Zen and the Art of Healing Assignments

Hello! I am Beruthiel, Ecclesiastical Discipline is busy moving to some shiny new digs (with a great view of Manhattan as I understand it *jealous*), and has asked some folks to help her with some guest posts in her absence while she’s busy drowning in boxes, packing tape and peanuts! I offered to lend a hand, and ED let me know that she is quite curious on how I make decisions with regards to healing assignments. And so I thought I’d take the topic up and explore what goes behind my thoughts when I assign my healers during a raid.

When I’m working through raid strategies before our first pull on any boss, I try to work out in advance what we may be looking at as far as healing is concerned. The following are some of the things that I take into consideration when I make preliminary decisions – keeping in mind that sometimes you have to change things if “plan A” doesn’t work out!

Know The Strengths and Weaknesses of Each Healing Class.

The first thing that I try to make sure I am familiar with are the strengths and weaknesses each class possesses. I follow the changes for each of the 4 healing classes, and do fairly regular research on each class. My feedreader has at least 2 blogs for each healing class, and I make regular visits over to EJ to help me get some perspective on how other end game healers are dealing with the current raid content. On top of that, I also have one of each healing class that I try to raid with, to one extent or another, so that I have some first hand experience with what my healing team is experiencing during raids.

It’s imperative to make sure that you thoroughly understand where the strengths and weaknesses of each class lie – so that you make assignments that play to the strengths of each healer. This will help to make the raid smoother, and your healers feel more confident because you are playing towards the strengths of their toolkit.

Know The Strengths and Weaknesses of Each Individual Player.

I think that this is almost as important as familiarizing yourself with each healing class. It is imperative that you know the team that you are working with inside and out.

  • Know who has fast reflexes, or who is slower to react.
  • Know who plays with some lag – which has a tremendous effect on healing.
  • Know who has trouble making snap decisions.
  • Know who may struggle with a complex healing assignment.
  • Know the play style of each member of your team.

Regardless of the first point made above, you always want to make sure that you make assignments that favor the individual players on your raid team. If you have the member of your healing team that is running at 6 fps during a damage intensive encounter (think Festergut or BQL), you probably don’t want to give them the assignment of “heal the raid”, or if you do, make sure that they have adequate support in that assignment.

Knowing where your players will excel will make your chances of success increase tremendously. And, really, this is true for your entire raid team, not just your healers!

Learn to Work With What is Available to You.

Just as important as knowing your players, is knowing your raid team. I am a firm believer of always thinking outside of the box, and learning to work encounters with the raid team we have. Sometimes this makes some encounters more challenging than they need to be, but our guild puts a lot of focus on the person behind the computer. As such, we are unlikely to bench someone because we think we need more of “class x” to succeed. Every encounter can be achieved with almost any reasonable raid composition.

Hell – we did the majority of this expansion with only one Holy Paladin. That’s right, during the course of this expansion we healed every encounter, save Lich King, on heroic with only one Holy Paladin. And sometimes, we did them with zero Holy Paladins. And yes, folks, no matter what else you may read – you can heal Valithria to full without a Holy Paladin.

However, it also means that we had to give out some healing assignments that may have seemed “unconventional”. For almost the entire expansion, because we had only one holy paladin, we had a disc priest that spent most of their time tank healing. We’ve also had resto druids and resto shaman help out in the tank heal category as well. I guess what I’m trying to hammer home is that you should never box yourself in with a “it can’t be done” mentality. Because yes, it can be done. You just have to work with the tools that you’ve got.

Honestly, with the homogenization of the healing classes coming with Cataclysm – it’s going to be even easier to work with the healers available to you. And you know what? We’ve got a foot up on that one – because we’ve been playing with that mentality for the past 6 years! Who needs Holy Paladins anyhow! ;)

Become Familiar With An Encounters Demands

I think that this one is probably fairly obvious, but it probably needs to be said! In making a healing assignment you need to know what to expect from an encounter – and if you are going into it blind, you need to be ready to make adjustments where they are needed. Some of the key things to take note of when preparing healing for an encounter are:

  • Will the tank be getting hit like a truck?
    • Will there be spike damage on the tank?
    • Will there be steady, but heavy, damage on the tank?
  • Will there be multiple tanks?
  • Will there be constant raid damage?
  • Will there be periodic raid damage?
  • Will there be spike damage on the raid?

Once you’ve established what you will be dealing with, you can then plan on how to counter that through heals.

Be Open to Making Changes if Something isn’t Working.

No strategy will be perfect and flawless outside of the gate. If something isn’t working – be ready to explore more effective ways to deal with the problems that have been presented. After a wipe, I will often ask in our healing channel “What happened?” and try to evaluate if it was a poor healing assignment, or an error on any given healer’s part. Once that’s been done, I then try to work through how to either fix the problem, or ensure that we don’t have a repeat of the problem.

But sometimes, things just really aren’t working. It’s those times that you have to step back and decide if the entire healing strategy needs to be re-worked. If that is the case, try to work with your healing team to get feedback on what they felt was successful and what wasn’t, and then subsequently what changes can be made.

Don’t Believe Everything the Meters Tell You

This one is important enough, that I think I’d like to reiterate this: Don’t believe everything that the meters tell you.

