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 ones...one 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 silly...do 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.