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Priest Q&A: Tackling the Shadow Priest answers

Priest Q&A: Tackling the Shadow Priest answers
Alex Ziebart
Alex Ziebart|August 7, 2009 9:00 AM
Our resident Holy Priest guru tackled the healy bits of the Priest Q&A recently, and I've been mulling over the various Shadow commentary in the meantime. Going into the Q&A being fully aware that it wasn't intended to be a list of changes coming to the class, and more a look into the current design around the classes, I honestly wasn't too disappointed with the Shadow items. It's a case where, with a few exceptions, I think Ghostcrawler (and the other developers) actually know what's going on with the spec quite well. You can try and call me out on that, but hey. It's the truth. As far as Shadow was concerned, it wasn't too far off.

The general spec overview at the beginning of the Q&A was pretty spot on. It's easy for us to get momentum in PvE and lay down the damage, but the nature of PvP/arena doesn't really let us do that. Our long buildup time is harsh. We don't lend ourselves well to stop-and-go. We're pretty much all about the 'go' and a little bit of 'stop' sets us back to where we started. There's really no picking up where you left off. If the opposing team locks you down for a little too long, you pretty much need to start over. Your offensive momentum is irrecoverable. PvE usually doens't have to worry about that. Now, from this point forward, I'm going to address each Shadow-relevant quote point by point.

First question:

"Q: Since a lot of the damage a Shadow priest does builds with damage-over-time (DoT) spells, are you concerned about them being well-rounded enough to do adequate damage in shorter PvE encounters, 5-player dungeons, or in the Arenas?

Ghostcrawler: This is a long answer.

First, we want a certain amount of class diversity. We try to make sure that everyone's single-target dps is comparable to that of similar specs or classes, and we try to make sure that most damage specs can do some amount of AoE damage. But we don't obsess with say slow group pulls compared with say fast single-target pulls to make sure everyone's damage is comparable in every situation.

Second, if the pulls are really that quick, nobody is counting on your dps to begin with. What I mean is that if you are pulling and killing groups of mobs faster than every 20 seconds, then the extra damage you might or might not bring isn't really an issue because stuff is just collapsing anyway. On the other hand, if the pulls take 20 seconds, then you should have plenty of time to get your DoTs up before stuff starts to die."

In the greater scheme of things, overall class balance and all of that, no, quick trash pulls aren't really that important. That being said, not being effective at all on the trash pulls that only last 10-15 seconds isn't very fun. Now, that being said, I don't think Shadow Priests are even in this position anymore. It was a Burning Crusade issue. What did we do on super-fast trash pulls in Burning Crusade? We tabbed Shadow Word: Pain around and hoped one of them would tick before the mob died. Now, in Wrath of the Lich King? We have Mind Sear. Mind Sear is arguably one of the strongest AOE spells in the game right now, and while it has situations where it's incredibly weak, it's something to do on trash pulls. Not only is it something to do, it's something incredibly effective most of the time. This simply isn't an issue anymore.

"Third, there is an issue of player skill here too. If your group kills the skull first every time, then maybe you want to DoT the third or fourth mob in the group so that you do have the benefit of time elapsing. DoTs just work differently. The Enhancement shaman by contrast can be at 100% on one target, then switch and be at 100% on the new target instantly. Not every class or spec can do that and class diversity would be a little boring if they could."

This is spot on. As a Shadow Priest, you simply need to learn that you do things differently, and there's nothing wrong with that assuming all involved understand it. As long as your tank can keep threat on multiple targets, it's not always beneficial for you to follow the MA. It's absolutely a player skill matter. You need to make a decision on what's the best action to take on a pull. If the main assist plans on killing mobs from right to left, start dotting from left to right. If the kill order is Skull, X, Square, Moon, then consider if it would hurt anybody if you skipped the Skull and started on the X instead, or just went down the line and DoTed up every single one of them.

The change to Devouring Plague in Patch 3.2 helps this even more. In the above example pre-3.2, if you applied Devouring Plague to the Skull and the mob died long before Plague dealt out its full damage, you'd be out that damage until the cooldown is up. Now? Go ahead, toss it on the Skull. When the skull dies, throw it on the X or Square and you're back in business. The only thing you've wasted is a GCD.

Again, can't fault Ghostcrawler on this one. He's right.

"Fourth, the issue that we think is most problematic is found in the Shadow talents. Many of them say basically "while your DoTs are ticking." This means in situations where the DoTs can't tick (say those very short PvE fights, or sometimes in PvP) you are doubly punished since now those talents aren't pulling their weight. The Shadow tree could benefit from more talents that affect all damage and not just the DoTs."

