I’ve been doing arenas quite a lot lately, so I thought I’d post some of the basics to healing arenas that will help you succeed as you first start out. Keep in mind that I normally do 2v2 and 3v3 arenas with melee dps (Arms Warriors, Ret Pallies, Rogues, and Death Knights) and a 49/2/20 spec, but a lot of these tips should apply to a variety of group compositions and talent specs. Check out my post on PvP talents for other good PvP specs. Feel free to add your own tips in the comments below.
What you can expect in Arenas
As a healer, you are a prime target for the opposing team. Unharrased, you can pour heals down non-stop on your teammates, making your team very difficult to kill. For that reason, you will almost never be unharrased by a good team. You’ll be subjected to quick bursts of damage, stuns, cyclones, polymorphs, silences, mana burns and more. Hunter, warlock and death knight pets will almost always be stuck to you. You’ll find that you’ll be spending a large portion of your time just keeping yourself alive, rather than actively helping your teammates to win. This is a good thing. While you’re running around like a madman, you’re buying time for your teammates to do what they do best, which is to kill the opposition. Give them enough time, and eventually you’ll have the win.
Tip #1: Keep Sacred Shield up on someone 100% of the time.
Sacred Shield is a powerful spell. If you’re not sure who your opponent is going for first, cast Sacred Shield on yourself to start the fight off. Its very likely that at least one of your opponents will go straight for you. When the fight starts, watch for who on your team is going to take the first hits. If that person isn’t you, hit them with a quick Holy Shock if necessary, switch your Sacred Shield onto that person, then start spamming your heals. Sacred Shield is an instant cast that can mitigate a huge amount of damage for low mana and only requires one global cooldown to use. Be ready to repeat this process whenever the opponent switches targets and keep SS up on someone 100% of the time.
Tip #2: Use Hand of Sacrifice on your teammates often
Hand of Sacrifice is another powerful spell. The name of the game in arenas is focused burst damage, and Hand of Sacrifice can eliminate a lot of that burst. Splitting the damage between two people is exactly what your opponent is trying to avoid. Using this in combination with Sacred Shield and/or Divine Sacrifice will almost gaurantee that your teammate won’t die from focused fire. Just be sure that you aren’t low on health yourself and that there’s no one on who can quickly switch to burst you down instead. Casting Beacon of Light on yourself beforehand will make this much easier.
Tip #3: Stay away from Melee DPS
Although you are responsible for keeping your entire team alive, your primary responsibility is to yourself. While in a 1v1 situation you can sometimes live quite some time while being beat on, the same isn’t true in an arena. What this means is that if a member of the other team has focused their dps on you, you need to do whatever you can to eliminate this damage from continuing, especially if the damage is coming from a melee dps. Its very hard to heal effectively while a rogue, warrior, or ret pally is beating on you, stunning you, and interrupting your heals. Avoiding this damage is much more effective than trying to heal through it. A Holy Paladin actually has seven or eight different tools at his disposal to get away from melee dps:
- Move - A Holy Paladin that stands in one place will die very quickly. All melee dps can unload a ton of damage very quickly on a stationary target. The simple act of running away will help you avoid a lot of that damage. This is especially true if you have Pursuit of Justice.
- Cleanse - If you find you can’t move, casting cleanse on yourself can sometimes help you regain that freedom. Chains of Ice, Entangling Roots, and Frost Nova are all abilities that you can cleanse out of. This is even more useful because the enemy is often not expecting it, which means you can get quite a few steps ahead, buying yourself a lot of time. Cleanse has no cooldown, so use it liberally.
- Hand of Freedom - Hand of Freedom is another powerful tool to get away from melee dps and functions the same way as cleanse, except it works on any ability that limits movement. Lasting 10 seconds (6 seconds with the new patch) with only a 25 second cooldown, you can be pretty secure knowing it will be off cooldown when you need it. If you have the Divine Purpose talent, it will also remove a stun. If you have Guardian’s Favor your Hand of Freedom will last an extra 4 seconds.
- PvP Trinket – You can use your PvP trinket to remove a stun, allowing you to run away from a stunlocking rogue, for example.
- Hammer of Justice – Hammer of Justice doesn’t have to be used offensively on a healer. It can also be a great tool to buy yourself a ton of time to get away from your pursuer. Its especially useful because it can also be used when you’re facing away from your opponent.
