Friday, January 16, 2009

What Buttons to Push and When

So you've just hit 80 and you're staring at a blank talent window wondering "Well damn, where do I go from here?"

Odds are you've reached this point one of a few ways:

1) You're hardcore and you leveled resto from 70-80. Good for you. Enjoy doing what you've already been doing.
2) You leveled as a DPS spec, but ventured into resto from time to time to get instance groups. You've got a decent handle on our new abilities, but aren't totally in control of them yet.
3) You leveled as a DPS spec but haven't tossed many heals outside of the errant maelstrom weapon proc.

If you find yourself in the second or third category the odd mixed bag of abilites that is the resto shaman can be confusing and on occasion downright paralyzing. But that's what I'm here for, so you can learn from my mistakes and not your own!

Resto shaman healing in 5mans boils down to a couple of key concepts:
1) You've got a really solid AoE heal, but unlike Circle of Healing or Wild Growth, it requires the targets to be somewhat near each other to function.
2) You've also got a relatively effective short cast time single target heal. It's no Flash of Light, but it'll save a dying tank.
3) Many resto shaman abilities revolve around the use of our new 51 point talent: Riptide, which is our only instant cast heal.
4) You've got totems. Totems can do wonderful things if you know when to use them.

Lesser Healing Wave: Your Most Monogamous Heal

The first, and in my opinion most important, thing to understand before entering a 5man as a resto shaman is when to use Lesser Healing Wave and when to use Chain Heal. Early on in my heroic days I earned myself a lot of criticism from party members for using Chain Heal far too much, especially in high tank damage heroics like Culling of Stratholme.

As a beginning resto shaman, you probably won't have the mp5 or spell power necessary for an ez-mode Chain Heal spamming experience. For all it's beauty, Chain Heal doesn't really hit that hard considering the cast time. Many times did I let a tank fall low on health simply because of the 2.5 second cast time. A lot can happen in 2.5 seconds, especially to an undergeared tank. It's times like these that Lesser Healing Wave can save your butt.

In a situation where a major damage spike is about to hit the tank my thought process generally goes like this: Riptide (HoT plus the Tidal Waves effect, which reduces the cast time on your next two LHW / HWs) then, based on whether or not I've fallen behind in healing, I'll either cue up a Healing Wave in preperation for a big hit on the tank or hit the tank with two Lesser Healing Waves to put him back at a safe health level.

The important thing to remember is that, at lower gear levels, casting Lesser Healing Waves on the tank will save you mana in the long run over Chain Heal. For most instances, even heroics, the tank will be taking 90% of the damage, so you can keep him and your mana bar up by casting single target heals.

Chain Heal: Sometimes You've Just Got Too Much Love

There are times where, thanks to Blizzard's love for AoE damage, single target heals just won't cut it and you need to bust out the big guns. My favorite example of this is Zuramot from Violet Hold, the ornery Voidwalker with a penchant for setting up shadowbolt pelting Void Sentries. This is a definite AoE healing situation and one where Chain Heal's 'smart' heals really shine.

When you're faced with this, don't be afraid to request something from the DPS: stack on the tank. Chain Heal's jumps only go so far, and if you've got a significant number of ranged DPS, it can be hard to hit everybody with your heals. But if all the DPS are stacking on the tank, Chain Heal's newfound intellegence will automatically bounce to those who need it most. So in this case you can cast the initial heal on whoever needs it most (usually the tank) and let the bounces heal up everybody else. DPS should have no problem stacking on the tank, as even hunters have a reasonable minimum range for attacks now, so no excuses!

Riptide: Hit It And Quit It

To take it to the next level you can start weaving in Riptides. Riptide is a single target instant heal with a moderate HoT effect. It's wonderful for dropping on a tank before Web Wrap on Maexxna or healing that little bit of damage that will put a tank to full before a pull. But what really makes this ability special is how it can affect your other heals. Riptide's HoT effect provides, for it's duration, a 25% increase to healing recieved by Chain Heal that is consumed when used. So drop Riptide on a target and your next Chain Heal will be 25% more effective. Got some serious AoE DPS going out on a group and a certain DPSer is getting dangerously low? Hit him with a Riptide for a quick instant heal, then Chain Heal him and it'll get him back up to full.

The other important thing to keep in mind with Riptide is that it can proc Tidal Waves, which lowers the cast time on your next two LHW / HW casts by 30% and adds a passive 20% buff to the SP that affects HW and 10% to LHW. This drops LHW to a 1 second cast, which can save the day in a spam healing situation.

In other words, cast Riptide on cooldown. The mana cost won't put you out of business, but the wonderful healing, haste effects, and added mobility from an instant cast heal will keep you rolling in the green...text.

Totems: Sticking Around And Making Breakfast

And last, but not least, there are Totems. Something I didn't realize until late into my heroic career was just how useful resistance totems really were in healing. When you're healing a new fight and spells start a flyin' take a quick look at what element they're from. If they're nature, fire, or frost, you've got a totem to resist it. In a heavy AoE healing situation you can mitigate thousands of damage off the top just by dropping an applicable resistance totem.

You've also got a few other lovely totems to assist in your healing. Strength of Earth provides tanks with both TPS, mitigation (for Warriors and Paladins), and avoidance (doubly for DKs, who get Parry from Strength and Dodge from Agility). Wrath of Air provides you with an extra 5% spell haste, which, combined with Tidal Waves, can lead to some speedy heals. Finally, the red-headed stepchild of totems, Fire, now gives you added spell power in the form of Flametounge totem. My preferred totem setup for non-raid situations goes a bit like this:

Air - Wrath of Air
Water - Mana Spring
Earth - Strength of Earth
Fire - Flametounge

If your group is melee heavy (and lacking a frost DK) you might want to swap WoA for Windfury. If you're in an instance with a significant amount of poison or disease, Poison Cleansing or Disease Cleansing totems will be godsends as well. And can we forget the amazing Tremor Totem? Don't forget, Tremor dispels Sleep and Charm effects in addition to Fear, so when you're doing Mal'Ganis in Culling of Stratholme and you keep getting locked down by his Sleep, toss a Tremor Totem and rock his face.

So now you understand what abilities you have and when to use them. Next time I'll be reviewing some of the early heroics and healing strategies for each, including optimal totem setups, placement, and perhaps (if I'm feeling spunky) different tactics for different tanks. Until then, go forth my children and heal face.

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