|This post was originally written during Mists of Pandaria. Its content may be outdated due to changes that come with expansion packs. Please consider this while reading.
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Mana is the most obvious resource that resto druids have. One important concept in developing your healing is the concept of two other resources – time and attention. I firmly believe that re-conceptualisation of these core components of healing as resources will take you from a good Resto Druid to a great Resto Druid. Many of the examples I am going to mention might be everyday examples you face, but the point is that by facing these examples in the context of managing a resource, you will improve vastly. Why are they resources? Resources require management. The degree to which you are able to manage your resources speaks volumes of your skill as a player, and the better your resource management, the better all-round healer you become. One of the fundamental skills of RTS games like Blizzards Warcraft & Starcraft titles is spending your resources. In RTS games you want to spend all of your minerals and gas as efficiently as possible. The same is true for the Resto Druid’s three resources.
Efficient spending of money means that you will get the most out of the shortest possible time frame. The same concept is true of healing. You have a finite amount of abilities you can cast over the course of a fight. Fight length can be divided by the number of GCDs that can fit inside that timeframe for the absolute maximum, and casting direct heals with cast time greater than a GCD eats reduces it even more. It’s important that you maximise not just your ability to get the most casts in when needed, but also to maximise your “inactivity” – times when you go any length of time without casting anything. This is not the same as the inactivity you’ll see on World of Logs, because HoT ticks make you appear active in your combat log, even though you might go a few seconds without casting. This, it turns out, is almost entirely the reason that time is a resource. Time and mana are closely tied together, and in much the same way, Attention is tied closely with Time.
One caveat I’ll add here is that when I’m talking about fights, I’m generally talking about progression fights, regardless of the level your guild (or pug) may be at. While spending mana is important, there will always be those farm mode fights that your group nails every mechanic for and there frankly isn’t all that much damage to respond to.
Mana as a resource
The most intuitive resource on the list is mana. It’s the one that is in your face – you’re told it’s a resource by the game. Despite it being an obvious resource, it’s extremely difficult to master its management. While spirit is an extremely valuable stat to a healer, it can also a crutch. It’s difficult to determine when you have too much. Furthermore, recognising the need to spend your mana when you have too much spirit can lead you to develop bad habits of spamming. You might think that you are spending your mana superbly, always finishing a fight with less than 10%, but in reality you are over-healing for absurd amounts and/or you’re responding to non-threatening damage with unnecessarily expensive spells.
Steps to managing mana:
- Use Innervate as effectively and as often as possible throughout a fight
- Utilise cooldowns (including defensive cooldowns like Ironbark and Bark Skin) and procs (like the legendary meta gem)
- Maintain Harmony uptime, and pay attention to the ridiculous amount of healing you actually do with Harmony active
- Cut out waste – try to overheal as little as possible, and take note of how quickly after you pop a Rejuv on someone they will be topped off by some other healer in your group (it will happen). Also, don’t heal to top meters, especially in healing teams where you don’t share a good amount of chemistry.
- Pick when it’s good to pre-hot people as well as when it’s good to not heal at all.
I may write about some or all of these in more detail later on, but for now I think it’s something that if you’re made aware of, you can probably set about developing on these things yourself, simply by paying attention to them and thinking about how you might go about effecting a change.
A note on the legendary meta gem:
The meta is a huge mana saver. It procs often. If you have Clearcasting active as well as your meta proc Eminence, then any cast of a direct heal will not consume Clearcasting until after Eminence expires. Therefore if both are active and you spam Regrowths, you would get two free RGs from Eminence and then your third would consume Clearcasting.
Priorities outside of tree form are Wild Growth and Rejuv spam (Genesis is also a good one to squeeze in on the final GCD of the effect if you need it). While in tree form, Wild Growth and Regrowth become your go-to options. It’s definitely worth delaying what you would have done in another situation for the sake of using optimal spells during Eminence where possible. That is, it’s better to cast free RGs in tree form even if it means you pause your LB spam for a while. It’s also better to cast RJ around the raid than to say, use a Swiftmend. The exception is where you would lose Harmony or a stack of LB.
Time as a resource
Time is always on my mind. I begin with a rough idea of how long a fight will last. I give myself an estimate of how many often-as-possible cool-downs I want to squeeze into that time. This gives the encounter a basic shape, or outline if you will. I then fill the space between all of these abilities as needed. For example, during a 7-minute Galakras fight, I would recognise that I want to get a 3rd use of all three-minute cool-downs into a fight, so I can use Tranquility, Innervate and Tree form within the first minute. Now, there’s not that much damage that early in the fight, so maybe I opt to Tranq on non-threatening but raid-wide damage from the adds. I am liberal with my casting and Innervate at 80% mana, knowing that effectively I’m going to top my mana off anyway with the Innervate. I might skip using Tree Form because there simply isn’t a reason to cram both Tranq and Tree Form into a 60 second period. Maybe I pop tree form for the hell of it before I tranq so I can get the absurd throughput buff even though it’s not needed. Regardless of which direction I go, my choice is informed by my understanding of Time as a resource.
