All of our direct heals, save for Holy Shock, are having their mana costs increased significantly. The increases range from about 14% to 20%, with Divine Light seeing the smallest bump and Holy Light seeing the largest. You should be feeling déjà vu right now, as we received similar treatment in the eleventh hour of patch 4.0.6 just a few months ago. The last nerf was only a 10% increase across the board, so clearly Blizzard intended to hit harder in round two. Holy Shock was originally slated for a nerf, but an update to the patch notes reversed that decision and actually cut the mana cost of Holy Shock instead. It is a buff, but doesn't come anywhere near offsetting the nerf to the other spells.
Zarhym told us that we were being nerfed to bring us back down to the level of the other healers. He also mentioned that we were often using Divine Light too much instead of the more efficient Holy Light. If that's the case, why did Holy Light's mana cost go up by a larger percentage than any of our other spells?
Putting it in perspective
Looking over my last Nefarian parse, these changes would cost me about 90,000 mana. Obviously, the effect is going to be smaller on shorter fights, but now you can get an idea of the scale of the nerf. In comparison, I received 45,000 mana from Replenishment, 40,000 mana from Divine Plea, and 150,000 mana from Judging with Seal of Insight active. Imagine raiding without Divine Plea and Replenishment -- that's what healing in patch 4.2 is going to feel like. If you end a fight with 50% mana today, you'll be completely empty in patch 4.2.
A compounding problem
The scene looks even more bleak when we see the patch notes that tell us that Mana Tide Totem's potency was cut in half, which affects all healers in your raid. On top of that, Innervate now restores a fraction of what it once did when used on anyone but the casting druid. Holy paladins are going to see less mana coming in from other sources than we have throughout Cataclysm's first tier of raiding; meanwhile, our costs are going up anyway. Be sure to stock up on Mythical Mana Potions.
With every raid healer seeing less mana coming into patch 4.2, I'll be very interested to see how Blizzard manages to balance the encounters. There's a fixed amount of healing that we can do with each point of mana we have, and by reducing that mana value, our total healing possible goes down as well. We're going to need to tighten our belts if we're going to maintain our current output. We'll need to use Divine Plea every time we can, and any extra melee swings we can score to proc Seal of Insight will help as well.
Double crits might help
The silver lining of patch 4.2's otherwise cloudy disposition is the introduction of double crits for healers. Our heals that are critical strikes will now do double the original healing instead of the 50% boost that they'd seen in the past. The change does buff the potency of critical strike rating for holy paladins, though I don't think it really shifts the balance at all. Critical strike rating does affect all of our heals (save Lay on Hands); that gives it an edge over our Illuminated Healing, which doesn't work on several heals. Since we can now use Holy Radiance more often, the fact that mastery still doesn't affect HR pushes it farther down our priority list.
The problem with gearing for crit is that you can't depend on it. While it might reduce our overall mana costs over an encounter, which would be a welcome change, we can't count on it to give us the throughput when we need it. I might prefer it over mastery, but that's still not saying much. If nothing changes between now and Firelands, I expect to be reforging to spirit as often as possible. It's still better to gem and enchant for intellect, but spirit is going to be crucial to maintaining a decent mana pool.
Mana saves lives
If everyone plays perfectly, the amount of healing required by a raid drops dramatically. Much of the incoming damage that we're dealing with on a daily basis is avoidable. The catch is that nobody plays perfectly, and so we use our excess mana to help save people who step in the fire. With our mana running lower than ever, we won't have the luxury of tossing out a few extra Divine Lights to top off an errant raider.
When healers have excess mana, everyone can make more mistakes. When we're low on mana, everyone needs to play better. With the difficulty of Firelands raid bosses sure to trump that of the first tier of Cataclysm, we aren't going to have many Get Out Of Jail Free heals available. Raiders have the ability to compensate for the nerf by reforging and adjusting their stats to help increase their mana regeneration. Holy paladins that were newly level 85 were already having problems healing dungeons, and so this nerf hits them the hardest.
The Light and How to Swing It: Holy helps holy paladins become the powerful healers we're destined to be. Learn the ropes in Cataclysm 101 for holy paladins, study the new balance between intellect and spirit and learn how to level your new Sunwalker. Tanking is a job, DPS is a craft -- but healing is truly an art.