Saturday, March 10, 2012

Priest Healing - A Cataclysm Review

Hey look guys! It's a new year! And don't tell me it's been two months into it already, I don't count January as a real month anyway. It's really only the time we spend trying to sort out the mess we got ourselves into during the drunken New Years Eve hazes, and squiggle out of all the stupid resolutions we made (mine was to be nicer to everyone, that took about 3,141 seconds to break). And February? It's not even a full month!

The good thing about a new year is that we can take a look at the year that has passed and ponder some of the really important questions in life - how did priests develop over the months? What changes were made? How did disc fare contra holy? What bosses were the most fun? Can we be the flavor of the month healer, ever? Things we all need answers to. Fear not, I have been doing the tedious work of reading my own posts from the last year, and I have them.

At the beginning there was darkness...
It didn't start out too good for us priests. At one point we were so bad that people actually specifically asked to not get priests whenever they needed a healer for a group. We had weaker mana regen and weaker heals than every other healer, and enough for it to be a major issue. I started out playing Cataclysm as holy, and I noticed some major changes in the effectiviness of some of our spells. They nerfed Surge of Light into near uselessness (yes, I still think so). But what really bothered me were the changes to Renew. I realize we're not meant to be some sort of wannabe druids, but suddenly Renew felt like a fart in a tornado, and definitely not worth the gcd. That meant every talent related to Renew, like Divine Touch and Rapid Renewal, became pretty useless as well. Problem was, Holy did not scale well with gear, and considering the healing style is somewhat of "lots of small heals" instead of "few big heals", we had a problem. Our small heals were just too damn small, and we didn't have powerful Shields, Penance or other big spells to compensate. This is an issue I still think holy is struggling with, but nowhere near the way they did in early Cata. I still think Renew could use a little more oomph, holy is all about good aoe healing, and to me Renew is a big part of that.

I also went from undead...

Those problems were nothing compared to what discipline was going through however. Holy had weak spells, but at least they had plenty of them. As discipline our spells were too slow and insignificant to feel like we could actually keep people alive, things got even worse when more than one person was taking damage. Holies aoe healing wasn't strong, but at least they had some. As a discipline you were stuck with spamming a far too weak Prayer of Healing or far too expensive Shields. If Renew was weak as holy, it was completely out of the question as Discipline. Back then I wrote;

"I refuse to use renew, it's a waste of mana with its pathetic ticking (about 1,5k). So after shielding them I have to start using Heals or Greater Heals. And when you've got 5 people below 50% hp, dying quickly, those heals seem very lacking. My best aoe heal is Prayer of Healing which not only will oom me, but requires for everyone to stand fairly close together."

Blizzard had told us that they wanted mana to matter, unlike the spam-happy healing we had in ICC, and no one felt that change more than discipline priests. Shields, Greater Heal and Flash Heal were too expensive to be used regularly, which left us with weak Heals, Prayer of Mendings and Prayer of Healings.

"When I did an instance yesterday the tank was kind enough to tell me that it seemed like priests were the only healers right now that oomed after every fight."

Atonement, Y U NO work?
It didn't exactly help things out that the new cool feature about discipline - atonement healing - wasn't much good either.

"Archangel reduces the cost on a Smite by about 500 mana, through mana return, which still puts it above Heal. Considering the speed and slightly bigger healing it might be worth it. But in tight situations I can't count on it to actually heal the people I want to heal enough to want to use it. Its biggest flaw is the range. I can for the love of god not understand why Blizzard have limited its healing range to 15 yards. It's not awfully bad, but it has to be at least 30, preferrably 40 yards before I feel like it even begins to be usable in an instance. Right now there are plenty of situations where the tank, or any melee, is too far away from the center of the mob to get the heal."

Funnily enough, this is still one of my major concerns with Atonement healing and ever since it's implemention and up until now I consider Atonement to be mainly used for any group that needs the extra dps, rather than because it's a good healing tool.

