But, seriously, who wants to be just "good enough"?
If you like being just "good enough," sliding through content and so forth, you can feel free to stop reading now. There's no shame in it, you just won't find the rest of this post interesting.
If you're still here, I'll assume you want to push past the "good enough." Maybe you're working on hardmodes or are entering a srs biznas raiding guild. Maybe you just want to be more than "good enough" because you're an over-achiever. Maybe you wish to be hyper-critical of any advice I post here! Whatever your reasons for sticking around through my rambling drivel, I salute you.
So, what does it take to be a better-than-average healer? Many things. However, there are some basics that first must be met before you can even start healing. These are:
- You must understand your spells. If you don't understand the mechanics upon which your healing operates, you cannot heal.
- You must be willing to adapt based upon what situation you are facing. Not every encounter behaves the same way, so neither can your healing follow a singular routine.
- You must be able to quickly react to a changing situation as it occurs, in hindsight, and in foresight.
- You must have OCD that operates upon a switch and has a shiftable focus.
Those are the basics. And, no, point number 4 is not a joke. I am quite serious.
Let's break these points down a little more and explore the differences between "good enough" and "super awesome" before going further, shall we?
First up is understanding your spells. This seems like a no brainer, but if that's true then I'm not quite sure what some healers are using to operate their characters. Perhaps a sea sponge? I digress. But, really, don't just read the text and go "Oh, huh. Neat-o." Actually attempt to understand what you're reading. Look at how the puzzles pieces fit together. The spells don't have labels on them (yet) telling you which situations they fit. They don't come with a manual. There isn't even a "healing dummy" that can give you practice. Outside of actual implementation, you need to understand the basics of each spell before you throw it into the fray.
Of course, you also have to be able to adjust this understanding with each new patch or hotfix. Just something to keep in mind. Moving on!
All right, adapting to situations! This is key. We don't have a "threat rotation" or a "DPS rotation" like the other members of our raid (the non-healers). We have certain spells that do certain things and make no sense to be used in a rotation (usually). And, as every encounter has its own unique "quirks," these need to be met with an ever-changing arsenal and selection of spells. Sometimes this can be predictable, sometimes it won't be. You have to be prepared for both.
The next part is your ability to react to change, quickly. QUICKLY! TOO SLOW THEY'RE DEADWTFMANWHEREWERETHEHEALS?!
Sometimes, things just go wrong. Or they go correctly but someone does something stupid. Sometimes RNG just spits in your face and then curbstomps you to the ground. And you, the healer, need to heal through that curbstomp as best you can so you can tell RNG to go fornicate itself inappropriately. You have to be ready for the melee to scramble through poison and void zones and lightning bolts. You have to be ready for the tank to forget his cooldowns or not have one up. You have to be ready for a sudden wall of white orbs bearing down upon your black-aura'd group mates.
Yes, you. Don't sit there and go "Oh the others will cover it." Maybe they will, maybe they won't. You don't know because this is an unexpected situation. You should react as quickly as you can to remedy it within your capacity as a healer and without neglecting your assignment. And you have to make that decision in a matter of seconds. Less than seconds. RIGHT NOW!
And, the final part of the basics, your healer OCD. You must obsessively, compulsively, follow health bars, boss mechanics and fire-huggers. You must be able to shut this OCD off during boss fights in which it is inappropriate (see Anub'arak). You must be able to shift the focus of this OCD based upon your assignment. And you must be able to control this OCD to allow for trust upon the other (hopefully exceptional) healers.
To check a healer's OCD, raid leaders should follow this procedure: invite someone to the raid, who is not near the instance, with less than full health. Count how many frustrated healers begin roaming around the room, exclaiming in Vent and clicking/jamming buttons frustratedly. You hear that? That is their OCD on overtime.
All right, that's the basics. But that will just make you "good." Remember, we're going for EXTRAORDINARY. In caps. So, what do you need to lump on top of those basics?
It is not "I can't do this," it is "How can I do this?"
There is no such thing as a fight you cannot heal. There may be people you cannot heal, there may be healers you cannot work with, but there is no encounter you cannot heal. None. Zero. Don't even start with me because I have healed every fight and I say you can too.
