As I've told you before, I've not been lucky when it comes to finding priests around me with whom I can have some nerdy discussions about the state of priest healing and other interesting stuff. Seems like whenever I try, they stop playing or swap mains. Maybe I am doing it wrong... We recently got a new priest into the guild, and although I haven't had an opportunity to play with him yet [when writing this] I read through the application and noticed that this is a smite-priest. And not just one of those who thinks it's an ok and fun thing to do occasionally, but from the application it seemed like he really, really liked it. I jumped right on the opportunity to start a discussion of course, seeing as I belong to the more sceptical priests regarding the efficiency of Smite healing.
I've already written about Smite healing and why I don't think it's a very good way of healing. When asking this new priest, he explained that it was great for "farm fights" and 5-mans. I don't argue that at all. Whenever you can slack heal, smite healing is a great way to make it a little more fun without sacrificing too much of actual healing. But I just don't enjoy the idea of that being the only intended areas of usage for smite healing. I really feel like smite healing holds a lot of potential and could bring some interesting choices and a different style of healing for disc priests, without being overly complicated or walking too far away from the core idea of disc healing. What I am seeing right now are priests who basically waste 5 tp into something they never get to use in raiding anyway.
First of all, eventhough they have buffed smite healing somewhat since the launch of Cata, it annoys me that they haven't fixed the basic problems of smite healing, some of which I adress in my other post. That Archangel doesn't affect 50% (absorbs) of our healing is beyond me. Nerf it if you like, just make it work for all our casts. But all the issues of Smite healing are still minor when compared to what I personally feel is the major issue - that you as a healer have so little control over who will get the heals. I'm already irritated about PoM and CoH healing pets and even worse, short time summoned creatures like Army of the Dead, Shadowfiend and Treants. But Atonement does that as well. Smite healing as it is right now means you can only use it when you know that your heal doesn't really matter. That the dps you do is more important or that any target is good enough. In progress raiding, there are few fights like that, even less in a 10 man environment where you're a more important part of the healing output than in a 25 man. This new priest who says he really likes smite healing calls it a "handy tool with limited amount of uses" and I completely agree. Smite healing with Archangel could be dang handy, if only it wasn't so dang unreliable. Add to that a range that is far too short for many fights for Smite healing to be usable at all, nevermind the unreliable targetting, and you've got too many problems to be happy. It feels too unfinished and unpolished to me. So what could be done to make Smite healing a more viable raid healing tool even for tough fights?
The general problems about Smite healing are easily solved and like I said, some already have been adressed by Blizzard. Holy Fire is now affected by the Smite-hit glyph and Atonement. Next up is making Atonement proc Grace and make shields affected by the Archangel buff (since I haven't played Atonement for quite some time, these might be things they've already addressed. Or so I hope!). Balancing numbers will probably be needed, but I'd hate it if that is the only reason Blizzard has for not getting their hands dirty and done with Smite healing. Smite healing was supposed to be the new interesting thing about disc, just as Chakra is with holy, and it just isn't delivering. Let's take a closer look at the bigger issue - that of targetability.
I'd love it if shields were part of smite healing somehow. The absorb effect is what makes disc healing special and unique, and I don't like that it is being completely left out of smite healing. You can't escape the fact that absorbs of some sort or another is what disc healing is all about, so why can't it be with smite healing as well? My suggestion is to have either shields themselves or the Weakened Soul debuff work as a beacon for the Atonement heal to target. Preferrably the Weakened Soul debuff since you can trust it to be up for 15 seconds (unless you shorten it yourself). Smite healing would work like it does, ie randomly, when you don't have weakened soul on any target. But as soon as you shield someone and for as long as they have the weakened soul buff up, Atonement would target that person instead. It does add a level of planning to smite healing that I feel could be interesting. Today, Smite healing has two areas of usage: 1. Mainly to dps, where the heal lands is secondary. In this case you could use Smite healing pretty much like you do now, just spam your heart out. 2. To tank heal. I really feel like Smite healing could complement the whole Shield-Penance-Greater Heal rotation in an interesting way. Throw a Shield on the tank and you'll be assured that your Atonement heals will land on that target, making Atonement healing a really viable way of tank healing - unlike now. Would this be overpowered? I can't see how, and even if it was we're again looking at "simply" adjusting the numbers. You would need to plan your shielding very carefully, throwing a shield at some target that doesn't deserve your Atonement heals could be dangerous. Or you could keep two tanks up by shielding both and smiting. This means a whole new level of planning regarding our shields, something Blizzard have already tried to make us do.
Another idea that I enjoy musing over is having the Weakened Soul target work as a beacon, from which your Atonement splashes onto other targets in the vicinity, similar to how Swiftmend or GoAK works now. This would have the added benefit of making disc priest aoe healing more interesting, since we currently basically only spam PoH and personally I don't find that too exciting. If you have several people with the Weakened Soul debuff, you could either have Atonement randomly choose one of them (which is in line with how it works now) or spread the heal among them all, this would work with both the aoe atonement idea or the single heal idea.
This wouldn't have to interfer with the current way to use Smite healing or non-smite healing. You could still use Smite healing as just a fun tool to do some extra dps in instances or on farm bosses. You could still do a good job healing without using smite at all. But if you'd like, and with some extra planning, smite healing could turn into what I had hoped for it to be when it was first announced - a real healing tool with real choices adding that new level of healing to disc that holy partially got with Chakra.
Some questions still need to be answered - would you want to extend the range of smite healing? I think it should be increased to at least 20 yards so that it is possible to use on all bosses in current content. I don't think increasing it to 30 or even 40 yards would make it overpowered either. Or you know, at least make it so it counts from the edge of the boss foot plate instead of the center. There is probably also the pvp aspect that has to be considered. The thing about Atonement as it is now is that it has high hps and hpm to somewhat compensate for the fact that it is an iffy and unreliable way to heal (so that when you do get a heal where you want it, it will do some good). To counter the fact that Atonement would become a more viable healing tool, you might have to nerf its output, but like I said - I'm not going to crunch the numbers. I'd rather have a slightly weaker tool that is usable in nearly any encounter with the right skills, than a powerful tool that is usable only in rare specialized boss fights like Halfus or when healing doesn't matter anyway (because seriously, what's up with that). In any case, I definitely feel like something interesting could, and should, be done with smite healing. It could really make disc healing a lot more fun and challenging.