Wednesday, August 3, 2011

How to fix Atonement?

As I've told you before, I've not been lucky when it comes to finding priests around me with whom I can have some nerdy discussions about the state of priest healing and other interesting stuff. Seems like whenever I try, they stop playing or swap mains. Maybe I am doing it wrong... We recently got a new priest into the guild, and although I haven't had an opportunity to play with him yet [when writing this] I read through the application and noticed that this is a smite-priest. And not just one of those who thinks it's an ok and fun thing to do occasionally, but from the application it seemed like he really, really liked it. I jumped right on the opportunity to start a discussion of course, seeing as I belong to the more sceptical priests regarding the efficiency of Smite healing.

I've already written about Smite healing and why I don't think it's a very good way of healing. When asking this new priest, he explained that it was great for "farm fights" and 5-mans. I don't argue that at all. Whenever you can slack heal, smite healing is a great way to make it a little more fun without sacrificing too much of actual healing. But I just don't enjoy the idea of that being the only intended areas of usage for smite healing. I really feel like smite healing holds a lot of potential and could bring some interesting choices and a different style of healing for disc priests, without being overly complicated or walking too far away from the core idea of disc healing. What I am seeing right now are priests who basically waste 5 tp into something they never get to use in raiding anyway.

First of all, eventhough they have buffed smite healing somewhat since the launch of Cata, it annoys me that they haven't fixed the basic problems of smite healing, some of which I adress in my other post. That Archangel doesn't affect 50% (absorbs) of our healing is beyond me. Nerf it if you like, just make it work for all our casts. But all the issues of Smite healing are still minor when compared to what I personally feel is the major issue - that you as a healer have so little control over who will get the heals. I'm already irritated about PoM and CoH healing pets and even worse, short time summoned creatures like Army of the Dead, Shadowfiend and Treants. But Atonement does that as well. Smite healing as it is right now means you can only use it when you know that your heal doesn't really matter. That the dps you do is more important or that any target is good enough. In progress raiding, there are few fights like that, even less in a 10 man environment where you're a more important part of the healing output than in a 25 man. This new priest who says he really likes smite healing calls it a "handy tool with limited amount of uses" and I completely agree. Smite healing with Archangel could be dang handy, if only it wasn't so dang unreliable. Add to that a range that is far too short for many fights for Smite healing to be usable at all, nevermind the unreliable targetting, and you've got too many problems to be happy. It feels too unfinished and unpolished to me. So what could be done to make Smite healing a more viable raid healing tool even for tough fights?

The general problems about Smite healing are easily solved and like I said, some already have been adressed by Blizzard. Holy Fire is now affected by the Smite-hit glyph and Atonement. Next up is making Atonement proc Grace and make shields affected by the Archangel buff (since I haven't played Atonement for quite some time, these might be things they've already addressed. Or so I hope!). Balancing numbers will probably be needed, but I'd hate it if that is the only reason Blizzard has for not getting their hands dirty and done with Smite healing. Smite healing was supposed to be the new interesting thing about disc, just as Chakra is with holy, and it just isn't delivering. Let's take a closer look at the bigger issue - that of targetability.

I'd love it if shields were part of smite healing somehow. The absorb effect is what makes disc healing special and unique, and I don't like that it is being completely left out of smite healing. You can't escape the fact that absorbs of some sort or another is what disc healing is all about, so why can't it be with smite healing as well? My suggestion is to have either shields themselves or the Weakened Soul debuff work as a beacon for the Atonement heal to target. Preferrably the Weakened Soul debuff since you can trust it to be up for 15 seconds (unless you shorten it yourself). Smite healing would work like it does, ie randomly, when you don't have weakened soul on any target. But as soon as you shield someone and for as long as they have the weakened soul buff up, Atonement would target that person instead. It does add a level of planning to smite healing that I feel could be interesting. Today, Smite healing has two areas of usage: 1. Mainly to dps, where the heal lands is secondary. In this case you could use Smite healing pretty much like you do now, just spam your heart out. 2. To tank heal. I really feel like Smite healing could complement the whole Shield-Penance-Greater Heal rotation in an interesting way. Throw a Shield on the tank and you'll be assured that your Atonement heals will land on that target, making Atonement healing a really viable way of tank healing - unlike now. Would this be overpowered? I can't see how, and even if it was we're again looking at "simply" adjusting the numbers. You would need to plan your shielding very carefully, throwing a shield at some target that doesn't deserve your Atonement heals could be dangerous. Or you could keep two tanks up by shielding both and smiting. This means a whole new level of planning regarding our shields, something Blizzard have already tried to make us do.

