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Shadow Word: Patch 7.1.5 will bring big changes to Shadow Priest AOE

It’s been a while since we’ve had a chance to step back and take a look at Shadow Priests in Legion. To be honest, this is because — outside of the ever-fickle Surrender to Madness — Shadow has been in a pretty good place this expansion and Blizzard hasn’t thrown too many major changes our way.

Post-BlizzCon, that’s not so much the case anymore. Blizzard has brought down upon we Shadow Priests some hefty changes that we’ll see once patch 7.1.5 hits live servers. Chief among these changes is a big shift in how we deal AOE damage. But there’s a lot to dissect, so let’s take a look at everything Shadow in 7.1.5.

Please keep in mind this is all based on the current (November 29th) PTR build. Blizzard — especially when it comes to Shadow and my article deadlines *grumble grumble* — isn’t shy about making big changes, so there’s still plenty of time for the final 7.1.5 version of Shadow to look wholly different from what we’re seeing now.

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A quick rundown of all the changes

I’m going to go into more detail below on the major changes coming, but there are a lot of small things that are being changed for Shadow as well. And it’s important to see the whole picture before focusing in on one specific part, because the small changes all add up to a Shadow playstyle that will feel a bit different from what you’re used to. In terms of the overall picture, Ornyx had the following to say regarding Shadow and the PTR:

Originally Posted by Ornyx (Official Post)
Shadow’s overall pacing is being adjusted so that the highest peak is at the end of Voidform, rather than just before the start of the next one. As a part of this, Lingering Insanity is removed, but overall Insanity generation (and therefore Voidform uptime) is increased. Additionally, Mind Sear is replaced with a new passive effect that allows Mind Flay to fulfill the same purpose. Shadow already has significant multi-target gameplay from the desire to maintain two damage-over-time effects on each target (a process which being is made smoother by allowing Void Bolt to extend DoTs on multiple targets at once). Finally, we are continuing to tweak the Insanity decay rate in Voidform, and the strength of Surrender to Madness, to better balance the Level 100 row. We want to preserve the purpose and strengths of Surrender to Madness for players who enjoy it, without it being quite so ubiquitous as it is currently.

So, what is Blizzard doing on the PTR so far to make these changes happen? Here’s a quick point-by-point of all the salient details:

  • Mind Blast, Mind Flay, Shadow Word: Pain, Vampiric Touch, and Shadow Word: Death (non-killing blow) generate more Insanity.
  • Lingering Insanity: GONE!…Sort of.
    • It is now a talent that has replaced Void Lord, causing Haste to decay gradually after exiting Voidform rather than lasting a flat 8 seconds.
  • Mind Sear: GONE! Passive as of the latest build!
    • Mind Sear now causes Mind Flay to deal AOE damage with each tick as long as Shadow Word: Pain is on the target.
  • Void Bolt no longer refreshes DOTs to their full duration. However, it extends DOTs by 2 seconds on all targets within range of your primary target.
  • Several other talent tweaks, including another nerf to Surrender to Madness’s Insanity generation, and a pretty sizable change to Mind Spike.
  • We’re getting a new legendary item! It’s a cloak and the proc isn’t half bad — nor is the Westworld reference in its flavor text.

Okay, so there’s a lot to take in there. We can’t address them all in detail, but some are definitely going to have a bigger effect on us than others. Are all the design goals discussed above reflected in the changes? Let’s take a look!

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If you couldn’t tell, our AOE game is changing

I’ll be honest, I’m really happy about the approach to Mind Flay/Mind Sear Blizzard is taking. Mind Sear was crap. There’s really no other way to put it. Shadow Priest AOE was the kind of thing joked about both within and outside of the Priest community, and at one point was so horrid that Holy Priests — hisssss — spamming Holy Nova would out-damage us on AOE pulls. The major benefit this change has is that it actually simplifies our rotation in the sense that we don’t have to worry about what the correct number of targets is to require a switch from Mind Flay to Mind Sear anymore.

Can you keep Shadow Word: Pain on your primary target and execute your rotation? Good, you’re now also executing AOE properly. Moreover, with something like The Twins’ Painful Touch, Shadow has the capacity to spread both its DOTs to three additional targets and AOE everything else, as long as the Priest is sticking to a standard rotation on a primary target.

