12 February 2009

Intro to Druid Healing 1: Base Concepts

I see a lot of referrals that come from people searching for "druid healing rotation" or something similar. Think of this post series as "Intro to Druid Healing" — it's first-semester calculus, but designed for math and physics majors and not liberal arts. You'll go on to bigger and better things, but this should give you a good foundation.

The intro-level course will span five posts:

So, on to DH1: Base Concepts

Like I mentioned, everyone wants to know a healing rotation. The secret? There is no healing rotation, Neo. Healing is, more than any other WoW role, fundamentally about reacting to what's happening. A plan is good, but you have to be willing to toss it out when the situation changes.

I could just tell you what spells to cast. But you probably know that already. (And if you don't I'll get to that in later posts.) The key to good healing is to make smart decisions. These base concepts will provide the foundation for those good decisions.

There are four basic concepts I want to talk about in this post:

GCD Management

Global Cooldown (GCD): A global or universal cooldown, frequently shortened to "GCD", is the cooldown which starts every time you start to cast a spell, and it affects all of your class spells. (from WoWWiki)
The number one thing that will make you a better healer is GCD management. One obvious part of that is knowing how to cast spells as fast as possible; that's just a matter of timing your casts to the GCD. But GCD also represents a choice. You only have so many chances to cast a spell. GCD limits that for every class to some extent. But as Druids, four of our main healing spells are instant cast, and a couple more have cast times either sometimes (Regrowth) or always (Nourish) about equal to the GCD.

So GCD management means making the most of your limited chances to cast heals. It's a matter of opportunity cost: spell X will do the most good at this particular time. There are many ways this shows up:
  • If you cast a heal on a target that dies, that's a wasted GCD.
  • If you let your Lifebloom stack expire, you'll have to spend 3 GCDs building it again. That's two lost GCDs.
  • If you forget, and (accidently) cast a Rejuv on a target that has several seconds left on its existing Rejuv, that's a lost GCD too.
Each of those lost GCDs is a lost healing spell. That doesn't matter on easy, boring, casual fights. But it makes all the difference on challenging fights.

Mana Management

If GCD provides the time-bound healing constraint, mana is the resource-bound constraint. Cast too many spells, or too many inefficient spells, and you'll run out of mana.

You'll see a lot of recent references that state "I never run out of mana" or "mana regeneration is currently too powerful, especially for healers." This is both true and false. There's a real problem here for moderate- to well-geared healers, particularly in larger raids. But a newer healer in green-to-blue gear will very likely have mana issues, particularly in a group or raid that doesn't bring the Replenishment buff.

Moreover, mana regeneration is going to change. You will have to manage your mana at some point. I'm not going to analyze the specifics, mostly because I expect them to change at least a little bit. Point is, it's a good habit to be aware of mana efficiency, and to practice managing your mana. Otherwise you'll find the boss at 30% health and you OOM with no remaining options.

There are three basic things to look for:
  1. What is the mana cost of your spells? In particular, what is their Heal per Mana (HPM) amount? This is basically a measurement of your spells' efficiency.
  2. What is the size of your mana pool? How much mana do you start with?
  3. What is your mana regen? Broadly speaking, this is the rate your mana bar refills. This is a whole topic itself, and there are a host of factors that affect it.
We'll talk about mana management throughout the guide. But it's also important to remember that mana management is secondary to healing. Or to put it differently, a mostly-full mana bar does you no good if you're dead. So you do your best to manage mana well, until an emergency hits and you have to toss heals like confetti. That's why good GCD management results in good mana management: you have fewer emergencies.

Gear Levels

I've talked about judging healer gear in this post and this post. I won't repeat that material; it gives some background on what stats you need and why.

The only thing I'll add is the concept of throughput versus sustainability. Throughput basically means how powerful your heals are, while sustainability talks about how long you can keep healing. Stats that modify throughput are Spellpower, Crit, and Haste, while sustainability is affected by MP5 and Intellect. Spirit is primarily a sustainability stat but it has significant throughput effects too, through Improved Tree of Life. (I'm not forgetting about the crit from Intellect, but it's a smaller effect on a less-important stat.)


This isn't some WoW term — it's a medical concept with a history dating back to the Napoleonic Wars.
Triage (pronounced /ˈtriːɑːʒ/) is a process of prioritizing patients based on the severity of their condition. This facilitates the ability to treat as many patients as possible when resources are insufficient for all to be treated immediately. (from Wikipedia)
There's a lot of complexity to true triage, but the most basic form relies on three categories for your patients: (Quoting again from Wikipedia)
1. Those who are likely to live, regardless of what care they receive;
2. Those who are likely to die, regardless of what care they receive;
3. Those for whom immediate care might make a positive difference in outcome.
The word "triage" comes from a French word that means "to sort", but I've always been struck by the "tri = three" resemblance.

For healers in WoW, this means understanding your priorities. Sometimes, if a DPS toon pulls aggro, you may not have enough healing power to save them. Sending heals onto that toon burns GCDs and mana that ends up wasted. Triage also means knowing who can wait because they're not in immediate danger.

Triage also involves knowing who you can afford to let die. Hint: the tank usually can't afford to die. It also can involve choosing among your DPS. Who's the damage leader and who's not quite up to par? Keeping the right one alive can make the difference between winning the fight and dying to an Enrage timer.

A related concept is healing assignment. As you get into 10- and 25-man raids, you'll be working with other healers. Assignments are basically there to help the healers avoid stepping on each other's toes. Again, this is all about resource management. If two healers are fighting to heal the same toon, there's probably another toon that's dying in the meantime.


The base concepts I talked about here are really what
  • You have a limited number of spells you can cast. Managing your GCD is all about choosing the right spell and target with those casts.
  • You can only heal while you have mana. Mana management is a bit avoidable at the moment, but it's going to get more important with patch 3.1. Sometimes, however, mana concerns have to take a back seat to just keeping people alive.
  • Your gear represents a hard limit on how much healing you can do.
  • Sometimes, deciding who lives and who dies is part of being a healer. That's triage.
OK, that's my throat-clearing first post. Next time out I'll look at tank healing.


Marc said...

Sometimes it is difficult to make a choice.

If you save the DPS you might not have enough mana to heal the tank. If you leave the DPS to die you might not have enough DPS to meet the boss timer.

Dave Ciskowski said...

True. Sometimes you have no good choice.

Even then though, my goal is always to keep fighting until the last, in the hope that we'll find a way to pull things out. Usually we don't, but maybe 1 time in 50, we do.

"Till shade is gone, till water is gone, into the Shadow with teeth bared, screaming defiance with the last breath, to spit in Sightblinder's eye on the last Day."

Marc said...

Coincidentally, I've read the entire WoT series too and that is one of the most inspiring quotes in it.

hexe said...

im wathing for the interface part, many times I find grid and others raid addons very ussefull in this situations, so you become aware of some DPS is pulling aggro just before he get hit, hots and nourish rigth away! but this only works for trash mostly...