The Eternal Debate: Selfless Healer vs. Eternal Flame


Now that Selfless Healer has gained more widespread popularity among Holy Paladins, I’ve seen quite a bit of discussion about whether or not Selfless Healer is actually good for progression or if Eternal Flame should really be the only talent we choose when we’re trying to kill a boss for the first time. Personally, I think that both Eternal Flame and Selfless Healer are usable on any encounter, but I want to try to clarify some of the key points in the discussion.

I have yet to see anyone argue against Eternal Flame’s viability, so the discussion is mostly about whether or not Selfless Healer is good for progression. Fair warning: this post is fairly dense, so I’ve added a summarized version at the bottom.

Before I get into everything, I want to point out that this discussion exists because there are some factors that are subjective. Some of the points of contention just don’t have a great answer and you’ll have to form your own opinion about them.

Here are what I think are the four major arguments in the debate against Selfless Healer

  1. Eternal Flame does more healing than Light of Dawn
  2. Selfless Healer is a difficult or clunky rotation and has lots of nuances that require perfect play to truly be effective
  3. The buff from Selfless Healer just leads to more overhealing
  4. Selfless Healer requires too much buildup and people might die in the process


1. Eternal Flame vs. Light of Dawn

If you’ve read my first post about Selfless Healer on this blog, you’ll know that this was one of my biggest concerns about Selfless Healer. Does the benefit from Selfless Healer outweigh the loss of healing by going from Eternal Flame to Light of Dawn? This point is generally agreed upon that the benefit from Selfless Healer is greater. This debate is probably not as common as others, but I wanted to be as thorough as possible.

With the Paladin class trinket, Libram of Vindication, the first Holy Light or Flash of Light after a Holy Shock and the Beacon/mastery healing associated with it is what makes up most of our healing in Hellfire Citadel.

For the sake of those who have not read my initial post and don’t want to go back to it, here are the salient points:

  • Factoring overhealing percentages, Eternal Flame does roughly 12% more healing than Light of Dawn.
  • Before 6.2 and the Infusion of Light (IoL) buff for Flash of Light and the introduction of the Libram of Vindication, Holy Light and Flash of Light (and their Beacon/mastery healing) accounted for roughly 42-44% our total HPS. With the changes, Holy Light and Flash of Light account for 60-63% of our total HPS.

Because our Holy Power spenders are such a small portion of our overall healing-per-second, the loss from using Light of Dawn is trivial.

There is often a follow-up point made within this discussion that Eternal Flame helps keep up Illuminated Healing. Conceptually, this might make sense, but if this were true we would see higher overhealing for Illuminated Healing from Selfless Healer due to the mastery absorption shields falling off and this just isn’t the case. The overhealing of Illuminated Healing can vary between encounter and specific Paladin, but, overall, the numbers are usually in the 8-12% range for both talent choices.


2. Selfless Healer is difficult to play and requires a precise rotation

The Selfless Healer rotation can feel very awkward if you’ve never done it before, but the basic rotation is no more difficult than Eternal Flame’s. Admittedly, the rotation for Avenging Wrath is not intuitive, but once you understand what you’re supposed to be doing, it only takes a little practice to get that down as well. The only critical thinking required in the Selfless Healer rotation is knowing when to cast Holy Prism, Light of Dawn, or the second Flash of Light, and, most of the time, that’s a very easy choice to make.

Eternal Flame has similar nuances. With Eternal Flame, you have to decide how often you can afford to use Infusion of Light procs on Flash of Light instead of Holy Light. At certain thresholds, you can adapt your rotation to always use Flash of Light on Infusion of Light, but that’s at fairly high gear levels or on specific bosses with quicker kill times. The same critical thinking is required to know when to cast Holy Prism, Eternal Flame, or a second Holy Light for the Eternal Flame rotation.

The second point of this argument is that Selfless Healer requires very precise play to be effective. As is true with almost any spec in the game, suboptimal play will result in worse performance, but there’s nothing about Selfless Healer that makes it somehow more prone to catastrophic failure than Eternal Flame. Losing the Selfless Healer buff by missing a Judgment is equivalent to missing a non-buffed Holy Light or Flash of Light, just like missing any part of Eternal Flame.  Outside of Holy Shock (which is equally as important to both talents), there’s no one element of the rotation that will set you back further than any other element. Similarly, getting the rotation out of sync takes, at the most, one cycle (five seconds) to realign.

