Wednesday, July 17, 2013

MoP Disc Priest Healing Guide Part 3 - Spell Usage (Cooldowns)

Welcome to this second part of my part 3 (yeah I know it's confusing) on Spell Usage as a disc priest. 
In this part - Cooldowns

If you're interested in my previous posts, they're here;

Talent Choices
Stat Choices
Spell usage (Heals & Absorbs)

So let's get right to it
You normally turn to handling cooldowns once you feel like you've got a rudimentary idea of what your healing skills do and when you should use them. Although cooldown usage to some part also is about good reflexes and knowledge of your class, I personally feel like you get the most out of your cooldowns with careful planning and studying the fight you're about to tackle in advance. If you decide to jump into a fight and use your cooldowns ad lib, that is whenever you think is the best moment, you often end up realizing that you could've needed it even more ten seconds later. Or even worse, you end up not using them at all (or too little) for fear that a better situation will arise.

Over the years I have definitely been more of an improviser than a planner, simply because I thought that was more fun. I love the challenge of going into a situation largely unknowingly of what was  going to happen and see just how quickly I could work out a problem. I love the trial and error aspect of healing that way, but of course it will test the patience of everyone around you and not all guilds accept that. I've had to get more and more into the pre-planning style of healing (and especially cooldown usage) the more "serious" my raiding got, for obvious reasons.  But I do miss those olden days of just throwing yourself at a fight and work it out there and then.

To be able to plan your cooldowns correctly you of course need to know what they do, and in many cases also how you can connect them to the cooldowns of other players in your group or other cooldowns in your arsenal. Combining for instance Hymn of Hope with Mana Tide might be a good idea, or not, depending on the situation (or at least used to, now they don't really work together anymore). Some cooldowns can only be used roughly once per fight, whereas others can be used several times and so need different kind of planning and maintenance/build up. Overall however I find that cooldowns are in fact easier to get a grip on than the basic heals, exactly because you can plan their usage (at least mostly). Of course planning and execution are two different things, but that is where practice comes in. I will repeat the whole "planning ahead" part of cooldowns a bit throughout this post, just so you know.

- Archangel
Archangel is such a great cooldown it should definitely be used as often as possible. I find the real challenge to Archangel is often to keep the stack up, waiting for that best moment to use it, rather than knowing when to use it, because unlike most other cooldowns Archangel requires constant maintenance to be used properly. There is nothing more annoying than keeping up a 5-stack and seeing it drop off because there is an event or somethingother preventing you from refreshing it just before you really need it. This doesn't happen often fortunately.

I used to have real trouble keeping track of my Evangelism stack, it was one of 50 things I needed to keep track of and I just didn't glance up in the buff corner often enough. I highly recommend using some sort of buff tracking addon to make this job a lot easier. I use one to keep track of the Evangelism buff and one to keep track on the cooldown of Holy Fire, since overall I tend to only use Holy Fire to rack up a stack - unless I needArchangel quickly of course in which case I also throw in some Smites if possible.

I find the biggest mistake people can do with Archangel is often to not use it often enough. With a 30 second cooldown, and unless getting a new Evangelism stack is really a challenge, there is rarely any reason to save Archangel solely for the really big healing situations, it could and should be used for medium ones as well and heck even minor ones. As long as you make sure that it is available to you for the big ones you should use it as often as possible.

The big drawback of Archangel is knowing how it interacts with your absorbs and damage heals/Atonement, which after all constitute a big portion of our overall healing. It always annoyed me that Blizzard would give us a tool that wouldn't affect half of our healing, somehow that just felt like bad design to me. In the world of Blizzard programming, Archangel sometimes affects absorbs/damage heals and sometimes it doesn't, depending on which patch/bug sequence you're on. As far as I know, at the moment Archangel works with Atonement (damage healing) but not with pure absorbs like PW Shield and Divine Aegis. But I could be wrong, you would always want as fresh information as possible on that.

Because of the way Spirit Shell works (a heal transformed into an absorb) we can at least rest assured that Archangel will affect this skill, meaning that these two in combination basically is God Mode for any discipline priest - it wouldn't surprise me if some healers even have them macroed together.

