping up stacks of HoTs and using Nourish. Doing that is markedly different, involves a different thought process from other tank healing and yet will still be viable. (Already is, if specced correctly and if not in progression fights.)

    The problem with commonality is that it is -boring.- What WoW needs is viability for all speccs without becoming too much alike. Take for example tank healing for shaman as the spells stand right now. In a less spikey damage environment, you would get to mix up usage of LHW and HW, with some CHs thrown in if two/three tanking something. Keeping RT up, ES and AA would be prime thinking. If the tank needs a heal nownownow, you toss up a NS+HW. There are plenty of interesting tools already in place, without a “priest like 3-heal” system. Utilizing the “3 heal system” for -all- healing specs that tank heal means there will be little difference between doing it on a shaman instead of a paladin, which makes tank healing even more of a boring occurance.
    .-= Codi´s last blog ..Recycle-a-Post: Holy Paladin mana regen =-.

  13. I guess we’ll have to see how it all plays out; but I have a little faith that Blizz won’t turn their healers into carbon copies.

    * fidgets *

    Is it time for Cata Beta yet?!?!?!

  14. Monsieur

    Great post Vix :) Playing a shaman, I do hope the rest of the healers end up in the same bag as we have been for an expansion now. Managing mana, and not having a specific role :) Come to us, paladins, come to us…

  15. Flora

    I do wonder how this will work out for guilds that do heroic raids. As codi said for progession fight it’s best to go with assignments for classes who’ll do that assignment the best. The real question is however if classes are really a holdback for certain assignment. Is a resto shaman, a really good resto shaman truly incapable of healing a tank on heroic bosses? Or will s/he be able to do the job just fine when adjusted to this assignment? The same question goes for other classes like druids and priests.
    Unfortunately I do not know the answer because my raidguild has fallen in the “paladin” trap especially for druids.
    We sometimes let our shamans tank heal but trees are a no go. I can’t help but to find it frustrating.
    But is our healing leader right in putting trees on raid duty because it’s what they do best and it could even lead to dead if tree weren’t raid healing or is that just being stuck in a mindset that he refuses to change?
    Love to hear your opinion.

  16. @ Flora:

    Well, I let my Trees tank heal some non-hardmodes; I’ve even had them help me tank heal on LK-25! But for hardmodes, in general, the damage is too high for Trees to be able to maintain the sort of Nourish spam needed for an extended period. For Saurfang-25-hardmode, I have one of our Resto shaman heal the tanks, as she does quite well with that damage. But for the really hard-hitting bosses, like Festergut-25-hardmode, I keep myself on the tanks. The HPS a paladin can maintain throughout an entire fight is (in general) much higher than any other class can maintain on a tank.

    So, while there may be some “stuck in a rut” with your group, it isn’t necessarily so. Druids are really only #3 or 4 on the list of “who can keep the tanks up best,” so it could be a matter of that. You just need to look at the sort of damage the tanks are taking for each individual boss.
    .-= Codi´s last blog ..Expansion announcement – My view on it =-.

  17. I think the general healing assignments that we all tend to follow, and which are enumerated in class guides and posts about leading healing teams, are based in very real strengths and weaknesses of the classes we play. But I think it’s important to distinguish a weakness from an impossibility. In my opinion, impossibilities of healing are borne from player interpreting weakness as a 0 value instead of a comparative one (meaning: a pally make be a 90/100 tank healer, but that doesn’t mean that everyone else is 0/100.) For example, while it would have been easier to step into HM Lich King 25 attempts last night with the 2 pallies we normally have, our other Resto Shaman stepped in place of one of them and saw us through just fine. Yes, it might have been comparatively “harder” but it wasn’t impossible. I’ve no doubt that any of our other healers would have been sufficient in the role as well.

    The counter to this is, of course, the more suited someone is for a job, the less stress it places on a healing team. And the less stressed a team is having to adjust to a new condition, the more they can focus on the problems of the encounter and not their internal workings. I’m not advocating completely disregarding the norm, just maintaining a healthy amount of disbelief in it and shaking it up from time to time.

  18. I guess we’ll have to see how it all plays out; but I have a little faith that Blizz won’t turn their healers into carbon copies.

    * fidgets *

    Is it time for Cata Beta yet?!?!?!

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