Life in Group 5 – A Resto Shaman Blog
A resto shaman perspective on raiding


January 17, 2010

So You Think You Can Tank Heal?

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Written by: Vixsin
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Vixsin - Shaman Healing End Cast

It was either this or breakdancing …

Ever since the healing shift ushered in with BC release, healers have been striving to distinguish themselves by way of their healing niche and their unique abilities–whether its hots, raid healing, mitigation, tank-healing, utility, CDs, etc. And although there have been some shifts in terms of healers’ utility and areas of focus, raid teams from BC to Wrath have long supported the idea that pallies are the pinnacle of tank healing; with their big, sustainable heals they are very rarely assigned to anything else. Truth be told, it hasn’t been a position that many healers have coveted for the simple facts that tank-healing entails little variation, much repetition, and until mid-Wrath, not very much meter stroking. So pallies are all but guaranteed to have this raid spot on lock down. But, in recent months, there has been an underdog coming up through the ranks, a viable encroacher on the pally’s healing domain—the shaman.

Yes, I am suggesting the unfathomable—that a class known for its iconic raid healing ability might not be just an okay tank healer, but, in fact, be a great one. As I detailed recently in my Shaman Retrospective, we’ve come a long way since the days where laser light shows flowed unrestricted from our finger tips. In fact, our small arsenal of heals bears surprising resemblance to a pally’s, with small heals (FoL v. LHW), big heals (HW v. HL), shields (ES v. SS), and passive hots (JoL v HST). So, with these similarities in mind, let’s look at what Shaman can offer your raid, and more specifically, your tanks.

What we bring to the table

Chain heal! No wait, I’m arguing for single-target healing here …

Totems? No, we bring those anyways …

Bloodlust! RAWR! No, no, you’ll get that from the lolenhance or loelemental, stinky orcs that they are.

So what do Shaman healers offer? Speed. Spike damage mitigation. Damage reduction. (Oh hey, kinda like a holy pally!) For us, the first two in that list go hand-in-hand. The haste that we gain from tier and supplemental items assures that our fast spells can be incredibly fast—ES will tick the moment after a tank takes damage (3-6k) with no reliance on reaction time, RT can follow a second later (4-7k), and a LHW or HW can follow ~2 seconds after that (10k-25+k). So, in the span of 4 seconds, provided the Shaman is on his game, he can dish out 17k – 38k of healing. This ability to throw out quick and powerful heals is the reason that most speedy shamans can slaughter other healers in burst damage encounters.

In terms of damage reduction, while shamans don’t have a CD like Divine Sac, we do bring a damage reduction buff in the form of Ancestral Fortitude, which when it procs after a crit heal, will grant the recipient 10% damage reduction for 15 seconds. Disc Priests’ Inspiration is the only other way to get this damage reduction on your tank. Given that disc priests have been shown to be amazing raid healers (or rather mitigation experts, one of our amazing disc priests topped healing in Putricide this week), shamans become the best option to ensure this has 100% uptime during any encounter. For example, on a recent Festergut kill, a dedicated shaman healer’s Ancestral Fortitude could have potentially mitigated ~170k of incoming damage.

What we need to make it possible

I’m going to go out on the ledge here and say that above all, what a shaman needs to become a great tank healer, more than gear, stats, spells, good fortune, and personal skill, is a raid leader that believes that shaman tank healing is not only possible, but viable. If you’re setting out trying to prove to an obstinate and discouraging teammate or leader that you, the uber-shaman, can replace the holiest pally, then I’d venture that you’re doomed to fail. But, if you have buy-in from the upper levels of your guild’s management, here are some of the other elements you should take into account:

