The Disc/Holy Divide
I had a comment yesterday that bemoaned my switch to Disc priesting, and yesterday Shintar asked "What is it with all the discipline priests?"

It's a legitimate question. Why have so many priests gone the way of the Disco, and abandoned their Holy roots? Now keep in mind, I haven't completely abandoned Holy. I still feel that at my core, I'm a Holy Priest, and I'm just checking out this Disc thing for a little while. Or a few months. Or something. Yes, I'm in denial.

I hated healing heroics as Holy, and the frost badge rewards mean that I really do need to run heroics. But it's insanely boring. No one is taking any damage, so there's nothing for me to heal. As Discipline I can at least try to tell myself that I'm preventing people from taking damage. There's also the joy of pugging with a Pally tank, and telling myself not to bubble him/her just for a little added challenge. Heroics were a good excuse to start trying out a Disc spec, and to get the hang of it. Heroics are great for trying out new talents.

But, I'm sort of getting off track. The question remains - why are so many Holy priests making the Disc switch?

Feeling the Blizz Love

I have this theory that Blizz regulates class/spec populations via a series of buffs and nerfs. No one was playing Disc, so they reworked the talent tree for Wrath IIRC. And still, Disc Priests were faced with the annoyance of Recount obsessed Raid Leaders telling them their healing sucked. So Blizz came along and designed fights like the third phase of Anub'arak in ToC and Deathbringer Saurfang in ICC. Suddenly, Raid Leaders were hearing all about how awesome Disc Priests were for these fights... and they were FUN as a Disc Priest. You got to feel special and super-powerful.

It's always nice and warm when you're in that snuggly spot of Blizz-favored.

But the tide may be turning. Others have noted how prevalent Disc Priests are these days, and too many people picked up on the fact that a Discipline Priest in your raid made Saurfang trivial. So easy for the average raider doing ICC content, that you could get away with low DPS, sloppy add control, and slow tank swaps. Disc Priests were no longer just mitigating damage - they were mitigating fail. Many were able to solo heal the entire encounter. Deathbringer Saurfang is the final boss in the first wing in ICC, and he was intended to be HARD. He was intended to be a DPS check. But, with a Disc Priest in the party, he was essentially a joke.

Now, for some of us, he was still hard. He was still rough for my group. But he is SUPPOSED to be hard. You are SUPPOSED to wipe on him repeatedly.

Although the presence of a Disc Priest greatly reduces the difficulty of Anub'arak, it really only affects one phase - it does not trivialize the entire encounter. The same cannot be said for Deathbringer Saurfang. So the buff to Saurfang, which effectively stops Disc Priests from being so powerful in this fight, was not a surprise to me - nor am I really *that* disappointed. I am glad I got a chance to take down Saurfang before the buff, however, as it was a very fun encounter, and it felt good to feel so important and powerful. But too many Holy Priests felt they were required to switch to Disc just for the sake of this fight, and too many other healing classes were potentially left out in order to bring in a Disc Priest. The fight is now much more balanced, imo.

In short, we are coming off of the peak of the Golden Era for Disc Priests. Or maybe we will stay peaked a bit longer - I don't know for sure, but Saurfang pre-buff was definitely a high point in the Disco world.

Is Discipline Healing More Challenging?

I cannot make this post without asking that question, even though it really grates on me to demand that answer from myself. I hate the idea of one spec or class being considered more challenging than another. It leads to people calling one spec a faceroll choice over another being the "hardcore" option. I feel I have something of a responsibility to my readers too... if I say Disc is more challenging, and Holy is less so, I fear it's going to ripple across the blogosphere as though it were The Divine Truth. I think people just listen to me because I have Dwarf boobs.

I've mentioned before the difference between reflexive and rotational healing. Holy Priests and Disc Priests are a great example of this difference. Both have reactionary aspects, and both have rotational - but Holy stands more on the reflexive side, whereas Disc Priests have talents that lend more strength to weaving their spells. If you have slow reflexes, Holy will provide more of a challenge. If you struggle with planning your heals and weaving them, Discipline priesting may be more difficult. I struggle with tying my shoes properly, so everything is a challenge for me.

