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Spiritual Guidance: Discipline 101

Dawn Moore

Every Sunday Spiritual Guidance is liberated from the shadows by Dawn Moore, while Fox Van Allen is busy massaging the many tired tendrils of Alfonz, Dawn's loyal Shadowfiend. Dawn will reflect on the intricacies of priest healing for discipline and holy priests, while forwarding Fox's address to her gnomish allies.

It was sometime in early 2009 that I was sitting in Dalaran, reading trade chat when someone asked "can disco priests heal?" Someone replied "lol, disc priests?" to which the original poster said, "yeah, disc. Can they?" I smiled when I saw the mistake. Then a few months later when I applied to a guild, I filled in my spec and class as Disc(o) Priest. In response this, one of my future guildmates told me he expected the 70s to be in full revival during my trial: I provided. I might have gone overboard since, but I was born for this.

So here it is, Discipline 101. Just as was the case with the holy 101, this is not meant to be a comprehensive guide to every nuance of the discipline tree. Instead it will cover the basics of how to get started with gearing and playing a discipline priest in a PvE environment, and hopefully get you asking more questions that I'll be able to answer in future articles. If you are a veteran discipline priest please provide the newbies with any tips or tricks of your own in the comments.

1. What is Discipline?

Discipline, or disc as it is often shortened to, is one of a priest's two healing specs. It was once thought of as a PvP spec, due to its talents focusing on utility, damage reduction, and offense. However, on the eve of Wrath of the Lich King, patch 3.0.2 was released and discipline received major changes: offensive talents were removed or reduced, and several improvements were made to the tree's healing and damage mitigation options. As a result, discipline has become a viable healing spec for all PvE content, with a strength for single-target healing.

2. Discipline benefits

  • Versatile: disc can perform many different roles for a party or raid with the same gear and spec.
  • Control damage: because mitigation acts preemptively, you can often manage healing multiple players at once by strategically placing shields and heals. This means even without a strong AoE healing ability, a skilled disc priest can keep a group alive just by stopping damage on certain targets until he has time to individually heal them.
  • Utility: discipline priests have many useful cooldowns, buffs, and improved spells to assist the raid.
3. Discipline drawbacks
  • Weaker heals: since damage mitigation is your specialty, your actual healing spells are a little weaker than other healers with comparable gear.
  • Misunderstood: some players will not understand how discipline works, or worse, think they understand how discipline works when they don't. You'll occasionally have to deal with discipline related ignorance in this spec, in more ways than one.
  • Gear competition: because disc priests don't currently utilize spirit in combat very well, best in slot items are often the same pieces being sought by caster DPS.
4. Stats to look for

Discipline priests, like holy priests, benefit from most caster stats available. Despite this, the two trees differ in how much they benefit from each stat. The value of spirit is the biggest difference between disc and holy priests. Spirit is not useless, since talents like Meditation will allow you to gain mana from it in combat, but there are so many sources to return mana for disc priests (trinkets, mana return cooldowns, and the talent Rapture) that you don't need to worry too much about mana. This will all change in Cataclysm, but it stands for now. These are the stats you'll want to look for on your gear at this time:
  • Spellpower: Spellpower will increase the size of your heals and the amount your shields absorb for. (Directly for Power Word: Shield and indirectly for Divine Aegis.)
  • Intellect: Just like with holy, this stat will increase your mana pool and grant a small amount of critical strike rating. In addition to buffing your mana, it will affect your mana regeneration from spirit and increase the amount of mana returned by abilities like Shadowfiend, Hymn of Hope, and Replenishment. If you are having mana problems as a disc priest, this is the first stat to go to if you can't get enough mana by simple adjustments to play style.
  • Haste: Haste does two things: decreases the casting and channel time on non-instant cast spells, and lowers the 1.5 second global cooldown (GCD). As a discipline priest, how much haste you need is incredibly variable due to talents. Depending on your role and what your regular raid comp is, you can hit the haste cap for GCD with as little as 5% haste. This is barebones though, and dependent on raid buffs, so shoot for something around 13% if you're a bubble spammer and maybe a little bit more if you are more of a tank healer. The reason for this is Borrowed Time will effect your GCD, so if you cast nothing but Power Word: Shield (as shield spammers do) you'll always have that haste buff present. A tank healer on the other hand, might want a bit more haste incase he is unable to cast a shield between each cast. Stacking haste significantly past this amount is only a benefit to long cast time spells like Prayer of Healing or Greater Heal, both of which are used sparingly by disc priests.
  • Critical strike: This stat will increase the critical strike chance on your spells. Each time your spells crit the amount of bonus healing you get as a disc priest is almost double a normal heal (50% from the crit bonus itself, plus the 30% absorption your Divine Aegis takes from the total of the crit heal.) It will also buff your target with Inspiration. For this reason, crit is a very substantial stat for disc priests who tank heal. Shield spammers, on the other hand, will receive negligible amounts of benefits from crit, since Power Word: Shield cannot crit (though the heal from Glyph of Power Word: Shield can.) Choose an amount of crit that suits your raid role.
  • MP5: MP5 is how much mana you regenerate in combat. You will occasionally find it on gear upgrades, and if you do, feel free to tap in. (The majority of mana restore trinkets you'll find, for example, either state a bonus amount of MP5 on their tooltip or are valued on how much MP5 a proc effect grants over time.) How much MP5 you need will depend on how long fights last, as well as how well you manage your cooldowns. Just keep in mind that MP5 does not benefit anything other than mana regeneration, so you don't want to purposefully stack it. MP5 will disappear in Cataclysm, so don't get too attached.
  • Spirit: Spirit converts to mana regeneration in and out of combat. The conversion is based on your intellect, so as you gain more intellect, it will take less spirit to raise your in and out of combat mana regeneration. As I said earlier, spirit is not a heavily valued stat for discipline since we have other ways to get mana back. You don't need to entirely shun it though.
5. Stats to avoid

Just like with holy, the following stats are not needed for healing:

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