Spiritual Guidance: Looking at Priest healing in the past
Last month I went over what we may see in the next expansion, based on what has and hasn’t worked during this expansion. This month I’ll be taking a look at Priest healing in the past and talking about some of the changes healing has gone through, my favorite aspects of past Priest healing, and what I hope will make a comeback.
I started playing at the tail end of The Burning Crusade, but didn’t get into Priests until partway through Wrath of the Lich King. One day I looked at the Priest class on the character screen, thought to myself “I should play that,” and I was hooked from then on.
Wrath of the Lich King
When I leveled up, Holy was the burst healer. It dominated Ulduar. Circle of Healing had no cooldown and could be spammed, Prayer of Healing could pick up the slack, and Renews were everywhere. It was a good time to be Holy.
Then Discipline came out of nowhere. It had been known solely as a “PVP spec” and there was a lot of misinformation regarding how viable it was. People would get angry, because it was unheard of to play a “PVP spec” in PVE and how dare you. It didn’t help that at first absorbs weren’t counted in the combat log, leading addons to underrepresent Discipline’s healing. Many people thought it was a bad spec. Warriors also thought that Power Word: Shield could starve them of rage, which was an issue briefly but had long been fixed.
Discipline struggled to be widely accepted. And then came Infest on the Lich King. See, back then Rapture gave back mana when the shield was absorbed or dispelled and it could only happen once every 12 seconds. But there was a loophole: if multiple shields were absorbed at once, it would give back mana for every shield. So Discipline Priests would blanket the raid with shields before Infest, absorb a lot of the damage, and get a ton of mana back. And thus began Discipline’s position at the top.
Cataclysm actually set the first foundations of what Discipline and Holy are today. Atonement was introduced and was a thing, but it wasn’t really prevalent. There were some adopters, but it was difficult to do well. I hated it. It didn’t really do much so I never used it. But Discipline in Cataclysm felt pretty similar to the previous expansion, though with a bit less focus on so many bubbles. We couldn’t get away with the Rapture trick anymore, but shields and absorbs would always be incredibly efficient at healing.
Holy received Chakras, the forebearers of our current Holy Words. They were activated by casting Chakra and then using a spell to put you into that stance. Heal activated the single target Serenity Chakra while Prayer of Healing and Prayer of Mending activated the AOE Sanctuary Chakra. They also activated Holy Words — Serenity would heal and boost crit chance on the target and Sanctuary was a ground heal like Healing Rain. As for their passive benefits, in Serenity Chakra direct heals refreshed Renew and spell casts reduced the cooldown on Circle of Healing in Sanctuary Chakra. Unfortunately they were kind of clunky and had to be adjusted over the course of the expansion. At first Chakras only lasted 30 seconds, which was then lengthened to an entire minute, then permanent until canceled.
Mists of Pandaria
Discipline in Mists of Pandaria was my favorite incarnation of the spec. I loved shields and busting out absorbs, and the flow worked really well for me. My progression was usually in 10 man guilds, though I’d raid 25s casually at times, so I never really got into the big “bubble spam” that Discipline was known for during Wrath. During Mists, Atonement became more of a thing than it was in Cataclysm. It was automatic and it was smart-healing, so of course it was kind of overpowered. We were swimming in absorbs. Critical strikes created bubbles of the excess healing (Divine Aegis). One of our talents, Spirit Shell, let you build absorbs up for 15 seconds with Prayer of Healing. It was fun.
Discipline had a similar role to what it is now, where you had to predict incoming damage to heal. But instead of applying Atonement to everyone before the mechanics hit, you would get your absorbs out to soak up the damage, and Atonement would smart-heal for the rest of the damage, applying mini bubbles with Crits. Since it was a smart-heal, you couldn’t pick who to heal. It wasn’t so much of a problem in raids, because we had tools at our disposal to target the people really in need of healing. But in the outside world it could get annoying when questing and your Atonement healing decided to heal random people over yonder instead of your own group members right beside you. A lot of the PVP kills I got on the Timeless Isle were from healing other people who were fighting.
