Discipline Priest Healing in 5.0.4

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This last week has been that familiar time where my healing world gets turned upside down and I have to relearn it all over again. Like all classes, Discipline healing has seen an overhaul in mechanics, stats and priorities. A week ago I felt awesome in my BiS gear and after the patch hit, I was gasping for mana – and my BiS gear wasn’t so BiS anymore. If this sounds familiar, fear not. You’re not alone and with a little tweaking and switching up of priorities, Discipline healing gets to be fun and interesting. Without further ado, here are my first impressions of Discipline healing in 5.0.4: 

As quick note, my healing experience comes mostly from two nights in heroic Dragon Soul. I suppose I should’ve done some LFR first to ease into the changes but oh well. 🙂

The New Stats:

One of the big things that has changed about healing in general is that mana pools are now normalised. We get 100k mana at level 85 and nothing we do, save from the gnome racial and the healer meta gem can really change that. This means that your mana pool is going to be the same as the next priest’s mana pool regardless of which of you has more intellect on their gear and enchants. This change has a lot of consequences for us.

Spirit vs. Int

Throughout Cataclysm, Discipline priests always favoured more int over spirit simply because of our regen mechanic, Rapture. In 5.0.4 and beyond, that gets thrown out with the change in Rapture. Spirit is now our best friend and our only hope of having any kind of decent longevity in fights. If I was gasping for mana right after the patch hit, it was because my previous gear chock full of intellect gems did everything to make my heals hit hard, but did nothing for my mana regen. Spirit versus Intellect is the eternal tug of regen versus output. There’s no magic number to make it fit each personal healing style so it will take a little bit of reforging, regemming and experimenting to see where the sweet spot is for regen. Replacing some of the high intellect red gems with the hybrid intellect and spirit purple gems is a good start. Reforging haste back to spirit is another great way to bring back some regen.

Heartsong etc. The Heartsong enchant is making a comeback since its days in Tier 11. It offers a sizeable chunk of spirit and is one of the easiest ways to get spirit back into stats – especially considering Maw of the Dragonlord lacks any spirit whatsoever. Similarly switching out Flask of the Draconic Mind with Flask of Flowing Water is another easy way of getting instant spirit until you can balance stats on your gear.

Managing Mana:

Mana regen comes in two main forms for Discipline healing – the first is Rapture, our passive familiar regen with the 12 second cooldown; the second is our mana regen tier in talents.

Rapture, rapture, rapture.

Rapture used to be the main reason why we valued intellect over spirit for regen in Cataclysm. Now in 5.0.4, Rapture is reborn and is the reason why Spirit will be king of our regen.

Rapture still triggers when Power Word: Shield is completely absorbed or dispelled, and maintains its internal cooldown of 12 seconds. The big difference is that mana returns are now based on spirit instead of intellect.

Initially when I was gasping for mana in my gear, it was because I wasn’t getting enough mana back from Rapture as I used to. To take advantage of Rapture, it is imperative to be generous with spirit in gear, enchants and gems. To get a better idea of what Rapture’s mana returns, it’s worth looking at this in concrete terms.

Let us say I somehow have 4k spirit total (including Heartsong and Heart of the Unliving) at the time of Rapture. Rapture would give me 150% of 4k which comes to 6k mana. To put this in perspective, Power Word: Shield costs 6,100 mana if we don’t count the benefits of Inner Will. (Power Word: Shield costs about 5, 185 mana with Inner Will up). So it looks like for a good amount of spirit, Rapture returns enough every 12 seconds to cover Power Word: Shield and a little bit more.

Note that this is still from a perspective of someone at level 85 – when we hit level 90, our stats will scale by a significant amount as they do every expansion. I plan on revisiting Rapture once I hit level 90.

I used the example to get a concrete sense of what those mana returns meant in terms of actual spell costs instead of just abstract numbers. This isn’t to say that one should run off and lolstack Spirit above all else – we will still need to maintain a balance between all our stats. But it gives a good idea of how important spirit actually is, and how the new way healing requires a bit of change in the way we think about our stats. Keeping track of Rapture and it’s internal cooldown of 12 seconds is still going to be key for us to maintain our mana and longevity in fights.

