While we wait for 4.0 to go live and the servers to come back online, please enjoy a writeup concerning PvP Healing in Cataclysm care of my brother.

By Guntir

Our good friend Rey has asked me to write a few words on my opinion of the state of priest healing in PvP at level 85 in Cataclysm. In obliging, I wrote him this book. Since I've yet to receive my own beta invite, we're currently incapable of testing arenas together, so the experiences I'm about to bestow upon you all are based solely from battlegrounds (by which I mean Warsong Gulch, which is the only battleground currently available [via "Random Battleground"]).

Healers specifically received a major overhaul in regards to their mechanics. Whereas the healing styles of each of the healing specs are completely different on live, in Cataclysm they are being homogenized into sharing three main types of heals that are to represent the majority of their healing done. The features that once defined each healing spec are now relegated to supplemental healing. While there is by design a large degree of sameness between healers now, they still manage to feel different and ultimately I feel those differences will put to rest the fears a lot of players have had that healing will be completely uniform across all specs.

The three staple heals in Cataclysm will comprise of a fast, inefficient heal and two slow heals: one of high efficiency and moderate throughput and one of high healing and moderate efficiency. For priests, these roles are filled by Flash Heal, Heal, and Greater Heal, respectively. The intention was that healers would mostly be using Heal to maintain their limited mana pools, switching to Greater Heal when they started falling behind, and only using Flash Heal if they fell dangerously behind in healing. I hear that in PvE this is more or less what is being done.

Unfortunately, this healing model seems to fall short in the PvP front. I started with the full intention of utilizing Heal for as much healing as I could and falling back to less efficient heals only when necessary. Quite simply, this doesn't work. What I quickly discovered was that Heal is simply incapable of providing enough throughput to deal with the damage of anything I encountered. Its throughput is so bad that I struggled to outheal Warlock DoTs with it long after the fighting had ended.

Once I came to terms with the fact that Heal is impractical at best in PvP, I respec'd away from it and began using Greater Heal as my go-to heal of choice. It provided strong throughput while maintaining good efficiency. However, when it comes to raw throughput Flash Heal is unmatched. Its throughput is significantly higher than Greater Heal, and Greater Heal is one of the few spells that can even pretend to be competitive with it. As Discipline, Penance edges out Greater Heal in throughput and even it is blown away by the throughput of Flash Heal. If you're Holy nothing comes close. Simply put, if you need throughput then spam Flash Heal.

Speaking of throughput and efficiency, I crunched the numbers and found some interesting results. For starters, Greater Heal is only marginally worse HPM (healing per mana, my efficiency metric) than Heal, while Flash Heal is significantly worse HPM than Greater Heal. So while we're talking less than a 10% difference in HPM between Heal and Greater Heal, Heal only provides around 35% of the throughput Greater Heal can provide. To compare, Greater Heal provides about 85% of the HPS (healing per second) of Flash Heal, but the HPM of Flash Heal is somewhere around 70% of Greater Heal.

The second interesting result is that Prayer of Mending is no longer so great that you should freely cast it even when you know only one person will get healed from it. In fact, even as Holy a Power Word: Shield is better in both throughput and efficiency than a Prayer of Mending that only heals one person. Moral of the story: if Prayer of Mending isn't going to bounce don't cast it. This is especially interesting considering our new PvP four-piece bonus reduces its cooldown. Also, strictly speaking if Binding Heal doesn't overheal then it is a Priest's highest throughput spell with an efficiency between Flash Heal and Greater Heal. This of course assumes both you and your target are missing health; its single-target throughput is a bit more than twice of Heal's.

Of course with the expansion comes new abilities, and unfortunately the new Priest spells are a bit lacking in the game-changing department. We get a new nuke that's sure to be of great utility to Shadow Priests, but as a healer it will probably be used as interrupt-bait if it even makes it on our bars. Next up is Inner Will; Inner Will and Inner Fire are basically your two stances as a Priest in Cataclysm. Inner Fire continues to provide spell power and a substantial armor buff, while Inner Will reduces the cost of your instant cast spells by 10% and gives a small run-speed buff. It's best to treat it as a poor man's travel form, as actually healing with it costs you a decent amount of spell power and instants in general aren't nearly as useful now. Still, both Inner Will and Inner Fire are free of cost, so the best priests will undoubtedly learn to swap between them as needed.

