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Spiritual Guidance: What few shadow priest highlights BlizzCon 2010 could scrape together


Every week, WoW Insider brings you Spiritual Guidance for discipline, holy and shadow priests. Even weeks when your shadowy messiah, Fox Van Allen, is nursing one heck of a headache -- along with, presumably, everyone else who's still suffering from the non-stop party atmosphere of BlizzCon 2010.

Let's start by saying that BlizzCon 2010 was an absolute blast. I met most of the WoW Insider crew, got to smell Mike Sacco's hair yet again, got some amazing swag and got to eat at Jack in the Box no less than five times. The best part, though, was probably meeting Orkchop (pictured above with WoW Insider's moonkin blogger Tyler Caraway, who can only aspire to be as amazing as Orkchop). The dude is an internet celebrity. For real.

But enough about how awesome Orkchop is. Let's talk shadow priests, and how awesome they are.

Now, I'm not good at sugar-coating things, so I'll just come out with it: BlizzCon 2010 was pretty disappointing in terms of World of Warcraft-related content. The biggest news out of the convention was the new loading screen for Cataclysm. Really. That was the big news. Seriously. And it's just a palette-shifted version of the Sindragosa loading screen.

Despite the lack of earth-shattering news, I made sure to take note of all the shadow priest action. There wasn't a heck of a lot of it, but what little ground was covered was hugely important to the future of the spec. The good, the bad and the non-answers -- we'll go over it all after the break.

Shadow priesting on the whole

To be honest (and despite my best efforts), shadow priests didn't get much love at BlizzCon 2010. Someone stepped up at the Lore Q&A panel and asked a great question about shadow priest lore, wanting to know the rationale behind non-Forsaken shadow priests. The panel chose not to answer it. (They did that a lot at panels, actually.)

Wanting some actual questions asked, I got in line for the Class Q&A panel. I never actually got to the front of it, so I was totally at the mercy of the questions of those who had lined up hours before the panel. Unfortunately, the bulk of those people were paladins. And as if that wasn't bad enough, some paladins thought it necessary to eat up everyone's time by asking followup questions about paladins. Had they started asking followups to their followups, I would have started a riot.

Someone at the Class Q&A started his question by saying (and I paraphrase), "I want to thank you for fixing shadow priests in patch 3.3." That earned him -- and the panel -- quite a bit of applause. Unfortunately, though, he then followed up with "my question is about disc priests." I suspect he was a Dawn Moore plant sent to toy with my fragile, shadow-frosted emotions.

Mastery and the magnificently-bearded man

Still, that's not to say that shadow priests didn't get some love. A magnificently-bearded man stepped up and asked the question I wanted answered most:

Class Q&A Panel
Magnificently Bearded Man: My question is for mastery for shadow priests. Right now, it's a stat that most shadow priests either reforge or avoid if possible for PvE. For PvP, though, there's concern that it's a bit too bursty by putting all that stat into one spell that can be cast so you can one-shot or two-shot people. What do you think about the current state of mastery for shadow priests and how do you balance between PvE viability and PvP burst?

Owen Landgren, Game Designer: Mastery is one of those things that we really want to make you feel like your particular spec is awesome in it's own unique way and so for example, shadow priests have sorta been known for being those incredibly bursty casters and in PvE we really want to capture that vibe, we want to capture, just, that explosion of awesome. And so, right now, it's probably not mathematically living up quite to what you expect on some of the other things, but that's one of those things that we're going to look at and say okay, maybe we can add in some other passive traits. But we don't want to jump the gun and just immediately start changing things wildly before people have got a chance to really play with it in the outdoor world and just see what it's like having that full gear set and changing your gameplay up like that.

Kris Zierhut, Senior Technical Game Designer: On mastery in particular, the balance on it, when we thought up the concept of it, we knew it was going to be very difficult to get the balance right. you can be sure we're going to be tweaking the numbers on it over time to get it right. Unfortunately, getting it perfectly right requires an enormous amount of data from the players.

