Penance Priest

Discipline Priest Blog

I first met Matron on the Plusheal forums. I believe it was in a heated debate about the viability of Greater Heal for tank-healing discipline priests. I was only a provocateur, but he was debating with gusto against some staunchly anti-GH forces, and doing it calmly, articulately, and convincingly. I was impressed, and continued to pay attention to his posts on that site. After I posted my article on stats for tank healers, he PM’d me, asking if he could quote my blog in his rebuttal, to be posted in an undisclosed location, perhaps public and perhaps not. This made me both eager for dialogue and nervous as hell.  When he failed to make good, I took it upon myself to write the article I suspected he wanted to write himself, on intellect for disc priests.

So, the inaugural entry in this Q&A series belongs to Matron. He’s not only a world-class discipline priest, but he is the guild leader of Ladies of Destiny, an endgame progression guild on Scarlet Crusade. He is also one of the authors of the new LoDBlog, which offers an endgame perspective on current raid and class mechanics.


PP: How long have you been raiding?

Matron: I’ve been raiding with LoD since summer 2005. We started in ZG, which served as a great introductory raid. I’ve raided seriously as almost every spec imaginable, even holy dps in Vanilla WoW.

PP: What level of content are you at now? Do you normally raid at the edge of progression? How many hours per week do you raid?

Matron: We’ve cleared ToGC 25 man, so we’re focusing on clearing with 50 attempts left and waiting on ICC. LoD didn’t start as a progression, or even raiding, guild but over the course of time we’ve built ourselves into an endgame progression guild. We’re not competing for World Firsts or anything like that, but we’re consistently raiding the most difficult content that the game has to offer. We’re scheduled for 4 nights of raiding, 16 hours total, but with the new limits on attempts being introduced and the general lack of new content it becomes a challenge to fill those hours. One thing we've started to do is to run two regular ToC 25 runs each week, splitting mains between the two runs, for more chances at weapon/trinkets so that everyone can be in BiS for ICC.

PP: Do you lead raids? How does that affect your healing during a raid?

Matron: Yes I’m the raid and guild leader of LoD, leading our 25 man raids. I’d like to say that leading doesn’t hurt my personal healing, but it certainly does. Any time you have to concentrate on anything but your main role in an encounter it’s going to hurt your performance. Directing the action and pushing your personal performance will always be in conflict.

On the other hand leading a raid does force you to pay attention to everything, meaning that you know when and where everyone will be at all times. This greatly helps anticipatory healing, which is the major strength of the disc spec. Because I’m the person that tells people to go into the Yogg brain room I know exactly which ten people to make sure have PWS on them at those times. This raid awareness extends to runs that I’m not leading, such as some of our 10 man endeavors or even PuGs. In those runs, without having to lead, I’m able to really push my performance, in part because of my experience leading other raids.

It’s a mixed bag really.

PP: Name some of your favorite fights to heal. They don’t have to be from current content.

Matron: Chromaggus – The 2nd to last boss in BWL. I found healing in Vanilla WoW a lot more interesting because of down ranking. All of your spells were similar in effect, single target heals, but varied in mana cost and amount healed. I had 7 single target heals on my bar (2 ranks of Flash Heals, 2 Heals, 3 Greater Heals). Chromaggus was a looong encounter, on the verge of 10 minutes, and he had so many abilities that you couldn’t settle into simply spamming one size heal. There were enrages, frenzies, and breathes that forced you to ramp up your healing at various times. However you had to find a balance where you would be able to keep the tank alive, but also maintain mana over a long encounter. I really enjoyed a straight stand still fight where mana management, heal selection, heal canceling and oo5sr regen were the important components. Now most fights are one flavor or another of “don’t stand in fire” and all the heals are “one rank fits all.”

PP: Your favorite raid?

Matron: My favorite instance of all time was ZG. Back in the early days of WoW, guilds weren’t as organized with recruiting or set schedules. We’d just have people online each night and everyone was really excited to work together on this new instance. Because it was everyone’s first raid we all learned the game and our classes together. ZG had some interesting boss mechanics and an awesome jungle/troll atmosphere. I remember every first kill in ZG feeling like a holiday. I wonder if people have the same “first raid” feeling, now with Naxx or Ulduar completely changing the way they look at the game. ZG and the people I met when I first starting raiding, are probably most responsible for my love of WoW.

PP: Your meta gem. Have you tried others?

Matron: I’m currently using ESD, but, I actually think IED is a lot stronger choice for a meta gem. At the time I socketed +25 SP / +2% intellect I was using dual intellect trinkets and really wanted to see how high I could push my mana. When I upgrade to my next helm (the 258 T9) I’ll go back to 21 int and mana regen.

