Shadow Word: Surrender to Madness was the game’s best talent

Legion is going to be here shortly, and while we’ve discussed leveling talents briefly — and how they often will come down to personal preference — there was one talent that was so strong it was becoming the only real option for Shadow Priests to take. It significantly changed your boss damage as a Shadow Priest and could boost you from the middle of the charts all the way to the top. I am, of course, talking about Surrender to Madness.

Up until very recently, Surrender to Madness offered a 200% boost to Insanity generation. This week, we saw that number nerfed to 150%. And while a nerf less than 12 hours after an in-depth discussion of the talent had been completed might have temporarily driven some of us insane, it’s hard not to see why it was done. Was the nerf warranted? Is Surrender to Madness still a viable option? Below is the original, pre-nerf article that (unintentionally) makes the case for the talent’s nerf — as well as a bit of post-nerf musing.

Update 8/23/16: Twintop has posted updated simulation results as well as stat weights for the various level-100 talents (be sure to view all tweet replies). The short version? Surrender to Madness is still an excellent choice.

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What makes Surrender to Madness so strong?

The idea of 200% increased Insanity generation might just sound like a simple damage increase at first, but it’s so much more. Unlike, say, effects that increase Crit or Haste or even Intellect by a flat percentage, 200% increased Insanity generation means that your spells are going to keep you in Voidform for longer. And, as you may know, being in Voidform longer means your Haste is going to increase more and more and more. In effect, that 200% increase means you’re able to exponentially increase your own damage just by executing your rotation well.

Of course, executing your rotation well is easier said than done (see below) and will make a big difference in whether or not you should take this talent. But for the curious, a normal Voidform rotation will probably last about 20-30 seconds, depending on whether or not you’re in Execute phase. With Surrender to Madness, you will likely range from between 80 and 100 seconds of Voidform, if not more. The effect this has on your DPS is huge.

If you need evidence of this, Shadow Theorycrafter Extraordinaire Twintop recently ran simulations for Heroic Emerald Nightmare, and Surrender to Madness was the best level-100 talent choice in every single encounter type. In most cases, Surrender to Madness had the top three spots. What’s more, those top spots often occurred with variation in the other talent tiers, meaning the talent is strong without even factoring in talent synergy. Even against a Target Dummy (that is, no Execute phase and no raid buffs) I saw my DPS almost double by the end of Voidform — and that was just through cursory testing. Fully buffed and with enough practice of the rotation, Surrender to Madness would be, well, insane.

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How do I maximize Surrender to Madness use?

This is the part where things get a bit… math-y. But don’t turn away yet! Just because the talent is a min/maxers dream doesn’t mean it can’t benefit players of all skill levels. Let’s start with Insanity itself and how fast it decays. Thanks to Twintop and the folks over at Icy Veins, we know the formula for Insanity drain is: Drain = 9 + [(Drain_Stacks – 1) / 2], where “Drain_Stacks” is essentially how many seconds you’ve been in Voidform.

Why is it important to know this? Well, for anyone Surrendering to Madness, not draining Insanity is kind of important. It’s also important because it helped Shadow Priests realize a few things about Insanity drain:

  1. “Drain_Stacks” increases indefinitely while in Voidform, despite Voidform capping at 100.
  2. Abilities that pause draining (Dispersion, Void Torrent) also pause the Drain_Stacks counter.
  3. Theoretically, you can last just over 3 minutes in Voidform before you will lose 100 Insanity in a single tick — though I wouldn’t count on that happening outside of perfect conditions and with a lot of practice.

Talent synergy

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk talents. Keep in mind, this is specifically intended as a discussion of talents that will help Surrender to Madness DPS!

  • Level 15: Twist of Fate all the way. Fortress of the Mind might seem like a solid choice, but at high stacks of Voidform, you probably won’t be casting full-duration Mind Flays (if any) which means you miss out on a solid portion of the talent’s bonus. Shadow Word: Void, while great in some scenarios, is not something you want to waste a global cooldown on during Voidform phase and it will only throw off your rotation during Surrender to Madness.
  • Level 30: Really, nothing this tier is a reliable complement to Surrender. Mania is generally not a good choice, but you really do not want to waste GCDs on Power Word: Shield or Shadow Mend during Surrender phase if you can help it. Still, in a pinch situation, I prefer the on-demand boost from Body and Soul, especially if a boss unexpectedly moves and it’s catch up or die.
  • Level 45: Try to use any of these against a boss. I dare you.
  • Level 60: Reaper of Souls tends to be the best choice here because of how useful a last-minute burst of Insanity can be. Void Lord only affects you outside of Voidform, and Void Ray won’t be as useful during Surrender because of how little you’ll cast Mind Flay as Void Bolt and Mind Blast approach the GCD cap.
  • Level 75: Auspicious Spirits outweighs the other two choices this tier. Namely, it’s a passive talent that puts out more DPS than San’layn (especially with high Critical Strike) and doesn’t throw off your rotation like Shadowy Insight does.
  • Level 90: This will depend on how long you keep the Tier-18 two-piece bonus. Once you get rid of the bonus, Power Infusion tends to be the better option and works incredibly well for bosses that have soft enrages toward the ends of their fights.

