Spiritual Guidance: Soloing 5-man content the shadow priest way

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Spiritual Guidance: Soloing 5-man content the shadow priest way
Dawn Moore is at it again, running misleading, sleazy ads against Spiritual Guidance's Fox Van Allen. What's she trying to hide? We know that Fox Van Allen, self-appointed high priest of the shadows, favors lower hybrid taxes, a strong [3. Local Defense] and securing our borders with the timely use of Mind Flay and Shadowfiends. Maybe Dawn is trying to hide that she favors higher taxes on your DPS, that she voted repeatedly to give valuable Renews to those playing the game illegally and is flat-out soft on gnomes. Dawn Moore. Wrong for priests. Wrong for Azeroth. (Paid for by the Committee to Elect Fox Van Allen.)

End -of-expansion ennui. It's inevitable.

I'll admit, even though I've yet to see the Lich King downed on hard mode, a lot of the Wrath content is growing stale for me. I'm playing alts more often (Recruit-A-Friend really is a great way to experience the game). I'm spending more time at the auction house. Basically, I'm trying to find new and different ways to experience the game.

That's our general idea today: experiencing the game in a new way. A way that Blizzard didn't really intend, but a way that still holds a lot of entertainment value. A way that proves that shadow priests are, in fact, as awesome as five other players put together.

That's right, I'm suggesting you try soloing some old school 5-man content. Why would you want to?
  • You're bored as hell with all the Northrend stuff you've been running every day for the last one-and-a-half years.
  • It's a new challenge that requires you to approach World of Warcraft in an entirely different way than you're used to.
  • You probably don't have the all the 5-man BC achievements if you started your character after fall of 2008.
  • You can farm a lot of valuable enchanting materials, find some rare trade skills, items and pets, and walk away with a solid chunk of gold, besides.
  • Best of all, doing stuff alone means that you can tell the GearScore elitists where to shove it.
Interested? Rock. Follow me after the break, and let's figure a way to get this done.

It's time to break the rules. We're going to be our own DPS, our own healer and our own tank. It isn't going to be easy, but if we play it smart, we're going to be able to flatten some Burning Crusade content that a whole bunch of you have probably never even seen.

The talent build

Before we head into difficult content alone, we need to do a quick check of our talents and glyphs to make sure we only take along the best of the best. (This would be the point where you enjoy a self-satisfied breath of relief that you shelled out the 1,000 gold to dual spec.) There are probably about a hundred different ways you could design an instance-soloing spec, and there's no perfect, one-size-fits-all option. Still, there are a few basic ideas you should keep in mind:
  • Survivability is king. Grab talents that boost the power of Power Word: Shield. Improved Power Word: Fortitude is another must. And remember, since we're going to be healing via Vampiric Embrace, this means we need to simultaneously take as many DPS-boosting abilities as we can find.
  • Don't fret over hit. If you're doing old BC content, your level will far exceed the level of your enemies, making hit less relevant. Since trash pulls are often the hardest thing about these instances, don't worry about talents that boost your hit -- Misery alone should be fine for our purposes. (This also means you can swap out some hit gear for some non-hit gear for a net DPS boost.)
  • Mana regen is low priority. Soloing instances is akin to running a 100-meter dash. Most of us are used to centering our builds around mana regen, which is great, but only for running marathons. Here, I recommend you pass on most of the mana regen/mana saving talents. Bring along plenty of Honeymint Tea, and you'll be just fine.
I put together a pretty basic 20/0/51 build that served me pretty well during my experimental runs in heroic Magisters' Terrace. I presume it will serve you just as well (in MgT or any other instance). When you solo, you're the ultimate decider of what works best, so play around with it as you like.

Buffing up

If you're going to run BC regulars, buffs aren't so much an issue -- the standard complement of Inner Fire, Power Word: Fortitude and Divine Spirit should do you just fine. As you attempt harder and harder content however, you should increase your level of buffing accordingly. Make sure you eat your Firecracker Salmon (or Tender Shoveltusk Steak) and drink your Flask of the Frost Wyrm. Replicate your favorite druid and paladin buffs with Drums of the Wild and Drums of Forgotten Kings. And, if you can find it off the auction house or are able to make it yourself via Inscription, bring and use Scroll of Intellect VIII.

