27 May 2009

Something to write about

In the absence of any coherrant topic, here's a random dowload of my most persistent thoughts.

  • My general comments on the state of shadow have gone down pretty well to date. Not everyone agrees with me of course — I didn't expect them too — but by and large the forum thread was received pretty positively. Not surprisingly my appeal for a blue response has gone unanswered so far, but I'll be popping back tonight for a bump.
  • I missed my 200-post anniversary (it was the glyph guide, in case you were wondering). Not bad for a lazy underachiever :)
  • The built-in outfitter is buggy as all hell. It forgets all but the last set of gear I create after about 10 minutes. I appreciate the effort that goes into adding functionality to WoW but why bother if you can't get it right?
  • I still can't do Malygos phase 3.
  • Poor warlocks. I thought dispersion was bad but why would you ever bother speccing for chaos bolt now?

Sorry for the random. More substantial content soon. Ish.

22 May 2009

A prayer for the flaying

I'm a sensitive soul and generally avoid the forums for fear of getting a right roasting. But in the name of progress, and on behalf of you, my loyal readers, I have thrown caution to the wind and launched an appeal for dialogue on the state of shadow.

I personally feel like our spec has been filed as a done job. I don't know if that's because we don't make as much noise as the other classes or because Blizzard genuinely feels like we're finished. Either way, I want to do my bit, small as that is, to try and raise our profile - and hopefully prompt one of those lovely blue posts I keep reading on mmo-champion :)

All the real developer-player dialogue seems to happen on the US forums, but I have to work with the tools I've got. So here is my post — and reproduced below in case the forums are blocked as you read this.

If you have access to the European forums, please can you pop along and bump the post? You don't even have to agree with me, just give the thread a little boost.

And if you are one of our US cousins and feel willing to either plug the post or reproduce it on your forums, please be my guest.

Wish me luck. I hope people are kind :)

A dialogue on the state of shadow?

Shadow's development as a raid dps spec seems to have plateaued. My impression is that developers are happy with where it's at. It's been a long time since I have seen any real dialogue between Blizzard and the player base over this and I think we'd all appreciate the opportunity to discuss general views about how the spec is performing and where it's headed.

I don't want this post to be a massive qq about the "issues" as I see them. Instead, these are a few possible topics of conversation with developers should the opportunity arise.

  • Most players are aware of the strange way that pain and suffering works to refresh shadow word: pain - ignoring shadow weaving and many other buffs and debuffs. I'm not sure if this has ever officially been recognised as a bug or confirmed 'working as intended'. It instinctively feels like a bug, yet several patches have gone by without addressing it. Is there any chance this might change in the near future?

  • I and many other shadow priests feel the lack of any effective way to ramp up our dps in situations that demand it. We feel (to me at least) like the oil tankers of WoW, unable to respond quickly to changing circumstances. I think we suffer from the lack of any cooldowns (beyond trinkets) or 'execute' mechanics (feel free to count the glyph of shadow word: death if you like, but is it enough?).

  • The argument about mind flay's range is as old as the spell itself, and I won't rehash it here. Suffice to say it comes down to the power of its snare in pvp. We have a perfectly workable 'fix' should we choose it in the way of the glyph. My personally feeling is we are cheated out proper choice for a glyph slot with a ghetto fix to a more fundamental issue. What if mind flay's base range was increased - either inherently, or by an additional talent - at the expense of some or all of the snare? How would that affect people's perception of the spell, and would our remaining selection of glyphs feel well balanced for a dps spec?

  • In Wrath, we lost a lot of the uniqueness of the spec in exchange for increased dps and scalaing. I think it was the right thing to do, but it has left shadow priests feeling somewhat 'generic' and lacking from a roleplaying/lore/flavour perspective (however you want to describe it). My perception, rightly or wrongly, is that all the effort to make the priest class feel 'priesty' goes into healing. Shadowform is wonderful, and I recognise a huge part of the class, but something like a 'dark prayer' or 'shadow hymn' would go a long way to adding more depth to the experience of playing a shadow priest.

These are the things I am most interested in as a raiding shadow priest. More experienced priests, or pvp priests, may have other top concerns. Whatever your perspective, I just think we would all benefit from the chance to discuss them.