There was a time where I was under the impression there was some stuff I couldn't do. Like healing people through Ignis's crotch pot. My HoTs just didn't tick fast enough! Well, I was wrong. I had to adjust my view. I had to think about it. I had to refresh my knowledge of my skills and my current gear situation. After all that, I adjusted so that I never allowed a crotch pot victim to die where I had a choice.
If something is not working, adjust. If the adjustment doesn't work, adjust some more. You can heal it. No ifs, ands or buts. It's like that cheezy can-do attitude stuff you learned in Kindergarten, only it doesn't apply to things like believing you can be a dinosaur.
You may hit some sort of wall, like your tanks need more mitigation or your DPS starts believing that standing in fire gives a buff. But that doesn't mean you can't heal it, it doesn't mean it's impossible.
Now, I know you can eventually bash your head aganst content and it'll fall over and give you its loots out of pity, but that's the "good enough" way. We're working on being extraordinary. Never forget that.
Use Raid Awareness to Precast
There will always be damage you know is coming. It's not about intuition or psychic powers, it's about a boss having scripted mechanics. Koralon is going to Burning Breath now, Gormokk is going to Impale now, XT is going to throw a hissy fit now. You know when it's coming because you have DBM or an equivalent/better, or you simply watch the boss. You know these things are coming.
So, what do you do with this knowledge? Precast.
You know that Koralon's always going to do Burning Breath before he does any Meteor Fists. There should be HoTs ticking all over that raid before he even fills his lungs. You know Onyxia is about to breathe fire on the tank because she's pulled her head back. Your Holy Light should already be processing. Gormokk's about to stomp and cut off half the melee's HP. You're already channeling a Chain Heal, cutting it off if it's about to be wasted, right? Of course you are, you're extraordinary.
Learn the Difference between "Aggro" and "Attention"
Many addons used to create special healing frames (such as Healbot and Grid) have the option to adjust themselves visually in some way when a character has aggro. This is incredibly helpful to healers because tanks often don't call when they're grabbing Gormokk (because they like watching their health dip?) and you can quickly adjust to healing their uncommunicative butt.
However, this also lights up when a raid member gets the boss's "attention." This isn't aggro, this is simply the boss switching to target them for a moment to cast a singular spell, usually a debuff. They then immediately return to the tank. This can be seen on Jaraxxus or Onyxia during the air phase.
Why is this important? For starters, someone who gains boss "attention" is about to either receive damage, or do some damage to others. Paying close mind to these "attention" warnings can give you anywhere from a split second (instant-cast debuffs) to a few full seconds of preparation time. When Onyxia is in the air, people who gain her attention have a few seconds before they, and the people around them, are victims of a fireball and splash damage. This gives you time to prepare with either a HoT or precasting a spell.
"Attention" is a common mechanic used by many bosses. XT, Jaraxxus, Onyxia and Icehowl are just a few of the bosses who utilize "attention."
Never Discount a Spell Completely
There are spells many classes scoff at, say are worthless or useless. For Druids, this was Healing Touch. Only wanted if his girlfriend, Nature's Swiftness, was doing the talking, he otherwise never got invited to the parties. He chilled alone with Tranquility, but at least Tranquility was cool on the 5-man scene. Healing Touch, he couldn't catch a break.
Then along came a boss called Hardmode Anub'arak and this guild, Apex, and they decided HT totally needed to come to the party, just so long as he was fast. And, indeed, with the proper glyphs and gear, HT was cast in under 0.8 seconds and verily did Anub eat much dirt.
Never, ever, take a spell and throw it out the window. Never assume a spell is pure trash. Somewhere, somehow, there is a purpose for that spell. It may not have been invented yet, but its day will come. And then won't you feel foolish when you have to go digging through the dumpster and apologize to it?
Don't Fall Into the "Good Enough" Trap
Be wary of the healer rut. You can get so used to something that "works" that, when you come upon the antithesis of your working model, you break down into blubbering healer tears and mutter disconsolately at the shattered pieces of your bubbles and earth shields. That's when the warlocks gather your tears and sell them on the black market. And you really don't want to give 'locks extra income.
If something doesn't work, you have to stop hitting your head against the wall. To really be extraordinary, you can't play by the "eventually it will work" rules. You can't think in terms of "good enough." Being extraordinary is a state of mind; it's in your approach, in the swish of your hips as you walk into the boss's room and tell him he might as well hand over your trinkets now because he is your bitch.
You got all that?
Good. Now go be extraordinary.