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[MoP Beta] Snapshot of the Disc Priest

Posted by Malevica on May - 12 - 2012

I’ve spent a bit of time in the last week or two playing my Discipline Priest in the Mists of Pandaria beta, and trying to figure out what’s changed and what’s what in the new world order. Of course, this being Beta, it’ll all have changed again next week, so treat this as a snapshot of where things are at. (I actually delayed publishing this until I had time to see the new Spirit Shell changes, more on that below!)

As is my wont this post got a bit long, so if you want to skip to a specific part here’s links to the discussion of spells, their costs and performance, Spirit Shell, Rapture, Talents and Glyphs.

Bear in mind that I’m still only level 86 as I write this, and the experience changes a lot as you level up.


The Gotcha Test

The first thing I do when I log into a beta or PTR is what I think of as the “Gotcha!” test. I take a close look at the HPS, HPM and costs of all our spells. Why? Remember Flash Heal in Wrath? And in Cataclysm? That’s what I’m looking for, a go-to ability that’s undergone a drastic shift. Here’s the list at level 85, at my gear level which is ilvl 404 on Live:

Priest Spells, Costs and Performance (Build 15677)

Priest Spells, Costs and Performance (Build 15677)

Notice that the mana costs are all nice neat round numbers. That’s because all healers now have a fixed mana pool of 100,000 MP (except gnomes, who have 105,000 MP thanks to our racial!) and spells cost a fixed percentage of our maximum mana.

No huge surprises in there this time, so I won’t go into too much detail. Most of the spells are where they have been in Cataclysm, which is nice. Flash Heal and Power Word: Shield remain our fast, expensive emergency heals. They have pretty punishing HPM and high costs, but they’re quick. Penance is still earning its cooldown with comparable HPS to Flash Heal but half the mana cost, and Prayer of Healing is still good when you have 3 or more people to heal up.

On the subject of abilities, there’s a new page on the spellbook labelled Core Abilities:

Priest Core Abilities Tab (Build 15677)

Priest Core Abilities Tab (Build 15677)

This is a helpful little nugget to nudge new players in the right direction when picking up a spec for the first time, or returning to a spec after a while away. It might be nice to draw attention to this tab more obviously, maybe as a tutorial tip, because it’s not even in the Talents window so you could easily overlook it.


Spirit Shell

While for a while Spirit Shell was an absorb replacement for Greater Heal, that design was rolled back in a recent build in favour of giving us GH back and redesigning Spirit Shell. Personally, I like what they’ve done with the spell.

Spirit Shell is a 15s self-buff on a 1 minute cooldown that turns all the heals you cast into absorbs with their own 15s duration. According to Ghostcrawler it’s been designed to take account of Divine Aegis (by increasing the size of the bubble by your crit chance so if, for example, you have 20% crit chance your bubble will be 120% of the size of the heal), the bubble size benefits from Grace in the same way the original heals would, and the bubbles also scale with Mastery. Note that the bubbles don’t “crit”, your crit chance has already been taken into account.

To put some numbers on this, imagine you hit Spirit Shell, then cast Greater Heal on your tank. Suppose, for the sake of argument, a baseline Greater Heal is good for 50,000 HP.
I have 15% crit chance, so that gives me a bubble of 50,000 * 1.15 = 57,500 HP.
I also have 25.73% stronger bubbles from Mastery, which takes my bubble up to 57,500 * 1.2573 = 72,295 HP.
Add in a triple-stacked Grace for a 30% boost, and my Greater Heal bubble is up to a whopping 72,295 * 1.30 = 93,983 HP.

That’s good stuff!

The current implementation is still a little early. Currently it’s not actually benefiting from any of those extra effects so we’re stuck with the basic heal. There’s also the open question, which Ghostcrawler acknowledged is still one they don’t have an answer for, of how stacking and capping these bubbles will work. Currently the Spirit Shell shields from different heals stack with each other (they create separate buffs for themselves depending on the spell) but casting the same spell twice refreshes the duration but replaces the absorb amount with the latest value, even if it’s lower.

I expect both of these behaviours to change and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the effect end up working more like DA does, where all the heals contribute to a single bubble buff which stacks up to a cap. The developers did point out that they don’t like us feeling like we need to spam something up to a cap (PoH/DA, anyone?), but I don’t think I mind that sort of mechanic. We’ll have to see how it plays out.

The utility of this is centred around preparing for and preventing damage. Know the Elementium Bolt is about to splash down, or your tank’s going to get Impaled? Get those bubbles out there to take the edge off it. The fact that it scales with Mastery means that you’ll get a slight healing boost out of this cooldown as well (Mastery affects the whole bubble, rather than just the DA portion of the heal), but the tradeoff if that you’ll have to have enough damage coming out to take proper advantage of the absorbs.



Rapture is something of a vexed subject at the moment.

Rapture, on Beta and on Live, returns a lump of mana when your PW:S breaks; on Live it’s a fraction of your total mana, on the Beta it’s 150% of your Spirit. On Live this is (significantly) more than the PW:S cost to cast, making it an important source of mana regeneration, whereas on Beta the return is less than the cost of PW:S.

If we consider Rapture as a regeneration mechanic, it’s a slightly problematic one. The objections been gone over several times, including in the links above, but they more or less come down to difficulties in getting PW:S to break reliably when the damage is light or unpredictable or cases where you have multiple Disc Priests fighting over opportunities to bubble a single tank.

This unreliability is a problem on Live because Rapture is a form of “active mana regeneration”, like a potion on a 12s cooldown, and it’s a major part of our mana equation – we cast a bubble every 12 seconds to give us the mana we need to do whatever it is we actually want to be doing – and because it’s so powerful we don’t bother with Spirit for the most part. Imagine if your Shadowfiend had a 50% miss chance, or your Hymn of Hope didn’t actually give you any mana back half the time. Oh, wait…

However, Ghostcrawler explained that that this wasn’t actually the intention of Rapture:

Rapture isn’t trying to be Telluric Currents. You shouldn’t spam PW:Shield when you need mana. Rapture is intended to offset the cost of PW:Shield when the latter is used intelligently.

