Discipline without Penance – Can It Work?


This is a guest post from Wistoovern, a Discipline Priest who takes a closer look at Penance to see if it’s really all that

There are some instances in World of Warcraft where individuals who take a role proceed to redefine it into "non-traditional" role. For example, there is the player that decided to level without killing anything, or the hunter that decided not to level ranged weapons at all, but instead maxed out melee. These people are proof that your characters are flexible, unique, and can fill roles that others would not immediately think of.

Along these same lines are character builds that involve or ignore talents and spells that others find key. I’m speaking specifically of the new Penance spell that all of the Discipline priests that I have met so far are just ga-ga over. However, while it might be an efficient spell depending on how you use it, I beg to differ when it is said that a Discipline priest must have it in order to be a viable party/raid healer.

My initial thought to the spell was, "Why? Priest spells have a certain ‘flow’ to them; a spell like this is only going to throw everything out of whack." Well, imagine my surprise when so many Discipline priests started extolling its virtues. Personally, I am still unmoved. I do not believe that this spell is key to Disc healing – after all, we did without it for so long. But shall I go into specifics as to why it is not so as important as others might think?

  • Stop Assuming you need it – Yeah, it’s a 51-point spell. But do ALL Beast Mastery Hunters use Beast Mastery? It’s not too long ago that Lightwell was at the top of the Holy Priest’s tree, but did anyone actually use it? Taking a talent without making sure that you will use it efficiently is useless.
  • Dual Tasking? – Let’s be honest – priests are not hybrid classes. We’re not meant to do both healing and damage at the same time. We really get to pick one or the other. We do a good job at either one (nice shadow priests, GOOD shadow priests…), but both at the same time is impractical or inefficient. So a spell that can either do heals or DPS depending on who is targeted? This can be a big problem.
  • I Mean Really, Dual Tasking? – There are only two other spells that we have that works like this: Holy Nova and Dispel Magic. However, the priest that considers Holy Nova a crucial part of his healing spells needs a reality check, and Dispel Magic (and Mass Dispel, fine) is not going to be an issue if it’s cast on the wrong target (unless you REALLY had to dispel a DoT or effect off of a player and you miss).
  • Did I Do That? YES! – Let us not forget Mr. Urkel and his occasional mistakes with such horrible results. Imagine that you go to heal someone in your party, without realizing that you have a mob targeted that has not yet been pulled. Oops…not only are you making new friends FAST, but your tank probably won’t have time to pull it off of you. Any other heal, and this would not be a problem – in fact, the inability to use healing spells on enemies can help you.
  • The Hell Does That Mean? – Well, here’s a trick that I used to use in Hyjal and Kara. Target a mob that you have to Shackle, and after they’re Shackled, leave them targeted. When you click your keyboard buttons for heals, the system will TRY to heal your target. Oops, you have an enemy targeted, so it will instead give you the "grayed-out finger" pointer. Then, just click on your healing target. Sounds bulky? It’s not! It’s a click tap-click to healing someone. Advantages: no need to use a focus, and you can still pick up the shack quickly if it breaks. Disadvantages: slightly slower than normal, takes a little getting used to, will not work with Dispel Magic…or Penance.
  • What He Giveth With One Hand... – When the GMs build spells, they do it with careful consideration to effect intensity, cooldown, casting time, mana cost, and reagent cost. If they did not, you’d see Instant 50,000 damage spells that cost 100 mana with a .5 second cooldown. No, every spell that they give is balanced through the various aspects. High effect? It will have a high casting time or casting cost. Instant effect? High mana cost or cooldown. Low mana cost? Reagent cost. And when it comes to pure healing spells, cooldowns can be death (literally). Waiting for a heal to be available – or, rather, a heal that so many people think is just "so awesome" is a crapshoot. If a six-second cooldown can kill Circle of Healing, how is Penance so great with a TEN-second cooldown?

I can’t deny that a lot of the numbers for Penance look really good. But assuming that this spell is going to be a Discipline priest’s best friend is like assuming that all druids have feral sets (they don’t) or that all Warriors have Titan’s Grip. I’m not saying don’t use it – just don’t be so surprised if your Discipline priest starts laying down the heals without Penance. It can be done. Really.