Yours in hopeful anticipation!

20 May 2009

Glyphs for levelling

**Some of these glyphs are changing in patch 3.3. I'll update the guide shortly. Glyph of mindflay is now awesome, not much else to note.**

While you're busy grinding your new shadow priest to 80, I'll save you the trouble of researching glyphs and give you your options here. It won't take me long, there aren't many. Seriously, I don't know who designed the array of priest glyphs but they a) actively hate the class, b) have no clue about the class or c) are a moron. Take your pick.

We're going to do this by level, as our glyph slots open up. It's not a terribly logical arrangement but see paragraph above. Sometimes it makes sense to switch glyphs around in-between, and I'll mention those too at the appropriate level. If you're really interested, I have listed the whole gamut of priest glyphs at the bottom, along with the level they become available, so feel free to ignore me and plan your own spread.

Level 15 — one major, one minor
Congratulations, your first glyph slots! At level 15, you have access to seven major and two minor glyphs.

The selection of uninspiring major glyphs include a couple you should never consider under any circumstances (inner fire, fade), and two that you can't even use yet (shadow word: pain, smite). At this level, you will probably be shielding a lot, and the glyph of power word: shield is one of the few decent options available.

You only have access to two minor glyphs at this stage and one of them is worthless. Take the glyph of fortitude.

Level 20
When you learn inner fire, you might want to pick up the glyph of smite. The effect was changed recently from reducing pushback to increasing damage while the inner fire dot is on the target (thanks to Aaron in the comments for pointing this out). Personally, I took smite off my cast bar at 20, too irritated with the long cast time and mana drain, but even if you cast smite only once per target this glyph will do more for you than power word: shield.

Level 30 — one major
Now is the time to pick up the glyph of shadow word: pain. If you really want to, you can pick it up sooner to replace your first glyph, but as I mentioned in the levelling guide, mind flay is not instantly a great spell. It takes some time and some additional talents to really show it in its best light. It's not really worth a glyph until level 28 when you pick up rank 2 of the spell. Your best options for the second slot remain power word: shield and smite — which you choose really depends on how often you use smite.

Several additional glyphs have opened up to you by this level, but I wouldn't advise any of them for levelling at this stage. They include a number of healing glyphs, and some dubious 'utility' glyphs. Only two are true dps glyphs. The glyph of shadow, which opens up at level 20, isn't usable until at least level 40 (see what I mean about the design?) and the glyph of mind flay trades the spells snare for reach, which is a poor deal for levelling.

Level 34
In a rare moment of clarity, the designers made one glyph available at the same time as you learn the affected spell — levitate. I love the spell and I love the glyph and happily recommend you swap out the glyph of fortitude for it. It's clearly not mandatory though — light feathers aren't that expensive or hard to come by, so you may choose to keep the reagent cost instead.

Level 40
If you have spent your talent points wisely, you should now have access to shadowform. Go ahead and equip the glyph of shadow, replacing either the glyph of power word: shield or smite, whichever you've been using alongside shadow word: pain. At your level of gear, it won't provide a huge boost, but it will do more for you than any other glyph in the game after shadow word: pain. Sadly, you now have the two best glyphs for raiding; there's nowhere to go from here but downhill.

Level 50 — one minor
In the absence of any brilliant new glyphs, your best bet is to go back to fortitude. Glyph of shadow protection isn't a bad option for raiding, but I don't remember casting it often while levelling, and certainly not to the extent that the duration bothered me. Think about switching these glyphs around when you start raiding.

Level 70 — one minor
This is as good a time as any to equip the glyph of shadowfiend. It's the closest thing we've got to a mandatory minor glyph and you'll want it at 80 anyway.

Level 80 — one major
Ok, so you're not strictly levelling anymore but I'll cover off the last slot just to be thorough.

If you're going straight into raiding, I urge you to seriously think about the glyph of mind flay. Yes, it is an outrageous abuse of the glyph system to solve a fundamental flaw in a spell in this way, I hate that we are effectively cheated out of a slot, but I cannot stress how beneficial the added range is. There are many raid fights where positioning for an un-glyphed mind flay is very difficult and mind flay is too important to your raid dps to risk ever being out of range. Having said that, if you are confident you can manage the range issue without a glyph, you have a couple of other options. Glyph of shadow word: death provides a kind of ghetto execute, but don't expect this spell to contribute significantly to your raid dps. Glyph of mind sear is a fantastic choice for trash, but less useful on many bosses.

