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The Rise, Fall, & Rise of Disc Tank Healing

Today, I really want to take a look at the history of Disc Tank Healing, why it works, how it works, and how to Disc Tank Heal. Ever since 4.2 dropped, Disc Tank Healing has become a very powerful tool for many guilds and as a result, they are using Disc as a primary tank healer. This isn’t the first time we have seen this… Discipline Tank Healing was something that had a good run (albeit brief) in Wrath of the Lich King. We saw this in Naxx 2.0 and Ulduar, it wasn’t until Trial of the Crusader and ICC that this started falling off.

Why did Disc Tank Healing fall off towards the end of WOTLK? Scaling for one – Disc simply didn’t have the throughput that Holy Pallies had at their disposal. More importantly, the talents did not exist to really make Disc as viable as it could have been. We did not have talents  like Strength of Soul (to help us shorten the duration of Weakend Soul) and Train of Thought (to make GHeal chaining less punitive on our mana. Not to mention, critically heal, on average, more often). Further complicating things, Grace was limited to only one target – which made prepping for tank swaps a bit cumbersome. These are only a few of the reasons Disc tank healing fell off towards the end of WOTLK… Perhaps the largest reason was that Discipline became a phenomenal raid healer. Bubble Spamming, while a boring healing model, was exceptionally effective in keeping your raid alive. (and arguably mandatory for HM Lich King)

With Cata came the 4.0 talents. These included a number of talents that addressed our issues that existed in WOTLK, however Disc still was too strong of a raid healer to push towards tank healing, and throughput was a bit too low as well. Bubble spamming was still viable in much of BWD/BOT (before it was nerfed) and DA/POH spam was too powerful. Disc COULD tank heal, but still wasn’t commonplace. Speccing and gearing choices really were part of that push… as was ‘comfort’. Many people just weren’t comfortable with Disc as a tank healer. (priests and raid leaders alike).

This all ended with 4.2 and the introduction of 200% crits. This provided priests with an immediate 30% increase to their Divine Aegis shields that were created from critical heals. With this, you saw a number of Disc priests go towards tank healing. Disc could quickly cast Penance on a tank, stack Grace, and heal them for 9k hits and 18k crits. That could then be followed up with a 32k Power Word: Shield and then a 30k to 60k Gheal all in a fairly short period of time…

But Derevka, 200% Critical Heals benefits all healers not just Disc. That is true, however, we need to keep in mind that Disc has a number of talents that improve our critical strike chance: You should be able to expect +10% from Renewed Hope (with near 100% uptime on your tank), Inner Focus provides an additional 25% when used (remember it will be available much more often if you have chosen to spec into Train of Thought), and we gain additional crit chance since we have innately higher intellect from Enlightenment; once you add in raid buffs our crit chance is at a very respectable level.  Always remember: Critical Heals create DAs.

Not only do crits create DAs, but they also provide a buff! Tanks love getting Inspiration… I mean who really wouldn’t love a flat 10% reduction of physical damage? With Disc priests regularly critically healing a tank and creating DA’s, we need to remember we also are keeping up Inspiration on our tanks. With a full time Disc on your tank, barring fight mechanics that prevent us from casting… you should expect a 90-100% uptime. (In the interest of full disclosure, Shaman also can provide this buff… and in 4.3 theirs will provide additional utility)

One of the current hurdles that Disc Tank Healers have to get past is the old mindset that “Pallies are the tank healers”. Raid Leaders, Healing Leads, and Recruitment Officers alike should get used to the fact that Disc is a viable tank healer. We’ll say this again: in BOTH 10 and 25 man raids, Paladins are not the only tank healers. In fact, I would argue that Discs are a superior healer due to the additional utility they can provide (PS, Barrier, PI, Hymns, Inspiration, etc) and that a good deal of their healing is via damage mitigation.  Now, of course, I am not suggesting that a Pally be tasked to raid healing duty… lets not be completely insane. The point we are trying to illustrate here, is that we must break the mantra of “the only good tank healers are Paladins”.

Mitigation vs. Raw Healing
One of the best things about being a disc priest is your ability to mitigate damage. Generally speaking: damage mitigated is superior to healing damage taken. Preventing a blow from killing a player is better based solely on the fact that you can’t heal a dead person.

I hate to use that word in the context of a healer. There really isnt a “rotation” for healers. Healing is dynamic; healing is fluid. That said, we will need to be sure we are keeping an eye on Weakened Soul, Grace, Penance CDs, and Prayer of Mending CDs.

