Things I’m (kinda) learning: Raid healing

PREFACE: I’ve discovered a collection of unpublished drafts from the past month or so and am gradually cleaning and releasing. Expect random jumps from subject to subject!

Not too long ago, I attended one of our Thursday night raids instead of stumblingly mispronouncing bits of Japanese, but in an unusual (read: never before attempted) capacity. As a healer. One of our warrior tanks was unavailable and it was looking likely we wouldn’t be able to raid. Except, wait a minute, our disco priest’s alt is a warrior1. With a prot spec. Except now we’ve only got a single druid healer. Unless the ret paladin goes holy. *eep*

I’ve been making better use of my holy offspec for a while now. Well, I’ve been healing the odd guild 5man so the mainspec healers can relax and pewpew a bit, and shortcutting the DF queue for personal gain. I think that counts as “better”, no? And, thanks to the “no-one needs spellplate” problem, I have a mostly-251 healing set (even if I haven’t bought any tier 10), so I didn’t have a “not geared” excuse to fall back on. So I did a quick bit of reading on healing in raids (heal the tank, lol), swapped out a glyph (5% FoL crit instead of a 90s beacon? Which idiot rolled this character?) and got ready.

I felt very much how I remember feeling before my first guild raid; incredibly nervous and unready but excited too. A bit of ranged DPS on Cent is tons-o-fun, and a change, but it’s still the same basic concept. This was going to be *different*. Things got off to an interesting start with the weekly, good old crotch-pot guy in Ulduar. I don’t know if you remember the trash before you get there but OMG CHAIN KNOCKBACK? Chain knockback, in this case, accompanied by me landing in the middle of the next pack and pulling them too. We didn’t wipe, but ze tree and several DPS needed a res. “Not a good start.”, I thought.

Ignis himself was fairly straightforward, with ze tree taking care of crotchpot swimmers before I could even think about switching heal targets, and so we carried on to VoA for a quick frost run which (yes!) netted a piece of T10 for one of our shamans shamen shamens totemgoats. Then we zoned into ICC.

Progress through the pre-Marrowgar trash seemed surprisingly smooth, most likely due to the absence of some idiot spamming divine storm focus fire from the dps and, although we were a bit shaky on Marrowgar himself it came right in the end. On we trundled to the Lady D, where by a combination of bad luck and bad positioning we managed to pull all of the trash AND one of the big guys at the same time. Which was … intense. By the time they were all down, my fingers were sweating, my mana below 30%, my cooldown timers were ticking away and there were a couple of squished dps but we again didn’t wipe *phew*. Lady D herself was almost a pushover by comparison — although I now realise how much healing it takes when someone doesn’t move out of her DnD, via the excellent method of being a little slow myself and watching my health plummet.  OMG OMG shit run stop running healhealheal.

Of course, as I was in healing spec the Whispering Fanged Skull dropped, and once again it was made plain that I am destined never to use this trinket. On the previous two occasions it dropped I was beaten by a rogue and a hunter. This time it was a different hunter that beat my roll. The following week, when I wasn’t able to make the raid, it dropped *again* and was won by *another* rogue. Clearly, the Lady whose name once should never speak wishes me to have the heroic version… or possibly just hates me. Anyway, we carried on as far as a couple of wipes on Putricide before finishing for the evening.

I found it a surprisingly different experience, standing at the back and healing, even though I’ve done a reasonable amount of it in heroics. I’m not sure I’d want to do it full time, but it is fun. Of course, it helps if you’ve got an experienced healer covering any shortfalls or cockups, but it’s quite the different game. Movement is suddenly a big deal. I mean, on Cent movement’s a DPS loss, sure,  but movement at the wrong time as a holy pally could mean a DPS lost, or possibly even a tank. We didn’t really make a serious attempt at the Professor, but in the couple of attempts we *did* make I was struggling to understand *when* and *how* I was supposed to move so as not to let people die. Naturally, there’s an awkward part of me that now *really* wants to work on the Prof as a healer, to see if I can do it, but I’m sure I can persuade him to pipe down.

Observations on my first raid healing experience

  • Movement is brutal. Even with well geared, highly skilled tanks, bosses still hit hard.
  • I still can’t use utility abilities/healing cooldowns well. Perhaps it’s a question of experience, but whenever I thought “gee, a cooldown would be good about now” I  was generally spam-healing and unwilling to stop. Something to practice in heroic dungeons, I think.
  • It’s hard to maintain any sense of situational awareness when you’re focused on the ever-moving bars in Vuhdo. Possibly my UI layout doesn’t help: it was designed with DPS in mind and puts my raidframes at the bottom of the screen, with primary actionbars front-and-centre. Even so, I was barely aware of what was going on, beyond incoming damage. I wonder if this is something healers learn to compensate for, or whether there are full-time raid healers who would enjoy a dps-tourism trip where they can feel free to look around?
  • It’s no great surprise that, in my limited pugging experience, groups that have managed the first four encounters fairly comfortably often falter in the plague wing. The encounters are more complex and, as was confirmed for me, the incoming damage is significantly greater. And of course, Putricide is the first big test of a raid’s ability to work together and be co-ordinated. Movement, positioning and control make the difference between a wipe and a clear.
  • Moments of greatest excitement as a DPS are often the most terrifying and stressful for healers. Note to self: remember that in future and, y’know, say thanks.
  • Getting a last-millisecond heal in on someone about to keel over is, in a strange way, not much more exciting than timing your heals so that people stay at high health. I guess the “Yay! Saved her!” is slightly offset by “Hells! Nearly let her die.”, and there’s a certain satisfaction in watching the heal you started casting a second or so ago (because you spotted the upcoming danger) land only moments after the incoming damage.
  • Beacon of Light is a bit of a cheat. I can see why they’ve changed it so much for Cataclysm. To be able to keep one person (say, a tank) up without really thinking about *them* but simply by spamming heals on *other people* seems a bit cheap (even if it’s a great crutch for noob healers like me).

This brief burst of healing has also seen me farming ToC normal in search of Tears of the Vanquished. Even though I was able to randomly collect Je-Tze’s Bell, I have a notion that (paired with the Talisman of Resurgence) it would be a great trinket for someone without access to ICC healing trinkets. Even though I have no need of extra intellect in random heroic 5 mans. Even though my raid healing experience is likely to be limited to this single run. Even though, after 20-something runs, the blasted thing remains invisible.

Just in case, you understand. Just in case.

  1. For whatever reason, we seem incapable of attracting/retaining tanks who aren’t warriors. We’ve got four. And (currently) nothing else []

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