Spiritual Guidance: Healing heroic Cataclysm dungeons as a priest

Dawn Moore
D. Moore|11.08.10

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Spiritual Guidance: Healing heroic Cataclysm dungeons as a priest
Every week, WoW Insider brings you Spiritual Guidance for discipline, holy and shadow priests. Dawn Moore covers healing for disc and holy priests, and also likes to knit gloves as presents. Can Fox Van Allen make you a pair of gloves?

I intended to write about holy and discipline priest PvP in beta this week, but after spending a few days trying to test out battlegrounds, I think I'd do well to give Blizzard more time to fix things. Between the 100,000-damage rocket blasts in Strand of the Ancients one-shotting players, and randomly getting ported to The Barrens when you're dead wrapped in plastic in Twin Peaks, it all just seems too buggy to fairly assess right now.

While we wait for the developers to finish tidying up the battlegrounds and PvP, I figured we could tackle something in the beta that has stabilized for priests: heroic dungeons! Pretty exciting, huh? Yeah, that's what I thought.

Word on the street is that heroic dungeons in the Cataclysm beta are way overtuned and bordering on the difficulty of pre-nerf heroic dungeons in The Burning Crusade. While I can't personally deny or confirm the latter statement (I was slow in leveling), I can tell you that heroic dungeons in Cataclysm aren't that bad.

Dispelling the "too hard" myth

A lot of people are saying the new heroic dungeons are too hard, but that couldn't be any farther from the truth! Are they harder than Wrath heroic dungeons? Yes, definitely, but that doesn't mean they're overtuned.

Let's consider a few things. First, we've been outgearing dungeons for about a year and a half now; we've probably forgotten that heroic dungeons used to require some effort to be completed. Remember when you had to work really, really hard to get one of those bronze drakes in the Culling of Stratholme -- but after you got decked out in Ulduar gear, you didn't have much more trouble? Well, you might as well accept that dungeons are going to take effort again (at least for a little while).

The new dungeons are also ... well, new, and just like with any new content, players need time to get the hang of fight mechanics they aren't familiar with. It's not good enough to just see a fight once for most people; they have to see it several times to get comfortable. I would expect several months to go by before we can queue into random dungeons and have the majority of groups cruise through the content.

This leads me to my next point, which is that it's now more important than ever to learn and understand how to properly handle the fight mechanics in boss fights. Remember how in Halls of Lightning you were supposed to run out of Loken's Lightning Nova, but most people just healed through it? Well, now you can't heal through the Lightning Nova, because it will one-shot you if you try to stand in it. So the stakes are raised -- but other than that, the pacing and complexity of the tasks you have to perform are any more challenging. You just need to your allies and yourself time to master it all. Be patient -- earn that title!

Preparedness is key

After my last section, the best advice I can give to any player going into heroic dungeons is preparedness. If you're prepared, you'll understand and learn all the new boss mechanics much faster. Just approach heroic dungeons like you would new raid content by doing a little bit of research on each boss beforehand so you know the abilities you need to be aware of. (I'll link some video guides in future posts, as they become available.) Most bosses will only have one central gimmick you have to learn to master the fight, but some of those gimmicks are more complex than others. To ensure you understand them, it helps if you do a little research outside of the game, rather than relying on some grumpy party guide to explain it to you. Let me give you an example of what you're going to be dealing with.

Ozruk is the third boss in Stonecore. The most complex thing about this fight is that he'll periodically apply a stun to you and the rest of your party. The stun can be broken by damage but if it is not broken before it expires, you'll be dealt 50k damage. That 50k is about half your life, and the stun is frequent enough that if more than one player takes damage to it, you won't have enough time to heal both players up to full before the next stun.

So what do you do, Mr. Smarty Pants Healer? Well, since the stun can be broken on damage, you need to find a way to take damage. What are your options? Hmm ... It looks like players who attack the boss physically will be afflicted with a Thorns-like ability called Elementium Spike Shield, so maybe I could try hitting the boss? Wrong! Come on, man, you're a healer! Melee damage is super-unfashionable! You could fray those pretty hems of yours.

