Time to dive into the particulars of being a tree. The most important concept you’ll need to grasp is proactive healing, or “prehealing.” Shammies, pallies, and holy priests mostly wait around for people to get hurt before they heal them (reactive healing). We druids (and our disc priest pals) don’t like to wait that long – an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure they say, and when you’re a druid it’s almost true. You do this by placing HoTs on people before they get injured, which then keeps them alive when someone starts beating on them, or at least prolongs their life long enough for you to load them up with even more HoTs or direct heals until leaves start coming out of their ears.
Your proactive healing tools are Rejuvenation, Lifebloom, and Regrowth. Reactive healing is still important, though, and you’ve got plenty of tools for that, too: Healing Touch, Nourish, Swiftmend, and Regrowth fill this section of your toolbox. Yes, Regrowth swings both ways. Also, Wild Growth is technically a HoT, but because it’s a smart heal you have little control over and relatively “bursty”, it actually functions better as a reactive healing tool.
Remember how I said Nourish has a bit of an unsavory reputation among treefolk? The reason is that it’s a powerful reactive heal similar to a priest’s Flash Heal… powerful enough, in fact, that some druids who spec resto after they hit 80 simply learn to heal by spamming Nourish. It’s easy and it works well enough that they can convince themselves they’re doing all right, but they rarely fool anyone but themselves. For this reason I recommend learning to heal on your druid before he hits 80 – this way you’re forced to learn to heal proactively and when you get Nourish it becomes a tool, not a crutch.
Levelling/5-mans: At first, like all spellcasters you’ll find your mana reserves quickly depleted by unnecessary spellcasting. You’ll want to preheal (mostly with Rejuvenation), but only when you’re sure that your target is going to be taking damage (typically, this means putting Rejuv on the tank). Otherwise, Healing Touch and Regrowth are your mainstays. As you get more powerful and your mana regen gets more robust, though, you’ll find you can be much more casual with your Rejuvenation and start to use Regrowth proactively too, freely wasting the direct heal portion of the spell. This doesn’t just become possible, but necessary – as you progress through the game, your friends’ health pools will get smaller relative to the amount of damage they’re taking, giving you less reaction time when things go bad, making prehealing more important. That three-second Healing Touch really doesn’t cut it anymore by the time you’re halfway through Outland. Don’t be afraid to toss out Regrowth solely for the direct heal, either – it’s basically two spells in one. Even if you’re overwriting a nearly-fresh HoT already on the target, its mana efficiency is still actually not that bad. Swiftmend will also come along after a while, giving you that all-important oh-shit button.
At level 64 you’ll get Lifebloom. Some druids eschew it because of its awkwardness, but I think that’s a mistake – since it’s stackable, it’s easily the strongest HoT in your repertoire. Just let it bloom and refund that mana and you’ll be unlikely to regret using it. Without Lifebloom you’ve only got two HoTs (not counting Wild Growth) so you’ll have to rely on reactive heals much more, and a druid’s reactive healing capabilities are frankly pretty unimpressive before Nourish comes along. One more thing – once you get Gift of the Earthmother, Lifebloom will trigger a shorter GCD than your other spells. Get used to this and make use of it.
When you finally get Nourish at level 80, your toolbox will be complete. Nourish eliminates any need you may still have had to cast Healing Touch (other than in a Nature’s Swiftness macro), as it is much faster, nearly as efficient and, if you’ve got HoTs up like a good druid, will provide better HPS to boot. When you have to heal a single target reactively, Nourish is your go-to heal, though you can still use Regrowth if you want to place a HoT as well as toss a direct heal. For healing multiple targets reactively, Wild Growth is handy, though it’s not going to save someone who’s taking a lot of damage. Just keep an eye on what’s going on, keep those Rejuvenations rolling on anyone taking or expected to take damage, and remember the cardinal rule for any healer: saving the DPS is good, saving the tank is better. And if things get ugly, there’s always Tranquility.
Raid Healing: Raid healing as a resto druid is largely about Rejuvenation. Once you get Tree of Life Form and decent spellpower, it becomes an amazingly efficient heal and you should (ab)use it mercilessly as much as you can. How much you can is usually determined by the fight mechanics in question. They’re all different, but most damage falls into one of these categories:
If there’s constant damage to the whole raid (for instance, Marrowgar’s Bone Storm), that’s the situation where we trees are at our best – once you gear up you should be able to keep Rejuvenation rolling on ten people (or even more in a 25-man raid) through the whole fight, countering the consistent damage. Often Rejuv alone will be enough, but if it isn’t you can always supplement by tossing Wild Growth whenever it’s available. Wild Growth is a powerful heal and you won’t go wrong by using it extensively, so long as there’s several injured players who can be hit with each cast. On fights where everyone is spread out, its effectiveness is greatly diminished. In 25-mans, it helps if there’s another tree in the raid, so you can split the raid between you and each of you rolls Rejuvenation on half.
Sometimes the damage is spiky but predictable (for instance, XT’s Tympanic Tantrum or Toravon’s Whiteout). Preheal with Rejuvenation as normal, and, if necessary, follow up with Wild Growth and/or direct heals. Since you can predict the damage, such follow-up may not be necessary if you can be sure that Rejuvenation will top them off before the next damage burst. If you know -when- it’s going to happen but not to whom, you can always put Rejuvenation on everyone before it lands, but this takes time so you’ll have to decide whether or not it’s worth the trouble – at my level of haste it takes about 2/3 of my time to keep Rejuvenation cycling on ten people. That time may or may not be better spent doing other things, e.g. tossing HoTs on the tank or direct healing, depending on just how dangerous this raid damage is and how many people it’ll hit when it comes.
