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Spiritual Guidance: Preparing disc and holy priests for patch 4.0.1

Dawn Moore

Every Sunday at WoW Insider, you'll find Spiritual Guidance, a guide to healing as a discipline or holy priest. Priestess Dawn Moore will bring you the latest in news, discussion and advice for priests in the World of Warcraft while simultaneously battling her shadow priest rival, Fox Van Allen. This week, after contracting a team of gnomish engineers, Dawn has gone inside Fox's mind to plant an idea deep in his subconscious. The idea? Healing > DPS.

Things are crazy for priests lately. New and dramatically different talent builds are appearing each week like cannonballs, mercilessly destroying everything from the previous week. This week, I was hoping to get everyone ready for the upcoming patch 4.0.1, but that's easier said than done, since build 12984 was just cannibalized by build 13033 on Thursday evening, before mutating into build 13066 on Saturday afternoon. All the same, I'm going to do my best to achieve my original goal James Stewart style, and if this all becomes irrelevant six ways before next Thursday, then it does -- and I hope you'll be patient with me while I reconstruct everything before the next storm.

Cutting to the chase, I've got a talent by talent write-up to get everyone caught up on what's possibly going to go live in the next week (or three), some recommendations for talent trees, and details on glyphs.

Talents explained

Since the proposed priest talents in Cataclysm have changed almost every week for the past few months, I've been wanting to go over all our talents again so everyone is caught up. I figure if it changes from here, we'll at least all be in the same wrong place before moving on to whatever is right. But before we get started, here are some things I want everyone to keep in mind.

First, everything here is derived from the talents in the two latest beta and PTR builds, build 13033 and 13066. On the night 13033 came out, Ghostcrawler (lead systems designer) also made a statement on the build for priests, primarily in response to the disparity between the total number of talents in the discipline and holy trees. In this latest build (13066), disc has a total of 42 talents, while holy only has 36.

There is an optional Discipline build where you take Atonement/Archangel and you can use Smite on the tanked target, and have higher HPS than if you just chain Heal the tank. This isn't always optimal, as Atonement heals the lowest health target (which could be a Rogue standing in a fire), but that's not always such a bad thing in Cataclysm's environment where the MT doesn't have to be spam healed. That said, we think it is interesting gameplay unique to the Disc priest.

In an upcoming build, when you critically hit with Smite your Atonement will critically heal (and cause Divine Aegis).

We've also optimized some of the talents, and pruned some of the 3-pointers down to 2-pointers and also reduced the mana cost of Power Word: Barrier throughout the tree.

We're toning Spiritual Guidance down to bring the healing mount between Discipline and Holy closer together, Holy's "talent tree passive" is currently stronger than intended than Discipline's.

We want Disc to be able to do any raid job, but we are also trying not to just have every healer use the same retinue of spells. If the situation arises, they should be able to Prayer of Heal, Holy Nova, Prayer of Mending for comparable healing throughput / efficiency as Holy can to raid heal. The only difference is Holy can be in a Chakra state which increases the healing done, but then again Disc can heal for 30%+ (depending on Mastery) with Divine Aegis and can also cast free Prayer of Healing with Inner Focus.

Based on what Mr. Crawler has said, discipline priests should not look at too many of their talents as mandatory and instead select the talents that are optimal for their playstyles or needs for a fight. Since there are so many different talent to choose from (and still a huge incentive to visit the holy tree to some degree), discipline priests shouldn't count on having a cookie-cutter spec anymore. Instead, we should embrace that we'll have a lot of freedom to design a way of playing that is tailored to our needs or wants.

Now flipping this around, if you choose to go holy, count on having a cookie-cutter spec -- because to get to the bottom of the tree, you'll take almost every talent. You'll hardly feel like you're making compromises when you select your talents as a holy priest, and as such, I won't be making many notations about what is mandatory when we get to the holy section.

Next up to keep in mind is that patch 4.0.1 will probably be available on servers for about a month before Cataclysm is released. The talents we're getting are designed for Cataclysm, and what happens during the next month will not be indicative of what's going to happen during the entirety of the expansion. My testing of the 12984 build on PTR revealed to me that mana is an absolute joke, which gives you a lot of flexibility on what talents you can pick when patch 4.0.1 hits. I want to warn you right now not to get married to whatever talent build you put together for the last month of Wrath though, because it won't reflect on the problems you'll run into in Cataclysm, in which mana is a big concern.

Got it? Good, let's get started.

