Sunday, January 06, 2008

Hybrid Theory: Shadow Priests

Shadow Priests are an example of a successful class in WoW. They combine good DPS with solid utility and are in high demand in raids. They heal and regen their group while they DPS. They are often regarded enviously by paladins who wish to be fluid hybrids, to heal and melee in the same fight. So what makes the shadow priests successful? In my view, there are three significant reasons: minimal time costs; one scaling mechanism; and the fact that the sum of their parts is greater than 100%.

Minimal Time Costs

A Shadow Priest's utility comes from the spells Vampiric Embrace (which provides health to the party) and Vampiric Touch (which provides mana to the party). A Shadow Priest spends 1.5s every minute casting VE, and 6s casting VT. The rest of the time is spent dealing damage. Further, VT is actually good DPS (eyeballing it, it looks better than Mindflay). So a Shadow Priest actually spends 97.5% of her time doing damage, all the while contributing health and mana regen to her party. This means that the Shadow Priest can actually come extremely close to her maximum possibly DPS (disregarding threat).

In contrast, if a paladin casts a heal, she reduces her DPS by the equivalent amount. If she casts only a single Flash of Light every 10s, her DPS drops to 85% of her maximum. If she swings her weapon, she reduces her healing throughput, just though time costs.

One Scaling Factor

A Shadow Priest only has one scaling factor for both her damage and utility: spell power. VE and VT scale with spell power. That means that a Shadow Priest only has to collect one stat in order to maximize both her utility and her damage.

In contrast, each side of the paladin's nature has a different scaling factor. DPS scales with Attack Power, threat scales with Spell Power, while healing scales with Healing Power. All scale with Spell Power, but damage and healing does so poorly. Having multiple different scaling factors encourages the paladin to choose one and specialize, ignoring the other.

Sum of the Parts is Greater than 100%

The deep truth of hybrids is that to be less than 100% of any pure dimension (tank, healing, dps) is a huge drawback. The other side of a hybrid must contribute more to make up for that fact. A hybrid that is 50% of a dps and 50% of a healer is simply not good enough. In my opinion, the sum of the two sides must be closer to 150% to even be considered for a raid.

However, this looks unbalanced, but it really isn't. The only two successful fluid hybrids in WoW are Shadow Priests and Feral Druids. I would class Shadow Priests as 90% dps and 60% utility, and Feral Druids as 90% tanks and 60% DPS.

The hard part here, though, is keeping the class from becoming 150% in one aspect. For example, if the paladin was a 75%/75% dps/healer hybrid, what would stop a paladin from not dpsing, and becoming a pure 150% healer?


Minimal time costs, one scaling factor, and the fact that the sum of the parts is greater than 100% are the reasons that the Shadow Priest is a viable hybrid. You can do the same exercise for Feral Druids, and see that all three reasons apply to them as well.

In my opinion, time costs are most important barrier to hybrid viability. You always have the choice between casting a heal or swinging your weapon. If one option is always a better choice for a particular spec, you don't have a fluid hybrid.

If Paladins are ever to become a fluid hybrid, I think that they will need to be changed such that they follow these three rules.


  1. The only reason why those two hybrids can be as successful as they are is due to the Forms mechanic. By not being able to heal in shadow form, the s.priest is unable to be 150% healer as you've said. The same is true for Feral druids.

    What I would like to hear is if someone can provide an alternative to the Forms mechanic while still achieving this balance.

  2. As a Paladin Tank I'd have to disagree with your conclusion. With over 1300 +heal along with supporting +spell crit and mp/5 stats my healing is far less than sub par.

    Although, in a fight where I'd tank, I won't be healing, and in those rare healing occasions I'm less likely to tank. This is the difference in your example in where I have 2 sets of gear, where a shadowpriest only needs one to be effective.

  3. winnea, I don't believe that Forms matter that much in raiding. They might have a big effect in PvP or soloing, but when it comes to raiding, time costs are a much, much higher barrier.

    If an SPriest could cast heals in Shadowform, she still wouldn't, because it would lower her DPS significantly.

    anonymous, when I use the phrase "hybrid", I mean a fluid hybrid, one who does two or more different things in the same fight without changing gear. Like a bear who offtanks and then switches to cat when her mob dies.

    The current paladin is a modal hybrid, who can switch modes in between fights, but is essentially restricted to one role in any given fight.

