I’ve only had one character that was a dedicated healer — she never went for dual specialization and leveled up as disc in order to maximize her dungeon time. When my team decided to change servers, I decided to head back to a d.p.s. capable class, because I honestly had been a healer or tank for the last two years. However, I wanted to pad our healing roster, so I decided to dual spec as restoration.
My friend and I swapped back and forth as we leveled on who got healing duty for dungeon runs. Since it was friends, I was able to really goof around, and get a good feel for the undiscovered country of riptides and chain heals. Additionally, I have started running heroics, either as elemental or restoration, depending on the need, and find that some basic tenets of healing are universal.
1) Healing is highly situational
Solo and raid healing priorities tend to radically differ. Likewise, changes in important stats (haste, crit, mp5, int) often radically change my healing repertoire as different spells give me more bang for my buck. Being aware of what ALL my spell options are, and being able to dynamically change my spell choices in a given situation has saved my goose more than once.
2) Quicker is better
While all players must be reactive to some degree, in my experience healers have to be the best prepared to deal with dynamic situations. While encounters will generally follow an ebb and flow, there is no accounting for stupid: either a tank missed a cooldown, turned prematurely, or a fellow party/raid member decided standing in the fire was really quite cozy. Low health is always a bad place to be, so healers quick responsiveness to poor management, or just a tough encounter with heavy damage is a boon to any group.
3) Mana is life
A healer without mana is a piece of deadwood. Some fights are long. Sometimes, your dps is not sufficient to complete an encounter in the proper time frame, leaving you out of resources, and effectively, out of the fight. Generally speaking however, providing sufficient mana for an encounter rests solely within the hands of the healer. Early preparation means taking into account your mana pool and mana regeneration for the content you are seeking to accomplish. Use appropriate cooldowns, whether that be your fiend or a mana tide totem before your run out of mana. Do not heal players that are already being healed. Mana is a precious resource, and must be used conservatively.
4) Anticipate damage
Much like a tank, a healer that knows the encounter should show marked improvement over a new healer. The reason is simple: they know when to heal the predictable damage. A healer should begin casting when they know damage is incoming, especially on hard hitting encounters. If you wait until the damage is already inflicted, your team mate has to wait the 2-3 seconds it takes for your heal to click off, and by then, further damage can have killed your team mate. If you’re unsure of whether damage will be spiking soon, it is almost always better to begin a heal, and then stop casting (either by escape, jump or macro) if the damage does not occur.
5) Don’t die in the fire
Healers have a bad reputation for being raid liabilities when it comes to boss effects. Northrend is brutal when it comes to requiring raiders to be aware of where their character is positioned at all times. While you shouldn’t have to move all the time, you should get in the habit of glancing away from your raid frames from time to time to check the current situation. I often locate my boss mod warnings near my raid frames so they catch my peripheral vision when I’m healing. You can also train yourself to glance around the screen while casting a long heal or during a lull in damage so you’re not taken unawares by the giant pit of fire that spawned under your feet. Jumping when you’re not actively casting a spell can also help save your bacon on fights with a stacking debuff.
The phrase that makes me cry the worst after a wipe is “X was out of range of my heals.” If you are not able to see at a glance who is in or out of range with your current UI setup, I seriously suggest you change it. Notifying dps that you cannot heal them is important. When you burn a cooldown that your tank may be relying on for mitigation, let them know. Before you read this and respond that typing is something that is very difficult for you doing a raid, let me suggest two things: 1) for out of range members make a target macro letting them know. That way you can target that greyed out unit frame, hit a button, and they are immediately notified they are too far away. 2) Make your defensive cooldown abilities a macro that cast the spell and announce in party / raid that it has been cast.
7) Healer, heal thyself
Nothing is worse than having a bar full of mana and a health bar of zero. You are effectively squandering a vital resource of your raid if you let yourself die. Will it happen — sure. Healers have a “save others first” complex that is hardwired to their psyche. Nothing to be ashamed of — but if saving the tank in the first minute of the fight results in the entire raid dying because you died, it is not worth the trade off. I personally use stones & pots first when healing, because my mana is generally saved for the raid, but it doesn’t really matter if the guy next to you tosses you a heal or you do it yourself. The priority is to stay alive!