Time is also a resource on the micro level. When you see members of your raid take a spike in damage, you need to recognise what the immediate threats are. Should you Rejuv the 5th target who took damage, even though he’s been healed up most of the way in the 4 GCDs you spent on other people? Should you cast Genesis after 3 Rejuvs instead? Should you use the legendary meta proc in the most optimal way, or should you “sacrifice” some of your mana-to-healing ratio’s potential in favour of keeping Harmony up? Often times, you’ll make this decision informed by your knowledge of the fight, and what comes next. If there’s a raid-wide AoE that will do 80% damage to people, you want to get them healed quick. You will likely find you often switch gears from micro-level time management (the immediate threat and how to handle it) to the macro-level (is this cooldown absolutely necessary within the next 3 minutes, and if not, how soon can I get some use from it in that time?)
One other example I want to include of time management is the usage of Tranquility, both with Harmony and across multiple raid-wide damage bursts. There’s usually one or two bosses in every tier that have at least one pulsing or pulse-like AoE. In Siege of Orgrimmar, two that stand out are Galakras and Garrosh. During Garrosh’s intermission phase, while you fight Garrosh he continually casts Annihilate. It’s cast frequently enough that if you can get a full channel of Tranquility off, you’ll probably channel through two to three Annihilates, and the HoT effect will last over one or two more. With good time management, you can take already super powerful abilities like Tranquility and get even stronger results. Harmony is also an important consideration when casting Tranq. I’d suggest you make a habit of casting a direct heal right before you Tranq, to make sure that it will be up for the entire duration of the channel with time to spare to extend Harmony on the other side. Of course, paying good attention to the time remaining on your Harmony buff means you can make good decisions about whether a direct heal is actually needed – Harmony with 15 seconds remaining is plenty of time to finish a channel and cast a direct heal. Time and attention, once again, the two are tied together! Are you seeing how this goes?
The cool-downs that you want to use as many times as theoretically possible over a given fight (for some only if you’re spec’ed into them of course) are:
Tranquility, Incarnation: Tree of Life, Nature’s Vigil, Innervate, Ironbark, Bark Skin, mana potion, any throughput-enhancing racial abilities and any on-use trinket or profession abilities.
Attention as a resource
There are two types of attention I’ll cover. First, there’s the in-your-chair kind – your personal attention to the game. This is the sort of thing that your UI is a major contributor for, and I recommend reading my UI guide which was written with precisely this in mind. Second, there’s the in-game type of attention. That is, the decision to focus your healing attention on one player under immediate threat over another, and this is where Attention is connected closely with Time.
I already mentioned that your UI is a factor. Having all of the information within your field of vision so that you can remain consciously aware of everything while you focus on heal is a huge help in being able to maintain attention. Other environmental factors play a major part too – do you have a TV going, or are you watching a movie on your second monitor? Are you listening to music while you raid? Is someone else in the room watching you? Then, there’s somatic factors – are you tired for lack of sleep? Have you been seated in your chair staring at a screen for a long period of time (more than an hour?).
When you sit still for long periods of time, your brain activity starts to slow down as you enter a resting state, just as when you lay down to sleep for the night but before you actually fall asleep. I am very encouraging of a 10 minute break every hour of game-time for everyone. I seriously get frustrated when we come back from a 10 minute break and people have chosen to sit there chatting in game, not taking advantage of their break. The break can be as important a part of gaming as the actual pressing of keys. I will admit I don’t stick to the 10 minutes break per hour played at most times, but I sure as hell do when I’m raiding, because my ability to pay attention or lack thereof has an impact on my raid group. If I am doing anything where I value my performance, I’ll be taking the full duration of the break.
The example I used was picking which of two targets in imminent danger to heal as priority. This is most confronting when both tanks are fluctuating hard and are struggling to survive. In such a scenario, healing assignments are going to be a big help, but assuming you have no direct assignment (as is often the case these days), it can be dicey. In a case like that, I would often Ironbark one tank and then heal the other, trusting others in my healing team as well as the tank themself to maintain alive status. Like time, there are very important factors in managing your attention, such as knowing what is coming next. Your attention target of choice is going to be informed by what the Boss’s next big ability is.
Another important aspect of managing attention is one that comes (or should come) up a lot less often in high end guilds is the choice to abandon attention on a player in strife. This is a strange thing to write about because realistically, it’s more about another player making mistakes, and obviously you want to cut mistakes out from everyone. Still, I’ve raided at just about all levels and I have experienced first hand what it’s like to have a bunch of players die to something silly, and just manage to eek out a kill on a boss because the few who survived managed their attention immaculately. Attention I feel has the greatest depth of all three resources. Total mana for a fight is a set value, as is total time. Attention is different in that you can’t pay 100% attention to 100% of things that will arise.
In addition to attention being about who to heal and who not to heal, attention is also about staying on top of your other resources, as well as boss abilities. It’s also about knowing where you are at with ability cooldowns. If you’re an engineer because Synapse Springs is better than other healing bonuses, you need to make sure you’re using it, or else you’re better with another.
To be an extremely good manager of your attention means to be able to focus your attention on your unit frames, responding to (and predicting) damage in to the raid, to be aware of upcoming boss abilities and existing debuffs, to be aware of the time that a fight will take, to be aware of the status of your cooldowns, and to be aware of your mana.
Sorry it’s such a long post, and I thank you if you made it this far. I’ve presented all three resources in one post because I don’t feel you can work on being really good at just one – you need to improve them all as they do have such a high degree of synergy. The concept to take away from this isn’t that there’s a big long list of things you need to be doing. Most of this you are probably already doing – it’s that by changing the way you view these resources to being something to manage on a broad scale, rather than being one in a huge number of decisions you can make, you will drastically improve in many respects. It will get you closer to healing perfection, it will stop you from going OOM and it will help you be the most efficient healer you can be.