Holy paladins are probably the most influential healers a raid team has because what they do for the raid is so important. That role is, of course, healing the tanks.
But don't think that a healadin's influence is just the result of what he does and not what he is; holy paladins heal the tanks because they're very good at it. They are designed for single target healing, and have been that way for a very long time. Currently, a paladin's bread and butter spell, Holy Light, is the strongest single target heal (not on a long cooldown) around. Paired up with Beacon of a Light and
you have to wonder why they think they can't raid heal you've got more single-target fire power than a disc priest can produce in twice the time, and that's counting the absorbs.
So here's the big question: do you really need a holy paladin to raid?
The answer is no.
That's not to say paladins are obsolete, though. It just means they, like every other class and spec, are not necessary to succeed. Sure, most top end guilds run one, two, or even three paladins in their rosters, but it doesn't mean you have to. Top guilds bring whatever gets the job done and use their extensive resources to stack the odds in their favor as much as possible. That doesn't really describe the majority of raid teams. It's much more common for a raid team to have to modify strats and work with what they have; this admirable quality shouldn't vanish on the night you've got no pally.
So, how do you compensate for a lack of 25k Holy Lights? Well, you can't just hodgepodge a group together and rush into a raid instance thoughtlessly. There is a certain degree of care and attention that must be taken to accommodate "alternative" raid compositions. I say alternative mostly because having a paladin healer is very much the norm and people are used to raiding in a situation where one is present. To succeed you simply have to recondition your raiders to play differently. Let's see what other healers can do.
With a paladin Typically, the primary focus of a shaman will be the raid, though she has the flexibility to juggle helping out on the raid and tanks at the same time. When a paladin is in the raid, a good shaman will generally contribute to the tank healing by keeping Earth Shield up on the tank. When raid damage is low, the shaman can use Riptide on the tank, then follow it up with a Chain Heal so it aids the surrounding melee. If a shaman keeps going back to heal the tank, she will also be maintaining a stack of the damage-reducing, Ancestral Healing buff.
Without a paladin When without your libram-wielding companions, shaman are incredibly well-equipped to focus their heals on a tank. First and foremost, keeping Earth Shield up on the tank doesn't change. But now instead of following up each Riptide with a Chain Heal, a shaman should instead take advantage of the Tidal Waves talents, which buff up the healing effects of Healing Wave and Lesser Healing Wave, in addition to providing one with a haste buff and the other with an increased chance to crit. Don't forget that all this focus also maintains Ancestral Healing as well. The biggest concern shaman will have is mana, since most of them are geared for Chain Heal. A shaman will need to have an alternative gear set with a healthy amount of MP5 to support their single target healing.
Priest (discipline and holy)
With a paladin Priests have two talent trees dedicated to healing. One is the infamous discipline spec, the other is the more well-thought of holy spec. When there is a paladin in the raid, both have some options to assist with healing the tanks. First, both specced priests proc Inspiration when they land a critical heal. (You cannot stack the buff from multiple priests, nor with the identical shaman buff, Ancestral Healing.) All priests can also throw Prayer of Mending to the tank, which will not only heal him, but usually the surrounding melee when there is raid damage. External tank cooldowns (Guardian Spirit for holy and Pain Suppression for disc) are also quite notable, but those would generally be used to help out on the tank regardless of what a priest is doing in a fight.
From there, what a priest does to assist a paladin healer in a normal raid group is largely dependent on the priest himself. A holy priest can, at the very least, keep a Renew up on the tank. He may also center his Circle of Healing on the tank if the melee DPS are in need of heals.
A disc priest, on the other hand, may vary. You see, discipline comes in two general varieties, bubble bot and stubborn tank healer. If you have a disc priest who fancies himself a tank healer, then you can expect him to already be constantly assisting the healadin by keeping up Power Word: Shield whenever the tank isn't afflicted with Weakened Soul, and spamming single-target heals. If, on the other hand, you have a disc priest who is immersed in the wild, wonderful world of bubbles (you can usually pick them by their biting sarcasm) then the contribution may only take on the form of an occasional shield. That's not to say the disc priest can't do more, but to stop and spot heal regularly will ultimately keep a disc priest from their job as a shield spammer.
Without a paladin If you're sans paladin, a disc priest should naturally have no problem taking over, provided the raid continues to assist on tanks the way they do when a paladin is healing. The disc priest is most effective when healing a single target (as opposed to jumping between two) since the focus allows him to stack up Grace, and extra shields from Divine Aegis from his heals. A priest on tank healing duty will cast lots of Flash Heals, Penance, and even Greater Heal, but through them Divine Aegis will actually account for the most healing the priest does. So, the more they can throw down heals to one target, the better things will work out on that one tank.
