Formulating Raid Strategies

As a Raid Leader, one of the things that I’m primarily responsible for is being the final arbiter of raid setup and strategy.  The good news is that I have a system for this that has been reasonably successful.

For any given new boss fight, there are three things that I always bear in mind while we’re developing a strategy:

  1. Keep the tanks and raid alive
  2. Identify and overcome the critical DPS check for the fight.
  3. Keep the Execution Threshold as low as possible.

Keeping the tanks alive boils down to identifying appropriate cooldown usage, and if the tank (or tanks) is oversubscribed on personal cooldowns for the fight, then one makes sure that there’s enough cooldowns available from priests and paladins to cover any gaps.  The other part is identifying the amount of healing required for said tank(s).  It’s worth keeping a mental list of any unsubscribed cooldowns, and it’s worth trying to figure out if you can free any up for use elsewhere.

Keeping the raid alive is essentially the same thing: How many raid cooldowns do I need, and how much healing throughput/healing burst is required for the raid.  Combine the number of tank healers and number of raid healers you think you need, subtract one, and that’s probably your healing team for a fight.  Compare to the number of cooldowns required, and stack classes accordingly.  Why subtract one?  Because a good healing team will do a lot of crosshealing and help each other out in critical times.

Identifying and overcoming the critical DPS check for the fight is not as simple, in most cases, as looking at the enrage timer and dividing health by time.  When I refer to critical DPS, I tend to think of the hardest and most stressful part of the fight – the part that costs the most to get through, and try and minimize time in that phase.  The simplest example of identifying critical DPS is Maloriak – in order to kill the sludge on time in a first kill, you stack your raid for AoE damage.  The single-target damage on Maloriak will take care of itself, if you can manage to kill sludge and adds on time.  Any strategy changes or raid setup changes you make should always bear in mind the critical DPS checks on the fight.

Keeping the execution threshold for the raid as low as possible is another thing that I try and do in strategies.  Doing something extraordinarily complex that requires split-second timing and pixel-precision movement from the entire raid in order to gain a fraction of a percent of raid DPS is generally counterproductive for most raids.  On the other hand, it’s often worthwhile to raise the execution threshold for one or two people in order to lower it for the rest of the raid.  If you can offload fight difficulty onto the shoulders of a couple of people, and turn the fight into Patchwerk for everyone else, that’s often a good tradeoff, because it lowers the raid execution threshold.  One person can learn an extremely difficult job faster and more reliably than 25 people can learn a moderately difficult job, in my experience.

It’s also worth keeping in mind, under the execution threshold category, what your raids strengths and weaknesses are, because that’s almost the definition of execution threshold.  If you have a bunch of really strong DPS, you’ll want to leverage that as much as possible.  If your healers seem to operate as if they have one mind, and crossheal perfectly, you’ll want to leverage that.  If your tanks have problems with movement and positioning, you’ll need to work around that.  Any given strategy has a different execution threshold between any two different raids, and you always have to analyze a strategy with your raids strengths and weaknesses in mind.

Thus far, I haven’t talked about specific fight mechanics at all.  The truth is that it’s easy to focus too hard on that aspect of a fight, but the general principles of strategy formulation apply universally. Any given strategy for dealing with a mechanic will have a cost, in terms of DPS or survivability, and will pay a benefit, in that not reacting to mechanics tends to get you killed.  The goal is to pick strategies that minimize costs and maximize payoffs.  As such, I analyze any given change to a strategy in terms of the basics, and find that it’s a good way to quickly discard those strategies that can’t work, no matter how elegant they might seem.

This is not to say that I ignore mechanics in any way.  If nothing else, the specific set of mechanics that any given encounter has are what makes it interesting and a worthy challenge to overcome.  It’s also trivially true that your overall strategy for handling the mechanics on a given encounter is going to strongly influence your success or failure, which is why I try and relate everything back to the basics.  Costs and benefits.  Something that’s 100% “safe” isn’t necessarily optimal if it doesn’t allow you to hit your DPS marks.  Falling behind and failing means you need to find a way to be more aggressive.  Equally, strategies that are too aggressive and cause you to fail your healing checks, or subject your raid to “RNG wipes” aren’t generally optimal, either, which relates back to keeping the execution threshold in line.

Another way to look at bossfight mechanics is to consider them as constraints that you have to operate within.  It’s apparent that you require two healers per pillar in Nefarian progression, you are constrained to a minimum of six healers.  Despite a natural desire to run with four or five, due to the minimal demands on a healing team in P1 and P3, one operates within the constraint, and arranges the raid in order to meet the challenges presented by that constraint.

I’ll admit that this sort of setup generally plays to my own personal strengths as a raid leader.  I don’t come up with a large fraction of our specific responses to mechanics myself, I tend to sort through the ideas presented by the raid and pick the likeliest candidates – always by considering a proposed strategy in terms of it’s cost in survivability and DPS.

I’ve never been a big fan of taking an extra healer to progression while learning, just to make sure you survive a bit longer, and this method is the big reason.  Bringing a different raid composition than  you intend to use tends to limit the amount of useful information you can get about critical parts of the fight – it tends to hurt your ability to effectively analyze strategies.

If anyone has any suggestions for improving that approach, or other questions, hit me up in the comments.  And always remember: If brute force isn’t working, you’re not using enough brute force.

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