Rotation versus Reflex, Part 1
My catastrophic, and somewhat traumatic experience the other night on my Holy Pally was incredibly humbling. Normally in my 10 man Sunday night group, I'm running as shadow, which is something that previously I had never really done much in a raid. As someone who has ALWAYS raided solely as a healer, it has opened up an entirely new concept to me (don't you dare laugh, all you DPSers!) - the Rotation.

Sure, sure, I'd read about the theory behind it... making sure you have 5 stacks of shadowy thingie goodness, timing your Mind Flays with Mind Blast, etc etc etc... but knowing about it in theory, and performing it well in practice are two very different things (as my experience trying to heal as Disc has shown me!). Once I finally get my rotation down, however, I'm completely bored. The challenge is gone for me now, and I'm looking around for any emergencies that might require me to do a little backup healing...

But I digress. I really do have a point.

When I'm running holy, I'm johnny-on-the-spot. I am, by nature, a highly caffeinated, fidgety, jumpy person. I may not always have the most appropriate response to a stimulus, but respond I do - my reflexes are definitely there, sending limbs akimbo and random curse words spewing from my mouth. BUT AT LEAST I REACT QUICKLY. That's what's important, after all!

So therefore, I do well as a raid healer. There is very little rotation involved, and even with the small amount that Blizz has pushed on us through Serendipity, it's more of a nice bonus effect for something I would likely be casting anyway. Raid healing is generally more of a Reflex response.

Types of Damage and the Proper Response

There are many levels of predictability in raid healing, and they all require different amounts of preparation, and a different mix between rotation and reflex.

1) The Predictable Raid Wide Damage. E.G. XT's tantrum. You know when this damage will hit, and you know exactly whom it will hit. So for instance, for a Holy Priest, you can build up your Serendipity stacks beforehand to get a hasted Prayer of Healing off during the damage. Perhaps a Disc Priest will start pre-Bubbling people into safety before the inevitable tantrum.

2) Unpredictable Damage, Predictable Target. You might also simply call this spike damage on a tank. Think Patchwerk. You don't know the exact second the off tank will be hit with a Hateful Strike, but perhaps you know it will be the offtank who gets it, you know it will be happening often, and therefore you can just keep heals up on that target constantly. Usually, the best way to handle this type of thing is just steady healing, or keeping the potential target shielded, or buffered with HoTs. This isn't really that significantly different than the next type of damage, and they go hand in hand with one another...

3) Predictable Damage, Predictable Target. This is almost always the tank, and this is the damage that is healed best through rotation. The most optimal single target healers have solid, if somewhat more complex, healing rotations, and that is part of what makes MT Healing a bit more interesting than it might be otherwise. For instance, if you stick a Holy Priest on MT healing, they will spend most of their time working with the one rotation mechanic we have through Serendipity - Flash Healx3, Greater Heal. It's not that complex, but it is something - it is our only real rotation. But put a Pally Healer there, and there will be some funny business with a Sacred Shield and a judgment somewhere, some Flash of Light thingies... well you get the idea. (Obviously if I understood the rotation for Pallies better, I would not be so horrible at it)

4) Predictable Damage, Unpredictable Target. Think Slag Pot. Light bombs. Kologarn's fists. Frost Bombs. All of these mechanics are things you expect, but you cannot exactly prepare the target, because it could be anyone - so you simply have to respond quickly.

5) Unpredictable Damage, Unpredictable Target. Everyone screws up sometimes. Everyone steps in the fire on occasion (at least at first!). You can choose to ignore people who consistently do this, of course, but usually we just need to forgive and flash heal.

More than Simply Single Target and AoE Healing

Any time you have an unpredictable target for damage, powerful, reflexive single target healing is needed. You don't have to be an AoE healer to pick this up - and this is one of the reasons that so many Disc priests actually do well on raid healing. Their ability to respond quickly to bombs and fight mechanics makes them valuable to a raid, even if they aren't focusing on the tank. But, let's not forget that Pallies as well have one of the best single target burst heals available - Holy Shock is instant, with a reasonably short cooldown.

The idea that those who heal the Main Tank are just spam healing is not accurate. It is possible to simply spam, but from what I'm beginning to understand about the different healing classes, if you are spamming the tank, you are either not playing your class properly, or you are not really built to focus your heals on one target. A good Main Tank Healer weaves in their abilities through a solid rotation to make the most use out of their spells, talents, and cooldowns.

