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Spiritual Guidance: Shadow priest Pandaren and the new MoP talent tree

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Spiritual Guidance for discipline, holy and shadow priests. On Wednesdays, shadow priesting expert Fox Van Allen comes from out of the darkness to bask in your loving adoration (and to smack Tyler with a Shadow Word: Death when he's least expecting it).

Cataclysm was a great expansion to play a shadow priest in, but if what we learned at BlizzCon 2011 is any clue, playing a shadow priest in Mists of Pandaria is going to be a whole lot better.

I know those are big words, but when we start delving into the new-for-MoP talent trees, I feel these new talents will back those words up. We're getting a new playmate for our Shadowfiend, a whole new talent tree with spectacular new abilities, and a new, RNG-free mechanism for Shadow Orbs and Mind Blast. And, oh yeah: Pandaren can be shadow priests.

Excited? You should be.

A whole new talent system

One of the biggest bombshells of BlizzCon 2011 -- aside from all that Pokemon panda business, of course -- was the fact that talent trees are undergoing their second overhaul in so many expansions. For those of you who may have missed the announcement, here are the key bullet points:
  • We're only making six talent choices on the way to level 90, one per 15 levels. Each choice will be between three options. Once you choose one of the three, you can't go back and choose between the two others.
  • These talents will be handled similar to the way glyphs are now. You won't have to visit a trainer to change them. You'll simply need some readily available reagent.
  • There's now only one priest talent tree, though we all still choose a specialization at level 10.
  • All "boring" talents have been removed. Say goodbye to Darkness and Improved Devouring Plague. Spells like Vampiric Touch and Silence are being removed from the talent tree, too; as a shadow priest, you should be given these spells as you level up automatically.
  • All talent trees have been merged. This means that disc priests can choose a souped-up version of Vampiric Embrace; shadow priests can choose Power Infusion.
Each talent tree choice is being designed such that it feels epic and important. And some of these choices truly are. But enough teasing -- let's jump right into the new-for-Mists of Pandaria talents.

Level 15: Crowd control

The first choice priests of all stripes will have to make is at level 15, and all three choices are shadow-themed options for crowd control.

My only real complaint here is that I have to choose between some really awesome new spells that add shadowy flavor. The first talent, Void Tendrils, is a root that will affect all targets within 10 yards. These tendrils are attackable -- it's the only way your foes will be able to shorten the spell's 20-second duration. The second talent, Psyfiend, feels like a must-have if only so my Shadowfiend has somebody to play with. Think of your Psyfiend as a kind of "smart" fear totem -- one that puts out a pulse every 2 seconds, fearing enemies one at a time. Existing talent spell Psychic Scream is also in this tier, unchanged.

Already, you can see the new Blizzard philosophy of tough choices at work. All three have their own pros and cons, and overall, it's hard to single one out as the best. Obviously, Void Tendrils has a vastly different use being a snare (instead of a fear); Psyfiend is more powerful than Psychic Scream, but the former has a longer cooldown.

I think I'm going to have to take the Psyfiend. He'll look so cute munching on Tyler's skull.

Level 30: Mobility

If the first set of talent choices is about limiting your foes' movement, the second set of priest talent choices is all about boosting our own mobility.

Again, a choice between three useful talents. Shadow priests can finally benefit from the incredibly useful Body and Soul talent, once exclusive domain of holy priests. I predict this will be a popular choice for raiding shadow priests; it gives you a huge burst of movement speed exactly when you need it. For shadow priests in heroics (or in any other situation without party-wide damage), Path of the Devout may be a better choice with a steady 25% movement speed buff. PVP shadow priests may pass on the first two to take the shadow priest staple Phantasm, which removes snares on cast of Fade.

Level 45: Your first DPS choice

At level 45, you'll finally have a choice between three damage-dealing talents -- well ... two damage-dealing talents and a bizarre new healing/damage hybrid.

Holy priests may recognize the healing half of From Darkness, Comes Light: Surge of Light. Shadow priests will get their own version, Surge of Darkness, that gives us a chance to get a free instant cast of Mind Blast. Alternatively, shadow priests could choose Divine Star, a new spell that both damages (enemies) and heals (allies) immediately in front of you. Or we can just hold on to our existing must-have, Dark Archangel.

I really don't like this tier, but that's just because I don't think I'll ever be able to choose anything but Dark Archangel. After all, the "shadow priest with dark wings" look feels just so iconic now that I can't bring myself to do without.

