Guest Post: Off-Spec Madness

In the interests of science and complete impartiality (Disc roolz!), I imposed on a fellow guild healer, Anna, to convince those spastic disc priests among us to give an off-spec Holy build a try. Her reasons are awfully compelling, and if there’s no Anna in your own guild– well, an offspec Holy might be just what the doct- … er, healer ordered. Thanks, Anna!

Liala posed me the question, rather, suggested to narrow this post down, “Why would I off-spec into Holy if I have a Discipline spec already?”  Rather than focus on talent differences, which WoWWiki, Tankspot, and other places have flow-charted for your use, I’m going to give you a more practical reason.

The obvious reason is to inflate your epeen.  Holy priests will always have bigger numbers than a Discipline priest.  Greater Heal crits for 20k  or more aren’t uncommon in ICC, even without using all the buffing talents (if you max Empowered Healing, 25k is much more likely).  While there are fights where shielding is better than healing (such as shielding before decimate, or Anub-Arak in ToC), there are a few fights where it’s alllllll about the green numbers (Dreamwalker).  But if your epeen IS squirting out green maybe you should get it checked out.
Wait I think I had a point here…
Shortcomings of being Holy:
  • Expect to lose your big single-target power.  Holy can single target pretty well, but will play it much tighter with much less wiggle room than Disc. can.  Tanks don’t appreciate hovering at 40-60% for long periods of time, even if you have it under control.
  • Expect your mana pool to shrink.  Holy priests rely on their rapid mana regeneration rather than replenishment to keep casting heals.  The pure intellect, low spirit gearing of Disc. priests will result in a quick OOM if you are in a healing intensive fight.
  • Expect it to be harder to get into groups if you decide to main this.  Unless you are guilded and can have that committed spot open, most PUG groups and PVPers will mock you for being Holy.  Be prepared to deal with it.
Advantages to Holy in PvE:
  • Enjoy the ability to make it look like a lot of work without actually doing anything.  In five mans, with a sufficient amount of spellpower, prayer of mending and the occasional Renew will be enough to carry you through most of the launch-Heroic dungeons, so if you like taking 30-40second breaks at times, be merry!
  • Access to a wide range of smart heals.  Prayer of Mending and Circle of Healing, along with intelligently timed Renew and Surge of Light procs, allow you to keep your overhealing at a minimum (and anger your fellow healers, always a plus.  In fact I’ve managed to keep Liala’s overhealing in Disc over mine in Holy on quite a few fights, at which point she asked me to write this column and politely thanked me for settling the abortion issue for her.  THAT’S why we have Desperate Prayer *taps her own forehead* See? Always thinking ahead)
  • Most importantly, a Disc Priest is pretty locked into their “style” of healing.  It’s mostly about spamming PWS, and Renew when called for, and usingPenance, PoM, and Flash of Light to pick up the difference.  Holy Priests, on the other hand, depending on how they choose to gear and cycle spells, can alternate between being weaker versions of a Disc. Priest, Druid raid healing, Shaman tank healing, or Paladin healing, or being a mix of all four, as they generally are.  If a situation calls for it, rotations can be 1) Keep Renew on, Flash Heal x3, Greater Heal for tank healing, 2) Apply PWS and Renew to all raid members before a major burst of incoming damage, 3) Use PoM at the right time to blink it between two tanks taking shared damage, mimicking two earth shields, 4) With a highly stacked crit rating, use Empowered Renew, Circle of Healing, and Prayer of Mending on a target taking massive damage, possibly proccing a Surge of Light on each cast for bursty, paladin style heals, or 5) Use a combination of Holy Nova, Circle of Healing, Prayer of Mending, and Prayer of Healing to burst heal a raid group spread over a wide area that almost no other class can match, with perhaps the exception of Tranquility.