  1. Gear – You likely won’t need to change many pieces when you switch into a tank-healing role, though you should consider that Int becomes a more important stat. For this reason, some shaman tank healers have tried to emulate a pally’s full-Int build, while others find more benefit from sticking to sp/haste stacking. For the most part, you should be able to stick to off-tier pieces that have haste/crit or select crit/mp5 items and utilize Reckless Monach Topazes to get the extra boost in speed.
  2. LHW/HW – At some point you will need to make a decision about which of these two spells you want to focus on—you can be a viable tank healer with both, just like HL pallies are as viable as FoL pallies. But do note that your stat preferences will vary slightly. For a HW focus you will want to gear past the 1268 haste cap that would limit you in a LHW-focus, but as such, your heals won’t be critting as much (which will in turn, impact your regen). In a LHW-focus you’ll want to focus more on spellpower and seriously use the LHW haste cap as a marker, since any investment past it will be a loss. But, in comparison to a HW focus, those players using a LHW rotation will have smaller heals overall.
  3. Haste – The amount of haste that you’ll want to shoot for will depend your selection of LHW versus HW as your rotation staple. It bears mentioning, however, that your haste goal in single-target healing shouldn’t necessarily be to hit the highest possible value, but rather the point at which you can cast RT as soon as it comes off CD while not incurring much downtime in between RT casts.
  4. Crit – Though you won’t want to gem for crit, in a single-target environment, crit plays a much bigger part in your mana regen and hps because of its effect on WS procs and your output. In addition, your crit percentages also dictate your contributions from ES and AA, so it contributes more to throughput than it will during CH-spam. In some single-target HEP analyses, crit actually begins to approach SP in terms of value (approaching 1 HEP).
  5. Mp5 – Through personal experience, I’ve actually found that at higher crit percentages, you wind up needing less mp5 than you would on CH-spam encounters. While HW spam is about as sustainable as HL spam (which is to say that you can only go so long before you’re craving an innervate), a LHW-based rotation can be sustained for longer periods of time. So dropping some mp5 to pick up more sp and crit is definitely viable.
  6. Talent Points – If you are going to be tank healing, whether or not you elect to use LHW or HW, I would certainly recommend going with 3 points into Healing Way. The likelihood that you will benefit from these points is significantly increased if tanks are your priority.
  7. Rotation – Keeping Tidal Waves procced as much as possible is the key to making shaman tank healing work. With the added crit to LHW and the added haste to HW, TW will assure that you can pump out maximum hps in a relatively short period of time. You can use either CH or RT to maintain the TW buff, though RT is the obvious preference because of the T10 2-piece bonus and the totem.
  8. Totem – Grit your teeth and get some Arena points to pick up Furious Gladiator’s Totem of the Third Wind or use your Emblems of Frost to pick up Totem of the Surging Sea. (If HW is going to feature in your rotation, then the latter totem is really the way to go.)

Lastly, make sure that your UI is equipped to handle the buff management you will want to cultivate in a tank-healing role. Tracking ES is vital to gaining the additional 20% healing through the LHW glyph, keeping WS up is essential to longevity, and using RT every time it’s off of CD will be requisite to keeping TW up, using your t10 2-piece bonus to its fullest potential, and refreshing your t10 totem buff (if you elect to purchase it).

Make it happen!

It’s interesting to dig back into the stories of Vanilla and see how far healing has come as a whole. I myself didn’t stumble into healing until mid-BC, but even then I know the stories about the origins of the role—Healing Touch spam, Dwarf Priests, 5minute blessings, LHW downranking, and the like. With those types of restrictions no longer applicable to being a raiding healer, we really are free to explore the limits of our class.

Interestingly enough, the following is pulled from a conversation with Greg Street (aka Ghostcrawler), circa mid-2009, about the beginning of our Paladin friends:

End-game paladins in Vanilla World of Warcraft were pretty much healers … exclusive to the Alliance. We realized that we kept pushing the paladin and shaman abilities closer and closer together to solve faction imbalance issues, and that process was hurting the classes, so we’d be better off just having paladins and shamans on both sides.

With our beginnings so intertwined, does it really take a stretch of the imagination to see why a shaman tank healer isn’t just a dream?


  1. Just as a quick note Vix, both Disc AND Holy Priests usually pick up Inspiration – it’s actually a Holy talent :)
    .-= Miss Medicina´s last blog ..A Tribute to the Third Healer =-.

  2. Shikai

    Hey everybody and hey Vixsin!

