Author Topic: Disc Priest in pre-expansion  (Read 896 times)

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Disc Priest in pre-expansion
« on: July 22, 2016, 03:30:27 PM »
Right. After having a sombre mood yesterday about the Disc priest, let's try to gather some thoughts and ideas on the spec.
First off, the context:
- For PvE I'm talking from dungeon/leveling experience only
- For PvP I'm referring to my "almost epically geared" Priest on Alliance side.
- It's all level 100 and current gear levels

Gear, level 110, honorary talents and legendaries are game changers and could very well change anything said in this post.
I read 5-6 guides on Disc priests, only to find that:
- For PvE they rarely assume to be the single healer
- Half the guides contradict themselves.
- Only the stat priority is consistent, but with little justification as to why it's that. This suggests it's either solid, or they copy-pasted it from one another.

This stat priority is haste->crit->versatility->mastery. Note: Mastery boosts Atonement healing, our supposed core mechanic. Its low priority sets the tone for the spec: our core mechanic (Atonement) produces numbers, not solutions, so don't tailor directly for it.
For reference, I had Mastery focused gear from pre-patch, which boosted Atonement by 10-20%. But 10-20% of poor dps is still poor healing.

The core concept of the Disc priest is to weave a mixture of direct healing (Plea, Shadow Mend, PW:S) with DPS on a target to heal through Atonement. You need both to work effectively.

Let me give a cynical review the core spells...

Power Word: Shield
It's mana efficient and adds atonement.
In PvE, use it on cooldown in your tank healing rotation.
With RAPTURE you can spam the spell on the party which I think a great opener for a fight or mid-fight, but I'm not eager to use it in emergencies because then there are better throughput spells. Still, it would be an efficient counter for widespread damage and you can always reapply a shield.

In PvP, it's a good opener followed by Penance (if you specced for it). This combo is powerful so master it... But do NOT use it on cooldown.
There are two key situations when you need to have this combo available:
- When you're school locked in Shadow (from spamming Shadow Mend), this is your goto backup combo.
- When someone's near death and Shadow Mend is too slow, then a PW:S followed by Penance can save a life.

In combination with Rapture it becomes funny: an instant, respammable shield? You can run while spamming it on yourself as your opponents smash you. But it's mediocre as a life safer since the (already moderate) Shadow Mend has better throughput.
It's a good counter in case you're shadow locked though.

In any case, bury your dreams of shielding the crap out of people. Its shields for less than half of the pre-patch shield.

In PVE it's a DPS spell, so boost it with talents that boost its DPS (Schism, Purge of the Wicked).
In PvP it's a life safer when you're school locked, so take the healing talent. Use it for DPS or casual heals when you feel "safe" from being shadow locked. It also slows your enemy when cast on that enemy, so you can use it offensively.

It still has some of its former power.

ahahahahaha. Plea is mana efficient because it costs even less than it heals. It's so weak that the GCD it takes to cast brings your healing down.

In PvE it's good for maintenance and mana efficiency only.
In PVP it helps to spread atonement while moving but it has better alternatives most of the time.

Shadow Mend
It's a moderate, fast heal. Half of the healing done is returned as damage over time or until that amount damage is taken from another source. So, excellent tank healing spell and excellent to spam someone when they are targetted in PvP.

This spell is almost as important to understanding Disc as Atonement ...
And here's where the quality of the internet guides fail as none go into details. 

These are the pointers no guide makes, but are critical to understand the spell and how it affects the entire spec.

Does the DOT stack when cast twice in a row on the same target? Crucial question don't you think? No guide answers it.
In order for the DOT to stack, it would need to "add up" the damage taken on the dot because a simple stack (2 dots) would cancel each other out.
It doesn't look like repeated casting stacks up the damage taken by the DOT... At least, targets I spammed back to health didn't drop to half a healthbar later.

Assuming it doesn't stack, spamming it several times on a single target is probably a very valid option and its throughput is solid.

Another pointer is that it applies Atonement on the target, meaning that if you follow up your shadow mend with some dps, its DOT will be countered by Atonement healing. Not a bad trade.

Another pointer is that the talent "GRACE" boosts spamming it on a single target (first one applies Atonement!), so again, it looks like a good way to get some healing done. But check this out: the spell has a separate element for its healing and its DOT, meaning that boosting the healing doesn't increase the DOT. At least, in theory. I'll test the practice but that's a crucial nugget which no guide covers. If the penalty grows much smaller proportionally, the penalty can probably be ignored.

