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Getting the Most Out of Disc and Spirit Shell

Discipline priests have had a number of changes since launch; and all for the better! To best understand what changes have happened and how they affect us, lets quickly recap our three biggest changes.

  • Divine Aegis creation has been increased from 30% to 50%.
  • Archangel now affects Spirit Shell properly.
  • Spells affected by Inner Focus cast while Spirit Shell is active now fully apply critical effect to the shield provided.

All three of these changes are really good news as they are substantial and direct increases to our output— caveat: when used properly. If I have said it once, I have said it a million times: “The single best thing a Discipline priest can do to increase their effective healing is to know the fight.”  It is as simple as that, know the fight. Know when damage is coming and to prep the raid for that oncoming damage.

Knowing the fight is important for a number of reasons, but simply put it is to know when to effectively use your cooldowns . (And Disc has MANY) When in a fight will your raid be grouped up and PW: Barrier will be best used? When will activating Archangel (and subsequently when will stacking Evangelism be a priority) be best used? When will Spirit Shell’s mitigation be needed? All these questions are things you should be asking yourself as you go into a fight– complicating these questions is, of course, being sure you aren’t sitting on the cooldowns so long that you are WASTING the cooldown itself. (ie. Could you have used it a second, third, or fourth time in that fight if you didn’t hold it?).

Could you simply just blindly spam your absorbs and have them be eaten up by incidental damage and be effective? Yes. But it isn’t the best way to play your class. One example of this kind of gameplay is when people simply macro Spirit Shell to their POH keybind— again, is this effective? Yes… is it the best way to heal? NO! Spirit Shell is best used when in conjunction with specific boss abilities– know when they are coming. Before the raid look at the Dungeon Journal, look at Wowhead tooltips, watch your bossmod timers, prepare your raid for the damage, and do what Disc is designed to do: MITIGATE.

Lets take Blade Lord Ta’yak as an example. In our most recent Heroic 25 kill, we used two Disc Priests. We both prepared the raid (we assigned ourselves 2 groups and shared the 3rd) by popping Archangel with about 15 seconds lead time before Unseen Strike hit.  When the raid soaked Unseen Strike, when combined with our PW: Barrier rotation our HP barely moved!

Spirit Shell is unlike no other ability in the game. What other ability allows you to prepare a raid and pretty much “STOP ALL DAMAGE NOW”. Heroic, Normal, and LFR fights all value the ability to stop damage– and many Heroic encounters greatly lean on this as part of healing strategy. Damage Avoided (or mitigated) is generally superior to damage re-healed. Figuring out what you can do to maximize this ability, by both gearing and playing correctly is something we should be thinking about.

Even though Spirit Shell has a short CD, we still need to maximize it’s output during its uptime. (beyond just gearing correctly— Mastery is gold). This often means finding time to stand and “turret-heal” for the duration of the buff. One of the worst things you can do is waste the CD by casting it right before you have to do a good deal of moving. Now, this does now beg the question: how many casts can you actually FIT in this 15 second window? Remember, Spirit Shell only applies if the buff is active when you complete the cast. Our fellow priest theorycrafter, Aidinne, actually did a great analysis of that question (here).

It is important to keep in mind that generally most disc priests are NOT gearing for Haste (and they really shouldn’t be). To summarize my interpretation of Aidinne’s results, in most raid environments you’ll likely be getting 6 POH casts in during Spirit Shell’s uptime. (This is assuming you are Raidbuffed with 5% haste;  you’re only looking at 1-2% haste when adjusted for latency and human lag).  The 7th cast of POH during that 15 second period would require higher amounts of haste than you’d probably like to have, particularly considering the amount of Mastery & Crit you’d have to sacrifice to get that amount of Haste in current gear.  If you decide to run Power Infusion concurrent with Spirit Shell, you would be able to get 7 casts in that window.  Of course, if you have a Borrowed Time banked prior to activating Spirit Shell, you likely will able to get an additional POH, but generally we should be planning for 6 casts of POH during Spirit Shell’s uptime.

Now that we’ve laid out the facts, I’d suggest looking at your gear and your logs. When doing this, instead of trying to figure out how to gear to be able to ‘sneak in’ additional casts during Spirit Shell, evaluate how effective you are being with your time when Spirit Shell is active. Are you doing a poor job deciding when to activate it and are forced to move and lose a second or two? Are your keybinds too complex to activate SS, AA, and Inner Focus at the same time without losing precious seconds of the buff? Are you activating Spirit Shell too early, and as a byproduct losing Shells on people before the ‘big damage’ comes? Are you able to time Borrowed Time into that rotation?