    I have been reading this blog for quite a while now and while I found it interesting, I never felt I needed to comment on anything. I hope my English won’t be too bad so you can understand my point (yeah I’m a froggie).

    I have been doing a little maths about the impact of crit on regeneration, and I must admit I don’t understand how you can be needing less mp5 in a tank healing style rotation. But let’s have a look at my numbers.

    Assuming 46,4% crit while raid buffed, Tidal Focus 5/5 and IWS 3/3, I come up with an average LHW cost of 488 mp (415.8 mp with TW) and an average CH (4 hits) cost of 518.8 mp (489 with 4p T9). Also got an average RT cost of 738.9 mp.
    Formula used : spell cost – crit_%*IWS_coef*Mana_per_orb/10000.
    Correct me if I’m wrong here, but modeling should be ok over a, say, 100+ casts.

    With current gear available, I’m assuming our LHW is at GCD or very close from it. CH should be a 1.7 to 1.6 sec cast.

    So if you compare a pure RT-LHW 6 sec rotation to a pure CH spam of 6 sec, you get an average cost for the first one of 3034.5 mp and for the second an average cost of 1945.5 mp (LHW @ 1 sec and CH @ 1.6 sec).

    I have also considered refreshing TW with a boosted CH on the previously RT-ed tank or using HW in the rotation. But as far as mana consumption is concerned, things get even worse, especially with a HW @ GCD with 2p T10.

    So, imho, in pure spam fight, you would go oom much quicker with a tank healing rotation. Question is : why do I feel the same about needing less pure regen in a tank healing fight?

    Well, the first piece of answer I came up with was : we don’t really need to spam heal on the tanks in my own experience. I don’t know how you people handle things in your healing team, but we usually make sure to have a Holy Pal on the MT. In that case, the Pal provides a constant flow of heals on the MT and my role is to support him with very quick heals during burst damage phases. As for OT healing, in most of the fights, it will be like 30 sec burst heal then 20 sec to breathe some mana back.

    Second piece of answer : as you mentioned, there is a viable gemming strategy while tank healing which is to socket with int and carry int trinkets. What I want to stress upon is : never neglect the impact of Replenishment on your regeneration. It’s about 260 mp5 @ 28.5k mana with 90% Replenishment uptime, which is roughly 50% of our ‘natural’ regeneration. And it scales quite well with an int-oriented gear.

    Or you can just pop up with 2 Solace of the Defeated and lol @ mana issues !

    To conclude my comment, I will point out one of your previous post : ‘The Line Between Theory and Application’.

    Happy Tank Healing!


  3. When we talk about Resto Shaman Tank healing I think it’s pretty important to admit, that we are far worse tank healers than paladins or discipline priests. I know some shamans try to imitate plaladins with INT stacking, but you’ll always just be a bad copy, inferior in longevity and throughput. If a shaman does a better job at tank healing than a holy paladin, then the reason is the shaman being a better healer than the pally.

    A Disc Priest will provide better tank healing and sit at >80% mana in the same fight where we’re always close to running oom.

    We can’t compete with disc priests or holy paladins, that’s where we should start our thoughts about tank healing. But a guild might not always run with 2 paladins. There is often a good non-tank healing task for disc priests. 10 mans are all about tank healing. That’s where resto shamans jump in. Every resto shaman should have a gear set optimized for tank healing. We all should know how good or bad each of our spells are for tank healing.

    So that’s my thoughts on the topic:

    Gear: For most shamans, especially 25 man raiders it makes sense to optimize gear for RT/LHW/CH spam. CH is still a great group healing spell and RT/LHW are great spells to heal people dropping low/afflicted by a debuff. Most of us don’t focus on mana regen, high troughput and burning through most of our mana without running oom should be our goal. So we have to accept the fact, that our tank healing set is most likely not perfectly gemmed/balanced for tank healing. My tank healing set it mostly about reducing througput stats in favor of mana regen. Switching from a haste/crit piece to a crit/mp5 piece, maybe even INT gemmed. As Vixin says, off-tier pieces and trinkets are a great way to do so.

