General Healing Guide
Written by Taladril
Healing is an integral part of any dungeon or raid team. The role is very important albeit often underappreciated, however there are many opportunities to shine where the healer can often be the difference between a wipe and a spectacular save. From a difficulty standpoint and depending on the composition of a group, healing can be quite simple. But to maximize your ability and to really stand out in a raid group healing corps requires a lot of skill, split second decision-making, and focus that can be rewarding when achieved. In general healing is the most challenging and involved role to play.
Healers must be very conscious of mana management. In dungeons especially, inefficient use of spells can quickly drain your mana causing a dangerous situation to the group. A healer who is out of mana can quickly result in a group wipe. Hopefully the group’s tank will be aware of your mana status while setting the pace, but it can often be necessary to call out when you need a drink break to get back up to manageable mana levels.
Drinking isn’t the only way to regenerate mana in dungeons or raids. There are two main ways of naturally regenerating mana - through regeneration with spirit and with gear that has “Restores Mana per 5 sec” (MP5). Both are effective at regenerating mana in and out of combat, but in slightly different ways and with different strengths and weaknesses.
Spirit Regeneration and the 5 Second Rule
With spirit, mana regeneration only occurs after a break in casting spells. Druids and priests have talents and an armor set bonus (Tier 2, 3 piece) that allows mana regeneration with spirit to occur while casting. Shaman and paladin healers have no way to regenerate mana with spirit except by utilizing breaks between casting.
The casting break is commonly referred to as the “5 second rule.” The rule is that during a 5 second period after you cast a spell, no mana regeneration based on spirit will take place. Only after that time has passed with no casting occurring will the spirit regeneration again kick in. This is the mostly true description of what is happening, but we need to explain exactly how this works so you can maximize its mechanic.
Spirit Regeneration Formulas
When not casting, you will regenerate mana every 2 seconds. The amount of mana regenerated depends on your class and how much spirit you have. See Basic Stats Sheet for spirit regeneration formulas by class.
After you fully cast a spell - any spell that uses mana - the 5 second rule kicks in. Many spells have a casting time. If you start to cast a spell but move or jump or press escape to cancel it before it finishes casting, it will not cause the 5 second rule to go into effect.
You also need to be aware that the regeneration based on spirit ticks every 2 seconds. This ticking is server side and is synced to the same timer that drives rogue energy regeneration. Since spirit regeneration only occurs on these ticks and the 5 second rule only dictates for when regeneration can once again proceed, timing based around the server-side tick can actually vary the time when you start to regenerate mana. In actuality, the 5 second rule is between 5 and 7 seconds. Because of this, on average it is really the 6 second rule. Given this, having an energy tracking addon can be helpful to being able to time heals to be able to get an extra tick of mana regen that you might not normally be able to get.
Mana per 5 Seconds
MP5 is a very simple way of regenerating mana. No matter if you are casting or not, you will regenerate that amount of mana every 5 seconds. It is often a “costlier” stat in that you can’t stack it nearly as easily as spirit, however since it is always equally effective regardless of what you are doing it can be especially useful for raiding where you will be spending a much lower amount of time inside the 5 second rule. Shamans and (to a lesser extent) paladins have less tools at their disposal compared to other healers for dealing with mana regeneration issues with longer combat encounters so MP5 is more valuable to the class compared to others.
Downranking of Spells
As a healer you are at the disposal of your entire spell book. Inside there are multiple types of spells and among them there are multiple ranks of each spell type. Depending on what your circumstance is, different spells will be better choices for the encounter you are dealing with. There are two main ways to become a stronger healer with gear. You can either have gear that allows you to cast more healing spells or you can have gear that makes your healing spells stronger.
Gear that focuses on casting more spells focus on larger mana pools and more mana regeneration, especially during combat. Gear that focuses on stronger healing spells will focus on +heal and spell crit. In general gear you find will help you to do both but most of the itemization is focused around +heal.
The technique of downranking is to stack enough +heal to be able to look at utilizing lower ranks of spells that now become useful based on the amount of healing that the spells now output. With more +heal, the lower you can go with your spell ranks while still being able to output enough Healing per Second (HPS) as necessary for the fight.
