I've decided that playing a healing priest is a lot like being a pregnant woman. No, really, let me explain! OK, so admittedly I don't know what it's like to be pregnant, but I've observed enough friends and family going through the process to have come up with this analogy. Here it goes ...
So you know how when a woman is pregnant, people will start inviting themselves into awkward and personal conversations with her, or they'll randomly put their hands all over her stomach as though it had been declared a national park? Well, that's what it's like to play a healing priest. Here's how it happens.
You'll be healing away in a raid or a 5-man, minding your own business, when someone will invite themselves into a one-sided conversation with you where they tell you what spec you should be playing and why. If you're disc, they'll tell you to go holy; if you're holy, well, you get the idea. In these conversations, your reasoning and expertise will always be deemed irrelevant because you're clearly in the wrong spec to begin with and because this random person has a really, really good reason for suggesting you change specs. (Never mind that it's almost always based on some broad generalization or the performance of the spec five tiers ago.)
Try to tell them no, and you'll get accusations of being selfish or stubborn. Don't you know that if you change specs, every single problem the group is having (including the fact that everyone is standing in fire) will cease to happen and the boss will immediately drop dead and explode in a shower of epics?
Anyway, the reason for telling you all that is because I want to start talking about how disc and holy have been playing in the Mists of Pandaria beta right now. I've had a lot of outstanding thoughts about both specs during the past month and a half, and it's time we discussed them. There's a lot to talk about, though, so I'm going to break it up over two parts. This week, we'll talk about discipline, then holy in two weeks. Holy priests shouldn't feel completely left out, though, as I also have some news items to go over for them.
Discipline on beta: cooldown overload
One of the things I've always loved about disc priests is the immense amount of utility they have. I love being able to do lots of different things as a class, and I especially love how that constantly affects my role in various encounters. That's why it's strange to find myself thinking that discipline is currently overloaded with cooldowns.
When I hit level 90 and started trying to readjust my UI for healing, I was quickly overwhelmed by all the things I potentially had to keep an eye on. Think of all the things you have to stay on top of right now on live as a disc priest. There are the short cooldown healing spells like Penance and Prayer of Mending that you try to use as much as possible. Next, you've got utility and defensive cool downs like Inner Focus, Pain Suppression, Power Infusion (though it is technically optional), and Power Word: Barrier. Finally, there's the mana regen cooldowns, Shadowfiend and Hymn of Hope, plus Rapture if you want to stay on top of that.
In MoP, you have to manage all that and more. First, Atonement and Archangel are now baseline disc priest abilities, so whenever there is downtime, you won't have a excuse for why you're not casting Smite. This in turn means you'll want to now actively keep an eye on the cooldown of Archangel, as well as Holy Fire. After that, you'll have to get comfortable using one of the three new level 90 talents, which all have different cooldown durations.
Then there is Void Shift, which will probably be handled in the same way that Pain Suppression and Power Word: Barrier currently are. Not so bad, but then you've also got our new ability Spirit Shell to worry about. Right now, I'm guessing Spirit Shell is going to be the type of ability that you use whenever it's off cooldown. That won't always be true, of course, but from the standpoint of maximizing your output and reducing the overall amount of healing your group needs, you're going to want to use Spirit Shell for the mitigation.
Now the good news is I haven't actually run into any fights yet where I'm having to constantly use all these abilities; most of the fights I've seen in 5-mans and raids only require me to use my basic heals and a few utilities from our massive toolbox. Despite this, I can't shake a feeling that I'm obligated to do everything I possibly can for the raid at every moment, meaning I feel like I should keep every cooldown ability I have on cooldown as long as I'm not saving it for something.
And therein lies the problem ... When you have so many cooldowns available to you, there will always be a button to press. My usual healing rhythm has become nothing more than frantic button mashing, and for the first time in my WoW career, I feel like an addon to keep track of all this stuff is a necessity, rather than a luxury.
The whole thing makes me wonder how necessary everything is when we've got so many other toys now. Is it really important that I continue to micromanage Inner Focus, Archangel, Power Infusion, my trinkets, and all my profession bonuses when they're going to be used on cooldown 90% of the time? Trust me, I'm shocked to be saying this myself.
