Logic and logistics of a Shadowpriest

I made no secret of it that I was a bit disappointed at the revealed new spells and talents, and that I believe Shadowpriests haven’t been given quite the attention that would be needed to prevent us from going down on the sliding scale of irrelevant specs. Note that this posts is mostly basic logic and my ideas about Shadowpriests and I dont claim to be an expert at game development – the balancing calculations alone would probably give me nightmares.

The main trigger for this post is the recenly revealed class abilities on the Mists of Pandaria, where Warlocks, Druids and Death Knights get simply put awesome new abilities, while Priest talent-specific abilities are incomplete and – in many cases – incorrect or outdated. Add to that the fact that Shadowpriests gain 2 abilities in their specs which are mostly PvP, while losing 75% of all healing and raid utility, and you can imagine I’d like to see some change, some enthusiasm.

I’d like for Shadowpriests to no longer be forgotten and diminished for the sake of the “greater good of gameplay”.

I’d like for Shadowpriests to make sense thematically, balanced in gameplay and developed by people with love for this concept.

And finally, I’d like to stop the monopoly DKs/Warlocks have on abilities that are marginally evil-looking or have awesome graphics. For me, I’d like to hope that this is just a matter of ironing out some kinks, and not a lack of love from development. I mean, it’s quite alright if whoever is the Priest developer has little love for the Shadowpriest, or no idea what to do with us – but then at least use the immense resources of the player base for inspiration.

We love our specs, we love the game and we’re smart enough that sometimes Balance > Awesome. Shadowpriest bloggers, posters on the forums and the dedicated people at Shadowpriest.com are all hoping for a change for the better.

The purpose of a talent tree

The basic idea behind talent trees (and the choice of spec) is that it makes a meaningful difference in how you play the game. This difference can be quite startling (like the various Druid specs which are nothing alike, or we who profile ourselves as DPS in a primary healer-oriented class), based on role (such as the Paladin, Death Knight and Warrior tanking specs) or simply to denote the difference inside a single DPS class (rogues, mages, warlocks).

What is clear is that each of these specs has a clear theme. Affliction warlocks are all about DoTs and shadow damage, Demonology allows you to turn into a demon yourself, and Destruction is all about Nukes. Likewise, Arms warriors are controlled soldiers, Fury denotes a frothing risk-taking berserker and Protection is the tanking spec. With priests, Holy is all about the prayers and chakras, Discipline is all about shields and smites – while Shadow is, well, shadow-damage DPS.

The first step here is that we need to define clearly what a Shadowpriest is, and what it is not. A Shadowpriest is not a healer – they might provide Shields, but otherwise they hurt their enemies. The draw their power from the Shadow, based on vengeance and mental influence. The first thing that comes to my mind is an Inquisitor – one who purges the world of that which is not approved by their faith.

So what is it that we think of, with an inquisitor:

  • Protects those who are allies, and bestows upon them the blessings of (the Light, the Shadow, the Old Gods, whatever)
  • Punishes those who transgress, and converts those who can be saved
  • Eliminates dangers to their allies, often by painful and horrific means

Quite a few of the abilities we have fall in this model: Mind Control, Psychic Horror, Silence, Vampiric Embrace, and Mind Vision all are abilities that would serve an Inquisitor well. The main damaging abilities (SW:Pain, SW:Death, Mind Flay, Mind Blast, Mind Sear) are all the kind of mental afflictions one would expect, so that’s all in order as well. In return, we bless our allies with Fortitude, physical strength. Check in the box.

Amount of abilities gained

Another angle to look from at the Shadowpriest is the number of available spells. If you count them, you will find that various classes have differing amounts of abilities. Shadowpriests under the new model will have 31 spells/abilities, including armor and weapon skills. Compare this to Arcane Mages (40+ not including teleports, portals and polymorph variants), Affliction Warlocks (50+ not counting Soulburn effects), Disc Priests (34+ not including missing Evangelism and Atonement), Balance Druids (45+ not including shapeshifts and feral abilities) and Unholy DKS (45+).

Judging from such numbers, it shows that we have some wiggle rooms with the amount of new abilities we could add before it becomes unbalanced number-wise. Even if fleshing out our concept adds 5-10 abilities, it still would be ok because we can’t use some of the abilities we actually have already.

Ability Synergy

In the Shadowpriest, there are currently a few synergies:

  • SW:P and Mind Flay stack Shadow Orbs, which empower Mind Spike or Mind Blast
  • Mind Flay stacks Evangelism, which can be consumed with Archangel
  • Mind Blast cast with 1+ Shadow Orb triggers Empowered Shadows

So all in all, there are quite a few things that you as a player need to align for maximum damage. In MoP, Shadow Orb mechanics will change, which also influences Empowered Shadows (if it isn’t removed) – reducing our ramp-up time.

