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Spiritual Guidance: The shadow priest's guide to patch 4.1


Every week, WoW Insider brings you Spiritual Guidance for discipline, holy and shadow priests. Each Wednesday, the priestly Fox Van Allen takes on all topics shadow. If you'd like to see Spiritual Guidance in person, send your request along with a self-addressed stamped envelope to TICKETS, "Spiritual Guidance," CBS Television City, 7800 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, California 90036.

New patches almost always mean changes to classes, specs, and abilities. In this respect, patch 4.1 is no different. For shadow priests, patch 4.1 brings huge nerfs. It also brings huge buffs. There's an awful lot to keep straight.

Thankfully, you don't need to go it alone. Spiritual Guidance is here to help.

New heroics, new loot

Obviously, the biggest news of patch 4.1 is the release of the new (newly redesigned, anyway) Zul'Gurub and Zul'Aman 5-man heroics. New heroics always means new loot, and there are more than a few terrific new item level 353 epics available in these two new instances.

Last week, Spiritual Guidance discussed the best loot drops available for shadow priests in the new instances. Remember though, these new instances drop ilevel 353 epics. Any epics you obtained prior to Tuesday are ilevel 359 and are almost assuredly better.

Affordable access to a new tier of enchants

In addition to the new gear coming from the Zul'Gurub and Zul'Aman dungeons, patch 4.1 promises easier access to Maelstrom Crystals, Cataclysm's epic enchanting material. Previously only available by disenchanting raid loot (or crafted epics), Maelstrom Crystals are now available from justice point and honor point vendors for 3,750 points. Maelstrom Crystal prices have already fallen sharply on my realm; they're likely much cheaper on yours, as well.

What does this mean? Simply put, the best Cataclysm enchants are now available "for free" to shadow priests willing to put in the effort to farm JP or honor. For those looking to put together their epic enchant shopping list, I offer the following information:

  • Feet Prior to patch 4.1, I had been advising shadow priests to take the Enchant Boots - Earthen Vitality enchant, which provides an 8% boost to run speed and 30 points of stamina. With Maelstrom Crystals now available for JPs, the superior Enchant Boots - Lavawalker is now accessible to more casual players. The enchant requires one Maelstrom Crystal, two Heavenly Shards, and 10 Greater Celestial Essences and offers you that same 8% run speed boost with 35 points of mastery. As such, it represents a ~14 intellect boost over Earthen Vitality.
  • Wrists The best wrist enchant, Enchant Bracer - Mighty Intellect, requires two Maelstrom Crystals in addition to some more common mats. This is a ~30 intellect boost over the much more common, non-Maelstrom enchant, the +50 haste Enchant Bracer - Speed.
  • Chest Most shadow priests currently use the +15 to all stats Enchant Chest - Mighty Stats. The best-in-slot enchant has always been the +20 to all stats Enchant Chest - Peerless Stats, but at a cost of three Maelstrom Crystals and three Heavenly Shards, it's been a near impossible-to-justify purchase even for hardcore raiders. Even with patch 4.1, it's still an "expensive" enchant -- those three crystals will only buy you another ~7 points worth of intellect.
  • Hands In patch 4.0.6, most shadow priests used the exceptionally affordable +50 haste Enchant Gloves - Haste as their enchant of choice. Technically, Enchant Gloves - Greater Mastery, which offers 65 points of mastery, is a stronger shadow priest enchant, but it really only translates to ~2.5 more points worth of intellect over the +haste option.
  • Weapon Many shadow priests drool at the thought of enchanting their maces, daggers, and staves with Enchant Weapon - Power Torrent, but the exorbitant cost of four Maelstrom Crystals (not to mention eight Heavenly Shards and 14 Hypnotic Dust) puts people off, to be sure. Taking into account its internal cooldown (~45 seconds), its proc rate (~33%), and its 12-second duration, the enchant is valued at approximately 120 points of intellect. Enchant Weapon - Hurricane, by comparison, offers 90 static points of haste (~36 intellect). That's a huge increase of 84 intellect.
Where should you start your post-4.1 enchanting? If you're looking for the biggest bang for your Maelstrom Crystals, Power Torrent offers a robust return of 21 intellect/Maelstrom Crystal, the best of the five. After enchanting your weapon, consider Enchant Bracer - Mighty Intellect, which clocks in at 15 intellect/Maelstrom Crystal; and Enchant Boots - Lavawalker, which offers 14 intellect/Maelstrom Crystal. Rounding out the five are Peerless Stats (2.3 intellect/Maelstrom Crystal) and Enchant Gloves - Greater Mastery (1.3 intellect/Maelstrom Crystal).