A tricky thing we need to keep in mind is to not waste casts during Spirit Shell. For example, if you have time to cast multiple casts on a group (or a single player) capping Spirit Shell over 60% of the casting priest’s HP is wasteful. Now that Inner Focus applies to Spirit Shell casts, it is easier to cap. At the moment, there is not a plugin (that I am aware of) for any raid frame that lets you know if a Shell is capped; and a lot of “intuition” needs to be used when cycling through targets. (Less of an issue with POH, but more of one if you are casting single target heals)

Perhaps the most interesting question you could ask yourself regarding Spirit Shell is: should I be using Power Infusion (assuming you are spec’d for it) to get a single extra cast of POH during Spirit Shell? Sometimes the answer is no. It might be better use of Power Infusion to cast raw POHs and get actual healing out. Evaluate your fight’s damage patterns— know the fight, and respond with our vast toolkit.

Disc is a fun spec, however mastering it does take some time. A lot of being good at disc is not just learning how to play the spec, but also learning the encounter and how your raid’s strategy impacts that encounter’s damage. Prepare, Mitigate, Succeed.


Written By: on November 28, 2012
  1. Well said as always! (More than) a couple of comments:

    1. Given a fixed spellpower (or possibly 2 different values considering standard procs) and related stats, the amount that a SShelled PoH puts up is fixed and we should get used to what it is for our toon. It is then easy to work out if a 3rd or 4th one will reach the 60% of our health cap. So even without an addon, we should know if we’re about to cap or not.
    2. One key thing I found, perhaps obvious but worth mentioning, is to alternate between the groups when stacking SS, since the timer refreshes every time. This way if you stack on 2 groups, you get another 13 seconds after you are done before the first group loses the buff. So a total of more than 20 seconds to be off by when you need it up (because frankly if the damage comes as you cast your third PoH on the first group (5th overall), it will likely not go to waste (for most sources of raid damage).
    3. I personally do like to stack PI with SS, largely because it is that time that I end up casting the somewhat expensive PoH, I spend a lot of the rest of my time with Penance, Holy Fire, the occasional PoM which are somewhat cheaper. Therefore my favorite activation sequence would be: InnerFocus, PowerInfusion, Cascade, AA, SS, PoHx6. I usually forget about IF and try to squeeze it in as I spam my PoHs. I should probably get in the habit of starting the whole thing with a PW:S for the extra borrowed time.
    4. I agree that haste is really really low priority for us. I would only invest in at most 1000 or so haste, and that’s if it would get me to a next worthwhile breakpoint. Fitting for instance 8 SS PoHs in a 25man if you are the only Disc could be nice, as you get to refresh the timer of SS on the first 3 groups that end up getting the extra PoHs.
    5. Yes it can’t be emphasized enough, knowing the fight is perhaps more important than ever right now for Disc.
    6. People tend to underestimate the healing produced by Atonement, and to underutilize AA. An Atoned Penance is a sweet thing, as the three ticks can actually heal different targets who need them.
    7. One last thing worth mentioning: On 10mans in particular, SS can be good to use with GH for instance. Getting 2 of those on the tank is not that bad a use of SS, if there isn’t a more appropriate point frequently. And now those Heals, GHeals etc under SS do stack grace as you cast them. My favorite such SS use is when coming out of shadow realm on Garajal: I PW:S the three dolls, then pop SS and go to town with Flash Heals on all 3 dolls. Gives me 15-20 seconds of peace and quiet as his damage has to get through those shields first before it goes to the dolls.

    Well I better stop, Derevka will not forgive me if my reply is longer than his post.

  2. More healing tips Adinne, more more more or maybe get your own blog going?

    1. Hehe one of these days I will get back on the blogging band-wagon. For now I’m keeping myself busy with my healing calculator (should be able to follow the link on my name to check it out).

  3. I would like to emphasize more on the very getting out the most of SS and that disc play-style. Will start with secondary stats priority: mastery > crit >>> haste. Haste have been discussed already and I share the conclusion it is not beneficial to SS PoHs in the reasonable margins. You will always have pieces of non-optimal gear with haste on it, so you don’t feel SO slow and to have that split-second slack on the 6th SS PoH. I have calculated mastery and crit to be relatively the same averaged in the long run. For SS they are practically the same. Actually crit would have no benefit for every other 13-th PoH due to IF maxing it now. For regular off-SS PoHs, crit is too unreliable and even if it procs, you won’t always absorb the whole accidental gigantic DA. I think the SS crit discretization formula spoiled us too much here. Forgot about main stats. Why spirit is overrated, Derevka already posted some time ago and I won’t go into the mathy details why I would never socket/enchant spirit over a throughput stat above some overall ilvl.

