Thursday, April 11, 2013

MoP Disc Priest Healing Guide - Part 1 - Talent Choices

Welcome to Zinn's Disc Priest Guide for 5.2!

I won't claim this to be the ultimate guide for all you struggling (or not so struggling) disc priesters out there, and there are plenty of good resources to go to if you want someone elses information. Here are some suggestions;

Icy-Veins - Very good and simple guide.
Elitist Jerks - More of a discussion forum, of varying quality but good information can be found.
Noxxic -  Similar to Icy-Veins, concise.
HowToPriest - Another discussion forum about everything priestly. Here is their guide on disc priests.

This will be a more personal style guide, with comments and little discussions around skills, talents and stats, to hopefully give you more of an idea not just what you should spec or what spells to use, but why and how you should think about them. I've always thought that the more in depth understanding you have regarding these things, the better you'll be at adapting to new situations. Also, it's interesting facts if you're more interested in the priest class than just the basics! The most important thing to remember about any healing class is that eventhough timing is essential, few other classes require as much quick thinking and decision making as healing because you're not just dealing with the encounter, but also the actions of your group.

Don't let this deterr you, this is what makes healing so much fun! Discipline priests can seem confusing at a first glance, what with their absorbtion techniques and damaging healing spells (although they have gotten company from Mistweaver Monks in that area lately). Beside the standard questions any healer asks themselves, things like - "Which stat is the best?", "When do I best use my cooldowns and how do they really work?" and "Do I spam aoe heals or do I focus big heals?" to mention a few, discpline priests also have to work with questions like - "Do I use mostly absorbtion heals or regular heals?" and "How much should I use Atonement?". I hope to answer these kind of questions, and most other you might have about discipline priest healing in this current content, which at the moment of writing this is patch 5.2 in Mists of Pandaria. I'll gladly answer any questions you might have also in the comment section. In this first part we'll take a closer look at our Talent Choices.

Talent Choices
The proper term should probably be Skill Choices since Blizzard made away with talents as we know them and replaced them with the form of skills that we have now. But I suppose people would get that confused with the more traditional skills, and so we just kept calling them talents. Eventhough I like the new system, I sometimes miss the good old fashioned talents, they just gave a pretty good feeling of progression. The problem with talents however was the talent point inflation that occurred somewhere around the third expansion. The increasing amount of levels forced Blizzard to give us more things to put our points in, and so they had to give us some that weren't overly necessary. I can still remember when discipline had Wand Specialization in the first tier of their tree, which increased wand damage with 5%. Holy had skills that increased the healing by Greater Heal by 5% and stuff like that. In the end we had many talents that didn't make much of a difference, especially considering it cost 5 levels to spend in (and later on 10 levels when they changed it so that you got a tp every other level). Blizzard tried a couple of different systems but in the end decided they'd just give us a few, important skills to pick from and get rid of all the filler points. I use the word "important" because the choices we make now actually make more of a difference, depending on fight and whether you're a pvper or pver. So enough of the history lesson, and let's look at the choices that are interesting from a disc pve healing perspective.

Classic tree. No one played disc in Classic though.

Level 15
Nothing in this tier actually matters much for dungeon or raid healing, so here you can basically choose whatever you like or whichever you think might work best for you solo-needs. Personally I've gone with Void Tendrils, it's kind of fun and handy while I do quests or stuff like that.

Level 30
Here we get our first skills that might actually make a difference. Most people choose between Body & Soul and Angelic Feather, whereas Phantasm is more of a pvp skill simply because there are like no movement impairing effects of significance in dungeons or raids. So which should we go for, B&S or AF?

The big difference between these two is that B&S gives you more control over when, how and who will get the speed boost - this can then either be something you want or not depending on the encounter. More control also means this is something you need to keep more track off, also timing B&S hinges on you not having used a shield just prior since then the Weakened Soul debuff will prevent you from casting it again. If you know someone else in the raid needs a speed buff and you don't want to spend brain power into keeping track of when and perfectly timing a shield, it is way easier to place a feather in the right place instead. Also, a fellow player might not be ready for a sudden speed boost through B&S, while they'll know they're getting one with AF. With AF you give more of the speed boost control over to someone else, in the end you have to decide which one works better for you. In short - B&S responds quicker to situations if you're fast, AF is easier used by people around you (and requires less of your attention overall).

