Maybe someday I’ll get into more detailed “Guides” for healing/tanking/et cetera, broken up by class. Either way, this guide is nowhere near complete. It’s just a really simple basic guide on healing for every class. More detailed guides coming in the future, hopefully!
For those of you healing for the first time, I highly recommend rolling a baby healer somewhere to practice with. Healing at cap for the first time is usually anxiety-inducing and scary as all getout.
Part I: Addons and Macros
You don’t need to use addons or macros to heal, but they will save you a lot of time and effort, and using addons especially can help you save time. (Which can allow you to multitask while you play, or can afford you a moment of distraction should the dungeon go awry.)
The default frames are nice because you can just click them and press a button on your bar to heal people. But the default (game’s) way of healing is:
-Click a person’s panel.
-Click your heal.
If a group has been pulled and aggro is everywhere, then that’s a lot of clicking around to get people healed. It works, but it’s not as efficient as mouseover macros, which work like this:
-Hover over a person’s panel, press a heal.
Or an addon, which works like this:
-Click a person’s panel, and it heals them.
Generally speaking, some kind of addon or macro is going to make your job healing a lot easier. The less work you’re doing healing, the more time you have to look at the fight, the mechanics, the more attention you can pay to the ground (to make sure you’re not standing in fire).
I personally use VuhDo and I will get a guide out to using VuhDo soon. I don’t use it for everything, but I do like using it because I think it’s just PERFECT for my healing needs. It’s my favorite healing addon, and has never failed me in the past.
NOTE: One thing to remember about healing addons is this: When people drop/join the group in the middle of combat, it can bug out the bars until combat is dropped. This isn’t a big deal, really, you can throw out an AoE heal and/or click their portrait anyway to emergency heal if you have to.
The other addon I use on my healers is ClassTimer. It’s a great addon for tracking DoTs…and HoTs! You can set it to show heals on your Focus Target, and then you can easily see what heals are on them at any given time. This is especially useful for resto druids, but I like using it on all of my classes, especially my healers.
Part II: Your Job
Your job as a healer is to keep as many people alive as you can, to keep everyone’s health as full as you can, and to dispel magic/poisons/et cetera (as your class allows). Always spec into your dispel!
Your job is not to heal Stupid (there is no cure for it, I’ve tried to dispel it before, believe me, it does not work) or to heal through things no healer should be forced to heal through (like people pulling Scarlet Monastery Cathedral in its entirety, or healing through Jaina + two trash packs). Your job is also not to run a footrace, to play tag with the tank, or to heal assholes.
Your focus is the tank. When you zone into a group as a healer, find your tank, and put focus on him/her. If you use X-Perl and there is no right-click+focus option, you can target the tank and type /focus, or you can create a macro (that just says: /focus) and put it on your bars. (I do the latter on all of my characters.) This lets you easily see the tank, where they are on the minimap, and you can set up addons like ClassTimer to show you what HoTs/shields/buffs are on your Focus. That way you don’t have to hunt through the hundred buffs and debuffs on the tank to see if you need to refresh Riptide/Lifebloom/shields.
Part III: Communication
Keep up with the tank–within reason. Communicate with him or her. Tell them when you need mana (in all CAPS if you can’t manage a sentence, so that they can see it easier). Don’t wait until you type, “Mana!” before you sit your ass down. Sit down to drink, then type “mana break please” or something. This makes it easier on everyone. Most tanks who see you sit down know you’re doing it to drink. If you just stand there for a minute while you type, they are probably going to assume you don’t need a break and are ready to pull the next group. Keep lots of water with you in case you find yourself needing to drink!
Set up a warning system with strikes. If you tell people to stop standing in Stupid 1, 2, 3 times, and they continue to do it: stop healing them. Remember, you cannot dispel Stupid.
If the tank runs off without you, DO NOT CHASE HIM/HER DOWN. Stay back until you catch up on mana/to the group and then start healing. Lots of heirloom-geared tanks in lowbie instances barely need heals at all, and are more prone to dashing off to chainpull. This is not a big deal most of the time, but don’t feel you have to stress yourself out to keep up with them.
If you get aggro, drag the mobs to the tank. Don’t just type, “Get this off of me!” in party chat! If you’ve ever tanked, you probably understand the dreaded Tanking Tunnel Vision, which usually consists of ARRGGHHH /ROAR I HAVE THREAT and of not much else. Like noticing the healer over there is getting their face beat in.
Part IV: The Basics
All healers have lots of heals. Typically you have these:
-Medium fast heal (mana-expensive!) (Flash Heal, Flash of Light, Healing Surge, Regrowth)
-Medium slow heal (mana-expensive!) (Greater Heal, Divine Light, Greater Healing Wave, Healing Touch)
-Smaller slow heal (mana-friendly!) (Heal, Holy Light, Healing Wave, Nourish)
-AoE heal (usually medium-expensive!) (Prayer of Healing, Holy Radiance/Light of Dawn, Healing Rain/Chain Heal, Wild Growth)
Plus all healers have their specialty heals:
-Penance, Power Word: Shield (disc priests)
-Circle of Healing, Renew (holy priests)
-Holy Shock, Word of Glory, Beacon of Light (holy paladins)
-Riptide, Earth Shield, Unleash Elements (resto shaman)
-Lifebloom, Rejuvination, Swiftmend (resto druids)
The basic rule of healing is as follows:
You will use your class-specific heal, i.e., shaman always keep Riptide up, paladins always will use Holy Shock, Lifebloom for resto druids should always be ticking on the tank, and priests should be using their signature heals as well, depending on their spec.
