Dragon Slaying from a Healer’s Perspective: Onyxia


Every week I watch different players doing things in Onyxia encounters that could make healers spit flame. Not only that, I find myself reacting to and making the same mistakes every week. So what are these recurring things, and how can everyone make sure that healers don’t turn into fire breathing dragons?

Traditionally us healers don’t do much slaying of anything, especially dragons. We do something much more important. We’re the brave souls who sally forth calmly into the face of death to keep others in one piece, or at least standing vaguely upright. You know those others – the heroes who charge in bandying about a cacophony of curses. The ones who would get flamed into foil-packed toasted sandwiches or seared to a fowl-shaped frieze on the wall, or reduced to roasted bear.

But other heroes like to keep us healers on our toes. Hell, we like to keep ourselves on our toes. A dragon slaying party can make a lot of mistakes, and you’d be surprised how few heroes seem to know the Basics of Dragon Slaying. Many bands of adventurers charge into the dragon’s den without checking that everyone knows those basics, which I think is mistake #1.

So what are the most common and basic mistakes a do-gooder can commit while trying to saw Onyxia’s head off? And what can us healers, whatever class, do so we don’t feel like taking a deep breath and belching fire at people? Well, a long career of healing dragon slayers has taught me a lot.

Here are my top ten observations for both us healers and your actual slayer of dragons to remember while venturing into Onyxia’s den, especially if braving the fight with a motley crew of unknown quantities.

I always see tanks or DPS…

1. Getting cleaved. Obviously this is a hazard of the job for tanks. But every time I go to Onyxia there are some foolhardy melee DPSers who like to stand face to face with their foe. I always find myself politely telling them that if they stand behind the trash they will do more DPS and won’t die from cleave, which is something most monsters in the den do. This is always after at least two DPSers die once or one of them dies twice

2. Going out of Line of Sight. There is a hill on the path to Onyxia’s den. And just over that hill is – well, is your tank. And he’s found himself facing an angry dragonkin whom he can’t move for fear of cleaving the party apart. Positioned just right so that if you stay safely at range you’re over the hill and far away for healing purposes, but if you go in close you’re in danger of getting cleaved (see above)

3. Killing people by big-add AoE proxy. I’ve seen tanks pick up big adds on phase 2 and move to tank them next to healers and ranged folk. I sometimes don’t see this until the add’s AoE has fried me because I am looking at healing addons and frantically trying to keep everyone standing upright rather than watching the pretty pictures on the screen. Likewise, melee folks should run away from this AoE, but don’t always do so.

4. Panic-position Onyxia. This happens when she lands in phase 3. Things are hectic and every tank has a different idea where’s best to position a large angry dragon.

  • The tank might place her at the back of the cave: if he does then players are likely to get feared into a tail swipe and bring out many whelps. Handle it.
  • The tank might instead place her at the side of the cave: if he does that then players will get feared and tail swiped but probably not into the whelp eggs.

5. NOT dealing with whelps. Whelps are hungry when they wake up and there are a lot of them. If they’re not controlled and killed then they will quickly attach to a healer and start munching, or gobble up the mage they noticed AoEing at them. Hell, I’ve often seen tanks bashing away at a clutch of whelps all on their lonesome on phase 1, with no DPS bothering to go to them – unless you count those flying past into the whelp eggs and skulking back out again, leaving the tank to deal with more.

Tips for healers …

1. Watch where you stand. Particularly during phase 2. Make sure you’re not too close to the southern area where the big adds spawn, especially if the tank on big adds is a bit sleepy. Said big add may appear, set eyes on you and think you’re the tastiest target. It’s also easy to get out of range of people, especially ranged folk who are doggedly following Onyxia up and down the cave. Avoid all this by trying to strafe across the middle of the cave in p2.

2. Be on your toes during deep breath. Get out of the way of it, of course. Start heading back into the middle of the room as soon as it’s passed in order to beat fires out on anyone who didn’t manage to get out the way in time.

3. Never assume the tank is in safe hands. Healers get themselves tail swiped and cleaved too – I’ve seen it. Heck, even phase 2 is dangerous – deep breaths may mean that the tank and healers are separated. Last week I was in a run in which all the healers dove to one side of the room during deep breath and the tank went the other way – we all assumed one of the other healers would stay near him. Panic mode ensued. Try to stay in range of the tanks at all times but not too close. That way fried healers lie.

4. Run diagonally. Sounds weird, but look at the shape of the cave – very long, and the monsters tend to spawn or be tanked at diamond points. The tank’s making the pull? If you run in a strange line – and next to the tank – you’ll get cleaved or tail swiped right away. I saw a priest do just that last week. Run diagonally in and you’ll always be in range to top off the tank as he’s moving Onyxia and you’ll end up standing in a safe place. Likewise throughout the fight, diagonal lines will often get you near other players and away from fire and adds the quickest.

5. Be aware of your space. You will be moving around a lot – move your class specific tricks with you. As a shaman I move my totems to where the rest of the group moves for each phase, so people retain the buffs. As a druid I’ve run around like a rootless sapling trying to keep the tank alive in the north end of the cave and combat resurrect the top DPSer from the south of the cave. Assume in a reactionary fight like this that people will make mistakes: use your class to the full to make it easier on the whole group.

