16 February 2009

Intro to Druid Healing 2: Tank Healing

This is Part 2 of my Intro to Druid Healing series. The five parts are:

Tank healing is the closest thing we get to a rotation. Your tanks should take, depending on the encounter, somewhere between 70% to 100% of the overall incoming damage. That's... the definition of a tank, I guess: he takes the damage, so you don't have to.

Sections on tank healing:

Know Your Tanks

This all starts with knowing who are the tanks. In a 5-man instance, that's usually pretty easy. (Though it can be confusing sometimes. I ran heroic Gundrak over the weekend with four Death Knights. Honestly, I'm not even certain which talents separate a tank-spec DK from DPS.) In a 10-man raid, it's a bit more confusing. You'll usually have a main tank (MT) and an off-tank (OT). 25-man raids will likely have 2 or more off-tanks.

On trash fights, you'll typically see the MT and OTs splitting up the mobs, unless the trash is pretty easy. Usually this plays out as one tank grabbing initial aggro, then the other will peel off some of the mobs onto himself. Be ready for this.

On boss fights, the MT is defined as the player who's tanking the boss. That often but not always means he'll be taking the most damage. The OTs usually have the job of grabbing aggro from "adds", the additional mobs that show up as part of many fights. Another common OT task is to grab and hold the boss when the MT can't; the Archavon fight in Wintergrasp is an example.

Be aware too that the MT and OT may change roles at different times due to class differences, skills, or gear. For example, in our guild our feral Druid is usually the MT, but in the Military Wing in Naxxramas our Paladin usually switches to MT, as Paladins have special tools against the undead that populate that wing. (I might eventually post an advanced topic about each tank class's special abilities and how they affect healing.)

The Foundation

Your HoTs (Heal Over Time spells) will form the base that do most of your tank-healing work. I'm talking about two spells: Lifebloom and Rejuvenation. On some fights, they'll be all you need.

Lifebloom (LB)

Lifebloom is the defining spell for Druid healers. It's also the centerpiece of your tank healing.

LB is a great tank healing spell because it's fairly powerful, ticks every second, and is mana efficient. On your tanks, you'll want to keep up a stack of 3 Lifeblooms, without letting them bloom. You should be able to keep a Lifebloom stack rolling on up to 3 tanks without too much trouble, depending on spec and glyphs. (Practice this if you need to.)

Don't let the stack expire. Your mana efficiency and healing throughput take a big hit if you have to rebuild the stack. The key here is timing your refresh cast: earlier hurts your mana efficiency, but too late and you'll lose the stack. (Lag can hurt you here too.) I usually shoot for about 1s left, or 2s if I'm being careful.

Rejuvenation (Rejuv)

Rejuv is a nice complement to Lifebloom. It ticks every 3 seconds but its ticks are fairly big. Another reason to keep Rejuv up: you can Swiftmend off it when needed.

Rejuv is unlike Lifebloom: you want to let it expire before you re-cast it. That's because it only ticks 7 times. If you re-cast it before it hits 0, you'll lose that last tick - almost 15% of its healing power (and mana efficiency). Remember, if you're looking at a timer, "0" usually means "less than 1 sec" and not "expired".

(Regrowth can bridge the gap between your foundation and spike damage. More on that in the next section.)

So for basic tank healing, keep Rejuv and a full stack of Lifebloom up at all times. Do this, and you've done 75% of your tank healing. But the other 25% comes at really important moments — when your tank is in a bit of trouble.

Spike Damage

When your foundation starts falling behind, you need to get caught up. We have a few heals in our arsenal that do this. The three most important are Swiftmend, Nourish, and Regrowth. Unlike the foundation, these are more of a choice: what's appropriate for the situation? They each have strengths and weaknesses.


This is an amazing spell, and you'll use it a lot. It is your biggest quick-cast catch-up heal, especially with its high chance to crit. So it's a good spell for when the tank has a sizeable health deficit. But it also leaves its HoT behind, so it's useful as an additional piece of your healing foundation. Its biggest weakness is that it has a fairly high mana cost. Use it when your basic HoTs are losing ground, or when the tank is less than 50% health.

Swiftmend (SM)

Swiftmend is a great spell: instant cast, decent healing throughput, decent mana efficiency. It requires an existing Rejuv or Regrowth on the target; that's why you'll always have Rejuv up — right? Its biggest weakness is the 15s cooldown. That does limit its use, but don't be shy: use this as often as possible.

The Glyph of Swiftmend is almost mandatory — it stops the Swiftmend from consuming your HoT. Basically, it saves you a GCD every time you cast Swiftmend. Highly recommended.


Nourish is a pretty good spell, though most Druids are having a tough time deciding when to use it. It's quicker than Regrowth and uses less mana. But since many Druids have more mana than they can use, there's little motivation to be efficient.

My current recommendation is to use Nourish if the tank is between 75% and 50% health, and if Swiftmend is on cooldown. I expect however that Nourish will get buffed, probably through an added glyph, and that Regrowth might see a bit of a nerf. Watch for developments in this area.

Panic Buttons

When the tank gets below 25% or so health, you need to start reaching for heroic measures to keep him alive. Druids are a bit lower on panic buttons than many other healers, but use what you've got.

Start by hitting your Swiftmend if it's not on cooldown.

Your big panic button is the combination of Nature's Swiftness (NS) with Healing Touch (HT). This gets you an instant cast HT, which hits big and can crit for even more. This can restore 25% or more health on even a well-geared tank. It's on a 3 minute cooldown, so you get maybe one or at most two of these per fight. Put these into a macro for best use.

