Warlords of Draenor Mini-Analyses: Healing Gameplay

Preliminary patch notes for Patch 6.0 (the Warlords of Draenor pre-patch) were recently released, and there is a lot of information contained therein. It’s a little overwhelming, and a little difficult to fully piece everything together. Healing is going to change significantly in Warlords, and from what I’ve read and what I’ve been discussing with other community members, I’m very excited about it.

It's a new dawn in healing, and I'm feeling fine <3

It’s a new dawn in healing, and I’m feeling fine ❤

Rather than write one big omnibus post analysing everything in detail, or just regurgitating what’s already been written by the developers and many other community voices, I thought I would just present a few short vignettes on little details of the patch notes that have sparked my interest. I’ll be splitting these up into several posts, with plenty of links to related things I’ve written previously and to other peoples’ take on the matter, so you can read as much related information as you can handle 🙂

Remember, I’m not planning to cover every little nuance or detail here. And unfortunately, we can’t trust the data-mined information that’s available to us, since the patch is still in Alpha and tooltips and spell coefficients haven’t been reviewed for accuracy:

As such, there’s not a lot of real, informative analysis that I can do. So like my MoP in Review series, I’ll be falling back on a lot of opinion here. I’ll try to keep the panicked conjecture to a bare minimum – it doesn’t serve you guys, or the community as a whole, any benefit to Chicken Little things. I’ll revise my stance on that as necessary once Alpha progresses into Beta and we start seeing the results of focused testing. 🙂

Healing in MoP

Healing in MoP


My most common complaint this expansion has been that there is little that is deliberate about healing anymore. Smart healing spells have dominated over traditional, targeted spells, which has diminished the value of making healing decisions. AoE spells (or ersatz AoE spells like Eternal Flame and Rejuvenation) have dominated over single-target healing, even in situations where very few targets are injured. On a related note, because AoE spells have been so strong, encounters have been designed with spiky, unpredictable damage, in order to continue to challenge healers as they gear up, obtain the legendary meta gem, and have the mana efficiency to generate more AoE healing.

These factors have all resulted in a healing paradigm where spell selection doesn’t change very much throughout an encounter, even though the damage pattern can fluctuate wildly. I’ll be talking about this more in my MoP in Review post series, but for this post I want to move on to what is changing in WoD, and why my eyes are shaped like ❤ right now.

“We want healers to care about who they’re targeting and which heals they’re using, so that their decisions matter more.”

There are a number of variables that determine our spell selection, and all of them will be tweaked in Warlords.

  • Mana regeneration is being adjusted — While Spirit will do more for us than it does now, a lot of other sources of mana regen are being removed or heavily nerfed, and Spirit will be more scarce. Our regen will ideally start out fairly strong, so that at low gear levels we are not too constrained by resources to heal (avoiding the early Cataclysm problem), but will increase less dramatically as our gear improves, so that we don’t reach a point where we have infinite mana and never have to consider efficiency.
  • Health pools are increasing relative to heal size — This will ameliorate the situation that has occurred in MoP, where the size of a player’s health pool places a low (compared to heal size) finite cap on the amount of damage a single attack can do, which means that in order for content to remain challenging to healers, damage must come in heavier and more frequent AoE bursts, pushing us toward more and more focus on AoE spam.
  • Players will spend more time below maximum HP — This will give all healers more to do during an encounter, especially during phases of lower damage, and should diminish the importance and value of absorption healing. (I’m not immediately convinced, but I’ll be thinking about it.) We also shouldn’t feel pressured to return every player back to full health immediately – at least not all the time. There’ll still be certain phases of fights where we’ll be scrambling to pump out as much healing as we can, but overall, we will be returning to a playstyle where our efficient, single-target healing spells and HoTs will be useful again.
  • AoE healing’s efficiency is being rebalanced — This will mean that an AoE healing style will only be sustainable during periods of AoE damage. We should not feel incentivised to continue to spam AoE healing (e.g. Chain Heal) during periods of single-target or few-target damage. As a result, we should see a stronger emphasis on spell selection – choosing single-target heals for at least some parts of an encounter.
  • Many instant heals are gaining a cast time — Yes, this is a nerf to healer mobility, but it is a necessary change to limit the amount of throughput healers can generate during high-movement phases of an encounter. This is a good thing because it will encourage us to change our gameplay more when dealing with heavy-movement fights and to use other portions of our toolkit. Accordingly, PvE encounters should have less movement required, and the damage taken by the raid during movement phases should be decreased, so that we do not feel crippled during these times.
  • Healing is slowing down — With larger health pools, smaller heals, fewer instant-casts, and a reduced demand for AoE healing spells, healing is going to become a lot more deliberate. Decision-making will be more important than GCD-capping and following your optimal rotation. You may make decisions to do less healing now in order to be able to deal more healing later – and these are some of my favourite types of decisions 🙂
  • Smart heals are getting dumber — In WoD, smart healing spells will no longer choose the most injured target, but will simply select an injured target at random. This will again return emphasis back to players making smart decisions, rather than the game making smart decisions.

