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Spiritual Guidance: Understanding the recent priest changes

Dawn Moore

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 dabbles in shadow. Dawn also writes for and produces the Circle of Healing Podcast.

The last week has been a bit of an adventure for priests of the healing variety. Hotfix nerfs and buffs were implemented to address the overuse of Power Word: Shield in the aftermath of patch 4.0.6, and before long, everything was upside down. Discipline priests quickly found their mana pools drained for using multiple shields, even at ideal times, and in a weird twist of fate, holy priests were able to pick up the mantle as shield spammers. The community writhed and waited for new hotfixes to come. But would they be the last?

Given these events, I thought it would be appropriate to explain exactly what happened this past week before moving back to our weekly boss strategies.

The first of the hotfixes

As you know from last week, after patch 4.0.6 went live, shield spamming quickly resurfaced from the icy depths of Wrath of the Lich King. Though shield spam during certain parts of a fight has always been part of a discipline priest's playstyle, the almost tripling of the absorption amount of Power Word: Shield encouraged many priests to abandon their entire toolbox in favor of using just Power Word: Shield and nothing else. Discipline priests quickly rode to the top of the effective healing charts on their one spell, and the entire healing community screamed bloody murder. Nerfs were not just anticipated, they were demanded, and eventually Blizzard answered with the following hotfixes.

  • Power Word: Shield now costs roughly 34% of base mana, up from 25%. This is not reflected in the tooltip, but is reflected in the amount of mana used when the spell is cast. The tooltip update will require a client-side patch.
  • In addition to its current effects, the Body and Soul talent now grants 12.5%/25% reduction to the base mana cost of Power Word: Shield. This is not reflected in the tooltip, but is reflected in the amount of mana used when Power Word: Shield is cast by Holy priests who have this talent. The tooltip update will require a client-side patch.
In the wake of the hotfix, several posts were also made by Nethaera to explain the changes.

Incoming Healer Changes -- Nethaera
Since the release of patch 4.0.6, we've been keeping an eye on healers and how they are performing and are currently in the process of making some additional adjustments.


The cost of Power Word: Shield is being increased by 33%. While we wanted Discipline priests to be able to utilize this spell more often and with better results, we also did not want it to be the main spell (and often the only spell) used while in groups. We don't find this to be a particularly compelling playstyle and have found that it encourages players to avoid using other spells such as Penance. We believe that using a shield in a tight moment is totally appropriate, but we don't want it to be incredibly efficient to do so with more frequency than that.

We realize that by making Power Word: Shield slightly more expensive for Discipline priests to cast that it might cause Holy priests to avoid using it. To that end, we are adding mana savings into the Body and Soul talent. The tooltip will not reflect this change until a future patch, however. Ideally, Holy priests should not notice much of a change to the Power Word: Shield costs..

Incoming Healer Changes -- Nethaera
Generally speaking (and more to the PvE end), the Discipline tree has talents that play off of Penance, Flash Heal, Greater Heal and Prayer of Healing. It wouldn't be strange for these priests to leverage Power Word:Barrier to help mitigate damage either should the occasion present itself. There's a solid variety of available spells to be used, and we want you to use them. Moreover we think healing as a priest will be more fun if you have to think about which spell to use rather than robotically answering each damage event with PW: Shield. Overall, we're not reducing the power of Power Word: Shield at all, just increasing its cost and making the more efficient heals more attractive to use.

Power Word: Shield will still have its time and place and as always. We want it to be used often, we just don't want it used to the exclusion of all other abilities. We'll keep an eye on how things play out once the change is applied too.

Incoming Healer Changes -- Nethaera
We want people using Power Word: Shield. As others have pointed out, it's something Discipline priests do well (Damage Mitigation) and it took awhile before more people began to believe that (remember those days?). Damage Mitigation will still happen and is still important even with this change, it's just not going to be the ONLY thing that the Discipline spec is going to be using to keep their groups and Raids up. There will be heals as well. Also, in Raids, there will be more than a Discipline priest supporting the raid. So knowing the best use of your abilities in that situation is key and playing off of the strengths of other healers will be as essential as it has always been.

Overall, the changes seemed to be appropriate, and were already in effect by raid time.

