Archive for the Theory Category

Insanity – and they weren’t kidding!

Posted in News, Raids and Instances, Shadowpriest, Theory, Theorycraft with tags , , , on January 17, 2013 by Natarumah

ability_warlock_eradicationIt is hardly a secret that Shadowpriests have been avoiding Power Word: Insanity like the plague; an ability that consumes your Shadow Word:Pain in return for a modest amount of damage (and only if consumed at the very last moment) is like trying to play whack-a-mole with a set of tweezers. Now Blizzard noticed this and tries to put the plague back into this talent, redesigning it for patch 5.2.

The Deal

The current incarnation of the ability as presented is “Solace and Insanity”. We ignore Solace – that’s for our healing brethren. The “Insanity” portion basically causes your Mind Flay to deal double damage while there are three shadow damage DoT’s on the target. This wording is very important because it’s the difference between Insanity being total suck or total win.

First Impression

When you think of the reasonable application, it means that Mind Flay deals double damage only with three of your shadow damage over time effects. That would be all three of VT, SW:Pain and DP. And considering that DP can be applied with 1 to 3 Shadow Orbs (increasing its damage) it suddenly becomes a pain game of deciding whether a 2-Orb DP + double damage MF more often is worth it over a 3-Orb DP with less double damage Mind Flays. In practice, it won’t be.

Taking an 8 second cooldown, you will have a 3-Orb Devouring Plague every 24 seconds, after which your Mind Flay (3 second channel base) will deal double damage. Of course you might get lucky with the Divine Insight procs, but we should discount this for now to get the base value of the talent. This “bare increase” will give Mind Flay a slight boost in DPECT (Damage per Effective Cast Time). Basically, it’s DPECT value increases by 100% but only 1/10 of the time.

To get to this 3-Orb Devouring Plague we need:

  • Three Mind Blasts (1.5 second cast time)
  • Three Mind Blast cooldowns (8 seconds each)
  • Devouring Plague (Instant cast + GCD)
  • We can start casting Mind Flay

Total time required: 4.5 seconds casttime, 24 seconds cooldown, 0.5 seconds GCD = 29 seconds (let’s round to 30); Devouring Plague lasts 6 seconds base, giving us room for 2 Mind Flay casts. This gives us an active time of 12 seconds per minute; 20% uptime on the buffed Mind Flay. This also means a 20% increase (roughly) of the Mind Flay damage you’d see in your logs.

In the red corner, replacing our retarded Shadowfiend: Mindbender. With a minute cooldown base, the Mindbender is fire and forget, deals more damage and restores more mana than the Shadowfiend. It deals about 60% of the damage of a normal Shadowfiend, but can be used three times as often. You will see your “Shadowfiend related damage” increased by 80% if you have the Mindbender talent.

The key here is: which one’s higher?

If we read the tooltip literally

Well, we’d be happy with all our Warlock and Shadowpriest colleagues in the raid, that’s what. If we read it literally, it doesn’t say that we need 3 of our own shadow DoTs on the target, meaning we get the buff as long as aside of our main DoTs (VT, SW:P – which we should keep on our target at all times) one other Dotter is doing his job.

Corruption, Shadowflame, Unstable Affliction, Doom, and Shadowpriest DoTs will all count, and we can effectively say that in a 25man raid we have a 100% uptime on Insanity. That quite changes the outcome of things.

The Match

I am going to take the damage per cast time for Shadowfiend and Mindbender, and bring them back to damage per minute (the shortest cooldown), then I can see the benefit that Mindbender gives as opposed to having a vanilla Shadowfiend over a similar span of time.  I don’t need to do that for Mind Flay, because it has a convenient channel time I can abuse for this. Here I can simply check the direct increase in damage based on its uptime of roughly 20%. (so also 20% more DPECT). 

Shadowfiend DPECT (my gear):51529 (3 minutes cooldown) = 17.176,3 per minute
Mindbender DPECT (my gear): 36.129 per minute
Benefit of Mindbender vs Shadowfiend = 18.952,7

Mind Flay DPECT (my gear): 38.969 (3 second channel)
Insanity DPECT increase: 100%
Active time: 12 seconds/minute (20%)
Benefit of Insanity vs vanilla Mind Flay = 15.587,6

If all DoTs are counted, then the uptime of Insanity becomes about 10o%, massively improving the output of Mind Flay.

