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Spiritual Guidance: Adapting to 4.0.1 priest healing

Dawn Moore

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Spiritual Guidance for discipline, holy and shadow priests. On Sundays, Dawn Moore covers healing for disc and holy priests and fails to play the heartstrings of young priests. Some people just aren't cut out to be teen idols like Fox Van Allen.

I was hoping to be done talking about 4.0.1 (mostly because I'm sick of typing out all the little periods), but it seems there are still a few things to be said. At this point I've talked specs, talents, new abilities, glyphs, gems and reforging -- and now the last thing I seem to have missed is the part where I tell you how to play. Or at least how to adapt. Or ... something. Either way, I suspect it's one thing for me to tell you guys how to play in a theoretical sense, two or three weeks before the patch, and then another thing to tell you exactly how to play when the patch is actually out. I had one reader ask, "What abilities should I be using?" I had another ask for a flowchart. Pft! Do you think I'm funny enough to make flowcharts? Silly readers, I leave flowcharts to the pros.

Anyway, I thought on this relevancy vs. redundancy idea for a while, mostly because I'm extremely paranoid that I bore you guys at every second. (Dawn puts on a silly hat. Are you not entertained!? /Paranoidparanoidparanoidparanoid ...) I eventually decided that the best thing to do was in fact leave it to the pros -- though I'm still not giving you guys flowcharts. Instead I've got our regular priesty friend Kinaesthesia on board to give a full testimony on playing holy right now, as well as a new name you guys may not know, Mr. Raegx of Vigil. Raegx approached me a few months ago, asking if I needed any help, and I stuck him in a file box. He's out now, though, so let's see what the two of them have to say.

I questioned both Kina and Raegx on various topics, but Raegx and I discovered a mutual appreciation for the machinima artist Paus, which kept getting us off topic (stay out of my dreams Paus!), so our interview was a bit disjointed. For that reason, I'm going to offer both their answers in a slightly different format. Don't let it distract you.

Kinaesthesia on holy healing in 4.0.1

"There's really no wrong way to heal in 4.0.1. The addition of Chakra and Holy Words make it so healing can be a lot more complex, but there is nothing wrong with keeping it simple. You can heal just like you used to if you want.

"Right now, we're playing with a lot of excess. There are lots of new talents and abilities that we have but don't need for the current content. But if you choose to utilize them, you'll have a lot more fun. Chakra is the big ability that stands out; you don't need to use it at all, but if you choose to use it, you get a lot from it. Now, everyone is going to suck at using Chakra at first, but if you try to use it, try to get better at use it and really work at maximizing what you do with it, you will get better at it. Plus, you'll be ready to use it in Cataclysm. Right now, playing holy is like learning a new class; it's a really different experience, even if you have the same core abilities.

"This week, I tried all the Chakras at least a couple times to get a feel for them. Renew Chakra was boring, because you're just spamming. 'Ooh, I can put more Renews up!' But you're just doing the same thing you did before, faster; that's really boring. I tried Heal Chakra, but there's no point in using it or Heal right now. With Prayer of Healing Chakra, you have to ask yourself: How do I maximize this? You've got 30 seconds, and you don't want to just keep spamming Prayer of Healing to keep it up and neglect your core abilities. It's almost like learning a rotation. You'll ask yourself, is this off cooldown? OK, let me do that. Oh, this is off cooldown, let's use that again. Is Sanctuary off cooldown? OK, now let's use that. You've got to watch your timers and procs. It's a lot of fun, and if you get good at it, it's really going to help you a lot in the next expansion. If you don't take the time to learn Chakra now while the mana is easier to come by, you're really going to suck at using it in the next expansion.

"So it's not really a rotation, but more of a priority. It goes like this: Refresh your Chakra, but try to keep your Prayer of Healing useful -- if you see an opportunity to use it, use it, so you don't have to refresh it for no reason a few seconds later. Use Holy Word: Sanctuary on cooldown, and if you're on top of it, your Sanctuary will overlap a little. Use Circle of Healing and Prayer of Mending on cooldown as well. Use Renew as your filler when you can't do anything else. Use Flash Heal only if absolutely necessary, because your hands will be full handling everything else.

