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Spiritual Guidance: Getting the most out of your emblems


In 1972, Fox Van Allen was sent to prison by a military court for a crime he didn't commit. He promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Boston underground. Today, still wanted by the government, he survives as a shadow priest columnist. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, if you find over-the-top gunfights where no one actually gets shot entertaining, and if you can find him, maybe you can hire ... Spiritual Guidance.

I'm an admitted altaholic. My shadow priest will always be my first love, but since he's already a Kingslayer, I've been playing more and more with Shammyfox. She's a sassy little Draenei shaman who can Lava Burst with the best of 'em. Or, at least, with the best of 'em who have recently hit level 80.

Her gear right now isn't the best, but I'd like to continue to progress her through the end game. Shadow priests are equipping different gear, of course, but the main challenge remains the same. It's not easy to figure out what to buy when to get the most value out of your emblems -- and your play time.

If you hit 80 shortly after the Wrath release, you'd have run regular instances to gear up for heroics, so you could gather enough blues and purples to take on Naxx, where you'd get gear to take on Ulduar, where you'd get gear to take on Trial of the Crusader and Trial of the Grand Crusader. Yeah, yeah, grandpa, we get it. You walked through ten feet of snow 87 miles a day to get to school. The old way is passé. We bypass old raid content with emblems and supercharged heroics now -- great news for the casual player or dedicated altaholic. But how do you get the most out of those hard-earned emblems and get ICC ready without even stepping foot inside a raid instance?

Getting started: The path to heroics

We'll start out this column with the assumption that you know how to get to level 80 and that you've been accumulating a bunch of gear through quest rewards. You're probably going to want to start your new life as an end-game character by running heroics for gear, gold and glory. Unfortunately, with the advent of the random dungeon finder, gaining admission to them can be more difficult than you remember prior to the introduction of patch 3.3. Let's keep a few things in mind:

  • Blizzard gates entrance into end-game heroics (via the random dungeon finder tool) based on your maximum available GearScore. Some of you may be able to jump into heroics immediately. Others will be shut out until they get some better gear. Strangely enough, it seems that you don't need the higher level gear to be equipped; you just need it to be available to be equipped in your bags.
  • Heirlooms are a great way to speed your way to level 80, but once you get to the finish line, they can actually slow your progress. This is because the Random Dungeon Finder tool counts all heirlooms (such as the Tattered Dreadmist Mantle) as level 1 items, almost as if you're not wearing anything in that slot at all. To make your end-game progress as smooth as possible, make it a priority to obtain replacements for your heirloom gear as soon as you can, preferably while still leveling.
  • If you're still locked out of heroics, do a quick check of the auction house to see what upgrades are available cheap. A number of rare (blue) quality bind-on-equip items, such as the Dark Runic Mantle from the Halls of Stone, drop from instances on a fairly regular basis. These can usually be bought on the auction house dirt cheap -- often for as little as 10 to 20 gold -- or can be found in your guild's bank.
Heroics versus raiding: Hitting your mark

Raiders are pretty familiar with the shadow priest hit cap. To hit raid bosses 100% of the time, you need a hit rating of 289 if your character is Horde; 262 for Alliance (assuming there will be a Draenei in your party; 289 otherwise). If you're raiding, your goal is to get as close to the magic number as possible. Nothing new there.

Note, though, that the 262/289 hit cap applies solely for raiders. Provided you're properly talented (three talent points in Misery; three talent points in Shadow Focus), you'll hit a boss in a heroic 100% of the time regardless of your hit rating or faction. That means there's little point to worrying about your hit rating until you're ready to raid, so don't worry about having "low" hit until you're ready to get your feet wet in the world of 10- and 25-mans.

Emblem of Triumph "best buys"

Once you start running heroics, you'll start accumulating a slew of Emblems of Triumph -- the key for getting you in the ICC game fast. Though your first instinct may be to sink your Emblems of Triumph immediately into tier 9 gear, you'll be better served grinding through heroics by saving tier 9 for last.

For your head piece, you'll probably do better with the Helm of Fiery Aftermath/Hood of Smoldering Aftermath (346.9 PP plus 74 hit) instead of the Helm of Clouded Sight (373.7 PP), since the trade off in pseudo spellpower is fairly low for the amount of hit you get in exchange. Also note that the tier 9 helm, with 283.9 PP and only 72 hit, is noticeably worse the than the Helm of Fiery Aftermath, even when you average out the tier bonus.

In comparison, the 67 points of hit you can get from the Pauldrons (Mantle) of Catastrophic Emanation are far more expensive when compared against the Pauldrons (Mantle) of Revered Mortality (192.6 PP for the former; 246.29 PP for the latter). Since we've already established that hit doesn't matter in heroics for shadow priests, the Revered Mortality shoulders are a great first buy with your emblems if you like the instant gratification of a DPS jump. (And really, who doesn't?)

Getting your tier 9 two-piece bonus

The two-piece tier 9 bonus that extends the duration of our Vampiric Touch spell (thus increasing its number of ticks) is one of my favorite tier bonuses in the game. It makes things a little bit easier for new players, makes multi-DoTing more viable, saves on mana, and of course, results in a net DPS increase. You'll probably still be using the tier 9 bonus well into Icecrown.

