The sorrow of the shadow priest

The very first character I rolled – a Dwarfen priest – is still my main. He healed through vanilla and then discovered the joys of melting faces with a shadow priest during the Burning Crusade, even if our DPS was deliberately limited thanks to the mana regen Vampiric Touch gave the group you were in – 15% of your damage done was turned into mana. Later the DPS of shadow priests was allowed to go up in Wrath when vampiric touch just gave the raid the replenishment buff – something other classes also provided thanks to Blizzard’s “Bring the player, not the class“.

At the start of Mists of Pandaria, Shadow priests weren’t in a bad place really, but as the expansion has gone on things have changed.

I think what really brought it home was seeing what a destro warlock could do on Thok heroic – they were putting out ~440k DPS average for the fight; according to WorldOfLogs this is pretty good, but wouldn’t rank. However if they put out that much damage as a shadow priest they’d be ranked #1 on WoL.

Given we had vaguely similar gear levels, this was rather depressing to say the least.

The problem shadow priests seem to have are our DoTs – make DoTs too powerful and on multi-target fights we’re just too powerful – if those targets live long enough. Its notable that on the fights which have multiple targets in SoO like Protectors my priest does competitive DPS. Even on fights like Spoils HC where the mobs don’t last as long, my priest does reasonably well.

Single target fights however? That’s another matter. Keeping our DoTs low currently means that our single target DPS is lackluster – you have to do all sorts of tricks to boost DPS. I switch talents almost every fight to work best with the fight at hand.

This state of affairs is something which will hopefully be addressed in Warlords – our mastery is changing from DoTs multi-striking, something the new multi-strike tertiary stat will do, to boost the damage done by our non-DoT spells: Mind Blast, mind spike, mind flay and mind sear.

But that doesn’t help my priest right now as the guild I’m in works its way through the later parts of the heroic Seige of Orgrimmar. A good example is on Thok HC the only reason to bring a shadow priest is our utility – we can do some DPS, but its healing from vampiric embrace, being able to cast mass dispell without caring about it’s mana cost, Prayer of Mending to help with healing, etc.

A couple of weeks ago I decided to compare single target DPS on a target dummy by my shadow priest and my warlock. Some notes:

  • Both characters have the legendary cloak and meta gem
  • Both characters are optimized using Ask Mr Robot, with suitable stat weights
  • Test ran for 10 minutes and abilities were used off cooldown
  • I use the AffDots and AffDotsPriest addons to allow me to snapshot DoTs. Useful on my warlock; critical on a shadowpriest. I’m glad snapshotting is going away in Warlords
  • Talents were adjusted for use on the target dummies – mostly important for my priest as Twist of Fate doesn’t proc on low health target dummies & that’s a large part of how shadow priest DPS these days. From a log the Heroic Immerseus to Nazgrim clear on Wednesday it had a 33% uptime – which on a +15% damage boost is rather nice.

Finally, and most importantly, there are around 40 ilvls of gear difference between the priest – who has a number of items from heroics – and the Warlock who has items from Ordos, flex and one or two normal items.

So, first up is the priest who was using FCDL, DI and DS which is normally the sort of proc-y build I’d use on Thok. However with no ToF and SW:I falling behind – I did a test which used SW:I, the normal “I can stand still & nuke!” talent, but it was ~20k DPS worse than FCDL.

Shadow priest DPS

As you can see, its ok for the gear level as a priest, but its really not so good when compared to the warlock who is quite a few ilvls lower:

Warlock DPS

Even worse, my warlock couldn’t use shadowburn either – we so need realistic target dummies which die or at least go into execute range for some of the fight. Something else to consider is that I’m far more practised on my priest than my warlock. On the one side my priest has been melting faces since TBC & has raided a lot as shadow. On the other side my warlock has only switched to destro about three weeks ago!

Given this – who would you rather take as a raid leader? A shadow priest who could bring some utility or a warlock who can bring DPS and utility?

If you’re curious as to what a warlock brings to the raid:

  1. Health stones
  2. Spellpower and health buff – which actually overwrites the priest fortitude as its better
  3. Demonic portals
  4. Combat rez
  5. A lot more DPS than a shadow priest

And they also have fun things like Unending Resolve whose interrupt protection is insanely for fights like Thok with its continual caster interrupts.

DoT snapshotting

One of the current bits of fun for DoT classes right now is the idea of snapshotting. The stats you have when the DoT is cast is used for the entire duration of the DoT. It used to be everything was taken into account and over time that has been nerfed down – these days its really haste and spell power which are preserved.

Naturally this means that if you cast a DoT just before heroism ends it’ll continue to tick as if you had heroism on you even after it has ended.

Combine that with trinket procs and the caster legendary meta gem and you have the potential to get some very hard hitting DoTs in place.

On the surface this would seem to be one of those “hard to master” things which seperates the player base out – except that most people just use an addon like AffDots to track things for them!