  4. I think your conclusion is right on. What Anonymous isn't taking into account is the ability to shift mid fight. If I'm an off tank on HKM, and my target gets burned early, I become dead weight for the rest of the fight, unable to deal damage, and unable to heal. I always carry a healing set with me so I can have some usefulness in fights like Maiden. Not to mention the difficulty in collecting two full sets of gear for two different roles.

    A Shadow Priest's +spell dam gear still helps healing, and I know of holy priests who have been able to DPS now that healing has +damage.

    This isn't a problem for main tanks, but when you're not the best tank in the guild, it can be frustrating when you're just dead weight.

  5. "The only two successful hybrids in WoW are Shadow Priests and Feral Druids."

    Now is this hybrid in a very specific sense to you, or hybrid in the broader sense? Because in the broader sense, this statement seems silly given the high demand for enhancement and elemental shamans and the rising demand for ret and protection pallys.


  6. agrippina, it is specifically discussing fluid hybrids. Ret and Prot are modal. If they start the fight in DPS or tanking gear, they are basically a DPS or tanking class for the entirety of the fight.

  7. The problem here, and the reason most people are going to bring it up, is that the Hybrids of WoW are based off of the Modal Hybrids.

    You refer to Shadow Priests as a DPS/Utility hybrid, and I just cant agree with this. If this was true, you could state the Warlocks are also DPS/Utility hybrids because they can fear-kite a mob at one point, while still maintaining DPS via DoTs.

    Not only that, but you go on to compare a modal hybrid and a fluid hybrid, which once again, can cause confusion.

    Also, your reference to a fluid hybrid as "one who does two or more different things in the same fight without changing gear. Like a bear who offtanks and then switches to cat when her mob dies" I disagree with.

    Offtanking and then switching to DPS as a druid does require a moderate, to significant gear swap to stay competitive. A fluid hybrid in these terms would seem lesser than a modal hybrid who will maintain their 100% capabilities while the fluid hybird falls short as a 75%/50%, not 75%/75% because 75%/75% would require a gear swap.

    Even though the fluid hybrid is still preforming at 125% while the modal hybrid remains at 100%, the fluid hybrid doesnt bring as much to the table as the modal hybrid. I say this because the modal hybrid stays at 100% the whole fight, while the fluid hybrid starts the fight at 75% offtanking but shifts into their 50% DPS state where there are more than enough DPS'ers.

  8. Rohan I'm beginning to understand what you're saying more clearly. However, I would like to point out that while Feral druids provide a sizable amount of damage in bear form while tanking, so too do Prot Paladins.

    The Protection Paladin in its current incarnation is indeed 90% tank and 60% dps. The combination of ludicrously mana-efficient Holy Shield, Consecration and Righteousness and their spell-nature (armor ignorance) provide similar damage to bear tanks. Would you not then concede that at least 1 of the Paladin's trees are working as you envision the class as a whole should?

  9. Let me clarify my above post in case there's any confusion.

    A feral druid could switch forms from tanking to provide dps but a S.priest would never switch out of shadow form to heal. The former is a fluidic hybrid while the latter is a modal hybrid. However in tank form, a druid provides a large amount of damage just as the shadow priest provides a large amount of healing/mana regen.

    Paladin tanks are very much like both of the above examples in this sense. Though they provide only 1 role, they are hybrid in nature in that they also provide damage. The shadow priest is no more unique than the tankadin. The only odd man out in this case, is our feral druid.

  10. As I understand it, Blizzard initially rolled out "hybrids" - druid, pally, shaman - as classes that could perform two or three roles in the triad (tank/DPS/healer) as well, or nearly as well, as the stereotypical 'dedicated' classes (tank = warrior, priest = healer, mage/warlock/rogue/hunter = DPS). I think that the design intent was that in the endgame, the hybrid had to commit to one role with talents and gear.

    But in TBC it's no longer as easy to pin down "hybrid". I guess IMO the current working definition of "hybrid" would be a class with two or more generally-accepted roles. So now a priest can be a healer or shadow utility DPS; or less-accepted and tougher to pull off, a warrior can tank or melee DPS.