General spell usage and mana regeneration
As far as basic healing spells, I found myself doing much of the same that I had done in Cataclysm. Relative to one another, spells in MoP are about as efficient as they were in Cataclysm. Prayer of Healing and Penance still offer the most bang for your buck as far as heals are concerned, and when you can't use those spells, you fall back on Greater Heal, Flash Heal, or Power Word: Shield, depending on the target and the situation at hand.
To my surprise, I've also found I'm using Renew quite a bit. Disc's Renew can't hold a candle to holy's, but the HPM of the spell is a lot better in Mists of Pandaria than it was in Cataclysm. It's on par with Power Word: Shield for HPM, and it matches up with the lower end of Greater Heal. Overall, this is a nice development, since it buys me additional time before I have to heal a player again. This is particularly useful when you need to use Power Word: Solace in excess -- which leads me to my next point.
As a disc priest, I'm feeling extremely starved for mana right on beta at the moment. Mindbender hasn't been doing enough to meet my needs, so it's Power Word: Solace or an empty mana bar. That's fine in normal modes when I've got plenty of time to use Power Word: Solace, but I'm a bit worried that when we get to harder content, I won't have as much time to regen what I need.
That said, it's hard to know whether mana is going to be a huge problem when your gear is being scaled for certain levels of testing. Even if I wear some decent gear into a dungeon, the item level is going to be scaled down at the moment. The result of this is that I'm never seeing any improvement in my mana situation, so it feels worse than Cataclysm. Hopefully it's not though, but I guess we'll have to wait and see.
Raids have been even worse for mana, but I'll be the first to admit that I'm not exactly testing content with all-star players. I suspect my lack of mana comes from having to overextend myself because the other healers aren't putting in as much healing as I'd like. I've watched few priest streams to make up for it, and of the disc priests I've been seeing, they're doing all right.
And then there was news!
Late last week, players saw the return of Rapid Renewal and Divine Touch for holy priests. Both talents will now fall under a single baseline passive ability called Rapid Renewal. The ability will collectively buff holy's Renew by 15%, reduce the GCD of the spell by .5 seconds, and apply an instant heal upon the initial application of Renew for 15% of the full value of the spell. At present, the ability is still a bit buggy on the beta (the heal isn't landing for the full value that it should be), but overall, it's a very welcome addition to the holy specialization.
On the topic of Renew, there's also some interesting stuff going on with Renew and Chakra: Serenity, though it's hard to say right now what is intended and what is a bug. First of all, Chakra: Serenity is treating Renew as a single-target heal, thus granting the spell an additional 15% increased healing on top of the 15% granted by Rapid Renewal.
Right now, I'm going to guess this is probably intended since Renew technically is a single-target heal. What I don't think is intended, however, is that Rapid Renewal is currently interacting with the refresh mechanic of Chakra: Serenity in a way that is causing the duration of Renew to increase, thus allowing time for an additional tick of Renew. So if you have enough haste for five ticks of Renew, you'll get six while in Chakra: Serenity; if you normally get four ticks, you'll now get five. The result of this is arguably an overpowered Renew, but it's hard to say at this point whether or not the mechanic will last.
The last final bit of news is also only relevant to holy priests. Holy Word: Serenity received a big numerical buff and has had its healing increased by 70%.
Oh, and about earlier ...
By the way, regarding my little tirade at the start of the article. I'll admit there are occasions when someone's telling you to change specs can be right, but it will almost never occur in normal mode raiding nowadays. There are definitely scenarios in heroic raiding where a particular raid composition benefits from a flexible healing priest, but it's usually only when the content is extremely difficult and you're combating a deficiency in DPS or HPS with a very specific strategy that requires one spec over the other.
That said, I do think it's a good thing to be generally responsive to other players and polite and patient when you tell them that there is a reason you've chosen the spec you have. Harmony is good -- unless they keep pressing the matter. Then they can turn purple with orange spots and fall down a bottomless pit! I am never having children.
Come to Spiritual Guidance for the inside line on current healing gear and trinkets, as well as advice for healing in Dragon Soul. Newcomer to the priest class? Look into leveling a healing priest, and consult our guides to Discipline Priest 101 and Holy Priest 101.