Spiritual Guidance: A shadow priest year in review, 2011 edition

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 the founder of several ill-fated boy bands.

Happy New Year 2012, shadow priests! I rather love the holiday. Not necessarily because it gives my friends the opportunity to slap me in the face five times over the course of 30 minutes -- which this year, it absolutely did. It's because I love to reminisce. And now that 2011 is officially in the history books, I can finally look back at a really awesome year for shadow priests.

When we were standing here almost exactly one year ago doing our 2010 shadow priest year in review, there was a lot to talk about. We'd seen one expansion end and another expansion begin. But don't think that just because we "only had Cataclysm" that 2011 was a boring year. We learned a lot. For starters, we all learned:

  • We learned that after a long period of neglect throughout Wrath, shadow priests not only did competitive damage in Cataclysm but, in multiple raid fights, were a chart-topping DPS spec.

  • We learned that Tyler Caraway's crippling sense of neediness would lead him to move halfway across the country to literally live down the street from America's favorite shadow priest.

  • We learned that we'd be getting pandas. Shadow pandas.

And that's just for starters.

January 2011

When the year 2011 had just begun, Cataclysm was a mere one month old. Players were still grinding heroics for gear. And since we weren't all decked out in i397 epics or better, heroics were still hard. Crowd control measures were required, but since they'd been useless for much of Wrath, few of us were familiar with the optimal way to use the long-thought-useless Mind Control spell.

Spiritual Guidance to the rescue! Early in January, I wrote a shadow priest's guide to Mind Control to clue both shadow priests and tanks in on how powerful the spell had gotten. Two weeks after that, I followed up with another column that offered an exhaustive list of the abilities your shadow priest gets via Mind Control.

We also theorized about patch 4.0.6, which was slated to drop in February.

February 2011

And indeed, patch 4.0.6 was the big news of February 2011. It had a number of important features that we still enjoy to this day: a buff to the strength of Power Word: Shield, a significant buff to shadow priest mastery, a buff to Mind Blast, and most importantly, a change to Mind Sear that allowed it to be channeled on friendly targets. To summarize my Feb. 9 article, patch 4.0.6 was terrific for shadow priests.

But patch 4.0.6 wasn't all we talked about in February. We discussed the best professions for shadow priests, we used SimulationCraft to learn about shadow priest stat weightings, and we did a rundown of the the best entry-level shadow priest trinkets. It's funny how that list's number one trinket, the Darkmoon Card: Volcano, is actually still pretty good.

March 2011

March 2011 was all about anticipation. Players were starting to hunger for new content, and patch 4.1 was on the PTR. But for those of us on the live server, there was little more for us to than raid existing content. For those folks, we talked some Blackwing Descent strategy. And then we talked Blackwing Descent strategy some more.

For the newer shadow priests, I offered my shadow priest 101 column. We talked about the hybrid tax and wondered whether it still existed in the light of shadow priests' stellar performance in Cataclysm. And we talked about the future of Mind Sear in the then-upcoming patch 4.1 -- a doubling of its damage was to come, and not a moment too soon.

April 2011

We started off April by finishing up the Blackwing Descent guide. Late to the party on that raid? Maybe. But don't forget -- we were still waiting for a new raid. Or really, any new content. Thankfully, patch 4.1 would be released in April, bringing with it new troll heroics and new troll heroic gear for our shadow priests. It also brought with it some buffs and nerfs -- we discussed that too.

I also wrote my column in April about gaming mastery trinkets as a shadow priest. In it, I basically lay out an explanation of how shadow priest mastery works. The column is timely once more with the rise of the easily farmable Foul Gift of the Demon Lord trinket.

May 2011

As great as it was to get patch 4.1, complete with new 5-man content, most shadow priests were looking forward to patch 4.2. A new raiding tier, complete with new tier 12 bonuses. And that freakin' Tarecgosa caster legendary ... man. The whole thing still makes me salivate. But patch 4.2 wouldn't be all gravy for shadow priests. There was a nerf to our ability to multi-DoT, a feature that made us so strong in the early Cataclysm raids.

We also took a break from our nonstop patch 4.2 coverage to talk about shadow priest haste mechanics. True story: In writing that column, I texted boomkin blogger (and game mechanics specialist) Tyler Caraway for some information. Predictably, he gave me the wrong answer, and the initial version of the article that went live was wrong. Thanks to some commenters, we got the article fixed, but the important note here is that Tyler was wrong. Very wrong. And his mistake hurt shadow priests. He is the worst person in the world.

We're going out on a date tonight.

June 2011

If May 2011 was all about talking about the Firelands, then June 2011 was when all that talk turned real. The newest tier of raiding launched at the end of the month, bringing with it amazing new trinkets. Patch 4.2 also brought a slight change to the shadow priest dynamic -- Blizzard buffed our direct damage spells and nerfed our DoTs. It was an effort to reduce our infamous multi-DoT prowess. It wound up hurting a lot less than I thought it would.

