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Spiritual Guidance: The shadow priest's guide to World of Warcraft patch 4.0.1

Welcome to Wednesday's shadow priest edition of Spiritual Guidance, hosted by Fox Van Allen. We bloggers are all about search engine optimization. As such, there are going to be some changes around here: Shadowfiends will be referred to as "Lady Gaga meat dresses," and Dawn Moore will be henceforth referred to as "NY Jets reporter Inez Sainz." Fox Van Allen will, of course, remain Fox Van Allen -- he's as optimized as he's ever going to get.

I spent hours riding a seahorse in Vashj'ir last night. I love a good video game cliché, and there's no video game cliché quite like the underwater level. The environment is beautiful and immersive, but those beautiful aqua blues and sea greens couldn't distract me from a fundamental truth about the new expansion that I was constantly experiencing: Shadow priesting is a lot more fun in Cataclysm. Period. There are more options. More abilities. And yes, even more DPS.

For those of you who want to get the ball rolling on these new abilities in Cataclysm, there's good news: Patch 4.0.1 is currently available for testing on the public test realm. It's not the full release of the game, but the new patch will cover almost all the changes that are going to be made to our spec for the new expansion. And better yet, the patch's appearance on the PTR signals that all these changes to the shadow priesting way of life are just around the corner. (And not, like, how we keep saying Cataclysm is around the corner, despite its being months away. I mean legit around the corner. For reals, no take-backs.)

The way you play the game, whether it's soloing mobs or raiding Icecrown, is about to change significantly. Are you ready? Follow me after the break, where I'll explain what patch 4.0.1 is, what it is not and what to do once it hits.

What patch 4.0.1 is

Patch 4.0.1 is the pre-Cataclysm patch. It contains a metric ton of changes for all classes and specs, shadow priests included. We'll get into the specifics later, but for now, here are the major implications for shadow priests of all stripes:
  • There's a complete overhaul to existing item stats and their values. Reforging will be implemented, helping to making the transition much smoother.
  • There's a total overhaul to our talent trees. The current 51-point trees are gone; the new 31-point trees will be implemented, complete with new abilities. As part of this, you're required to choose a specialization at level 10. We already know all the cool kids will be going shadow.
  • Spell ranks are gone. You only have to learn a spell once, though it may be at a different level as before. Your spells will now automatically "level up" in damage along with you.
  • Mastery (Shadow Orbs) has been implemented.
  • Priests are subject to a 5 percent bonus to our intellect via Mysticism if we equip only cloth gear. Since we can't wear anything but cloth gear, we're pretty much gifted this one. You need to visit and pay a trainer to take advantage of it, though -- it won't be given to your character automatically.
  • A new three-tier glyph system will be implemented. Some of this remains a question mark for shadow priests -- as of the time of posting, some glyphs are implemented in game, while others are not. This will all be fixed by the time 4.0.1 goes live on the main servers, of course, and you will need to re-evaluate your glyph choices and obtain new ones.
What patch 4.0.1 is not

Think of patch 4.0.1 as a modification to you, with the later, full Cataclysm release as a modification to the world around you. While this new patch includes a lot of changes we're currently seeing in the Cataclysm beta, it's important to note what will not happen with the new patch:
  • The world will not be torn asunder -- you won't see any changes to existing zones or new quests.
  • As a logical extension, you will not be able to access new zones like Vashj'ir and Mount Hyjal.
  • You will not be able to surpass level 80. As such, you won't be able to access some new talents and spells, like Mind Spike.
  • You will not be able to play as a goblin or worgen.
  • You will not be able to fly in the "old world." You will, however, be able to train 310 percent mount speed (according to Blizzard).
Getting to the good stuff sooner