However, there are a few drawbacks to the new changes, the first of which was only made a few hours prior to this writing. Originally, the Mind Flay change was going to replicate Shadow Word: Pain damage on all nearby targets. Now, however, it simply deals a separate amount of AOE damage. That may not seem like much, but if you think about it, it means that the AOE damage we do isn’t going to benefit from things like Mastery or our golden Artifact trait, Mass Hysteria. And while a set amount of AOE damage is easier to adjust, the same could be said of Mind Sear, which… well, we all know how good that was.

Another incidental change here is to farming old content. If you’re farming anything where Shadow Word: Pain’s initial damage is strong enough to kill your target and you’re not specced into Shadow Crash, you’re not going to be able to AOE. At all. Similarly, even if you’re not focusing on old content, the changes to our AOE mean we cannot target a friendly unit and channel for the full duration without worrying about our primary target dying too early. What this all means is that our AOE is going to be a huge pain to get a full channel out of if the particular mob pack is made of very easily killable targets.

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Blizzard can’t seem to get Shadow’s level-100 talents right

Surrender to Madness continues to feel like a thorn in Blizzard’s side. The spell has received several nerfs at this point. Some were to outright nerf the talent, others to balance its effectiveness with other changes, such as the increased Insanity generation noted above. However, I can’t help but feel Blizzard is taking the wrong approach here.

Yes, Surrender to Madness can be incredibly strong under the right circumstances. Yes, some of the nerfs have been warranted. But given the goal of “[preserving] the purpose and strengths of Surrender to Madness for players who enjoy it, without it being quite so ubiquitous as it is currently,” it seems Blizzard should take a look at the other level-100 talents and focus on making them more appealing, rather than making Surrender less appealing.

Before the most recent build, that was not the case; however, Mind Spike was adjusted, which seems to indicate Blizzard is at least considering changing the other level-100 talents. Unfortunately, the change to Mind Spike is… not great. Remember how Mind Spike used to remove our DOTs? And how that changed when it became a talent? Well, it’s back to removing our DOTs. It doesn’t replace Mind Flay anymore, but it still removes our DOTs.

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The upside to this is that it’s more than the old version of itself, since it still does AOE damage when the DOTs are detonated and both that AOE damage as well as the damage of Mind Spike itself are increased based on the number of DOTs on the target. But, really, the damage from this — especially given the DOT removal aspect — still does not compare to Legacy of the Void or Surrender to Madness.

More importantly, though, it feels like Blizzard doesn’t quite get why Surrender is appealing. I know it varies for everyone and that hardcore raiders likely will always take the “best” option no matter what, but Surrender is also great because it’s just so darn unique. When pulled off correctly, it’s intense, hectic fun and there’s nothing quite like it in the game.

Removing our DOTs is not fun. Incorporating synergy among our different abilities in a way that makes the whole greater than the sum? That’s closer to the right direction. I may love Surrender to Madness, but I also want to see Mind Spike and Legacy of the Void embraced by the playerbase with equal enjoyment. They don’t have to be crazy — in fact, Legacy is a very nice passive option. But if Blizzard wants Surrender to not be so ubiquitous, maybe the right approach is to step back and re-evaluate the other talents in the row to bring them up to Surrender’s level of appeal, rather than focusing exclusively on bringing Surrender down a notch.

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Looking at the big picture

Overall, Shadow is still in a great spot. The adjustments to Insanity generation and decay might throw off a few players who have their rotation memorized, but in general, they seem to be surgical enough to achieve Blizzard’s design goals without changing the way the class feels for players. Similarly, Blizzard is addressing our AOE concerns while making sure we can more or less stick to our normal rotation.

The level-100 talents are a bit of a different story, but even they show signs of promise. Right now, my biggest hope for Shadow is that the AOE tuning be more in line with other classes, and that Mind Spike and Legacy of the Void see a bit of love to make them as appealing as Surrender. There’s still plenty of time left to adjust, though, and we’re headed in the right direction.

Until next time, always remember: Shadow is a gift the whole family can enjoy.

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