Spell Selection

I recently had the pleasure of mentoring a new Tree in our guild into T6 content, and I learned a few things along the way. First of all, I got a bit of an insight into a few bad habits people learn when their group outgears content (this happens more and more with the new 2.4 badge rewards). Secondly, I had the chance to think about my own spell selection (while trying to teach the ideas to somebody else), and I came up with a few tips which have improved my own healing performance.

First of all, one important tool for tuning your healing output is Recount. Now, the first important tip with recount is that healing meters DO NOT MATTER. The second one is that HEALING METERS ARE EVERYTHING.

Confused? Good.

What I mean is that healing is not a race to the highest healing output. Different encounters favour different classes of healer, and sometimes nothing you can ever do will come CLOSE to touching a CoH priest. Other times, you will whup him so bad he won’t know what happened. This is why healing meters do not matter.

As far as why they’re everything, if you’re not showing strongly on the healing meter (allowing for class and gear differences), you’re probably not contributing enough. I run recount and leave it set to “Healing Done”, and I switch backwards and forwards between the current fight and overall data for the raid. The great thing about recount is that it shows the percentage of healing done with each spell, so you can see what mileage you’re getting from your choices.

Another great thing about recount is the “Deaths” section. You can see the last 10 seconds or so before each death of anyone in the raid: damage taken, mitigation, healing, and so on. This is a great way to find out what’s going wrong, and if the MT or your heal target ever dies, you need to be checking this out, so they don’t die the same way next time.

The biggest thing I’ve learned from checking out deaths? Druids often picked the wrong spell. The number of times I’ve seen Bigdamage, Bigdamage, Lifebloomtick, Bigdamage, Dead is quite amazing. LIFEBLOOM? What were you thinking? One lifebloom tick did ZERO. Two ticks wouldn’t have helped, nor would a two-stack. What this guy needed was BURST healing. Anyway, I’ll deal with what should have happened later.

Anyway, enough side-tracking and onto the guts of the post. Spell Selection. I’m going to assume you’re healing the MT and throwing out some raid heals as well; adjust as necessary, if you’ve been assigned to an OT or you’re just on raid heals.

The Spells

This spell forms the core of a druid’s healing. At the very least, you will generally want to be keeping a 3-stack on your MT. DO NOT plan to ever let it expire. The “bloom” portion is nothing compared to the sustained healing output of the ticks. Lifebloom is also a very cheap option for topping up a raid member, if you are confident they won’t be receiving more damage (warlocks who’ve life-tapped in a low- to zero-raid-damage fight).

This is an instant-cast burst heal on a cooldown, and it requires the target to have a Regrowth or Rejuvenation hot active at the time. It consumes the hot. This is a good instant burst heal, but be wary of over-using it: you can be left on cooldown when you really need it. While it’s usually left for raid heals (or a tank dropping dangerously low), it can provide a nice burst to your HPS when used on your tank rotation.

Correct use of rejuvenation is crucial to raid healing. It’s instant cast, it’s relatively cheap, and (all-important) it’s swiftmendable. This spell is great for putting out strong raid healing, and I would generally select it over lifebloom, in spite of the higher mana cost. Sprinkling rejuvs across the raid is a great way to deal with light sustained damage, and lets you instantly “rescue” anyone that has it active with swiftmend, if they are unlucky (or inattentive) enough to take some burst damage.

Rejuvenation is also a great extra hot on a tank, and again, lets you deal with additional burst with a swiftmend.

This is your main burst spell. It provides good HPS (Heals Per Second) and applies a nice long hot to your target to boot. I think this is the most under-used spell in a druid’s arsenal: I regularly see newer healers hardly touching this one, and it’s a true shame. It’s a great way to top your tank up, if hots aren’t keeping him full. It’s a good lead spell, to provide early burst on hard-hitting pulls. Finally, it’s a nice quick rescue spell for raid members who are taking heavy damage.

Healing Touch
This spell has limited uses in raiding: it drops you out of tree form, it’s expensive, and it’s slow to cast. My primary use for it is macroed with Nature’s Swiftness, as an emergency rescue heal. It can be useful when you just have to have the burst healing: it heals for big numbers, and crits are ENORMOUS. If you’re unlucky enough to be solo-healing a tank taking heavy damage, a combination of HT, Regrowth, and Swiftmend can pump out some truly amazing HPS, at the cost of mana efficiency.

Again, this has limited use in raiding, because your priests and shammys can crank out massive group healing when needed. I keep it on my bar (macroed in a castsequence with barkskin) for emergencies.

Selecting a Spell
This is what it all gets down to. What situations you should be looking for, and which spell to select. Over time, I’ve managed to categorize heal targets down to a couple of simple types, and there’s usually a “best” spell.

Long-term sustained damage
This is where lifebloom shines. You want to keep lifebloom 3-stacked on your main heal target, and if you find yourself with time and mana to spare, roll a 3-stack on a second (or third) tank. I would avoid leading with lifebloom though, unless you’re very confident the tank won’t take too much early damage. Regrowth is a good opener, dealing with any initial damage, and letting you swiftmend after stacking lifebloom up if the tank is getting low. If you’re worried about putting out too much early threat, use rejuvenation instead, start stacking lifebloom, and you can swiftmend if needed.

If lifebloom doesn’t keep your tank full, keep rejuvenation up as well, and use regrowth to top him off. HT and swiftmend can pick up even more slack if needed.

