Guest Post: Discipline Smite/Atonement Healing

I got our resident smiting discipline priest, Laralsong, of Eff the Ineffable, to tell us about smite healing.  We all know how I think smite healing sucks, so it was quite embarrassing when Laral wiped the meters with me last weekend and this weekend. What is his secret?  (That’s what this post is for.)

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There’s plenty of talk lately about Atonement healing not being a viable option for healing in raids and that it’s only acceptable when healing heroic dungeons.  I disagree, and I’m currently putting my opinion into practice as part of team heals for Eff the Ineffable.  Given the relative lack of information about Atonement healing in raids, Zel asked if I’d be willing to write up an overview of how to approach this different method of healing.

The Build

Wowhead Talents

Evangelism, Archangel, and Atonement are key pieces of the spec; without them, you don’t even have the option for Atonement healing.  Some other talents are worth further discussion:

  • Darkness: the number of points you put here will depend mostly on how much haste you get from your gear and your comfort level with your cast times (also assuming that you get the 5% haste buff from someone in your raid group).  Since Atonement healing rarely uses Renew, you’re not reaching for that first haste plateau to add an extra tick.
  • Soul Warding: the days of shield spamming are long past (mostly due to the increased mana cost).  I’ve not yet been in a situation that required that I cast back-to-back shields that could not wait 2 seconds.
  • Train of Thought: I find that this talent is a nice quality of life improvement for the Penance cooldown reduction.  Between this and the glyph, you can pretty much count on Penance being off cooldown every single time you need to cast it.

Prime glyphs are fairly straightforward: reduce your Penance cooldown, get a bit of “free”  healing every time you shield someone, and increase your healing on anyone standing under your Barrier.  Unlike many other classes and specs, major glyphs are very important to Atonement healing.  You absolutely must have Glyph of Divine Accuracy, otherwise your Smite casts will often miss and be wasted.  You probably also want the new Glyph of Prayer of Mending for a huge healing boost on its first charge.

Tactics

First, Atonement healing is for tank healing only.  During times when the raid is taking lots of damage, you’ll help a bit with raid healing by default because your Smite casts will proc Atonement on whoever has the lowest health within 15 yards of your target.  Other than that, a priest specced for Atonement healing just does not have the toolkit for raid healing.

That said, it’s a different sort of tank healing that requires it’s own mind set (and yes, it helps to think a little bit like a ranged DPS player at times; if you absolutely cannot stand getting a bit of ranged DPS in your healing then this is not the spec for you).

So, whom do I Smite?

Start thinking of Smite as the replacement for your Heal spell.  Except it takes less time to cast, costs less mana, and will heal for significantly more.  This means that you want to cast Smite pretty regularly, both to keep up those smaller, inexpensive heals and to build and maintain a stack of 5 Evangelism (which will make your Smites hit even harder for larger Atonement heals, and reduce the cost of both Smite and Penance).

Since Smite is a ranged damage spell, and Atonement will proc on the raid member with the lowest health within 15 yards of your Smite target, you need to think a little bit about what to target for Smiting.  In pure single-target fights, you have an obvious target (yes, these still exist, sort of; I consider those annoying twin dragons to be one boss).  For other situations, I’ve made a few UI tweaks to help me pick the correct Smite targets:

  • I’ve setup my unit frames so that I can clearly see both my focus and the target of my focus (note, I don’t think the default UI allows you to see your focus’ target; I highly recommend Pitbull or X-Perl as very useful unit frame add-ons).
  • Once we’re all together in raid and we have healing assignments setup, I set my focus to a tank.  This will either be the specific tank that I’m assigned to heal or, if I’m healing both tanks, the tank that I expect to take the most damage (for example, on Maloriak I’m far more concerned about the off tank, who must handle up to 9 adds beating on him at the same time).
  • I have a macro on a really handy keybinding that simply says “/assist [target=focus]” so that I can easily target whatever my tank is targeting and cast my Smites on that.
    • I’ve also played with the option of making my Smite into the macro “/cast [target=focustarget} Smite”, but I found that to be dangerous in any situation involving CC because you don’t have the chance to verify that you’re casting Smite on the correct target if the tank accidentally TABs to the wrong mob.  Granted, there is much less danger of that in raid boss fights, so it may be worth experimenting with both options.

