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The Art of Dispelling

July 19, 2010

One of the truest markers of a veteran healer is the ability to manage debuffs. Magic, diseases, curses, and poisons are challenging mechanics built into almost every boss encounter. They can wipe a raid. But attentive healers and strong raid communication make dealing with debuffs easy.

You can read up on encounters to learn about specific debuff mechanics on WoW wiki or Tankspot, etc. For the purpose of this article, I’ll use cleanse/debuff/decurse interchangeably to mean the general removal of a debuff. I also look only at debuffs placed on raid members. Don’t forget that sometimes players can remove buffs from the boss as well.

Disclaimer: This is a long article, but it covers many aspects of managing debuffs as a new healer or a raid leader.

1. Type of Debuff

Certain classes can only handle certain types of debuffs; however, Blizzard is changing encounters to make most debuffs manageable by multiple classes. For example, Halion’s debuffs count as both a curse/magic and can be cleansed by any healing class.

  • Magic: Priests, Paladins
  • Diseases: Priests, Paladins, Shaman
  • Curses: Druids, Mages, Resto Shaman with Cleanse Spirit
  • Poisons: Paladins, Druids, Shaman

2. Effect of Debuff

Some debuffs do damage, while others reduce movement speed, casting speed, or the ability to hit. Debuffs can also affect armor, health, polymorph the player, cause fear, or mind control them. Not all of these can be dispelled, and it’s important to know the difference. Sometimes it is better to not dispel a debuff in order to save resources.

For example, it isn’t efficient to dispel all of the movement speed reducing frostbolts that the Archmage’s cast during the Valithria Dreamwalker encounter in ICC. You only need to dispel them if a Blazing Skeleton is present and people need to move quickly. Otherwise, trying to dispel all of them will burn through your mana too quickly.

If the debuff does do damage, it’s important to know how much. The players targeted by the debuff will need healing as well as cleansing.

3. Application

Two good questions are: How’d the player get the debuff? Is there only one player with the debuff or does it affect multiple players?

Some debuffs can be avoided by not standing in dangerous places, say, in front of the Abominations on Dreamwalker. They spew a nasty disease that only tanks should ever be hit with. These sorts of debuffs should be watched carefully and raid leaders can remind players to pay attention to where  are standing and what they are hitting.

Most often bosses or adds simply target a player at random and cast a debuff on them. It’s more bad luck than anything else.

Another question to ask is how is the debuff applied? Will the player have one stack or multiple stacks? Does it apply on hit, or is it an AoE? Does it stack the longer the debuff is on the player?

Knowing these answers for each encounter can help you to plan ahead.

4. Remedy

Some debuffs cannot be dispelled. A common debuff mechanic is a radiating damage debuff that requires the player to move away from the rest of the raid. Sometimes the player will simply need to be healed, and the only remedy is to get out of the way and fast. After a few seconds, the debuff will fade, often leaving behind a nasty side effect such as an explosion, knockback, gravity bomb, or a poison gas.

If the debuff can and should be dispelled, then you need to know what type of debuff it is and who is capable of removing it and what happens when they do.

Most healers (and their DPS counterparts) have both a Cure and an Abolish when it comes to poisons and diseases. The cure version will instantly remove the debuff. The abolish will attempt to remove it in pulses. It may not succeed the first time, but it will help against successive applications. Abolish disease is very helpful during the gauntlet in Hall of Reflections. Keeping abolish disease rolling on the tank and DPS will help reduce the damage taken when the Aboms spew all over them. However, Cure disease/poison is the preferred choice for a raid boss encounter. Often these debuffs need to be removed with precise timing. (The “abolish” mechanic is slated to be removed in Cataclysm.)

Priests also have the option of an individual magic dispel or a mass dispel for up to 10 players. Discipline priests have a faster mass dispel than Holy priests. It’s an expensive spell though. Only use it when three or more people need to be cleansed and are within the radius of the AoE.

5. Effect of Dispel

Sometimes nasty things happen when you remove a debuff. It’s critical that you know what will happen. These are usually the mechanics that are the most difficult for groups to overcome because they demand coordination and precision.

Remember the dangerous side-effects that can happen when a debuff wears off? Those are often the same effects of dispelling certain debuffs. On Lich King, the Necrotic Plague will jump to another target when it’s removed. On Halion, the Combustion or Consumption will drop a large AoE beneath the target player when the debuff is removed.

Make sure you know what’s going to happen and where the player is standing in relation to everyone else before you dispel a debuff.

6. Timing and Pacing

Controlling the pace of debuffs can help keep an encounter from overwhelming the raid. There are two speeds: fast and variable.

Fast: Removing the debuff is top priority and it should be cleansed by anyone as quickly as possible.

Variable: Monitoring the debuff is top priority and it should only be cleansed by one or two assigned people.

A variable debuff is like the Rotface’s Mutated Infection: Inflicts 3,900 to 4,100 shadow damage every second and reduces healing received by 50% for 12 seconds. After the Infection is removed, a small ooze is created at the target’s location.