In this same vein, I’ve seen the argument that Eternal Flame has the ability to cast Holy Shock followed by three Flash of Lights in a single cycle whereas Selfless Healer is forced into sticking with the Holy Shock, Judgment, Flash of Light, Flash of Light rotation. This just isn’t true. There’s nothing about Selfless Healer that makes it so you can’t also cast Holy Shock followed by three Flash of Lights. This is the highest possible healing-per-second for either talent selection, but it comes at a much higher mana cost and isn’t sustainable for any reasonable amount of time in either rotation. It’s purely for moments where you need as much healing as possible and are willing to sacrifice mana because of it.

You may be wondering if the base rotation for Eternal Flame is more single target healing due to the Eternal Flame heal-over-time effect. You would, unfortunately, be wrong. While the initial healing of Eternal Flame is slightly higher than a non-buffed Flash of Light or Holy Light, you would only be able to benefit from 15 seconds of the HoT before having to reapply it with Eternal Flame, and that’s just not worth more than multiplying the trinket-buffed Flash of Light by 35% from Selfless Healer. In the end, going from Eternal Flame to Selfless Healer is a ~13% increase with no Infusion of Light procs, and a ~16% increase with all Infusion of Light procs, depending on haste.

T11 Paladin

3. Selfless Healer is more overhealing

This point was also one of my initial concerns, but I chose not to discuss it in my first post about Selfless Healer because I hadn’t collected enough data to be sure. Since then, I’ve been able to collect a significant amount of data for Selfless Healer. I have a database of over 60 logs and over 400 encounters of Holy Paladins playing both Selfless Healer and Eternal Flame. There is more data for Eternal Flame than there is for Selfless Healer because the logs are mostly from July through October of 2015 and there just weren’t as many high-level Holy Paladins that were playing Selfless Healer and also logging. I chose to stop adding data in October because most well-respected Holy Paladins had killed everything in HFC and were farming older bosses at much higher item levels than they did on their initial kill; leading to skewing the results in both directions (more overhealing when healing with the same amount of healers, and less overhealing when healing with less healers).

I found that Flash of Light overhealing was typically a little bit lower when playing Eternal Flame (45%) than when playing Selfless Healer (56%), but that Holy Light was usually higher overhealing (63%) and that, during progression, Holy Paladins playing Eternal Flame tended to use Holy Light twice as often as Flash of Light. It wasn’t until a boss was on farm that people started to use Flash of Light more often.

Overhealing Ratio of Usage Total Overhealing Contribution
Flash of Light (Selfless Healer) 55.5% 100% 55.5%
Flash of Light (Eternal Flame) 44.5% 33.37% 14.8%
Holy Light 63.1% 66.63% 42.1%

Overhealing from Holy Light and Flash of Light:

Eternal Flame: 56.9%
Selfless Healer: 55.5%

As you can see, Selfless Healer actually has less total overhealing than Eternal Flame. This is probably due to how slow the cast time for Holy Light is and the likelihood that it will get sniped by one of the other healers. The difference in overhealing is inconsequential and not a good enough reason to say that Selfless Healer is better, but it does show that Selfless Healer definitely doesn’t do more overhealing than Eternal Flame.


4. Selfless Healer requires too much buildup

This is, by far, the most widely used argument by Selfless Healer opponents. The argument is that because Selfless Healer has to use a global cooldown just for Judgment, it leaves too much time between subsequent heals and people will die in the process. To fully talk about this issue, we need to break it down into two parts.

  1. The cast sequences for each rotation and how much they differ (or how wide the healing gaps are)
  2. Whether or not the gap is enough to warrant Selfless Healer being banned from progression.


4a. Cast sequences for each rotation

The argument that Selfless Healer has too much of a healing gap presumes that Eternal Flame does not also have this problem. I think that Eternal Flame has similar limitations, to an extent, but we’ll need to go over the cast sequences for both talent selections.

  1. Base Eternal Flame: Holy Shock > Holy Light > Holy Light
  2. Eternal Flame w/ IoL proc: Holy Shock > (IoL) Flash of Light > Holy Light
  3. Base Selfless Healer: Holy Shock > Judgment > Flash of Light > Flash of Light
  4. Selfless Healer w/ IoL proc: Holy Shock > Judgment > Flash of Light > Flash of Light

There are a few possible cast sequences for Eternal Flame that use Infusion of Light on Holy Light, but they are less optimal for throughput or mana efficiency, so, for the sake of fewer numbers, I’ll leave them out of the discussion.

To more clearly show what all of these rotations actually look like, we’ll need to make a few assumptions. First, let’s assume that we have 30% haste (the actual value doesn’t matter as everything will scale at the same rate) and let’s say Flash of Light and Holy Light heal for 1, while Holy Shock heals for 0.5 (Holy Shock doesn’t actually heal for half, but it doesn’t really matter because it’s the same for every sequence). The buff from the class trinket, Libram of Vindication, is set to an increase of 100%. This would mean that an Infusion-of-Light-buffed Flash of Light would heal for 3, a Selfless-Healer-buffed Flash of Light would heal for 2.7, and an Infusion-of-Light-and-Selfless-Healer-buffed Flash of Light would heal for 4.05.

