Woe is Disc!

2 February 2011 § 5 Comments

I have lots of stuff I want to talk about – plenty of things that have struck me as worth a comment or a discussion while I was levelling in Cataclysm. I think the most pressing matter, however, is a discussion of the state of Discipline. I switched to Discipline originally at the start of Wrath, as we were starting out in Naxx, because the other healer in the raid was himself a Holy Priest and we thought having some variety would have been a good idea. It was love at first sight: I loved the mechanics of it, I loved the versatility, and I also liked the flexibility in terms of soloing and PvPing (remember, this is all pre-dual spec, albeit by only a few months). I remained Disc throughout Wrath, through our OP moment in Ulduar (before the Penance nerf) and through our slightly darker situation in ICC. However, I am now seriously thinking about going Holy, because most of the raids turn into bouts of frustration and despair. Note that this is not about ego – in our raid I have not been top healer for many fights, and in fact I think I have most often been in second place (regardless of whether we were two- or three-healing an encounter). Now, however, I find myself with about half the effective healing of our top healer on almost every fight, so I am starting to feel like deadweight for the rest of the raid. Why is this happening? And what can I or we do about it?

Atonement, once again – and basic healing strategy

There was a lot of debate in the last days of the Cata beta, as well as during the 4.0.1 time, about the role of Atonement. The question was whether Atonement was supposed to be a mana replenishment tactic, a healing boost tactic, a viable healing strategy, a dps entertainment during those boring heroics, or just a very good coffee machine. OK, I made the last one up (although, hmmmm, coffee machine), but you get the idea: lots of possibilities, not a lot of data to understand, and the little data we had changed on a weekly basis with the various patches. So, I think it may be time to put a few ideas to rest.

Atonement is NOT a way to regain mana. Casting 5 smites will cost around 12,234 mana (depending on how the game rounds fractional costs), and return you 5% of your total mana. Unless your total mana is in the region of 244,672, you are actually getting LESS mana back than what you are spending (if your mana is around the 240k mark…. I don’t know what to say). This is not to say that we will not get there: Wrath mana pools more than doubled from start of raiding to end of the expansion, so it’s possible that the same will happen this time around. But, for now, I think we’re stuck with the fact that we will gain about 50% of the mana we spend on building Evangelism stacks. There goes the mana idea.

Atonement still has a fairly low healing throughput. It has received some hot fixes to make it better: it is now affected by most healing modifiers (Archangel, notably, but also talents like Divinity), but 7k-9k normal hits, and 10-15k crits are still not very much for a 1.3 sec heal (especially given our very low crit rate this early in the expansion). Of course, it is still relatively cheap (Archangel may not return mana, but it sure makes Atonement healing very cheap, effectively halving the cost), and the fact it is a smart heal makes it very useful on situations of low diffused damage. Also, keep in mind that Atonement depends on your Smite damage: so any special situation linked to the encounter that modifies this damage could make the corresponding heal a waste (on Siamat, if you’re smiting the boss before the adds are down) or pretty juicy (in Deadmines’ ragezones).

We already ruled out the possibility that Atonement was meant to be our coffee machine, and, I don’t know about you, but Heroics are still not exactly snoozefests that encourage me to Smite to have fun (and even if they were, I doubt we could ever get any noticeable dps from Smite, really). So, that leaves the healing boost from Archangel as our main reason to build up Evangelism: that 15% is actually a very nice increase, especially when you add to that the 24% of Grace (here’s a question that needs some verification: are they multiplicative? Or additive? I think Blizz made all bonuses like this additive a while back, but it would be nice to find out). This means that our healing should be to throw mending, then alternate Shields and Smite (to benefit from Borrowed Time), get to 5 stacks and then decide whether we want to keep that stack rolling, or get Archangel and boost our healing. When Archangel is up, switch to high throughput heals (Penance, GHeal, but also PoH or Divine Hymn), and remember to refresh PoM and even a Renew or two before Archangel expires. If you find yourself with Archangel up and not very much damage to heal, you can start building the next stack of Evangelism up – rinse and repeat. Notice that nowhere have I mentioned the use of Heal or FHeal. Heal should really not be on your bars: it is for people that don’t have Atonement, as it heals for about as much and doesn’t give you Evangelism (which really begs the question of our 2pc bonus for T11: why, Blizzard, why?). FHeal… I probably went from using too many FHeals (see below) to using too few of them. In theory, if someone is going to die in the next 1.3 secs, and Shield and Pain Supression are not an option (Weakened Soul and cooldown, respectively), then you should use FHeal, while crying about your mana disappearing down the drain. FHeal should, however, be a very small part of your overall healing, all things considered.