All of these things are great for the game, even though they are all nerfs. Right now, healers (and healing effects) are simply too strong. This leads (in part) to healers being dropped on raid fights, to a serious inconsistency in the amount of healers necessary from fight to fight, and to a playstyle shallowness that focuses simply on throughput and less on strategic decisions.

Healing in Warlords is going to rely a lot less on AoE. Your resources will matter more. Your choices will matter more. You’ll be rewarded again for a thorough understanding of the encounter and its damage patterns. A series of four or six drinking birds will no longer be able to do your job. And we should embrace this – for what is a game but a reward system for learning and improving?

Debasing our Heals

Here’s my bit of interesting-to-me-probably-not-interesting-to-you analysis for the post.

“Attack Power, Spell Power, or Weapon Damage now affect the entire healing or damage throughput of player spells.”

This little gem in the patch notes may not be intuitive to most players, who don’t really have a need to pay attention to the nitty-gritty details of how healing spells are calculated. But right now, healing spells have a formula that looks like this:

y = mx + b

Where x = Spell Power, m = the spell’s Spell Power Coefficient (the percentage of Spell Power that the heal ‘uses’), and b = base healing, some non-zero number such that healing spells at very low levels of Spell Power will still do something.

In MoP, the ratio of b to m is approximately 11,000 – meaning that the base heal is worth about 11,000 Spell Power in and of itself. (See here for further explanation, or incidentally this image of mine from Twitter for the step-by-step derivation behind all of the calculations to follow.)

What this really means is that, when you have zero Spell Power, your spells act basically as if you had 11,000 Spell Power. So increasing your Spell Power by 11,000 doubles the size of your heal, but increasing it by another 11,000 is only a 50% increase, and another 11,000 is only a 33% increase, and so on. Any stat always has diminishing returns on throughput as you add it, but when you’re looking at very small amounts of Spell Power increase – like, say, choosing an Intellect gem over a secondary stat gem, or getting your Intellect bonus from professions, or even upgrading a piece of gear from 2,103 Intellect to 2,224 Intellect – the benefit is extremely small. It’s been “dampened” by the presence of that base heal.

And when you get super geared, and all your gear is swimming in Intellect, your stat priorities currently will change from generating more Intellect to generating more Critical Strike Rating, or Mastery, or Haste, whichever is best for your spec and playstyle. This means you start evaluating gems differently, and in some extreme cases, players hang on to lower item-level gear with more beneficial secondary stats rather than upgrading to higher item-level gear with less beneficial secondary stats. (Or, more likely, previous-tier trinkets can remain relevant for too long.)

In Warlords, to simplify spell equations and make the whole process both more transparent to players and bring spell scaling in line with player health scaling and other effects, there will be no more base heal. Spell equations will look like:

y = mx

What this means is that early on, when you add Spell Power to your gear, you’ll see a larger relative improvement in the size of your spells. At lower levels of gear, improving your Intellect score or getting a weapon with more Spell Power on it is going to feel a lot more powerful. This will make those dungeon drops feel very significant, even if you only use them for a short period of time, and ought to make the gearing-up process feel a lot more fun in the early stages!

Comparison of the value of Spell Power increases, MoP (blue) and WoD (red)

Comparison of the value of Spell Power increases, MoP (blue) and WoD (red). Note that WoD “catches up” to MoP somewhere around 40,000 Spell Power.

Also, given the item squish, who knows if we’ll even reach the 40,000-ish Spell Power thresholds where this “baseless” model’s diminishing returns catch up to the MoP model’s diminishing returns? We may stay firmly in the 1,000-20,000 range, where Intellect and Spell Power upgrades will remain strong options.

This doesn’t matter a lot in the grand scheme of things, given that gems (and, I believe, enchantments) are changing and we will not have the choice between primary and secondary stats anymore.

