Spiritual Guidance: Ghostly aspects of our shadowy hatepower

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Spiritual Guidance: Ghostly aspects of our shadowy hatepower

Every Wednesday, Fox Van Allen climbs atop the Shandor Building to summon Vinz Clortho, the keymaster, and Zuul, the gatekeeper. Once gathered, all three sit down at a computer keyboard and take control of Spiritual Guidance. Subcreatures! Fox the Van Allen, Van Allen the destructor, Foxus Van Allenarian, the traveler has come. Choose and perish.

My not-so-gentle Spiritual Guidance readers, I have a confession to make. I'm filled with hate.

I hate cats. I hate Hummel figurines. I hate trifling gnome Wilfred Fizzlebang. I hate the taste of whatever brand ketchup they use at McDonalds. Lots and lots of hate. Oh, if only there were a way to channel this magnificent ... shadowy hatepower.

Ask and ye shall receive, my brethren! Not from me, mind you -- from Blizzard. (I mostly just give out shadow priesting knowledge with the occasional nod to pop culture.)
This week, Spiritual Guidance is tackling the changes to the shadow priest spec that currently exist within the Cataclysm alpha. If you're adamant on being surprised and don't want anything spoiled, I recommend you stop reading now and instead invest your time in the following YouTube video. I feel it provides a respectable alternative.

But if you want to take your loathing for the formulaic CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men and channel it into a spiritual agent of death, and you just can't wait until later this year to find out how ... follow me past the break.

A ghostly aspect of our shadowy hatepower

For all the bitching and moaning that we do sometimes, shadow priest damage is actually pretty respectable right now. I definitely want that damage-dealing ability to keep pace in Cataclysm. But besides that, the main thing I want is a new ability or talent that makes me sit up and take notice. We don't know if it'll last through past the alpha or beta stages, but I think we finally have one: Shadowy Apparition. It takes the place of Misery on our talent tree.

Shadowy Apparition
While moving or dealing damage with Shadow Word: Pain, you will sometimes summon a Shadow version of yourself which will slowly move towards a target which is afflicted by your Shadow Word: Pain. Once reaching that target, it will instantly deal damage equal to 15/30/45% of your Mind Blasts' damage.

Commenter Hollow Leviathan describes the talent as "a ghostly aspect of your shadowy hatepower" that "consume(s) the life energy of your opponents." In other words: awesome.

Aside from the visual appeal, the talent would insert a few new variables into the game for shadow priests. First, it appears that the damage we do would now be (at least slightly) contingent on how far we are from our target. This is something new for us -- our current spells don't require travel time the way a shaman's Lightning Bolt does, for example.

Also interesting is the "while moving" part of the tooltip. How movement will factor into the talent, I'm not so sure, but if it provides a net benefit on a movement-heavy fight, I'm all for it. It also puts a little bit more power and interest behind Shadow Word: Pain, which became a somewhat forgettable and weak background DoT in Wrath.

I wasn't entirely thrilled that Misery was being removed from the Shadow tree, but they exceeded expectations with this one. I hope it makes it to the live servers. Even if it's not some kind of massive damage meter-breaking ability, it'd be nice to have another Fox Van Allen around the house, even if he doesn't do much aside from blowing people up.

The ever-changing hit rating and hope for the off-spec

We already know that major changes are coming to hit ratings in Cataclysm. In March, we learned about Blizzard's plans to let shaman convert spirit to hit as a deep-tree talent. This past week we learned that, if the new tooltip for Twisted Faith is any indication, shadow priests are getting the same treatment.
Twisted Faith
Increases your spell power by 20% of your total Spirit, and
Your damage done by your Mind Flay and Mind Blast is increased by 2/4/6/8/10% if your target is afflicted by your Shadow Word: Pain, and increases your spell hit rating by an additional amount equal to 4/8/12/16/20% of your Spirit.
First off, this should be great news for those lost souls who wander aimlessly in the light -- their conversion to the dark side is that much easier. Healing gear doesn't have hit on it? No problem -- your shadow tree has you (at least partially) covered.
Another piece of good news: So long as that talent remains in place, those of us who still have spirit in our gear can breathe easy when Cataclysm hits. Ideally, we'll be going into our first level 85 raid with gear from the new expansion, but we won't be helpless if we quest and run dungeons in old Wrath gear that's itemized for healers.