- Desperate Prayer (talent)
I've written about Desperate Prayer in my talent section of this guide already. Personally I normally don't even go for this cooldown, but it is good to use in combination with for example Void Shift. Otherwise it is pretty straight forward and should be used any time you're in danger of imminent death. The trick is only really to remember to use it.

- Dispel Magic
Although not technically a cooldown skill, I've decided to put it here with similar skills rather than in the heal/absorb section of the guide.

The function of dispelling changed quite a lot in MoP, before this current expansion us priests had Dispel which would remove up to two magic effects, harmful on allies or beneficial on enemies. It also had no cooldown. Strangely enough, I doubt anyone considered this OP, except maybe anyone facing healers in PvP. I still remember having "dispel-wars" with other priests in different battlegrounds, thinking back it was kind of silly. I'm not for or against the changes made to Dispel, I accept them and understand why they were made although I overall didn't think there was much wrong with how things worked either. Clearly Blizzard was of a different mind and decided that Dispelling should require more thought and tactic to it than it had, which again is understandable.

Back before the changes, there was no real risk to using Dispel because you couldn't cast it on someone who had nothing to dispel (friend or foe alike). If the Dispel was needed it would go through and if it wasn't you hadn't wasted your mana or gcd on nothing. This is probably the change made to Dispel that still annoys me the most. There is simply more on the line when using Dispel now, since there is a real chance of uselessly wasting mana and time on a skill that wasn't needed because someone got there before you. What this all means is that rather than letting Dispelling be ffa, which it used to be (we occasionally assigned it just to make sure someone was on the ball, rather than being worried about overusing it we were worried about underusing it) Dispelling has now turned into one of all those things many healers like to plan and assign well in advance, making sure that any bad stuff that needs to be removed doesn't have every healer dropping everything to do it.

Overall however, the way we use Dispel hasn't changed overly much (focusing just on the "removing beneficial effects on enemy"-part that is). In a raid you should be well informed and communicated with other players in your group who can Dispel regarding what needs to be removed and by whom, making good usage of the skill a matter of remembering when to use it rather than a matter of any quick thinking (or skill tbh).

- Hymn of Hope
HoH has been pretty much the same since we first got it. Apparently it was a priest racial initially (ie only available to one race of priests), but I don't even remember that. It has had a few tweaks to the mana return and cooldown length, but all in all it's still a one-time-per-fight use skill that returns some mana to you and a couple of your friends. With good timing it can be used several times per fight, although rarely more often than twice. And timing is what this baby is all about, making it one of my favorite cooldown skills. A simple rule of thumb is that the longer the cooldown is on something, the more important it is that you really know when to use it properly. This is obvious since if you miss-use it you probably won't get a second chance that fight. Timing is just maybe even more important when you're dealing with a channeled spell.

There are several factors to consider when trying to figure out the best time to cast a Hymn of Hope. In order of importance;

  1. A window of time long enough - no need to move around or having to cast any other skills that would force you to interrupt easrly and so basically waste your cast.
  2. Combining it with other skills for greater effect - For example Shadowfiend for more mana return or haste effects for faster casting.
  3. Combining it it with other players skills for greater effect (for them or both of you) - For example Divine Plea for paladins.

The way I normally use HoH is that I find a good window of opportunity to make sure I have the 8 seconds (modified by haste) to channel. A good way to use it at the end of a Power Infusion for instance, to tap in to the haste gain. I also announce well ahead of time that I will cast it, to allow other players to adapt to it in case they want to use some cooldown of their own at the same time. For example I will say "after this aoe I will use HoH" or "I will use HoH in 10 seconds" - although I rarely actively try to time my HoH with other players skills unless it is vital for the fight, simply because it's not often practical to do so. I will weigh in requests, for instance if I intend to use the HoH in the next 10 seconds and the paladin asks me to wait two more seconds for his Divine Plea I will see if it is doable. Overall I consider it more important to get the cast done, and preferrably as often as possible during a fight rather than accomodating one other players needs. Try to see when the earliest possible time to use it is so that you can get two casts in to the same fight, for really long fights you might even get in three (first at ~1 min mark, second at ~7 min mark and third at ~13 min mark for example). Ideally you want an idea ahead of time of possible windows of opportunity and also how long the fight can be expected to be. After that it's just trial and error until you've found the perfect spot, and it's quite rewarding when you really get a HoH in good.

