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Spiritual Guidance: Does Cataclysm spell the end for Vampiric Embrace?

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Spiritual Guidance for discipline, holy and shadow priests. Your host for the Wednesday version is, as always, the shadow-specced Fox Van Allen, who has recently leveled his blogging skill to 525. Rejoice, readers, for this means Fox has finally gained access to that most elusive of blogging tools: Formula: Oxford Comma!

Mea culpa!

Last week, during a Spiritual Guidance mailbag session, I talked about some of the more recent changes to shadow priests in the Cataclysm beta. I was all like, "Blah, blah, blah, Mind Spike; blah, blah, blah, Inner Fire." I was feeling pretty damn proud of myself for summing everything up into a mere couple of hundred words until someone asked, "Uh, what about the Vampiric Embrace nerf?"

It's a damn good point -- I was running down my list of the most recent changes, and I totally skipped over the nerf to VE. I shouldn't have, though. It's a huge change. A change massive enough to deserve its own column.


Where Vampiric Embrace stands now

Before we talk about where we're going, let's talk about where we are now and where we've been. In the live version of Wrath (patch 4.0.1), Vampiric Embrace is a mana-free, 30-minute self-buff:
15% of single-target Shadow spell damage caused by casting priest heals the priest and 3% heals the group.

When you look at percentages, Vampiric Embrace has never been weaker. It used to provide 20 percent worth of damage back as healing in vanilla WoW. That was cut to 15 percent self/15 percent party-wide for the start of The Burning Crusade, and then cut again to 15/3 for the start of Wrath. We could increase that to 25/5 through the Improved Vampiric Embrace talent, of course.

That talent is gone in patch 4.0.1, but that isn't the worst of it. Latest word from the beta is that the percentage healing is getting slashed again, and the cut is pretty deep: We're dropping from 15/3 all the way down to 6/3. Brutal.

Whenever I talk about Vampiric Embrace, I usually heap on the praise. It's one of my favorite aspects of being a shadow priest. When raid leaders are deciding what classes to bring into a group, it rarely factors into the calculus (after all, doesn't Mind Quickening seem so much more important to a party dynamic?). That's a mistake, though -- the healing done by shadow priests is enormously helpful in certain scenarios. The final phase of Professor Putricide? The Lich King's Infest ability? We add tons of value there. It's not so much the lousy 3 percent worth of healing that we provide the party that shines (at 10,000 DPS, that amounts to 300 HPS). It's the 15 percent worth of healing that we give ourselves that really stands out.

Perhaps it's standing out just a little bit too much. Fifteen percent is a powerful bonus. "What's that, I just got hit with Infest? No, I don't need heals, just give it a second, and ... OK, it's gone. I took care of it myself. You're welcome." In general, Vampiric Embrace means healers need to spend less time tending to you, which means they can spend their time tending to the rest of the raid, healing those poor suckers who can't heal themselves.

At 15 percent, the ability is crazy powerful. Which, of course, leads into the question ...

Is Wrath-era VE too powerful?

If there's one thing I've learned about shadow priests, it's that we're incredibly defensive of our spec. Any time Blizzard hits us with a nerf -- or even considers a nerf -- we want to grab torches and pitchforks and storm the headquarters in Irvine.

Take a deep breath, though -- sometimes specs and abilities do get overpowered. Before we declare war, let's make an effort to look at this as objectively as we can. To do this, I enrolled my fellow WoW Insider bloggers and asked them: "What makes an ability overpowered?"

WoW Insider's hunter blogger Frostheim, a fellow DPSer, came up with this:
I came up with pseudo-scientific system for measuring brokenness. Basically you rate on a scale of 1-10 the duration of the ability, length of cooldown, and overall power level. Then multiply them together.
So, right now in Wrath, Vampiric Embrace is a 30-minute buff. There aren't many abilities that actually longer than that, so ... that's probably a 10. There's no cooldown on VE, so that's probably a 10 there as well. And as for the overall power level, I just got finished in the last section telling you how powerful it can be. Crap.

OK, OK, scrap that. I don't like the way that one turned out -- maybe Frostheim's method isn't so definitive. Let's try to come up with another way to determine whether or not an ability is overpowered. Let's try this, instead:
An ability is overpowered if it trivializes encounters.
Vampiric Embrace couldn't actually trivialize encounters, right? Well, let's take a look at the evidence:
  • VE trivializes Infest. VE definitely trivializes its effect on you -- that 15 percent healing is out of control on Lich King.
  • Really, VE trivializes any encounter with raid-wide damage. How often do you find yourself in a raid where you can't heal your own way out of atmospheric damage? Blood-Queen Lana'thel's Shroud of Sorrow is barely even noticable as an effect on us. Ditto for Sindragosa's Frost Aura. We can even heal our way through nasty one-time blasts, like Festergut's Pungent Blight.
  • VE trivializes heroics in general. I was running Gundrak last night, and I accidentally peeled some mobs off the tank. I could have used Fade to give aggro back to the tank, but I thought about it, and I was healing myself through most of the mobs' damage. It was more efficient to just keep DPSing them down.
The evidence is starting to pile up, and not in our favor. The 3 percent worth of healing VE deals to our party members isn't the problem; it's a nice bonus that doesn't mess with game mechanics. The 15 percent worth of self-healing, though -- much as I hate to admit it, that part of VE is definitely overpowered in Wrath by just about any metric you want to choose.

Is VE overpowered in Cataclysm, too?

Vampiric Embrace is all about healing, and the healing side of World of Warcraft is getting totally turned upside down in Cataclysm. It's supposed to be a more challenging game for the healers. If shadow priests never require healing, then we're breaking that aspect of the game. So, with that in mind, let's ask the question: If VE stayed at 15/5 in Cataclysm, would we be breaking the game?

At level 85, shadow priest health pools are tripling over Wrath, but shadow priest DPS is not. Since the healing we get from VE is dependent on our DPS, this is a pretty important point. Right now in Wrath, if we churn out 10,000 DPS, we're earning ourselves 15 percent of that as self-heals -- 1,500 HPS. If our health pools stand at 30,000 right now (give or take), we're getting back 5 percent of our maximum health as healing per second. That's no small amount.

Now, consider Cataclysm. Let's estimate that our DPS is going to climb to maybe 15,000 -- a conservative, though reasonable estimate. That means, at the old 15 percent rate, we'd be doing 2,250 HPS. That's rather insignificant when you compare it to Cataclysm health pools that are 100,000 HP deep. It amounts to 2.25 percent of our maximum health as healing per second -- less than half what we see in Wrath -- and that's before any kind of nerf to the actual VE mechanism itself.

Take the nerf into account, and things only look more bleak. We're only doing 900 HPS in the early Cataclysm endgame. That's 0.9 percent of our health pool per second -- less than a fifth of the healing we're seeing in endgame Wrath. If that doesn't sound especially significant, you're right. It's not. While running a few Cataclysm heroics the other day at the new 6 percent rate, it was hard to even notice the impact of our self-healing.

I suppose that may be the point -- healing in Cataclysm is supposed to be about challenging healers. If we're healing ourselves too much, we're trivializing that aspect of the game. Vampiric Embrace definitely needs to be tuned such that it's not the only healing that we need, but at the same time, it needs to provide enough healing be relevant. And that's the problem -- I remain unconvinced that 6 percent is relevant.

So, here we are. Fifteen is too much, I hesitantly agree. But 6 percent seems much too small, at least with the early Cataclysm endgame in mind. There's a happy medium somewhere, and I'm trying my best to stay optimistic. With the constant buff and nerf cycles that Vampiric Embrace seems to go through, Blizzard is bound to get it right ... eventually.
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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