Scaling: Why Triage Healing is Dying

I’ve always been interested in the way game mechanics in WoW scale from beginning of expansion to end – in the way that stats interact with each other to produce sometimes unexpected results. We’re just starting out in Cataclysm, but already some trends are starting to emerge, particularly for healers, and it has some ramifications for the raiding game.  It’s worth a quick discussion of some of the background, so we’re all on the same page.

Scaling with gear works in different ways for different classes.  For some classes gearing is as much an art as it is a science, and for others you must follow the proscribed spreadsheet or be perennially castigated by peers and raid leaders alike.  But for healers in Cataclysm, the way in which they scale has some interesting and perhaps unforeseen consequences for the raiding game.  It’s all a question of how raid encounters balance out against character scaling.

Tanks tend to primarily focus on scaling survivability by balancing stamina, avoidance, and armor.  How they choose to gem and enchant to maximize on or the other will be based on damage patterns, on their healers, and even personal preference.  We generally ignore threat until there isn’t enough of it, and then scale that up to the bare minimum required level, and go back to stacking survival.  The community may well have a consensus on what’s optimal, but it’s always a somewhat handwavy debate based on principles and assumptions, and it’s difficult to actually prove any point.  More of anything is better, but which stat is most important is always up for a little bit of debate.  Well and good, it’s interesting and diverse – there are multiple routes to success.

Tank gear ends up helping out the healers in a mana-constrained environment, because when they can spend less mana on a tank, they can spend more on the raid.  From tier to tier, Blizzard tunes boss damage output around what a tank can survive, and so long as the four tank classes are relatively close in total damage reduction, cooldowns, and burstability then it’s relatively easy to tune boss damage output to be dangerous but survivable, and it’s relatively easy to tune tank threat in comparison to DPS threat as needed.

DPS scales with lots of stats, there’s generally one optimal way to do it – although some fights might reward doing things a bit differently (100% haste buff at Sinestra, for example, changes haste values for some classes due to hard caps on haste).  They scale fairly well because their stats all have a great deal of synergy, so boss health tends climb as an expansion goes on.  That’s still a relatively simple tuning knob for Blizzard to adjust, though – raid DPS climbs, bosses die faster, fights get easier.  Increasing raid DPS is generally going to be very noticeable for healers in a mana-constrained environment, because when they don’t have to last as long, they can spend mana at a faster rate, and therefore heal more.

Healers don’t just scale with lots of stats, they scale in two different ways that are extremely synergistic with each other.  They scale with regen, allowing them to use the expensive high-throughput spells more often, and they scale with everything else.  Healers generally value consistency, so they avoid crit and take haste/mastery as their main secondary stats.  They end up able to “do more” in two different ways – this has lead to the current situation where in early progression, with raids in blues, healers were running OOM easily, but in heroic gear, healers have virtually unlimited mana – even while stacking a ton of haste.  Regen limited models are fine, but healers have a regen limited model tacked on top of the other scaling model, and it’s already causing issues.  Currently, in many ways, gearing healers will have the biggest impact on a raid because they’re scaling so amazingly well with gear.  More regen plus more “other stuff” makes for massively more powerful healers.  It’s also worth noting that the regen limited model is notoriously difficult to balance, because so many factors affect fight length and spell selection.

Is this a good model?  Maybe.  But if so, regen has scaled too far and too fast.  If large adjustments aren’t made, healers will be chasing the haste/mastery cloth and jewelry that all the casters want, because spirit will be of minimal use to them, having reached the plateau of “enough”.  If they need more for a fight, or less, reforging can make those swings fairly rapidly.  There’s lots of subtle interactions in the way various different classes and abilities scale, but right now I’m wondering about the double-scaling model of healing.  Have they scaled too well and leveled off or does this mean damage in Firelands so terrible that it’s only going to be able to be healed with Flash Heal equivalents, and healers will have to find enough regen to manage?  That’s basically the next (and final remaining) step in challenging a manapool.  It won’t be easy to do with raidwide damage, that’s already easily healable, and something that can be stacked against – it almost has to be heavy individual damage that required Flash Heals to start impacting healer mana in a real way.

Triage healing?  Out the window.  Firelands healing is much more likely to follow the Wrath model, where global cooldowns and raw throughput are the only things that matter, spell selection is rapidly going back the way of the dodo.

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17 Responses to Scaling: Why Triage Healing is Dying

  1. Rhidach says:

    I really hope your Cassandra-like proclamations don’t come to pass. One of the more enjoyable aspects of raiding this tier (at least in the normal “level”, I’m sure it’s different on the heroic “level”) has been not constantly being on the brink of death.

    If the Firelands returns to the Wrath model of 2-GCDs-and-ya-dead, then I’ll be remiss.

    • Meloree says:

      They might not. But it’s a pretty clear trend right now, I think. It’s more of a raid damage problem than a tank damage problem, though.

