I'm a big fan of where shadow priests are right now in Cataclysm. We're able to churn out highly competitive damage in just about any fight. Combine that fact with our damn near legendary survivability, and it's hard to imagine why anyone would even think about playing another class.
In the interest of full disclosure, though, shadow priests aren't quite perfect. The spec has some small issues, and by now, we're all pretty familiar with what they are. Shadow priests have to suffer a terribly underpowered AoE, a limp mastery stat, and a weak Mind Blast. The good news: Blizzard game developers are taking a stab at fixing every major problem with shadow priests in the upcoming patch 4.0.6. The even better news: Shadow priests are getting some added bonuses that we didn't even ask for.
That's right: The best is getting even better.
Mind Blast: Now 50% more blast-y
When Cataclysm launched a month ago, I was somewhat surprised at the state of our Mind Blast spell. It was a still a key piece of the shadow priest arsenal, of course -- and so long as Mind Blast remains the spark behind Replenishment, that will never change. Still, the damage behind Mind Blast was surprisingly low.
It's not that Mind Blast suffered a massive nerf. It didn't. The real problem is that the Cataclysm version of Mind Blast just didn't fit in well with the developers' vision of what the spell should be. The Blizzard master plan involves Mind Blast being the shadow priest's most important spell, and that's just not where the spell is currently at.
I'll admit I wasn't expecting Blizzard to charge in on a white horse here, but it did so in spectacular fashion:
Mind Spike currently hits for over 10,000, so that would put the new Mind Blast somewhere around 15,000, nearly twice as strong as it is now. And that's without any Shadow Orbs active. Start factoring in Shadow Orbs and some lucky crits, and we'll see Mind Blast hitting for 45,000 and up once patch 4.0.6 lands. That damage boost should put Mind Blast right back where it should be -- the cornerstone of our rotation. Beautiful.
That boost to our DPS may sound bigger than it really is, though. In a standard Cataclysm raid environment, Mind Blast makes up maybe 6-8% of a shadow priest's damage. That's partially because Mind Blast isn't a top-priority cast right now and partially because few PvE players consider Improved Mind Blast to be an attractive talent choice. Overall, we should see a solid 8% or so increase in overall DPS because of the change.
A fix to Mind Sear?
In Wrath, the answer to just about every large pull was Mind Sear. It was a simpler time then, of course -- a time when no one crowd-controlled and a time when ... well, a time when Mind Sear was an actually effective spell. It suffered a major nerf to its damage output in Cataclysm. As it currently stands, even when Mind Sear is supposed to be the answer, it's just not as effective as you want (or need) it to be.
Sad as it is to see an old friend disappear, but it's even sadder to see that Blizzard keeps designing encounters where area of effect spells are actually needed. A weak Mind Sear holds shadow priests back on fights like Magmaw and Maloriak, both of which have waves of (relatively) low-health adds.
Granted, AoE damage was nerfed across the board, but it feels like shadow priests were hit especially hard. After all, Mind Sear was always hampered by its inherent limitation: Before we cast it, we have to choose an enemy to exempt from its damage. We were pretty much gambling, placing our bets (and focusing Mind Sear) on the enemy we figured would live the longest.
Area of effect spells may never return to their Wrath glory days, but come patch 4.0.6, we'll at least have reason to put Mind Sear back on our cast bars. It's undergoing a major buff.
To abuse a cliché, that's two ugly birds being taken out with one PTR stone. Now, one thing to note: This buff probably won't change when you Mind Sear. If the fight has a moderate number of moderate-health adds, you're still going to want to nuke. Reserve Mind Sear for those especially large packs of low-health adds (think heroic Corborus). The buff will definitely change how you Mind Sear, though -- for most trash pulls (and for encounters like Maloriak), you'll want to channel Mind Sear on the tank.
Granted, this buff won't result in a giant boost in your overall DPS -- even in an AoE-heavy fight like Magmaw, Mind Sear only accounts for ~15% of your overall damage. Still, in those fights where AoE is called for, the AoE is absolutely the most important mechanic of the fight. After all, having a 2% or 3% boost to your overall DPS on the Magmaw encounter is trivial; having a 15% boost to damage on the Lava Parasite phase is huge.
And if those damage buffs weren't enough ...