Grace, when fully stacked, gives you +24% healing done to that target. That isn’t a trivial amount of healing. Pre-pull you’ll want to Penance your tank to get those stacks up. Additionally, if you are doing a fight where you will have tank taunting, you’ll want to be sure your new tank has their Grace stacks ready. This can mean waiting 1-2 seconds on casting a Penance and use that to “prep” the Taunting Tank as they do “Taunting in 3…2 … 1″. For example, on Ragnaros when our tanks are taunting to reset their debuffs, I’ll pre-penance the new tank to ensure my Grace is stacked on them.  (Protip: Grace not only provides throughput, it also is a trigger point for Renewed Hope)

I use both GHeal and Heal as my filler spells. GHeal is my primary go to… why do I not cancel cast? Well, canceling that cast might have just canceled a 70k Crit– and thus a potentially valuable DA and refresh of Inspiration. If mana is starting to run low, or if I know the damage pattern is going to be low for a while. I will switch to regular Heal– this allows me to Strength of Soul reset Weakened Soul, as well as potentially critically heal for 20-22k. (and DA)

Remember to use FH/SOS in those emergency situations. Strength of Soul also allows you, at the sacrifice for some mana, burst heal with a string of Flash Heals to top off your tank, and (via SoS) reset Weakend Soul for a follow up PW: Shield.

Most importantly, as a Disc priest your biggest advantage is to know the fight. If you know you have a boss ability that requires everyone to do some movement… prepare yourself. Will you need/have PWS available to use on the fly? Same for POM. If you know big damage is coming in a few seconds, hold off and mitigate some of it with PWS (into a Borrowed Time GHeal or BT>Penance>GHeal). saying “I was running away from ability X” is not a valid excuse for letting your tank die — prepare for it.

To spec into it or not? Well, it really depends on the fight and your preferred playstyle. Until the boss range issue is fixed in 4.3, Atonement will struggle with large hitbox bosses. Atonement will always work well on fights with +damage modifiers (For example: HM Domo). Archangel can be a saving grace when timed to pop when you know there will be a period of high damage. Added throughput is always a good thing; especially if you can master how to stack Evangelism without sacrificing your Tank’s well being.

Disc Stats and Statweights
There has been much discussion about this. At the start of the tier, I was using some crit gear to compensate for low DA output and valued it as much as I did haste. This seemed to be wasteful, and further analysis via the EJ Spreadsheets (and forum discussion with Valen, of the EJ forums, in a thread at PlusHeal) confirmed the wasted stats. I’ve been valuing Haste as my primary stat, then valuing Mastery and Crit about equal, but reforging into Crit in situations that allow it. (I’ve been reforging surplus Spirit into Crit).

The Future of Disc Tank Healing
Of course we don’t really have any idea of where Blizzard is going to take Disc Tank Healing in 4.3 and into Mists of Pandaria. However, given the fairly minimal changes to Disc in the current 4.3 PTR Notes, I can’t imagine we would see much change in our roles. Disc will still continue to be strong in both the Raid and Tank Healing capacities. Our throughput stats will continue to increase, and Intellect will continue to scale… as Intellect scales, our regen will continue to rise from Rapture (further removing us from Spirit reliance and allowing us to equip more dual- throughput stat and non-Spirit gear). MoP does have the potential to be a hard reset of healing roles and utility. We really won’t know more until more details are made available, and we are likely a few months away from that information.

If you haven’t tried tank healing, give it a spin. I think you’ll enjoy the challenge it can provide. If you have been trying it, what do you think about it? Did you have to ‘prove’ to your guild that it worked? How did you handle that? Me – I’ve been one of our Main Tank Healers for nearly all of this Tier (including healing a Holy Paladin-less HM Ragnaros kill)and I’ve been loving every minute of it!

… and I look damn sexy hurling Penance orbs at our Pally Tank!

Written By: on November 3, 2011
  1. It’s even better when two Disc priests Penance the same target from other sides of the room ;) Definitely looks awesome.

    Great post and glad to see you back!
    Feels like you never left.


    1. Thanks! And yeah… pew pew holy lazorz!

  2. Awesomely informational read!

  3. But what do holy pallies do if disc priests want to tank heal? :(

    1. Naz, its not a matter of taking people’s “spots”. Its a matter that Disc is a strong tank healer and should be considered as such (there’s this old school mindset that we arent, that is still lingering in the corners of Azeroth); thats the point I was trying to make. In Edge, we run a Disc and a Pally on our Tanks for the most part, leaving the raid to the Holy Priests, Druids, and Shaman.

