Going into patch 9.1.5 the Shadow Priest community wanted to provide our feedback on the 9.x redesign of Shadow after playing with it for almost a year on live servers. For the most part, this has been a great first pass at the spec but there are some specific things we would like to highlight that, if addressed, would help improve the spec. In addition to baseline features, we will also cover system designs specific to Shadow Priests because these can have a large impact on the feel of the overall spec.
Shadow Priest is currently lacking in baseline AoE. Mind Sear, our only baseline AoE ability, is primarily a filler spell so spamming it feels very lackluster. There are some talents that improve our AoE but, simply making this baseline is not enough to fix the issue. Specifically, the spec is missing a baseline AoE Insanity spender spell to give us somewhere to dump Insanity during AoE.
Unfortunately, this problem is more complicated than simply making Searing Nightmare baseline as the rotation is not very smooth or satisfying. Specifically, requiring that Mind Sear be channeled before Searing Nightmare can be cast effectively delays our AoE by one GCD every two Searing Nightmare casts. This requirement also makes it very cumbersome to use while moving or in the middle of cooldowns when we have so many other things we would like to use as well.
Alternatively, pretend that Devouring Plague is an AoE Insanity Spender. We could then always dump our Insanity like we would in any 1-2 target situation:
- VB > Builder > Spender > VB > Builder > Spender or
- Builder > Builder > Spender > Builder > Builder > Spender etc.
This cleans up the rotation and makes it flow the same way Shadow’s baseline rotation does. However, with Searing Nightmare, we have an AoE spender that requires an additional GCD every time we want to use it which forces us to either remove abilities from our rotation, cap our Insanity, or delay other spells.
With the target cap on the majority of the AoE abilities being removed or redesigned to square root scaling, in 9.1.5, the niche value of uncapped specs like Shadow Priest will be drastically reduced. Aside from covenant abilities, the only damage ability we currently have capped is the Shadowflame Prism legendary. Uncapping it is a step in the right direction but probably isn’t a large enough change to give Shadow an opportunity to continue to be competitive in AoE.
Another capped ability we would also like to see changed is Psychic Scream. Because of the 5 target cap this can be unreliable in Mythic+ to use as a “stop” or AoE Interrupt, and does not offer much else to the spec outside of that in PvE.
Consider iterating on existing spells like Void Eruption, Shadow Crash, or Searing Nightmare (without the requirement of Mind Sear) to address Shadow’s AoE damage.
One of the frustrating aspects of maining a Shadow Priest in Shadowlands is the return of Power Infusion and specifically the ability to cast it on other allies in your party/raid. While not all Shadow Priests are impacted by this we wanted to include it based on the negative impact this has on many players. While we understand that casting a major cooldown on an ally is a unique design, and a way to introduce a new niche among classes, it just doesn’t feel good as a DPS player given that the decision rarely becomes our choice. In fact, the ability to cast it on others usually creates a toxic environment where the Shadow Priest is forced to give away a core part of our spec just because it is mathematically better on someone else. Even if it is better for someone else, as a DPS player casting one of our cooldowns on someone else rarely feels good. It also creates unnecessary balance issues for Shadow, where we are balanced around using Power Infusion on ourselves but then go into a raid where we might be asked/forced to give it away.
We understand that the parsing/log culture isn’t necessarily a Blizzard problem but something created by the community. However, it is a very big part of the PvE scene and the majority of raiders are using it to compare themselves to other players and specs. When you introduce external buffs to the game, that comparison will never be a fair one because all it comes down to is who can convince their raid to provide them with the most amount of external buffs, not about who played the fight and/or their spec the best for that situation.
This has been discussed in further detail in this article posted on IcyVeins.
Shadowflame Prism on Single Target is a great legendary that changes the Shadow rotation in a positive way. It also competes reasonably well with other choices due to it being further enhanced by Mindbender and the Rabid Shadows conduit.