Mana, throughput and set-up time

As I was leveling and as soon as I got to 85, the biggest problem I had was mana management. Partly because I was still piecing things together, and probably used a fairly outmoded healing model, I found myself oom more often than not. This problem however went away as I got more comfortable with the healing routine I described above, but also because of another fact. Our mana replenishment comes from Rapture, Shadowfiend, and Hymn of Hope. ALL of those are based on your total mana – so as you gear up, and your maximum mana goes up, your mana replenishment will correspondingly go up, and it really felt it went up exponentially. I did gain about 20k mana in the gearing up process, so maybe it was just physiological – I think in fact all healers now gain mana depending on the size of their pool, so this may well be a common issue.

So the mana issue was just a matter of gearing, and it may well be common to all healers – it is worth noting that I am seeing it a lot less on my paladin, but the difference may also be that I know the fights better now, and so do (most of) the other people using LFG (or my guildies). However, attaining a decent mana situation only served to expose other, and possibly bigger issues.

The biggest gripe I have is a numbers issue. I am spamming my heart out, casting constantly, and my numbers are just way too low. I mentioned my “rotation” (as much as healers can have a rotation) just above, and as far as I can tell, this is the most sustainable rotation for healing Disc priests have at the moment. The problem is, I’m still healing about half of what our paladin or druid healers can do. And I know healing is not about numbers, that latency and reflexes may mean we’re sniping heals off each other, that Disc has never been a contender for the top spot on the metres. But half the healing? That sounds way too high as a gap.

I am not completely comfortable with the choice between mana efficiency and sustainability on one hand (which is basically using the spells we mentioned above) and throughput. Our “high throughput” rotation to me is spamming shield, penance and GHeal on one target – which is basically sure to get us oom very fast, and sadly, and this is my gripe, not really getting a lot of healing out – or at least not substantially higher than what we would get from our mana efficient use of Atonement. I admit that this may just be a matter of still adjusting to the new system (you know, I’m starting to get old, it’s difficult to change…), but it feels that the difference should be higher – and it would be, if we could use the Archangel buff for high throughput, but of course Archangel is not available on use when we want.

This brings me to the third and final concern – the set-up time for Archangel. Most healers have cooldowns that allow them to just heal burst damage: druids have tree form, paladins have Avenging Wrath, shamans… not sure about them, as we don’t use them much and I haven’t delved into them. Our comparable cooldown, Archangel, requires about 7 secs to prepare. Now, to balance that, the actual cooldown of the ability is MUCH shorter (18 secs with 30 secs cooldown, compared to 20 secs with 2 mins cooldown talented for Avenging Wrath, and 30 secs with 5 mins cooldown for Tree of Life), but the set-up really limits the usefulness of Archangel as an “oh shit” button – in fact, the Smite rotation is the first thing that goes out of the window when the shit hits the fan, in my playstyle. I don’t want to stress comparisons with other classes, because it’s unfair and most especially dangerous because we really don’t want all classes to have the same abilities. The message here is that Archangel seems to be stuck in the middle between a true “oh shit” button and a regular feature of Disc healing every 20 secs.

So…

So, in Heroics, I often have the tank plunge dangerously low in the first 10 secs, as I build up to Archangel, and then I use the next 15 secs trying to scramble them back to a semblance of health. In raids, I feel like the 5th wheel of the healing team: I’m either stuck to background healing, or I’m running out of mana. I may be doing something wrong, and I know I can certainly improve on my healing skills. I am currently using Archangel as often as I can, but given mana is becoming less of a concern in normal situations, I could probably start keeping a 5-stack rolling, and use it as an emergency cooldown much more than as a routine part of the healing strategy. Also, I don’t want to overly stress the extent of the problem: writing this post over several days has also helped me to separate temporary frustration with a bad night from a more permanent, underlying problems.

The next patch is also buffing our numbers quite considerably: Grace will apply to multiple targets, Shields will cost 30% more but heal 200% more, and Penance will cost 7% more and heal 20% more. I am not sure. The Grace change in particular will be nice: at the most basic level, it means that Grace can stay on the tank, even if we throw a Penance or a GHeal on a secondary healing target (another tank, or a careless dps). It also becomes possible to get fancy and actively keep Grace up on multiple targets, though that sounds fairly difficult. The Shield change will be nice: although the cooldown change has made shield spamming impossible, having a shield whose basic absorption is 3x the current one will be invaluable, especially in the Archangel-building times which are our weakest spot. The real question is whether the change will affect just the basic value of the spell, or the spellpower scaling too (I would guess a mix of the two). I really really hope these changes will be enough: I still adore the spec, and we have a lot going for us (Power Word: Barrier is nothing short of amazing) – which makes the current state of affairs even more frustrating.

