Taking my own advice to heart, I took a portal to Ironforge last night and wiped my talents clean so I could rebuild from scratch. (Don't be afraid to do the same!) After pondering my build for a good while, I came up with some advice for the rest of you.
Let's get the easy part out of the way -- there are a bunch of talents that you don't have any business missing out on.
That which makes us shadow priests
You are not a valid shadow priest if you do not spend the talent points to grab Mind Flay
, Vampiric Touch
, and Shadowform
, and Vampiric Embrace
. You should also be going 2/2 in Improved Vampiric Embrace
. In ICC fights of consequence, your raid will be taking periodic ticks of atmospheric damage. Every little bit of healing helps, especially against the Lich King's Infest
attack and during Putricide
's third phase. There's simply no better place for those talent points.
We're not running as shadow priests because we want to hug gnomes and plant flowers. We're running as shadow priests because we want to melt dudes' faces off. As such, the next priority in your talent build should be including the talents that result in the most noticeable DPS increases. Darkness
, Shadow Focus
, Improved Shadow Word: Pain
, Shadow Weaving
, Veiled Shadows
, Mind Melt
, Improved Devouring Plague
, Shadow Power
, and Twisted Faith
, along with Twin Disciplines
and Improved Inner Fire
in the Discipline tree, are all primarily about boosting the amount of damage you deal. Max out each and every one when you're at level 80, no matter how you play. Throw Shadow Reach
in there too as an indirect boost to your DPS.
Now, from here on out, the choices get a bit more optional. There are no absolute right or wrong answer that works for everybody -- different goals; different talent builds.
Improved Mind Blast
I got an e-mail this week from a reader who was grouped up with another shadow priest in a heroic. The reader paid attention to the other shadow priest's play style, and noticed that he wasn't using Mind Blast
in his rotation.
You see, Mind Blast is a great spell, and it does more damage per second cast than Mind Flay
in most situations. When you get your four-piece tier 10 bonus, they wind up being near equal in terms of DPS -- at least to the point where theory crafting is within the margin of error. Because of this, a lot of people just drop Mind Blast entirely.
If you like numbers (and I know you do), Dusknoir has an excellent post
this week about Mind Blast and whether or not you should keep it in your rotation once you get the four-piece bonus. The most important takeaway from the article is how little impact the decision on whether to keep Mind Blast has on your DPS -- we're talking fractions of a fraction.
What does this mean for your talent tree? If you're leveling or raiding without the full four-piece tier 10, Mind Blast is definitely stronger than Mind Flay, so you'll want to stay 5/5 in Improved Mind Blast. If you're enjoying the shorter Mind Flay channel from a four-piece tier 10 bonus, you're probably not going to miss dropping down to 0/5 in Improved Mind Blast.
If you're planning on dropping Mind Blast in its entirety, though, consider this: Replenishment
is likely a large reason why you were invited to your raid. Every time you hit an enemy with Mind Blast (provided they're already inflicted with Vampiric Touch
), you're giving your team a valuable 15 second mana regen boost. Don't be a jerk for the sake of padding the meters. Make sure to cast a Mind Blast at least once every fourteen seconds.
The way our talent tree is set up, if you don't take Improved Mind Blast, you're going to need to pick a replacement from the earlier talent tiers. Spirit Tap
and Improved Spirit Tap
are the way to go. Spirit Tap is pretty useless in raiding, but it does provide access to Improved Spirit Tap. The latter provides a small increase to your DPS (not much, but at least as much as you'd get from Improved Mind Blast) and helps with mana regen as well.
Improved Shadow Form
In my old ICC builds, I passed on taking Improved Shadow Form -- it was the right choice for me at the time. You suffer constant raid-wide damage during Putricide and Festergut, but they're not accompanied by push back effects. For the most part, the only fights in Icecrown where push back is a problem are trash pulls.
The only fights, that is, until you reach the Lich King
. There are repeated push back effects during the phase transitions due to his Pain and Suffering
attack. Since churning out DPS is your top priority during the phase transition, Improved Shadow Form will prove to be a great benefit in the fight.
It's not the right talent for everyone, but if you're taking on the Lich King -- or even if you just spend a lot of time doing dailies -- the two points you put here will provide you with some great returns.
The threat-reducing Shadow Affinity
talent is another great example of a talent that's useful to some, but worthless to others. If you run a lot of heroics or raid with newer or undergeared tanks, this will hold a lot more value for you. If you're part of a hardcore raid team, it's an awful lot harder to grab aggro.
You should know better than anyone else whether you need to put a point or two here. If you ever find yourself having to slow down DPS to keep from building too much threat, you will definitely want to take a good look at this one as a DPS-boosting (and survival-boosting) talent.
Repeat after me: Dispersion
is a survivability talent, not a mana regen talent.
Here's my issue with Dispersion: A lot of people use it primarily to restore their blue mana bar. While it's effective at doing that, each second you stay dispersed is a second you're not actually DPSing your target. If our goal is maximize our DPS, then we want to get our mana regen elsewhere.
Ideally, you want to have just enough mana regen so you have just enough to last through the lengthiest, mana intensive fight without having to resort to Dispersion. When evaluating your new talent build, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I ever go out of mana (or have to rely on Dispersion) during prolonged raid fights? If so, you need to readjust your tree to include more mana-saving talents.
- Do you have too much mana regen? If you still have a sizable portion of your mana left after the most grueling raid fight (for me, that's Putricide hard mode), then you may be able to use one of those mana regen talent points elsewhere.
Be sure to grab Dispersion
for your build, of course. Just don't use it as your mana regen crutch.
Pain and Suffering: Two or three?
Pain and Suffering
is a required talent, hands down. But can you get away with putting only two of three points here? Is it okay to settle for a 67% chance to refresh Shadow Word: Pain
on a successful Mind Flay hit, especially if you're casting Mind Flay to the exclusion of Mind Blast?
Personally, I recommend maxing this out at 3/3. There are plenty of fights where you'll be able to get away with 2/3. But to keep our maximum DPS, we need to make sure that our initial blast of Shadow Word: Pain (ideally done under the effect of a Wild Magic Potion at the start of the fight) never drops off. In a fights involving target switching, such as Saurfang
or Putricide, I frequently find myself refreshing SW:P at the last possible second after spending a solid chunk of time on an add.
Without maxing the talent out, I'd be rolling the dice. No thanks.
Rolling out the new build
So, what did I come up with in the end for my new heroic ICC build? I jettisoned Improved Mind Blast for to take more mana cost reducing talents (even delving into Mental Agility
), which will allow me to be more aggressive in spamming Devouring Plague when a fight calls for a lot of movement. And I put Improved Shadowform back into the mix after a long hiatus, so I can boost my DPS on the Lich King fight. In the end, I wound up with this 16/0/55 build
Is it the right build for me? Time will tell as I put it into action this week. But if it doesn't work out, that's cool -- I love playing around with talent points. And I love taking a look at other people's talent trees and seeing if I can't gather some new ideas or strategies from them.
I'll close out this column with few questions to the audience: Aside from the obvious, where do you invest your more marginal talent points? How does your talent build reflect your individual play style?
And, of course, if you've got a great spriest talent build to show off, I'd love to see it. (And so would the rest of the class.)
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? Hate gnomes? The darker, shadowy side of Spiritual Guidance has you covered.