Another pointer to be made: it's the highest single-target throughput we have, beating a few AoS spells.

Another pointer to be made: its school is Shadow. For PVP this is crucial. If you're interrupted in Shadow you lose your main healing spell and your crowd control but you can fall back on healing with shielding and penance.

Another pointer to be made: it does damage which means it breaks crowd control effects that break on damage (saps, polys, etc). You'd almost cast it on yourself to keep yourself safe from such CC's. This means DO NOT use the talent that turns this DOT into a healing effect. At least, not for PVP. But I also see limited value in PvE since it will just compete with atonement.

Power Word: Radiance
It's slow, it heals for very little and worst of all.. it heals "randomly".
There is 1 redeeming quality, which I'll cover at the end, but for now it's safe to assume it's next to worthless. An abundant spell. Put it on your action bar if you like its icon.

Take this situation, 3 out of 5 party members took damage in a dungeon. You pick 1 and cast Radiance. After 2.5 seconds (lol!) it heals 1 target and has:
- 25% chance to heal 2 members that took damage
- 50% chance to heal 1 member that took damage and 1 that didn't take damage
- 25% chance to heal 2 members that didn't take damage
It heals them for 250% of spellpower.

Let that sink in for a moment.


Right. Plea heals for 225% and I noted its weakness earlier. Shadow mend heals for 750% and PW:S absorbs for 550% (which can be boosted). Penance can heal for 825%.

So the spell only heals efficiently when more than 3 members take damage but will you wait 2.5 seconds for such a weak heal when there's that much damage?

It offers 2 uses:
- Spreading Atonement. The slow casting speed and randomness doesn't make it attractive to spam.. but before a boss fight (or at the start) you can cast it once and then finish off with other heals to spread Atonement.
- Topping off, when there's no threat... But in dungeons that's usually when you need to move and a 2.5s cast is a pain.

The spell is barely worth the space it takes in a trashcan.


Smite is important. This spell has so many faces it's getting suspiciously little attention.
- It does 225% of spell power as damage, which is nothing impressive but not terrible either
- It only costs 1% base mana, so it's very cheap
- It reduces damage done by 225%.

This damage reduction is getting surprisingly little attention.

The other spells
The other spells are pretty much as they were so meh.

There's a point to be made about Pain Suppression. It reduces damage by 40%. Didn't it do twice as much once upon a time? It's good to use in combo with PW:S but because it stops "only" 40% it won't save anyone from the brink of death.


Tier 15
The Penitent is my preferred PvP choice at the moment.
I would like it to use Penance as an emergency heal for PvE but you're probably already weaving Penance in your dps cycle, making the other two talents better.

I have yet to try Schism.

Tier 30
Angelic feather for PvE and PvP. Why they nerfed it to 40% is beyond me.
If you don't need any mobility, Masochism for PvE only.

Tier 45
Shining force is fun, but situational. Still the best choice in PvE.
For PVP Psychic Voice is probably better in Arenas. I like Shining Force to slow a whole group, or knock them off a bridge though.

Tier 60
In PvP PW:Solace is my preferred one, since the rest is "meh". But I have yet to experiment with the others. Mindbender adds some dps so it's interesting, but weak against CC. Shield Discipline might prove a good mana tool.

For PvE Mindbender will probably beat Solace.

Shield discipline probably gives the best mana return. I'd like to experiment with it and Rapture and power infusion.
Shield->Rapture->spam more shields to counter AoE -> AoE hits -> 5-6% mana returned instantly.

Tier 75
Guides seem to neglect contrition. I took contrition for ease of use but I'm thinking Twist of Fate is the most utile talent if you're the solo healer and Power Infusion is the best in throughput. Needs to be tested further.

I think I'll switch to Twist of Fate for PVP and PI for PvE.

Tier 90
I don't "get" Clarity of Will. It contradicts the Atonement and doesn't fit PvP so it boggles me why they put it there.
Divine Star is weak.

So, PvE I'd go Halo. PvP I'd still use Divine Star since Halo isn't really working in such a setting.. but I might experiment with it never the less.

Tier 100
Purge the Wicked is popular in the guides so I'm guessing it's good for raids.
I like Grace for PvP.