Some bosses will single out particular raid member(s) and put them in a world of hurt (for instance, Ignis’ Slag Pot or Marrowgar’s Bone Spike Graveyard). These are the situations Nourish spam was made for. If you have time, hit them with a Regrowth first so your Nourish will get its bonus for having a HoT on the target. If you already have one in place, celebrate by tossing Swiftmend. Once you’re sure they’re not going to die immediately, you can fast-stack Lifebloom and then heal them like a tank until the boss gives up chewing on them, or they’re freed from their cages of electrified acid, or whatever is going on.
What if the raid damage is hardly predictable at all (for example, Archavon’s rock shards or Razorscale’s fireballs)? Unpredictable damage is unfortunately very common, and is harder to deal with. In a 10-man you can always keep rolling Rejuvenation on everyone anyway, but if the damage is really spiky, this may not be a very good use for your time. Or, you may be the only druid healer in a 25-man raid and you can’t roll Rejuvenation on everyone. Sometimes, direct heals are just the best tactic. Regrowth and Nourish are your friends here.
You do have another option: Glyph of Rapid Rejuvenation. With this glyph, Rejuvenation will heal the same amount, but faster. If you’re at the haste softcap, it will do its healing and expire in 2/3 the time. This is significant. Rolling Rejuvenation on people will do much more healing when you have this glyph, but it will also take more time and mana. It will take nearly every GCD you have to roll glyphed Rejuv on everybody in a 10-man raid, but that’s a pretty powerful blanket of healing you’re laying across your friends. Perhaps more importantly, that crucial first tick happens after only two seconds instead of three. With Glyph of RR and good haste, Rejuvenation actually becomes a reasonably effective reactive heal! It’s not going to save someone who’s taking a ton of damage (you’ll still need direct heals for that) but it will work quickly enough to prevent other healers’ smart heals from landing all over raiders you’ve already HoTed, while using up a lot less time and mana per raider than direct heals would – letting you heal more raiders. You’ll never match a shaman’s reactive-healing mojo, but if you find yourself having to try often, Glyph of Rapid Rejuvenation may make you a happy piece of topiary.
Tank Healing: Conventional wisdom seems to be that druids aren’t very good tank healers. It’s probably true, but not because we’re inherently bad at it; rather because being a good druid tank healer takes practice. Practice we don’t get because raid leaders always reach for the nearest hpally when looking for a tank healer. It’s kind of a self-reinforcing cycle, and since most druids don’t seem very interested in tank healing, it’s one they’re happy to live with.
Well, I say tough beans. Learn. There isn’t always going to be an hpally around to do the hard part for you and give you that nice cushy raid-healing spot.
How you tank heal will depend a lot on how much endurance you have. The key player here is Lifebloom, which can be used in several different ways. You can refresh it and add another stack to the HoT just before it expires, in this way slowly building it up to three stacks. This is called slow-stacking Lifebloom. Alternatively, you can fast-stack it by applying it three times rapidly, getting you quickly to that oh-so-juicy 3-stack. This is less mana-efficient and should typically be avoided unless your endurance is very good or you’re desperate to prepare the tank for a coming damage spike.
How you let Lifebloom expire matters, too. You can, once you’ve built your way to three stacks (or earlier if you like), simply let it bloom. Used this way it is a very mana-efficient heal, but now your Lifebloom has fallen off the tank, leaving her more vulnerable. I’ll refer to this as “cycling” Lifebloom. Alternatively, you can, after reaching three stacks, refresh the HoT before it blooms. This costs you the mana you would have been refunded and doesn’t grant the tank that extra burst of healing they would have gotten if you’d let it bloom, but it lets you keep that powerful 3-stack ticking on them for another 9 or 10 seconds (depending on whether you have Lifebloom glyphed). I’ll refer to this as “juggling” Lifebloom. The more you juggle Lifebloom, the more mana you give up, and ultimately this is very costly – but at current gear levels, you can get away with juggling Lifebloom an awful lot, or even constantly on a single target. If you’re healing multiple tanks, you’re probably going to have to let it bloom sometimes just to reduce the mana cost.
Ideally, you would keep juggling Lifebloom on the tank until there’s a damage spike, then unload Swiftmend, spam Nourish, and allow your 3-stack to bloom. Once the damage spike is over, you slow-stack it again in preparation for the next spike, always being ready to respond with more Nourish if the tank’s health starts to dip – you really don’t want her sitting on any sort of health deficit for long. In practice, if your endurance isn’t up to it you may have to cycle Lifebloom most of the time in order to keep from going OOM. Even if your mana regen isn’t a problem it often doesn’t work out this neatly – the bloom may be timed poorly, or you’ll accidentally let it bloom early because you were too busy doing something else to refresh it. Just roll with it. With practice it’ll happen less.
Yes, it’s kind of a hassle. I know druids who avoid all this effort and don’t use Lifebloom at all, simply placing Rejuvenation and Regrowth on the tank and then using Nourish as needed. While you can tank heal this way, you’ll never be as prepared for damage spikes as you would be if you’d had Lifebloom on the tank, and being able to deal with massive damage spikes is what tank healing is all about. Ultimately, using Lifebloom means spending extra GCDs when things are going swimmingly and there isn’t so much to do, and then getting a burst of healing when shit goes down by doing nothing at all. And you get a hefty HoT on the tank in the meantime as well. I’ll take that deal, thank you very much.
A Note on Terminology – The phrase “rolling Lifebloom” appears often when people are discussing Lifebloom use. The problem is, I haven’t found a consensus on what people actually mean when they say it – some seem to mean letting it bloom after each cycle, while some seem to mean refreshing the three-stack. Perhaps there’s more of a consensus than I think and the people I’ve spoken to just don’t know their terminology. Regardless, I’ve decided to avoid the term entirely and invented the terms “cycling” and “juggling” instead. I think they’re more evocative of what’s actually happening anyway.