So instead of thinking of Rapture as part of our mana regeneration, instead we should think of it as a discount on casting PW:S as long as we don’t do it too often and pick a target that’s actually going to take damage. Think of it as a proc like Surge of Light, giving us a cheap PW:S every now and then instead of a free Flash Heal, only it doesn’t proc randomly but activates every 12 seconds instead. I still think there’s a possible issue with PW:S needing to break, especially in the case where you have two Disc Priests fighting over the damage, but you can at least see why that design is there, and that might be an application of the Divine Insight talent (call-ahead!).

Have a look back at the table, and look at the HPS and HPM of PW:S with and without Rapture. Without Rapture it’s still our best HPS ability, but the cost is punishing. Factor in a Rapture proc though and it’s suddenly right up there with our best HPM abilities as well.

There’s still one small wrinkle though, and that’s Meditation. You see, Meditation for Disc Priests is 25%, whereas it’s 50% for every other healing spec. The reason for this is that because Rapture makes PW:S so cheap and so powerful (when we weave it in) we can achieve the same output as the other specs for a smaller mana cost. To balance out this lower cost, our background regen is lowered to match.

The upshot is that if we don’t use PW:S at all, or don’t use it especially intelligently, we’ll end up a little behind the other specs mana-wise. If we use it exceptionally well, we’ll potentially end up ahead. Now the ball’s in Blizzard’s court, and they’ll need to tweak the numbers as the Beta progresses and we hit the level 90 content to make sure we’re balanced.



I’ve not done a talent run-down in a while, so let’s see where we’re at with those.

Level 15

Priest Level 15 Talents (Build 15677)

Priest Level 15 Talents (Build 15677)

Level 15 remains the “CC” tier. Void Tendrils summons a Tendril for every mob within 8 yards of you that roots it for up to 20 seconds; Psyfiend lets you spawn a Psyfiend at a location you choose that fears a mob attacking you every 1.5s; Dominate Mind is Mind Control. Videos of the first two are below for your enjoyment.

Void Tendrils:


Personally I’d go with Void Tendrils as my standard pick, just because fear is often a risky proposition. But I can see a lot of value in the Psyfiend in PvP. Throw it down on a flag or into a tower and watch the fun, or maybe just use it to keep people off you.

Level 30

Priest Level 30 Talents (Build 15677)

Priest Level 30 Talents (Build 15677)

At Level 30 you’ve got the movement talents. Body and Soul is the same ability we’ve known and envied for two expansions, only now it’s available to all Priests regardless of spec. The contender for PvE is Angelic Feather, which lets you place up to 3 feathers on the ground that grant a movement speed boost to the next person to step on them. If you have a known kite patch or need to keep someone moving at speed for a while then Angelic Feather is stronger than Body and Soul, but Body and Soul is more flexible if you just need to get someone moving and don’t necessarily know who it’s going to be. Tailor your choice to the situaion.

Phantasm looks at first glance like more of a PvP choice, although don’t rule it out entirely for PvE either. It makes your Fade remove all movement-impairing effects and makes you untargetable by ranged attacks and immune to movement-impairing effects for 3 seconds. The untargetability might have niche applications (I wonder if it would make you immune to Shrapnel, for example) but the freedom of movement could be handier.

I suspect the choice will usually be between Angelic Feather and Body and Soul for PvE, but it’s nice to have the option of Phantasm as well.

Level 45

Priest Level 45 Talents (Build 15677)

Priest Level 45 Talents (Build 15677)

Level 45 is the first tier where you get to actually improve your output. From Darkness, Comes Light (FD,CL), which still has that extraneous and slightly grating comma, gives you a 15% chance to proc a free, instant Flash Heal when you use (most of) your single-target heals. The list includes Smite, but not Penance or Holy Fire; this may change, I’d certainly expect to see Penance in that list. Given the high HPS of Flash Heal, this is a strong talent if you’re using a good number of single-target heals.

Mindbender replaces your Shadowfiend and deals double the damage and gives back double the mana. Because everything scales off base mana and base mana is fixed, your Mindbender will return 72% of your mana bar (assuming he doesn’t miss) compared to 36% for the Shadowfiend. This extra mana allows you to use more of the expensive spells, and is a great choice if you don’t think you’ll see the benefit of FD,CL, if you’re AoE healing, for example.

And finally we have Archangel, another old friends that’s been opened up to all three specs. This is a straight up output boost for 18s on a 30s cooldown, assuming you’re able to weave in the requisite number of Smites, Holy Fires and Penances to stack Evangelism up to 5. That’s right: Penance stacks Evangelism now, one stack per tick, and causes Atonement heals as well, so you shouldn’t have any trouble getting Evangelism stacked.

In this tier you’re picking what you need. The first two are all about efficiency, the third is about simple output. I suspect we’ll shift from the left to the right as the expansion progresses and mana becomes less of an issue, and at the start we’ll be interested mostly in FD,CL for tank healing and Mindbender for raid healing, although I’ll admit I’ve not sat down and worked through them in detail yet.

Level 60

Priest Level 60 Talents (Build 15677)

Priest Level 60 Talents (Build 15677)

Level 60 is all about taking care of yourself. You get a choice of an instant 30% self-heal on a 2-minute cooldown (Desperate Prayer), a shield for 20% of your HP when you’re damaged below 30% of your health every 90s (Angelic Bulwark) and the new Spectral Guise.

