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Roxanne Flowers

Elune's Spirit Guide (21/25/5 Night Elf Priest)

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Elune's Spirit Guide (21/25/5 Night Elf Priest)
An experimental Discipline/Holy/Shadow spec for Night Elf Priests who want to maximize support for their Starshards racial spell.

"May the stars guide you."

 

Disclaimers:

I played World of Warcraft in the 2005-2007 time frame before moving on to other games, so I do have experience with playing all 8 Alliance classes to Level 50 or so a decade ago. I played on a PvE server then and I'm playing on Darrowshire now, since PvP does not interest me.

This is not intended to be a bleeding edge DPS optimized raiding Priest spec that will put everything else to shame. If anything, it is intended to be a viable DPM efficient Priest spec to be played for FUN as a soloist and in 5 man groups in PvE content.  That means that I'm looking at a build for leveling more than I am for raiding.

I have been lurking these forums for weeks already, and am well aware of the "Play Shadow!" exhortations that have been made repeatedly for leveling builds, particularly for those who are interested in speeding through to 60. I am not interested in speed running to 60 and will be taking my time to enjoy the game, therefore I have no problem with "being slower" than alternative build strategies in terms of XP per hour.

The primary purpose of this build is to explore the possibility of a potential off-meta spec which I have not seen anyone show (enough) interest in (yet) to post an actual build for. This post is basically an answer to a question of mine ... which is that IF you were going to design a build to support use of Starshards as your primary damaging attack spell, then HOW would you go about selecting Talents to support that objective? Since Starshards is a Night Elf Priest only racial spell, this question is only relevant to Players interested in playing Night Elf Priests (who seem to be a decided minority of Alliance Priests, for somewhat obvious reasons of hardened Conventional Wisdom). I have to wonder if Night Elf Discipline/Holy Priests are even rarer than Moonkin Druids ... and if so, that notion only increases my desire to follow through on this experiment so as to share my conclusions and experiences with this community.

I also know that the prevailing opinion for Mages is "lol arcane" and that what I'm presenting here is in many ways a functional "Arcane Missiles by Priest" sort of build strategy by alternative means, which no doubt plenty of people will look askance at.

The preceding thread where I began this exploration can be found HERE.

 

Level 60 Priest (21/25/5)

http://db.vanillagaming.org/?talent#bVgGc00oZcEzI00VZx

 

Discipline (21 points)

Wand Specialization - Rank 5/5
Increases your damage with Wands by 25%.

Silent Resolve - Rank 5/5
Reduces the threat generated by your spells by 20%.

Improved Power Word: Fortitude - Rank 2/2
Increases the effect of your Power Word: Fortitude and Prayer of Fortitude spells by 30%.

Improved Power Word: Shield - Rank 3/3
Increases the damage absorbed by your Power Word: Shield by 15%.

Martyrdom - Rank 2/2
Gives you a 100% chance to gain the Focused Casting effect that lasts for 6 sec after being the victim of a melee or ranged critical strike. The Focused Casting effect prevents you from losing casting time when taking damage and increases resistance to Interrupt effects by 20%.

Meditation - Rank 3/3
Allows 15% of your Mana regeneration to continue while casting.

Divine Spirit - Rank 1/1
Holy power infuses the target, increasing their Spirit by 17 for 30 min.

 

Holy (25 points)

Improved Renew - Rank 3/3
Increases the amount healed by your Renew spell by 15%.

Holy Specialization - Rank 5/5
Increases the critical effect chance of your Holy spells by 5%.

Spell Warding - Rank 5/5
Reduces all spell damage taken by 10%.

Holy Nova - Rank 1/1
Causes an explosion of holy light around the caster, causing 28 to 33 Holy damage to all enemy targets within 10 yards and healing all party members within 10 yards for 52 to 61. These effects cause no threat.

Blessed Recovery - Rank 3/3
After being struck by a melee or ranged critical hit, heal 25% of the damage taken over 6 sec.

Inspiration - Rank 3/3
Increases your target's armor by 25% for 15 sec after getting a critical effect from your Flash Heal, Heal, Greater Heal, or Prayer of Healing spell.