However, the primary reason why I think Disc Priesting can provide a bigger challenge is due to the nature of preventative damage. In order to prevent damage from occuring without completely going out of mana... you have to know when that damage will occur. And that means you have to know the fights.

I want to draw your attention to a recent post made at Resto Shaman Flow by a new blogger who shows a lot of potential - and won me over by comparing Disc Priests and Resto Shammies. Wugan said it best when he said "The most glaring issue is that mitigation only works if you can successfully predict the incoming damage."

Raise your hand if you play Farmville or type messages on Twitter while your Raid Leader is explaining the fights. Don't worry, you don't have to confess. I see within your secret heart... and I know. I know because I'm guilty of it myself. You don't generally have to know the intricacies of each individual fight to know that most of the stuff that's on the floor is stuff you need to get out of. Don't stand in front of the boss, or you'll get cleaved or slapped, or vomitted upon, that sort of thing. The basic rules of raid fights can be generally applied to all fights, and the details themselves don't really matter when all you really need to do is heal people AFTER they've taken damage. Don't tell the DPSers, but many healers are just incredibly ADD.

Normally, I wouldn't know the fights. I'd be picking daisies out in Icecrown while someone else explains to others what they need to do, and I just assume I need to play whack-a-mole. But now that I'm leading the cavalry, now that I'm supposed to come up with the strategies, now that I'm the one sending out emails to everyone about how the fights work, I have to know the ins and outs of these fights.

Performing well as a Discipline Priest requires you to know the fights. Yes, you can perform better as a Holy Priest if you know the fights, but it's not nearly as essential to your healing abilities as it is for a Disc Priest. You can prevent the damage you personally take by knowing when events will happen, and you can alert your raid members of course, but there is very little you can do spell-wise to prevent these folks from taking damage. A really good Holy Priest will know when OOOOOBLIVION is going to happen, and will be sure to build up their Serendipity stacks before hand so that they can cast a lightning fast Prayer of Healing that lands right after Oblivion (Shockwave) hits - same for Decimate, and other similar abilities. Weaving your spells to maximize Prayer of Healing or Greater Heal casts is the mark of a superior Holy Priest.

For a Disc Priest, it is required in order to do even a mediocre job.

Thus, we have this prevalent attitude that Disc Priests are harder than Holy Priests - because it requires a bit more foresight and knowledge about the encounters to perform well. And of course, if it's harder to play, it's obviously superior, amirite? Or maybe it's just more fun.

But I contest this. Because last week, happily dual specced Disc/Holy, I tried to heal Marrowgar for the first time in my Holy spec - and it was a complete mess. We wiped FOUR times on a boss that should be a one-shot every week. I take full responsibility for it. Even putting aside the issues I was having with remembering my macros and clicks, the fact remains that seeing all those green bars go down was terrifying. My reflexes are rusty from so many weeks as a Disc Priest. I was on tenderhooks waiting for the damage to occur so that I could DO something about it, and then completely incapable of reacting to it quickly enough. It's not that you don't have to react quickly as a Disc Priest, it's just you don't depend on quick reactions nearly as much as a Holy Priest does.

The Disc Priest must plan - the Holy Priest must react. Both are difficult skills that require practice and talent. It's a lot easier to fail as a Disc Priest than it is as a Holy Priest - however, the flip side of that is that it is a lot more difficult to be a truly excellent Holy Priest than it is to be an excellent Disc Priest. In order to be a superior Holy Priest, you must master both the art of quick reaction and the skill of heal-weaving. Even if you do react quickly as a Disc Priest, it won't be as effective as it is for a Holy Priest - a 40% reduction in damage taken is vastly different than a free death.

The Nature of Mitigation

Either way, it's also quite easy for Disc Priests to top the effective healing charts (despite what Recount addicts may initially perceive), because of the nature of damage mitigation. Since a Disc Priest prevents the damage from even happening, there is nothing for the other healers to heal. The other healers don't ever see the green bars go down, so why would they cast a heal when there's no damage? This is, of course, an extreme example, but the point stands even though in reality it's just that there's a lot less damage going around, and therefore a necessity for less heals.

