What's the most tragically under used part of the shadow priest arsenal? Mind Sear, hands down.
Mind Sear, you see, is an old friend. It was a regular part of our rotation in Wrath heroics. When Cataclysm came, though, it suffered a significant nerf in power. You could argue the nerf was needed -- the game was changing, and the developers wanted us to approach heroics in a different way. Arguably, Mind Sear was a bit too powerful.
It seems that Blizzard may have nerfed Mind Sear just a little too much, however. It just received a buff in patch 4.0.6, and it's slated for another in patch 4.1. Did Blizzard go too far this time, though? Not far enough? And what does the buff mean for the way we approach heroics?
Mind Sear in patch 4.0.6
Should you be using Mind Sear in your daily heroics right now with any kind of regularity? Probably not.
There are multiple reasons why Mind Sear is a near-useless spell. It's a 5-second channel, with ticks coming every second. That may sound good, but each of those ticks hit like a wet noodle -- often less than 0.5% of a trash mob's total health. Unlike Mind Flay, Mind Sear's damage output isn't increased by stacks of Evangelism. And worst of all, despite all its faults, Mind Sear is damn expensive to use: A single cast of Mind Sear eats up 5,765 mana at level 85, more than any other spell we cast.
It's not entirely useless, of course. The trick behind Mind Sear is knowing when to use it. We already know that DoTs are our most important spells in longer fights, because they provide massive amounts of damage per second of casting time -- often 10,000 points of damage per second of casting time or more. Mind Sear, by comparison, deals about 1,600 points of damage per second per enemy. That's less than half a tick of Mind Flay.
That considered, we have the following rule of thumb for Mind Sear's use in 4.0.6:
- Use Mind Sear when you're facing more than six enemies at a time. It's the only time when the per-second cast time output of Mind Sear matches or exceeds that of your DoTs. That means your use of Mind Sear should be limited almost exclusively to the geists in Shadowfang Keep, the large packs of troggs in Halls of Origination, Halfus's whelps, Magmaw's parasites, and Maloriak's minions.
- At all other times, Mind Sear is suboptimal. For large packs of enemies, you're better off multi-DoTting. "Dumb" math would suggest Mind Sear might replace Mind Flay at some point as a "filler" spell, but that's not quite true -- Mind Flay's ability to refresh the timer on Shadow Word: Pain and its ability to build and maintain stacks of Evangelism means it's almost always a better choice.
Facing the numbers
In what can only be seen as an effort to give Mind Sear a bit more use, patch 4.1 is bringing a major, much-needed buff to the spell:
Short, but very, very sweet. And much needed.
As I said, this is all about choices. Buffing the damage output of Mind Sear gives you a new choice to make. In theory, Mind Sear is now worth casting on smaller trash pulls -- we'll see strong damage numbers on three- and four-deep packs of trash. But that doesn't necessarily mean that Mind Sear is the right choice during these pulls.
You see, we're usually better off focusing on our enemies one by one. Doing so takes opponents out of the equation faster, and the faster enemies are taken out, the less damage the tank takes. Is the higher damage of Mind Sear worth risking the tank's life? Sometimes yes, sometimes no -- it's a choice.
Did Blizzard go too far?
Only time will tell if this is too much of a buff. I'd caution shadow priests not to get too comfortable with it. Blizzard could scale it back at any time.
If there's one thing that Blizzard and I can agree on, it's that no one wants to go back to the mindless days of Wrath. Nobody wants Mind Sear to be the only spell we use in heroics. Any increase to the spell's power means that we risk creating an army of lazy shadow priests that do nothing but spam Mind Sear. That's boring, and for a tank, damn frustrating.
Lessening the size of the buff isn't the only way Blizzard could address that outcome, though. A boost to Mind Sear's power should come with an increase of the spell's mana cost. If it's a more attractive cast, it should have a higher price. After all, consider the Druid AoE channel Hurricane. It costs over 15,000 mana, but has a strong damage output. That may be a better direction for Mind Sear to go -- a more powerful spell, but at an increased cost.
No matter what happens with the spell after patch 4.1, it's pretty clear that the currently scheduled buff is much needed. My advice to all of you: Enjoy it while you can. Just in case.
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).