Raid Healers are built for reflex and rapid response. AoE heals are also important in raid healing of course, but I think sometimes we focus too much on the power of one or two spells, be it Wild Growth, Chain Heal, or Circle of Healing, and forget to note the synergy between our spells and talents. Main Tank healers need to know how to build a strong rotation, whereas raid healers need to know which abilities will work best in a split second situation, with an eye on cooldowns and procs. Both are challenging, but in different ways, in different scenarios, and for different people.
13 Responses
  1. Kayllnn Says:

    Rejuv combined with Swiftmend equals a very strong heal for an unexpected target taking unexpected damage, like those mages who love to stand in fire but don't think to use their fire ward. Hmmm...

    I am guessing every healer has this type of O Crap save the DPS but don't use my 3 min CD heal? For my shaman a riptide seems to do the job, to get them up enough to live through it while not bringing them to full health.

  2. @Kayllnn

    Yeah, I think so. Some have longer cooldowns than others, of course.

    Every healer has to have a little bit of everything, because you have to be able to make it through 5 man dungeons in which you are the only healer. But that doesn't mean that in a raid all healers perform every duty or assignment as well as every other healer.

  3. @kayllnn

    oh also... what is the resto druid spell that has a 3 minute cooldown?

  4. Zigi Says:

    @jess - Are you thinking of Nature's Swiftness?

  5. Kurnak Says:

    Healing is a reflex game, instinctive. DPS on the other hand is pure mechanical, hence the rotation. I was going to say 've never followed a rotation when healing, but that's not true. There're rotations that I've turned into mechanical way of playing. Of course depends on the healer class. With my resto druid I always stack Lifebloomx3, Rejuvenation and if needed a Wild Growth. On my disc priest i always start with frisbee+bubble+renew... I think the only one that doesn't dollow a strict rotation is the paladin. Sure I cast Sacred Shield on tank and Beacon of Light on appropiate target, but other than that my healing is all instinctively. Depending ont he hit the MT (or any other target I'm following) receives I will reaction with a Flash of Light, Holy Light or Holy Shock. And if I remember it exists even Lay of Hands :)
    So that's why you prefer healing over dps: you react to the game. The only reaction dps usually have is when certain skill procs (instant Slam for fury warriors). Of course some classes have very complex rotations (like cats) but other are fairly simple (like arcane mage). But even with a "boring" rotation like arcane mage I can get tons of fun. Maybe I'm too used to dps, since all my chars were only dps int he begining.

  6. Kayllnn Says:

    Nature's Swiftness. It isn't really a heal but it makes any nature spell with a cast of less than 10 seconds an instant cast. They changed the CD of the shaman's Nature's Swiftness recently to 2 minutes, and I thought it was to match the druid, but thottbot and the talent calculator still show 3 minutes for druid and 2 minutes for shaman, I will just have to log in later and check cuz now I can't remember. Anyway it is my O Shit button so I try not to rely on it too much.

    We also have tranquility which is a 10 min CD and can save any five man, can be really useful in 10 mans, but almost useless in 25 man. This spell can be talented down to four minutes, another button we don't use for a few people who stood in the wrong place.

    Our swiftmend spell is on a 15 second CD, to me this seems like a pretty powerful spell, I am interested to see if you have such powerful spells on short CDs or if you have to wait longer to use spells like this?

  7. Kayllnn Says:

    @ Kurnak: Wow, I am surprised you say Arcane mage is an easy rotation. I wouldn't argue that it is over complex or anything, but out of all the dps I have done arcane is not easy. Having to stack arcane blastx4 is easy enough, but then trying to keep that stack up when you are doing missile barrage is annoying because many times it doesn't proc when you need it so you have to cast arcane barrage then go back through and stack up to four again, all the while maintaining mana which is used so quickly in an arcane spec, using mana gems and timing evocate when you don't lose too much dps.

    Sorry this just bugs me cuz I have played a lot of dps and I would have to say arcane is not among the easiest, I would offer a frost mage, or a boomkin, even a ret pally to be mindless easy dps rotation.

  8. @ Zigi

    Sigh. Sunday night I asked my resto druid fiance if he could use swiftmend in certain scenarios, and he said no because it had a 3 minute cooldown. I'm guessing he thought I meant Nature's Swiftness (he's still learning the druid, so it's okay).


    Swiftmend is pretty powerful - which is why I like it a lot. I'm not sure what you mean by powerful spells on a short cooldown. Are you referring to burst healing? Something instant? Instant AND Burst? For instants, we've got Circle of Healing (Holy priests), Bubble, renew, Prayer of Mending, Penance (disc priests), occasional instant flash heals through surge of light (holy). The longest cooldown among all those is 12 secs (10 glyphed) for Penance for Disc Priests.


