Causes of death are less obvious and more complex these days than in the previous expansion. Our health pools are so large that it’s usually multiple things that kill us over a longer period of time. Heals are so conservative and small relative to health pools that it can sometimes be hard to say whether or not you asked too much of a healer. Wrath’s spike damage, in contrast, often made causes of death obvious. We didn’t have to think much about what went wrong and what we could do instead. As much as we may look back on those simpler times with some fondness, we have to deal with present circumstances as best we can. What can we hunters do to understand why we die and what we can do better in the future? How can we figure out what went wrong so that we can learn from it?
Let’s imagine a hunter, Arrowise, and follow her as she dies in a boss fight and tries to figure out why. The tools at her disposal are a fairly standard UI with Recount, a helpful guild and basic raid awareness. The boss fight is the Conclave of Wind in the Throne of the Four Winds raid instance, 10man version. For those who don’t know, the premise of the fight is that the raid has to divide in order to defeat three elemental bosses concurrently. It resembles the first phase of the High Priest Thekal fight in Zul’Gurub and the last phase of the Mimiron fight in Ulduar in that all three targets have to be brought down at roughly the same time. A key difference that makes the fight also like the Earth, Wind & Fire achievement from the Vault of Archavon is that the bosses are removed from each other on different platforms, making healing and tanking divisions a prominent concern in addition to dps divisions.
Arrowise has the unfortunate task of dealing with all three bosses. She has to be on Nezir’s platform during his special attack to take a share of the damage. She has to be on Nashal’s platform if he isn’t going down fast enough, and she has to dps Rohash at all other times. It might not be a good job, but it’s the job she’s been assigned.
She dies during Nezir’s second special, but she was already at low health when it started. The final blow was obviously delivered by Nezir’s platform-wide aoe, but was he the only culprit? Could she have avoided her death? What roles did Anshal and Rohash have to play? It’s a murder mystery, a whodunnit, and so she starts looking for clues.
Immediately, she looks at raid frames to see who’s within range of her corpse and if the nearby healers are out of mana. Those are two of the possible easy answers: being out of range of heals and heals being out of mana. Others include her corpse being in a pool of fire, the rest of the raid already being dead and other people taking heavy damage (leaving no time to heal her). Arrowise finds that none of these easy answers fit the bill for her demise. Healers were in range and had mana. She wasn’t standing in one of Nezir’s frost patches. Everyone else survived.
Tip 1: When you die, look to the usual suspects first: raid status, your positioning and healer status. Often, considering these things right away leads to a fast and easy answer as to why you’re dead.
Questions unanswered, she turns from things she can observe in the game environment to sources of data. She clicks on the “Combat Log” tab of her chat frame (the one included in the default UI) and selects the “What Happened to Me?” filter to see what kind of damage and healing preceded her death. If the Sleet Storm tics were abnormally large, it might mean she died because there were too few other people on the platform to share the damage. If there were no amounts of resisted damage, it would mean that the raid not having the right buffs contributed to her demise. If there were tics of Permafrost damage amongst the Sleet tics, it would mean that she was “standing in fire” and just didn’t notice it. It is possible to learn a lot from a log but she finds nothing conspicuous, save for an absence of heals. This is a clue to be sure, but it doesn’t provide firm answer as to fault or cause.
Tip 2: Looking at a log of the things that happened to you preceding your death provides excellent insight regarding what killed you. It tells you in chronological order what hit you, what healed you and what you resisted immediately preceding your collapse.
A disadvantage of an unvarnished log, like the one found in the default UI’s Combat Log, is that it does not aggregate data. Put another way, it doesn’t sum up and juxtapose the different sources of damage and heals over the course of a fight, and so it doesn’t provide a larger perspective on a death. This doesn’t diminish the worth of combat logs in general, but it does mean that a log does not serve perfectly as an all-purpose data tool for Arrowise’s investigation. Fortunately, Arrowise runs Recount, which does a good job of aggregating fight data. It is useful for much more than tracking dps and damage done. Recount tracks a wide variety of useful statistics including cc breakers, activity, dispels, interrupts and overhealing. Looking at these after a wipe provides an excellent window into what went wrong and, yes, whose fault it was.
Tip 3: Using a data aggregator like Recount provides perspective on what happened over the course of a fight that is both encompassing and and nuanced. It doesn’t say ‘where,’ like observation does, or ‘when,’ like a log does, but it covers who and what with excellence.
