Circle of Healing, or why AoE healing is a bag of worms

I admit to being less than pleased about up the upcoming nerf (6 second cooldown). I personally don’t spam it, yet I resent my right to spam it if I so choose being taken away.

When I first started healing way way back many centuries ago (ok, maybe not that long, but I cant get that Joseph song out of my head), we didn’t have smart heals, we didn’t have non party specific aoe heals and organising raid healing was a complex job and required lots and lots of priests (yay). On fights like Huhuran in AQ40 we had priests everywhere, one in each of the soak groups to spam prayer of healing and so on. The same with Vael, sure we could do it with less priests, but our raid leader at the time was rather set in his ways and he liked to be surrounded by priests. We usually raided with between 7 and 12 and made up the rest of our healing team with paladins in dresses pretending they were priests. It wasn’t always an ideal system, cloth loot was fought over fiercely and when a priest assigned to a certain group got blown up or silenced things could get messy real fast, but we made it work. However I thought with the introduction of heals like CoH we were moving away from the clunkiness of party specific healing.

So the Burning Crusade is launched and I spec for CoH and I love it. Suddenly organising raid healing got so much easier, obviously a few blueberry shamans adding in helped too but for the first time we had options that didn’t involve putting a priest in every party if we needed massive amounts of AoE healing. Now I’m not denying that there are plenty of priests who spammed CoH to the point where it made up 95 percent of their healing, usually their aim was just to top metres and they either got kicked or yelled at if people died because of it. I raided with several of them and it was rather amusing to watch, especially on farm stuff, but the fault lies with the spell itself. People always try and top metres, trying to be the best is a aspect of human nature which can be rather ugly and suddenly priests were handed a tool that made that metre topping so easy. CoH as it stands is the only AoE (now smart) spell which instantly delivers health the second you hit the key, no cast time like chain heal or prayer of healing, no waiting for a hot to tick like wild growth, just instant and currently spamable health. Naturally its impossible to compete with that and thats the problem. Healing 6 (glyphed) people instantly combined with the ability to spam it whilst running around like a demented imp makes CoH trivialise encounters, no one can deny that.

Then we hit the Wrath of the Lich King and suddenly nothing is party specific any more. Most abilities, totems, shouts, buffs are all raid wide. Things have really moved on since the dark ages of vanilla wow and our army of holy/disc priests with our cookie cutter builds all looking the same. Our party specific heals are languishing in our box of tricks, no need for prayer of healing any more, the new shiny CoH is now clever. Like a hurt seeking missile it will hunt down the weakest people close to whoever you cast it on and save them. No need to think any more, just find someone on low health and hit the button repeatedly and the AI will do it all for you. Thats the problem, not only does a smart CoH take the fun out of healing, but Blizzard themselves have made spells like Holy Nova, Prayer of Healing, Binding Heal worthless by making CoH so good. So in a knee-jerk reaction to the fact that most priests seem to be using one spell and only one spell they are giving it a 6 second cool down.

Now I really don’t believe that healing spells should have cool downs, unless of course they heal for huge amounts, set off fireworks or summon dancing girls at the same time. As a healer you should be able to pick the best spell for each situation and cool downs limit that. Also its easy to fall into the trap of using cool down spells whenever they are up just because they can or they feel they should. Not to mention the fact that people staring at cool down monitors often stand in the fire. Ok, its likely that the person who burns to death waiting for something to come off cool down is the type of person who spammed CoH regardless of whether that was the right spell or not, but healers don’t grow on trees. Virtually every guild on my server is currently recruiting them in some shape or form at the moment so most guilds will have muppets hiding in their healing ranks somewhere.

My preferred solution would have been something like a debuff system where either CoH got more mana intensive if used excessively in a short period, a little like Arcane Blast or a system where its targeting decreased if spammed, i.e. assuming glyphed the first cast heals 6 people, the second consecutive one heals 5 and so on.

My biggest problem is that CoH really doesn’t do enough with a cool down, healing 5 to 6 people (depending on your glyph choice) for 1700ish each is nothing when most people have over 15k health. It doesn’t cut deeply enough into their health pools if the damage is coming thick and fast, say like Illidan phase 2. I suppose I also have an issue with the new Blizzard description of priests as being the Jack of all Trades master of none healers. The problem there lies with human perception, if people are saying well holy paladins are the best tank healers and shamans are now the best raid healers because they are the only class with a spamable raid heal than thats what plenty of guilds will bring, regardless of whether its true or not. Especially if to function properly as a raid healer priests now require to be placed in whichever party they need to heal as that goes against everything else Blizzard have been saying. Obviously we have plenty of single target heals and a hot, but for raid healing, the most efficient way to do that is to use aoe heals, thus its going to be either use CoH every 6 seconds inter spaced with single target heals or use prayer of healing but wild growth, coh from other priests and chain heal all being smart, its unlikely that prayer of healing will receive its max efficiency because someone else will have unintentionally already healed at least one to two people in your group before you finish casting.