Spectral Guise is an interesting talent. When you hit it you spawn a clone of yourself which your enemies will attack, while you get stealthed for 6 seconds or until your clone (“your true form”) is hit 3 times. You can either use the time to run away or to throw a couple of heals on yourself unimpeded.

Spectral Guise feels more solo- or PvP-orientated than the other two since you don’t often take direct attacks as a healer in raids, but it may be useful to save you from a powerful attack directed your way (again Shrapnel comes to mind), since you don’t share in the the damage your clone takes.

Level 75

Priest Level 75 Talents (Build 15677)

Priest Level 75 Talents (Build 15677)

Here’s where things get really weird, with a jumble of talents. Twist of Fate gives you a 15% damage or healing buff after damaging or healing a target under 20% HP. I can see this possible being useful for handling low-health enrage phases: throw a HF on the boss at 19% and enjoy 15% extra healing for a while, as well as the more orthodox behaviour of rewarding triage-style healing of the lowest people when the raid is weakened.

Alternatively you could go for Power Infusion for 20% faster, 20% cheaper spell for 15s every 2 minutes either for you or for a friend.

The real wildcard is Divine Insight. For Disc Priests this procs from Penance casts and allows your next PW:S to ignore and to not cause Weakened Soul.
I can see two main uses for this. It’d be pretty handy if you needed a quick throughput boost on a single target because it would let you to throw out a PW:S, Penance, PW:S combination, and it would also be useful to let you maximise the frequency of your Rapture-cheapened PW:S casts even if you or another Priest has already got Weakened Soul on your target.

Level 90

Priest Level 90 Talents (Build 15677)

Priest Level 90 Talents (Build 15677)

Until we’re able to actually play with these all we can do is speculate. I’ll link the three options, but reserve comment until they’re opened up on the Beta.

Your choice at level 90 is between:
Cascade, Divine Star, and Halo.



Since the Prime Glyphs have been removed, we’re left with the utility-focused Major Glyphs and the cosmetic Minor Glyphs.

The minors are all more or less unchanged. Shadow Protection went away with the removal of spell resistances, and we got Glyph of the Heavens instead. This one makes your Levitate targets appear to be floating on a cloud. Funky!

As for Majors, a lot are unchanged, but there are a few interesting changes.

  • Glyph of Dispel Magic – Deals damage when you dispel an enemy, rather than healing when you dispel a friendly.
  • Glyph of Purify – Heals 3% of max HP when you dispel a friendly. Dispel Magic is now our offensive dispel, while Purify is our defensive dispel/cleanse ability.
  • Glyph of Fade – Reduces all damage taken by 10% when you Fade, which could be mighty handy.
  • Glyph of Holy Fire – Makes Holy Fire instant-cast. Doesn’t save you any time if you’re able to stand still, but could add a valuable extra tool to our healing-on-the-run toolkit.
  • Glyph of Levitate – Increases your movement speed by 10% while you’re levitating and for 10s afterwards.
  • Glyph of Penance – Allows you to cast Penance while moving, but increases the cost of Penance by 20%. If you need healing on the run this is a good bet. The cost just stops it from being a no-brainer.
  • Glyph of Power Word: Shield – Similar to the old version, but where the healing used to be a bonus, this time the healing is taken out of the absorb instead.

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Reflections on Heroic Healing

Posted by Malevica on April - 18 - 2012

Now that heroic Dragon Soul is over with I find myself in an interesting position: this is the first time in my WoW career that I’ve completed an end boss on heroic while it’s been current content. It’s been a fascinating experience, and I’d like to talk a little about how heroic raiding and healing has felt to me. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…


Context is King

I’ve been flirting with heroic raiding for the last two expansions, but it took me a while to work my way through the ranks of guilds raiding progressively closer to the cutting edge before finally ending up in a guild that was in the running for the top of the server charts.

WotLK was the first time I managed to join a guild that was running hardmode and heroic content, but we didn’t manage to kill heroic Anub’Arak or heroic Lich King on 25-man, only on 10-man with 25-man gear. Not that I’m not proud of the team I achieved those feats with, we all worked hard for them and they were a great bunch of people to raid with, but I still felt we fell short of what some members of the guild could, and probably should, have achieved in the expansion.

In Cataclysm I only got a couple of heroic bosses down in Tier 11 before rerolling yet again to Oceanic so that was a bit of a washout, and reaching 85 midway through Firelands pretty much put paid to my chances of earning a heroic Ragnaros kill before Dragon Soul (although we did go 6/7H post-nerf after starting the guild only weeks before). So DS with <;Abraxas>; was my big opportunity to really push progression and I’m very grateful for the opportunity and for the victory.

What my previous experience gave me was a sense of what heroic fights entailed mechanically but what I’d missed out on from being late to the heroic party and not raiding heroics relatively early, with less gear and thus at the difficult end of the progression curve was a sense of what those fights require of raiders personally.


Heroics Require Focus

And by this I mean total, full-time concentration. When an encounter is really stretching your team’s limits, when your tank is fractions of a second away from dropping dead and when those green bars just don’t seem to ever want to come up again you absolutely have to pay attention the whole time. Glance at your chat log and someone might end up dead. Fail to spot an enemy spell cast and don’t hit your cooldown in time, someone’s dead. Stand in the fire for a second too long and your HPS will be zero for the rest of the fight.

And it’s not just paying attention, it’s also having to constantly think. There’s so little time that you can spend just mashing the same button and waiting for a big blue DBM warning; instead you’re watching timers or learning to feel the fight so you can be ready for the next big thing to come at you, switching spells and healing targets on the fly, and working out what your fellow healers are doing.

And let me tell you, this gets exhausting. We raid 9½ hours per week spread over three nights which isn’t much by some standards, but we generally raid hard for those hours with quick re-pulls after wipes and as little downtime as possible. By the end of good progression nights I’m quite often completely frazzled and no use to anyone for a while afterwards. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy myself, but it’s hard work, mentally, and if you can’t keep it up for the duration of the raid then you’re just going to be wasting time by the end.