32 thoughts on “Discipline without Penance – Can It Work?”

  1. A few notes:

    If you find yourself using Penance on hostile targets too often, just make a macro:
    /cast [help] Penance

    Boom. Now it’ll never cast on an enemy target. You could even add a seperate /cast [harm] Penance macro somewhere else for only offensive use.

    Penances duel role is an acknowledgement of the offensive healer role that disc priests can often play in pvp, and a nice little touch for solo viability.

    Also, it’s pretty fair to assume that any Fury Warrior will have Titans Grip. The tree is a shambles without it.

  2. I kind of feel the same way about wild growth. I can do the same thing with rejuv with slightly more effort, but with better HPM and the same HPS on a single taget.

  3. “a spell like this is only going to throw everything out of whack.”

    Yes, it does take some getting used to. Because of the 8 second penance cooldown, disc plays quite a bit differently than holy.

    The reason this cooldown is OK, and the CoH cooldown is poor design? Penance is designed as a burst healing spell, whereas CoH is a heal that’s not very effective unless you spam it 2-3x in a row. (A 6 second CoH cooldown also makes it more difficult for a holy priest to get outside of the 5-second rule for a regen nap; discipline priests are constantly casting and don’t generally worry about regen naps).

    Penance is a very useful, very efficient spell. Certainly you can heal without it as a discipline priest … but you’d be handicapping yourself.

    “So a spell that can either do heals or DPS depending on who is targeted? This can be a big problem.”

    Casting penance offensively is a secondary use of the spell. It’s only slightly more effective than smite.

    I can see how it may be an issue if you don’t use mouseover targeting, but that’s really something a healer should be doing anyways as it speeds up reaction times considerably. I’m not trying to sound elitist about this, but really … mouseover healing is the way to go.

    “However, the priest that considers Holy Nova a crucial part of his healing spells needs a reality check”

    Glyphed Holy Nova can be very useful for a discipline priest. It accounted for ~5% of my healing in Naxx10 last night, it’s also more effective than Renew inside the Malygos vortex (assuming you have spare mana to burn). It’s also very effective on 5-man heroics like Loken and several bosses in Oculus.

  4. Penance is the fastest way to get a 3-stack of Grace on your tank, period. The spell is worth getting for that reason alone.
    You can spec for an 8 second cooldown and use it every time it is up.
    Yes you have to be careful not to cast it on a mob in a grouping situation.

  5. I used to feel similarly, until I tried Penance. Now I love it and will never go back. I will address your points below:

    1. True, but to drive the metaphor further: BM hunters that don’t have the 51 point talent don’t simply “not take the 51 point talent” they have a SPECIFIC build – 50/21 – that uses Readiness. They take this build not to be diffrent, but because of testing that shows 50/21 has more sustained dps on boss fights (though this will get nerfed next patch).
    So for your argument here, it is not enough to simply say “try it without” but recommend a spec that is deep into disc but without Penance, what do you recommend taking instead of it and why? This could be an interesting excercise. What would you take? How far up the Disc tree would you go? I think this is what is missing from your post.

    2& 3: yeah I don’t like the dual nature either. I never use it for dps. Plus due to the dps nature it enforces facing which bugs me. I got used to WAR and the little arrows on the ground, i miss them 🙂

    4. These problems are taken care of using macros. Basically I NEVER target a hostile unless I’m so bored I start casting damage spells. Instead, I don’t have shackle on my castbar, I have a macro that shackles my focus target if it’s hostile, and shackles my target otherwise if that’s hostile. Similar to my shadowfriend macro, it first checks’ target of target and if that’s hostile it casts it on him, and finally at the end will cast it on my target if that’s hostile. basically you never want to have to retarget and target again, use macros to avoid it all. Penance can be used similarly, I don’t have that problem due to the above but if you want you could have a macro that first targets your mouseover target and then your target, and only cast it if it’s not hostile.