    FYI, I play a shadow priest. And while I could theoretically heal, I rarely heal in raid situations. You see, in order to maximize my usefulness as a shadow priest, much of my gear gives straight +shadow damage, so my overall spell damage & healing is less than 900 while my shadow damage approaches 1100, and as gear improves there will be an even greater departure. Of course, any raider must concede that a healer with less than 900 +healing is probably of very limited usefulness. I still have PW:S, an instant that I use to soften the load on the healers or try to survive if I pull aggro, and I have the typical priest CC of shackle and MC. Those actions can help the raid, but gimp DPS -- which is why I'm not hung up on damage meters.

    For example: In a fight like Moroes a shadow priest can have shackle duties on the last mob to go down, and be trying to PW:S through garrote at the same time -- great utility, but poor DPS. However, if the healers went down in the Moroes fight I'm likely to be next-to-useless because my heals are poor quality and high aggro.

  11. It is these types of articles that make me a regular reader of this blog. Not only is this a worth while discussion, but it done with insight and thought. Good work.

  12. I really don't see what makes shadow priests in this case a fluid hybrid. I don't consider "utility" to be a valid hybrid aspect. EVERY class brings a kind of utility. As a retribution paladin, my blessing of wisdom gives mana regen to anyone in the raid who needs it, or other buffs as needed.

    All other "pure" dps classes bring some form of utility to the table, be it powerful buffs or CC or miscellaneous abilities like misdirect. A shadow priest's utility is only there to make them needed to the raid instead of another of some other dps class.

    And I can't call a shadowpriest a hybrid dps/healer, since as doeg said, the average shadow priest has quite subpar +healing on their dps set. And shadow priest "healing" through damage is situational at best, for those boss fights that will be damaging the entire raid.

    And feral druids aren't as much hybrid tank/dps as you think, because even though they have many of the same talents for both roles, and they use a number of the same stats, the focus on gear is drastically different for dps vs tanking. A feral druid CAN start dpsing as soon as his tank target dies, but their dps would be as subpar as a shadowpriest/boomkin/elemental shaman who drops dps to heal partway through a fight.

  13. @ Kiryn - Exactly. If we were to think of utility as a part of the main trinity (DPS,tanking,healing) then every class would be considered a hybrid. Regardless of how little they bring, every class brings utility to every aspect of the game.

    Hunters, Rogues, Mages, and Warlocks are not hybrids.

    With that stated, I would like to point out the only flaw in this post. (Even though it is a big one) And that is the essence of a WoW hybrid.

    As Kiryn stated, the shadow priest is not a hybrid. It is a part of a hybrid. Rohan is viewing the pieces and not the puzzle.

    A priest is a hybrid because they can heal, and/or DPS. A druid is a hybrid because they can tank/heal/DPS.

    The reason this is, is because the 5 hybrid classes in WoW are Modal hybrids. And, as we all know, no hybrid in WoW will be able to preform 2 different roles at a 75%/75% state without gear swapping. The only spec I could rule out would be the Balance druid, simply based on how their stats are distributed and function.

  14. I consider a Shadow Priest to be a hybrid for the following reasons:

    1. They heal and DPS. VE does actually do a significant amount of healing. For example, VE on Tidewalker often pulls aggro on the murlocs because of the amount of healing done. It's just that situations that take advantage of the full power of VE are rare, and often occur in fights with aggro issues.

    2. Their utility side scales. Pretty much every other utility in the game is a fixed quantity. Even something like Judgement of Light and Wisdom is a fixed quantity. A Retribution paladin cannot scale her built-in utility side.

    However, a Ret paladin could scale her healing by wearing +spell damage. It's an option, but it's generally a bad option. (In the current game, of course--Judgment Armor is the quintessential example of Hybrid paladin armor.) JoL/W doesn't make a Ret paladin a hybrid, the ability to toss a heal that scales does.

    It's that reason, that ability to improve their utility through gear, that makes a Shadow Priest a hybrid in my eyes.

  15. Ok. Modal dur Fluid dur Hybrid durrr...

    Let's assume all Paladin specs had some fluid utility... wherein Holy Paladins could provide substantial ranged DPS while healing, Protection Paladins could supply substantial melee DPS while tanking, and Ret paladins could supply a substantial melee heal while melee DPSing. Is that a kind of scenario you're imagining?