- Inner Focus
Since the cooldown on IF isn't overly long, and you can further shorten it with skills like Train of Thought, I normally don't give my IF usage more thought than making sure I use it as often as possible. If you know there is a big heal required shortly, trying to time it can often be a good idea, especially for the added Divine Shield bonus that it wields, or combining it with Spirit Shell, but overall you'll see the most use out of it if you use it off cooldown - at least that is my personal experience. I remember some priests used to have it macroed with PoH, maybe even I did at some point, to make sure to save it for those big aoe heals when needed. This is not necessarily a bad idea, but again - this comes off cooldown often enough that I rarely consider it needing much tactical thought behind it. By using it off cooldown you ensure to get the most hps gain from it (obviously that doesn't mean wasting it when it would only turn into overheal). Rather use it one time too many than one time too few though.

- Mass Dispel
Priests are the only ones lucky enough (?) to have a skill like Mass Dispel, allowing us to dispel several targets at once, be it friend or foe. It too, just like Dispel overall, has gone through some changes but historically this skill hasn't been used very much anyway. This is probably because Blizzard didn't want to make it mandatory to have a priest in the raid, rather just a benefit for the few times when Mass Dispel could come in handy. The instances where a large group of enemies or allies needed dispelling have because of this simply not been that many. Most of the time it has been a case of saving time, rather than mana and I can only think of one really good example of where Mass Dispel is a way better choice than a simple Dispel/Purify, which would be the petrify debuff cast by the trash mobs in Mogu'Shan Vaults (iirc). As mentioned, this is more often a convenience thing than an actual necessity. Obviously there are opportunities where Mass Dispel is the better way to go, but normally they are quite obvious - Mass Dispel is to dispel many targets quickly, to save time and mana from using several single target casts instead. By reading up on the skills in a certain encounter in advance, you should be able to figure out whether a Mass Dispel will be more beneficial to the raid as a whole than handling it the old fashioned one-by-one way, and after that it's just a matter of remembering to cast it (and also to notify your raid that you've got it covered to make sure no one else wasted their mana).

- Pain Suppression
PS looks pretty straight forward at a first glance, and the tricky parts really come down to execution. Unlike many other cooldowns that you can plan and time well in advance, PS normally requires a lot more minute timing and adapting to current situations. You might know exactly which powerful skill from the boss you want to save you tank from, but timing the PS is still not always an easy thing to do - especially since you want to make sure PS doesn't run out before the skill is being done.

As with most tank cooldowns, you will probably have had word from your raid leader (or otherwise responsible for cooldown assignments) on the proper time to use it. If this is the case you need make sure you have your gcd ready for it exactly when it is needed. There will also be times when you're allowed to use PS "as requried", which is where the real challenge, and fun, is. As with most cooldowns, with some knowledge of the fight you will have a general idea as to where a PS probably will be useful, and as with most cooldowns I will advice you to not be afraid to use PS in fear of wasting it and then not have it ready when it's "really needed". Getting the feel for the fight will allow you to determine, as quickly as possibly preferrably, whether your healing team can deal with a damage situation or not. If not, use PS, that is what it is designed for - a dead tank won't help the raid in any way and you should consider a dead tank and an unused PS a failure. If you have the mental capacity for it, it's also always a good idea to announce PS usage, so that others healers know what kind of damage they can expect to have to deal with, and whether they want to use a cooldown on their own. It is annoying when several healers accidentally use powerful cooldowns at the same time, but that is part of raiding. Again, you don't want to be the healer standing with unused cooldowns when the raid wipes.

- Power Infusion (talent)
I've written about Power Infusion in my talent section of this guide already. Personally, I'm all for using PI as often as possible, I just hate seeing cooldowns not being used. As with most cooldowns however, there will most likely be situations in the encounter where you simply want/need that extra output and trying to combine PI with other cooldowns such as Spirit Shell or Archangel (or omg, both!) will make you a proper Terminator. But reversed, since you're healing.