The problem with meters in evaluating a healer, is that they can’t take into account if the healer truly did their job. I think it’s also important for raid members to come to this understanding as well. What? A disc priest looks like they were outhealed by the shadow priest on Recount? Well…did you look at what their absorbs were? No? Go take a look at World of Logs and then get back to me and tell me what you think. Druid X isn’t healing as much as druid B? Do you know what their healing assignment was for the night? Ohhhh…I see, Druid X was asked to heal the tank and druid B was asked to heal the raid? Well, that would make a huge difference in their numbers then I would imagine, no?

There is so much more to healing than “winning” the meters. When push comes to shove – I don’t really care what the meters look like if the raid stayed alive and we succeeded. Quite frankly, I’d much rather have a healer that put their assignment first – and succeeded at that, than a healer that let their assignment die because they were “healing someone else”. Don’t get me wrong, healing meters can tell you a lot. But make no mistake about it – they will not always tell you who is a good healer.

Looking Forward – Giving Strict Healing Assignments

During WotLK we gave out strict healing assignments when we were learning an encounter – or if we needed to change healing up based on who was present in the raid. However, once we got familiar with content and it went on “farm” I stopped giving out assignments. People largely knew what to do – and we just did it. At most I’d give “xyz on the tanks, abc on the raid”. And frequently I’d give very loose assignments where others were far more rigid – because I felt that it was a better way to heal.

Take Heroic Sindragosa for example. I know that there were many people who were quite rigid in healing assignments allocating certain people to the tanks and certain people to the raid. However – due to the mechanics of the encounter – and the fact that you could not predict who would be affected with Unchained Magic – the only healing assignment that I gave to our team was “everyone is responsible for the entire raid and the tank”. That’s right – I basically told my healers that they were all responsible for…well, everything. And honestly, I think it was probably one of the best healing assignments I gave the entire expansion. We never had the tank die because too many “tank” healers were debuffed…because we had 7 tank healers.

Anyhow – I digress!

Looking forward into Cataclysm, I suspect that healing assignments are going to have to become much more rigid, as they were in Vanilla and TBC. Healers are going to have their assignment, and largely, they aren’t going to be able to stray too much from that assignment because their mana won’t let them. There is a good chance that on some encounters we will have to give raid healers assigned groups that they are responsible for, and not just “heal the raid”, and tank healers are not going to have a lot of leeway to vary from that assignment.

I think it’s going to be an interesting change – and perhaps, if it’s done well – a good change. I truly believe that we have yet to see what our new tool kits will do for us – I, for one, have been religiously trying to do more than just rejuv/wg spam in my raids since 4.0.1 landed. I’m making sure that I always have a Lifebloom active, that I make smart decisions on who I heal, and that I think about what I’m doing. Now, granted, you can only do that to a certain extent in this content, but going forward I think it’s going to be very interesting indeed.

What Kinds of Things Do You Look for in Giving Healing Assignments? What Kinds of Things Do You Look for in Receiving Healing Assignments? Have you ever done things unconventionally, or does thinking outside of the box make you nervous? What are you looking forward too most with Cataclysm Healing? Conversely, what are you least looking forward to?

And for those of you that read this post hoping to get a level of philosophical insight regarding healing akin to that of Robert M. Pirsig, I do apologize! I’m not sure I’ve had the right level of herbal assistance and motor oil to achieve such insight ;)

~ by ecclesiasticaldiscipline on November 22, 2010.

3 Responses to “Zen and the Art of Healing Assignments”

  1. Excellent points all around, Beru! The only thing I would add is to know the tanks as much as you do the healers, both in terms of class and in terms of players. Some tank classes have more cooldowns than others, and some players (just like healers) are better at timing them than others. When I assign healers to tanks I try to match them, and the particular job the tank has – so if the tank is assigned to a job with spiky damage, and is not very good at timing his cooldowns, I’ll make sure a healer with good cooldown management is assigned to him.

  2. I started heal leading in Ulduar and smoothed things out tremendously with basic assignments to left/right sides, sometimes to the melee group, and tank(s). I took a completely different approach to Mimiron and gave out 4 separate phases of healing assignments which seemed to work out well enough. The best part was that by assigning our healers the same way on almost all fights we developed consistent habits, to the point where I gave only the most cursory assignments on just some of the boss fights in ICC.

    I see the value in giving specific healing assignments, but through most of Wrath’s raids (even heroic) a decent healing team could get by fine with a semi-generic setup.

    For myself, playing a holy paladin, I prefer a minimum amount of specificity – such as which tank(s) are mine. If I’m not getting enough then I’ll make my own call and announce it to the raid or the other healers.

  3. I also think one thing to add here is to consider which tanks and healers (as people) have good synergy together. I don’t mean in a “they like each other” sense, because obviously not everyone will get along. But some people have been running with each other for a while and communicate very well, be it in whispers or in raid chat and having to keep up a tank that won’t work with you can be really difficult.

    For example, in the new guild that I just joined, I usually am asked to heal the same paladin on certain fights. We like each other, we have a good feel for what the other is going to do, we trust each other. It’s a good relationship. I have tried healing that tank that just does things and doesn’t remember he has a healer assigned to him and won’t work with me when we wipe and it’s extremely frustrating.

    So I think that is an extra thing that could be taken into account when handing out healing assignments.

    Fantastic post, Beru!


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