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The Light and How to Swing It: Healing is a zero-sum game

healing meter
Every week, WoW Insider brings you The Light and How to Swing It for holy, protection and retribution paladins. Every Sunday, Chase Christian invites you to discuss the finer side of the paladin class: the holy specialization. Feel free to email me with any questions you want answered, like why paladins are so awesome.

Have you ever cut a cake at a party? Dividing a cake into portions is an example of what economists call a zero-sum game. The total amount of cake is fixed, and you can slice it how you see fit. There's only so much cake to go around, so giving someone a bigger portion means that there's less for everyone else. You can't take half of the cake for yourself without reducing the size of the other pieces. In a zero-sum game, you're sharing a limited resource with your fellow players, and one person's gain is another's loss.

Healing is a zero-sum game. Over the course of any given encounter, your raiders are only going to take so much damage. If one healer is handling 75% of the incoming damage, then there's only 25% of the incoming damage for the other healers to handle. The more HPS a healer does, the less their teammates are capable of. DPS classes work in the opposite way, where the more DPS one class does, the more DPS everyone does. Because of this unique zero-sum game that healers compete in, judging a healer's performance can be difficult.

HPS is a liar

If your raid could complete an encounter without taking any damage, you wouldn't need healers. The only reason that holy paladins and the other healers even get raid spots is that bosses happen to deal damage. All of the healing we do is a direct reaction to the damage that our raid takes. Are we fighting a boss that just smashes our tank? If so, we need to focus on single-target throughput. Are we fighting a boss that deals a ton of raid damage? If so, we need to use our AOE heals to ensure that the entire raid stays healthy. Our every cast is predicated by the boss' dealing damage in some way.

Bosses can only deal so much damage. If a particular encounter involves an entire raid being hit for 1,000 damage every second, then a 10-man group will need their healers to dole out 10,000 healing per second to counter that damage. Over the course of the fight, if there's no other incoming damage, it's impossible for our average HPS to be over 10,000. We can't heal damage that doesn't exist yet. Absorption bubbles need to be broken in order to be counted on the healing meters.

In our example fight, the raid's healers are tasked with handing out 10,000 healing per second. If we try to split that healing between three healers, we see that an even split would be 3,333 healing per second per healer. Unfortunately for us, due to differences between classes and specs, there's no way for everyone to perform the same in every situation. If you have a resto druid using their amazing AOE healing capabilities to output 7,000 healing per second, the other two healers are left to fight over the remaining 3,000 healing per second. Looking at a raid parse and seeing that a holy paladin only delivered 2,500 HPS might make it seem as if you're working with an awful paladin, but it could also be the druid's fault for being too awesome.

cake on face
Hogging the healing

We're tossed into raids with other healers, and we're all competing over the same finite resource. When you're healing, you want to be as selfish as possible with HPS. We should take every possible step to take the biggest possible slice of the HPS cake.

You might think that it's counterproductive to fight over who is doing the most healing, but it's an important exercise. If every single healer is scrapping to heal up the one player who just took damage, then you're going to be giving your raid the best healing experience possible. Our goal should be to handle as much of the incoming damage as we can by ourselves and then to let the other healers pick up our leftovers. If every healer in your raid follows the same mentality, then you know that your healing roster is running at optimum efficiency.

A holy paladin who focuses on healing as much as they possibly can will be more prepared when they're faced with more difficult encounters, especially when guilds tend to favor bringing fewer healers and more DPSers to some of the game's hardest fights. We should be reacting to every type of incoming damage, whether it comes in the form of tank damage or a random raider getting blasted. We should be watching our raid frames vigilantly, ready to Holy Shock the first health bar to dip.

Depending on the encounter, you might be assigned to handle a specific task, like healing a tank. While you want to focus on doing your job, there's nothing wrong with helping other people handle their healing assignments too. If you get too focused on a specific assignment, you become inflexible. Your assignment obviously takes the priority, but there's no excuse for letting someone sit at 80% life just because someone else is assigned to heal them. Snipe that HPS for yourself with a quick heal! Beacon of Light was designed for heal sniping, and we'd be amiss if we weren't using it as such.

Proactive healing

The easiest way to sneak a piece of the HPS cake is to precast heals onto your tanks. You should be casting and cancelling heals on your tanks at all times. You start casting the heal, wait to see if they take damage, and then cancel it if they don't take any damage. If they do take damage, you're already halfway into the cast, so you simply let it finish. You just dropped a powerful Divine Light bomb onto your tank and filled their life back up before any other healer could even start their cast. If all of your healers are cast-cancelling, your tanks will never see their life dip low. Imagine how many tank deaths could be prevented if every healer were racing to get their heal in first!

Unfortunately for holy paladins, there are heals that can reach our targets before any of our spells have a chance to land. HOTs can be precast on targets before any incoming damage arrives, and they go to work healing the raid instantly. Restoration druids can monopolize such a huge chunk of the HPS cake due to their incredibly powerful HOTs, as the incoming damage is healed before we even have a shot at healing it.

AOE Healing: Naturally high HPS

Every class's AOE healing spells are designed to unleash a ton of HPS, and they're key to reaching the top of the healing meters. Holy Radiance favors fights where your raid can stack up neatly, which happens occasionally. Prayer of Healing, the priest's ultimate AOE heal, favors encounters where the incoming AOE damage comes in large bursts. Efflorescence and Healing Rain are the two best spells for handling low but steady doses of damage.

Meters aren't everything

You don't want to reach the top of the HPS meters to prove that you're better than the other healers in your raid. You want to reach the top of the HPS meters to keep yourself on your toes, as it means that you're focusing on being quick to react and that you're accurately predicting incoming damage. Being at the top of your raid's HPS meter is meaningless if the other healers aren't competing against you. Your job should be to do the most HPS you can do while also fulfilling your other assignments.

In fact, as your guild gets better at an encounter and everyone starts standing in the fire less, your HPS will actually go down. You deal the most HPS when people are taking the most damage, which means the HPS cake gets smaller as your raid group improves. For example, when comparing my guild's first Shannox kill with our most recent, we took twice as much damage on day one. Healers are needed the most when guilds are learning encounters, not once they've mastered them. If you look at a new encounter as an opportunity to challenge yourself and others to deal the most HPS you can, then you know that you're giving your all to the cause.

Healers need to be healing competitively in order to get the most out of their class. If you're just healing the bare minimum necessary to keep your assigned target alive, then you're going to be woefully underprepared when you're challenged by a difficult boss.

The Light and How to Swing It: Holy helps holy paladins become the powerful healers we're destined to be. Find out just how masterful mastery healing can be, gear up with the latest gear, and learn how to PVP as a holy paladin.

Filed under: Paladin, (Paladin) The Light and How to Swing It

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