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Zero-Sum ManaNot just another game...

My Guild Leader used this phrase last week, and it got me thinking about how Zero Sum applies to a raid as a whole and to each of us individually. Calling mana a Zero-Sum Game is a great way of illustrating a practice we all should be using.

The general gist of what we need to keep in mind with Zero-Sum Mana is: Unless you hit 100% mana at any point of the fight your cooldown usage should generally be as soon as possible.Try to think of your mana pool in terms of the whole length of the fight, not just as the number that shows on your character pane. Ask yourself, “how much mana is available to me cumulatively throughout the fight?”.  Using your restorative cooldowns will increase your fight-duration mana pool… not just your current total available mana.

As Priests we have 2 Types of Mana Cooldowns: Potions and Non-Potions.  Potions, of course, are the easiest to understand- you can use ONE Mythical Mana Potion or Potion of Concentration per encounter (assuming you don’t die and are battle rezzed).

Non-Potions are a bit more complicated:
- Hymn of Hope (HoH)
- Mana Tide Totem (MTT)
- Shadowfiend
- Arcane Torrent (Blood Elf racial)
- Innervate (if you are being fed one, and is dramatically different if from a Resto/Boom/Feral)

Rule #1 – Know Your Cooldown Durations
All of these non-potion abilities have a cooldown and can be used multiple times in an encounter. So the question is when do I use these abilities to get the most out of them? You first need find out how long you expect the fight to be. If you have done the fight before, you should have a rough idea of how long the fight is for your raid team. Alternatively, you can look on World of Logs and see what the average time for “Fight Duration”. (Here is a link to WoL’s Spine of Deathwing and you’ll see the Median and Average duration for Kills and Wipes). You know now, that an average Heroic 25-man kill is 725 seconds, which is a good starting point to know how many Shadowfiends, Torrents, etc you can get off during that time.  The sooner you use the ability the sooner it comes back off cooldown.

I hate watching a video and seeing something short, like Arcane Torrent, sitting off cooldown for more than a few seconds. Or a shadowfiend sitting there for 2-3 minutes into a fight. If they were used when available, they’d be nearly off cooldown already!

Rule #2- Know How Much Mana You Gain
You need to know how much each of these abilities will grant you (even if its roughly). Abilities like MTT can vary based on spirit levels of the shaman, your int levels (Remember the spirit regen formula takes that into account), and if you are out of range of the Totem. Hymn of Hope is complex as it can increase your mana pool, and you are never guaranteed to be given a single tick from HoH. Abilities like Arcane Torrent and Shadowfiend are predictable, and you should know what amounts of mana you’ll be getting back. For example: Shadowfiend will, under normal circumstances, provide you with 30% of your mana pool back. (inclusive of temporary int bonuses from enchants or procs) Additionally, Shadowfiends provide additional melee swings (and thus more mana restoration) when under the benefits of Heroism/Bloodlust.

Rule #3 – Never Waste Restoration
Now that you know how much mana you get back from these cooldowns. You don’t want to use one and then have part of it go to waste! You do not want to use Shadowfiend if you will cap out at 100% mana as any extra melee swings after 100% are wasted. (Same for Replenishment ticks, or even Rapture restoration) Me? I tend to use my Fiend as soon as I hit 65%-70% mana as to ensure I don’t hit 100% mana and waste a 3% restoration swing. As soon as you know that your restorative ability will not be wasted- use it.  (see rule #1)

I personally CRINGE when I watch videos with someone sitting at 50% mana and they have both Fiend and Torrent off CD. USE IT! Its not going to waste! Use it!

Rule #4 – Timing Around Other Raider’s CDs
If you know your Shaman is about to place down Mana Tide, and you are sitting at 70% mana, you might want to hold off on Shadowfiend until after MTT goes out and you can use fiend at a later time. (or perhaps you could have used it earlier in the fight?)  Keeping an eye on when MTT is coming off CD from your neighboorhood Shaman is important – there is a DBM plug in that works for this as well as ORA3. If you have multiple priests in your raid, you might want to stagger (or stack,depending on the fight) Hymn of Hope. Most fights in DS you’ll be lucky to get 2 off… coordinating with your fellow Priests is important.

 Rule #5 – Timing Around Fight Mechanics
You do not want to be caught with your pants down using a cooldown that puts you out of commission for a few seconds. (ie. Hymn of Hope, Concenration Potions) This was the context in which my RL brought up “Zero Sum” in the raid.  You do not want to use Concentration Potions towards a latter part of a fight since it puts you out of commission potentially during a high healing period. Those mana potions should have been used earlier, provided you would not have hit 100% mana. Remember…. the only two points in time that your mana levels are important are at 0% and 100%; anywhere in between there your mana is a resource that is available to you to use.

