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.
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.
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.