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Spiritual Guidance: Raid-ready 4.0.1 shadow priesting in 10 easy steps

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Spiritual Guidance for discipline, holy and shadow priests. On Wednesdays, your shadow-specced host Fox Van Allen copies Dawn Moore's latest column word for word and pastes it into Auto-Tune. After all those sour, holy-flavored notes are removed, what comes out is better than anything Jason Derulo could ever hope to achieve: priesting, perfected.

If you're a regular reader of Spiritual Guidance -- and I hope you are, because it's your page views that give me my special, magical powers -- then you know how excited I've been for patch 4.0.1. I've been beating it over your head for weeks.

Well, I can't tease you with it anymore, because that fabled new frontier of shadow priesting is finally here. It plays an awful lot like a new season of your favorite sitcom: entirely recognizable as that which you love, but with a few new twists. In patch 4.0.1, you create massive numbers of copies of yourself simply by moving around, your shadowfiend is on a variable timer and Betty White is your new anthropology teacher. (Change is confusing sometimes. Roll with it.)

With the way everything just changed overnight, it's all too easy for a shadow priest to feel in over his head. Worry not, though -- the magnificent (though self-aggrandizing) Fox Van Allen has you covered with a comprehensive, ten-step checklist to get yourself raid re-ready for 4.0.1. New stat values, new gemming guidelines and even new enchanting info -- it's all here, and it's all after the break.

Step 1: Fill out your new talent tree

Patch 4.0.1, as you're no doubt aware, brings major changes to every single talent tree in World of Warcraft. Remember that 51-point tree you've lovingly researched, theorycrafted and built from scratch? It's gone, and a new, more limited tree is in its place. Last month, I addressed talent trees in my guide to patch 4.0.1, and not much has changed. Just choose shadow specialization and fill your tree out.

According to the website wowpopular.com, this is currently the most popular PvE build for shadow priests on the test realms. It's almost exactly what I've been recommending for a raiding shadow priest, so you can feel pretty comfortable copying it talent for talent. The second most popular build is almost identical to the previous one, with the two points in Mental Agility swapped out for two points' worth of Paralysis. I wouldn't recommend it for raiding shadow priests, but for those people who spend a lot of time soloing, Paralysis is an incredibly desirable talent worth investing in. It seems valid enough an option to siphon a point or two away from Improved Mind Blast if you're really interested in any of the other talents, since I've rarely found those 0.5 seconds to be critical.

This is the most popular PvP-oriented build out there (again, according to wowpopular). It looks reasonable to me, but I've had extremely limited experience with PvP on the test servers. If any of you readers want to suggest a better PvP build, please, by all means, post your favorite in the comments below.

Step 2: Fill out your glyph grid

I covered glyphs in last week's column, and nothing's really changed. For your prime slots, endgame raiders will want Glyph of Dispersion, Glyph of Mind Flay, Glyph of Shadow Word: Pain and Glyph of Shadow Word: Death; pick your favorite three. For your major slots, Glyph of Spirit Tap, Glyph of Psychic Scream, Glyph of Fade and Glyph of Inner Fire are good choices; again, pick your favorite three. You probably won't need to change your minor glyphs at all -- just set the three you had in 3.3.5.

