How To Tank Heal As A Holy Priest

“I am only one, but still I am one.  I cannot do everything, but I still can do something and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”

Helen Keller

Holy priests have always had a reputation for being extremely versatile healers.  Somewhere down the line we lost that and I don’t know if that was driven more so by the developers or by the player base, but we did.  We soon found ourselves being trapped in the mindset of being nothing more than Circle of Healing and Renew bots, which meant that we were often competing for raid spots with resto druids, who were practicing a similar style of healing, albeit with Wild Growth and Rejuvenation.  The only thing that really set us apart was Guardian Spirit and even that wasn’t enough to guarantee us a raid spot over a druid or any other class that could do our job better than we could.

With the release of Cataclysm, we found ourselves reclaiming that identity of being extremely flexible healers with the help of an incredible new ability known as Chakra.  For those not in the know, Chakra is a new talent in the holy tree that allows a priest to place themselves into a state that enhances certain abilities and opens up new ones for them to use, depending on the kind of role that they will be filling in a group or raid.  Currently, there are three Chakra states that can be described as the tank healing or single target healing Chakra (Serenity), the AOE or raid healing Chakra (Sanctuary) and the last one being a Chakra that enhance your damage dealing spells (Smite).

Sadly, old habits die hard and there are a still a number of misconceptions out there that holy priests either cannot tank heal or should not tank heal, due our having such strong AOE healing capabilities that many feel are not worth giving up to have us tank heal or heal a single target.  I consider myself extremely fortunate to have an amazing healing lead who is not afraid to try new things and knows her healer’s strengths and to be part of a healing core where my fellow healers are not afraid of change and can excel at things that most people would feel are not possible or not worth it to try and do.

Here is a run down of the abilities you will most likely use and the talents that will help you best in tank healing as a holy priest, in my experience.

Chakra.  The Chakra of choice for tank healing is Chakra: Serenity, which you enter by casting Chakra and then immediately casting Heal right after it.  Recent patch notes from the PTR have indicated that Binding Heal, Flash Heal and Greater Heal are being added to the list of spells that will activate this particular Chakra.  Being in this Chakra takes Holy Word: Chastise and changes it to Holy Word: Serenity.

By simply being in Chakra: Serenity, your chance to crit with direct healing spells is increased by 10% and they will refresh a Renew that is present on the target.  Currently, only Heal, Flash Heal and Greater Heal are capable of refreshing the Renew.  Binding Heal and Holy Word: Serenity are slated to be added to the mix, based on information found in the patch notes that were released last week.  You will want to remain in this Chakra for the entire time that you are responsible for healing the tank.  Being in this Chakra does not lock you out or prevent you from casting other spells, not related to the tank healing state.  You can still use a Prayer of Healing, if the group that the tank is in gets low on health or use a Circle of Healing if those around them are taking damage.

Holy Word Serenity.  This spell can be used a number of ways and has drawn comparisons to being our version of Holy Shock.  One way you can use it is to use it off cooldown.  The buff that Holy Word: Serenity leaves will increase the crit chance of your direct heals on the target by 25% for 6 seconds, in addition to the 10% increased crit chance that you have from being in Chakra: Serenity.  Having this buff on the tank regularly means that any incoming heals that would need to be used have a chance of healing for more and being more effective.  You can also choose to use this more selectively and wait until the tank is taking large amounts of damage, use it first and then take advantage of the crit buff by following it by spamming direct heals.  Either way is fine, but this spell is a core part of tank healing and should not be left out when you’re doing that.

Prayer of Mending.  As always, Prayer of Mending should be used every time it is off cooldown.  Be sure to toss it out either before you cast Chakra or after you have safely entered the correct Chakra state, which is Serenity.  If you don’t cast it at the right time, you may accidentally find yourself entering the wrong state and being in Chakra: Sanctuary, which is the AOE or raid healing state.  This will prevent you from using Holy Word: Serenity, which is only available by being in Chakra: Serenity and your direct heals will not be nearly as effective.

Renew.  Slap a Renew on the tank and if you are using your designated Chakra state to its fullest, it should never fall off of them.  Talents like Improved Renew and Divine Touch can help make Renew more effective by increasing the healing that it does and by eliminating the usual delay in healing output that comes with using a heal over time ability.

