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.
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