Roles and tasks

This is where things get a bit interesting. There is a profound difference between a Role and a Task. A Role signifies one of the three main roles tank, healer, DPS) which a player may perform. Task signifies a special ability that can be used for the benefit of the PvP group/raid that is not a stun, fear, silence, immobilize, etc. There are two reasons why I do not count these:

  • They are often made part of the talent tree these days, for common class utility.
  • There must be a benefit for PvE and PvP alike, although it is ok to be more useful in one setting over the other.

Good examples of such utility/task skills are:

  • Mage: Portals/Teleports, Conjure Refreshment, Invisibility, Blink.
  • Warlock: Demonic Circle, Demonic Portal, Summoning, Healthstone, Soulstone.
  • Balance Druid: Battle Rez, Stampeding Roar, Knockback, Mushrooms.

So what would be interesting is to find, say, five abilities which fit with the Shadowpriest as an Inquisitor type, which are not overpowerd and prefereably not shared by another class. In addition, these need to be Utility abilities that do not (directly) impact DPS or PvP control. Sounds challenging? It is, actually. As I stated before, most of the ” semi-evil”  and “cool” abilities are part of the Warlock and Death Knight class, while most of the Shadow-related abilities are part of the Rogue.

A great miscellaney of zany ideas

The following ideas are based on the above concept. They are as unique as I could manage to imagine them, with as little duplicating existing abilities as I could (but it’s uunavoidable at some point). It’s just a collection of random brain-spinnings to indicate that there’s quite a few things that could be done with the Shadowpriest – and that we shouldn’t be relegated to being pet-less Affliction Warlocks.

Scapegoat: The Shadowpriest leaves behind a shadowy image of himself, which is a minion. This minion will receive all buffs and debuffs that the Shadowpriest had (except for encounter-specific ones that couldn’t be removed by an Immunity efffect), leaving the Shadowpriest without any. The Shadowpriest also drops all aggro as if he had cast Fade (and Fade is placed on cooldown if it wasn’t alredy). This basically is a defensive ability, where you may drop stacks of nastiness, DoTs and other effects at the cost of losing all your buffs as well (such as Fortitude, Brilliance, Tricks, Dark Intent, Focus, and so on). This is a mix of Cloak of Shadows (rogue) and Invisibility (mage).

An ability like this probably should have a reasonably lengthy cooldown, say 3 minutes or so, and cost a substantial amount of mana.  For a more raid-utility type spell, this spell could be altered to work on party members instead (but not the Shadowpriest).

Castigate: Reverses the power of Leap of Faith to target a single enemy target and knock it back in a straight line from you for the same distance. Shares a cooldown with Leap of Faith. This way, there’s a clear choice of bringing an ally to your side or to rebutt an enemy (and possibly knock him through traps and into friendly bruisers, depending on player skill). A controlled knockback would be a fresh change from AoE/Cone effects like Thunderstorm and Typhoon.

Alternately, this ability could be used to force two targets together that doesn’t include yourself. If such an ability only works on allies, then it might help to close gaps between raid members, while as an offensive ability it can be used to force people together who suffer from contagious debuffs.

Shadow Runes:  Rather than add more direct utility, you can re-balance some gained CC options by instead having a Shadowpriest be capable of placing a select few Shadow Runes (which are a bit like Hunter Traps and Druid Mushrooms) which can stun/root/fear/knockback when triggered – and an ability that allows the Shadowpriest to trigger them from a distance. This would allow (again) some more area control in PvE and PvP alike, and allows a Priest to make use of the battlefield to split up enemies or outrun them.

While similar to Hunter traps in this writeup, they probably wouldn’t be invisible. Another option regarding how such an environment-based playstyle might work out you could check the Demon Hunter from Diablo 3 or the Saboteur from RIFT.

Suffering: Just as an option for a masochistic class would be for a Shadowpriest to combine self-healing with sacrifice, requiring an amount of health to be sacrificed instead of mana. This is an unlikely option, since Blizzard seems determined to reduce the amount of self-damage effects. While I consider this a good thing (Baleroc + Tormented + <25% health = oneshot) one of the traits of the spec is that we don’t mind being hurt to hurt others instead.

Improving our self-healing or adding a self-rez (like the Shaman’s Reincarnate) would mitigate this factor somewhat. In fact, removing mana for Shadowpriests and replacing it with Agony instead, which is a balance between damage taken/done and sacrifice might do the trick to give us a unique way of play without adding tons of new abilities.

The following ideas are not unique – they are conversions from abilities that are present in other classes, but might make an interesting complement for a Shadowpriest. Of course, there would be a lot of qq regarding this, because all specs must be unique ” except for my own, which may borrow from other specs without issues”. You know how this works.

Shadow Crash: Like the Shadow Crash from General Vezax. A slow-moving small AoE effect would be welcome to round up and eliminate small groups of adds or punish flag-hugging PvPers. The damage shouldn’t be punative, but it has its uses to flush out stealthers (since Hunters can now stealth too) and area control.