Spiritual Guidance - Rank 5/5
Increases spell damage and healing by up to 25% of your total Spirit.

 

Shadow (5 points)

Spirit Tap - Rank 5/5
Gives you a 100% chance to gain a 100% bonus to your Spirit after killing a target that yields experience. For the duration, your Mana will regenerate at a 50% rate while casting. Lasts 15 sec.

 

Perhaps the most unusual point for this build is that crits are intended to be meaningless for damage spells, but useful for healing spells and Wand use ... which feels somewhat b(l)izzarro on its face, since usually crit chance is something you want to invest in rather than work around.  I say that because in a Starshards build, your primary damage sources are going to be Shadow Word: Pain, Starshards and your Wand, of which only your Wand can crit ... meaning no crits from either Shadow or Arcane damage spells when using a normal spell rotation.  Shadow Word: Pain is a DoT and therefore cannot crit, and Starshards is a channeled spell which also cannot crit.

Holy spells can score crits, but in a Starshards build you're rarely going to be using Smite past Level 10 or equipping a Wand (whichever comes first), and Holy Fire would only really be useful as an opening attack, since once combat commences it's just going to be use of Starshards and/or Wand so as to maximize Damage Per Mana throughput and Holy Fire just isn't as efficient at that as Starshards is unless your target has Arcane Resistances (since Holy is unresisted).

Where healing is concerned, since a Starshards build isn't locked into Shadowform you'll be able to swing role as an "off-main" or solo healer when circumstances call for it.  However, looking at the Holy tree talents, I'm struck by something that seems almost perverse in the returns on investment given the rest of a build spec oriented around Starshards.  It seems to me that by planning to use a combination of Flash Heal plus Renew rather than primarily Heal and/or Greater Heal, the investment priorities for talents shift like so:

Flash Heal plus Renew
Improved Renew 3/3
Holy Specialization 5/5
Inspiration 3/3
= 11 talent points

Heal and/or Greater Heal
Healing Focus 2/2
Holy Specialization 5/5
Divine Fury 5/5
Inspiration 3/3
Improved Healing 3/3
= 18 talent points

Now most builds aim for putting 5 talents into Divine Fury to reduce the casting time of Heal and Greater Heal down from 3 seconds to 2.5 seconds, which is definitely prudent, and also follow up with including Healing Focus to prevent casting pushback should Power Word: Shield not be up.  But Divine Fury doesn't modify the casting time of Flash Heal (1.5 seconds) or Renew (Instant), and likewise Improved Healing doesn't reduce the mana cost of either Flash Heal or Renew.  Healing Focus and Divine Fury are 7 talent points combined just by themselves, which when you've only got 25 points to spend in Holy (5 of which are going to Spiritual Guidance, leaving only 20 to play with) that's not exactly cheap.  And to top it all off, as a Starshards build, you're going to be wanting to go for Spirit and Spell Damage on your gear rather than Healing and Critical Chance, so spending a lot of talent points on buffing up your Greater Heal when you won't have Spiritual Healing in tier 6 just doesn't seem all that efficient to me in terms of talent points.

Now in the build you see here, you can see that I've essentially "skipped" on the Heal/Greater Heal talent support option to instead favor use of Flash Heal plus Renew so as to reallocate those talent points into Spell Warding and Blessed Recovery.  My rationale for this is relatively simple in that I'm designing this build for use as a solo leveling build where I'll need to have reserve options so as to be able to persevere when my Power Word: Shield bubble gets popped.  My thinking is that the short casting time of Flash Heal (1.5 seconds) combined with Martyrdom dramatically mitigates the need/priority for Healing Focus, while Renew derives no benefit from Healing Focus at all.

If I was planning on using Holy Fire and Smite as my primary damage dealing spells for a main healing spec, then Divine Fury (and everything that flows from it) would be a lot more valuable to me because I'd be able to make use of the offense and defense gains the talent offers.  But because that's not what I'm angling towards, the return on investment when going in that direction would seem to be reduced in a Starshards build, showing once again how if you really want to support Starshards as an offensive spell you really do need to start rethinking more than a few things.  Due to that difference from the "ordinary" I'm looking at using my talent points in the Holy tree to bolster my defensive protections to better leverage Martyrdom than would otherwise be typical.