Mind Flay DPECT (my gear): 38.969
Insanity DPECT increase: 100%
Active time: 100%
Benefit of Insanity with all DoTs = 77.938 (!)


We can tell that if Insanity is triggered only by our own DoTs, it suffers from giving us a smaller increase in damage even if we’d time our Mind Flays perfectly, and on a Patchwerk style fight. With increasing Haste, the value of Insanity will slowly creep up to the value of Mindbender, but as soon as we have to move or suffer from lag, its value drops significantly. Also note that the 20% active time is really generous, considering it’s 6 seconds of buff for 29 seconds of rampup. Over a fight of 10 minutes you will have 34  buffed Mind Flays (so closer to 17%).

Only when it counts for all Shadow DoTs, from all other raid members, does Insanity catch up – and then it shines. Of course I did count 100% uptime here, but I think that’s reasonable considering that it takes only two Shadowpriests or Warlocks to get this done.

Do note that Mastery, which increases our Shadow DoT damage (and thus Mind Flay) scales very well with this talent. While Mind Bender doesn’t benefit from Mastery at all, a Mastery-heavy gear set will not only bump up DoT damage a lot more, but when combined with Insanity will also interact with the 100% damage buff. A +10% damage from Mastery effectively doubles while Insanity lasts and with a 17% uptime this will work out to 11,7% in practice (or +20% if all DoTs count).

I am not sure which design Blizzard is going to take, but if my napkin math hits anywhere near home, this choice will determine whether we will ever use the talent or not.

As we prepare for our journeys

Posted in Guides, News, Shadowpriest, Theory with tags , , on September 3, 2012 by Natarumah

With the release of patch 5.0, the servers have been flooded with people resubscribing to get into the game before Mists releases. There’s something cute about dozens of people milling around in confusion, trying to find out what their talents are doing, whether their class is still competitive and where they can train for pet battles (which they can’t, until Mists launches).

Shadowpriests are in a good spot at the moment. We’re not so overpowered that the nerfbat looms over us, yet we’re not so much behind or broken that we can’t simply play the game. In fact, I would categorize us as the “somewhat boring, safe choice” at the moment. Warlocks certainly had all the goodies, but from their angle I see a lot of complaints about mana issues, restrictive rotations and the lack of DPS cooldowns.

Our basic rotation

Priority one: Keep up Shadow Word:Pain and Vampiric Touch at all times, on all targets. Shadow Word:Pain gives us Shadow Orbs and Vampiric Touch regenerates health and mana for us.

Use Devouring Plague at 3 Shadow Orbs to be safe, or use it whenever the old one starts to drop off (this may be a DPS loss). Mind Blast on cooldown, Mind Flay as filler. Assuming that you took From Darkness Comes Light and Divine Insight as talents, you’re going to see 2 procs:

When your FDCL procs, your Mind Spike becomes Instant cast, costs no mana and doesn’t wipe DoTs. This is the only time I will use MS, and combined with the Mind Spike Glyph it meshes well with Mind Blast. When DI procs, you get an Instant cast, free Mind Blast. So two procs to juggle, not too serious.

Finally, <20% Health you start prioritizing Shadow Word:Death for execution – if you have it glyphed you can use it while on the move even above 20% health, but otherwise there’s little reason to touch it. Its damage is inferior when not in the Execute phase. Multidot when there’s 2-3 targets, above that target your tank and Mind Sear away.


First off, Silence and Psychic Horror are now baseline. These are great tools while questing and even in dungeons, but they were never worth it to invest talent points in. Rather than including them in the new talent choices (where they would again be ignored, most likely) the Developers decided to add them to our standard toolkit. I am grateful for this, because it also gives us baseline PvP ability right off the bat.

The first tier of our talents are all about control – which you take depends on your personal preference and content. Dominate Mind is great for instancing and mayhem in PvP. Psifiend is of most use when you expect to stay around a single spot for some time – this usually is a raiding situation where you need to keep adds of you – but this is mostly good as healer defense. The Void Tendrils are a good go-to and the one I took for myself – an AoE root around yourself is a great escape.