Misconceptions of +Heal and Spell Ranks
There are a lot of small misconceptions about how +heal affects the big picture of spells. First, +heal increases spells equally. Using Greater Heal as an example, if you look at the different ranks, increasing +heal will increase the strength of all the ranks of Greater Heal equally (Even this is a simplification. Go to Spell Power Coefficients for a complete picture). What this means practically is that increasing +heal linearly increases the HPS of all the spells of each type equally. Inaccurately, people often describe how the lower ranks are disproportionately affected by +heal making them become the best choice. The concept of using lower rank spells isn’t incorrect but it is a flawed reason since HPS increases the same for all the ranks. What they are actually trying to convey is that the relative efficiency or the mana/healing done gets better and better especially for the lower rank spells. The reason for this increased efficiency is that the mana for the lower spells remains static regardless of how much +heal you have but the healing strength can become much higher proportionally to the cost of the spell, driving up the efficiency.
Another misconception you will find often, is that specific ranks of spells (Healing Touch Rank 3) are singled out as high efficiency. There is nothing special about any rank of any spell. There is however an issue of diminishing returns for how much HPS is being put out by the spell for it to be worth it. As an example, Healing Touch Rank 1 when used in conjunction with the Idol of Longevity has a base mana cost of 0 causing the spell to have literally infinite efficiency. But this is a useless tip as you will never cast this spell since its HPS is so marginal compared to what a raid would actually need. If hypothetically there was gear available that would drive up the amount of +heal to the point where Healing Touch Rank 1 would output enough HPS to be useful then it would be a rank that would frequently be mentioned.
Buffs and Debuffs
All healers have some form off party or raid buff. Often buffing assignments will be given to you to help ease the burden of buffing everyone or as required by your role. It is expected to make sure to keep your buff assignments up all the time. Buffs add a lot of strength to a raid and are extremely important. With addons that help track buffs there is no reason to not have the raid buffed 100% of the time.
Priests and druids both have a crowd control that gets utilized in raids and can be used in multiple dungeons as well. Remember that they can be a great asset in dungeons to make pulls smoother and are essential in the raid too. For druids, Hibernate helps with the dragon trash packs after Vaelastrasz in Blackwing Lair and for priests, there are multiple times in Naxxramas where Shackle Undead is essential.
A critical role that often falls to the healers is that of removing debuffs on party or raid members. Certain debuffs can be very detrimental to the performance of the group and it is very beneficial to limit their uptime. Depending on the type of debuff available, different classes can remove different debuffs. Consult the chart to know what debuff can be removed by what class.
People often use an addon that helps facilitate removing debuffs from party members. Such addons can help display who has a debuff or allows for the raid to be automatically queued up by class to have debuffs removed on a priority basis.
Extra Raid Utility
Certain healing specs can allow for additional utility besides what a regular healer can provide. It often comes with a slight reduction in total healing capability, but the trade off is well worth the addition of abilities that the utility spells add to the raid.
Innervate and Rebirth are both available to all druids. Innervate is a very strong mana regeneration ability that is useful to be given to any mana user. Often it is used for top healers so that they can output even more healing capability. Rebirth is an invaluable tool that allows key people to be resurrected during hard fights where their presence may help to prevent the group from wiping.
Power Infusion is a spell that priests can spec in. To do so removes a little bit of healing capability but the temporary buff is very strong and is often given to top caster DPS to help boost the raid’s DPS output. Often the raw output of a healing team isn’t as important as extra raid capability and flexibility so having priests all spec in this to provide that much more DPS capability is very common.
Priests can also spec in Shadow Weaving. Normally this is a buff that is used by shadow priests if they are utilized in a raid setting. But it is also possible to have a priest healer hybrid who has this spec to bring Shadow Weaving to the raid but also focus on healing as their main duty. The advantage of this is that it allows for probably the same number of healers but instead of a shadow priest hybrid DPS, the raid can bring a pure DPS instead.