PP: Do you change glyphs for certain fights? Do you change gear?

Matron: I haven’t changed glyphs in a long while. Disc choices are very limited. I change gear more for HP reasons than any other. For heroic Twins + Faction Champions I sometimes equip some extra stamina gear to give myself wiggle room; when attempting to clear with 50 attempts left in ToGC any death is a bad death.

Swapping gear when speccing holy or disc works sometimes, but only if you have two pieces which are equal ilvl and very specific for each spec. In ToC there really isn’t a huge selection of gear, so often times your ToC gear is BiS for both specs. There are only a few slots where you can drop spirit to pick up a second throughput (crit/haste) or disc friendly stat, gloves off Anub > T9 gloves for example.

PP: Renew? Greater Heal?

Matron: Renew when I’m tank healing, though it’s hardly a priority.

Greater Heal, hell yes! People like to think that flash heal has destroyed GH’s viability. Nothing is further from the truth. GH, when specced for it (which I am), is more HPS and better HPM than FH. I think it’s a HUGE mistake for priests to ignore the GH talents if you’re attempting hard modes. Algalon, Anub, Thorim, Council, and I can only assume a few ICC encounters have very hard hitting tank damage. People like to say that FH is just so much faster and easier to use, but GH gets hasted down with borrowed time to a very reasonable cast time, sub 1.8s. A lot of spells make you choose between HPS and HPM, GH beats FH in both. I could do paragraphs on greater heal…

PP: Do you heal as holy, or full-time discipline?

Matron: I used to swap back and forth per encounter, back before I realized that disc was such a valuable raid healing/absorption spec. Now I’d only switch if another disc priest was in the raid and we were bumping WS debuffs too much.

Discipline is such a strong raid healing spec, every raid’s first priest should be disc.

PP: How do you evaluate a new discipline priest?

Matron: Healers are always tough to judge, because your output is dependent on your raid group. A DPSer will do the same dps in one raid as another, but a healer in a bad group is going to look a lot better than a healer in a good group. Until you’re healing against the people you’re trying out with, meters and logs don’t mean much (though you should be topping your guild's meters before you apply elsewhere).

Disc is especially difficult to evaluate, because the effectiveness of each disc priest is reduced when another disc priest is added to the raid. So having two disc priests joust for PWS applications doesn’t really show you the maximum output of either one. Basically, if I were recruiting a disc priest, I’d let them be the only disc priest and I’d check to see that they were beating the other healers in HPS (counting shields). I know that no meter shows shields exactly, but you can get a good idea from them. A disc priest SHOULD be competitive in combined HPS with other healers.

PP: Do you do all of your own theorycrafting? If so, where (if anywhere) do you share it? And where else do you look for good information or suggestions?

Matron: I suppose you could say I do most of my own theorycrafting, most of it is simple math that any high school student could do. Obviously I’m often helped when people share experiences or new findings. But a lot of experiments you can do on your own. EJ is the most valuable resource, and has been for some time, but that’s not really easy reading for most people. Since the summer I’ve been trying to right some misconceptions on the plusheal forums, having long arguments about the value of meters, HPS, and GH. Most of my recent theorycraft comes from those discussions.

PP: Overall, what is your experience of the discipline priest community?

Matron: Well, I think that you have all types within the community. I’ll say that I have been surprised by a few things, most notably how many people have limited experience or success with raiding yet still preach their methods as gospel. To me, that’s a dangerous situation. Someone asking a question might not know which person to listen to and if the “bad ideas” get repeated often enough people start to believe them.

Phrases such as “GH is too slow,” “The extra healing from GH compared to FH isn’t needed,” “Disc priests are for single target healing,” “If you never go oom then it’s time to stack SP” are all easy for starting players to latch on to and accept as “truths.” But they hurt their development as players and probably doom them to a certain level of raiding for the rest of their careers.

This isn’t the new player’s fault, it’s difficult to navigate the jungle of advice and pick out the pearls of wisdom.

Sometimes those pearls are a little too complex for a newer player and they need an easier to digest message, with accurate information. Even though a lot of the bloggers/posters in the community might not have the experience, I think many do a good job of finding that good advice and presenting it in a “noob-friendly” manner.

I’d think the ultimate goal would be a platform where smart, accurate information was presented in a way everyone could understand. I’m not sure we’re quite there yet, but I see people working towards that. That’s one of the main reasons we’ve launched LoDBlog.

