Fire! Brimstone! Dragons! Heroic Van Cleef! The world is going to get turned upside down when Cataclysm hits, and the shadow priest spec is going to get turned upside down right along with it.
You've no doubt already read a bit about the upcoming stats changes with Cataclysm. As you can guess, a lot of these changes are going to hit shadow priests like a hammer to the face. The conventional wisdom of holding spell power in higher regard than all other stats is out the window, along with the spell power stat itself. And we may be facing a serious nerf to our legendary survivability.
Blizzard's given us a delicious sneak peak into the future of shadow priesting -- there's some good stuff, some bad stuff, and some who-the-hell-knows-yet stuff. Follow me after the break to get a glimpse of "Shadow Priesting 4.0."
- Shadow priests will be getting a lot more stamina. While it's yet to be seen how this effects game play, this could be either a buff to our survivability (a bigger health pool means you can potentially take more hits) or a nerf if our health regen from Vampiric Embrace doesn't wind up scaling appropriately.
- For priests, spirit appears to have become an exclusive healer stat. As such, maintaining a healing off-spec just got a lot more difficult. One of the benefits to shadow priesting in 3.3 is the amount of overlap between good healing gear and good shadow gear thanks to the spell power benefit we get from spirit. Blizzard singled out elemental shamies and boomkins as specs able to convert spirit into something much more useful to them, but we've heard nothing along those lines for shadow priests. If that doesn't change, we'll be needing an awful lot of bag space for our off-sets. It also likely means we won't be able to get too much use out of casting heals while in shadow spec -- Blizzard wants healing to be a mana-intensive endeavor.
- Raid-wide spirit buffs are being removed from the game. Yes, this likely means you'll be waving goodbye to Prayer of Spirit. We don't know what, if anything, we'll get to replace it.
- MP5 is disappearing in favor of spirit. It was never a favorite of shadow priests, of course, but there were more than a few occasions when I begrudgingly accepted MP5 on my gear. This change affects weapons like the Surgeon's Needle, which became a shadow priest favorite simply because it's a high item-level weapon that's easily farmable.
- We know a little bit about how our talent tree is changing. We knew there'd be changes to the shadow talent tree, but the early victims are clear. Spirit Tap and Improved Spirit Tap will cease to exist, at least as we know them. With new, yet to be specified avenues for mana regen, we'll no longer be leaning on spirit to refill our bar. Clearly, Twisted Faith will be changing (or getting cut) as well. Further, the new stat "mastery" will influence the benefit we get from talents in the shadow tree. The way it sounds, a shadow priest with high mastery could potentially get a longer duration on a Fade spell, or a shorter cooldown. A talent tree that scales should add a new level of complexity and customizability.
- Spell power is being removed from most pieces of gear (save for weapons), and intellect is its new heir apparent. That's good news, at least, from the common sense perspective. Whether or not this means that there will be likely more competition for caster gear in Cataclysm is not quite clear -- we don't yet know much about new stat weighting and how much benefit we (or other classes) will get from haste and crit in the future.
- Say goodbye to functional stat caps. Not that shadow priests worry much about stat caps (aside from the seldom-reached haste soft cap), but Blizzard is making it so that every little bit of your favorite stat will count in Cataclysm.
- Changes to your gear will be phased in before Cataclysm. This will mean we'll have ample time to replace some of our soon-to-be healing-only gear, such as the spirit-loaded Circle of Ossus. One would hope the change to the gear is accompanied with a short-term rebalancing of shadow scaling, or we'll be stuck with an obnoxiously high amount of Intellect that we won't be able to do anything with.
- Your existing healing gear may be able to get converted to sub-optimal shadow gear through the use of the new ability "reforging." This will allow us to take 50% of certain stats (say, spirit) and shift it into another (presumably intellect in our case). As cloth wearers, much of this reforging will take place as an extension of the Tailoring profession.
- Spell Ranks are disappearing. When I first decided to give end-game healing a try, I couldn't figure out why I was performing way under par. It turned out that I keybound a down-ranked version of Penance and had been using it for the past two months. Removing ranks will cut down on a lot of confusion and should make the leveling process a heck of a lot smoother -- no more required trips to a priest trainer to learn how to cast Mind Blast at a mildly increased effectiveness each time you ding a new level.
*Besides, of course, from the horror of gnome priests.