As an exercise to better learn how we are all working with the changes introduced with Mists of Pandaria, as well as to learn how to better function as a team with those changes, I was asked what exactly it means to heal in our raids as a Resto Shaman. At first, I thought it was pretty straightforward – cooldowns are the important part, right? – but the more I thought about it, the more I realized there is a lot of utility in the Resto Shaman that other classes might not be fully aware of.
Though I am no theorycrafter and I plan to give no math here, I felt this explanation was a good piece to share on my blog as well, for the WoW blogosphere at large.
NOTE: This is going to be long, so I will include TLDRs where I think appropriate.
As a Resto Shaman, on the most basic level, we have the same three single-target healing tools as the other healing classes/specs. Working in a triage-based environment means all three of these heals get used in some situation or another.
As a rule, I use Healing Wave in every situation I can get away with it, as it is basically mana-neutral. This means my in-combat mana regen just about negates the cost of the spell by the time I finish casting it. Greater Healing Wave is for when I feel it would require multiple casts of Healing Wave to accomplish my healing needs on a target. Healing Surge is for when I do not think Healing Wave/Greater Healing Wave will land quick enough, and is only for emergency use.
- Healing Wave – Slow, small, efficient heal
- Greater Healing Wave – Slow, large, efficient heal
- Healing Surge – Fast, large, inefficient heal
Resto Shaman Toolkit
Beyond the basics outlined above is where the Shaman really begins to distinguish itself from other healers.
Earth Shield is a buff to always be maintained. When I am the only Resto Shaman in the raid, I is use it on the main tank (switching back and forth if the fight requires tank swapping and I feel I can manage the extra mana consumption involved). If there is another Resto Shaman, Earth Shield is maintained on both tanks – one by each Shaman. If there is a third tank, it really depends on specifics of the fight and should be decided by the Shaman or the raid/heal lead.
Earth Shield has two main nuances:
- It provides extra healing to a tank, and only when the tank is taking damage, so the tank receiving the most damage is the best choice.
- Heals cast on the Shaman’s Earth Shielded target are more effective, therefore, the Shaman should be primarily healing the tank with their own Earth Shield. (This includes Chain Heal’s primary target.)
Riptide is an instant HoT with a brief cooldown. Ideally, it can be maintained on a few targets at one time. Usually I keep this to the tanks unless someone else in raid is taking moderate damage from a debuff of some sort (ie. Pheromones from Garalon).
Riptide has two main nuances:
- Chain Heals targeted on a raid member with Riptide are more efficient, and the more efficient the first hit of Chain Heal, the more efficient the additional hits.
- Riptide gives the Tidal Waves buff to the Shaman – two charges with a maximum of two charges. One Tidal Waves charge decreases the cast time of one Healing Wave or Greater Healing Wave. One charge also increases the Crit Chance of one Healing Surge.
Maintaining Riptide and Tidal Waves during a fight is very important to throughput, whether it is mostly single-target healing or AoE healing or a combination of both.
Healing Rain is one of a Shaman’s most powerful AoE healing abilities, and with a 10 second duration and a 10 second cooldown, it could logically be rolling at all times. Healing Rain’s usefulness, especially in an early expansion raiding tier, is more situational than that, though. It is most efficient when healing at least 5 targets, and becomes a HPM burden otherwise. So this ability is most useful when the raid is stacked, and less useful when they are spread out.
Chain Heal is another AoE heal ability given to Shaman. It strikes one target and bounces to up to three more targets. The first target is hit for the full amount of the heal and each additional target is hit for 30% less than target before them. (ie. [target] 28,000 ->  19,600 ->  13,720 ->  9604. Aww, I said I was not going to do math. D’oh!) Chain Heal is most effective when it is guaranteed to hit four targets needing healing, therefore it is most useful during stack phases, especially paired with Healing Rain.
As mentioned above, Chain Heal is more effective cast on a target with Riptide.
As an alternative to Riptide, Chain Heal also gives two charges of Tidal Waves.
Earthliving Weapon and Unleash Elements
Earthliving Weapon is a Shaman buff that increases healing and gives the ability for heals to proc the Earthliving HoT. This proc has a 100% chance when healing targets below 35% health.
Unleash Elements, when used while the Earthliving Weapon buff is up, is an instant cast ability that provides a small heal to the target, and buffs the effectiveness of the Shaman’s next targeted heal. Unleash Elements affects all single-target heals as well as the initial hits of both Chain Heal and Riptide.
Healing Stream Totem
I place Healing Stream Totem with the main bulk of the Shaman heals since it is on a short enough cooldown to not be considered a true healing cooldown. It has a 15 second duration and a 30 second cooldown. So though it cannot be down all the time, it is very effective used every 30 seconds. HST is a smart heal as well as a fire-and-forget spell, which means little overhealing and the ability to do other things while HST is ticking.
- Earth Shield – Causes the target to be healed when they are hit, maintain on the main tank.
- Riptide – An instant cast HoT with a cooldown, causes Tidal Waves buff, increases the effectiveness of Chain Heal.
- Healing Rain – A large groundtarget AoE heal, use when it will hit at least five targets, can be timed for 100% uptime during stacked phases.