Your talents will hold a few other choices, most of them up to you. One of the talents I picked up to test them out was our Camouflage, which is simply hilarious. I can’t really judge how effective it would be in a real raiding situation, but in an Ulduar fun-run we had I managed to get aggro on some mobs, and then pop this. They went after my decoy and started hitting it – and by the time it went poof they had to move all over the room to get to me again. This is great as an escape mechanism, especially when combined with Fade, but it will also surprise a lot of people in PvP.

Vital statistics

With the gear chances, Hit isn’t really going to be an issue. We will gain Spell Hit from Hit, Expertise and Spirit now. If you are anal about the hit cap, then the Human race is for you: Expertise bonus with Maces as well as a Spirit bonus. If you are an experienced Shade, 13% Hit will be plenty.

We still favour Haste, but Crit and Mastery are now on a more equal footing. Since they both do the same thing (doubling damage) the only difference is that Crit can help our Shadowfiend cooldown via Mind Flay while Mastery cannot. That said, to prevent gimping yourself due to Diminishing returns, balancing Crit and Mastery isn’t a bad deal. After all – you can have your damage doubled by both a Crit and Mastery at once.

On a personal note: preparations

For alts I often rely on the Darkmoon Faire to get around those pesky sore spots in levelling professions where I’d need to sink in tons of gold. Alas, the Faire’s quests weren’t properly reset this month so that plan went out the window. Since I don’t know whether I want to focus on levelling my Warlock, Death Knight orPaladin after my Priest, I gave them all sufficient shiny gear to survive the starter zone. With my Warrior at 85, I now own an 85 of every class except for the Shaman, which I just never really got into. If I find the energy, I might decide to spend the time before Mists leveling it to 85 just to have a “full stable”

I am looking forward to the pet battles, but I can already see an issue on the horizon. There are quite a few pets of which I have 5 or more copies – in Mists we will be limited to three of each type. As we can’t crate them for trade before Mists actually launches, I worry that some of these pets will be crunched in between “can’t crate it” and “crate or lose it”. With a modicum of common sense, Blizzard will first enforce a “never gain more once you have three of a kind” first and not hard enforce the limit until a month or so passed.

My focus points on the moment are getting my Warlock her droolishious Conquest outfit for mogging, now that it is available for Honor. I was already halfway saving conquest, but things speed up nicely this way. Second on the list is winning that darn Fishing Competition so that I can get my Salty title. Problem is, I am hated by Booty Bay leaving only the Dalaran fishing competition – and that’s a tight window.

The future of Shadowpriests

We are safe for the moment, a good choice. I can see how people from less favored class reroll when they get disappointed about how their classes turned out after the beta. Many times the beta’s start was shiny and new, and the Developers tried lovely new things – only to discard them (like Warlock tanks). But these ideas rooted in the minds of people, as they really liked them. And now that the patch is here, they see their class hasn’t even got half the shinies it was offered.

With Shadowpriests receiving little to no “fun” goodies (less shadowy shadowform? Shadowy pets? Why would I take those?) and is using basically all the old abilities in a slightly modified rotation from before, I think we came out better than I expected. Good damage (but not jaw-droppingly so), plenty mana and a Shadowform that just won’t quit - what more could you wish for?

Learning a class anew

Posted in Guides, PvP, Raids and Instances, Theory with tags , , on August 8, 2012 by Natarumah

When a new expansion is introduced, you will always see people switching their main characters. Either they got tired of their old class, they want to try out a new role, or they believe that that shiny new alt they rolled is going to be a better fit for them. With Mists, you can also add the reason: “help, my class has been completely overhauled”. You will find that there’s a lot of catching up to do, and you don’t really want to wait until the next raiding season to practice all those cooldowns, rotations and gimmicks.

So here’s what you can do: find equivalent practice.

Equivalent practice

In the basics, it’s looking for a training experience equivalent to whatever you are practicing for, except easily repeatable and sometimes secluded for better number crunching. It’s like stepping into a simulator to train your muscle memory for the operations needed to drive a car before setting foot into a real vehicle. You already get the kinks out before stuff gets real.