Another idea that I enjoy musing over is having the Weakened Soul target work as a beacon, from which your Atonement splashes onto other targets in the vicinity, similar to how Swiftmend or GoAK works now. This would have the added benefit of making disc priest aoe healing more interesting, since we currently basically only spam PoH and personally I don't find that too exciting. If you have several people with the Weakened Soul debuff, you could either have Atonement randomly choose one of them (which is in line with how it works now) or spread the heal among them all, this would work with both the aoe atonement idea or the single heal idea.

This wouldn't have to interfer with the current way to use Smite healing or non-smite healing. You could still use Smite healing as just a fun tool to do some extra dps in instances or on farm bosses. You could still do a good job healing without using smite at all. But if you'd like, and with some extra planning, smite healing could turn into what I had hoped for it to be when it was first announced - a real healing tool with real choices adding that new level of healing to disc that holy partially got with Chakra.

Some questions still need to be answered - would you want to extend the range of smite healing? I think it should be increased to at least 20 yards so that it is possible to use on all bosses in current content. I don't think increasing it to 30 or even 40 yards would make it overpowered either. Or you know, at least make it so it counts from the edge of the boss foot plate instead of the center. There is probably also the pvp aspect that has to be considered. The thing about Atonement as it is now is that it has high hps and hpm to somewhat compensate for the fact that it is an iffy and unreliable way to heal (so that when you do get a heal where you want it, it will do some good). To counter the fact that Atonement would become a more viable healing tool, you might have to nerf its output, but like I said - I'm not going to crunch the numbers. I'd rather have a slightly weaker tool that is usable in nearly any encounter with the right skills, than a powerful tool that is usable only in rare specialized boss fights like Halfus or when healing doesn't matter anyway (because seriously, what's up with that). In any case, I definitely feel like something interesting could, and should, be done with smite healing. It could really make disc healing a lot more fun and challenging.


  1. Oh man, you should definitely sign up for Disqus. Blogspot's default comment system is unthreaded and generally bad. :x

    But I'll respond to a couple things you said.

    First, let's establish a baseline equivalency between specs: for atonement priests, smite replaces heal. Further, atonement priests can and should use holy fire on cooldown. Holy fire, especially with 5 stacks of evangelism, casts in ~ 1.3 second (less with borrowed time) and heals for about 3/4 of what a gheal lands for. It is, AFAIK, unparalleled in terms of an HPM+HPCT spell. It's like a flash heal, but bigger, it builds evangelism, and buffs the next 2-3 smites.

    Second, with a full 5-stack of evangelism, smite heals for more than heal. Full stop. It's just a bigger heal. This is, in part, balanced out by the fact that you don't choose its target.

    However, this does NOT mean that you can or should only cast smite when your heal "doesn't matter". That's like saying that a druid hotting people at 50% is casting those hots even though they don't matter. You're correct that it's not the right choice when someone is in imminent danger of death in the next second or so, but it always heals the lowest-health person, and all healing on injured parties is valuable.

    You should absolutely be weaving it with other things if damage is higher than atonement alone can heal for, but I say again that it is NOT only for when your heals don't matter.

    Atonement's targeting is not a problem 99% of the time. In fact, I see it sort of in the reverse of how you see it. Disc has enough consciously targeted heals that you can and should be weaving with smites and holy fires that there are only very specific encounters where it's a hindrance.

    The objection that AA doesn't apply to PW:S is sort of meh. I mean, sure? It would be nice if it did, but discipline is a cooldown healing spec, and archangel is another cooldown. The time limit on evangelism wearing off is QUITE long, and especially once you know an encounter you should have a good idea of times when you'll want to pop wings. It takes conscious effort and planning to have the archangel button available when you need it, but you can do an INSANE amount of healing when you need to. Especially if you stack it with bloodlust or PI.

