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Spiritual Guidance: First impressions of the Mists of Pandaria beta from a 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.

This past week, I finally got access to the Mists of Pandaria beta, which means I've had lots of shiny new stuff to play with recently. As a healing priest, I gave a thorough look at both holy and discipline priests and found a lot of things I felt I should report back.

First, let's start with Chakra. Before I even finished downloading the beta client, I heard complaints from other priests saying that Chakra states had turned into stances (think warrior stances). The concept of this intrigued me, but when I finally got around to toying around with it, I didn't really know why anyone would think too much of it. The stances simplify Chakra, so rather than having to press two buttons to change to Chakra: Sanctuary, all you have to do is hit one. If you want to switch again, there is a 30-second cooldown before you can swap.

From a mechanical standpoint, the game has made it easy to pull each stance out of your spellbook and bind it individually to a key of your choosing. I decided to stick each stance on its own F key (I enjoy certain abilities to have a dedicated key, but positioned further away from the crowd of keys I use regularly). I found that I really liked being able to swap from one to another in a single keystroke, rather than two. In my opinion, it's a quality of life change that removes an unnecessary step without really affecting the gameplay.

While you may recall my once advocating to keep Chakra complex, we lost that battle ages ago, so I don't see much sense in clinging to it. For what we've all gotten used to, this little UI change just makes things more sensible.

New talents and abilities

A few of the new talents priests are getting aren't available on beta yet, either because they haven't been implemented or because they're level 90 talents and there isn't enough content to easily grind your character up to 90 yet. That said, I still saw a handful of new talents and abilities to play with. Here are the highlights.

  • Spirit Shell The most appealing part of the new discipline shield is that its absorption stacks. Cast the shield on another player twice in a row, and the shield on him will grow stronger and have its duration refreshed. The amount of absorption you can stack does cap, and from what I can tell, it's based on how much mastery you have. (I could be wrong though, so give me more time to play with it before I etch it in stone -- this is beta, after all.) With my gear, I was able to get the shield up to about 33k on one and 25k on another. My only complaint so far is that I find the cast time on this spell to be a smidgeon too long, but some haste may change that later on.
  • Void Tendrils This ability isn't quite what I expected it to be. The duration is fine, but the 8-yard range (originally,it was supposed to be 10 yards) really restricts how you can use it. I could see it working best in PvP when you've got four people tearing you to shreds. For PvE, though, even leveling, I think the range will limit the application. (Psyfiend is equally situational, so that may just be the new design the developers are going for with crowd control.) I do have one cosmetic complaint about Void Tendrils, though, which is that I found the tentacle to be too organic and earthy-looking. I'd prefer a more sinister-looking tendril.
  • Path of the Devout This is the new alternative to Body and Soul, increasing your speed by a smaller amount (25%) for basically as long as you want. The speed bonus is applied when you cast Levitate on yourself, which would make you think, "Oh, it's not good for combat" -- but in fact, the buff persists for 30 seconds after losing Levitate. That means you can basically just keep reapplying it on yourself when you need it and never have to run around a dungeon like the plebeians ever again. Pish posh, I say.
  • Void Shift Derevka pointed out to me that you can currently use this ability to swap health percentages with any friendly player. That means any random player walking by or in combat is a potential target, even if they're not in your party. I don't expect this to last much longer, because it offers too many opportunities to harass people, but it's certainly fun to play with now.

Absent discipline talents

If you look at the talent tree that discipline priests currently use on live servers, you'll realize that many core aspects of our playstyle come from our talents. Consider that we make a conscious decision to use Power Word: Shield at least once every 12 seconds, to ensure we get mana back from Rapture. Next, there is Borrowed Time, which we use to hurry along spells with lengthy cast times such as Greater Heal or Prayer of Healing. The recently added Strength of Soul encourages us to cast single-target spells when tank healing, since doing so reduces the cooldown on Weakened Soul, which in turn allows Power Word: Shield to be reapplied sooner. Finally, one of our most essential talents is Soul Warding, which removes the cooldown from Power Word: Shield and in turn allows us to apply shields back to back without missing a beat. Without Soul Warding, bubble spam cannot exist.

