Spiritual Guidance: Everything you ever wanted to know about raid healing at level 80

Matt Low
M. Low|10.06.08

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Spiritual Guidance: Everything you ever wanted to know about raid healing at level 80

Every Sunday (usually), Spiritual Guidance will offer practical insight for priests of the holy profession. Your host is Matt Low, the grand poobah of World of Matticus and a founder of PlusHeal, a new healing community for all restorative classes. This week Matticus offers his opinion and experience on raid healing at level 80. Find out about how Matt manages his mana, his take on whether Priests really are "useless", skills needed to thrive, and just how hard it is to heal tanks.

When I write blog posts about Priests, I don't like to rely on speculation. I am certain there are many Priests (other healers even) who want to know what the next age of Wrath healing will look like. I am not a Shaman, a Paladin, or a Druid; therefore, I cannot speak from their perspectives but I have seen them in action. I am not a theorycrafter. I can't break everything down into numbers for you. There have been a few blue posts asking for healer feedback and maybe this post can offer some insight.

That being said, this post is drawn from my experiences as a healer in both normal (10 man) and heroic (25 man) versions of Naxxramas and Obsidian Sanctum. I won't tell you what I think should get nerfed or buffed; I will, however, tell you how I coped with the challenges that the expansion brought forth.

Mana Regeneration

Regeneration will continue to be a cause for concern for many players. Without mana, Priests are stuck in the water and unable to perform the spells necessary to do the job. The fundamentals of the game have changed. We can't downrank or chain pot anymore.

But what we've lost in game mechanics, we've gained in other areas. A number of talents have been added to help alleviate mana concerns. Surge of Light, Serendipity, and Improved Holy Concentration (that's almost 50%!) will play a big part. Discipline staples Inner Focus and Meditation will continue to be important in the mana regen department.

All of the aforementioned talents look good in theory, but how well do they work in practice? I've always been skeptical about the extremity of changes. I'd rather apply them myself instead of discussing and theory crafting repeatedly. Lab results almost never turn out the way you want them to under live conditions. If a regen nerf hits, I'll accept it if I feel encounters are tuned for it or if I can still perform. You can see my actual stats later on in this post. I had a little over 550 mana regeneration going in.

After raiding at 80 for nearly two weeks, I can say that Priests won't run into severe mana problems as long as mana is managed properly. On the other hand, I did start running out of mana towards the tail end of various encounters. Sometimes I'd deliberately tax myself and other times I'd ease off the pedal a bit. I tried to simulate as many scenarios as possible.


In the 10's, a healer would die. Sometimes 2 healers would drop leaving me to sustain the main tank and the raid. Unfortunately, I couldn't live long enough (or the DPS wasn't hitting hard enough) and consequently we would wipe. We're not expected to carry everyone on our back.

In the 25's, I didn't have to simulate panic situations. 2 Paladins healing the main tank would die. A Shaman would DC. A Resto Druid would get pissed and hearth (OK, I made that one up). Half the raid would die because they couldn't dance to Heigan. I was the sole surviving healer with 13 players up. I had to keep the MT alive and remove diseases. I lost 3 more players because I couldn't get rid of all of the diseases, and I had to make snap decisions about who would live and who would die (the melee). I had to play executioner on a boss I wasn't familiar with while keeping the MT up at the same time and simultaneously fending off tells begging me for cleanses. When the tank was low, I hit him with a Guardian Spirit and prayed for him to die so I could use that time to cleanse extra DPS for what little fire power remained. It was ugly, but we did it. I can see why the Safety Dance is considered an achievement.


Let's talk about roles. I've seen a lot of talk from players that were dreading that Priests would become obsolete. I don't buy it one bit. I'll make a wager right now that there will be at least 2 Priests in every Heroic Naxxramas raid. Old school players that have engaged Instructor Razuvious and Grand Widow Faerlina will understand why (both bosses require Mind Control). The Priests don't have to be Holy, but their presence will be needed.

As usual, though, healing roles will entirely be determined by the individual players, as raid spots are now determined by performance, not class. My guild cleared most of Serpentshrine Cavern and Tempest Keep without the services of a Resto Druid.

The raid structure of Wrath is built in such a way that if your raid group is missing a particular class or spec, you won't be left with an arm wrenching handicap. It makes encounters possible and accessible. If guilds don't have a certain class due to a server shortage, it ensures that progression does not come to a grinding halt.

