Three years ago if you had mentioned to anyone you were going to level as a healing spec, they would have scoffed at you and called you ambitious or question your sanity. It was not a very common occurrence and if someone mentioned that was how they leveled, it was often asked how long it took. Two years ago it was slightly more common to see people leveling as a healing spec. With the amount of quests and gear available for each dungeon in Burning Crusade, healers were in hot demand to go forth with a heroic party and clear these zones out. Leveling was still slow going when compared to DPS, but you could do it. When Wrath of the Lich King came out things were a lot easier for healers than in previous content if they decided to level in their healing spec, but it was still slower than if you were a DPS spec. Instances still were healer friendly, but while questing there were several NPC that you just couldn't kill without being DPS. Now things have changed and it is easier than ever to level as a healer!
At the end of Burning Crusade, we saw magical damage and healing evolve into spell power. At the time a lot of healers were upset at the change, but when WotLK was released, we began to understand why. Hybrids especially felt the ease of going into Northrend when you get your first kill quests and just pulling out the damage spells without ever changing specs. The mobs died, quests were completed and you were able to carry on at a relatively healthy pace. While you might not have kept pace with pure DPS classes, but you did not have to ask for help with quests and elites as often as you did in BC. With wrath came even more dungeons and more quests to go along with those dungeons, as a healer it was very possible to sit in trade chat in a city, or outside of any instance you wanted to run and advertise your services. Getting a dungeon group became even easier than before.
There are some things you need to know if you plan on leveling as a restoration shaman.
This is the staple mechanic of most games involving leveling, you should expect to spend at least a little time questing. Whether it is shooting boars with lightning or running messages between NPCs, a lot of good rewards and experience can be gained by questing. While you will mostly be doing the same quests as almost everyone else, shaman have some quests that you should invest a little time in completing. Da Voodoo is one of those quests every shaman whether alliance or horde should take some time and complete.
The quest is the third step in a three part chain beginning with Elemental Mastery. The quest starts with your shaman trainer at level 50 and it asks you to bring a sample of each element to Bath'rah the Windwatcher in Alterac Mountains. Collecting one of each element is easy enough and can be done by making a route of the circles of bindings in Arathi Highlands. After collecting a sample of all four elements, the troll shaman then asks you to bring him the reagents necessary to make a Spirit Totem. This is a kill quest and will lead you to the Western Plaguelands in order to find the necessary mobs. After obtaining the bear claws and spider eyes you return to the old shaman to begin Da Voodoo. The quest tasks you with going into the Sunken Temple to kill the six mini bosses and taking their feathers. After completing the task and gathering all the feathers you head back to the troll shaman for your reward. You have a choice of three items from this quest. Gloves, a staff or a trinket. If you plan on leveling as restoration the Enamored Water Spirit is worth it's weight in gold. Mana regen and downtime is always a concern, and this trinket will help with your mana regen while leveling quite a bit. To put it in perspective, Mana Spring, Rank 4 (level 56): 300 mana over 60 seconds, no cooldown, this trinket: 324 mana over 24 seconds, 3-minute cooldown. It does consume a trinket slot and when you use the item it will count as your water totem, but the benefit is noticeable especially when healing instances at lower levels. The trinket can see use well into your 70s.
Use the Looking for Dungeon tool
The addition of this tool into the game was one of the most encouraging changes for a player wanting to level as restoration. The system itself can be used starting at level 15 and will pair you up with a group for instances appropriate for your level. This makes it very easy for you to experience the various instances and to begin to get a feel for what it is to be a healer. When you enter the queue as a healer even as a lower level character, you wont have to wait too long before a group is found for you and you are whisked away. The tool helps you out in a few ways. First it provides an environment for you to learn your role as a healer. While at lower levels this will be less dynamic as your healing spells will be limited, it gives you time to learn each new healing tool as you receive it. Second it provides you with bonus experience. Not only do you get the benefit of an instance full of experience, but it gives you a nice bonus when the zone is successfully completed. Third If you grind instances, you will actually be well geared since the instances contain a lot good loot for your level. To help and speed up your leveling, get the quests associated with the instances of your level. This will add to your experience, gold and gear. The tool also provides you bonus gear. After a successful group you will receive a Satchel of Helpful Goods. The contents of the bag constantly shift as you level but it can provide everything from cloaks and armor to trinkets and rings, each a blue quality item with random stats and enchantments. While it might not always be ideal for your class, often times it will be a nice upgrade for a little while. If it is not useful to you, the items can be sold to a vendor for some easy gold which is always welcome.
From level 1 all they way to level 80 you should expect downtime. Whether you are questing or using the dungeon finder you are going to spend a lot of time sitting and drinking. The truth is even with talents a lot of our spells are not as mana efficient as some of your healing companions, and as a result early levels as a resto shaman will find you bleeding mana. Make sure you always have a at least a full stack of water of the appropriate level and restock whenever you are at an inn or town. You should also keep stacks of mana potions of the appropriate level in stock, especially if you plan on running instances as a healer. This goes a long way to help keep you in the thick of battle and earning experience rather than sitting and waiting for your blue bar to fill back up. This is especially true of the lower levels where your healing spells are very limited. As you gain levels though, mana efficiency will begin to improve and you will notice a steady decline in your downtime.
Use all of your tools
At level 1 you start the game with Lightning Bolt and Healing Wave, one damage spell and one healing spell much like any other healer. Unlike other healers though you have some unique tricks to help you while you level. Totems present some interesting solutions to some questing situations, for example Stoneclaw Totem. This totem is largely forgotten in the end game, but while leveling this little gem can make life so much easier. Rank 1 of the totem is obtained at level 8, and can be used very effectively as a shaman version of a smoke bomb. If you find yourself in a situation where you may need to run away, or if you need something to stop hitting you for a few seconds to cast a heal on yourself or to get that last cast of lightning bolt to kill the mob, this totem can buy you those precious seconds to get the job done. Your totems allow you a certain versatility while leveling that other classes do not have. It is easy to forget about them while leveling but you should try to use them as much as possible. As you level pay attention to the new spells and abilities you gain. You will find as a hybrid you can do more than just heal even if that is what you want to do. Searing Totem can be just as useful in a group as it is when soloing, don't be afraid to use it. Same goes for Lightning Bolt, if healing is light in the group feel free to toss some lightning to help DPS. Remember you have access to various resist totems as well and be ready to keep them on hand. You would be shocked at how helpful they can be in some of dungeons while leveling or when dealing with some quest mobs. You have a lot of unique tools in your belt, take time to get acquainted with them and be sure to use them all on your journey to 80
Show your totemic mastery by reading Totem Talk, whether reading Mike Sacco's Elemental edition, Joe Perez's coverage of Restoration or Rich Maloy's Enhancement edition, we have you covered.