Maintaining Discipline – part 2
Part one of this series of posts dealt with the talents and gear required to perform adequately when we’re asked to off-heal as Discipline. This installment will deal with the Discipline healing philosophy, synergies and cooldowns. Note again that this information is all meant to have basic performance, and most full-time Discipline healers will find this all pretty basic info.
The basics of Discipline
In the old days – TBC and Wrath – Discipline priests were all about spamming shields. With proper amounts of Haste and using macroes, a Disc priest could shield 3/4 of a raid before the first shield expired. These days are gone now, because of some fundamental changes in the healing styles made by Blizzard to bring more of a challenge to healers.
Power Word: Shield is still a cornerstone, but now because of its additional benefits. Renewed Hope gives a buff to your healing on targets with the Weakened Soul effect (which is the result of a PW:S) and Borrowed Time gives a bonus to Haste on your next direct cast after you cast a PW:S.
Part of the trick here is that Renew and Penance benefit from Borrowed Time, but don’t consume the effect. This means that in the duration of the Borrowed Time buff you can put a Renew on a target, cast Penance and then cast (for instance) a Greater Heal that consumes the buff.
Greater Heal you say? Yes – thanks to the synergy of Disc, Greater Heal is now very effective and will generally replace Heal on your bars. What’s more, if you use Inner Focus together with it, it will be free to cast and have a +25% chance to crit, meaning a good chance you will proc a Divine Aegis as well. The way the talents are designed, that Greater Heal (and all others after it) will then reduce the cooldown of Inner Focus again.
This little trick can be summarized in the picture below:
The first thing to discuss are what is known as “the four Ps”: Power Word: Shield, Penance, Prayer of Mending and Prayer of Healing. Even today, these are the four cornerstone healing spells used by an average Disc priest. There are also the “Big Four”: Smite, Holy Fire, Archangel, Greater Heal, which produce a lot of the flexibility and synergy of the spec.
The picture below gives a summary of the various healing spells used by Discipline and how they relate:
When in a 5-man dungeon or a raid where you are comfortable with the healing, you will find that healing tanks and melee using Holy Fire and Smite is actually more cost-efficient than the Heal spell. Even though Heal was originally hailed as the go-to spell for Disc, the Inner Focus/Greater Heal synergy provides more throughput and Smite/Atonement provides greater efficiency.
Casting Smite has a 71% coefficient, while Heal has a 30% coefficient. This means that every 1000 spellpower you gain increases Smite damage + healing by 710, but Heal by only 300. The more spellpower you get, the more healing you get out of Smite as opposed of Heal.
Add to this that Evangelism at 5 stacks reduces the mana cost of Smite, Holy Fire and Penance by 30% while increasing their damage by 20% and you will see that Smite’s mana cost becomes basically the same as Heal (10% of base mana as opposed to Heal’s 9% of base mana) with greater healing done in addition to dealing damage to mobs as a bonus.
The only downside to this system is that you will need to cast Smite or Holy Fire at least once every 18-20 seconds to keep up the Evangelism buff, and that you lose the buff if you trigger Archangel for mana and the healing bonus. Second, you don’t control who gets the Atonement heal. It’s relatively smart and targets lower-health targets, but it’s not reliable when you need to heal a specific target in melee.
Note that the periodic damage caused by Holy Fire’s DoT will also create a similar HoT on a melee target within 15 yards.
Rapture – or, how I learned to love the shield and stop worrying about mana
One of the tools available to Discipline priests is Rapture. When a PW:Shield you cast is dispelled or completely absorbed (in other words, broken by damage to the target) you regain 7% of your total mana. You can gain mana this way only once per 12 seconds. This is the reason why you generally want to put a shield up on a target at least once every 12 seconds – besides the effects of Borrowed Time and Renewed Hope, it also gives you mana.
There are some addons out there that can help you keep track of this. Of those, Ingela’s Rapture is one of the most well-known. Basically, you will know when it’s time to put up the next shield, if only to gain some mana back later. While the Shield itself isn’t mana neutral (nor should it be, lest Disc be nerfed to thine graveyard soil) until you hit 101K+ mana, you will recoup the lost mana through Spirit-based regeneration as well, and it still provides its other benefits.