Burning Crusade, where playing discipline was made viable. I first really tried it out in Zul'Aman, and loved it.

level 45
At this level we get a choice of three good skills that all intend to save your mana in different ways. Which you decide to choose will largely depend on the encounter you're at. For dungeons and unless your mana regen sucks ass, Mindbender is probably the simplest because of it's set and forget nature. For raiding, your choice here might require a bit more thinking.

A lot of maths has been done around which of these three skills will provide the most overall mana, but it's important to remember that it really depends. From Darkness Comes Light (FDCL) requires you to be doing point healing, Mindbender requires you to have a suitable target for your little worm to hit on and PW:Solace requires you to be able to hit something (I will continue to call it that, although now the talent is actually Solace & Insanity. The actuall skill is still PW:Solace though). Now, they've changed PW:Solace from how it originally worked - before one of the big problems with Solace used to be the fact that you had to basically pause your healing to dish out some casts to regain mana. This meant the usefulness of Solace depended heavily on how much the encounter allowed you to do this, varying from almost nothing to quite a lot of the time. Because of this I often swapped between Solace and Mindbender (I will explain shortly why I never really use FDCL).

Now that Solace has been changed however, the requirement to pause your healing and spam out some dps has basically vanished. Now that Solace has a cd and a healing component it is a lot more comparable to the Mindbender, which also has a cd - both require a target and will when used every cd return a set amount of mana, so which will give more? You can read some maths on it here and here.

These are some things to consider;
  • Mindbender replaces Shadowfiend, which means if you go for Solace you can have both Solace and the Shadowfiend.
  • Mindbender and Shadowfiend are often preferrably used in conjunction with Hymn of Hope.
  • Solace also procs (ie gives a stack) of Evangelism. 
  • Solace heals, whereas Mindbender allows you to heal as normal when used.
  • Mindbender is affected by haste whereas Solace with the glyph (which you will want if you have this skill), is not.

Simply, Solace is best if you're using Atonement healing and Mindbender is best if you're not. But even if you don't like Atonement healing (I don't use it overly much so far in the expansion) I still recommend always keeping a stack of Evangelism ready to boost your healing with Archangel when needed, and for this Solace will come in handy. A problem I often have with Mindbender is also that I don't have a target for it when I need it, that also will stick around long enough for my Mindbender to get full use of its duration. Solace is just easier to time well, assuming you can spare the gcd. Like I said, most of the time you will want to use a gcd every now and then to keep up an Evangelism stack anyway (which usually is Holy Fire that Solace replaces) meaning you're basically enhancing your regular rotation.

So why not FCDL? I've never been a fan of FDCL, admittedly it is far from awful but it's just nothing like how it worked in Wrath. Back then, if I remember correctly, it was called Surge of Light. The concept was similar, with crit heals having a chance of giving a free, instant Flash Heal, but the proc rate was very much higher - something around 30-50% - and it procced off of any heal. It had some nice bugs like proccing off other priests crits and having the free heal crit occasionally, proccing another free heal. Yeah, it might sound op, and it probably was, but you can see why I loved it so. I can understand the changes they made to the skill, especially since they made Flash Heal so much stronger than it was in Wrath (where it was basically what Heal is now). The problem I have with it now is that it's just too unreliable to feel comfortable in regular healing, not to mention the factor of it requiring me to use spells that are not in heavy use in normal raid healing. Let me put it this way, it's a proc and it's not procced from our most commonly used skills, and it should be pretty clear. The other two choices simply offer more control and in the end probably a lot more mana return.

Straight off, I'd recommend going with Solace. I can see two reasons to want to go with Mindbender instead; 1 - You don't have a problem with your mana regen and are lazy (ie, don't want to use your Atonement) or 2 - the fight just doesn't allow you to use that many gcds on Solace because you need to spam Prayer of Healing the entire fight (a scenario that will rarely happen, so really there is only one reason).

Wotlk talents. These are getting long now. Disc was really good in later Wrath.