However, I’m not certain that there will be no primary-versus-secondary choices in Warlords, so it’s hard to say whether this knowledge will ever affect our gearing, or simply affect how we feel about our power increases during early gearing periods. I hope that this change should make it less likely for us to want to keep a lower-item-level item because it has a great secondary (or tertiary) stat on it, rather than upgrading to an item with more Intellect but less, say, Critical Strike Rating. And it may affect our trinket evaluations.

One thing I am a little worried about is that this lacks a fine-tuning knob. DPS spells in MoP already have a much smaller “base damage” value than our healing spells do, and you see how from tier to tier DPS numbers increase significantly. I’m concerned that healing spells will do the same – especially since, unlike DPS, we have four secondary statistics that increase our spells’ healing: Haste, Critical Strike Rating, Mastery, and Combat Mp5. While they do not all affect it equally, it tends to lead to healer throughput snowballing in later content, even with significant base heals, base Crit Ratings, base Mastery Ratings, and base regen.

I trust the developers to have a handle on this better than I do, but I really want to see their stated goal of healers’ power not climbing too rapidly over the course of an expansion. Here’s hoping they have a plan in place 🙂

Additional Reading


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This entry was posted in Discipline, Druid, Holy, Monk, Paladin, Priests, Shaman, Theorycrafting, Warlords of Draenor and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Warlords of Draenor Mini-Analyses: Healing Gameplay

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  3. Calidyn says:

    Regarding the whole ‘baseless’ vs. ‘based’ (?) model: I would imagine, had they kept the ‘based’ model for WoD, they would’ve squished the base-to-coefficient ratio as well, so as to keep it in-line with realistic spell power levels, which would’ve made the catch-up point somewhat smaller (testing it with 2k, it gives me around 20k-ish – unless I’m replicating your math wrong, which is totally possible). That being said, also because of the squish, I think the likelihood of achieving the requisite spell power level would have still been very low.

    I can totally see where your concern regarding the tuning of heals comes from, though. I don’t know how stam scales with ilvl, but if it scales mostly linearly, then that’s still going to be a problem given how many stats go into making our heals bigger (and we get two more next expansion).

    • Dedralie says:

      Hi Calidyn, you’re right — this is just illustrating the difference between the two types of models that exists today. However, I also would assume that the stat squish would lead to us not being able to achieve a huge spell power score, so I think a comparison of a base-heal model and a no-base-heal model, both adjusted for the impending stat squish, would show a similar *relative* difference.

      I’m a little bit fuzzy on stamina -> HP scaling in WoD, but I do expect it would be roughly linear, or else we will have issues in later expansion releases with the same sort of problems we had before (see Ashunera’s graphs in the linked post under ‘Additional Reading’), where after a new expansion we have to revert to a linear, low-slope model to prevent things being overwhelmed by power creep, and everyone feels nerfed.

      I think the devs are aiming for a pretty tough balance and it may be difficult to pull off. With so many stats affecting the size of our heals I just don’t see a way they’ll really be able to curb the problem of heal size outstripping health pool while also preventing health pools from going insane in the final tier. They are smarter folks than I, though, so I trust that just because I can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there 🙂

  4. vomsters says:

    Feels almost like a return to the Cata style of heals… especially as it was for paladin healers (like me 😉 ). Or perhaps Cata with a touch of Wrath thrown in for fun. But I was too ill to raid through most of MoP, so I’m relying on articles and comments from guildies/friends on what it was like. Looking forward to it.
    Thanks for the articles.
    Kayla (using a family WP account – pally tank husband also uses it 🙂 )

    • Dedralie says:

      Hi Kayla, I’m sorry to hear you were ill, and I hope you are better now. I rather optimistically believe that WoD will be a lot more fun than MoP has been (specifically regarding healing mechanics — the raids themselves have been high-quality and many of the encounters have been awesome). I hope you find that to be the case too! 🙂

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  7. Seems to me….. Blizzard is overthinking it. Going to mess things up by changing to much at once. We spend all this time getting use to one way and they find it enjoyable to change it. I just fail to see why every expansion they have to make such drastic changes ruining it for the players who quite liked it the way it was. I don’t even heal but uh, yeah reading that just made me annoyed.

  8. Kay says:

    I am extremely skeptical.

    When we were going into Wrath, Blizzard made these exact same claims. Like, so identical to these claims it’s scary. That healing would be slower, more deliberate, and to factor this in health pools would be larger, damage slower…basically this entire line of reasoning they’re using now.