- Chain Heal – Hits a target and chains a reduced heal to up to three other targets in range, increased by Riptide, increased initial hit increases remaining hits, use when it will hit four targets.
- Earthliving Weapon – when active, increases healing and has a chance to proc an Earthliving HoT on heal targets, 100% on targets below 35% health.
- Unleash Elements – Releases the Earthliving Weapon buff to heal the target and boost the Shaman’s next targeted heal.
- Healing Stream Totem (Water) – Fire-and-forget smart heal, use on cooldown.
Most Shaman abilities have a cooldown period of some length (from 8 seconds to 5 minutes), but when I mention cooldowns, I am referring to those high-throughput, life saving abilities on longer timers. For Shaman, this is three abilities:
- Ascendance – 3 minute cooldown, copies the Shaman’s heals equally among raid members in range, affects all Shaman heals except those from totems, only utilizes mastery on the initial heal.
- Healing Tide Totem (Water) – 3 minute cooldown, fire-and-forget, high burst, smart heal, affected by mastery.
- Spirit Link Totem (Air) – 3 minute cooldown, all raid members within 10 yards have their health periodically redistributed evenly and incoming damage is reduced.
Resto Shaman abilities tend to be quite numerous and mana intensive, and thus, we have some decent mana regen capabilities:
- Resurgence – A passive ability that grants the Shaman mana upon healing crits.
- Water Shield – 1 hour personal buff that provides a passive mana regen, also regens additional mana when the Shaman is hit.
- Mana Tide Totem (Water) – Mana regen CD for raid members within 40 yards, 3 minute cooldown.
Throughout the entirety of Cata, Resto Shaman had the Telluric Currents talent to work with. This allowed us a small amount of mana regen when hitting with Lightning Bolts. Even though Resto Shaman did not have talents or glyphs that provided us with hit, this became a go-to regen for me throughout the expansion. In the early tiers, the usefulness of Telluric Currents received mixed reviews, but by Dragon Soul it was invaluable as a source of low damage phase mana regen.
I miss it terribly, as its younger, upstart brother the Glyph of Telluric Currents is mana neutral at best, and not worth a glyph to me.
- Reincarnation – A passive ability that gives me the option to b-rez myself once every 30 minutes.
- Ghost Wolf – Instant cast movement speed ability, using abilities cancels Ghost Wolf.
- Spirit Walker’s Grace – Grants casting on the move, lasts 15 seconds with a 2 minute cooldown.
- Heroism – Raid-wide haste CD, lasts 40 seconds with a 5 minute cooldown, debuffs targets from using Heroism or Time Warp again for 10 minutes, reset by death.
- Windshear – Ranged interrupt, 12 second cooldown.
- Purge – Removes 1 magical buff from the target.
- Hex/Bind Elemental – CC abilities for humanoids, beasts, and elementals.
- Purify Spirit – 8 second cooldown upon a successful magic or curse cleanse.
- Stormlash Totem (Air) – Nature damage bonus CD for raid members within 30 yards, 5 minute cooldown.
- Capacitor Totem (Air) – AoE stun to targets within 8 yards after a 5 second delay, 45 second cooldown.
- Tremor Totem (Earth) – Removes debilitating effects (ie. fear) on raid members within 30 yards, can be cast while affected, 1 minute cooldown.
- Grounding Totem (Air) – Absorbs one harmful spell, 25 second cooldown.
- Earthbind Totem (Earth) – Slows movement of enemies within 10 yards for 20 seconds, 30 second cooldown.
- Fire Elemental Totem (Fire) – Summons a DPS pet the assists the Shaman for 1 minute, 5 minute cooldown.
- Earth Elemental Totem (Earth) – Summons a taunting pet the assists the Shaman for 1 minute, 5 minute cooldown.
These are my current talents.
- (15) Stone Bulwark Totem (Earth) – Personal damage reduction cooldown, places absorption bubbles on the Shaman, 1 minute cooldown.
- (30) Windwalk Totem (Air) – Removes movement impairing effects on raid members within 40 yards, 1 minute cooldown.
- (45) Totemic Restoration – A passive that reduces totem cooldowns when they are destroyed or retracted.
- (60) Ancestral Swiftness – Makes the Shaman’s next cast instant, 1 minute cooldown, also grants a passive 5% haste buff.
- (75) Healing Tide Totem (Water) – See Cooldowns.
- (90) Unleashed Fury – A passive that increases the effectiveness of the Unleash Elements bonus by 50%.
The Resto Shaman mastery ability is Deep Healing. This increases the effectiveness of the Shaman’s heals the lower the health of the target. So when the raid is all nearly topped off, the Resto Shaman is at its least efficient. Due to this mastery, Shaman are increasingly powerful during progression, high damage periods, and “gimmicky” fights where the raid is kept at low health (ie. Chimeron).
I will not get into our mastery too much here, because if you would like a more comprehensive look, Vixen does a great job here.
How I 25man
Now that you know all the abilities I have as a Resto Shaman, now to explain how I use them during a raid encounter. I mainly raid 25man, and so this is assuming that environment. Though, my usage does not change too much in 10man.