    Further, although you obviously aren't doing as much DPS as the DPS players, having one of your healers also pull 5-8k DPS is often invaluable on progression stuff.

    Honestly? I feel like people playing discipline without atonement just aren't playing the spec as well as they could. They're denying themselves access to an extremely powerful healing throughput cooldown for no very good reason, and that's unfortunate.

  2. @Pradzha
    Yeah Blogspot commenting system sucks, but I don't like Disqus :/ Is there anything else like it you could recommend?

    We're clearly on two different sides of this ^^ I know exactly how to use Atonement healing, I've read thread up and thread down on it. Most of them conclude that "but this is a rather difficult way to heal and doesn't add anything so you should do it mainly for extra fun". At least that is how I've interpreted it. The targetability is an issue, the fact that smite only has 30 yard range (when all other heals have 40) is an issue. The fact that Atonement only has 15 yards range which isn't even enough for many boss plates is an issue.

    I don't agree with your druid hotting analogy - "all healing on injured parties is valuable" is just not true. Who you heal is THE choice that healers have, and it is definitely what separates a good healer from a bad one. Just being satisfied with healing anything that is damaged isn't good enough in most progress fights unless you're put to be the "heal anything that is damaged" role - which usually happens to be where druids are put. In progress raiding someone is nearly always in imminent danger of death, that's exactly my point. I have to be sure my heal reaches that person.

    Right now Atonement is the only healing for any healer that only works on some fights. Ranked disc priests don't use it and seem to do just fine, so obviously it's not that necessary. I'm not saying Atonement is shit, like I said it really holds potential and it's even great on some fights. I agree that it's a great tool, I just still feel like it holds too many "buts" and "ifs" for me to like it. It's not like it doesn't work, but it needs more polish.

  3. For as much as I dislike discipline and for how much I struggle with getting the hang of it, I would probably be more inclined to be Atonement spec over anything else.

    The more I read about it, the more it sounds kind of interesting and unique. And you know how much those two words draw me in!

    It does seem like it's not very popular right now and I'm trying to determine exactly why. Thank you for posting about that very topic and helping to educate me on this.


  4. I love healing as Disc, but I've never been a fan of Atonement. Even if they made some of the improvements you suggest I still don't think I'd like it much. I find the playstyle awkward.

    In T11 I kept 2 Disc specs, one with Atonement and one without. I can really only think of 1 fight where I found the Atonement spec superior. When my guild was first doing Cho'gall we were having trouble getting the adds down fast enough so Atonement allowed me to help the dps a bit while healing the add tank. I could do over a million damage on the fight and still top healing, but that is the only fight where I found Atonement spec superior (and even then, if our dps had been better it wouldn't have been neccessary).

    Even on Halfus, where you could get huge Atonement heals as his damage debuff went up I didn't find Atonement that great. Sure, the heals were big, but they were random and by the time they started doing a lot of healing the drakes were mostly dead and that much healing wasn't really neccessary.

    Since I've been in Firelands I have dropped my Atonement spec. It feels to me that the bonus healing from Archangel is counteracted by the healing lost while casting Smite so I don't think it offers that much of a benefit.

  5. What don't you like about Disqus? :o

    Zinn - I could post another 500 words trying to convince you with rhetoric, but it seems like that would be sort of silly.

    Here's what I'll say, though. Your contention that having a heal that always targets the lowest-health person means that that heal can only be cast at irrelevant times is simply not true. Full stop. When to cast holy fire and smite is a deliberate choice that you as the healer make so that you can get the most healing value out of those casts without losing raid members while building stacks of evangelism.

    I'm not sure how you can say that healing on injured parties isn't valuable. Sure, there are times when holy fire/smite isn't the right choice, but that's also true of gheal, pw:s, and PoH. If someone has been damaged they need to be healed. The choice of which heal to use at any given time is actually what I would argue is THE choice available to healers, and atonement is always a choice.

