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Spiritual Guidance: The shadow priest of 2010 ... and 2011

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Spiritual Guidance for discipline, holy and shadow priests. With the shadow-specced Fox Van Allen once again in control of Spiritual Guidance, it's time for some New Year's resolutions. That means three things: spending more time at the gym, eating only low-fat gnomes, and destroying his holy-specced nemesis Dawn Moore once and for all.

Anyone who's read Spiritual Guidance knows I'm a sucker for nostalgia. And for someone who loves nostalgia, New Year's is the best time of the year. From Joel McHale to Joan Rivers, everyone gets a solid 30 minutes (21 minutes with commercials) to sum up an entire year in a series of tiny snippets.

Why? Because it's a great way to recap a year.

If you'll allow me a moment to reflect, here are a few of the things I learned in 2010:
  • Running out of mana is not fun, no matter how much Blizzard tries to convince us otherwise.
  • I talked about this a little around BlizzCon 2010, but it bears repeating: I have the most awesome fans. I'm talking about people like Leigh, who gave me a huge hug. And a T-shirt. And a subscription to her website.
  • Blizzard developers don't really get shadow priests 100%, but that doesn't mean they don't love us.
Don't believe that last point? Well then, today's column is for you. Shadow priests slowly evolved through 2010, transitioning from the proverbial red-headed step child of the Ulduar and ToTC days to something today that's -- dare I say -- pretty awesome. And there's some evidence that our best days aren't behind us. They're yet to come.

The shadow priest of 2010: January 2010

Though it technically came at the very end of 2009, the earliest moments of 2010 were spent in the magical world of patch 3.3. For some, the best part of the new patch was the opening of the Icecrown Citadel raid. For most shadow priests, the best part of patch 3.3 was that we were finally feeling the love of Blizzard developers. Both Vampiric Touch and Devouring Plague had just been made subject to haste, which was no small event. More and more bosses started dropping caster gear with both crit and haste -- our two best secondary stats.

In January 2010, the Plagueworks wing of ICC was opened up, proving that the new functionality that shadow priests were experiencing in ICC's opening days would be continued throughout the raid. Festergut was first unleashed on the public on Jan. 5 (at least in the United States), and almost immediately, intrepid shadow priests were learning to Disperse through his Pungent Blight phase. It was no minor tactic -- we were seeing a much-maligned, survival-based talent being used as a tool to increase our DPS.

Two weeks after the Plagueworks opened, shadow priests headed into the Crimson Hall, the lair of the Blood Prince Council and Blood-Queen Lana'thel. In the Blood Princes encounter, some lucky (?) shadow priests got to experience tanking for the first time as they went one-on-one with Prince Keleseth. In the Blood-Queen Lana'thel fight, smart raid leaders pushed us to the top of the "bite order" so they could exploit our Vampiric Embrace ability.

Of course, the love for shadow priests wasn't limited to the world of Azeroth. After all, in January 2010, WoW Insider brought on yours truly as its first full-time shadow priest columnist. I was billed as someone "as entertaining as his name implies." My ego has only grown from there.

In January, I covered the subjects of gearing up for Icecrown (even from a fresh start at 80), stat weights, and the hybrid tax -- basic subjects, all. I was just getting started.

February 2010

The big news of February was that Icecrown continued to open, giving shadow priests access to new fights and (better yet) new gear -- specifically, from Sindragosa, the end boss of ICC's Frostwing Halls, who started frost tombing shadow priests on Feb. 2, 2010. Not that Valithria Dreamwalker wasn't an exciting fight for shadow priests and ... oh, yawn, why do I suddenly feel so sleepy? Surely it's not because of the exciting ... yawn ... fight against ... waves of trash mobs.

Feb. 2 also marked the release of the final ICC encounter, the Lich King himself. From healing ourselves through Infest, to Mind Searing Vile Spirits, to using Mind Flay to snare Val'kyr, shadow priests added a huge amount of utility to the ultimate encounter of the Wrath of the Lich King.

Meanwhile, here at WoW Insider, I kicked off the month talking about shadow priest rotations. I detailed my infatuation with the Nibelung staff (yes, I still have it) and my dismay at the Lich King's loot table, wrote the hugely popular (and really long) Shadow 101 column, and kicked off the multi-part shadow priests' guide to Icecrown Citadel.

March 2010

Newswise, March was a slow month for shadow priests. Most of us were still working our way through the basic ICC fights and gearing up.

While the hardcore players in Paragon were scoring a world-first heroic Lich King 25-man kill, Spiritual Guidance was giving you the basic tips and tricks for making your way through the Plagueworks, the Crimson Halls, and the Frostwing Halls. For those players less interested in raiding and more interested in the simpler things, I talked about the importance of survival over maximizing DPS and the benefits that shadow priests can get from leveling their professions.

