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!