The ideal way to start building your tier 9 is with the hands -- Velen's Handwraps of Conquest (aka Zabra's Handwraps of Conquest for Horde players) are available for the bargain basement price of 30 Emblems of Triumph each. Your tier 9 hands are worth approximately 183.4 pseudo spellpower (PP) before the tier bonus (239.0 PP with), and come with 62 valuable points of hit. Your second best option, the Suspiciously Soft Gloves out of heroic Halls of Reflection, carry 200.0 PP but without any hit.

The second piece of tier you grab should probably be Velen's Pants of Conquest (aka Zabra's Pants of Conquest). At a cost of 50 emblems, they're more expensive than the handwraps, but pants make a larger contribution to your overall stats than gloves as a general rule. The tier 9 pants are worth 252.9 PP (308.5 PP with the two-piece tier bonus) and have 80 points of hit on top of that. Your second best option are the 272.18 PP Rimewoven Silks, available out of regular Pit of Saron.

Craftables: Simply the best (still)

Those of you who were actively gearing shadow priests through patch 3.2 know the sad fact about our four-piece tier 9 bonus: It's not very good. The best in slot lists called for priests to skip the tier head in favor of the Coronet of Transcendence helm from 25-man Onyxia (then best in slot), and to skip the tier chest for the craftable Merlin's Robe. Essentially, shadow priests were better off skipping their four-piece tier 9 bonus.

If you're gearing up today, the four-piece tier 9 is still worth skipping, even if you're gearing up entirely outside of raiding. Merlin's Robe is still a spectacular piece of gear. If you're on a well-populated server with an established economy, consider purchasing the Merlin's Robe as an alternative -- the materials (or even the robe itself) can be found for about 2,000 gold (well down from last year's five-digit peak cost). Since Spellweave and Ebonweave are no longer subject to a cooldown, tailors could even farm the materials themselves, so long as they have a cursory amount of enchanting materials on hand to finish the job. With 363.7 PP, the robe far outpaces the 303.18 PP tier 9 (even with tier bonuses) and actually rivals the strength of the pre-bonus tier 10. It's just that good. Don't be afraid to spend the money if you have it.

For those who are incredibly well off, you may want to take a look at the 421.4 PP Leggings of Woven Death, which work very well when paired with your (eventual) four-piece tier 10. If you can shrug off the price tag (~15,000 gold, depending on the server) as a simple cost of doing business as a shadow priest, you should share with the rest of the class. (And by "the rest of the class," I mean me.)

The road to tier 10

Eventually, you're going to want to amass a four-piece tier 10 set -- both the two-piece and four-piece bonuses are solid. At prices of 65 and 90 Emblems of Frost each, getting your tier set will be slow going, especially if you're not actively raiding and making progress inside Icecrown Citadel. Here are a couple things to keep in mind while prioritizing your tier 10 purchases:
  • The best place to start with your tier 10 is probably the Crimson Acolyte Mantle. It's a solid upgrade over the Mantle of Revered Mortality (276.3 PP vs. 246.3 PP), and it's a (relatively) cheap pick up at 65 emblems.
  • The Crimson Acolyte Gloves and Crimson Acolyte Pants are both obtainable through running Vault of Archavon 10- and 25-man raids. The odds of getting your tier through VoA is admittedly low, but it'd flat-out suck to spend 90 emblems on your tier pants and have an upgraded version drop from Toravon the Ice Watcher the next day.
  • If you have the Merlin's Robe, the boost in switching to the tier 10 Crimson Acolyte Raiments is only 10 pseudo spellpower (363.7 versus 373.7 PP). If you settled for the tier 9 chest for some reason, the tier 10 chest is worth over 70 PP and definitely worth buying.
  • The Crimson Acolyte Cowl (419.4 PP) is a major upgrade over the tier 9 helm (283.9 plus 72 hit). Before you put down the tokens for it, though, make sure that you can make up those 72 points of hit elsewhere.
  • Remember, breaking up a tier 9 two-piece bonus will cost you 111.3 pseudo spellpower. It's worth the sacrifice to move to a tier 10 two- or four-piece bonus, but not enough to switch out for a single piece. You'll be best served buying those final two pieces of tier 10 at the same time.
Once you're done grabbing gear with your emblems, don't forget that there's other great stuff you can spend them on aside from gear for your shadow priest. You can exchange Emblems of Frost for Primordial Saronites (which often still sell for more than 1,000 gold), and you can downgrade Emblems of Triumph to Emblems of Valor to buy bind on equip wrist pieces for alts, or even exchange them for Emblems of Honor to buy heirlooms and uncut epic gems.

Shammyfox isn't quite there yet -- there's a lot of gear yet to acquire with emblems before I start raising her bank balance or showering gifts on yet another alt. Still, she's got her priority list down, and the end of the long journey is in sight. Here's to seeing each other in the hall leading to Icecrown Citadel someday.

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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