My Shaman Healing Style
Because of the way the Shaman toolkit is setup, I have always seen myself as a melee-focused raid/AoE healer. Healing Rain, Chain Heal and the limited range of my totems all complement this particular style.
With the current raiding tier, however, I am finding a lot less chances for the raid to stack. In some cases, even the melee are spread out. So even though I still try and make my focus the melee, it seems more haphazard with the current tier’s encounters. I find myself more and more relying on my single-target abilities, because they are more mana efficient, especially when everyone is spread out.
Had I been asked in Wrath or Cata whether I were comfortable as a tank healer, I would have had low confidence in my throughput in that regard. Now, however, it seems Resto Shaman are very capable single-target healers, and more mana efficient in that healing style. The Shaman toolkit works well with this assignment – with a combination of Earth Shield and its bonuses, as well as the efficiency of our single-target heals paired with the Tidal Waves buff.
All in all, I still feel my biggest strength is melee healing. Whenever I can manage it – which also seems haphazard this tier – I prefer to be standing with the melee, in the shadow of the boss. I prefer my healing focus to be them, with my totems and Healing Rain and Chain Heals. Even my cooldowns cater best to a clump of melee.
I have a few healing combinations that I use during a raid. I like to affectionately refer to them as “rotations” though this is mostly tongue in cheek, and they are more flexible than a DPS rotation.
A few items to note:
- As often as possible, my healing skills are used and/or chained off my Earth Shield target.
- Healing Wave is my go-to heal. Greater Healing Wave is substituted if I need a bigger heal. Healing Surge is substituted if I need a faster heal.
- Single-Target - Riptide > Unleash Elements > Healing Wave > Healing Wave
- AoE - Healing Rain > Unleash Elements > Chain Heal > Healing Wave > Healing Wave
- Healing Stream Totem - On cooldown, whether stacked or spread out
- Healing Rain - On cooldown, during stacked phases
- Tidal Waves - Maintain as much as possible
- Earth Shield - Maintain as much as possible (I aim for refreshing it at 2-3 remaining charges of 9)
- Purify Spirit - As necessary, and as capable, as well as according to the decisions of the raid leaders based on fight mechanics (ie. one healer per group on Elegon)
- Ascendance - Honestly, I tend to use Ascendance most when I am on fumes, to spam Healing Wave. This way, my heals are being spread as much as possible on the wee bit of mana I have remaining. A well placed Healing Rain and a smattering of Healing Waves work well too. Ideally, Ascendance is best for increasing throughput on stacked phases, paired with Healing Rain and Chain Heal, but as I have previously lamented there are fewer stacked phases this tier then my toolkit would prefer.
- Spirit Link Totem - I use this during high damage, stacked phases. It is a great complement to Healing Rain and some Chain Heals. I also use Healing Stream Totem with this as much as possible. Nearly useless on spread out fights such as Will of the Emperor and Garalon, due to its limited range.
- Healing Tide Totem - I use this for high damage, spread out phases. It is also a good “Oh crap!” button, as it smart heals low targets that might slip through otherwise. Still works great for stacked phases too.
Because of the elemental spread of totems, were the situation to really require it, I could use all three of these cooldowns at the same time, plus Healing Rain and Chain Heals. This would push some great numbers, but would certainly be huge overkill. I prefer to spread their use as much as possible. Each has a 3 minute cooldown, so if both the flow of the fight and stacking cooperate, I can stagger them each once per minute.
Non-Healy Things I Manage
- Mana Tide Totem - Within the first couple minutes of an encounter, preferably before I hit my ½ way empty mark, I drop my first MTT. Then, I try and use it on cooldown for the remainder of the fight. Because this is a Water totem, I have to be very careful staggering this with HST and HTT.
- Stormlash Totem - I am still getting used to this totem and maximizing its useage. The best place I feel to drop it is a right after Heroism, but with a 5 minute cooldown, a second place in fights is usually necessary. That second place is what I am still hashing out.
- Heroism - It is my preference for a DPS to cast this, as usually during the final hurrah of an encounter, I am being very miserly about my mana, but I am serious about my job of casting Heroism with pride and making good use of it while it is up.
I also try to become familiar with other aspects of a fight where I can assist with my various utilities and totems. Put most simply, Tremor Totem for fears, Earthbind Totem for adds that need to be slowed, as well as interrupts, stuns, and CC’s as I can make myself useful.
As a Resto Shaman, I focus on the melee of the raid as best I can, keeping a primary focus on the main tank/my Earth Shield target. I switch between AoE and single-target healing as the fight demands. I cleanse as I can, and as determined by the fight and raid leaders. I use my cooldowns as necessary, or as called for, attempting to stagger them so something is available when I need it, while keeping in mind that some are useful for stacking and others when the raid is spread out. I use my various utility abilities as necessary to best assist the raid.
I imagine this may be more in-depth than the exercise was looking for, but I am nothing if not thorough, eh? Besides, I have rightly been accused of being long winded once or twice. I just hope this covers the original intent of what was asked of me.
Can you think of any other items your raid members might need to need to know about raiding with a Resto Shaman?