Analysis of Shadow Burst DPS Options in 5.0.4

With the release patch 5.0.4 less than 100 hours away, there are still a lot of playstyle and mechanics questions relating to Shadow that are unanswered (and in some cases, unasked). One of the more common questions that has been floating around on several discussion forums is what to do about the loss of our current T13 4P set bonus (and thus the burst Mind Blast + Mind Spike + Shadowfiend rotation) and what options are available to replace it, particularly on fights like Heroic: Spine of Deathwing for the Burning Tendons. I’ve taken a look at several possible replacement rotations/talent choices to see what could act as a reasonable replacement come Tuesday 8/28 (and for similar mechanics in MoP).

The Setup

First and foremost, here are the damage values I’ll be using to compute total damage done. The following values are taken from these four different simulations I ran without any professions, potions, or racial abilities. My goal from these simulations was to get an accurate baseline value of each ability under similar circumstances. First, here are the pertinent stat values (taken from the level 85 T13H BiS set in SimulationCraft for MoP):

Stat Value (%)
Haste 32.36%
Haste (w/PI) 58.83%
Crit 25.95%
Mastery 29.59%

Next, here’s the damage for each ability tested:

Ability Base Dmg Avg Dmg
(w/Crit)
Avg ToF Dmg
(w/Crit)
Devouring Plague (3 orbs) 50566 63688 73241
Devouring Plague (2 orbs) 33929 42734 49144
Devouring Plague (mastery) 7547 9505 10931
Devouring Plague (tick) 7547 9505 10931
Mind Blast 39976 50350 57902
Mind Flay 10803 13606 15647
Mind Flay (mastery) 10803 13606 15647
Mind Spike (w/FDCL bonus dmg) 43568 54874 63105
Mindbender (swing) 13741 17308 19903
Shadow Word: Death 14937 18813 21635
Shadow Word: Insanity 49362 62171 71497
Shadow Word: Pain 7276 9164 10539
Shadow Word: Pain (mastery) 7276 9164 10539
Shadow Word: Pain (tick) 7276 9164 10539
Shadowfiend 21086 26558 30542
Shadowy Apparition 7649 9634 11079
Vampiric Touch 6710 8451 9719
Vampiric Touch (mastery) 6710 8451 9719

In the graphs below, Mastery procs of DoTs are computed and factored in; Shadowy Apparition spawns are assumed to be 1:1, I.E. every one that spawns will hit.

Determining the ‘Optimal Rotation’

The point of this exercise is to generate the most DPS in the time allowed (23sec, in this case). In order to do this, maximizing the timing and order of spells is much more important than it would be in a normal boss fight. To achieve this, a few guidelines were adopted while generating each of the spell cast lists you’ll see further on in this post:

  • Assume 3 Shadow Orbs to start the testing period.
  • For the cases of From Darkness, Comes Light and Divine Insight, assume the proc is active and has max charges to start the testing period with enough time to use all of them without them falling off.
  • Shadow Word: Pain is cast before Vampiric Touch is because of the difference in duration. Additionally, the initial cast of each DoT is not refreshed at all and is allowed to run for its maximum duration and falling off before the timeframe is over (giving maximum DPET).
  • Shadow Word: Pain may be recast for the on-hit component at the very end of the timeframe if there is not enough time left for 1 tick of Mind Flay to go off.
  • Shadowfiend (or Mindbender) is cast with enough time to get all melee swings in.
  • Mind Blast is cast as close to the time they come off of cooldown as possible. Minor exceptions made if DPS from an extra Mind Flay tick proves to be worthwhile.
  • Mind Flay acts as a filler spell where appropriate, even if it is only 1 tick.

The Base Case

Before we can make any comparisons on how effective other rotations and talent choices are, we need to come up with some parameters and find out what the base case is: the no cooldowns, straight up normal no frills DPS rotation we would be using otherwise. On Spine of Deathwing, Seal Armor Breach has a cast time of 23 seconds but is only targetable for 20 seconds of the cast; this will be our total DPS timeframe (20sec) for our base case and subsequent other cases. Lowered GCD and tick rates due to haste have been taken in to account.

In order to properly gauge how effective the different talent choices are we need to have a properly defined base case (or in this case, base cases) to work with as a starting point. The most obvious one is, of course, no glyphs or abilities (Base Case). Here is the action lists (with timing) for our base case:

Time [t]
(sec)
Ability Notes
Base Case
0 Mind Blast 3 orbs
1.1333 Shadow Word: Pain 8 ticks
2.2666 Vampiric Touch 7 ticks
3.3999 Devouring Plague – 3 orbs 8 ticks
4.5332 Shadowfiend 9 swings
5.6665 Mind Flay 4 ticks (chained)
9.1333 Mind Blast 1 orb
10.2666 Mind Flay 11 ticks (chained)
18.5773 Mind Blast 2 orbs
19.7106 Devouring Plague – 2 orbs 0 ticks
20.0 End

This works out to be 1,117,429 damage, or roughly 55.9k DPS. This isn’t horrible (though much lower than we are used to), but remember, we don’t have any talents or glyphs taken in to account yet. I would like to note that no matter how you arrange the base case, it is impossible to get a second

The Tier 3 / Level 45 Talents

Now let’s take a look at how adding in/using From Darkness, Comes Light (with Glyph of Mind Spike in use), Mindbender, or Shadow Word: Insanity stack up.