Holy’s Chakras were refined. Instead of activating with a certain spell, they became three separate Chakra stances with 30 second cooldowns, which meant that stance swapping wasn’t very fluid. Lightwell finally got a Lightspring glyph, turning it into the cool automatic healing dispenser we first saw with the NPC healers in Trial of the Champion. This later became the baseline mechanic of Lightwell.
Warlords of Draenor
This expansion marked the first attempt to really try to tone down Discipline’s domination with shields, but it didn’t last long. Spirit Shell became a talent so not many people took it. I didn’t enjoy Disc as much as I did in Mists, but it was still fun to play. Empowered Archangel took over the AOE absorb by making your next spell automatically Crit and apply Divine Aegis.
I didn’t play Holy as much as Disc, but there were moments I really enjoyed and I used the spec on progression for a couple fights in Blackrock Foundry. Unfortunately Holy wasn’t in the greatest spot and was largely left behind. It’s not that Holy was bad: it’s just that Discipline was that much better. However, Holy worked really well with Tier 17 and the old Holy talent, Divine Insight. With 4 set Tier 17, when Prayer of Mending healed, it had a 20% chance to proc Serendipity which would reduce the cast time and mana cost of Heal or Prayer of Healing by 20%, stacking up to two times. Both of these spells had a chance to proc Divine Insight, which would make Prayer of Mending jump to players instantly without triggering its cooldown. Rinse and repeat. This made for great AOE healing and it was fun to listen to the chimes bouncing around the raid.
What about the future?
Legion brought both specs a lot of good changes. Holy is in a much better spot than the past couple expansions, finding a niche with Holy Words. Discipline also found a unique playstyle that when played skillfully can excel in raids. While I loved the way Disc worked in the past, I know there’s no going back to it. It received the changes it did in Legion precisely because absorbs were too powerful and something needed to bring the spec back in line while keeping its playstyle separate from Holy and appropriate with class fantasy. The WoW devs have also been quite clear that huge changes like we saw with Legion won’t be happening in Battle for Azeroth. The next expansion will feature refinement, not world-changing upset. Earlier Discipline healing relied so heavily on absorbs that there wasn’t much we could bring forward without regressing back into the overpowered absorb problem.
There are three things in particular that I miss from past Holy: Lightwell, Circle of Healing, and Prayer of Mending playstyle. Lightwell was a unique spell and gave us a bit of utility. We could place it anywhere and players could click on it if they needed healing, relieving the pressure on us a bit. The Lightspring glyph removed the custom utility from it and turned it into an automated smart-heal, which we’ll probably never see again. However, I’d like to see the original Lightwell come back. Similarly, I’d also like to bring Circle of Healing back to the base Holy spells instead of being a talent. They were iconic parts of Holy in the past and could add flavor to the spec.
I really enjoy the current focus on Holy Words as core spells, but I wish Prayer of Mending could be incorporated more. I loved the interaction with Divine Insight and Tier 17. The automatic jumping could be overpowered with Piety, but we basically have that mechanic with Renew the Faith which may be removed when we drop our Artifact weapons. And while I’m wishing, going back to instant cast Prayer of Mending would be amazing. I feel like it could replace Light of T’uure.
I’d also like to see a return to useful talents, which the latest dev watercooler post kind of touched on. Talents for Priests this expansion have been all over the place and forcing us to make odd choices. Like choosing between movement and a cooldown. Or choosing a cooldown (Apotheosis), playstyle (Benediction), and minor spell (Circle of Healing). They don’t really fit thematically. Whereas in Mists and Warlords, for example, our level 90 choices were a set of AOE spells: Cascade, Halo, and Divine Star. I frequently swapped between these three depending on the encounter and what I needed. I like choices that offer one result through different methods, rather than picking between three random things.
This is likely all just a very elaborate and public Priest fantasy wishlist. But, given that alpha has yet to appear, though it could be Soon™, class changes or design may not be set in stone and perhaps we can get requests in. Here’s hoping.
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