    Spell selection: Here I disagree. I don’t think it’s LHW or HW, it’s both. LHW should be your primary tool. HW should be saved for burst damage situations only. Example: Festergut. You start with LHW, at 2-3 inhales you shift more and more to HW. HW as our tank healing spell isn’t that realistic if you don’t want to gem and focus on INT and even with very high INT levels we’d just be silly and bad holy paladin copies. The main problem of HW is the haste gained through Tidal Waves and 2pcT10, this leads to an incredibly high mana consumption. Maybe we could make HW spam work with very high mana regen and a lot of stopcasting, I don’t see any benefit of that playstyle though as we would compromise our group healing set by gemming for INT/crit/mp5.

    Something a resto shaman should never forget though is this: CH is horrible single target HPS. If you’re on tank healing duty, only switch to CH if you’re 100% sure you won’t endanger the tank.

    Haste: I think throughput should only be a secondary concern of a tank healer. The main focus should be enough mana regen to provide sustained healing over a long time. A tank healer always needs to be at comfortable mana levels even if he switches to burst healing for some seconds. Nothing makes a boss encounter more hectic than tank healers running out of mana.

    10 mans: I think 10 mans or 10 man hard modes are an excellent exercise for resto shaman tank healing. If I heal a tank in 25 man, there’s just ton of splash healing flying around, maybe my assigned tank is even beaconed by a pally. Solo tank healing in 10 mans is a good way to prepare yourself for rough tank healing assignements.
    .-= drug´s last blog ..Yes, Resto 2pc T10 is THAT good =-.

  4. Great comments! And great catch about Inspiration–although it is in the holy tree I was taking the line that the most consistent uptime on a tank would be from a disc priest with this talent, and not a holy priest. (Maybe revealing my priest ignorance!)

    As far as mana consumption during a tank healing rotation, I think the differential between theory and reality, as you aptly pointed out Shikai, comes from a number of places. For example, I would venture that given my low value of crit on CH, and the probability that I hit less than 4 targets quite frequently, my mana return is actually less than it should be, hence the seemingly higher cost of maintaining CH spam. In modeling, you have to make the assumption that you will always hit the same number of targets, but in reality the variability of the spell’s application has a greater impact on your regen than the model can represent.

    As to spell selection, I couldn’t agree more that these days it makes more sense to interweave LHW and HW in a single-target healing rotations, especially given the high value of the t10 2piece bonus. It’s been a wonderful surprise how amazingly powerful RT+HW is in ICC, and limiting yourself to either one or the other is something that no shaman can afford to do. That being said, I think it is wise to take into account which spell you’re going to be using more frequently, as you will likely need to take regen into more consideration if HW is going to be your staple.

    Lastly, ditto on the 10man experience. Running multiple weeks without a holy pally really forced me to either up my game to compensate, or gtfo. I would venture to say that 10s are a different ballgame entirely for shamans, as our CH proves (generally) less effective for dealing with the damage that goes out.

    There definitely isn’t one perspective on this issue so it’s great to have other ideas/comments added to the discussion. Thanks everyone!

  5. […] relation to drug’s post about 2T10, latest post by Vixsin from Life in Group 5 about Shamans and tankhealing is a must-read too. Great breakdown, great advices, great […]

  6. Great post Vixsin; resto shamans raid healing is a topic I think should be given more recognition.

    My resto shaman is part of a pala tank/resto shaman team – we’re partners irl and play WoW together. So I automatically fell into a tank-healing role when we started raiding with these characters. Back then I was intrigued to find out how well resto shamans could do as tank healers and although it was quite a learning curve, I was pleasantly surprised.

    These days I thoroughly enjoy tank healing and *prefer* to do so. I must admit though, if there is a holy paladin around then I tend to bow out and leave the tank healing stage to him. I do think it a good idea for resto shamans to carry sets and experience in both tank and raid healing – but if you’re used to raid healing, don’t be afraid to give tank healing a try!