Empowered Healing. Placing three points in this talent increases the healing done by Binding Heal, Flash Heal, Heal and Greater Heal by 15%.  These spells are going to be your bread and butter for tank healing, so you are going to want to have that added boost of healing.  You are also going to want three points in Divine Fury, so that your Heal and Greater Heal have their cast time reduced by 0.5 seconds.  That may not sound like a lot, but compare to it the cast time when you don’t have points in this talent.  Believe me, you will feel and notice the difference.

Surge of Light.  Surge of Light allows you the chance to get a free, instant cast Flash Heal that is incapable of critting each time you use Heal.  Unless you’re facing a fight with unpredictable spike damage, Heal is going to be your core spell for tank healing.  It’s been determined that roughly 1 out of every 17 Heals cast will result in a Surge of Light proc.  That may not sound like a lot, but every little bit helps and Flash Heal is extremely expensive to cast on its own, without an immediate reason to do so.  If you’re still not convinced that this talent is useful to you, Surge of Light was mentioned in the recent patch notes, stating that Flash Heal and Greater Heal will be added as one of the spells that can trigger Surge of Light and the heal generated by the proc will be able to crit.

Inspiration.  This talent is considered a must have, since you probably won’t be throwing shields on the tank that often, if at all and you want some kind of damage reducing ability to fall back on.  More on that later.  It’s also the only ability that warrants you having any kind of critical strike rating to speak of.

Serendipity.  There are times where your tank is going to take a lot of damage really quickly and you’re going to need to act fast.  You want to have options available that will maximize the heals you will need to throw out, while also being mindful of your mana bar.  Serendipity can help you with that and you can customize it to meet your needs.  If your tank is in trouble and you need a heal, use Binding Heal.  If it’s just your tank that has taken a lot of damage, use Flash Heal.  You now have one stack of Serendipity, which will reduce the cast time of your next Greater Heal by 10% and its mana cost by 5%.

If that single heal wasn’t enough, you can follow it up with another Binding Heal or Flash Heal and gain a second stack of Serendipity, which will now reduce the cast time of your next Greater Heal by 20% and lower the cost by 10%.  Two stacks is the most you can have on yourself at any given time.  You are now prepared to do what I call a “Serendipity bomb,” which is what I call using Flash Heal –> Flash Heal –> Greater Heal.  It is extremely mana intensive to do this, even with the reduction in cost from the talent.  This method should only be used for emergencies, not as a regular style of healing.

Other talents that can help for emergency situations are Test of Faith, which increases all healing done to targets below 50% health and of course, Guardian Spirit.  There are two ways you can use Guardian Spirit.  You can use it when the tank is getting dangerously low and allow it to activate, healing the tank by a large amount and allowing you a few seconds to focus on others who may need healing.  Or you can cast it on the tank and follow it up with some heals, which will be enhanced by having the effect on them and get them back up to snuff.  To make the most out of Guardian Spirit, make sure that you glyph for it and it also helps to create a macro that will announce in the raid or your healing chat channel (if your raid has one of those) that you have cast Guardian Spirit and on whom you have cast it.  That will alert other healers that your target needs heals and will prompt them to toss some heals on them, if they are able to do so.

Power Word: Shield.  Throwing a shield consistently on the tank while healing them may not always be the best idea, because discipline priests rely heavily on Rapture as a way to get mana back.  The best people to place a shield on, where it will get absorbed the most are the tanks.  If you have shielded the tank, that means they can’t and that could affect the amount of mana they get back in the long run.  I would coordinate this with your discipline priests if possible, by finding out if they are going to be anywhere near where you and your tank will be located and how diligent they are about shielding tanks other than their own.  Some are more consistent about this than others.  If you do have the all clear to shield at will, save it for when you see them taking a large amount of damage.  I wouldn’t throw a shield every time it’s off cooldown or if the tank is nearly topped off.  Use it as a way to buy yourself some time to heal them back up, either by using a “Serendipity bomb” or other combination of heals to get the job done.

A lot of holy priests may get flak from the community at large for attempting to tank heal, but we’re really not bad at it and in fact, we have tools that can really be useful when we’re called into action as tank healers.  The strength of a discipline priest has always been mitigation and preventing damage whereas ours has always been raw healing and reacting to damage.  Just because we lack the mitigation strengths does not mean we do not have the healing capacity to successfully heal a tank and should not be considered for such a task.  Some have argued that our strength is in our AOE heals, but we only have two extra AOE spells (Circle of Healing and Holy Word: Sanctuary) that discipline priests don’t have access to and one of them is on a 10 second cooldown and you need to be in the appropriate Chakra state to even activate it.  We have obviously been given the tools mentioned above for a reason.  What other reason would there be to have shields or to have Chakra: Serenity, if we’re meant to go back to the Wrath style of healing?