Level 60
At this level you'll get to choose your defense talent, it's basically a choice between Desperate Prayer and Angelic Bulwark since Spectral Guise just isn't as cool (or useful) as it sounds. When I first read the description I hoped it would work by shifting me out of existence, thus renderring me impervious to damage for the duration. No, that's not how it works, and if I hadn't been stupid about it it's pretty obvious, since it says that taking damage will actually break the effect (after 3 hits). Even then I thought "direct attacks" still might mean it would work against aoe, but before I make this rant more boring than it already is, you can safely ignore this skill unless you're a pvper. If you're reading this guide that's not what you want to know about anyway.

So on to the interesting ones - Desperate Prayer or Angelic Bulwark? As with the Body & Soul vs Angelic Feather talents, one is leaning more towards personal responsibility, and thus flexibility (Desperate Prayer) whereas the other works automagically and therefor doesn't require you to divert brain power when you probably have the least of it to divert anyway (Angelic Bulwark).

Desperate Prayer is a strong talent and allows you to choose for yourself when you really need it. This obviously means its effectiviness highly relies on your capabilities to use it properly.

Personally, I am a big fan of Angelic Bulwark. It has the drawback of possibly proccing when you don't really need it and then not be off cd when you actually do. But instead it has the benefit of actually saving you from certain death automatically. Desperate Prayer is an after the fact heal, like any other heal, and if you're playing a disc priest (and I dare say you are if you've come this far into this guide) you should know how powerful and overall more useful absorbs are over heals. Angelic Bulwark has saved me from insta-death and even once saved what could possibly otherwise have turned into a complete raid wipe. I even have video proof. It's slightly less flexible, but on the other hand more reliable - at least I think so. So generally I would recommend Angelic Bulwark, but of course there are fights where having the control yourself with Desperate Prayer is more handy. I just haven't noticed it.

Level 75
This is your output level, and the choice here can be a bit more tricky than in the previous levels. All the skills in this talent tier are good, so let's take a closer look at each one of them.

Twist of Fate - This one works in a pretty obvious way, and is a strong skill if you know that you're going to fight something that will have your raid (or more rarely your dungeon group) down below 20% health for long or many portions of the encounter. If you're doing progression raiding or you simply all have shitty gear, ToF will end up being a nice output boost. Obviously this relies heavily on said factor, that you'll be healing a lot of people below 20% of health. This is slightly similar to how shaman "Deep Healing" mastery works, and if you've heard the amount of whining coming from them regarding that you'd think that it's a shitty thing to aim for. The difference is obviously that they don't have a choice, leaving a big portion of their healing reliant on something they are actively trying to avoid (ie having their targets on low health). We, on the other hand, have a choice, and ToF is definitely worth considering for those fights where everyone just seem on the edge of dying all the time. It's also worth noting that damaging an enemy below 20% will also give you the buff (eventhough it clearly says in the tooltip it is easy to forget as a healer). This of course means any low health adds or the last 20% of the boss, making this skill great when used in the right encounters.

Power Infusion - My personal favorite, partly because good old PI and I go way back. To me it's always just felt great knowing I have a special "god mode" button to press for when shit really hits the fan. It has a 2 minute cooldown, which really isn't much and it also lowers you mana usage by 20% which is exactly what you want when you start throwing out extra amounts of healing. For most fights Power Infusion is a safe card to have up your sleeve, with the only real drawback being the same as with Desperate Prayer - it's usefulness is first and foremost based on how skillful you are at using it. Power Infusion puts your output control into your own hands, and with output control is such an important thing to have. As long as you know how and when to time it, and consider the combination of cds you can use (Archangel, Spirit Shell and Power Infusion for the really big blows for example) Power Infusion is a very powerful tool indeed.

Divine Insight - I've never really considered DI overly useful for discipline, let me explain why: DI is procced off of Penance, which has a 12 sec cd but most of the time is used off cooldown (except when there is heavy aoe damage, this matters) and procs being able to cast another Shield on a target that already has Weakened Soul on it. Weakened Soul has a 15 sec cd, where you might be wanting to throw another Shield on your target. When does this happen? Blizzard have long wanted holy to be the aoe healers while discipline where the strong single target healers. In the end, discipline where ever only rarely better at single target healing than for instance Paladins or even Shamans and were mostly put on aoe healing duty because they, just like holy priests, had the pretty awesome Prayer of Healing.