The aftermath of the changes

I went into my Wednesday raid expecting very little impact from the hotfix on my playstyle. Surely a shield on the tanks and other players who needed saving or were taking incoming raid damage was appropriate play, but I was shocked to see it wasn't. Any attempt I made to blanket shields for upcoming bursts of damage was crippling to my mana pool, even after I readjusted the timing on my cooldown usage and negotiated an Innervate. After two pulls on heroic Maloriak, I had to completely abandon the strategy of shielding melee throughout the black phase. Though I'd been using this strategy since before the patch, using it now left my mana resources exhausted halfway through the fight, and with only one Innervate in the raid, I knew this wasn't going to work. Dejectedly, I abandoned using shields for any sort of raid healing and settled on Prayer of Healing with lacking results.

Meanwhile, in other raids, friends of mine reported that they were still shield spamming to their hearts' content, but that their shield usage was still being supported with multiple Innervates. The hotfix had made no difference on their one-button wonder play. I looked westward to Blizzard HQ and thought to myself, "What the hell?" Was it my lack of heroic gear and spirit trinkets, or was it possible to completely ignore the nerf if you had an entire raid team backing you up? Was this going on in multiple guilds? Would Blizzard take further action to prevent it?

Before I considered it further, I caught word that some holy priests had been clever enough to respec immediately after the hotfix and get Soul Warding from the discipline tree. The talent, which effectively removes the cooldown of Power Word: Shield, suddenly allowed holy priests to start shield spamming with amazing effectiveness. Even though the shields were smaller by 10,000 to 20,000 absorption, once combined with the Glyph of Power Word: Shield and holy's Echo of Light mastery, holy priests were looking at a filler spell comparable to Renew in cost and HPS, but instant cast and better for preemptive healing than a HoT could ever hope to be. We were sure Blizzard had overlooked this; everyone waited with bated breath for its next move.

But there was nothing but silence the first day. Nervous with anticipation, I went to talk to Kinaesthesia, my priesty cohort for all things healing. I asked him what he thought of the changes. He admitted he hadn't tried it out himself yet, so I gave him a rundown of it all. He asked me what I thought could be done to fix everything.

"Move Soul Warding, first of all. Perhaps switch it with Atonement so holy can get a bit more incentive to use Chakra: Chastise in PvE. Then another shield or something to fix the raid healing problem. My mobility is terrible, and if shaman or druids get a raid cooldown like Power Word: Barrier, disc is going to look a lot less appealing when every other healer can single-target and AoE heal well, but disc can only single-target well."

"How would this new spell work?" he asked.

"Probably just a second shield, a mini-Power Word: Shield you could spam for 8,000 to 10,000."

We spent the rest of the night designing spells, everything from a Penance with an Inner Focus-inspired modifier, which split the spell into a raid heal, to a Wild Growth clone with individual shields that use the absorption mechanic Power Word: Barrier had during beta. After that, we explored ways to fix the lessened appeal of Smite healing by working Holy Fire into Atonement healing. Then we dropped the designs into a pneumatic capsule and sent it through our direct pipeline to Ghostcrawler's office. It was around that time we remembered it wasn't 1995 and that we were daydreaming.

A hotfix reverted

Finally, after two long days, another hotfix was announced. This change addressed the insanity of the previous two days.
  • Body and Soul no longer reduces the mana cost of Power Word: Shield (the hotfix made on Feb. 16 to provide this additional benefit has been reverted).
  • Rapture now returns 2/5/7% of maximum mana when Power Word: Shield is consumed, up from 2/4/6%.
No blue posts accompanied the changes this time. It looked like holy priests would have to cope with the increased cost of shields when they wanted to use Body and Soul from now on. I could only assume they would be moving their talent points elsewhere again.

The tiny buff to Rapture seemed like it might answer my new issues with mana as well, but I would need another week to test it in action. And what about the shield spamming in my friends' guilds? I guess there was no doing away with it entirely, not with the sanction of a whole raid team. I decided to consult with two other trusted priest friends to get their thoughts on the nerfs. I heard back from Derevka at Tales of a Priest first.
"I think we all saw this coming -- and if you didn't shame on you! I don't think anyone wanted an entire expansion of heroic Lich King over and over. Having a single spell, be it Power Word: Shield, Prayer of Healing, or (thinking back to Sunwell) Circle of Healing as 70% of our healing done is not how any class should be healing. I think the mana change is a bit of a Band-Aid or knee jerk fix; but something that had to be done. Personally, I think I would have rather seen a change to the way mastery scales, but that would have taken a lot more number crunching and would have affected more than just Power Word: Shield. For now, this is a solid 'fix,' but only for now. I think we'll see more tuning; the mana change is just an instant way to stop the madness. You could, of course, keep on spamming and leeching Innervates and chained Man Tide Totems, but it really isn't the best use of time.