Training Rotations

The first step in learning your rotations is to map them out: find a good blog, elitist jerks or a skilled friend and find out what buttons you push and in what order. A simple way of doing this is to make a sort of flow chart on a piece of paper, where you put the abilities you cast into boxes and connect them based on 1) what needs to be up in what order of priority and 2) what needs casting based on a prerequisite (such as SW:Deathx2 below 25% health).

You then map out your button bar so that it reflects this chart; in other words, the most important and often used abilities go at the start of the bar, in easy reach. I like to keep Fade and Shield at the back side of the bar, still within quick click range, in case things go wrong. This is a good place for DPS cooldowns as well, such as Archangel and Shadowfiend. Then comes the next step: practicing at a training dummy.

Training Dummies, while awful for finding out what your DPS would be in a raid or the like, are really amiable targets for repeated and continuous spamming. So basically grind out your basic rotations for half an hour or so, trying to get the best grip on it you can. Because there are no mechanics to worry about, you can easily focus on your buttons and bar to work on a good sequence and timing.

Many people would now consider the next step to go into a dungeon – however for reasons I will mention this is usually a bad place to practice these things. Instead, join up for an LFR run. Since with moderate skill you can already do really well there, and mechanics (while present) are not really dangerous, you can afford to spend more time working on your casting sequences. I imagine that this will be no different in Mists of Pandaria, although it does mean you will need to already have reasonable gear for your toon.

Training burst damage and spatial awareness

For these things, the random dungeon finder is awesome (or even better: queueing up with friends). Assuming you know the basic rotations well enough now, this is the place to learn how to apply burst damage and train spatial awareness. Since people in dungeons are often overgearing the place once the raid seasons started, you will have less chance to practice sustained DPS. The more damage the other people are doing in your group, the less time the mob has to live – and the less time you have to practice.

There’s also the matter that low DPS and attempting to learn a rotation while in a random dungeon (especially heroic) is going to make people really edgy. Most people there just want to rush through for gear and Valor points, and they aren’t really waiting for someone who’s still learning the ropes. However, the fact that the heroics/dungeons have proper encounter mechanics to follow means that you will get practice in spatial awareness and performing your role while paying attention to your surroundings.

Survival and creativity training

To be fair, nothing beats learning to survive and creative use of your skills as does PvP. Random battlegrounds are a good start, and you can easily jump right in with a starter kit made by a crafting profession. In the beginning you will die a lot, but as you become more savvy and get better gear you will live longer and be a more threatening target. This is great to learn what possible means of survival you have when playing that class.

Second, since you fight against Human opponents, you need better and more surprising tactics to fool them. This means you will learn by instinct what abilities (and combinations) will work to lock an opponent down or leave them behind while you escape. All skills which will be valuable while raiding.

Class and spec-specific tricks

These are perhaps the only things that can only be learned by using them in arenas, rated battlegrounds or raids. These are either class-specific tricks (Prot warrior charge/intercept, hunter kiting/jump shot, Priestly Hymn of Hope + Shadowfiend) or role-specific (corner pulls, heal stacking, multidotting) and you are going to have to learn them the hard way, by experience. Often it’s these tricks that make the difference between a good DPS and an amazing DPS, and you will learn a lot instinctively and with experience.


There are plenty of ways to train yourself in your class before the raids start – and with Mists of Pandaria bringing in a breath of fresh air for a lot of classes, even experienced players might benefit from a few simple tips on how to (re)learn critical skills for raiding and PvP. If you identify yours now, you can be up and running while your fellows – I mean competition – are still learning to walk again.

Dot Removal – an early view

Posted in News, Shadowpriest, Theory with tags , , , , , on June 29, 2012 by Natarumah

One of the things that seems to be the newest hit in Shadowpriest design land is the “dot removal”. For one reason or another, after the relative faillure (read: very situational use) of Mind Spike, the addition of Shadow Word: Insanity seems to solidify the juxtaposed phasing of Shadowpriest abilities in a “Dotting up – Explode dots”  model.

