The right foundation
So what can you do? First, let's look at your spec. Hey, those survival talents? You need them. Your healing numbers take a notable hit when you're dead. Go to Blizzard's list of the top Arena teams and find the top-rated member of your class and spec. Look to see what gear they logged out in. Click through to their spec (active if they logged in PvP gear, inactive if not). Steal it, glyphs and all. Sure, it might not be perfect, but it will probably be an improvement for now.
Second, let's check your gear. While you're leveling, you can heal and do Battlegrounds without too much bother in whatever gear you can get your paws on. At max level, that changes dramatically, and resilience is king. How do you get that gear?
If your PvE gearing for your max-level character is at the stage where justice points are just annoying blue things, swap them for honor. The exchange rate isn't brilliant, but it'll do. Buy as many of the crafted pieces on the Auction House as you can afford, and look for the pieces that offer you the biggest upgrade in resilience for the amount of gold or honor you have available. With more resilience, you'll die less and heal more, and get more honor.
Don't replace PvP gear with better PvP gear until you're not wearing any PvE gear. There are exceptions to this, but it's a good general rule. If you're leveling right now, I'd recommend not buying any PvP gear just yet, unless you're making a twink. Save that honor for when you need it.
Very importantly, if you're not a human (or to a lesser extent an undead, or to an even lesser extent a gnome), you need a trinket that frees you from CC. This is referred to in PvP simply as a trinket, as in "don't trinket that sap" or "use your trinket." Humans have Every Man For Himself, and undead have Will of the Forsaken, which isn't quite as good. Gnomes have Escape Artist, which is even worse. If you're human, you don't need a trinket; in my opinion, undead and gnomes still do.
Lastly, have a little look in your spellbook. There may well be some tricks hanging around in there that you forgot you ever had, simply because there's not really any call for them in PvE. Have a look, have a think, pop them on your action bars and try them out.
Right. You've taken all my advice, and you're all shiny and ready to go. You arrive in the Battleground. Now what?!
Your first priority is to mark yourself as a healer as soon as you get into that waiting room. Right-click your portrait or your party frame and go to Select Role. Click Healer. This will probably make absolutely zero difference, but on a few occasions it's caused people to help me out when I'm under attack, and it's an easy step to take. It may also inspire other healers to do the same, and if you've been (un)fortunate enough to end up in Alterac Valley, the tanks will probably mark themselves too, which is useful, seeing as it's essentially PvE and all.
Your second and far greater priority is to move with a group. This is really, really, really important, far more so for a healer than for anyone else. If you get caught out alone with a DPSer, you're most likely not going to be able to kill them. Your only option is to keep yourself alive long enough to get to your teammates, who might kill that pesky rogue for you if you're lucky. If you move with a group, you can keep them alive as best you can and they might return the favor, even if it's accidental.
On this note, try joining Battlegrounds with friends, especially if you have some with PvP gear and skill. Most PvPers will rather like having a healer follow them around, and they'll feel at least a little dedicated to keeping you alive!
Survival of the fittest
You will get separated from the group eventually, and while you're not likely to make it through being ambushed by five players, you may well survive a smaller onslaught. Think about your survival spells. If your attackers are melee players, anything that creates a gap between you and them is a survival spell. If they're casters, anything that interrupts or silences them is a survival spell. Anything that decreases your damage taken or increases your movement speed is a survival spell. Anything that slows attack speed is a survival spell. And, obviously, heals are survival spells, so anything that allows you to cast your heals more easily or quickly is a survival spell.
So that's most of your spellbook, am I right? Spot on. This is why PvP healing will make you a better PvE healer, once you get into the swing of both. (An excess of PvP healing in 4.2 temporarily made me a dreadful PvE healer in 4.3.) PvP healing makes you use all your abilities, including those utility ones that you'd forgotten about. The only spells I wouldn't include under survival spells in this situation are mana regeneration spells -- you'll run out of health far faster than you'll run out of mana if it's just you who needs heals.
But how to prioritize your survival spells? Unfortunately, you can't spam your entire spellbook at once. The priority is very, very situational. This is what makes PvP so hard to master -- the lack of predictable situations and straightforward solutions. But I'll have a stab at some general rules.
Under Attack: A shaman scenario
If you're at full or reasonable health, prioritize getting away.
Instant-cast heals are your friends. Cast them while executing general rule #1.
If you're not at full health or general rules #1 and #2 aren't working out, prioritize spells that allow you to cast heals faster with less pushback or let you cast bigger heals.
Try to save big cooldowns for when you really need them.
Once you're at full or reasonable health, refer to #1.
Here's an example for a shaman
, the healing
class I know best. Let's set the scene: I'm all by myself in a Battleground, admiring something shiny or trying to take screenshots for headers for a certain column
Oh no! I'm sapped
; this is bad news. Pesky, sneaky rogues ... mutter, mutter ... I won't use my trinket
for the sap because, inevitably, I'll get a longer CC put on me if I do. Hurrah! I'm out of the Sap, and the rogue's out of Stealth. Earth Shield
, Earthbind Totem
, Ghost Wolf
, run like the wind!
I didn't use any big cooldowns, and now I'm over here and he's over there. This is going to make it much harder for him to melee me. Oh, hold on -- there's a warrior with him now. I suspect I'm about to be ... yep, charged
. And now there's a far longer stun on me, so I'm going to trinket this.
They're doing a lot of damage and I have a lot of bleeds and poisons on me, so I'll pop my Stoneform
and a glyphed Stoneclaw Totem
. I'll use Nature's Swiftness
, macroed with Unleash Elements
, and then an instant Greater Healing Wave
. I'll drop a Totem of Tranquil Mind
if I feel it's needed and try to Hex
one of them, probably the rogue. By now, Earthbind totem is likely off cooldown, so I'll use another one of those, then use Spiritwalker's Grace
if I need it while I'm running away with Ghost Wolf. If that works, once I'm out of combat, I'll mount up and go find some bigger kids to hide behind!
(Of course, if you happen to be a paladin with engineering, pop your Nitro Boosts
, then your bubble
, and zoom away giggling. You'll get your comeuppance eventually ...)
The basic plan is only a plan
Now, the example above was obviously far more useful for shaman than for other classes, but if you have a look at the tooltips, you'll hopefully see how I'm following my general rules and you can think about how they apply to your class. I won't pretend that the above combination of abilities will definitely mean you don't die, and I would never say you should try to remember that sequence and blindly use it every time. I also wouldn't assert that that is even the best way to deal with rogues and warriors or even that it represents the sequence of spells I'd use every time I do!
For starters, it's not really a sequence. It's a set of responses to the situation, and learning the situation is key to the appropriate responses. For example, I didn't use Grounding Totem
because I know that very little that warriors and rogues will be doing is absorbed by that totem. I prioritized Stoneform because I know that these classes both have 25% healing received debuffs that are likely on me, and I didn't want to waste my one instant greater healing wave. I didn't dispel myself because I know I can't remove poisons.
So that all sounds rather complicated and daunting? Don't worry -- you'll learn by doing, so practice, practice, practice. The main thing I'm saying is try to bear these ideas in mind.
More on PvP healing will follow, so keep checking back.
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