Light Raid Damage
Rejuvenation is king here. Instant cast and reasonably cheap. I prefer it over lifebloom because it lasts longer, is swiftmendable, and doesn’t leave a lot of its healing until 7 seconds later (by which time another healer has topped off the person anyway).

Burst Damage
This is the area with the most choices, and the least time to make a decision. You can blow your NS+HT (or NS+Regrowth), you can rejuv then swiftmend, you can regrowth. You could even risk that they’ll last three seconds and start casting HT. You can yell over vent for the target to take a healthstone, because the healers are already swamped and won’t get there for a few seconds. And you need to decide NOW, because half a second could be disastrous.

This is the toughest type of damage to deal with, and the raider probably first saw a mechanic designed to cause it in kara, with Illhoof. You’ll see this sort of mechanic regularly, all the way to Illidan (Dark Barrage in phase 2) and beyond. It’s very similar to the sort of damage you get when somebody pulls aggro, but isn’t squishy enough to get 1-shotted (and these tips apply there too).

Anyway, back to the choices, and most people have too many. I’ve cut it down to just two or three. If death is really imminent, NS+HT. It’s an instant (if your macro is right) burst for a huge amount (crits regularly hit for more than some players’ total health). I do try to save this one for somebody important: if the off-tank who’s not needed for this fight is about to die, still try to save him, by all means, but save your Nature’s Swiftness.

If I decide that the guy isn’t within a second or so of dying, or isn’t important enough to blow the cooldown on anyway, I pick regrowth. Some people call for rejuv then swiftmend, because it lands a direct heal half a second sooner, but I have a few problems with that:

  1. I need to be sure that swiftmend isn’t on cooldown, otherwise the rejuv is useless. Checking wastes time, and being wrong could mean an unnecessary death.
  2. I use my swiftmend cooldown, which I might need in a moment anyway, and I only save half a second.

Regrowth lands a decent direct heal with a 2-second cast time, and if the burst isn’t enough, you can immediately swiftmend it. This is, by far and away, my preferred method of dealing with burst damage when you’re not using NS. Continued spamming of regrowth produces good sustained healing, although you may like to start stacking up lifebloom as well in some situations (a fury warrior who pulled aggro, and looks like having to hold the mob for a while, or phase 2 on Gortogg Bloodboil, for example).

There is a third option, if the person taking the damage already has a hot rolling, and that’s to lead with swiftmend. This is situational, and I’ve been caught out before because the hot expired an instant before I hit swiftmend, or I didn’t realise that swiftmend was on cooldown. If I do decide to mash swiftmend to lead, I’ll be heading straight for regrowth immediately afterwards, expecting swiftmend to fail.

The Alternatives

This “healing strategy”, if that’s the right word, isn’t the only one available to druids. I’m not going to detail any others, because I don’t really know them well: this strategy is one I’ve developed and refined over time, and I feel it’s the best for me. When I get new trees to mentor, this is what I teach them.

Numbers and Wrap-up

The numbers I tend to see on Recount vary depending on the encounter, but an average fight sees about 55% lifebloom, 35% rejuvenation, and 10% regrowth. If there’s more raid healing to be done, I’ll see higher numbers on rejuv; more burst-healing (Illhoof, for example), and regrowth pushes much higher. Part of those rejuv and regrowth numbers are on the tank, but very little or none of my lifebloom is on non-tanks.

I find this keeps me high on the healing meter (which doesn’t matter, remember), keeps my targets alive, and pulls my weight in raid healing. One drawback is that my overheal is quite low; in fact, it’s quite often noticeably lower than even that of healers who see much lower effective numbers than me.

Wait, that’s a drawback? Sure it is. Overheal is important, because that extra healing which lands might have healed a big spike on the tank instead of being wasted. It’s not a big deal on farm content, but if there’s even a slight chance of the tank dying, you want overheal. It’s your insurance against not enough heals being ready in time to deal with spikes that do occur.

So, why is it ok that my overheal is so low? Well, for two reasons. The first is that the whole point of resto druids is to provide some spike mitigation with our hots anyway. You’re seeing at least 1 good-sized hot tick every second on each tank, and often more. The second reason is that it isn’t my job to overheal the tank with direct heals: that’s the job of the holy pallies.

Still, it is something to consider, and you need to adjust appropriately, particularly when you’re not in a 25-man raid with several different types of healers, each filling their specific niche. I would expect my regrowth and overheal numbers to be much higher in a 10-man where I’m the only healer assigned to keep a particular tank up.

All of that said, there is room for a resto druid who uses more direct heals. We have one in our BT raid: he sees numbers around 50% lifebloom and 50% regrowth, and tends to put out less effective healing and more overhealing. Is the reduced effective healing a bad thing? No, it just means my focus on hots got to the damage a moment before his direct heal did, and his heal ended up as overheal instead. Is he as “good” a healer as me?

Personally, I don’t think so. I think my healing strategy is a better use of a druid’s strengths. BUT, his strategy tends to focus on using some of his strengths while making up for the druid’s reduced direct healing options by focusing heavily on the ones that are available. I think we should leave that to the pallys and priests, but who knows? Do we wipe because he uses his strategy? Maybe, but probably not. How about because of my strategy? Ditto. Probably.

What I can say is that I’ve used this strategy in all sorts of places, from 5-mans and kara through to every boss in Mount Hyjal and Black Temple, and it’s been a winning strategy for me.


1 Comment

  1. October 22, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    […] starters: this spell is amazing. I’m 5/8 T6, and my main competition on the healing meters (which don’t matter, remember) is an 8/8 T6 shammy we picked up not too long ago. Actually, it was never a competition: […]

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