 

There is one point that I would like to correct from Fisher's excellent Priest Leveling Guide concerning Starshards though ...

On 12/17/2016 at 4:20 AM, Fisher said:
Starshards: On-use channeled ability that deals Arcane damage. 30 second cooldown. If uninterrupted, this spell has the highest single target damage per mana of any priest spell in the game. Also deals slightly more damage per second than Mind Flay outside of Shadow Form. In terms of mana-efficiency, this spell can only be beaten by channeling Mind Flay on a target with 5 stacks of Shadow Weaving, but getting Shadow Weaving to 5 stacks is a waste of mana except against Elites and players.

At the time of this posting, the 30 second cooldown time is not accurate for Darrowshire (or any of the Elysium managed servers, I'd expect) running on 1.12 game mechanics.  Starshards can be chain cast successively so long as you have mana, with the full mana cost being paid at the start of the spell casting.  This means that after 5 seconds of channeling you will ALWAYS get a "full" mana recovery tick from Spirit (albeit at combat value rather than non-combat), even without having any talent points in Meditation, unlike Mind Flay.

Although I can't demonstrably prove it yet, I'm starting to wonder if the combination of Divine Spirit, Spiritual Guidance and loading up as much +Spirit and Spell Damage gear as possible would yield not only a favorable Damage Per Mana comparison with Shadow when including talents but also a competitive Damage Per Second yield such that a Starshards build would be capable of sustaining damage output/throughput onto target for a much longer stretch of time given similar starting mana pools.  Indeed, I even have to wonder if it might be possible for a "properly" built and equipped Starshards build to be capable of casting Starshards indefintely due to sheer mana efficiency.  This would then create what amounts to a self-sufficient "pressure" build as opposed to the more common "spike" build seen with a lot of other strategies and which would apply a steady rather than RNGesus influenced Threat Per Second generation which in turn makes life MUCH easier for the aggro magnets you team up with.

 

So this is where the ... experiment ... with optimally supporting Starshards as a Night Elf Priest has led me.  The nice thing as far as I'm concerned is that the build spec isn't so ridiculously tight that variations on the theme get precluded.  In Discipline, if you want Inner Focus and/or Mental Agility, you can reshuffle some talent points in order to get it.  In Holy, if you really want to go for Divine Fury and Improved Healing instead of Spell Warding and Blessed Recovery ... you can.  That means that what I'm presenting here is less of a cookie cutter and more of a How To concerning the opportunities and synergies that are available when building to support Starshards as your primary damage spell.

The sum total of all of these disparate parts would appear to create a most unusual combination ... of an Arcane Night Elf Priest who is extremely mana efficient at producing sustained damage pressure on a single target, and with some ability to apply damage to multiple targets simultaneously. The irony of course being that this is a Priest build instead of a Mage build, and Night Elves are hardly renowned for their ... aptitude ... for the Arcane, having turned away from their arcane studies after the Sundering in a bid for survival. And yet, here is a build that combines Arcane, Holy and Shadow together in what feels (to me) like a rather viable balance in, of all things, a Priest.

And once I further "evolved" the build from the Elune's Disciple spec into the form that I'm presenting to you here, the name once again just manifested itself before me. This is a talent build that (probably) only someone who allowed themselves to bathe in the light of Elune could love and follow on the Darrowshire server. Fortunately, that's where still I am, standing for the Goddess in the place between the Shadow and the Light.

/pray

/cast Starshards

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2 hours ago, Roxanne Flowers said:

There is one point that I would like to correct from Fisher's excellent Priest Leveling Guide concerning Starshards though

Grazie. I haven't gone through the effort to level a priest of every race, so I was actually unaware that was the case. Finding accurate information regarding vanilla is difficult. I've updated the guide to reflect this finding.

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No worries.  According to the Wowpedia entry it wasn't until a later Blood Crusade patch that Starshards got modified to have a duration shorter than the cooldown.
 

Quote

 

Patch 2.3.0 (2007-11-13): Starshards is no longer channeled, costs 0 mana, is now a Magic effect, lasts 15 seconds, causes damage every 3 seconds and has a 30 second cooldown. The damage per tick of this ability no longer changes during the duration of the effect.