Ability Name Cast time / GCD Cooldown
Holy Shock 1.15s 4.62s
Judgment 1.15s 4.62s
Flash of Light 1.15s
Holy Light 1.92s

Cast sequence graph

As you can see in the graph, the Selfless Healer sequences (yellow and green lines) have a gap of 3.45 seconds between Holy Shock and when the first Flash of Light finishes casting. This is, unquestionably, a long period of time where we are unable to actually heal anyone; however, you should also notice that the base Eternal Flame sequence (blue line) has a similar gap in healing of 3.07 seconds. The Infusion-of-Light-buffed Eternal Flame sequence (red line) has the shortest gap of 2.3 seconds.

When you think about the gap of each sequence being the time between Holy Shock and the next heal, Selfless Healer will always be the slowest, but I think there are also other ways to look at this problem. One way to look at the healing gap is to see that every sequence completes the same number of healing abilities in the same time frame (~4.5 seconds depending on haste). With the exception of Holy Shock followed by three Flash of Lights, every rotation heals once with Holy Shock and then two of either Holy Light or Flash of Light, or both. Using a global cooldown on Judgment doesn’t increase the length of time between each Holy Shock. There is just as much dead time for each talent choice; the only difference is that Eternal Flame’s healing is slightly more spread out over the length of the Holy Shock cooldown.

Another way to see this issue is based on the cast times of each heal. Holy Light is slow. As we can see from point number three, about overhealing, Holy Light overheals quite a bit more than Flash of Light. This is, undoubtedly, due to the length of the cast of Holy Light and the likelihood that one of the other healers is going to heal that target first. This is a different kind of gap—the gap between target selection and healing completion. In this regard, Eternal Flame is worse than Selfless Healer. It may take longer for the first Flash of Light to come in from Selfless Healer, but the time from when you select who you’re going to heal and that heal landing is shorter than Holy Light and clearly leads to less overhealing (though not by much).


4b. Is the healing gap a concern for Selfless Healer?

This is really difficult to answer and why this discussion is so heated. The answer is that it’s complicated. In some situations, that 3.45 seconds really can matter. There are a few abilities in Hellfire Citadel that, when trying to solo heal them, deal damage too quickly for Selfless Healer to keep up. However, in every one of those scenarios, Selfless Healer has the capability of casting Holy Shock followed by three Flash of Lights—just like Eternal Flame would have to do in the same situation. Luckily, there aren’t that many situations in Hellfire Citadel where we’re forced to solo heal steady damage on a single target.

What I think is the key point of this discussion is that we heal with a team of healers. Each healer brings different strengths to bolster each other’s weaknesses. Buffering heals have always been a weakness of Holy Paladins. This argument is often treated like we’re the only healer and that if we aren’t able to heal someone for the length of a global cooldown, they’ll die. We’ve always required smaller, more widespread healing to buffer our casted, direct healing (Holy Radiance and Light of Dawn spam was just a phase).

There’s no question that the pace of healing has become much faster in Hellfire Citadel, but there were still times in Highmaul and Blackrock Foundry that tested our throughput abilities. The damage taken per second on Mythic Blast Furnace, Blackhand, and Darmac are all comparable to any encounter in Hellfire Citadel. The damage may not spike as much as it does in HFC, but the throughput requirements were still there. There was never any discussion about Eternal Flame’s basic rotation being too slow—even though it’s less than half a second faster than Selfless Healer in delivering healing after Holy Shock. Before 6.2 and the change to Infusion of Light buffing Flash of Light, there weren’t any discussions about Holy Light being too slow.

One of the keys to being a good healer is learning the damage patterns of a boss and adapting. Using the correct ability for the situation is pivotal to all healers, and Selfless Healer is no exception. If you’re struggling to keep people alive during a particular point in a fight, shuffle some of your cooldowns around to deal with the issue or swap to using Holy Shock > triple Flash of Light.