  16. I agree with the sentiment that Blizzard intended hybrids to be modal. They have a primary role (tank, healer, or DPS) chosen and specialized via talents, and have base abilities that let them do things outside that role (paladins can heal, albeit not well while tanking), holy paladins can get a mob's attention and take the hit while continuing to heal due to plate armor. Priests can do a little DPS via SW: Death and SW: Pain, shadow priests can pop out and heal if desparate. The list goes on, however, they all have a primary job and they are geared and specced for that job. No class is as efficient at their roles when they switch between them mid-fight as someone who is set up to perform that role and does it the whole time. What you get is 1 person being subpar at 2 things when they could be good at 1 thing. Ignore the fact that shadow priests have a heal that goes with their shadow damage, that's a utility aspect, not a hybrid aspect. The healing isn't that great, and for them to bring it up, they'd have to sacrifice their DPS, which is what they were brought on to do. They're modal hybrids, they start the fight in DPS gear, and do it in DPS gear. The healing/mana regen is just a bonus.

  17. I have to agree with some of the posters, in that I don't think you are exactly categorizing these things objectively.

    I think Revaan has the right of it -- the healing that a Shadow Priest brings is utility, not healing in the sense of the 'trinity'. It is significant, and to Rohan's point, scalable utility, but it is not classic healing. JoL is similar.

    I would also say that paladins are as fluid a hybrid as any. If the MT is suddenly getting spiked to death, the Retadin can pick up the slack.

    In the HKM example, the paladin tank's target is down. Is the paladin useless? While he can only swap weapon for gear change, the healing he can bring is still significant. No, it's not 100% of a healer, but it is fluidity.

    On the other side of the comparison, I don't know a single high-functioning feral druid who doesn't also have a Tank set and a DPS set. A tank-geared bear who swiches to cat is going to be operating a LOT less efficiently DPS-wise than if the cat-gear had been equipped. Maybe a little better off, but not substantially different from the paladin.

    I think it's a case of 90%-50%, for both. Maybe the druid is 90%-60%.

    And this overlooks the plain fact that there are encounters that just favor druid-tanks or paladin-tanks. Just as there are encounters where different classes shine in healing. The point to this is, there are fights where the paladin is 110%/50% depending on the roles.

    Compare that to a non-hybrid, who is never better than 100%/10%. (With apologies to DPSing Prot Warriors and bandage-spec Rogues.) Is 90/50 better for the raid than 100/10? It depends.

    Part of the interest, to me, is in how different classes and different specs can be blended together to achieve great results in different situations.

    But to offer something a bit less tired, it IS an interesting point that Shadow Priest 'secondary' effect, utility, or whatever you want to call it, scales.

    To me, the more interesting question is: are there more buffs that *should* scale, that don't?

    A scaling JoL would be very cool.

    MotW/GotW is one of the *worst* in terms of scaling. Improved is almost a joke. How about some scaling?

    What if some of the Auras scaled a bit more? Suppose the resist Auras scaled off of Spell damage, or Devo off of (just makin' stuff up here) Block value?

    I know so little about Shaman high level abilities, but do totems scale? Because let's face it, Shaman are no more fluid than Paladins. Much less so, from what I've seen.

    Random notions...

  18. Elemental Shamans are actually a relatively fluid hybrid, being able to do both competitive DPS and cluch heal effectively. That is neither here nor there though.

    The real problem as I see it is mainly one of encounter production. The raid bosses are not made to allow for hybrids. The game really does force you to min/max to a great degree to be highly successful, and that basically kills most types of hybrid gameplay. Until something drastic is changed in how Blizzard designs their encounters there won't be any room for a true hybrid in endgame raiding.

  19. This is comming from someone with quite of bit of experience in this game, both in raiding (lots of world firsts) and pvp (#1 in 5s for months at a time).

    Paladins are bad. Paladins are not hybrids.

    Priests are the best class in the game, because they can excel in every arena bracket as 3 specs. No other class can even come close to claiming this. Not only that, but they have 2 viable PvE raiding specs, which very few classes have (Warrior, Druid, Shaman). Also, Shadow Priests are not useful because they heal. Not at all. If you took out the healing they did, their would be no change. It's the insane mana regen that makes top tier guilds use 2-3 of them in every raid.

    Retribution is currently terrible in every aspect of the game, even with the best gear currently available. Even if Ret Paladins had 2000~ healing, they would still be terrible. There is no hybrid role in this game. Their are classes that are "hybrid" in the sense they can play different roles - as different specs.

