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Spiritual Guidance: Shadow priests react to patch 4.1, look forward to 4.2


Every week, WoW Insider brings you Spiritual Guidance for discipline, holy and shadow priests. Every Wednesday, shadow priesting expert Fox Van Allen takes you down the only road he's ever been down. You know, the one that takes you to the places where all the veins meet, yeah.

Shortly after patch 4.1 went live last Tuesday, I got the chance to raid Bastion of Twilight. I tried out Mind Sear on the first pull, and the numbers were absolutely luscious. Instead of weak, ugly, sub-2,000 ticks, I was seeing ticks twice that size. Before long, I was gaming my trash rotations, trying to proc Empowered Shadow and keep it up through the pulls. It was terrific practice for Cho'gall -- I finally felt like my AoE was making an impact on that encounter.

Overall, I got praise for the improved numbers I was putting out (thanks, Mind Sear!). But that praise got me thinking -- how is the rest of the shadow priest community faring in the post-4.1 world? And with patch 4.2 around the corner ... is there anything about shadow priests that Blizzard still needs to fix?

Patch 4.1 by the numbers

For some classes, patch 4.1 brought major changes to mechanics, across-the-board buffs, and a handful of harsh nerfs. Shadow priests, though, mostly made it through the patch unscathed. We did see a notable nerf in Dark Intent (a nerf by proxy?), but it was at least somewhat balanced by a buff to our Mind Sear AoE. In terms of figuring out what 4.1 would do to our overall DPS, things were "too close to call" at the time last week's article went to press.

Back in March (the days of patch 4.0.6), I introduced you to a pair of metrics for measuring "best-in-class" shadow priest performance in my "Revisiting the hybrid tax" column. The first metric, the highly regarded SimulationCraft program, tracks theoretical shadow priest DPS. The second, State of DPS, is a website that compiles logs of the best raiders -- real-world information. Taken together, these two tools should give us a good idea at where shadow priests are now that patch 4.1 is live.

Two months ago, a best-in-slot shadow priest (full tier 11; almost all ilevel 372 gear) was outputting 27,226 DPS in a hypothetical raid encounter (according to SimCraft). That put us somewhere near the middle of the pack -- below most dedicated DPS classes, but above most other hybrid DPS specs. After patch 4.1, the theoretical parse shows shadow priests declined slightly, outputting 26,962 DPS. That's a drop of about 1%.

Before you go grabbing your pitchforks and storming Blizzard headquarters, remember -- that's a hypothetical encounter. When you take shadow priests and put them in real-world situations, our damage output holds up pretty well. According to State of DPS, we still top the meters on the two-target fights: We come in either first or second on Valiona and Theralion, Nefarion, Twilight Ascendant Council, and Omnotron. Obviously, the Dark Intent nerf hurt us on single-target fights (such as Chimaeron), but we're making up for it on fights with adds (such as Cho'gall) to stay at the top overall.

Cumulatively, the best raiding shadow priests are averaging somewhere around 28,600 DPS, better than every single spec save for fire mages. That's the best news we could hope for out of patch 4.1 -- shadow priests were the best before, and we're the best after. You know, within the margin of error. Ahem.

Patch 4.2: What we know so far

Any discussion about patch 4.2 should start with what we know so far, and as things pertain specifically to shadow priests, we don't really know much. On Monday, we got this little tidbit in the PTR patch 4.2 notes:

Patch 4.2 Public Test Realms Coming Soon
Crowd Control

Many crowd control abilities no longer cause creatures to attack players when they are cast. The creature will not attack the player when the crowd control wears off, and nearby creatures will not become hostile to the player either. However, if a visible player gets too close to the target creature, the creature will remember and attack the player when the crowd control effect wears off. The intent is to make it easier for dungeon groups to manage crowd control assignments and pulling packs of hostile NPCs. The abilities affected by this change are: Hibernate, Entangling Roots, Wyvern Sting (will still cause hostility when it begins to deal damage), Freezing Trap, Polymorph, Repentance, Shackle Undead, Blind, Hex, Bind Elemental, Banish, Seduction.

This is a very interesting change. Obviously, shadow priests don't get much use out of Shackle Undead in Cataclysm (except for Shadowfang Keep, of course), but in a post-patch-4.2 world, we'll be able to do some limited crowd control done before the pull without generating aggro.

Note that the premiere shadow priest crowd control ability, Mind Control, is not included in the list. While some may consider that an oversight, the mechanics of creating a "friendly" character in range of a hostile mob necessitate a started pull. Still, if Blizzard is going in the direction of crowd control not generating aggro, I'd like to see the aggro component of failed Mind Control casts removed. Especially after a pull has begun.

On a more cosmetic note, we also got our first glimpse at our tier 12 set last week. The stats and the bonuses are still a mystery, but we do know what it physically looks like (courtesy of MMO-Champion). In case you fashion-conscious priests missed it, take a gander at the fall look:

Shortly after the preview went live, Twitter lit up -- mostly with criticism. Admittedly, nothing about it really screams "priest." You could just as easily see this set hanging in the closet of a mage, a warlock, or even in the closet of Vash the Stampede.

Overall, though, I like the look. The fire absolutely screams "DPS," which is a nice contrast against the current tier 11 shoulders (which scream "healer"). I also like that I'll be able to see my hair for once -- you have no idea how much time I spend on it in the morning.

Patch 4.2: What's coming next

When I sat down to think up my wish list for patch 4.2, I'll be honest -- I mostly came up empty. I think that's a testament to what a good place shadow priests are in right now. We have a number of different (but effective!) rotations we can apply in different situations. Our AoE output is competitive again. We can deliver strong burst damage. For the most part, life is good.

Are there areas where shadow priests need fixing? Yes -- as I detailed here in Spiritual Guidance last month, our mastery mechanism is just too damned complex. In fact, up until I did the research for that column, I was lost as to how mastery worked. And if the dude who writes the shadow priesting column is confused, what hope does a new player have to understand it?

That said, I wouldn't expect too much to change for shadow priests in 4.2. We may see some minor tweaks to shadow priest damage output if they're necessary (revised lower, if anything), but it seems more likely that we'll be seeing other classes and specs being balanced around us. And really, when you think about it, that's a damn nice place for shadow priests to be.
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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