Friday, July 1, 2011

Discipline Priest Raid Healing

So my guild was working on Beth'tilac tonight (I'll end the suspense: we won) and while I was healing, my thoughts began to wander as they are wont to do (what else would I be doing while healing a raid encounter? Paying attention? Not likely!).

I began to think to myself, "Self, is this what it's come to, a discipline priest healing the raid?"

You see, our healer make-up was a discipline priest (your selfless protagonist), a restoration druid and a holy paladin. I prefer tank healing. But I feel that our holy paladin is best utilized tank healing and we only needed one dedicated tank healer...the healer that went up-web to heal the tank and DPS that broached the mighty spider in her lair.

So that left me and the druid earthbound, keeping everyone else alive. Sure, we have a tank too, but it felt like both of us needed to be covering the raid. Which left me in the position of needing to heal a lot of people.

Now, philosophically, this isn't something that bothers me. I tend to draw tank healing assignments these days, but in a previous guild (during Wrath), our healing team adopted a "see damage, heal damage" attitude. Not generally recommended, but we had a pretty strong rapport and didn't tend to overheal certain targets while failing to cover others. It seemed to work, at that time and place. In any case, the upshot is we were all raid and tank healers, so I've been quite used to watching everyone's health and responding.

However, I felt like perhaps I wasn't equipped for it. I do have a holy spec, and I picked it up for these eventualities, but I've encountered an obstacle in actually putting it to use. Raid damage is so fast and furious that you have to be fairly instinctive and I'm not instinctive in holy. I've never played it enough, since I've always loved the discipline style. And it's hard, I find, to practice. I could run five-mans, but what I've found is that it's nigh impossible to heal current heroics in holy's sanctuary (AoE) chakra stance. The tank damage is far too intensive (especially since crowd control has flickered back out of style) for AoE healing to keep the tank alive. You pretty much have to be in the serenity (single target) chakra stance. At least, that's how it feels for me, the inexperienced holy priest. And using serenity stance doesn't learn me up for raid healing in holy. If I were going to single target heal, I wouldn't use holy. I'd use discipline. But the chakra stance I'd want to use in raids doesn't feel viable in five-mans. Impasse.

Which brings us back to tonight and my thoughts. How to adapt discipline's tools to healing lots of people? I found a balance that worked for me, which I thought I'd lay out for those rare discipline priests pressed into raid healing.

Prayer Of Healing Heals A Lot Of People

I know, right? It's true: prayer of healing heals many (defined as five) people. This is where you start, when multiple (defined as three or more) people have taken 10-20% of their health in damage. The caveat, of course, is that they must all be in the same party.

Two things to note about this:

  • Have the Glyph of Prayer of Healing ready for an encounter where you'll be raid healing. And the Dust of Disappearance to switch it in. An extra 20% of the healing done as a HoT, on each person (even if the heal was overheal), is a pretty solid boon to getting people back up quickly.
  • Prayer of Healing automatically procs Divine Aegis on every person it hits, critical strike or not (and, again, overheal or not). If you crit, the Divine Aegis bubble is even larger. If damage is hitting the raid fairly continuously, that's just extra, free effective healing.
If you're reasonably well-geared for the current tier of raiding (~359 ilevel) with a good, solid amount of spirit, Prayer of Healing really won't strain your mana very much. It's not mana neutral, your mana will deplete...but quite slowly. As long as the damage coming in is only mild to moderate, this is your go-to heal. Insightful, I know; "Use your main AoE heal when...AoE healing."

I have more, though! Wait til the end of this post before you feel disappointed. Then you may feel as disappointed as you like.

Remember Whack-A-Mole? It's back! In POG form

That adapted Simpsons quote would have been so much cleverer if "POG" were an acronym for a key priest spell. Instead, it's just a reference shoe-horned in for the sake of a section title.

Still, the old healer favourite game of whack-a-mole is pretty apropos here. If people are taking more than 20% of their health in damage, it's time to abandon AoE heals for a whole new paradigm. That paradigm is called: You Have Ten Tanks So Go To Work, Tank Healer.

