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Spiritual Guidance: Mists of Pandaria and the existential crisis of the healing priest

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Spiritual Guidance for discipline, holy and shadow priests. Dawn Moore covers the healing side of things for discipline and holy priests. She also writes for LearnToRaid.com and produces the Circle of Healing Podcast.

At BlizzCon 2011, I sat down in front of the Mists of Pandaria demo and took a long look at the character creation screen before me. At the time, I was there to try out the newly announced monk class, but I couldn't help thinking that there wasn't much point in my doing so. I stared at the silver staff on that intimately familiar icon and wondered if maybe I should just roll a pandaren priest to preview the new casting animations. I knew then that I'd never put any serious time into playing a monk, even as an alt. Why? Because I'm totally playing a priest in Mists of Pandaria.

The reason I recall this story now is because of how dramatically the priest class may change in MoP. Everything is under development, but already things are looking radically different as the foundation (or at least the infrastructure) of our class is torn out and redone. We looked at some of these changes last week, and this week, I thought it would be good to wrap up the loose ends of the discussion.

Splitting the toolbox

One thing I really didn't talk about in last week's article is that the new talent calculators seem to indicate that the healing toolbox priests use is being chopped in half and split between discipline priests and holy priests. We talked about Prayer of Healing being a holy-only ability and Holy Nova becoming discipline-only, but it goes further than that. Binding Heal, Renew, and Divine Hymn now all look like they're going to become holy priest exclusives, while discipline priests will be the only spec that gets to keep Hymn of Hope.

The general community response to this has been negative, and I for the most part fall in line with those sentiments. I've always felt the biggest appeal to playing a priest was our large toolbox of spells, a trait I always attributed to our being the closest thing WoW has to a true healing class. Just as true DPS classes have lots of damaging abilities at their disposal, we have lots of healing spells to work with, even if some of them don't get as much use. I think a lot of the fun, challenge, and reward of playing a priest comes from looking at all those options and choosing the best one for the situation. Other healers have more all-purpose heals that can be used for several situations, while we sort of specialize.

I can only speculate why the Blizzard developers chose to go in this direction, but it makes me wonder if other classes will be receiving similar treatment. Will mages lose the ability to cast Arcane Missiles when they aren't specced for arcane? Will combat rogues still use Stealth? And beyond that, why is this being done? Is this to make playing a priest easier? If so, was playing a priest actually that hard? Is this being done to create two distinctively different healing classes?

Unfortunately, it's really impossible to know at this point without a lengthy statement from Blizzard, so I'll do my best to reserve judgement until then. I don't think I'm alone when I say I'm devastated, though. Binding Heal, in particular, is a spell I'm very attached to, and I can't imagine losing it as a discipline priest.

Finding the silver lining

Regardless, I feel I should try to find the positives in all this. Last week, there was a lot of falling sky talk, and while I think those feelings will remain for many priests, I'll do my best to find the silver lining. So let's think, what will we get out of this? Hmm ... Well, I'd imagine this will make the specs easier to balance alongside other healers. When discipline is too strong, Blizzard will be able to tweak the spec without the change severely impacting holy. This would probably make things more efficient and possibly faster when nerfs and buffs are necessary.

Another positive from these changes is that the two specs will become distinctive to play, much in the way playing a boomkin is very different from playing a cat druid. This would allow you to change things up when you want to and get a nice break away from your norms. It also encourages you to learn more about the other specs of your class instead of only ever learning one. This won't appeal to everyone, I'm sure, but it's there for people who do like a change of pace.

There are other positives I could suggest, but I think some of them are too speculative to mention. Without seeing how things work first hand and not having a clear understanding of what the developers are after, I feel like we're still in the dark. The only solace I can offer right now is that Blizzard has said priests are still under heavy development.

Atonement

There were a lot of questions asked last week about Atonement, so I decided I should dedicate some time to it this week. Will it be good in MoP or bad? Well, I can tell you that it's incredibly hard to know at this point how good it will be (especially from a numerical standpoint) until we can get to beta. It doesn't help that the information on the encounters we're facing is limited, too. Regardless of this, I do think Atonement will see more use in this upcoming expansion. The reason for this is that the Blizzard developers have already stated that they're planning on making Atonement into a major glyph, which would allow players to quickly and easily tap into Atonement without a respec.

Right off, I think this is the best thing we could have hoped for concerning Atonement. Though die-hard fans of the talent with disagree with me, I'm don't think Atonement has been a talent you should always have in your spec this past expansion. I think there are certain fights when the talent shines and a bunch more where it works well enough, even if it's not the best way to spend your time and mana. As far as output is concerned, it's really always been more of a utility for discipline priests, since neither the healing or DPS is particularly significant.

Pulling a rough number out of my head, I'd say half of the fights in Cataclysm were encounters where you'd even want to use Atonement, and of those fights, only a few made Atonement shine as the best possible option. Because of this, I've always been reluctant to keep Atonement in my default spec, and since I always go into dungeons and raids with holy as my other spec, swapping to an Atonement build when the talent was even remotely useful would require me to head to the trainer in the middle of it all. Why inconvenience yourself and your group when it's only okay?

Making Atonement into a glyph saves a lot of time and gold for players, and that in turn will encourage more priests (myself included) to experiment with the ability in MoP. The more people we have experimenting with it, the more opportunities we'll have to find valuable uses for it that are competitive and useful. That could lead to the talent's becoming quite popular and Blizzard's developing more ways to integrate its usage into later encounters. Personally, I think that would be a lot of fun, especially if we got another holy damaging ability that could be incorporated. Holy Nova is supposed to become a core spell for discipline priests this next expansion, right?

Getting back on track

Next week, I'll be exploring holy HPS, as I promised earlier this month. I did receive a few emails from holy priest readers, but since some time has passed, I wanted to remind you that you can email me (dawn@wowinsider.com) with any concerns or problems you feel you're having with your healing output as a holy priest. You don't even need to message me about HPS -- you can just ask me which shoes match your Benediction better or something. So until then, keep your chins up, priests.

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.

Filed under: Priest, (Priest) Spiritual Guidance, Mists of Pandaria

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