Spell hit talents are being standardised across casters in Wrath of the Lich King, and for some, this means quite a big nerf. Arcane mages, affliction warlocks, elemental shaman and shadow priests are the biggest losers as they are the classes who currently benefit the most from spell hit talents.
These changes will likely land ahead of the expansion, with patch 3, so any caster who intends on continuing to raid may need to check their gear and enchants to ensure they are as close to the hit cap on bosses as possible.
For shadow priests, the shadow focus talent is being changed to provide 1/2/3% chance to hit, down from 2/4/6/8/10%. Misery is being reworked to provide 1/2/3% chance to hit against the target, instead of 1/2/3/4/5% additional magic damage. Because misery is a debuff, and therefore must be applied first, we effectively have a 'soft' hit cap, as well as a 'hard' one — until you reach the 'hard' cap, your spells against higher level mobs will have a greater chance to miss until one of them lands.
The following table summaries the hit rules and the implications of patch 3 for shadow priests. This table assumes the caster is level 70, because spell hit values differ according to your level. At level 70, 12.6 spell hit rating is required to improve your chance to hit by 1%. And remember: all spells have a 1% chance to resist, regardless of all other factors. (And if you know why there's a huge gap in my post, please let me know cos it beats me!)
|Spell hit||Lvl 70 mob||Lvl 71 mob||Lvl 72 mob||Lvl 73 mob|
|Base chance to hit||96%||95%||94%||83%|
|Base hit rating to cap||38||51||63||202|
|Hit rating with talents now||0||0||0||76|
|Hit rating for patch 3 soft cap||0||0||0||126|
|Hit rating for patch 3 hard cap||0||13||26||164|
As you can see, for raid trash, this won't make much difference, but for bosses the gap we will have to make up is considerable.
The good news is that you will already probably have more spell hit than you can shake a stick at. Even Merlot, with his very modest raiding career, has enough to spec only 4/5 in shadow focus and still be capped. But if you find yourself significantly short of hit come the patch, there are a few options open to you.
The most obvious way to bridge the gap is via gems, and the most efficient and economic way is via yellow ones — great golden draenite, great dawnstone and great lionseye, depending on your budget. I suspect the price of these gems will soar when the patch hits, so my advice is to snap them up now.
If you're feeling flush, you could jump for purple gems instead — specifically, glowing shadow draenite, glowing nightseye and glowing tanzanite. If you are replacing pure damage gems to get your hit up, these will enable you to save a few more spell damage. But it's not a lot, and you'll need twice as many gems for roughly double the cost of the yellow gems.
If you had the foresight to stockpile your spell hit gear as you progressed, you could also switch back to it. Only you can evaluate if that would be better or worse for your damage than re-gemming. If you are scryer, you can pick up the bloodgem and swap it out for another trinket. Compared to the icon of the silver crescent, for example, the loss in damage is roughly equal to re-gemming, but much much cheaper. There are a few other rep rewards out there with hit, plus badge gear, that you may want to look at.
One thing I won't be doing is swapping my glove enchant for spell strike (15 hit rating). Not only is this a poor trade-off for the 20 spell damage enchant when compared to gems, the materials are likely to be similar in cost to the gems if not more expensive.
So those are the options. But the question is, how much hit do we need? Misery clearly presents us with a dilemma. It is only of benefit to us as long as we remain short of the hard hit cap. But until we reach the hard hit cap, we have a reduced chance of applying it.
In Blizzard's brave new world of raid buffs and debuffs, one other class can provide the same spell hit benefit as misery — balance druids, via improved faerie fire — but you won't find many taking it, because unlike shadow priests, they have to actively cast the spell to apply the buff. It takes a global cooldown, when we don't even have to think about it. Totem of wrath, incidentally, will no longer increase spell hit. So if you thought you could avoid the Hobson's choice altogether, you were wrong. Thanks to Cdin of the awesome Gray Matter blog for putting me straight there.
You might, when patch 3 lands, choose to aim for the soft cap first, depending on your current level of gear and budget. I think that would be fine. Long term, unless something changes significantly, I suspect shadow priests will end up gearing for the hard hit cap while retaining the talent. Why? Because it benefits the raid. Other casters will be able to leave their hit deliberately short of the cap and focus on stats that improve their damage output in other ways.
It's a gamble for the raid though. What if your shadow priest can't make it? What if they die in a fight? What if your focus is split over two mobs? Perhaps, ultimately, all casters will decide it's safer to aim for the hard hit cap, at which point this talent becomes obsolete. There's a risk, in fact, that shadow priests will be dropped as raids progress and pick up better gear. Once again, scaling rears its ugly head.