9 February 2009

My state-of-the-priest address: shadow

Holy? Check. Discipline? Check. Here it is, the third and final part of my not-so-eagerly anticipated series about the state of the priest class. I've clearly saved the best till last.

We've come a long way when you think about it. Shadow was a niche spec in Burning Crusade. There were plenty of us, for sure, but we were only there to keep the healers in mana. We were the sidekicks of raiding.

Now, it would seem, we have everything we asked for — competitive dps, better scaling, more variety in gearing... but it comes at a price.

From where I'm standing, our dps looks to be in pretty good shape. The functional design of shadow damage is leaps and bounds from BC. Our spells interact to boost each other through talents and glyphs, mind flay can crit and our crits now do double damage — our crit rating even benefits dots — and we now have one of the most powerful aoe spells in the game.

On single target boss fights, allowing for my crappy gear, I am doing reasonable damage; on trash, I'm a god. At one point yesterday in heroic naxx my recount read 6k dps.

That's not to say I don't find it lacking at all. A weakness of the class (which is amplified quite horrendously sometimes by my own poor reactions) is the speed at which we can switch gears. Shadow priests are the oil tankers of wow — slow to get moving and slow to turn but truck on quite nicely in one direction thankyouverymuch. We have no cooldowns to blow when the boss enrages, no talents or spells that do more damage at low hp (shadow word: death glyph doesn't count), no mana burn mode. We have but one speed.

This helps to illustrate what we traded away for our competitive damage — flavour, spice, personality. Vampiric touch is now our highest damage dot, but it's name is meaningless, a pathetic reminder of the former spell. Vampiric embrace is like a once-fierce guard dog, now castrated and lame. Replenishment is an abomination to shadow priests, a clumsy, common effect now wielded by paladins and... hunters? We are deeply shamed. (No offence guys!)

Shadow has lost some of what made it unique and fascinating to play. It's like watching Angel in his very best broody remorseful phases, especially post-Sunnydale when he'd put on a bit of weight and you just knew that even though he still had it, he was never as good as bad Angel, and never as much fun.

This isn't going to change. The driving forces behind today's class developments are functional and mechanical. The devs are so busy balancing numbers to keep players happy (a thankless, impossible task imo) I see very little time for ensuring classes feel rich and distinct. Roleplaying is all in your head, after all, so I hope you have a good imagination.

What we know is the devs are working on shadow pvp, which is where our fortunes have declined the most. Specifically, they had better do something with psychic horror before priests descend upon Blizz HQ with pitchforks and lanterns. And I have a hunch we may see some changes to the nature or position of improved psychic scream and silence. Just a hunch. I hesitate to suggest dispersion might get a facelift, as needed as it is. (Does anyone here use it as any more than a mana pot?) But it's always a possibility, especially if shadow priests are struggling as much as they claim in pvp, even with Blizzard's holy grail in their spell books. When the smoke has cleared, if we are lucky, raiding priests may find some peripheral buffs from the pvp changes.

There's one other dark cloud on the horizon for shadow priests, and that's dual spec. We've heard a lot of speculation about this functionality in the past, and now it's in the patch notes for 3.1. Shadow priests already bring very little that is unique to a raid and would be the first choice to plug healing gaps if all it took was the click of a button. You might be happy to step in, you might even enjoy the change of pace. But if the wind changes, as the saying goes, you may find yourself stuck like that. I for one have already got the shivers.

All in all? I like the way shadow damage is shaping up, even though I miss the distinct feel the class had once upon a time. But give me some shiny new spells and cooldowns to play with and I'm sure I could get over that. I wish the best for those of you who pvp but... honestly?... I'm just not sure how possible it is to shoehorn two distinct builds into one talent tree without making both heroically overpowered. I think your problems are not over yet.


grayhammer said...

"Does anyone here use it as any more than a mana pot?"

I agree this end-tree talent needs something more, but to answer your question I use it to get thru tougher parts of boss encounters as much as I do for mana. Sometimes its easier to pop dispersion than to avoid the spikes, lava wave, nova or whatever.

On the topic of your post, though, I kinda miss the days when we were primarily a utility class. I miss how thrilled paladin healers were to have us in the group. But, I'm happier seeing myself on damage meters at level with or above similarly-geared mages and hunters. In BC, it was common for me to read "Sorry bud, need mage or hunter DPS for this heroic", and that was understandable seeing as they did double my damage. Im glad those days are over.

I run more heroics than I raid, so I would submit that we still offer the best backup healing in the game, and that backup heals can prevent wipes or otherwise smooth out the rough spots in runs. This is much less of an option in raids of course.

grayhammer said...