How will the cool down effect us?

Healing heroics/normals I really don’t expect to see any changes at all. Prayer of healing is a great spell for dealing with AoE damage to your own party. Its radius is big enough to guarantee that regardless of where everyone is standing, unless they are afk at the entrance they will be hit by it. Its a fairly beefy heal and if glyphed ( one cast than a break to do whatever you fancy, regen, heal the tank, move out of the fire will suffice on a lot of stuff. Obviously its cast time is a disadvantage, especially for the priests who have got into the habit of running around whilst aoe healing, but for emergency group healing on the run we have the often maligned Holy Nova, which suffers slightly from its range or lack of and of course if specced for it, CoH will still be on the table.

For raids it will really depend I think on the type of encounters Blizzard produce and of course the changes they intend making to already existing content like Malygos. The cynic in me thinks they will continue producing aoe heavy encounters however, simply because its hard to make difficult fights if only the tank takes damage. I do think healing in Vanilla WoW was a lot more challenging than it is now, but I can’t decide as to whether thats because of smart spells or because back then we had 40 idiots trying to stand in stuff as opposed to 25 now. In that sense the change is a good thing, at least from my perspective, more challenging healing makes for more interesting healing. However, it creates a disparity between classes when some don’t require too much thought to heal effectively, just keep your eyes on your mana and your surroundings whilst you heal away yet others need to keep one eye on their cooldowns, one eye on their mana, one eye on the floor checking for flames whilst trying to think ahead to make sure you are picking the best spell for the situation at all times. This really becomes an issue if their healing output is at all similar, after all why would anyone want to do 5 times the work for the same or similar result.

So CoH is on cool down, what other options do Priests have for AoE healing?

So Holy priests have 6 AoE spells, technically 7 since if you squint slightly Lightwell does count. After all it can heal multiple people at once, assuming you can get any raid member to click on it at all.

5 baseline ones, Holy Nova, Prayer of Healing, Prayer of Mending, Divine Hymn and Binding Heal and then 2 talented ones, Circle of Healing and Lightwell. Now all of these heals have some form of limitation to provide a sense of balance.

Party Specific Heals

Holy Nova: Very small radius, only heals your own party. Also damages any enemy close by but doesn’t cause any threat so is essentially dual purpose. Its great for situations in which all your party are standing on top of each other, situations where that little extra dps combined with healing makes that enrage timer or that achievement that little bit easier to reach. Its also cast able on the move which adds to its usefulness in a variety of places. Personally I love it in group PvP, nothing beats balancing around holy novaing large groups of Horde, especially in locations like the passage leading to the King in SW, the dwarf king’s room and Balinda’s bunker. Its also very pretty and great for dancing around spamming to celebrate raiding victories, and the icing on the holy nova cupcake is the fact that rogues seem to take real offence at being attacked by it.

Glyph: Holy Nova

I’m in two minds about this glyph, the situations where I have been primarily using Holy Nova have been ones where its damage component has been equally useful.


Prayer of Healing: 3 second cast time which can be a very long time. Large radius especially if you have talents in Holy Reach ( Only heals your own party. Great for any fight in which you have the time to stand around casting, good for most 5/10 mans, less good for 25 mans due to the smart nature of most other aoe heals, faster single target heals coming in from other healers. However, if no one else heals your party, either because they darent or because you spammed holy nova a few times first to get their health up to scare off those smart heals, prayer of healing is a great way to top your party.

Glyph:  Prayer of Healing

Long cool down

Divine Hymn: Our latest toy, the level 80 priest spell. In theory DH has two uses, crowd control and healing. In reality its a bit of a lame duck. In terms of crowd control everything else seems to work better. Every time I’ve tried to use it in PvE, Its come up with an immune message and in PvP its 1.5 second cast time makes it look unattractive given that it would if kicked, pummelled or counter spelled lock me out of my holy spells. It also shares a cool down with fear, now I can understand on paper why they did that, but its still frustrating So ideally the little priest fears, off runs the blood elf rogue with their trinket on cool down, 7 seconds later priestie casts divine hymn and thats Mr rogue cced again and by the time thats up fear would be almost off cool down again. If only stuff actually worked like that. The 40 percent damage debuff doesn’t however seem to apply to manaburn which makes it a more useful spell against casters, especially other healers. That said, the healing component when you consider it heals 10 people is nice, the cool down is perhaps a tad long though.

Lack of control

Prayer of mending: My all time favourite heal. This spell is just plain awesome. Ok, sometimes its choice of target is a little weird, but in the majority of situations it should always be on cool down. I like 2 manning stuff with the Lyloid (otherwise known as my boyfriend) mainly for the challenge and prayer of mending has made all kinds of fights trivial with its uber bounciness. Its well worth downloading a tracker to make the most of it, but its the lack of control that lets it down. Why oh why does the AI think that mage over there at full health is the correct target to move to rather than that rogue at 60 percent health dancing in a fire?

