To Smite or Not to Smite? That is the Question.

Cataclysm has brought quite a few new things to WoW.  One of the things I was fairly skeptical about was the new “Smite-to-heal” or “Atonement” spec for Discipline priests.

For those of you who don’t know, there are 2 separate PvE specs for Discipline: Strength of Soul and Atonement.

Strength of Soul

Strength of Soul builds are fairly straightforward and are currently the most popular build for most Discipline priests.  It’s the spec most people are familiar with.  It revolves around the talent Strength of Soul and works by weaving in your single target healing spells with Power Word: Shield on the target.  With the change in 4.0.6, SoS builds have become much more powerful due to the Strength of Soul talent reducing the duration of the “Weakened Soul” debuff that is left on the target after casting Power Word: Shield.  This causes Power Word: Shield to be cast more often, resulting in a higher HpS.

Here’s a basic Strength of Soul build: 31/8/2.  The 2 points in Darkness can be switched around to Surge of Light depending on your preference.

Pros: High single target HpS, ability to spam shields (to a degree)

Cons: Mana efficiency, weak AoE heals

Tip: Power Word: Shield is your friend in this spec.  Every time the Weakened Soul debuff wears off the tank, cast it again.

Atonement

The Atonement build has been both praised and frowned upon by the priest community. Some people think the ability to heal from DpS is a new, fresh idea while others are completely turned off by the idea and believe healers should heal. Either way the spec is fairly controversial.

Atonement works by casting Holy Fire/Smite on an enemy target.  The result is a healing effect that looks similar to Word of Glory that heals a nearby party/raid member for 100% of the damage done.

At first I was fairly skeptical.  The main issue I had with Atonement was that the healing aspect wasn’t reliable to the tank.  Instead, Blizzard designed it as a smart heal which heals the lowest health party/raid member. The problem is while most of the time the tank is the one being hit, they are not ALWAYS the lowest at any given time. This causes the heal to be unreliable. Not being able to pick and choose who to heal is the control that the spec lacks, and this causes people to shy away from it.

On the flip side, Atonement has a couple things that Strength of Soul doesn’t offer or isn’t as good at with the primary being efficiency.  Smite and Holy Fire (recently buffed) scale incredibly well with Intellect.  With 5 stacks of Evangelism, my Smite spell costs around 500 more mana than my Heal spell, but it heals for significantly more and has a .5 lower cast time.  This equates to more HpS compared to Heal and makes Smite a very efficient “filler” spell.  With 9700 spellpower, I get 23-24k critical strikes with Smite depending on procs.  Being .5 seconds faster to cast, Smite becomes almost as powerful as Greater Heal with a much more generous mana cost.  On top of that, any extra damage buffs (Arcane Tactics) or debuffs (Critical Mass) you  or the boss have scale with Smite as well increasing it’s damage and healing.  With a mana pool of 126k, I find I regen mana faster than I can spend it on Smite.  This is mainly due to the high scaling of Replenishment for Discipline priests.

Another benefit to Atonement is a talent called Archangel.  This talent is on a short 30 second cooldown, gives back 5% mana with full stacks, and increases your healing done by 15% for 15 seconds.  This talent makes Atonement priests better raid healers than SoS priests.  The 15% healing buff is a nice cooldown that can be used for some Prayer of Healing spam during heavy raid damage. This also makes your Divine Aegis absorbs a little bigger as well.

For 10-man teams, the Atonement spec isn’t very good. This is mainly because you have less healers looking after the tanks.  You need more control than what it offers especially because you will most likely be assigned to tank heal and Atonement doesn’t reliably heal the tank.

For 25-man teams, Atonement is AMAZEBALLS.  With 5-6 healers backing you up, you can usually Smite away and end up topping the meters mainly because you don’t have to think who needs healing at the time.  Atonement heals the lowest health raid member, so the throughput is always guaranteed when you cast (as long as the target is within 15 yards of the enemy target) and has much lower overheal compared with other healers.

This is the Atonement build I currently use: 31/7/3. Again, you can take points out of Darkness and add them elsewhere if you wish.

Pros: High HpS, better raid heals, more utility (can tank or raid heal), extra DpS on boss for faster kills

Cons: Atonement heals don’t reliably hit the tank

Tip: Smiting is fun, but don’t forget to use your other spells too. Penance, Power Word: Shield for Rapture, Greater Heal, etc. all should be utilized as well.

Between the 2 specs, I prefer Atonement.  I just think it’s so much more fun and it’s such a different way of healing rather than mindlessly spamming single target heals.  Both specs do very well and have their place in raids.  I think of the SoS spec as mainly a tank-healing spec, while I consider Atonement to be more of a tank/utility spec.