"People did cry out that disc needs to maintain viability, and it really has. The Rapture change makes using Power Word: Shield a bit less punitive and shines light on the way it seems the developers really want us using Power Word: Shield. Power Word: Shield is, an will continue to be, a major player in the Disc arsenal -- we just needed to adjust the manner in which we were using it. Yes, we can spam it on multiple targets, but not non-stop. I will continue to use it on multiple targets before I know a major boss ability is going to hit (Rohash's Hurricane, or Maloriak's Scorching Breath), just not non-stop the whole fight. We have a ton of other spells in our toolbox and talents that improve those spells: we should use them."
Raegx of the guild <Blood Legion> (previously <Vigil>) also got back to me with his thoughts.
"Right now discipline numbers are pretty par for the course. In some situations we can be very powerful healers ... In some situations you can feed a priest for shield spamming, but it isn't maintainable for any length of time. Fights that showcase Prayer of Healing seem to be a strength, but disc is in a weird place now.

"Our mastery is not really that great anymore and it would seem haste for Prayer of Healing is our best alternative. We also don't have any kind of AoE healing outside of Prayer of Healing, Prayer of Mending, and Holy Nova. Holy Nova has not proved very useful to me and Prayer of Healing is still group based -- we really don't have anything to fill that random AoE damage situation. Previously, we used to shield a decent number of probable targets to simulate the AoE effect that holy has with Circle of Healing, but now shielding that much is too costly on mana. It would seem group based healing is bust for discipline in terms of AoE, unless groups are specifically setup to support Prayer of Healing. Single-target healing seems to be fine, maybe a little too mana costly, but nothing big. The buffs to Rapture are welcomed and justly deserved.

"As far as raid strategies go now, we are back to do what we did pre-changes. We aren't bringing less healers or more disc priests at this point in time. I suppose that means Blizzard did what they intended; buff survivability in PvP. However, I feel that discipline is now limited in our healing repertoire in relation to our holy priest friends. I'd like to see some kind of smart AoE shield similar to Circle of Healing that would fill the hole -- maybe something that sends out a lot of shields. I think that it would be fun to shield a few people in a random area from damage. Maybe put a glowing dome over their heads and absorb some damage. It would reward raid awareness and bring some of that AoE pop back to discipline without it being too 'spammy' or overpowered. Right now it seems like it's Prayer of Healing or bust in terms of raid healing."

What will happen to priests in the long run?

With the last change coming just before a long holiday weekend, I can't help but think there is a sort of finality to it. Will this be the last of the changes until patch 4.1? My thoughts stick on the looming likelihood that another Power Word: Barrier will be introduced in the coming months. I wasn't bothered by the idea of another class getting the ability, but rather, I'm worried about what will become of disc if another class has it. Discipline is the only healing spec that didn't receive additional AoE healing like Healing Rain or Holy Word: Sanctuary, and without a spammable shield, there are few ways to stay competitive with other healers when they can all effectively single-target and AoE heal.

Would Blizzard developers even consider giving discipline priests a new spell if such a thing were to happen? Is it Blizzard's intention to limit the versatility of discipline in order to keep it unique from holy? And what about Smite healing? Only time would tell.

Did you heal this past week after either of the hotfixes? Let me know your personal account of the nerfs and buffs in the comments, and tell me if and how your playstyle has been affected. How was your mana affected, and were you able to recover from it with adjustments? Be sure to mention your gear level, raid size, and composition.

Want more tips for carrying out your priestly duties as a disc or holy priest? Check out Spiritual Guidance: Discipline and Spiritual Guidance: Holy. Newcomers to the priest class will want to look into Discipline Priest 101 and Holy Priest 101. For getting your healing priests geared, check out the pre-raid gear guide and the Valor point and raid gear guide.

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