Patch 4.0.6 is live, which means we're taking a vacation from the raiding guides to talk about how priest healing has changed since the patch for holy and disc priests. Overall, life is great right now if you're a healing priest. There may be some people who disagree, but I think it's obvious that we've got it all right now. Our spells are strong, our cooldowns are amazing, and we have the best spell in the game, Leap of Faith (or Power Word: Barrier, if you want to be serious.) The posts complaining about priests being overpowered are at an all-time high, sweeping through the forums like a refreshing spring breeze; it's like Trial of the Crusader was just some bad dream.
The biggest playstyle change for both disc and holy priests will be how much we prioritize Prayer of Healing now that it's been nerfed. Since the effectiveness of the spell has gone down dramatically, you'll only want to use it when it's optimal -- you know, like you should have been doing in the first place? Well, regardless of how you were playing before the patch, the nerf is a good reminder that Prayer of Healing is best for situations when there are four or five targets who need healing in a group, not two or three. Be mindful of how the healing situation changes as you use it, particularly if you think you need to cast it multiple times. It will be hard to top off a group using Prayer of Healing alone anymore, so as soon as you see there are fewer than four players in a group who need healing, move on to another group or switch to your single-target healing.
Holy playstyle Though you'll use Prayer of Healing less (or stop using it earlier), know that you won't lose it entirely from toolbox -- as I said before, it's still good when four of five players in your group need the healing. You'll continue to cast Prayer of Mending and Circle of Healing on cooldown like you did, but the buff to both (one in the form of a glyph) will make it all the sweeter.
Holy priests will also want to capitalize on the new, lower cost of Renew to help fill in the gap where Prayer of Healing once was. Renew use will become a lot more liberal with the patch, but players should be careful how freely they apply it to the raid; it's easy to overdo and difficult to sustain. This isn't the same Renew spam from Icecrown Citadel, and you shouldn't pre-HoT players at full health who have no expectation of taking damage. Remember that your cast spells are ideal for lulls in the fight if you can't afford the mana cost of using Renew all the time.
Discipline playstyle Your playstyle can remain roughly the same as it was before the patch; just ease off your Prayer of Healing usage. Use Prayer of Mending on cooldown and Penance almost always on cooldown (try to use Penance as often as you can. There is almost always someone in the raid who can use the healing, just keep in mind that sometimes you'll want to save it for a few seconds when you know someone is going to need a big quick burst of healing. Usually after a big attack on the tank and you need to heal him before a melee swing, or right after a boss mechanic that drops a raider to really low health.) Without Prayer of Healing, you should naturally find yourself using Power Word: Shield more, and with the huge buff it received, you'll find this isn't a bad approach. Keep the new, increased mana cost in mind though; I do not encourage shield spam unless there is a specific upcoming mechanic in a fight that is ideally countered through pre-shielding. By all means, use your shields liberally, but do not use them superfluously -- try balancing them with other spells from your toolbox to prevent running out of mana. The buff to Grace will help your single-target healing out a bunch.
Mana management If you're having issues with mana after the patch, the biggest thing you can do is adjust when and how you use Shadowfiend and Hymn of Hope. Use Shadowfiend early -- within the first 1 to 2 minutes of a fight. Then when it's available again later, you can use it with Hymn of Hope. Use your Mythical Mana Potion or Potion of Concentration when you can't make it between cooldowns without running dry. Make sure you're using any trinkets you have. Once you've done all these things, if you're still having trouble, start looking at your gear.
Adjusting your gear and equipment
With all the changes to playstyle, you're going to have a lot of little changes to make to your character. There shouldn't be any major changes, but make sure you give each aspect of your character some thought.
General gear adjustments Depending on how your mana regeneration fares after you adjust your cooldown usage, you might decide you need more spirit. Some players might choose to shirk spirit for intellect, and while intellect will affect your mana pool and your cooldowns, spirit is working every second to get mana back to you. Intellect has very little impact on your passive regen. So look over your gear and make sure all the pieces you have are spirit pieces. If they aren't, work at replacing them or reforging them to have spirit. All gear has intellect on it so you're not really giving up that much by taking spirit gear over gear with additional secondary stats. Extra haste, crit, and mastery will do you no good when you're out of mana.
The major exception to getting spirit on all your gear is trinkets, which should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. I wouldn't trade Tyrande's Favorite Doll for a spirit trinket, for example, but I would consider trading my Core of Ripeness for Mandala of Stirring Patterns. This is because Tyrande's Favorite Doll has one of the best mana return mechanics available right now, while I was really only using the Core of Ripeness because of how it worked with Mana Tide Totem before the patch. Now that my own stats have no affect on the amount of regeneration I get from Mana Tide Totem, and the Mandala of Stirring Patterns has been changed from a mastery proc to an intellect proc, it's a much stronger choice. If you have a specific trinket option you're unsure about, ask in the comments.
Gear for holy priests Now that Renew is more worthwhile, holy priests will want to make sure they have 12.5% haste to get that extra tick if they didn't already. From there, mastery and crit are still underwhelming at the currently attainable levels. Crit is only useful for Inspiration and RNG throughput, and when you're raid healing, getting Inspiration on the tank is a bonus, not a guarantee. Mastery is also underwhelming because at the amount Echo of Light is ticking for, you're really only padding meters with it [Cthulu and I discuss this further in the comments, if you'd like a little more explanation why I say this: part 1 and part 2.] There will come a time when you can think, "If I heal target A for this much, Echo of Light will heal him for this much more, so I can switch to healing target B for now," but this is not that time. (Mastery is the secondary stat of choice for min/maxing, mind you. I go back and forth on what's most important, so if you're in a min/max kind of mood, by all means.) That said, stacking a lot of additional haste won't do a ton for your output either, maybe shaving off 0.1-0.2 seconds.