If you're going to continue questing and focus on solo content for a while yet, skip mind flay for now and consider either shadow word: death or dispersion for the shorter cooldown.

Full list of major glyphs
Numbers indicate the required level.

Glyph of Fade (15)
Glyph of Inner Fire (15)
Glyph of Power Word: Shield (15)
Glyph of Psychic Scream (15)
Glyph of Renew (15)
Glyph of Shadow Word: Pain (15)
Glyph of Smite (15)
Glyph of Dispel Magic (18)
Glyph of Fear Ward (20)
Glyph of Flash Heal (20)
Glyph of Holy Nova (20)
Glyph of Mind Flay (20)
Glyph of Scourge Imprisonment (20)
Glyph of Shadow (20)
Glyph of Mind Control (30)
Glyph of Prayer of Healing (30)
Glyph of Spirit of Redemption (30)
Glyph of Lightwell (40)
Glyph of Circle of Healing (50)
Glyph of Pain Suppression (50)
Glyph of Dispersion (60)
Glyph of Guardian Spirit (60)
Glyph of Hymn of Hope (60)
Glyph of Penance (60)
Glyph of Shadow Word: Death (62)
Glyph of Mass Dispel (70)
Glyph of Mind Sear (75)

Full list of minor glyphs
Glyph of Fading (15)
Glyph of Fortitude (15)
Glyph of Levitate (34)
Glyph of Shackle Undead (20)
Glyph of Shadow Protection (30)
Glyph of Shadowfiend (70)

17 May 2009

A new priest levelling spec: 10-40

You know when you've been drinking and it's late and you're really, really tired and just want to get home and you wish you could teleport to your bed instead of struggling with the Tube or night bus or taxi or interminable walk?

Your first 39 levels of life as a shadow priest are exactly like that. It's painful and boring and you just want it to end NOW but stick with it, because the comforting, snug warmth of your shadowform bed is mere moments away.

Like your drunken stumble home, there's no one right way to go. But levelling, as I have discovered, is painful enough as it is without hamstringing yourself with a stupid build. So we're going to have a stab at picking an optimum route all the same. Think of me as that chilli kebab you snatched from the takeaway to sustain you on the journey, and try not to think about the indigestion it will give you.

This isn't a fun process. Most of these talents are tuned for raiding and balanced around shadowform's damage modifier (hold onto that, it does get easier). The absence of many shining talents at least means there's plenty of wiggle room in the build. I'd encourage you to deviate in both the order and placement of points wherever you think it would work better for your play style.

Let me know how it works out for you :)

Levels 10-12 — spirit tap
Since the nerf to base mana regeneration, this talent has lost a lot of its lustre (two thirds, to be precise) but it's still one of the strongest early talents for levelling. If managed correctly it will help reduce downtime and keep you killing for longer. ('Managed' means ensuring you're out of the five-second rule when your target dies. It's a very, very boring way to level and we're going to break this rule as soon as we can. Around level 30 or so...)

Please under no circumstances put points in improved spirit tap — at least until you get shadowform and even then not unless you are running dps in instances a lot (I still wouldn't advise it). The buff from improved spirit tap, which is very weak to start with, can only be triggered by a mind blast crit (at least for now) — which is in itself a very rare occurrence at your level (5 or 6 per cent crit, am I right?) — and is overwritten by spirit tap anyway. This is a Talent You Should Not Take (TYSNT).

Levels 13-14 — shadow power
This is a beautiful talent that is almost utterly worthless to new priests, but you're going to spend points here because the alternative is worse.

Level 15-17 — shadow focus
Half your spells at this level are still holy, and this only affects shadow spells. Nonetheless, improving your chance to hit with spells is important for efficiency and there's nothing worse than wasting mind blast's cooldown for no reason.

Levels 18-20 — shadow power
We're going to go back and fill out this talent in the absence of anything better. Are you spotting a pattern here?