When I eventually decided to write a post on how to heal heroics I didn't exactly have good news.

"Should I mention how hard the mobs hit? All the cc that is needed? What gear you should have to even dream of keeping people alive? How fast you'll oom?"

I do sound a lot more negative now than I did then though. Healing wasn't easy, but I didn't ever think it was as bad as some doomsayers made it out to be. Both discipline and holy could keep people alive in heroics, but it definitely wasn't a dance on roses and I can only imagine the horror any new priest healer must've felt when even a veteran like me panicked on occasion. Fortunately, changes were coming.

to goblin...

The prodigal Shield returns
With patch 4.0.6, Blizzard basically doubled the effectiviness of Shields and only slightly increased their mana cost, making shield hps suddenly sky rocket. Another major buff to discipline was making Grace able to affect more targets than one. These changes suddenly bumped disc from the least good healer to the bestest healer in one stroke, and I remember the glee I can only imagine holydins (and occasionally druids) feel every day of completely owning the healing meters without having to actually work for it. Holy saw a major drop in the mana cost of Renew and a doubled effect of the mana regen from Holy Concentration. Clearly Blizzard were acknowledging the problems priests had with too weak and expensive skills, but they also seemed to think our aoe was too strong (which it totally wasn't). A nerf to Prayer of Healing and Circle of Healing was soon implemented, a change that had many holy priests cry themselves to sleep although it really turned out to be a major nerf to discipline priests rather than holy priests. My own maths showed that the nerf was about 1% less healing the way I was healing as holy back then, but nearly a 10% nerf for my discipline priest. Prayer of Healing simply made out way more of my total healing done as Discipline (including the DA) compared to how much I ended up using PoH and CoH overall as holy. Now, discpline priests saw their aoe healing further gimped, and it wasn't very good to begin with.

Then came 4.1
The 4.0.6 buff to Shields made them good enough to even have holy priests glancing over at the discipline part of the spell-book, and I read blog posts suggesting speccing Improved Shields as holy and turning holy priests into shield spammers. Blizzard knew they had to make changes before things got out of hand and everyone knew a nerf was coming, many suggestions were made but the ultimate change was a decent one.

"There seems to be a heated debate going around the priest community (debates, yay), the question being - are discipline priests too good? Or rather, have our shields become too good? "

People were concerned about Shields (and DA) making out more than 50% of discipline priests healing done. Apparently so were Blizzard (which is interesting considering what they've done to Holy Radiance). Personally, I didn't think our shields were a major problem, but I could see why people were concerned. The Shield is a very good heal. It is instant, it is big and it actually counter-acts damage, rather than just "repairing" it afterwards like conventional healing. Making the shields too good would eventually remove the need for healing, or so many other healers seemed to fear.

With 4.1, Blizzard decided to make some interesting changes to discipline healing by upping the duration of Divine Aegis by 3 seconds (12 to 15) and halving the duration of Shields from 30 to 15 seconds duration. The latter change was major enough to have a huge impact on how to heal as a Discipline priest, making pre-shielding way less of an option than it used to be, a change that is still affecting our play-style.

"We know Blizzard aren't happy with how Shields turned out to be used. They want them to be good, but not too good. They don't want us to start spamming it again. Renew doesn't have this issue because the hps of one Renew is pretty low in comparison to the Shield. The "problem" with Shields are that they have so many pros, and few cons. The only thing holding shields back at the moment is the Weakened Soul debuff, which we can lower on target with Heal/GH/BH. Blizzard tried to slow us down further by increasing the mana cost on the spell, but like I mentioned before this is only delaying the inevitable spamming that will come when we get better gear (and mana becomes less and less of an issue)."