Lightwell: Lightwell’s biggest flaw is the fact that it needs other people to use it. Your dpsers need to stop mashing their keys, your tanks need to deselect their target for it to be effective which breaks the simple rules of raiding. The whole concept of the holy trinity of raid roles goes out of the window the second anyone plonks down a lightwell and thats a big issue. If you ask the average raiding rogue (yes, I like to pick on rogues, bite me) what their role within the average raid is, the answer will be a simple “I kill stuff”, obviously there are other things expected like not standing in the fire, maybe kicking a certain spell, but generally its stay alive and dps like your life depends on it. Now thats the problem, I don’t deny good rogues keep an eye on their health, taking healthstones, health pots and perhaps even bandaging depending on the fight but getting them to click on a lightwell, changing their target when they could be spamming damage…. good luck. I can see their point, they get taken to kill stuff, I get brought to keep them alive, they don’t expect me to start dotting things, so why am I suddenly expecting them to click on weird shiny stuff. Its not even like it heals them all upfront, by the time its started ticking and they are back dpsing, someone will have woken up and healed them. Then there is the positioning problem, place it at their feet so no one has far to move to click it and its hard to see, place it behind them and you know no one will touch it, why go from second on the damage metre to fifth to pick up a hot when you can just scream on vent for someone to heal you. Within a raid people are meant to trust each other. I know my tank won’t lose aggro, I trust our dps to perform to the best of their ability and in return they expect me to keep them alive without them actually having to look at their health bars. All that means Lightwell lacks a place really, it has great potential in the amount it can heal for, its relatively cheap and you can click on it when stunned or silenced, but in pvp it falls over dead faster than I do and in PvE everyone apart from other healers seem to loathe even going close, let alone touching it. I feel sometimes it would make more sense to drop (, because at least I can guarantee someone will use the picnic basket.

Glyph: Lightwell

Extremely situational

Binding Heal: Now I love this in PvP, but even though I’ve two manned nearly all the 5 mans in Northrend (all those without annoyingly gimmicky bosses), other than for using with holy concentration procs. Even with just the 2 of us, something else is nearly always a better choice unless holy concentration is procced. Prayer of mending for example works wonders for 2 manning, in fact it trivialises most normal 5 mans more than CoH trivialises raid content. I suppose my issue here is perhaps with the way I learnt to heal. I got into the habit of bandaging myself whilst trying to get outside the 5 second rule, saving my mana for everyone else unless of course I was likely to fall over dead in the next few seconds.

and finally we have Circle of Healing. Smart heal, targets the people with the lowest health close to the person you cast it on. 6 second cool down, doesn’t heal for huge amounts but can be cast whilst moving.

Glyph: Circle of Healing

In conclusion, I think raid healing will still be doable as a holy priest, I’m not sure if good priests will even notice a difference, although it will depend on the future content Blizzard produces. I know my place will only be taken by a shaman if I get around to levelling my mine and wanting to raid with her, but still deep down I know I’m not happy with the change. Even though I can theory craft away happily, figuring out how on AoE heavy fights I can fill my 6 seconds achieving maximum health per second. I just feel that this is a step backwards for healing. I played the beta and to be honest it was obvious CoH was overpowered the second it became smart, but despite all the testing Blizzard changed their mind about giving it a cool down then and its quite insulting now that they are turning around and adding the very cool down they said wasn’t necessary or workable 6 months ago. I accept I’m overly protective of my precious priest (understandably because I’ve invested a scarily large amount of time in her) but I don’t believe that having only one class with a spamable raid heal falls in with the ethos that Blizzard have been spouting recently. Bring the player not the class just doesn’t work when 2 healing classes have desirable niches and the other 2 can do most things, just not as well as the other 2. Now I’m not saying chain heal is the be all and end all, it isn’t, I’ve raided on a resto shaman and it too has limitations, annoying ones at that. I just hate the fact that rather than make content more interesting and dynamic, the answer seems to be “lets make it harder by limiting how much AoE healing the average raid can produce, whilst having lots and lots of AoE damage”. That only makes fights fun for tanks and dps, struggling to do stuff makes healers burn out even more than they already do and healer burn out seems to be a real issue at the moment. Partly due to the feeling of being permanently ganked, on the one hand there is the devs with the nerfbat chasing us around and other the other an army of mutilate rogues ready and eager to show you what being squishy really means.

Part of my issue is the fact that I don’t feel my class has really changed over the years I’ve been playing. All the spells I had at launch are still with me relatively unchanged, prayer of healing for example, still limited by party, still has a 3 second cast time and my talented toys like Lightwell and now Circle of Healing either are being nerfed or still don’t have a real purpose. Of course you could argue that the priest class is the pinnacle of class design, so good it can’t be improved, but that wouldn’t be exactly true. Ah, well, heres to a New Year in which people will use Lightwell.

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