The reason I mention all these things is because they're all gone. Rapture, Borrowed Time, Strength of Soul, and Soul Warding have all been removed from both the talent trees and the list of active and passive abilities granted when selecting a specialization. Nowhere that I can find is there an indication that these talents will exist in gameplay naturally, so I suspect they're gone for good. Power Word: Shield in particular tells me that this isn't oversight -- the spell had its cooldown raised from 3 seconds to 6 seconds.

With these talents absent, the playstyle that many discipline priests have grown accustomed to will change completely. We'll keep many of the same spells, but how we utilize each one will change. Holy, in contrast, I think will continue to play much the same way it does now. Holy utility abilities such as Surge of Light, Body and Soul, and Serendipity all made it in to the final cut of talents. That means a holy priest can choose to keep utilizing those abilities and the playstyle that accompanies it, or go in a different direction by grabbing something like ... Power Infusion. Nice.

[Addendum: After reading some early comments, it occurred to me that I should have reminded priests that prior to patch 3.1.0, Soul Warding did not exist and Power Word: Shield had a 4 second cooldown. I remember having to strategically select who I used my shields on during Malygos' vortex to keep the raid alive, and honestly, that was a lot of fun

The very start of Wrath was when I first started raiding, after spending most of The Burning Crusade PvPing as a disc priest. This was the first time disc was given the talents to be really viable in PvE, and I was invited to raid under that premise despite the majority of players not believing disc has any place in a raid. It wasn't until the second half of the expansion that disc stated to be accepted as a raid spec when it and bubble spam was popularized by various top end guilds' Algalon kill videos. I understand the cause for alarm with these changes, especially from disc priests who didn't start playing disc until after Ulduar, but I can vouch that disc was very competitive in the first tier of Wrath, even with a 4-second cooldown on Power Word: Shield. Disc was definitely better for single target healing in 25-man raiding, but it excelled in 10-mans to the point that I was able to solo heal many 10-man encounters with a decently, but not overly, geared group. Worry not priests. It should be okay.]

Renew still baseline (for now)

I noticed two things about Renew right off. First, it looks like Renew is going to remain a baseline priest ability in MoP, at least for now. Up until now, I was pretty sure discipline (and shadow) were losing this particular spell, so either I've been wrong all along, or the developers changed their minds on it. Whatever it is, it's nice to see it nestled among the pages of my spellbook, regardless of what spec I'm in.

Holy priests may be interested to know that I didn't see any signs of talents like Divine Touch or Rapid Renewal. I thought both talents might be found in the form of glyphs or just tossed onto some other talent, but that doesn't appear to be the case. With everything discipline lost, I suspect this is what holy is losing, too.

Atonement -- pretty damn spiffy

A few weeks back, the developers mentioned that Atonement would be making a comeback in MoP as a glyph. At the time, I suggested that this would mean nothing but good things for Atonement. Through most of Cataclysm, I remember listening to priests argue about not keeping Atonement in your main raiding spec, since it wasn't useful on every fight. Now, you can do that without holding up your raid. Awesome, huh?

Well, while that's nice, it's not why I'm bringing up Atonement today. To explain why Atonement is spiffy, I've decided to make you a short list.
  • Using the Glyph of Holy Fire, priests can now make Holy Fire an instant-cast spell. It still has a cooldown, but combining that with Atonement is absolutely enticing.
  • Since Atonement is a glyph, it can now be used by holy priests. Chakra: Chastise has finally found its true calling, people.
  • Penance works with Atonement now, with each individual tick counting as a separate heal. Since Atonement uses smart healing, you can potentially hit three different targets with low health, all with the same Penance.

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

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