Heroics Require Motivation

So we’ve established that healing heroics is sometimes hard work and tiring; that inherently means you need to find your motivation.

You can be intrinsically motivated – motivated by your own reasons like killing bosses makes you happy or you have a desire to be the best healer you can be – or extrinsically motivated – motivated by something outside the task, maybe so your raid leader will stop yelling at you, or for bragging rights or a shiny mount – or a combination, and neither is inherently “better” than the other.

Whatever you use, you need to be able to stay motivated because healing heroic raids is not going to be fun all the time. For me, it’s a combination of factors, and they come in and out of play as progression rolls on, for example:

  • At a basic level I want to kill bosses because it makes me happy to overcome a challenge I’ve been set, but I’ll admit sometimes I wonder if it’s worth the stress.
  • I also keep turning up because my team needs me and I don’t want to deny other people the opportunity to raid and beat encounters. That’s partly intrinsic because I know that turning up is the right thing to do, and also partly extrinsic because I’ll lose my raid spot if I leave people in the lurch.
  • I also set myself targets like improving my usage of a certain spell or cooldown, or beating my numbers compared to last week. Those small, measurable, achievable goals keep me coming back even when a boss takes weeks to move past and it’s frustrating as hell.
  • And yes, I want to stand around Stormwind showing off the title and mount that are the metaphorical carrots dangled in front of me every tier. Nothing wrong with that as a motivational tool!

I think that a good team community helps a lot with motivation. If you feel loyalty to your raid team you’re more likely to want to come back day after day to help them out even when you’re not personally having much fun, and some healthy competition and banter can provide side-goals to keep you aiming at something.


Heroics Require a Thick Skin

This is probably the thing that I’ve struggled with the most. We don’t have a culture of yelling at people in Vent as a general rule, but I know when I’ve missed a cooldown or got myself killed or got someone else killed. I am my own worst critic and I set myself standards which are probably too high, and I’m very good at beating myself up when I don’t meet them.

At the end of the day, you need to remember that heroic raiding is difficult. You will make mistakes and you will cause wipes, everyone does. And because of that you’ll probably be the target of other people’s frustrations at times and even if you don’t get yelled at immediately or called out publicly you’ll probably feel it anyway.

Heroic raiding requires you to pick yourself up, acknowledge your mistakes (to yourself or to your team or both), learn from them, and move on.


Heroics Require Flexibility

Unlike normal modes, where the tuning is a bit more forgiving, heroic raids require the right composition. Over the years the definition of the “right composition” has been made a little more reasonable than stacking your raid with Shaman and making everyone take up leatherworking, but (pre-nerf, at least) 3-healing Ultraxion on heroic just wasn’t happening. So you need to be able to adapt yourself to the demands of the encounter.

For healers (and tanks too, probably more so than for healers) that often means being competent at a DPS spec or being willing to sit out for a mainspec DPS when there’s not a spot for you. I’ve sat on a few bosses and I’ve even tried DPSing, albeit without much success. Fortunately we have healers in the team who are competent in their offspecs, and they make up for my inadequacies!

I’ll also mention that you will sometimes need to work harder, and it might feel like you’re being asked to “carry” another role. We’ve all been there, when you’re dropping a healer because you’re hitting a berserk timer instead of giving your DPS the kick up the backside (you feel) they really deserve. Maybe it’s not fair to make you work harder, maybe other guilds manage just fine with 3 healers instead of 2, but you have to at least be willing to give it your best shot. Whatever it takes to get the boss down, even if that means going way outside your comfort zone.

Flexibility also means tailoring your spec and glyphs to the encounter you’re currently working on, and that’s something everyone will end up doing to some extent. Every fight is different and you can’t rely on one spec, one glyph setup and one reforge and never change anything for an entire tier. You need to think ahead about the mechanics, and look back at logs, to see where you can improve or what needs to change.


Heroics Require Analysis

Which leads nicely to the last thing on my list: you have to be analytical. Not your raid leader or your healing lead, you! And by “you” I of course mean “everyone”. You need to analyse your own performance, your raid’s performance and your strategy and also be able to communicate your ideas to the team (or at least to your raid leader) clearly and concisely.

Your raid leader will have an idea of the strategy they want to employ; they’ve watched the videos, read the guides, understood the mechanics and come up with a plan. Yet the boss is still defeating you. WTF?! Your raid leader will have questions you need to answer, and they can’t answer them on their own. Questions like:

  • Why did you die? – Not “what killed you”, plenty of addons will report the proximate cause of your death, but “why were you able to be killed”. The answer might be that you stood in fire for too long, but was there a reason for that? Was everyone too clumped up? Were you preoccupied by too many things to watch? Is something preventing you from seeing the spell effects? Do we need to call out that mechanic? When your raid leader asks a question like this, pretend they’re really asking “how can we help prevent this from happening again”.
  • Why didn’t X get healed? – Maybe X got 2-shot and you couldn’t have healed him up, that’s good information. Perhaps a healer was out of commission (Ice Tombed, maybe) and no one noticed. Maybe someone took an unexpected damage spike and everyone switched off the tank to heal him up. To answer this question well you need to understand your assignment and how it relates to everyone else’s, and bear in mind that those assignments might not be formal, they might just be what the healers expect each other to do.
  • Why is your HPS (or DPS) so low? – Bad answer: “I don’t know”. Worse answer: “<;myClass>; sucks on this fight. Better answers should relate to the strategy or mechanics. Is there too much movement? Are you missing buffs? Are you not maximising AoE (or cleave, for DPS) opportunities? Bad timing for cooldowns? You get the picture.

