Spiritual Guidance: Cataclysm and the shadow priest's day of reckoning

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Spiritual Guidance: Cataclysm and the shadow priest's day of reckoning
Today's shadow-centric edition of Spiritual Guidance is brought to you by high priest of the shadows, Fox Van Allen. The holy-fearing Dawn Moore will be back to share more non-shadow wisdom ... eventually. For now, though, she's being detained by authorities in Stormwind. Apparently, they got this anonymous call about her turning traitor in Cataclysm ...

In terms of whether or not the human race would go extinct, 1983 was a nail-biter.

On Sunday, Sept. 26, 1983, a fluffy cloud set off the Soviet Early Warning Missile System. The system misread some data and reported that the United States had initiated nuclear war. Thankfully, a Russian technician was able to do some on-the-fly logical reasoning (the U.S. wouldn't just launch just one missile, right?) and decided to ignore that warning. And the four other erroneous warnings to follow.

It was pretty much a real-life version of 99 Luftballons. Some stupid little computer error almost leveled the civilized world. Of course, the Cold War being what it was, you didn't hear about it on the nightly news. The world didn't end. Knight Rider still aired that night, right on schedule.

There were an awful lot of changes to the Cataclysm shadow priest build over the past week. A few were good, a few were "OK," and one nearly led to the shadow priest world's being reduced to a pile of smoking rubble. Follow us after the break for more Cataclysm shadow priesting information. And for those of you who feel ignorance is bliss and don't want to be spoiled ... we now return you to Knight Rider, already in progress.

In Soviet Guidance, mind flays you

For shadow priests, the world almost ended last Wednesday. But first, some history.

Shadow priests got a slew of buffs with patch 3.3, from improved scaling to hasted DoTs. The biggest game-changer, though, came in the form of our four-piece tier 10 bonus. The consequences of the bonus was enormous: Mind Flay dropped from a 3-second cast to a 2.5-second cast, effectively bumping Mind Blast to the bottom of our spell priority list. It became nothing more than a tool to spark Replenishment -- something to be cast once every 15 seconds, if you could even be bothered to do that.

Cutting the channel time on Mind Flay gave us some pretty sick damage output, but something didn't quite feel right about it. With haste, those casts of Mind Flay started getting brutally short, and cutting an extra half-second off compounded matters. It's the hidden down side to haste -- the more frequently you have to press buttons, the greater the impact latency has on your DPS. Further, frenzied button-mashing makes you way more likely to make a mistake in your rotation. (Button-mashing: Awesome for Street Fighter 2. Terrible for WoW.) In short, Mind Flay is currently broken.

There are two ways to fix Mind Flay, of course. You can either nerf it, or buff Mind Blast. Lead Systems Designer Ghostcrawler spoke to the problems of Mind Flay recently.

Re: Shadow Priest Concerns for Cataclysm
Mind Flay -- This is a technical explanation, but basically we had to rebuild it for Lich King to get it to benefit from haste correctly. Now that we have tech to let all periodics scale correctly with haste, we can change Mind Flay back to the way it used to work. The "latency" issues you experience today should be gone. You can just mash the Mind Flay button and the periodic won't clip.

Mind Blast -- With some increases scaling and the Shadow mastery, Mind Blast should always be your highest damage button (other than SW:Death).

So, hey, that sounds like pretty darn good news, right? Blizzard is working on fixing a shoddy bandage job to Mind Flay. And Ghostcrawler underlines a commitment to restoring the prestige to Mind Blast in the very next breath.

... just when exactly did Blizzard get ICBMs?

That post set the stage for our near miss brush with virtual nuclear annihilation.

A day or so later, a new change popped up in the beta. The tooltip for Mind Flay changed: "Assault the target's mind with Shadow energy, causing 45 Shadow damage over 5 sec and slowing their movement speed by 50%." You read that tooltip right. A whopping 5-second channel. Forgive the constant bolding, but I can't help it. Five seconds.

Talk about a game-changer. You could argue a 5-second channel would be workable for a level 80 shadow priest just starting Cataclsym content. After all, high-end raiders are sitting on 30 percent spell haste or so, which would bring Mind Flay down to a 3.5-second cast. Better yet, the developers have finally implemented our new raid-wide buff -- but instead of granting 5 percent more crit, we're granting 5 percent more spell haste. That makes Mind Flay a 3.25-second cast, which isn't as unbearable. If you still have your four-piece tier 10 bonus, the channel will be even faster.

For a new shadow priest without any haste gear, though, the change would be disastrous. I can't even sit still for 5 seconds at a time. I dreaded what this would mean for our brand new base ability -- remember, Mind Flay is the spell that every shadow priests gets at level 10 now. It's supposed to be our bread and butter. Putting it on a 5-second channel would make it worthless as anything but a move speed-limiting novelty.

