The Great(er) Heal Debate!

August 27, 2009 at 5:15 pm (Borrowed Time, Flash Heal, Glyphs, Greater Heal, Healing Mechanics, Mana, Serendipity, Spells)

The Challenge

Is there still a place for Greater Heal in a Priest’s healing arsenal? I still use it, but I’m beginning to wonder whether it really is something I should have on my action-bar. There are certainly times that people have died because I’ve used Greater instead of Flash, but I’m prepared to work on those mistakes if I feel Greater Heal is giving me tangible benefits. So here’s the question: Does Greater heal have a significant benefit over Flash Heal in any situations?

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The differences between Flash and Greater Heal are essentially three things: a) Mana Cost, b) Size of Heal, c) Cast Time.

So lets look and see whether Greater Heal has any major advantages in one of those three things. Quick and dirty summary at the bottom of the post.

Mana Cost

Flash Heal is less efficient that Greater Heal initially. Once you have the Flash Heal Glyph, or you put three points into Improved Flash Heal in the Discipline tree, Greater Heal is only slightly ahead. If you take the Glyph and the Talent then Flash Heal is more efficient than Greater Heal.

So, if you are a Discipline Priest with Glyph of Flash Heal there is no argument, Greater Heal is costing you more mana per healing than Flash Heal is. If the target is below 50% Flash Heal you are also benefitting from that bonus crit chance, not to mention that when somebody is about to die it’s much safer to use a faster heal.

If you are a Holy priest it’s more close cut because Greater Heal is still slightly cheaper even with the Glyph of Flash Heal. There is more to it than that, you have to think about things like overhealing, or the longer cast time, but for pure mana efficiency Greater Heal is still marginally cheaper for you.

Marginally cheaper” is not “significantly cheaper” so I don’t think we’ve met our challenge to find a good reason to cast Greater Heal.

Spires


The other thing to think about is that because Greater Heal is more expensive you are wasting more mana if you fail to land it on a target who needs healing. If you start to cast Greater Heal on a target and somebody else heals them first you will spend 1236 mana doing no healing. If you had cast a Flash Heal instead you’d only waste five or six hundred. Of course, you’d need to cast two flash heals to get the same amount of healing as one Greater Heal, but because it comes in two small lumps you can simply not cast the second heal if the target is at full health after the first. So with Flash Heal you have more control over your Over Healing.

Size of Heal

A common strategy to avoid overhealing with Greater Heal is to let your target take more damage before you heal them. This can be dangerous because it lets your tank get closer to death before they are healed. This can get you in trouble if they take more damage than you were expecting.

It also is not an effective strategy with non-tanks because they have a much smaller health pool. To make sure my Greater Heal doesn’t overheal I’d have to let a player take nine or ten thousand damage. Many raiders only have twenty thousand health, so letting them drop to 50% health before you start healing them is totally not feasible.

Of course, the plus side of a bigger heal is that when you do land it you are much more likely to get yourself out of danger. With a big Greater Heal you can fill up a good chunk of their health in one blow. This makes it fantastic for when you have limited opportunity to heal. I’m thinking for example of Loetheb where you only have that small window to drop as much healing as you can. Being able to land a Greater Heal during that time is much more effective than only dropping a Flash Heal.

Similarly any buff which only effects a single spell cast, for example, Borrowed Time or Inner Fire, are much better used on Greater Heal because they give their benefit to a much larger heal. Conversely, any effect which benefits from multiple spell casts favours Flash Heal. If you have Spark of Hope you are getting more mana savings from casting two Flash Heals than you would from just one Greater Heal. A trinket like Eye of the Broodmother or Illustration of the Dragon Soul stacks up faster from lots of small spells than it would from a few big ones.

So again, situations when Greater Heal might be marginally better, but nothing which stands out.

Cast Time

There are a number of things to talk about here, but probably the most important is HPS. That’s to say, how much Healing each spell does compared to how long it takes to cast. In fights where the boss does a lot of damage very fast you want to be healing as fast as you can.

