I decided to take a break from gems this week to discuss a style of priest healing that is becoming popular among raiders: discipline raid healing. Though the concepts behind it are extremely simple to understand and execute, this style of play seems to have slipped under the radar of many players despite its amazing potential. Tag along with me after the jump and I'll fill you in on the basics and benefits of disc raid healing. Holy priests, I'm talking to you, too.
Unfortunately for the average discipline priest, there were quick and inappropriate assessments made early in Wrath of the Lich King which tagged discipline as a "tank healing" spec. While I do agree that discipline's burst response and damage mitigation lend themselves extremely well to healing a tank, there is a great deal of potential that will go untapped if a discipline priest never ventures outside of a little bit of cross healing. Take note – discipline priest are single target healers, not tank healers!
Disclaimer: In the hardest of progression content, I do not encourage cross healing! Remember: "Honor and shame from no condition rise; act well your part, there all the honor lies." Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man. Do your job, and trust your fellow healers to do theirs. Staying on your target will make it easier to identify where a healing problem is, and that's the first step to correcting it. If you're in farm content, however, go nuts – actually, go shadow.
So, what is discipline raid healing? Chances are, if you're a discipline priest, you've already found yourself doing it now and again. Remember when you prepared for XT-002 Deconstructor's Tantrums in Ulduar by casting Power Word: Shield on as many people as you could? Or perhaps on the Twin Val'kyr in Trial of the Crusader you bubbled everyone in sight because the raid damage was so high? That's the basics of it, except you do it full time instead of just occasionally.
The effectiveness of discipline raid healing is obvious: prevent the damage from happening and there will be less or nothing to heal. It works best in fights with lots of burst raid damage, where the mitigation can soften the blows, and make everything easier to manage for your healers (Festergut, when he exhales, or Algalon's star explosions - Check out that last link at 4 minutes in, to see disc raid healing in action). This will not only allow everyone more room for error, it will be dramatically easier to execute since it is a form of preemptive healing, instead of reactive healing. It's so easy!
You will also never overheal with a bubble. That doesn't mean you should shield superfluously, though! Every shield that is completely consumed is 100% effective healing, so as long as you have your shield up, you will monopolize the initial healing done on a target that takes damage. Let me say that again, only simpler: You will top healing meters. Not Recount of course, but if you run your logs through a parsing client such as World of Logs you will get something that looks like this.
Now before you guys scream how meters aren't that important, let me say a few things. First of all, being a conventional discipline priest can lead to mental trauma. I'm serious. They're still working on the studies, but experts speculate that 9 out of 10 discipline priests will have an existential crisis before they get to 264 level content. This can lead to serious bouts of holy and or shadow. Circle of Healing binges are the number one leading cause of death for discipline priests.
Okay, I'm not serious, but you have to admit, for a class that has to suck up the whole meter argument, it's pretty cool to see just how capable they are at playing with the druids. That said, let me recite my philosophy on meters: effective healing isn't the same as good healing. The mechanics of certain healing classes allow them to perform the way they do on meters. Meters and logs are tools to assess players, but they are just one dimension of assessment. A clutch tank-saving heal doesn't get counted any more than a heal topping off a hunter pet.
Now lets get back on topic: There is more to disc raid healing than just throwing up Power Word: Shield. Knowing every aspect of a boss encounter is absolutely key to optimizing this style of play (and it's even more essential if you want to work this trick with Rapture into your play style as a raid healer). If you were to throw up a shield on every target in say... Deathbringer Saurfang, you'd find that the majority of your bubbles are wasted. Instead, if you shield targets with Boiling Blood or Mark of the Fallen Champion, or that stupid druid that won't kite or use Barkskin when he pulls healing aggro every time Blood Beasts spawn (you know the guy), you'll find your contribution is quite effective. So make sure you research your fights and download boss timers if you have trouble reading that orange RP text that periodically shows up on your screen.
Of course, because of the Weakened Soul debuff, you will find yourself without things to shield at times. So what do you do? Well just as you would as holy or conventional disc, always keep your Prayer of Mending on cool down. Then, depending on the damage, you can either dish out Renews for more preemptive healing or help spot heal any targets whose health bars are straggling with a tick or two of Penance, and hopefully a proc from Divine Aegis. Just remember that you're supposed to be shielding the raid, not spot healing people who need topping off. If you continuously break from keeping your bubbles and Renews up, you're not really keeping to your task. Raid healers are better equipped to deal with those bits of damage, so let them. You can spend that extra time setting up for the next wave of damage. 25 GCDs is a lot to go through.
In adopting this play style of watching the raid, you may be tempted to use your AoE heals. I strongly suggest against this. Remember that one of discipline's beauties is its mobility and fast response time - Prayer of Healing is the exact opposite. If you absolutely feel Prayer of Healing is essential, try to combine it with Power Infusion and then Inner Focus, to cut down on the mana cost and cast time. It's better to just stick to the shielding and Renew, though.
As for talents and gear, there really isn't anything special that needs to be done. The standard cookie cutter discipline build works just fine. If you anticipate going raid heals full time, stack spell power gems in every single slot, so you can get as much bonus absorption granted to your Power Word: Shield as possible. If you have mana problems try using the trick with Rapture I linked earlier, and make sure you're using your regen cool downs as effectively as you can.
Before I wrap this up I want to make a final addition about courtesy: I don't believe there is any problem with running two discipline priests, but communication is key. Borrowed Time and Rapture are both very important talents for a discipline priest to be allowed to use, and you shouldn't deny another priest the chance to utilize them. If you're raid healing as disc while running with a tank healing disc priest, make sure you talk to him so you'll know who not to shield. In general, never shield the tanks or the other disc priest, unless she specifically says that that's okay before the fight. While you're at it, double check with your holy priest as well - He might be intending to use Body and Soul to buy himself more time between movements.
Good luck with trying out this play style. As simple as it is, it does require some 'sticking to it' to be effective. Disc raid healing will be extremely advantageous for success in future progression, and if you are disciplined in your approach, you will reap the benefits.
Want to find more great tips for carrying out your Priestly duties? Spiritual Guidance has you covered with all there is to know! And don't forget to check out our other Leveling Guides as well as our Wrath Guides and Galleries!