The Recount data that Arrowise concerns herself with are the Damage Taken and Healing Taken counts. In particular, she looks for avoidable damage that she took and heals upon her. Since she was on all three platforms before she died, she has to look at damage from Nezir, Anshal and Rohash. She sees no Wind Blast damage from Rohash, Permafrost damage from Nezir or add damage from Anshal. Oddly, though, under Damage Taken > Anshal she sees melee damage. The boss was hitting her? How did this happen? Then she realizes: the tanks switch periodically between Nezir and Anshal, and as a dps high on Anshal’s threat table, she must have snagged a melee swing when the tank dragged Anshal over to the edge of the platform by her and jumped. So that’s what put her health a little low before she jumped over to Nezir for the second special.
Tip 4: Knowing the fight and knowing other players’ jobs in it can provide you with contextual information that is essential for understanding what happened to you. Just like context without data lacks specificity, data without context lacks meaning.
That doesn’t fully explain why she died, though. Death in a raid is not so much a matter of just damage but of a deficit between heals and damage. Because of this, Arrowise turns to the Healing Taken count. It tells her that she received 100k healing during the whole fight. Most was from the shaman healer on Rohash’s platform, likely in response to his Slicing Gales, and a little was from the priest on Anshal’s platform, likely patching up after she returned from the first special. The rest was the Lightwell and Healthstone healing Arrowise gave herself during the Sleet Storms. Why didn’t she receive any heals from the priest on Nezir’s platform? She decides to ask the raid.Arrowise: I’m just curious, not pointing fingers, but why didn’t I receive any heals during Nezir’s special? Sacredpants: You should have if you were in range. I was spamming Prayer of Healing on both groups. Shieldsprawl: Arrow’s in group 3. We divided up the platforms that way, remember? Sacredpants: Oh. ****. I don’t even have a third group enabled in my raid frames since this is 10man.
That explains it. It wasn’t any of the usual suspects or even any of the semi-usual suspects. It was a result of the raid leader’s decisions not matching up with the UI configuration of a healer. Sometimes deaths are just accidents, unpredictable and eccentric.
Tip 5: Asking other people for insight can yield answers you might not have been able to come up with yourself.
Arrowise figured out the problem through a careful elimination of possibilities and even helped the raid avoid the problem again in the future by shedding light on it. This, arguably, should be the goal of post-death analysis: not figuring out what went wrong to place blame, but to learn about how to avoid death in the future and increase the raid’s chances for success. It’s important to make deaths instructive; it is important to not die in vain.
That said, we don’t have to pretend we haven’t died yet. What have hunters already learned from their deaths and subsequent analysis in Cataclysm? Here’s a portion of the wisdom gleaned.
- Take some healing into your own hands. Optimized healing these days relies on all players using healthstones, lightwells, aoe ‘circle’ heals and, yes, even bandages to heal themselves. Hunters are no exception to this; our chances for survival are increased by taking some responsibility for our own healing.
- Watch your positioning relative to healers. It’s not as simple as merely being in range of the raid healer(s). Most multi-target heals spread relative to their target, not the caster. You can be within range of a raid healer but if the central target of a multi-target heal is 40 yrds to the other side of the healer, you’ll take no piece of it. Because of this, it helps to be within 40yrds of as many ranged as possible, and particularly of your party members if your raid healer is a priest. Moreover, healers will put lightwells and healing circles where they’ll do the most good (that is, where people are), offering further reason for hunters to not stand in corners.
- Avoiding damage is more important than doing damage. This may seem bizarre on its face, but there aren’t many situations in Cata raids where it’s better stay in the fire one more second to finish a cast than step out of it. DPS requirements, at least those that I’ve come across, are fairly forgiving in Cata. On the other hand, requirements for avoiding damage and not overstressing healers are not as forgiving. Healing is much different in Cataclysm and it’s hard to overstate how important avoiding damage is. All that said, you of course still want to optimize dps given that you’re getting out of fire first.
- Pet damage avoidance matters, too. Keeping your pet alive is important for all sorts of reasons, but keeping it free of damage entirely is also helpful. Pets snag smart heals like Wild Growth and so the more time your pet spends at full health, the more often a smart heal will go to a player (usually a melee).
- Mitigating damage is more important than doing damage. Mitigation is no joke for the same reason that avoidance it is no joke. Deterrence works on a lot of attacks; use it. Running Aspect of the Wild in the absence of other sources of nature resistance can do wonders. Employing Glyph of Raptor Strike on fights like Chimaeron where hunters can stack on the melee with no problem will prevent absurd amounts of damage.
Of course, these new emphases don’t do much to change the old ones of knowing the fight inside and out, watching agro, controlling your pet, keeping the healers safe, using CC and kiting when appropriate, etc. Some things just don’t seem to change from expansion to expansion.
Do you have any tips or questions about staying alive or learning from death in Cataclysm raids? If so, please share them in a comment below.