April 2010

For those of us amped over Cataclysm, April 2010 was a mixed bag. We got our first real look at what'd happen with our precious class in the new expansion, which was pretty exciting. The information was pretty on-the-nose -- we were introduced to Shadow Orbs (though admittedly, we got virtually no information about them) and our new nuke Mind Spike, told our DoTs would no longer clip and that Shadow Word: Pain would finally be subject to haste, and told that Replenishment would get nerfed.

Blizzard game designers followed up on the new information with a Twitter chat later in the month. We didn't get a heck of a lot of great new information from it, but we did get introduced to the concept of "shadow ravens." I'm still waiting for that minor glyph, Blizz. Get to work -- my scribe needs something to do other than churning out Mysterious Fortune Cards.

Overall, I was underwhelmed by the information out of Blizzard, both in quantity and quality. A lot of other classes got exciting new mechanics announced, while shadow priests got a yet-to-be-fleshed-out mastery mechanic. I spent a good chunk of April complaining about the lack of love. Beyond this, I talked about how to compensate for the failure of others and wrote one of my most-read columns ever, The GearScore is a lie.

May 2010

May started out with a bang: The friends and family alpha of Cataclysm began, giving our first look at the new shadow priest in action. The month also provided our first ray of hope: Shadowy Apparition. Replacing the old hit bonus talent Misery on our new Cataclysm-ic talent trees, it was the first new, fresh idea out of the new expansion that sounded cool. Stealing the term from WoW Insider MVP Hollow Leviathan, I began referring to the exciting talent as "ghostly aspects of our shadowy hatepower."

As Blizzard was giving us these cool new phantom agents, it was still fumbling in the dark with respect to Shadow Orbs. The May 2010 version of the ability involved a damage bonus to Mind Flay, an increase to our critical strike percentage, and a bonus to all spell damage. In other words, it was absolutely nothing like the Shadow Orbs that went live several months later. To be fair, though, Blizzard is still not done messing with Shadow Orbs; the mastery mechanic we have now is tragically underpowered.

Meanwhile, life continued as normal on the live servers. Here at Spiritual Guidance, we told you how to make the most of your emblems (remember those?), advised you to take a new look at your talent tree and adjust it for the ICC fights you're struggling on, and provided some advice on troubleshooting your DPS problem

June 2010

As the Cataclysm alpha gained speed, the Wrath of the Lich King experience was dragging on. Spiritual Guidance reacted to the "new" old Wrath by talking about new ways to experience old content. For the hardcore level 80, we discussed tips and tricks for downing the Lich King; for the bored level 80s, we discussed tips and tricks for soloing Burning Crusade 5-man content. For new players, we talked about starting a shadow priest from scratch and then continued our leveling guide a week later.

For less experienced 80s, the slowdown proved to be an opportunity. More opportunities for raiding opened up for newer players. I talked about this a bit in my what-not-to-do column, the worst shadow priest raiding application ever.

July 2010

Your favorite WoW Insider writers were thrown into the Cataclysm beta in July, opening up the floodgates of information. We learned about having to choose your spec at level 10; players would now have to make an active, early decision to be a shadow priest. It was part of a complete overhaul to our talent trees that would benefit leveling priests. Shadow priests would now get Mind Flay at level 10 and Shadowform by level 30.

Not all the new information would last, of course -- in July, shadow priests were providing a 5% party-wide bonus to crit. Still, a lot of what we would see would last all the way to the launch of patch 4.0.1, like our new version of Twisted Faith that converts spirit directly to hit.

For those not in the Cataclysm beta, Spiritual Guidance continued our leveling guide, we talked about the lore of shadow priests, and we ran down the top 10 shadow priest glyphs for Wrath.

August 2010

In August, I provided my early impressions of the Cataclysm beta. I was off the mark on some items, saying, "One thing is definitely for sure: We don't have to worry about running out of mana." Some things held true, though -- I lavished praise on the new and improved leveling experience.

More changes kept getting implemented in the Cataclysm beta. We were introduced to the great duo of Dark Evangelism and Dark Archangel, for example. Not all the changes were so great, though. A tooltip error showed Mind Flay to be a 5-second cast. Thankfully, it was a mistake. Had it been an actual change, shadow priesting would have been absolutely devastated.

One thing didn't change from Wrath to Cataclysm: Dispersion remained our capstone shadow talent. We discussed and editorialized about Dispersion and talked about my four favorite things for shadow priests in Cataclysm. (In case you're wondering, yes, I do still love Inner Will.)