- Divine Shield - the ability of last resort, because of its long cooldown. If you’re about to die, don’t hesitate to bubble. Its always better to bubble than to die. Its usually best to throw a Holy Light on yourself as soon as you bubble. It will take time for the opponent to switch targets anyway and its likely they’ll be ready with a bubble dispell as soon as you cast it, since bubble is one of the most common paladin responses to damage. Don’t assume that you’re safe just because you’ve bubbled. Priests and warrior can both dispel bubbles now.
- Holy Wrath - Holy Wrath only works on some pets, but it can buy you a few seconds away from that felhound or ghoul chewing your butt. Turn Evil also works on these pets, although make sure your teammate doesn’t die while you’re fearing a pet.
- Repentance - depending on your spec, you might also be able to stun with Repentance.
Notice that all of these spells (except Turn Evil) are instant cast. Instant cast spells are infinitely easier to use in Arenas than spells with a cast time (Flash of Light, Holy Light), since you can cast them while moving and they can’t be interrupted. You should be using Holy shock and instant Flash of Lights at every cooldown. Work on getting your Spell Power and Crit as high as you can to increase their power and get librams, glyphs and set bonuses that improve Holy Shock and Flash of Light. To expand on that:
Tip #4 – Be very careful with Holy Light
Holy Light is a dangerous spell to use in arenas for two reasons: (1) Your teammate can die before it goes off and (2) It can be interrupted. Its awesome when you can get one off, but you don’t want to try that very often. Its very tempting when you see your teammate getting low to try to throw a Holy Light on them, but that could be exactly what kills them. That long cast timer under your nameplate is like honey to a bee for interrupts and its never a good idea to stand in one place for too long, allowing the melee dps to catch up to you. If the other team is truly ignoring you, then you can spam a couple Holy Lights with no problem, but don’t expect to be able to do that for very long.
Tip #5 – Only contribute to burst damage if its absolutely safe to do so.
Holy Paladins can actually put out some relatively decent burst damage, especially if you can get the enemy below 20% health. A well placed judgement, followed by a quick Holy Shock and a Hammer of Wrath could be exactly what your team needs to take someone down. But remember that you’re not there for dps. 5 – 6 seconds can be an eternity when you’re in need of a heal only to find Holy Shock is on cooldown. Leave the dps to the professionals unless its absolutely safe to do so. You’ll get an opportunity for burst again later, but if you die, its game over.
On a related note, a good way to coordinate burst damage is using the judgement macro on my macros page. If you target your teammate, it will judge and target your teammate’s target. Just make sure not to use it right after your teammate uses their CC ability or you’ll break the CC. Its also nice because it ensures your judgement is on the target that your teammate is attacking.
Tip #6 – Use Blessing of Wisdom on yourself
Its tempting to use Blessing of Kings on yourself and Kings is sometimes appropriate, especially in the 5v5 setting where games can be very short because of the high burst. However, 2v2 and even 3v3 matches can sometimes last very long and at that point the winner is the one who outlasts his opponent’s mana bar. Running out of mana means game over and Blessing of Wisdom will help you last a little longer and squeeze a few heals in while you wait for Divine Plea to come up. This is especially important against mana drain teams (including priests and warlocks). You’ll want to avoid mana drains by staying out of line of sight as much as possible. Staying out of line of sight is one of the best defenses against any ranged dps.
Tip #7 – Stack Resilience and Stamina
The point of an arena match is to kill the other team. Therefore, the harder you are to kill, the harder it is for the other team to win. This isn’t PvE where you can expect to not take very much damage. You need to sacrifice some Spell Power and other healing stats to stack resilience and stamina. Fill all your gem slots with resilience. If you want to match socket colors, go ahead and use resilience/stamina and resilience/spell power gems. This will lower burst damage, giving you time to heal and time for your cooldowns to come back up. It will also lower the effectiveness of dots and mana burns on you. Read my previous post for a list of Holy Paladin PvP gear and how to get it.
Fighting in an arena is very different than fighting a boss in PvE. There is a much greater reliance on your utility abilities and talents. You’ll need a good understanding of all the capabilities of your class and, to a lesser extent, every other class as well. You’ll need a great setup for your UI and especially your hotkeys and mouse clicks. However, it can be a ton of fun.
This season is the best time to get into arenas. Blizzard has mostly fixed the system so that you get more points for your wins and lose less points for your losses. There’s still an issue fighting new teams with a high matchmaking rating but a low team rating, meaning you sometimes don’t get many points from a win, even against a good team. But it seems that happens less and less as your matchmaking rating increases. The only real obstacle is the time you want to put into it. There’s no reason to stop at 10 matches per week, especially at the lower levels. If you haven’t tried arenas yet, I encourage you to do so. It’s a lot of fun.
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