Shadow Priest Ability Iteration for WOWX5

Over on Feckless Leader, Ross talked about his thoughts for what Enhancement might look like if Dr. Street gets his wish about culling abilities from all the specs in the coming expansion.

That in mind, I wanted to look at Shadow in particular and maybe do a bit of the same thinking.

The Current State Remains Current

As it stands, Shadow’s priority set-up looks like this:

  1. Cast Devouring Plague when you have 3 orbs.
  2. Keep Mind Blast on CD until you get 3 orbs. (During Execute, tap Shadow Word: Death at least once for orbs)
  3. Keep Shadow Word: Pain and Vampiric Touch up on the target.
  4. Mind Flay as a filler.

Obviously, the Talent Grid is going to play into that system as well, but I’ve got some thoughts on that I’ll get to in a minute. For now, looking strictly at Shadow’s regular toolkit, you’ve got the six priority spells listed up there, Mind Sear for AoE, Dispersion and Power Word: Shield for damage mitigation, Vampiric Embrace for occasional group residual healing, Silence, Psychic Horror, and Psychic Scream for fear/interrupts, Shadowfiend and Hymn of Hope for mana returns, Mind Spike for add-killing, Fade for aggro management, and various non-Shadow specific spells that aren’t locked to Disc/Holy.

When it comes down to it, Shadow is pretty lean on spells in comparison to Enhancement, but I think that’s got more to do with Shaman. Shaman, as a class, has a lot of abilities that are accessible across all three specs, with a wide variety of spells that are mutually exclusive (weapon imbues and totems, specifically) while Shadow has really only got two spells that are like that in Inner Fire/Will. There’s also a lot of spells that Shadow flat out can’t use while in Shadowform (though I’m pleased to note that in the current iteration of the 5.4 PTR, the Glyph of Dark Binding spells are now rolled into Shadowform by default). So overall, I don’t think there are a lot of abilities that can just get cut or combined to reduce the bloat, but here are a few thoughts:

  • Mind Spike can go, mostly because it doesn’t satisfy the intended design of being a good spell in burst phases or against low-health adds, especially since losing synergy with Mind Blast.
  • One could argue that having to juggle two dots is a sign that one could go, but I’d say that if Shadow didn’t have to manage VT and SW:P it would trivialize the difficulty of the spec play.
  • I’m not certain Fade is useful when Shadow has Dispersion, but if that collapse happened you’d see Dispersion given to Holy/Disc priests.

Glyph It Good

Something that Ross didn’t really address, and something that I think might help in terms of reducing the number of buttons pushed, is considering how it might be valuable to turn certain spells into glyphs to collapse them together. Obviously this would add a layer where you’d have mutually-exclusive glyphs, but that doesn’t sound like it would be too difficult to manage.

For example, Psychic Horror, Psychic Scream, and Silence all have relatively long cooldowns (30-45 seconds) and all serve the same primary purpose of interrupting a target’s offensive ability. The difference is mainly in cost (Psychic Horror costs Orbs, while Silence and Psychic Scream cost mana) and number of targets hit (Psychic Scream hits up to 5, while the others are single-target).

So let’s make Psychic Scream the primary spell, and modify it thusly:

  • Glyph of Focused Screams: Your Psychic Scream now hits only one target, and instead of fleeing in terror, the target is silenced and unable to cast spells for 5 seconds. Non-player victim spell-casting is also interrupted for 3 seconds.
  • Glyph of Horrific Screams: Your Psychic Scream now hits only one target, and also causes the target to drop their weapons and shield for 8 seconds. Cooldown increased to 45 seconds.

As a result, players would have only one button for interrupts (though admittedly, fear-immune mobs made Silence the only viable interrupt anyway) but it would be one button instead of three.

On Talents

I am beginning to suspect that part of the reason for the talent grid design was not just its obvious purpose (give players a variety of choices about how to individualize their characters) but also the ability for them to control button bloat. Each tier presents the opportunity for three new abilities to come into play, allowing the designers to go wild with coming up with new potential concepts, BUT each tier only gives players one more button, if even that, since it might be a passive or an ability that alters an existing rotational ability. This wasn’t something that was hugely evident to players making the transition from Wrath or Cataclysm to Mists, because many of the abilities that showed up in the grid for most classes were talents that had been in the trees before. But in a new expansion, with the talent grid being well-established, Blizzard can really push into new territory and make the next tier something that’s got a lot of potential pop to it.

I’m actually pretty happy with the level 90 talents for Shadow, since it’s really a choice of “how many targets do you want to hit and where are they going to be?” So I’ve got faith that the next tier will be pretty dynamic as well.


In terms of off-the-cuff ideas of stuff I’d like to change about or add to Shadow, here’s what I’ve got.

  • Alter Mind Flay to be the low-life add spell by adding this (either baseline or as a glyph): If Mind Flay is cast on a target with none of your Shadow damage-over-time effects, each tick decreases the cooldown of your Mind Blast by 2 seconds.
  • Make Void Shift a combat resurrection for Shadow.
  • Inner Darkness: A burst of shadowy energy fills the caster, making Shadow Word: Death usable on targets that have less than 50% health. Shadow: When not in combat, gain one shadow orb every 2 seconds. You can only have Inner Will, Inner Fire, or Inner Darkness active at a time.
  • Devouring Plague should be renamed to Devouring Shadows. The ‘Plague’ bit is an artifact of when it was a Forsaken Priest racial, and it doesn’t fit the themes of the class as a whole. (Admittedly, this is a quibble, but it’s one that’s bothered me since DP became a rotational spell in Wrath.)
  • Bring back Shadowguard as a glyph for Shadowform: When struck by a single-target spell, melee, or ranged attack, gain 1 Shadow Orb. This effect can only take place every few seconds.

What do you see in the future for Shadow as a spec? What about other classes and specs? Sound off in the comments. ^_^

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