Here's where things get a bit sketchy, though: Spirit Tap and Improved Spirit Tap still exist in the shadow tree unchanged. This means there are two possible scenarios: (1) Blizzard is setting the hit cap high enough that they don't expect us to reach it through gear alone, making the concept of a hit rating that fluctuates with time acceptable, or (2) the Spirit Tap talents are in line for a makeover.

Frankly, the second scenario strikes me as the most likely. When the changes for Cataclysm were first announced, I hypothesized that Spirit Tap would be changed to a straight mana regen talent, and I still think that will be preferred by designers over a wildly fluctuating hit rating for shadow priests. Still, you can't quite rule out a new approach to hit. We're already used to spellpower, crit and haste fluctuating with time, so perhaps it's not unreasonable to expect hit rating to fluctuate too.

More about Shadow Orbs and mastery

There's a little shuffling going on in the talent tree, and Shadow Focus was a casualty, as expected. To make up for its absence, you can get Shadow Weaving sooner (now level 15). I like that change, because it gives Shadow even more of an early boost over the holy tree as far as dealing damage is concerned. (Don't tell anyone -- especially Dawn -- but as a low-level, Wrath-era leveling priest, I'd be sorely tempted to grab Searing Light and Divine Fury.)

So, we need to put a new talent in our tree to make up the gap. Here's what we're getting:
Empowered Shadow Orbs
Increases the damage done by your shadow orbs by 2/4/6% and you have an h% chance to gain a Shadow Orb when critically hit by any attack.
Alright, that's not very exciting. We knew we were getting Shadow Orbs. But a quick look at the tooltip hints that we've finally got a "first draft" of what these new spheres of doom will do -- flat damage. Digging deeper, a datamined tooltip sheds some more light on the darkness, so to speak:
Shadow Orb
The priest is surrounded by Shadow Orbs, stacking up to 0 times. When the priest casts Mind Blast or Mind Spike, all Shadow Orbs are consumed, each increasing the spell damage done.

What does this tell us? While I doubt Blizzard is done playing around with the concept of Shadow Orbs (and further, the zero is obviously a placeholder), they've at least settled on an initial mechanism of what looks to be burst-type damage. That's no surprise -- burst damage seems to be a priority in the Cataclysm design of the shadow priest class. Don't like it? Blame PvPers.

There's one last tidbit of information about our new mastery mechanic that's now known -- where these orbs come from. The unearthed the shadow priest mastery tooltip reads:
Increases all spell damage done by a percentage.

Increases your spell critical strike chance by a percentage.

Gives a chance for your Shadow Word: Pain and Mind Flay spells to grant you a Shadow Orb each time they deal damage. Also increases the damage bonus to Mind Flay and Mind Spike granted by Shadow Orbs by a percentage.
The important stuff is at the end, of course. In the alpha build, we generate Shadow Orbs through our normal DPS activities -- SW:P and Mind Flay. There's something a little boring about that. It's not really a neat new mechanic so much as it is something we won't even notice. Orbs get generated during our normal rotation. Orbs get consumed during our normal rotation. Nothing changes except for a small boost of damage here and there. Maybe we'll have to duel before raid bosses to build up orbs the way warlocks duel to build up Soul Shards.

A small boost of damage that's going to be balanced and put on even level with the damage output of all the other hybrid classes. Yawn.

Mind Spike: A terrible threat

Finally, let's take a look at what mysteries have been uncovered in our new offensive spell, Mind Spike.
Mind Spike
Blasts the target for 992 to 1048 Shadowfrost damage, and causes 31% of the damage up to 2182 to be frozen in the target's mind for 12 sec. Mind Blast on the target will trigger any frozen damage instantly. The trigger effect causes a high amount of threat.
At first, I had figured that Mind Spike would be unspammable due to a high mana cost, though that's not necessarily the case -- its cost is "only" 17% of your base mana. Instead, we'll be prevented from spamming Mind Spike via the threat meters. That's fine in theory, but we'd be prevented from using burst damage on newly spawned adds in instances and raids, which may limit its usefulness. We'll have to see how this one works on the live servers.

That sick spike in damage when that subsequent Mind Blast hits, unleashing the frozen damage and consuming a shadow orb ... that's going to be awesome. I love big, five-digit numbers.

Overall, the alpha has a definite hit in Shadowy Apparition (so far as I'm concerned) and a miss when it comes to Shadow Orbs. That's fine -- we're looking at the first draft here, so to speak. Still, I'm getting more and more excited for what's coming down the road. So bring it on, Two and a Half Men -- we could all use that extra hatepower for Cataclysm.

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.
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