Mindbender, Shadowfiend and the Mana regen tier

This tier offers varying ways of managing your mana with increasing degrees of control from left to right. From Darkness Comes Light seems like the priest version of Omen of Clarity where it makes Flash Heal free to cast. Since it’s a proc, you have no real control over when it hits. Mindbender is pretty much Shadowfiend’s big brother – the kind of cooldown where you hit it and forget about it. It’s on a fairly short cooldown of a minute – and note that this talent replaces Shadowfiend. If you’re a fan of active mana regeneration mechanics, Power Word: Solace is for you – the priest version of telluric currents. You have complete control of when you want how much of your mana – assuming ofcourse, the fight allows for a down-time for you to cast this.

For the time being, I’m oscillating between Mindbender and Solace depending on the fight. Note that for Mindbender, you need to keep track of its cooldown fairly often and remember to cast it  – this can be a daunting task with the current cooldown overload Discipline is famous for. Weaving in these tools along with maximising Rapture returns will be key to keeping our longevity in fights.

Hello, Atonement:

Atonement healing is now a integral part of our style and no longer something we got to choose with talents. So what exactly is Atonement healing?

Long story short, Atonement healing revolves around specific mechanics where dealing damage with Smite and Holy Fire actually heals members and additionally gives you a healing buff in the form of Archangel. Smite/Holy Fire/offensive Penance give you stacks of Evangelism -> Evangelism can reach a maximum of 5 stacks -> when it reaches 5, you can consume those stacks to get Archangel (angel wings) -> when you get Archangel, it increases your healing by 5% for every stack of evangelism you have. Having to smack enemies as part of your healing rotation can take a little bit of getting used to but once the ebb and flow of this healing style gets familiar, it can be a fairly fun way to heal.

Note that you do not need any hit as a healing priest even though you’ll be smiting enemies. The increased chance to hit with holy spells is now passively granted with the Discipline spec.

The pace of Smite

If you haven’t done much of Atonement healing in the past, you’ll note that this style is much more fast-paced than the pure healing style. Our Atonement heals hit for a fair amount and when they crit they do proc Divine Aegis. Currently, my Smite alone has roughly half the casting time of Heal – and its associated Atonement heal heals for the same amount. Holy Fire can be glyphed to be an instant cast so it’s a very powerful heal that can be cast on the move.

Useful macros

The biggest issue I had when I first tried out Atonement healing was target switching. It was annoying to have to switch between hostile targets and my trusty raid frames. A few simple macros can make it fairly simple to never have to de-select your friendly target in order to smite.

The following are priceless for me – they select target of the target to hit Holy Fire and Smite with:

#showtooltip Holy Fire /cast [harm] [target=targettarget] Holy Fire

#showtooltip Smite /cast [harm] [target=targettarget] Smite

This literally converts those spells to be no different than plain old healing spells in my mind since we never have to move away from our raid frames for them.

Issues with Atonement

As cool as it is to Smite enemies in order to heal your team members, it comes with its own set of issues to be aware of.  Even though Smite and Holy fire look and feel like healing spells now, they are offensive spells at the end of the day. Therefore, they have a different range than our healing spells do. Keep in mind that when you use target of target to Smite the enemies, you still need to be in range of the enemy to do so – not just your target. This seems fairly obvious now but it’s surprising how many times during a chaotic fight the range issue just slips by and I get spammed with the “out of range” message.

The other downside to atonement healing is that you have no control on who it will heal. It will usually heal a low health member who is close by so that’s good – but this still includes pets and that’s not so great. I facepalm every time I see a yummy 30k healing crit go to a bloodworm or a treant.

Cooldown Juggling:

Discpline is often referred to as the “cooldown overload” spec at the moment and compared to what it was in Cataclysm a month, I can see why. If I were to count all the cooldowns to keep track of on my fingers….well, let’s just say I don’t have enough fingers. 🙂 As daunting as the idea of keeping up with a zillion cooldowns is, I think it simply takes a bit of getting used to with help of cooldown-tracking addons like Sexy Cooldown. So what exactly are these cooldowns we need to keep track of?

Lining up Archangel

Archangel is now a pure healing cooldown for us as it no longer returns any mana. It’s on a 30 second cooldown so it’s fairly short – and this means that using this one is going to be full of judgement calls. With a short cooldown like this one, you want to make sure that you optimise its short cooldown and use it frequently in a fight. On the other hand, you also don’t want to simply spam it while its off cooldown either.