Even advanced combat log parsers don't seem to take bubble "overheals" into account due to the mechanics of the combat log mitigation reporting. They only record the portion of bubbles that were absorbed - not how much the original bubble was that was cast. In other words, if I cast Power Word: Shield on someone, and none of it is absorbed, and the whole bubble goes to waste (as well as the mana I spent on it), I know of no combat log parser that will pick up on that (correct me if I'm wrong please). So Disc Priests appear especially efficient and powerful.

This Post Brought to You by TLDR Tuesday: Because What the Hell Else Are You Going to Do?

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18 Responses
  1. Tam Says:

    I too shall be blogging about this, mwahahaah ;)

  2. Askevar Says:

    Ironically, very few people on our server are trying disc priesting... and it's still looked down upon by quite a few holy priests.

    And most of the holy priests I've seen try it, don't like it because they try to heal the same way as a disc priest which obviously doesn't work as well.

    Perhaps the fact that I'm a tank on my main and know the fights from that perspective is what makes it so easy to disc heal for me. I took to discipline healing so easily it scared me but I've always said that it's the healing spec that has more of a tanking mindset and what I've recommended to several of the tanks who are interested in rolling a healer.

    And to be fair, I've never been a holy priest or tried it out [I'm disc pve/disc pvp]. But in talking to the holy priests in the guild, they heal reactively.

  3. Sephrenia Says:

    You have an uncanny knack of posting things that I am thinking about. I've been playing with Disc for a while, having always been Holy. It's easy, it's fun, it's pretty. I can top the WoL healing meters. But it doesn't seem to give me the same sense of satisfaction I used to get from Holy. I know there are lots of spells to use, but I don't seem to have to think about them the same, to judge which will be the best one to use. It's a bit easy to shield someone and let another healer soak up the general healing of the player.

    For 5 man healing I do love Disc. I did the new SFK bosses last night and tried both specs. It was a LOT harder to do as Holy. So much damage to mop up. It was far easier for me to shield and pop a renew on the dps and wait for them to move out of the puddles than to heal them through it.

    I think it may be time to go back to my Holy roots and remember what all my mouse clicks and key bindings were, rather than just the 3 or so I use as disc. Maybe I've just never really truly got the hang of disc, so I don't appreciate it as much, but I really miss guardian spirit ;) There's nothing like having a fantastic "oh shit" button to make you breathe again :)

  4. Anonymous Says:

    "...the frost badge rewards mean that I really do need to run heroics"


    You want the frost emblem rewards and you choose to run heroics to get them faster.

    It's just a preference, neither good nor bad.


  5. @Hugmenot

    That was assumed, seeing as how I thought it was pretty obvious that's what I meant :) When I refer to things that I "need" the assumption is always that I personally feel the need to do it for myself.

  6. Shintar Says:

    Hehe, I completely approve of your long-winded philosophical treatise!

    I think your explanation of the differences between holy and disc is pretty good, and makes more sense than me just saying that I find disc boring in PvE in my post. I think the heart of the matter is that if you do cast the bubbles on the right people and they absorb damage, it looks like nothing is happening, and that's what bores me. I guess I like holy more not so much because I like to hone my reflexes, but because I get to make health bars bounce like whoa, and it feels more like I'm actually doing something.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    You have really hit the nail on the head with preemptive versus reactive healing. As holy I felt "powerless" to do much (except stack some serendipity) until the damage actually hit (pre-casting never quite worked for me, and spamming with the hope that it will land at a good moment just makes the holy priest OOM).

    I also can't catch a ball and tend to trip over my own feet. My Wii fit mocks me for my poor balance.

    And that's probably the reason I'm a lousy lousy shaman healer is that the healing is largely reactive.

    Druid seems to have an interesting balance between preventative and reactive healing styles. I wonder how many druid healers prefer disc over holy (we healers seem to play multiples).

  8. Grimmtooth Says:

    That's funny, I'm considering taking my healer over to Holy for raiding, especially considering how many fights have me split between MT and raid healing. Thanks to addons like Talented (which has templates), switching back and forth is merely a matter of gold.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    Thank you for the wake up call.

    I've been Disc for forever with a Holy spec that's so rusty it may as well not exist. (And a Shadow spec that sits in the bank.)

