Penance Priest

Discipline Priest Blog

There is a little-known secret among disc priests.

We all know the two basic principles of the discipline spec. First, that our greatest value is our ability to mitigate, whether it be from our shields, our crit-bubbles, or our passive quasi-aura. Second, our direct heals are pathetically small. This is why bad raid leaders everywhere continue to fire disc priests from their raids when we register near the ret pallies and shadow priests on any healing meter that doesn’t count absorbs.

But I’m not here to tell you that there’s a secret way to combat this. Bad raid leaders are bad. Apparently they missed the patch notes from 3.0.2, which came out, like, a YEAR AND A HALF AGO. Sheesh.

No, I’m here to teach you a secret way to maximize your output. Yes, I know you’re already doing great, and I know that when you factor in absorbs (hooray World of Logs!) that you end up at or near the top of the meter.  I’m here to challenge you to pump out more healing (and shielding) that you thought you could in a given fight.


Always. Be. Casting. This is the ABC of discipline priesting. And it seems to be a well-guarded secret!

This is a mindset you learn as a damage-dealing class. Any time you’re not casting, you’re leaving dps on the table, so to speak. Shadow priests learn to spam Devouring Plague and Shadow Word: Death when they’re running so they don’t waste precious seconds getting from orange to green. But healing classes have been trained the opposite way. We might shield pre-emptively, but we also stand idly when there doesn’t appear to be anything more to do.

Think about it. Every global you don’t cast a spell is a potential loss of 10 to 30 thousand points of healing/mitigation, maybe more. How many globals do you spend moving without casting?  Or waiting, just regenerating mana, subconsciously living in the BC-era world of dodging the five-second rule? If you idle for just six globals a minute, you’re looking at a 10% reduction in your output. You might as well be healing in your Ulduar gear. Or be healing through a minor Mortal Strike debuff.

“But wait,” you say, “I only pause when there’s nothing to heal!” Well, dear friends, disc priests are the best in the business at healing people who are already at full health. We spam bubbles. Bubbles are instant. They’re our most valuable function in a raid, our most powerful spell.  

And after all the bubbles have been spammed—and I do mean all—we spam direct heals.  Because with our high crit rates, even direct heals turn into more shields. And when you’re on the move, if Weakened Soul is on every raid member…what then?  Of course PoM is on CD (isn’t it?), so you suck it up and toss out your only remaining instant, our weakest heal: Renew. Renew is terribad for disc, just awful. But it’s better than doing nothing.

Have I managed to rile you up yet?

Ok, fine, I’ll back off Renew. But that’s as far as I’ll go.

I have to confess, this post was 100% inspired by something Matron wrote over on PlusHeal a couple of weeks ago. For reference, he’s the GM of an 11/12 hard-mode guild, so scoff at your own risk. It was part of a discussion on how disc priests should gem. Remember that he is speaking about a 25-man progression context, in which disc is a raid healer shielder, not healing the tanks. Tank healing in 25s is best left to our bacon-loving friends, at least until Cata. Ok, here we go:

The #1 way to increase throughput is to cast more spells, not gem SP.

The popular advice to “gem INT if you have mana problems” and “gem SP if you don’t have mana problems” is the worst advice given on these boards. If someone is casting fewer spells than they should of course they’re not going to have mana problems, and what individuals take away from the discussion is a feeling that because they don’t have mana problems they should gem throughput. That’s absolutely incorrect.

You can go OOM on most every encounter in ICC, even with the best gear and using all your mana cooldowns, by simply spamming PWS, which will provide the most HPS for your raid as disc.

The challenge of any role is to cast more of your best spells/abilities. To do this you must support yourself with int/regen.

Rather than saying “if you don’t have mana problems gem SP,” instead we should be advising people that “if you don’t have mana problems you need to cast more spells until you do have mana problems”... pushing people towards a state of OOMness will increase their throughput much faster than advising them to socket an extra 100-150 SP.

The INT that people socket won’t even make much of a difference in terms of regen; again gems are only going to provide 150-200 stat points. However, advising people to socket SP if they don’t have mana problems tells people that their current level of casting is acceptable/optimal, when in reality 99% of priests aren’t casting using every gcd.

He clarified a few posts later:

Again, gemming INT or SP won’t make that much of a difference either way. We’re talking at most a 5-10% difference in mana pool or shield size. What makes the most difference is how many spells people cast, which I believe is a playstyle/practice better supported by focusing on regen/INT...