If Swiftmend and NS+HT are on cooldown, your best bet is a combination of Regrowth and Nourish. Nourish will hit faster, so use it if the tank is really low. Beyond that, the key variable is whether you have the Glyph of Regrowth. Without it, Nourish is more efficient and about the same at healing throughput. With the glyph, Regrowth is about as efficient and a lot more powerful. See Phaelia's Direct Heal analysis for the details — but expect this to change with later patches.

Finally, there's Tranquility. This is a wonderful spell in 5-man instances; it can keep the whole party from death — not just the tank. It can be pretty good in raids, too — if you're grouped with the tank(s). Just remember that it has a 30-yard range, so you need to get at least a little bit close. If you're taking damage, you'll need to pop Barkskin to prevent Tranq clipping.

Other Considerations

One of the biggest things you can do to improve as a healer is to anticipate the fight. Make sure your HoTs are refreshed before stuns, if you know when they're coming. If an aggro switch is on its way, start stacking HoTs on the next tank. This kind of anticipation is what distinguishes the really good healers.

Be ready to use Abolish Poison and Remove Curse when necessary. It helps a lot if you know what kind of curses or poisons you're dealing with. Many are actually not that painful, and you can either delay cleansing them or just heal through them. But some are deadly. One example is Maexxna's Necrotic Poison. It reduces healing received by 90%, so you're basically locked out of healing your tank until you get rid of this.

Finally: practice. This is the most repeatable part of your healing job, and the piece that will benefit the most from refinement and repetition. Practice will help you time your HoT refreshes better and will help your reaction time to damage spikes. Polishing your tank-healing skills will really help you shine as a healer.


  • Know who your tanks are.
  • Start tanks with a base stack of 3 x Lifebloom and a Rejuvenation.
  • Spike damage: Use Swiftmend when it's available, Regrowth, or Nourish.
  • Also use Regrowth for its extra HoT.
  • Panic buttons: Swiftmend and/or your NS+HT macro.
  • Remove curses and poisons, especially the worst ones.
  • Know the fights and what the mobs will do.
Next up: raid healing. That should be interesting!


SMK said...

I'm a fairly new druid healer and I really appreciate you putting these articles out. They're thoughtful and well written - thanks!

One thing I've noticed is that rolling a lifebloom on multiple tanks is pretty challenging. Not because I can't click once on each tank to refresh, and not because I can't tell when the stacks are about to bloom (grid ftw), but because I'm constantly trying to react to other healing needs. In theory, rolling the two lifeblooms leaves me 6 seconds to do other things. but in reality, it's only 4-5 because of lag. Add to that the need to keep at least rejuv on both tanks, (refreshing every other life bloom roll) and you're really down to about 3 seconds. That leaves time for two GCDs, and I'm finding that I sometimes need more than two to catch up on random damage to the party or raid, or to decurse, or cast an emergency heal on one or both of the tanks. Rolling the lifeblooms also limits when I can heal as well since I don't want to let those stacks bloom. Overall, especially for a new healer, this is neither safe nor particularly mana efficient since a dropped bloom means 2 wasted GCDs and less healing on the tank in the meantime. Based on my admittedly limited experience a better use of mana is rejuv plus regrowth on one or both tanks. It's slightly less mana efficient, but it means that any additional healing you need to do on those tanks is more effective (with the regrowth glyph), and it's much less time sensitive which frees you up to move out of the fire, or heal/decurse the rest of the party/raid as needed.

All that said, I'm definitely interested in improving my skills. So do you have any tips for rolling multiple bloom stacks? Is there a particular technique that works well - maybe a certain rhythm or timing that you can get into that will give you time for other spells but keep the blooms stacks from expiring?


Dave Ciskowski said...

This is probably a whole post in itself! But I can give my brief thoughts.

- The basic technique comes down to rhythm. In particular, you want to cast your 3 stacks on 3 successive GCDs, so that you can LB, LB, LB in quick succession. That frees up the rest of your time to deal with other heals.

- Healing assignments make a big difference. If you are rolling 3 stacks of LB, then someone else should be the focused raid healer.

- Consider both the Glyph of Lifebloom and the Balance talent Nature's Splendor. They extend your LB duration by 1 and 2 seconds respectively.

All that said, the bottom line is to use what works. So if your Regrowth strategy is carrying the day, great. Just be aware that you'll probably face more mana challenges after 3.1 than you do today.

Marc said...

SMK, I would suggest Lifebloomer, an addon to keep track of lifebloom.

You create two Lifebloomer frames, set a tank for each frames and you get a nice progress bar like visualisation to track the stacks. The bar changes colour as it decreases in length. Also tracks Rejuv and Regrowth.

SMK said...

Thanks for the suggestions! I'll definitely keep at it.

It may just be that I'm trying to do too much. I've mostly been dealing with pugs, so things are rarely as smooth there as I would like. In 5-mans I'm obviously the only one healing but I rarely need to roll two stacks. I tried it once with some ret pallies who were inflicting tons of damage on themselves, and that's where I decided that either I wasn't good enough or it wasn't a viable strat for such a small group. In 10-mans I don't always know how much my healing partner can handle, so I'm throwing extra (needed) healing wherever I can. In an environment like that it's hard to justify the multiple stacks.

I like the way grid shows the countdowns, but I may give lifebloomer a shot as well. The more I think about it, the more I think it's just a matter of adjusting my timing. I'm used to refreshing the single stack - with multiples I think you just need to a) know which one to watch (the one that gets refreshed first - duh, but it's easy to lose track and glance at the wrong timer)
b) refresh the second immediately after the first
c) remember that I have 1.5 seconds less to do other things before I need to focus back on refreshing the stacks
d) keep in mind that I'll be taking a 3 second break to refresh the stacks and heal appropriately

Thanks again for the tips!

Marc said...

We've come a long way from BC and it isn't absolutely necessary to roll a 3 LB stack for maximum healing throughput and efficiency. You can use a combination of all your heals and still do fine.