The value of the Bad Pull (a healing philosophy)

Ever fought every mob in this hallway all at once? I have.

I've recently been leveling two healers though the Cataclysm zones, hurling myself into the murky PuG waters repeatedly. It's been an interesting experience - for my "new" healer (Disc Priest) it's been laughably easy, while for my "veteran" healer (Resto Druid) it's been an uphill struggle, one that I'm still not entirely comfortable with.

Anyway, when you subject yourself to dozens of pugs you're bound to run into some bad groups. Players might simply be inexperienced and seeing a dungeon for the first time, and have no idea about boss mechanics (looking at you, Karsh Steelbender). They might be arrogant jerks who insist on chain pulling or refusing to use crowd control. Or they may simply be bad players who you hope desperately never to end up with in a Heroic group later on.

Whatever the case may be, I get a lot of comments from bloggy friends or guildmates about how I must have a lot of patience, to put up with such a steady stream of aggravation. And I read a lot of comments from people who outright refuse to subject themselves to the misery of pugging, and will only run instances with guildies.

Personally, I think they're looking at this the wrong way. I try not to view these bad groups as stressful or frustrating ordeals, but rather, a GREAT way to learn the true limitations and capabilities of your class.

In my opinion, nothing teaches you about mana conservation and TRUE triage healing like desperation! Such as a group accidentally pulling two (or even THREE) trash packs at once, or pulling the boss early while you're still dealing with a handful of mobs. Or a group that doesn't interrupt a critical enemy spellcast. Or one where every mob is aggroed on a different member!

Most of the time, these situations are doomed to failure. There's only so much you can do! But just because it's going to be a wipe doesn't mean you should just sit there and whinge about it. I say roll up your sissy-robed sleeves and do your damndest to survive, or at least live as long as possible. Consider it a challenge and a learning experience! And if somehow, you DO survive, take a deep breath, congratulate yourself on an awesome job and feel proud!

(I should add that my feelings are also a slight matter of personal defiance. Whenever I see things falling apart I grit my teeth and think to myself "Dammit, NO. I won't LET US wipe!")

During my healing adventures, I've seen the first BRC boss pulled with 3 trash packs. I've endured a Stonecore battle of epic proportions where we let not one but TWO Stonecore Sentries alert their friends to come join the fight, a fight that lasted 5+ minutes and saw us kite them all the way up to Slabhide's clearing.

But the worst I've ever experienced was a Vortex Pinnacle group that accidentally pulled both packs of Tol'vir right before the last boss. You know the group of 5 at the base of the stairs, another 5 in the no-targeting magic triangle. Ranged damaged mobs, ranged healers, the risk of being blown off the platform. It was anarchy. Absolute, pure madness.

I dread these pulls perhaps more than any other trash in any instance, ever.

In all of the disasters I just mentioned, we lived.

Now I'm not saying we lived solely because of me. Far from it! In every case, especially the Vortex Pinnacle mishap, we only survived because everyone else did amazing jobs at coping with an impossible situation. I saw people kite, break out emergency CC, throw off-heals, you name it. And as for myself, I was on mana vapors, gasping for breath, my heart rate through the roof. But at the same time, ecstatic.

However, the fact we lived, though it feels nice, is almost secondary to the true benefit of such debacles: trial-by-fire healing experience. Who would you trust more to heal your raid? Someone who knows their entire suite of abilities and is precisely aware of their capabilities and limitations? Or someone who had peaceful, stress-free dungeon runs, never had to do anything other than hit their routine healing spells, and has no idea how to cope with chaos? Who do you think will deal better with a nightmare like Chimaeron and his terrifying healing mechanic?

Bad Pulls quickly teach you which spells are viable in true OH SHIT moments, and really sharpen your healing reflexes. Do I use Heal so I can re-shield the tank again sooner? Or do I need to Penance? Will I need the extra healing power of Greater Heal, and will the tank survive long enough to receive it? These are split-second decisions that you only really face when the situation is grim. I'd much rather face them and learn the correct reaction in a dungeon than a crucial raid moment, where the wrong decision could be fatal.

Your regular healing "rotation" also doesn't mean jack if you're fast running out of mana and will be unable to maintain it! You'll find your priorities quickly shifting from keeping everyone at near full health, to keeping everyone "not dead." As anyone who healed Heroic Anub'Arak is well aware, this is a lot harder than it sounds. Granted, with Anub'Arak you limited your heals because more healing was actually detrimental, while in Cataclysm you do it because you can't afford the mana, but the basic idea is the same. The balancing act between keeping your teammates barely alive while not OOM'ing is a tricky one, but you can't learn it in perfect runs that don't strain your mana!