Levels 21-24
This is where it gets really miserable. You need to spend four points to get to tier four and have a plethora of mediocre talents to choose between. You can discount shadow affinity (a TYSNT) and take your pick between the rest of the shite:
  • Improved shadow word: pain (2) — an abysmal talent even when raiding, two points here will boost your pain ticks by about two damage. Remember, your wand hits harder...
  • Improved psychic scream (2) — it helps speed up fear-flay grinding (I'll explain in a minute) and it's a pre-requisite for silence, but neither of those things are strong arguments for blowing points here
  • Improved mind blast (5) — reducing the cooldown on a spell that you probably only use once per mob is a silly thing to do, surely?
  • Mind flay (1) — the iconic shadow priest spell, but a stiff breeze causes more damage than rank one, the base range is gimped, and until you get pushback protection from improved shadow form, there's no use spamming this point-blank

I personally went 2/2 in improved shadow word: pain and 1/1 in mind flay on the basis that I'd have to get them some time. Then 1/2 in improved psychic scream for fear-flay, but not feeling particularly happy about it.

Levels 25-26 — shadow reach
You are probably still pulling with holy fire at this level, which is not affected by this talent. But it does mean you can make more use of mind flay's snare as the mob runs towards you. Marginally useful.

Leve 27 — improved psychic scream
We're going to finish this off to ensure fear is off cooldown pretty much every mob we take on. This is essential for effective fear-flay grinding, which I'll stop hinting at cryptically and now explain.

So — line up your mob, cast your opening nukes, and dot the mob as it runs at you. If you move back while dotting, you should have time to get in one mind flay before it reaches melee range. Now you cast fear and mind flay it while it flits around. (Fear-flay, see? Well I didn't promise anything complicated.)

You rely on the range (with shadow reach) and snare of mind flay to keep the mob under contol. You can almost always find room to do this outdoors, and mind flay usually keeps the feared mob in range. You've got to be prepared for an add or two occasionally, but the original mob is usually dead by the time the add arrives, so no big deal. In fact, the biggest problem with this method is fear breaking early, but it's pretty reliable until later levels (Outland, as I recall, although fears now apparently break after less damage — I'll do some intrepid testing for you another time!)

You learn rank 2 of mind flay at level 28, and from that point the spell gets much easier to use — especially if combined with the glyph of shadow word: pain (more on glyphs in a later post.) This method is more mana-efficient than shielding, but then you are more likely to be casting when the mob dies, wasting a good chunk of spirit tap. I'd say the disadvantages pretty much balance out. This method wins for me because it's more interactive, and killing with mind flay is a helluva lot more fun than wanding. Try it out and see what you think. If you really don't think it's for you, those points in improved psychic scream would be better spent elsewhere. Improved mind blast, perhaps.

Levels 28-29 — shadow weaving
Oh god, is this the best we can do? Clearly I think the answer is yes, otherwise I wouldn't be recommending this talent next. But it's really not a good talent at this stage of your levelling — again, it's something that will be much more useful later on.

Veiled shadows, in case you haven't already realised, is a TYSNT.

Level 30 — vampiric embrace
Levels 31-32 — improved vampiric embrace
Continuing our theme of picking up talents that will be much more useful later on, these really will be points well spent eventually. In shadowform, you can pretty much take a beating one-on-one without loosing health. If you want, you can defer picking them up for a few levels, but the alternatives aren't that much better.

Level 33 — silence
I admit, silence is a situational spell, but it comes in handy while levelling to reduce incoming damage and pull ranged mobs into fear range. If you didn't take improved psychic scream, take your pick where to throw this point.

Level 34 — shadow weaving
We need to spend one more point to move up a tier and finishing this talent off feels as good a place as any to start. If you move between mobs quickly enough, you can ensure this buff is maintained at a full 10 per cent for as long as your mana holds out.

Levels 35-37 — improved devouring plague
This talent boosts devouring plague's tick value way above shadow word: pain — these are points well spent, even at this level. The mana cost and cooldown mean you probably won't be using it on every mob, but it's great for tougher mobs and to set-and-forget on adds.

Levels 38-39 — mind melt
The increased crit chance to mind blast and mind flay are pretty useful but we're really interested in this talent for the boost to dot crits — yet another thing we won't have till shadow form. But look, we're so very, very close now.

