Spiritual Guidance: Playing what you want as a healing Priest
One of the most common questions asked when people make a new Priest is, “What spec should I be?” or “What is the best spec?” Well, I’m here to tell you there isn’t one.
Sure, you’ll see high-end players playing one particular spec. You’ll often hear about how the world-first guild took this one, or how PUGs only take that one. Most of the time, unless you’re in a very high-progressed guild, it’s not going to matter what you play. There’s no spec that will magically make things go perfect. There’s no “I win” button. Each spec has its uses, and each has strengths and weaknesses for every fight.
The “best” spec is the one that you know how to play well and enjoy.
A lot of the problems with specs or classes stem from community perceptions. People see high-end players doing one thing so they assume that’s the only way to do it, when in reality those players are trying every strat and playstyle possible to get in the tiniest edge on competition. When the mass of players flock to one spec over the other, the other spec is deemed “not viable.” This is more seen in the DPS classes, though our specific contribution in fights as a healer and our actual numbers are less quantifiable. You just can’t sim a healer.
Unfortunately, once a spec is perceived as “bad,” then it has a hard time making a comeback, regardless of its actual merits. Discipline and Holy have flopped back and forth over the years, though the degree to which one is preferred over the other has varied. In Wrath of the Lich King, they were relatively even after players realized that absorbs had value. Since then, Discipline has slowly edged to the top of the community’s preferences until it was overhauled in Legion.
Discipline has been through a lot of changes. In the recent years before Legion, it had been seen as the healing spec to raid in as a Priest. Absorbs were just too OP — and it didn’t help that Holy was a little lackluster in Warlords of Draenor, making Holy seem positively dreadful in comparison. As Discipline adherents grew, not helped at all by the low barrier of entry and the ease of spamming shields and topping healing charts, Holy acquired an unfortunate reputation.
In Legion, the tables were turned. Holy once again edged into the spotlight and Discipline slunk away. Because so many people were used to the ease of shielding and winning, the new Discipline playstyle seemed excessively difficult in comparison. It didn’t help that it was immediately obvious if a player were subpar at the spec. Without the benefit of absorbs, Discipline has to rely on proactive healing more than ever before, and needs to know damage patterns in order to predict when players will need to be healed.
Though the spec has changed, there are aspects of it that make it very rewarding if you can master it. Discipline absolutely shines if you know the fights and damage patterns, predicting where the damage will go next and having your Atonement already on the players when it does go out. For a skilled Discipline Priest, there is no such thing as unpredictable damage. You always know what’s going to happen because you understand how exactly the fight works.
Discipline can definitely be hard to master, but it’s characterized by periods of intense burst healing. A round of Atonements on the raid plus a Light’s Wrath or Penance or Shadowfiend can be as potent as another healer’s cooldown. Barrier cuts down the damage on the group and Pain Suppression is very useful for mitigating too much damage on a tank. The mana changes that came with patch 7.2.5 have given it a little more leeway.
It’s easier to react a bit now, though you still want to focus on predicting damage rather than always trying to catch up. Plea’s changes also gave Discipline the ability to spot heal outside of burst phases. Like I said earlier, it’s more obvious than with other healers if you’re performing below the bar. Other healers can recover from mistakes, Discipline has to time things perfectly. The difference between Atonements going off when there’s damage or going off at the wrong time can be the difference between being at the top of the healing meters versus the bottom.
Holy has had quite a journey. It was the default Priest healing spec until Wrath of the Lich King when Discipline came into prominence. Holy excelled at burst healing and the old Circle of Healing was the best thing ever. During Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria, Holy was still a reliable healing spec, but began to lose influence to Discipline’s absorbs and rising popularity. By the time Warlords of Draenor came around, Holy was practically a pariah, the unloved child. Chakras were clunky and stance-swapping was a great idea but frustrating in its actual implementation. It didn’t help that Discipline’s shields completely outshone everything.
Legion brought a lot of synergy within the spec and the introduction of Holy Words. Chakras were now baked in, in a sense. Instead of manually activating what stance you want to be in (with a minor cooldown every time at that), now you can activate it by simply switching spells. This gives Holy a lot of options for raid healing, spot or single-target healing, or even tank healing if need be.
Where Discipline is all about proactive healing, Holy is a star when it comes to reactive healing. Holy Words provide emergency buttons for both AOE and single target and offer a lot of burst healing with Serendipity and corresponding spells. Most of its talents provide synergy with these Holy Words, working together to reduce the cooldown timer and pump out even more Holy Words.
The Holy Words are Holy’s bread and butter. Holy Word: Serenity and Holy Word: Sanctify provide quick and powerful heals, with Flash Heal and Prayer of Healing acting as either filler or a way to lower cooldowns. Piety adds Prayer of Mending to Sanctify’s Serendipity, providing a passive reduction. Every time Prayer of Mending bounces, it has a chance to reduce the cooldown on Sanctify further.
Holy has utility, saving players from death with Guardian Spirit, healing from beyond the grave with Spirit of Redemption (and even coming back to life with a handy cloak), and boosting other healers’ throughput with Divine Hymn.
Choosing your spec
If you’ve never played a healer before, Holy is probably easier to pick up, as it’s more forgiving and pretty straightforward. That’s not to say that Discipline can’t be picked up off the bat, but it requires a lot more management to get going. For players who are experienced at micro-managing DPS or with macros, Weak Auras, and target swapping, Discipline is easier to get into. Besides initial complexity and barrier of entry, the playstyle has a lot to do with enjoyment of the class. Discipline is meticulous about healing and excels at planning and periods of high burst, with periods of lower activity in between.
Holy, on the other hand, requires less planning, but is more equipped if things go wrong. In an emergency, proper use of the Holy Words can make or break an encounter. Holy is flexible and can easily swap from single target healing to raid AOE healing with a simple change of spells. Both specs can provide rewarding gameplay and a challenge, though Discipline is harder to master due to its unique playstyle. More work and effort goes into planning Atonements for damage periods, but it pays off when fight damage goes out and is already taken care of with a quick burst of Light’s Wrath. Likewise, Holy sometimes feels that perfect synergy when you time your Prayer of Mending, Sanctify, and Divine Hymn right to save the raid.
Whatever spec you choose, make sure it’s the one you love rather than the one you think you “should” play. There’s no harm in playing both and switching as needed — it might even make you a more well-rounded healer. We all pay to play this game and we should enjoy it while we’re here.
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