Patch 1.10.0 (2006-03-28): This spell now works like Curse of Agony, with lower initial damage which increases as the duration continues. Mana cost dropped approximately 30% on all ranks. Ranks 1 and 2 increased to 6 second duration. Damage increased approximately 17%.

Patch 1.4.0 (2005-05-05): Should now be affected by the [Focused Casting], [Force of Will], and [Silent Resolve] talents.

Patch 1.1.0 (2004-11-07): Added.

 

Hmmm.  If this is correct (and I have no reason yet to assume it isn't) then the constant damage per tick I've been seeing on ranks 1 and 2 will "morph" into a progressive damage increase per tick with ranks 3+ ... maybe?  Guess I'll just have to get to Level 26 on my Priest to find out.  At any rate, it's definitely not something that would be readily apparent when reading the AoWoW database entries.  However, I do recall the damage of the spell ramping up like Curse of Agony back in Vanilla so as to create an incentive to channel the spell for the entire 6 second duration rather than letting it suffer pushback/get interrupted/abort early since the damage throughput is essentially "back loaded" into the design of how the spell "works" game mechanically.  That then means the spell is most efficient when channeled for the full 6 second duration so as to land the last "big" tick of damage.

The thing is, here on Darrowshire, I'm not seeing any ramp up in the damage output on ranks 1 and 2 of the spell.  At rank 1, it was 6 ticks of 14 damage each in 6 seconds, and at rank 2 it's doing 6 ticks of 27 damage each in 6 seconds ... meaning there's no variability in damage throughput per damage tick at ranks 1 and 2.  This is implied but not clearly stated in the wording of the patch note writeup above noting that the ranks 1 and 2 of the spell have had their durations increased to 6 seconds.

If Starshards is essentially a "ported" copy of Curse of Agony, that would explain some of the ... peculiarities of the spell that I've been observing while playing, such as the fact that the spell is not allowed to score critical hits.  That's because Curse of Agony is an Instant cast Damage over Time spell, which rightly shouldn't be allowed to check for critical hit chance.  Starshards is most likely just taking the exact same code and "filing off the serial numbers" before slapping on the channeled spell requirement and calling it done ... which would then be why Starshards applies a debuff icon to the target that is completely unnecessary (because the damage will just keep happening regardless of the presence of the debuff slot being occupied or not while the spell is channeled).

And just to keep everyone up to date on my progress, my Priest is currently Level 19 and getting close to 20, but it's going to be a while before I can get her up to Level 26.  In the meantime, I'm certainly enjoying my time playing in vanilla again after all these years.  It's all starting to come back to me, although I do need to reference the online databases a fair bit to verify stuff I'm not sure I'm remembering things right.

"Elune guide your path."

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I played this spec and liked it with a 59 Twink for PvP with a lot of modifications but I was a blood elf so also tbc. I feel that even if you could get the dmg up to a shadow priest you wouldn't have any of the primary benefits like providing your party with MANA.

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4 hours ago, Magrim said:

I feel that even if you could get the dmg up to a shadow priest you wouldn't have any of the primary benefits like providing your party with MANA.

Huh?  How can a Shadow Priest provide a party with mana?

If you're talking about Judgement of Wisdom, that's a Paladin spell.  If you're talking about Vampiric Embrace, that provides a party with health rather than mana by doing shadow damage ... and if you're then implying that that healing via shadow damage saves your party mana by reducing the demand for healing services, that's a rather indirect argument.  But that's mana savings, not providing/gaining/adding mana.

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2 hours ago, Roxanne Flowers said:

How can a Shadow Priest provide a party with mana?

He's talking about Vampiric Touch from The Burning Crusade.

6 hours ago, Magrim said:

but I was a blood elf so also tbc.

 

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Hello. i follow you since you got only the first post and i made a priest, i rly like your build, but i have a question. Now i'm lvl 21. Should I finish the discipline or the holy tree first?

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6 hours ago, CryingEnder said:

Hello. i follow you since you got only the first post and i made a priest, I really like your build, but i have a question. Now I'm level 21. Should I finish the discipline or the holy tree first?

