Killing them softly
Back in the BC days, the idea of a viable Holy or Disco DPS build was teased at by Blizz, and many of us spent countless hours trying to suss out what that build might BE. We never found it, and I think I’m guessing rightly that there never was one. The best any of us could come up with was some sort of Holy hybrid build that allowed us to muddle through leveling and still do halfway decent heals in normal dungeons.
When the dual spec feature was implemented, that whole concept kind of lost its attraction. We all dual-specced and went Shadow for leveling. Cata killed it completely by locking us in to one spec until max levels, and, of course, MoP has buried it by removing the concept of talent specs completely.
In a way, we’re all hybrids now, as much as anybody is a hybrid, if you take my meaning.
But an odd thing happened in MoP. Disco DPS became … a thing.
Back the truck up
I’m not going to say or even imply that Disco DPS holds a candle to a true DPS class. It’s not even close. But what I will say is that some Disco skills hit harder than expected.
We noticed this when my alter-ego Jazreal was dashing around the landscape with his low-level friends. Since questing in Kalimdor is pretty laughable these days, there isn’t much healing needed, so out of boredom one day he fired off a Penance on some mob. And it fell over. Dead. Kaput. Crispy-fried, Disco-style.
He had discovered that Penance hit like a truck when used for DPS.
Nobody here’s sure, but it appears that this ramping up of Holy Fire, Smite, and Penance’s damage output is a direct consequence of the smite-healy healing style being adopted as the One True Way of Disco Healing According to Blizzard. How do we know this? Well, we don’t know. But we guess, and that is based on how smite-healing heals group members for a value based on the damage done with those three spells. Aaaand, if they’re wimpy, the heals will be, too.
In Cata, this wasn’t a problem because the Evangelism stacks gained were the goal of smite-heals, to regain mana and buff healing in general. Take the mana return away, and suddenly this becomes a much less attractive choice to healers. I have a feeling Disco was in danger of being spec non grata if they hadn’t done something about it. Thus, the group healing effect, and its improved effectiveness, puts a new coat of paint on our favorite set of wheels, and makes it attractive to us.
Non-healy side effects
The big side effect of this is that, suddenly, we have a viable questing / leveling spec on our hands. Oh, certainly, it takes a bit longer than a BM hunter blowing all his cooldowns at once. In fact, it’s like sawing through your opponent with a butter knife. But the thing is, it’s not a struggle, and it’s an extremely survivable leveling spec, too.
As an example, last night I ran into Morgrinn Crackfang in the Jade Forest, an NPC that even gives pure DPS problems ((At my level, I hasten to point out. I’m sure level 90s blow him away using nothing but dots and harsh language.)). And the fight took, I don’t know, five minutes or so. But I never dropped below 80% health, and his went down steadily. In the end, Disco won the day. Disco! And I didn’t even have to heal myself. The damage I did WAS my healing.
In the back of my mind, I could hear BRK swearing about how Disco priests were "like cockroaches" when he was playing PvP. That’s kind of how I feel about myself now. Short of a nuclear bomb, it’s hard to kill a Disco priest – and don’t bet on the nuke.
Side note: the addition of Void Tendrils as a talent really, really screams "all specs are DPS specs" to me. You use this to root your target, back off, and smite face until it is dead. Healy specs don’t need root spells. DPS specs do. If you’re a healer and you have something in your face, you need to run to the tank and get it off you ((Well technically the tank shouldn’t be letting that sort of thing happen too much, and certainly not often enough to warrant a spot on your action bar.)).
There is one slight problem with this approach. Most, if not all, of my keybound action bars have healy spells. Fortunately, the use of a good addon will help ((What I am going to describe is possible without, as well, but not nearly as easy.)). I use Dominos for my action bars. I have set up the first row of keys (the keybound ones) so that if I hold down shift and scroll, it shows a DPS-based action bar instead. I’m pretty sure this is possible with other action bar addons, as well.
An alternative would be to have two Disco specs with different action bar layouts. But this is so much easier.
But, truly, this is a good thing
Now, I can’t say for sure this little buzz of mine will carry through to the final zones of the continent, but for the time being, I am truly content to healy-smite my way through Pandaria. By not having to faff about with Shadow spec, I don’t have to concern myself with duplicate armor, etc, nor do I have to remember to switch to the right spec when turning in quests ((Under the new reward system, you’re given equipment rewards based on spec, and it’d be a shame to get DPS gear offerings when you’re a healer.)).
The one disadvantage to this, besides the glacial speed of progression, is that if you truly do plan to dual-spec with Shadow, you won’t pick up as much useful shadow gear. But if Disco is going to be your primary, that should not be a concern.
I’m hoping that this is "working as intended" and we don’t see a giant nerf to the damage output of Disco priests. I can easily see them decoupling the direct link between DPS and heals and putting in a multiplier for heals so that x amount of damage got 3x amount of healing, or something like that.
I would not be happy with that, not because of the inconvenience, but because if they truly want to make choices significant, the choice to play as Disco needs to mean more than "I spec disco in instances, but I spend the rest of my life in Shadowform."