My ultimate pet-peeve is the person that uses the excuse, “Well my way works fine for the content I’m doing.” That may be true, but I think the majority of people searching for this information want to be the best they can be and not just “good enough.” This person effectively wants to put an end to the discussion for no other reason than sheer laziness.

PP: And from left field…You’re stranded on a desert island with an undead rogue you’ve never met. Fight to the death, or partner up despite the communication barrier?

Matron: They’re a rogue! Screw the communication barrier, if you think that’d be my biggest problem with him then you’ve never pvped as a priest! I’d kill a human rogue too! Well… unless there was a desert island 2v2 bracket, then maybe we’d talk.

PP: Thank you very much for taking the time!

Here's a quickie tour of the place. Please don't cross the velvet ropes; there are stealthed rogues afoot. Private tours can be arranged for a price, including afternoon coffee with the blogger.

Stats & gear selection

The ABC of Discipline Priesting
Stats for tank healers / Stats for raid healers
Gear list for 3.3 / Thoughts on Tier 10 (outdated!)
Gear list for 3.2 / Notes on the gear list
Stat balancing in the real world (old)

User interface

Power infusion macro
Information dashboard Part 1 (buffs & debuffs) / Part 2 (cooldowns)
Healing Kel'Thuzad (setting up raid frames for custom debuffs)
Stealth inspection

Philosophy & game mechanics

Wow-heroes & gear scores / Part 2
Right & wrong ways to play

I love this game

8-man Naxx
Happy birthday to Penance
I love teamwork & progression

About me

Healing web ring questionnaire

An interesting array of cultural factors aligned in the 1990s. As baby boomers were entering their 50s, they were experiencing mid-life crises in large numbers and with large bank accounts. Boomers were ready and willing to part with a lot of money to alleviate the nagging ache that invades the spirit as one grows older. The ache that says, “I haven’t lived up to the expectations I set for myself when I was younger…there’s so much more to do!”

Additionally, the 90s saw the advent of eco-tourism and adventure tourism. With the number of untouched wild areas dwindling, the Australian Outback and South American rainforests were becoming more and more popular. For many people, vacationing in Paris or Tuscany started to hold little pull compared to the more raw emotional experience of the wild.

One type of adventure tour that emerged in the 90s was the Everest climb. The way to the top had been well mapped…not only the actual routes up the mountain, but the process of acclimation to the thin air and biting cold. It remained a dangerous and sometimes deadly climb, but the perils were more predictable and preventable than ever before.

Tour guides – people who were themselves highly trained, very experienced climbers – began offering the thrill of a lifetime. For around $60k (plus travel and equipment, of course), you could essentially be carried to the Top of the World. Everest was no longer the exclusive domain of the most trained, elite, risk-seeking mountaineers.

The process has a built-in ready-check. Most humans are not built to deal with the trivial amount of oxygen in the high mountains, nor with the trivial amount of heat in the air. So climbers spend weeks at Base Camp, which is actually at 17000 feet above sea level, doing little but letting their bodies adjust to the extreme conditions and taking occasional forays to higher altitudes. (The summit is over 29000 feet.) Not everyone is suited to this process, let alone to the final, intense hike to the top. Those who are physically able to endure the conditions do so with the assistance of the very best gear, large support crews, and a generous dose of supplementary oxygen.

Early explorers, of course, traveled under a very different set of circumstances. Sir Edmund Hillary wore winter clothes that look to our modern eyes as scarily insufficient. He had guts though, and he failed multiple times before he finally succeeded in his historic ascent.

In 1996, everything went wrong. Two tour guides and six of their customers died on the mountain. A combination of bad luck, bad judgment, and raw arrogance brought the experiment in paid summiting to a devastating halt. No amount of money or gear was enough to secure the safety of those involved. The two tour guides died trying to save their customers’ lives. The inexperience and arrogance of their paying customers was just too much weight for them to carry.

I find myself fascinated by this type of arrogance and its results. We all have it, we all act on it, we all create some form of repercussions because of our own hubris. This was obviously an extreme example, with deadly results. But what about in our little corner of the world, where the price paid for shortcutting is virtual?

We all know that in this patch especially, gear is free for the taking, no raiding required. Which means no learning required. You can be geared in 245 without ever having made a mistake severe enough to wipe a raid. Messing up that badly is a very real learning experience. Wiping in a heroic is not. It’s why the Everest tour guides were tour guides: they learned through hard work and mistakes, in real and challenging situations, not just on indoor rock-climbing equipment.