Gear for disc priests For disc, I recommend balancing your secondary stats as always, but mastery is probably the stat you'll want to lean toward if you're going to be heavy on anything. It will work nicely with your increased use of Power Word: Shield. It will still contribute to Divine Aegis as well, but you'll probably see your healing done by Divine Aegis go down now that you aren't using Prayer of Healing as much. Current crit levels just aren't supplying us with a lot of crit-procced Divine Aegis, and since you're getting crit from intellect, you're raising your crit a little bit with each gear upgrade you get. Finally, when it comes to using haste, it's really more about personal preference. Disc priests will obviously need less haste due to Borrowed Time, and since shield usage is going up, so will the time you spend in fight with a haste buff. If you choose to get extra haste on your gear, it will just help you a little bit when you don't have Borrowed Time active.
Gem changes You can actually probably stick with the gems you had going before, but I'd generally advise always sticking with gems that are intellect plus one other stat. That way, each gem you slot is helping your mana pool, crit, and throughput.
- Blue slots Purified Demonseye while mana continues to be an issue.
- Red slots Brilliant Inferno Ruby, unless you're really hurting for a secondary stat of some kind. Then you can use some type of orange gem, probably Reckless Ember Topaz for holy priests trying to meet haste requirements.
- Yellow slots Reckless Ember Topaz for holy priests working on haste, after that Artful Ember Topaz. Stay balanced for discipline. That doesn't mean use a different gem in every socket; it means that if your gear has a lot of one stat, you can gem for another to balance things out. If you want to ignore the balance advice, stack mastery with Artful Ember Topaz.
- Discipline and Holy Inscribe Glyph of Prayer of Mending. You should still be using Prayer of Mending on cooldown, so this glyph will serve you constantly. You should have no trouble finding a spot for it, since most of the other major glyphs are underwhelming or situational.
- Discipline Inscribe Glyph of Power Word: Shield. The increased size of shields adds a very sizable instant cast heal to the front end of your bubble. Make sure you keep Glyph of Penance and Glyph of Power Word: Barrier.
- Holy Consider inscribing Glyph of Renew. You may already have this glyph inscribed, in which case you're good to go. If you don't, though, consider your various options based on your playstyle; Glyph of Renew, Glyph of Prayer of Healing, and Glyph of Lightwell are the contenders. Make sure you keep Glyph of Guardian Spirit, though.
Tweaking your talent trees
Make sure you've picked up mana-saving talents like Mental Agility, regardless of your spec. You may also consider Veiled Shadows in the shadow tree for more Shadowfiend usage -- even if this means your Hymn of Hope and Shadowfiend usage don't line up anymore, fights are long enough to fit in multiple cooldowns.
Holy talent changes You'll probably want to pick up your Renew talents again. That means Divine Touch and possibly Rapid Renewal depending on how much stress your mana pool can take. If you do a lot of single-target healing, you'll want to take another look at Surge of Light now that it can proc from more spells; raid healers still probably won't care too much about the talent. The buff to Desperate Prayer (it went from a flat rate of healing to a percentage) will also make it worth taking for self-preservation.
Discipline talent changes Make sure you're taking Strength of Soul, if you haven't been. The talent got buffed so that Flash Heal and Greater Heal reduce the duration of Weakened Soul too, but even if this buff hadn't occurred, the new strength of Power Word: Shield would motivate many players to cast Heal. The shield buff also means you'll probably end up dropping Evangelism, Archangel, and Atonement in favor of other talents (Surge of Light, Inspiration, and Desperate Prayer will most likely be your new alternatives.) Atonement healing isn't bad now, especially since many fights still have downtime when you'll want to DPS the boss anyway, but with Power Word: Shield getting stronger, there are just better options. Add to that the buff to Grace, and our temporary healing buff from Archangel doesn't seem as nifty anymore.
Closing thoughts on balance
If you've been playing this past week, you've undoubtedly heard some chatter on healer balance and priests. Some of it is about disc priests needing to be nerfed, the other part is about holy priests needing buffs. Let me address both.
Holy priests: You're going to be okay. Acknowledge that Prayer of Healing was overpowered for both disc and holy before the patch, and now it's in line. You weren't supposed to be using it from start to finish of a fight; this patch has made it so you won't. To keep up with other healers now, you're going to need to be smarter with your single-target healing. If you're having issues with mana, reassess your spell usage and your gear.
Disc priests: Once again, you have the ability to mindlessly spam Power Word: Shield from the beginning to the end of a fight and ride to the top of the meter again. You can tell yourself this is effective, but how quickly you've forgotten healing meters don't matter. I know there will be people who thing that topping the charts is the way to go, but it's far too early to tell if blanketing shields is going to really be much more than meter play. As for fixing it, there is a lot of talk on how Blizzard should work to discourage this type of play, and should the developers agree it's probably going to come in the form of a flat nerf to the amount of absorption. Trying to add a cap to how many shields a priest can have active at a time is overly complicated to implement and will cause problems depending on group size.
That said, it's possible this buff is intended to be large now and balance out over the next one to two tiers of content. Seeing as all the top guilds have killed everything now and nerfs have been issued for much of the raid content, Blizzard is probably more concerned with how the changes in patch 4.0.6 will affect the beginning of the next tier of content, not how it affects the rest of a tier that has been conquered. Even if most guilds haven't finished everything yet, we now know that everything was doable before the patch. Time will tell.
Want more tips for carrying out your priestly duties as a disc or holy priest? Check out Spiritual Guidance: Discipline and Spiritual Guidance: Holy. Newcomers to the priest class will want to look into Discipline Priest 101 and Holy Priest 101. For getting your healing priests geared, check out the pre-raid gear guide and the valor point and raid gear guide.