If all you're looking for out of patch 4.0.6 are damage buffs, then there's one more major present under the tree. Blizzard developers are taking one more shot at fixing our long-broken mastery stat:
Right now, each point of mastery is worth a 1.3% bonus to your damage over time spells when Shadow Orb Power is active. Mastery also affects the value of each Shadow Orb you consume through Mind Blast or Mind Spike, so any buff to mastery means an across-the-board damage increase. It's a bit early to say what this means for overall stat balancing, of course, but we should see mastery edging out critical strike as our second-most preferred stat. It's probably not time to empty your bank account reforging for mastery, but I'd keep an eye out for new gear with both haste and mastery on it.
Like the Mind Blast and Mind Sear changes, a buff to mastery should only provide a modest increase to your DPS on its own -- a couple of percentage points at most. Taken in combination with the Mind Blast and Mind Sear changes, though, shadow priests should enjoy a fairly noticable jump in their DPS the moment patch 4.0.6 goes live. Considering that shadow priests are already in a good spot on the live servers, a great spec is about to get even better.
... but that's not all!
Since the shadow priest is a DPS spec, we're naturally going to want to focus on the changes that make us better at what we do best: melting faces. But there are a few other great changes coming in patch 4.0.6 that add convienience, survivability, or both.
- Power Word: Shield is getting buffed. If you're anything like me, you regularly cast Power Word: Shield to protect yourself from unavoidable damage. Right now, that cast of PW:S protects against 7,000 damage or so. Once patch 4.0.6 goes live, that number is set to triple. That's a massive benefit to shadow priests. And better yet, there's a shadow priest-friendly overhaul to Improved Power Word: Shield. It now increases the effectiveness of the spell when cast on yourself by 30% with a two-talent-point investment. Granted, there will be an increased mana cost to casting PW:S, but it's worth it, at least for shadow priests -- a single cast can ward well over 26,000 points worth of damage in 4.0.6. (UPDATE: New PTR datamining from MMO-Champion suggests that Improved PW:S will offer 20% more absorbtion on anyone with a two-talent-point investment. The patch notes still say 30%, so take this info with a grain of salt.)
- Levitate will now last 10 minutes. That's up from Levitate's current 2-minute duration. Admittedly, I can only think of one place where this would prove useful: avoiding Crystalspawn Giants' Quake attacks in The Stonecore. I guess it'll make fishing easier too, if you actually care about that sort of thing.
- Vampiric Embrace now lasts until cancelled. A minor convenience, but a convenience none the less. (Can we have the same change to Inner Fire, please?)
- Glyph of Mind Flay is getting less complicated. Once patch 4.0.6 goes live, the glyph will buff Mind Flay by 10% without requiring Shadow Word: Pain be cast on the target. For long fights, the change won't matter. For brief fights and soloing, this glyph just got a whole lot more valuable.
- Our buffs will cost significantly less mana. I dread having to cast Power Word: Fortitude and Shadow Protection -- those two spells alone can eat up 15% of my max mana. That's way out of line with other buffs. Patch 4.0.6 should bring an end to having to drink after buffing -- terrific news indeed!
UPDATE <4:48PM EST>: Since this column was written, MMO-Champion posted about some datamined changes to the PTR. Since it's directly related to the meat of this column, I wanted to insert this addendum.
The main point: Don't get worked up over what's been datamined. The numbers don't represent a change over the live server value, just a change in the PTR numbers to match the patch notes.
To wit: Mind Sear has been "cut" to "104 to 113." On the live server, Mind Sear's tooltip says "91 to 97." That represents a 15% buff over where it is now on live. Exactly what the patch notes say.
The same goes to the "cut" to mastery. Right now, we benefit 10% per orb. That's being buffed 16% (see patch notes above) to 11.6%. The 21.6% number was not "real." It's still a buff. Remember too -- the buff to Mind Blast will make the new buff to mastery even more powerful. It's a synergistic change.
And speaking of the buff to Mind Blast ... the MMO-Champion notes suggest it's now a 60% buff instead of a 50% buff. You can't complain about that, but let's wait to see the official patch notes get updated before we start setting off fireworks.
Are you 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? Hunger for the tangy flesh of gnomes? The darker, shadowy side of Spiritual Guidance has you covered (occasionally through the use of puppets).