One of the nicest changes coming in patch 4.0.1 is that shadow priests get access to some key spells in the shadow tree sooner. There are still some bugs to be worked out in the shadow tree, for sure, so some of this could possibly change in upcoming weeks. For now, though, here's a rundown of our most useful abilities and when you get them:
  • Shadow Word: Pain is still available at level 4, just as before. The biggest change here is that SW:P is now affected by haste, which will provide a nice boost to how much damage the spell causes.
  • Mind Blast can still be trained at level 10 by any priest, regardless of spec. There's no real change to the spell aside from the new talents that modify its damage.
  • Mind Flay is available at level 10, provided you commit to being a shadow priest. You no longer need to spend talent points for the pushback protection of Improved Shadowform -- you get 70 percent worth of "free" spell pushback protection just for specializing as shadow.
  • Devouring Plague is an unusual case in that you need to wait longer to get it now (level 28, as opposed to level 20). The mechanics of the spell remain unchanged; you can only disease one gnome at a time. Sorrow!
  • Shadowform is now available at level 29. It still provides the same 15 percent shadow damage boost (and 15 percent reduction in damage taken). It also provides a raid-wide buff of 5 percent to spell haste now. Rejoice!
  • Shadow Word: Death is getting a major overhaul in patch 4.0.1. It's available much earlier (first trainable at level 32, down from 62), and it's capable of causing much more damage if timed correctly -- those of you in ICC gear will start seeing 20,000-damage crits. That means SW:D is significantly more dangerous than it was before, but but don't worry, there are talents to reduce the damage you take from it. You can even spend talent points to make your miscasts of SW:D give you mana and glyph to make it spammable. (Just promise me you won't go killing yourself with it, OK?)
  • Vampiric Embrace is available at level 39. In the new world of patch 4.0.1, you can't improve it beyond the standard 15 percent self healing plus 3 percent healing to your party -- Improved Vampiric Embrace is gone. That stings a bit, but raid leaders will probably decide the 5 percent buff to haste outweighs the extra 2 percent in healing.
  • Vampiric Touch can be taken as soon as level 49. Its functionality is unchanged -- we seem to have dodged a nerf to Replenishment.
  • Shadowy Apparition, the fun new talent that creates ghostly aspects of our shadowy hatepower, can be taken at level 59. Fully talented (at level 63), you have a 12 percent chance to create a clone of yourself to attack your enemies on each Shadow Word: Pain tick. That rises to 60 percent if you're moving when the tick happens. The damage they cause is fairly low, but it's damage that you wouldn't otherwise be doing.
  • Shadowfiends are still available at level 66. The main change to our adorable little Lady Gaga meat dresses is in cooldown management. I talked about the changes to shadowfiends a lot two weeks ago, but the short version is that you can use them a lot more often now. In patch 3.3.5, we use shadowfiends once every 3 minutes (with talents); in patch 4.0.1, you'll be able to use them, on average, once every 1.5 to 2 minutes.
  • Dispersion is now available once you hit level 69 as our 31-point talent (like it or not). You're not required to take it, of course, but you'll probably feel safer doing so -- you'll notice that the shadow tree has been stripped of mana-cost-reducing talents.
  • Shadow Orbs, the shadow priest version of mastery, is available at level 75. When you log in for the first time, you'll need to head to your trainer and learn it. That part's not automatic. Once you do learn it, you'll be able to start accumulating these orbs as "shadow priest currency" on each tick of Shadow Word: Pain and Mind Flay. They're redeemable for, at minimum, a 20 percent buff to Mind Blast damage.
Remember, you're locked into the shadow tree until you spend 31 talent points in it, so you can't go dipping into the discipline or holy trees until level 71 at the earliest. And even then, you're limited to just five talent points until the level cap is lifted to 85 -- you won't have enough points to take the new discipline damage buffs Dark Evangelism or Dark Archangel.

Stats changes: A (brief) primer

When you log in for the first time in patch 4.0.1, you'll notice you have vastly different stats; most notably, you'll have way more mana and health. That's because Blizzard is completely overhauling the stats system for Cataclysm, and those changes begin early with patch 4.0.1. People digest information easier when it's presented using bulleted lists -- or, at least, that's what I read on this bulleted list once -- so here's a fun, bulleted list to bring you up to speed:
  • Your existing equipment will have its stats totally reallocated. For example, this first link of Valanar's Other Signet Ring reflects the 3.3.5 stats allocation: 69 stamina, 69 intellect and 97 spellpower. This second link of Valanar's Other Signet Ring relfects the new 4.0.1 stats: 129 stamina, 83 intellect, with no spellpower. You'll find similar changes on most other equipment, too: more stamina, more intellect, no spellpower. The lack of spellpower is OK, though, because ...
  • Intellect now converts directly to spellpower at a 1:1 ratio.
  • If you're going to take the talent Twisted Faith (and with the raw damage bonus, why wouldn't you?), each point of spirit contributed by your gear will be converted to hit at a 1:1 ratio. Taking a look at the gear on my ICC-experienced shadow priest, I count over 350 points of spirit alone. When you add that to the 261 points of hit already on my character ... Well, you can see how likely it is that any raiding shadow priest will be thrown way over the hit cap. That means it's time to start re-evaluating what gear you roll on; pieces with the trifecta of spellpower, crit and haste are definitely worth a premium.
  • If the first thing you do in Cataclysm is visit your trainer, the second thing you should do is head to an enchanter for reforging. This process allows you to take your gear with hit and spirit on it, and have 40 percent of the no-longer-needed stat converted to a new stat. Don't like the 136 points of spirit (i.e., 136 points of hit) on your Mag'hari Chieftain's Staff? A quick visit to the reforger can change this to 82 spirit plus 54 crit (or even 54 mastery, if you want to experiment). Since reforging can be undone with the click of a button, you can reforge every item you have to drop your hit down as close to the cap as possible.
A sample talent tree build for level 80

For the benefit of people trying to figure out how to spend their talent points once 4.0.1 launches, I've created a sample talent tree. Looking it over, you'll notice that there's not an awful lot of "choice" involved here -- I've taken every DPS talent available. I've also taken the utility talents that make Shadow Word: Death less dangerous. I made the choice to skip the new ability Paralysis for now; it's great for leveling, but I presume that it won't work at all in Icecrown. The only real choice left involved those two points I put in Mental Agility in the discipline tree.

There are probably going to be a few more revisions coming to the shadow tree before 4.0.1 hits the live servers, which is good. The simple fact that there is no choice at level 80, when choice was promised, indicates that our tree is not probably not finished evolving.

And speaking of evolution, patch 4.0.1 will continue to evolve over the next few weeks as it's tested. Inez Sainz and I will be keeping close tabs on the changes here at Spiritual Guidance, and I'll be updating this guide accordingly right up to the moment of release should any of this info change. So be sure to come back and visit this page often. And I'm not saying that just because I'd sell my mother's soul for a few extra page views. Nope. Not at all.

Are you more interested in watching health bars go down than watching them bounce back up? Think it's neat to dissolve into a ball of pure shadow every few minutes? Hunger for the tangy flesh of gnomes? The darker, shadowy side of Spiritual Guidance has you covered (occasionally through the use of puppets).

Filed under: Priest, (Priest) Spiritual Guidance, Cataclysm

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