In some ways, the Seer skill tree of the Jedi Sage advanced class comes closest of the three types of healers in SWTOR to the traditional “caster” type of healing role that is likely to be familiar to players coming from other MMOs. The Seer wears light armor (essentially a cloth equivalent), relies primarily on cast-time as opposed to instant-cast healing abilities, and even has a “bubble” shield ability reminiscent of WoW’s Discipline Priests. This guide focuses on PvE healing as a level 50 Sage.
First, the skill tree build:
A dedicated healing Sage has perhaps one to three skill points to play around with at level 50. In this case, I’ve placed two in Pain Bearer and one in Jedi Resistance. Depending upon how things work for you and your flashpoint/operation groups, you could reverse that for greater damage reduction and lower increased healing on yourself, but that’s purely personal preference. It also just feels like the alternatives are all worse:
- Valiance: For the most part, Sages work to avoid using Noble Sacrifice without the Resplendence buff that makes it not cost health. And even without Resplendence, the small reduction provided by points in Valiance does not stack up against other places you could put those points.
- Egress: while this sounds good, the duration and speed boost are both small enough that it ends up being hardly noticeable. Also, it doesn’t stack with sprint, so the time when it might be most noticed (running into position at the start of a pull) it won’t even be in effect. This also requires two points in Valiance, so for a four point investment it has very little return. Perhaps this has a use in PvP, but I’m just focused on PvE for now.
- Confound: there may be times when you toss out a Weaken Mind every now and then to assist with DPS (the HM flashpoint bosses have some pretty severe enrage timers applied to them, so every little bit can help when your group has just reached 50), but it does not seem worth two skill points to apply a tiny speed decrease along with it. Perhaps another PvP skill? Though it’s strangely high up in the dedicated healing tree…
- Concentration: this one sounds good, but it’s a trap for healers. This is meant to be a DPS mana management skill, and it actually works out to cost more force than it’s likely to return for healers unless you truly have nothing else to do. There are trash fights where little healing is required, but most fights get frantic enough that when you do reach a lull you’re best off to just stop casting and let your force regen normally for a few seconds.
Some comments on the Telekinetics tree:
Most Sages consider five to seven points spent in the Telekinetics tree to be essentially mandatory, and I would highly recommend spending at least your first five skill points in this tree as you level no matter how eager you might be to start doing “healy stuff”. Mental Longevity gives you an additional 100 force, pushing your total maximum force pool up to 600. The 9% reduction from Inner Strength applies not just to your heals, but to all force abilities, which makes this skill tremendous at all levels and pretty much every situation. Finally, since Force Armor is typically your best “heal” (remember, damage absorbed never results in overhealing) spending an additional two skill points in Telekinetic Defense to boost its effectiveness by 20% is fantastic for yourself and your companions while leveling, as well as your groupmates in flashpoints and operations.
At max level, you have a relatively small collection of direct healing abilities, so I’ll just go through each of them with a short paragraph regarding usage.
- Benevolence: At first glance, this appears to be the equivalent of “Flash Heal” type spells in WoW given its short cast time. However, Benevolence heals for a very small amount when compared to our longer cast time heal and has nearly the same force cost. For this reason, a Sage will only rarely cast Benevolence since even a critical heal from it tends not to result in enough health to justify the cost.
- Deliverance: This is the mainstay healing ability of a Sage, since it has no cooldown and provides a fairly efficient amount of healing for the cost (only 5 force more than Benevolence). While the three second cast time seems a bit long at first glance, the tier one Seer skill Immutable Force lowers it to 2.5 seconds, and it can be further reduced through mechanics that I’ll go into below in further discussion. In situations of high incoming damage, it can be reasonable to spam Deliverance casts while other abilities are on cooldown.
- Force Armor: A shield (or “bubble”) ability, Force Armor is a signature ability of Sages and is our most efficient “heal”. You’ll want to keep this active as much as possible on tanks, and it’s also reasonable to put a shield on someone else about to take some heavy damage (ex: if you or another healer pick up aggro when adds suddenly spawn, a quick shield can buy the time needed for the tank to taunt and establish threat on the new enemies). With the proper skill points it has no cooldown beyond the GCD and a force cost of only 35. It’s very difficult to currently get an exact measure of how much damage the shield absorbs (theorycrafters are hovering around the 2.7k mark for a level 50 Sage in pre-operation gear), and it seems somewhat thin when facing high-damage enemies such as elites and champions, but mitigated damage is never overheal and the low cost makes Force Armor worth using regularly. It applies a debuff on the target (Force-imbalanced) that prevents that target from being able to receive another Force Armor cast for 20 seconds, so you’ll want to get familiar with what that debuff looks like on your target and operations frames so that you can see when to re-apply the shield.