    2. In 25man raids it’s not uncommon to need two tank healers. If the Disc is the primary then the Paladin should Beacon the tank and split their time between him (high tank damage) and the raid (especially spike damage mechanics).

      10man is a similar situation, though the Paladin will probably spend more time raid healing. Like Derevka says, nobody is taking or losing a spot. More tank healers mean more flexibility for the raid and Paladins are (slowly) proving themselves as decent raid healers. 4.3 should help that even more.

  4. I was in a moment of opportunity in t11 to become the main tank healer when both holy paladins moved on (one left the game, and the other went ret when we got more healers). I was able to prove my ability as a tank healer then. I was in a 10-man guild then.
    4.2 and Firelands rolled around and my guild merged with another to become a 25-man raiding guild with one holy pally. From my performance in t11, I’ve been given tank healing assignments throughout Firelands. I love it, though I do miss raid healing at times. A funny moment came this week when my healing lead asked me to raid heal H Rhyolith. She was concerned about me on raid and if I needed to respec holy (I’m SoS disc/AA disc). I’m the only disc priest in the guild and I tank healed for so long my healing lead forgot disc could raid heal! Best of all, I topped healing for that fight *flex*
    With 3 holy paladins in the guild now, I think my primary role as tank healer is coming to an end. :( But I sure had a blast tank healing. But I’ll be in the background, ready to show those paladins how it’s done ;)

    1. Don’t be sad and close that door. If you like Tank Healing… fight for it. Frankly; I’d expect your tanks to see/feel a difference losing that added mitigation you provide them. In fact, I’d argue that you’d WANT a Pally/Disc combo on your main tanks for that type of utility and synergy alone.

  5. Since swapping to Priest as my main for 3.0, I have tank healed more than raid healed, and actually didn’t learn holy until we found ourselves with 3 Holy Pallies in BWD. I agree, tanks and healing leads should definitely see the difference when you lose the mitigation healer on a tank.

    I cannot imagine playing Disc full-time and NOT being a tank healer.

    As mentioned in your post, I’ve also been surprised by the number of disc priests who still want to bubble spam, don’t BT>Pennance>Gheal, or don’t watch their Rapture CD.

    Lastly, thank you for writing about the Crit vs Haste stat weights. I’ve certainly gone round and round with other priests about this, and can’t believe when they site the parse where RNG lined up as a reason to gear Crit first.

    1. Moreover, Haste is exponential— er multiplicative (whatever). For every point of haste you have it makes your previous points of haste better. Further, Haste is the the cheapest to increase point for point.

      128 Haste rating = 1% haste
      179 Crit rating = 1% crit
      179 Mastery rating = 1% crit

  6. Really excited to dust off my priest for 4.3. Dual spec Disc/Holy will be insanely versatile. ToaP is back just in time!

  7. Well nice post. Still I missed one statemant for early Wrath raiding- “Disco is for pvp”. Last time i heard it on Cata hc from shadow PRIEST. Heh old days.. :D

  8. Disc as tank healers, I never got the real change to do so as we have always had a holy pally(s) do that. But I agree 100% disc is great at tank healing!

    Going back to stat weights, total agreement with haste being awesome.

    I hate having slow casting spells.

    But wouldn’t mastery over crit be more beneficial and more reliable then a random crit here and there?

    I guess that would depend on your role in the raid?

    1. You need to remove the whole ‘random’ and ‘here and there’ thought process from your mindset– look at it in aggregate on the fight, not on a single cast to cast perspective. Additionally, you need to weigh in the crit ‘DA double dip’ on POH. Yes it CAN depend on your role in the raid…. Mastery isn’t bad, but you get a solid amount baseline, so weigh the ‘amount you lose’ and math it out.

      That said, yes, it can vary on play-style and raid role, healer composition, and available raid buffs.

      1. Hmmm. true..I was thinking on a single cast. taking into account the whole fight, I see where you are coming from.

        But once again welcome back!

  9. So my guilds just starting 10man hc rag, its me and a pala healing which of us should be healing tanks? and if I’m on raid healing do you recommend holy or disc? I’m much more accustomed to disc and worry that il struggle to manage my mana as holy.

    1. In this specific example… given how the trap mechanic works; how in 10′s the output requirements will work. Id probably say you’re better off as Holy, off-healing the tank, and you be responsible for topping the raid post traps.

