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.