Priests bring a lot to the table as a class, but it is up to the players to make themselves useful additions to a raid. The emphasis should be on healers making themselves indispensable in as many situations as possible.


Being on top of your game require good decision making. A good decision separates a touch down from an intercept. A good decision separates a goal from a penalty. A good decision separates a boss kill from a 1% wipe.

The healer thought process of evaluate, prioritize, and take action has not changed at level 80. Whoever quarterbacks your healers will continue to use the same skills. Whack a mole is still going to be prevalent. The current forum atmosphere is that every healing class seems to hate their own changes but are envious of the others. I really don't think we're going to see a healer shortage. In fact, I daresay we'll all be equally wanted!

If a healer dies, have confidence knowing you can plug a different healer in there to fulfill a role. If my Priest dies, I know I can count on the single target, bomb healing Paladin to switch off their assignment and sustain the raid between Beacon of Light and a Glyph of Holy Light. They might not be the prime choice for group healing, but it will buy the raid group more time for the remaining 25% on a boss.

Healer coordination is going to have to step up! When I did Patchwerk, I learned early on that I couldn't use my Hymn of Hope stealthily. Expect to set up mana regen rotations in stone or on the fly. Hymn neutralizes you for 8 seconds while it is activated. To most healers, 8 seconds is an eternity. Let your other healers know that you're activating your Hymn so that they can start pouring on more heals. In fact, you may even have to set up with Paladins using Divine Plea to ensure healing effectiveness doesn't become too handicapped. I even took the extra step of activating Guardian Spirit to increase heal strength while locked out. Be vocal!

Stopcasting, which I'll see covered in a future Skill Mastery, is going to be in the first chapter of Raid Healing 101. Right now, we can get away with letting small heals go through on topped tanks and not suffer a major hit on mana. We can't do that anymore. We've grown complacent in our mana management.

In terms of spell usage, I found myself using Flash Heal slightly more often than normal. Greater Heal is still the main healing spell I use. But between Glyph of Flash Heal and Surge of Light, I had more of a reason to Flash Heal. I predict we might seeing it used more to keep tanks at full health. We don't have the option of using a Rank 1 Greater Heal. Its either a max rank Flash Heal or a max rank Greater Heal and Flash Heal costs less than its big brother counterpart. But aside from that, we're still going to be using the same assortment of spells that we use right now. You can debate one spell works against the other pound for pound. But when it comes down to it, they're still being used.
  • Shamans are still Chain Healing
  • Paladins are still Holy Light bombing
  • Priests are still Circle of Healing
  • Druids are still HoTing

Presently my Priest is wearing a hybrid of PvP blues and level 200 and 213 epics (Normal Naxx and Heroic respectively). The homogenization of gear means we'll be going head to head with our caster brothers and sisters for loot. It will be tough initially for Priests to figure out when to roll and when to pass (Hint: If it has +hit, pass on the item).

While you may argue that gear does not equal skill, I'm sure we can agree that gear can play a big factor in determining he raid content players are ready for. Tanks need a certain amount of health, mitigation and defense in order to be effective. Priests need a certain amount of Spellpower and mana regen to do their job. Naxx will be way more accessible to players who hit level 80 than Karazhan was to players who hit level 70.

This is a quick screenshot of my beta character at a glance. Keep in mind these numbers after full raid buffs have been applied. Note the regen and Spellpower. I'm sporting half PvP blues and half PvE epics. My character is not completely optimized for raiding. I think if you average the gear I'm wearing, this is what an entry level raiding Priest would look like going in (assuming PvE blues and crafted epics). If resilience is written off, I predict my mana regen and Spellpower would be a little higher. 1920 Spellpower is approximately 3450 +Healing.

I entered Naxx with a little over 550 mana regen (PvP gear). By comparison, an almost fully PvE geared Resto Druid had over 1400 mana regen.

Almost all cloth gear is going to have Crit on it. Like it or not, spell crit is going to play a big factor. In addition to triggering Inspiration, it could activate Surge of Light and Holy Concentration. Not only that, having a heal crit a player could activate Serendipity while a normal heal may not pack enough to activate the mana return effect. Let's not forget about Divine Aegis. And yes, I only took 4 points in Holy Specialization.

