Spiritual Guidance: First hands-on look at the Mists of Pandaria shadow priest

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Spiritual Guidance: First hands-on look at the Mists of Pandaria shadow priest
Every week, WoW Insider brings you Spiritual Guidance for discipline, holy and shadow priests. On alternate Wednesdays, shadow priesting expert Fox Van Allen comes from out of the shadows to bask in your loving adoration.

Beta access, sweet, delicious beta access. After weeks of waiting, I'm finally in the Mists of Pandaria beta. And man, does it taste sweet. Sure, in reality, I'd only been waiting a few weeks to get in. But when you're not in the beta and it seems like everyone else is, those weeks can feel like an eternity.

But you likely don't care about my emotions (you cruel, sadistic readers, you). You care about shadow priests and the changes made to them in the beta. And believe me, there are a lot of changes to shadow priests coming for MoP.

Yeah, I know, we've discussed a lot of those changes here in Spiritual Guidance. But already, there are changes to those changes. And frankly, the latest batch of changes is shocking. Every single spell that we hold dear is seeing a major change to it. Shadow Word: Pain, Vampiric Touch, Vampiric Embrace, and even Shadowy Apparitions -- it seems no spell is safe.

Are these changes the end of the world? Maybe they are. But you should know by now that I'm not going to tell you anything definite about that until you follow me after the break.

Before we get started, an important note: All of today's discussion surrounds a fluid, constantly changing beta. Anything I say could make it through to the final Mists of Pandaria build, or it could be scrapped minutes after this column goes live. That's just the nature of the beast. Still, by getting an early look at these changes, you have the ability to offer feedback to the game developers and, just as important, get an early look at the design changes in store of our beloved shadowy spec.

Another Shadow Orb redesign

Though shadow priests are largely ambivalent over Shadow Orbs, Blizzard's game developers seem to love them -- or, more accurately, they love them as a concept. The way Shadow Orbs are currently implemented in the game -- that's what the developers don't seem to love.

Back at BlizzCon, there was talk about Shadow Orbs becoming the new currency for Mind Blast. Each time you have an orb at your disposal, you'd be able to cast Mind Blast, mana-free. That mechanic didn't last long; it's already been scrapped.

How do Shadow Orbs work now? Well, instead of Mind Blast's costing you a Shadow Orb, the spell is actually the mechanism by which orbs are generated. Your casts of Shadow Word: Pain generate an orb, too. All your orbs are now shown immediately under your health and mana gauge, as you can see in the image at right. No longer do orbs rotate around you.

That change, of course, means that Blizzard has to offer us a new spell to spend that shadowy currency on: Shadowy Apparition. Instead of being a passive ability, it's now a spell that shadow priests need to actively cast. The new tooltip:

Shadowy Apparition
Consumes all Shadow Orbs to summon shadow versions of yourself which will slowly move toward your target. Upon reaching the target, each will instantly deal 6573 shadow damage. One Shadowy Apparition is summoned per Shadow Orb consumed.

Shadowy Apparition is a mana-free instant cast, so it's a nice option when you're locked in a heavy-movement fight. Since Devouring Plague and its ability to deal instant damage on the go have been removed from the game, being able to use Shadowy Apparitions on demand is certainly a welcome development.

Even more changes to our DoTs

As was said, Devouring Plague is gone from the game (likely beyond salvageable at this point). But even so, shadow priests won't want for buttons to press. That's because Shadow Word: Pain no longer refreshes on its own -- you need to hit the button yourself every 18 seconds.
But there is some good news: SW:P now has an up-front damage component.

Our other DoT is getting a makeover, too. Vampiric Touch no longer offers you the ability to proc Replenishment. But in the same spirit of giving up something to get something, Blizzard has added a new benefit to VT. The new tooltip:

Vampiric Touch
Causes 54,216 Shadow damage over 14.26 sec. The caster gains health equal to 15% of the damage done by Vampiric Touch.

"But, wait, Fox," you're probably saying. "Don't all shadow spells grant healing via Vampiric Embrace?" No, gentle reader. Not anymore.

Vampiric Embrace: The most surprising change yet?

Vampiric Embrace as we currently know it is yet another victim of Mists of Pandaria. It's changing from an always-on passive ability to an instant-cast ability on a 3-minute cooldown. VE now lasts for a mere 15 seconds, but its healing has been supercharged to cause your party to be healed for 50% the single-target damage you deal. That increased level of healing definitely changes the dynamic of VE, especially given that in Catacylsm, most of the self-healing from it is wasted.

Predictably, if the regular version Vampiric Embrace is being jettisoned, then the overpowered Vampiric Dominance we saw revealed during BlizzCon is similarly gone. In fact, the entire shadow priest talent tree got an overhaul:

Those new post-85 spells

As you can see above, shadow priests got a handful of new spells in the lastest beta build. The first, Cascade, is an instant-cast level 90 talent with a 25-second cooldown. It's something like an extra powerful Prayer of Mending that can serve as either a heal or a damaging spell. Cast it on a pack of baddies, and the first is hit for a huge chunk of damage. The spell then splits, hitting two more enemies for the same huge chunk. It keeps bouncing up to four times.

Halo, the other new talent at level 90, is a very compelling choice as well. It's an extra-powerful version of Holy Nova. When you cast it, your shadow priest will radiate energy out for 30 yards, healing all friendly targets and damaging all hostile ones. The catch: Those furthest away will take the most healing (or damage).

But those new talents aren't the only additions for priests heading to level 90. Game developers have added our new level 87 spell into the game, Spectral Guise. It grants a shadow priest the ability to go invisible once every 30 seconds. As for how useful that ability will wind up being for PvE ... Well, I'm not sure it'll be useful at all. We'll have to wait and see exactly how it's implemented into the game.

And finally, some good news

One of the biggest headlines of Mists of Pandaria was how healing spells were being stripped from hybrid classes. A few weeks ago, the list of healing spells for shadow priests was thin indeed; we were pretty much limited to Flash Heal.

There's good news now, though -- shadow priests have more healing options available to us in the beta. We can cast Renew now, and we also have access to Prayer of Mending. Sure, the spells kick us out of Shadowform, but they're nice to have in case of emergency. They could still hit the trash can by the time MoP goes live, but seeing them in the shadow priest arsenal right now makes me breathe a little easier.

Oh, and there's one more healing spell shadow priests may have access to. You might have noticed a new-for-MoP druid talent called Symbiosis. It's an interesting concept -- by casting the spell on a shadow priest, druids get one of our spells, and we get one of theirs. This spell is going to go through a lot of balancing between now and launch, but for now, druids can offer us the ability to cast Tranquility. (For more information on Symbiosis, check out Chase Hasbrouck's column on the subject from last week.)

Are you more interested in watching health bars go down than back up? We've got everything a shadow priest will need, from the basics of shadow priest PvP and advice on gearing up for Raid Finder raids to the hottest trinkets and weapons for today's shadow priests.

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