I’ll repeat myself, because I think this is one of the most important things I’d tell a new heroic raider: When your raid leader asks a question about why something happened or didn’t happen, don’t stop at answering the question they asked. Instead pretend they’re really asking “how can we help prevent this from happening again?” and answer that question.

Sometimes you might not get your wish, but if you never ask then how will your raid leader know there’s a problem at all? They’re only one person, playing one role, they’re not omniscient.


Is It Worth It?

Absolutely, one hundred per cent, without a doubt.

But do bear in mind that heroic raiding will not always be fun. In the words of the great Del Preston:

It will not be easy.

You will get tired. You will get blisters. You will get aches and pains.

But you will also get good.

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Categories: Anecdotes, Opinion

Atonement, or Not Atonement?

Posted by Malevica on April - 16 - 2012

That is the question. Which I got via email today!

Clearly there’s not One True Answer for every player in every type of content at every level of the game, so let’s look at the Big Three: levelling, heroics and entry-level raiding, and hard-mode raiding.

I’m also going to conflate Evangelism/Archangel with Atonement here and deal with them together; you could take one without the other, but you probably shouldn’t.



The emailer said they they’d levelled as Atonement all the way through to heroics and I cannot recommend this approach enough. If you ask me “Holy or Disc for levelling?”, it’s got to be Disc all the way, baby!

Whether you’re soloing or instancing Penance is amazingly powerful, and an Atonement spec is the icing on the cake: you’re in a great position to take on more mobs at a time while questing because you don’t have to trade off as much DPS time to heal yourself up, and in instances you’ll often find yourself not needing to directly heal the tank at all, just bubble and then Holy Fire and Smite to your heart’s content. Those tedious dungeons will just fly by!

Bonus points are available for topping the DPS charts, although you’ll probably have to wait for a boss for a chance to beat the tank.


Heroics and Entry-level Raiding

Here’s where things might be a bit more open, albeit only a little. Holy Fire/Smite/Atonement’s place in the max-level Discipline arsenal is two-fold:

  • A cheap-ish, medium-throughput, spammable heal; and
  • A means of preparing during lulls for a higher damage phase to come.

My answer to the “Atonement or not Atonement?” question in entry-level content is “Atonement, unless it’s really not working for you”. Let me explain why.

Consider the alternative, which tends to be some variation on this 31/8/2 spec. The main difference is that the 5 points in Evangelism, Archangel and Atonement have been moved into Strength of Soul, Train of Thought and 1 into Inner Sanctum to make up numbers. What that buys you is more frequent Power Word: Shields on your direct healing target (SoS reduces the duration of Weakened Soul when you use your single-target heals) and greater mana efficiency if you cast a lot of Greater Heal (Train of Thought will make Inner Focus come off cooldown sooner).

Notice that both of those talents only really make sense if you’re casting a lot of direct heals on a single target. If you find yourself doing that a lot, then knock yourself out and go grab an Atonement-free spec, but I’d wager you’re probably not.

While you might occasionally run into Lolarthass the Frost DK who didn’t get the memo telling him that no, Death Knights can’t tank in any spec any more, and especially not without some sort of tanking gear, and you might have to spam Greater Heals on him to keep him from being flattened by every trash mob he staggers drunkenly into, generally tanks will be able to hold their own and you won’t need to work too hard to keep people alive. In that scenario Atonement serves as a mana-efficient way to keep the group going through the moderate-to-low damage and the extra DPS you do will help speed things along nicely.

If your tank is complaining that you appear to be too busy DPSing and not healing, feel free to educate them on how things work for Discipline Priests these days and carry on doing what you’re doing. If you’re not wiping and no one’s dying (and the Moonkin isn’t spamming Rejuvs like there’s no tomorrow), then you’re probably doing it right.
And if your tank is insisting that Disc is a PvP spec (yes, it still happens) I suggest you /facepalm ostentatiously, /sigh deeply and drop group. It’s probably for the best.

In LFR the story is similar. Even if you want to be a dedicated tank healer, I strongly suspect you’ll not find enough tank damage to heal to justify the investment in that playstyle. LFR is dominated by raid damage at the best of times, and in a 25-man raid you’re likely to find yourself working with Earth Shields and Beacons of Light specifically placed on tanks as well as smart heals and Efflorescence that get aimed at the mêlée, so most of the healing tanks need is already being covered.
In my opinion, you’re better off practising weaving Greater Heals and Prayers of Healing in with Smites and Holy Fires and learning to read the encounters to find the best times to build Evangelism and to pop Archangel. That’ll prepare you better for the more difficult tiers of raiding.

But! Always bear in mind that Atonement remains a medium-throughput spell; you can’t just smite-spam and hope to top the meters, and it’s certainly not the solution to every healing problem, you need to get clever about things even in entry-level content. You will need to break out Greater Heals when your tank(s) are taking a beating, you will need to keep Prayer of Mending going when there’s regular damage (the whole of the Madness encounter, for example) and you will need to throw out Prayers of Healing when the group takes damage. Atonement is there to act as filler while you conserve mana and to build Evangelism stacks for when you need them later.


Hard-mode Raiding

When it comes to heroic (or progression) raiding, there’s a very strong case for taking Atonement on every encounter. In fact, Derevka made that case back in December.

The short version is that a 15% boost to your healing for 18 seconds every 30 seconds is just too good to pass up when the content is stretching your healing team’s throughput, and the added DPS you can contribute is invaluable when you’re bumping up against enrage timers. And there’s essentially no penalty if you know the encounter well enough.

Damage profiles on most raid encounters are cyclic, meaning that there are clear peaks where you need extra output and convenient troughs where you can build up Evangelism in preparation. If you’re progressing through heroic raid content you should be adept at reading encounters and spotting these phases and planning your Archangel use accordingly. You should also sense when you’re OK to Smite and when you should switch to “real”, targeted heals instead.