Thankfully, though, the change was a false alarm. A fluffy little cloud.

Re: Shadow priest changes for Cataclysm
Mind Flay is going back to a 3 sec cast time. As sometimes happens in beta, the data were pulled right while we were changing the spell, resulting in it being bugged. Sorry. :)

Take a deep breath, everyone. Mind Flay isn't getting nerfed into the smoldering ruins of shadow priest civilization. Call off the jet fighters. We don't even need to wake up President Reagan for this one. (Look at his leg kicking ... he's having that dream again!)

Actually, believe it or not, the exact opposite is happening -- it's being buffed. As part of an effort to get us to invest some talent points beyond the shadow tree, there are two big changes to the discipline tree that I think shadow priests are definitely going to like: Evangelism and Archangel.

Fallen angels and preaching the gospel of the shadow

Evangelism -- or our specific flavor, Dark Evangelism -- is a stacking buff we get from Mind Flay ticks. It's something along the lines of a replacement for Shadow Weaving: The buff can stack five deep, and at a two-talent-point investment, it'll boost the strength of your damage-over-time spells by 2 percent per stack. Note that this is quite the nerf over Shadow Weaving, too; it only procs on Mind Flay (which is now a far less desirable cast), and it only benefits DoTs.

Before you write it off as a weaker version of Shadow Weaving, though, note that Evangelism comes tied in with a new mechanic: Dark Archangel. Once you have some stacks of Evangelism stored up, you hit the Dark Archangel button and two things happen:
  1. You get back 3 percent of your max mana per stack.
  2. You get a 3 percent per stack raw damage buff for 18 seconds.

Again, Ghostcrawler expands on the mechanism a bit.

Re: Shadow priest concerns for Cataclysm
Archangel and Evangelism don't stack. The intent is that Dark Archangel is used when burst matters more than sustained damage (Dark Evangelism = Sustained, Dark Archangel = Burst), and not really something you'd do rotationally. In PvE you might do it if the target is going to die soon (when sustained dps really doesn't really matter), for target swapping, right before Bloodlust etc.

That simplifies mechanics a little bit. You get to choose: a "permanent" 10 percent buff to DoT spells, or a 15 percent buff to all your spells for 18 seconds (roughly every 45 seconds to a minute). It's yet to be see what proportion of our damage is done by DoTs in Cataclysm, so it's hard to theorycraft at this point, but my initial impression is that we'll be leaning on Dark Archangel more than the developers want to think at this point. It may prove to be the best of both worlds.

We'll report back on that later, when the mechanics are fully implemented in the game.

Tying up just one more loose end: Shadow Power

One of those tiny little things that was bothering me about the beta talent builds was the Shadow Power item. Blizzard cut back on the number of points you could invest in it, and folks on the beta forums were starting to get worried that our damage would lag behind other classes because of that. Granted, it's way to early to worry about damage scaling, but still, this was the exact kind of talent that the developers promised would be gone in Cataclysm.

Problem solved. All shadow priests are now getting Shadow Power at baseline (that's a five-talent-point value!), though it's now called Blackout.

Re: Concerning shadow priests...
Shadow Power is now called "Blackout" and is a passive talent tree bonus for picking the tree. It provides 200% crits to Shadow spells.

When combined with the retooling of the disc tree, this gives our talent builds a little more interest. It was hard to balance the must-have abilities like Shadow Power with a desire to dip into a secondary tree. Now, if Blizzard could just put some better choices in the first tier of the disc tree, we'd be all set. (Maybe by putting Improved Inner Fire or Evangelism in that first tier instead of the second ... hey, Blizzard, you listening?)

For those of you who are PvP fans, the removal of Shadow Power is doubly good news, because it's being replaced with a new PvP talent called Sin and Punishment. Basically, the talent causes a horror effect when some hapless rube dispels your Vampiric Touch effect. I'm not an expert on battlegrounds, but any talent that results in another fear/horror effect is just fine by me.

Not to gloss over them, but there are a few more changes in the beta now. Spirit Tap is gone, which is just fine because shadow priest mana regen in Cataclysm is solid without it at the moment. Twisted Faith and Pain and Suffering got shuffled around the tree a bit, with the latter now maxing out at a 66 percent chance to refresh Shadow Word: Pain. Improved Devouring Plague got moved up earlier. So did Veiled Shadows, but don't ask me why -- you can't get Fade or Shadowfiend at level 10.

Bottom line, a lot of pieces of the shadow priest puzzle are falling into place. We got an interesting new ability this week, a new buff and a new PvP talent. And all while keeping Mind Flay at a familiar 3-second channel. Neat.

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).
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