- Power Word: Barrier
PWB was rumored already for Cataclysm and I remember totally loving the idea of a group wide bubble. At first I didn't expect it to be a big raid cooldown, although that does make sense, but more of a Prayer of Healing with just a bubble/absorb component (which is kind of what we got in Spirit Shell instead). What PWB turned out to be, an expansion later, is quite good and it has joined the lines with all the other raid cooldowns, siding next to the Divine Hymn that holy priests have (disc priests used to have both raid cooldowns, but DH was much better for holy priests). As such, it should be viewed as pretty much any raid cooldown - it has its drawbacks and benefits that makes you want to consider when to use it but most likely you will be on an assignment, just like with Pain Suppression.

Not as safe as this -

If you like to help out with proper usage assignment it's worth noting that PWB has a group up requirement that is pretty limited compared to other raid cooldowns - it has a shorter range than for instance Tranquility and Devotion Aura. On the other hand it is one of the few raid cooldowns that is placeable, meaning it doesn't necessarily emanate from the caster. This makes placement easier in some cases. I also find that PWB works better as a single target cooldown than many of the other raid cooldowns. This means that if you're in a fight where there isn't any particular aoe damage to mitigate, PWB can also double as a very useful single target (most often tank) cooldown. It's also not channeled like Tranquility or Divine Hymn and can be used on the run. The most dangerous thing you can do with PWB is overestimating its usefulness. It's a good skill, don't get me wrong, but it "only" reduces damage taken by 25%. Sometimes, this turns out to be a lot less than you anticipate (especially since they nerfed it from the initial 40% and some *me* had difficulty adapting to this change). As with any absorb, PWB suffers from not actually being a heal - which is both good and bad. Because of this, PWB is often best used in synergy with an actual healing raid cooldown, such as Divine Hymn or Tranquility.

- Purify
Purify used to be meshed with Dispel Magic and called simply Dispel, as mentioned already under Dispel Magic. The friendly dispel has changed more than the hostile one, most notably adding a cooldown. This means Purify has the same tactical properties to take into consideration as Dispel Magic, but adding not just risking wasting mana and time, but also run the risk of not having the skill ready off cooldown for the next time.

To me, this has both added and removed from the fun of using Dispel. Back in the day, I used to take pride in being a sniper dispeller or the healer assigned to do all the dispelling. It was a job I considered important, and it was! I remember the dispelling you had to do on Iron Council, if you were half a second too late one of the tanks would be dead from the debuff. There are many examples like it, where quick  dispelling reactions could make or break a try. The changes to Dispel haven't necessarily changed that fact, they've just forced it to be every healers business rather than just ones. That doesn't have to be a bad thing, but I personally always found extra enjoyment in being able to pull off a good job on a personal assignment. With the way Purify works nowadays, it's just another skill added to the long list of "things to time in the ballet-routine that is raiding". Obviously it's a personal opinion of mine, but I've always enjoyed the encounters that allowed for a bit of personal judgment and touch more.

Because of this, what I said earlier about Dispel Magic is even more true for Purify, so I'll just quote myself;

"In a raid you should be well informed and communicated with other players in your group who can Purify regarding what needs to be removed and by whom, making good usage of the skill a matter of remembering when to use it rather than a matter of any quick thinking (or skill tbh). "

- Shadowfiend/Mindbender
I've written a bit on the usage of Shadowfiend/Mindbender under the talent section already. As with Hymn of Hope, Shadowfiend is a skill you should aim to get out as often as possible during a fight. A bit easier to time than Hymn of Hope, Mindbender still has its drawbacks that you need to take into consideration, most notably the fact that it requires a target to hit on to actually do any good. This might sound easy enough, but you'd be surprised how difficult it can be to find a suitable target for your little crawler when you need him, without it diverting too much time and effort from everything else you're doing. I've miscast Shadowfiend a trillion times, simply because I'm thinking he is easier to use than he really is. It doesn't actually take very much to properly use this skill however, and once you're into the routine of the encounter you should know exactly when to cast it - a pro tip is trying to time it with a Hymn of Hope cast, something you really should try and do if it's a mana intensive fight.