  1. Eternal Flame does more healing than Light of Dawn. It’s true that Eternal Flame does more healing than Light of Dawn, but our Holy Power spenders are such a small portion of our overall healing that the difference is negligible and doesn’t outweigh the benefits of the Selfless Healer buff to Flash of Light, which is a much larger portion of our overall healing
  1. Selfless Healer is difficult to play and requires a more precise rotation. It’s really not any more difficult to play than Eternal Flame. Selfless Healer may be a little bit more nuanced, but they both have ways to optimize the rotation that make them more difficult to play. Similar to difficulty, both rotations require the same amount of precision to keep high throughput.
  1. The Selfless Healer buff to Flash of Light is just more overhealing. While it’s true that Eternal Flame makes better use of Flash of Light with only 45% overhealing (compared to 56% for Selfless Healer), Flash of Light is used half as often as Holy Light in the Eternal Flame rotation and Holy Light has 63% overhealing. When the overhealing of Holy Light is taken into consideration, the Flash of Light and Holy Light contribution to overhealing for Eternal Flame is slightly more than Selfless Healer (56.9% for EF to 55.5% for SH).
  1. Selfless Healer requires too much buildup. This argument has the presumption that the time between Holy Shock and the next heal completing is much longer for Selfless Healer than it is for Eternal Flame, and that’s not always true. The basic rotation for Eternal Flame is less than half a second faster than Selfless Healer. At its best, Eternal Flame is one second faster. Both rotations complete the same number of heals in the same duration of Holy Shock’s cooldown, and Eternal Flame also has the downside of relying on Holy Light’s slower cast time, which results in other healers sniping the heal. The gap between heals for Selfless Healer can be an issue, but both talent choices have the option of casting Holy Shock followed by three Flash of Lights to deal with the higher damage. A big problem with this argument is that it’s based on the idea that we are the sole healer and don’t heal with a group of healers. In reality, we’re never waiting for damage to start the rotation, we’re constantly cycling through it, and any downtime is filled with healing from other people–just like it is with Eternal Flame.


Closing Thoughts

If you actually read through each point and didn’t skip down to the summary, you will have noticed that most of this information is based on progression from a really long time ago—before the item level upgrades. This definitely has an impact on how each specialization currently plays, specifically in regard to increased spirit and faster kill times. With more access to spirit, Eternal Flame has the ability to cast Flash of Light after every Holy Shock (some Paladins were already very close to this back then anyway) thus decreasing the potential healing gap between Holy Shock and Flash of Light. I think this definitely helps make Eternal Flame a more seductive choice, but it doesn’t detract from any of my points. In using older data, I was able to ensure that it was based on logs from some of the best Paladins and it shows that content can be beaten with less spirit and more use of Holy Light. It may be a hard sell to some of you that Selfless Healer is better than Eternal Flame, but I hope to have shown that it’s not worse. At least not in a way that is detrimental to progression.

My goal in all of this has never been to try to show you that Selfless Healer is better. I think both Eternal Flame and Selfless Healer are perfectly reasonable options for progression and you should choose what you do best with. I switched to Selfless Healer while we were working on Mythic Tyrant Velhari with the expectation of using it only for that encounter. I ended up doing more healing on every other boss than I had been previously and decided to stick with it through Mythic Archimonde. You may still think that Eternal Flame is the best choice for progression, but I can assure you that Selfless Healer is just as capable at healing through every encounter in Hellfire Citadel.

Thanks for reading!



A few notes about methodology

The logs I’ve acquired were taken from several different Holy Paladins playing in several different guilds across North American, Oceanic, and European servers. I did use my own logs as an example for both Eternal Flame and Selfless Healer, but there were a lot of different Paladins used for both talents (27 different Paladins, 23 different guilds). All data is from kills or 80%+ wipes from 7/21/2015 through 10/14/2015. Some of the data is from farm kills, but I tried to make sure that none of them used an unreasonable amount of healers (too few or too many) or used abnormal strategies that might have skewed the data. I used data from Tyrant Velhari for spell frequency (since some Paladins went Selfless Healer for this fight, but swapped to Eternal Flame for others) but never for overhealing percentages.



3 thoughts on “The Eternal Debate: Selfless Healer vs. Eternal Flame

  1. Neonas February 4, 2016 / 4:18 pm

    Thanks, this is well structured comparison. My guild recently killed Xhul’horac and I was noticing the 3 second gap becoming an issue especially at rare times when the tanks and the person assigned to the black hole all dropped below 20% at the same time. I was never using the shock, flash, flash, flash rotation which I now see is very useful to know considering mana isn’t an issue and the change in rotation negates the period of no healing. Perhaps if Jeathebelle could please add a mention of the triple flash rotation to the Selfless Guide it would be helpful for holy paladins that are still progressing. I realize there is generally a rule that if someone will die during a global to do what ever it takes but I was still using the standard rotation at times where this would have saved a life.


  2. king February 22, 2016 / 11:29 pm

    PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE continue this blog. I NEED U BRUH.


  3. keshawk March 13, 2016 / 12:51 am

    Most helpful. As a long standing HP, very much appreciate the thorough analysis. Thanks.


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