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Spiritual Guidance: Discipline priest 101

Dawn Moore

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Spiritual Guidance for discipline, holy and shadow priests. Dawn Moore covers healing for disc and holy priests, while her archenemy Fox Van Allen dabbles in shadow. Dawn also writes for and produces the Circle of Healing Podcast.

Cataclysm is out, you've leveled your priest up to 85, and now you want to start playing your priest as a healer in dungeons and raids, huh? Hopefully, by now you know you have two options you can take as a healer, discipline and holy. This week at Spiritual Guidance, we'll be covering discipline, or disc, as it's frequently shortened to.

In Cataclysm, discipline uses primarily single-target healing and damage-absorbing (or -reducing) shields to keep a party or raid alive. The spec is less versatile than the alternative path of holy but brings strong single-target healing, first-response heals, and general raid utility.

Discipline is perfect for healing 5-man PvE content. In 10- and 25-man raiding, discipline priests will be in less demand but should still find a niche in certain encounters and raid teams.

Stats and gear

In Cataclysm, discipline priests utilize most caster stats as healers. This is a change from how things were in Wrath, when disc priests shunned spirit. With the changes, though, disc priests will now want to take spirit cloth gear with a balance of secondary stats. Later, at higher gear levels, we may be able to substitute intellect-only gear, but that's a ways off. Let's take a closer look at the stats we use.

  • Intellect Intellect is a priest's most important stat. It raises our spellpower, mana pool, and chance to crit. It's usually always a good idea to equip more intellect.
  • Spirit Spirit and intellect are worked together to create priest mana regen. In combat, we'll receive about 50 percent of that from our passive regen ability, Meditation.
  • Stamina Stamina is the only stat you'll use as a priest that you'll likely never need to stack more of as a PvE healer. The difference in health between players in Cataclysm is quite small, and your survivability as a priest will be more about making sure you get healed, rather than the size of your health pool.
  • Critical strike For disc priests, crit is the stat responsible for creating Divine Aegis shields, a significant and frequently overlooked part of our absorption throughput.
  • Haste Every caster needs haste; disc priests are no exception. Haste will lower your cast times as well as your 1.5-second global cooldown. Disc priests admittedly do not need to worry about haste quite as much due to the talent Borrowed Time, but since we don't have the mana to superfluously toss Power Word: Shield casts around, always utilizing the buff from that talent will be harder.
  • Mastery Discipline's mastery is Shield Discipline, which increase the strength of Power Word: Shield and Divine Aegis. (It no longer strengthens Power Word: Barrier since the talent was changed to reduce damage instead of absorb it.)
Priests are incredibly gear-dependent, possibly more so than other healing classes, and it is essential that healing priests raise their intellect and spirit in order to have enough mana to heal for the duration of an encounter.

Priests should be mindful that the amount of intellect on a piece of gear generally determines whether the item is an upgrade or not while, while ensuring that all their gear has spirit on it. Basically, don't take an intellect downgrade in order to get spirit, but try to get as much spirit as you can. On the other side of the spectrum, only take intellect upgrades if caster DPSers do not want it. This is more than just courtesy; you want as much of your gear as possible to have spirit on it, especially when your gear levels are low.

As for secondary stats, disc priests will benefit most from a balance. You need crit, haste, and mastery, and at lower gear levels, stacking one means you will be deficient in another.

Haste will increase your throughput a small amount, but at lower gear levels, it's hard to have enough to get a significant impact. Borrowed Time goes a long way at closing the gap, but you have to pick and choose what will get the benefits of Borrowed Time, since you can't afford to waste shields on players who won't take damage. Fellow priest Zusterke pointed out to me that at lower gear levels, less haste isn't actually too detrimental, since it paces your mana consumption down to what your gear and mana levels can handle.

Critical strike is great for throughput, in that critical casts heal for more and create a Divine Aegis shield; unfortunately, raising your crit strike is still only raising your chance to get a critical cast. At the lowest gear levels, you will find it hard to intentionally stack your crit up to levels that will guarantee you crit heals, and that can mean that stacking the stat won't have too much effect. Fortunately, just like haste, disc priests get some assistance from talents like Renewed Hope and Inner Focus that buff our chance to get crit heals.

