Spiritual Guidance: Further thoughts on priest healing in Pandaria

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Spiritual Guidance for discipline, holy and shadow priests. Dawn Moore covers the healing side of things for discipline and holy priests. She also writes for and produces the Circle of Healing Podcast.

A few weeks back at BlizzCon 2011 when the Mists of Pandaria talents were first unveiled, I spoke at length with fellow priest Oestrus about her thoughts on the new talents. One of the things she proposed was very interesting to me, that the new talent system might spell the end of the strong distinction between disc and holy. The idea was that since holy and disc priests would be able to use each other's talents now, it might blur the edge between discipline and holy to a point that we'd start thinking of ourselves more as healing priests, rather than disc priests or holy priests.

Redefining the healing priest

More information has come out since that would indicate Blizzard will be keeping those strong distinctions passively. Certain abilities will be reserved to one specialization, and that specialization will still have to be selected a level 10.

But it's an interesting idea all the same. What if instead of groups demanding a disc priest, they just needed a healing priest, and any healing priest had everything the group was looking for out of a priest, regardless of spec? Why not let a holy priest utilize Power Word: Barrier? What about a discipline priest with Circle of Healing? The spells don't have to be 100% effective to both specs -- just be available, so the distinction between the classes is lessened.

Are the distinctions really that important nowadays? I don't think they are. It's not like having two viable healing paths actually created a fifth healing class. (If it had, you'd have more priests in your raid by default, some disc and some holy.) All it created was a hybrid class that needs to be flexible to switching specs every fight based on the encounter. I've generally been OK with that, until I consider that this kind of constant switching isn't required of other hybrids and it's not particularly optimal if you want to maximize your gear selections. Best in slot for disc is not always best in slot for holy, and if my guild suddenly wants me to be optimally geared for holy when I've been playing disc on three-quarters of the fights, we've got a problem.

Personally, at this point I think some of these distinctions between the specs need to go. They seem to cause more harm than good, and I don't see the importance of many of them. I can deal with using a different array of spells, but why a different method of mana restoration and stat priority? If we're going to have to switch specs every fight, at least go easy on us and make a universal healing priest stat priority. Let all our spells benefit equally from one stat, instead of dividing up our toolbox into mastery spells and haste spells.

What do you guys think?

Auto-attack, mistweavers, and Warhammer

Supposedly, monks in MoP won't have any sort of auto-attack. Sounds cool, but how will that compare to all the other DPS classes in a numerical sense? For most classes, white damage accounts for X amount of damage and special abilities are balanced with that in mind. Cooldowns and cast times on abilities are part of balancing, and I have to wonder if Blizzard will be able to balance a melee class with no auto-attack when the rest of the game is built around it. The easy answer would be to ditch the idea entirely, but many players have already suggested removing auto-attack from the game entirely.

So what does that have to do with healing? Well, healing monks (mistweavers) are also supposed to be introducing some new healing mechanics to the game, and it's had me thinking about how other healers will be affected. From what we've been told, mistweavers are going to be a sort of combat healer that incorporates punches and kicks against the enemy into their healing -- so sort of like that class from Warhammer I always talk about, the disciple of Khaine. Disciples were a class that drew blood from their enemies and used the blood to heal their allies. The idea was that you would have to do damage to heal and constantly maintain your damage to do good healing.

Unfortunately, the idea kind of fell apart because a damage dealer that only does half the damage of a normal damage class isn't particularly useful in dire straits and vice-versa, on the healing side of things. On top of that, disciples could equip a chalice (that's a fancy word for cup), which allowed them to skip dealing damage altogether by catching the blood of enemies. This meant a disciple could spend all her time healing if she wanted, especially as she equipped more powerful chalices later in the game. Can you guess what all the disciples of Khaine ended up doing? That's right ... Equipping chalices and healing like every other healer in the game. Talk about a letdown.

I'm hoping Blizzard will learn from Warhammer's mistakes when handling the mistweavers. The developers say monks won't need to target to heal and that they'll stay competitive, but I'm not so sure. All that time spent moving and damaging takes up precious seconds in a game where one extra cast from your whole raid can make a difference. If they try to overcompensate for the lost time, we might end up with death knights part two, and no one wants that in a healing scenario where there are already limited raid spots. Thus, I'm hoping they'll balance things by incorporating the monk's mechanics into some of the new (or old) spells of the other healing classes.

Something old, something borrowed

And isn't it convenient that we have a few spells in our toolbox that could use some work? Heal was obsolete before I even got into my first raid, and Holy Nova got nerfed into oblivion. Poor little Holy Word: Chastise never hatched.

Fortunately, Blizzard has shown some promise by addressing Holy Nova this past week during its class Q&A. Apparently, it was cosidering making Holy Nova disc-only and tying it in with Evangelism, but that seems a bit sacrilegious since it was originally a holy talent. Personally, I'd prefer it stay baseline to healers and have the healing and damage made more appropriate for the amount of mana spent casting it. Previously, it did some pretty decent HPS and so-so damage; nowadays, it does terrible healing and terrible damage. Putting it on your action bars really is pretty much optional in PvE.

I'd like to see the spell buffed to the point that it's desirable to cast again in a certain situations. Let's say we make the spell more expensive but make the healing and the damage competitive enough that it was worth casting as long as you we're maximizing the full potential of the spell's damage and healing components. It should be wasteful to cast just on friendly targets, or just on enemy targets, but in a situation where you can heal and damage at the same time, Holy Nova could be a viable option when other stronger spells are on cooldown. What do you think?

Next up, Chakra: Chastise and Holy Word: Chastise need some work. Neither ability really took off outside of PvP and burn phases, so why not overhaul them? Perhaps Holy Word: Chastise could start working like a paladin's judgement, buffing the priest's healing for a certain duration after using it on an enemy. Chakra: Chastise, on the other hand, could become inverted Atonement healing. Instead of casting Smite on your enemy and healing a friendly ally near the enemy, Chakra: Chastise could splash healing on multiple players standing near the holy priest. It could be the holy precursor to Vampiric Embrace. Maybe we can give it some sort of on the edge, holy-esque name, like "Overzealous Spark" or "Holy Rectitude."

Speculation and expectations

OK, that's the rest of my speculation for now. I'll try to keep my ramblings under control until the MoP beta, but if something new comes out, I can't make any promises. Speaking of new, did you notice the new casted shield that disc priests are supposedly getting in MoP? The devs mentioned it during the Q&A. Sounds interesting, though it's too soon to comment.

So what are your thoughts about MoP? What would you like to see happen to the priest class and healing in general? Any spells you think need fine tuning or a major overhaul? Leave a comment and tell us your thoughts.

Spiritual Guidance has the inside line on pre-raid, valor point and raid gear for patch 4.2, as well as priest healing guides for the early and final bosses of The Firelands. Newcomer to the priest class? Look into leveling a healing priest, plus our guides to Discipline Priest 101 and Holy Priest 101.