Disastrous scenarios also build good habits, such as getting used to popping those crucial healing cooldowns like Tranquility or Divine Hymn. Previously, I tended to resist casting those long-CD spells because I didn't want to waste them. As a result, I would either not cast them (wasting it), or pop them too late, when it was too late for them to do any good. But now? I'm much better at recognizing when it's time to pull out the big guns.

What? It's a healing cooldown! ...okay, fine, I just wanted to use this picture.

Another invaluable lesson you learn from Bad Pulls is the art of triage healing. Make no mistake, there will come a time when you WILL have to let people die. That terrible moment when you realize this and have to consciously choose who will live can be absolutely paralyzing for someone who's never faced it before. And if you're not ready for that kind of instant decision, BOTH may end up dead!

"Could I have done anything differently to save them? What did I do wrong? Did I make a mistake? Did I fail in my job?" These are natural questions that plague a healer after someone dies. The difference between a healing rookie and a hardened vet is how they respond.

A rookie might be beset with guilt and self-doubt, and get distracted or start panicking. But a veteran healer, while they likely have the same inner concerns, will push these worries aside to focus on the task at hand. Their reaction is "I can figure out why that person died later. It doesn't matter right now - I've got healing to do."

Being thrust into absurdly challenging healing spots will quickly drive home this mindset. You can either get emotionally upset and give up, or you can buckle down and GET HEALING. Quit or try to win. Those are your options.

Now obviously, it can be frustrating to wipe, especially when it's because of a silly mistake. No one wants to die and waste money on repairs. But while guild runs are nice because you know nobody will do anything they really help you become a better healer?

If I were "training" a new guild healer, one of the first things I'd do is get a guild group and subject our new healer to brutal tests of healing limits. Not to see if we lived - our survival would be an afterthought. I'd just want to see how they cope with stress, and help them get used to the feeling of feeling constantly a step behind and totally screwed. Because quite often, that's what raid healing feels like.

If they can deal with that, they're mentally ready in my book. Gear will come with time, but skill and composure are learned. And if wiping a few times from mass Stonecore pulls is what it takes to teach this mentality, well, I consider those repair costs as money well spent.

People often lament the lack of "healing dummies," and complain that it's impossible to prepare for endgame healing because they can't practice like a DPS can. Well, I disagree. All the dummies you'll ever need to hone your healing skills are fully implemented, prepared and ready.

They're waiting for you in LFG.

20 Responses Subscribe to comments

  1. gravatar

    I applaud the use of 'whinge' which is normally only heard from "blokes". :) Chrome doesn't even recognize it as a valid word! Great post overall! I agree you can learn tons(tonnes) from pug healing and it makes PvE encounters less boring to be put with a bad pug! If you really want to test a healer though just have them run some PvP with you and try to get yourself killed (2 vs. 5, etc)!

    March 3, 2011 at 3:53 PM

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    When I rolled my (now bearcat) druid back in Wrath as a healer, I asked one of the trees in my guild, whom I deeply respected, how to practice healing. He said to pug it, and the worse the pug was, the better the practice I'd get.

    Best. Advice. Ever.

    It's now how I "practice" on all my toons. Pug everything.

    Of course, this advice applies to tanking also.

    As a veteran warlock, I'd add DPSing as well.

    Kiting, CC, interrupts, survival cooldowns, threat dumping, range awareness, when to pop your DPS cooldowns on a per boss basis, how to DPS on the move? Target Dummy's gonna do jack shit for you on those concepts.

    Frankly, muscle memory is about all the useful exercise you'll get out of a Target Dummy.

    March 3, 2011 at 3:54 PM

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    Completely agree. This is how I learned to heal back in Wrath. I just threw myself into PUGs, with whatever shit gear I had. It taught you a lot, both good and bad.

    I also have leveled 2 healers back to back in cata ( pally and disc priest). I've had oh-shit moments on both, and while they're nerve-wracking they're awesome teaching experiences. For example, without having crappy pulls I'd never have taken the time to learn all the Hand spells my pally has, or how to eek out every spec of mana my priest has.