Patch 4.1: Is it a buff or a nerf?

Perhaps the most important question on the shadow priest's mind: Am I more powerful today than I was on Monday? The answer isn't an easy one to decipher, but for most shadow priests, patch 4.1 represents a nerf. Raiding priests will see their DPS increase on a handful of fights; they'll see their DPS decline on others. Let's explore.

The good Any increase in DPS can surely be attributed to the new buff to Mind Sear -- the spell doubled in strength from patch 4.0.6 to the current one. That's no small change. It moves shadow priests from next-to-useless AoE artists to one of the better AoE classes.

How will this affect how you play? Prior to patch 4.1, the magic AoE number was six, meaning you should use Mind Sear only on groups of six enemies or more. Doubling the strength of Mind Sear cuts this number down to three, but realistically, you'll usually want to single-target enemies even in groups of three or four. Why? Remember, Mind Sear is a mana-expensive spell, and casting it exclusively will lead you to run out of mana fast. Mind Sear also does nothing to help spark Replenishment, and with the new Call to Arms feature luring new and inexperienced healers to the harder heroics of patch 4.1 ... well, they'll need the regen.

For more information on buff to Mind Sear, check out my previous article on the subject: Mind Sear in patch 4.1.

... and the bad The real nerf to shadow priests won't be found in the official 4.1 patch notes under shadow priests. It's found in the warlock notes under Dark Intent:

PTR Patch 4.1 Notes
Dark Intent: The friendly target of this ability now receives 1% (stacking 3 times to 3%) periodic spell damage and healing bonus instead of 3% (stacking 3 times to 9%). The casting Warlock still receives 3% (stacking 3 times to 9%).

Since shadow priests are the usual target for a warlock's Dark Intent ability, this nerf is directed squarely at our heads. And the magnitude is pretty significant, as you can see -- it reduces the damage caused by virtually all our spells by as much as 6% in most raid situations.

In the long run, killing the effectiveness of Dark Intent is a good thing for shadow priests. It's a common belief that shadow priests are balanced around Dark Intent and that Blizzard assumes that we'll always have this buff in a raid situation. Obviously, we don't always have Dark Intent, and our spec should not be balanced around having a warlock in our group, period.

We're looking at some short-term pain here, to be sure -- a 6% cut in DoT damage is going to significantly drop our DPS, probably by about 5% total. Remember, though, that Blizzard's game developers are constantly keeping tabs on spec DPS numbers, and if they've cut our damage output too severely, they'll fix it in a later patch (or even hotfix).

Thankfully, the buff to Mind Sear will take some of the bite out of this nerf. Even with the 6% nerf, we may see our DPS on add-heavy fights like Maloriak and Magmaw actually increase.

The under-the-radar nerfs

Obviously, there's more to shadow priests than just the few shadow spells we have at our disposal -- we cast a number of discipline school spells as well. Unfortunately, there are a small handful of nerfs incoming to these non-shadow spells that will cause shadow priests a slight amount of pain:

Power Word: Shield's duration is reduced to 15 seconds, down from 30. This means that shadow priests will need to be more exacting on their timing and better able to anticipate incoming damage.
Dispel Magic has been nerfed. Shadow priests will be able to use the spell to remove 2 harmful effects on their own selves or 1 beneficial effect on the enemy. Shadow priests can no longer cast the spell on friendly targets.

Clearly, since these aren't shadow spell nerfs, they hurt us on the utility front more than on the damage-dealing front. PvP shadow priests will be especially hurt by the two changes (or, at least, more so than your average PvE shadow priest).

The under-the-radar buffs

The minor nerfs suck, obviously, but they're balanced out by a couple of buffs to our non-shadow spells. First off, Inner Will and Inner Fire now last until cancelled, a great change for forgetful shadow priest. Secondly, and perhaps most important, our emergency spells Divine Hymn and Hymn of Hope are now immune to pushback. That means we won't lose valuable ticks when we need them the most -- a great change.
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.

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