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Healer Comparison

Posted by penuruloki on October 10, 2009

This is the first of my class comparisons I intended to do as my personal project in WoW, and that I promised to write in my last post. My healers at the level cap all have comparable gear, and I have reasonable time healing 10 man raids and heroics on all of them. I intend to write about tanks too, but I’d like more time and better gear on my DK before I do so, so I’m starting with a comparison of my healers. This is from my personal perspective, not based on meters or spreadsheets. It is all my own opinion and I welcome comments and rebuttals from those with different viewpoints. I don’t pretend that any of it is definitive.

Long Post ahead.

Before I start talking about classes, I need to discuss a little bit about healing theory (at least from my viewpoint). Healers don’t really have spells to be compared against each other. They have different “toolkits”, or abilities that healers combine to perform a “task.” An example of a task might be tank healing or raid healing, the most common two listed (never forget that there might be more to do! My Resto Shaman managed 90% of the interrupts on one ill-fated Assembly of Iron attempt). A toolkit for tank healing might be a “small heal toolkit”, built around supplementing a steady diet of a smaller, faster heal in the spellbook, or a “large heal toolkit”, built around making heavier use of a larger, slower, more expensive heal. Raid healing is primarily focused around “AoE healing” where you apply smaller amounts of healing to many raid members at once, and “spot healing” where you apply more small to moderate amounts of healing to selected members of a raid. Direct comparisons of spells don’t really matter. It’s all about how (and how well) you accomplish the tasks assigned to you, and the quality of your toolkit to perform the task.

Paladins

I have to start with Paladins. My main is a Pally, I started healing on a Pally, and I have the most hours in on my Pallies (they are my #1 and #2 /played toons individually, nevermind combined playtime). Fact is they are clunky. They have limited healing options that amount to selecting between a small hammer and a big hammer. No AoE healing at all makes them extremely limited at raid healing. This isn’t an accident. They are specifically designed and designated to be tank healers.

Their toolkit is a mixed bag for even that. They have the most efficient small heal in the game, Flash of Light. It’s got good scaling, but starts, and stays, very small compared to other healers’ small heals. Unfortunately, it also doesn’t get much help. You can throw Sacred Shield (an absorbent shield that absorbs small amounts over a longer duration) on only 1 target at a time. Flash of Light on the target with SS places a Heal-over-Time (HoT) spell on that target that’s based on the size of the FoL (and is therefore also very small). That’s pretty much it for the small heal toolkit. It’ll cover 5 man tanking and raid fights that are less tank focused, but it just won’t cover all your tank healing needs. Fortunately, for the large heal toolkit, Blizzard pulled out the stops. Holy Light is expensive (all the big heals are), but it’s also fast, especially when you chain it. More importantly, Paladins have the best toolkit to generate the mana to keep throwing it. Divine Plea cuts healing in half while it’s active (15s) but regenerates 25% of your mana pool on a 1 min cooldown (CD). Seal of Wisdom gives a chance at a hefty chuck of mana when you hit a target (usually around the cost of a HL every time it procs!). Divine Illumination cuts your spell cost in half for a short time (nice to pair with DP above so you can spam HL to keep up without spending everything you regened). Illumination, even after the recent nerf, returns 30% of the mana spent on all heals that crit. What their small toolkit lacks in power is made up for with a powerful large heal and the regen to use it.

Raid healing is likewise a mixed bag. No AoE heal spells at all. They have an AoE effect from Glyph of Holy Light, but that requires you to cast the expensive spell, has strict range requirements, and isn’t smart about picking its targets, so no guarantee that the people who need healing get it. Spot healing is another matter. Beacon of Light has been buffed since its introduction to become a Pally’s signature spell. Simply place the Beacon on one target, and it will produce a “copy” on that target of any heal you throw on any other nearby group member. This gives you the ability to freely apply spot heals on group members without interrupting healing on the tank. It allows you to hit two tanks at once. It also copies heals from up to 60 yards away, while normal heal range is 40 yards. It doubles the raw healing of just about every heal you throw. Beacon has its limits, but it can be very powerful.