- Rejuvenate: A Sage’s only Heal-Over-Time ability, at a mere 30 force this provides a very efficient heal, albeit spread out over 15 seconds (note that the duration extension from Force Shelter adds two more ticks of healing beyond the standard version, it does not simply spread the original amount healed over a longer duration). Since Force Shelter also causes Rejuvenate to apply a 10% armor increase for its duration, it’s worth making sure that you keep this ticking on the tank as much as possible.
- Restoration: This is our “dispel” ability, which thanks to Mend Wounds only costs 15 force and removes 2 mental, force, or physical debuffs from the target. It seems like enemies apply a ton of debuffs, so there are times when the 4.5 second cooldown can seem annoying, but use of Rejuvenate and Force Armor helps against the various DoTs that you might not be able to dispel immediately.
- Healing Trance: This is likely to be a Sage’s favorite direct healing ability. It heals for more than Deliverance for a lower force cost. Granted, the healing is broken into four ticks spread across a three second channel, but with the crit bonus from Conveyance (more on this in the next section) it ends up being a huge amount of healing. Healing Trance does have a nine second cooldown, so there will be times when you reach for it and it’s not available yet; just get accustomed to watching for it to come off cooldown so that you can quickly know whether to wait a second or go ahead and cast Deliverance instead.
- Salvation: This is a tough one to evaluate. It’s our only multi-target heal, but it’s incredibly costly. If used with the cost reduction from Conveyance, and including the 10% boost from Psychic Suffusion, on paper Salvation has tremendous output and seems more reasonable. The downside is that the bulk of the healing is spread over ten seconds in a ground-targeted 8m area. This means that people need to remain standing in the same area in order to get full value from this ability. Also, even the full healing amount is really only cost effective if you manage to catch at least four to six targets in the area (depending upon whether or not you get the force cost reduction from Conveyance). However, there seem to be plenty of times when most or all group members are taking significant damage, and Salvation is our only way to heal them all simultaneously.
Thoughts on Conveyance – Resplendence and force management
Once you reach approximately the mid-40s, you’ll have enough points invested in the Seer tree to have nearly all of a Sage’s healing tools along with the primary mechanism for our force management. To start, every cast of Rejuvenate will proc Conveyance, which provides a variety of positive changes to the next healing ability you use. Technically, Conveyance procs as a buff with about 10 seconds duration, so you have time to do something else between casting Rejuvenate and actually consuming the proc, but this tends to be more relevant in solo content. The heaviest hitting use of Conveyance is for Healing Trance, since the 25% boost to its crit chance means it will be rare for Healing Trance to not crit on at least one of the four ticks of healing.
Using the Conveyance proc for Healing Trance also ties into force management for a Sage through Resplendence. While it’s entirely possible for Healing Trance to crit and proc Resplendence without the Conveyance crit buff, it’s far less reliable for gaining a “free” Noble Sacrifice. Since a Sage regenerates a baseline 8 force per second, the time spent casting Rejuvenate/Healing Trance/Noble Sacrifice (6 seconds) will regen 48 force, plus the 48 gained from Noble Sacrifice means that the consumption of a Resplendence proc pays for itself plus 24 additional force. Just note that while the crit chance is boosted, it’s still not guaranteed so do not using the Rejuvenate/Healing Trance combo simply to get a “free” Noble Sacrifice; instead use it when the healing is needed and consider any Resplendence procs a bonus. Also be certain to use the Resplendence proc. It grants a buff with 10 seconds duration and there are plenty of times when you’ll need to continue healing with a Deliverance cast or refreshing Force Armor, but it tends to feel best to only do one or two things between gaining Resplendence and using Noble Sacrifice; particularly if you experience unpredictable latency, it can be somewhat risky to use Noble Sacrifice too close to the Resplendence buff’s expiration and end up costing you health and decreasing your force regen.
It’s also sometimes necessary to use Noble Sacrifice without the Resplendence proc. The 15% of max health cost probably isn’t a concern if you are over about 2/3 health, and there are times when you’ll be spending enough force that you’ll feel you need a quick 48 force boost to afford the next Deliverance cast (for example). The main thing to remember is that you don’t want to stack the force regen debuff from Noble Sacrifice more than once since that will cripple your natural ongoing force regen more than the immediate force from back-to-back Noble Sacrifice is worth.
The alternative to all of the above is when you need to heal multiple targets with significant numbers. In that case, you should attempt to use the Conveyance buff for a Salvation cast. And then beg your groupmates to stand in the pretty healy floor (it shows up as a glowing gold ring on the ground) long enough to gain the benefits of you spending nearly 70 force on a single ability. There are some boss encounters with a phase that involves high amounts of unavoidable AOE damage (most likely the final boss in the False Emperor flashpoint will be your first taste of this type of situation). In these encounters, it becomes more important to use Rejuvenate on cooldown to gain the Conveyance buff’s cost reduction to Salvation (as opposed to being primarily concerned with keeping the Force Shelter buff on the tank) and using a relic to get crits from Healing Trance in order to keep gaining Resplendence. Due to the AOE damage, even though you are likely to have less difficulty staying in your own Salvation ground effect, be far more careful about the cost of using Noble Sacrifice without Resplendence. In worst case scenarios, if your group can stay within Salvation’s effect, it is possible (albeit fairly stressful) to keep everyone alive around 30% health while you hover around 15% of your force pool.
