Relearning how to play a Shadow Priest, Balance Druid, or Enhancement Shaman in patch 9.0
Even though every class and spec is getting changed somehow for Shadowlands, not all of them are getting major changes. Every class is getting “un-pruned” — that is, some classic abilities that had been removed are returned to them — but in most cases those returning abilities are for utility, and don’t directly interfere with how you play the game. Other mechanical and talent changes have been kept to a minimum.
There are a few notable exceptions, however. If you play a Shadow Priest, a Balance Druid, or an Enhancement Shaman, there is a chance once the Shadowlands pre-patch — patch 9.0.1 — rolls out you’ll take a look at your character and find that everything is very, very different. Those three specs are being majorly revamped, and a common complaint that some players have on every expansion release is that they need to relearn their favorite spec.
In order to help you in this process, we shall now talk about what exactly is changing with those three specs, and how you can quickly figure them out so that you’ll be ready to play their new, improved versions once pre-patch hits.
Shadow Priest: Voidform is now a simple cooldown
Let’s open by talking about the elephant in the room, and then mention other important changes. Seriously: it’s a shadowy elephant, with tentacles, and extra eyeballs on its back! Ugh! We need to talk about it.
- Voidform has been redesigned: instead of being a “stance” that you activate and attempt to prolong as much as possible, it’s now a regular cooldown. It always lasts for 15 seconds, and has a 90 second cooldown. It no longer drains your Insanity, so there’s no more worrying about that. The rest is the same: you gain access to Void Bolt, and some Mind Blast charges; same as before.
- But since your Insanity doesn’t drain, you need to spend it yourself: enter Devouring Plague. The beloved spell is back, and it is your main damaging spell, so you want to spend as much Insanity on it as possible, especially while in Voidform.
- Shadow Word: Death is also back, as a baseline spell instead of a talent. And the old design of “if it fails to kill your target, you take a bunch of damage” is also back with it, so beware! Make sure to use it only as an actual execute — unless you’re willing to pay the price.
- Power Infusion is back as well… at level 58. So, you don’t need to worry about it during the pre-patch, but do keep in mind that you will have access to this extra cooldown once you’re near max level in Shadowlands.
- The Shadowy Insight talent has been made baseline, under a new name: Dark Thoughts. It gives you a chance to get a free, instant cast Mind Blast. So if you weren’t already used to reacting to those procs, you will have to start learning how to!
Let’s also talk about some of the new talents, because there are some important changes:
- Death and Madness is a new talent that makes your Shadow Word: Death execute even more powerful: when you manage to kill a target from it, you generate a big amount of Insanity, and the Shadow Word: Death cooldown is reset.
- Psychic Link emboldens your Mind Blast, making it deal a lot of extra damage on targets that are afflicted by your Vampiric Touch.
- Searing Nightmare is a way to spend your Insanity while doing AOE damage. You use it while channeling your Mind Sear, and it both applies Shadow Word: Pain to all its targets and deals extra damage to all the targets that already had that DOT on them.
- Surrender to Madness has been redesigned again: it is now a cooldown that fills up your Insanity bar and activates Voidform. While in that special Voidform, your Insanity generation is doubled, and you can cast while moving! However, if the mob you’re targeting doesn’t die… then you die. Still a high-risk and high-reward talent, with a very interesting design!
And on one final note: if you were a fan of the old gameplay of having your Voidform drain your Insanity, that playstyle will still exist. The Legacy of the Void talent has been redesigned, and it is now much more fitting of its name. You get the old Shadow playstyle back — or something as close to it as possible.
- Keep the Shadow Word: Pain and Vampiric Touch DOTs up on the target
- Cast Mind Blast on cooldown
- Use Shadow Word: Death on cooldown as well, being mindful of the drawbacks
- Spend your Insanity on Devouring Plague
- When you have nothing else to cast, use Mind Flay
- Voidform is a regular damage cooldown; no more worrying about extending it, but you’ll still use Void Bolt for the duration
- Power Infusion is another damage cooldown — once you have access to it, at level 58
- For AOE, use Mind Sear instead of Mind Flay
Balance Druid: Eclipse is back to cycling between two different phases
The two Empowerment effects are gone! Instead, Eclipse is back to being something that cycles between a Lunar phase and a Solar phase, making you vary your main damaging spell appropriately.
- When you cast two Wraths, you enter Lunar Eclipse. When you cast two Starfires — the new name for Lunar Strike! — you enter Solar Eclipse. These two Eclipses always happen in alternate order, so you can’t trigger Lunar Eclipse twice in a row, for instance.
- While in Lunar Eclipse, you want to spam your Starfire, because it gets much stronger — and never cast Wrath at all. Same deal with Solar Eclipse, where you want to spam your stronger Wrath, and never cast Starfire at all.
- Starsurge is your main Astral Power spender. You want to use it whenever it’s up, as it further increases the power of your current Eclipse.
- Celestial Alignment has been redesigned: it gives you both Eclipses at the same time, in addition to its other bonuses.
- Starfall is actually worth casting again! It’s no longer a reticle that you target on the ground; instead, it’s back to being an aura that damages things around you. And only things that are already in combat with you, so it won’t pull things you’re not fighting, hopefully!
