Damage Mitigation: Not Just for Disc Priests
When most people think of damage mitigation, they rightfully think of a disc priest’s shields. While disc priests have direct heals, a large part of their power comes from the ability to prevent damage entirely. The less damage the tanks and the raid receive, the less healing you need to do, hence the concept of damage mitigation. In many ways, this is the smart way to heal. If I were a warrior tasked with taking large blows to the face, I’d much rather they were just outright prevented rather than feeling the pain and then having it healed afterwards.
Of course, there are problems with relying too heavily on damage mitigation. The most glaring issue is that mitigation only works if you can successfully predict the incoming damage. When healing a tank, this is not a big deal, since most encounters see the tanks taking predictable damage along with predictable spikes. When raid healing, however, mitigation can be feast or famine. If you know when the big AoE is coming, well-timed shielding of the raid can prevent a ridiculous amount of damage. However, if you guess wrong as a disc priest, you can see your raid members start to drop like flies, and then you find yourself powerless to catch back up without strong direct heals.
This is the reason I changed my alt priest over to Holy for healing heroics and the occasional 10 man raid. I too often found that I couldn’t just heal the tanks, and I just didn’t enjoy the sinking feeling of watching the green bars drop, and not having the tools to get them back to safety. I’m not saying you can’t raid heal effectively as a disc priest, but it’s not a role that I enjoy playing.
Thankfully, we shamans have the raw firepower to get the raid back up to full health. Sure, those annoying resto druids with their endless HoTs and mana pools are the current kings of raid healing. But, shamans can put out a ton of burst healing when it’s needed. A Riptide, followed by a Chain Heal and two Healing Waves will quickly fill up health bars, and if needed you can repeat this rotation as long as your mana allows. That is the classic image of the resto shaman healer, and is probably why many of us enjoy playing the class.
A hidden part of playing your resto shaman well, however, lies in our four damage mitigation tools. We have lots of passive healing tools, such as Healing Stream or Ancestral Awakening, but here I’m focusing just on abilities that help prevent damage in the first place. Note that while Earth Shield is a critical part of our healing arsenal, it too simply provides passive direct healing, despite being called a shield. Knowing how, and when, to use your damage mitigation tools will help move you from an average healer to a great healer. It’s the kind of thing that will not show up at all on the healing meters, which is yet another reason to leave meter bragging to the DPS.
- Ancestral Healing
Your first tool, when properly specced, is Ancestral Healing. This is a talent that doesn’t really scream “wow” when you see it on the talent tree. We have other viable options at this level, and it would be quite easy to pass it up while heading towards the sexier talents. Doing so, however, would be a big mistake. Another mistake, and one that is much more common, would just be grabbing the talent and then healing like it’s not even there. For the most part, that is how I’ve treated this talent until very recently. I knew that I had it, and it was probably helping out the tanks, but I didn’t make any real effort to ensure that I was getting maximum value out of these three talent points.
Before it was re-designed, Ancestral Healing stacked up to 3 times, making it harder to keep a maximum stack on the tank unless that was your main healing assignment. Now, to keep the 10% physical damage mitigation buff active, you only need to land a crit once every fifteen seconds. Based on my observation, it seems that Ancestral Healing will not reset its timer if you crit during the 15 second cooldown, but this requires further testing (and if anyone can tell me otherwise in the comments, that would be great). I recommend adding the Ancestral Healing buff to your Grid (or other preferred healing frames), and attempting to make sure it is always up on the tanks or anyone else in the raid taking predictable physical damage. If you have a lull in raid damage, toss some Lesser Healing Waves on the tanks, and see if you can’t help them out by preventing some damage. With Tidal Waves up, the crit rating on your Lesser Healing Waves will be well over 50% in a raid setting.
One big caveat is that Ancestral Healing does NOT stack with a priest’s Inspiration talent. Inspiration works almost identically to Ancestral Healing, and when you are healing with a disc priest, they should maintain this buff almost constantly just by doing their normal healing rotation. A holy priest, however, will likely be focusing on the raid, and may or may not get Inspiration on the tanks. In that case, or if you are healing with Paladins and/or Druids, you can and should provide the damage mitigation buff on the tanks as much as possible.
- Wind Shear
Wait, you might be saying, Wind Shear is an interrupt and threat reduction ability, what does that have to do with healing? Well, first of all, I see far too many shamans (and raid leaders) who seem to forget that we have a ranged interrupt ability. There is no rule that the healer cannot interrupt when needed. Sure, most of the time a dpser should handle that job so we can focus on keeping everyone alive. But if your raid composition doesn’t include enough interrupters, or if you don’t trust the puggers in your group to spell their name correctly, much less maintain an interrupt rotation, then don’t forget this powerful tool.
When I heal heroics, I look for a mob with a mana bar as we run up to the trash pull. After dropping totems and making sure the tank’s health is stable, I make sure he doesn’t get a cast off unless Wind Shear is on cooldown. I do the same thing with ICC trash during raids. If you are not targeting (or focus targeting) a caster to interrupt, you are letting more damage hit the raid than needs to. Thus, spell interrupts are another great tool in the resto shaman mitigation arsenal, and one that as far as I know, cannot be provided by druids or priests.
Like Wind Shear, Purge is often thought of as a PvP ability, or something for the DPS shamans to worry about. Again, however, there’s no reason this has to be the case. If we can spare the GCD and the other dispellers are not willing or able to remove a debuff, a resto shaman should purge. A great example of this is Lord Jaraxxus in Trial of the Crusader (also a fight where our ranged interrupt shines if your melee interrupters get to distracted by topping the meters). In a 10 man raid, you may very well be the only person able to dispel Nether Power, a stacking buff on the boss than can quickly become dangerous to a lesser-geared tank. If you don’t have a mage available to spell steal, purge this thing ASAP. Again, any damage that the tank doesn’t take is damage that you don’t have to heal.
- Cleanse Spirit
Last, but not least, is Cleanse Spirit. This all-in-one tool will attempt to remove 1 poison, 1 disease, and 1 curse effect from the target. This means that you MUST have some way of telling which raid members have these debuffs, such as adding them to Grid. I bind CTRL – Left Click to Cleanse Spirit, so I can remove debuffs right from Grid. Some players have grown used to Decursive, but I strongly prefer having all my information in one location, rather than looking at separate raid frames to heal and remove debuffs. Poisons, curses and diseases are just sitting there doing bad things to your raid members, and you have the power to remove them. Debuffs that get removed don’t do damage, which is less damage you have to heal.
Of course, an experienced resto shaman will learn that some debuffs are more important than others. In some cases, providing strong direct healing is a better use of your GCD’s than manually removing debuffs. You may prefer to wait for a cleansing totem pulse while you continue to heal the raid. However, on a fight like Faction Champions, for example, you could spend much of your time casting Cleanse Spirit, and those would be GCDs well spent. A death knight that is having his diseases constantly removed is no longer much of a threat, and a shadow priest or warlock without their dots ticking is basically a crowd controlled target, effectively out of the fight. Just try not to remove Unstable Affliction, mmkay?