Bottom line for Pallies is that they are clunky,wielding their spells like hammers to shove massive amounts of health onto group member. It really shows in 5 man content where you have to make the clunky toolkit cover all scenarios. They work, but they work poorly sometimes and they’re not much fun. They have real power in raids though. Not once, but twice (OS+1 and Ignis) I turned a set of wipes into a kill just by switching to my Pally healer, and then just to get the range and dual target healing boost of Beacon of Light. The raw healing of Beacon + HL may be unmatched, in the healing you can apply, the speed you can apply it, and the speed with which your mana pool plunges when you do it. Pallies usually worry much more about their mana recovery afterward than they do about being able to lay down the healing. Add in all the utility and CD stuff in their spellbook and they shine in raids, especially 10 mans where you have a small core of healers that can balance each other’s weaknesses, but need to be able to produce rapidly in a crisis.

Druids

Druids are famous as HoT healers. Almost every spell they throw is/has a HoT. They are the Neocon healer. It’s all about the preemptive strike. Preempt comes from the latin phrase “to buy beforehand.” That’s exactly what druids do. If damage lands and the target doesn’t already have a HoT on them when it lands, you’re doing it wrong. A lot of the HoTs you throw end up as wasted healing. Their cost and effect is set knowing this, to encourage you to keep throwing them. They are meant to be used liberally. Throw heals around like Dick Cheney would throw around the US arsenal and you’ve got the basic premise.

Their tank healing is all about the small heal toolkit. Their small heal is Nourish, larger that FoL, and only slightly more expensive. Not only do they have a plethora of HoTs to go with Nourish (Rejuv, stacking Lifebloom, the HoT portion of Regrowth, Wild Growth), it even scales upward with the number of HoT effects on the target if you glyph it. The varied and limited duration of the HoTs makes refreshing them all a tricky business sometimes, but in 5 mans, you can stack so many HoTs you can often omit the small heal altogether, and if you’re tank healing in raids you can stay focused on the tank to keep it all going. Large heal is another story. Swiftmend lets you drop a good chunk on a target with a HoT up already (buy beforehand!) on a short CD (15s), but the spamable large heal (Healing Touch) is too slow to be worthwhile (or not a large heal at all if you glyph it for speed). Most druids keep it around coupled to the long CD Nature’s Swiftness (2m CD) as an emergency measure.

Raid Healing is more their forte though. Cheap Rejuvs on individual members, short 6s CD Wild Growth to throw a 7s HoT on 5-6 people with 1 cast, and a reasonable base healing on Nourish for spot healing make them great raid healers. Their utility comes from the ability to throw Innervate on others for mana regen (note that Pally regen is only for themselves), and the ability to Rez a fallen raid member in combat to finish the fight.

The plethora of cheap HoTs makes them good, if busy, 5 man healers and very good raid healers, especially in 25 man raids where they can really focus on the raid. They can handle tank healing, but their limit is on pure Heals-per-Second (HPS) when it hits the fan. They’re better at buffering incoming damage during a long fight than handling damage spikes in a shorter window during the fight, especially on multiple targets. You definitely stay busy on a druid, and the HoTs help maintain control over a fight, but it can be hard to recover on a fight if you’ve lost control. Regen is so good on a druid that they mostly ignore it. They generally can’t spend mana fast enough to worry about draining their pool all that quickly, and their regen covers a pretty reasonable amount.

Shamen

Compared to those two accounts, Shamen are the balanced healers. Better buffering than Paladins (for tanks and raids); better recovery than Druids. Their toolkit is well tuned to handle a variety of situations. They worry about regen like Paladins, but mostly at the gearing level, by stacking MP5 and Crit (for Water Shield). Their only major move for regen during a fight is Mana Tide Totem, restoring 25% of your mana pool, and everyone else in your party, on a 5 min CD.