But don’t I still have to cast direct heals?

Smite with Atonement only replaces Heal, so you still have to do plenty of direct healing.  Since your target and your focus are being used for Smiting, if you’re accustomed to casting heals on your current target you may need to make some adjustments.  I strongly recommend some combination of mouseover macros and Grid for all other heals.  Zel has done a much better job than I could do detailing how to setup Grid, you can start that journey with her All About Grid post.  A mouseover macro can be as simple as “/cast [target=mouseover] Penance”.

Just stay away from casting Heal directly.  If your tank needs a small efficient heal, an Atonement proc from Smite will be larger, cost less, and cast more quickly than Heal.  If Atonement procs on someone other than the tank, that just means that the tank doesn’t have low enough health for you to be worried and your Smite cast has helped you maintain your Evangelism stack while also helping your raid healers on the melee DPS (unless Atonement procs on a hunter pet or a bloodworm or something, but that just means that everyone near your Smite target has OK health levels).

If your tank is taking a spike of high damage, you shouldn’t be looking for a small efficient heal anyway.  In that case, shield the tank if Weakened Soul is gone, hit him with Penance for some big cheap heals that also apply a full 3 stacks of Grace, then if the tank still needs to be stabilized either a Greater Heal if you have time (preferably with Inner Focus if it’s off cooldown) or Flash Heals before returning to Smiting.

If another raid member far away from your Smite target needs a small efficient heal, just let your raid healer(s) handle it (this is where Zel yells at me for telling her how to do her job as a Holy priest…sorry, Zel).

When do I get my wings?

Archangel has a mere 30 second cooldown and although casting it with the full 5 stack of Evangelism will only give you back 5% of your mana, it will buff ALL your healing by 15% for 18 seconds.  That short cooldown plus powerful healing buff means that you generally want to hit Archangel every time it comes off of cooldown.  The caveat is that you only want to do so when you have the full 5 stack of Evangelism.  This is why you need to keep casting Smite so frequently to stack and maintain Evangelism.

If for some reason, your stack of Evangelism is about to expire at 3 or 4 and you just can’t squeeze in a Smite cast (periods of extremely heavy tank damage, perhaps on Maloriak, for example) then it’s still beneficial to hit Archangel for the lesser healing boost rather than just let Evangelism expire without using it.

Cooldowns and Other Utilities

A Discipline priest has a relatively large number of useful abilities with surprisingly reasonable cooldowns:

  • Power Word: Barrier:  The 2 minute cooldown means that you’ll have the opportunity to use this multiple times per boss fight.  The keys are actually remembering to use it (I forget about it all too frequently) and knowing which high-damage boss abilities require movement that will render the stationary dome far less useful.
  • Pain Suppression: The 3 minute cooldown requires you to think a bit more about when to use this ability.  If you know that there will be a point where a tank is taking tons of damage (Maloriak adds come to mind again) then it’s probably best to hold off on hitting Pain Suppression until that specific point when the tank needs big damage reduction, even if that means that you don’t use it as many times per boss fight.  If tank damage is less predictable, it can be handy to just use it when it’s off of cooldown.  Just make sure that you don’t cast it right at the start of a fight or just after a tank swap.  The 5% threat reduction on the target isn’t much, but if the tank is just beginning to establish aggro it can cause problems.
  • Power Infusion: Make the macro “/cast [target=player] Power Infusion” and use it pretty much any time it’s off of cooldown (just don’t use it while under the effects of Time Warp/Herolust).  If you feel really bad, you can apologize to your raid members, but everyone should understand that the new Cataclysm healing model means that we have abandoned the days when it made sense to share Power Infusion with a caster DPS in the raid.  The boost to casting speed is nice, but that 20% reduction in mana cost for all of your spells is what you really need.
  • Inner Focus: At only 45 seconds cooldown you really want to use this one whenever it’s available.  I recommend adding the line “/cast Inner Focus” to your mouseover macros for Binding Heal, Flash Heal, Greater Heal, and Prayer of Healing.  If you’re terminally annoyed by the frequent “that spell isn’t ready yet” messages when Inner Focus is on cooldown, you can search for examples of fancy macro commands to stop the errors.