Let me tell you what the cool kids (read: priests) do. Ozruk has another ability called Elementium Bulwark, which is essentially a spell reflect, so what you want to do is toss out a Shadow Word: Pain whenever he uses that ability. If you time it properly, your spell will reflect back onto you and now, as long as you don't dispel it, when the stun comes around you'll be fine because your DoT will be ticking along. (In actual execution, you may need to cast the spell twice or thrice if it misses.) Sounds pretty cool, huh? Well it is, but just look at how much space that took to explain. That's at least 2.5 inches of text on my screen. Just imagine how many PUGs are going to die to that one mechanic alone ... And there are tons of boss fights just like that one in Cataclysm heroic dungeons. See why you need to be prepared?

All right, let's move on.

Next, crowd control

One of the main reasons people are complaining that heroic dungeons are too hard is because they require coordination. Coordination, of course, takes time, and that's far too inconvenient for Mr. PUG Wonder Tank, who likes to run in, ignore party chat and promptly pull the first trash pack. In the absence of crowd control -- even if you try to heal him -- he'll be dead in ohh ... 20 seconds? So the next thing you need to know is your group needs to use crowd control!

Priests have never been ones to handle CC in the past though, save for Shackle Undead, which you won't get to use too much anyway (this is the elemental expansion, remember?). Shadow priests will be able to channel Mind Control, but you can't do the same, since you need to be healing. Fortunately, if you recall, we have one more option to help out the party these days: Glyph of Psychic Scream. Remember that this glyph just got an overhaul, so now you'll be able to CC!

But that doesn't mean you should volunteer to be in charge of the green triangle target just yet. There is still a high chance for a healing priest's shadow spells to resist, and the duration isn't anywhere near comparable to the timers on other classes' CC. Instead, you can use Psychic Scream in emergencies. For example, if a target breaks CC early and is freely casting on your party while everyone is preoccupied, run to that target and fear it! This will give your party time to respond. You can also use it to handle incoming adds or accidentally aggroed trash packs. I highly recommend you keep it equipped.

A need for focus

The next thing to note is that the new dungeons take a lot of time and concentration. You cannot rush these things, at least not at first. Also, you can't really multitask at the moment, so toss any plans you had for watching Dexter or eating your lunch while you grab a few justice points. I recall going to take a sip from my water bottle and in the 5 seconds I was preoccupied, a player lost enough health that I had to use a cooldown to keep him alive. So take my word on it: focus!

Mana regen and you

I've talked a lot about how mana actually is a concern in Cataclysm, and I know the rest of the community has too, but after some tweaks from the developers, I'd say things aren't that bad in heroic dungeons anymore if you know what to do.

So let me lay it on you ... You will want to take the talents Evangelism and Archangel. I'm talking to both disc and holy here. I know a lot of holy priests are suggesting two points in Veiled Shadows rather than grabbing Archangel, but Veiled Shadows only lowers your Shadowfiend cooldown by a minute; that's not going to be enough. If anything, you might want to grab Veiled Shadows in addition to Archangel. Don't know where to get the points? Just don't max out Twin Disciplines. I know, I know, Twin Disciplines is a "mandatory talent," but you need to get out of that mindset; healing is a different game now. One of the developers made a statement a while back (and, of course, now I can't find it for the life of me) about how in Cataclysm, not all of discipline's talents are as mandatory as we think they are. So keep that in mind, whether you're disc or just grabbing a few disc talents as holy.

Anyway, let's get back to Evangelism and Archangel. The key to not going out of mana with these talents is upkeep. Especially with holy (and all the Chakra maintenance), it's pretty easy to forget about your Evangelism stack and just heal until you realize you're nearly out of mana (OOM). When this happens, you can freak out a little and pump out four or five Smites in a row -- and hell, you might even pull it off without anyone dying. But if you do that, you fall behind. You fall behind by dedicating all that time to offensive, and then you have to use less efficient spells to catch up 5 to 20 seconds later in the fight.