    5. I think this is a misunderstanding of how to apply Penance. Penance is not merely a main heal to use for healing like GHeal or CoH, it is used to get 3 Grace up and to proc divine aegis and inspiration. The cooldown exactly matches how long your Grace buff is up, meaning the cooldown is the perfect amount. You don’t really use penance for healing multiple people anymore than you’d use gheal. (i.e. disc priests probably aren’t assiged to the raid). It has 3 pulses that each can crit, which means you have a good chance to proc your crit abilities (Divine aegis and Inspiration) very quickly and with a low mana cost.

    Penance is kinda like CoH: it’s your big upfront heal so you don’t have to wait to cast a flash heal or use PW:S. In that way it’s the “instant” heal counterpart to CoH for disc. Once you have 3 grace buffs up, you can renew or gheal, since you have +6% to heals for little bit. This also helps any other healers assigned to your tank. It does take a little getting used to. For awhile I forgot I even had it, but now it’s second nature.

    (Without CoH for aoe heal I actually will do PI/IF-> PoH -> Holy Nova 🙂 the only nova being instant will add more right at the end of my poh. )

    Though I agree I can see them increasing the mana cost – that’s mainly cause I think Penance is so awesome 🙂 For me penance is more fun – the synergies in the disc tree make me a more proactive healer than a reactive one. Which makes it interesting.

  6. The only Warriors who take Titan’s Grip are the ones that like putting out Serious DPS(tm). I hear where you’re coming from – regarding it’s necessity, but I feel that these articles mentioned in the first paragraph are personal goals. I don’t think that we had too many hunters focused on melee when we did BT…

  7. The article seems less of guide on how to play without penance and more of a “I want to try and justify my decision to not use penance”.

    The same could be said for a druid not taking wild growth or a holy priest not taking CoH/Lightwell. What I want to know as a reader is how you can be raid/arena viable and not get yourself laughed out of the raid.

    Maybe provide a talent build with a reason why you chose to skip Penance for something else and how it lets you complete your goal effectively, whatever that might be.

  8. I play a holy Paladin as well as a Disc Priest, and we have Holy Shock, that has the same properties (damage to enemies, heals friendly.) I have never had issues with damaging a hostile mob and gaining aggro on either of my characters. This just seems like a silly post, the benefits of Penance far outweigh any drawbacks it might have.

  9. @Cringer: And that’s exactly what it is. This is a unique perspective on a class that does NOT use a certain ability and is taking a stand against it and why. There are a lot of stubborn players out there who feel the same way, I have no doubt about that.

    Think about it this way. Consider it a platform where have the opportunity to convince a player to use a certain ability and why they should do so.

  10. I have to commend you for posting this as my initial reaction was a bit of disbelief and amazement because the views seemed so contradictory to mine and probably 99% of everyone else posting on the subject of Penance.

    While I’d love to say “give me my 5 minutes back” after reading this, I certainly have a very open mindset and am willing to give everything even some brief consideration. It’s always interesting to hear people opinions and its certainly brave to post anything contrary to the popular opinion/belief.

    I will end on saying that I am Discipline spec currently (and switch between the two), I enjoy it a bit more than Holy healing and Penance is an incredible healing spell. There are quite a few detailed threads on Elitist Jerks, The normal WoW Forums, and many other places that have very solid data supporting the strength of Penance in terms of raw efficiency (Heal per mana) and power (Heal per second).

  11. After the talent reset I went Disc to try out Penance, and thought that the spell was really fun! I would just go around in the city shooting random people with it to just get the Divine Aegis, and freaked people out with people wondering what it was.

    Then I tried to go and heal with it, and well I just could not get over the cooldown+channel. Its was very annoying, I just couldn’t get rhythm set up with it. Often as a healer I feel like I’m a conductor playing with all the health bars with my fellow mates using all my different heals on them depending on the class, person and situation. While Penance was fun, it just wasn’t sitting in my rotation, I couldn’t figure out when was the best time to use it. Do I try to always keep it on cooldown and use it when ever its up? Or do I wait for till the tank is low and pop it to get him back up? Do I use it on the dps? Am I really not suppose to be using Renew and ProM?

