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Spiritual Guidance: Discipline priest stat weights revisited

Dawn Moore
Every week, WoW Insider brings you Spiritual Guidance for discipline, holy and shadow priests. Dawn Moore covers the healing side of things for discipline and holy priests. She also writes for and produces the Circle of Healing Podcast.

Holy talent trees, it's September! That means we're closing in on a year since Cataclysm was released, and it's about that time when priests start feeling really insecure about their gear and stat choices. (It also time to stock up on those Midsummer Ground Flower fireworks I like so much. The Harvest Festival vendors sell them.) Who knows what causes it, but it seems like whenever six months goes by without major community discussion on stat weights, everyone starts thinking they're doing things wrong. My mailbox is testament to this strange phenomenon and admittedly, even I'm feeling susceptible to it this time around.

Therefore, I decided that I'm going to be revisiting priest stat weights today so we can take a look at how things have (or more truthfully, haven't) changed since Cataclysm was released. I'll also be examining at how those stat weights play out in a few standard healing playstyles that have developed since the expansion launch. This week, I'll be covering discipline first because I have to maintain the myth that I hate holy priests; then next week, I'll release an almost identical version for holy priests.

Spreadsheets, theorycrafting, and Elitist Jerks

Before I get started, I just want to come out and say that we're going to be working off the healing priest theorycrafting spreadsheet from the Elitist Jerks (EJ) forums today. I'm going to keep things simple and light (I'm not even really going to talk numbers), so don't run for the hills if you typically scoff at the hard-edged class information found there. Even with EJ's draconian moderation practices, the site is still an extremely valuable resource for all players who know how to use it. Plus, as a healer, things are a lot more lax anyway ... You'll find many people who are open to different ideas on what the proper way to play is.

So what are we going to do today? Open the downloadable Excel spreadsheet, plug in some really basic numbers, and see how those numbers affect our HPS throughput. Easy-peasy, as they say -- but if you're not sure what to do, don't freak out when you open up the spreadsheet for the first time. If you look carefully, you'll see the spreadsheet has pages, and one is marked Instructions. That should explain most of what you need to know about plugging in values.

From there, all I've done to draw up the information for today's article is plug in my choice talent points on the Talent page, pick a few of the premade rotations to compare on the Rotation page, and then start adjusting my haste, crit, and mastery levels to see what changes. If you do the same, you'll see that HPS values change under the different rotations when you adjust your stats. From there, you can stroke your chin and say, "Hmm ... Perhaps this means I should try using more haste during this fight." Then, a true scientist would go test things in several raids and see if your parses say you've become more awesome than you were the weeks before. See? It's not rocket science.

Just remember that spreadsheets are tools to help you develop a strategy for gear and play, not necessarily a tool to try and prove your idea is the one true way. Every time you try to use a spreadsheet to solely support your bad ideas, you make Wolpertinger cry. (And if you've never heard Wolpertinger cry, let me tell you: It's heartbreaking.) Now, let's get on to what we came for.

General discipline stat weights

For the most part, things haven't changed since I talked about stats back in December. The game has changed very little, and while the 4.2 changes to crit heal mechanics were significant, they were big not enough to change stat priorities across the board for every possible playstyle (read: bubble spammers didn't blink an eye.) That said, the stat priority was and is:

Intellect > Spirit > Haste = Crit = Mastery

The general idea then was that you wanted to take intellect upgrades while treating spirit as a sort of primary stat, making sure that each piece of gear you had had spirit on it. From there, you could just blend your other secondary stats to a nice balance. As I've already implied, this still holds true for any general purpose style of play you'd encounter as disc today, be it 5-man healing, most forms of tank healing, or any situation where you're doing a lot of everything (you know, a Prayer of Healing here, a Penance there, Power Word: Shield the tanks on cooldown ... that kind of thing). Since discipline's stats work together, no one stat stands out, especially when no one spell is being used too much more than any other.

Now, I do want to note that the spreadsheet does indicate that haste is a little stronger than crit, and crit a little stronger than mastery, but the differences in HPS are relatively small. That said, I'd always recommend leaning toward haste a tiny bit more if you're using more casted heals, because it benefits cast times and GCD. Now, if you're using Power Word: Shield more, you'd want to ... Hmm, seems I'm getting ahead of myself.

Power Word: Shield spam

Since 4.0.6 ruined my fun, heavy shield usage in PVE is now only for the most throughput-minded players. Shield spam currently yields the highest throughput levels of any other possible healing style, but is also the most mana-consumptive playstyle and can't really be maintained without heavy assistance from your raid (typically in the form of Innervates and Mana Tide Totems dropped when you need them, rather than when the raid group needs them). But for those of you with spam for brains willing to take on the challenge, you ought to know that your stat priority tips heavily in one direction for this method of play.

Intellect > Spirit > Mastery > Haste > Crit

Now, whether you're spamming continuously or for specific portions of a fight, whenever more shields are involved, mastery is going to start to lead as the priority stat. The specific order from the spreadsheet rates mastery significantly over haste and haste significantly over crit. This makes logical sense, if you think about it. Why would crit increase your output if the only direct healing you're doing is coming from the Glyph of Power Word: Shield? Haste does help by lowering the GCD, but when you compare it to equivalent amounts of mastery, it's better to just go straight mastery.

Atonement Healing: Smite and Holy Fire spam

As a final throwaway to the mix, I thought I'd look over Smite and Holy Fire spam. Despite the relatively low throughput of this type of healing when done continuously (read: I still don't recommend it), I'll admit that it does have a place in certain fights because of damage buffs or healing downtime.
Intellect > Spirit > Haste > Crit > Mastery

Testing both a rotation including nothing but Smite and Holy Fire and then one that incorporated an occasional heal (Penance or Flash Heal), I found that haste came up as the strongest stat, followed closely by crit. Mastery, on the other hand, did little to nothing to assist in the HPS output. Obviously, if you think about it, this also makes logical sense. If you're casting a lot of spells, reducing the cast time and increasing the chance to double your healing or damage is going to do the most good.

Looking at this information, I wanted to point out that if you're going to go with heavy Smite spam, you should pick up all three points of Darkness in the shadow tree, and feel free to skip Veiled Shadows (since Smite healing is one of the less taxing on mana than straight healing). Remember that buffs like Grace and Inspiration won't be applied through Atonement, but if you choose to do any additional casting, you'll want to grab them depending on what you're doing.

Next Week: Holy stats

As I mentioned earlier, next week we'll be looking a holy priest stat weights and examine rotations for holy raid healing and tank healing. If you have any styles of holy healing you want to look at and don't want to play with the spreadsheet yourself, mention whatever it is in the comments and I'll see what I can do to analyze it (even if that means just handing to over to the experts.) See? I do love holy priests -- if I didn't, I wouldn't have given you the opportunity to help me develop a better article by allowing you to ask me questions to cover in it. See? See? OK, whatever -- keep the faith, friends.

Also, be sure to send out your love and mana potions to the creators and maintainers (Valen, Carnathagia, Mordil, and Kaylefice) of the healing priest spreadsheet. They're the wizards who know what they're doing. I've only directed your attention to exisiting information today.

Spiritual Guidance has the inside line on pre-raid, valor point and raid gear for patch 4.2, as well as priest healing guides for the early and final bosses of The Firelands. Newcomer to the priest class? Look into leveling a healing priest, plus our guides to Discipline Priest 101 and Holy Priest 101.