I’m very much in favor of the gearing shortcuts that have been implemented in 3.2. The thing is, farming (or buying) cheap epics is not a substitute for learning. You can be a well-geared failure but still be proud of your accomplishments (i.e., purples), never realizing that you earned nothing.

I’m as guilty of this as anyone. On my DK, I have something like 100 heroic instances completed, and only 15 boss kills in Naxx and Ulduar combined. On those fifteen kills, I wiped the raid at least five times, and no one knew it was me. I was brought in as the overgeared tank – with the assumption that I was a low-risk asset to the raid – and proceeded to silently prove to myself just how empty the purchased epics were. I learned first-hand how utterly irrelevant good gear is compared to the skills and awareness that come only from experience. Some of that experience transferred over from my priest, but much of it had to be re-learned as a tank the hard way.

So…you’ll get a snapshot from the Top of the World if you get airlifted in or get there on your own guts, determination, and suffering. While that snapshot might look the same to others, to you, there’s no comparison. The learning process, while more time-consuming, brings deeper and more lasting satisfaction to the reward you get at the Top than any shortcut method could. I won’t insist that the journey is more important than reaching the destination, because it’s not that simple. Just don’t underestimate how rewarding the journey can be, both because of and despite the difficulty of truly doing it yourself.

Oh, and if you haven’t read Jon Krakauer’s book about the tragedy on Everest, called Into Thin Air, I strongly recommend that you do. The story is heartbreaking, and the storyteller is a master.

My producer just informed me that we have a guest in the studio for today’s blog. I’ll be interviewing someone who would like to discuss my post on stats for discipline priests. To be frank, I’m a bit surprised it’s taken this long to find someone to rebut that post, since I fully expected that it would generate more heat than it did.

Would you like to introduce yourself to my readers?

Paolo: Hello, my name is Paolo, and I’m a discipline priest. I want to say that I’m a big fan of your blog. Your post on stats agitated me a bit, so I wanted to offer an alternate take. Other than that though, kudos on some great work.

Penance Priest: Um, did you say Paolo?

Paolo: Yes, why?

PP: Oh, nothing. Please, tell us a bit more about yourself and your thoughts on stats for disc priests.

Paolo: Well – and I’ll cut right to the chase here – your stance on intellect is just wrong. You don’t know what you’re talking about when you say that intellect is bad.

PP: I never said that.

Paolo: Indeed you did. Not only did you say, and I quote, “Intellect is usually bad,” but the consistent message in your post was that it is a second-class citizen, or “special-purpose” stat, as you called it.

PP: It usually is the wrong stat for people to take. As I described, many discipline priests are using intellect for the wrong reasons, or just blindly, for no good reason at all. However, I did indicate that there are good reasons to stack intellect. I just didn’t cover them in depth. I made it clear that I’m primarily a tank healer, and as such, I usually have more mana than I know what to do with; ergo, intellect gets the short end of the stick when it comes to gems.

Paolo: Tell me: on a fight like twins, what’s your role?

PP: Well that’s an interesting example, simply because it’s basically a raid-damage fight. But I’ll play along. A tank healer like me would be stupid to relegate himself to tank duties only. So I usually float on that fight, doing raid healing more than anything.

Paolo: I’ll admit, I chose it as an example of a fight that forces you to bubble-spam. There’s really very little use for Penance, is there? It’s PoM and bubbles for the most part, not much else. So yes, I’m forcing you to discuss your role as a raid healer.

PP: There isn’t a single shield that doesn’t get 100% used up on twins. Same with PoM, all charges consumed, guaranteed. The constant ticking of the AoE effect will certainly make quick work of the shields.

Paolo: So what’s your HPS on that fight?

PP: I really don’t know.

Paolo: I knew you would say that, given how much you hate meters. But let’s do some simple math, and for now, we’ll ignore the passive HPS included with Renewed Hope. I’d ask you how much your shield will absorb, but I’m guessing you don’t know that either. So let’s just say your shield absorbs about 8000 and your PoM will hit for about 4000 each bounce. With Borrowed Time up (and it will be up almost 100% of the time), your GCD will be down to 1 second. So you’re probably shield-spamming about that often, maybe a bit less. And PoM is getting you 5 hits every 10-second cooldown. Maybe you slack a bit with PoM, and only cast it every 15 seconds. Let’s give you 10 shields and 5 PoM hits every 15 seconds, for a net theoretical HPS of about 6600.

PP: Wow.

Paolo: I chose this somewhat extreme example to make a point. And my numbers may be off a bit for sure. But the point is that a shield-spamming disc priest is potentially an HPS machine, and not only on this fight. The only problem is –

PP: Mana.