Step 3: Note your new stat values

Let's get one things clear before we go too far into this -- the theorycrafting is far from complete on anything related to shadow priests. Still, Rivah (of Ensidia) crunched the numbers using SimulationCraft to get the following pseudopower values:
1 spirit = 1.09 PP (for each point under the hit cap)
1 hit = 1.09 PP (for each point under the hit cap)
1 intellect = 1.00 PP (standardized)
1 spellpower = 0.73 PP
1 critical strike = 0.61 PP
1 haste = 0.54 PP
1 mastery = 0.35 PP
The standard caveats apply -- those numbers are only accurate if you're an infallible computer, and they're a limited-time offer of sorts, as Blizzard will probably tweak them shortly after more data from our post-4.0.1 play becomes available. I won't personally vouch for the specific values, but for now, I can say that based on my experience playing that they feel correct. Still, don't focus on the specific numbers for now and make large, expensive decisions based on them. Instead, simply make sure you grasp the following general concepts:
  • Intellect is valuable now. I know shadow priests have a natural aversion to the intellect stat, but because it converts directly into spellpower (and makes your mana pool larger to boot), it's now worth far more than haste and crit. Most of your gear (and all of your gems) that featured spellpower will have that stat converted to intellect. This is a good thing.
  • Critical strike rating is now marginally better than haste, but ... The caveat, from the mouth (keyboard?) of Rivah is that critical strike shines, but only when you're able to truly get the most out of Shadow Word: Death (the sub-25 percent health range). It's simple logic -- the more you use SW:D, an instant-cast, the less important haste becomes. Personally, I've been favoring crit over haste on the PTR and Cataclysm beta servers because 1.) more crit means more mana regen via the Sin and Punishment mechanism, and 2.) more haste means you burn through your now-limited mana even faster.
  • Skip mastery for now. Mastery, as I've discussed before in Spiritual Guidance (and as has been discussed on shadowpriest.com), is a severely underpowered stat for shadow priests at the moment. Mastery is not yet found on any gear, but you can theoretically add more of the stat to your build through reforging. You shouldn't, though, because ... um, like I just said: It's underpowered. Look at that early number. It's embarrassingly bad.

Step 4: Check your hit rating

You still need 17 percent's worth of hit to guarantee a hit on a raid boss in 4.0.1. If you've spent any amount of time raiding as a shadow priest in Wrath, your brain is likely pre-programmed to factor in 3 percent of hit from Shadow Focus and 3 percent of hit from Misery, with Alliance priests factoring in 1 bonus percent of hit thanks to the party-wide draenei racial Heroic Presence. Now that patch 4.0.1 is here, we need to revisit our minimum hit ratings: Shadow Focus and Misery are gone, and Heroic Presence only applies to draenei.

Long story short, you need more hit than you did before. At level 80, you will need a hit rating of 446 to be guaranteed a hit on a raid-level boss. For draenei only, the new magical number is 420. Like in Wrath, each point of hit is worth more than any other stat, so getting to the hit cap remains your first priority. Before you freak out over these significantly higher figures, do remember: Twisted Faith will convert each point of spirit on your gear, gems and enchants to hit at a 1:1 ratio. Depending on your equipment, you'll probably be way over the hit cap thanks to the spirit on your gear.

Step 5: Reforge!

Patch 4.0.1 introduces the reforging system, which Gregg Reece summed up beautifully on Monday. All players need to make an opening day trip to the reforger, and shadow priests are no different. Here's a quick-and-dirty rundown of what shadow priests in particular need to know:
  • If you're not hit capped, reforge to meet your 420/446 hit rating targets. Since haste is our weakest secondary stat, convert that to spirit until you reach your desired hit rating. Since spirit converts to hit on a 1:1 basis, and since you get a benefit out of spirit beyond the hit conversion, you should always favor spirit over hit.
  • If you're over the 420/446 hit rating target, convert your unneeded hit to crit. Remember, every point of hit over the 420/446 target is worth nothing to your DPS.
  • Convert that extra haste to crit, but only if your playstyle calls for it. If you hit Shadow Word: Death on every cooldown, start moving your points from haste to crit. This new playstyle takes a while to get used to, though, so if you're running something close to your old 3.3.5 rotation, you'll benefit more from haste.
Step 6: Regem for 4.0.1, if necessary

When you jump into the world of patch 4.0.1, you should be in pretty decent shape provided that you had solid gemming in 3.3.5, with a few limited exceptions. If you were struggling to meet the hit cap in 3.3.5 and used yellow Rigid King's Amber (20 hit) gems, you should note that these have been replaced with blue Rigid Magestic Zircons. This, of course, can affect your socket bonuses, so take a quick look at your equipment to make sure all is well.

You still want to keep the Chaotic Skyflare Diamond as your meta gem. Make sure that you still have the two blue (or purple) gems needed to keep the bonus active after any regemming you do.

The Brilliant Cardinal Ruby (20 intellect) is now your red gem of choice. All your existing Runed Cardinal Rubies (23 spellpower) should automatically become Brilliant Cardinal Rubies once patch 4.0.1 goes live.