There are a lot of specs that can heal very capably in raids that are not pure healing specs. Some provide utility like the above examples, and others are used by people as it gives them a more flexible and enjoyable experience in all of the game content instead of being a pure min/max just for raiding. It’s important to see that, while some will focus purely on healing, all are capable at healing as long as they have the gear necessary to take on the role.
Healers have a unique ability to position themselves during fights. For some fights, having proper positioning can be absolutely critical to tank survival and subsequently the raid’s success. Make sure to know the fight and optimize your positioning for it.
Healing at Max Range
All direct healing spells have a range of 40 yards. This puts you out of range of many abilities of mobs. As long as you can stay at maximum distance you can be impervious to virtually all party damage. This means less required healing for the raid, and even better no reduction in your own casting time, making your heals more dependable and consistent.
Using Line of Sight
For some fights range isn’t enough. In these cases sometimes you need to utilize line of sight (LoS). If you hide behind dungeon objects then spells won’t hit you. For example, you can dodge a raid-wide shadowbolt or fear so that you can continue healing unaffected. Remember to watch for that as some encounters require healers to dodge these effects.
Sometimes you can utilize LoS so that you can cleverly never be directly affected by a mob. Since you are healing players, as long as the player is seen by you, the mob itself doesn’t need to be. If the player tanking the mob can adjust the position of the mob in such a way that they are effectively around the corner, then you will only see the player. This technique can be used often but it is necessary for a few raid fights in the game.
All the healing classes need a reagent in one way or another to be able to cast their class-specific buffs. You should always make sure to have an ample amount with you at all times, whether in the party or the raid. A good member of a team comes prepared.
There are multiple world buffs that can be gotten and used during a raid. They significantly strengthen the raid’s players and are well worth spending the time getting if you want to maximize your effectiveness with the content. Not a lot of the buffs are especially helpful from a healing perspective, however groups that get buffs in Dire Maul need healers to clear the dungeon and spell crit, extra stats, and extra stamina are both welcome additions to survival and effectiveness.
Healers are lucky that there are comparatively few consumables that are needed to perform at the most optimal level for your role. You can consult the Consumables List to see what is available. The most used consumables would be mana potions and runes for extra mana pool and enchanting oils for increased +heal. If you are an engineer some of your devices can help boost the raid’s DPS or effectiveness against specific bosses, so bring those items to help bring the most utility you can. If you are in a dungeon group, make sure that you have enough water to be able to take care of your own mana regeneration needs. You can’t expect for there to always be a mage or to depend on the group to have water for you.
User Interface Setup
Everyone has their own preference when it comes to interacting with the game, but there are some ways of showing information that is helpful to the user especially when it comes to healing. The default UI that Blizzard offers with the game, especially for the raid frames is limited in a lot of ways and doesn’t convey information that is critical to the healer.
A good quality raid frame will show all players and player pets to be able to allow you to select any individual instantly in the raid. Having the frames more centrally located will quicken reflexes for you. So try not to have all of the frames spread out, but consolidated in a way as to be able to visualize the entire raid’s status at once. Having the players be color coded by class can give a good understanding of what kind of damage the different people will take or where they might be positioned for the fight.
You will want to make sure that you can see that all players in the raid have your class specific buffs on them so that they are performing at their optimal level. This can be done with either having the buff shown on the raid frame itself or be listed separately.
In the same way a list of debuffs currently on the raid is very important. Ideally only the debuffs that your class can remove will keep the excess noise to a minimum. Temporary buffs like healing over time (HoT) spells also should be shown on the frame or elsewhere so that you know when you need to refresh the spell if applicable.
For accurate healing, the health bars of the raid frame can have either total health numbers or could show the health deficit of the player. If you can see the numeric amount of the player, then you can most accurately choose the rank of spell to use that will fill their health best with minimal overhealing. There is definitely a fine line between enough information on a raid frame and too much information. It depends on the player’s preference but keeping a clean simple UI design will allow for better visualization of the raid status. Don’t overwhelm yourself with information simply because it can be displayed.