The approach to "tanking" (i.e., not dying)

Perhaps tanking isn't the right word here -- you don't exactly have four other people to protect (unless you're helping some guildies out). Still, you need to understand and grasp some basic tanking ideas and skills before rushing into a 5-man all by your lonesome. Cooldowns. Defenses. General smarts. You'll need it all.

Building your defenses. Paladins have Improved Righteous Fury. Warriors have Defensive Stance. We have ... okay, so there's no spriestly tank spec. But if there were, Inner Fire would be a key part of the build. Under normal self-buffing, I found myself at 30% damage mitigation. There may be better options out there than Glyph of Inner Fire -- it only brings you to 35% damage mitigation -- but I took it anyway. And, of course, don't forget that Shadowform cuts all damage you take by 15%, so you'll want to stay in it at all times.

Making the pull. Always be on the lookout for pats -- you know, those pesky mobs that are moving around on a given path. Each additional enemy you pull makes things exponentially harder. Graveyard walks suck, so plan out your moves in these dungeons like you're playing a game of chess.

You're not really tanking alone!
If you feel yourself getting absolutely swamped, throw out your Shadowfiend. Not only will your tentacled little buddy cause a bunch of damage, but he'll also wind up pulling aggro away from you. I don't like seeing my Shadowfiend die from damage, but better him than you. (P.S.: If you're going to be sacrificing your Shadowfiend on a regular basis, you'll probably want to throw the minor Glyph of Shadowfiend into your build. It's a simple matter of convenience -- soloing content eats up mana quickly.)

Defend against stuns and silences.
As you progress through these instances, you'll notice yourself taking the brunt of a lot of attacks and debuffs you otherwise wouldn't have to suffer. This includes stuns, fears and silences -- all brutal abilities that can decimate a solo run. There's no shame in stacking the deck here. Use racials like Every Man For Himself as a "get out of jail free" card if you can. Also remember that Dispersion clears those nasty effects, so keep that button handy too. Keep Fear Ward up on yourself if you're around enemies that have the ability to Fear, because you do not want to get feared into a second trash mob. And finally, since these status effects really are the most dangerous things to you as a solo artist, you might want to invest talent points in Unbreakable Will to shorten the effects of a stun if it becomes unavoidable.

Silence is your friend.
No matter what instance you run, you're going to inevitably run into a caster. Melee DPS is a pain, but -- and as shadow priests, we can speak from experience -- casters are deadly. Think of Silence as your only real means of crowd control (short of Shackle Undead). Damage you don't take is damage you don't have to heal, so use it when you can to mitigate damage, especially during boss fights.

The approach to "healing" (again, i.e., not dying)

Normally, as shadow priests, we can DPS all we want without fear of reprisal from our enemies -- after all, we put out some absolutely sick self heals. When we start throwing more and more enemies into the mix, sometimes five or six at a time, we need to start thinking about a plan to heal all the damage that we're going to suffer.

Take full advantage of the time between pulls.
If you're running instances solo, view the few moments when you don't have aggro on your foes as a gift. Prior to a trash pull, throw a Power Word: Shield on yourself, and refresh Inner Fire if you're running low on charges. Let a few seconds tick off the clock before you pull – PW:S lasts 30 seconds, but it throws a 15-second Weakened Soul debuff on you. You'll want to be able to cast Power Word: Shield on yourself again and can't do it until those 15 seconds are up.

Abuse Power Word: Shield. Once in battle, Power Word: Shield is going to be your primary means of healing, since it's an instant cast that doesn't throw you out of Shadowform. The best glyph you can get for soloing instances is probably the Glyph of Power Word: Shield, because it's going to throw a good 2k worth of bonus healing on you.