Of course, certain fight mechanics will have you waiting to use certain cooldowns (ie. Yor’sahj and his Blue Slime) to work within the mechanics of the fight. Play smart!

Common Misconceptions
-But Derevka, I was holding onto my Shadowfiend/Torrent/Potion so I could get mana back when I really needed it! — No, no, no! Again, remember how Zero Sum works. So long as you have more than 0% and less than 100% mana your restoration shouldn’t be squandered.  Use it…

-I didn’t need the mana back, I’m ending the fight with surplus mana! Again, no. You could be trading off that extra mana for high HPS/low efficiency heals. (Maybe PWS spam a bit more? Or stack Serendipity via Flash Heal?) Alternatively you could reforge away from spirit for more throughput. Getting off multiple Shadowfiends also can assist your raid by increasing Raid-DPS. (perhaps on a difficult Burning Tendon DPS check?). Or perhaps get off multiple Hymn of Hopes to assist your fellow healers mana levels (or arcane mages).

The biggest thing to keep in mind is that your mana pool is dynamic. Remember to view your available mana dynamically: view it as Fight-Duration mana… not just a static “How much do I have right now?”. Be forward thinking and predictive. Zero-Sum!!

Written By: on February 15, 2012
  1. Excellent information about a much undervalued strength or weakness of a good raider. I would like to know if at the top heroic encounters, are you in dire need of mana? If so, do you still use Potion of Concentration, or is there no room to squeeze it in? I’ve mostly done normal mode encounters in Cataclysm, and always used a PoC, but am wondering if Heroic has room for this temporary lack of healing.

    1. Yes certain fights you’ll need to Consentration Potion; but be unable to sacrifice your output. (Heroic Spine, and Madness for example). THe trick, always, is finding holes in the fight where you can do that (and also where not all of the healers are going to do it!).

  2. The only time I really delay using a cooldown of mine is if I’m waiting for Power Torrent to be up so I can use Arcane Torrent. I know it doesn’t give you that much more mana back than if you use it without Power Torrent, but that’s my personal preference and every little bit helps.

    I also seem to have a really hard time with shaman dropping MTT at really spastic intervals, like right after I’ve used a shadowfiend or while I’m using a PoC. That really bugs me.

    1. In theory this is a good practice, however it depends on how long your have Torrent/Lightweave on CD. Power Torrent has a 45 sec CD, while Arcane Torrent has 120 sec. Depending on how much time is left on the CD, you COULD be waiting enough time to lose an extra Arcane Torrent CD later in the fight. (which overcompensates dramatically for the added 450 holding for Power Torrent to proc would have provided)

      When I was Horde, I only held it for roughly 10 sec or so for Power Torrent CD (a quick eyeball to my CD tracker would suffice), otherwise it was more meaningful to me to just have it off CD earlier. Holding CDs is a slippery slope.

  3. Thanks for that tip on the average fight length on WoL’s Derevka, I hadn’t realized that existed.

    I’ve started to get very vocal about my MTT placement as I had noticed we were overlapping CD’s in our raids. I’ve gotten to the point when I hit 65% mana, I call it and drop it, regardless of where we’re at during the fight. As a result of that I’ve noticed I’m able to use it more frequently and oftentimes that it’s available during really crucial phases of fights.

    This is one of those posts that I love reading on your blog, it is geared somewhat towards priests, but there is great information in here for all healing classes!

  4. Using a shadowfiend early and thereby causing it to not get as much mana back as it could have is not a l w a y s wrong if it f ex means you can squeeze in an extra fiend at the end of the fight. Most of the time it’s unnecessary because doing a half duration fiend first followed by a full would give as much mana as doing the full duration fiend first and the half duration fiend at the end but sometimes raid mechanics makes it better to do it one way around over the other. It can be that it’s hectic at the end and you don’t want to waste focus managing the fiend at that point. It can be that some part of the encounter makes it comlicated to use fiend at all. Or more commonly it can be that Heroism/Bloodlust is used at the end and you’d be better off getting the extra swings from the fiend at that point.

    I very much agree that a mana cooldown just sitting there not being used at all is a shame. At least as long as not both trinkets have been changed, every enchant, every gem and every reforging has been done to get less regen and more oomph.

