I recently stated that Disco was an acceptable leveling build, and I stick by that, but one term in the equation that may need tweaking is "acceptable".  Disco leveling is kind of like running a marathon wrapped in bubble wrap.  You’ll get there, and you won’t take any damage, but you’ll be covered in sweat and it’ll be next week before you’re done.  If that’s acceptable then you’re in for a lot of single-spec goodness in your life.

Unfortunately, I fear this is holding up the guild’s ability to consistently field a team for Heroics, so I switched to Shadow to level up faster.  It, too, is acceptable for a hybrid class’ aspirations1, but if you were a fire mage or BM hunter you might feel a bit … hobbled. Never mind that. It’s moved me along a lot faster than I had been moving otherwise.

The funny thing is that some fights are a lot easier if I switch to Disco mode. Shadow isn’t big on mitigation, and mini-bosses often are immune to rooting, fearing, or both. So a build that hits like a truck and heals itself one HP for ever two DP it deals is ideal, albeit slow.  That’s fine. The only caveat is the spec switch often takes too long to pounce a rare.  Guess I’ll have to be patient.

But let’s talk Disco

For healing, I’m really starting to get a handle on the mechanics of the smite-mode healing approach, and kinda falling in love with it.  The biggest problem is mana. In WotLK, I could spam like a Nigerian banker and rarely see the bottom of the mana jar.  In MoP, that’s no longer the case, and our mana regen tools have been curtailed as well, so we are driven in a certain direction, and it’s not shield spamming.

There are a few core mechanics at work here.

Direct healing

Direct healing spells, such as Greater Heal and Flash Heal and Renew and Penance all provide us with effective means to top off our target’s hit points, but they offer nothing in the way of regeneration tools on their own.  A couple of talents DO link one to another, such as From Darkness Comes Light – this one gives you freebie Flash heals, and I do like this one a LOT for its situational utility.  The caveat is that you lose Mindbender and its improved mana regen.  So, if you’re having mana management issues, the latter may well help more.  You will probably need to try both to gain a sense of where you stand.

Mitigation

In the past, this was our bread and butter. Even in Cata, with the smite-heal mode available, many of us went with the mitigation-heavy rotation, which amounted to a lot of Prayer of Mending and Power Word: Shield spamming.  Mana wasn’t a problem, so why the hell not, right?

In MoP, mana’s an issue, so this approach has gone away. Now, PW:S is largely situational, and PoM is more of a supplement than a mainstay. Spirit Shell is a new, welcome addition to the fold, especially if you couple it with Prayer of Healing, but boy oh boy does it eat the manas.  Once again, if you spam mitigation all day, you’re going to be OOM well before the final blow.

Indirect Healing

The infamous "smite heal".  This was a largely optional novelty in Cata, though many disco priests made it their mainstay quite effectively.

Here’s the thing. A lot of people will view smite-healing as still a novelty, a vain effort to give priests something to do in the gaps2, even though they’d never crack the top half of the DPS charts.

But, people, that’s not even the point of this mechanic.

Once you crack open the hood, you’ll find a very sophisticated yet straightforward engine driving not the build per se, but, I argue, the very soul of the Disco healing machine.

First, what is smite-healing? 

This mechanic forms the backbone of an indirect group healing approach. The three core spells to this mechanic all provide a 100% return on the damage generated. In other words, if I damage an enemy for 1000 points, I will generate 1000 points of healing – unless the healee is myself, in which case it’s 50% return. But still.  That’s the other thing. The healee in question will be the lowest-health friendly within 15 yards of the damage target3. This is done via a specialization called Atonement. Holy Fire4, Smite, and Penance generate what is effectively an AoE heal.

Now the hard part.

In the past, Archangel would generate mana when you used it to consume your Evangelism stacks, but now it only increases healing5. So, if you pop your wings, better get another stack started up to help with the mana mitigation.

But here’s the neat part.

Regardless of your Evangelism stacks and Archangel usage, that indirect healing component of Atonement is still there!  So you don’t have to be as fussy with those two spells as you might have in the past.

At the (what is now) final tier, we have three very powerful and very Disco-ish talents: Cascade, Divine Star, and Halo. All of these have AoE-ish effects as well, and all do damage and healing. All have a cooldown of 40 seconds or less, so you’ll be using them a lot.  At the moment I am prone towards Cascade simply because it is less fussy about positioning.  We’ve got enough worries.

Strategy and Tactics

fittychangedthegameWe have an immense toolbox to work with, and even though you might feel you know how to use it based on experience, I assure you that Blizz done changed da game on us.

