Cataclysm Heroics Sanity Preservation Guide for Healers
“You’re pugging heroics? What are you? A sadist?”
– Guildie upon discovering that I PuG my heroics more often than not.
I think he meant masochist (my guildies a tough time keeping their fetishes straight)… unless he knows me better than I thought.
Once I got over my initial feeling of being left out (dissolved when other healers got tired of running heroics causing me to receive 3 whispers asking for heroic heals every time I log in), I fell in love with pugging. I’ve also learned to handle myself in PuGs, which has turned me into quite the slave driver, and yes, has really helped developed my sadistic side.
Introduction: What to expect
There are beliefs of varying levels of truth to the rumours going around about PuGs. Let me attempt to clarify them by drawing from my own experience.
Belief #1 – Heroics are too long for casual players.
Answer: Apparently the official forums are overrun with players accusing Blizzard of ruining casual play. Unfortunately, if you’re going to PuG heroics, you need to be prepared to spend at least 2 hours in there. At least. Most people are getting pretty good with the fights now, but during the first week of Cataclysm, I could easily spend 4 hours with a group in a heroic.
Belief #2 – People are jerks in heroics.
Answer: You always run the chance of being paired with the scum of humanity. Stories like this one tell of things you have to be prepared to face. But fortunately, they’re pretty rare. Most of the time, the people you’ll be paired with are just like you: looking to get their valor points and leave.
Belief #3 – Heroics are too hard to PuG.
Answer: They’re not. I pug a lot. And I mean, a lot. It’s only happened to me twice that I didn’t make it to the end: first group tried Corborus in Stonecore a few times then fell apart, second group wiped on Corla in Blackrock Caverns a few times, until I had to leave to run something with my guild. With every other PuG I’ve done, even my very first ones, where I cheated to get a 329ilvl, the final boss went down. Now maybe I’m on the ultimate battlegroup of excellence, but maybe a strategic approach paired with a lot of patience goes a long way.
So how does a healer cope with, as a guildie of mine puts it, “playing Russian Roulette with 5 bullets“? Let me tell you.
Part 1: Come Prepared
Every “how to heroics” guide out there will tell you to gem and enchant your gear. I hope my readership considers this a no brainer. No, I didn’t enchant my gear when I started. Enchanters were a bit hard to find back then. Nor did I have a gem slots to put gems in. And I did ok. But why gimp yourself? Enchants are easy to get now. And yes, I began breathing much better when I started enchanting my gear.
Now that the basics are out of the way, here are other ways you can prepare yourself for heroics:
Warm Up: Until recently, I always did a regular random before jumping into the heroics queue. Players running regulars are usually far worse than players running heroics, but since regular stupidity is relatively easy to heal through, it makes for a great warm up.
Bring lots of mana stuff: Don’t count on a mage to bring water to you. Tote your own. When you’re just starting heroics, you’ll go through about a full stack of water, so pack two. Bring some mana potions too. They’re nice.
Learn the fights: Knowledge is power. I do love going into a fight blind, but I find it hard to convince groups that learning exclusively from wipes for hours is fun. Plus, I’ve noticed that the more confident I am with a fight mechanics, the more likely my teammates are to follow my directions.
Get the attitude right: Make sure you have 2-3 hours set aside for your random heroic. Forget the idea of farming loot or points. If you’re in it to farm quickly, run with guildies. When you pug as a healer, it’s not about grinding gear, it’s about grinding skill.
Part 2: Learn to Observe
The mistake most healers seem to make jumping into an instance only to cower in a corner, or they waste their energy and patience by distributing very specific orders that might not apply to the group.
Some groups will work well together naturally, others need more guidance. What I like to do is sit tight for the first pull and watch. Will the tank ask for CC on their own? If not, are they geared enough to not need a lot of CC? How fast is their health going down? Can they hold aggro? Which DPS are pulling aggro? Which DPS have trouble avoiding certain mechanics (stuff on the ground, whirlwinds, etc.)?
The better you understand your group, the easier time you’ll have trying to tell them how to improve.
Part 3: Embrace CC
We complained about lack of Crowd Control (CC) during Wrath and, well, we can consider ourselves served. Most trash pulls will need some type of CC or else a freshly 85ed tank will be gobbled up in no time.
That said, different groups have different needs. As I mentioned earlier, I like to let the group try to do things on their own first. If I feel like the first pull went badly (either we wiped, or we survived but I’m shaking), then I’ll speak up: “That was pretty intense, let’s try with *insert CC suggestions here*”
The more specific and knowledgeable you are about CC, the more likely they are to listen to you. For some guidance on what other classes can do for you, see Crowd Control Compendium.