    On the other hand it’s been a long time since I saw a boss that actually required anyone to go to such “extremes”* when doing them with equipment appropriate for the content. And even if it should be something to aim for it’s still kind of unusual to see fights end with all healers at exactly zero mana. It’s always better to aim high however than realizing too late you didn’t do enough to micromanage your manapool.

    *well, extreme for some players

    1. I agree… however, i will say that Heroic Madness and Spine has all of our healers really watching Mana Levels, staggering CDs, etc…

  5. You have given me a phrase for the very thing I always strive for. For that, I thank you!

    Furthermore you have opened my eyes to the necessity of managing overlap reduction on raidwide mana CD’s; my 25-man H DS group has only downed the earlier bosses and mana cd management has not even been considered (that I know of).

    Looking ahead to later bosses, it sounds as though this will be nearly required. We have 2 resto shamans so I will absolutely keep MTT in mind from here on out. Thanks!

    *Downloading DBM – Spelltimers immediately!*

  6. Nice reminders! (I finally went and got Ora3 like I’ve been meaning to)

    The only thing I can add, is I’ve tweaked your “low mana” Power Auras for my different healer classes, so I get a reminder to use Divine Plea (2 min) at perhaps 80%, while I have it set a good bit lower to remind me to use Priest cooldowns.

  7. I think its important to add here that our secondary stats (outside of spirit) can be considered as passive regen and play an important role in our mana management. By making our heals more effective through mastery and crit we dont need to use them as much. And a mana cooldown Derevka failed to mention is Power Infusion. With your 2 set your spending 45% less mana per heal with 20% faster casting. I treat this as a mana cd (which I have macrod to use on myself only) and only wait to use it for situations (burning tentacles/ bolt landing/ lightning phases etc) where I’ll need the extra throughput.

    1. Great point made about mana conservation, Valandris. However, I would suggest that there is an important difference between mana /conservation/ and zero-sum mana.Zero Sum mana is regarding restorative talents and abilities.

      That said, you are spot on with some of the theory… dispite my personal preference of not PIing healers and PIing caster DPS.

  8. I think healers, especially later in an expansion, need to think more like DPS, which is sort of what this amounts to.

    Cooldowns, from a DPS perspective, is something you need to use as often as possible to do your job correctly. Holding onto cooldowns for very long is a real waste, and missing out on a potential chance to use a CD again in a fight is a big no-no.

    When a DPS sees a spell come off CD, they start looking for opportunities to use it ASAP. Healers should be doing the same thing.

    I see cooldown use as the big game-changer for healers; its the difference between the guy doing LFR and normal modes, and the guy who’s carrying his raid through HMs. Healers are as balanced around CDs just as much as DPS – and no self-respecting DPS would ever sit on a CD for long. Healers are perhaps even more balanced around CDs with the way Dragon Soul has been designed.

    Another thing that has bothered me with healers and their love/hate relationship with meters, and it ties into this topic. On the one hand, a healer’s performance can be evaluated using meters, similar to how a DPS can be evaluated. True, using meters to evaluate and increase healer performance is very different than with DPS, but healers are still watching meters, no matter what anyone tells you. However, sometimes you hear healers tell you something to the effect of “well, meters don’t matter” or “well, you only won the meters because all your healing came from (insert cooldown here)”. Its like proper cooldown use is somehow like cheating. That attitude can be a problem – if the meters are showing you that you can improve you should embrace that. And if another player’s CD use is causing you to look bad on meters, perhaps you should improve your own cooldown use.

    Using a CD for a healer should be just like using a CD for a DPS: you should use it as often as possible, or as often as it makes sense to during a fight, to do the best healing you are capable of. Because when you are healing hard modes, the developers are expecting you to play that way when they balance the content.

    1. Felade, I thought your comment was really great. I might copy/paste some of it into raid chat later tonight, as I feel like all of the healers in my raid (3 of us in 10′s) could benefit from thinking this way.
      Thanks for that!
      Meters are an interesting topic that I won’t dwell on too long, but I think healers also don’t think about how their placement may change depending on assignment. When I go AA disc for fights, I pretty much bubble whoever is below 60% health and HF/Smite as we’re probably 3 healing something not too hard or progression. So there I’m low, but I might rock a Mor’chok fight because of stacking DA/shields for stomps…

  9. Great post, been practising some of the preachings here already but only realised while reading it that Madness of Deathwing will allow 2 Hymn of Hope uses. Thanks :)

  10. A very informative post, thanks.

    You should post more! :)

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