This system is going away in Warlords, with your stats at the time of the DoT tick being used to calculate damage – given the addon use here, I think its a good thing to do really. Whilst people can claim “Oh its down to skill” if all you’re doing is having an addon track the snapshot levels, it doesn’t require that much skill when it comes down to it!

As for Warlords and some more details of the current system see: Behavior of DoTs and Haste in Warlords of Draenor

This entry was posted in Mists of Pandaria, Shadow priest and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The sorrow of the shadow priest

  1. koryz says:

    I know exactly what you mean given that my main is a Shadow Priest. In my opinion Shadow has been fairly lacklustre this entire expansion. There was a fix which boosted our DoT damage which was fairly immediately nerfed. Even with years of experience of playing Shadow right now it’s a struggle to even remain competitive – and if you don’t pay attention for more than a few seconds you simply can’t recover DPS and it’s really depressing to see yourself marginally above the tank. Especially given that during Cata.. especially for me in Dragon Soul HC if I played well I was number 1 on DPS on most fights save Ultraxian. I think you’ve articulated the matter way better than I would ever be capable of but you hit the nail on the head with this post.. shadow DPS hasn’t been this bad since we were nothing more than mama batteries.

    • sivation says:

      Aye; SW: P had its damage boosted by ~25% at the start of 5.2 and it was quickly nerfed when Blizz saw the amount of damage Spriests did on Horridon HC!

      As always, the DoTs are the problem, especially as there are few “Stand & nuke” fights like Patchwerk any more.

  2. wolfgangcat says:

    Yeah, I hear you :(
    Love my shadow priest and although I’m just “average” (haven’t done anything beyond Flex.) I recently leveled a Destruction Warlock and the difference is night and day.

    My priest has mostly Flex gear and the Legendary, my Warlock is in LFR gear and no Legendary. My Warlock can dps circles around my priest and I’d have to say my “skill” playing both is about the same even though I’ve been playing the priest maybe 3-4 years and the warlock about 3 months.

    Warlock just doesn’t seem so “timer dependent” as the priest. With the warlock, I actually get to watch the fight instead of micro-managing timers which are not exactly skillful or interesting.

  3. I have a confession that is shadow related but not specifically post related. Disclaimer: I am 100% derpy.

    I hate Mind Spike. This is actually because I really hate the short duration of DoTs and reapplying them all the damn time (I remember when the purple laser thingie actually refreshed the one DoT thingie …). If Mind Spike removes the DoTs – that thing is a sonofa that Must Not Be Touched.

    But then if you’re not touching it when you have three orbs, you’re pretty much just casting purple laser thingie until the blast thingie comes off cooldown. It is boring, and this makes me sad.

    • sivation says:

      Mind spike is a curious spell – it was added so that shadow priests could have a non-DoT rotation, something people asked for in the run up to Cata. As a part of that they had to have mind spike remove DoTs as it would be too powerful and would go against the the while “no DoT rotation”.

      Generally I’ll only use mind spike as-is in very specific places – normally adds which will not live long enough for DoTs to tick down. Thus they’ll be used on the sparks in HC spoils which have to die very fast.

      I’ll also use them if I’ve taken the From Darkness, Comes Light (FCDL) talent – it gives you a 20% chance per tick of Vampiric Embrace to make your next mind spike instant cast, cost no mana and not remove any of your DoTs. So you can use it in your normal rotation. Even better, the buff you gain stacks twice so if you’re mid-mind flay you don’t have to interrupt the channel to use up the buff before the next proc occurs, at least, not until you get two stacks anyway!

      FCDL was almost a mandatory talent earlier in the expansion thanks to the glyph of mind spike. It used to work for all mind spikes, including the FCDL procs, to make your next mind blast cast within 9s to have its cast time reduced by 50%. So you’d get two FDCL procs, use your two mind spikes and then have an instant-cast mind blast.

      This meant that in PvP shadowpriests had insane burst – once they got those 2x surges of darkness buffs they could throw out a very large amount of damage in a very short space of time. Glyph of Mind Spike was changed to only work with non-instant mind spikes which made FCDL a less mandatory talent.

      The downside to FCDL is that if you have too many targets with vampiric touch on them the high proc rate of 20% means you’ll have far more procs than you can use. You’ll end up being limited by the GCD! For my priest I hit this with more than two targets having vampiric touch on them – during testing for HC protectors I was finding that I’d always have 2 stacks of surge of darkness even when I was using them up as fast as they’d appear. It would also mean that I’d often fail to refresh DoTs as it resulted in a somewhat frenetic play style!

      FDCL is on the same level 45 talent row as mind bender and Solace & Insanity. Generally if you can stand still & nuke a single target, using Solace & Insanity is probably best. It gives you Shadow Word: Insanity to double your mindflay damage whilst a devouring plague cast with three orbs is on the target.

      However if you have to move a lot you’ll find that FDCL pulls ahead – eg you spend a lot of time on HC Malkorok dodging the continually spawning orbs of corruption so you can’t make use of SW:I – FDCL easily pulls ahead.

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