My feeling is that it is easy enough to go OOM by simple pro-active shield spammage, disc’s bread & butter; you don’t have to get fancy to go OOM…

Basically there are a ton of reasons/encounters for constant PWS spam. If you’re not taking these opportunities and you’re losing out on the meters, but you “don’t have mana problems”, gemming for SP is not going to close the gap with other healers. You’re playing incorrectly, not gemming incorrectly. In reality gems matter very little for us.

I am as guilty as the next guy for giving gemming advice like that. However, my own gearing strategy has its bedrock on hybrid trinkets and an overpowered regen meta (sorry Dawn!). But as Matron said, the issue he’s poking at here is not so much gem choice as playstyle choice.

Try it out next time you raid. Challenge yourself to waste fewer globals. Fight the urge to wait for anything. When there’s no one to shield, Flash your neighbors to put up more Divine Aegis. Use Penance every cooldown, assuming you can risk not having it available for emergencies for a few seconds.

Treat yourself like a dps class who has to do everything he can to squeeze out another drop of damage. You might just discover a whole new level of play.

Fair mage.

Delicate, like a flower.

Perhaps you are a gnome.

Even better.

Oh my, is it CC time again?

Would you mind —

That Vrykul could hurt us so.

Such big weapons! So fast! And so many of them!

Is turning one into a sheep too much to ask?

You, good mage, are the hero

Of this small but important moment.

Chaos! Vrykul abound, uncontrolled!

Only one wanders in circles

On four legs.

Smoke! Fire! Blizzards! Whirlwinding warriors!

Who could keep track in the madness?

/cast Holy Nova

“Who broke my —”

So sorry, mage.

I do not know how the sheep broke.

Nor why it ran straight to you,

Executing swift judgment for your offense.

Surely the sheep breaker should have

Drawn its ire, and not you?

I mourn.

Good-bye, fair mage. Good-bye.

These are big ones, people. We’re not talking about minor tweaks, like adjusting the spell coefficient on Penance. We’re not even talking about big tweaks like the recent haste buff to shadow. These class changes are shaping up to be a sizable earthquake.

My metaphor is unfortunate. I don’t think the changes are all bad. They’re just BIG ones. Our go-to heals will be different. Our buffs will be different. Our inter-class mechanics will be different. Our mobility, dps rotation, mana management, ohshit buttons… did I miss anything?

There will be a lot to test, a lot to change before putting in a report card. In general though, I like the direction, I like the creativity, and I like the size of the change.

And with any shift of this magnitude, there are two major processes that are guaranteed to happen along the way. First, the class-specific abilities will need to be tweaked. How much will the new Heal spell heal for? What’s the cooldown and threat-adjustment mechanic on Leap of Faith? What is the relationship between the current PW:Shield, the new PW:Barrier, and the possible inclusion of a new, smaller shield, especially in relation to Weakened Soul? With the right tweaks, Blizzard will be able to give us a dynamic, fun, and powerful class.

The second process that will happen is the inter-class balancing act. If they are going to make every healing spec into a viable, multi-shaped “peg” to fit into each raid “hole,” there will be a long series of adjustments to coefficients, cooldowns, and talent boosts. The skill and artistry of the game-designing team shows itself here more than anywhere. The 10-dimensional math puzzle they’ve created isn’t solvable in a single, perfect solution; but it has some very creative possibilities that they don’t seem scared of tackling. I mean, look what they’re doing for mobility: they’ve released previews for two healing classes, and both of them have mobility boosters. Different, not equal, but still parallel upgrades. Nice job… to be continued, I’m sure.

But wait, there’s more! There’s a third bonus process: encounter design. It’s not as separate from class-design as you might think. Blizzard designs encounters around the capabilities that we have, at least to some extent. We will have interesting opportunities to Life Grip that go far beyond yoinking suicidal hunters out of the fire. We will have challenges to our mana pools that we haven’t experienced in years. We will have moments when the mobility boost of Inner Will becomes an obvious and exciting choice. We will see progression encounters which will test your spell selection, and you will only pass if you get a 90% score or better.

The earthquake will shake things up a LOT. Do not expect all the pieces to land perfectly where they should be. It will take time, and it will be frustrating.

