For starters, this post is all about shadow priests, so I apologize to anyone who is not familiar with the class. Additionally, even if you are familiar with the class, I’ll probably be using some lingo, so here’s a quick rundown…
- DP = Devouring Plague
- MB = Mind Blast
- MF = Mind Flay
- MS = Mind Spike
- SW:P = Shadow Word: Pain
- SW:D = Shadow Word: Death
- VE = Vampiric Embrance
- VT = Vampiric Touch
Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s get down to what this is all about: the biggest problem with shadow (as I see it). What is this problem, you ask? To put it simply, throughout all the expansions nothing has really changed with the class.
Oh sure, shadow has “changed” a lot since it originally became viable as a PVE spec (back in the Burning Crusade expansion), but these changes have more been a re-shuffling of the class than actual changes to the class.
Let me break it down…
During BC, shadow priests were finding themselves more wanted in raids than any other time since then. The reason for this was the “mana battery” aspect of the class. Casting VT on a target meant that 5% of the damage dealt was returned as mana, for you and the rest of your party. This was huge for healers, and mana users in general. But this is just the primary aspect of shadow in BC.
In terms of actual rotation, shadow priests typically DOT’d a mob, cast MB and SW:D on cooldown, and used MF as a filler. If you were an undead shadow priest, you had one extra DOT to cast with DP, but overall, the idea behind the class was “keep two DOTs up, use two other cooldown spells, and MF as filler. Then, Wrath hit…
Wrath of the Lich King
In Wrath, what changed for shadow priests? VT no longer returned mana based on damage dealt. Instead, casting MB on a target afflicted with VT gave the party a Replenishment buff, which returned mana over time (note that Replenishment was not just something shadow priests could bring, as it was given to other classes as well). In terms of other changes, racials went away and many spells became baseline. The key change here was that DP became available to all shadow priests, but was limited to one target at a time.
So overall, this meant that our rotation was pretty much the same with the addition of one DOT, which could not be used for multi-DOTing. We also lost our uniqueness when it came to the beloved “mana battery” aspect, but kept the spirit of “DOT, cooldown, filler”. Cataclysm didn’t do much to change things, either.
In Cataclysm, a few changes were made but things were still mostly kept the same. Priests were given a pretty hefty healing cooldown with Divine Hymn, the priest equivalent of druids’ tranquility, which added back some utility to shadow (but also took us out of Shadowform if cast). The other major change was the way MF functioned with SW:P. If SW:P was cast on a target, using MF on that target had a chance to refresh the duration of SW:P. Basically, it meant if you were single-targetting, you had to cast SW:P once, and were set for most of the fight. A small change was made with the addition of Mind Spike. Unfortunately, MS was primarily used as an opener, as it would remove any DOTs on the target.
In addition to this, Mastery was added in the form of Shadow Orbs. The use of certain abilities would consume shadow orb charges to increase the damage done by your DOTs. In terms of min/maxing this meant that experienced shadow priests would have to make sure to cast their DOTs at the right time to make the most out of their mastery. Timing changed, but rotation still stayed essentially the same.
Overall, our rotation in Cataclysm was reduced back to “two DOTs, MB and SW:D on cooldown, MF filler”.
Mists of Pandaria
Now, we’ve arrived at Mists, where (arguably) a lot of things “changed” for shadow. We lost our passive healing from VE and it became a cooldown that returned health based on damage done. It lasts a much shorter duration, but heals for quite a bit more; however, as I said, the passive healing is gone. This made for an interesting change, but unfortunately was countered by the removal of Divine Hymn. On the surface, it was a change. Upon closer look though, it was Divine Hymn with a new look.
Shadow Orbs changed in Mists as well. They were now a resource gained from MB and SW:D, the latter of which could now only be used on mobs below 20% health. Shadow Orbs can be “spent” to cast DP now, which has a much shorter duration.
Replenishment was also removed from our repertoire in Mists, which meant our only way to return mana was through Hymn of Hope (a support ability we’ve had since Wrath).
To be fair, these changes seem pretty big at a glance. The problem, the same problem that has continued through the expansions, is the lack of real change to the class.
Mists still has up keep only two DOTs up at once. MB is still our cooldown ability, with MF as a filler. At 20% and higher, DP is now a substitute cooldown ability in place of SW:D. Below 20%, the only difference is the return of SW:D on a 6-or-8-second cooldown. Halo is the only real change to our rotation, and it is on an incredibly long cooldown and quite frankly isn’t really something that feels like it’s “in” the rotation.
Even MS, which was once a good opener, has to be talented and/or glyphed to find itself even slightly useful.
Shadow is still the same spec it has always been. It is not “bad” by any means, but it just isn’t changing. And while extremely rapid change isn’t a good thing, no change at all (or “changes” that or essentially just re-shufflings) becomes boring.
So What Can Be Done?
This isn’t something I have an easy answer to, but I at least have an idea that could be a start: change MS to something completely different. One of the problems I didn’t touch on too much in this post was the lack of mobility shadow priests are experiencing. My proposal is that MS stop removing DOTs, and be made an ability that can be cast while moving. It might not solve the “just standing” rotation problem we have at the moment, but it would change things up for fights where we are on the move, and would also be a good way to make MS useful again.
The other potential change could involve Shadow Orbs. Currently they’re used for DP and Psychic Horror, the latter of which isn’t really used in PVE very much (and certainly never part of a rotation). Finding a way to incorporate them into other spells, or more ideally a brand new spell, would make them seem more meaningful. Heck, you could even combine this idea with the first and have MS do increased damage AND be use-able while moving if cast with 3 Shadow Orbs. Something to make them more than a gimmicky reason to cast DP.
It is not a solution, but it is a start. This post is mostly out here to bring about discussion and awareness to what I am finding to be the biggest issue facing shadow today. Please feel free to comment with thoughts, ideas, etc. Agree, disagree, I do not care; this is a place for discussion, so let’s discuss!