Level 40 — shadowform
Thank fuck for that. Your talents should now look something like this. It's been a complete pain in the arse, hasn't it? Was it this hard the first time round?

Don't worry, it's all over now. From here on in it's a complete joy :)

I'm going to take a break from talents to talk a bit about early gear choices, spells and glyphs next. We'll come back to talents and finish up levelling after that.

14 May 2009

Washed-up priest walks out on Argent contest

The Argent Tournament grounds were plunged into turmoil yesterday when a blood elf threw down his lance and refused to joust.

The pouting priest accused the faction champions of being "stoopid" and "bugged to all hell" before skulking out of the arena in search of kittens to kick.

A tournament squire gleefully recounted the priest's final fateful joust:

"He looked just like all the other champions when he mounted the turkey. He strutted over to the draenei and slapped one across the face. Bit girly I thought, but I've seen worse. But man, I don't know what he thought he was doing after that. I saw him toss a couple of shield breakers, but the draenei dude always got the first charge in. Half the time, the priest was facing the wrong way."

"I think he's a key turner," another observer whispered.

The priest, known to locals as Merlot, was eventually tracked down to Dalaran's Filthy Animal, where he was seen singing bawdy verses and flirting with the orc bouncers.

"They're all cheats," he blurted in-between hiccups. "They don't lag, they don't need to shield break and they're always facing the right way. S'not natural."

The mention of cheating drew jeers from some of the inn's more burly patrons. A half-masticated drumstick hit the priest square on the jaw spinning him round.

"S'not right," he slurred. "I's a mace felter not a lapadin. Where's the magic turna... tour... ment thingy huh?"

He passed out, leaving the unanswered question hanging in the air.

Horde bookmakers have since raises their odds on the priest ever completing the tournament quest line.

12 May 2009

Shadow priest origins: general impressions

I've gone back to my roots and started levelling a second priest to help build a new guide for first-timers.

I wrote my first levelling guide back in February 2008. It began with five points in wand specialisation and recommended a healthy stack of spirit on early gear. That was the golden age of priest levelling, when wands hit like trucks and it was virtually impossible to run out of mana.

But talents that once shone in early levels have now either lost their lustre or vanished altogether as an unfortunate consequence of Blizzard's end-game balancing act — which is a shame, considering how much trouble they have gone to in other areas to improve the levelling experience (for 'improve', read 'speed up').

Rolling a priest now is a bit like rolling a mage — but without the nukes or free water.

The early years
When Lanchester crawled out of her tomb she had a mace and knew only how to smite, which is a kind of ranged tickle. Smite had a long cast time and did marginally more damage than the mace, at the cost of half her mana bar. At level 4 she leared shadow word: pain, and at level 6 she got power word: shield, neither of which helped us kill things much, but both spells proved marvellous mana dumps.

Thus it was that while limping round Death Knell the true cost of the mana regeneration nerf first began to dawn on me. We all looked at it as level 80 raiders, never giving the poor schmucks stuck grinding the barrens a second thought.

Levelling priests in the past have been able to rely on their natural mana regeneration to minimise down time and compensate for their steady dps. Even base mana regeneration was enough to replace a mana bar in a few seconds — the time it takes to set up your next target, say. But with Lanchester, I found myself drinking regularly in-between pulls, even at levels 3 and 4.

The nerf to out-of-combat regen has hit low-level priests hardest of all, so it's good to see that Blizzard are at least revisiting this issue.

Venturing out
At about level 5, we ran out of starter quests and set off into the wide world. The first thing we did was get a lesser magic wand. Our wand had a higher dps than our spells. We sometimes shielded, set the wand and nipped out for a cup of tea. We think somebody got the item levels of wands wrong somewhere along the line but hope nobody important notices.

Wands were the only fun thing about the next five levels. We still used spells, but more out of habit than effectiveness. Massive amounts of wanding was the only thing standing between us and a drinking problem.

We learned a new rank of smite at level 6, renew at 8 and - thank god - mind blast at 10. Like an old woman with corns, we crawled our way to talent points.