But honestly, I’m very excited about the magnitude of the changes that Blizzard is implementing. It’s a huge project. As GC has said, a game designer needs to learn how to kill his “babies.” We players need to learn to let go of those babies, even ones we’ve grown quite fond of.

Bottom line? HELL YEAH. The changes are big but not a complete gutting of the class(es). It’s very hard to comment on specifics so soon; mechanics have barely been revealed, and are subject to more big adjustments. It will take some time to grok the new talents and see how they can be best used in practice. Folks will get very creative with new mechanics, as they always do. We’re in for quite a ride!

One of my most ecstatic moments in game was an hour-long AV back at level 59 in April 2008. I had twinked myself out, fine-tuned my spec (deep disc even back then!), and bought some great Outland greens. This match was particularly epic, featuring some great come-from-behind teamwork Ally-side. Yes, Ally teamwork…believe it.

I wrote this account right after the match. It really needs some editing, but I find that anything I try to do just ends up gutting the urgency and authenticity that was expressed in the moment. Enjoy!


Most battles in the Valley are won or lost before they even begin.

You enter the starting gate to prep for battle. You probably don’t know a thing about your fellow soldiers: Do they understand how the Valley works? Are they skilled at their job? And most importantly, do they know how to fight as a team?

But even more than all of that, you are at the mercy of the balance of power. The numbers, pure and simple.

This day we started out far behind. Our twenty to their thirty-five.

This battle was lost before it began.

When you start out at such a deficit, you’re hard-pressed to catch up. Sure, over the first 15 minutes or so you might get a trickle of new soldiers. But by then it’s usually too late.

We missed our initial push to kill the captain, so most of the team ended up back at the starting gate. By then, the enemy had killed our captain and had their full force on the road past Icewing Bunker. We were trapped, unable to move forward. At the bottom of the hill we fought for twenty long minutes, and through sheer force of will, or perhaps with divine intervention, we were able to push them back to Stonehearth Graveyard. And we took that graveyard with relish, and deep relief.

With our captain dead and one tower lost, our side was down hard. We had 200 reinforcements to their 400. In a situation like that, most teams will just lay down and surrender. Not today; our team had a desperate will to win.

Now with a forward graveyard, we were able to mount something resembling an offense. A few soldiers slipped past to Iceblood Garrison and mounted a small insurgence. Most of us were caught in a knot on the Field of Strife. And a large cohort ended up back at the defensive starting gate.

All three groups managed to hold ground. Defense protected Dun Buldar with more strength than the numbers would suggest. The forward group took Tower Point. The group on the Field of Strife made very slow progress forward, not past the field, but at least not being pushed back.

While all this is happening, attrition is wearing down reinforcements on both sides. We’re somehow losing ground more slowly than they are. By 45 minutes in, we’re down 100 to 200.

Tower point changed hands, and changed hands again. We recaptured it at minute 50, with reinforcements fading, 80 to 30. Capturing the tower is not enough: it needs four minutes to burn before it falls. Worth 75 reinforcements, it is the one and only key to victory in today’s battle.

It’s now two minutes later, with two minutes until the tower burns. Reinforcements at 70 to 22. If we can hold for two more minutes, the battle is ours. Most of our team turtles up at Winterax. The one and only goal is to protect the tower…and to stay alive. Only for two minutes more.

Soldiers shouting on comm for the timer…“how long to Tower Point!?” Thirty seconds to fall, with reinforcements now at 65 to 12.

At five seconds to fall, five seconds to victory, we lost the tower. Reinforcements are 60 to 8. Our last hope is gone.

Most of the team is still at Winterax. Shouts go like wild over comm…“Get to Galv!” We’re a short ride from their captain, still alive after surviving our initial attempt. No more than a dozen of us brave the ride across the Field of Strife to Iceblood Garrison. Never in my days in the Valley have I seen Galv go down so quickly, or with so few of us fighting. My own healing spells were shelved for this brief moment of desperation. For this moment, I am no Holy Priest. I am a soldier.

Well, at long last, it seems that the time has come to move on. I've grown pretty tired of one-button bubble-spam, as you probably know. After my QQ last month, I decided to take it slow, and not rush into any decision I might later regret. Now it's pretty clear where my future lies.

I'll be starting a new blog shortly called DispersionPriest. Stay tuned for the dark side.