For a holy priest, swapping to tank healing isn't as seamless as it is for disc. Sure, when you look over a holy priest you can see they're equipped with great talents like Serendipity (decreases the cast time of Greater Heal after casting Flash Heal) and Surge of Light (gifts an instant cast Flash Heal), but a lack of tools is not the problem. Much like shaman, holy priests require a different set of gear that pumps up crit and regen (through spirit and Holy Concentration) to manage the strain of tank healing. Without the gear, healing becomes incredibly strenuous on mana and responding to burst will always be difficult (even with gear), especially if you're at the wrong point in your Serendipity rotation. The crit will help soften that shortcoming though.
With a paladin Like the previous two AoE healers I've discussed, druids also typically stay focused on the raid. Druid HoTs aren't limited to the raid though, and a good druid can keep a Rejuvenation and a stack of Lifebloom up on the tank most of the time. If a tank needs a little extra attention, Swiftmend provides a great response to burst. Regrowth is also a strong, fast heal plus HoT to cash in on, provided the druid using it knows not to run herself OOM.
Without a paladin Druids are actually very notable tank healers, in my opinion, but it seems like they prefer to keep that hush hush. I suspect it has something to do with Nourish. From a priest's perspective, Nourish is a cheaper, cooler Flash Heal with an amazing glyph. To our leafy friends however, Nourish is some sort of taboo subject matter, crossed between Garrosh Hellscream and Sparkle Pony genocide. Every druid I know hates it; I don't know why. Supposedly it has something to do with killing druid mobility and breaking up the fluidity of the work flow, but I could be misinformed. Anyway, despite protest, you can still stick a druid on a tank and their mana should be fine. Usually the HoTs stagger nicely that they don't need a lot of back up except on fights with big, bursty tank damage. So, just like when the other healing classes are up to bat at tank healing (I once knew a tank named Wrigley) druids shouldn't be left alone to heal unassisted.
Thing to consider
Finally, if you do decide to employ a non-paladin as a tank healer, you'll need to consider a few things. Some of this I'm reiterating in hopes that it will sink in better.
- You can't just play the same way you do as when there is a paladin around. You have to play to your strengths. This is especially true in 10-man raids. Obviously shaman, druids, and holy priests all bring a lot to raid healing, but given the situation you'll just need to adapt. Before each pull, sort out your healing assignments based on the needs of the fight. For example, if raid members must spread out a lot, it will make more sense for a shaman to be on the tanks, since her AoE works best when targets are grouped closely together.
- Help each other out. This should seem obvious from the rest of the article, but I'm going to mention a weird phenomenon I see on occasion. For whatever reason, some healers become very indignant when they have to break from their traditional raid job because there is no paladin is present. They'll all scream that the sky is falling, and protest any compromise by withholding healing assistance to whatever poor soul is assigned to the tank -- even if they're normally happy to back up a paladin on the same job. I don't understand why this happens so consider this is a friendly reminder (*cracks knuckles*) to not do it. The sky is where it always was, folks.
- Be prepared to spam and overheal. Ever watch how paladin's heal? It's one spell after another. You'll need to do the same thing, and pop your mana return cooldowns at the right times to insure you don't go OOM. Coordinate with your other healers to see if you can line up things like Hymn of Hope or Mana Tide Totem.
- Be patient and polite. Non-healing raiders especially are going to get impatient if you wipe to heals when there isn't a paladin around. Keep it together, communicate in a civil manner with fellow healers and raiders; try to problem solve the issue. When in doubt, swap roles or redistribute the healing jobs.
- Think outside the box. As I said earlier, the status quo of healing is to have a paladin. When you don't have a paladin everything you typically do can change. Look to your other spells, talents, even different trinkets, flasks, or meta gems. If there is a deficiency somewhere, see what you can do to fill it.
- Don't be dismayed by the numbers. It's true that nothing can trump a paladin's pure HPS. For most of us, our biggest crits only heal for 1/3 to 1/2 of a normal Holy Light, but just because a paladin heals for that much, doesn't mean they use that much. The bulk of paladin healing is surplus and becomes overhealing. Tanks don't need those numbers to stay alive -- paladins need those numbers to keep tanks alive. They don't have as many spells available to them like other healers; they can't instantly manipulate the way a health pool is plummeting (read: do not BoP the tank) so they get raw numbers instead. Paladin's don't have Pain Suppression or Guardian Spirit. They don't have Nature's Swiftness with Healing Touch or Healing Wave.
- You don't need to be a paladin to heal a tank. Don't forget it.
So there you have it, all the things you need to know in order to respond to your paladin's hangov-- I mean ... his leave of absence to visit his sick mum. If you have any suggestions for your fellow readers, please hit up the comments.
Want some more advice for working with the healers in your guild? Raid Rx has you covered with all there is to know! Need raid or guild healing advice? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and you could see a future post addressing your question. Looking for less healer-centric raiding advice? Take a look at WoW.com's raiding column, Ready Check.