I’m trying very hard not to scare anybody away with numbers so lets boil it down to this:

Flash Heal has the lowest Healing per second of all the options you have. If you just Spam Flash Heal you are doing less Healing per second than:

As a Holy Priest:

  • Spamming Greater Heal untalented (admittedly only about 1% better HPS)
  • Using Serendipity to do Flash x3 followed by Greater Heal (about 20% better HPS)
  • Spamming Greater Heal with Divine Fury (about 23% better HPS)
  • Using Serendipity to do Flash x3 followed by Greater Heal with Divine Fury (about 25% better HPS)

As a Discipline Priest

  • Spamming Greater Heal untalented (1% better HPS)
  • Spamming Greater Heal with Divine Fury (about 23% better HPS)
  • A Borrowed Time Flash Heal is marginally better Healing Per Second than a Divine Fury Greater Heal without Borrowed Time. (about 2% more)
  • Whilst a Borrowed Time Greater Heal is substantially more Healing per second than a Borrowed Time Flash Heal (in the region of 23% more).
  • And of course a Borrowed Time Greater Heal is much better HPS than one Borrowed Time Flash Heal combined with one regular Flash Heal. You’re getting about the same amount of healing from 2 Flash Heals but it’s taking about 30% longer to achieve it than a single Borrowed Time Greater Heal.

Thrall's Joint

Now hold on a moment…

Of course, there is more to it than this. If you only have 1.5 seconds to heal the tank before he dies then you have to use Flash Heal even though it’s got the lower HPS, you don’t have a choice.

Also, Flash Heals land much more regularly than Greater Heal, so the tank stays at a more consistent health level.  Any time when it is important to keep the tank topped up you really ought to use Flash Heal for the constant stream of healing it does.

However, whenever you have the boosted cast speed from Borrowed Time or Serendipity Greater Heal really is equally usable and ought to be worked in for the better healing per second it does.

Furthermore, whenever Bloodlust/Heroism is up a Borrowed Time Flash Heal will likely be faster than 1 second to cast which means you will clip the Global Cooldown (which will never be less than 1 second.) So in high haste situations Greater Heal pulls even further ahead of Flash Heal in the HPS race.

Of course, even if you replaced every Flash Heal with a Greater Heal the improvement in your HPS would not be massive. This is because a lot of your healing will come from Penance, Renew, Prayer of Mending, Prayer of Healing and Power Word: Shield, but every little helps.

Summary

So I would say the following:

Greater Heal when:

  • You have a single spell buff like Inner Focus Greater Heal.

  • You have a very high amount of haste from a trinket, an encounter buff (Ignis’ pot) or Heroism/Bloodlust

  • You use Borrowed Time or Serendipity.

  • You have Divine Fury and don’t expect heal sniping or inconsistent boss damage (solo healing)

  • You have neither Glyph of Flash heal nor Improved Flash Heal talent (why don’t you?) and mana is a concern

Flash Heal when:

  • You don’t have enough time to Greater Heal

  • You want to stack a buff like Serendipity or Eye of the Brood Mother.

  • You want to keep the tank near maximum health (either because they don’t have a lot of it, or the boss has a big attack)

  • Your target is below 50% and you have Improved Flash Heal

  • You have the Glyph and the Improved Flash Heal talent and mana is a concern

So there we go, it seems to Greater Heal can be shown to be a significant improvement for some situations. Put it back on your Action Bar!

Disclaimer: I did the maths for this, in an afternoon, on an actual napkin using values from my own Priest’s cast times and internet values for spell coefficients etc. There are several estimations, and probably some mistakes. There are talents I’ve ignored like Empowered Healing. So, if somebody would like to check the maths themselves, and should they find errors, I’ll happily revise it. I’m not trying to prove a point here, I’m trying to work out for myself the value of Greater Heal and whether I should use it. So if I’m wrong I really do want you to tell me.

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