Keep up the pressure. As a general rule, once the pull is made, you'll want to be focused on offense more than defense. The reason is twofold. First, as you take out more and more enemies, you'll be taking less damage per second. Secondly, as you attack your enemies, you get back 25% of the damage you cause as self healing, provided you specced into Improved Vampiric Embrace. The more you attack, the more you heal yourself. Multi-dotting will help increase the heals, but don't lose sight of your goal.

When in doubt, Disperse. If you're taking a lot of damage, don't be afraid to drop into Dispersion. You can't attack while in Dispersion, true. But remember, any DoTs that are active will continue to tick, causing damage. Damage from those ticking DoTs will provide enough self healing (ideally!) to cover the minimal damage you'll be taking in Dispersed form. Plus, since Dispersion lasts six seconds, it eats up 40% of a Weakened Soul debuff.

Boss battle strategy

If you're unfamiliar with the instance or content you're trying to solo, it'd be valuable to do a quick bit of research into their special abilities. After all, it's hard to keep your focus when, "OH MY GOD why am I suddenly floating in this room what is going on?!?"

We'll start with a pretty basic strategy put together using the points of advice we already talked about. Remember, these fights are going to be blazingly fast, because the longer a fight drags out, the more likely we are to die; and the faster we churn out the damage, the more self healing we do. Your enemy can have as much as 240,000 health. You'll never have more than 30,000.

Step one, of course, is to make sure you're fully buffed (doublecheck your charges of Inner Fire) and your health and mana is maxed out. Start your attack by blowing any non-aggro-grabbing on-use proc you have (i.e., Nevermelting Ice Crystal), and follow that up immediately with a Potion of Speed or Potion of Wild Magic. Now that your power is over nine thousand, open up your attack with Vampiric Touch. Immediately follow that up with your Shadowfiend, and then go into a shot of Mind Blast.

The order here is important, as we want to deal as much damage as we can up front while generating as little aggro as we can. If your Shadowfiend can suck up a couple of hits of damage while throwing off a couple hits of his own, then it's doing its job.

Once you've got the fight opened, proceed as normal: Get every DoT you have up (do remember, though, a lot of enemies are immune to Devouring Plague) and fill in with Mind Flay and Mind Blast. When your initial application of Power Word: Shield falls off, let your health drop down a good 5,000 to 10,000 under the maximum before you reapply. If you specced and glyphed correctly, your PW:S will heal a chunk of that on its own, and your Vampiric Embrace will heal you back up to max while PW:S is absorbing the hits. If your DPS is low enough that you think you'll need a third application of PW:S, get the boss fully dotted up and fall back into Dispersion.

If you go all out, you'll find that most of these once-tough BC bosses are now harmless little kitty cats. That you beat down and loot the corpses off.

For the non-boss fights, the strategy is pretty similar. For obvious, money-saving reasons, you should leave out the potions while dealing with trash. Don't be afraid to use your Shadowfiend if you're being overwhelmed, though -- the cooldown is fairly short to wait out.

A special word of warning: You can't rely on Mind Sear. Don't get me wrong here, Mind Sear is a terrific spell, and you can get some pretty good use out of it when you're soloing content. The important thing to keep in mind, though, is that you don't get any self healing out of the spell, and self healing is a large part of what's going to keep us alive. If you're going to Mind Sear, at least throw a DoT up on the Mind Sear focal point first. For the most part, you're going to want to take out enemies one at a time, starting with the most dangerous ones (casters).

My only other piece of advice -- pick up any associated quests before you jump into an instance. Burning Crusade heroics have some awful attunement requirements. You'll have to fly around for a good half-hour in Netherstorm before you can run Arcatraz, and you'll have to complete a series of quests in Magisters' Terrace before you can run the instance in heroic mode. For other heroics, some reputation grinding is required. A lot of it is tedious, but at least when quests are involved, you're at least making a token amount of gold (and old school rep, if you care) by completing each one.
The above build and strategies are just one of the many ways you can go while trying to solo content. There are a whole bunch of different tips and tricks out there just waiting for you to discover them. Do you have any special strategies for taking on these challenges? Have soloed the Nexus and want to brag about it a little? Comment and let your fellow shadow priests know. We'll try to resist the urge to "cool story, bro" you. I promise.

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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