    In the end my guild is very Holy Pally friendly, and lacking in AoE healers. That sealed the deal that I needed to go Holy and raid heal with CoH, but have been relooking at Disc since the nerf to CoH was announced (another cooldown, grrr!!) and wondering if I should go back to Disc and try it again.

  12. @Matt – I like the idea of an article such as this. As a matter of fact, I would love for someone to write a piece on a resto druid build that doesn’t use Wild Growth or Tree of Life =D

    Personally, I’m not convinced though. I felt that many of the points made were based on personal playstyle and not advantages to the way the class plays. Not taking anything away from Wistoovern, it was a well written piece and definitely outlines the possible issues with Penance. I just think that in terms of raw numbers Penance proves to be a great spell and definitely worth taking.

    With that said… I only use Disc for arena and reserve Holy for raiding. So all my information that I have is based on research and numbers and not Disc raid time. So maybe I’ll just shut up now.

  13. Hmm…so next article in line would be: Holy Priest, but without CoH, it can be done!

    But why would you? Your talent tree gives you certain advantages, it gives you handgrips to how you can use your abilities best.

    I bet you can also be a tree druid and heal raids without ever touching lifebloom, or a shaman but please don’t touch that chain heal button. Yes, it can be done, but does it make sense?

  14. interesting read, although I’m still going to use penance.

    My only opinion on the article was Holy Nova for a Disc Priest being useless. For serious? Have you used it at all? My main complaint about discipline is that it lacks that cushy AoE heal that holy priest enjoy (CoH). Holy nova allows for an instant AoE heal (even more so when you get a glyph to improve the healing done by it) AND it procs divine aegis & grace on multiple people in the party.

    Granted the healing numbers aren’t as big as Prayer of Healing, but it’s certainly a lot faster 🙂

  15. Great blogging, eh Matticus? Controversial topic, lots of comments, it has to bring the page views. Unfortunately, by choosing a topic this bad you devalue your site as a whole.

    I’d prefer to ignore the article but I’m going to respond to the points the original author made lest a brand new priest wanders across this topic and decides it is a good idea. Trust me, it isn’t. Penance is a very good tool designed to complement the many other spells and talents a Discipline Priest has.

    1. “Stop assuming you need it”. Priests have been in an odd position for years, with clumsy top end talents pushing us toward a myriad of hybrid specs. The author points to the example of Lightwell and I’ll go so far as to add early incarnations of Circle of Healing. At one time or another either ability was bad, especially compared to the alternatives. Fortunately, Blizzard came to their senses and we now have a buffed and useful Lightwell and a Circle of Healing that is so powerful it gets a cooldown.

    The author also points out the example of Beast Mastery hunters going for a 50/21/0 spec instead of the Beast Mastery exotic pet talent. Smart hunters do this because the damage gained by the MM 21 point talent readiness is so much greater than the utility and just plain cool factor of having an exotic pet. Neither the priest examples or the hunter examples really apply to Penance, in fact, the opposite is the case as we explore further.

    2. “Dual Tasking”. The author is right, a Disc priest is not going to bust out meaningful DPS in between healing. However, when is additional utility ever a reason to not take a talent?

    Other comments have adequately addressed the pitfalls of a dual nature spell by using macros.

    3. Cooldown. There are a couple of specious arguments here. A healer waiting on any cooldown is a bad healer. Priests have a number of situational heals, in fact one of the great things about healing as a priest is making the decisions from second to second on which heal to use. To tell us that priests won’t do anything in between Penance cooldowns is absurd. The author also mentions in passing that the six second cooldown on Circle of Healing is killing the ability. I strongly disagree, while it will reduce the usage of the spell, Circle of Healing will remain a very useful ability for Holy priests.

    4. The numbers. As Daria mentions, Penance is the fastest way to get the 3 stack of Grace applied. The first tick also delivers direct healing faster than any other priest heal. Finally, the author admits the numbers are very good.

    Sorry, I will continue to be surprised and just a little saddened to see a Disc priest without Penance in their repertoire.

  16. @mutagen: I can’t always expect to hit great topics every day. There’s going to be good ones, okay ones, and not so great ones. But it’s all a matter of perspective. You may not think its good or valuable.

