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Spiritual Guidance: Breaking down the shadow priest tier 12 bonuses

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Spiritual Guidance for discipline, holy and shadow priests. Every Wednesday, shadow priesting expert Fox Van Allen rains sheer purple destruction down on all who oppose him. In stereo, where available.

Historically, tier bonuses for shadow priests have been pretty boring. From tier 4 onward, we've had very little to look forward to beyond mana cost reductions, spell-specific damage increases, and extended spell durations. These bonuses were valuable, to be sure -- we could all benefit from an extra DOT tick -- but nothing was game-changing.

Towards the end of Wrath of the Lich King, though, things began to change. The tier 10 four-piece shadow priest bonus, a .5-second reduction to the Mind Flay channel, was a literal game-changer. It put Mind Blast on the back burner. Some shadow priests only cast it to refresh Replenishment; others dropped it from their rotations entirely. Whether or not the tier 10 bonus was a positive thing from a gameplay perspective is debatable, but there's no debating what a powerful force it was.

Now, after a relatively tame set of tier 11 bonuses to start off Cataclysm (damage increases -- oh boy!), game developers are dropping a pair of nuclear bombs on us. The tier 12 bonuses for shadow priests are compelling, controversial, and game-changing -- all at the same time.

Two-piece tier 12 bonus: Shadowfiend

Of the two bonuses available from collecting tier 12 pieces, the two-piece bonus is certainly the more interesting. Its effect revolves around our adorable shadowy pet, the Shadowfiend, and it's very lucrative:

Two-piece priest (shadow) tier 12 bonus
Your Shadowfiend deals 20% additional damage as Fire damage and its cooldown is reduced by 75 sec.


At first glance, this bonus appears to be absolutely amazing. In fact, it's so amazing that it even has Dawn Moore drooling a little bit. But let's not just make assumptions -- let's dig deeper and find out just how good the two-piece tier 12 shadow bonus already is.

In its most basic, untalented form, the Shadowfiend is a 5-minute DPS and mana regen cooldown. Most shadow priests invest two points in the Veiled Shadows talent, reducing that cooldown to 4 minutes; and further, most shadow priests also take the Sin and Punishment talent, which reduces that cooldown by 10 seconds per Mind Flay crit. Obviously, the extent to which you see Mind Flay crits varies from encounter to encounter, but it's not unreasonable or unusual to be able to call your Shadowfiend once every 3 minutes. The two-piece tier 12 bonus will provide a third reduction to the Shadowfiend cooldown, effectively letting us call it once every minute and a half or so.

While many people focus almost exclusively on the mana regen benefit of the Shadowfiend, it's much more valuable to think of it in terms of its DPS benefit. Without the tier 12 bonus, the Shadowfiend should account for a solid 4-6% of your total DPS in a raid encounter. Obviously, this is no small contribution -- averaged out over the entire fight, our Shadowfiend contributes about 1,000 points' worth of DPS. Put another way, your Shadowfiend will deliver well over 5,000 DPS while it's active.

The 75-second reduction in cooldown means that we'll see our almost twice as often as we do now. And better yet, the two-piece tier 12 bonus will raise its DPS by another 20%, making it even more influential in our overall performance. In patch 4.2 raiding content, we could be seeing our Shadowfiend account for as much as 15% of our overall DPS. (Combine a two-piece tier 12 bonus with our two-piece tier 11 bonus, and you'll really see some strong Shadowfiend numbers.)

Blizzard's developers began moving in the direction of higher Shadowfiend availability when they revised our talent trees for Cataclysm. This two-piece bonus takes that concept to the next level. Frequent Spiritual Guidance readers will recognize this as something I've long been in favor of, and as such, I couldn't be more excited about this bonus.

Four-piece Tier 12 Bonus: Mind Blast

The four-piece bonus sounds deceptively simple: It's a 3-second reduction to the Mind Blast cooldown. Specifically:

Four-piece priest (shadow) tier 12 bonus
While you have Shadow Word: Pain, Devouring Plague, and Vampiric Touch active on the same target you gain Dark Flames, which reduces the cooldown of Mind Blast by 3 sec.


This tier bonus simply means our new Mind Blast cooldown time is 5 seconds -- or, if you prefer, 3.5 3 seconds while talented.

