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WoWNov 29, 2018 10:00 am CT

Spiritual Guidance: Nerf city in patch 8.1

The first major patch update of Battle for Azeroth is coming in a couple weeks. While Tides of Vengeance has some cool things in store, class updates and the balance pass for healing Priests don’t look so enticing. Discipline gets some nerfs across the board while Holy seems to be getting nerfs to popular talents in an effort to drive gameplay in another direction. It’s not all doom and gloom, but it also doesn’t seem like the best way to adjust our specs. While it looks a little hurty, it’s not the end of the world for Priest mains. Flavor of the month players may be discouraged but we’ll weather this like we always have.

Discipline nerfs to compensate for power creep

The first thing that jumped out at me when the PTR went up and class changes were applied was not the numbers nerfs for Discipline, but rather an addition to Power Word: Shield. Hellooooooo Weakened Soul. In patch 8.1, Power Word: Shield will apply a debuff that many Priests will remember, making it so that the target cannot be shielded again for 7.5 seconds. Rapture has also been changed to accommodate Weakened Soul. It ignores Weakened Soul while Rapture is active, which is also what the old versions of Rapture did.

The debuff time is half of the old Weakened Soul debuff (15 seconds), but longer than the cooldown on casting shields in Legion (6 seconds). It’s a little funny to see Weakened Soul make a return, in that facepalm way of “really…” We lasted one entire patch of shield free-for-all before getting a restriction again. Obviously having a cooldown on the spell itself didn’t work, which is why they removed it going from Legion to Battle for Azeroth, but it’s interesting to see Weakened Soul come back after we last saw it in Warlords of Draenor. In addition to making it so you can’t spam cast shields on someone like a tank, it also makes taking multiple Discipline Priests less enticing.

Now, for the numbers. Our damaging spells all received a nerf, and Atonement healing from damage was nerfed as well.

Overall, yes it’s a nerf to our whole spec and yes we’ll feel it… At first. The thing about Discipline over the years is that it has generally tended to scale well with gear, becoming much stronger as the tier and expansions go on with getting better gear. While the changes look bad and Discipline Priests may struggle at the start of the next tier, this is likely a preemptive nerf to account for that power creep. Discipline has always been hard to balance and it’s either overpowered or underpowered.

Holy nerfs to move away from popular talents

Holy is pretty much in the same boat, but for different reasons or intentions. It receives some slight buffs, on spells we don’t care about, and a whole lot of nerfs on spells we do care about. They can keep buffing Heal, but it doesn’t make it any more attractive. Personally, I hate Heal. However, the Holy changes lead to an interesting conclusion.

What we’re seeing here is a trend where instead of making some spells more attractive or interesting, Blizzard is just making the spells that we like worse. The others start to seem more attractive by comparison rather than actually being attractive on their own. In the past, we had tier sets that accomplished making certain talents or gameplay interesting, but Azerite traits fall short of that. So we’re left with nerfs forcing us into other spells instead of wanting to choose those spells on their own.

The Binding Heal nerf kind of makes sense, mostly because Holy Priests were using it over Flash Heal and Prayer of Healing since it was so efficient. It was one of the most used talents in its row in Legion and has continued to dominate Holy Priest playstyle in Battle for Azeroth. With Binding Heal being less lucrative, it opens the way for Circle of Healing. And while I’ve always been a Circle of Healing fan, it doesn’t work well with a Holy spec so focused on Holy Words.

Holy Word: Salvation is getting a straight and hefty nerf. It makes me sad, but it’s a huge, instant heal. And yes, there’s that 4% modifier to all Holy’s healing that appears like a buff, but don’t get excited. Really it’s just a reversion of a prior 4% nerf that went out during a balance pass in early Uldir.

Azerite Traits changes are giveth and taketh away

In addition to some Azerite changes that give us more options and tiers, we’re getting some new Azerite Traits and losing some current ones. Discipline’s Gift of Forgiveness and Holy’s Sacred Flame are being removed and I can’t say I’m terribly sad to see these two go. They both seemed like a mediocre payoff and not really worth what you put into it. Gift of Forgiveness was odd because maintaining three Atonements at a time when you also have time to just Smite your heart out only worked in certain situations. It wouldn’t be hard to keep it up in raids, but chances are that most raiders had gear with far better traits. In dungeon groups, it was a relatively low reward to do a little more damage while spending the mana to keep up the Atonements. And when you do need the extra damage when things would go wrong, Smite wasn’t high on the list of spells to use.

For Holy, Sacred Flame was even more odd. With low Haste, you would spend more mana casting Holy Fire than you would get back from the trait. Higher Haste makes the ticks go faster, but Haste is lowest on stat priority for raiding. In dungeons where Haste scales well mana isn’t really an issue on short fights, especially when you can drink between pulls. Where mana matters, in longer raid fights, Haste wouldn’t be high enough to make Holy Fire a viable mana return.

To replace the traits being removed, we get three new Azerite traits — one for Discipline, one for Holy, and one for both.

Death Denied seems to be incredibly niche. It can certainly be useful, but those useful moments will be few and far in between. Compared to many other talents that will be overall more useful, it will be incredibly low on any priority list. Now, for the spec-specific talents, they’re a little more interesting. Sudden Revelation looks to be relatively good, and it would be nice to use a global to cast Holy Nova and shave 5 seconds off Power Word: Radiance, but it also just seems like it could encourage fishing for procs. Promise of Deliverance is very similar to Holy’s old Artifact Weapon trait Power of the Naaru, except focusing on single target healing instead of AOE healing.

One last Azerite change is that Depth of the Shadows has been buffed by about 200%, doubling the amount it heals and increasing Atonement’s timer by 3 seconds when applied. This, plus Promise of Deliverance, give both Holy and Discipline strong options for dungeon or Mythic+ groups where single target healing comes more into play.

After Tides of Vengeance

We’re getting sweeping balance changes with patch 8.1, but the next raid tier won’t be out until later. It’s a good bet it will follow a similar timeline to when the second raid tier came out in Legion, meaning you can probably expect it sometime in January at the earliest. With the raid divorced from patch and large balance updates, we can get those pesky balance issues out of the way before progression starts. Hopefully finishing off Uldir for a month or so will be able to give us a good idea on how the balance changes for Priests will work out.

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