How it is today

Mind Spike as a spell hits as hard as Mind Blast, but removes all dots on the target. Properly talented, it is buffed by Shadow Orbs and itself will reduce the cast time of Mind Blast, effectively making the next one instant. The basic idea is that this spell will only be used when its Shadow Orb-buffed damage exceeds the damage your Dots do in that time plus the time it takes to reapply them all.

Currently, the only time when this happens is when you have small, easily killed adds that you cannot AoE down, or on Spine of Deathwing (once you have 4piece T13). The latter is because you will use all cooldowns on the Tendon phase, meaning Shadowfiend will give you a lot of Orbs, causing practically all your Mind Spikes and Mind Blasts to benefit from a full three Shadow Orbs.

In Mists of Pandaria

You won’t have the tier 13 bonus, unless they choose to roll it into a talent or glyph, which is highly unlikely. This removes the benefit of using Shadowfiend as a buff for Mind Spike. This means that Mind Spike will once again struggle to overcome the barrier of (Damage Done)>(Dots DPS + DPS loss from recasting dots).

Shadow Word: Insanity has a similar model, except that it will extinguish your dots and then increase its damage done by up to 100% per dot removed. The bolded part is important, because it is dependent upon how long your dots were ticking when they were removed. This means that the SW:I will deal the most damage at the last second of each dot.

The picture above is a basic model of how this would work (click it for a larger view); base damage of the spell is rather low (arbitrary “half a DoT’) but is boosted by the consumed DoTs. It has a break-even point, after which the SW:I will deal more damage that the DoT itself, but you’d want to wait a bit more to ensure you also “cover” the time lost recasting the DoT.

This is split-second timing over 3 dots (SW:Pain, Vampiric Touch and the currently languishing Devouring Plague) and their respective durations. Fortunately it’s instant-cast, so it only has to overcome the barrier of lost recasting the dots, which you would have to anyway considering you cast this spell close to the end of a dot duration. There are a few scenarios to think of as to the use of (and reason to introduce) this spell:

SW:Insanity as a cycle ender

Basically, using SW:Insanity as close as possible to the end of the dots, using it to clean the slate and reapply all dots. This comes down to casting this spell every 12 seconds or so, after which you spend 3-4 seconds reapplying them. This could be a DPS gain or loss – but it would take quite some maths to figure it out since the break-even point of SW:I is highly dependent on gear and scaling. It is, without a doubt, hideously mana inefficient if not used at the split second before a dot would expire needlessly – and with three dots this is likely the case.

SW:Insanity as Burst

If the target is going to die before the dots will do their job (a problem we Shadowpriests are well familiar with) then you can use SW:I to “explode” the dots, allowing you to at least get some damage in before the target dies. This will be mostly useful in 5mans, where dot classes suffer noticeably under more bursty classes. If a mob has 1 million HP, and your party members burst more than you, you end up at the bottom of the meters. It may not be important, but neither is it fun – so this is probably the best use for this spell.

New mechanic is new

A last scenario is not a scenario for the uses of the spell, but the reason for its introduction: innovation. In order to distinguish us from the (arguably superior, more fun and better presented) Affliction Warlock, the developers tried to diverge our methods. We both rely on dots, but where the Affliction Locks use Malefic Grasp to “supercharge” their Dots, we “explode”  them.

This is of course a valid option, although I find my nose rankling at the thought of being a dot class that removes its dots willingly. Mind Spike at least was only marginally useful, so it was safe to ignore this spell all through Cataclysm until the Spine of Deathwing encounter. Shadow Word: Insanity is liable to become one of those spells the entire spec is going to be balanced around.


Maybe this is a gesture towards the Shadowpriests who clamored for maths and complexity, or maybe it’s an unintended complicated mechanism – this is its second incarnation, with a more clear description.

Personally, I think  the spell has potential in the margins. With superior gear, it’s possible an advanced Dot-Explode-Dot cycle becomes a bursty and viable way of dealing with bosses. It’s also a good way to ensure that your dots will not go to waste, as any lost potential is pumped into its instant damage. With proper development it might have use, but it will require more information and a truckload of maths to figure out when it’s useful and when it’s a loss.