    But you know what? I bet you the guy who wrote this did. And you’re absolutely right. There ARE going to be brand new Priests who wander across this topic who WILL think its a good idea. And they’re going to read these comments. And they’re going to find out WHY its not such a good idea.

    And that was the point.

  17. The original blog post made me cringe, the comments made me sigh with relief.

    The good reasons to use penance have been politely stated and I sincerely hope no reader reads just the nonsensical dribble in the primary post and runs with it. Disc already has enough problems as is without morons not speccing into its keystone talent.

  18. @Save:

    Disc is a single-target healing specialist. While raiding in this spec, I found myself falling into a very easy rhythm while on MT duty:

    Penance, ProM, PW:S, followed by flash, renew or GHeal depending on how much damage the tank taking.

    By the time the last spell landed, Penance was (or was almost depending on how much lag I had at the time) back off cooldown (talented), and I could cast it again to refresh Grace.

    While on OT duty, often Penance, ProM and renew were enough to keep them going and I had downtime waiting for CDs, or to help with the raid healing.

  19. I read a post on elitistjerks (can’t find it now) that looked at something like this. Instead of focusing on penance/PW:S, it focused on rapture as the key to viability — not getting penance means that you have a lot more talent points to put into holy and so get the mid-tier holy talents. A talent spec along the lines of http://talent.mmo-champion.com/?priest=050320213050510250100500000020535101030015050000000000000000000000000000000000000&glyph=000000000000

    The basic idea for this spec would be to spam flash heal/greater heal and basically last forever because of throughput from rapture and improved healing. You’re not as good a tank healer (no grace, no aegis, no renewed hope, no penance). Might be interesting for situations like defending in Wintergrasp (where I find myself just spamming flash heal on everyone on grid)?

    There was some good theorycrafting in that post, a shame I can’t find it now…

  20. While I can appreciate differing viewpoints, I believe a post like this on a high traffic site that many casual players frequent to get helpful information is detrmental to the value and reputation of this site. After reading this all I can see is language used to generate hits and comments a la Ming.

    When you look at the numbers and synergy of penance, you understand why it’s so good. To make a post encouraging others to not use an amazing talent without giving real facts beyond a flippant “it can be done” is misleading and harmful to your credibility for even posting it.

    Chus last blog post..We’re Back! First week of Arena

  21. First, a glyphed Holy Nova IS an essential part of a good disc priest’s healing. It is the only instant aoe heal we have.

    Second, it’s very strange to write an article about not putting that talent point into Penance without even mentioning where that point is going. Wistoovern’s 55-16 spec shows that he or she prefers points in aspiration (2), pain suppression, enlightenment (3 pts), and even desperate prayer. Does that 10% shorter cooldown on your power infusion really mean that much to you that you would dismiss the BEST single-target healing spell in the game?

    I suggest that the author actually try penance, actually USE it for a time, before writing about how great it is to heal without it.

  22. Alright, I was nicer in my previous post (probably far too nice).

    Honestly though, a word of advice would be to have some minimum standards met before any articles are posted. I was still shocked at this article and thought to myself that yea maybe Penance seemed a little weak to me back when I was not lvl 80 and in decent gear.

    I decided to go look at how the OP was spec’d and geared and I completely understand the problem. He has 1471 SP, 1.77% Haste (+3% from talents), and a surprisingly decent 16.8% crit. Almost NONE of the gear has enchants on them (Helm, Cape, Chest, Bracers, Gloves). With this type of gear, Penance would certainly have a lot less luster than how I am equipped. Decent spell Power and Haste Make Penance a really nice spell, especially cast right after a PWS.

    As a word of advice to the OP, get all your gear enchanted, aim for at least 1800+ spell power, 10-12% haste, and about 18-20% crit and then try Penance again and let us know how you like it.

  23. Wow, I just checked out Mr. Wistovern’s armory after reading Morgtheholy’s comment. What a train wreck! He is speccing without penance, as advertised, which is provably retarded. But lets look past that and at his gear.

    The man is using MP5 gems in most of his gear, even the absolutely abysmal 3mp5 hybrid gems. This is forgivable for soloing morons but this person is apparently a raider, even going in 25 man naxx some! I do admit that his regen is excellent, but that is all he has. His healing output would be beyond terrible at a measly ~1500 spell power and he is missing nearly all healing boosting talents.