With crit now modestly besting haste, your go-to pick for yellow gem slots is the Potent Ametrine, which now provides 10 intellect and 10 crit. It's up to you whether or not it's worth investing in all new gems to replace your existing haste-loaded Reckless Ametrines -- though personally, I'd recommend waiting until the post-4.0.1 gem markets cool down a bit.

The shadow priest's prefered choice for blue gem slots is still the Purified Dreadstone (now 10 intellect and 10 spirit). Just be aware the hit cap. (Don't bother taking the Veiled Dreadstone unless there's a severe price difference between the two.) If you're terribly over the hit rating even with reforging (I'm not sure this is actually possible), then the Timeless Dreadstone, which gives you 15 points of stamina along with 10 points of intellect, is a blue gem-of-last-resort.

Step 7: Visit your trainer

There are two new bonuses added for shadow priests in 4.0.1. The first is the "it's-better-than-nothing" mastery, Shadow Orbs, available at level 75. The second is a passive bonus to our intellect, Mysticism, available at level 50. They're both there for the taking (provided you're at the appropriate level), but you do need to put in the effort to visit a trainer.

Step 8: Check your enchants

No checklist would be complete without a quick look at your enchants. If you currently have the Black Magic enchant on your one-handed weapon, you're going to want to swap that out with the now-superior Mighty Spellpower when you can. Likewise, if you've been using the old Major Spirit enchant on your chest, it's time to switch back to the better-than-ever Powerful Stats (especially if you're having way-over-the-hit-cap issues). If your weapon and chest enchants look good, good news -- you shouldn't need to do anything else in terms of enchanting.

Step 9: Practice your new "rotation"

Before you head out in to your next raid, take a few moments to stop by a training dummy and test out your new skills. For the most part, your general rotation/spell priority is unchanged: Keep your DoTs up as much as possible, cast Mind Blast for Replenishment and use Mind Flay as filler. There are a couple of new tricks, though:
  • Be even more agressive with your shadowfiend. The new ability Sin and Punishment means you'll be able to call on your tentacled friend so often that you'll feel it necessary to give him a name (Dawneater?). With mana regen being more limited in 4.0.1, be sure to use him early and on every cooldown you can.
  • Cast Mind Blast with three Shadow Orbs. Mastery is still clunky for shadow priests, but you should still know how to make the most of it. Blizzard juiced Mind Blast a bit, but when you consider your four-piece tier 10 bonus along with the role that Mind Flay crits play in mana regen (see the previous tip), it's perfectly valid to wait until just the right time to cast Mind Blast. And in my view, "just the right time" means when you have three Shadow Orbs or every 15 seconds to refresh Replenishment, whichever comes first.
  • Use Shadow Word: Death on cooldown. So long as it doesn't result in a kill, every cast of Shadow Word: Death now replenishes a tiny portion of your mana (with the Masochism talent). When a boss falls below 25 percent health, SW:D becomes spammable provided you have the Glyph of Shadow Word: Death active. Be very mindful of your health bar when you spam SW:D, though -- land two successive SW:D crits and you could find yourself committing suicide.
  • Mind Sear is worthless. Don't try using it. Please. I implore you. Just let it die its sad, dignity-free death. It's sad to see the pathetically tiny numbers that Mind Sear puts out now. And don't think it gets better when you're Mind Searing giant numbers of mobs. It gets worse. Seeing something take 200 damage per tick makes my shadowy heart sad.

Step 10: Melt faces

Once you've completed steps 1 through 8, it's time to do what us shadow priests do best: Go out into the world, melt faces clean off and look amazing while doing it. Now that you're actually playing, I'm very eager to read field reports of how patch 4.0.1 is treating shadow priests of all different playstyles. So, if you have a free moment later this week, I'd love it if you'd drop me a line at fox@wowinsider.com and let me know your take on the new shadow priesting experience.

Before we go, though, one final note: If you're finding that your numbers aren't holding up against other members of your raid team -- or alternatively, if you're finding that they're blowing your friends' DPS totals out of the water -- there's no reason to panic. There's a definite learning curve to figuring out how to operate these shadowy vehicles of death and doom in the new world of 4.0.1. And further, remember that the real balancing act was performed around level 85 gameplay.

Take the next two months of shadow priesting for what they truly are: practice for Cataclysm.
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

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