Spiritual Guidance: The aftermath of patch 4.1 for holy and discipline priests

Dawn Moore
D. Moore|05.02.11

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Spiritual Guidance: The aftermath of patch 4.1 for holy and discipline priests
Every week, WoW Insider brings you Spiritual Guidance for discipline, holy and shadow priests. Dawn Moore covers healing for discipline and holy priests, while her archenemy Fox Van Allen loiters around the drugstore, drinking chocolate malted Falcons and giving away free high school. Dawn also writes for LearnToRaid.com and produces the Circle of Healing Podcast.

Patch 4.1 went live last week, and with a long list of buffs and nerfs in the patch notes, it looked like it was going to be a big event for priests of all specs. Now, almost a week later now, Fox Van Allen still appears to be alive the impact of the changes seems to have varied. Have you acclimated to the changes yet? Are you wondering why hunter pets are acting like they've been chomping on mood stabilizers even when you heal them? Do you want a cookie? Then let me direct you to all the important things you need to know in a post-4.1 patch world.

Dispel Magic: An inconvenient nerf

Patch 4.1 dished out a nerf to shadow priests by removing their ability to cast Dispel Magic on any target but themselves. Healing priests can still dispel as we always did, but unfortunately, this change means defensive magic dispelling is now entirely limited to healers.

The impact of this is, for the most part, an inconvenience. Even though shadow priests had the ability to help with dispelling before now, the average raid was probably letting their healers handle friendly dispelling, so the nerf probably hasn't had a very large effect.

One thing to consider, though, is what healers are the best at dispelling. Priests apply a 3% heal for the maximum health of the target with the Glyph of Dispel Magic, while paladins get a 20% reduction in the mana cost with Glyph of Cleanse. Shaman get a little bit of both those glyphs if they're specced into Cleansing Waters. (Druids don't have much going on that I'm aware of.) So what does this mean? In any future fights when healers are strained for mana, remember that paladins and shaman have the most cost-effective dispels. Priests have a slightly more expensive dispel than other healers, but with the glyph, targets will get a bit of healing. That said, all healers should help dispel -- but in a tight situation, it's good to know who does something best.

Holy priests blink at patch 4.1 changes

For the most part, holy priests only had good things coming to them in patch 4.1. Chakra's changes (which made the effect last until cancelled) made stance juggling a lot easier and guaranteed 100% uptime on our juicy tier 11 four-piece bonus. The only thing I'm left wondering about this buff is why was no change made to State of Mind? Sure, it's no more useless situational now than it was before, but I still feel like it's a waste of space. Even on a fights like Cho'gall where you have a reason to constantly swap stances, the 30-second cooldown fits perfectly. Perhaps it's a PvP thing ... Hmm.

The huge 30% buff to the healing done by Holy Word: Sanctuary was welcome, but the spell is still situational and expensive. Even though holy priests have incentive to cast the spell now, the situations in which it is optimal to cast are still limited. It did get a pretty new animation, though.

Finally, the most interesting buff holy priests received was to Surge of Light, which gained Binding Heal as one of the trigger spells for the talents' proc. I spoke with Oestrus earlier in the week about this, and while we agree that the change offers very little incentive to pure raid healing holy priests, it's still a great option for holy priests who are short on gear or healing 10-man raids. Using those two extra talents will, of course, cost you a couple extra talent points in the disc or shadow tree, but I'm sure I don't need to remind you of that.

Holy Fire and Atonement

Blizzard has attempted to breathe some life back into Atonement healing by incorporating Holy Fire into the mix. Overall, it's a nice buff, but it isn't a strong enough buff to justify taking Evangelism, Archangel, or Atonement again. Even with the extra synergy from Glyph of Smite, the healing done by Atonement just isn't strong enough to put it on par with the extra throughput you can do with Power Word: Shield and Strength of Soul since patch 4.0.6. The additional damage does help with raid DPS, but that damage is a drop in the bucket compared to any DPS class.

At this point, I'd say Atonement healing is only great for 5-mans and battlegrounds; for serious raiders or PvPers, there is always going to be some better throughput or utility you can dedicate your talents and time to. I wish it were different -- but alas, it just doesn't seem so.

Disc priest nerfs aren't that bad

I've left the worst of the patch for last -- and even then, I don't think it's as bad as some of us were thinking it would be. As you know, discipline priests were slated to receive two major nerfs in patch 4.1: the duration of Power Word: Shield was reduced to 15 seconds from 30 and the cooldown of Power Word: Barrier was increased to 3 minutes from 2 minutes.

Starting with the Power Word: Shield nerf, I actually think this nerf has done its job at killing shield spamming quite well. Though many players have been quick to point out that disc priests are still happily spamming away, the blues have stated before that shields are still a very important part of discipline healing; I don't disagree.

What this nerf did is kill the absurd thoughtlessness that went along with shield spamming previously. It's true that disc priests can still spam shields, but no more than holy priests can spam Renew or druids Rejuvenation. Yes, shields are much stronger than Renew or Rejuvenation, but spamming is still very costly for the average priest and not something that can be committed to without huge mana penalties.

Examining this nerf, I believe the developers were targeting the fact that 30 seconds is a huge window of time in which a healer can, without much skill or thought, respond to damage. I don't think they ever wanted to remove a disc priest's ability to use multiple shields in quick succession, just when and how often they could be used effectively. Now, after the patch, if you want to be effective with several shields, you have to plan more carefully and make sure you select the right targets at the right time. This requires that you know and understand a fight, and that does require a lot more skill than it did before.

If the developers wanted to completely kill shield spamming, they could easily do that by taking Soul Warding away (remember, that those talents are relatively new in the grand scheme of priest healing). Since they haven't, I can only assume they are okay with several shields being cast in a short succession of time -- and honestly, that makes sense when you consider how limited disc would be at raid healing without it. I'm pretty sure that it's the developers' intent to keep shields a core part of disc single-target and group healing, and if it wasn't, they'd have removed Soul Warding by now. That's all I have to say about that.

Dawn eats a chocolate. What?

Moving on ... The Power Word: Barrier nerf is without doubt the most troublesome part of patch 4.1 for priests. While 25-man raiders should have had no trouble adapting (since they'll likely have gained extra Tranquility casts and a Spirit Link Totem), the change could be absolutely devastating to certain 10-man raid teams if their healing composition no longer allows complete cooldown coverage on certain fights. 10-mans were already hurting due to composition limitations, and I'm certain this nerf has only made things worse.

Unfortunately, there isn't much you can do about the nerf other than try to tweak how you respond to raid damage before and after it occurs. Oddly enough, shield spamming is the original alternative to incoming damage, and it's quite handy that 10-mans aren't too affected by the Power Word: Shield nerf.

The best advice I can offer is to encouraging your raiders to use personal cooldowns when raid cooldowns aren't available. It's not the best fix, but it's what we had before all these fancy new abilities. Hopefully in the next tier, Blizzard will find a way to address the 10-man composition issue. Keep the faith, 10-man priests. /salute.

As for the rest of the buffs, they were all small and hardly worth mentioning. If you have any questions about them or what I've written here, feel free to leave a comment. Also, if you're looking for cookies, I left them with my secretary Mr. Van Allen. If you'd like one, please see him. If he doesn't give you one immediately, make sure to be incessant -- I find he forgets things sometimes.

Spiritual Guidance has the inside line on pre-raid gear, valor point and raid gear, and healing strategies for bosses such as Atramedes and Chimaeron. Newcomer to the priest class? Look into Discipline Priest 101 and Holy Priest 101.
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