Target of Target
You should make sure to have Target of Target (ToT) displayed for your player frames. This will allow you to easily select mobs to be focused for crowd control abilities (if the raid lead temporarily targets them) and for being able to see what mob the person is currently attacking. It is also very helpful to have Target of Target of Target shown. This allows you to see what player a mob currently has aggro on. If a tank loses aggro to someone else ToToT will allow you to click directly on that person to be able to give them a life-saving heal or bubble while the tank attempts to get control of the mob back.
If you enjoy using a lot of keybinds then you will enjoy being a healer. Healers require a lot of keybinds as it necessary to being a good healer. You have to be able to quickly choose from a variety of spells so that means that they must all be at your fingertips. Some specific spells can be button pushed like Innervate for example. But any direct healing spell has to be instantly accessible with the press of a key. You will be hovering over or clicking on over 20 - 40+ raid frames with your mouse so the spell must be easily accessible with only the left hand. If you don’t have healing spells keybound you will be at a severe disadvantage for healing reflex.
Everyone has very personal approaches to how to keybind their spells. Some like to use different combinations like Shift+Key. Others move their home keys over from WASD to ESDF or even further to open up more key options within reach. You will have to find what works for you and practice with it so that you can comfortably use the variety of spells you will need access to.
This section will be filled with addons that are useful to healers once addons are available come the release of classic.
No one can ever become perfect at any role in the game. There is always something that can be worked on to make you better or more efficient. You can work on mastering each boss fight and get better at predicting damage and raid circumstances. To help with in game progress you should analyze yourself and compare your performance to your peers in your guild and on your server. Look at logs that track what happened in the fight and see ways to improve yourself. Work on lessening your overheal or look to boost your dispelling numbers. Never be happy with where you are and constantly seek to increase your capability every week and you will become a great asset to the raid. Personal constructive criticism is the best way to challenge yourself to becoming the best you can be.
Different Healing Environments
Different environments or roles can change how you go about healing. Dungeons for example are an entirely different strategy than raids. Often people will do one or the other and stick with the same technique with disastrous results. Healing is a very dynamic role that required improvisation based on how circumstances play out. But if you understand the fundamentals of the role and basic strategies you will be very successful.
Healing While Leveling
Hopefully you are leveling as a spec that is not the pure healer. Some people did it back in the day. It may be interesting but it’s slower (Take my word for it. I was one of the crazy ones.). But the question you may have is if you aren’t playing as a healer spec can you actually heal dungeons? Yes! For leveling dungeons, the spec is not very important at all. What matters far more is that you have the proper gear and that you are joining a group that is intelligently assembled.
As you level up make sure that you keep healing gear that you find along the way. Save the gear and store it in your bag or the bank and when you find upgrades for each piece you can replace the older one. With this technique you will always be prepared to heal any dungeon that you run across. You will want to save items that have intellect and/or spirit on it. You simply need a decent sized mana pool and the ability to regenerate mana at a reasonable rate. With that your standard healing spells that you get from your trainer will be adequate for anything.
When you are joining a group for a dungeon it’s ok to be a little bit lower in terms of recommended level. Healers stay in the back and your ability to heal doesn’t change much apart from a little bit more mana pool or a new healing spell. What matters far more though is being in a group where the tank is excessively lower level. If that is the case, then you probably want to wait for a tank that is more appropriate for the dungeon. Lower level tanks in dungeons get hit far harder than normal and will be more likely to accidentally pull more groups of mobs. You can expect a far greater strain while healing the tank that is too low, even if you yourself are higher level and more able to heal comparatively. Tanks should be at the recommended level or one to two levels higher than that.
Healing in dungeons is very different from healing in raids. Often when discussing technique with people, the tips mentioned are focused around raids, which can confuse many about how best to heal in a dungeon environment. In a dungeon you are the only healer. With you, the tank, and three DPS, you are responsible for making sure that everyone lives. It requires focus, awareness, and good mana management so that bad pulls or other issues don’t result in a wipe that could have been avoided.
