Spiritual Guidance: Mists of Pandaria spell and talent changes for shadow priests

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Spiritual Guidance for discipline, holy and shadow priests. On Wednesdays, shadow priesting expert Fox Van Allen comes from out of the shadows to bask in your loving adoration. He is also scientifically proven more beautiful than boomkin blogger Tyler Caraway.

When we first talked about the new-for-Mists of Pandaria talent trees after BlizzCon, there were still a lot of questions to be answered. The main question, of course, was this: What will happen to all the talents that were removed from the old Cataclysm-era trees?

Well, wonder no more. Last night, Blizzard went live with an all-new MoP talent calculator. Not only does it contain the new talents we talked about last month, but it also contains a list of what spells will be baseline for what specs and when they're learned.

"Don't worry," Blizzard noted. "If you don't see your favorite talent, we've probably just given it to your spec automatically while leveling." And it's true -- shadow priests get a lot of good stuff as baseline abilities, and we're getting a lot of it sooner than you'd expect. But not every shadow priest spell and ability made the cut. In fact, if they all make it to the live version of the game, there are some very surprising changes, additions, and omissions.

Before we get too far into the changes, I had best give you the typical disclaimer: All of this information is about an in-development expansion that's probably a year away from launching. Nothing here is set in stone; much will change. Some of the information in the new talent calculator appears to be placeholder. And Community Manager Bashiok says the talent calculator is not complete -- there's no level 87 spell for priests, for instance, and we know we're getting one.

So don't grab the pitchforks and storm the castle. Yet. I'm totally cool with your calling up your local pitchfork dealer to request a catalog of its new-for-2012 models, though. You never can be too prepared.

Healing: A MoP shadow casualty?

There are an awful lot of abilities that appear to be missing from the MoP talent calculator. This could simply mean that they're missing from the Talent Calculator. It could also mean they're being removed from the game. It's hard to tell at this point.

That said, the easiest-to-spot casualty of Mists of Pandaria is this: Shadow priests are losing access to virtually all their healing spells. No more Heal or Greater Heal. No more Renew. No more Divine Hymn. No more Prayer of Healing. We won't even be able to cast Holy Nova, Mass Dispel, or Cure Disease. All we're getting in MoP are Power Word: Shield (at level 5) and Flash Heal (at level 7). That's it. Once you choose to spec as shadow at level 10, you no longer learn any healing abilities.

We're not the only ones seeing this kind of major change -- most hybrid DPS have seen their roster of healing spells gutted. That gives the chilling impression that this is indeed intended. Blizzard, it appears, is taking away much of what makes us hybrid. A Mists of Pandaria shadow priest is going to have far more in common with our pure DPS brethren (that currently languish beneath us on the DPS charts). That's one way of dealing with the hybrid tax, I suppose.

Of all the changes coming to shadow priests, this could very well be the most significant for anyone who participates in shadow priest PvP. Reducing a shadow priest's ability to heal in Battlegrounds and Arenas will have serious consequences in how matches are played and won.

If the change is intended, I understand it. But that doesn't mean I like it. My favorite moments as a shadow priest aren't when I beat out the competition on the Recount meters. They're those times when a healer dies and I struggle to keep the tank alive with my inefficient, untalented heals.

Some shocking DPS casualties

I feel the urge to repeat my "this could just be an omission" disclaimer from earlier, not necessarily because I think you've forgotten it but because I really do think there are some major omissions. It's hard to believe that Blizzard's really trimming so many spells.

Like what, you may ask? Well, one of the surprising omissions from the list is Devouring Plague. So surprising, in fact, that you have to hope it's a mistake. It's been such a defining shadow priest spell since it went baseline in Wrath. I really like the DoT-juggling aspect of playing a shadow priest. The shadow rotation would just feel empty without it.

Also missing from the talent calculator: Vampiric Embrace. This might not be much of a surprise to many of you -- at level 90, we're given the option of taking a supercharged version of VE called Vampiric Dominance. Still, I had hoped that Vampiric Dominance would simply be a buff to a VE that's still baseline for all shadow priests. Healing by dealing damage is kind of our thing. It's a major part of what makes shadow priests who we are. I don't really like the idea that there will be shadow priests out there who by virtue of a talent tree choice won't be able to heal through dealing damage.

Mind Spike is also missing from the talent calculator, but I assume that to be an accidental omission. After all, the spell is referenced in the new tool tips for Serendipity and Archangel. Mind Blast is gone from the list of spells as well, but that's just a function of the Shadow Orb mechanic redesign. Holy and disc priests will be losing access to the spell entirely, though that probably could have been guessed a month ago.

Lastly, Twisted Faith is gone. The talent was a major boon for shadow priests everywhere when it was redesigned for Cataclysm, allowing spirit to be converted to hit rating. It made shadow priests exceptionally easy to gear, and it kept us from having to maintain a separate healing and DPS set of armor. It's very possible that Blizzard will find a way to keep this spirit-to-hit conversion in the game through a different mechanism; only time will tell on this one.

The good news!

I know there's a lot not to like about the new talent trees, but the news isn't all bad. There are a lot of positive changes buried in what we learned yesterday. For example, shadow priests will be gaining access to the spec-defining Shadowform ability at level 24, down from 29. We're also going to be getting our Shadowfiend at level 64 (down from 66) and Leap of Faith at 84 (down from 85). Vampiric Touch is learned at level 46 (down from 49).

More intriguing, though, is that the powerful Silence and Psychic Horror spells appear to be finally going baseline. Both are very useful to any shadow priest, but PvE players currently find it hard to justify the talent point expenditure. No more: All shadow priests get Silence at level 28. Psychic Horror comes later, at level 74. (Currently, you can access Silence as soon as level 39, and Psychic Horror as soon as 59.)

And finally, as expected, many of our most useful talents are going baseline. Shadowy Apparition, the fun ability to spawn damage-dealing clones of ourselves, is given to us at level 52 (down from 63). The new baseline Pain and Suffering is losing its ability to reduce Shadow Word: Death splash damage, but the chance to refresh Shadow Word: Pain is being boosted to 100%. We'll get access to that at level 78 (up from 53).

Incomplete calculator is incomplete

Clearly, the design of the Mists of Pandaria shadow priest is a work in progress. We know that, as a design philosophy, Blizzard wants to simplify our spell books. That suggests that some of the spells that went missing overnight are intentional casualties. Others likely are a result of Blizzard's giving us a sneak peek at its work in progress. After all, it looked like Spirit Tap was a Cataclysm casualty until it showed up as a new glyph.

I urge you all not to worry too much just yet. Blizzard wouldn't have gotten to be the kind of success that it is if it didn't know what it was doing. And further, we know that Blizzard actually listens to feedback.

That said, let's put our heads together and give Blizzard some. What do you all think of these potential shadow priest changes? Will you miss all the healing spells that are being taken away? Are you OK with losing Twisted Faith? And if the shadow priest spell book indeed needs to be pared down, where exactly would you do it?

Are you more interested in watching health bars go down than watching them bounce back up? We've got more for shadow priests, from Shadow Priest 101 to a list of every monster worth mind controlling and strategies for raiding Blackwing Descent.