Ultimately, what sets the great healers apart from the merely very good is their in-depth encounter knowledge which allows them to pick the right abilities to use at the right times. For Discipline Priests timing Archangel is a huge part of that.

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Getting Started As A Healer

Posted by Malevica on May - 9 - 2011

I was listening to the My Epic Heals podcast recently, and in Episode 3 Fox, Eade and Wolf were answering an email question asking about how to break into healing for the first time. Inspired, I thought I’d add my take on that question. I’ll probably repeat a few of the things they said, for the sake of completeness.

Before You Begin

Heard about all the sweet Call To Arms rewards and want to get in on the action? Have a strange green box fetish you just have to indulge? Conscientious objector who just can’t bear the thought of harming another soul? Whatever your reason, you’ve decided you want to find out for yourself what this “healing” thing is all about.

The first thing to say is: great! Welcome to the club!

The second thing to do is answer the question which inevitably comes next: Which class should I pick?

Oh boy. This one comes up a lot, and it’s probably the hardest one to answer properly. The thing is, each class has its own style, its own strengths and weaknesses, and which you should play is going to depend mostly on your own personal preference.

Druids tend to rely a lot on instant-casts and heal-over-time (HoT) spells. The plus side is that you can be very mobile and can put out a ton of healing on multiple people at once, but you might find it a bit stressful if you can’t handle bars being half-empty and only slowly filling up. You do get a cool shapeshift though, albeit on a long cooldown.

Paladins are great if you like to really focus on a task, since most of the heals they cast are still single-target focused and they have a lot of mechanics to watch out for and react to (Holy Power and the Daybreak proc, for example). One downside of levelling a Paladin healer is that Holy gear is very different from Retribution and Protection gear, meaning that if you want to heal your way up you’ll either have to level Holy or maintain an entirely separate gear set.

Shaman are very versatile healers, and can fill both tank- and raid-healing roles at end-game pretty smoothly, which is a strong factor in their favour. Restoration can also share gear with Elemental so you can have a DPS spec while questing. Finally, Shaman can also provide a huge range of buffs to their party using their totems, so you can be an asset to any team you join.

Priests are also extremely versatile healers, to the point where they have two entire talent trees dedicated to different styles of healing. Priests can also fill any role in a raid at end-game, and have a huge range of abilities at their fingertips. The flipside of this is that you may find that a Priest has too many options, particularly if you’re not a grizzled veteran player.

Ultimately the choice is yours. The only way to tell is to jump in and level one, preferably to level 30 or above, and see how you like it. Please don’t try and pick the “best” class, or the one that’s most in demand, or the one that’s top of the healing meters on WoL or try and force yourself to play a class if you’re just not feeling it; you’ll just burn out quicker and won’t enjoy your game. All the healing classes can play a valuable role in any team, so play the one you get along with the best.

Low Levels

When to Heal?

Once you’ve picked your healing class, I’d recommend you start healing as soon as possible so that you can find out if the class works for you, if you like healing after all, and so you can begin to get to grips with your healing interface. The Dungeon Finder unlocks at level 15, so you can get going pretty quickly once you’re out of your starter zones.

If you can find friends then obviously group with them because they’ll be more understanding if you need to take things slow while you learn, but at low levels people won’t expect too much so you can safely PuG if that works better for you.

I’d also recommend that you talent for healing right off the blocks. This isn’t strictly necessary at low levels but it will help you out, especially now in the Cataclysm world where you’ll get a special signature ability at level 10, just for picking a healing tree to specialise in. Those abilities are Earth Shield for a Shaman, Swiftmend for a Druid, Holy Shock for a Paladin and Penance and Holy Word: Chastise for Discipline and Holy Priests respectively. Holy Priests need to be level 51 to get healing benefits from HW:Chastise, but the other classes get a healing spell with their talent trees.

Questing as a healer at low levels, up to 30 or so, isn’t significantly slower than levelling as a DPS, although as the levels get higher the difference becomes more pronounced. However even late in the game, while questing as a healer is undoubtedly slower and more arduous than questing as a DPS, it’s really not the impossible task it used to be. But bear in mind that you’ll probably want to spend a bit more time instancing and stay in zones with yellow quests rather than orange.

How to Heal

If I tried to give specific healing strategy for every class here then I’d end up making this guide a lot longer than it needs to be, but there are some things in common.

In general, by the time you reach level 20 you’ll have access to at least two heals: one will be quick and expensive, while the other will be a bit slower but more mana-efficient. You’ll need to use your judgement as to which is most appropriate: is your target about to die? Use the fast one. Are you running out of mana a lot? Lean on the slower one a bit more. As you level up you’ll add more abilities to your toolkit, and you’ll need to figure out where they’re best used and how many you can afford to cast. You may well make mistakes and get things wrong, but developing that judgement is a key part of learning to be a good healer.

The other thing you’ll need to learn is triage. Sometimes, usually when something’s gone a bit awry with the fight, there’ll be simply too much damage for you to heal through. At this point, rather than panicking you’ll need to learn to prioritise where your limited healing goes, and sometimes that will mean letting someone else die. Triage is as much an art than a science, and is something that you’ll eventually learn to do instinctively.

The basic priority for healing is:

You —> Tank —> DPS

The reasoning is that if you die then the tank will probably die soon afterwards and the fight will probably end messily very shortly; If you’re ok, then you need to keep the tank alive rather than a DPS, because you can survive without one DPS player, but you won’t survive long with a dead tank.
Obviously there are exceptions, and you’ll figure them out in time, but to begin with focus on keeping yourself and the tank alive.