    Jasyla - smite-healing is mana neutral (much like chain-casting heal) and popping archangel returns a lot of mana. That's not really a very good objection.

    I mean I don't necessarily think that everyone has to like it, but I feel like you should dislike it on better grounds, if that makes sense? And I feel that you have to acknowledge that you're playing a cooldown-based healing spec with one fewer cooldown.

    As you say, very good priests play without it. I think the real criticism of the spec is this: if you're pushing cutting-edge progression in heroic modes, there is little to no time to cast anything less than gheal/poh/pw:s and so on. No healer in that content is using their efficient heal ever, and in that way the vision of the cataclysm healing model kind of failed, as mana efficiency is never very relevant.

  6. @Pradzha

    I understand the mana-related benefits of Archangel, but being mana efficient isn't something I've really had to consider for months. Yes, chaining Smite is mana-neutral like chaning Heal, but I don't chain cast Heal, it doesn't do enough healing. If most fights had distinct patterns of low damage (where you could build stacks with Smite), then high damage (where you could pop Archangel) it could be useful, but most fights aren't like that.

    I understand that not taking AA means losing a cooldown, but I don't like it as a cooldown. In order to get the benefit you need to gimp yourself while you build your stacks up. I'd rather just spend those 5 talent points somewhere else.

  7. @Oestrus
    You should definitely check it out! If you enjoy the whole idea about healing through dpsing, there is loads of fun to have with Atonement, you just gotta find what way it works for you.

    I had hell logging into that somewhere, and decided I didn't like it then. Maybe I was just being bad :P

    You're interpreting what I say in black and white. I'm not saying Atonement never works, or that the choice never is valuable. I'm saying Atonement isn't good enough or used often enough for me to want to work through the hassle (or boredom, but that's my problem). Quite frankly that is what most people seem to think about it. Yes, you can use it for some nice buffs here and there, but you could also just as easily forget about it and heal just as well.

    You think I don't like Atonement. I wouldn't even discuss it if I didn't care for it. I love Atonement. I was like a child before christmas when it was announced. I was discussing how this really would be the tool to separate wheat from chaff among healers. I jumped on the Atonement spec faster than anyone could say "peanutbutterjellytime" and healed with nothing else for the first couple of weeks doing all those heroics. Back then it was borked (all priest healing was tbh) so I gave it up. But I never dropped the idea of how awesome it could be - it's just not there and that is what I am trying to fix. I give it new tries every month (and am currently using it again) or so but it feels rigid and unfinished and I don't need it. I wish I did. I want it to matter! Because now it doesn't.

  8. Jasyla - yeah, that's the real problem with the AA spec. Healing, current content, and mana costs are not designed such that using your efficient heal makes sense very often.

    Zinn - yeah I mean in retrospect I'm occupying a super-pedantic position, which is "I agree that it's not very useful right now but the reasons you don't like it are not the correct reasons."

    Or even if you like it, the reasons you don't use it. Whichevs!

    Re: disqus and logging in, it's never been an issue for me, so I have no idea.

  9. You make some pretty good points but as a main Disc Raid healer I find Atonement so useful. I normally raid heal with a druid so I find the Absorb & hot up targets goes hand in hand. So for high raid damage parts of a fight I want to get as much of a DA bubble on the raid as possible.

    Hitting a full stack of Evangelism gives me a bigger PoH heal therefore a bigger DA on the target. I normally have time to get the equiv to a normal PW:S on all targets, some times more, before the damage actually hits due to this method. Which eases the damage so much.

    I also don't mind the unpredictable nature of who it heals. I mean it's always going to hit the member with the lowest amount of health, so it's not going to be wasted, and I have a tank healer focused on the tank. If I were tank healer that would be a bit more of a problem but you could argue that on average the tank is most likely to have the lowest HP as he/she is getting hit the most.

    I didn't get Atonement healing until I realised its not the backbone of Disc, unlike chakra is for Holy. With out Chakra Holy's output would suffer a fair deal. Where as A Disc spec without Atonement just requires a different style of play.

    (Sorry for the Novel. :D )