Divine Aegis and the Shield Discipline Mastery
Time in between for a little explanation on the Discipline Mastery, and what makes it useful. First off, the mastery Shield Discipline itself: “Increases the potency of all your damage absorption spells by 20%. Each point of Mastery increases the potency of absorbs by an additional 2.5%.“
This already covers Power Word: Shield and Power Word: Barrier.
Then the talent Divine Aegis: “Critical heals and all heals from Prayer of Healing create a protective shield on the target, absorbing 30% of the amount healed. Lasts 15 sec.“
So when you get a critical heal, you heal for 200% of the base effect. You then get an Aegis (a shield) that puts a bubble on the affected target for 30% of that heal. So a heal for 10K crits for 20K and thus creates a 6K bubble on the target. But wait! Your Mastery increases those absorptions by at least 20% again, turning the 6K bubble into a 7.2K bubble.
So, it’s easy to see how well Shield Discipline, Divine Aegis, Critical Strike Rating and Mastery work together. Each enforces the other, so you will heal for more, crit for more, and create bigger bubbles. This is one of the reasons why I dubbed my Disc spec as Bubblegum.
Everything just seems to stick together.
The 20% bonus to Haste and reduction in the mana cost of spells used to be given to DPS in the old days – now you want to keep it for yourself for whenever there’s a tight spot and you need burst healing. Combined with using Archangel you will gain enormous throughput for a short time.
For 8 seconds, the target takes 40% less damage from all sources. This also reduces their threat by 5%. In practice this is a great cooldown to use for when tanks take large chunks of damage during a short burst period. Examples are Chimaeron’s Feud, Baleroc’s blade attacks and various bosses that enrage and increase attack speed and power. When coordinated with a tank’s own cooldown this can sail them through almost any damage taken.
Evangelism is a buff that stacks to 5 and reduces the mana cost of Smite, Holy Fire and Penance by 6% per rank and their damage by 4% per rank. For Smite and Holy Fire this also increases the healing done via Atonement. This buff is consumed when you use Archangel, instead giving you 3% healing done per Evangelism rank eaten, and restores 1% of your total mana per rank consumed.
You have to balance these two out, keeping up the Evangelism buff when you have slow or steady healing chores where you don’t need a lot of activity, and triggering Archangel when you need the mana or burst healing. Resist the urge to use it on cooldown, which usually works well for Shadow – it takes a bit more refinement as Discipline.
Inner Focus makes your next Heal, Flash Heal, Greater Heal or Prayer of Healing free of mana cost, and gives the spell a +25% chance to Crit. For our purposes, it is most interesting to use it on Greater Heal, since it’s relatively expensive and also increases the chance for it to proc a Divine Aegis. It’s also very good to make Prayer of Healing cheaper, and while it doesn’t increase Aegis procs (since PoH always creates an Aegis) the increased Crit chance does make the Aegis bigger.
Hymn of Hope/Shadowfiend
These are cooldowns that return mana, with Hymn being for multiple targets while Shadowfiend only returns mana to you. Generally the Fiend is best used when you start to near 50-60% mana, which will allow you to sustain yourself a long time along with Power Infusions. Since Hymn of Hope is channeled, it helps to announce to your colleague healers that you are using it, since this means one less person healing for its duration.
A channeled AoE healing cooldown which is incredibly powerful and has a tendency to proc Aegis bubbles all over the place. As a major cooldown, this is usually planned for heavy raid-damage times such as the last phase of Alysrazor or Beth’Tilac. Note that it’s especially potent when combined with raid-wide damage reduction effects from Warriors and Paladin tanks.
Power Word: Barrier
A shield that protects an area (reducing all damage taken to those underneath it) and (when glyphed) increases all healing to people under it by 10%. This is an excellent tank/melee healing cooldown on its own, but is especially potent when the raid needs to bunch up (Chimaeron Feuds). Like Hymn and Pain Suppression, it pays to discuss beforehand when to use it, or have the raid leader call for it to maximize its effectiveness.
This is quite a bit to take in at once, so I will be saving the Macros for the next and final installment, also wrapping up whatever leftovers there are regarding off-healing as Disc. In the meantime I will be working on that Shadowpriest PvP guide I promised my girlfriend to write weeks ago – and I am way behind on that promise.