Light & Leafy

So you want to play a healer

Posted on: November 7, 2009

Last night, while doing my Argent Tournement dailies (I want a unicorn, dammit!), a friend whispered me. Originally, I excitedly thought he was going to invite me to Vault on my resto shaman when he wanted to make sure I had one, but that was quickly put to rest with his next queston: “how do you play a resto  shaman?” Because I knew he had a discipline spec on his priest, I went directly to specifics (keeping up earthshield, chain healing, etc.). But then it struck me that he might not have been asking for himself. His girlfriend had recently gotten her shaman up to level 80 and decided she wanted to try healing. I started to consider what would be good suggestions for anyone playing a healer for the first time….

Know your healing priorities
Getting used to being a healer can take some time. You’re not always going to have a lot to do, and you’re always playing to suit the needs of the group. Unlike dps, you can’t always focus on one target and then move to the next. I find it helpful to keep in mind a heirarchy of heals, especially during times when the pull may not have gone as smoothly as you would have wished.
      1. Tanks – If the tank dies, it’s not a done deal that everyone around you will die. But, it will make healing a LOT harder on you, and everyone may in fact die, especially if the tank is dead soon after the pull. In a raid situation, you may not be assigned to be a tank healer, but even so it’s a good habit to keep track of their health bars and help out if you notice them hovering close to death or if their healers have died.
      2. You! Yep, you’re the second highest priority when it comes to healing. A lot of healers, old hats included, often forget to heal themselves. Maybe their player bar isn’t in a place they normally look, or they’re so focused on their target that they neglect themselve. No matter how you look at it though, if you die, no one is getting your heals. And that can lead to a lot of wiping, especially in 5 mans.
      3. DPS. You DO want them alive. They sure do make killing things easier. But if you heal them at the expense of killing yourself or the tank, you may want to reassess your priorities.

Mana Regeneration Tools!
Every healer has them. And most are really good about making the most out of using them. But in the heat of battle, it can be really easy to forget to use them. I like having Scrolling Combat Text’s sound turned on to give me audio warnings, but you can also pay attention to your mana bars just as much as you pay attention to health bars. The cooldowns, no matter which healer you play, are in the 3 minute – 5 minute range, so there’s really no excuse for saving them for any particular fight. I’m not advocating wasting them every time they’re off cooldown, but if you’re sitting at a quarter of your maximum mana at the beginning of a pull, it probably behooves you to get some of the pretty blue stuff back quickly. And don’t be shy to ask for mana regeneration tools from the druids and priests in your party; even if they’re dpsing, they can still innervate you and cast hymn of hope.

Using HoT’s/Shields
Using your heal over time and shielding spells can be one of the more difficult skills to learn as a new healer. Even though I had been playing my priest for over 2 years, when I started healing on my druid I found that I was constantly renewing my HoT’s much sooner than I needed to and was wasting a ton of mana in the process. On my shaman, I started having the same problem with my earthshield, but when I tried to stop the unnecessary overwriting I started to have periods where the tank didn’t have it at all. What this boils down to is creating a way to track your set-it-and-forget-it heals. I found setting up Power Auras and Grid for those specific spells  made it move visible to me to keep track my heal-over-times , but just keeping a sharp eye on  the buffs in your regular party frames also can do the trick. Patience, above everything else, is key to using spells that do not instantly heal your targets. I know it can be nerve-wracking to see people slowly regenerating health, but if you’re tossing the HoT’s around and then using larger single heals immediately after the fact, you’re probably overhealing a lot and not being very efficient with your mana consumption.

Dispel!!!!
Healers come with dispels. Depending on the class you play, you can only dispel certain types of the four dispellable debuffs (poison, magic, disease, and curses). Druids can dispell poison and curses, priests get magic and disease, shamans get poisons diseases and curses, and pallies have poison, disease and magic effecs. A lot of healers I know don’t usually think about dispelling diseases; they just heal through the damage. That’s  not necesarrily a bad thing I take that back. It is a bad thing. These debuffs aren’t always just things you can gloss over by healing people through. Sometimes they’ll leech mana or explode doing damage to everyone nearby. Knowing what you can dispel and dispelling it quickly can keep you from having to heal so hard and it can get rid of nasty debuffs that can mess with other people’s playing (slowing their attack/movement speed, interrupting them, draining their power source, etc.). Granted, there are a few things you DON’T want to remove (Grobbulus’ poison injection, a warlock’s unstable affliction), but those are exceptions to the general rule of dispelling everything to make your job and the jobs of your teammates, easier.

Yay for spell books!
If you have your spell descriptions turned on, you might find that reading them through will give you a better understanding of what you have in your arsenal of heals. Take some time to really look at all the spells you can use and think a little bit about how each might be valuable in a combat situation. When would you use rejuvination over regrowth? If only the tank needs a heal, is chain heal really the best spell to use? If the entire party is taking damage, when’s a good time to use circle of healing and when’s a good time to use prayer of healing? Getting to know your tools is kind of like getting to know friends; it might take some time, but when you really need them, you can count on them.

Cooldowns are important!
A lot of the really powerful, save your patootie spells have cooldowns. You probably won’t use them frequently, but they do exsist and you should be mindful of them. It might be worthwhile for some of them to see what glyphs and talents are out there to reduce the cooldowns and get you to use them more. Even if you were to keep them at their standard cool downs, it’s still pivotal to learn what each of your “special” moves can do and make sure you have them easily accessible in case you do need to use them.

Start small and move up!
Chances are if your a new healer, the first instance you go into should not be something like Trial of the Champion. The level 78-80 dungeons do have a bit of a ramp for players to practice in. Utgarde Pinnacle and Gundrak are a bit easier, while Culling of Stratholme, Halls of Ligthning and Trial of the Champion are a bit more difficult. Starting in a place with a lot of trash can also help you warm up before you start healing through boss encounters. Once you’re comfortable with these, moving onto heroics shouldn’t be a problem. It’s easy to get into heroics now that you don’t have to be keyed, but learning to walk before you run has its benefits. The same thing can be applied to raid healing. You may be a pro at healing 5-man dungeons, but sometimes it takes a lot of getitng used to when you start healing in raids. Even if you’ve geared yourself up nicely from an assortment of badges, you might want to step into a Naxx10 or Naxx25  before you go into Onyxia or Trail of the Crusader just to get the feeling of what its like relying on other healers as your teammates, rather than being the single person responsible for the lives ove everyone around you. 

Take some time to gear up!
When you first hit 80, it may be a good idea to try to find a group you can dps in to get your gear a little more situated before you start healing yourself. Another way to optimize this “gear” time would be to try to run with a healer of the same class and watch them as they heal. They may provide you with insight before you start throwing around heals yourself. =)

Like with any kind of new role, you’ll get better at healing the more you practice it. Playing with friends and guildies can help you overcome some of the anxiety it can bring (it is a pretty big responsbility) and can provide you a safe place to practice without others having high expectations of how the instance should run. Recognize that sometimes others will die, no matter how hard you try to save them, and don’t be too hard on yourself while you’re still learning. Every other healer had to start at square one as well, and with time and practice became the talented players they are now.

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