Before we begin assessing the benefit of a shorter Mind Blast cooldown, we should first recognize the relative rarity of the DoT trifecta (and ultimately, the rarity of the Dark Flames buff). In heroics, trash mobs simply die too quickly to support having all three DOTs be consistently applied to a single target, guaranteeing that Dark Flames buff will still be short-lived. It seems similarly unlikely that we'll see much benefit from this tier bonus in a dispel-heavy PvP environment. Realistically, the only scenario where we have all three DOTs rolling on a single target on any consistent basis is during lengthy boss encounters.

As shadow priests, our first priority in a boss fight is to have all three DOTs rolling; as such, we can assume that the Dark Flames buff will have ~100% uptime when we need it. Being able to cast Mind Blast once every 3.5 3 seconds would be a huge change to our "rotation" -- the "simple math" of this tier bonus implies that we'd almost never be casting Mind Flay.

And therein lies the hidden catch -- as shadow priests, we need to cast Mind Flay. In the current raid content, we cast the spell so prolifically that we take its secondary benefits for granted. To wit, it does three terrific, important things beyond those middling ticks of damage you see: It refreshes Shadow Word: Pain (while talented), it generates Shadow Orbs, and it reduces the cooldown on your Shadowfiend.

If we're casting Mind Blast at every opportunity, we're cutting down drastically on the number of Mind Flay casts we see. This would be a clear cut DPS increase, but only if we still get all three of the benefits above we take for granted. And that's far from guaranteed -- we have only a 60% chance to refresh SW:P on Mind Flay ticks and a 18% chance (when talented) to proc a Shadow Orb.

To perform at optimum level, we need Shadow Orbs -- without them, we don't benefit from mastery at all. As such, the four-piece bonus adds a huge new layer of complexity in an already complex mastery system -- we'll need to be constantly monitoring our orb status and the uptime of the Empowered Shadow buff. And if we're reaching the end of the 15-second duration of Empowered Shadow and we lack a Shadow Orb to use, we need to make some decisions that ultimately boil down to gambling: Would you rather give up a few ticks of Mind Flay to cast the more powerful Mind Blast spell, or would you rather cast Mind Flay to maximize your chance of generating that all-important first Shadow Orb?

If the idea of gambling makes you uncomfortable, well ... it probably should. The key complaint people have now about shadow orbs is that they're so dependent on RNG. There are plenty of times when we just plain get unlucky and don't see those orbs in the current raiding tier. In the next raiding tier, those "unlucky" moments will be more and more prevalent.

Did the developers hit the mark?

Looking at the two-piece tier 12 bonus, it's clear that developers knocked the ball out of the park. It's a clear and significant DPS increase. It also, at least in my opinion, adds an extra layer of fun to the shadow priest spec. I love getting to call my Shadowfiend. The only downside to the tier 12 bonus that I can think of is the fact that we'll have to eventually surrender it to grab our four-piece tier 13 bonus.

The benefits of the four-piece tier 12 bonus aren't quite so clear. Being able to cast Mind Blast instead of Mind Flay is a clear DPS increase; that much is known for sure. But it's important to note that it's not a huge DPS increase. The drawbacks to the four-piece bonus -- lower Empowered Shadows uptime and reduced Shadowfiend availability, mostly -- will eat into that DPS increase to an extent that's not immediately and readily known.

Of course, just because Mind Blast is available more often doesn't mean we have to cast it more often. It will ultimately be a net DPS increase, even if a penchant for gambling hurts us every now and then. I presume that we'll find most shadow priests using the tier 12 bonus as a reason to skip the Improved Mind Blast talent entirely in search of something more useful.

These tier bonuses are far from set in stone at this point. The 2-piece bonus could get less valuable, and the 4-piece bonus could get more valuable. Still, from the early point of view, it looks like tier 12 is going to be bringing the most compelling tier bonuses for shadow priests ever.
Are you more interested in watching health bars go down than watching them bounce back up? We've got more for shadow priests, from Shadow Priest 101 to a list of every monster worth mind controlling and strategies for raiding Blackwing Descent.

Filed under: Priest, (Priest) Spiritual Guidance

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