Shadow has always been the "off-spec" for priests, from Classic, where it was questionable whether Shadow was viable for anything but leveling and PvP, to BC, where Shadow provides superb utility but limited DPS. Now I'm not saying Shadow will suddenly become the spec of choice for raiding priests, but the game is changing significantly in patch 3.0.2 and Wrath of the Lich King. Our coveted mana return is getting nerfed and spread around to Survival hunters and Retribution paladins, as well as us. But to compensate, our DPS is (supposedly) being brought up to par with the best of them.
A lot of this is coming in the form of a new and improved Mind Flay. Previously the "filler" spell that you cast during your rotation when you couldn't cast anything else, its spellpower coefficient is now being bumped up greatly, and perhaps more importantly, it can now crit! No longer must you shun crit rating to be a decent shadow priest.
Of course, there are also some dramatic talent tree changes - almost every talent is modified in some way. Let's start from the top and work our way down.
- Spirit Tap now does its magic for three talent points. The remaining two can be put into Improved Spirit Tap, which give you a chance to get mana back on Mind Blast and SW:D crits; the spirit boost will also help your damage with some later talents.
- Improved Shadow Word: Pain now increases the damage instead of the duration of the DoT; this is a gain in DPS, but a hit in mana efficiency. But that won't matter, because we won't be casting SW:P as much - you'll see why lower down.
- Shadow Focus dropped to three ranks. Now improves chance to hit with spells by 1/2/3% and reduces mana cost of Shadow spells by 2/4/6% (old version: improved chance to hit with spells by 2/4/6/8/10%). I still doubt we'll have much trouble reaching the hit cap, especially with the new Misery.
- Improved Fade renamed Veiled Shadows. Now decreases the cooldown of Shadowfiend by 1/2 minutes in addition to its previous effect. Worth taking now? I'm not sure, but I had some extra points, so I went ahead and did it in my sample build.
- Shadow Weaving dropped to 3 points for 100% chance, but only affects your own spells now, not nearby warlocks' or other shadow priests'. A nerf, but probably a necessary one to address excessive synergy.
- New talent: Mind Melt. Replaces Shadow Resilience. Learn to love the crit.
- Shadowform now decreases threat caused by 30% in addition to its previous effects. This is huge; combined with the buffs to tanking threat, we will have a vastly easier time not pulling aggro.
- Shadow Power redesigned; now makes our spell crits double damage (instead of the default 1.5x) with 5/5 points. All other DPS casters have a talent like this, and we need it with our new Mind Flay.
- New talent: Improved Shadowform. This should provide some much-needed PvP utility.
- Misery redesigned. Now provides +1/2/3% chance to hit with spells for all casters against the target, as well as increasing your shadow staples by 15% of your spellpower. Doesn't stack with Balance Druids' Improved Faerie Fire, but will still provide benefit to you even if you're in a raid with a boom-chicken.
- Vampiric Touch now causes Replenishment instead of its previous mana-return. Welcome to the new mana battery world.
- New talent: Pyschic Horror. Another PvP one; might also be useful for adventurous trash fights.
- New talent: Pain and Suffering. This is one of my favorite new talents in the entire game. Mind Flay automatically refreshes SW:P, so you just have to cast it once per mob. The reduced damage from SW:D is just icing on the cake.
- New talent: Twisted Faith. Spirit is now more useful for us. This should synergize well with Improved Spirit Tap for some mid-fight spirit boosts. But the main virtue of this talent will be the increased damage from MF and MB, our two biggest damage dealers. All in all, a very solid talent.
- And finally, our 51-point talent is Dispersion. I hate it. I absolutely think it's terrible - for PvE. Sure, it'll help a lot in PvP. But in PvE, for our 51-point talent, the pinnacle of our tree, to be a half-powered copy of an ability that every mage gets at level 20 is disheartening. Sure, we can move during it and we don't take much damage while it's active, but ultimately we have to stop casting for six seconds to get a third of our mana back every three minutes. I could probably find a talent I'd like better than this in any caster tree in the game. Don't get me wrong, I'll still take it (I wouldn't say no to a free mana potion every three minutes), but I'm taking practically everything else in the Shadow tree first.
That's it for our talents. How am I speccing, post-patch? It's hard to say for sure. I'd like to drop Meditation and Inner Focus and go flat-out Shadow, but I'm not sure if we'll be mana-efficient enough to do that, especially with much less coming back in the way of mana returns. If we do need Meditation, I honestly can't figure out what Shadow talents are the least bad to drop - any ideas on that?
Like many classes, we're in a bit of an awkward place right now. It seems like we're clearly expected to be able to grab Meditation and all our Shadow goodies at level 80, which is what the talent trees are designed for; I doubt Blizz is too concerned about what we'll do with ten fewer points. Has anyone been playing Shadow on the PTR? Any thoughts on whether Meditation is necessary? And is Dispersion semi-horrible for PvE, or am I really missing something?