This isn't a big deal on trash pack where you might only need to use Archangel once, but in a boss fight where you need to use Archangel three or five times to get through the entire encounter, you'll find the time between each Archangel becomes less and less and you'll spend more time trying to restore mana than healing. Very quickly, a fight that looked like a kill is gone because you went OOM. So that's why you upkeep your Smite stack from the very beginning -- even if you're sitting at 95 percent max mana. You don't know when your free seconds will be, so take them when you can. Upkeeping your stack might mean canceling a Smite to switch back to healing really quick, but stay disciplined; it pays off.

As disc, it's been pretty easy to work in Archangel due to Atonement, but with the recent nerfs to it and Rapture, disc priests might need to start handling Archangel more like holy priests. [Thanks to Sakkula in the comments for the heads up. Seems Atonement wasn't actually nerfed, it was just a tooltip revision concerning the different ranks. The Rapture nerf does stand, but disc priests won't have to worry about that doing much harm in 5-man healing if Atonement remains the same.] As a holy priest, I will look for natural breaks in the damage to Smite, then heal the rest of the time. You have to get comfortable riding out the duration of Evangelism (make a Power Aura for it if you have to), and if you must use Archangel at three or four stacks to keep from losing it, do so. If there is no break in the damage, try to get a lead by using a couple of Flash Heals or Greater Heals or by putting some cushion down in the form of a Power Word: Shield, Prayer of Mending and Renew. Alternatively, Smite only when Holy Word: Serenity is available, and follow up your Smite with an immediate, instant-cast heal on whatever target you momentarily switched off.

While we're talking holy, I also recommend using Lightwell to help buy you time and mana. When you need to Smite for mana, tell your party (with a macro or over voice chat) that you're doing so and they should click the Lightwell for extra healing while you're preoccupied. Using Lightwell also saves you a ton of mana in combat for things like topping players off when they aren't taking direct damage.

If you want to have players help with topping themselves off, just say at the start of an instance, "Hey, if you're not taking direct damage but someone else is, and you just need a little topping off, please try to click the Lightwell. I'm having trouble with mana, and it will spare me some mana if you use the Lightwell." I know it sounds super-polite, but you guys will manage just fine, I'm sure. Just to give you an idea of how important Lightwell is to holy right now, when heroics first came out and no one had very good gear to run them in, you had to use Lightwell as a holy priest to keep from going OOM. So you better believe that it's good now.

Oh, and as for cooldown usage for Shadowfiend and Hymn of Hope, I like to use those abilities to catch up. Instead of restoring mana through Archangel one round, I'll use a cooldown instead and spend the free time healing.

Those pesky healing spells

If you've got all that, from here all you have to do is use the healing you're learning to use in live with patch 4.0.1. Swap out your Flash Heal usage for Heal; with holy, you'll want to use Serenity (the Heal stance) instead of Sanctuary (the Prayer of Healing stance), since your focus in 5-mans is single-target healing.

You'll probably find you have way more spells than you need to heal the dungeon, and that creates a lot of choices for healing. None of the choices are really wrong provided they work for you. I find that I'm using very little Renew, despite all the buffs it's been getting. I'm still using Prayer of Mending on every cooldown, and I'm honestly never using Prayer of Healing ... it just doesn't satisfy me. But I'm yet to crunch all the numbers on the specifics of what is more efficient, so we'll talk more about spell efficiency in a future post.

How was that? Do you have any questions about Cataclysm heroic dungeons I didn't cover? Ask away in the comments!

Want more tips for carrying out your priestly duties? Spiritual Guidance has you covered. Check out Holy 101 or Disc 101 for an introduction to healing as a priest; for the party-minded healer, see a priest's guide to tanks.
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