Obviously a Holy Priest will usually fall between these extreme healing styles for the greater part of any fight.  Part of the mastery of Holy is learning which spells to use, in which sequence, will net the greatest benefit.  Holy is more forgiving than Discipline for not anticipating damage early, this is true, but true experts in its use are thinking ten, twenty, thirty seconds ahead so they can line up the appropriate self-buffs in time so that Surge of Light is up, Prayer of Mending is off cooldown, and Serendipity is stacked to the max when they really need it.  Holy does not possess as many cooldowns as Discipline, so the lack of OSHIT buttons must be compensated for.
But if you’re willing to practice, all in all Holy healing is just more versatile.  Disc focuses on amping up three or four key spells to extremes, while Holy buffs about seven or eight major spells to lesser degrees, with the expectation that you’ll use them all, even on trash fights, in rapid succession.
In PvP:
PvP Holy is full of the same pros and cons that PvE comparisons have, with a few additions.
  • You will take more damage, and therefore much easier to die.  Rather, you’re given more chances to die than Disc. priests are, since Disc has that nice cushion PWS gives for a brief moment.
  • Holy has slower heals-per-second/absorption-per-second than Disc does, at least in small scale fights.  You probably shouldn’t trade in your shield for dueling, 2s, 3s, or maybe even 5s.  Holy PvP is mostly suited to large scale, 5s and Battlegrounds and Wintergrasp.
  • On the plus side, 3seconds off PoM’s cooldown is invaluable, Empowered Renew, Circle of Healing, and Holy Nova can be spammed to proc Surge of Light for more instant healing.  It’s, again, not as strong as a Disc. shield, but it can be kept up consistently, without that nasty 15second cooldown.
  • Holy is not as susceptible to dispel mechanics as Disc. (but it still hurts!)
  • Holy has some neat utility for allies in Body and Soul.  Giving your allies a mini-sprint can give them a chance to get away from the fire long enough to get that extra heal off, or catch up to that BLOODY COWARD WARLOCK who keeps running in circles around your paladin friend. The ability to cleanse poisons off yourself doesn’t hurt either against Hunters and Rogues.
  • Finally, to dispel the myth of being squishy, Blessed Resilience is not credited enough where it’s due. Against classes that hit small and often (Rogues, S-Priests, DW-DKs, Affliction Locks) gaining immunity from Crits can destroy their entire strategy, making that ticking, little white damage almost a non-issue.
Again, your biggest heals are slow and easily interruptable, so in small groups this won’t excel, but if you plan to random BG a lot, or just camp Wintergrasp for a weekend, you might consider going Holy for grins.
In summary, it’s really all about taste. Discipline is definitely more user-friendly, but Holy has a subtlety to it that not every priest is man enough to tame.  It’s like the difference between the corner hooker and the geisha.  One is more talented and varied in personality and looks, while the other has a more direct, effective path to what you want.  It’s personal taste and should be selected partly on the company you’re keeping.


  1. As I’ve mentioned earlier I don’t play my priest all that much anymore – but when I do I’m pretty much always Holy. I only really ever do the very odd PUG raid, some heroics and random battlegrounds – for which this works out really well.

    I get a lot of people looking at the and going LOL when I PvP as Holy. But if I keep out of the way (to the extent that I can) I can really annoy the opposing faction by aoe healing people, and while my stuff isn’t as good as disc – I still fare pretty good in BGs – coming top of healing meters even if my gear is pretty bad.

    In TBC I always PvPd as Disc – but at the moment – with 200 resilience, I don’t find it worth it to switch specs quite yet *lol* If I should decide to become more serious and do arenas, I’d probably go Disc – but for battlegrounds (no matter what the LOL-people say) I find myself doing rather well.

    And yes – the little spring shield is useful and if nothing else awesomely fun seeing your friends run off like a maniac 😛


    • Ahhhh, she was too convincing! 🙂 In all seriousness, I’m so looking forward to seeing the Cataclysm Holy changes, *especially* as they relate to PvP. I like your point (and Anna’s corrollary one) about performing well in BGs in Holy. It’s a fertile field, and man- it could be the PvP healing powerhouse to beat with just the tiniest mana changes in Cat (which of course are coming! Eek!).


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