Chris Kaleiki, Associate Game Designer: Something we've been talking about potentially -- like, the mastery becoming problematic because of all the burst damage -- what we'll do is cut it in half, basically. Part of the mastery will just be your DoTs and the other part of your mastery will be your Shadow Orbs mechanic. I definitely think there's more polish we can do with shadow orbs in general.

First of all: Magnificently-Bearded Man(TM), flag me down at BlizzCon 2011, because you've earned yourself a free drink courtesy of a shadow-priest-information-starved Fox Van Allen. And Owen Landgren, you owe the poor guy a drink, too. Shadow priests are known for being incredibly bursty casters? Really?

Taking on Owen

Over the course of the last few columns, I've talked about the mastery stat (Shadow Orbs) and the disappointment contained within. Going into patch 4.0.1 and Cataclysm without knowing any better, we'd think the mastery stat to be an awesome thing. When I first joined the beta, I reforged heavily into mastery. It just had to be awesome!

I was wrong, though, as proved by the initial patch 4.0.1 numbers. Mastery has been our worst stat, even though it's responsible for some beautiful 25,000+ damage Mind Blast crits. I readily concede that the theorycrafting that rated mastery to be half as useful as crit is not the absolute final answer on the stat, but you'd need to be blind (and deaf to the community) to not see that Shadow Orbs stink right now. You don't need massive numbers of data coming in from players wearing tier 11 to know they suck. They just suck. Period. And with all due respect to Owen, adding in some passive trait isn't going to make them suck any less.

At the General Q&A panel, Blizzard explained that mastery was intended to be a desirable stat for all classes -- perhaps not the best in all cases, but at least on a level to rival the best stat. I think all shadow priests can understand hesitation in fiddling with numbers; no one wants the value of stats to swing back and forth like they were listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Still, the same folks who claimed not to want to mess with numbers so soon wasted no time messing with the Shadow Word: Death numbers just one day after patch 4.0.1 went live.

If it's wrong, fix it. Just like Shadow Word: Death, shadow priest mastery is broken. Fix it.

With hope for the future

Shadow priests know there's something very wrong with mastery scaling. And given that Blizzard chose to respond the way it did, rather than with a canned "we like where mastery is right now" response, shows that it too realizes not all is perfect. That's a good first step.

And there's hope for the future in the form of the followup comment from Associate Game Designer Chris Kaleiki. The development team has clearly been discussing the issue, and it seems like they're trying to come up with a workable solution to keep the much needed element of burst damage, provide a boost to make the stat competitive and maintain balance in PvP. Personally, I'm in favor of the half-and-half concept -- it's about the only way to fix mastery without completely changing the definition of what Shadow Orbs are supposed to be.

As to exactly how the half-and-half element would work, it's not clear. The first possible route involves a flat, static bonus to damage built in to the mastery stat. The second route would involve a dynamic bonus that is dependent on the number of Shadow Orbs a shadow priest has accumulated. While the first option would certainly be a welcome solution, I would prefer we wind up seeing something along the lines of the second. It would take a somewhat boring mastery ability that I've criticized in the past and insert some strategy and choice. Shadow priests would have to choose between higher DoT damage or trading it in for higher burst damage. Basically, mastery would be what we have now, plus a little extra damage on the DoT side.

Doing my best to translate the comments from Blizzard-speak to English, I get the following: "We hear you that Shadow Orbs are underwhelming as a mastery stat, and that's not how we intended it. We don't want to promise you anything, but we will likely be performing major surgery on Shadow Orbs. Don't expect this until patch 4.0.3, though, because our top priorities regarding shadow priests (and all other specs, as well) remain PvP balance and PvE balance at level 85.

"In the meantime, Chris Kaleiki will be sent to our Blizzard Re-education Facility. We assure you that, in the future, he will respond to all questions with the vagueness you've come to expect from our BlizzCon Q&A panels."

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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