Spiritual Guidance: Cataclysm heroics vs. Wrath heroics

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Spiritual Guidance: Cataclysm heroics vs. Wrath heroics
Every week, WoW Insider brings you Spiritual Guidance for discipline, holy and shadow priests. Fox Van Allen, your shadow specced host for the Wednesday version of SG, once again finds himself suffering from an IRL version of Devouring Plague. This means three things: 1.) This version of SG was written under the influence of cough syrup; 2.) this version of SG is likely to be a disjointed mess; and 3.) Fox fell asleep on the keyboard three or four times in the middle of writing it.

This past weekend, I've been playing around a little bit with my druid. It's the first I've really played it since patch 4.0.1 went live, and it's really amazing how much has changed. I'm casting Wrath to buff Starfire, and then I'm casting Starfire to buff Wrath. There are a couple new "faux power auras" to learn, too. I kind of like the new mechanic, but the feel of it is just so different than what I was used to back in the days of yore. (For those keeping track, "yore" means, like, September.)

Shadow priests are somewhat fortunate in that our spec worked well enough in the world of patch 3.3.5 that it didn't need some kind of Lunar Eclipse/Solar Eclipse gimmick. Cataclysm plays a lot like patch 4.0.1, which plays a lot like patch 3.3.5. That doesn't mean there aren't notable differences in the way the game plays, though, especially when it comes to something so seemingly familiar as your daily heroic.

Shadow Word: Death

Shadow Word: Death is nowhere near as overpowered as it was during that brief 24-hour period following patch 4.0.1 going live, but that doesn't mean you should abandon it entirely. It remains an incredibly powerful spell and deserves a prominent place on your cast bar. But instead of weaving it into your rotation at every given opportunity, you need to hone your instincts and learn the right times to cast it. These next few weeks are really the perfect time to practice, because once Cataclysm goes live, Shadow Word: Death goes from being an opportunistic cast to being a shadow priesting cornerstone.

Wrath of the Lich King (patch 4.0.1) Lesson one of Shadow Word: Death: It's not worth casting until your opponent is below 25 percent health. Obviously, the right time to hit the SW:D button varies from mob to mob, since it's preferable that your SW:D be the killing blow. Given the low health pools of most Wrath mobs and the high crit rates of shadow priests, if you're hitting SW:D in that 25 percent window, it's likely to net you a killing blow by default. If that first blast doesn't net you a killing blow, the Glyph of Shadow Word: Death will let you follow that up with a second blast, which is all but guaranteed to kill your foe.

Cataclysm Your DPS won't be increasing nearly as fast as your opponents' health pools in Cataclysm, so the correct timing of SW:D becomes more and more important. The name of the game here isn't DPS maximization, though; it's maximizing mana regen. The Glyph of Spirit Tap gives you 12 percent of your max mana back (over 12 seconds) whenever you score the killing blow with SW:D. Cataclysm heroics -- even the trash pulls therein -- are brutal on your mana bar, and you want to squeeze out every possible drop of mana regen via Spirit Tap you can. That means you should always be trying to score that killing blow.

To that end, you'll definitely want to carry along the Glyph of Shadow Word: Death; it doubles your odds of scoring the killing blow. And if the first blow misses, you'll get all of the mana you spent casting it refunded (and then some) thanks to the Masochism talent. It's a win-win situation.

Greedy? Without a doubt. Especially when you consider that there are a lot of other classes out there who are going to be competing for that killing blow, too. Rogues want Deadly Momentum; warriors want Victory Rush; hunters want Rapid Killing. But it's important to be greedy here -- without the bonus mana from Spirit Tap, you'll run dry far quicker, far more often.

Between stealing all these killing blows and Vampiric Embrace's getting nerfed, shadow priests aren't exactly a 5-man group's best friend. Then again, shadow priests were never really about "playing nice" in the first place. The selfish thing kinda fits.

Larger pulls: Replacing the AoE

Three months ago, the answer to just about any large gathering of enemies was to Mind Sear. It was fairly mindless going, sure, but those large yellow numbers sure looked great when they flooded the screen.

Of course, Mind Sear doesn't do the damage it used to. Still, the question remains: How do you now deal with packs of trash that are only two, three, and possibly four members deep?

Wrath of the Lich King (patch 4.0.1) Blizzard nerfed AoE damage pretty much across all classes, and our own beloved Mind Sear got hit especially hard. I've taken it off my main casting bar entirely. To be entirely fair, though, there remain a few select places to use it: the packs of Crystalline Shardlings in Halls of Stone, the packs of Plundering Geists in Old Kingdom -- basically, any pack comprised of a significant number of non-elite mobs. For most pulls, though, you'll find that Mind Sear is no longer the answer.

Since mana isn't so much an issue yet, the best strategy (provided you have a tank capable of holding threat) is to multiDoT. I apply Vampiric Touch to the mob the tank first engages, followed up by Shadow Word: Pain, Mind Blast (to spark Replenishment, natch), and finally Devouring Plague. If the bulk of the 5-man group is going to focus on that one particular mob, I tab to the next and start applying VE and SW:P. I cycle through pretty all the mobs until all the baddies are dotted up with the VE/SW:P combo. Running around to generate massive numbers of Shadowy Apparitions is a lot of fun, but you'll be better off just filling in the gaps with Mind Flay and Shadow Word: Death.

Cataclysm In Cataclysm, mana is enough of an issue that you need to be far more cautious with your casts. If you can go into a trash pull with the luxury of having both your Shadowfiend and Archangel off cooldown, you can take an aggressive approach, since you've got a load of mana regen available at the push of a button.

Otherwise, you'll want to protect your mana pool. One great way to do this is to multiDoT, but to only use Shadow Word: Pain. This takes a significant initial investment when spread across, say, four mobs. But once you have the DoTs rolling, you can tab through the enemies and refresh SW:P with casts of Mind Flay.

Now, why is this necessarily beneficial over running a full Vampiric Touch plus Shadow Word: Pain? Well, in terms of DPS, it's not. In terms of maximizing mana regen, however, Mind Flay packs a great three-pronged punch:
  • It's an incredibly cheap cast. With a cost of merely 8 percent of your base mana, it's technically cheaper to cast MF in Cataclysm than it is in Wrath.
  • Mind Flay refreshes Shadow Word: Pain. SW:P costs a whopping 22 percent of your base mana. Any time you can get SW:P to refresh gratis ... well.
  • Mind Flay crits shave time off your Shadowfiend timer. Your Shadowfiend restores a huge chunk of your mana when you summon him, so the more you cast Mind Flay, the more mana you have available for your DoTs -- specifically, the full rotation of DoTs that you'll want to keep rolling on the mob that constitutes the tank's focus.
I can't stress enough how much mana comes at a premium in Cataclysm. A good rule of thumb: If you think the enemy will expire before the DoT you're about to cast does, then you shouldn't be casting the DoT. At the end of the day, remember: trash got that name for a reason. There's no point in wasting mana on an enemy that amounts, in the grand scheme of Cataclysm, to little more than trash.
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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