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Other useful tips

Still with me? Good! Because if you want to maximize your Surrender to Madness DPS, there are a few tricks you’ll want to take advantage of. First off, Shadow Word: Death has two charges now. That might feel really similar to how it’s been for the past few expansions, but it actually makes a big difference in how you use it. With Surrender to Madness, you’ll want to maximize the time in Voidform, which means it’s imperative that you always have 1 stack of Shadow Word: Death banked for oh-fudge moments. Being able to SW:D on demand will fill up your Insanity bar while you wait for Void Bolt or Mind Blast to come off cooldown.

Secondly, you’ll want to use Dispersion and Void Torrent early into your Voidform rotation. Yes, Dispersion is not a defensive ability with Surrender to Madness. The idea is that you make sure your nuke spells (Void Bolt, Mind Blast) are on cooldown during Disperion. And since their cooldowns will be significantly longer at the start of Voidform, you lose the least amount of DPS by popping Dispersion and Void Torrent early. It might be tempting to pop Dispersion later on in your rotation to give yourself a moment to breathe — and that’s totally fine! — but the theoretical best time to use these abilities is at the start of your Voidform phase.

Lastly, DOT juggling and Void Bolt are going to get tricky during Surrender. In all likelihood, most Shadow Priests will stick to one target during Surrender to Madness and still do incredible damage. If, however, you want to take a shot at multi-DOTing during Voidform, my recommendation is to use a focus macro (e.g., /cast [target=focus] Void Bolt) on one extra target so that you never actually have to manually switch targets during a fight. Whether or not you’re doing this, though, remember that Void Bolt has a travel time — the Insanity is generated on cast (yay!), but the DOT refresh does not occur until Void Bolt hits the target (booooo). This likely won’t impact Surrender to Madness phases, but it’s worth noting all the same.

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It’s not all sunshines and rainbows, though

Okay, outside of the obvious fact that the spell kills you horribly, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind before you spec into Surrender to Madness. For starters, dying means you lose buffs that were on you (flasks notwithstanding). While that might seem like a no-brainer, it’s still something that slipped my mind initially. I admit, I wouldn’t mind if Surrender to Madness were changed slightly to keep buffs on you after it kills you. I absolutely don’t want to lose the death aspect — even if a boss dies before you do — because I think it’s thematically appropriate and also hilarious, but at the same time, it would be nice to not have to buy significantly more raid food than everyone else just because we’ve opted to take the strongest talent in the tier.

That issue aside, it’s also not a talent you’ll ever want to use if a boss has mechanics that stun you or slow your cast speed, or any phase transitions where the boss runs away (or, conversely, you have to run from the boss). In experimenting with the talent in Hellfire Citadel and during invasions over the past few weeks, I’ve had pretty much all of these mechanics catch me off guard and kill me before I knew what was happening. Know the fight, know the mechanics. If you Surrender to Madness, you cannot be resurrected in combat, so you need to know when it’s safe to use it.

Along similar lines as the last issue, if you’re having any latency issues whatsoever, do not spec into this talent. When you get to 70+ stacks, the game can barely keep up with how fast abilities are coming off cooldown, and you pretty much need to hit the next ability in your rotation as fast as possible to avoid dying. Any latency at all is going to ruin any potential for DPS this talent offered.

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So was the nerf necessary? Is it still a good talent?

It’s not hard to see why it was nerfed. Blizzard has been pretty adamant in making sure one single talent choice does not dominate a tier, and that’s exactly what Surrender to Madness did. However, I still find this frustrating. Twist of Fate has been — and continues to be — the default choice in its tier, and Blizzard doesn’t seem to have an issue with that fact. Moreover, yes, Surrender to Madness was possibly too strong — but maximizing usage required finesse. Getting to 100 stacks of Voidform isn’t something every Shadow Priest could pull off and it’s what separated good from great (with “good” still being pretty damn good).

Surrender to Madness is still my favorite talent in the game, purely because of how uniquely designed it is. And based on my Heroic Archimonde run last night, it still does a great job of skyrocketing your DPS. I don’t think the nerf was entirely warranted, but I don’t think it makes the talent useless either. Until we have more solid data available, it’s hard to say for certain how our level-100 talent choice will be affected. I’m curious to see what you all think, though — feel free to duke it out in the comments, it’s definitely worth discussing.

Until next time, always remember: Several Shadow Priests were sacrificed in the making of this article.

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