- Spirit Shell
Spirit Shell - also known as that "bitchin' cooldown that made disc priests OP and awesome again". Spirit Shell is yet another skill implemented in MoP in an attempt from Blizzard to make Disc Priests more about absorbtion healing, than just the old Shield. I know Blizzard have been struggling, basically since since the creation of the game, to figure out just how to do this without overpowering the class, and rumours have been going high and low over the years of possible skills, PWB being one of them as mentioned earlier. Overall, I am very pleased with the changes they've made and Spirit Shell is definitely a part of that. It's a great cooldown to complement PWB and allowing us disc priests to really make a choice between healing and absorbing, bringing something unique to the healing table - which is why I love disc priests so much.

It's so good, even Bleach has it -

Spirit Shell itself is fairly simple in concept, it converts your heals into bubbles instead, and as with most cooldowns it mostly comes down to timing and identifying when absorbtion is the better choice over healing. All the usual rules apply - remembering that absorbtions aren't actual heals and therefore a "before the fact" rather than "after the fact" healing method. Keeping this in mind is the key to using Spirit Shell successfully, and to be honest this should be hardwired into your backbone if you've chosen to play a discipline priest any amount of serious. You will want to use Spirit Shell to bolster your targets for incoming heavy damage, be it aoe on the raid or heavy swings on the tank. 

The difficulty normally comes down to finding a good window of opportunity to load up some absorbtion on your target of choice, you don't want to do it too early so that the bubbles wear off before the damage comes in and not too late so that you don't get full use of the cooldown. One of the few big drawbacks and really annoying things about Spirit Shell is also ending up having wasted a lot of mana on building up shields that then don't get absorbed. As with most other cooldowns, the more you know about the fight the better you will be at using Spirit Shell. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind;

- Can be used with Inner Focus for extra output.
- Can be used with Archangel for extra output.
- Stacks, up to a percentage (60%) of the casters max health.
- Overrides Divine Aegis.

Combining cooldowns like Inner Focus and Archangel with Spirit Shell is a good way to boost its effectiviness, and tinkering around with these cooldowns to time and line them up with eachother is one of the fun challenges to getting the most out of them.

- Void Shift
I haven't really figured out why Blizzard thought this was a necessary spell for us priests to have. Discipline already has Pain suppression, added with the possibility to use PWB and Spirit Shell as single target cooldowns as well. Holy priests "only" have Guardian Spirit, so maybe it was more to bolster their tank saving capabilities than disc priests. However it may be, I consider Void Shift one of the trickier tank cooldowns to use - mostly because one of you will still be very close to death when you decide to use it, meaning you will need to be very careful and probably prepare well ahead before popping it. Using it whenever the tank isn't dangerously close to death probably isn't necessary, and when he is and you use it, you'll end up with 25% health. 25% health isn't necessarily an extremely bad position to be in, unless you're the tank - but for most raiding encounters it's still something you want to avoid. Saving the tank just to have the healer die two seconds later isn't going to help the raid much in the long run either.

Because of this, I consider Void Shift even more of need of planning and preparing than most other raid cooldowns. Personally I find it a lot of fun to be able to use PS, PWB and most other cooldowns mentioned above at my own disposal as much as possible, but Void Shift not so much. If you have Desperate Prayer, macroing these two together (first using Void Shift, then Desperate Prayer) could be a very good idea. Otherwise, making sure you have a Shield and announcing that you'll soon be low on health is definitely recommended before using it. In any case, be absolutely sure that there isn't any kind of damage incoming that will have you take more than 25% damage in the few couple of seconds after a Void Shift that you are the most vulnerable.

I might make it sounds like Void Shift is impossible to use, which of course it is far from. Some fights definitely make it more difficult with a lot of aoe damage going around. I think the priest community is still somewhat divided on the usefulness of Void Shift - the pvpers think it's awesome and most pvers find it a bit too risky. Like I said, I do consider it among the trickiest raid cooldowns to use, but I'd still advice you to not count it out. Always keep it handy in the back of your mind in case something happens, and it will probably end up saving the day at some point. I think I've said it plenty in this post already, but it's fitting that never has it been more true than when using Void Shift, the ending skill of this post - the more knowledge you have the fight beforehand, the better you can time your usage wisely!


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