As with everybody else in the world, we have no rotation to fiddle with, but we do have a priority queue of sorts, especially given the 20-second cooldown of Evangelism.  This then is my juggling act.

  • If I have five stacks of Evangelism and time to generate a stack afterward, pop Wings.
  • PW: Shield on my main target, usually the main tank (or OT if they swapped).
  • Keep Prayer of Mending up on all the times. If it is glyphed then the first person that gets healed by it gets extra healing (but you get one less hop); this may or may not be desirable, but given its cooldown it’s often worth it if you’re on the MT.
  • For low to moderate healing on someone: Holy Fire, Smite6, or Penance on the baddie (e.g. target of my target), depending on what’s off of cooldown. Smite has no cooldown so it’s always available.  Otherwise I use one of the other two since they generate more healing7.
  • Direct healing spells as needed on appropriate targets.  If you can get a Borrowed Time proc in prior to Greater Heal, so much the better. For heavy group damage, popping Borrowed Time via PW: Shield then Spirit Shell + Prayer of Healing goes a long way towards saving much bacon. I rarely get those three strung together right, however.  I’m not the most dexterous of healers. :)

On a lot of fights, I have found myself hardly even reaching for the traditional healing tools other than PoM and PW:S – everything else gets smitey-healed.

Toys you don’t get anymore

Here’s the big caveat.

You hardly get any mana regeneration tools. Wings lost that utility, and Rapture’s proc is rather situational, so that effectively leaves you with your shadow pet and Hymn used strategically.

What this means to you is this:

  1. You can’t fling shields like a fool any more.  You have to keep them where they’re needed.
  2. Consequently, your group has responsibility to stay out of harm’s way.  Prima donna DPSes that expect The Shield to get them by will do less DPS by virtue of being on the floor, counting tiles, and complaining that the healer sucks.
  3. You can’t spam damage spells, either. You must reserve them for when someone needs the heals, or the Evangelism timer is about to blow.

In other words, you must heal with intelligence and moderation.  I don’t think this is a problem for most healers, but it might take getting used to if you are, like me, more familiar with the ez mode Disco build of WotLK.

A toy you can have

The hardest part of Atonement healing is the switching between targets to heal and targets to smite.  Fortunately, Blizzard has provided us with the facility of macros to help get the job done.  A few clever keybinds and you’re off.  However, a couple of addons help a lot, as well.

  • Grid or VuhDo will put your groups’ unit frames wherever you need them.  The default unit frames will allow this as well, just not as elegantly or with as many additional features.
  • Clique makes the binding of mouse and keystrokes to abilities, spells, and other effects a lot easier. You an do this with the default interface as well, but Clique just makes it a lot easier.

The macro I use for smitey-heals looks like this.

#showtooltip Smite 
/castsequence [@mouseovertarget] reset=10 Holy Fire, Penance, Smite, Smite, Smite

The first line just changes the tooltip icon, I chose Smite because reasons.

The second line overcomes cooldown and timer issues in a few ways.

  • /castsequence dictates that the spells will be cast in the sequence that they are given, so you don’t waste time with spells that are still in cooldown.
  • reset=10 resets this sequence after ten seconds. Why?  Because that is the cooldown of Holy Fire, which gives us the best bang for the buck.  Since Penance has the same cooldown, this means that if you only hit one ever five seconds, you’ll never hit Smite, which is by far our weakest component. 

However, thanks to the sequence, we don’t have to fixate on timers, thus freeing us up on what to do with our spells instead.

[@mouseovertarget] directs the damage to the target of the unit that you have the mouse pointer hovering over.  So if you’re hovering over your tank in Grid, his target will be selected and damaged. Hover over a DPSer, and that player’s target will be smote instead.

Put this into a macro or into Clique, assign it to a key or mouse button, and you’re ready to go!

Final thoughts

I am no Matticus or Derveka; truth told, I’m not even level 90. This is based solely on careful observations taken during instance healing, test dummy runs, and a lot of questing. It works for me, up to this point, but I may be kicking Disco to the curb at any given moment if I find it doesn’t work for me. Thus far, I’m seeing nothing to say it won’t.


