Healing Through the Burst Damage

Some people call it spike damage.

Others call it burst damage.

Whatever you want to call it, this attack does a ridiculous amount of damage within a short time frame and coordinated healing is going to be required to counter it. It’s one of the basic attacks any boss will throw against your party and yet when I join pickup raids, these attacks are enough to drop most tanks. Either they forget to use their survival cooldowns or their healers forget to burst heal them.

Why don’t we look at some burst damage examples just so you get an idea?

Instant, high damage attacks

Flame Breath – Halion
Shadow Breath – Sartharion
Fusion Punch – Iron Council

What these types of attacks have in common is that they have the capability to 1-shot your tank if their health is too low. They’re fairly quick and you might not have enough time to prepare for it. In the case of the dragons, you need to rely on a visual cue with regards to the way they tilt their head up.

How to counter it: Your tank healers should always keep a HoT up on them at all times. Don’t even worry about over healing at 85. There is always going to be incoming damage and their health isn’t likely to stay at 100% for most of the fight anyway. Expect your tank to hover around the 70-90% range. Use whatever visual cues you have to your advantage. Expect to work with the tanks on this one if you’ve been wiping to it for most of the night. Have a survival cooldown ready for each application. Each healer or tank or DPS with a cooldown needs to know where they are in the list. It helps to have a leader bark out which player’s cooldown is next.

Individually, you’ll want to try to time your 2.5 second long big heal to coincide when the attack lands. It takes a bit of practice, but it’s doable. Eventually, after multiple tries and attempts on a boss, you’ll get a handle for the rhythm.

Channeled, high damage over a period of time

Plasma Blast – Mimiron
Frost Blast – Kel’Thuzad
Harvest Soul – Lich King

These types of attacks last over a period of a few seconds. The Frost Blast ability does 104% of a player’s health in seconds. Sometimes, there is no warning on these either. The initial tick or two will usually go off and your healers have 1 second to find out who the affected player is, 1 second to target and start the cast, and another second for the heal to land. By the 4th second, that player is usually dead.

How to counter it: First thing you want to do is make sure that the boss ability shows up as a high priority debuff on your raid frames. This way, you can use your peripheral vision and quickly determine which player is afflicted. This is where HPS actually matters. That boss is going to do an X amount of damage to your tank in a span of a few seconds. If you can hold off and mitigate or heal through the damage, you are golden. The trick with these? Sometimes it isn’t possible for 1 healer to do it on their own. The incoming damage is either too much or the healer’s spellpower and other stats aren’t high enough to counteract it. This is when your healing team needs to plan this out ahead of time and have 2-3 healers automatically focus the tank when that boss ability is used.

In one of the future encounters, the Omnichron Defense System has an boss where they will spend about 3 seconds targeting a player with a laser. After the 3 seconds are up, it shoots a huge jet of sustained fire at that player. I had a tough time tackling it on 10 man and it put a huge dent in my mana reserves.

Being able to counter these various forms of burst damage is going to be a key skill for your team of healers. It doesn’t hurt to practice or at least visualize how you intend to go about it.

Now the question is, how does your class deal with spike damage? Remember it doesn’t necessarily apply to just raids. There are going to be 5 man encounters where the only healer you have to rely on is yourself to keep that tank alive. You don’t need to keep players topped off. You just need their health bars to be somewhat filled. Topping off can always be done after the fact.

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About Matticus

Matticus is the founder of World of Matticus and Plus Heal. Read more of his columns at WoW Insider. League of Legends player. Caffeine enthusiast.


  1. Frost blast, nice memories of fail on that one. Made me make big changes to they way I healed and the raid frame s I used. Xperl out, Grid in and @mouseover macros to my heals so I could heal from the visual clue rather than the raid frame.

  2. For boss abilities I find it most useful to have either the boss as target, or focus, and have the castbar clearly visable. Makes timing big heals on dragon’s breath easy peasy.

  3. I think I’m a little weird because I love using cooldowns like Hand of Sacrifice or, pre-4.0.1, Divine Sacrifice/Divine Guardian. I would leap at the chance to HoSac my tank for Plasma Blast. I’d just beacon myself at the start of the encounter, then HoSac my tank and keep healing them and heal myself simultaneously. It was glorious!

    I also get a kick out of telling people to use their cooldowns at specific points and still have all the healer cooldowns (HoSac, PS, GS) show up on my grid so I can make sure healers are blowing the CDs when they should. 🙂

  4. Gurtogg Bloodboil, ’nuff said.

    I admit that being a discipline priest I am a bit spoilt when dealing with burst damage. Having Access to Penance that both heals for a lot but also does it so fast stars blush when blinking is a blessing. It even does it instantly without much cuddling and sweettalk to precede it. The combo of shielding followed by a Penance and another heal is awesome for burst situations. Ask anyone that tried to kill a discipline priest in pvp how they feel about it… Not only does Penance gain extra haste but so does the third spell in line. That could be a super fast Flash Heal when heals have to come even quicker or a mana efficient Heal that also lowers the time until the tank can be shielded again. There are things that other healers do better. Like landing really big heals or dealing with constant incoming damage but when it’s about reacting to burst damage I don’t think anything can beat us. The combination of already mitigating a lot of the incoming damage as it happens with being able to follow up with some of the quickest healingsequences in the game is just too amazing. And then I didn’t even mention the ability to keep renew on the tank to even out the damage just in case, having multiple cooldowns that can save him if things go really bad like Pain Suppression and Power Word:Barrier on the tank (Hell yes! It’s 30% damage reduced on a single target too, gawddamnit). Neither did I mention the ability to speed up your own healing with a bloodlu… cough, Power Infusion or Berserking (because trolls are the best and you know it). I am really exited to see discipline tank healing being back on track for Cataclysm.

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