User Interface

I’d recommend that you install and get used to using a few addons as early as possible, to make life easier and because low levels is the best time to learn to work with your UI. You might already have a UI that you love, but there are some healer-specific pointers that will help:

  1. Look into custom party- or raid-frames such as VuhDo, Grid+Clique or Healbot. Healing involves a lot of muscle memory and click-casting or using mouseover macros on raid-frames is the way it’s generally done at end-game, so you might as well get used to it now. While you’re learning is also the best time to figure out what you need your raid frames to show you and where you want to look for it, so you can constantly tweak the configuration of your addons as you go.
    I’d suggest starting with VuhDo because it’s quite useful out of the box and easy to set up. There’s also an excellent setup guide on the author’s website and really phenomenal support provided by the author and others at in a dedicated forum at PlusHeal (hi zohar101!).
    Gina at Healbot.net (not related to the addon!) wrote up a great guide to raid-frames recently, so go there for more help deciding.
  2. Consider addons to alert you prominently to events and procs so you don’t miss a vital opportunity. Blizzard has included some funky graphics for some abilities but not all. If you want to get complicated then you can’t beat Power Auras Classic, but there are other solutions such as TellMeWhen for just about everything or OmniCC for ability cooldowns.
    Also remember that you can include sound notifications with most of these sorts of addons. This is an often overlooked aspect of UI design, but can be really helpful for giving you information without requiring you to move your eyes elsewhere on the screen.
  3. When building your UI, think about the layout carefully. You will need to be able to see around your character’s feet so you don’t stand in fire, but you also want to keep all the information you want to use as close together as possible, to minimise eye movement all over the screen.
    Finally, remember the golden rule: your UI should show you all the information you need, no more, and no less.

[I’ve got a full UI post in the works, so look for that soon!]


As you get into healing, you’ll begin to come across some of the social or psychological aspects of healing that are common to all levels.

Most notably: people will die, and it might well be your fault. That’s ok! Maybe you picked the wrong target or the wrong spell, or you burned through your mana quicker than expected, or you completely forgot which combination of buttons and keys controls Chain Heal; those are things that everyone does while learning (and even when you should definitely know better!) so pick yourself up, apologise to your group and move on. That’s one of the best reasons for starting early, especially if this is your first healer.

You’ll also learn to spot when these problems aren’t your fault. If you have three people in your random dungeons who all seem to be tanking one creature each, you’re probably going to find yourself struggling to keep them all alive; that’s why we have tanks, after all, they take less damage. Firstly, you can use your new-found triage skills to let the idiot DK unfortunate damage-dealer die to save the tank. Then you can communicate with your group, explain your difficulty, and hopefully they’ll adapt and make your life easier.

Or they might vote kick you, in which case you were better off without them. Just hop back in the queue and you’ll almost certainly get a better group the next time around.

Switching At Eighty-Five

But what if you’ve got your Paladin, Priest, Druid or Shaman to 85 and really fancy taking up healing?

The first thing to do is to go back to the paragraphs above, if you skipped them, and check the sections on “How to Heal”, “User Interface” and “Psychology”. They’re probably still relevant to you too. You’ll still need a basic grasp of triage, a UI with the right information on it, and to have some idea about what healing might entail.
Assuming that’s all in place, there’s a few extra things to bear in mind when switching role at end-game.

The big difference is that the level 85 world is a lot less forgiving than the level 25 world. People have an expectation, reasonable or otherwise, that you know what you’re doing by the time you get to max level. Therefore a bit more preparation is required.

Spells and Abilities

At 85 you’ll suddenly be presented with a full toolkit of spells and abilities to use, and unlike at low levels where you’ll have a few levels between each new one to learn how it works, you’ll be expected to know what they’re all for right away.

There are a number of ways you can gain this knowledge. The first ones that gets mentioned are Elitist Jerks or PlusHeal. EJ tends to have a single discussion thread per spec, which can get quite long, but these threads usually begin with a huge mega-post with the current best practice in (usually titled “Compendium” or similar). PlusHeal tends to be more discussion-based, with threads discussing questions about stat priority, spell usage, and so on. You usually can’t go far wrong with a trip to your EJ thread for an overview of what spells are good for a given situation.
As a caveat though, EJ is explicitly raid-focused, so you may need to be a little careful about their recommendations if you’re doing 5-man normals, but the general thrust of the advice will be sound.

You could also have a look at the many excellent blogs out there, and see what they’re recommending. There are plenty of guides to 4.1.0 for every class.

There are other alternatives to just reading what to do. You could browse World of Logs for other guilds, on your server or beyond, and look for other people in similar content to you. You can then have a look at what they’re doing and compare their spell usage to your own. This again tends to be raid-focused, but if you look for people doing entry-level raiding it’ll be a useful pointer.

And let’s not forget that you can always ask other people for advice. Don’t ask Trade, you probably won’t get many useful responses, but if you have a friendly healer in your guild or someone with an alt of your class, try whispering them when they’re not busy or posting on your guild’s forums and asking for some tips. Often people will be quite willing to spend time talking about how they play with someone taking an interest.


If you’re a Balance Druid, Elemental Shaman or Shadow Priest, you have an easier time of gearing up than a Feral Druid, an Enhancement Shaman or a Protection or Retribution Paladin because you’ll already have gear with Intellect on it, and you might have a fair amount of Spirit as well.

For your starter gear set, you’re looking to get anything you can with Spirit and Intellect on it. As you gear up then you might consider the secondary stats, but initially just make sure you have spirit on everything, reforging if you have to, so that you can last the fights before running out of mana. Sometimes people recommend picking up crafted blue-quality PvP gear to replace your worst pieces. This can be a good route to getting some higher itemlevel healing gear, but avoid filling too many slots this way because most of the PvP gear doesn’t have Spirit on it, and you can’t reforge the Resilience into Spirit, so you’ll end up a lot weaker than your itemlevel might suggest, and you might be allowed into heroics before you’re really equipped for them.