  1. I hasten to point out, this is with me geared for Disco goodness.  I know properly geared Shadow priests do a lot more damage. []
  2. We already have that, it’s called Hymn of Hope. []
  3. In 5.1, this increases to 40 yards! []
  4. Allow me to point out its DoT component which, yes, generates an HoT. []
  5. I’m uncertain if that boosts smite-heals as well. Anyone? []
  6. I highly recommend glyphing this for 20% more healing. []
  7. You may question using Penance here. But the beauty is that this approach doesn’t fixate on a single target, rather whoever needs it, and I consider that a great gift from the Makers. []
5 Responses to “Oppa Disco Style”
  1. Geeni says:

    I leveled the entire way from 85 in disc spec and loved it. If you can wrangle up a DPS buddy, you can pull the entire world and still never get hurt. If you can’t…then yes, you do have to tolerate some slowness in killing. But shadow is really quite squishy right now, and does not have good tools for AoE pulls, so disc is significantly more viable as a leveling spec than ever before.

    I consider the following must-haves for disc questing:
    • Glyph of Holy Fire: makes a “nuke” instant-cast
    • Mindbender: not for the mana, but the DPS! This little guy puts out a lot of damage, and with the 1 minute CD goes by REALLY fast. Also because you’ll be putting out so many atonement heals (given only 1 or 2 targets to receive them), that the Flash Heals from From Darkness Comes Light aren’t needed.
    • Divine Star as your level 90 talent: Cascade is awesome in raids (fulfills a key niche of burst AoE healing that disc otherwise completely lacks), but it’s not very impressive as a damage spell. Unlike Cascade, Divine Star can heal and damage on the same cast, and it’s easy to have all your friendly and hostile targets grouped together while questing. I usually use Divine Star in 5-mans for similar reasons… Just make sure you’re standing sufficiently back from the group, because it’s VERY easy to snag extra mobs with it.

    • Jasra says:

      I’m wondering about the utility of the Holy Fire glyph for discy healing, too. I have to review what I might be able to lose to get a slot for it, and ponder which I like better.

      I like your point on the Mindbender talent. Imma give that a try for a while.

      I guess what I wasn’t clear about WRT Divine Star was that I was talking in my healer-voice, not deepser-voice, so Cascade as a raid talent is actually what I had in mind. But I shall install Divine Star on the shadow spec tout de suite given your comments. Thanks!

      Definitely feeling the squishiness of the dark side, that’s for sure. Switching to Disco for the really tough fights has to be one of the most amusing bits of role-reversal ever.

      Thanks for the comments!

      • Geeni says:

        Glyph of Holy Fire is now a permanent institution for me. Quests, raids, dungeons…if HF has a cast time, I’m confused.

        And I agree, Cascade is literally a must-have for raids if you are Disc. I’m just warning people against translating “Divine Star sucks in raids” into “Divine Star always sucks”, because it can be pretty awesome. I’m specifically talking questing, no quibbles with your raid advice. 8)

        Looked up my Mindbender in the raid logs, to back up what I was seeing in Skada and in the world in general (i.e. need to pull multiple virmin in my farm plots to ensure the squid doesn’t run out targets to hit). Even when trying to use Atonement as much as possible, the Mindbender still contributes 35-45% of my damage. My squid alone did more damage during boss fights than our Crane Kick-loving mistweaver did. Translate that back into really brief open-world fights, and 1-minute-CD squid is OP!

        I also forgot to mention Glyph of Psychic Scream for questing. I always leveled as shadow before, and wanted to take DPS glyphs over that one. But now I love the power to fear at will — between Psychic Scream and Psyfiend, you can keep a bunch of mobs tied up for quite a while, while letting your DoT tick away on them. Psyfiend is even usable on solo fights — it will keep re-fearing the same target. It’s pretty awesome to watch a mob try to stutter step towards you in tiny half-second increments of freedom, while you cackle, cast a couple instants at it, and watch your squid beat it to death before the fears wear off.

  2. Zy says:

    Renew is a decent tool as Disc, some wonderful theorycrafter somewhere did the math and it’s worth keeping on your tank.

    I dropped my holy spec for shadow and I’m not regretting it. I picked up FDCL and Divine Insight for talents and DOT ALL THE THINGS. Seriously, Mind Flay isn’t even on my bar. Dot up everything, mash all the procs (impossible to miss thanks to all the lit up buttons) and enjoy your killing power. Got to 90 this way and I regularly pull 3 mobs while doing dailies with very little trouble. Fear when things get messy of course and I’ve got my root talent as a backup. The glyph that lets you heal yourself in shadowform is a must-have. I’m not an expert on priests but I’m having fun and doing good DPS (35kish in crappy gear) in 5 mans so I must be doing something right.

    • Jasra says:

      In Grimm’s group, we have some awesome shadow priests. I was actually surprised at how many priests we had DPSing versus healing. Shadow’s come a long way from the BC “Mana battery” to today’s competitive DPS.

  3.  
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