    For those of you who think Protection Paladins are something special, wait until Sunwell is released. Unless there is some gimmick fight that requires an AoE tank, the top tier guilds will forgo them in favor of Feral / Warrior tanks. The only use they have right now is Hyjal trash. Also, for the anonymous person that claims a Protection Paladin with another set of gear can effectively heal, you are wrong. Even with the best healing set possible, which many of our Paladins have, it's simply not even close to the effectiveness of what a Holy Paladin can reach. As Holy, you can chain cast rank 6-11 HL for about 3 minutes. As Prot, maybe 30 seconds. You'll run out of mana just using flash, which is several thousand HPS lower.

    Paladins have a ton of issues right now, in both PvE and PvP. In all honesty, if Paladins did not have Blessings, no one would bring them to raids. They have very low healing output across multiple targets. The only thing they do well is single target healing, which since the dawn of time has been spamming the main tank.

    Since you have no pvp experience I won't really bring up their problems there, but Druids and Priests are better in every single way.

  20. azreal, a couple questions for you.

    1. Do the T6 Shadow Priests forego VE? They'd get an extra GCD every minute and reduce their threat.

    2. How does Shadow Priest DPS compare to that of a pure class?

    3. If Shadow Priests did significantly lower DPS, around Holy paladin / prot warrior levels, but their mana regen remained at the same level, would high-end guilds still take them to raids?


    In short,

    1. Sometimes, situational use.
    2. Bad
    3. Of course

  22. After thinking about this some more, it's the utility that makes hybrid classes so great. Hybrid classes may have lower output than "pure" classes, but it's the fact they have another component to bring to the fight that causes people to put them into raids. However, they're only useful is combined with others can benefit the most from that utility. For shadow priests, it's a group full of casters (particularly ones that have low mana efficiency). For feral druids, it's melee DPS.

    As for paladins, if ret ever gets an AP -> SD/healing talent relative high in the retribution tree, a well-geared shockadin could become a viable hybrid to have in raids.

  23. Just to go back to the HKM example, I've usually depleted most of my mana when my target goes down, and since I don't have the talents of the holy pali, my "signifigant" heals last for a matter of seconds before my mana pool dries up and I've got nothing left to give except my white damage. I can't stance dance and bring out any damaging abilities and a rage generator, nor can I contribute any meaniningful heals.

    And then when I get to Gruul himself I'm even more of a paperweight in plate. I'm able to contribute to healing for about a minute and then I'm done, or I'm able to dish out a little bit above my white damage, but in the end, I'm not able to carry my weight and play a meaningful role.

    I'm not looking to top the damage charts or be THE guy when it comes to healing, but I want to feel like I can at least contribute something.

  24. Just as a short aside to Azreal; a well geared and well played Retribution Paladin brings more DPS than a Shadow Priest (by a fairly large margin on many fights), as well as a higher raid average mana regen through JoW. They are far from worthless if you consider a Shadow Priest as amazingly awesome as you seem to.

    The thing a lot of people forget is that paladins, from day one, have been a support class. Paladins are not meant to be the best at any one job, rather we are supposed to be able to do all three jobs in the trinity reasonably well. Blizzard really did mess this up in 1.0, but they have been working to bring this back steadily.

    Will guilds obsessed with world firsts forgo "offspec" Paladins and do fine? Most likely. But that does not diminish their value at all.

  25. Dazanna, Retribution Paladins do not have comparable DPS to Shadow Priests. I do not understand where this comes from, as I have never seen a WWS of a major fight with Paladins anywhere near respectable DPS margins.

    JoW is not the sole province of Retribution Paladins, and there are very few fights that Holy Paladins can not afford to Judge it.

    Death and Taxes would use Retribution Paladins if they were good. There's no spite or hatred of the class preventing them from doing so. They simply don't work. If they did, they would be used; it's that simply. Top tier guilds have to take advantage of everything available to them. It would be hindering progression to do otherwise. Unfortunately, at this time, the spec is sub par. Do not doubt that we have had exceptional players try the spec before with the best gear available to them.

  26. azreal, not disputing the usefulness of Ret paladins in general, but Grant of Blood Legion does about 1600-1700 DPS on Teron Gorefiend, which is the fight you linked earlier. That puts him in your Top 10 (from the WWS you linked) and 200-300 DPS higher than your Shadow Priests.

    So saying that Ret paladins have comparable or better DPS than Shadow Priests is a reasonably fair statement, in my opinion.

    Blood Legion link: