Adequate play: Shaman healing, the tools of the trade

October 12, 2009 at 7:00 am | Posted in Ceri's Guide to Adequate Play | Leave a comment

This is a guide to the basics of healing as a shaman character in any spec, for five-person groups. I want to write some things about the restoration talent tree in particular and about raid healing, but those will be for separate posts. Furthermore, this is a guide to best practice in a very specific sense: I’m aiming here for simple reliable techniques, ones that work across a wide range of computer strengths, connection quality, and other conditions subject to change with or without notice, in or out of the player’s control. I’ll be linking to people offering advice for those aiming higher, too, but the point here is to help those who want to do a solid good job despite limitations.

Shamans have the most limited toolbox of any of the healing classes, which actually makes things kind of handy. You have three healing spells: a little heal (Lesser Healing Wave), a big heal (Healing Wave), and a multiple-targets heal (Chain Heal). You have one weapon buff that helps: Everliving Weapon, which strengthens your healing spells. You have a variety of totems that come in handy in different situations. You have magical shields. And you have your armor, your offensive spells and physical weaponry, and your groupmates to protect you.

With these tools, we will assemble coolness!

Your spells

The first thing you need to know to heal well is how the numbers the game gives you translates in practical terms into health for yourself and other targets. Spell tooltips tell you the base number of health points a spell will return to its target, but things modify that, a lot. Everliving Weapon makes your healing better. Intelligence adds to your spellpower, and points in +spellpower (and +healing, if you have any healing-specific bonuses from items) do, and so forth and so on. You want to know how your heals work, and you want to know it before you get into the exciting crunch time of actual combat.

So go damage yourself, and get friends to do it too. No, seriously. Jump off cliffs, towers, and other high places and take enough falling damage to mess yourself up but not kill yourself. Then cast a lesser healing wave and see how much of a health bar comes back. Cast a regular healing wave and see how much it does. Cast a chain heal and see both how much it returns and how it zigs around—it turns out that you can pick up your practical healing rate with good positioning. Thinking of it as bowling or pinballs for health. Also notice how long it takes to cast each, and that means both the objective time and how long it feels to you. With practice you’ll be able to do things like notice the rate of decline in targets’ health bars and choose your spells to match, once you know what you can do in response.

Do that every few levels, and particularly after you learn a new level of a spell or you or someone you expect to heal regularly gets new gear or something else that raises their health level a lot. Keep your intuition primed, so that when a fight breaks out, you can think, “Oh, right, lesser healing wave there, whoops, he’ll need a greater wave to keep going, and I’m going to start casting a chain heal now so that when that blast goes off, everyone will be covered.”

Your weapon buff

Shamans get a bunch of neat options for spells to cast on our weapons, and make them glow and leave wonderful trails when we fly and, oh, yeah, enhance our performance in various regards. For healing it’s simple: Everliving Weapon. If you’re in the midst of something else but need to switch to focus on healing a while, change your weapon buff. It pays off, sometimes hugely. Go back to Windfury or whatever your favorite is when the healing crisis is over.

Your totems

By level 30, you’ll have complete quests for each of the four elements, and have a fully functioning totem bar. It’s good fun. The quest for the water totem wasn’t much fun, particularly if you’re a Horde shaman, was it? But it’s done, and you have the totem. So that’s all good now.

(Really, no fooling, I think the Horde-side quest for the water totem is in fact the hardest, longest class quest in WoW, and certainly the hardest that’s still essential. The level 60 warlock and paladin mount quests used to give it competition, but they’re no longer essential, so Call of Water wins.)

Earth totems. Stoneskin remains a handy thing throughout the lifetime of your character. There’ll be a lot of situations in which someone you’re grouped with has a better armor-enhancing effect, but not all the time. Keep it in mind as a fallback. Earthbind, Stoneclaw, and Tremor are panic buttons, basically, things you toss down when you need help in a particular situation. Just lately I’ve been doing a lot of the 5-person Trial of the Champion, for instance, and Earthbind’s slowing effect is very handy on the wave of zombies the Black Knight summons up in phase 2 of his fight. Stoneclaw is good whenever you and your companions are just plain getting swamped by enemies. Tremor is what you want out whenever you’re fighting enemies who can induce fear. The earth elemental is a fine occasional spare tank and “look at me” aggro magnet, when you want something that doesn’t just attract enemies but hurts them too.

Strength of Earth is what I put down whenever I don’t have a specific reason to put down anything else. Boosting party members’ strength and agility is just one of those widely handy things to do.

Fire totems. Searing and Magma are your weapon totems. For a long time I favored Searing and its strong damage on one target; lately I’ve been using Magma more to hit on everything in the vicinity. Try both and see what works for you, and keep in mind that the more you use Magma, the more you’ll want a companion who can taunt and hold the aggro that would otherwise come to you. Frost Resistance is situational, of course; if you notice yourself suffering a lot of frost damage, use it. The fire elemental is similar to the earth elemental except he goes chasing after enemies. This is fun, but you will want to take some time to get a feel for his range, because “oh, rats, I didn’t mean to aggro those too” is something you don’t want to say more than you really have to.

Flametongue is my fire totem of choice when I’m not using Magma. It boosts all spellcasting, both damage and healing, and there is no caster in Azeroth or Outland who will say “Oh, heck no, don’t bother making my spells more effective.”

Water totems. Healing Stream heals. This is never a bad thing. It doesn’t heal for a whole lot, but so? It’s healing. It’s never going to be a damaging awful choice. Fire Resistance is like Frost Resistance. You know you need it when you’re burning. Cleansing Totem is an absolute lifesaver whenever you’re fighting anything that poisons or infects: snakes, trolls, undead, rogues, and so on. Drop it down near your meleeing companions, and every 3 seconds it wipes out some poison and disease weighing them down. You have spells to remove these things, but not having to take time out of casting to deal with them makes you a much better healer, and makes your companions live longer.

Mana Spring is my totem of choice in a group. The way the math works out, it pays for its mana cost to cast in mana returned to party members if you’ve got 2-3 people getting the full benefit from it. In a group with 3 or more mana users, it’s a no-brainer. And it’s not bad as part of a totem set even if you’re the only mana user in the group. But when poison and disease are common, Cleansing should be your priority.

• Air totems. Seems like I used Grounding a lot more in Burning Crusade instances and raids than I do these days, but it’s still not a bad thing to keep in mind. If you know you’re going to face a particularly nasty spell from an enemy, have it ready and let Grounding chow down on it. Nature Resistance is the same deal as Fire and Frost Resistance. Have I ever actually seriously used Sentry in play, as opposed to just messing around with it? Can’t recall if so.

My favored air totem depends on the group. Windfury’s the thing if you’ve got more meleers, Wrath of Air if you’ve got more casters. When I’m tooling around with my enhancement spec, I go with Windfury by default, and tend to stick with it in restoration spec, but an elemental/restoration shaman would likely do the same with Wrath of Air, and really, they’re both great.

Your shield spell

When you are healing, you want Water Shield active. Period. The way of the shaman is to be thirsty, you’ll hear veteran shaman players say, and it’s true. Any shaman who regularly says “oh, I have all the mana I need” has died and gone to heaven and won’t be leveling anymore. You need mana even more when you are healing. If you regularly use Lightning Shield, go back to it after a healing crunch is over.

In part 2, I’ll explain what you actually do with all this stuff.


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