PLEASE NOTE: For From Darkness, Comes Light we are assuming that there are 2 stacks of Surge of Darkness up with as-close-to-possible maximum duration left. After this, no other Surge of Darkness procs will occur — consider this to be the “worst case scenario”.

Time [t]
(sec)
Ability Notes
Mindbender
0 Mind Blast 3 orbs
1.1333 Shadow Word: Pain 8 ticks
2.2666 Vampiric Touch 7 ticks
3.3999 Devouring Plague – 3 orbs 8 ticks
4.5332 Mindbender 11 swings
5.6665 Mind Flay 4 ticks (chained)
9.1333 Mind Blast 1 orb
10.2666 Mind Flay 11 ticks (chained)
18.5773 Mind Blast 2 orbs
19.7106 Devouring Plague – 2 orbs 0 ticks
20.0 End
Time [t]
(sec)
Ability Notes
From Darkness, Comes Light + Mind Spike Glyph
0 Devouring Plague – 3 orbs 8 ticks
1.1333 Mind Blast 1 orb
2.2666 Shadow Word: Pain 8 ticks
3.3999 Vampiric Touch 7 ticks
4.5332 Shadowfiend 9 swings
5.6665 Mind Spike 1 proc left
6.7998 Mind Spike 0 procs left
7.9331 Mind Flay 2 ticks
10.2666 Mind Blast 2 orbs
11.3999 Mind Flay 9 ticks (chained)
18.2666 Mind Blast 3 orbs
19.3999 Devouring Plague – 3 orbs 0 ticks
20.0 End
Time [t]
(sec)
Ability Notes
Shadow Word: Insanity
0 Mind Blast 3 orbs
1.1333 Vampiric Touch 7 ticks
2.2666 Shadow Word: Pain 8 ticks
3.3999 Devouring Plague – 3 orbs 8 ticks
4.5332 Shadowfiend 9 swings
5.6665 Mind Flay 5 ticks (chained)
9.44076 Mind Blast 1 orb
10.57406 Mind Flay 9 ticks (chained)
17.94061 Shadow Word: Insanity
18.57406 Mind Blast 2 orbs
19.70736 Devouring Plague – 2 orbs 0 ticks
20.0 End

Lets look at the results:

Burst DPS Comparison Between Tier 3 Talents

A few interesting notes about these results:

  • From Darkness, Comes Light is the winner here. This is even more telling when you consider (as I noted above the action tables for this section) that this is without factoring any procs that might occur while you are within the 20sec DPS window!
  • Mindbender is the lowest, even lower than our base case. This is because, while it has a 60sec cooldown vs. Shadowfiend with a 3min cooldown, Mindbender does about 66% the damage of Shadowfiend. This makes it a great talent for sustained damage, but a very poor choice for burst.
  • Shadow Word: Insanity was also slightly below our base case in total damage.

I will not be incorporating Mindbender or Shadow Word: Insanity in the final batch of tests with the Tier 5 / Level 75 talents because neither scales particularly well with the available talent choices either because the T3 talents are a) low in damage output (Mindbender), or b) limited in use and thus don’t scale with the T5 talents (Shadow Word: Insanity).

The Tier 5 / Level 75 Talents

Next up to add in to the mix are the Tier 5 / Level 75 talents: Twist of Fate, Power Infusion, and Divine Insight.

PLEASE NOTE: As with From Darkness, Comes Light in the section above, we are assuming that for Divine Insight the proc is active at the start of burst and, after this, no other procs will occur — consider this to be the “worst case scenario”.

PLEASE NOTE: For Power Infusion we will assume that its full duration is available and is active for the entire 20sec DPS window.

PLEASE NOTE: For Twist of Fate we will assume that its full duration is available at the start of the burst phase but does not get refreshed. Also for its section, yellow text indicates what abilities benefit from Twist of Fate.