So those are the basics as I see them. They might sound simple – they are. But how many times have you seen some of the above happen? They’re intended to give dragon slayers and healers food for thought rather than offer strategies on how to heal; this isn’t a fight with challenging tactics, just one that needs everyone to stay aware of the situation. One last tip for free: if you want to get the bounty without repair bills, don’t assume everyone knows the tactics. They might not. Everyone has to start being a dragon slayer – maybe in a foreign tongue – sometime in their life.

I’ll be following up by talking about my observations and practical tips on healing Sarth3d in part 2 in the near future. Meanwhile – is there anything I’ve missed for Onyxia – any warnings about the dangers of dragon slaying? Or have you often committed one of these mistakes and just can’t help it? Are there any tips you can give to other healers in danger of frying out there? Any thoughts on how critical group make-up is in this situation?

16 thoughts on “Dragon Slaying from a Healer’s Perspective: Onyxia”

  1. The last two weeks we’ve found ourselves being very sloppy with Onyxia. Last week we had to take down her last million health points with a tank, a hunter (plus pet) and me. Last night I got fried by deep breath (first time that’s happened I think since our first night), got battle rezzed, and avoided the next deep breath by running…next to the add tank, where I got Blast Nova’d to death. Not good — I think we’re just getting lazy.

    As far as advice/additions, I’d add two things:

    1. Don’t avoid Deep Breath by running into a Whelp Cave.
    2. Stay calm when DBM fires off the Deep Breath warning. Make sure you find where Ony’s pointing, and avoid that path. You have a little more time to get out of the way than you think.
    .-= jeffo´s last blog ..Ups and Downs: 2-1/2 Years of WoW =-.

  2. Were you watching our raid last night? LOL. I agree with Jeffo. We were being lazy. Things I knew better happened. Except I actually didn’t know about the Blast Nova. Don’t ask me why not. I am usually far enough away not to let it affect me. I lived through that part though. Funny, I seem to be living the posts lately. Last night I went as DPS instead of a healer. It was fun, but I told them if I was going DPS, I still wanted to roll on the healing drops. Glad I asked that right off, got the dagger and an off-hand.

    Good tips. Oh, and one more thing I learned… Don’t AOE whelps till the tank has aggro on them. Ouch.

  3. I will point out some oddities you might see with the big lady. I have seen and personally been wing buffeted while standing to the side of ony surrounded by 5 other players and me smack in the middle. Insta-death/wipe. Its a wierd deal I’ve seen with ony, a little bug so be patient if anyone bites it on one of those.

    However, on the original topic matter, the dps, particularly the ranged as they are often squishier should stay fairly spread out from one another as they are chasing the big lady around the cave. She will occasionally shoot a fireball that has an AoE element to it and if you have a pack of say . . . hunter running together they can all take a significant hit leading to healers having to chase them all down etc etc.

    Great article though!

  4. Our guild handles things by assigning healers to tanks, and it works fine because we communicate well. But in Pugs, communication is not going to happen. I’ve taken “healer lead” for pugs many times, and I play zone defense instead of man-to-man.

    P1: X healers on the right, Y healers on the left. Heal the tank and anyone else who needs it.
    P2: X healers in the north, Y healers in the south. Presumably, you stack more healers to the south, and give them some tank assignments as well, but ultimately everyone is responsible for everyone in their zone.
    P3: X healers on the right, Y healers on the left, Z healer in the south to take care of tanks and any DPS fighting leftover adds during the transition. Making sure to have this “free safety” healer is also important in P3 so that they can take over a tank who has to deal with any accidentally-spawned whelps, which are more likely to come here than any other phase.

    I think this sort of zone mentality only works for content that is in large areas and that is not super hard. Clearly here a healer can get overwhelmed if the entire raid ends up in their zone. But presumably other healers should be aware of the ebb and flow of the fight, and can shift slightly to help out if the entire raid decides to end up in one spot.

  5. If you are a mage and it is your first time in, be careful wih blink – blinking into the whelp caves is not the best way to avoid deep breath… not that this ever happened to me. On a more useful note, use your fire ward in phases 2 and 3 to lessen your healing needs.

  6. Juzaba that’s a very good strategy for Ony, very similar to what I’ve done in the few times I’ve coordinated healers for it. I’ve tended on P2 to do a ‘2 right, 2 left, 2 middle’ approach which worked pretty well.

    But I think I’d forgotten about the free safety for P3, I’ll have to remember that for next time.
    .-= jeffo´s last blog ..Raid Healing: The Right Field of Raiding? =-.

  7. for priests I’d add:
    – antifear the tank after the whelps are down in p2, that way it should be useful and up again somtimes during p3
    – get crazy with Holy Nova on the big whelp pop at the beginning of p2. Holy Nova is aggro-less.
    – don’t forget to [fade] though

  8. Standard Dragon Positioning.

    Our guild drills it into everyone’s head. Standard dragon positioning. If its a dragon, you should know where to stand. No one but the tank(s) at the head. People who get cleaved get to run out and bandage, because the healers are instructed not to heal them. No one stands at the tail. Tails are dangerous. Melee and healing fanned out between the feet. Do that on every dragon (whether you really need to or not) and people get used to doing it every time.

