Second Lesson from Heroics: Hard Choices

As a healer, I take it personally when someone in my party has their health bar dip.  It’s my job, after all, to ensure that they survive so that they can do their thing.  With the new realities of healing and mana management there are limitations to what a healer can do to keep people alive.  This leads to the healer having to make some hard choices when prioritizing who gets what heal and when.

(As an aside, how has no one coined the term Mana-gement yet?  Mananagement, maybe?)


With very expensive yet weak heals relative to health pools, it has become normal for people to be at less than full health during an encounter.  Therefore, a healer needs to be mentally balancing three fundamental things constantly:

1) The Tank’s Health
2) The Healer’s Mana bar
3) The Party’s Health as a whole

Thinking of the party in these terms simplifies the scope of healing.  You don’t need to worry about 5 different health bars so much as you have to worry about three things:  Keep your tank at a survivable level of health, keep your mana bar up, and keep enough, preferably all of the party alive to finish the encounter. 

Striking the successful balance between these three important factors is at the heart of the Cataclysm healing paradigm.  Sacrificing any one of these elements generally means a wipe, while a properly balanced approach should be successful.  For example, if your tank is low on health but not in critical danger of dying, spamming large heals to top him up at the expense of your mana reserves means that you will not be able to last long enough to finish the encounter.  Likewise, keeping your mana high is pointless if everyone is dying on you.

Yes, this is normal.  Don't Panic.

The Needs of the Many…

A great example of this balancing act occurred last night during a Heroic Throne of the Tides run.  It was a partial guild run with myself, the Tank and a Shadow Priest in the group which was rounded out by a Mage and a Rogue that we found using the LFD tool.  It was a great group, actually, and the run went quite smoothly.  It’s amazing how much easier Lady Naz’jar is with proper crowd control.

However, during the Commander Ulthok encounter I ran into one of these hard decisions that really crystallized this whole balance idea in my mind.  If you have not done the encounter, Ulthok creates Dark Fissures on the ground that expand throughout the fight, similar to the Lich King’s Defile.  There is nothing that can be done about these, you simply need to avoid them and is the key mechanic with this fight.

One mistake that our tank made was that he allowed the first Fissure to be dropped in the centre of the room, which eventually seriously limited the space that we were able to safely occupy during the encounter.  After the first one, he tanked and kited the boss around the edge of the room properly and everything was proceeding fine.

However, about halfway into the fight, I notice one of our damage dealers standing in the middle of the room taking damage from the first Fissure and not moving out of it.  It was the Shadow Priest from our guild, who is a very good player, but it left me with a dilemma:  Do I heal him or not?  In Wrath it wouldn’t even have been a question; I would have spammed big heals on him and the boss would have been dead before it became an issue.  Not so, now.

I chose not to heal him.

That felt really, really wrong, but it was the right call.

In order to heal him, I would have had to start casting my fast, expensive Flash Heal just to keep up with the damage.  It would have saved him, at least for a while, but it also would have destroyed my mana reserves in very short order; jeopardizing the entire encounter and violating the principle of balance.  By recognizing that the Priest was beyond help unless he moved allowed me to focus on what I could save, and ultimately get the kill.

The Lesson

Cataclysm heroic dungeons (and I assume Cataclysm raids, even though I’m not there yet) force you to rethink who you are healing and with what spell.  Many people will tell you that as a healer, you must prioritize the tank and yourself and screw the damage dealers.  I feel this is a flawed strategy, as a party with no damage won’t kill much of anything.  You must strike the balance and keep all three parts of the party alive and functioning.  Sacrificing one-third of your damage to save the whole is one of the hard choices that you’re going to have to get used to making as a Cataclysm healer.


  1. Ok, so the 100th commenter gets a free puppy, but what about the first?

    But yeah, it's hard to adjust my thinking that everyone doesn't need to be topped off at all times. I don't like it. Mostly because you never know what bad thing is going to happen next that is going to take intense heals and I don't like being caught with my pants down, so to speak. At least, on my priest, I have the option to bubble and/or renew people and forget about them for a little while, while I tend to the tank or myself.
    And yes, I can see the point about prioritizing tank/healer over DPS but I think of it this way: Without the tank, mobs will run around willy nilly. Without me, people are going to die. DPS are important too, and if I can keep at least one up during a tough pull where everyone's taking TONS of damage, hooray! But I'll always be quick to toss bubbles if that's the case. Quick and easy way to buy them more time.

    I've only done one full clear of a heroic, a few more attempts that fell apart due to time, usually. They still scare the bajeebuz out of me, honestly. I like that they're harder, I do. But I also don't like that they're essentially 5 man raids (at times) and are a huuuuge time sink. Oh, future blog post idea....

    And that rogue would have gotten a swift introduction to Life Grip (err, Leap of Faith) if it had been me in that heroic. No really, GET OUT OF THE BAD!

  2. Life Grip would have been insanely useful in that situation. Oh, if only I had been on my priest.

    As it was, I didn't have much I could do other than direct heal him. Hand of Sacrifice would have only delayed the inevitable (and was on cooldown anyway), Hand of Protection would not have protected him from the Shadow Damage. I suppose the one thing I could have done differently is use Lay on Hands on him (assuming that wasn't on cooldown as well) when he got low, which would have at least kept him alive a good while longer while we finished the fight. Still, I really do like saving that for an "OH CRAP" moment with the tank.

    Heroics are getting a lot better as the gear gets better and people know the fights. I still recommend running with people you know as much as you can, but running with random people isn't quite as bad as it was. Besides, bad PUGs are gold for blogging content. :)