    It didn’t pan out that way.

    The reality was that healing remained just as spammy, just as tense, but with an added layer of mana management on top of it. Before that, healing had been about what spell to use, on whom, and when. While healers never went OOM, they still had something to manage, and that was *time*. Cast time, heal time, etc. Early Wrath was hellish on healers.

    Finally, I want to address this:

    “Smart heals are getting dumber — In WoD, smart healing spells will no longer choose the most injured target, but will simply select an injured target at random. This will again return emphasis back to players making smart decisions, rather than the game making smart decisions.”

    Excepting that this is not a decision left in the healer’s hands. It’s still automatically making a decision, it’s just a poorer automatic decision. I really don’t see how that creates a compelling gameplay point.

    We’ll have to see how all this pans out. But I don’t see WoD’s first patch cycle being a friendly one to healers, even those who feel the current system could be improved.

    • Dedralie says:

      I understand your skepticism, and what you’re worried about. In Heroic dungeons, I spend just about all of my time casting, but then again, the sort of healing I do in dungeons is rarely mana-intensive as it’s mostly single-target with the occasional Chain Heal or Healing Rain, so you’re mostly just managing target selection and time.

      In raids, it’s a huge difference from the way it is in MoP now. While yes, I do ideally want to be spamming Chain Heal as much as I can, I’m constrained by mana, and I have to actually consider whether the CH will be fully effective, whether it’s needed right now or whether other sources of healing can handle it, etc. (This mana constraint is reduced by the tier set bonuses, but we’ll see today – if I get to heal 😦 – whether the recent proc rate nerf to the 4pc means that I still get to think about mana.)

      About the smart heal point: the reason I say that this promotes smart decisions from players is because this does weaken smart heals substantially. Right now in MoP, it doesn’t matter who I target my Chain Heal from. Anyone who’s on low health at the start of my 1.8-second CH cast is going to be full thanks to a bazillion other sources of smart heals floating around healing the most injured target, and since the game chooses the targets of my 3 CH bounces at the time the cast COMPLETES rather than the time the cast BEGINS, it will do a much better job of finding injured players than I could by trying to predict who will be hurt 1.8 seconds from now. You just turret off Riptide targets and hope that your main target will still be injured in 1.8 seconds so that the entire first bounce hasn’t gone to waste. Meanwhile you drop HST on CD and let it stabilize the lowest-health people, and there’s not a time where casting a single-target heal is a good idea – even a Healing Surge is sniped by Atonement, HST, Healing Rain, CoH/WG, Holy Radiance, etc. You just incur a mana penalty by trying to use single-target, non-smart healing in MoP. It leads to a point where you simply don’t have to think at all, and just mindlessly follow a rotation, and our heavily smart-healing toolkit makes all the decisions for us.

      In WoD, because those smart heals are less smart, we have to actually think about targeting our non-smart heals intelligently. It *matters* whether your Chain Heal target needed all that healing at the end of your CH cast (especially because of the Draenor perk that increases the primary target’s heal by 50%). That’s the only part of CH we can control, and it is important now. It’s not just “riptide that guy and cast every CH off him ’cause you’re only losing ~6% of max throughput by doing so”, it’s important to place your Riptides well and have several targets to choose from. And it’s important to NOT cast CH when AoE healing isn’t needed, but instead to lean on more mana-efficient Healing Wave, or to use Healing Surge to quickly heal a dangerously-injured player. Making the choice to throttle your mana expenditure now so that you can burst AoE heal later is a choice that has been missing since mid-t15 in MoP, and it’s refreshing IMO to have it again.

      I’ll note that this commentary is coming from a 25-player raid point of view – I know it’s different in 10s where Chain Heal can’t be relied upon (or must be Glyphed to be relied upon) and you do actually spend mana using your single-target heals, and you have fewer sources of smart heals keeping your raid topped off. Because I’m not a 10-player-raiding Shaman, it’s hard for me to compare exactly how WoD healing compares to MoP healing for small raids. But for Mythic raiding, which I think is roughly analogous to 25-player MoP raiding, it feels a lot better than what I was doing in Siege of Orgrimmar.

      I’ve spent 8-12 hours a day healing on the Beta across all classes and specs and I love it, but I recognise that not everyone will feel the same way. All I can really do is try to help the people who struggle with the new healing model and advocate why I think it’s a healthier model than what we have now. 🙂

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