    It was funny, though, when we started WotLK, and were killing 5 man bosses, and find out months into the expansion that XXX boss doesn’t have a tail swipe. “Really? I didn’t know.”
    “Didn’t you figure it out when no one got tail swiped?”
    “No, people shouldn’t get tail swiped even if the dragon does have one.”

  9. You forgot to mention that despite those dead dps being slightly tardish when asked what got them (even though we know the answer) they will reply in raid with one of the 3 following options;

    1. Lagggggg
    2. I dunno I got one shot by something
    3. Lack of heals.


    I recently got that from a dps after they died 4-5 times on Hodir hardmodes lol and they weren’t moving 😯
    .-= Upyursh´s last blog ..3.3 My Specs =-.

  10. LoL @ Upyursh… so true.

    All very good points. Couple more:

    1) The Big Adds are Lair Guards. They have an ability called Ignite Weapon. This will really hurt your off Tank. Rogue’s and Warriors can disarm them though and as a result they can’t use this ability. It makes healing in Ph2 so much easier.

    2) We like to mark a few “knowledgeable” raiders. For people who are new or don’t know the fight well we have them follow a designated marked toon. Just hang with this guy and do what he does type of thing.

    3) People spread out all over the place in Ph2. Which makes for the hectic nature you describe above. The one thing that can really make the transition into Ph3 easier is a Pro Shaman who can place tremor totem in a nice central location. We require every shaman in raid to put one down. You shouldn’t have to, but it always seem to go smoother if they do 🙂

  11. A lot of great tips so far here – thanks everyone! This is becoming quite the go-to place for ye olde dragone slayers. I particularly like the ones about marking knowledgeable people to stick to (thanks Dahk), and remembering that it’s important to stay apread out to reduce fireball damage (cheers Nikoran).

    @jeffo – Yes! Staying calm in this fight – where it’s all reactionary – is a crucial thing.

    Also, I think a lot of people are getting lazy with Onyxia – that’s half the problem. Granted, it’s not a hard fight but making unnecessary mistakes can make the outcome a lot less certain. I know I’ve managed to mess up sometimes (tail swiped into the whelps when placing totems? Yep. Done it since? Nope, not a chance).

    @Lychordia – nope, wasn’t watching yours but maybe mine was a microcosm of what happens across all servers! I think it’s a fair point though – you didn’t know about the blast nova? Cool. Everyone learns new bits of tactics all the time, new and old players alike.

    @Upyursh – good point on the ‘what killed you’ responses. I run the failbot addon to tell me how people die – I have it reporting only to me, not to raid chat – and although it may not always be accurate I find it useful as both a raid leader and a healer. Recount can also contribute some death information. Based on these things, I usually prod such DPSers; whether or not they admit to the mistake in *my* run, they might be a bit more careful about in future (and ofc they might not).

    Good points so far folks – any more to add for dragon slaying reference? The class-specific ones are good too. Also, feel free to moan about or reflect on your Onyxia runs – it might just make the encounter a bit fresher the next time you do it!
    .-= Mimetir´s last blog ..Juddr: Are you a Slayer of Dragons? My tips on Onyxia for dragon slayers of all ilks is up – http://bit.ly/5lAnLt – let me know your thoughts! #WoW =-.

  12. During the phase 1 to 2 transition, do not heal anyone. If the warlock life taps, don’t heal him, you’ll get the whelp agro when they start to come out. When the tanks start to take a little damage from those whelps, don’t heal them immediately. Let them get all the whelps first, then start healing them.
    I think too may healers out there are so used to keeping everyone full at all times, they forget it takes the whelps 10 seconds to all file out of the caves.

  13. During the phase 1 to 2 transition, do not heal anyone.

    Close, but I can’t agree 100%. Depending on your class, either don’t heal or heal very little. In each transition, a priest should be fading, but don’t fade as soon as P2 hits. Go to your collection point, and be mindful of your mana. As Disc, I usually throw out PoM, and shield the high-threat clothies. And then, as the first whelps are getting there, then I fade.

    Remember, fade doesn’t get rid of aggro. It just puts if off, and when it comes back, it all comes back at once. If you fade as soon as P2 starts, it is going to run off either immediately after the last whelps get there, or while they are still coming out. The tank is likely to not have enough aggro to hold them at that point. Each second you hold off on that fade is another second the tank has to build aggro before your aggro comes back.

    On the other hand, in P3, fade as soon as she lands. Also, resist the urge to throw a pain suppression on the tank. Normally, -5% threat is not enough to put a tank in danger. In the phase transitions on Ony, it is. Use PoM and your shields to stack against damage as much as you can, and use PS to give yourself a few light-duty seconds 10-15 seconds into the fight to reassess the situation (or Hymn of Hope if you are worried about mana, either yours or someone else’s.)


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