Friday, January 11, 2013

Do Priests Need Mind Spike In Their Spellbooks?

I suppose this blog was in danger of becoming abandonware, considering my last post was before Mists of Pandaria launched. It wasn't that I didn't want to write, nor was it that I wasn't enjoying World of Warcraft: Mists of Panadria, nor was it even that I didn't have time.

What I didn't have was anything interesting to say. I suppose readers will judge whether I've ever had anything interesting to say, but I don't do recapitulation of news, nor do I tend to do standard healing/DPS guides, nor do I tend to document my own adventures. I try to write when I think I have a point that I haven't seen represented elsewhere and isn't (from what I can tell) common knowledge/common sentiment. In other words, dear reader, I try to shut up when I don't believe I have something worthwhile to say, much as I'd like to push my blog back up people's readers with a new post.

That's just an aside explanation for why so long between posts...this isn't a stealth "let me get a new post up by explaining how I don't just write filler posts." That would take chutzpah, and I don't have the chutzpah necessary.

No, this post is about Mind Spike. Or, at least, primarily about Mind Spike. Rather, we could say this is about Mind Spike's role in the shadow arsenal leading into a broader (or maybe narrower) point about shadow as a whole. Though, ultimately, it's about something else entirely. It's complicated, but you'll see if you read on!

One more piece of business to attend to before I get to the main event: The last post was about shadow and this post is about shadow, but I am not now a pure shadow priest and this is not now a pure shadow priest blog. I still heal a fact, I think I still heal more than I DPS. I DPS any fight in which we only need two healers, and we're three-healing most progression fights right now, especially as we push further into heroic raid encounters. I DPS a lot of farm encounters, though! (And even a few progression fights. I consider it important and even necessary to be on top of my shadow game.)

Why Mind Spike?

Mind Spike joined the priest toolbox with the advent of Cataclysm. When it was added to the class, the rationale for it made perfect sense: it was a situational nuke for a specific situation--an add that needed to be burned down quickly, too quickly for damage-over-time (DoT) spells to be useful.

Shadow priests have traditionally been a long ramp-up-time DPS spec; that is, it takes them a while to go from zero to 60k DPS, because they need to get DoTs up and get shadowfiend out and the whole thing is a lot of up-front GCDs when you're fighting something that needs to die quickly. It's the difference between sustained DPS and burst DPS...a spec that can do a good amount of DPS over an 8 minute fight may not be able to effectively contribute to a 30 second burn phase and vice versa.

Both are important. It goes without saying that one's total DPS over a fight is generally the most crucial aspect, but hitting "burst windows" can often be just as, or more, crucial in certain fights. The Spine of Deathwing fight in the Dragon Soul raid had a tendon that became available to destroy for short periods of time, and getting it down within the necessary time frames was required to defeat the fight, especially on heroic mode. In this tier, the Elegon encounter in Mogu'shan Vaults has waves of adds that must be burst down before they reach a certain place in order to stack an increased-damage-taken debuff on Elegon that's necessary to meet the enrage timer.

Going into Cataclysm, shadow priests really didn't have much burst potential. Mind Blast had a cooldown and DoTs and Mind Flay were too slow. Mind Spike was supposed to fill that niche: a damaging spell that would allow priests to start blasting something immediately but, thanks to its DoT-extinguishing mechanic, couldn't be used rotationally. This suggested that Mind Spike could be a really powerful but really situational spell, useful for adds that you didn't want to DoT because it wasn't supposed to survive that long.

Now, I'll admit it: I have no idea if it was successful in that role in Cataclysm, because I barely played shadow in Cataclysm. I was a committed discipline priest going into Cataclysm and I spent the first two tiers switching around my off-spec several times a week, trying to find a spec I was comfortable with alongside discipline. I eventually settled on holy in T13. I followed the news generally about shadow (as I do about a lot of classes and specs, because I'm a bit of an obsessive geek), but I didn't have any serious experience.

