Friday, June 22, 2012

Shadow Priest Healing: When and How

Beta update: Blizzard put up a new talent calculator as of June 14. Link. That's my tentative build. It doesn't look like they're done balancing it yet, so I chose the mechanics I think would be fun (mathematically, a lot of what I marked was very weak.)

It's a well-known fact that Shadow is a fairly unusual spec, in that one of our utilities is healing. Most DPS specs bring utilities such as shared raid buffs, CC, burst DPS, or interrupts. Our most widely-used heal is Divine Hymn, a raid-wide healing cooldown. This is a utility we share with only one DPS spec: Balance druids (feral has it too, but it's like peeing into the ocean). We also have Power Word: Shield, which does not strip us from Shadowform, and a full healing toolkit which does. The healing kit and our mana regeneration is strong enough to permit Shadow to heal 5mans, although you would always be better served by a similarly-skilled healing spec.

Our heals vary wildly in effectiveness and usability. Vampric Embrace is a no-brainer, providing a steady, free stream of healing, amounting to 3-6k effective HPS on most fights. Divine Hymn strips Shadowform, but provides about 25k HPS in smart-heals over the ~9.2 seconds needed to channel it and shift back into Shadowform. Additionally, it also leaves a 10% healing received buff on the targets, raising its true effect closer to 30k HPS in raid situations. Power Word: Shield does not strip Shadowform, and is, therefore, highly effective. Without any raid buffs, mine creates a 23k bubble, worth 19.9k HPS if utilized. From here it goes downhill.

Shadow Heals Summary
  • DPS via Vampiric Embrace - 3-6k HPS. More, but mostly overheal.
  • Divine Hymn - 25-30k HPS. 29-34k if not in Shadowform anyway.
  • PW:S - 20k HPS.
  • Prayer of Mending - 14.2k, or 16.1k glyphed. 28.4k / 32.2k if not in Shadowform anyway.
  • Flash Heal - 13.8k HPS. 27.6k if not in Shadowform anyway.
  • Renew - 12.5k HPS. 25k if not in Shadowform anyway.
  • Binding Heal - 11.1k HPS, assuming both of you need the heal. 22.2k if not in Shadowform anyway.
  • Prayer of Healing - 11k HPS, assuming 5 targets. 16.5k if not in Shadowform anyway.
  • Greater Heal - 6.1k HPS. 9.1k if not in Shadowform anyway.
  • Holy Nova - 5.6k HPS, assuming 5 targets. 11.2k if not in Shadowform anyway.
Some observations: Only the spells marked in bold are worth casting; Flash Heal spam trumps everything else. The healing output of the bold spells is competitive with the HPS an actual healer does over the course of a H DS fight. Breaking Shadowform isn't worth it unless you're going to be casting heals for quite a while.

So how do we make use of these - and should we? By default, I would say that we should not, in general, be stopping to cast heals. Typically, if you're going to be healing, it should be pre-planned with your raid as part of your strategy (example: Divine Hymn right after the Elementium Bolt on the 4th platform). If the situation allows, use Prayer of Mending with Divine Hymn. You can also provide a significant amount of healing from your other heals. Flash Heal spam could be pre-planned for periods of heavy tank damage (Elementium Terrors on Madness, for example.) PW:S can be planned to help soak individual large damage hits (Impale on Madness, Hour of Twilight if going for Minutes to Midnight, etc.) Make sure your raid leader is aware of these capabilities, and be sure to manage your mana well before and after you're called upon to use them, as any form of Shadow Healing is mana intensive.

Power Word: Shield is also a bit of a special case, because it neither has a long cooldown, nor strips Shadowform. If you don't raid with a Disc priest, it can be a good habit to self-shield whenever the other DPS would be using personal defensive cooldowns, but you need to save Dispersion (or, you've used it.) If it's only displacing 1.5 Mind Flay ticks, you're basically trading DPS for healing at a 1:1 ratio, which is a pretty fair trade for your raid as a whole. You can also use it to fill movement if the absorbs would go to use. Since none of our DPS instant casts can/should be spammed while moving, gaps in casting do occur, and you can at least do something arguably useful with the time.


  1. I'd never considered healing 5 mans in a full shadow build. To tell the truth, nor had I noticed any difference in the amount healed if in or out of shadowform when casting a heal. Intriguing!

    1. It's not that the heals are stronger out of shadowform, but rather they effectively cost 1.5 seconds less, because you don't have the shift back into shadow again later.

  2. - Double post, fantastic blog by the way!