Sex, talk and videogames

11 January 2010 § Leave a comment

It’s now more than a month since 3.3 is released, so I guess it’s time for me to talk a bit about the Dungeon Finder. To start, kudos to Blizzard for turning what was always an awkward system that they tinkered with several times (LFG channel, meeting stones/innkeepers, global LFG channel, LFG tool) into a fantastic addition to the game. Even more interestingly, they took two pieces of infrastructure that they put in place for other reasons (the cross-realm queueing for BGs and the cross-realm instances to solve the “additional instances cannot be launched” issue) and combined them in a new way (with a new algorythm to match roles and gear etc) – nice example of emergent strategy and tinkering.

So then, the LFG tool. I want to make two comments that partly echo what others have said – and then add my own perspective to a third issue. First is that I’m surprised at how well things are working out. Sure, you have the occasional douchebags: from the people who are asleep at the wheel and pulling 1k dps (sorry, was doing that at 70, you MUST do better at 80 – no gear excuse), to the assholes that like to blame the others (especially prevalent in Halls of Reflection – but the Douche award goes to this guy), to the idiots who leave group if it’s Oculus, to the tanks who leave group if it’s not the exact instance they want (clearly they prefer waiting 15 mins for the debuff to clear – and I agree tanks are the new prima donnas). But I also met some great people, from the rogue who tanked Skadi from 60% to 0% when the tank and the other 2 dps failed to move out of whirlwind (sorry, only so many miracles I can do) to the guys that are thankful if I try to explain the bosses in the new instances if they say they are seeing them for the first time.

Second, many people have compared this to casual sex. Now, I don’t know what kind of casual sex you guys have had, and maybe I’ve been lucky but… no, just no comparison. Casual sex still beats LFG tool, sorry. I guess I’m not enough of a WoW junkie (or maybe I’m too much of a dirty slut IRL? One of the two…). For once, you actually talk MORE during casual sex than the average Dungeon Finder PUG. There’s this “code of silence” that really drives me nuts: not as if people cannot spare 2 mins to say “hello” and a couple of other one-liners. In fact, this silence is, as I hope to show, one of the biggest problems of the Dungeon Finder tool.

The biggest snag in the Dungeon Finder system (and so we get to the REAL topic of today’s post) is that there’s five people in that instance. They don’t know each other. Chances are, they haven’t played with each other before. In a best case scenario, they all want the same thing (2 Emblems of Frost in the shortest time), and have the gear that makes this goal attainable. The worst thing to do, however, is to assume precisely that- because no matter what we think, people are different and there’s different options for each instance. Some people may want to kill all possible bosses to get as many Emblems of Triumph as possible: Gundrak, Old Kingdom and Halls of Stone allow you to skip bosses, so it’s important to know where people stand on this issue if you have one of these three instances (I think theoretically you can skip the Commander boss in Nexus, but he’s in the way if you take the shortest route through the bosses anyway). Some people don’t have the gear to keep up with a whirlwind-pace run: not a big problem if it’s a dps (it will just take a smidge of times longer), a bit more of a problem if it’s a healer or (worse) the tank. Some people may actually have other priorities in the instance, too: witness this conversation I had with my druid:

DF Tank: druid, u lagging? y u not w/ us?
Me: I’m skinning
DF Tank: wtf? i’m chain pulling

Me: and I’m skinning….

Aside from the surrealist character of the conversation, the point I was making is, I think, a valid one: my druid still values the leathers, and dungeons are a good source (my only source, since I don’t much quest with him anymore, and I’m not gonna grind mobs to get leather). If the tank wants to pull without a healer, that’s his problem (as long as I’m not taking 15-mins tea breaks between pulls, obviously).

Differences in pace preferences can lead to cans of worms all over the place. The tank may pull ahead of the healer and die – or viceversa, the dps (or the healer!) may get impatient and “help” tanks pull. This doesn’t go down well with our plate queens. Before Linedan and the other tanks start cursing my name and blacklisting me, let me qualify that. I think tanks are control freaks: they want every little thing under control, so that mobs die in a certain order, they are all attacking them, and nothing bad happens. DPS, for the most part, are chaos kids: they jump into groups of mobs and start AoEing everything, and you can almost hear them over the game shouting: “Wheeeeeee!” as they spam their AoE moves. (I’ll refrain from saying what healers are: as far as I’m concerned they are Saints purging the sins of the world with nary a recognition – and this is the version I’ll be sticking with, even if it’s irrelevant for today’s post). The problem is: to chain pull an instance (or, worse, a raid) and keep perfect control, you need an inordinate amount of skill. The other problem: total control is boring if you’re outgearing an instance, as a dps or a healer.