You’ll run into some players who are independent and will want to choose their own CC targets, others will want you to mark targets for them. There’s no set meaning for each mark, so make sure you’re clear about what each mark means.
If you need inspiration, here are the marks I typically use:
Skull – Kill first
X – Kill second
Circle – Sap
Moon – Polymorph
Square – Freezing trap
Diamond – Banish
Part 4: Understand Damage
Until you get better geared, you’ll be on a tight mana budget. You’ll also be on a tight cooldown budget. The better you understand how damage works, the easier it’ll be to plan how and when you want to mash your buttons.
Understand fight specifics: If you have a fight with a lot of elemental/magic damage, use proper resistances. If the more annoying damage is physical, use armor boosting effects. If you’re not sure, you can ask the tank after the first attempt, they’ll usually tell you.
As well, knowing about the timing of phase transitions, explosions, incoming adds and other exciting events are crucial, not only to plan when you’re going to hit your cooldowns, but also to notice who in the group isn’t reacting appropriately and might need some extra explanations.
For example, on Ripsnarl in Deadmines, the fight becomes incredibly easier once you realize that most of the tank damage occurs during the second half of the adds phase and that’s where you have to spend your mana and pop your cooldowns.
Know Damage Patterns: Damage patterns go hand in hand with fight specifics. Are a lot of people taking damage? Is it mostly single target damage? Double target damage? Slow intense damage? Frequent small damage? Once you recognize the patterns, you can anticipate what incoming damage is going to look like next and prepare for it.
Part 5: Be Patient yet Ruthless
These are the two skills that have brought me to the end of almost all my heroic PuGs. Your group might not be perfect in it’s original state. I once went through 6 tanks before the first boss in Throne of the Tides. But once we had our tank of ultimate sexyness, the instance was a breeze.
Learn to recognize the difference between “it’ll take awhile but there’s hope” and “head, meet wall“. When there’s hope, keep trying. You’ll cycle through players who give up, but the magic will happen. If someone really can’t do it, or just has a really unbearable personality, vote-to-kick exists for a reason.
Part 6: Communicate
If people aren’t told what’s going on, or what’s expected of them, they’re not going to do what you want them to. The key is to be straightforward, but by saying things in a way that makes your team want to listen.
Keep your snarky tongue in your pocket: Sometimes it’s hard to be professional. Sometimes it’s really hard. But I promise you, every time I’ve sat on my hands to keep them from typing nasty, sarcastic comments, I’ve been rewarded. No matter how stupid or how nasty others are, never lower yourself to their level. Be blunt if you want, but keep your sarcasm to yourself.
Call people by name: Calling people by role or class is normal in pugging culture. But everyone secretly prefers being called by their character name. You’ll notice people are much more responsive when called by name.
Use gentle language: This is a trick they teach us in pharmacy school to deal with doctors. If you want someone to do something, word it like “*Person X* consider/try doing X,Z,Y. It might help.” Your PuG teammates are usually just as on-edge as you are. Wording things a little gentler softens them up and makes them more coorperative.
If all else fails, put your foot down: This is the awesome thing about being a healer. You automatically get the last word. “I’m the one who has to heal through this, and this is how I want the fight done.” A word of caution, though, while it’s an extremely effective line (the only person who dared oppose me was immediately kicked…and I didn’t initiate the kick), in order to keep your credibility you need to be right. So make sure you’re familiar with the fight and you know what you’re saying.
Explain every wipe: As a healer, you get a bird’s eye view of the fight and are in the best position to have at least a general idea of why everyone died. If the tank went down too fast, say “You went down too fast.” If a dps was 1-shotted, say “You were 1-shotted.” If you screwed up and ran out of mana, say “I screwed up and ran out of mana, it won’t happen again.” When people know how they die, they learn faster and adjust. Just remember to keep sarcasm out of it.
Conclusion: Coping and Keeping a Smile
I probably don’t have to tell you that your pugging experience will have its ups and downs, and you’re far more likely to notice the downs. Don’t worry, eventually they all mesh together and you’ll have a better memory of the ups.
When the going gets tough, just remind yourself that you’re grinding skill. When the instance takes a bit longer than expected, smile and remember how you complained that Wrath heroics were too short and impersonal. Trust me, 4 hour Deadmines runs are anything but cold and impersonal!
And after every kill that caused you to wet your pants, close your eyes and enjoy the afterglow. Loot and Justice Points are nice, but there’s nothing quite as rewarding as leading a group of adorable morons to success.