Lining up the 25% healing boost from Archangel with heavy damage phases is a real saver but doing so requires a bit of planning and familiarity with the fight. Know the damage phases well and stack up 5 stacks of evangelism shortly before the storm – pop angel wings when the damage spike hits and save your raid members. 🙂

The second throughput cooldown is Inner Focus. The new version of Inner Focus has been changed to provide more oomph to your heals and a smaller mana reduction. It’s on a slightly longer cooldown than Archangel but its cooldown is reduced like usual from Greater Heal. If one can pop the wings and line up an Inner Focus powered Greater Heal/Prayer of Healing for a particularly bad damage phase, all the better.

The power of Spirit Shell

I love Spirit Shell. It is a fantastic spell that turns consequent heals into absorbs. Ha! I can just see my resto druid going green with envy. I’m always a fan of mitigating damage rather than healing it up since mitigation implies you could potentially stop a killing blow in it’s tracks. Yes, I feel oh so powerful with this spell. Couple things to note with Spirit Shell:

  • Absorbs from Spirit Shell scale with mastery.
  • Spirit Shell caps out at 60% of the caster’s maximum health.
  • Does not benefit from Archangel or the healing from Inner Focus.

Derevka of Tales of a Priest  recently wrote an insightful post on the mechanics of Spirit Shell which sums up the potential of this spell in a great way:

Spirit Shell scales exceptionally well from both Mastery and Crit. Each cast of a heal while Spirit Shell is active will be the same (barring throughput procs). The Spirit Shell calculation takes Mastery, Crit, and Divine Aegis creation into account and rolls it all up into a single absorb– making this one of our most scalable heals in our arsenal. Spirit Shell scales linearly by Mastery as well as by the amount of critical strike chance you have. Additionally, when Spirit Shell is active, it essentially ignores the RNG aspect of Crit as it provides direct scaling based on your critical strike chance (guaranteed). (It does this by essentially looking at Crit as an aggregate stat, not as a RNG stat based on a single heal)

Spirit Shell is a powerful spell on a short cooldown, but like Archangel, its potential really shines when its lined up with phases of heavy incoming damage on either the tank or the raid. For protecting the raid, I usually pop it with a Prayer of Healing for some strong absorbs. Similarly if the tank is in deep trouble, combining Spirit Shell with a Greater Heal can be a real saver.

Power Word: Raid

At last, something that hasn’t changed. Power Word: Barrier has remained our trusty raid cooldown that we know and love from Cataclysm. It’s on a 3 min cooldown, and thus one of those abilities that gets coordinated with other healers. Even though it hasn’t changed much, it’s now one of the many cooldowns we’ll have to keep track of and plan around amidst the chaos.

Mana cooldowns

There are three big mana cooldowns to keep track of: Rapture, Mindbender/Shadowfiend, Hymn of Hope. Rapture has an internal cooldown of 12 seconds while Mindbender (if chosen as a talent) is on a minute cooldown. Both are regen mechanics that we would want to use multiple times in a fight and thus, keeping track of their cooldown timers is key.

Shadowfiend (if you chose not to go with Mindbender) and Hymn of Hope are the two spells on a longer cooldown that are only used once per fight. I admit I’m not a huge fan of Hymn of Hope – having to stand and channel a spell for regen restricts healing and movement for the duration. I’m a happy panda when I can successfully get through a fight without having to use it but we don’t always have the luxury of doing so.

Final Thoughts

So this time, I’m going to go ahead and count all the cooldowns that need to be tracked as a Discipline priest. Here goes!

Prayer of Mending (10 secs), Holy Fire (10 secs), Archangel (30 secs), Inner Focus (45 secs), Spirit Shell (1 min), Mindbender/Shadowfiend (talent choice – 1 min/ 3 min), Power Infusion (talent choice – 2 mins), Desperate Prayer (talent choice – 2 mins), Pain Suppression ( 3 mins), Power Word: Barrier (3 min), Hymn of Hope (6 mins)

That list doesn’t include our level 87 ability, Void Shift or our level 90 talent choices. Yeah, need a strong cappuccino here please.

The cooldown overload image that discipline has going for it at the moment is well earned and can be daunting. It is my hope that as I familiarise myself with the healing style, the basic cooldowns will get more or less internalised leaving me lots more bandwidth to deal with the bigger ones that need lining up – like Spirit Shell and Archangel.

A lot of our abilities as Discipline priests are very powerful when they are used at the right moments. This only really happens when we have an intimate understanding of the fight and can plan and predict our abilities. It almost feels like an art. It’s rewarding to know that when we line things up and heal like a perfectly executed dance or piece, Discipline really shines. I’m looking forward to Mists of Pandaria not just for the new content – but also in how it will define our new healing style.