"It is kind of hard on mana to upkeep this, but it really pays off. I was a good 10 percent above everyone else in output on the meters. You have Renew ticking on maybe 8 people at a time and Sanctuary on at least 10 if you get it in a good spot. Everyone else is getting Circle of Healing and Prayer of Mending bounces. You have an insane amount of coverage as a raid healer.

"I didn't change any of my gems when I logged in. I had nothing but spellpower + haste and spellpower + spirit gems before. I did reforge some haste. I'm using a spellpower flask still, but I considered using a regen flask (Flask of Pure Mojo or Flask of Distilled Wisdom) and would definitely recommend that if I was in a raid with longer kill times. Just remember you don't need to do this, but if you can it will be easier to learn now.

"For addons, I definitely recommend Power Auras. It's a mandatory addon for reaching your maximum potential. For Chakra, you can set an icon indicator with a countdown timer for how long is left. Right now, I set Prayer of Healing Chakra to have a meteor icon, because it's overkill. I also had to tweak few things, like Serendipity only having two stacks now, and I got rid of my Surge of Light alert because it never procs anymore. There isn't much reason to take crit anymore for talents."

And I'm back. Curse that Kinaesthesia, undermining my preachy You should try to stay balanced everyone! jargon. Anyway, I just wanted to add a few things. First, right after that last sentence, Kina and I talked more about Surge of Light, since we are both healing on beta and casting both Smite and Heal. We agreed that Surge of Light just doesn't proc enough -- maybe once per dungeon, if you're lucky. So just in case you were thinking, "Wait, he said he didn't even use Heal!" -- that's why.

Next, if you want to check out Power Auras more, this article from Mat will have a lot of information for you. I'll try to get some things together and do an addon article for you guys once Cataclysm launches, but so much will be breaking when we get the new game that I don't want to have to do it twice.

Finally, Kina encountered a pretty crazy bug while healing this week. His guild worked on Icecrown Citadel on Wednesday evening in the United States. Blizzard hotfixed a bunch of things early the next day, and one of them was this bug. Kina told me that before the fix, the bug related to holy priests using the Glyph of Dispel Magic, and that if you cast Dispel Magic, your Echo of Light mastery would stack indefinitely. I'll try to get a log to show you guys in the comments, but he said he was doing something like 68k HPS on Valithria because of it. All gone now, but still fun to think about. Kind of like when A Team mage tanked Instructor Razuvious, only for healers.

Raegx on disc and holy healing in 4.0.1

I started out my conversation with Raegx by asking what his initial impressions were of the patch. How did he feel about it, what was he was doing, and how was it performing?

"I love holy. It is so much fun to juggle Chakra stances and make effective use of Holy Word spells. Knowing fight timing mechanics is going to play a huge part of it of Cataclysm. Using the right stances and properly using Holy Word spells will separate the good priests from the bad. From the numbers so far, the extra complexity seems to pay off if you do the right thing, as opposed to what we saw in Wrath. This last expansion was mostly doing the right thing all the time, and really trying seemed to have little effect.

"With the lack of Judgment of Light and the pounding AoE damage, Holy Word: Sanctuary on melee and Renew spam seems like a very viable high throughput combination. Sadly, I haven't had the chance to tank heal as holy yet.

"Discipline still feels the same. With so much AoE damage going out all the time, it feels like a better use of shields to mitigate the eventual incoming damage. You still spend most of your time shielding, using your cooldowns as they come up and using Penance to save people who dip low. Discipline also has no mana issues, whereas Holy seems to still drain mana quickly. (It is very easy to go OOM as holy with very little effort.) Discipline's mastery is fine, but it doesn't really add anything you can appreciate all the time. Stronger shields are always welcome, but the Echo of Light effect is pretty nice to see, especially when people are taking lots of damage.

"I'm on the fence about Power Word: Barrier. It seems like a great spell, but its so hard to tell if anything is actually going on with it. Logging mechanics currently aren't showing it as far as I have seen."