    I'm currently the best geared toon in our 10man raiding guild and have gained a lot of confidence as a healer in large part because I have bloggers such as yourself to turn to for continually tips and advice.

    A long while back our guild tried a 10ToGC which shouldn't have been overly difficult, but we never got further than the Beasts. Now that we're so much better geared and progressing at a descent pace through ICC10 I've been bugging our GL to go back. We did. And failed miserably. Heals were a big factor in our failure. I felt like a failure. ("It shouldn't have been so hard," she whinned to herself.) I've been banging my head ever since trying to figure out what I did wrong.

    Okay, it's a team effort, I know. It's not all on me. Plus, the other 2 healers were pugs (along with 3dps and the 1 OT) whom I'd never healed with before, so I couldn't say with certainty that they were up to par. But at times like those I tend to take things too personally. Am i a crappy healer whose been hiding behind the heals of the holy pally or resto druid we usually run with?

    Thanks to you, the light bulb went off. The fights in ToGC are just that much different. I took things for granted. And now that I'm decked out in "Leggings of Woven Death" and "Sandals of Consecration" I figured I'd manage.

    Perhaps it wasn't the point of your post, but it worked for me!

    I'm now off the eat humble pie and read up on the fights. Much appreciation from Sen'jin!!!

  10. Eversor Says:

    Does "dwarf boobs" mean small boobs or the boobs of a dwarf. Semantics yes, but could be an important distinction when trying to ascertain why people listen to you.

  11. Kayllnn Says:

    I'd like to point out that druids have been doing the guess when damage is coming for awhile. Although they don't use shields, they hot people up before they take damage, or at least good ones do. I don't like waiting until people take damage to throw some hots out. I mean bone storm is coming I know people are going to need heals. I typically always know when people are going to need heals. I notice the difference b/w holy and disc being like playing my druid vs. playing my shammy. On my druid, I know who is going to take damage and I throw them a hot, on my shaman I actually have to wait and heal their little bar. It is much more beneficial for me to understand the fight on my druid. Like you said, when you are healing like a holy priest, or shaman does, all you have to do is play whack-a-mole.

    I am leveling a little disc priest, and I went disc b/c I run with the same person all the time, so I wanted to be able to single target heal nicely. I know I am a total priest noob, but the more I level the more I see how it is like my druid. It is really fun to play all the different styles of healing, so I think it is awesome you have played holy and disc, it is a huge benefit to your readers.

  12. Wugan Says:

    Woot, thanks for the shoutout. This was totally my perception of playing disc vs. holy. I will add that at lower gear levels, it seems much easier to heal heroics as holy. This might be just because it is closer to healing as a resto shaman, but if you are a new disc priest who is struggling to gear up, give holy a try and see if you like it. You can always go back to disc when you're up to raiding (and then heroics will be ez mode to heal).

  13. Doug Says:

    I can both Disc and Holy, and prefer different specs for different encounters. Preventing damage is fun, but when Weakend Soul becomes the bane of your existance, the fun has run out. Much of the time, there is just too much damage incomming for me to prevent which is why I lean strongly towards Holy.

    To everyone that thinks that Holy Priests heal reactively: Welcome to last year with the BC, BT, & CoH spam.

    CoH is a Hpriest's only reactive spell (unless you count SoL Flash Heals, but they arent always there when needed). KNOWING THIS is the first step to becomming an excellent Holy Priest. Everything else can be anticipated and precast.

    BOTH the Disc and Holy priests must plan ahead, the difference is that Disc Priests can plan up to 30 seconds ahead with PW:S and the Hpriest less than ten (if you want any benefit out of precast Renew).

    Take for example the first trash pull in ICC where the mobs deal a 10k AoE upon death.
    The Disc Priest can try to anticipate that the damage will occur 15-29 seconds into the future and preshield all of the melee, then repeat prior to the next mob dropping. The downfall of that method is the 3rd mob and later. At that point everyone that you know will take damage already has the Weakened Soul debuff. No amount of preplanning can fix this game mechanic related limitation.
    The Holy Priest can queue up a PoH to land just after damage, then CoH to top people off. For the second, PoH the tank group (if the other 2 spots are melee DPS and assuming you glyphed PoH so you don't overwrite the HoT), then SoL Flash and CoH to top off, and repeat as needed, without limitation.