Shadow of Death: I mentioned this type of conversion before in a previous post. It would be awesome to make Holy Fire a Shadow DD spell with a DoT, or make a Shadow-version of Divine Hymn which is a channeled close-range AoE effect. Hymn of Hope becomes Hymn of Despair, draining mana from enemy targets nearby. Another interesting damage technique would be a play on Arcane Blast – except that when adding up when you cast the spell, it adds up when you damage targets with it. Dark wellspring: like the good old Lightwell standby but providing mana instead of health.

Like Shadow Crash, it has the disadvantage that these would be considered DPS abilities – and how many of those do we need? We can see how little use Mind Spike sees today – even though it was hailed originally as “our new nuke”.

Sanctified Zone: Merging the concepts of Desecrated Ground (DK) and Vampiric Dominance (Priest), an interesting idea might be that a Shadowpriest places a shadowy zone on the ground, and the healing provided by Vampiric Embrace/Dominance would prefer targets inside the zone over those outside for its healing. This way, a Shadowpriest can decide to make “safe spots”  where people can go to get some minor heals (like the Lightwell does) and make the healing a bit more targeted.

Refurbished Boss abilities: Just because bosses once used it, doesn’t mean we can’t adapt it for use as a personal technique. Old gods-related or religious bosses are preferred targets for this effect. Just check this link here for the incredible variety on specific Shadow spell effects in the game. Some of these highlights which would make nice Shadowpriest spells include:

  • Aegis of Ragnaros – a shield that absorbs damage and damages melee attackers
  • Atrophy – reduces casting speed and attack speed
  • Aura of Darkness – deal shadow damage to nearby targets
  • Aura of Desire – damage taken when damage is dealt by the target
  • Blackout – absorbs healing done and explodes if not removed, damage shared by nearby targets

Mana Burn option: Secondarily, Mana Burn is another controversial topic. While some clamor for its removal, it’s mostly a balancing issue I think. Even so, if anyone should have access to it, it would be a Shadowpriest. But making it so that casting it requires Shadow Orbs (effectively you must choose MB or MB – Mana Burn or Mind Blast) might make it easier to balance out by having it be comparable to Mind Blast in its overall effect.


What I have become convinced of that must be done is for developers to publicize a clear design philosophy and theme for the Shadowpriest other than “non-healer who uses shadow spells” now that the final nail in the coffin of the Mana Battery days seems to land. Only with that will facilitate a redesign of the spec for a proper amount of damage, utility and CC. There are probably tons more ideas that could be generated, and there will likely be opponents and proponents alike. What this is meant to illustrate is that the toybox is far from empty, and plenty ideas and concepts haven’t been tapped or tried out.


4 Responses to “Logic and logistics of a Shadowpriest”

  1. As an aside, for those who’d like a short rundown of Shadowpriest development:

    Classic – Talent spec purely for PvP; the soft-mannered priests could respec to become monsters.

    TBC – mana/health battery with the inclusion of Vampiric Embrace and Vampiric Touch, stack three in your raid to win.

    Wrath – VE healing strongly reduced, mana returns unhooked from damage and made %wise. Mind Sear introduced which swung from laughable to ridiculously overpowered.

    Cataclsym – Damage made steady (might be overpowered at high levels due to scaling) but VE healing reduced below Warlock levels.

    Raid utility has dwindled quite a bit from TBC to Cata days, and while our game mechanics now work quite smoothly, there’s still a ramp-up time involved and nothing new that wasn’t at least ‘experimental’ like Mind Spike, and not used or not used as it was intended.

  2. Lots of good ideas here. If I were more devoted to the game at the moment I would probably be imagining all those ideas come to life :)

    Right now I just hope that developers will start thinking the same way! Regardless of how attached I am to the game at any given point in time I’m always attached to my character.

    Really I think I want them to announce some NEW MMO – playable on the Mac! – that has a kick ass Priest like damage dealing class for me. That would get me excited all over again.

    • Don’t get me wrong, I love WoW – which is the reason I am getting so worked up about this in the first place. I get the feeling that when it was time to make a web-based preview of the talents, every department was simply told to give what they had.

      Which meant the super-excited Warlock and Death Knight teams had lots to offer, and the other teams quite a bit less – or just about nothing in some cases.

      With such omissions as Mana Burn, Devouring Plague and Mind Blast, I can only hope that this means that there’s a lot of goodies hidden there that necessitated cleaning up our spell list.
      But to be honest, I think that Mana Burn will be lost to PvP whiners, Mind Blast was simply forgotten in the process because it’s Shadow-only, and Devouring Plague will probably show up as the new Death Knight disease or somesuch.

  3. When I tried out Rift in February, I tried to play the most Shadow-like build they provided (which, incidentally, was Inquisitor.) There were a few spells that I found myself wanting when I came back to WoW:

    Shroud of Agony — kind of like the old Touch of Weakness.
    Excommunicate — a knockback similar to your Castigate idea.
    Impede — a ranged snare that doesn’t slow much, but is off the GCD and has a theoretical 100% uptime.

    Several spells are still missing from the calculator, also — Mass Dispel, Fade, Mind Spike and Cure Disease for a few. I’d be surprised if we lost any more spells than Mana Burn.

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