‪Raegx provided me with the following rotation to give you guys. I've written it up in my own words for clarity.
  • Renew Spam: Start your Renew Chakra. Use Holy Word: Aspire on one target. Cast Prayer of Mending, Circle of Healing, and Renew (in that order of priority) until you can use Holy Word: Aspire on a target different than the last. (You heal two targets because the duration of the HoT is longer than the cooldown of the Holy Word.) Repeat the last two steps.
  • Prayer of Healing: Start Prayer of Healing Chakra. Use Holy Word: Sanctuary. Fill with Prayer of Mending, Circle of Healing, and Renew (again, in that order of priority) until you can use Holy Word: Sanctuary again. Next, if you have a reason to use Prayer of Healing two or three times in a row, do so, otherwise let Chakra drop off because you won't have enough time left on your Chakra to get another Holy Word: Sanctuary in.
Peppered throughout our conversation, Raegx was gracious in offering very specific examples of things he witnessed this past week in dungeons. They aren't necessarily going to help you play better, but I found them all rather interesting, so in no particular order, I've provided them for you guys to take in.
  • "I've noticed tanks deaths were more prevalent. That could be caused by so many issues it's hard to tell. People might be lazy due to stale content, working out how to use new abilities effectively, or it just might be balancing issues."
  • "Atonement was also broken for disc. I spent an entire Deathbringer Smiting and doing very little DPS and no healing. I didn't see any numbers, but I kept going just in case it would show in the log."
  • "Also, Sindragosa Holy Words don't trigger Unchained Magic. So you can keep your Holy Word: Sanctuary on the ground while you have the debuff. And since Holy Word: Sanctuary also triggers Echo of Light, you can stack off of it."
  • "Void zone would not show up. It was mostly, 'Surprise! Death!'" [Talking about Halion here.]
Just as I did with Kina, I asked Raegx about his gems. This resulted talking a fair bit about haste and the additional Renew tick you can get by stacking up a lot of haste. I haven't talked about this yet, so I've included it for you guys to read.

"Before the patch, disc was gemmed for pure spellpower and Holy was max haste. Right now, when I play disc, I'm maxed for holy and haste. I have 1/3 Darkness as holy, and that gets Renew 6 ticking at 970ish haste. I dropped haste, though (with the thought that if I was Renew spamming I'd use Chakra to mitigate the GCD), and replaced it with intellect. However, due to mana concerns, I still need to spreadsheet out and see how viable gemming spirit is now. I've thought about trying to mitigate mana issues with Veiled Shadows and dropping Twin Disciplines, but again, I haven't had time to see how useful it would be. I will probably move points from Twin Disciplines to Mental Agility if spirit gemming is too costly."

If you can't tell, Raegx is quite the theorycrafter, so I'll keep you guys posted if and when he does some of his theorycrafting on the matter above or something else that becomes topical. I'd like you guys to see what he works with and get a nice diversity of theorycraft, since the theory Zusterke and I juggle will probably take different angles than Raegx's. There are a lot of different things healers can choose to prioritize, so I think the comparison will be good for you guys to see. More on that later.

Anyway, I think that covers just about everything from them. Disc priests might notice they didn't get a new rotation to work with, and that's because (as Raegx said) the playstyle hasn't changed. If you choose to incorporate a Smite or five in, you can, but you shouldn't need to. If you do want to use Smite though, the following targeting macro should help you out. Before a pull, just set your focus (target and type "/focus") on a reliable DPS who doesn't have a special job that involves kiting or rounding up adds and the macro will take care of the rest. It will even return your target to whoever you were healing just before you decided to use Smite.
/target focustarget
/cast Smite
Another thing I wanted to note, which I touched on briefly already with Kina, is that Surge of Light is pretty terrible right now for two reasons. 1) The percentage chance to proc the effect is quite low. 2) Unless you're a disc priest, you probably don't have much reason to cast Smite or Heal. That means holy priests who are big on using Flash Heal through the use of Surge of Light are out of luck for now. So what alternative do you have? Well, there is Chakra Renew spam if you're not opposed to it, or you can experiment with the Prayer of Healing Chakra rotations that Kina and Raegx both described. You may also just opt to cast Flash Heal without the instant effect, in which case all that haste you have stacked should help out. You could also try replacing your usage of Flash Heal with Heal, in preparation for the healing style you'll be using in a couple months, but if you do that you shouldn't expect your meter numbers to be competitive since you'll be healing more slowly for smaller amounts. You will be more prepared to the pacing of healing in Cataclysm though.

If you guys want some more input from me, I'll be in the comments to answer questions. If you have a question for Kina or Raegx, just address it to them in the comments and I'll direct them to the question. And as always, if you have anything to share to your fellow priests, I encourage you to share it in the comments as well. See you guys next week! Hearts and heals!

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

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