    What about grace? do you time your penance cooldown with other specific heals to maintain 3 stacks of grace on your target? Anytime you are attempting to maintain a buff on a target that is similar to grace, or sacred shield, and anytime you are trying to manage things between cooldowns, it lends itself to a rotation.

    That doesn't mean you CAN'T heal without rotation, of course. No point sitting there healing someone over and over if they arent taking damage and there's no benefit. It also doesn't mean you have to stick to one target. The point im arguing is that Blizz has designed certain healing classes to get more benefit from single target healing by encouraging rotations through the talents.

    The other reason I prefer healing over DPS is because I can't target stuff properly to save my life XD Before I started using a healing addon, I was just utter crap at this game.

    Also, I certainly don't think rotations have to be boring at all. In a lot of fights you don't even get much time to settle into your rotation before you have to do something else... like dance. ::dance::

  9. Kayllnn Says:

    Wow, priests seem so powerful, I seriously don't know why I complain about healing because it is fun to learn about. I want to level my little priest now lol. I think I just got burnt out on healing this past summer by being forced to do it on nights I wanted a break. So maybe I will look into working on my priest on off nights, I would love to play around with the most versatile and maybe most powerful healer there is!

  10. @Kayllnn

    That's the spirit! Now you're getting the hang of it!!!!

    LOL but really... in terms of pure output, it is druids. in terms of utility it's priests.

    Also, you totally should level a priest, just so you can be an elitist priest like me, and whenever people whine about how hard it is to level their toons, you can be like "Oh yeah? I leveled a priest - AND I DID IT HOLY. BEAT THAT"

    Mad props, yo.

  11. Kurnak Says:


    Yes, for me arcane is more simple than other dps like warlock (I've played affliction and demonology), warrior (arms and fury), shadowpriest... I know missiles don't proc always, but you can "reset" as you say and go again and your dps won't suffer badly. In some palces they say you'll get more dps by just spamming AB, but that would consume your mana quickly.
    Talking about mana, my mage started as arcane in vanilla WoW until level 42 or so, then I switched frost, at level 70 fire for raiding, back to frost for leveling and now I'm dual frost/arcane. One of the worst things arcane had was being mana-prohibitive, so I tried to skip going arcane for long time. When I finally decided to try arcane for my dualspec I was very surprised about not being constant mana drain, even using Molten Armor instead of Mage Armor. Finally arcane was well balanced and finally had some mana reduction skills. I know, some like Arcane Missiles have a high mana cost and you need for it to proc or you soon run oom, but even if it doesn't proc so often I rarely have to use Evocation during a raid and only need to drinka bit when facing big groups and using Blizzard all the time. Other than that I may run an entire dungeon without even taking a sip of water.

    Well, I'm not very technical when healing with my priest, so I go more instinctive, like when playing my pally. Only the druid gets real attention to the rotations, because it's designed to be focused on keeping the hots up, while other classes can be played more freely. I agree classes like holy paladin or disc priest excel at single target healing, while druids are kings on raid healing. But that's also part of the game.
    About healing addons, I don't use any. Just X-Perl for the raidui, so I just click the player and press the key of the spell I want to cast. I know plugins like Clique or Healbot would even make things easier, but I'm right now used to heal like that.
    Btw, it's me or seems resto shamans are too silent? They were the healing kings in TBC thanks to chain healing, but they seem now more focused to single target healing or filling in the heals in a raid. I play a resto shaman too and it's a nice class, very balanced, it has some fast good heals (Lesser Healing Wave, Riptide) and a nice (but a bit limited) aoe heal (Chain Heal). Also some mitigation (Earth Shield, Stoneskin Totem) plus great utility to the rest of the raid in the form of totems. SO resto shammies out there, make some noise!

  12. Zan Says:

    ""Oh yeah? I leveled a priest - AND I DID IT HOLY. BEAT THAT""

    I recall using my staff to beat things up on my leveling holy priest way back when inner fire gave attack power and there was no autoshoot. I ran out of mana too fast smiting. Go go melee priest. I did it this way because it's how my roommate did it, I followed his lead because it seemed to work.

  13. Saunder Says:

    Beacon is a Holy Pally's best friend. Beacon the tank, then even if someone in the raid does take unexpected spike damage, you can Divine Favor/Holy Shock/Holy Light them and by Beacon, the tank too.

    And no, I don't see it as sniping assignment, I see it as helping to keep the raid alive. As long as I don't let the tank die in the process of course :)

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