Unfortunately, the synergy between Shadow Flame Prism and the Night Fae’s Wrathful Faerie can create a problem where we are generating Insanity much quicker than we can spend it during our cooldown windows. As a result of this interaction, we end up having to choose between spending Insanity to prevent overcapping or using our strong abilities like Void Bolt, Mind Blast or Shadow Word: Death on cooldown to get more value from Shadow Flame Prism. This choice will continue to get harder as gear scales in Shadowlands, we get more ranks of Rabid Shadows, and generate more Shadowy Apparition procs.
This will be further complicated as our haste during cooldowns breaks 100% and the Insanity generation of Mindbender continues to increase while our ability to spend Insanity plateaus as we hit the GCD floor, which will start to artificially cap the damage of Shadowflame Prism. That said, without Shadowflame Prism, Mindbender, and Fae Guardians synergizing together this issue hardly occurs, which makes balancing a challenge.
In AoE situations, Shadowflame Prism struggles to feel powerful because it is almost always directly compared to Searing Nightmare. Searing Nightmare is uncapped while Shadowflame Prism is hard capped at 5 targets. Because of this, and the general scaling of Shadowflame Prism, it is only viable in lower target counts where you don’t get as much out of Searing Nightmare. Unfortunately, with the way most dungeons are designed, we are often not pulling packs of 2-4 targets where this would shine, especially if they aren’t fully stacked.
The balance of Shadowflame Prism is effectively tied to Searing Nightmare tuning since they are more or less equal in damage per target up to whatever target count Shadowflame Prism is capped at. This also means that the way Shadowflame Prism actually competes is from secondary effects like extra Mind Blast and Shadow Word: Death casts, rather than just Shadowflame Prism damage itself. We bring this up to showcase that balancing our AoE Insanity spender with Shadowflame Prism does have complications and one small change could affect the other’s viability.
Furthermore, while the Insanity generation from extending Mindbender is valuable in Single Target it diminishes rapidly in AoE when we are usually generating more Insanity than we care to spend in that situation. These problems are very similar to the AoE design mentioned above and Shadowflame Prism struggles to have a clear AoE path that is intuitive and fun to play with because of it.
In a world where we have uncapped AoE available to Shadow Priests, Shadowflame Prism should be uncapped or use square root scaling. Increasing the cap from 5 to 8 targets does not fix the issue, just moves it up to that target count. Considering this is more or less our only AoE legendary it should be exceptional at AoE. In addition, now that Shadowflame Prism is no longer the clear BiS legendary for all 4 covenants it stands to reason that the previous nerfs to this could be reverted to bring it back in balance with other legendaries that we have available to us.
On its surface, Talbadar’s Stratagem is a solid legendary but it struggles to compete in the situations it was designed to be good at. This is a pure single target legendary that is beaten on a single target by other legendaries that are not pure single target.
That being said, there is something to be said for the synergy between this legendary and the Psychic Link talent for spread cleave. If something could be tuned between Psychic Link and Talbadar’s Stratagem we could find a solid niche for this legendary/talent combination that would be fun and rewarding to play. Unfortunately, as we have seen with other legendaries, linking power of a legendary to the power of a talent makes scaling and balancing quite challenging.
One of the biggest things holding this legendary back is actually the Mind Devourer conduit. While Shadowflame Prism gains significant benefits from Rabid Shadows, Talbadar’s Stratagem and Mind Devourer are nowhere near as potent a combination. Even a slight buff to Mind Devourer and a revert of the Talbadar’s Stratagem nerf could actually fix some of these issues.
As the expansion unfolds and we get more gear one thing is certainly clear in the new design of Shadow Priests, Insanity generation is bountiful. For this reason, offering a legendary that primarily serves to give the user Insanity becomes worse over time as we scale and naturally generate more Insanity (Haste, Critical Strike with Auspicious Spirits, etc). At the start of Shadowlands it seemed that legendaries were targeted to be about a 5% DPS gain. This legendary being right around 5% at the time made it reasonably useful but now that Shadowflame Prism, Talbadar’s Stratagem, and Pallid Command grant significantly more than that this legendary has more or less just been left in the dust.
