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Spiritual Guidance: Shadow priest tier 13


Every week, WoW Insider brings you Spiritual Guidance for discipline, holy and shadow priests. On Wednesdays, shadow priesting expert Fox Van Allen's comes from out of the darkness to bask in your loving adoration. Fox is a caring nurturer, a member of several 12-step programs, but not a licensed therapist.

I'm not a fan of dancing. I'm just not coordinated to the point of memorizing complicated stepping patterns. And even if I was, do you think I need to go through such complicated mating rituals to impress? Please. I'm Fox Van Allen.

That said, I was a bit distressed to learn about the new tier 13 bonuses and what they mean for shadow priests. Apparently, Blizzard wants us shadow priests to learn how to dance to maximize our DPS for the next raiding tier. No, seriously.

Two-piece tier 13

The two-piece tier 13 bonus appears, at first blush, to be pretty good. It's a pretty strong buff to Shadow Word: Death, and ... well, I'll just let Blizzard tell you:

Patch 4.3: Tier 13 Set Bonuses
Shadow, 2P -- Shadow Word: Death deals an additional 55% damage, and you no longer take damage from your own Shadow Word: Death when the target fails to die.

At first blush, this is pretty cool. After all, we learned last week that one of the biggest complaints shadow priests have about their spec is the damage they take from using Shadow Word: Death. This bonus would eliminate it entirely -- and buff damage, to boot! No more worrying that those choice SW:D crits will wind up killing you.

Should this bonus go live, shadow priests everywhere will get a lot more mileage out of their SW:D casts. Already, most priests use the spell whenever it's off cooldown, provided the target is below 25% health (and provided, of course, it's safe to do so). This bonus just makes it that much more of a slam dunk to do so, making it totally safe.

Immediately, though, this bonus got a lot of shadow priests thinking, "Wait, what impact will this have on Shadow Word: Death's mana return?" We don't know 100% for sure, but the preliminary answer probably isn't what you're hoping for.

The mechanism by which Shadow Word: Death returns mana is called Masochism. The tooltip says, and I quote:

When you take a damaging attack equal to or greater than 10% of your total health or damage yourself with your Shadow Word: Death, you instantly gain 10% of your total mana.

The wording "or damage yourself with Shadow Word: Death" suggests that the two-piece tier 13 bonus will eliminate Shadow Word: Death's ability to return mana. For a lot of you, that's a deal breaker -- there are certainly fights in tier 12 where the ability to get mana back is invaluable. (Specifically, I'll highlight the Shannox fight -- a shadow priest can easily go OOM by multi-DOTing without occasional use of SW:D.) Others of you will point out that there are plenty of fights in Firelands where mana isn't an issue, even without using SW:D. That's a fair point, too, and certainly accurate.

It's hard to tell how much of a negative the removal of SW:D's mana refund mechanism will be without knowing whether or not said mechanism is going to be needed in tier 13. New gear means higher intellect stat, and a higher intellect stat means shadow priests will be enjoying large mana pools. Infinitely large? Maybe.

Bottom line: Blizzard is aware that having to stand around and attack the bad guys with wands isn't a fun way to play. If this particular tier 13 bonus goes live, you should expect that the developers have decided that the mana return mechanism of SW:D isn't going to be needed in this tier of raiding. Honestly, I might miss it -- I liked the idea that mana pools weren't infinite but that we were simultaneously given a tool to manage the amount of mana regen we enjoy.

Four-piece tier 13

The four-piece tier bonus for shadow priests is a game changer too, though it may not seem that way at first.

Patch 4.3: Tier 13 Set Bonuses
Shadow, 4P -- Your Shadowfiend and Shadowy Apparitions have a 100% chance to grant you 3 Shadow Orbs each time they deal damage.

It's almost like they used our list of things we don't like about shadow priesting to build our tier 13 list, isn't it? After all, the RNG involved in generating Shadow Orbs is absolutely despised by shadow priests. (Every shadow priest but me, but whatever.)

Of course, this doesn't do away with RNG entirely. Shadow priests need Orbs the most at the beginning of fights, and unless you pop your Shadowfiend as move #1 (you shouldn't -- wait for those intellect procs), this won't help the earliest moments of RNG struggling. Sure, you'll have more Orbs, and you'll have them more often, but the tier 13 bonus isn't a magic bullet to cure all our RNG woes. Still, I can't object to that half of the bonus -- it'll be nice to have every Mind Blast cast while my Shadowfiend is out hit for 75% bonus damage or more (depending on your mastery stat; individual mileage may vary).

What worries me about the four-piece tier 13 bonus is what it will mean for the shadow priest playstyle. As you know, movement increases the odds of generating Shadowy Apparations dramatically -- from 6% per tick of Shadow Word: Pain all the way up to 60%. Now, in theory, you could "game" your shadow priests to generate more Apparitions by making small, deliberate movements in between casting your instant-cast spells (like SW:D, DP, Shadowfiend, etc.). In most (current) situations, the DPS increase for doing so just isn't worth the effort -- Apparitions deal very little damage each. But with 3 Shadow Orbs on the line with every tick (representing maybe 50,000 to 100,000 worth of bonus damage), all of a sudden, gaming Shadowy Apparitions becomes 10 or 20 times more lucrative.

I don't want to be tempted to have to stutter-step during boss fights to try and increase my DPS, and I don't want other shadow priests feeling like they need to do it too. It's not a natural way to play the game. It's not "fun."
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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