I am the most awesome shadow priest of all time.
Okay, so maybe that's a severe exaggeration. Still, I'm starting to max out on my gear and I feel increasingly out of place in Northrend heroics. It's hard to run them without pulling aggro off a tank simply by virtue of being there.
As time goes on, more and more of you will find yourself in a similar situation: You're exceptionally geared. You know your class and your spell priorities. You churn out rockin' DPS. You keep getting better, but the tanks and healers you're thrown into random groups with don't.
The random dungeon finder relies a lot on luck. Sometimes, you wind up with a bad tank. Sometimes, you wind up with a bad healer. Worst-case scenario, both are going to stink. Unless you like running back to your corpse, these situations require you to use your brain and adjust your play.
I've been cheating on you, my dear shadow priest followers, with a level 67 elemental shaman. It's been a long time since I've had to play around in Outland, and it's nice to revisit every now and again. I've been refamiliarizing myself with the instances there, especially in Hellfire Peninsula.
I have a definite love-hate relationship with the Outland. I love the great blue drops in the instances, especially compared to the old-world greens they sometime replace. I hate, hate, hate the death knights who tank 95% of the runs there. It's not that there's something wrong with the class itself, it's just that most people who are playing DK tanks in Hellfire Ramparts just started their character that day. Weak equipment plus unfamiliarity with tanking plus lack of knowledge about the class equals one heck of a big mess for the janitors at the Ramparts to mop up after.
There are a few simple guidelines for dealing with situations where you have an underperforming tank.
Slow it down. There aren't any enrage timers in heroic trash pulls, so don't race into the fight like you're trying to set a world record time. Give your tank -- especially an underexperienced tank -- a few seconds to build aggro, and start your rotation with an aggro-light blast of Vampiric Touch (rather than something like Devouring Plague with an upfront damage component). Remember: The best way to survive a tankfail is to prevent a tankfail from happening.
Attack what the tank is attacking. Don't be a multi-dotting jackass when the tank can barely hold on to one mob. There's a simple macro you can use: /assist [tanknamehere]. Or, if the tank marks a mob with the traditional skull, that's your sign to focus fire on that target. Stay focused on what the tank is focused on (or what your tank tells you to focus on), and you'll avoid most problems.
You can spec for heroics. If you notice an increasing disparity between your gear and skill and that of your tank, you may need to go the extra mile to protect yourself. Putting three talent points into Shadow Affinity would never be recommended for hardcore raiders, but for those who choose to level through instances or spend the bulk of their time running level 80 heroics, being able to reduce your aggro by 25% is quite valuable.
Bubble yourself out of battle. Starting out every battle by casting Power Word: Shield on yourself is a good way to attract early attention from the bad guys. If you're a fan of keeping yourself protected (and if you have a bad tank, you should be), cast PW:S before the pull, not after.
Keep Fade at your fingertips. If the tank is bad, get used to using Fade. A lot. Put it on your cast bar and memorize the shortcut number. If you've redone your talent tree for a "heroics spec," you may want to consider glyphing for it too. Just keep in mind that Fade doesn't always work the way we'd like it to, and we'll sometimes keep aggro even after using it.
In my experience, a vast majority of preventable instance wipes happen in the following order: healer dies, then tank dies, then everyone else dies. Rogues and fury warriors can't do much put pray they take out the baddies in time to prevent the full wipe (or at least, prevent their own repair bill). Shadow priests, however -- we get to be the heroes.
We pay an ugly little hybrid tax because we have access to heals. We may as well get some use out of it, right? And besides, there is nothing more satisfying than stepping in during a "sure wipe" and saving the day. We look awesome, get a +50 buff to our egos and make a Dawn Moore groupie feel inadequate to the might of the glorious shadow priest.
Always keep an eye on your party. This part should go without saying, but it's important: Keep an eye on your party. You're not the healer, but you can always become one on short notice, so it's important to know exactly when your healer dies. You may also find it useful to experiment with addons that announce party deaths, such as RaidBuffStatus, or an addon that makes it easier to monitor party health at a glance, like Healbot.
Keep the "oh $#!* emergency macro" handy. I've mentioned this macro before in our Blood-Queen walkthrough, but combining Inner Focus and Divine Hymn is even more powerful in the heroic setting. It gives a mana-free, channeled multiheal with a 25% buff to your crit -- a godsend for a troubled heroic party under siege.
#showtooltip Divine Hymn
/cast Inner Focus
/cast Divine Hymn
Even without the talent point in Inner Focus, Divine Hymn remains a great last-ditch cast to save the party. Keep it on your quick cast list. Press it whenever you feel it's needed to save the party. And use those few seconds of channeling to plan and ready your next heal.
Consider a special "heroics only" cast bar. If you don't have a quick cast heal spell at your literal fingertips, fooling around with finding the right spell to switch from "face melt mode" to "lovey-dovey Dawn Moore heals crap mode" could waste valuable moments that you'll need to keep the tank alive. Put a quick-acting heal like Divine Hymn or Flash Heal on your shadow bar for emergencies.
Once you send off that initial heal (to the tank, please!), you'll automatically drop out of Shadowform and gain access to your standard casting bar. This would be a good time to remind you that, yes, you should make sure your non-Shadowform default quick cast bar is in shape for these kinds of emergency situations.
Speed (and priority) matter in a clutch. Act fast. When the healer of a heroic dies, the party is generally in pretty bad shape to begin with. You'll need to rely on "quick" spells, at least at first.
- If you're a troll, this would be an excellent time to initiate Berserking.
- Prioritize your tank over the other slackjawed, non-shadow DPSers. Tanks are sort of a big deal to have around.
- When the tank is low on health, focus on fast-acting spells like Flash Heal, Prayer of Mending and Power Word: Shield. I know Renew is an instant cast, but the tank could be dead before it has time to tick.
- Cast Renew when the tank is back in good shape. While the HoT keeps the tank's health buoyed, drop heals on the rest of the party. Holy Nova is an okay instant cast if everyone is together, but Prayer of Healing will do a lot more healing.
Finally, regardless of whether or not the tank is failing the group or the healer is failing the group:
Don't be a jerk. Nothing screams "I am a thirteen-year-old who takes the internet too seriously" like someone who yells, pouts and makes drama over a group's failure. If the tank is doing something wrong, politely suggest ways that they can perform better, like asking them to mark targets or informing them of the mechanics of fights they're not familiar with. If healing throughput is an issue, you can offer to bubble the tank to help out. Not everyone can be as awesome as shadow priests. We must have patience with those other inferior classes who are saddled with the shame of not being us.
The tips above should give you a good start, but again, fellow shadow priests are our own best resource. How do you change your play to compensate for poorly performing party members? Do you have any advice for surviving a bad PUG?
Hunger for more information about bending the light to your advantage? More interested in watching health bars go down than watching them bounce back up? Think it's neat to dissolve into a ball of pure shadow every few minutes? The darker, shadowy side of Spiritual Guidance has you covered.