A good example of their flexibility is their small heal toolkit. Earth Shield offers a buffer for a single target (basically a tank) and also boosts the healing on the small heal (Lesser Healing Wave) when glyphed. It has charges that fire off a small heal when the target is hit. There’s an internal CD on having charges go off, so it ends up being a periodic effect that needs refreshing only occasionally, like the Pally’s SS. They also get Riptide, which offers a small jolt of healing, and has a 15s HoT after it. Works for spot healing, but also provides a HoT for buffering and it works like that on every target, not just the one with ES. They also have procs built in. Any heal has a chance to proc Earthliving, which places another HoT on the target, and all Crit heals place Ancestral Fortitude on the target, reducing incoming damage by 10% for the next 15s. That’s a lot of damage buffering, mostly with little effort, and not all of it limited to a single target like Paladins. LHW itself is again larger than FoL too, but also notable more expensive. The large heal is mostly worthless like the Druid’s, attached to a CD as an emergency and ignored from there.

For raid healing, their iconic heal is Chain Heal. Hits 3-4 targets if they’re group together, giving a moderate heal to the 1st target and tapering off. This is a good recovery heal. In 1-3 casts you can easily clean up moderate damage on the whole group. They also get Healing Stream Totem. Often ignored, it pulses for 300-400 healing every two seconds on all party members. Lasts for up to 5 min. That’s right. If you’re not running around too much, you can can put a 5 min HoT on your party in a 5 man. It’s only about 1/4th what Wild Growth will give you, but it requires a refresh only if you move, something destroys the totem, or 5 mins elapses since you dropped it.

Oh yeah. You drop other buff totems for the raid. They care about that too. And Heroism, the unique shaman buff that boosts raid output (dps and healing) for 45s. I popped it for Loken in Heroic once with Windfury totem down in a group that had me, a Warrior tank, a Hunter, and 2 DKs. We dropped him in 34 seconds. Heroism outlasted the fight by 10 seconds. Add Tremor Totem to remove fears, Cleansing Totem to remove poisons and diseases from the whole (5 person) party at a time; the list goes on. Shaman have great, and unique utility.

Shaman get a bad rep as the most mediocre healer in raids. They may not top meters much in raids, but good recovery healing and flexibility make them valuable. Their biggest worry is their limited mana regen and the cost of their spells, which tends to hover in the same cost territory with no super efficient moves like FoL or Rejuv. Where I love mine most though is in 5 man heroics. On any fight, ES the tank before the fight, drop HST plus your other totems at the beginning of the fight. Riptide the tank as soon as he takes enough damage for his bar to drop (ES may eat the 1st hit on its own). If you get lucky, it’ll crit, you’ll get the 10% damage reduction, and the healing from HST, ES, Riptide, and Earthliving (if it procced) will cover all the damage from the fight. Go make yourself a sandwich. Check back before you mix your drink, in case you need to refresh ES and throw another Riptide on the tank 1st. Healing heroics on a shaman is embarrassingly easy when the group doesn’t screw up. Even when they do, you just start hitting people with Chain Heal until the fight is over. It’s dead simple.

Priest

One day I’ll finally finish leveling my Priest and be able to comment on them. Until then, feel free to leave your perspective in the comments.

Summary

Overall, all the healers work, despite occasional advantages and disadvantages. They work best in raids if you blend them, instead of stack them. That’s a good thing. Their differences show most in 5 man content where you can’t blend. You have to handle it all by yourself. They do each have their own flavor in 10 and 25 man content as well though.

Ultimately, I like all of them enough to stick with them, and I don’t plan to “retire” any of them from healing. They’re all fun. I tend to avoid 25 man raids though, and do mostly 10 man raids and heroics, so that has to affect my preferences.

I can’t argue with the results of bringing my Pally. Either I’m just too experienced with him or he just brings that much to a 10 man raid that I can’t help but keep him as my raiding main. He’s simply missed too much when there is no other Holy Pally in the raid.

For 5 mans, my 1st choice is the Shaman, because they’re just so easy. =) Nothing like facerolling a heroic quick to unwind. My druid is my 2nd choice for 5 mans, and the better option if you start to get bored. Their preemptive nature keeps you busier.

Druids probably shine better in 25 mans where there are lots of targets for WG and Rejuv, but in 10s I tend to miss the raw power of my Pally or Shaman, especially during a damage spike where I have to spam Nourish to keep up anyway and feel like a neutered Paladin. Unlike 25 man raids, 10s tend to require you to handle both tank healing and raid healing at the same time. Lucky (or bored) is the healer in a 10 man raid that has no tank assignment, so the druid’s raid healing ability can’t always show itself off as well anyway.

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