  • Improved Power Word: Shield (2 ranks) As a disc priest, Power Word: Shield is still a powerful core of your arsenal of spells, so you'll probably want these talents. For holy, they're optional but probably far less desirable to other talents in the first tier of the discipline tree.
  • Twin Disciplines (3 ranks) These talents increase everything you do: healing, damage and absorption. I would say if there is any universally mandatory talent for priests, it's these.
  • Mental Agility (3 ranks) While you can probably get away with skipping these for the rest of Wrath, these are mandatory talents for conserving your mana pool in Cataclysm. Instant-cast spells account for many core heals for both discipline and holy (e.g., Power Word: Shield, Renew, Circle of Healing, Prayer of Mending.)
  • Evangelism (2 ranks) For the tail end of Wrath, I don't expect much need for this talent, but it, combined with Archangel, are cornerstones for disc healing in the beta right now (You can't get these talent as holy at level 80, so we'll talk more about that in the next section.) Without it you're out of mana (OOM) a third into the fight. Thus, I recommend that you get these talents, even if some changes to other parts of the tree seem like they might allow priests to relax with mana. There just isn't enough mana saved or returned by Surge of Light or Rapture to replace what Evangelism and Archangel do. So, I recommend you spend the tail end of Wrath practicing your technique and prepare any assist macros you decide you need in order to easily swap between your targets. It does take some concentration.

    Just keep in mind that when using Evangelism and Archangel that you'll want to have as many stacks of Evangelism as you can before you redeem the stack for mana. I recommend at least four, while the maximum of five is best. This is because you want the amount of mana you get back from Archangel to well exceed the amount of mana you spent casting Smite to get the five stacks of Evangelism in the first place. If you redeem your stacks too early, you won't get much mana back and you'll have spent the time casting Smite for nothing. Disc priests have even more incentive to get to five stacks before using Archangel, because the buff to damage each stack of Evangelism provides will transfer over to the amount of healing the talent Atonement does. (Granted, Atonement is bugged at the moment on beta, but from Ghostcrawler's statement about it seems like they're working on it.)
  • Archangel (1 rank) As I implied earlier, you're going to want to get this to use with Evangelism. But let me point out that this talent was nerfed in the most recent build (13066.) We can now only use it every 30 seconds instead of every 15. Ouch? Maybe not. There was simultaneously a change to Rapture further down in the tree that will improve disc's regen, so I think discos will be safe. But what about holy?

    Well, first of all, holy can't get Archangel and Evangelism at level 80 because you won't have enough talent points, but I'd like to talk about taking this talents later on. Currently on beta, I've been taking Archangel as a holy priest while my trusted priestly cohort, Kinaesthesia hasn't. I've found time to use the talent in normal dungeons, but Kina, who is geared enough to do heroics, hasn't. Kina's groups has also consisted of guildmates, where as mine consist of trashy pugs with bad tanks (who aren't actually tanking so much as they're directing traffic to nearby DPS.) In my situation I find myself healing multiple targets, where as Kina is mostly healing one. My targets are getting hit in vary amounts, his targets are getting trucked. So what do you do? What's right? I'm not sure yet, but even when I start to get a better idea, I have a suspicion that the decision making on holy and Archangel is going to rest a lot on a priest's individual variables.
  • Inner Sanctum (3 ranks) Phew, now that those talents are out of the way we can move onto some less daunting ones again. This one in particular is a PvP survival talent. Wou might find use for it in PvE too, but I'd bet not universally. Without PvP gear, you'll definitely want this talent, from there we'll see. Hell, with gear, you might want it for 4.0.1 just so you can counter some of the changes going on with other classes.
  • Soul Warding (2 ranks) Before the swap to build 13033, Soul Warding was the priest topic of discussion over at Elitist Jerks, because the last point of Soul Warding was completely useless. You might have recalled my freaking out once upon a time about the cooldown reduction on Soul Warding not being sufficient to let disc priests spam. I went on a long-winded rant, then you guys were like, "Uh ... Dawn? You forgot the GCD." And I said, "Oh ... Well, if you guys are right, I'll eat my words later." To make a longer story end, you all were right. Chomp. Anyway, Blizzard also seems to have noticed that last point of Soul Warding wasn't necessary and axed it down to two talents, which is great. (As a note, Soul Warding was briefly moved to tier 4, but in 13066 it was returned to its original location.)
  • Renewed Hope (2 ranks) If you want to use Strength of Soul, this is a required talent, but since it increases your chance to drop sexy crit heals on any targets with Grace or Weakened Soul, I'd say this is a highly desirable talent even without Strength of Soul. Every target a disc priests heals will benefit from this.
  • Power Infusion (1 rank) I don't care who you are -- this is a mandatory spell in Wrath and in Cataclysm. In addition to using it as a cooldown for helping DPS with damage or yourself with healing, this spell will now be an extra tool to help you conserve mana in Cataclysm.
  • Atonement (2 ranks) Atonement has been getting all sorts of buffs, both increasing how much healing it does while lowering the amount of ranks. I honestly encourage every disc priest to grab this if you're taking Archangel. It'll help you while you're doing your mana regen rondo in dungeons and PvP and it's also amazing for soloing. The only problem is that the talent is bugged right now and not healing for 120 percent of Smite's damage like it's supposed to. I expect it to be fixed by the time 4.0.1 goes live, but if it's not, I'll let you know so you'll know to skip it.
  • Inner Focus (1 rank) Please notice that Inner Focus only removes the mana cost of certain spells now. You won't be able to use it with Divine Hymn anymore. But don't think that means you shouldn't take it (well, actually, you don't really need it for 4.0.1, but you will in Cataclysm.) With a reduced cooldown, the new Inner Focus is a staple ability in order to cast Greater Heal or Prayer of Healing without fear of going OOM. I use it whenever it's off cooldown nowadays.
  • Rapture (3 ranks) The latest buff to Rapture is just another reason to take these always mandatory talents.
  • Borrowed Time (3 ranks) For a fleeting moment (build 13033), it looked like Holy priests would be able to grab this spell, but that was corrected in 13066. Borrowed Time will continue to be a disc only talent thanks to 13066, but now we it's down to a more condensed 2 tanks with only a slight nerf to the amount of haste granted. These are highly desirable talents, but remember that their utility is linked to your usage of Power Word: Shield.
  • Reflective Shield (2 ranks) Not mandatory, and increasingly questionably in PvP given the increasing size of health pools and decreasing size of absorption done by our shields. The talent still has purpose, but it won't be nearly as strong as it was in Wrath.
  • Strength of Soul (2 ranks) This key talent to tank healing will let you put a Power Word: Shield back on your target. I don't expect to see much usage of this talent in 4.0.1, but in Cataclysm it's extremely strong give how much we cast Heal.
  • Divine Aegis (3 ranks) Divine Aegis does a tremendous amount of work for a passive talent, and with mastery and the Blizzard post above mentioning plans to improve it, I'd advise investing in this talent for yourself.
  • Pain Suppression (1 rank) This talent is still mandatory and essential for buying time in the most hectic of dungeons.
  • Train of Thought (2 ranks) This new talent is the further incentive to disc priests to use Smite to restore mana and reduce the cooldown on Penance. Though Penance isn't nearly as strong as it is in Wrath, it's a cheaper, faster version of Greater Heal, which is invaluable right now. And the cooldown reduction to Inner Focus? That's just sexy.