Now, this one is a bit odd. I do agree that Shadow Priests suffer more than any other class (including Affliction Warlocks) when we can't get our DoTs up, but I don't see the problem originating in the talents. I think our DoTs are just exceptionally strong, and our nukes are weak in comparison. The only talent that seems to have a "when your DoTs are ticking" effect is Twisted Faith. Twisted Faith is the one that, "Increases your spell power by 10% of your total Spirit, and your damage done by your Mind Flay and Mind Blast is increased by 10% if your target is afflicted by your Shadow Word: Pain." Now, Twisted Pain is a nice chunk of our DPS, so my disagreement with Ghostcrawler's statement might just come down to semantics, I admit. Still, I don't think that's the core of the problem.

My damage breakdown at the end of a fight, my spells usually deal damage in this order, from most damage dealt to least damage dealt: Vampiric Touch, Mind Flay, Shadow Word: Pain, Devouring Plague, Mind Blast, and if I've bothered to use it on that particular fight, Shadow Word: Death. Depending on the nature of the fight, Mind Flay might be higher or lower. I think that the way to fix this isn't entirely the talents, but rather rebalance our damage sources. Buff Mind Blast, nerf one of the DoTs, or multiple DoTs. Yeah, that can be done through talents, but I'm not sure that it's what Ghostcrawler is describing. And if it is... well, don't I look silly.

Buff our direct damage, nerf out DoTs. Not substantially so, because we don't want Shadow Priests to stop casting DoTs due to it not being worth it, we just want Shadow Priests to be less gimp when our DoTs aren't on a target.

I'll skip over the dispel question that came next, because it hinges on having knowledge of the damage dealt by the new Vampiric Touch backlash... and I haven't bothered to try it out. Whoops. Moving on.

"Q: Are the developers happy with the functionality of Dispersion and is it considered to be an adequately valuable final talent in the Shadow tree?

Ghostcrawler: I think the key word here is "final" talent. Players have developed an expectation that the 51-point talent should be the best one in the tree; and for damage-dealing trees that means it's expected these final talents do more damage than anything else the player has. That's not really the way we design the trees though. Dispersion is a very valuable spell -- nearly all Shadow priests take it. It's one of the best "not going to die now" spells in the game. Early on there was a perception that it was a PvP-only spell since it didn't buff damage, but really it gets a lot of use in PvE as well (and not just for the mana regeneration)."

I'll say what I've said before: Dispersion isn't a bad talent, and it's not a bad spell. It's actually a great one. The problem with it from a PvE point of view is there are so many boss abilities that render it ineffective. Sure, it's one of the best "not going to die now" spells in the game... when it works. Pretty much every boss in the first third of Ulduar has an ability that pierces Dispersion's damage reduction. That shouldn't happen. Hopefully that's been avoided in the Coliseum raid instance. Time will tell.

"Q: Would you consider removing the cast time for Mind Blast to make it a more desirable direct-damage spell given that it already has a cooldown?

Ghostcrawler: No. We'd be more likely to mess with the damage rather than the cast time. Obviously if the spell was no cooldown, no cast time then Shadow priests would not ever cast anything else -- it's a great spell. So the trick is to keep it powerful while giving the player space to cast all those other Shadow priest spells as well. We honestly don't want too many more instant-cast spells. That suggestion keeps coming up to handle interruptions in PvP and having to move in PvE. But we don't want you to be able to opt out of those situations -- they are supposed to be challenges. If you're looking for high direct damage with no cooldown, Mind Flay is supposed to be that spell.

Since this question was asked, I suspect, we have announced the healing debuff component to Mind Blast as well. That's a nice PvP buff as well as making the spell in general more attractive.

Yeah, I agree that this doesn't really need to happen. I might be looking at things with a slightly too PvE-centric view, but I don't think Mind Blast having a cast time is a problem. I do like Ghostcrawler's mention of 'messing with the damage' at the beginning of this answer. That would be a good thing, as I mentioned up above. Removing the cast time? Nah.

"Q: As many players report that Vampiric Embrace and Vampiric Touch lack viability in PvP settings and Vampiric Embrace tends to generate too much threat in PvE settings, are there any plans you can share to improve the functionality of these spells?

Ghostcrawler: Vampiric Touch does a lot of damage. I'd disagree that it lacks viability, and we even buffed the backlash damage a little more. I don't think the possibility that a spell can be dispelled should be synonymous with lack of viability. It takes a little bit of set-up time to get all of them working in PvE and PvP, but that's actually something we're trying to push more classes and specs into instead of going to just instant, burst damage everywhere.

We can look at the Vampiric Embrace threat. That's not feedback we hear often. Shadow priests pulling off of tanks doesn't seem to be a widespread problem."

This question is a bit... mindblowing. In the bad way. Not Ghostcrawler's response, but the actual question. Vampiric Touch is a Shadow Priest's highest damage spell. It can be dispelled, but so can all of our other DoTs. Of all of our damage spells that could lack viability in PvP, how could you suggest it's Vampiric Touch, the one DoT we have that actually punishes people for dispelling it? You can say the backlash still isn't high enough, but singling out Vampiric Touch for having a lack of viability is just absurd.