When healing in a dungeon, mana and healing efficiency are key. In raids you will see that the strategy is to be casting small heals very frequently. This is not how to go about healing in dungeons. During leveling and when healing dungeons at end game, up until you get very good gear, you will be looking to cast your highest rank spells. You will see quickly that casting the max rank spells will drain significant portions of your mana. So, what do we do to get around this? Remember that a healer with no mana means that the group will die. In this case a wipe would be your fault.
For dungeon healing, mana efficiency is the key. What you need to do is to try to heal the group as efficiently as possible while working around regenerating mana by maximizing time spent out of the 5 second rule. The way to do that is simple but a bit counter intuitive. You want to heal the group in bursts and then when done do no casting at all. It can be very tempting to top someone off here or there. Resist the urge and let yourself get out of the 5 second rule and generate mana. Only when the tank or a DPS is getting to the point of soon-to-be imminent death should you have a heal ready for them. Then once you cast that heal, open the flood gates and do what’s necessary to bring the group up to acceptable health. Note that another efficiency is not worrying about everyone being at max health constantly. It is ok to let someone sit at two-thirds health if they aren’t being hit. To heal them to full would be a waste of mana because of the time that could be spent outside of the 5 second rule as well as the probable overhealing that you would do.
For a typical pull that lasts enough time to consider worrying about efficiency you should attempt to generally follow this road map. Let the tank pull and allow yourself to regenerate mana until the tank is low in health. If you were at full mana and depending on the mob group and tank ability you could look to pre-HoT the tank but be aware that this could cause early aggro on you which is not fun for groups.
When the tank is getting low on health you can be “precasting” a big heal. The idea of that is that you can keep casting and canceling a large heal so that you can wait for as long as possible for the heal to be actually needed. Until you fully cast the healing spell you will remain outside of the 5 second rule which allows more mana regeneration ticks. Once you let the heal go through the tank should be at a safe enough amount of health that you can now top off any DPS that needs healing. Choose appropriate ranks of heals or an instant HoT to try to get the DPS to 90% but not full to conserve mana. Then focus back on the tank and try to get them fully topped off or again 90% and if you have the ability with your class cast a HoT on the tank. This HoT will add even more health to the tank that will add buffer time for you before you again have to engage, allowing for a couple more ticks of mana regen.
Now that your healing spells have been cast and the party is in good shape sit back and let your mana regenerate as much as possible. It can be a lot of fun to try to turn maximizing mana regenerating into a subgame within the dungeon. Try to see how few drinks you will need to use for the whole dungeon.
Being efficient in a dungeon gets a lot easier with better gear but even with lower level gear you can be very efficient with how much mana you can save. Attempting to minimize drink breaks will show you the progress you are making on practicing efficiency. With decent gear, if you are being appropriately efficient you can easily not need to ever drink in a dungeon except for when really bad pulls happen, and you have to dig deep and play a lot of healing catch up to keep everyone alive.
One thing not yet mentioned for a standard pull is how to deal with debuffs. Debuffs are not always worth dispelling as is the standard when raiding. Since you are trying to be efficient it really depends on what the debuff is. It could be a minor amount of damage or it could be something that is much more annoying. If you can dispel the debuff, you will need to make an informed decision whether it is worth getting into the 5 second rule for or not. It could be more advantageous simply to heal through it or to let it run out so it’s important to use your best judgement and be aware of what will be placed on players for each dungeon. Experience will help guide you to understanding the best decision.
In dungeons as well as in raids it is very uncommon for you to want to engage in DPSing the mobs. Even though you may not be actually “doing” anything while out of the 5 second rule there is very little benefit to doing extremely mediocre DPS with either your wand or melee weapon. Plus, with the wand especially it can affect reflex timing by activating the global cooldown. If you are confident in your group, you can play with it but it is at best going to be the most modest increase to dungeon speed efficiency. The one exception I will say here is if you can help by finishing off a running mob or a totem, it would be worth helping with that. Otherwise, enjoy the view and just make sure the party stays alive.