The last of our new spells is Leap of Faith, which most players are calling "Lifegrip" but I'm personally calling "Brogrip" (to grip your bro, you see). It's hard to judge this ability based on solo-queueing random BGs as things are so hectic and uncoordinated it's very challenging to know when is the most appropriate time to use it. That said, I see this as being a significant ability in the arenas as positioning is incredibly important there. It'll allow your teammates to overextend to draw out one or more important cooldowns, only to pull them back into safety. It'll allow you to stop burst opportunities, as well as pull a teammate closer to a target that's getting peels. The possibilities are nearly endless.

Next I'd like to talk about stats. A problem in WotLK was the fact that haste was simply a better stat than all the others. This problem lives on in Cataclysm; in fact, for priests it very well might be worse. For both Holy and Discipline, 1 point of haste rating is worth more than 1 point of critical strike rating or mastery rating in terms of increased throughput. Of course this added throughput comes at the cost of efficiency, but there lies the problem: in Cataclysm you can control your efficiency by your spell choice.

Think about it just in terms of Greater Heal versus Flash Heal. Flash Heal has the higher throughput, but Greater Heal has the higher efficiency. If I stack haste my efficiency remains roughly the same (I cast more often, but my throughput increases at the same rate), but I'll be able to cast Greater Heal more because my throughput is higher. Contrast this with stacking critical strike. With crit my efficiency goes up (on average I heal more per cast at the same cost), but since my throughput doesn't increase as much I'm forced to cast Flash Heal more and lose my bonus efficiency. Also remember that the throughput difference between Greater and Flash Heal is significantly smaller than the difference in efficiency. This fact is significant because it means you can lose a ton of efficiency and still come out ahead so long as you end up with a higher throughput. This naturally brings us right back to haste as our dominant stat.

I'll talk stats more when I talk about Discipline and Holy separately, but I just wanted to touch upon the new PvP sets briefly. The mainset pieces are going to be a little different this time around. Specifically, they won't strictly be spirit or critical strike rating, but rather a spread of stats. This gives us more freedom to stack stats (specifically, find the optimal four-piece healing, one-piece DPS set-up for the best stat spread), but it also leaves us free to shoot ourselves in the foot by ignoring spirit. It's hard to evaluate spirit as its returns are partially based on your intellect, but I'm currently of the opinion that you should stack spirit everywhere you can't stack more haste. This is mostly based on intuition, however, so expect to juggle stats around when it comes time to make these kinds of choices. Spirit could very well end up superfluous or it could just as easily end up as the best stat. We'll have to wait and see.

Finally, I'd like to take some time to discuss the two separate healing specs individually. I play Discipline on live, so naturally I tried Discipline first on the beta. A few key differences include the new talents Evangelism, Archangel, and Atonement. These talents allow you to use Smite as a heal and then turn those Smite casts into mana and a temporary healing buff. The heal provided from Atonement isn't very big (although it'll give higher throughput than casting Heal), the range is small enough that it'll only work if the person you're trying to heal is either a melee or being attacked by a melee, it only heals 1 person (according to the tooltip, however currently it heals everyone in range), and if it heals you it only does half (again, according to the tooltip but currently not the case), so don't expect to be getting too many Smites off in PvP. Another interesting facet of Smite healing friendlies is that the heal crits when Smite crits, and the crit heal will proc Divine Aegis. It's not much to talk about, although I did get a kick out of having a Smite crit result in 3 party members being healed for 10k on top of having a 3.6k shield proc on all of them.

Evangelism helps the Smite spamming by increasing the damage and reducing the mana cost of Smite, as well as a few other spells, each time you successfully Smite. Mostly you'll just be using Smite to stack up Evangelism to get the most out of Archangel, however it's worth noting that Evangelism affects Penance. This is interesting for two reasons: firstly, offensive Penance does a lot of damage; secondly, the mana reduction takes effect even when you use it to heal. Penance currently provides higher throughput than Greater Heal (although less healing per cast) at a level of HPM that makes Heal look like a sad joke. The prospect of being able to reduce Penance's mana cost even further seems simply ridiculous.

These stacks of Evangelism can then be converted into mana and a temporary healing buff through Archangel. The mana returns are currently higher than they're supposed to be, but otherwise the ability works just like one would imagine. In practice I had trouble getting over three stacks of Evangelism (it stacks to five), so expect these talents to be an added bonus instead of a cornerstone of the build. In arena, I expect you'll see Discipline priests trying to sneak in Smites when possible, and popping Archangel at 1-3 stacks when Evangelism is about to fall off.