But since we spent most of May talking Firelands, we moved on to new subjects in June. We did research into the best Alliance race for shadow priests. We talked about Shadow Word: Death and how shadow priests are meant to use the spell to cause damage and regain mana. And for the first time ever in Spiritual Guidance, I rolled up my sleeves and started talking shadow priest PvP basics.

July 2011

Most shadow priests spent July enjoying the Firelands. After all, endgame raiders had gone half a year without a new raid. Thankfully, it was a blast -- or, at least it was before it got old and stale. We spent a week discussing gearing up a shadow priest in the Firelands. Then, we dived into strategy with the shadow priest's guide to Shannox and the shadow priest's guide to Beth'tilac.

Spiritual Guidance also took on the subject of the best Horde race for shadow priests. It was a really fun article to write.

August 2011

My favorite part about the Firelands? The Alysrazor fight. There was nothing more enjoyable to me than soaring through the air, playing shadow priest Star Fox. And in August, I wound up doing a lot of that.

We continued our Firelands strategy coverage with Lord Rhyolith, Baleroc, and Majordomo Staghelm. I could have rounded up my August coverage with Ragnaros, but I had something far more important to talk about: shadow priest fashion!

September 2011

By September, most shadow priests had progressed through the Firelands and started dreaming of something more -- patch 4.3. Even Spiritual Guidance caught Dragon Soul fever. We took a look at shadow priest tier 13 bonuses. We even dared to look beyond patch 4.3 to talk about the long-term future of shadow priests.

Of course, at this point, Dragon Soul would still be a long way away. Shadow priests needed distractions. And so, to help pass the time, Spiritual Guidance offered a shadow priest leveling guide. We also talked about soloing content -- this time, how to solo Wrath 5-mans and The Burning Crusade raids.

Oh, and September 2011 was also when the About the Bloggers series ran the Fox Van Allen exposé. I suggest printing it out and hanging it on the inside of your locker along with the other pictures of me you've cut out from Tiger Beat.

October 2011

No matter how much stuff actually happened in October, it's hard to focus on anything but the biggest of big news: Mists of Pandaria. The new expansion was revealed at BlizzCon, and shortly after, game developers were kind enough to give us a look at the new shadow priest talent trees. One of the most fun additions to shadow priesting: a brand new friend for our Shadowfiend called the Psyfiend (which I really want a plushie of).

We also got a sneak peek at the patch 4.3 PTR to get a look at what the future would hold. I also wasted everyone's time with a couple of filler shadow priest FAQ posts. You're welcome.

November 2011

In late November, Blizzard updated its MoP talent calculator, offering a further glimpse to what shadow priests can expect in the new expansion. It appears that Blizzard has plans to take away all but Flash Heal from our emergency toolkit, making us less of a hybrid and more of a pure DPS class. Predictably, PvP enthusiasts were not pleased.

Meanwhile, on the live servers, patch 4.3 dropped on Nov. 29, marking the unofficial end to Cataclysm. Players could finally face off against Deathwing and take on the three new 5-man instances to earn shiny new shadow priest gear. And the new Raid Finder made finding a group easier than ever, though once inside the raid, things didn't necessarily go more smoothly.

But before us shadow priests could take on Deathwing, I wanted to make sure we closed the book on the Firelands with Ragnaros strategy for shadow priests. And for those shadow priests working on assembling their legendary, I wrote a shadow priest's guide to the solo part of the Dragonwrath quest chain. It was one of the coolest solo quests I've done for a while, and even though I'll likely never see my staff finished, I'm glad I put in the effort and the gold to get as far as I did.

December 2011

Ah, December 2011. I remember it like it was just last week. The joy. The pain. The 5-mans.

And indeed, it was those 5-man instances that were the focus of December's Spiritual Guidance efforts. We started with a 4.3 shadow priest gear guide to get you caught up and ready to take on Dragon Soul raid. We then took the heroics on in order: End Time, followed by the Well of Eternity, and finally the Hour of Twilight.

2012 and beyond

What does 2012 hold for shadow priests? Well, soon your news feed will be filling up with all sorts of information on Mists of Pandaria, from datamining to (eventually) hands-on play. I presume we'll see the new expansion launch in the second half of the year. And by the time you're reading the 2012 Shadow Priest Year in Review, we'll be analyzing tier 15 bonuses.

Will it still be fun to play a shadow priest in 2012? Really, how can it not be? Shadow priesting isn't something we do because of raw DPS numbers -- if that were the case, we wouldn't have stayed with the spec even in the darkest days of Wrath of the Lich King. Shadow priesting is a way of life. And no dumb panda bear is ever going to change that.

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.