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8 thoughts on “Discipline Priest Healing in 5.0.4

  1. MindBenders – 1.3% Mana when it attacks last 15Sec = 19.5%(Assuming its swing timer is 1sec)

    ShadowFiend – 3% Mana when it attacks last 12sec = 36%(Again assuming 1sec swing timer)

    In lets say a 4minute fight, you’ll be able to cast 4 Mindbenders(79.2% Mana) or 2 ShadowFiends(72% Mana)

    Since MindBender replaces the ShadowFiend, would it be best to just keep the Shadowfiend and use 1 of the other 2 talents?

    Would Shadowfiend + Solace equal more mana?

    • There’s been some discussion on the min maxing of this and it really depends on the fight. As far as casting Shadowfiend twice in a 4 min fight, that wouldn’t really happen unless the first cast of Shadowfiend was right at the beginning in which case you wouldn’t really be gaining any mana because your bar is full.

      Keeping that in mind, Shadowfiend + Solace going above Mindbender depends heavily on your ability to use Solace during the fight. Solace does not benefit from atonement which means that even if you managed to get in a good deal of Solace, you’re trading HPS in for it at that point. And this isn’t even considering movement-heavy fights and such.

  2. I’d say over 70% of fights, within the first minute mana would drop to 80-70%… A Fiend regens close to what an Innervate does.. Most efficient way to use Fiend/Innervate would be at that time, Allowing for a second Fiend/Innervate at the 4min mark..
    (LFR Ultrax made me a Pro at timing Innervates/Tree/Tranq on my druid.. lol)

    I’d have to agree with what you said with Solace. Unless it was a DPS Check boss with no massive raidwide damage, then Solace wouldn’t be needed as much.

    That would bring up From Darkness, Comes Light. Works with Smites making it useful for atonement, Heal, Flash, Greater. Being able to build up to charges would help saving the free cast for when its actually needed.

    What brings the value of this talent down, is how often are Heal, Flash, Greater fast. Between 2 Shields, Penance, Smite, and Holy Fire, leaves small room to use it as fillers. A fight like H Baleroc or Yorsahj where casting a Greater heal is needed, the talent would be extra mana efficient.

    • You have a good point about mana dropping to 80% – 70% within the first minute – although I personally wouldn’t go far as to generalise for over 70% fights. There are however, a couple things to keep in mind when looking at mana regen talents. Three things really stand out here: 1) fight duration 2) phases 3) healing style.

      If we look at it from a purely theoretical perspective, then yes Solace can outpace Mindbender if you hit it a certain number of times per minute. Unfortunately, not all fights allow for it. In shorter bursty fights, Mindbender is often the preferred regen talent since there is little down time. Solace thus has the potential to outdo Mindbender, but that’s not always the case thanks to the actual mechanics of the encounter at hand.

      In longer fights, Solace generally is more appealing. But in comparing these two, remember that Solace has many more restrictions than Mindbender does. Solace has 1) a cast-time 2) no HPS component. This implies that for one to use Solace you need to have a predictable phase of no damage and not a whole lot of movement.

      The real restriction with From Darkness, Comes Light is that it only applies to Flash Heal. It gives you a free Flash Heal for upto two charges and that’s it. It’s great for if you do use Flash Heal alot, but not if you want more control on where your mana is spent. I personally prefer more control over where mana goes.

      My last point is about healing style. Ultimately, the better talent will be one you use more. If someone absolutely loathes weaving in Solace while healing, no matter what the numbers say they will probably be better off and more productive with a different talent.

      The upshot is that we no longer have a model where one size fits all and, that is Blizzard’s intent. Tailoring your mana regen talent to the fight at hand is key and ultimately will win out over the theoretical return of mana – because putting into action in a certain encounter is not always guaranteed. I personally like this where you have to consider all the variables including healing style and details of the encounter before choosing a talent.

  3. Thanks for writing this up! Your examples made me realize the implications of normalization… that analysis can keep fixed numbers and share a bit more easily. I’m curious to see how much healers will need to switch specs/glyphs based of situations in MoP. The gap between intention and practice can be pretty wide sometimes… we’ll see!

  4. Well now I can understand my priests a bit better – though only a bit mind you! It’s still a bit gobbledygook to me!

    OH and i like your picture of your priest as an angel – almost like a Christmas card! OOH was that the idea?? 😀

    • I kinda went on a screenshot spree one day and just took that angel one – but Christmas card is a fantastic idea Navi!! 🙂 Guess I know what I’ll be sending out this December lol.

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