Thought of one more thing. If there is a special place for shadow priests, maybe it is in the application of MC. This could be developed more. For example, I think of that boss in naxx with the line of adds including the worshippers: MC the worshipper and sacrifice it to dispel boss's enrage. Just one example of how blizz can structure encounters to make that form of CC more useful. Like the buffs you could get in BC instances if you MC'd the mob. Could use more encounters like that.

xxxiii said...

I levelled my SP through TBC; and outside of raid trash, my damage was always competitive to other casters (hunters were an entirely different story though, and could easily out-dps everyone else in their sleep).

Under WotLK, I'm in heaven! On a straight single-target boss fight, like that in VoA, the only two classes that have ever out-dpsed me are unusually good hunters and death knights. I smoke every VoA pug I join.

On fights like Sarth, where we have fire elemental adds tanked up next to the boss, my damage is INSANE!

On fights with multiple targets in different areas, I can still do crazy damage on everything at once with DOT spells and then choose one to fry.

Shadow Priests, right now, are a near perfect dps class. Utility - who cares? I'll gladly share mana-battery status with other classes if it means I can finally get credit for the time I've put into learning my class.

As for uniquity, Mind Sear is a pretty unique ability, and you have to constantly think about how to utilize it most effectively. Do I DOT and sear or just sear? How many mobs are actually in that amorphous cluster of multi-colored, explosions? Damnit, someone just pulled my sear target - do I stay with it, single-target or DOT?

Though I'm not a big fan of Disperse, it is also pretty unique - 5 minute reusable mana pot / self-silencing, panic button. Do I blow it early as a reusable pot, or wait for a big damage phase? It's best use - making the user immune to Frogger.

Our old spells: if VT wasn't our biggest DOT, I'd have very little reason to use it. VE is just something you cast when you're running from one end of the room to the other - does it even do anything now except increase threat? It sure doesn't show up on the healing meter.

The thing I miss most though (and the ability is still there) is Shackle. Who the hell CCs anything anymore? My biggest use of shackle now is during PVP encounters with DKs.

Oh yeah, how could I forget Mind Control? Now that it can't be resisted (with proper hit), I don't break out in sweats when asked to use it. That fixed 1% chance to miss under TBC was multiplied over and over again in MC because a break test occured every few seconds. MCing something is disorienting enough without coming out of it unexpectedly - "Oh shit! Where am I?" MC went from being the last resort in CC options, to being, as grayhammer reminded me, quite useful, fun and even required fare for certain fights (not just Faerlina, but Razuvious too). My best use of MC though is at the Naxxramas summoning stone. Inducing flagged bloodelves to jump to certain death fills me with joy and pride for my long-time favorite class.

It is, indeed, a great time to be a shadow priest.

Anonymous said...

Nice overviews Merl, im glad to see the priest class is taken care of. Maybe little nerfed or less unique but still performing well.

Current priest changes arent enough to bring Dral back, but time will bring the handsome troll back, im sure of that.


Hannibal said...

I too love my shadow priest even if i'm only 23. I can do mobs like 24-25 in two or on better days three packs. I'm pretty confident that it will get better. :)

As for healing, i'm okey with it. I was in groups and done healing and we did Orange and Red quests :) I never been in groups so easily invited :D And i'm doing good dps too next to heals. So i'm pretty proud to begin a shadow priest and be in the mids of you guys :)

Esdras said...

My paladin will be healer as my duel spec when it comes out will be shadoew pve and a shdow pvp.

I HATE the duel spec thing really hate it.

Merlot said...

"Current priest changes arent enough to bring Dral back, but time will bring the handsome troll back, im sure of that."

The longer you leave it, the worse it will be when you eventually log back on and face Jo. Don't say I didn't warn you! Hope you're enjoying your freedom mate, see you soon.

Anonymous said...

Nice blog Merlot, greetings.

I agree also with xxxiii.

Here is my two cents:

I’m happy with shadow priest now, usually over 3k DPS on single target (I’m end at Thadius with 6.2k) and AoE damage is practically insane I saw over 9K DPS (thanks Blizzard for Fade). Of course all of this in 25 man raid buffed, with 2.4 K SP, 23% critical chance, 305 haste.

Blizzard gave us the possibility to do a very competitive damage, so is our skill against other’s skill.
Our spell rotation is fair, no one spam button but look at Affliction lock.
Our mana regeneration is good, no mana issue in raid. I don’t even use the mana potions.
We cap easily the hit, only 11% (290 hit rating) thanks to Misery 
No burst damage when needed, try the haste potion, it helps. (and don’t forget the shaman, it is for raid purpose, right?)

Have fun!

Sorina undead female – Shattered Halls EU