Once you hit level 54, Starfall will gain a new rank, where it will also extend the duration of your Moonfire and Sunfire DOTs when cast. But this isn’t something you have to worry about during the pre-patch, since you’ll be locked at level 50, and unable to level up to 60 until after Shadowlands is released.
Talents for the Balance Druid aren’t changing too drastically. Most of them are simply seeing adjustments in numbers or functionality, without requiring you to relearn how to use them. However, the returning of class abilities has been very kind to Balance Druids, who are gaining, or recovering, several tools that will increase their utility, both when solo and in groups:
- Cyclone is back! This is of value both for soloing and in dungeons.
- Stampeding Roar is now available for Balance! Enjoy your extra speed boost, and your added group utility.
- Typhoon is baseline for Balance again! You can have both Typhoon and Mighty Bash at the same time, for instance!
- Keep your Moonfire and Sunfire DOTs up on the target
- Enter one of the two eclipses: either cast Wrath twice to enter Lunar Eclipse, or cast Starfire twice to enter Solar Eclipse
- While in your Eclipse, only cast the adequate spell (Wrath for Solar, Starfire for Lunar)
- Spend your Astral Power on Starsurge
- Once your current Eclipse is over, activate the other one:
- if you just left Lunar, cast two Starfires to activate Solar;
- if you just left Solar, cast two Wraths to activate Lunar.
- Celestial Alignment still is your main damage cooldown
- For AOE, spend your Astral Power on Starfall instead of Starsurge
Enhancement Shaman: Maelstrom has been removed
No more Maelstrom! You are back to the pre-Legion days of being based solely on cooldowns as your resource. You will be managing a priority list of abilities, instead of a fixed rotation. But many of the improvements that the spec saw during Legion and Battle for Azeroth are still retained, so you’re essentially taking the best of both worlds.
- The Maelstrom Weapon mechanic is back. Basically, as you attack your target, you generate stacks of this buff. Each stack reduces the cast time of your spells by 20%, and also increases their damage by 20%.
- You can accumulate up to ten stacks of Maelstrom Weapon, but a single spell will only consume up to five — the point where it has a 100% bonus in cast time and damage, making it instant cast, and twice as powerful.
- For damage-dealing purposes, that spell should be Lightning Bolt or Chain Lightning, which now fit the role of your “main spenders” — but be mindful of your ability to use it on Healing Surge and Chain Heal for self-heals as well.
- Rockbiter is gone. You no longer have any Maelstrom to build, after all.
- Windfury Totem is back! It serves as a minor damage increase to your whole party.
Talents! Oh, boy, are the talents for Enhancement changing; even more than the other two specs I talked about. There’s a lot in here, so let’s just get on with it:
- Elemental Assault increases the damage of Stormstrike, and makes it always generate one stack of Maelstrom Weapon, which should help you have a better grasp of when it’s attained.
- Elemental Blast is now an option for Enhancement! It can be affected by Maelstrom Weapon, like most of your other spells with a cast time.
- Fire Nova is an activated spell with a 15-second cooldown that makes every target with your Flame Shock DoT up on them erupt in flames, for added AOE craziness.
- Hailstorm makes it so that whenever you consume your Maelstrom Weapon stacks, your next Frost Shock deals increased damage and hits additional targets. This is very much a recommended talent at the moment. Most builds that are being tried in the beta and PTR are being centered around it. For the time being, just pick it.
- Ice Strike is a freezing attack with a 15-second cooldown that resets the cooldowns on your Flame Shock and Frost Shock spells, giving you more control over them.
- Lashing Flames makes your Lava Lash increase the Flame Shock damage on the target for a few seconds. A simple, easy to manage option.
- Stormflurry gives your Stormstrike the ability to strike the target again — an effect that can chain off itself. Another simple, mostly “pick and forget” option.
- Stormkeeper is now available for Enhancement! It doesn’t get affected by Maelstrom Weapon, so keep that in mind.
From testing out all these talents on the PTR, my conclusion is that the basic Enhancement rotation is already intricate enough as is, and needs no help to get even more convoluted. I suggest sticking to the basics, at least as you’re learning the new rhythm. Pick as many passive talents as you can, and you’ll already have a lot on your plate.
- Keep your Flame Shock DOT up on the target
- If you have five stacks of Maelstrom Weapon, spend them on Lightning Bolt
- Cast Stormstrike on cooldown, it’s your highest priority attack
- Cast Lava Lash on cooldown, it’s your 2nd highest priority attack
- Cast Frost Shock on cooldown, it’s your 3rd highest priority attack
- Cast Crash Lightning on cooldown, it’s your lowest priority attack
- Feral Spirit is still your main damage cooldown
- For AOE situations, spend your Maelstrom Weapon stacks on Chain Lightning instead of Lightning Bolt
- For AOE situations, prioritize Crash Lightning above Stormstrike — it becomes your highest priority attack
It may be a little overwhelming, but hopefully this primer will allow you not to be completely bamboozled by the changes to your favorite spec once Patch 9.0.1 is live. Knowledge is power!
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