Tank healing

Tanks, you will be happy to know that I have no problems healing any of you at all. Sure some of you are a little easier to keep up but its nothing I can't handle. Someone posted a question on my Twitter polling whether or not Warriors or Paladins were preferred. I opted for Paladins because of their Blessings. I noticed bears had more health compared to the other 3 tanks. This was offset by the fact that I felt they took slightly more damage. I played with double Warriors, a Paladin and a Warrior, a Death Knight and a Bear among other combinations. While tanks themselves may individually feel different about their own classes, from a healer perspective it was all the same to me.

I solicited a few questions from my blog readers and the Plusheal community. I'll try to answer a few things that weren't addressed earlier.

Do you see any of the new priest spells or talents coming in and making a big, visible splash the way that Circle of Healing did? (reaction started off slow, but quickly became class-defining). Or will our gameplay be just a refinement of the priestly goodness? - Gow

No. We don't have a lot of new toys to work with. Our arsenal just received upgrades. Personally I view that as an advantage as I can focus more time on learning raid encounters instead of fretting over my ability to use new skills and spells as they were intended. Only time (and theorycrafters) can tell.

Does Circle of Healing have a 6 second cooldown? - Nöra

Nope, there is no cooldown as of the latest build.

Due to changes to Prayer of Mending's threat, will we have to stop precasting it on tanks before a fight? - Malva

I'm still casting PoM before tanks engage. The threat change isn't that big of an issue. As insurance, I fade just before the spell activates.

Do the changes in Lightwell remove the user failure component, thus making it a viable spell?

Lightwell did get buffed to warrant a closer look. I know there have been a few Priests in my pug raids that have used it. However it still involves raider awareness in order to make use of it. If you have multiple Priests, considering having another Priest pick it up (as long as it isn't Matticus).

When I started running 10 man raids, I had an Improved Divine Spirit spec. When I started doing 25s, Circle of Healing made better sense. Are the specs pretty much the same in Wrath whether you are doing 10s and 25s? - Jenna

This is a tough question for me to answer because I've only done the entry level raids. Specs may change at any point depending on progression. I'm going to hesitantly say yes. If you spec for AoE healing, you'll do the job admirably in 10 or 25. If you go deep Discipline and focus on single target healing, you'll do well at that in either raid format. Parallel progression is the main concept.

Is Discipline really as useful as it looks - and does it provide the utility that current Discipline Priests really enjoy? How does a solid Discipline spec stack up agiainst Holy in terms of handling a 5 man instance? In raid situations? - Anna

This is going to depend on the encounter and group make up in question. I've played Discipline and Holy a few times in various 5 mans (CoT: Strat is awesome). I found no noticeable difference in performance but I had to adjust my style slightly. Mileage may vary depending on player experience, game smarts, and gear. I can't say the same thing about raiding. I'm not as confident about Disc because I haven't had the opportunity to test it as rigorously as I like. I can say that that I've played with Disc Priests in a raid and I felt that they held their own. Discipline as its own ways of managing mana and is a different style altogether. There is a lot more emphasis on Power Word: Shield. Casting it means your heals have a higher chance of critting and making your next spell land 25% faster (which is great if your tank needs a heal right the heck now).

Is there really more "raid damage" in Wrath of the Lich King 5 man instances than in Burning Crusade? Will healers who focus on single target healing be at a disadvantage? - Barona

I confess. I haven't played all of the 5 man's. From the ones I did participate in, I'll say it's about on par with BC instances. Players specced for AoE healing will have a decided edge on AoE fights than a single target healer. It doesn't mean it is impossible. These instances are challenging enough for healers but easy enough for them to get through it after working up a bit of sweat no matter what spec they are.

Do the changes to racials affect effective healing? - Euripedes

I have not found the change to be significant. Actually I didn't notice a difference. I didn't pick up Desperate Prayer. There are times when I reflexively pressed a key to activate it only to realize that I never specced into it.

Of course, changes will be made before this goes to live servers - and some of them could render this entire column obsolete. Does that change my opinions about the priest class, or healing as a whole, come Wrath? Nah. So don't be discouraged about Priests or about healing. I was able to fully clear Heroic Naxx after 7 hours in my first night there. Granted there might be legitimate healing problems I didn't catch; no matter what they say, I'm not Super Matticus of Balance Detection (though that might be a cool super power, at least on weekends). Overall, though, I'm happy with what I've seen so far. Because of the versatility of healing and raid make-up, what works in one raid might not work in another - just as it's always been. Welcome to World of Warcraft!

Further reading

Want to find more great tips for carrying out your Priestly duties? Spiritual Guidance has you covered with all there is to know!And don't forget to check the WoW Insider Directory for more priestly info!
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