    If heroics get boring, just pull more mobs. 3+ trash pulls and a boss at the same time really liven things up for the healer.

  14. Cassandri Says:

    I come at this topic from a very different point of view.

    I hated Holy in Burning Crusade. I HATED IT. When I think of Holy I think of CoH spam and Hex Lord Malacrass. Oh how I hate it.

    Occasionally I would dabble at PVP and soon realised that the best way to annoy the hell out of your opponent (which is what PVP is all about imo, and I never forget that real people are on the other end) by not dying.

    And Discipline is just incredibly fun to play in PVP. You'll hardly ever get caught (assuming you keep out of rogue reach) and you can cast PW:S+PoM+Renew all on the run and Penance is nearly impossible to interupt.

    PVP is what made me love Discipline.

  15. @Doug

    I will direct you to the points I addressed about superior holy priests.

    A holy priest can be effective by merely using their spells in a reactive way. You see someone take damage, you can cast a flash heal on them to "fix" it. Contrarily, as a Disc priest, throwing a bubble on someone after they've taken the damage doesn't really do much good aside from preventing it from getting worse.

    A SUPERIOR holy priest will combine good reflexes that involve PoM, CoH, GS and effectively using Surge of Light procs in combination with knowledge about the fight encounter and when to precast their big heals, and weave their spells.

    Longer casts are easier to precast - if you've got your Flash Heal down to a 1 second cast, it becomes a spell you use more often as a reaction than something you can effectively precast.

    In regards to heroics, I let the tank take it in whatever pace he or she finds most comfortable. Instead of pushing others to change their playstyle, I would prefer to just change mine into something I enjoy more. I already knew the ins and outs of Holy - I wanted to try something new.

    I never meant to imply that heroics are boring for holy priests. I stated that heroics are boring for ME as a holy priest.

  16. Len Says:

    I initially found discpriesting more challenging because of the weak hots and aoe heals and as you said - having to know the fights. Now I just love the playstyle. It's mana efficient (hell generally efficient with so little overheal), supportive to other healing classes, unique, flexible, interesting extra buttons with PS and PI...

    The only other regular priest healer in our guild (and as a small 10 man guild, sometimes the only other available healer) is also a discpriest and it's causing me all sorts of stressy issues though :( Do I switch from disc/shadow to disc/holy so that if needed I can be a better 'fit' into the healing team? Do I stay as I am and work with my fellow discpriest on healing assignments? Gah decisions!

    I think some people forget that you can do a great job as a 'raid' 'tank' or 'third/support/FFA' healer as disc IF you know what you are doing and work with your healing team.

  17. Tiex Says:

    Hey there, girl! =)

    Like you, I started as Holy as well, then, due to some pressure from a friend, I decided to try disc.

    It's really confusing in the begginning, adjusting to a completely different playstile and all, but I DO feel a lot better playing as disc.

    I don't really agree that one spec must react faster and the other must plan ahead.

    I guess both specs need a bit of planning and a bit of reacting.

    Holy needs planning to know when the damage will hit so you can time your spells properly. If you do it right, some people won't even notice the damage. But it also needs some reacting, directing quick spot heals, the life-saving guardian spirit and all.

    Disc, IMHO, also needs both. Planning to apply shields when you KNOW there is incoming damage, but also reacting time, to save the poor bastard that stood in the wrong place with a shield and a hasted penance (aha, I confess, I don't always save penance for the tanks =P)

    I DID like your post a lot, by the way. I wish all bloggers would be as thoughtful with their texts, writing with a bit of impartiality.

    Now, I would like to ask for an opinion. You also have a holy offspec, right?

    I used to have one, but turned shadow sometime ago. Can you use, when holy, the same gear with the same gems and enchants as your disc spec?

    I tried when I was poorly geared, but the lack of regen gems and enchants really screwed me.

    Do you think that with the current gear, we'll be able to change between specs just by adding some regen trinkets and changing consumables?

    I've linked my wow-heroes profile this time, so you can check if you have some spare time. ;)

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