On possible directions for the future of Discipline
Yes, another topic. This is going to be a hair different, though. Current Discipline faces several issues which make them overpowered, but the nerfs and adjustments Blizzard is making are a bit confused. I am attempting to clarify a couple of possible directions for the spec, so that we as a community can start responding in a more unified manner.
First, the spec's defining features:
1) DA, PW:S, and other shields. These are the biggest things the Discipline priest is famous for, and should always be a part of any speculated path for it. The issue is obvious enough to anyone who reads commentary from all the other healers: being able to stack them up too easily and too high makes them feel redundant and can negate fight mechanics.
2) Atonement. The originator of the mechanic, the Discipline priest is still the overall best user of it (the others being MW Emenence and some Resto shamans with TC). Offensive casting also plays into one of the spec's big cooldown abilities, Archangel.
So, from these, I can see three possible directions that Blizz could focus on for the future of the class. After them, I'll put my own recommendations and ideas to pursue in any case. All three options are probably much more balanced overall than current.
1) Focus on shields and predictive damage mitigation.
-In this possible path, Blizzard turns SS into a much weaker spell which casts either 5-target or a raid-wide shield (probably about 3/4 of a PW:S, with a longer duration). PW:B gets a bit of a duration boost (and most likely a redefinition to be more like DK's own barrier, with an HP limit). The spec's actual HPS takes a bit of a dive, while its shielding capability remains roughly as it is in 5.1. The focus here is that a smart Disc will rarely let life-threatening damage get to his charges, but will take a while to catch up with his mistakes. The combined sum of these would be much like other healers (Holy Paladin springs to mind), but at least half would come from predictive shields. The benefit to this is a much-raised skill cap and a distinct spec identity. The drawback is that much like today, a truly great Discipline priest can make other look like they are not doing their job or possibly negate some boss mechanics.
2) Focus on Atonement.
-Under this theory, The Discipline priest becomes a Hybrid in the truest sense of the word. They do most of their healing through DPS, contributing perhaps 25-50% of a true DPS player's output while letting Atonement do the talking for most of their heals along with precision-targeted PW:S. Archangel becomes their primary cooldown for pressure-healing situations, letting them burst out true heals for a short period of time to avert disaster or complete triage when time is short. SS is reworked, either to be the same as the Predictive option above or to only work on Atonement heals. Mastery gets revamped, converting some of your crit heals and overheal into shields (NOT an efficient choice to stack, more to allow continued DPS without being a complete waste). This makes a relatively straightforward and VERY fun class to play (the hard part coming in one's ability to transition to pressure situations and back again before mana blows out), while again maintaining a very distinct identity. The downside is obvious, this would be the hardest option to balance around since almost by definition it would scale obscenely well with all stats (and be highly favored on any boss with a tight enrage timer). Forcing them to gear for both Hit and Spirit would be a good way to solve the discrepancy.
3) Become Holy with a shield twist instead of HoTs.
-Obviously, this is the least desirable of the outcomes but would be the easiest for Blizzard to accomplish and balance. The spec trades out Chakra stances and the auto-HoT effects for buffer shielding and significantly enhanced preventative and single-target toolkit. They become less able to top people off and have a lower total throughput, but retain the current pre-healing methods. SS catches a nerf to either its cooldown or it's conversion percentage, really doesn't matter which.
If you're still with me, you probably noticed that Spirit Shell catches either direct or indirect nerfs in all three versions. I believe the ability to be the biggest balance nightmare the class faces, especially if it wants to keep its Mastery valuable and its identity intact. In addition, I believe that Rapture needs a bit of a rework as well, either to be a set percentace of maximum mana or to be a personal spirit/regen boost (lasting 12 seconds, refreshing any time a shield drops). Spirit scaling on a mana regen mechanic when pools are themselves set is just asking for problems. The rest of the toolkit remains largely the same, with only a few tweaks/reworks and numbers games to encourage the given style. I personally facor the second option, though I know that not everyone would.
Thanks for reading this, and post away. Please keep constructive, I know this is purely speculative and theoretical but if I didn't think it had value I wouldn't have taken the time to write it out and post.
1. Impossible to balance imo and making disc either mandatory for an encounter, or useless. Too extreme approach.
2. Its already possible: gearing as a dps and your raid being ok with you not having a specific assign, a disc priest can do atleast 50% of a normal dps. 25% is possible if just spamming atonement spells without dps gear. The downside is an extremely dumbed down specc, that basically spams 3 spells, 2 on cd, and tosses the occasional shield. Forcing them to gear with hit and spirit is stupid. Why would a disc priest need hit when a shadow priest doesnt? You already have a specc that has little boosts in terms of dmg and you want it to sacrifice 5k stats to also get hitcapped? Either way, extreme approach, I've seen it done so far successfully by a single priest, and not sure spamming 3 spells endlessly is what I'd like to play.
3. Holy doesn't really play with hots much. It has an automatic hot attached to their heals and a slightly better renew than disc one. If you want to make disc mastery a small shield on everything, that's paladin illuminated healing.
I think disc is a better specc with a bit of everything imo. I dislike extreme pigeonholing, I'd go holy if I wanted to torture myself with being in the wrong chakra every time I want to spot heal.