    2. Go Holy. I did Disco all other bosses, on normal and hc. I was scared as hell goin for holy. Its just a bit different, youll get it in no time. Aftert week or two you will enjoy the possibilities holy brings in. And lightwell, oh my lightwell..

  10. I also have tank healed for most of this raiding tier and have also loved every second of it as disc. I played holy the last tier but like many a holy priest, made the switch to disc for firelands- due to the strength of barrier. I have been revisiting holy on some fights and still enjoy playing both specs.

  11. I have a question. I am learning how to tank heal on heroic rags and I need help with my stats. Some say go haste/crit for faster tank heals, but isn’t haste not as viable as mastery/crit when it comes to 10 man? if anyone could help I would apperciate it.

  12. I finally got my priest to 85 (Last class to get there too!).

    The first thing I did was check out Disc – personally, being stuck in the Paladin Mindset, I picked up tank healing naturally. It’s very similar to Paladin healing in a sense, due to the spamming of Heal and GHeal – but, superior, like you said, because you have WAY more utility.

    Penance rocks too, by the way.

    Good to see your blog back D!

    <3 Lion
    Of course I had a lot of thoughts and misgivings and I'm like "I really wish Derevka hadn't closed his blog"… much to my surprise, you're back!

    I really can't grasp Atonement. I mean, I can, but it feels incredibly awkward and I barely use it (Paladin mindset!). I might pick it up with more haste later on down the track – right now at a low gear level, it feels like I'm sacrificing too much time to get the buff running . But I can see how it would be extremely valuable in a lot of situations.

    1. Ok, so that came out formatted incredibly wrong! I’m sure you get the idea though :)

  13. Hi Guys

    Since the introduction of Cata, I joined the train of going holy at the time. Since the introduction of the attonment spec i’ve been always unsure of how the ‘rotation’ should be, (knowing you don’t like the word ‘rotation’). At the moment, i’m not in a raiding guild or one that takes it seriously or yet do i have a role in raids, so at the moment i’m just doing alot of heroics, while trying to jump into raids when i can. I’m willing to go back to disc (i loved back at start of wrath) but as i said unsure how is the effective way to heroic/raid heal and how it is different to tank healing in that sense

    1. Also how i should go about reforging and gemming gear, i’ve got about 2700 spirit which is more then enough for more liking, i currently reforge anything extra into mastery, should i stop doing this and go to haste/crit?

  14. My guild runs a 25 man we have 2 pally healers, myself as disc, holy priest, druid and resto shaman. Although sometimes our druid goes boomkin so we roll with 5, but even with 2 pally healers I’m often still put on the tanks if for nothing else my “inspiration.”

    In times of heavy raid dmg, I’ll switch to healing up the raid while keeping a PW:S up on both tanks but leave the overall tank healing to the pally’s during that time. When the dmg switches to pimp slapping our tanks, I focus on stacking grace/shielding etc and leave the raid healing to the holy priest and shaman or druid.

    In Firelands I was often paired with one of our holy pally’s like for H.Alysrazor, H. Shannox, or assigned to heal broodling soakers during H. Beth, again because of the mitigation that disc brings to the table with shields/DA etc.

    Since this first week in Dragon Soul, I’m not sure if it’s the pally “buff” that took place in the patch or what but I would typically top our meters and now it seems like I’m barely keeping pace sometimes. I would consider trying holy but I’m not “allowed” to >.< haha. Have any of you re-prioritized your stats since going into Dragon Soul and if so what have you switched around? I'm mostly crit based and have little spirit to speak of, I even swapped it around to stack more mastery than crit and if anything saw a decrease.

    Any insight would be appreciated!

  15. hiya,great post. somehow i just discovered you.
    i was puging the new 4.3 5 mans on my aly disc priest yesterday. as i logged in at the trash before the last boss, the tank says”i hope you are better than the last guy”. then pulls the trash before i buff or drink or anything. i pop a shield, on him and start to build stacks with smite, a poh a pom later and only i am dead…to which they tell me “attonement is no good at this level”. I say it was fine the last few times i ran this, and with 3 tanks its hard to heal in any spec( the huntard and mage didnt like my sarcasm) then proced to pull the boss before i am ready but this time i used evey tool in the box and we came out fine. “L2HEAL” they say and leave group… with me scratching my head.
    later i thought of this post and i had to chuckle. :)
    kateybee/ proudmoore.

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