Maintaining Discipline (finale)

Over the last few posts regarding Discipline, I’ve been discussing mostly gear and talents, which frankly is the easiest thing to learn when it comes to healing. Learning what spells you have and when to use them is also a major part of the game, and more so because it is tied to a few basic lessons in healer philosophy.

The concept of Triage

While watered down throughout Cataclysm and a lot less applicable than Blizzard promised players it would be, the concept of Triage revolves around who lives and who dies when the healer’s resources are stretched. These resources are  Time and Mana. If a big attack comes in and several people are in danger from dying, the healer has to figure out near-instantly who must be saved and who is less of a priority. Likewise, if he has mana for only a few heals, he might have to decide to let someone die to save the group as a whole.

This happens most often in 5mans, where the Triage concept is also not too complicated. As an example of Triage, see the graphic below:

Without a tank, your group (and/or raid) will die very quickly. Letting the tank die is never an option unless the boss is at very low health and will die itself before you do.
You have to stay alive to heal everyone (and in a raids, this means also keeping an eye on your fellow healers) but a tank can stay alive for quite some time without a healer (especially in 5mans) through wise use of cooldowns. If you have to choose between the tank and yourself, keep the tank alive and hope someone in the party has a battle-rez for you.
DPS generally have to be kept alive highest > lowest, which should be an impetus for DPS to do their job well. If they are bad, they are at the bottom of the “must be healed” list. If they have a special role to fulfill in an encounter (popping Ragnaros traps for instance) they also move up in the list.

While simple, performing a proper Triage while healing, under stress during an encounter is not as easy as it looks. It takes a bit of practice and a lot of experience, which is the key feature that makes healing a challenging assignment. It’s not in the spamming of heals, but knowing when and how to conserve mana and effort to make it through an encounter.

Situational spell usage

Healing is not a single rotation that fits all. In fact, the way you heal and the spells you use may vary widely. If healing is easy (trash) you can probably make do with shields, atonement and Penance. If healing is hard, you will be using cooldowns and using Greater Heal – if there’s heavy raid damage, this becomes Prayer of Healing.

The key to healing all these situations is knowing what kind of damage will be coming in. Let’s take an example: Majordomo Staghelm.

During his initial phase (Scorpion) he will be dealing light damage on the tank. But when his energy bar fills up, he will deal a fiery slash that deals enormous damage spread out across the raid in front of him. As this phase continues, the slashes come faster and faster.

When people spread out, he turns to Cat form. He will do light damage on the tank, and occasionally jump at a person leaving a fiery zone. The person he jumps on takes a big hit, and an add spawns. As the phase continues, he will jump quicker and quicker, meaning adds start to pile up on the tank.

Every time he switches phases, he gains a damage buff, meaning all damage mentioned above becomes more and more severe.

With this knowledge, you know how the damage will be flowing in. In the first scorpion phase, you can use shields, renew and penance on the tank, while starting to precast a Prayer of Healing just as the Fiery Scythe comes. I generally also like to use a PoH on the healer group, if I happen not be in group 5 at that time.
In cat phase, the tank needs very little attention. Majordomo doesn’t hit very hard, and the adds (if killed quickly enough) hardly scratch him. I use my heals on closeby people who get jumped, but conserve mana a bit.
The phase where healing becomes really tough is the 2nd Scorpion phase and on – and the cat phase where DPS have to “tank” the fiery orbs across the room. Here the DPS need a lot of attention, and the Scorpion phases are where we use cooldowns and trinkets. The last cat phase is where he is powerful enough to one-shot people, so here I keep a close eye on who he’s targeting for the jump, and use Shield + PoM to try and save that person.

So you see, that every action (majordomo’s attacks in various phases and forms) have a proper reaction (a way to keep people alive and at enough health to survive the next blow). Every encounter is built this way. Don’t be discouraged if you are in for some hard times, because you actually have to learn the damage flow in every encounter until you know how to answer whatever may happen.

See below a general guideline on use of spells during various “damage levels” (click for the big picture):

It’s not perfect and you will find that personal experience on an encounter beats a simple graph, but if you are just starting out it can provide a nice handhold.

Conclusion

Just as with Shadowpriest DPS, healing is not just about the right gear and talents, but also about the right attitude. With experience comes a sense of calm, and from that you will gain an increasing certainty in healing your 5mans and raid group. When I first healed as Discipline I was floundering and kept losing my head – there was so much that was new to track! But every fight makes me more sure, teaches me another trick to use.

I hope that these posts have been useful in case your raid requires your help when you’re a healer short – because healing a raid is always better than calling a raid.

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2 Responses to “Maintaining Discipline (finale)”

  1. How is Prayer of Mending’s mana cost nowadays? At start of Cata and end of WotLK I kept the spell almost on cooldown as it was just that good. When doing the ICC heroics it often did large majority of the healing with PWS being the followup. It being a smart heal I often had it bouncing between myself and the tank with strategically taking off a bit of HP from myself with SWD.

    In raid settings where there pretty much isn’t such a situation where there is no aoe on the raid it should be on CD unless it still has charges left.

    • It depends on the fight really. Some fights AoE is on everyone, all the time (Rhyolith, Majordomo, Ragnaros) which means that it will be used up very swiftly. If you are on tank healing, glyphing it to boost the initial heal is a very wise idea.

      Other fights are designed so that the raid takes little or no damage at all (Alysrazor while the Druids are up, Baleroc, Shannox) in which case PoM can still be useful, but chances are good it won’t be used up before the cooldown is ready again.

      It requires a bit of playing by ear, really. Prayer of Mending costs 18% of base mana (about the same as Renew’s base mana cost) but heals for 4-5 times as much if allowed to bounce fully. Even if it doesn’t, the mana cost versus the healing gained isn’t so bad that you shouldn’t use it on cooldown.

      As a note in PvP:
      When healing in PvP, nothing warns others of a healer like a big golden disc flying from you to your healing target. Here, it pays to cast PoM on yourself instead. If you get attacked, it will still bounce to another target, but then you are under attack anyway so that’s no longer a concern.

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