When you get into enchanting and gemming your gear is a bit of a personal preference, depending on your circumstances. If you have the cash to spare I’d encourage you always to go in fully enchanted and with blue-quality gems all over, to give yourself the best advantage you can. Likewise, consider popping a flask if you’re going to be running a lot of dungeons in a row; flasks are a massive stat boost, and persist through death.

Practising – Battlegrounds

Something I’ve used in the past, and something the Epic Heals guys mentioned too, is taking your new spec and UI into the battlegrounds. This is a great opportunity to check if your UI actually works for healing (you’d be amazed!) and to get used to the mechanics of healing in a less pressured environment. I’d suggest something bigger like Alterac Valley or Isle of Conquest rather than Warsong Gulch, just so you don’t have too much of an impact on your team if things don’t go smoothly.

The thing with the battlegrounds is that there’s almost always someone taking hurt that you can heal, and there’ll be dangers for you to survive while you’re doing it. At the same time, people expect to be dying a lot and so you probably won’t get yelled at when they do. And there’s often a lack of healers in battlegrounds, so anything you can do is better than nothing.

Your First Run

When you enter a dungeon for the first time hopefully you”re as prepared as possible and you’ll do fine. But it’s still important to communicate to your group. I strongly recommend mentioning to them upfront that you’re a fairly new healer, and politely ask them to take it slow or to be gentle with you. Most groups will accommodate you, since wiping is slower than just taking their time, but if they don’t, or they’re abusive, just wish them well and drop group. You’ll get another group soon enough, and you won’t learn much if the group isn’t going to work with you.

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Categories: Advice and Strategy

The First Cataclysm Raid

Posted by Malevica on December - 14 - 2010

Last night, less than a week after Cataclysm went live, my guild mustered up a 25-man raid and advanced upon the Bastion of Twilight.

Ill not keep you in suspense: we didn’t manage to kill any bosses. We were not, as they say, Prepared!

We did learn an awful lot though and I’m pretty sure we’ll get our first kill on Thursday when we go back, once we’ve got a bit more gear and experience under our belts.


My experience of the instance is still extremely limited, but I like this sort of trash. Pulls of 10 mobs make you think very carefully about what CC you have and where it needs to be applied, but there are also some genuine AoE packs mixed in to provide a bit of welcome relief.

The first few pulls were pretty messy, but it didn’t take long for everyone’s tired old CC muscles to tone up again and pretty soon we were taking down the trash without incident.

Halfus Wyrmbreaker

We got to the first boss after about 45 minutes of trash clearing, and had a look at the buffs. We had the Storm Rider, Nether Scion and Time Warden active, which is a pretty nasty combination for the first week.

Our best attempt was 39%, so we have a way to go but the strategy and execution feels pretty good now. We’ll test it out on Thursday and see, by which time we should have got a bit more gear and practice under our belts.

One lesson that came out of the Wyrmbreaker attempts is the need for communication. We were taking out the Storm Rider first, because his Shadow Nova was extremely disruptive, but we were still losing tanks despite having 4/6 healers assigned to them and only the boss and one add active.

It eventually transpired that the tank healers were switching off their assignments to cover the raid; that was why we were losing the tanks, rather than because the tank healing load was so excessive. Once we realised what was going wrong, we pulled the Time Warden along with the Storm Rider, which dropped the raid damage hugely. Even though we had 3 tanks engaged now rather than 2, they were staying up much more easily because the tank healers could focus much more on their assignment.

So healers: don’t be afraid to say if you are finding yourself healing outside your assignment a lot, it’s vital for the raid leader and/or healing lead to know where the stresses are being applied, and you probably know that better than they do.

Disc Healing

I’ve read mixed opinions on Smite healing from early experiences. From watching other healers, I definitely agree that Holy is the ‘path of least resistance’ at the moment, but I’m a stubborn sort so I’m sticking with Disc for the time being.

At the moment Disc is lacking in ‘throughput’ at current gear levels. The trouble is that with the 5-7% crit available from blue gear we’re not seeing much Divine Aegis, and without a lot of Divine Aegis procs we’re not getting much of a benefit from the Mastery on our gear either. With Disc’s absorbs being low, we’re having to heal more to make up for it, and that’s costing a lot more mana.

Holy, on the other hand, scales quite a bit better at this end of the raiding spectrum.

I intend to stick with Disc for a while though, but I’ll be swapping my offspec back to Holy again and learning how to work with the Chakra mechanics.

While I’m talking about Disc healing, Smite still seems to be suffering from range problems. 8 yards just seems to be a bit too small. I shouldn’t have to keep nagging my tank to move closer to the boss, especially when some bosses are (or have been, at least) twitchy and will overcompensate if you move too close to them.
This isn’t a problem on trash, generally, but bosses have much bigger hitboxes.

Mana and healing in general

Disc’s current shortcomings aside, I clearly have a lot to learn about the new healing model as well! I reforged as much spirit onto my gear as possible, but I still managed to chew through it very quickly, especially on the early attempts, and I’m certainly struggling to last through a 6-minute fight. That will improve though, once I get a few more 346 items to replace my 333s and below.

It’s quite difficult after two years of WotLK to get used to being stingy with heals, but it really is important not to heal when it’s not needed. I’ve put the /stopcasting back into my Greater Heal macro (which also fires Inner Focus on cooldown) so I can both boost throughput immediately and interrupt a cast if it’s going to be wasted, and I’m trying to stick to Smite/Heal/Penance until the tank is under 50% and actually needs that Greater Heal.

The thing is, you really do have to trust that the tanks aren’t going to fall over in the next 5 seconds, that you have the throughput to dig yourself out of the hole, and that your other healers are going to be landing heals as well so it’s not all on your shoulders.

Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Northrend any more!

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Categories: Anecdotes