I’m a Wrath baby. I admit it. I played very casually in BC, but I didn’t start raiding until Wrath of the Lich King. My knowledge of Holy tree history only extends back to the last expansion, so it’s not nearly as vast as some other players, but I think it would still be interesting to take a look back at Holy viability and desirability between the two expansions.
Wrath of the Lich King
I didn’t REALLY start playing Holy until Trial of the Crusader for Patch 3.2. Naxxramas was really when I played my Resto Druid and unfortunately I was in-between guilds for most of Ulduar.
I remember Holy being a competent healer for Patch 3.2 all the way through ICC heroic modes. A major problem for Holy Priests was the fact that there were 2 separate Holy builds to choose from in our tree. We simply had too many talents to choose from and we couldn’t maximize our throughput with both styles of healing. The 2 popular builds I’m referring to are the Prayer of Healing build and the Renew spam build.
Many Holy Priests were divided on the 2-types of healing. Prayer of Healing builds were preferred for early-to-mid Wrath. It was powerful and the most effective AoE rotation at the time. It wasn’t until ICC where Renew spam builds started to overtake Prayer of Healing builds in throughput and efficiency. Renew was incredibly cheap and it healed for quite a lot when glyphed. We essentially became second-rate Restoration Druids. I know I personally jumped on the Renew spam bandwagon and I really liked it, probably because it reminded me of playing my Resto Druid so much. Prayer of Healing was nonexistent in my healing rotation. It was slow, inefficient, and wasn’t practical for the majority of ICC encounters.
Tank healing was non-existent for Holy Priests. We simply didn’t have the longevity and single target throughput. Our version of tank healing also had to be specifically talented into, meaning you had to drop quite a few powerful talents that greatly increased our AoE healing capacity. It centered around spamming Greater Heal, which was EXTREMELY slow for encounters where damage was extremely spiky. That’s why Paladins shined so much. They could infinitely cast Flash of Light and Holy Light without fear of mana issues, not to mention the double healing power they put out with Beacon of Light. Holy Priests also didn’t have access to an instant cast healing spell like Holy Shock or Penance. It was interesting to say the least because Holy Priests had the most potent tank CD in the game with Guardian Spirit, especially when it was glyphed.
We had talents that were good, like Surge of Light and Holy Concentration. Some were mediocre, like Spirit of Redemption. The only reason we ever took SoR was for the Spirit bonus. And some were just awful, like Lightwell.
Lightwell was awful in Wrath. You TRULY got laughed at for using it in raids, let alone being talented into it. It paled in comparison to today’s Lightwell. The range was awful as was the targeting. You were much better off putting a point into Blessed Resilience for PvP purposes than to spec into Lightwell.
For Wrath, Holy also received the much lauded (at-the-time) Divine Hymn. It was Holy’s major CD and could only be used once every 8 minutes. It was on par with Tranquility and even left a bonus +10% healing effect to everyone it affected.
Overall, I think we fared quite decently in Wrath. Other than an annoyingly bloated talent tree and the incapacity to tank heal effectively, we were still desired for our AoE output that was still competitive with Shamans and Druids.
Our talents and spells got “shattered” with 4.0. Blizzard cut out MANY of our talents and synergized them with one another. Holy Priests finally had a talent tree that wasn’t nearly as bloated and centered around a new type of ability called Chakra that allowed us to tank heal and raid heal without having 2 different talent builds. We saw the introduction of Holy Word spells like Serenity (Holy’s first instant cast heal) and Sanctuary (Holy’s ground effect heal).
Chakra morphed into different variations over the beginning of the expansion. The CD and duration were continually changed. We originally had 4 Chakra states (anyone remember Chakra: Renew? I loved that state!) which were later trimmed down to 3.
Spirit of Redemption became an extremely weak optional talent. Without the +Spirit buff, it became totally lackluster. Most Priests dropped it in favor of other survivability talents.
Lightwell finally became a viable ability to talent into. Blizzard buffed the range and made it more “clickable” for raid members. They also buffed the healing component making it an extremely efficient spell for it’s mana cost.
For the first part of T11, Holy Priests absolutely SHINED in raids. Prayer of Healing made a HUGE comeback as the raid healing spell of choice. If you were a Druid or Shaman in a high end guild, you were likely brought along for your Innervate and Mana Tide Totem for Holy and Disc Priests.
Prayer of Healing was eventually nerfed and Holy throughput faltered. Druids received a HUGE buff to Wild Growth as well as Tranquility which finally made them competitive. Shamans were also struggling to keep up and received a buff as well.
When 4.1 hit servers, we started to see a trend with raids. Now that Druids were on par with Holy Priests and had a heavy-hitting raid CD in the form of the new and improved Tranquility, they were starting to be favored over Holy Priests, especially for guilds who were working on Heroic modes or finishing up Nefarian and Chogall. We also saw Shaman receive Spirit Link Totem, sealing Holy’s fate as the only raid healing spec without a potent raid wall. We still had Divine Hymn, but Blizzard had failed to buff it like Tranquility and therefore it wasn’t even considered a viable option. Some Holy Priests were even switching to Discipline (especially for Nefarian) because Barrier was extremely strong for those type of encounters.
T12 really hurt Holy Priests. Blizzard designed Firelands content around CD use, aka “use X at Y time.” Divine Hymn still saw no attention and Blizzard felt Holy AoE was still competitive with other healers. Competitive as they thought, World of Logs tells a different story. Holy Priests were significantly under Druids and Paladins for the majority of T12. Only Shamans were in a worse position, but they still brought a viable raid wall to raids. Holy had essentially become the red-headed stepchild of the healing classes, lacking in both throughput and raid utility. They didn’t bring anything to a raid that a Discipline Priest couldn’t. In fact, Discipline could MATCH and even surpass Holy AoE throughput when played correctly and bring Barrier AND Pain Suppression for greater utility, hence why many Priests dropped Holy in favor of Discipline.
Cataclysm- T13 A Holy Resurgence
The PTR hit a few days ago for Patch 4.3 and Holy is finally seeing some love. Divine Hymn is finally getting a long overdue buff (much to the dismay of many Druids). Holy can now contribute a viable raid wall and will no longer be brushed aside by Discipline for utility. We also still have one of the most powerful tank CDs available.
We are also seeing Holy Word: Sanctuary receive a reduction in mana cost which increases the usefulness of the spell. On the PTR it still ignores the 6-person rule for ground AoE effects. I have a feeling this will be a permanent change.
While there are still issues with the Holy spec, these changes are a step in the right direction. I now foresee many Discipline Priests who were once Holy flocking back to their once-neglected spec. I know I will be.