Wait ... I've got ... fans followers? o.O;

As for whether you "should" build out the Discipline or Holy tree first, that's really a question you need to ask (and answer) yourself, since only you will know the way that you most enjoy playing.

Of the two paths, I would consider (for me) the Holy tree to have a higher priority, simply because Spiritual Guidance is such a force multiplier for the build, particularly with Spirit Tap in play doubling your Spirit (and the health and mana you recover).  Every 100 Spirit (base) you have is basically an extra +25 spell power AND healing with Spiritual Guidance, which Spirit Tap will double to become +50 spell power AND healing ... on top of all the health and mana recovery, including the fact that while Spirit Tap is up you recover 50% of your mana while casting.  That's basically like adding at least 1 if not 2 or 3 (or a half dozen) different items of gear onto your character that simply make every spell you cast more powerful, creating a dynamic where you need to cast fewer times to deliver X amount of damage (or healing).

Going through Discipline you'll be able to pick up Martyrdom and Improved Power Word: Shield which can then unlock Meditation for 15% mana recovery while casting, which when combined with a Spirit Tap yields 65% mana recovery while casting.  This makes your spellcasting slightly more efficient in terms of net mana consumption, but it doesn't do a great deal for reducing the number of spells you need to cast.

My personal preference would be to go Spirit Tap first, Wand Specialization second, and then do straight Holy from tiers 1 to 5 to finish out Spiritual Guidance at Level 44, after which you then pick up tiers 2 to 5 in Discipline and finish up with Divine Spirit at Level 60.  My reasoning for this preference is the sense that Spiritual Guidance is much more of a force multiplier than Divine Spirit is, particularly since Divine Spirit is mainly in the build to provide even more Spirit to "fuel" Spiritual Guidance for even greater spell power and healing.

If you do go Discipline first, understand that every talent point you spend in Discipline pushes back the Level at which you can complete Spiritual Guidance.

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Isn't there anyone at 60 that could just check this. Also, what use is the 5pts in shadow going to do if you're going to be raiding? And if not raiding why the threat reduction?

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5 hours ago, HolyPriest said:

Starshards is great if you can avoid push back.

Of course ... and the two methods at your disposal for that are Power Word: Shield and Martyrdom.  An extra "half measure" for avoiding pushback while in a group is Silent Resolve for reduced Threat generation so you don't pull aggro.

5 hours ago, Magrim said:

Isn't there anyone at 60 that could just check this. Also, what use is the 5pts in shadow going to do if you're going to be raiding? And if not raiding why the threat reduction?

Dunno, but I'd appreciate the input/validation of any Level 60 Night Elf Priests out there.  It's going to be "a while" before I get there myself.

I'm interested in Spirit Tap for a "rolling spell power boost" that can then fuel Spiritual Guidance.  Going from 300-350 Spirit to the neighborhood of 600-700 Spirit on every kill (for 15 seconds) and adding an extra 75-87 spell power and healing to what I'm casting for those 15 seconds sounds very appealing to me ... and that's not even including the mana recovery that would come with that boost.  It basically means that as a DPS role Priest, rather than as a healer, you want to steamroll and just keep rolling.  Your mileage may vary, of course.

The threat reduction is because there's more to life than simply soloing and 40 man raids.  There's also pickup group parties and 5 man dungeons.  The threat reduction is useful anytime I'm in a party because I'm angling to take up a DPS spellcaster slot (with high DPM efficiency), rather than a healer slot, although the build can accommodate both (with the healing role being decidedly secondary).

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Yes but the way they talent worked in retail was you had to do the KB and in a 40 man raid that will almost never happen and of it does there's plenty of time in-between boss fights to Regen. It's a half decent idea for PvP when you get interrupted it will be for arcane and not affect your other two schools but then you don't need the resolve so one way or another here you have some wasted points.

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Yes but the way they talent worked in retail was you had to do the KB and in a 40 man raid that will almost never happen and of it does there's plenty of time in-between boss fights to Regen. It's a half decent idea for PvP when you get interrupted it will be for arcane and not affect your other two schools but then you don't need the resolve so one way or another here you have some wasted points.