Useful Non-healing Abilities
Because we might still have a few keybinds left without abilities on them…
- Weaken Mind and Mind Crush: The two DoTs provide a very nice amount of damage for their costs, while allowing you to heal while they’re ticking away. These abilities should certainly not be your top priority as the group’s healer, but as you head into endgame content some bosses have very tight enrage timers and every bit of extra damage can be helpful.
- Cloud Mind: The Sage threat reduction ability. It’s free, but on a 45 second cooldown. it can be a a bit rough to know when to use this, since we don’t have any threat meters or aggro indicators. One point to remember is that it’s completely useless to use it against a recently spawned/pulled enemy that’s running right towards you. Unless there is someone else on an enemy’s aggro list, Cloud Mind is not going to make them stop trying to kill your squishy light-armor-wearing self. Therefore, good times to hit this will be shortly after the start of a pull when the tank has established some aggro on all the enemies, but is probably also taking the most damage from the most enemies (and requiring you to push out the most healing); also just after a tank taunts a new add or group of adds away from you, to make sure that your ongoing healing threat stays below the tank.
- Force Potency: The primary use of this ability for healing Sages is the increased critical chance. With a cooldown only lasting 90 seconds, you can typically use this ability multiple times per boss encounter. Don’t hesitate to use it on trash pulls, as well. Note that the increased critical chance only applies to “direct” healing/damage abilities. In terms of our heals, this means that it will only boost the critical chance of Deliverance and Benevolence.
- Rescue: YOINK! Sadly, this is the sort of ability that sounds great, but rarely works out that well in practice. Ideally, the heroic lifesaving Sage will use this to pull some poor DPS out of a nasty ground-targeted AOE, but it can be very disorienting for the pulled player and runs the risk of drawing any enemies that were attacking that player over where they can more easily do AOE damage to you. Also, never use this on a tank unless you and the tank have specifically discussed and agreed upon it in advance!
- Force Lift: When you choose the Sage advanced class, this turns into a 60 second crowd control ability, which can be very useful. Note that it will pull the entire group if used as the opening ability of the pull, so as a healer you may feel more comfortable leaving this to other group members. But it’s nice to have it quickly available when some extra CC is needed.
Secondary Stats for Sages
SWTOR has made gearing a bit more straightforward since each class gets its own dedicated primary stat. For Sages, that’s willpower and it, along with endurance, will come baked into the light armor we want (as a side note, Sage’s use of light armor means that we can happily use all of the social/cosmetic moddable armor options without dealing with the possible armor rating loss that medium- and heavy-armor users experience). In terms of baseline modifications (those that determine the rating of the item) a Sage will want the Resolve hilt and armorings (Force Wielder modifications prioritize endurance over willpower for Jedi Shadow tanks).
In terms of secondary stats, a healing Sage really only cares about Alacrity, Crit, Surge, and Power. While a gut-reaction might say that Power is good for everything while Crit and Surge just provide percentage chance improvements, early theorycrafting is starting to show that, at least at level 50, it takes a very large amount of Power rating to translate into any noticeable healing bonus. For this reason, it currently looks like it’s better to enjoy the force power that comes baked into your lightsaber and off-hand focus, but not prioritize Power rating on armor or modifications. Crit and Surge ratings should probably be balanced with each other, since the usefulness of Surge providing larger critical heals (note that the baseline critical increase is only 150% of the original amount, not double) is dependent upon having a reasonably high critical chance. Alacrity decreases cast times on abilities, and the places where you’re likely to notice it most are Healing Trance and when casting Deliverance without the Conveyance buff. This is an area where each individual Sage probably wants to experiment a bit to see how much more valuable it feels to have slightly faster cast times. I’m currently prioritizing Crit and Surge about equally and not really chasing Alacrity since it did not seem to make that much of a difference, but I do not yet have much raiding-equivalent gear so I’ll want to experiment with the larger amounts of Alacrity that are available from the top item modifications as I get access to them.
NOTE: BioWare devs have posted a huge nerf to Surge (which, therefore, would also mean that Crit will become less desirable) in an upcoming patch. This is likely to go live with update 1.1.3, or perhaps 1.1.4. If it does go live in its current state, this change makes Surge considerably less effective and theorycrafters are drifting more towards a balance between Power/Crit/Surge, possibly even favoring Power once again.