    Addendum: In fact, I'd argue the Inner Focus part is the stronger part of the talent. Right now you use Greater Heal to catch up when you can afford it. You cast Heal to keep someone hanging on but their health will still go down a little bit more using this as your primary spell over time (which you have to do.) I use Greater Heal to get the health bar to actually go up, and it feels great when you get to use it, but it's too expensive to use all the time, so Inner Focus makes it happen. More Inner Focus means more happiness. Penance on the other hand, feels more like a medium sized heal used for catching up a little, but not for long. It's fast and cheaper than other spells, so you don't feel bad for tossing it onto the warlock who took a bunch of damage earlier, is sitting at half health, but isn't taking any more hits right now. On a tank it gets you a little bit of ground, which is ideal for when you need to sneak in another Smite and get closer to using Archangel (where upon which you can use another expensive spell as the reward for being good.) Penance is like the medium size adhesive bandages in a variety box. Everyone uses those first because they the right size for just about every "no big deal, I'm still alive" cut. But you don't ever have enough and get left with those tiny ones that fall off, and the big ones that look like a piece of packing tape on your arm. So to recap: Penance is good for just about everything, but there's not enough of them. Greater Healer feels great to cast, but you can't use it all the time. So Train of Thought addresses both of these quite well.

    And if you wanted to know what Flash Heal feels like: It's like cheating on your spouse with the love of your life. You're torn about it; it feels so good and almost justified, but it's still wrong. (Thanks to Jack Spicer in the comments for inspiring this addendum.)
  • Focused Will (2 ranks) If you're PvP'ing, go ahead and grab this to start. Gear is lousy in beta, and with the changes to resilience and new player abilities in 4.0.1, you'll want the padding.
  • Grace (2 ranks) Despite complaints about this talent, the buff it provides is still very strong, and a single Penance will apply all the stacks you could need. If you switch to healing other targets with Penance, this talent should never feel clunky or useless.
  • Power Word: Barrier (1 rank) Disc's new signature spell, it can be used in just about any situation. The mana cost was adjusted in patch 13066, which is nice (the cooldown still feels 30 seconds too long to me.) I shouldn't have to tell you to take it; you should want it.