  7. Jai

    Reading this makes me think back to all the raids(both recent and not so recent) where the RLs had no clue on which healers were best at what role. I can remember one specific instance in Ulduar where the RL kept insisting that I(holy priest) be a tank healer while the disc priest must stay on raid.

    I understand that all healers can do all roles but it’s just fact that each talent spec has tools that lend itself to one role over the other.

    In regard to shamans MT healing, I sadly cannot comment. I’m still working on leveling my shaman and just reading your blog to learn.

  8. Foam

    While progressing through ToC I was gemmed int for lesser heal spam on my shaman, I needed to fill the slot as a tank healer because of our surplus of druids and shamans on raid. The rest of the healing team agreed that it worked as well as MT heals, it also allowed me to optimize the bubbles on the tanks from my val’anyr.
    Running with ~50% crit and 40k mana raid buffed, the hps from ancestral awakening was amazing too.
    Guess i’m just reinforcing the point that no healer should be forced into a niche assignment purely because of your class, I still carry part of my LHW set for fights like Saurfang.


  9. maccae

    although i can see why it could-should be better, i never change my gear when i go from raid to tank healing. i never did. the only thing i may change is my totem, depending if i’m sure i will not cast CH at all during that fight. I personally think that shaman who gem for int to emulate paladins are gimping themselves so much and restricting their versatility for a bigger mana pool. If you up your other stats instead of int, you will be able to maintain a better mana regen, a faster casting speed and a higher change of critting for max. On average, my LHW ( cast time 1second) will heal a ES tank for an average of 7.5k, crit often for 11.5k, and my ES proc for 3.6 to 6k. my effective healing is the same as a holy paladin with less overheal.

    we don’t always have a holy pally, so i get to play shamadin often. can they do it better than me? sure. But i havent’ been to a raid yet where a paladin was necessary for a victory. now don’t get me wrong, i love holy paladins, their giant heals can top someone in a way i will never be able to and their beacon is cheatmode seriously! I’m at the comfortable position where my job is never boring, because it always change depending of what class is healing with me on that night :)

  10. Khi

    I’ve done most of the math on tank healing v raid healing. There were actually some posts a year or so back about them too. Mathematically shaman are better tank healers than paladins! (take into consideration ES and Ancestral Fortitude) We just can’t sustain it. In order to be able to keep up with a paladin. we’d have to gem for so much intellect and mp5 that it would gimp our heals.
    The few times I’ve had to tank heal I’m a big fan of using ES, Glyph of LHW, Pvp totem and do a LHW spam. It works beautifully. As much fun as tank healing is though, I much rather raid heal!!! It’s what i raid for.

  11. On single-target healing I could definitely see that being the case, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to quantify anyone over pallies in a double-tank scenario (fights like Anub25H or even Patchwerk being prime examples). Beacon can be an insanely powerful tool, but thankfully its application oftentimes proves the limiting factor.

    Though I didn’t think of it when I was writing the post, the original 51-point resto talent Spirit Link, would have provided an amazing foil to a pally’s beacon by making every fight beacon-friendly–oh my, the hps. Now if only we could have had that plus RT, instead of just the latter. But then, Cataclysm is just around the corner …

  12. Khi

    Most effective for single target healing def. No one can take multiple tank healing situations from a Pally. Besides, why would we want to! Raid healing is awesome hehe.

  13. […] Vixsin has (amongst other things) featured a resto BiS analysis and a great look at tank healing.  ShieldsUp! has an important illustrated guide to the interaction between charging tanks and […]

  14. Draex

    Nice to read, instead of the crap ensidia post all the time saying how bad resto shamans are…

    I believe its down to personal choice and game play – I’m the Healer leader in our guild and I basically give myself the role of floating, I spot MT heal, spot OT heal, heal the raid.. can always be relied on to take over someones role if they die or need to move. Our adaptability is our biggest weapon.. we can do all types of healing (all be it not the best at any in reality) but never the less we demand a spot or 2 by being so flexible.