While the fact that Eternal Call to the Void can swap between a single target or AoE proc can make it slightly more versatile, the proc rate doesn’t do this justice and can often feel like it doesn’t do anything at all. Buffing the proc rate and increasing the damage of the Mind Sear tentacle could make this legendary very useful in Mythic+ scenarios.
This legendary suffers from additional balancing issues with the spell it is trying to buff, Shadow Word: Death. Currently Shadow Word: Death is not worth pressing outside of execute so the legendary effectively has a gap it needs to pass over to make it worth it for 80%+ of the encounter.
Another large problem with Painbreaker Psalm is that it removes our DoTs from the target. This eliminates the bonus from Mastery: Shadow Weaving and forces us to recast DoTs early resulting in a DPS loss.
While the legendary does make Shadow Word: Death more potent it doesn’t provide nearly enough of a DPS increase to be competitive. Ideally this legendary would be reworked completely rather than simply trying to buff it, which has been done a few times over Shadowlands without significant impact.
Also note that due to the significant amount of damage taken during execute from Shadow Word: Death, any attempt to increase the damage of Shadow Word: Death could have adverse effects on our health pool making the legendary actually worse. That being said, if the legendary removed the damage to the caster while buffing Shadow Word: Death’s damage in some way that could be a good rework to start with for Painbreaker Psalm.
The Kyrian legendary is useful for making Boon of the Ascended line up with Power Infusion and can give additional uses of Boon of the Ascended on certain kill timers. However, the niche nature of this and the overall lack of power in Boon of the Ascended makes this legendary not particularly enticing for Shadow Priests as it doesn’t result in a significant damage increase.
The legendary would preferably also empower Boon of the Ascended to always provide some value even in situations where we do not get an extra boon, that way fight timings do not massively swing the power of this legendary.
The lack of power of Boon of the Ascended in AoE makes this legendary not an option for Mythic+ Kyrian Priests either. However, even in its current state this legendary could see play in Mythic+ as Shadow if Boon of the Ascended was buffed to be a worthwhile DPS CD on AoE.
Assuming perfect conditions, this legendary can actually be quite competitive in several situations, the problem is the actual proc of the legendary is not something within our control. Since it requires one of the “shields” of Mindgames to be broken before you get the critical strike, a boss delaying to hit the tank/current target could result in a massive swing in DPS gain for this legendary.
One suggestion to help normalize the value from this legendary would be to give a higher base amount of Critical Strike and scale an additional component based on the remaining duration of the shield. That way you still can optimize casting Mindgames with a big tank ability, but the swing in DPS is not so large. It would also be nice if this base amount of Critical Strike was given on Mindgames cast, rather than waiting for the shield to break in cases where it might never break due to boss phasing/etc.
In addition, the shield breaking in Mythic+ is much harder as mobs and bosses generally do less damage than they do in raids, pending key level and affixes. If it could be changed to be more viable in these situations, getting this burst of Critical Strike could actually make it a very strong Mythic+ legendary to play with.
The reduced cooldown or Insanity provided by this legendary does not provide a significant damage increase. The main issue with this legendary is buffing the Fae Guardians spell directly does not provide enough of an increase since the original ability itself is already such a small portion of our damage. The benefit of Night Fae primarily lies within the power of the Soulbinds specifically, with occasional fight timings benefiting from the Cooldown Reduction (CDR) given to Void Eruption. The problem with further tweaking the CDR of just one of our cooldowns is that it just results in desyncing them even more, when ideally we sync cooldowns when possible.
Without tweaking the cooldown of Fae Guardians itself in addition to Void Eruption this will likely never be used. Alternative ideas would be to replace the current effect with a ramping stats/buff during Fae Guardians effect. Something that gave stats based on resources spent during the buff, similar to covenant legendaries like Obedience from Rogues.