Hopefully, this post will give people the encouragement or the motivation to try out tank healing, if you are a holy priest or to consider a holy priest as viable candidate to do such a thing, if you’re a raid leader or a GM.  What are your thoughts on this topic?  Can it be done?  Should it be done?

19 thoughts on “How To Tank Heal As A Holy Priest”

  1. I reverted back to a Dis Priest shortly after hitting 85 as I found Holy very demanding on mana. Now my gear is ready for raiding, it may be time to lose the shadow spec.

    • Holy has always been hard on your mana until you reach the level cap and then your gear improves and things to start to really even out.

      I don’t feel that I went through more mana than other healers did, while doing instances on the way to 85, but that’s just me. I didn’t really go out of my way to compare, either.

      Tank healing while holy is extremely mana efficient and I find that I go through less mana doing that than I do while raid healing.

  2. Though I am never specifically told which spec I should be in, I will as a rule of thumb go disc for tank healing. I’m fairly sure that is what is expected of me by the leaders that be.

    It’s always been in the back of my mind that holy was an option for this too. Chakra: Serenity and rolling renews is my preferred method for healing PuG heroics, but I have never tried it out in a raid. This post has piqued my curiosity. Next time I’m called upon to tank heal I’ll flip into my holy spec and see how it fares.

    However, as a dual healing priest my crit/haste/mastery ratio is quite different to a pure holy priest. My only thought would be that, especially moving into hard modes, they may have to be prepared to sacrifice some of their mastery in favour of haste to reach a tank healing sweet spot.

    • Troll Toes: I don’t know about that. Since Holy mastery stacks, it might be beneficial to have boatloads of it functioning as after heals because you know for a fact that your tank is taking a steady stream of damage. When I tank heal, I try to volley and maintain that mastery stack (I’ve had it go up to 2000+ a tick and maintained it for a bit before it fell, sadface).

      It’s completely doable. It’s all about the mindset. The technical tools and abilities are there. I’ve been called upon to tank heal before and then I realized my offspec was Shadow not Discipline. Kept my mouth shut and did the job still as holy. ^^

    • I think it’s all about the player, too. The big selling point in “Wrath” was “Bring the player not the class.” Does every holy priest have the mindset to tank heal? No. Is every holy priest going to want to tank heal? No. I would like to think that we have moved past a point where we are saying “You are this class and you can only do this.” If you give that same class to two different people you’re going to see different results. One of them may eke out an average performance and another may find new and better ways to play it that the other didn’t think of. Neither one of them is “wrong,” per se.

      It’s not as black and white as people make it seem, I think.

    • I have actually considered something close to that, Troll Toes. I seem to do well with the gear that I already have and with the crit that comes from not only being in Chakra: Serenity, but with the buff that comes from slapping HW: Serenity on the tank. I would think that would be a decent amount of crit to have, combined with what I already bring to the table. I would think more haste may be desirable or like Matt said, leaving the HoT from our mastery on. Our mastery is really strong and has a high uptime when raid healing. I would like to think it would have more of an uptime on a tank and some nice healing throughput could be gained by doing that.

    • 2k ticks! Ossum. I don’t usually see such powerful mastery stacks myself as I spend my time half and half, and just stacking mastery isn’t a great way to approach discipline. The extra consideration for haste may indeed not be needed, t’was just a thought given that tank damage in hard modes makes me feel like I’ve jumped through a portal back to Wrath ^-^.

      But yes, I absolutely agree with all that you said. Part of the reason I enjoy being double heal, as opposed to opting for a PVP or DPS offspec, is because I switch spec very frequently to test out new approaches to a fight. It’s like a delicious optimisation puzzle. OMNOMNOM.

    • I believe that Mastery for a Holy Priest starts to become more valuable as the GCD becomes more valuable. In situations where you are essentially GCD-locked for extended periods of time (non-stop ‘gotta-heal-NOW’), having more sizable echoes ticking away can relieve some GCD pressure.
      It could be argued that simply having more haste would be more beneficial in a GCD pressured situation. And more haste may even get you an extra renew tick of course.
      Since we are talking about tank healing though, I prefer to reforge to mastery instead of haste (for the most part). The Holy single target healing stat weights at EJ agree as well, but by a slim margin:

  3. I actually switched to holy from Disc after hitting 85. We were converting to a 10/25 guild from a 25guild, and I was going to the 10man group. I used to hate holy, but have really grown to love it, I think it’s extremely versitile, and in a 10man seems to be much more powerful that disc is currently.
    As for TrollToes’s comment, I actually find that holy has a much better mana capacity than disc. I put spirit gems in all blue sockets, only pick up gear with spirit, and chant spirit, and I have about 90K mana pool and almost 5k mp5 in combat, 10man raid buffed.

    • Hey there, Mori!

      I can imagine how well holy would work in a 10 man setting, especially with PoH and only having to worry about two parties and CoH healing up to 6 people when glyphed and that’s more than half your group composition. I would caution against using just pure spirit gems – I would suggest int/spirit gems, because int will always be more important than spirit. Int increases your spell power, increases the size of your mana pool, your chance to crit. Having a nice pair of regen trinkets or at least one really strong one will make a huge difference, too.

      As much as my guildies joke about me gloating about this, I have the Darkmoon Card: Tsunami and the Jar of Ancient Remedies and my mana returns are just plain gross. There are a number of other trinkets that could just as easily accomplish the same things, but I will stress that having a strong pair of trinkets is an absolute must right now and you will go a long way with the right ones.


  4. It’s all so depressing, I am hating priesting at the moment. Everyone sighs with the wipes and blames the priest. Not rewarding, not fun, ekeing out mana, surely there was more to it than this.

    Today I rolled a pally

    • There’s a few ways you could improve your situation, Vin. First off, don’t run with people like the ones you’re running with. They don’t sound like the kind of folks that any healer – priest, pally or otherwise would want to run with. Everyone has had to essentially re-learn their class and running with people who aren’t going to support you and who won’t take a moment to think about how they contributed to a wipe are the kind of people that aren’t going to help you be better and they’re certainly not going to help themselves with that mindset.

      You could also take a look at your Armory profile (or I could) and think of ways that you could stand to improve yourself. I find that most issues people were having could have been remedied by minor gear changes (gems, enchants, etc.) or by making minor tweaks to how they heal (leaving people at a certain amount of health, insisting on Lightwell usage, etc.)

      Also, some might consider paladins having a more difficult go at it than priests right now. The developers have been quite kind to priests so far, whereas some would argue that paladins have been completely gutted since the release of Cata and many are still struggling to find their place.

    • It’s a GREAT time to learn a Holy Paladin. Either a) you’ve never tried it and are looking for something new or b) you’ve played one since 2004/2005 and since 4.x dropped you have NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE DOING.

      The answers, as usual, for any class:
      1) Play conservatively. Run ‘lower level’ dungeons. Don’t game gear score to enter heroics early.
      2) Play often. Not ‘play all day’. Spend more of your play time where you need the practice (dungeons, pvp, raids, etc.) rather than moping around with farming and dailies.
      3) Communicate. Be vocal in groups when you’re healing your butt off (you are, yes?). It’s likely their fault they die. If you or the group are honestly out-matched by the content then accept it and see #1 above.

  5. Thanks for the post. I like how you have laid out the information.

    One of the things I am working on with my healing (which is a combination of Tank and raid healing) is not letting Renew drop off my target. I like the idea of the “free” Renew as a means of saving mana. After reading this post, I started wondering more about Divine Touch. In looking at the logs, it looks like I will get a lot less out of Divine Touch if I become successful at not letting Renew drop off my target. From what I can see, when Renew is refreshed from Heal, I don’t get the Divine Touch bonus 10%. Have you looked into this at all? I was really hoping that the logs would show that Divine Touch was triggered with each refresh.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Daffnae.

      You’re probably right about Divine Touch not being terribly useful, if you are on top of refreshing your Renew on the tank. There has been some speculation that the refreshed Renew is not affected by the haste breakpoints, meaning that extra ticks you would normally get from a regular Renew may not apply on a Renew you refreshed by being in Chakra: Serenity. I haven’t seen anything factual about that, but I am interested in finding out more and determining whether or not that’s really happening. I’m also unsure if Divine Touch happens on a refreshed Renew, so I will research that, too.

      I will go through some recent logs and see if I can find something concrete by the end of the week. I will definitely keep you posted and thanks for the suggestions!

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