Spiritual Guidance: Further changes on Patch 4.2 PTR to consider

Dawn Moore
D. Moore|05.16.11

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Spiritual Guidance: Further changes on Patch 4.2 PTR to consider
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 tries to go back to the future -- or the past, or something. Dawn also writes for LearnToRaid.com and produces the Circle of Healing Podcast.

It's been another exciting week for healing priests who have their sight focused on patch 4.2 and the next raiding tier. First, Blizzard announced that it was going to go ahead with its plan to change how critical heals worked. Previously, Ghostcrawler (lead systems designer) explained that the developers were looking to increase the value of crit for healers, since most classes were ignoring it in favor of other stats. Now that they've gone ahead with their plans, we'll need to examine the impact this will have on discipline and holy priests.

But before we do that, we have to look at the most exciting news for priests this past week: Our set bonuses got changed! If you missed it, last Thursday Zarhym hopped on the forums and announced that the developers had made some changes to the set bonuses of several classes. Priests were, of course, on that list.

Tier 12 set bonuses revised

Two major changes were made to our set bonuses, and overall, there is some good news and some bad news. Let's take a look at the bad news first.
  • Shadow two-piece While you are in Shadowform, your Shadowfiend deals 20% additional damage as Fire damage and its cooldown is reduced by 75 seconds.
As you can see, the developers have added a prerequisite condition to take advantage of the cooldown reduction on Shadowfiend. Overall, it's a bummer to lose the option, but I really don't think we've lost all that much. If you recall what I said last week, a few theorycrafters had already worked out that even when combined with Veiled Shadows, the two-piece bonus wasn't going to make a huge difference for mana except on longer fights.

Moving onto the good news, our four-piece bonus has been tweaked.
  • Discipline/holy four-piece You have a chance when you cast a helpful spell to summon a Cauterizing Flame at the target's location. Each second the Cauterizing Flame will heal an injured party member within 20 yards for 9,250 to 10,750. Lasts 5 seconds.
Now, just like last week, tier 12 still isn't available for testing on the PTR, but this set bonus is looking quite nice in comparison to the last. Previously the healing component for Cauterizing Flame required a player to interact with it somehow, while this one looks to be some sort of smart heal. (I say "sort of" because the tooltip says it will heal an injured party member, not the most injured party member.) No clue about what the proc rate or the internal cooldown on Cauterizing Flame will be yet, but for now, I'd say things are looking good. I'm a bit sad I didn't get to test out the original version, though.

Crit heals now heal for double

As I said in my introduction, the other big change on the PTR isn't one aimed specifically at priests but all healers.
  • All healing critical strikes now heal for 2 times a normal heal (+100%), up from 1.5 times a normal heal (+50%).
The impact of this change will vary on your spec and playstyle, but regardless of what you are, crit just became a lot more valuable. How valuable it is in comparison to other stats however, is still up for debate.

Holy priests won't see a huge impact from this change. Though crit as a stat has become much more valuable to throughput, it hasn't changed the order of your stat priority. You'll still want enough haste to get your fifth Renew tick and lots of mastery from there. The increased value of crit probably won't come into play until we're at a gear level where the benefit of mastery stacking could potentially diminish. Currently, there isn't a lot of theorycrafting available on the topic with these new numbers, but I'm going to make an educated guess that we won't reach a gear level in the next tier that would warrant taking crit over mastery. So for now, continue doing what you've been doing.

I should point out that during a brief conversation with fellow priest Derevka on the matter, he mused that holy priests could potentially become better tank healers with the increased throughput we'll get from critical heals. Remember that both the Serenity stance and Holy Word: Serenity increase a holy priest's chances to crit to levels comparable to a disc priest. By increasing throughput through crits, a holy priest will fare better on a tank than before. This is likely to only be beneficial to 10-man raiders, but it's some food for thought.

Discipline priests are a different story. How much crit affects you is all up to your playstyle. If you're a bubble-spamming, wannabe blitzball star, you'll want to ignore crit (and haste) and stack mastery 'til the hippogryphs come home. This is likely what you were already doing and will continue to be the thing to do until your druids develop a deep-seated hated for you and stop giving you Innervates. Increased healing from crits won't have any impact on your output if you're not casting anything other than Power Word: Shield, and the extra absorption you'd get from Divine Aegis and the Glyph of the Power Word: Shield are a drop in the bucket to the individual absorption on a single Power Word: Shield.

If you're a tank-healing discipline priest or a jack-of-all-trades discipline priest, things just got interesting. The buff to crit obviously increases our throughput in raw healing, but because of the way Divine Aegis functions, we're also receiving a slight buff to our shields as well. The overall increase to single-target healing might be what we need to make a real comeback as dedicated tank healers, which I think will be invaluable to disc priests in 10- and 25-man raids. As for how this will affect stat priority, things are still up in the air. Initial theorycrafting seems to indicate that crit beats out mastery, but that doesn't necessarily mean you'll want to start stacking crit. Tank healers will still benefit most from an even mix of mastery, haste, and crit. (Remember Zusterke's rectangle analogy. Even if mastery wasn't part of the equation at the time, the principle still stands.)

Whether you're a theorycrafter or not, I want to point out that encounter design is always a big factor in what stats are the most important to a healer. While one stat might provide more throughput on paper, another stat could provide the results you need to actually manage the healing in an encounter. A super-strong Echo of Light HOT might not be the answer to recurring burst damage, which often benefits more from fast and front-loaded healing. Since we've only seen a couple of bosses from tier 12 so far, it's hard to make an educated guess on what kind of healing we're going to need in the Firelands. Stay tuned ... or bookmarked, or something.

That sums up Spiritual Guidance this week. I was going to ask Faux what he thought, but he and Tyler were gone all weekend on a camping trip. You'll have to settle for my not-as-witty discipline analysis until he gets back.

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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