September 2010

Back in April, while waiting for the first official look at the priest class changes for Cataclysm, I participated in an impromptu Twitter discussion about what may be coming. My one biggest hope was this: a permanent shadowfiend. We didn't get that then, of course, but we got the next best thing in September -- a much more frequent shadowfiend. We also got our first look at Cataclysm heroics, which included a return of my new favorite ability, Mind Control.

Here at Spiritual Guidance, we talked about why shadow orbs being a missed opportunity and started hyping the soon-to-come patch 4.0.1. We talked about what it was (and what it wasn't) and fretted about mana regen being a problem post-patch.

October 2010

October was a huge month here at WoW Insider. We spent an awful lot of 2010 talking about Cataclysm and the changes to shadow priests therein. In October, all those changes were realized with the release of patch 4.0.1 -- new talent trees, new specs (intellect is king!), and Shadowy Apparitions included. Spiritual Guidance was there with all the information you needed to know to get ready for the new world of shadow priesting, from new glyphs to getting raid-ready to the post-patch analysis (and nerfs).

If a complete overhaul to shadow priests wasn't enough to get excited about, October 2010 also brought about BlizzCon 2010. Granted, there wasn't an awful lot of information there for shadow priests (or even about World of Warcraft in general). Still, it was a terrific opportunity for me to meet a whole heck of a lot of you (Orkchop!), give away some amazing prizes, and make a pair of appearances on the WoW Insider podcast.

And yes, I continue to maintain that I was not drunk. You know, unlike [REDACTED]. Embarassing. Ahem.

November 2010

In November, the world ended. Literally.

The sundering (patch 4.0.3) hit World of Warcraft, giving us a new world map and new quests -- plenty of reason to start a new shadow priest alt. Spiritual Guidance talked about how to fill out that alt's talent tree. We also talked about some neat add-ons to enhance your new post-4.0.3 experience. (And yes, you should check out EventHorizon and Power Auras even though I didn't talk about them.)

Even as the sundering was happening, beta testing on the post-80 experience continued. We revisited Cataclysm heroics, specifically addressing a brutal nerf to Vampiric Embrace and how the new heroics differed from those we were familiar with in Wrath.

December 2010

Yeah, this is where those year-in-review things really break down. I mean, really? Talking about December? I haven't even paid my cable bill for December yet.

But, you know, December was a huge month. Cataclysm was released. Eight hours later, people were at level 85 and queueing for heroics. I tried to set you up for the earliest days of Cata with my Dec. 8 column, early Cataclysm for shadow priests. Once things started rolling, we talked about getting you geared up for Cataclysm heroics, about handling the new Cataclysm heroics (yes, again, but this time with the benefit of live-server experience), and we had a very controversial talk about the Cataclysm hit cap.

And ... looking forward to 2011

Okay, so we just finished talking about 2010. But what about 2011? What's coming down the pike for shadow priests?

Well, first and foremost, we're still waiting for that fix to mastery. We know it's coming -- it was promised at BlizzCon and reiterated by Lead Systems Designer Greg "Ghostcrawler" Street on his blog. Blizzard wants mastery to be an attractive stat, and for shadow priests, it's not. For now, mastery is (arguably) our worst stat.

While we're waiting, though, shadow priests actually aren't in that bad of shape. If you've read Brian Wood's Scattered Shots lately, you may have seen his graphs regarding top DPS in Cataclysm raids. These graphs tell us two things: It's really hard to be a good shadow priest (as evidenced by how few shadow priests are represented in the top 40), but when you're a good shadow priest, you churn out damage better than many other specs.

That provides a tough question for the folks at Blizzard. Ghostcrawler recently said that he's keeping a close eye on shadow priest DPS:


Upcoming Class Changes
Retribution, Shadow, and Fire and Frost mage damage might be too low, but we're still watching them. Shadow priest AE, mostly due to a weak Mind Sear, feels too low.


I agree with the first sentence to an extent -- the median shadow priest damage is a bit on the low side. That probably calls for a wait-and-see approach. It's harder than ever to be a good shadow priest, but that's not to say that the average player won't catch on, learn, and improve over the next few months.

With regard to the second sentence, there's no question about shadow priest AoE being miserably low. In fact, it's so low that it's broken. I'm not confident that it will be a timely fix, but I'm confident that it will be fixed eventually. Just don't expect it to be restored to its Wrath-era glory.

Of course, should any change to shadow priests happen in 2011, you can be sure that I'll be covering it right here in Spiritual Guidance. Here's to a successful new year, shadow priests!
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) Spiritual Guidance, Priest

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