The mutagen debuff will end after 12 seconds, but a healer can control the creation of the small ooze by well-timed dispels and keeping heals on players with the debuff. If an infected player dies, a small ooze will appear randomly in the raid and must be brought back to the tank. The healer should wait until the infected player is close to the kiting tank before they cleanse the debuff. If multiple people have the debuff, then the healer should be visually watching for the players and pace the cleanses accordingly.

There should only ever be one or two small oozes up at a time. You can cleanse the next target if the current player is about to merge their ooze safely. Mutated Infections will be cast on players with increasing speed toward the end of the fight. It can be challenging to stay on top of them all. But an attentive healer can prevent multiple small oozes from spawning and merging, thereby avoiding the rampant big oozes that could wipe the raid.

The Halion mechanic is similar, except the healer here has to watch to make sure that the player is far enough from the raid before dispelling the combustion/consumption debuff. Timing is particularly important with this debuff because it stacks the longer it is on the player. More time means a larger AoE on the ground. Sometimes a healer must decide how far away is “safe enough” if the player took too long before they started to run.

7. Communication

Vent coordination can simplify encounters that feature dangerous debuffs. There should be open communication between announcers, healers, tanks, and debuffed players. While players should always be paying attention to encounter warnings, it helps to have one recognizable individual calling out the names of debuffed players. Healers can communicate as well if they cannot reach a certain player to heal them through a debuff.

I found that it was particularly useful on Halion to have Combustion/Consumption targets call out in vent when they were far enough to be dispelled. It can be hard to see them through the flames, at long range, or if they run behind the group.

8. Healing Assignments

If a debuff cannot be removed, then make sure a single healer is assigned to those players. While the healer may contribute elsewhere, those players are the main priority.

If the debuff mechanic has no ill side effects from being removed, then pretty much anyone can do it. It’s good to assign a healer to it so that it’s always covered, but encourage others to cleanse themselves/others if possible. Lady Deathwhisper’s Curse of Turpor is pretty nasty and the quicker it is removed, the better. Fears and polymorphs should be cleansed by anyone and quickly.

If the debuff has a nasty side effect, choose a healer that is best suited for the job. Make sure that their class is able to handle the debuff type. It should also be a healer that has the spare GCD and mobility to handle it. It’s never a good idea to put the tank healer on debuff duty if it’s a fight where they can’t move and the tank takes heavy damage. Lastly, make sure that the healer is experienced. Ask if they are up to it before you assign them to the task and, as a safeguard, ask them to explain the mechanics of the debuff  back to you.

Sometimes, the best person to remove debuffs isn’t a healer at all. Remember that other classes can help. If you have a paladin kiting the oozes on Rotface, let them handle the cleansing. Mages and druids can decurse. Shadow priests can dispel.

On Halion, many players can dispel their own debuff once they are far away. Use this method only if you trust your players. It can save time and reduce damage and accidental deaths if any able player simply dispels himself once at a safe distance. Certainly there should never be a healer that runs out of the raid and stands there, yelling, “Ready!” and then waiting to be dispelled when they could clearly do it themselves.

9. Prevention

If a debuff can be avoided by standing somewhere else, do so. Avoidable damage isn’t fun to heal over.

Few boss debuffs can be avoided. We do have a few tricks up our sleeves though. For bosses that fear, a priest’s fear ward can be used to keep the tanks or a healer from being affected. Fear ward allows a Disc priest to cast mass dispel and free others faster. A human can use Every Man for Himself (thus don’t fear ward them) and a shaman can put down tremor totems for their party. Shaman also have cleansing totems that can help stay on top of widespread diseases.

*Note: Make sure to not use cleansing totems on fights where the debuff is a disease with a harmful effect when dispelled.

10. Learning and Teaching

Managing debuffs isn’t always mentioned when people are learning how to heal and to work with others in a raiding environment. And raid leaders sometimes overlook the importance of keeping debuffs under control during a fight. Take the time to learn for yourself and be willing to nudge your fellow healers to make the encounter smoother.

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5 Comments
  1. Wobby permalink

    Very nice guide. I think there might be some errors in the table of who can remove what though… I always thought it was something like this:

    Magic: Priest, Paladin (Shaman can only purge magic from an enemy)
    Disease: Priest, Paladin, Shaman (Druids can’t cure disease)
    Curse: Mage, Druid, Shaman (Onlly Resto Shaman who are specced into it can remove curses)
    Poison: Druid, Shaman, Paladin

  2. Strum permalink

    Resto shamans can dispel curses if they take Cleanse Spirit.

    Shamans cannot dispel magic.

  3. Thanks! Should be fixed now. I appreciate the information on resto shaman. It’s the one healing class I’ve yet to play and I’m a little unfamiliar with what they can do.

    Hope the rest of the guide is helpful.

    • Wobby permalink

      Yeah, I was the same way for a long time but recently I have been leveling a Resto Shaman so I can learn more about how they operate. 🙂

  4. Khamrin permalink

    Useful information for up and coming healers. It’s nice to see an article pertaining to the current game as opposed to all the stuff about Cataclysm.

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