You could also call it "This is how you heal low level dungeons with tanks who can't hold aggro."

You pick the lowest health person and cast Greater Heal. Then you pick the new lowest health person and cast Greater Heal. You intersperse Penance whenever it's off cooldown (especially if you have the four-piece t11 bonus, which gives you a large spirit infusion whenever you cast Penance). You just keep rotating Greater Heals and Penances on whomever is closest to dying. Again, it's surprisingly mana efficient. You can pump out a lot of healing to a lot of people without endangering your mana too much.

You can, of course, add in some Flash Heals. Unlike at the start of Cataclysm, the world will not end if you cast that spell. If someone, especially someone important, is right...on...the verge...of dying, then throw them a lifeline with Flash Heal. Just make sure you don't fall into the temptation of casting it over and over. That will run you out of mana in a couple of minutes and very few raid boss encounters are that short. But as I've said's better to use up all your mana and feel embarrassed about being out of mana than to wipe with mana left in the tank.

That Said...

Binding Heal is still your friend. Talk to it. Get to know it over a nice dinner. Keep it close to your heart, because it's the sweetest little heal in your arsenal when used properly.

It costs the same as Flash Heal...but it heals for almost twice as much. It's almost (but not quite) like casting a Flash Heal on yourself and another person...for the cost of a Flash Heal. And at the speed of casting one Flash Heal.

This is still going to run your mana down faster than Greater Heal or Penance, but its throughput cannot be matched. It's a Flash Heal that got an 80% output boost and 100% haste boost. That means it's essentially 3.6 times better the same cost as Flash Heal.

The downside, obviously, is that you cannot choose the entire target of the healing. Half the healing goes on a target of your choice, half goes on you. But you can choose when to use it. If you're hurt, this is a great spell to lean on. The throughput is off the charts and the cost isn't terrible for what you get. It's a key weapon in the arsenal for healing multiple people. You're a person. You need healing. Remember that.

For The Love Of God, Don't Use Holy Nova

It's A Trap!

But if you do, make sure you jump around while spamming it.

Wisdom Of The Ancients

Let me close with something my mother once told me, many years ago: Never, ever forget your big cooldowns. (Sure, it may seem like obvious advice now, but think of how ahead of its time it was in the 1980s.)

Pick the bleakest moment, the moment where everything seems to be about to fall apart (but hasn't yet) and use Divine Hymn. It's one get-of-jail-free card, so use it once every encounter.

Pick any moment where a good number of people are stacked up and most of those people are taking damage and put up a Power Word: Barrier. Then, do it again when it's off cooldown. Try to use it the first time as early as possible (in a situation that makes sense), so you can get it into the encounter as many times as possible (read: up to three times).

Don't hoard cooldowns just in case you need them later. Later never comes to a raid that wipes early. Use them any time things seem at all dicey. It is better by far to err on the side of profligate cooldown usage rather than on the side of miserly cooldown usage. You don't want to wipe with any arrows left in the quiver.

So to sum up:
  • Prayer of Healing, a priest's main AoE heal, should be used in AoE healing situations
  • Greater Heal and Penance are AoE healing tools if you're quick enough
  • Binding Heal heals two people which makes it an AoE heal
  • Holy Nova, which is an AoE heal is,
  • AoE cooldowns should be used. Even when tank healing
I think we've done some good work here.

Have a great night!


  1. As for POH, I make sure to rearrange the groups to my liking before the pull. With a 10, I generally put the tanks and the melee in one group, and most of the ranged in the other. This usually works. In fights where we have 2 group positions, I make sure to separate by position.

  2. Absolutely, good point. I forgot to address that one should be finicky about group set-up if you plan to use PoH a lot.

    On Valiona & Theralion I often stood in the melee group because we didn't have enough melee to split the meteor damage, so I made sure I was in the same group with the tank and melee allowing me to heal up the melee (whenever the tank, my assignment, was stable) with PoH whenever I could to take some pressure off other healers (who were moving more).