I’ve been in both situations (yay alts!): the reason for this post in fact was reading the post by Linedan and then, the following day, tanking an HoL run with a stellar team of dps from my guild, and a PUG resto druid in ToTC25 gear. Everyone was really trying their best to make my job easier: the druid was innervating me, the tank, every two minutes; all the dps was handling the easier mobs (the casters, basically) without me; we completed it in just above 15 mins; and it was still a run I thoroughly hated. Tanking doesn’t come natural to me, and having to do it at twice the speed I’d be choosing on my own was too much stress for a game. I like being pushed outside my comfort zone: that’s the main reason I play an enhancement shaman and a paladin tank, neither of which role is a natural for me. But that’s exactly the problem: baseline, normal speed tanking is pushing me already. Doing it at breakneck speed is turning “pushing outside comfort zone and improving my game” into “pure stress”.

The solution is pretty simple: communicate. If you, as a tank, want to try to go fast, say so at the beginning. If, as a healer, you outgear Heroics so much you hardly need to drink, make it clear to the tank. If, on the other hand, you want to go a bit more slowly, let everyone know. If you want to skip bosses and just get to the end one, ask if everyone is ok with it.  I really think these 2 mins of communication would make everyone’s life a lot easier, at the very least by aligning everyone’s expectation. Who knows? Maybe we’ll manage to make people realise that they 1 min they lose by stating out their preferences for that run would really help everyone (themselves included) avoid any undue stress. Or at least once they do have some casual sex, they’ll know that they’ll still need to talk to their partner, or just turn it into bad sex.

Learning and whining – the two faces of wiping

15 September 2009 § 2 Comments

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been leveling a druid to 80. He was the last alt I had got to 70 before Wrath hit, and after about a level as Feral, I decided I didn’t like that, and switched over to Balance. Fast forward to 76, when I made the big step of buying dual spec, and went Resto. Then yesterday, at 78, I see a call in a chat channel for a healer for Trial of the Champion. Given the quality of loot in there, I decided to go. Turns out the tank, an 80 warrior, was not very experienced (his first time in there) nor very well geared (26k health with Mark of the Wild). And of course, my Resto experience is quite limited, having healed only two instance runs formerly.

So we wiped. A lot. About 4-5 times on the Champions, once on Paletress, 3 times on the Black Knight. And at first, I thought it was my fault for not keeping up the tank, or the tank’s fault for not grabbing the mage (who proceeded to annihilate me), or use his cooldowns, etc. Then I started asking more questions: “Was Grounding Totem down?”; “Can we interrupt the mage?”; “Please Purge the Renews”; “Any chance we can Frost Trap the Ghoul?”; “Was Cleansing Totem down?”

In all cases, I pointed out stuff that hadn’t been happening before, and that did improve our next attempts. The tank had a fantastic attitude, trying to figure out what went wrong and to improve the next attempt. I was figuring out what to do with all my HoTs, and learning how to handle situations of tank at 50% health, with 3 HoTs on him, Swiftmend and NS on cooldown…

One of the group members started complaining about the tank to me in whispers – he and I had known each other for a long time, so I think he assumed he would find a sympathetic ear. He was complaining that he was “tired of training tanks, that they should know what to do”. In other words, he was blaming the tank for all the wipes, and whining about it. That’s when I started asking about the various things DPS could have done to improve the situation, and had not – and whispered back to him I was tired of training the DPS.

This however made me think. Aside from my snarky comment, I actually wasn’t frustrated. Sure, I would have preferred one-shotting everything and completing the instance in 15 mins, but all in all, I thought it was ok. It’s not that I enjoyed the wiping, but I enjoyed learning more about druid healing, from using Nature’s Grasp, to Barkskin, to Dash, to all the more normal healing spells – and the wiping was a mild side effect to it. Instances are easy when we go with our ultra-geared alts, but I think they’re also a LOT of fun to do when we’re pushing the envelope of our abilities, when we not only have to do max dps, but also interrupt, cleanse, off-heal, off-tank, kite, etc. These are all playing skills that will become useful in other contexts, when we will be faced with difficult encounters, like raids. I think too often we blame other people, instead of thinking about what WE could have done to help. If the tank is undergeared, reducing incoming damage through interrupts is even more important. If the healer has 13k health, we need to kill the ghouls quickly, and make sure they are not on him. In other words, people need to adapt, and learn how to use ALL their abilities, and not just the three in the max-dps rotation.

Whining and learning are really the two possible answers to wiping – neither changes what happened before, but learning tries to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen again. Now, that doesn’t mean that I’ll be able to always learn from my wipes, and never get frustrated. But it’s good to rationalize why some wipes with some groups are so frustrating, while other times I can wipe with no end in sight, and still feel like I’ve accomplished something.

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