Future of Atonement Healing

It’s possible that we’ll encounter a boss fight that makes Atonement healing less desirable (we’re trying Atramedes next, and the air phase strikes me as 40 seconds of zero tank healing with the need for lots of healing on raid members that get tracked by the blind dragon’s special abilities outside of Atonement range) and I may need to come back and change or add some tactics for those types of fights.  However, for right now, following the thoughts I’ve laid out above has made Atonement healing my favorite healing spec in WoW.

The upcoming patch 4.1 is bringing some notable changes that, if they stay as they are on the current PTR, will make Atonement an even more attractive spec.  If Zel let’s me, I may come back to make a post-patch update to this guide.

Comments

Guest Post: Discipline Smite/Atonement Healing — 7 Comments

  1. Dont worry about Adra air phase. If the raid is taking damage during air phase, they’re doing it wrong. As for the guy being chased by atra ray, you cant heal thru the ray, the rays kills you if it catch you. Simple as that.

  2. This is a fantastic post! The timing couldn’t be better on this, too. I was asked to develop a disc off-spec for one or two fights on Heroic mode and I have zero experience with being disc. This is exactly what I would need to learn the ropes and in ways that I can easily understand and try out for myself.

    Thank you for posting this and feel free to do it again sometime!

  3. Great post! Since Atonement spec was first rolled out I have been using it, even when the naysayers naysayed. My guild began raiding about a month ago and we are currently 6/12 (with a few looks at Chimareaon). I have not seen content that hasn’t worked well for Disc. I do think as Disc priests we have to see a fight a few times to get a feel of how/when to use our damage supression cooldowns – I would say I’m healing 100% more efficently on the third attempt then I was on a first attempt. By the 5th attempt I may even be throwing out my PI to a lucky DPS. Maybe….

    I’m excited about the changes planning to be made around Holy Fire. Can’t wait for more respect for the Disc Priest PVE healer.

  4. Just when I start to think about dropping the Smite Spec on my priest, this appears! Thanks very much for this – it’s given me some great tips and some new ideas to apply! Cheers!

  5. Right on, Laralsong! I’m all about seeing more love for the Smitey wings.

    I think the problem most priests have with Atonement healing is being comfortable enough in a raid encounters to fit in the extra Smites, but once you have it down you can really give our Holy brothers and sisters a run for their money.

    One thing I might add – I recommend using Penance and PoH as top priority glyphs and then switching between PW:S and PW:B glyphs based on the fight. For example, it’s rarely a good idea for people to cluster together during Omnitron and glyphing PW:S seems more beneficial.

    Thanks for the wonderful post!

  6. Just wanted to say thanks for the disco/smite guide. I am about to lvl my priest from 80 to 85 and hopefully get into some raiding. This is going to be a good place for me to start. Keep up the good work, all of you!

  7. Smite is only more mana effective than Heal for the 5 casts that make up Archangel, and only if we use Archangel (which of course we do, but still worth noting). If we cast more smite than 5 every 30 seconds, it is alot less mana effective than Heal. (Heal has 4,6 hpm, Smite has 3,2 and 5,2 with Archangel). It has higher hps, sure, but mana efficiency wise, it’s not worth using more than 5 to get Archangel. Fortunately, mana becomes less and less of an issue, maybe making Smite healing more viable. I wrote a post on it some weeks ago;
    http://jinxedthought.blogspot.com/2011/03/archangel-101.html

    Did they fix the issues with Smite healing btw? Not being affected by Grace and Archangel not affecting Shields?