Now, DI will make your disc priest a better single target healer than without it, but the single target healing is still mostly handled better by other healing classes and is in most raid fights I've fought rarely the big problem to deal with when healing. Disc priests as aoe healers is further established since Blizzard gave us the all-might Spirit Shell, a skill so over used that Blizzard has recently felt the need to nerf it. Even with the nerf, Spirit Shell is probably among the strongest aoe healing tools there are in the game at the moment, when used properly. This simply boils down to disc priests very rarely being put on single target healing duty. What you want to have out of this tier is a skill that further boosts your aoe healing, because that is what you are most likely going to do.

TLDR on Divine Insight - Unless you know you're going to be put mainly on tank healing duty, this skill is not as useful to you as the other two ones will be.

Overhaul of the talent point system reduced the size of the trees again.

Level 90
And finally, the last tier of talents. Which one of these you want largely depends on which encounter you're facing and how big a group you're healing.

Cascade - This is the choice of many, if not most, discipline priests (though I base this off of discussions, not statistics). I used Halo briefly, but since I swapped back to 10 man raiding Cascade has turned out to be a lot more useful. What you have to consider is the mechanic of the skills. None of the skills in this tier are "smart" heals like Prayer of Mending, and either one you choose will often end up being mostly overheal. Cascade is medium expensive mana wise and fairly easy to use. It doesn't require overly much thinking, just to remember that the more spread people are the more it's going to heal (as long as people are within range obviously). It is the simplest when it comes to positioning and use, to get the most out of it, and this is probably the main reason it seems to be the most popular choice.

Divine Star - Divine Star is somewhat similar to the paladin heal Light of Dawn, in that it requires people to stand in a line in front of you to be able to get much use of it. If you choose to use this skill you will chime in with the paladins about making sure the raid stacks properly, and it also means this skill is pretty useless whenever they're not. Cascade and Halo have the opposite problem, with being pretty useless when the raid is stacked. Divine Star is the cheapest of the three skills in the tier, and in fights where the raid stacks a lot it might be worth considering. In most raid encounter however, being spread out is more often the name of the game than anything else. Also remember that for stacked groups (or groups that stand somewhat close to eachother) we priests already have a tool - Prayer of Healing - and complementing that might be more interesting than adding to it.

Halo - Halo has one massive drawback, as I realized when using it in my 25 man raid. When unleashing it on a 25 man raid group it has tremendous healing power, if you're positioned in the right place. This might seem like a small if, but it's a pretty big if. The last thing you want to think about when your raid needs big aoe healing is whether you're standing in the exactly right place to use your skill. Both Divine Star and Cascade can also be used as hostile attacks, but both of them are very simple to avoid using so that you accidentally attack a mob you don't want to. Halo not so much. In fact, one of the biggest risks when using this skill is that you will also accidentally break some cc or pull some extra pack standing close by. This means that whenever you want to use it you might first have to re-position yourself to make sure you're not going to hit any mob. I am sure most of you have done runs where an oblivious shadow priest (it's mostly them who end up speccing Halo) has pulled extra packs, this is a risk you run as a healer as well when using this skill. It also makes Halo really hard to use at all in certain fights.

Halo is the most expensive skill out of the three, making it too expensive really to want to use in anything less than a 25 man group. The net average healing per mana just isn't worth it when compared especially to Cascade, or so my experience says anyway.

And now, we have this.

Conclusion - TLDR
So if you simply want a simple answer to the question: What the heck should I spec then? Here is my answer;

15 - Void Tendrils
30 - Body & Soul
45 - PW: Solace
60 - Angelic Bulwark
75 - Power Infusion
90 - Cascade

  • Angelic Feather for fights where you want to give boost control to raid members.
  • Mindbender for when you're lazy or don't use Atonement at all.
  • Desperate Prayer for more self healing control.
  • ToF for fights where you dont' feel like timing Power Infusions or now you'll have a lot of ToF uptime.

Personally, I pretty much run with the same setup for any raid fight I do, and it has worked well for me. Once you're comfortable with your healing style you can tinker around yourself depending on the fight, but the above suggestion is a pretty solid one for most fights you can encounter.

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