An old ability with a new twist for Discipline is Inner Focus. It's basically still the same "free cast with 25% more crit" cooldown, but now it only works for Flash Heal, Greater Heal, and Prayer of Healing. The major difference, however, is it now has a 45 second cooldown and a new talent that reduces this cooldown by five seconds every time you cast Greater Heal. Those last two facts mean that Inner Focus is going to be up quite a bit, and priests will have to adjust to the new playstyle of pretty much using it on cooldown.

Power Word: Shield got nerfed, but with Rapture it's still a spell you'll want to cast. It won't beat out Greater Heal in throughput, but it'll beat it out in efficiency. Plus it circumvents healing absorption and mortal strike effects, which is very handy. Mastery will boost PW:S, Divine Aegis, and Power Word: Barrier pretty quickly, but overall critical strike rating is a better stat, and you probably won't have the luxury of gearing for either in PvP anyway.

Power Word: Barrier is the new end-talent for priests. You may remember that we were promised it halfway through WotLK; better late than never I suppose. It's a powerful cooldown and has the added bonus of being somewhat switch-proof in that your opponents may not be able to simply switch targets when you use it. In addition, it comes with a glyph that increases healing received by anyone standing in it. Overall, it'll help ensure Priests are viable in the arena by giving them a second strong defensive cooldown.

Finally, I'd like to talk about Holy Priests. I'd like to start this by saying that while mana wasn't a big issue playing as Discipline (even when I wasn't abusing Archangel), as Holy mana was a big concern. Granted, I turned every stat point I could into haste, but the lack of Inner Focus, Rapture, and Penance really made maintaining a healthy mana pool difficult. Not impossible, but definitely more difficult. This wasn't quite what I was expecting, as I assumed Holy's extra 20% in-combat mana regen would be very difficult for Discipline to overcome.

Holy has some strange mechanics that I should talk about before delving too deep into the various abilities. For one, their mastery bonus, Echo of Light, applies a HoT on your target whenever you cast a single-target heal. What's important to note is that multiple casts result in the HoT rolling up the remaining healing with the new HoT, resulting in no wasted healing. This means that for Holy, mastery is most likely more throughput than crit. It's still worse than haste, but if stacking haste is simply impractical then mastery would most likely be the next consideration.

Another mechanic that didn't work quite like I expected was Holy's new spell: Holy Word: Chastise. Specifically, how this spell worked with Revelations, which changes Chastise when you are in a Chakra state. As it turns out, entering a Chakra state with Revelations causes Chastise's cooldown to reset. This means you can use Chastise for the incapacitate, then pop Chakra and Renew to enter the Chakra state, and immediately follow that with Chastise on a friendly for an extra HoT. You end up locked out of using Chastise offensively for the duration of Chakra, but at least you got both uses of Chastise from it.

Speaking of Chakra, for PvP it's a pretty lackluster talent. I ended up using it pretty much exclusively for the renew state just because it was the only useful one. If they add a Greater Heal Chakra state then I'll like this talent. The frustrating thing is that despite it being a lackluster talent you still need to Chakra on cooldown because Holy's toolset is so small. Without a buffed Renew and the extra HoT I struggle to keep up with damage.

Lightwell remains the wildcard of the spec. If no one makes use of it it's a waste, but if you and your allies make good use of it then it is pretty amazing. It heals an absolute ton, you can grab it from further away now, and it can't be selected anymore. Its glyph gives extra charges instead of extra healing now, so it'll last the whole duration/cooldown if you limit yourself to about one charge per twelve seconds. If Holy ends up having a place in arenas, Lightwell will be a big reason why.

Guardian Spirit is the same save for the glyph change. Now instead of setting the cooldown to one minute if the cheat death effect doesn't proc it merely reduces the cooldown by thirty seconds regardless. I see this as a nerf, but then again the cheat death proc is going to end up being a 50k heal, so maybe it'll be best to just cast it and let them "die" anyway.

Body and Soul remains with the added bonus of the run speed buff also proccing off of Leap of Faith. This will undoubtedly be a cornerstone of Holy Priest PvP, which is good because another cornerstone of WotLK Holy Priest PvP, Blessed Resilience, is getting nerfed. Granted, in a world where people don't have over 50% crit chance and can't deal half your life in a single cast it's less needed, but the new version is little consolation.

Overall, Discipline seems strong. Admittedly, a small part of that is due to the fact that a number of the talents are bugged in its favor, but I think it'll be a strong contender (maybe even overpowered) even after those are fixed. Holy, I think, has potential, but is held back by a smaller, less useful toolset. It definitely needs something extra.