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Learn 2 heal, nub.

November 30, 2010

It didn’t take me long to get hooked on healing in WoW.

More than any other role, healers are consistently called upon to react to new and challenging situations and to adapt to whatever chaos has erupted around them.  The final goal of a DPS player is to perfect their rotation and to execute it correctly every single time.  For a tank, each and every pull should be predictable so that DPS and healers are able to do their job effectively – if you’re a good tank then you probably pull a dungeon or raid encounter the same way every time you go in.

Healing is completely different.  Yes, there are constants, like knowing that there is a certain debuff you need to dispell every time it comes up.  Yes, you may know that a boss will have a certain ability that will hit your tank really hard, every time.  But you never know who’s going to accidentally stand in fire this run.  You can’t always guess which DPS is going to steal agro at a crucial moment.  You always have to be ready to toss out a heal to anyone who needs it, and that means your experience is different every time you run a dungeon or a raid.  That unpredictability, that craziness, and those maddening little green bars begging to be filled up are the reasons why I’m addicted to my healing characters.

So before I launch myself head-first into all the changes that will happen to healing and to my class particularly when Cataclysm is upon us in a little less than a week, I figured I’d look back at the lessons I’ve learned about how to be a “good healer.”

  • Pay attention. Your tank controls the flow and pace of the dungeon, which means you need to be ready to go when you see him charge headfirst into the next pack of mobs.  There are few things more frustrating than watching a group wipe because the healer wasn’t ready, was alt-tabbed, or simply spaced out.  Moreso than the tank or DPS, if you want to heal you need to always have your eyes on the screen.
  • Know your spellbook. This is obvious advice and a must for all classes and roles, but it’s shocking to realize how many players there are who simply don’t read the tooltips on their abilities.  Make sure you understand all of your spells – when you get a new one that you’re not certain is useful, try to imagine a situation when it would help you.
  • You are only as good as your UI (user interface). I’m sure there are plenty of people who will disagree with me on this, but I’m a firm believer that healers are more dependent on having a good UI setup than either tanks or DPS.  I recognize that it is considered a matter of personal preference, but I don’t believe that a healer (especially someone who heals in a raiding environment) who uses traditional targeting and keybinds to cast their spells will ever be able to achieve the same reaction time as someone who uses mouseover macros or a healing add-on to assist them.  In addition, the information that a good UI provides you with (dispellable debuffs, HoT lengths, etc.) is absolutely essential if you take your job seriously.
  • Communicate. Whether it’s to warn your tank that you need to drink before the next pull, to let your other healers know who you’ll be healing, or to ask someone to dispell something that your class isn’t able to, you have to talk to the other people in your party or raid.  It may feel like a minor thing now, at the end of Wrath, when we don’t talk about crowd control, dispells, or mana management.  But getting into this practice now will make everything much easier for you when all those things do matter to us again in Cataclysm.

Beyond these basics, the most important advice I can give new healers is to learn from everything you see.  Learn from your mistakes and from the mistakes you see other people make.  Learn from the veteran healers around you, and learn from the very wide range of internet resources out there.

When it comes right down to knowing what spell to use and who to heal in the moment that it counts, healing is largely instinctual.  Having done enough research and practice to hone your instincts is really the best way anyone can prepare.

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