    I personally gem for haste (haste/sp in red slots) sitting around 1250 haste currently


    In 10mans I’m happy to MT heal or raid heal – if I go with a druid I’ll MT, paladin I’ll raid.. I love the fact I can basically fit any spot and I’ve not seen any drawbacks (bar 10man queen where 2 man healing that with a priest is hard :p)

    I think a RT – HW – HW – lhw – ch – RT rotation works pretty well, especially if the melee are taking damage.

    Jack of all trades, master of none is a good description – and I think that far outweighs a class that excells at one and struggles at nother ;p

  15. Very well written and though-out post!

    Coming from my perspective (bear/tree dual-spec druid), I think it very closely mirrors what I feel about healing as a druid – and as a raid leader, I’m equally responsible for perpetuating the problem. This just might end up as a full post for me, but here’s what it comes down to… druid healers have 8 healing spells at their disposal (rejuv, regrowth, lifebloom, healing touch, nourish, swiftmend, wild growth, and tranquility), and are perfectly capable of tank healing no matter which set they’ve focused on… they’ll be better at tank healing with focus on nourish, lifebloom, and/or HT and better at raid healing with focus on rejuv and wild growth – but it’s far more important to know what the player is more comfortable doing!

    hmmm… i think i will write up a post on it. thank you for the excellent article and inspiration!

  16. I actually was searching for an article about tank-healing druids while I was writing this, recalling something about a particular “tank-healing build” but knowing next to nothing about what that means in the world of trees. So, if the post does come to fruition, count me as one of the many appreciative readers!

  17. […] Blueberry Totem Restoration shaman wandering Azeroth « Invincible rant! Talents? I has them! February 1, 2010 So,  another part of the Restoration guide for Dummies. Seeing that my last post stirred up a bit the waters with my comment about HW usage, please let me restate again that this series are intended as introductory to shaman healing and well, let’s admit it, tank healing and extensive usage of HW is something you won’t get around to do as probie shaman. If even this is not enough and you long after more precise and detailed description, please head over to Life in Group 5 and read the two amazing posts by Vixsin on the matters of Healing Wave and tank healing. […]

  18. Vix, I go into more detail in the post, but you can focus and be better one way or another as a tree… but no matter which you do, it’s more about what spells you cast (and are comfortable managing) than your spec. It has taken me forever to get used to casting Nourish.

    Post is up:
    .-= Kaethir´s last blog ..On Raids, and the Leading Thereof =-.

  19. Super Aardvark

    I learned to tank heal while 2-healing Festergut 10. The holy pally couldn’t quite keep the tank up through the third inhale until I figured it out. (The missing piece for me was the realization that I needed to be casting whether or not the tank was damaged yet). Was mana an issue? Yeah, in the sense that I had to use Mana Tide totem…

    I think flexibility is a great strength of the resto shaman. We can raid heal well, if not as well as a tree. We can tank heal well, if not as well as a disc priest or pally. And we can switch focus between the two pretty easily–I switch my third glyph between LHW and CH frequently, based on my role and the nature of the fight.

    Finally, there’s something you didn’t mention at all (though I haven’t read all the comments). Chain Heal is a tank healing tool too, in any fight featuring a shared-tank-damage mechanic (Marrowgar is the prime example). With the return of Spirit Link in 4.0, we’ll be able to bring this mechanic to any fight.

  20. Chain Heal can be a valuable tool when tank healing, no debate there. I do, however, shy away from recommending it as a staple tank healing spell simply based on the fact that it is situational. When learning Algalon, for example, I started out with the mentality that CH would be more viable because I was 1) healing with a HL-loving holy pally and 2) the melee were taking a fair amount of damage, so I figured “2 birds, 1 stone”. I quickly learned, however, that the tank damage was too quick and too powerful to address with a ~1.9sec CH, no matter the efficiency it afforded me. So while I agree that on some fights it’s a possibility, even when I was solo healing tanks on HM Saurfang, it definitely wasn’t an option. It ultimately comes down to boss damage characteristics; on some fights you have the luxury of time, on some you don’t.

    I’m definitely looking forward to how tank healing will evolve in Cataclysm; Spirit Link sounds promising as does the slight diversification of our single-target arsenal. We shall see!

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