At low levels you’re usually stuck with just a couple of heals. Your smaller, slow heal is cheap and so you should use this often. In fact, use it until you absolutely need to use a faster (more expensive) heal. Spamming your fast heal will run you out of mana quick, and as a healer, your goal is to keep everyone alive without having to drink very often. (Especially while leveling.)
Even at high levels, my healers use their cheap heal constantly. In fact, I spam it in five-mans. Someone takes a hit or two but won’t be taking heavy damage again for a while? Heal them to full with that slower, cheap heal! Tank takes constant damage but it’s not a lot of actual damage all at once? Just keep casting that slower, cheap heal!
Your expensive fast heal is one that, at level cap, you rarely use unless you play a class that gets “free” heals (resto druids proc a free heal and you can absolutely choose to use Regrowth as your free heal! And some specs of priests get a free Flash Heal), but usually, those heals are fast, expensive…but they don’t heal very much. So they’re really only useful if you DESPERATELY need that one extra second to boost someone’s health so that you can keep them up long enough to put a real heal on them. Usually I find at higher levels, if I need to use my fast heal to save people, it’s going to be a wipe.
Part V: Interlude
Okay, so one time I was on a healer in a DPS spec, and I ended up with a resto druid. Super nice player who actually lives in my area (we got to talking about the state we’re from at one point), but they kept running out of mana. So I looked at Healing Done on Recount and saw their top heal was Regrowth.
Regrowth is a great spell, but at high levels, it’s SO expensive and heals SO LITTLE (comparatively) that it’s just not worth using unless it procs as something you can use with no mana cost. (And even then, if you have the time to cast a Healing Touch for free instead, you’re better off going with it, since it heals more.) I explained to this healer that they should try using Nourish more, as it refreshes Lifebloom on the tank and honestly, it’s a very mana-friendly spell so you can pretty much spam it without running out of mana.
They thanked me for the advice and tried it, and later whispered me to let me know it was working much better! Yay!
That said, we might make it to cap and still be doing something terribly wrong. It can be really difficult to pick up healing for the first time without a clue as to what we’re looking for.
Part VI: Stats & Gear
Generally as a healer we want ten tons of Intellect and we also want plenty of Spirit. At cap, we might want to prioritize secondary stats (mastery, crit, haste) differently, but until you hit level 80, find as much int/spirit gear as you can. And don’t be afraid to wear the Wrong Gear, i.e., as a leveling paladin, you’ll probably be stuck wearing cloth/leather a lot because healing mail/plate is just not easy to find.
DO NOT need on gear with hit over a DPS who actually needs it.
Part VII: When to Exit Strategically
So you queue into the Random Dungeon Finder, and you get Stratholme. The tank is a bear in cloth intellect gear. Is this a good time to drop? Maybe. See if he switches specs/gear. Mention the gear–maybe he did switch specs but forgot to take off his gear and replace it with agility gear. Oh, he wants to tank as a bear in intellect gear?
That’s a good time to drop. Maybe you can heal him, but is it really worth the headache? You can try to heal him, see if it’s hard, if it is, sit down and refuse to heal until he drops. You can ask the DPS to pull for the tank because in their proper gear, the rogues will probably be easier to heal than an int-geared bear “tank”.
How about this: Tank went AFK to pay the pizza delivery guy. Hunter runs in, pulls a huge group, feigns death or drops group. Do you heal your two active DPS through this? Do you drop? Dropping will save your own skin, but everyone else will die. Personally, I’d try to heal through it. It’s not everyone else’s fault that the hunter was a douchebag, and maybe you can heal through it. If you do, everyone will think you’re awesome, and if you don’t, well, chances are nobody will blame you.
Or this: Tank is a douchebag. Has made fun of everyone for their dps/class/spec/race, has used racist/homophobic, and gendered insults, and has probably said pretty awful things to you and/or your other groupmates. Option #1: Kick him, Option #2: Drop group. Take Option #1 if nobody else in the group is his buddy/guildmate. Take Option #2 if #1 fails. You are a healer, NOT A PUNCHING BAG! You can drop with warning, without warning, whatever. If people are treating you badly, don’t sit around and take the abuse. Get out of there, or you will hate healing and you will lose faith in humanity. Quickly.
Part VIII: Finale
So, what does healing do for you? It’s a fun job. It’s rewarding. (Nothing is better than seeing tons of trash get pulled with Jaina and being able to heal through it. People gasping and patting you on the back and telling you how great you are? Feels amazing!) But what it really does it shows you the fight from a perspective you might not have thought about before. How people standing in Stupid for more than a few seconds makes your job 10x harder. How it helps to have DPS who will dispel if they can. How you appreciate getting Focus Magic from arcane mages, and how you love it when people stand by you to let you get mana while the rest of the team rushes off. How you appreciate the mage sacrificing themselves so that the mobs the tank lost aren’t killing you, and how AMAZING it is to heal a great tank who knows what they’re doing!
So when you hop onto your tanks or your DPS characters, you’ll pay a lot more attention to your healers. You’ll see things that you’ve never seen or noticed before– like why wipes are happening, what’s causing them, et cetera and so on.
But most importantly, it’s fun.