Finally, mastery buffs the hinge on which all of our healing turns: shields. Our main shield, Power Word: Shield, is the center of our entire healing priority as disc priests; it makes everything else we do work. Our other shield, Divine Aegis is also a significant portion of our throughput and is factored in to how our healing is balanced for throughput with other classes. This all means that absorption and mastery should be pretty important -- and it is, but you can't use just shields. This is why you don't want to stack mastery. You simply don't have the mana to do nothing but shield, and Cataclysm healing doesn't demand nearly as much pre-shielding as Wrath did. You'll use a variety of spells from your tool box as a disc priest, not just one or two.

Overall, balance is best.

Mana regeneration

In combat, a disc priests restores mana in three ways: cooldowns, Meditation, and Rapture.

Cooldowns are the spells Shadowfiend and Hymn of Hope. These two spells share synergy with one another and should be used one right after the other (Shadowfiend first, Hymn of Hope second) in order to maximize the amount of mana returned. The synergy comes from the fact that Shadowfiend restores mana based on your maximum mana pool, and Hymn of Hope raises your maximum mana pool; combine the two and you'll get more mana back than if you had used them separately.

It should be noted that Hymn of Hope was raid-wide back in Ulduar, so if you are not completely out of mana, it's possible for you to not receive the effect of Hymn of Hope. Make sure you're running on empty before you pop these CDs unless you absolutely need to to squeeze in an early CD in order to get two cycles in during a fight.

Next, Meditation is a passive ability that will allow 50 percent of the mana you'd recover outside of combat to occur in combat. This talent specifically is why disc priests want spirit.

Rapture is a mostly passive talent that will restore 6 percent (recently buffed from 2.5 percent) of your mana each time a Power Word: Shield you have cast is consumed. (The Rapture trick no longer works, just for your information.) There is a 12-second cooldown, so mana cannot be returned more than this. Though the effect of the talent is automatic whenever your shield is consumed, you choose where to place your shields in order to make sure the effect is being utilized on every cooldown; placing your shield on a tank is the best way to do this. In this same line of thought, you shouldn't randomly place shields on players who won't have their shields consumed, since you won't get anything back if the shield simply expires.

Spell overview

Priests have always had a large toolbox of spells to choose from, but in Cataclysm, there is a lot more emphasis placed on picking the right spells than there ever was before. It's not just about matching the amount of healing to the missing health, though, because very rarely will a single heal resolve a health deficit, and you'll run dry trying to get everyone to full. You will instead find yourself asking, "Do I have to heal this player to keep him from dying in the next 1 to 5 seconds? What is the least amount of healing I can give him to do that, and how cheaply and quickly can I do it?"

Those are a lot of questions to be asking yourself every single moment, and healing has become a lot more difficult for priests as a result. I once described priest healing as a slightly more complex game of whack-a-mole, involving different hammers for different moles. Now, I'd say priest healing is sort of like that still -- except now, if you use the wrong hammer, it explodes in your face while the moles you didn't whack chew at your ankles.

Long story short, spell selection is very important, and players need to be aware how efficient their spells are. I've talked about HPM (heal per mana) and HPS (heal per second) before, and today, I've put together a simple chart that compares the two for priests heals so you can know what spells are best to prioritize. Just knowing, for example, that Flash Heal is very inefficient might lead you to either pair it with Inner Focus, or choose a more efficient spell like Greater Heal if you have the time. This kind of thinking isn't complex at all, and most healers develop an unconscious understanding of HPM and HPS just by playing over time.

Prayer of Mending 8.2 -
Prayer of Healing 6 (1.6) 3,707.9 (18,539.5)
Penance 4.5 7,293.8
Divine Hymn 4.4 4,046.9
Heal 4 3,106.7
Binding Heal 4 (2) 8,098.4
Power Word: Shield 3.6 (glyphed) 8,988
Smite 3.5 (2 w/o) 3,966.4 (3,305.4 w/o)
Greater Heal 3.5 8,288.6
Renew 2.9 744.9 (7,846.9 HPSC)
Flash Heal 2.6 10,358.5
Holy Nova 2.2 (1.1) 3,493.7

These numbers were generated from a 35/6/0 priest with Archangel. She is geared in a mix of ilvl333 and ilvl346 gear, which is pre-raiding gear from normal and heroic Cataclysm dungeons. Multi-target heals are listed with their maximum HPM and HPS, with the minimum in parentheses. Smite is listed as having a full stack of Evangelism, with the number in parentheses being without any Evangelism stacks. Prayer of Mending's HPS is extremely variable -- just cast it, it's good. Renew had its HPSC (heals per second cast) listed because it's a HoT.

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