Level 60: Self-healing/shielding

Again, those of you who cheat on the shadows with the discipline and holy trees will recognize some familiar talents:

This tier is all about healing yourself -- very useful whether you find yourself in PVP or PVE. Desperate Prayer is a powerful self-heal pulled from the holy tree. Alternatively, you could take Angelic Bulwark, a buff to Power Word: Shield that will have terrific synergy with the level 30 talent Body and Soul. Or, if you're a lazy shadow priest, you could just take Final Prayer, which applies a shield automatically -- no button pressing required.

Another one of those hard choices? You bet. Power Word: Shielding yourself is incredibly useful tactic in heroics and raids alike, and an extra 30% worth of damage absorption is no small benefit. Then again, if you've got disc priests in your raid already, Final Prayer might be a better choice.

Level 75: More powerful talents cometh ...

In case you haven't noticed the general trend, these talents get more and more desirable as you level. Case in point, your level 75 talents:

Again, some crowd favorites make an appearance. Don't mistake Twist of Fate for the similarly iconned Twisted Faith -- they're very different abilities. This one increases your damage when a target is below 25%, a situationally useful talent (much the same way Sorrowsong was a situationally useful trinket). If you want a talent that's useful during the entire fight, consider taking the discipline ability Power Infusion. That's right, it can be ours now -- no more having to do "favors" for Dawn just so she'll "consider" casting this on us. Our third choice is Mind Melt, which looks like it'll go from a Cataclysm must-have to a Mists of Pandaria "only when you're facing lots of adds."

Level 90: The ultimate in talents!

If there's one thing I know you guys all have on your wish lists, it's this: "Please, Blizzard, make it so Dispersion isn't the ultimate shadow priest talent anymore." That wish has been granted:

My first reaction when I saw this tier: "Oh my God, they finally gave us back our powerful Vampiric Embrace!" And as you can see, Vampiric Dominance returns Vampiric Embrace to its old pre-Wrath strength -- a whopping 15% back as heals (though only on three targets). If you have to skip this talent, though, don't worry -- you'll probably get the current version of VE as you level. This would be a buff to that lower-level 3% healing.

And here's where those hard choices kick in again -- taking Vampiric Dominance requires us to pass on Void Shift, an incredibly powerful talent in its own right. It's a healing cooldown that's just as powerful in a DPS priest's hands as a healing priest's. One quick button press, and your health percentage is swapped with the tank's -- an absolutely invaluable trick to any of you who have experience healing. And better yet, you get a quick +25% health back right after the swap.

The third choice at level 90 is clearly a healing talent, though we shadow priests could find use for it as well. Consider this scenario: You're healing through an encounter like Nefarian, and you know a big burst of damage (Electrocute) is coming. You could use Vow of Unity on a tank and then immediately go into Dispersion. Though Electrocute would break the Vow, you'll still absorb a good portion of the tank's damage, and only a small fraction of it at that. Of course, there's no telling if that would be allowed under the proposed mechanic ... at this point, we're all just speculating. Which brings up a very good point ...

Disclaimer

Those of you who remember my Cataclysm coverage will find these words familiar: All this stuff is subject to change. This is Blizzard's first attempt at a new talent tree, and we can expect lots of stuff to change between now and then. (One thing you should definitely expect to change: A requirement on Void Shift that you have more health than the target before casting it, to prevent griefing.)

Also, try to remember that some of these percentages given here are likely just placeholders. None of this has been balanced against other classes' abilities -- a final step that Blizzard will take before launching Mists of Pandaria in late 2012.

Lastly: A change to Shadow Orbs

If a new talent tree wasn't news enough, we caught one more tidbit of information during BlizzCon 2011 that'll set the shadow priesting world on its head. The change was hinted at by our level 45 abilities, but thanks to a man I've lovingly nicknamed "Paradigm," we have confirmation: In Mists of Pandaria, Shadow Orbs are becoming a resource.

What does that mean? Simply put, this: Mind Blast will no longer cost mana to cast. Instead, casting Mind Blast will require a Shadow Orb. Have an Orb? You can cast Mind Blast. Have two? You can cast it twice in a row. Beyond this, there's even more exciting news: Game developers stated they want to make these Orbs less RNG dependent.

I'm not sure how they're going to do that or even if it's possible -- frankly, I think that the RNG factor is pretty inescapable and integral to the gameplay. But given how well the developers have delivered on my own personal wish list in the past ... I can't wait to see what they come up with.
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, BlizzCon, (Priest) Spiritual Guidance, Mists of Pandaria

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