I received an email three weeks back from a discipline priest who told me she thought her performance on the healing meters was too low. Though there wasn't any pressure on her from her guild to change what she was doing, she was bothered that her peers often outhealed her by a significant amount -- even another discipline priest with worse gear and a laggy computer. She told me she'd first noticed it at the start of Cataclysm, despite the fact that her performance on meters should have gone up with the change to combat logs (which allowed absorption from Power Word: Shield and Divine Aegis to register on meters). She kept up with her assignments regardless, and none of her targets ever died, but something just didn't seem right to her.
The priest linked me her armory but said that she didn't think it was anything to do with her gear choices, which I agreed with upon my own inspection. She also described what she was casting, none of which seemed horribly egregious to me. What could be wrong?
Based on what she had told me, I told her that I didn't actually think she was doing anything wrong but that it sounded like she simply wasn't a very aggressive healer. Aggressive healing, I told her, was playing to produce high output. It's sniping heals out from other healers; it's making sure no one else has a chance to get a heal in. If done poorly, the priest will produce a lot of output for a short time then be completely dry for mana for the majority of the fight. If done well, the priest should remain competitive with other healers and always be on the verge of going out of mana. It's a risky way to play and doesn't leave much available mana in the event that plans change, but it has a lot of appeal to people who think topping the meters is winning. Let me explain roughly how to do it.
How it's done
Raising your healing numbers as a disc priest is largely about denying other healers the chance to heal with Power Word: Shield. This is an exceptionally dirty and cut-throat job, especially if there is another disc priest in the raid you have to compete with. If done properly though, you can start endowing Azerothian universities and naming buildings in Stormwind after yourself.
What you want to do is look around your raid for the players who take the most damage. They will be your tanks, any players assigned to soak debuffs or split damage between, players who often stand in fire, and players who often pull threat. With the exception of tanks, the players who take the most damage will vary from fight to fight, so pay attention to the strategy when you're learning the fight. Once you know who to shield, all you need to do is make sure there is always a shield on that player. Whenever Weakened Soul expires, apply a new one, and repeat.
When all your ideal targets are shielded, it's time to heal with the rest of your arsenal of spells. If you're assigned to keep the tanks alive, just go ahead and pile spells onto the tank, since this will have two positive effects. First, you will stack additional absorption in the form of Divine Aegis every time your spells crit. Divine Aegis is absorbed after Power Word: Shield, so it will still allow you to intercept damage before it becomes damage for other healers to heal. Second, your casted spells like Greater Heal and Flash Heal will reduce the duration of Weakened Soul (because of Strength of Soul) and in turn allow you to put another shield up sooner.
If you're out of ideal targets and assigned to heal the raid, your go-to spell is Penance. The spell has a rather significant cooldown, though, so many priests may think the next thing to do once Penance is on cooldown is move on to casted heals. In my experience, this is a mistake. See, the casted spells of a disc priest are typically too slow to keep up with the quick cast times of paladins or the instant-cast spells of a shaman. Even Flash Heal is a bit too slow, since disc priests don't usually stack enough haste to keep up with paladins (remember, we go for a nice, even blend of secondary stats).
When you try to use casted heals alongside other raid healers, you usually just end up arriving a second too late, registering most of your spells as overhealing. So what you should do instead is exhaust Penance, and then go right back to looking for your next shield target. Check to see if the tanks' shields are about to drop off, consider who is going to take damage next, and stop wasting your time trying to pick up the miscellaneous damage on random raid members. Remember that disc raid healing, like all disc healing, is about shields. If a raid member is dying and being neglected, by all means, cast on him, but if you think the other members of your raid can handle it, you should be anticipating who will need your next shield. If you frequently find yourself using more than once casted spell between shielding and Penance as a raid healer, you will inevitably fall behind on the meters.
A few tips
- Do keep casting Prayer of Mending on cooldown. Tossing it on the tank is usually your best bet.
- Prayer of Healing is entirely situational. You'll probably never need to use it in a 25-man as disc priest. In a 10-man, you can use it both preemptively and reactively, keeping in mind that it should always come after your shielding.
- Learning the timings of large damage boss abilities will give you a huge advantage. A few seconds before an ability is set to go off, shield as many targets as you can who will take damage from the ability. Then when the ability is used, you'll get credit for all the damage absorbed. Using boss timers like Deadly Boss Mods or BigWigs will assist in this greatly.
- Set up your UI to display a countdown for Weakened Soul so you know how much time is left on the debuff and thus how much time you have before you can apply another Power Word: Shield. Grid Indicator Corner Icons, Grid Indicator Side Icons, and Grid Indicator Icon Bar can all be used to display this information to some effect. This is very necessary if competing against another disc priest trying to do the same thing.
- Mana management is harder but it is learned over the span of each fight. You will need to start experimenting with timings for your mana restorative abilities as your guild progress through each phase. When you finally get close to killing a boss, you should have a precise list of cues committed to memory for when you need to use each ability you have in order to make it through the entire fight with enough mana.
Warning: Healing meters should not be used for evil
I've said it again and again, but given that I've just now written an article entirely on increasing your performance on the healing meters, let me say it again: Numbers aren't everything. You shouldn't think of HPS the way a damage class thinks of DPS, because the jobs of a healer and a damage dealer are very different. The job of a DPSer is to do as much damage as possible while staying alive and performing any assigned duties. The job of a healer is to keep himself and other players alive.
Keeping other players alive does not require you to do as much healing as possible. Instead, keeping players alive requires you to be keep an eye on your assigned targets, to manage your mana so that you always have enough and to pick the correct spells at the right times. And did you know you can do all this successfully, assist other healers in your raid with their jobs, and still never top a meter? Remember that.
Meters are tools to help you monitor the amount of healing your raid does. To a healer, they are not measures of skill or contribution, and they should not be used to determine who is the most valuable healer in your raid. Do not use them to tell someone that you or another player is better than him. Do not use meters for evil! (Or else rogues will come and eat you in the middle of the night!)
Next week, I'll be discussing how to improve your HPS as a holy priest. If you're a holy priest with a similar problem to the disc priest who wrote me, leave a comment or send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) to let me know what your problem is. If I can, I'll include the answers to your questions in my article.
Come to Spiritual Guidance for the inside line on current healing gear and trinkets, as well as advice for healing in Dragon Soul. Newcomer to the priest class? Look into leveling a healing priest, and consult our guides to Discipline Priest 101 and Holy Priest 101.