    March 3, 2011 at 4:08 PM

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    Hmm, maybe this is why I secretely love pugging. Because it just never stops being challenging ^^ I once accidentally pulled two groups and Ozruk in Stonecore, boy did I have to learn about using cooldowns and to keep threat in all possible and impossible ways to pull that one off. The healer did an amazing job, and the dpsers too of course. People who enjoy this kind of challenge (like you and me) can learn tremendously from this. People who don't enjoy it however, will be scared off. I had a healer just today, where the tank pulled a massive group and died. The healer blamed himself and left. No lesson learned :( He should read this post!

    March 3, 2011 at 4:17 PM

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    The end line of that post was completely full
    Of win I'm still laughing!

    March 3, 2011 at 5:53 PM

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    It's odd that I read this and all the tank side of me could think was "nope, stop trying to redeem RDF PUGs". I know it's very true from a healing perspective but I shudder to think about a veteran tank telling a new tank to go to PUGs to learn how to "really tank".

    Though I suppose if their definition of "really tanking" involves being treated like utter shit for wanting any semblance of order in a system which not only glorifies chaos but actively causes it to happen to you at every corner then they're right.

    Ever since I started tanking and taking it seriously I've developed a schism in my mindset that I never had when I went from DPS to healing. Every fluff article I read about the game I view from a tanks perspective and a healers and the fued between the two is not something I enjoy.

    I shudder to think that I'm making myself hate this game simply by playing with people.

    March 4, 2011 at 12:23 AM

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    Bug, I don't think the idea I wrote about applies to tanks. The main idea behind this post is that as a healer, a bad pull, like difficult raid fights, are completely out of your control and all you can do is react and try to minimize the damage. But for a tank, it's very different. A bad pull is something entirely different for a tank - more often than not, it's a sign that they screwed up. Now obviously a DPS could have pew pewed the wrong mob, or etc. But generally, it's on the tank.

    Regardless, raid fights rarely (if ever) revolve around corralling a bunch of loose adds. So yeah, there's much less value in bad pulls for tanks.

    A healer practices by embracing chaos; a tank practices by embracing control.

    March 4, 2011 at 1:39 AM

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    What a great post. =)
    while I'm widely known as anti-pugger, I do agree with you that nothing can teach you the way a 'bad' group or bad pull does, pushing your limits and showing you what you (/your class) are truly capable of. it can be very satisfying to save the day - and sometimes the healer DOES save the day. :)

    this is certainly a feeling you lose quickly when running in the same, well-oiled 5man group all the time. things get boring for a healer when everything is fine - human error is the spice of our trade after all.

    March 4, 2011 at 3:14 AM

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    Great post, right on the money imo. It's especially satisfying for me, when a group does a junk pull and makes it work because they look at what's going on around them and do what needs to be done. It's that same kind of feeling you used to get on the playground when your recess basketball team was amazing.

    I also love looking at PuGing with this idea as a tank and DPS. When a player won't stop pulling threat, can I still keep him alive? When I pull threat, can I keep myself alive? As a DPS, can I help the healer out with that mob taking a chunk out him when the tank just won't?

    March 4, 2011 at 10:47 AM

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    @Rades - I know full well that you didn't write this for tanks. My comment had a set path and veered off course into some self-pity about midway, haha. Hopefully I stressed enough in the comment that I really do agree with the post from the perspective of a long time healer.

    And if I didn't: Rades is right on the money. (Was there any doubt?)

    March 5, 2011 at 8:09 PM

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    I respectfully disagree with the assertion that you shouldn't learn to tank by doing pugs.

    Sure, confidence wise it's a good idea to learn to tank with a few guildies to begin with, but after the first two or so runs I'd suggest pugging in all honesty.

    If you can hold aggro on some of the aggro monkeys that are out there in the LFG, then no raid will ever pose a real challenge to your confidence again.

    Personally always levelled my tanks by pugging, it does the same as for a healer, teaches your abilities, awareness and skills.
    And found the same enjoyment as described in the article in that, or I might be a masochist I guess

    March 6, 2011 at 4:04 PM

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    Dang, Rades -- those are some scary situations.

    I think I've been in the one where those two packs in Vortex Pinnacle got pulled at the same time and managed to survive myself and keep enough of the group alive to kill all the mobs. Pulling that whole hallway in Stonecore, though... that I'm not sure I could make it through, given the Resto Shaman's severe shortage of OH HELP buttons. Maybe it would just take a better Resto Shaman than I am to do it >.<

    Anyhow, I certainly agree with your point that it's when things go pear-shaped that one really learns how to eke the most out of one's healing toolbox.

    Also, Tree of Life on a camel? Made of win.