      • Rhidach says:

        Likewise, I really hope they don’t get lazy and decide to just tax healers with auras. Is there anything more uninspired than “raid members take x damage per second”?

      • Meloree says:

        Well, they’re likely to do so. But healing aura damage tends to be very efficient, so rather than reducing the overall HPM by forcing healers into using less efficient spells, you’re increasing the overall HPM. Mana stops mattering again, it becomes a throughput problem. Throughput problems are Wrath design :P

  2. finlay says:

    Cant the same be said for block tanks, at some point every tank is going to be off the CTC and dodge and parry will be the stats to work with. If you are always taking 40% less dmg and threat will never matter then getting more and more dodge/parry will be the best option. This will then bring back wrath spiky dmg either all or nothing dmg type.

    • Meloree says:

      Absolutely – but in many ways that’s already the case in hardmodes anyway. When Blizzard wants to kill tanks, they spike them. Throughput damage has rarely actually been dangerous (Algalon and Brutallus – anything else?)

      I don’t think that block capping is going to be a huge issue one way or the other against the type of tank-killing damage we’re likely to see. I know I’m in the minority on that opinion, though.

      • finlay says:

        I guess doing hard modes gives you a chance to look into the next teir of raid content and how dmg and healing will work. I just see the fact that dks and bears cant keep a steady midagtion going with the way their mastery works ( I know bears are getting a over haul). How long did you see triage healing going for, at some point mana pools would be bigger and regen would increase. You cant always increase base spell cost becasue then at somepoint a mana effiecent heal for a healer in 4.3 gear will cost the brand new healer in 333 gear 10% of thier max mana. It was only a matter of time before the system broke.

      • Meloree says:

        I honestly didn’t really think about it until recently. I didn’t do enough research into how well healer regen was scaling to realize how bad the problem was in advance. It was certainly a very predictable problem, and I’ll admit that I suspected there might be issues with a “triage” model in heroic content. It’s only been recently, as I look forward to two (or more) more tiers of heroic content that I really thought about what healing would look like in a tier or two. And it looks like Wrath healing, I think.

  3. Sarlalian says:

    Really the aura’s they should have are mana regen nerf aura’s that decrease mana regen by a % of the persons spirit so that it scales with their gear. Start with a 10 or 20% nerf in Firelands, and move to a 20-30% in the heroic modes. Yes its cheezy like chill of the throne, but they will also need to eventually implement that too if they don’t do the boss expertise like they suggested previously.

    • Meloree says:

      Boss expertise will help, but it’s only a small part of the problem, because that really only alters the tank damage. I agree that some form of mana regen nerf is, indeed, the only way to keep Triage healing alive, if that is the goal.

      • Sarlalian says:

        They really need some sort of mechanic that baiscally does a pseudo stat reset with each new tier. Drops mana regen to the beginning of the previous tier but only in that content, drops dodge / parry / (block / mastery) down, so that the only things that continue to scale between tiers is dps and health. Although healer mana pools would still be bigger and might need a nerf of some sort.

      • Meloree says:

        That could well be counterproductive, though. All players want to feel like they’re getting more powerful, and defeating more powerful enemies. Player nerfs feel punitive, stronger bosses feel rewarding.

        DPS gets their bigger numbers, it’s hard to specifically aura-nerf tanks and healers without making it feel punitive. It’s not actually a BAD solution, but it’s not a solution that’s liable to make the playerbase happy. Sunwell and Icecrown radiances were never popular, even while they were necessary.

        It always seems shortsighted when an aura is required.

  4. Shathus says:

    What about putting diminishing returns on spirit/regen? People still get more regen with new content, but it takes MORE stats to push it up each time. Similar to how tanks have dodge/parry DR, it (can) cause us to change our stat focus on gear to balance everything appropriately.

    Also, do you think the ilevel for heroic raids is too high and will cause some scaling issues? I know (I think?) Blizzard said they planned ahead to know what gear would look like at the end of the xpac, but it just feels like with the item level jumps each tier now, that stats are gonna get higher and higher and the difference between someone just hitting heroics at 85 vs raiding against Deathwing is going to be tough to balance spells appropriately.

    • Meloree says:

      I don’t know, really, what the implications of DRs on spirit/regen would turn out to be. It’s liable to mean that marginal spirit gains become devalued once a certain plateau is hit, but that might not be a bad thing, and might keep mana management alive.

      Alternatively, it could just turn out to feel punitive. I don’t always envy the Blizzard guys their jobs. It’s easy for guys like me to bitch about the problems, after all. Solutions that actually work are hard.

      Gear level jumps are never really too big or too small for any class – it all depends on what content the gear is used to defeat. Healers with their regen issues are the ones which may have scaling issues based on ilvl, but I think that’s part of the other problem – that regen isn’t going to matter a lot after 372 ilvl.

  5. Novella says:

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