    Now on using it on the field. Beside the obvious PI+AA+SS macro, it is important which groups will be targeted for each of the PoHs. Would be speaking from 25m perspective because I don’t have 10m experience with it and frankly there aren’t very many ways to use SS on two groups with two tanks. Besides fights with constant aoe dmg, I prefer to preshield limited amount of groups instead of blanketing the whole raid. The remaining group(s) can be snipe healed overally faster by the other healers with much lower overhealing, given the expected instant aoe won’t kill them of course. This means I would cover 3 groups two times and if there is a 7-th poh, I would decide on the fly where and when to apply it. If the aoe dmg comes mid cast, I might opt to use the 7th poh on 4th group before redoing first 3 so that people there don’t die before other healers react. Or if shields are fully or substantially absorbed on one of the first groups, I would consider repeating it. Normally I would use IF at the end for a regular PoH, which to cover the eminently damaged nonSS-ed group but now with SS benefiting from IF, I would rather empower my last SS poh, after having time to decide where better to land it.

    If the incoming aoe is on a strict interval, you can use SS some 22s to 15s before it happens, considering you don’t forget to use it immediately after coming off cd. But if the boss ability is rather on a cd, max 15-18 would be recomended so that older shells don’t expire before boss decides he’s into doing it. Generally the (N-3)th or (N-2)th poh groups will be in danger of suffering from this so this is why I may opt to refresh that group with the (N-1)th or (N)th cast if I see that the shell on 1st or 2nd group (tanks, melees, etc) is already close to eaten up due to regular dmg. Even if a stack is lost their lowish one is better sacrificed than losing an untouched stack. Wind Lord’s Rain of Blades has an annoying cd of 50s so a SS rotation of -20s, -10s, 0s, barrier, repeat would be perfect. But more often than not I tend to have shells expire due to him forgetting to cast it “on time”. So I prefer to start at -15 or -10. Here comes the fight knowing part. And this means real field experience not just reading ability timers and calling it done.

    @Adinne, I would move AA before Cascade in your spam macro/rotation. It lasts 18s and would cover your 6th(/7th with PI) PoH even with that extra GCD. PW:S could also be considered between Cascade and SS – honestly mana is not an issue for Disc and even if Rapture is on icd the extra HpS from the shield is not a waste. On most encounters there is a non-tank target that would benefit from the absorb and/or the run speed. You get Borrowed Time and even if it’s not enough to squeeze another PoH into the shell, it could buy a spare split-second slack time covering cases of lag (Elegon 25 anyone..) or accidental casting interruption happens / is required.

    SS+IF is currently bugged after 5.1: once IF is used during SS to create a shell on a target, the crit effect sticks to SS casts for the remaining of your login session. And you are free to use it on cd off-SS for regular PoHs. Hope it’s fixed very soon before it’s flooded with spoiled heroic logs.

    1. The SS/IF bug at the moment *will* be fixed. I know that Blue is aware of the bug. So I guess enjoy being OP right now (its not really an exploit if its a result of using spells how you’d normally use them).

  4. ” At the moment, there is not a plugin (that I am aware of) for any raid frame that lets you know if a Shell is capped; and a lot of “intuition” needs to be used while cycling through targets.”

    As a matter of fact u do have an addon capable of that; vuhdo. It creates a filling circle in the raid frames.

    Thank for your always helpful information.

  5. I use GridStatusShield plugin for Grid to monitor my SS caps. The plugin lets you set two absurb “caps”. When my bubbles reaches 40% of my health the text is orange and when it is 60% its in red so i know not to cast anymore PoH to minimize its “overhealing”.

  6. I find my biggest issue maximizing SS comes from PoH range. Nothing is more frustrating then when you cast a SS PoH on a “range” group and it only hits one or two people. So not only do you have to know the encounters but you have to know how your raid leader sets up groups and where those individuals like to stand on each fight. :(

    1. @Sacer – Using Vuhdo’s built-in cluster finder is a phenomenal way of tracking clustered players for effective POH/SS usage. The following settings will show me a 4 (yellow) or 5 (green) person cluster regardless of health.

      Refresh Rate: Default (or adjusted for your pc)
      Range : 30 yards (effective range from caster to target)
      Health Level: 100% (effectively “always on”)
      Operation Mode: Radial
      Max. number of heal targets: 5 (As per Prayer o Healing tooltip)
      Link to Spell Cooldown: I leave it empty, discuss among yourselves.
      Cone: 360* (Prayer of Healing has to cone requirements/facings)
      Sell Source: Target (Prayer of Healing is cast on the target, does not originate from our caster)
      Spell Destination: Party (Still party wide…)
      Counter Options are player preference, I enjoy my setup.

      Hope this helps! Enjoy!

  7. What’s up colleagues, pleasant post and good urging commented here, I am genuiely enjoying by these.

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