Towards maturity
We bought some extortionately priced auction house greens, stacking spirit and intellect. We dropped our first three talent points into spirit tap. We settled into a comfortable pattern of nuke > dot > shield > wand that left us well outside the five-second rule when spirit tap kicked in and we stretched back to watch the mana roll in (we'll come back to these things another time). Nothing happened.

Well ok, something happened. We got the green hand icon and I presume the tooltip was correct but the effect was utterly underwhelming. We persevered for another seven levels, stacking as much spirit and intellect as is inhumanly possible from uncommon cloth on a budget, but at level 20 we finally accepted that the glorious days of unending mana were over.

This is when we learned devouring plague and holy fire - this latter the spell equivalent of a St Bernard. Finally something that did higher dps than our wand. And it got slightly easier. Shame about the cooldown.

From here on out it's never as hard as the first twenty levels again, though you won't really be able to relax until shadowform at 40 and you are going to spend more time drinking than seems quite reasonable. You will get very, very bored of wanding and resent the fact that killing things any other way takes almost as long and most of your mana bar. There will be a time — several levels, in fact — where you will despair of your talent choices and wonder why spend them at all. You will think it can't possibly be this boring as a mage or a warlock and darkly contemplate re-rolling. But you won't, because at level 40 you learn shadowform, you get a new button, which makes a delicious hiss and turns you a creepy purple colour, you will look cool in anything, even eye-wateringly ugly Outland greens, it will get much easier to kill things and, you may hope, even a little bit fun.

I'll get to the practical stuff next, I promise :)

11 May 2009

Is threat dead?

While I flex my fingers and prepare to launch into an epic wail about how inexplicably painful priest levelling is now, I thought it was worth a quick detour back to the post about shadow's floating talent points.

After much gnashing of teeth, I dropped two points into improved shadow form and one in veiled shadows.

I was a little concerned about dropping shadow affinity altogether, but threat has not been a problem. Threat, in fact, is a non-issue. I used fade maybe twice a raid before the respec, and that's still true today. I am blessed with good tanks to be fair, who are generally better geared, but I doubt skill or gear alone could compensate for such a big chunk of threat. I can happily wail on a mis-marked off-tank target and still not pull agro.

I keep Omen switched on for the sake of the tanks, but I don't need it anymore. I don't even know if it's working.

I see melee taking hateful strikes on patch and guess that extra 30 per cent still counts for something, but for me, threat is no longer a consideration.

That point in veiled shadows is a complete waste, by the way. I'm certainly glad I didn't spec out of inner focus to max it out. To be fair, I'm not raiding Ulduar yet. Honestly, I'm not that motivated, and anyway I'm failing to put out the kind of dps my guild is looking for. But as far as pre-Ulduar raid content goes, I don't need a reduced cooldown on my shadowfiend. I've only ever had mana issues once, and that was from a really unlucky string of detonate mana targetting on Kel'Thuzad.

Now the question is, can I find a better home for that lone point?

Shadow priest origins

When I set out to revise my shadow levelling guides, I realised the landscape had changed. Not only did Wrath render much of my previous advice obsolete, recent patches appeared to have fundamentally altered the levelling experience for priests — not, I suspected, in a good way.

So I created Lanchester, a Forsaken female in the image of James Whale's magnificent Bride of Frankenstein. This was before I realised the Forsaken were evil scumbags. I even made her an alchemist. Oops.

Putting our genocidal impulses aside, we set off to explore the early levels of priesthood with fresh eyes (or eye sockets, at any rate), and impart the meagre fruits of our wisdom to you, dear reader.

We'll muse about gear, talents and abilities, we'll laugh together, cry together, and if there's time we'll devise an appropriately grisly death for the misogynist programmer who modelled our saggy grey tits and camel's foot. You're one sick pervert, you know that?

Watch this space.

1 May 2009

My silent tear for discipline

I paid 50g for the glyph of penance on patch day and it was worth every copper. Two seconds off the cooldown is awesome. Apprently too awesome, because it's getting buggered to five per cent crit instead.

There are other nerfs in the pipeline too, for holy too. I feel sad and it's not even my main spec. Spare a thought today for the discipline die-hards, will you?

Edit: panic over, the glyph nerf was all a bad dream.