And I'm going to try Shadow Covenant for dungeons. Again, guides fail to get into the relevant details that make or break this spell.
- Does it apply Atonement? I'm guessing it doesn't.
- Does the shell work on healing done? I'm guessing it doesn't, which means your first use will heal for 100%, and subsequent spamming for 50%. Otherwise, spamming would give 100%->50%->75%->62.5%->..
- They fail to notice it could be our only spammable AoE heal. o.O
- It heals for twice as much as Halo... Meaning Halo can clear the healing absorption shell when used in tandem.
- It heals 5 targets for almost as much as PW:S shields.
- The shell is countered by Atonement.. HELLO!

It could be that Shadow Covenant is the only AoS emergency heal we have as Disc so definitely worth a test in dungeons.

Weaving in the Atonement

Heal, heal, dps, dps, heal this, dps that, heal that, dps this. If there's one thing clear, you'll be switching between targets a lot.
An easy way to do this, is with macros. I set up my healing to work as follows:
- If I press SHIFT, I heal myself. Especially handy for PVP but it avoids a target switch in PvE as well when you're throwing yourself a small heal.
- Otherwise, if the target is friendly, heal it. Target healing as usual..
- Otherwise, if the target's target is friendly, heal that one. This allows me to focus dps on a mob (boss?!) and heal whomever it is hurting (tank!). This makes tank healing very convenient, but in PvP it helps me cast support heals while doing focused dps.
- Fallback to default, which helps for error messages etc.

Example macro:
/cast [mod:shift, @player][@target,help][@targettarget,help][] Shadow Mend

For my offensive spells:
- If the target is hostile, cast the spell. DPS as usual.
- Otherwise, if the target's target is hostile, cast a spell on that. This allows me to focus my healing on whomever needs it and weave in dps spells. IE: a party member took damage, I'm throwing in a Shadow Mend and chaining a Shadow Word Pain on the boss.

Example macro:
/cast [@target, harm][@targettarget, harm] Shadow Word: Pain

For Plea I use a mouseover macro. It's the only spell I use it for since it's the only spell I literally just cast anywhere and a missclick is alright. All other spells are too important or are part of a spell cycle so I don't mind the click.
Example macro:
/cast [mod:shift, @player][@mouseover,help][@target,help][@targettarget,help][] Plea

The numbers of Atonement

Atonement does heal for a bit.. But it's more like a widespread HOT than an effective heal. If it scores high on the meters, it's bloat. Without stat boost, Atonement heals for 41% of the damage done. I think my mastery gear brought that to 51% (or was it 61%?) Anyhow.

Let's assume we boost it to 50% and compare it to PW:S throughput.
- Penance does 525% of dps or 262.5% as heal over 2s. You need 1 Atonment to almost match Plea and 3 for PW:S.
- 4 tick Penance does 700% of dps or 350% as healing over 2s. That's 1 Atonement to beat Plea and
- SW:Pain does 360% of dps or 180% over 14s. You need 12 Atonements to beat Plea and 29 Atonements to beat PW:S.
- Smite does 225% of SP as DPS, or 112.5% as heal. You need 2 Atonements to match Plea (lol) or 5 for PW:S.
- Smite, avoids an additional 225% damage. Factoring that in, means 2 Atonements will make it rival PW:S.

Let's say you need 5 targets just to get a reasonable throughput, then you need to spend about 50% of your time casting atonement spells. Of course, those are direct healing spells but only Plea is mana efficient and without cooldown. And it sucks. The other 50% can then be spent doing dps with somewhat decent healing numbers except they are widespread.
Haste can help reduce this percentage spent on healing, which is probably why it's so strongly promoted.
Smite is one of our most effective spells, but it won't show half of its potency on any meter unless its absorption is logged somewhere.

Some specific tricks

Emergency, targetted healing
- Power Word: Shield -> Penance (if you specced it) -> Shadow Mend

Use in that sequence on a single target, or up to 3 different targets. Note that penance doesn't apply Atonement so it wouldn't hurt to follow it up with another heal on that target to get the Atonement ticks in.

Multiple HOTs through Atonement
Works well in battlegrounds and trash packs:
- Spam Shadow Word: Pain around
- Cast Shadow Mend or Plea around
You're mobile, and it makes a difference.

It bloats your numbers but it doesn't necessarily save people. It adds pressure and removes some, that is all.