The Old Gods and their new toys

Posted in Diary, Fun, News, Roleplaying, Shadowpriest, Theory with tags , , , , on June 3, 2012 by Natarumah

Things are starting to get rolling in the Priest department, it seems. When MMO-Champion released a video of the new priest animations (check it out here) by Kit, the first thing that went through my head is “hey – I think I see a theme…” which is a good thing, definitely. While the Holy and Discipline priests have their clear and present feels, I posted before on how Shadowpriests need to be re-examined and have their theme pulled tight again.

When I look at these animations, however, I have to say that the ballpark seems to be squarely in the Old Gods department again. Let’s have a look at a few telling animations, and see what we can gather from it…or what may be yet in store.


The Psyfiend looks like a strange mixture between the Sha (The spiritual manifestations of bad and twisted emotions in Pandaria) and an evolved Shadowfiend. As you can see, it has the Shadowfiend’s head and back (including gaping maw) with its lower half devolving into a legless form of spirit and Shadows.

Considering that the Sha represent emotions and are a major threat to Pandaria, I wouldn’t be surprised if this cemented the link between the Shadowfiend being a gift from the Old Gods and the Sha being the creations or manipulations by one. Of course, we’d have to follow through on the Mists of Pandaria storyline in order to find out for sure, but the chances are high that we may find some solid linking between the various concepts.

If you look at the Sha on WoWPedia, you will find that there’s a good resemblance between the Sha types and the Shadowfiend, as well as the ominous stained glass window that was revealed  (which is of course a representation of Yogg-Saron). If we will be eventually facing an Old God in this expansion, it’s therefore likely to be a shadowy one – perhaps finally revealing where the Shadowpriests of the Horde and Alliance are getting their powers from.

Void Tendrils

Of all of the new Priest abilities, this is the most no-brainer of them all. Tendrils that look like any used by the Old Gods and their servants. From Ch’tun to Yogg-Saron, from Vezzax to Zon’ozz, you can’t seem to fight these guys without tripping over tentacles. And right now, Priests can do that exact same thing. It’s possibly the most telling example of the connection between the Old Gods and Shadowpriests, but also the most iconic. Raise your hands if you have run Ch’tun and Yogg-Saron even in Wrath to get your hands on any of the tentacle trinkets?


And the last of the abilities I want to focus on is Mindbender, allowing us to control others’ minds. Where the Shadowfiends dutifully suck out all of that delicious mana for us to use from our enemies the Mindbenders pop out of whatever Shadowy hiding place they come from and give us more soldiers to use in our battles – and these Mindbenders are creatures we’ve seen before. One of them controls Erunak Stonespeaker in the Throne of the Tides, and will jump to party members to do the same.

And one large specimen of this creature controls a Flesh Giant in the Twilight Highlands (Julak-Doom) while Ozumat is likely the largest specimen of this type encountered near Azeroth. The fact that this race is aligned with, and probably spawned by, the Old Gods and now in service to Shadowpriests is telling of our allegiance in the great race between Order (Titans) and Chaos (Old Gods).


We are looking at a solid design element here, Old Gods. People have speculated about them for years now, and I would be delighted if Shadowpriests were actively part of that lore. It’d make us bad guys, sure – or at the very least anti-heroes, but it would give us plenty of visual elements to give us new toys with.

Imagine powers based on the Faceless Ones, such as shadowy globs that explode on impact or eye stalks that cast Mind Flay? Why not some form of buff that makes us bigger and turns out arms into tentacles (or have them grow out of our backs) to show the corruptive influences of our magics?

And if you ever want to remake the Shadowpriest (like what happened to Warlocks) I can offer up one suggestion: replace the mana bar with a Sanity bar. As we go along, many of our abilities reduce our Sanity, producing various nasty visual results, until we ran out of Sanity and can no longer cast spells. We regain Sanity by draining it from enemies (as we do now) or by casting spells that are helpful to our raid (Shadowy healing, buffs, and the like). It might be that certain powerful abilities – instead of being on a cooldown – require the Shadowpriest to be below a certain level of Sanity (thoroughly insane to grasp these terrible secrets) before they can be used.

I hope Blizzard will stick with the Old Gods theme, because as you can see there is so much that can still be done and left to explore. It certainly would keep me playing my Shadowpriest!


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