  • Improved Renew (2 ranks) Avoid this if you're disc, but it's a must-have for holy priests in order to get Divine Touch. Not much was done to this talent's design, so let's move along.
  • Empowered Healing (3 ranks) A buff to a select group of spells, all of which see a lot use in the new game. Holy can comfortably max this set of talents out while disc may just want to get a couple.
  • Divine Fury (3 ranks) After being benched for most of Wrath, Divine Fury is back with a ... I'll refrain myself. Both Greater Heal and Heal have a huge presence in the toolbox of healing priests these days, and thus Divine Fury needs to be there. Doesn't matter what spec you are.
  • Desperate Prayer (1 rank) Taking this talent still depends on whether or not you get into sticky situations a lot or not. I encourage its usage and owe my survival to it on multiple occasions.
  • Surge of Light (2 ranks) Make sure you take this if you're a holy priest, and if you're a disc priest, try to grab this too when Cataclysm launches. Blizzard moving this talent up (and bringing it back in general) is a great move for healers. Flash Heals are still an important part of healing, but they aren't affordable at all. This talent changes that, and the proc is pretty good since you'll be casting Heal and Smite all the time anyway.
  • Inspiration (2 ranks) With disc going after Surge of Light, it will be up to holy priests and shaman to stack up the Inspiration buff from now on. Therefore, no holy spec should be considered complete without it.
  • Divine Touch (2 ranks) Previously known as Empower Renewed, Divine Touch is just as valuable in the beta right now as is in live. Renew is an essential tank healing spell for Holy priests, since Chakra allows us to refresh the duration on the spell.
  • Holy Concentration (2 ranks) Much like disc's Rapture, you'll want to stick it out with this talent, even if you won't need regen for the rest Wrath. It accounts for a good deal of your in-combat regen and you need it to get down the tree anyway.
  • Lightwell (1 rank) I've already spun a lot of hype around Lightwell in the past months, and this will be my last-ditch effort at it. In beta right now, we are using Lightwell. Why? Because holy priests are going OOM trying to keep groups up. Directing your party to use the Lightwell is a more likely scenario than most players today would have anticipated.
  • Serendipity (2 ranks) Because the game has changed, so has the value of Serendipity. The mileage you get out of these points now are going to depend largely on the frequency of your Flash Heal and Binding Heal usage. I personally have tried to avoid using both as much as possible, due to their expense, but with Surge of Light returning recently, there is definitely an opportunity to have one or both stacks of Serendipity up.
  • Spirit of Redemption (1 rank) The chances of this talent's saving the day are so rare (though it has happened) that I simply do not advise taking it, since its utility revolves around your dying. If you die all the time, look into Desperate Prayer, not this.
  • Tome of Light (2 ranks) Whoot a new talent that ... what? I'm not crazy about this talent, it's just too lackluster. 2 points shaves 5 seconds of Revelations, plus or minus, and that's it? Well, it will help to get you a tiny bit more work out of Holy Word: Chastise, which is good since our passive buff to healing done was nerfed to balance us closer to disc.
  • Body and Soul (2 ranks) Body and Soul is no longer a talent you'll have to feel like you're making a compromise to take. With the new tree, you'd have to be delving into PvP talents to not be able to grab Body and Soul. I expect the utility of this spell will be quite valuable for Cataclysm, but for now, it's a perk.
  • Chakra (1 rank) Every holy priest will now be defined most by Chakra. This complex spell and all its derivatives (State of Mind and Revelations) are unquestionable choices. If I haven't already said so (or you missed it when I did) with State of Mind, you can keep one Chakra buff going indefinitely. When the talent ability is off cooldown, you can use it (even with an existing Chakra buff up) to switch to a new stance.

    Overall, I'd say Chakra is performing well in the beta. I'm using the Heal stance mostly, but that's because the only place to test yourself as a healer right now is 5-mans. All the better though, since I still find upkeep of Prayer of Healing Chakra a little clunky. Perhaps we'll see more work on holy's AoE when there is some 10 or 25-man content to test on beta. As for 4.0.1, I anticipate the initial introduction of Chakra as somewhat disastrous. There are just so many more things for holy priests to juggle now. Just keep it together, practice standing on the steps of your favorite city bank if you must.
  • Revelations (1 rank) If you took Chakra, you're taking this. Period.
  • Blessed Resilience (2 ranks) Another PvP talent. Unfortunately, Holy PvP isn't coming close to what I'd like to see for a healer class, but it's a great start.
  • Test of Faith (3 ranks) This talent is actually a lot more valuable in Cataclysm than it was in Wrath. It is way more common for players to sit below 50 percent health in dungeons right now, which means you can cash in on healing all of them when they need it most.
  • State of Mind (2 ranks) Another talent for which if you're taking Chakra, you are taking this one, too. State of Mind allows you to constantly add time to the duration of Chakra, which means once you're in a stance you like, you never have to leave it until you decide it.
  • Circle of Healing (1 rank) Circle of Healing hasn't changed; so as long as you're healing in a group, this is a signature spell you'll want.
  • Guardian Spirit (1 rank) And finally, last but not least, we have Guardian Spirit, which has remained roughly the same. The new glyph makes it slightly less attractive, but make no mistake -- this is still a hugely powerful tanking cooldown.

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