    If this guy IS succeeding with this spec and gear he should immediately respec and he will then succeed SO much better. There is no need to handicap yourself like this willingly as a healer, its dangerous to your fellow party members and to your reputation.

    -Perceived, Skullcrusher

  24. “I do not believe that this spell is key to Disc healing – after all, we did without it for so long”

    To tell you the truth, we didn’t. Discipline hasn’t been a viable PvE specc until now. You could always argue that a discipline priest could manage to heal a 5-man before or even in a raid where the rest of the players were outgearing the instance. But did we do the job as good as other healers? No. We may have brought some utility (Power Infusion, Pain Suppression) but that was all. Right now we are actually competing with at laest Paladin healers. We can’t really reach the raid healers in numbers and we shouldn’t either (not only because of the totally overpowered CoH and Wild Growth but because of the assignment). A lot of our newfound viability comes from the new mechanics that Penance is so good at keeping up. Exchanging that for something else like Greater Heal almost turns us into nerfed paladins with less armor and health. Why would I want that?

    I believe most have most have been said already (exept for that hiting mobs by accident is a L2play-issue but that would only be rude to say, wouldn’t it?) so I won’t repeat the things other have already mentioned too much but I basically agree with most of the reactions. And his was by far the worst opinion I read here in quite a while. But as the recently resigned Horace Engdahl (that presents the Nobel Prize in litterature) always stated: How can you appreciate good litterature if you never read the bad. I believe the same thing applies to discusiions on priest spells.

  25. In my opinion, this is a terrible persuasive argument. Almost all of your points were logical fallacies.

    Just because you cant help trying to heal with a mob targeted doesn’t mean everyone else has that problem.

    Just because other classes are better off not using a 51 point talent doesn’t mean we are.

    Just because it can damage or heal doesn’t mean it’s for damaging and healing at the same time. Use it for healing in a dungeon, and use it for damage if you are soloing or PvPing. I’ve never had trouble with it this way.

    As far as fitting it into your “flow” goes, I just cast it whenever it’s up if someone needs that much healing. And if they don’t quite need the full heal I cast it anyways for the grace.

    Of course, it’s not “necessary” in a very strict way, nothing is. I could play without using any talents if i wanted to. But it would reduce my abilities greatly, and for no reason at all. If you take the time to get 50 points in disc why not get the last point? Give us an alternative and actual reasons we should use it, then I might be interested in what you have to say.

  26. I just wanted to add my opinion on how much I disliked this post and that it just feels unfinished. Its as if the poster got half way done with his thoughts and stopped.

    There is nothing to backup his “feelings.” No numbers, no examples, no alternate specs or rotations. There is nothing other than some random drivil based on apparently nothing but the posters limited point of view.

    To be honest, the quality of this post is far below what I have come to expect as a long time reader of this blog.

    As mentioned, in most feedreaders you dont see the comments. I was so appalled by this post I had to click through just to see if anyone else felt it was as absurd as I did.

    You should really put some sort of disclaimer on this one as it is very misleading and opinion or not, simple wrong. This kind of post does more harm than good to any new Disc priest.

  27. @Cal: Most feedreaders don’t see comments, true. But most people that do know how to use feedreader will typically navigate to add their two cents to the issue and read up on what everyone else has said (as you did). Your thoughts along with everyone elses are duly noted. Keep your comments related to the post. I don’t want to see comments on whether or not this post is fit for my blog. I decide that.

  28. To be fair, I’m seriously considering switching from Holy spec to Disc spec because my guild has 1 Holy Priest at 80 and 2 more on the way up. I’ve got no desire to go shadow, but being a Disc Priest allows me to work with a Holy Priest in a 10-man well.

    So from that point of view, I read this article because I am investigating how I should spec Disc. I was happy to see someone try and defend not taking the top-line talent. I respectfully disagree with the article, but that does not mean it was not interesting or should not be posted on the blog. So in summary, the article plus the comments have been helpful to at least one player.


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