February 9, 2011

Shield spam is not coming back

This was not fun.

I'm pretty shocked that people think shield spam is making or has made a come back because of the Power: Word Shield buff in patch 4.0.6. Let's clarify a few things...

There were two major reasons that disc priests shield spammed throughout Icecrown Citadel. The first is that Power Word: Shield was the strongest spell we had in our arsenal. Disc was a perfectly viable tank healer in tiers 7 and 8, but that disappeared in Trial of the Crusader and ICC. Tank damage was tuned to paladin single target healing and disc couldn't keep up with paladin throughput, especially after the Penance nerf. Being stripped of our ability to tank heal, Power Word: Shield became the best thing we could do, which was perfect because...

The second reason we shield spammed in Wrath was starting with Algalon and continuing into parts of ToC and all of ICC, the types of damage that Blizzard designed into raid encounters were ideal for being dealt with by shields. Damage was either continuous ticking damage auras, avoidable one-shots, or unavoidable almost-one-shots randomly dealt out to a handful of players in the raid. Those types of damage were perfect for being dealt with by shield spam. Ever go back to Ulduar during ICC and try shield spamming? I went back almost every week to farm Mimiron head mounts with my guild and shortly after I started shield spamming I tried transferring the playstyle to one of our farm runs. What I found out immediately was that shield spam wasn't viable in the wrong damage environment. All I did was waste my time and mana pre-shielding the raid for damage that rarely came. Think back to Ulduar and the spells you used... Circle of Healing, Surge of Light Flash Heal, Penance? Yeah, there was a reason you used those spells, and it's not just because they were well tuned. It's because those spells were good for dealing with that damage design.

Damage design is the reason shield spam won't come back anytime soon. Blizzard has learned their lesson (this why druids are not getting brought to many fights by top guilds -- because too much of their arsenal relies on certain types of damage to be effective.) There is really no reason to shield spam in the existing content unless you only play a healer to get to the top of the effective healing meter and chaining Innervates on a player to support this kind of wasteful play is nothing short of stupid.

(Courtesy of WoW Insider.)
"But what about phase 2 Heroic Chimaron, or Dark phase on Heroic Maloriak? What about--" Before you think that, let me finish. There seems to be some confusion on what shield spamming is. Shield spam is continuously applying shields to the whole raid until they're used or faded, then doing the same exact thing again. It's doing this endlessly throughout a fight regardless of what phase you're in, what boss mechanic is next. This is what shield spam was in ICC and it was very effective (both by actual definition and meters) for being so simple and stupid. That's why people laughed about disc taking no skill to play; because you didn't need skill to play it anymore. Just go up and down your raid frame push one button and then repeat when you get to the end. That is what shield spam is.

Shield spam is not blanketing several groups in shields before Malygos' air phase, XT's Tantrum, Maloriak's dark phase, or the last phase of Chimaeron when healing doesn't work but mitigation does. Using shields pre-emptively to an incoming mechanic is smart play, it's the same as a holy priest queuing up a Prayer of Healing incoming raid damage. You should have always been doing this as a disc priest ever since Soul Warding was introduced at the end of tier 7. You should have been doing this before patch 4.0.6, and should continue to do it for as long as you have the ability to do so. It's is a cornerstone to the playstyle of discipline. But make no mistake: this is not shield spam and very little of the current content would be best dealt with by shield spam. Stress on the word best. See, I have no doubt shield spam can be used in current content to deal with damage, but take in mind it's not sustainable and it's not called for. That means you shouldn't be doing it. It's not called for and to suck up precious Innervates for it is foolish. That kind of behavior only serves to play the meter game, not the actual game.

So pleased don't fall into a trap of using one spell again because you're still detoxing from Wrath. Cataclysm is a different game and it requires a smarter style of play that everyone should be capable of if they choose to be.


  1. I will say that priest will be casting PW:S way more than they have since the beginning of Cata. The changes to that spell + mastery put it back on the table as one of the more powerful instant cast heals in the game. If you look at recent WoL uploads, you can see some of the results already. I smell a nerf incoming by way of cooldown or mana cost. I'm wishing for a rework of Disc mastery to benefit other spells so that the diverse play style of Cata will continue. Check out this log if you need a reference on how broken PW:S is right now.

  2. A limit to the number of Shields that can be active at once may be a good idea.

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  4. I think a limit would be benificial. Perhaps 5 shields active at once. I was shield spamming tonight on the 25 Heroic modes of Atremedes, Maloriak and Omnotron and it was just ridiculous. I have reforged out of spirit too. I was being fed 2 Innervates and we had 2 tides for all but atremedes kill but still. While I enjoy the Huge parses I much preferred the new style of cata healing.

    See Logs -

  5. Wonderful post -- we can still use shields, in fact we shouldn't remove them or stop using them, but use all the tools in your arsenal. I use shields, but I also regularly use Inner Focus + Greater heal or Prayer of healing, POM, binding heal, Penance, pain suppression, even renew and divine hymn. I love the new way of healing, I despise one button healing and disc priests have the diversity to make them very reliable and desirable in relevant raid content.

  6. I'm afraid I have to disagree with you regarding shield spamming - in its current state (post 4.0.6) it is definitely very very viable and ridiculously effective.
    If you look at any of our logs from this past week, our Disc priest was doing just that and to insanely good effect ( ; ).
    Almost every fight 70-80% of his heals done are PW:S, with another 8-12% the PW:S glyph, easily tops HPS, and the damage absorbed is just insane. We actually thought Al'akir's Acid Rain was nerfed because of how much was absorbed (the moment he had to stop bubbling to concentration pot, the change in damage was noticeable), and we essentially 3 healed atramedes heroic with our two disc's bubbling and the other healers alternating between keeping an eye on the raid and just DPSing the boss.

    There is a ton of damage in every fight, especially hardmodes, and PW:S is extremely effective at combating it all now (and before patch, PW:B was still a valid reason to bring a Disc priest, even when their heals were suffering). The reason Druids were being sat by top guilds was NOT due to the damage output in fights, it was due to a combination of our AE heals being weak (which were fortunately buffed this patch) and due to a lack of any useful raidwide cooldowns (BR, Innervs, and Tranqs all easily provided by other druids). Pre-patch my less-geared priest alt was brought in to heroic Omnotron over my druid just so I could provide a PW:B :P

    I sincerely wish that the PW:S adjustments were done better, as I always had fun with Disc and its concept of healing on my priest and was excited for the buffs. There are some people out there, too, who are doing as blizz intended and weaving the new, stronger shields in with other spells. Unfortunately though the adjustments just went too far and (even more so at decent gear levels, and also with availability of MTT/innervs/etc) PW:S spam is not only viable but ridiculously effective. and healing is imbalanced again :\

  7. Dawn,

    Quick question that is somewhat related to the post, but not really. I'm looking for a good priest healing pvp guide or blog, donyou know of any? I've looked at Warsong Priest, but it hasn't been updated since Cata dropped. My main is a Mage, but ive starting to level my gnome priest with intentions to focus on pvp. Despite my lack of priestly experience I've always enjoyed your WoW Insider postings. I'm looking forward to the day that I'll be able to fully understand all the details of your postings, once I play my priest some more.

    Lastly, quick shot out to DC! Just noticed you live in my neck of the woods. I'm in the U Street/ColumbiaHeights area. See you around the district. :)

    Thanks in advance.