Time [t]
(sec)
Ability Notes
Twist of Fate + FDCL + MSG
0 Mind Blast 3 orbs
1.1333 Shadow Word: Pain 8 ticks
2.2666 Vampiric Touch 7 ticks
3.3999 Devouring Plague – 3 orbs 8 ticks
4.5332 Shadowfiend 9 swings
5.6665 Mind Flay 4 ticks (chained)
9.1333 Mind Blast 1 orb
10.2666 Mind Flay 11 ticks (chained)
18.5773 Mind Blast 2 orbs
19.7106 Devouring Plague – 2 orbs 0 ticks
20.0 End
Time [t]
(sec)
Ability Notes
Power Infusion + FDCL + MSG
0 Devouring Plague – 3 orbs 10 ticks
1 Mind Blast 1 orb
2 Shadow Word: Pain 9 ticks
3 Vampiric Touch 8 ticks
4 Shadowfiend 11 swings
5 Mind Spike 1 proc left
6 Mind Spike 0 procs left
7 Mind Flay 4
10.02206 Mind Blast 2 orbs
11.02206 Mind Flay 9 ticks (chained)
17.8217 Mind Blast 3 orb
18.8217 Devouring Plague – 3 orbs 1 tick
19.8217 Shadow Word: Pain 0 ticks
20.0 End
Time [t]
(sec)
Ability Notes
Divine Insight + FDCL + MSG
0 Devouring Plague – 3 orbs 8 ticks
1.1333 Mind Blast 1 orb
2.2666 Shadow Word: Pain 7 ticks
3.3999 Vampiric Touch 7 ticks
4.5332 Mind Spike 1 proc left
5.6665 Mind Spike 0 procs left
6.7998 Shadowfiend 9 swings
7.9331 Mind Flay 1 ticks
9.1333 Mind Blast 2 orbs
10.2666 Mind Flay 9 ticks (chained)
17.1333 Mind Blast 3 orbs
18.2666 Devouring Plague – 3 orbs 2 ticks
19.3999 Shadow Word: Pain 0 ticks
20.0 End

And now, the results:

Burst DPS Comparison Between Tier 5 Talents

The results from these tests are pretty telling in favor of Twist of Fate because so many hard-hitting abilities are cast while the +15% damage buff is in effect. Power Infusion is a second and can stand on its own, but is limited by the GCD in getting more spells out faster — I suspect that with lower Haste thatthe value of Power Infusion will increase slightly, but might not make it end up on the same level as Twist of Fate. Divine Insight only has an effect at the start of the burst phase, so it is the lowest damage.

Conclusions

Based on my calculations, the best possible combination of glyphs and talents for burst phases like Spine of Deathwing is to have Glyph of Mind Spike glyphed, and, From Darkness, Comes Light and Twist of Fate selected for your talents.

It is that point that I would like to remind the reader of a few assumptions made throughout this analysis:

  • This burst phase was assumed to have a duration of 20 seconds and the Priest has all of their abilities available and off of cooldown. If you stick with the normal Shadowfiend on Spine of Deathwing, you may not have it up for every plate lift.
  • These tests were conducted using glyphs and abilities available during 5.0.4 with a level cap of 85. Glyph of Shadow Word: Death and Halo are not included because they are not available and or/creatable until Mists of Pandaria is released.
  • Buffs like Twist of Fate and Power Infusion are at their maximum duration at t=0.0sec. It is entirely possible that these could be at a lower value in an actual encounter; however, you could also have buffs like Twist of Fate be refreshed from another source while the battle is burst phase is occurring, thus increasing the uptime and your damage done.
  • Procs like Divine Insight and From Darkness, Comes Light are assumed to be up and max stack count as the burst phase begins. There is a very low chance that you would have more than 1 of either of these abilites proc during the burst phase unless you have multi DoT’d Shadow Word: Pain or Vampiric Touch (respectively) beforehand. Any procs from these will be a DPS increase.

Think of these numbers in this fashion: your raid leader asks what a reliable DPS number you can do on a fight, you quote them the worst case value (what I have provided here) and if you get some lucky procs, end up higher.

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8 Responses to Analysis of Shadow Burst DPS Options in 5.0.4

  1. Pulled the post down to correct some mistakes. The original post was (incorrectly) assuming conditions that you would find when a target is sub 20%.

    Thank you both for pointing out these oversights.

    Numbers have been re-run and the outcome remains the same – FDCL + Glyph of Mind Spike + ToF.

  2. Question about TOF. Is it triggered/refreshed by dot ticks ?
    I mean of course dotting bloods or using mind sear on the offtank to trigger it before the tendons pop.

    • Yes, it is triggered by any spell damage you cause on a target that is below 20% health. It is entirely possible to have 100% ToF uptime on each Burning Tendon if you have a DoT ticking on a low HP Corruption or Blood (as long as that target doesn’t die before t=10sec). Additionally, since you might have DoTs ticking on other targets, that increases your chances of getting FDCL or DI to proc. I purposely didn’t include any procs like that in my analysis, so they would be a net DPS gain in any scenario where you have one/both of those talents.

  3. Hi, I have read your maths, ¿have u take care of the point to maximize SW: Insanity damage (placed at 24.99% total haste), and what are the numbers for all talent combinations on that point?. Moreover, have u introduce the last mindbender buff damage?, and do u know that shadow mastery affects both mindbender and shadowfiend?

    • Regarding SWI — No, I have not. I am confident that even if it were perfectly lined up to being at the SWP+2 breakpoint and no more, though, that you wouldn’t see enough of a DPS increase to bring it in line with the other available talents.

      Regarding SF/MB — Neither Shadowfiend nor Mindbender benefits from our Mastery as neither of them is considered a DoT. All of their damage is from melee swings.

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