A very simple, but well designed legendary. Only negative aspect might be that it doesn’t scale with Mastery. Not that it doesn’t do enough damage but more that it feels bad to have certain abilities just not scale off of our stats while the majority of them do. Considering just about every spell now scales with Mastery, except for this legendary, it is a bit odd to have this not scale with Mastery. Note that if it was changed to scale with Mastery it would likely need to have its damage adjusted to not scale out of control.
Earlier we already posted some conduit feedback you can read here, but here are the highlights:
- Lack of AoE scaling conduits
- Most conduits do not meaningfully change our gameplay
- Dissonant Echoes and Mind Devourer procs inside of Voidform feels very awkward to play with
- The scaling part of our conduits can be lackluster, and the base non-scaling effect of the conduit can be where the bulk of the power is, leading to concerns with spec power scaling as the expansion goes on
We also played with some options of how to rework Mind Devourer into something that felt more meaningful than the Devouring Plague proc, one of those just giving 1 more charge of Mind Blast when using the conduit. This ended up working out quite well, and even put Talbadar’s Stratagem over Shadowflame Prism for Single Target, which seems like a more intended slot for each legendary.
Hungering Void dominates almost all content for Shadow due to the low power of the other talents in the row combined with the lack of downside for taking Hungering Void, even on AoE. This talent is well designed and fun to use, the issue is that there is not a meaningful choice taking it, because the other options are not enticing.
Ancient Madness’s only current niche is burst AoE DPS because Hungering Void would not provide an effect there as Void Bolt isn’t worth using on burst AoE.
It also fails to provide a burst Single Target niche either as the effect of Hungering Void’s 10% constant damage amplification outweighs it while also having the voidform extension.
Surrender to Madness does not provide enough of a positive effect to outweigh its use restrictions. In its ideal best use case it is equivalent to Hungering Void in increase of voidform uptime but the Insanity generation doubling is not useful for us as we cannot spend our Insanity fast enough already.
Before closing out this post we wanted to specifically address one of our Covenant abilities, Boon of the Ascended. This spell is one of the more complex options we get when choosing our Covenant but is just lacking a bit more design/iteration to integrate it better for Shadow Priests specifically.
To start with, Ascended Nova is weaker per use than the spell it replaces, Mind Flay, since Mind Flay gives us lots of secondary effects that Ascended Nova does not, especially the lack of Insanity generation. Not only does this prevent the spell from feeling fun to press, it also forces us to use Boon of the Ascended during periods of high cooldowns so we can ensure that we never have to press Ascended Nova since we have so many other things to use instead.
The weakness of Ascended Nova is further complicated on single target because the damage of casting the spell twice in between the cooldown of Ascended Blast is roughly equivalent to what we would have done otherwise.
However, because Boon of the Ascended spells still have a GCD floor of 0.75 seconds while having a base GCD of 1s, you reach their maximum cast rate at 33% haste which we reach easily, especially with Power Infusion and/or Bloodlust. Therefore we don’t actually have time to fit in two Ascended Novas between Ascended Blast casts. This results in weaving Priest spells always being more damage because Ascended Nova just isn’t strong enough with a single cast.
In Mythic+ the optimal use of Boon of the Ascended is to use it for single target encounters only and press it in AoE scenarios just to activate covenant buffs (such as Pelagos’ Combat Meditation trait) and not use the ability to do any damage because none of the spells scale up on AoE to be competitive with Searing Nightmare. This is almost entirely because Ascended Nova (and Eruption) and not uncapped abilities, but rather split damage in square root scaling after 1 target. In order for this to compete properly this would need to be removed entirely and/or damage values adjusted proportionally. From a gameplay perspective this feels awful as our defining covenant ability just isn’t worth using for a majority of the key.
To quickly wrap up, thank you to all that read through all of this and we would love to hear your feedback and reactions to what we went over in this post.
WarcraftPriests Shadow Team