I'd also like to know what Shadow Priests have threat problems these days. This question sort of makes me wonder if the people asking these questions have played their Priests since The Burning Crusade. Sure, we had threat issues back then (screw you Gurtogg), but in Wrath of the Lich King? Maybe if your raid has mistaken a Black Tabby for a Feral Druid you might have threat issues. Otherwise? It's just not going to happen, except in very extreme circumstances.

"Q: How about increasing the range of Mind Flay?

The glyph improves the range at the cost of the snare, which seems like a reasonable trade-off. We have discussed bumping damage and range, or possibly just removing the snare loss. It was put in as PvP protection early on in Lich King, but at this point we don't think it would be a problem if the glyph just bumped the range without the penalty. It's probably too conservative a glyph."

Okay, I'll say what I've always said: There's no good reason for Mind Flay to not have a 30 yard range at its base. Stronger spells with stronger snares have fewer restrictions than Mind Flay does. It's not like we can use Mind Flay's snare to kite people in PvP. Channeling the spell roots us in place! At its best, it buys us a little more time to put out damage before a melee class closes into melee range with us. And really, would that be such a bad addition for Shadow Priests in PvP?

Mind Flay should have a 30 yard range at its base, and the Glyph should have a completely different effect than what it has now. More damage, or a proc, or whatever is deemed necessary. We really shouldn't need a glyph for a 30 yard Mind Flay though.

"Q: Since Shadow priests focus solely on dealing Shadow damage, do you feel that they can potentially be crippled more easily than other casters who can focus on dealing considerable damage through multiple schools of magic?

Ghostcrawler: It's just a feature of the class. Paladins have a lot of the same issues. We have discussed giving Shadow priests a Frost spell to use solely in emergency situations like this, but its niche would be only for school lock-out periods. We don't want Shadow priests to be doing multiple types of damage overall. Now making it easier for Shadow priests to drop Shadowform and switch to healing or even Holy damage is something that we've mentioned lately on the boards. We could reduce the mana cost or the like."

I think both of these ideas are good ones, but for different situations. I don't think being able to shift in and out of Shadowform more easily would be an answer to the lockout problem. I don't think Shadow Priests would drop Shadowform during a lockout period to heal themselves, largely because dropping Shadowform with a melee class or two on your hide is basically like a Protection Warrior taking their shield off for a few seconds while fighting Algalon. You are asking to be turned into a fine red mist. I do think shifting in and out of Shadowform should be less punishing, however.

The idea of a Frost spell is pretty cool, and possibly even something they could explore further with the Priest class one day. I like the addition of Frostfire Bolt to the Mage class, maybe deep Shadow Priests could get their hands on Shadowfrost?

"Q: Shadow Word: Death was once a spell that priests used frequently in PvE, but has basically dropped off their bar. Are there any plans to improve this?

Ghostcrawler: We think Shadow priests have enough spells to manage as part of their rotation, so we don't want to necessarily go back to them using it on cooldown. One thing we considered was having the backlash not fire if used on a target within Execute range. Another fix we'd like to make would prevent the backlash from being affected by boosts that improve your damage, as is typical during boss encounters -- your damage would be inflated without the risk of you one-shotting yourself."

Both good ideas. I can't really disagree with any of this. Shadow Word: Death was sort of a nuisance in The Burning Crusade, and I don't really want it to come back as a main nuke. It's situational right now. I'm fine with that. If you need to do some DPS on the run, like moving out of an AOE or rushing off to a new position... sure, fire off a Shadow Word: Death. Of course, I made the mistake of doing that when I had Storm Power on Hodir once, and crit myself for 65,000 damage. That last suggestion would prevent that from happening. It was hilarious the first time, but a bit restrictive afterwards.

Preventing it from doing backlash damage if your target was in Execute range would bring it back to being dangerous in PvP as well.

"Q: Have you considered providing a talent to increase the duration of Shadowfiend as a mana regeneration mechanic for longer boss fights?

Ghostcrawler: Priests don't seem to have much of a mana problem on long boss fights, and our boss fights are not really all that long. You are supposed to run out of mana at some point. We'd be more likely to reduce the cooldown than increase the duration if it got to be a problem, since the duration would buff Shadowfiend damage as well."

Again, I can't disagree with this. Of all of the players in my raid, the Priests are some of the last ones to run out of mana, especially us Shadow Priests. I think the only time I've run out of mana in Wrath of the Lich King is Yogg-Saron, simply because I was reapplying my full set of DoTs so frequently. Our mana regen is probably one of the last things we need help with.

All in all, the Shadow portion of the Priest Q&A wasn't so bad. Again, I didn't expect sweeping class change announcements, but I think I came out of it more confident about the developers' view of the class than I was when I went in. There were moments where I disagreed with Ghostcrawler, but he wasn't really flat out wrong at any point. The closest he came to it, it's possible there's just a misunderstanding of words involved. Between this Q&A and what came from the informal Shadow Priest specific Q&A, I'm not too worried about the spec.
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