Spiritual Guidance: Paying the hybrid tax

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Spiritual Guidance: Paying the hybrid tax

Every Wednesday, Fox Van Allen uses his dark, shadowy powers
to take the reins of Spiritual Guidance, causing severe harm to others in the form of large, yellow five-digit numbers. Holy and disc brethren, alike -- come join the dark side before his shadowfiend eats you.

Fact: Priests are pretty much awesome.

It's because we're versatile. We can DPS the living snot out of Lord Marrowgar in shadow, and then change to discipline so we can cover the raid in Power Word: Shields and Renews for Deathbringer Saurfang. Heck, we can even do both. We're just that awesome.

But awesomeness comes at a price, my friends, and that price is called the hybrid tax. It's the term commonly used to explain why our DPS is designed to lag behind that of mages, warlocks, hunters, and rogues -- the pure DPS classes. If you're a jack of all trades, you're supposed to be a master of none.

(It's cool though, they need the handout. It really sucks not being a Priest.)

We can be forgiven, though, for looking at Recount or a World of Logs parse and thinking that whatever the hybrid tax is, it's just way too high. But is it really? Are we finally doing the kind of damage that we should?

The long road to 3.3

It can be very frustrating playing as a DPS class. There is, and will always be, a natural tendency to measure our self worth by one number and one number alone. And it's just never going to sit right that shadow priests (along with our fellow hybrids such as moonkins and elemental shamans) have a built in, permanent disadvantage in the DPS race.

One of the major issues shadow priests have faced during the Wrath of the Lich King expansion is the hybrid tax -- specifically, the tax being way too large. Scaling in Naxx and Ulduar was terrible, and Blizzard justified it by the tax: "Priests can heal, so who cares if they stink at dealing damage?"

It turns out that raid leaders cared. A lot of decent shadow priests lost raid slots; countless others were told to switch out to healing if they wanted to keep their slots.

If that wasn't an indication of a problem, I don't know what was. Thankfully, shadow priests got a treasure trove of buffs last month and have had ample time to put these buffs into use in Icecrown.

There's a heck of a lot of heresy and ancedotal evidence about where shadow priests -- and other classes -- are DPS-wise right now. Visit any forum, and you'll find people complaining. You really can't look at any one player, or any one raid, though. Gear levels will never be equal, nor will skill. To get an accurate picture, you need to look at some hard data. The right data.

Calculating the hybrid tax

Before we can figure out whether or not shadow priests are performing up to par, we have to figure out what par is. Let's try to set a few basic ground rules so we can get as fair a comparison as possible.

First, let's define the data and where it comes from. WoW Meters Online provides some pretty handy data here -- for each fight in Icecrown Citadel, WoW Meters provides an average DPS for the top 50 performers per class per fight. This helps us normalize skill by choosing (presumably) players of a similar, high rate of skill. (Or maybe luck.)

Second, we'll only measure shadow priest DPS against other ranged classes -- hunters, mages, and warlocks. This effectively takes rogues out of the equation (something I wouldn't mind doing every time I PvP). The logic: Some fights will favor single-target melee over ranged -- Festergut, for instance -- but few fights will significantly favor one flavor of ranged over another.

We have eight separate 25-man ICC boss fights available to look at, from Lord Marrowgar through Blood-Queen Lana'thel. (No fair looking at the Gunship battle, you AoE-ing little cheaters.) The data, taken January 26, is in the following table:

Table 1: Shadow Priest DPS vs. Pure Ranged DPS in 25-man ICC


Pure ranged DPS (avg)

Shadow Priest DPS

Hybrid Tax

Lord Marrowgar




Lady Deathwhisper




Deathbringer Saurfang












Professor Putricide




Blood Princes




Blood-Queen Lana'thel






There we have it. Almost two months into Patch 3.3, the price we pay to roll as shadow priests is approximately 6.29% less damage in ICC. The semi-accepted, unofficial value of the hybrid tax is supposed to be 5%, so we're actually not far off from that target.

What it means for you

Our hybrid tax of 6.29% means we should, on average, come in behind mages, warlocks, and hunters on the DPS charts. But the calculation is just that -- an average -- and one made in comparison to other ranged DPS classes of equal-ish (high) skill. You may find yourself lagging way behind mages in your particular raid. Or maybe you'll find yourself beating your raid's hunters by a mile. It'll happen.

The factor responsible for that is you. If your damage is lagging behind the group by way more than 6.29%, you need to do a gut check. Are your teammates better geared than you are? Are your teammates flasking while you don't? Do you skimp on using your Potions of Speed while your teammates drink like fish? Are your stubby little dwarven fingers screwing up your rotations? Are you too far from the shaman totems? Is your computer hardware causing issues with your frame rate that the rest of the raid just isn't experiencing? Is your roommate downloading so much porn that latency wrecks your performance?

Before you go blaming the class, take a long hard look at yourself first. You might just find the answer.

6.29 percent: Is it fair?

This part is a personal judgment call. There are some of you out there who will never accept 6.29% tax (or any tax, for that matter). I can. In fact, I'd argue it's more than fair. All considered, shadow priests may even be overpowered in Icecrown.

Yes, I know I'm going to take a lot of hell for saying that. I don't care.

If you do nothing but focus in on the top-line numbers on Recount during your raids, you're selling yourself short. If your raid leader does nothing but focus on the top-line numbers, he's an idiot.

Each class brings their own unique benefits to a raid. Druids get to resurrect dead party members once during a battle. Shamans drop Bloodlust or Heroism.

We get some cool buffs that are incredibly useful during fights in ICC, like Prayer of Shadow Protection and Replenishment, but they're not really unique. What is unique about us -- and it comes in ridiculously handy during fights like Festergut -- is Vampiric Embrace. Put a few talent points into Improved Vampiric Embrace, and you're returning 5% of all damage you do as heals to your party and a massive 25% as heals to yourself.

Think of it this way: At 3500 spell power, a Renew would heal about in the neighborhood of 500 damage per second. As a shadow priest doing 10000 DPS, we're automatically and constantly healing the party for that same 500 damage per second. And we're constantly healing ourselves for 2500 damage per second at the same time.

Sure, a lot of that will be lost as overhealing. But don't think your healers won't appreciate the breathing room.

Again, as I said, whether or not you accept the fairness of the current hybrid tax is personal judgment call. So I'll put the question back out to you, my shadow priest brethren: Are you happy with the damage you're putting out now? Is it worth a 6.29% tax to play as a shadow priest?

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.
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