That has changed with Mists of Pandaria. I was tired of being one-dimensional--just a healer. Not only did I feel limited in what I was capable of, I felt like it constrained our raid team, not to have a proper swing-DPS. So I picked up a shadow spec and committed to learning it fully, tailoring a UI for it and both figuring out and researching tricks to optimize my play as a shadow priest.

All of which has led me to one question: Why Mind Spike? The above rationale for it makes sense--it just doesn't fill that role as we stand in Mists of Pandaria.

As a hard cast, Mind Spike's damage is virtually never worth casting. The damage is uninspiring and it removes the DoTs that you have rolling on your enemy. So it isn't worth using in your rotation and the low damage makes it a poor tool to spam on adds that won't be around long enough to be worth putting DoTs on. It's better than nothing, but not much better than nothing.

It seems, then, that when you consider that you can't use it rotationally nor can you use it a short-term nuke, Mind Spike really doesn't occupy a useful niche...except for one.

From Darkness, Comes Light (And Beyond?)

The one time that Mind Spike is worthwhile to cast is when a shadowpriest has the From Darkness, Comes Light talent and Surge of Darkness procs. This makes Mind Spike instant (the value of which is that it allows you to use it when moving, as the cast time is the same as the GCD consumed by an instant), significantly increases its damage and causes it to not extinguish the DoTs you have rolling.

This is a fairly potent ability (made more so by the Glyph of Mind Spike) but considering that this is the only time that it's worth using, it seems a little unnecessary to make it a spell in one's spellbook...why not simply make it a button you can use when you take the talent, like many other talented abilities? Not that it's a particularly big deal that it resides in the spellbook, but it seems like a rather wasted spell in the arsenal.

Unless...we extended the concept of From Darkness, Comes Light a bit and also fixed another problem with the shadowpriest toolkit: lack of a burst DPS cooldown. As I noted above, it's important to have a way to occasionally shift into another gear when necessary and shadowpriests don't have that. If we consider a single-target fight, we have one speed: normal. Add that needs to be burst down right now? Normal single-target rotation. Execute phase with the enrage timer seconds away? Normal single-target rotation. It not only takes away versatility and decision-making, it's also unsatisfying.

However, what if we repurposed Mind Spike to fill the niche that it was originally supposed to: burst DPS? But we want to make it a cooldown, something we can only use once in a while, but is quite powerful those times. Well, shadowpriests used to have a bit of a cooldown in Cataclysm (of varying power)--Dark Archangel. But Dark Archangel is gone, leaving only the nifty wings graphic in the form of a minor glyph that appears when you use Devouring Plague.

It would be nice to have Dark Archangel back in some form, it would be nice to have some sort of DPS burst cooldown and it would be nice to use Mind Spike a bit more, considering it's a real spell in our real spellbook.

With that in mind, I present an entirely new spell (in concept, numbers could be tweaked because hell if I know how to balance numbers across all classes):

This is obviously built upon the existing functionality of From Darkness, Comes Light but would not require that talent. It steals the mechanic (because it's a very good mechanic, in my opinion) but is independent. You could have both, but even if you took another talent from the tier, you'd still have this Dark Archangel cooldown.

This would provide a significant opportunity for burst DPS. You would still weave in Mind Blast (and Shadow Word: Death if the target were at 20% health or less) because you'd still want the resource generation, and you'd still use Devouring Plague to dump your shadow orbs, so that future orb generation wouldn't be wasted but, otherwise, you'd use Mind Spike as filler during the duration of Dark Archangel instead of Mind Flay, which would be a major increase in DPS for the 15 seconds (or whatever professional class designers considered balanced).

Ultimately, I think that shadowpriests need a burst DPS cooldown in order for the spec to have the needed variability in play. That's the foremost concern here, even if the post title is misleadingly about Mind Spike. However, with the Mind Spike spell going to waste outside of one talent, and a great graphic that used to be tied to a great concept being wasted on a minor glyph, it seems like the opportunity exists to synthesize these issues into a single solution.