How Downranking Nerfs Ruined Raiding

…or rather, the removal of low-throughput, high-efficiency healing.

A conversation at Tankspot got me to reminiscing a bit about “the good old days” of Level 60 raiding. Specifically, I got to thinking a bit about how healing works now compared to then, and its impact on not only tanking but raiding in general.

When I started playing WoW clear back at the classic release, I rolled a Warrior. However, I spent most of my time then doing 5-mans, PVP’ing, and leveling alts. I didn’t really get a start into raiding until I got my Priest to 60, and joined Months Behind just in time to kill Nefarian (while wearing mostly greens). The vast majority of my Classic raiding experience was on my Priest.

I started raiding sometime after healing rotations had given way to the beautiful practice that was downranking. There were three basic rules of tank healing back then for a Holy priest:

1. Keep Renew up

2. Spam Heal Rank 3 to keep the tank topped off without spending much mana

3. Weave in a Flash Heal or max rank Greater Heal if he takes a big hit

The only exceptions were fights like Twin Emperors where the tank could take a huge spike suddenly and without warning. There, it was “Wind up a max rank Greater Heal and don’t let it cast if he doesn’t need it.”

Fast forward to WotLK raiding, particularly in hard modes. Steelbreaker makes a pretty good poster child here. The rules are now:

1. Spam whatever gives the fastest healing per second until the boss dies.

For Holy I believe that’s still Greater Heal, for Disc it’s apparently Flash Heal. I’m not 100% on the theory behind the actual healing mechanic, but the end result is basically that if the tank doesn’t catch a heal the instant he takes damage, he dies. The more efficient heals don’t have the healing throughput to do anything meaningful, and there’s no time for judgement calls and cancel casting. Even if you made every decision with 100% accuracy based on the information presented to you, simple latency could easily mean that the tank’s already taken a big hit and cancelling that cast results in a death.

So how did we get here? The answer lies, disappointingly enough, in the removal of downranking from the equation. It started in 2.0 (though the effects weren’t really noticeable until Sunwell) and has reached its peak now with the percentage-based mana costs of 3.0. The idea was to have everyone using their max-rank spells all the time, the reasoning being that having a class work backwards through their spellbook once they start gearing up at the level cap is a pretty awkward implementation.

However, if you’re going to get rid of the most effective form of healing in the game, you have to do something to counterbalance that. The path the developers took was to simply give the healers more mana to work with, sometimes through talents and sometimes through new abilities like Shadowfiend and Divine Plea. Now you can use your max rank spells without running out of mana, hooray!

Except… not so much. If the healers don’t care much about their mana anymore, you have to find a new way to challenge them, and what’s left at that point other than throwing around tons of damage? So, you end up with Sunwell, where healing was pretty much just a pass/fail on “How’s your gear?” Either you have enough output for your constant spamming to keep everyone alive, or you don’t. Just press your buttons and hope for the best. Tanks also feel very out of control over their own survivability, since the only real factor in whether they live or die is “Did a heal land?” Everyone in the raid, even the DPS, feels the effect, because sometimes you wipe and there’s nothing you can do about it.

We got a break from that in Naxx, but Naxx was easy. Now we’re in Ulduar, and, at least where the majority of the hard modes are concerned, pretty much more of the same. I think it speaks volumes that the encounter that completely disables regen in any form (hard mode Vezax) is the only one where healing is much more than just “Press your favorite button until you win.”

So how can it be fixed? The answer isn’t “just bring back downranking”, but the concept is similar. First off, damage needs to come down, both on the tank and on the raid. At the same time, healer mana needs to come down. Let’s go back to when tanks could survive more than two or three hits, but healers had to think about when and what to cast.

Second, healing mechanics need to be juggled a bit. There needs to be a choice in which spell you’re going to use. The Holy Paladin makes the best example here — you should want to use Flash of Light most of the time, due to its high efficiency. Then, when the tank takes a big drop or the FoL spam is starting to fall behind, you throw in a Holy Light to fill them back out. Resto Druids could be a good example here as well. Keep HoT’s rolling, and throw in a Nourish or whatever when they’re not enough. The key is in having something that doesn’t heal for much (and thus, doesn’t overheal for much) but also doesn’t cost much mana.

Priests and Shaman, however, don’t have a “low throughput but high efficiency” option at the moment. Priests have “high throughput but low efficiency” and “high throughput and high efficiency”, and Shaman have “high throughput and efficiency” and “only use this with Nature’s Swiftness”. There’s two ways this can go. One is to give them such an option (and basically emulate the effects of downranking without the backwards implementation), and the other is to just let those classes cancel cast… and I’m not really sure that’s a viable option.

Getting rid of low-throughput, high-efficiency healing is hurting the game. Throwing mana around like candy (especially through things like Replenishment) is hurting the game. Something needs to change, and healing is where it begins.

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