    March 7, 2011 at 2:36 PM

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    Hmm. On the whole I agree with this post, but there's also a part of me that disagrees. Yes, being able to compensate for mistakes will make you a better healer, but all too often people in pugs won't just make mistakes, they'll simply play badly and not care. It's a small step from embracing bad pulls as something useful to becoming the masochistic punching bag of players who don't know how to play and have zero consideration for their healer's abilities or needs. It's okay if you're confident in your abilities and can tell when people are just taking the piss, but I think for many healers pushing themselves into pugging in order to become better would only result in frustration and maybe even wanting to give up healing altogether. It's a good training ground for the right kind of player, but not for everyone.

    March 8, 2011 at 6:05 AM

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    I'M ANGRY.

    March 9, 2011 at 3:47 PM

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    First off, I really enjoyed reading that article, thank you for writing it!

    I felt entirely the same way about bad pugs in general when my warrior first donned the protection spec during early Lich King.

    Every DPS'er that has pulled threat from me has made my reflexes faster and taught me about the effectiveness of my spells. Every healer that almost let me die or OOM'd from being unskilled taught me how to manage my cooldowns and think about damage mitigation in unorthodox ways (see: running and intervening away from a boss to buy 10 extra seconds).

    Thank you for sharing this idea with your readers and taking something that's generally viewed as negative and turning it into a positive experience, WoW definitely needs a little less cynicism from the player base.

    March 9, 2011 at 3:55 PM

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    Haha, great article!

    I have to confess, I happen to be one of those terrible tanks that chain pull and, in pugs at least, I don't really look at my omen as much as I should. (Used to tanking anyway so I just pop some survival cds or kite as needed when I get aggro, wouldn't be a learning experience for the healer if I played nice all the time right?)

    That said, I do agree that it's an excellent learning experience for healers, and even as a chain pulling tank. You really learn when to use those "oh shit" buttons when you realize that your healer (who had full mana, I watch for that at least) is still a room back debating whether or not to roll on the pretty dress that just dropped off the last boss you fought. Let me tell ya, definitely sharpens your reflexes when it comes to blowing CDs and finding creative ways to survive.

    As a dps, I almost never have to use emergency cc's, kite, or off-heal with friends. Every time something stupid happens in a pug I'm reminded of a new spell in my spellbook that I forgot to to put on my bars ^_^

    Keep up the good work!

    March 9, 2011 at 5:30 PM

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    "All the dummies you'll ever need to hone your healing skills are fully implemented, prepared and ready.

    They're waiting for you in LFG."

    So completely, utterly true. You know, I've always kind of liked healing PuGs for some odd reason, despite my general distaste for the role. The only issues I've had has been when you get a tank who isn't properly geared and blames you for getting two shot, or a DPS who insists on standing in the bad and calls you "terrible." Other than that, I find it to be an absolute trip to pull some crazy stunts out of my butt to save the day in those "oh crap" situations.

    Excellent article, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it!

    March 10, 2011 at 4:35 AM

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    So very true. My best memories of healing were those where something went terribly wrong but we pulled it off anyways.

    Just the other day I had a tank get blown off in VP right where you talk about, yet no one died. It was chaos embodied with aggro bouncing around everywhere. weakened soul on everyone, PoM bouncing endlessly and praying that the shield from PoH would last long enough to get that flash heal off on the mage whose healthbar has no color left on it whatsoever and the only reason you know they are alive is that it doesn't say DEAD on it.

    It's after this when you're sitting there, finally exhaling, and someone you got randomly grouped with says those two words that makes you feel like a rock star...

    "Nice heals!"

    March 11, 2011 at 11:14 AM

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    Oh, man, your last statement is so true... I hate it sometimes, but for sure, LFGtards make you a better healer, tank, or dps. Obvious why with healing and tanking, but as a dps, you can help a bad pull tremendously through stuns, blinds, plain and simple dpsing something off of the healer, slows, etc...

    Your words are true, yet painful!

    March 16, 2011 at 9:27 AM

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    Great post. This is so true, too - I actually like running normal heroics because you get a lot of crazy situations like that (instead of the ragequitting and bitching you get in troll heroics). The tolvir 2 trash pack in VP, yes! I have had some great moments using mind control on my disc priest to save those pulls - walk them off the edge and it's an extra CC for a moment. Or mind control the healing mobs for 300k heals on your group :D I'm glad to read that I'm not the only one who likes this bit of challenge/ego-boost :P

    September 26, 2011 at 1:13 PM