Raid Healing Roles
Raid healing is very different from dungeon healing. Instead of being the one healer keeping everyone alive, you are now part of a team. Depending on the guild you may have specific roles that you will be assigned. In general, you will be either the tank healer or the raid healer.
As a tank healer you and maybe another healer or two will be responsible to make sure that your tank doesn’t die. This is a strategy to make sure tanks are well protected from dying as well as increase healer efficiency. As a tank healer you will still need to be cognizant about dispelling debuffs on the raid and where possible you can focus on healing others in the raid as well. However, your main focus is your tank. Don’t let your tank die!
As a raid healer you are generally responsible for healing everyone but the tank. This is where the proverbial “whack a mole” reputation comes from as a healer. You try to find the people losing the health and you heal them up as fast as possible.
Some fights require specific people to be assigned as dedicated dispellers. If you have this role your primary consideration is to prioritize dispelling debuffs over healing. Between waves of debuffs you should continue to heal just like every other healer but once debuffs go out, transition to dispelling until the raid is clear.
Some classes are able to have a hybrid role in raids. In this case the idea of the hybrid is that the player can be flexible for what is needed for a raid role. Sometimes this means to transition to healing for certain boss fights. Other times it means to help on the healing team for the entire raid to make up for a healer absence. The role will be capable as a regular healer in any role, but with a bit less overall healing capability or efficiency.
Unlike dungeons where raw efficiency and maximizing time outside of the 5 second rule is key, raids are about maximizing spell rank efficiency and pairing it to the HPS necessary for the specific encounter. To take a page out of Alec Baldwin’s playbook, the key to raid healing is ABC - Always Be Casting. You will be using lower ranks of spells that cost significantly less mana. It is like filling health bars with a trickle than with a bucket. But the mana efficiency of the lower level spells means that you can be healing constantly for minutes at a time and if need be you can supplement with mana potions or runes and keep going. Between pulls you can drink conjured water that you will have unlimited access to, so you can feel free to even hotkey it and spam it every chance you can to be able to eke out every second of downtime to regenerate mana.
Depending on your class you will have an advantage or disadvantage when healing as different classes have different cast times for their main bread and butter healing spells. You can offset any handicap by thinking about the raid and watching trends like how damage takes place for each type of trash pull or how damage occurs during each boss fight. Predictable things will happen in the raid and week to week, if you know what is coming, then you can capitalize on this and be prehealing before the person even loses damage so that once they do, your heal will heal them before any other healer can. People who wait for damage to take place before doing healing are the most common healers and they are called reactive healers. It is simpler and straight-forward. The most capable healers though are the proactive healers. They can master the art of prehealing and regardless of spell cast time can have very good success at topping healing meters.
When casting the constant trickle of healing spells in raids, the best people will make split-second real-time decisions for which rank of spells to use to maximize the amount healed for the player and at the same time minimizing overheal. An ability to master this plus the ability to predicatively cast healing spells on people who are about to take damage separates a good healer from a fantastic healer. Any healing class has the ability to top the meters if they have the skills necessary to be the best.
Generally, you will find that HoTs are not very useful for raid healing. They are still strong for a tank if you are assigned to that healing role. The tank takes enough incidental damage for a HoT to be worth it. For others, everyone is trying to maximize their healing ability, so the raid members so often stay at maximum health that a HoT only ends up as overhealing. There are a few fights where HoTs come into their own and it depends on your raid composition to see how you can maximize it. It’s important to realize that class specific HoTs will not stack with each other. If one druid casts a Rejuvenation (any rank) on someone and another druid casts the same spell, the HoT will merely refresh. Only one of each HoT can be on one character at any time.
The healer is a dynamic role that can be very fun and interesting to play. You can learn the basics quickly but there is a high ceiling of skill cap. In general, the name of the game of being a high quality healer is efficiency – whether it be for mana in dungeons or raw healing capability in raids. Strive to push yourself every time and you will be a very effective member of your dungeon or raid team.
About the Author
I played vanilla WoW since beta and from early on have enjoyed discovering and writing useful things about the game. In addition to being a founder of ClassicWoW.live, I am in charge of the druid and theorycrafting discord channels.