The changes turned out to be less of a nerf than people feared, but it was definitely noticeable on any fight where I was used to being able to pre-shield the raid. Looking back at it, I don't mind the change much. It does bother me on fights like Spine where even the tanks occasionally take too little damage for Rapture to proc within the 15 second duration, severely nerfing my mana regen since it kind of completely relies on Rapture. But overall, I can definitely see where the nerf was coming from.

Barrier got some hits with the nerf bat as well, upping the cooldown from 2 minutes to 3 minutes and the damage reduction from 30% to 25% in an effort from Blizzard to put it more on par with other healers raid cooldowns.

Atonement saw changes coming to it pretty much every other month, and some really made a big difference. Including Holy Fire into Atonement, Glyph of Divine Accuracy and Evangelism should've been obvious from the start, and I can only hope Blizzard doesn't consider Atonement to be finished the way it is now, it still needs some improvements, although it definitely has come a very long way since its original implementation.

to dwarf!

Good girl holy
And all the while Blizzard were tugging Discipline back and forth with the nerf bat, not much was being said about holy. This pretty much remained the case, even when changes were needed, all the way up until Dragon Soul and 4.3. Blizzard were concerned about some healing classes lacking good raiding tools, and gave resto shamans the spirit link Totem, completely forgetting about holy priests suffering from the same problem all through Firelands. Holy Priests did see a slight buff to their aoe healing in 4.1 when Blizzard upped the effectiviness of Sanctuary, made some much needed tweaks to Chakra, but overall Holy remained a neglected spec throughout the year.

The big silence
4.1 implented new changes to the game at lightning speed. Shields worked one way at the beginning of the week and another way at the end of the week. One day I wanted to use Renew, the next I preferred straight up healing. At the end of 4.1 and the release of Firelands at the beginning of summer 2011 Blizzard seemed to be pretty happy with where priests were at healing wise. Discipline had seen buffs and nerfs to shields, holy had seen buffs and nerfs to aoe healing. Both specs had seen buffs to mana regen. But at that point, when Blizzard seemed to wipe the sweat of their brows and congratulating themselves at a good job done with balancing all the healers, they actually missed to see the trouble holy had in Firelands with being the only healer without a raid cooldown. Holy was still doing fine for most normals, and even many of the heroic modes, but at the end of the day, most guilds decided to pick another healer for the aoe healing and yet another for the raid cooldowns. Blizzard refused to see that there was a problem, and the fast changes that had taken place during 4.1 were completely gone. When Blizzard released an Ask the Devs healing edition, this was one of the questions raised;

Maladi asks;

"Are there any plans to give Holy Priests access to a viable 3-minute raid cooldown? There are concerns that without a cooldown along the lines of Power Word: Barrier, Spirit Link Totem, or Tranquility, we may need to play disc a lot in firelands. Maybe simply an improved Divine Hymn? "

"(...) we feel the Holy priest toolkit overall is strong, that they provide meaningful contributions to raid healing, and are well represented in actual raid groups."

Eventhough I was on Blizzards line initially, I did change my mind as soon as I got into more advanced progression raiding. Holy priests had to struggle for months, and wait for a new patch to be released before changes were made, a change that put holy priests right back on track again. Such a simple thing to do that could've been done long ago.

And now?
Priests have gone through a lot of changes, at least at the beginning of the expansion and up until Firelands. Maybe not as many as some of the other healing classes, and holy less than discipline, but it has still been somewhat of a roller coaster going from being shit, to overpowered and eventually actually levelling out on what resembles the position priest healers have been holding since forever - the allround healer. As I wrote in my last Field Report I feel like priest healing is really good at the moment. Holy is diverse, interesting and challenging, discipline has its niche healing working well. Both specs have good cooldowns and a fun healing style, and I am enjoying priest healing as much as I ever have. I played holy at the beginning of Cata, switched to discipline around Firelands and have mostly played discipline ever since, but I'll probably go back to maining holy before long, the way I've always switched between the specs. MoP will change everything again, I am sure, but we'll eventually settle into position as always and I am sure I will never tire of my little priest.

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