Earlier this week Blizzard surprised the masses by releasing an early sneak peek at patch 4.1 on the PTR. Though the patch features no major raid content, it has made some tiny changes to the priest class that could have some big impacts!
The biggest change in the patch notes for priests was a nerf to the duration of Power Word: Shield from 30 seconds to 15 seconds. ("The great Power Word: Shield nerf of 2011," that's what we'll be calling it in the WoW history books folks.) This really is quite a remarkable change since it changes a spell that has existed mostly in its current form for the last 7 years. This is no changing of the tides nerf, this is like an entire island disappearing from the South Seas. The spell now lasts as long as the cooldown it applies! Crazy, isn't it?
That said, I think the change is a positive one since it finally and effectively addresses shield spam. For raiders, I think this is the real fix we were hoping for, and in theory it looks like it should work. We'll still be able to spam shields when we need to, but we'll never be able to have more than 10 or 15 shields active at a time. And realistically, other than shield spam, when do you really need a shield for more than 15 seconds in PvE? If you're preparing for big damage, the shield will likely get consumed in a few hits anyway. This change also puts Power Word: Shield more in line with sells that other healers have to pre-emptively heal with (HoTs, for example) which is probably fair, provided the developers keep a mindful eye on how this change impacts output. Overall though, I don't this change will hurt PvErs all that much after we get adjusted to it.
I'm really wondering though if we'll see the mana cost of Power Word: Shield reverted with this change. See, the one place I actually think this change is going to hurt a lot is in PvP, particularly arena. There are times in a fight where you're seperated from your allies and you know that shield will be on them for the next 30 seconds to suck up anything they get hit with. It buys you time and lets you focus elsewhere and know you have a buffer before you need to switch to heal another ally. This change means priests are going to either spend more mana on buffer shields, or they're going to have to choose to go without it. Most PvPers I know are going to play it safe and go for more shields, which could seriously hurt priest mana in PvP. We'll have to see how this works out.
The duration of Divine Aegis is increased
Blizzard also increased the duration of Divine Aegis, an idea which my priest friend Kinaesthesia actually suggested to me not long ago. I had explained to Kina that one of the big problems with Prayer of Healing for discipline priests was that the automatic Divine Aegis applied to players after they'd been healed wouldn't last long enough to be effective. By the time the next wave of damage came around the Divine Aegis would be gone. This meant that if you used Prayer of Healing you were usually never getting the full effect (the heal plus the Divine Aegis) of it because you'd either choose to use it for the actual healing, or you'd waste the healing and just use the absorb as a preemptive group shield for incoming damage.
Thus, Kina suggested increasing Divine Aegis' duration and I agreed, saying that if the shield lasted 20 to 30 seconds instead of 12 seconds it would last long enough that you wouldn't have to choose between Prayer of Healing's absorption versus it's healing. Well it seems the Blizzard developers had the same idea, and they increased the duration of Divine Aegis to 15 seconds. Unfortunately, I don't think an extra 3 seconds is going to solve discipline's AoE healing situation. This fix looks more like it was intended to assist with single-target healing, particularly tank healing. Since tanks will rarely not take a hit in a 15 second window, but do occasionally not take hits for a few seconds (particularly backup tanks.) I'm not sure an extra 3 seconds will make a huge difference though, so maybe the developers just increased the duration for continuity between Divine Aegis and Power Word: Shield. After all, Divine Aegis is consumed by incoming damage before Power Word: Shield.
Looking back at the AoE issue though, I suspect that Blizzard is okay with the fact that discipline's Prayer of Healing and automatic Divine Aegis aren't always getting used to its full potential. I'm guessing they don't want any sort of preemptive healing to persist longer than 15 seconds, and that's fine as long as fight designs and HPS balancing are factored in too. After all, if Divine Aegis did have it's duration increased to anything longer than 15 seconds, Prayer of Healing would probably start getting spammed too, so buffing disc AoE through that spell isn't an ideal. If Blizzard has any interest in buffing disc AoE, the best bet at doing that now is going to have to be a new spell. But it's possible Blizz wants disc to occupy a more single-target niche, even if a good many of us feel it's completely deranged.
Dispel Magic gets nerfed, maybe
Both MMO-Champion's unofficial, datamined patch notes for patch 4.1, and Blizzard's official ones, suggest that changes are being made to the baseline priest ability, Dispel Magic. Blizzard's notes say that Dispel Magic will now only be usable on the priest casting it, but that discipline and holy priest will have a passive specialization bonus that allows them to use Dispel Magic on any friendly player.
MMO-Champion's datamined patch notes imply that the passive specialization bonus will allow discipline and holy priests to dispel debuffs on friendly players, and buffs on enemy players.
Unfortunately, none of this adds up because on PTR, all specs of priests can still use Dispel Magic and Mass Dispel on friendly and enemy targets, to the same effect that currently exists on live. (Thanks again to Omissh on the PTR for helping me test.)
It's possible Blizzard hasn't completely implemented whatever it is it's planning, or that the implementation went awry. Eitherway, I'm going to wait to see exactly how this is implemented before I make a comment on it. When I saw the MMO-Champion datamine, I assumed it was a PvP nerf for shadow priests, but after seeing Blizzard's notes I'm not so sure. We'll see what happens over the coming weeks.
A new animation for Holy Word: Sanctuary
Of the less important news about the patch, Chakra'sHoly Word: Sanctuary got a new animation. The animation is really poorly presented through still image so I endured iMovie '08 to make this for you guys. (You have no idea what a labor of love that is.)
Before you ask, yes I did have projected textures on. That's really what it looks like. As you can see, Blizzard has sized down the animation (though there is talk that that may be a bug) and removed a lot of the blinding radiance from the existing animation has. I personally don't mind losing the big golden disc on the ground, but I'll miss the pretty Northern Lights-look of the existing animation.
I'm guessing this new animation was created to address complaints from players that the AoE ground animations were making it hard to see harmful ground effects, but I think with this new animation it's now going to make it hard for players in your party or raid to actually find the AoE healing. If by chance the animation isn't bugged and this is the correct size, I should point out that the area of the animation is quite a bit smaller than than the area in which you can actually receive healing. I could see this causing some confusion among players who are trying to stand in "the good stuff" though overall it would be a bit useful on any fight where you need your range to stack up tightly but they won't because they're prima donnas who don't like standing next to each other. (Seriously, have you noticed melee have absolutely no trouble stacking up, but the ranged classes are always like "Noooo! I don't wanna stand next to Becky!" and inching away from each other?) Anyway, this is all under the assumption that the graphic isn't bugged, so we'll have to wait and see. Hopefully the animation team isn't done yet and can find a nice compromise between the two animations that has the best of both worlds.
And that wraps it up. I won't be talking too much about patch 4.1 again until we get a significant chunk of new information about it. It's probably still a ways off, so next week we can get back to out raid healing guides. See you then!