Power Word:Shield and Pain Suppression
This golden combo has always worked well and still does BUT the weakness of the shield forces you to make a choice on which one the cast first. Casting Pain Suppression first is usually better, but it means your target needs to survive another GCD.

There is no threat reduction from Pain Suppression so it's a good tanking spell now. This might be interesting for some special encounters.

Don't follow up a Shadow Mend with Shield
Following up a Shadow Mend with shield is likely to give that Shield a tick of the Shadow Mend. That's not terribly bad, but it's sub optimal.
Penance is a better answer in PvP and in PvE it shouldn't be such a worry. If there is repeated damage on the target, that damage will clear the DOT from the mending quickly enough.

Reaction to widespread damage

When there's widespread damage, it looks like our initial reactionary healing will be whack a mole with Shadow Mend until everybody is out of the danger zone. Then fall back to tank healing and let the atonement you just spread heal them back up.
This may not be the biggest boost of confidence for the dps who may be used to seeing full healthbars though.

It's why I'm so intrigued by that AoE spell.. It might prove our best reaction spell.

Smite spam duel

In a duel, smite will absorp 225% of damage by the enemy, heal you for 112.5% and deal 225% damage (% relative to spellpower). That's pretty effective. You could probably solo a few classes just by spamming that spell.
Weave in Shadow Mend for additional healing, and Penance for additional dps.

Some general criticism

We don't have enough "solutions" to problematic situations which healers are usually tasked to solve. Widespread AoE damage is a problem. We have only 1 solution to low healthbars, whether it's a single target or many: spam Shadow Mend.
Of course, if the situation isn't so life threatening, then the Disc priest shines. But who really cares about that?

The general tone in many articles and guides is that atonement needs to be spread in advance. I call it bullshit:
1. The upkeep on 10 partymembers costs 90% to 100% of your time. So you'll have to make choices. How?
2. Even WITH atonement the healing is too weak to solve a problematic situation. If you first heal your tank twice, then that's roughly 3-5 seconds nobody else is getting Atonement heals. If you weave in dps spells 50% of the time beyond that, then that's only 50% benefit so it can't solve shit.
3. What are you going to spread Atonement with? Plea? Casting weak spells 30% of the time to make other spells reach the mark is a 30% performance penalty on those spells.

It feels like they put in a lot of tools but the combination falls just short of the mark. You're forced to put in a LOT of effort for mediocre results. The bonus is DPS... But the cost is hefty: no solid reaction to bad situations, hardly any raid cooldowns, and throughput that relies on bloat rather than focus. You quickly feel at a dead end whenever shit hits the fan.

Granted, the mechanics at level 110 and the talents available might "fix" the spec. To me, it feels like the spec is incomplete, like it's missing the edge and tools required to push it to the level of a healer that does dps.

My prediction is, though, that Blizzard will budge and give in. Either that or they'll be losing subs over it. Yes, it's that bad.. The pro's simply go for top performances and solid solutions, not "situational conveniences". The learning curve is too steep for casuals. So what class of player will pick up the spec?

For PvP it looks like a goner for now. Holy can't pick up the pieces which means the most iconic healing class has just been shut out of healing in PvP. I doubt that will set well with a portion of the subscribers.
Maybe level 110 will fix everything but the outlook is bleak. This supposedly exciting new design will probably be a disillusion for many players. Legion is off to a bad start.
I'm not done testing yet, but I'm already looking at another class ... I might just switch to Warrior.


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Re: Disc Priest in pre-expansion
« Reply #1 on: July 24, 2016, 10:43:24 AM »
They changed the relative gear level to whcih everything is scaled in BGs. The night after this post. This changed the performance dramatically. Although we still struggle to keep up with the healing of other classes, this can probably be attributed to the other classes healing much more now. The Disc priest is quite capable of surviving, and the absorb from smite can effectively shut down a dps's ... Dps.

This reveals the delicate nature of balance for the Disc priest. Its reliance on complex mechanics may make it quickly too weak or too powerful.
We are capable of saving lives now, shields work again and so does our dps. As a result, we now bring more effective tools to the fight than many other classes.

I'd say we're solid in pvp now... The contrast with just a few days ago almost makes me feel overpowered. Only the numbers claim differently, but I feel like we have a bigger effect than the numbers may tell.

For PvE there are still some issues, but I've been testing some different specs and this has shown a few improvements. They don't fix our two core issues: no reliable AoE saver and no solid, large, single target heal.
I'll try to go over some tricks during the week.