Paolo: That’s right. Shield-spamming is a mana drain. If you did nothing but chain-cast shields, you’d last about a minute and a half. Which means –

PP: Intellect.

Paolo: You really are as smart as they say. In order to make shield spamming possible, you need to increase the size of your mana pool and boost your regen. Of course, if you regem for intellect, each shield will be smaller since you’re not stacking spell power. But if you’re OOM, you’re shields get smaller still…like, zero. Should we go over the math of how much smaller your shields will be without your spell power gems?

PP: Well let’s see. I’m currently at 2600 spell power unbuffed, of which 275 or so is from gems. So I’d lose 10% of the shield strength relative to what I can do now.

Paolo: Yes, even less, because your spell power will be well over the 3000 mark with consumables and raid buffs. And we could take it one step further. You could revisit your old friend Tier 8. We all have a love/hate relationship with that set bonus, but I’m sure we can agree that it is perfect for shield spam. What I’ve done is regemmed my Tier 8 gear with intellect, and kept my new Tier 9 gear gemmed as it is for tank healing. There’s a lot less haste and crit than there is on my new stuff, but between all the int gems and the full-time 250 spell power bonus, you have a gearset designed for the job.

PP: Interesting idea. When T9 was released, there was a massive amount of discussion as to when disc priests would abandon their T8 gear, because the four-piece bonus is so compelling. You’re saying T8 might be viable even now?

Paolo: Perhaps…I’m using the T8 gear largely because I followed your gearup model during 3.2, which was of course aimed at tank healers. So my main set now is full of crit and haste, both of which are mostly useless for shield spam. If I had been planning for a shield-spam kit from the beginning, my gear choices certainly would have been different.

PP: Alright then, tell us more about the gearing choices you’re making, other than the Tier 8 set. Which, if I understand you correctly, you’re using for two reasons: the delicious set bonus, and the fact that you now have a second set of gear that you can re-gem with intellect. You also seem to say that the Tier 8 gear is not necessarily optimal, just the best you currently have for the job.

Paolo: That’s correct. I’m also using Spark of Hope, which is one of the best mana-conservation trinkets there is, and of course Solace. For shield spam, I’ll also equip Rapture, since I’ll get more benefit from the spirit on that staff than I will from the haste on Enlightenment. Remember, shield-spammers are very much subject to the 5% haste cap, which you discussed in your original post. So it’s important for me to be shedding haste for this gear set.

PP: What’s your mana pool like? Your regen?

Paolo: It’s enough to last through a spam fight like Twins without even a trace of worry. It almost feels like the infinite-mana heyday before they toned down the mana returns from Rapture. I’m now sitting at what is still a fairly modest 25k mana (unbuffed) and 650/350 regen. Spell power is at 2350 unbuffed, but remember that I get a near-constant 250 spell power boost, which brings me up to the same amount that you’re getting from your newer gear. If I remember correctly, your mana is more like 23k unbuffed, and 350/200 regen or thereabouts.

PP: How the hell do you know about my regen?

Paolo: You’d be surprised what I know about you. Would you like to talk about the rotten tanking job you did on Ignis last night?

PP: No I wouldn’t. I do have one last question though. What about the Tier 9 two-piece bonus? Wouldn’t that be as good or better for a raid-healing disc priest than the Tier 8 four-piece?

Paolo: Oh, absolutely. First off, I don’t have the two-piece bonus yet (as you well know). But more importantly, all the other pieces in my main gearset have been selected according to your tank-healing guidelines: slathered in haste and crit, which is just wrong for raid healing. So there’s nothing bad about T9 and other newer gear for a discipline raid fact, it’s really great. I’m only using T8 for the regemming option, as we discussed, and to enable me to have different gear available for tank healing and raid healing.

PP: You’ve said several times that haste and crit are bad for a raid-healing disc priest. Can you elaborate?

Paolo: Sure. When you’re spamming shields, you are constantly benefitting from the haste effect of Borrowed Time. As you discussed in your original post, it takes only 5% haste, or around 150 haste rating, to reach the haste cap. When you hit the cap, your GCD is limited to 1 second. So for a raid healer, any haste over 5% is literally a waste. And crit does not affect the strength of your shields. The glyph can now crit, but the glyph is still only 20% of the size of your shield to begin with, so it makes crit a very low-priority stat for boosting your throughput. PoM ticks can still crit though, but overall, the throughput of a raid-healing disc priest is most directly tied to spell power. By a longshot.

PP: Well thank you very much for joining me today!

Paolo: I’m always with you man.