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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?