This week, I'm going to do my best to reconstruct the path I took from being a leveling player to an end game raiding healer.
I started out approaching group quests in an every-man-for-himself manner. I had no understanding nor appreciation of threat. In groups, we would all pool our kills and go after targets independently. After all, it was the most cost-effective method of questing. Eventually, my friends and I ran into "Elite" quests which required multiple people to complete.
It was through these elite quests that something clicked within me and I finally had a grasp of what I was supposed to do. We were out in Hillsbrad somewhere. My friend's warrior and my priest were out doing the thing that we did best: Wading through murloc corpse after corpse as we demolished the entire place. Eventually, we reached a point where we had unknowingly backed ourselves into a terrible spot. All the murlocs around us had respawned. To make matters worse, there were a few naga around that seemed to be inching closer. We tried to gradually clear a path back to Southshore but now we were getting overwhelmed. My friend already slapped on a shield. He did an ability which attracted the oversized fish (and saved me).
That's when I stopped trying to kill them and realized that the only way we would escape this is if I kept him alive and let him do the work instead. I did what any panicking, self-respecting priest would do. I targeted my warrior friend and slammed whatever healing spells I could to keep him alive. Renew, Heal, and whatever spells I had was used to keep him alive. It felt like a long time, but soon there was a pretty ring of murlocs and nagas that surrounded us.
Of course, we learned our lesson the first time and hoofed it back to the nearest Alliance town as soon as possible.
On a side note, it wasn't until very long after that I paired up with a mage and discovered the power of AoE grinding.
All these little adventures helped introduce me to the real basic idea of healing. If you can keep your party members alive, they can do the rest of the work for you.
The next stage in healing development is to run 5-man dungeons. The first instance where I had to heal full time was Gnomeregan. Deadmines and such weren't intense enough to the point where I had to focus explicitly on healing. I ended up DPSing half the time anyway.
Of all the instances though, Gnomeregan wasn't exactly my favourite. It taught me some extra valuable lessons. I had to actually pay attention to where I was standing especially with patrols and the like. Each pull was handled methodically one by one. We tried the blitz approach at one point but realized that there is a linear relationship between pull speed and healer mana.
There was enough damage being tossed around that warranted my full attention. At this stage, things like gearing and healing "rotations" are distant. You're struggling with keeping your party alive using every spell available. More often, the healing was going to be directed at a single person (usually the tank). But there would always be that person who was DPSing the wrong target.
Whoops, bad idea on their part.
I didn't let them die because I wanted to. I let those players die because I had to. I was too afraid to peel off the main tank and heal other players because I felt that if I did, the main tank would drop. As I kept running more and more dungeons, I grew more comfortable with multi-target healing. Concepts were picked up such as sneaking heals on other players. Dungeon healing didn't have all the different variables that "world healing" had (like opposing faction players). It certainly helped shape me to become a better healer.
The next logical step in healing would come at the end of the game. I had run Sunken Temple, Blackrock Depths, Stratholme and other such instances enough that I felt I could move on. When you're making the transition from 5 man to 20 or 40 man parties, you start developing a bit of a anxiety because now there's more people to be responsible for. Luckily, there would always be someone who established healing assignments. Instead of panicking and trying to take care of everyone, each healer was responsible for a certain amount of players.
As an aside, one of the best healing quests I did was when I was working on my Benediction quest. That's when I toggled on nameplates. It was a tense quest that challenged priests to prioritize heals and targets. If too many NPCs died on their way to the safe zone, it was game over.
Thinking back on it now, it would've been nice if there were more quests similar in nature to Benediction for healing priests. I wince whenever I hear of healers who have just finished leveling to max level and decide to start healing by jumping into raids. You have to walk before you run. What ends up happening is once they're exposed to healing at such a tedious level, new players become overwhelmed and shy away from it in the future.
So when is a good time to start healing?
The answer is anytime is a good time to start healing. The sooner you start, the sooner you develop simple healing skills. It doesn't matter if you're healing for other people in quests, healing in PvP, or healing in raids. You're going to be healing no matter what.
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 out our other Leveling Guides as well as our Wrath Guides and Galleries!