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I like this racial build - wish there was more like it that would give some alternative ways to play priests, so thumbs up from here.

I'm working on a guide for a troll priest levelling build myself at the moment so nice to find some inspiration. Cheers and don't lose hope, even if some people are pretty negative! (see above)

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6 hours ago, Magrim said:

Yes but the way they talent worked in retail was you had to do the KB and in a 40 man raid that will almost never happen and of it does there's plenty of time in-between boss fights to Regen.

My Priest is currently Level 19.8.  I'm slightly over 40 Levels away from needing to worry about 40 man raid performance and the shame of never landing a killing blow.

6 hours ago, Magrim said:

It's a half decent idea for PvP when you get interrupted it will be for arcane and not affect your other two schools but then you don't need the resolve so one way or another here you have some wasted points.

I don't PvP ... as explained in the Disclaimers in my original post.

On 2/21/2017 at 0:37 AM, Roxanne Flowers said:

I played on a PvE server then and I'm playing on Darrowshire now, since PvP does not interest me.

So the PvP considerations are not something I'm factoring in, although others might be inclined if they are playing a Night Elf Priest on a PvP realm.  As always, Your Mileage May Vary.

1 hour ago, Baju'Jin said:

I like this racial build - wish there was more like it that would give some alternative ways to play priests, so thumbs up from here.

Very kind of you to say so.

To be scrupulously fair, it's really just something inspired by the "typical" 21/30/0 build for people who don't want to go Shadowform and aren't interested in going to 31 in Discipline, so I can't say it's a COMPLETELY original build strategy.  If anything, I'm just doing a "variation on a theme" here by skewing the ... routes ... to 21 in Discipline and 25 in Holy (and 5 in Shadow, but who's counting?) so as to maximize support for the racial Starshards spell in order to get the highest possible Damage Per Mana yield from the spell ... and for THAT I'll gladly take credit in being The First™ to do that on these forums.  ^_~

1 hour ago, Baju'Jin said:

I'm working on a guide for a troll priest levelling build myself at the moment so nice to find some inspiration.

/cheer

1 hour ago, Baju'Jin said:

Cheers and don't lose hope

If I was susceptible to losing hope, I never would have considered the notion that Starshards could be anything other than useless (since so many people and Guides are convinced of that "fact").  No, if anything, I'm so inspired by what I discovered that I had to share it with the community, since what I was learning in my theorycrafting was "too good" to keep all to myself.  Being able to inspire others with the discoveries that I've made ... that's just a bonus.  ^_~

Edited by Roxanne Flowers

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Quick update concerning Martyrdom.  Got my Priest up to Level 20, put 1 point in Martyrdom and then went out to take down 20 Rabid Thistle Bears and 4 Grizzled Thistle Bears in Darkshore (yes, I'm slumming).  At first I didn't even recognize the proc animation for Martyrdom, since it looks like a Faerie Fire that's been put in the wrong location (it animates IN my Night Elf's head, rather than over it) and it then sinks down to shoulder level, which just looks weird.  So at first, I didn't even know what the heck was happening until I realized it was Martyrdom proccing on a crit while Power Word: Shield was up and holding.

Anyway ...

The Grizzled Thistle Bears have a Ravage attack which can Stun for 2 seconds with like a 10-ish second cooldown that I was well aware of, since it had been knocking down and interrupting all my other characters up to this point.  I'd also gotten the rude awakening to the fact that this Stun attack could interrupt spellcasting even while protected by Power Word: Shield, which made use of Starshards against these mobs a less than satisfactory option.  The Stun would even disable autoshoot with my Wand while shielded, so it was something that definitely needed to be accounted for when trying to deal damage.

And then it happened.

I just so happened to get a Martyrdom proc while my Shield was up, the Ravage attack hit me and ... there was no knockdown and stun.  Autoshooting with my Wand was not interrupted, and I realized that the Martyrdom proc protected me successfully against a Stun attack.  So ... yay ... Martyrdom works as advertised, and it works while your shield is Absorbing hits for you.

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You're quite welcome ... although at this point I really can't in all good conscience "recommend" this build to anyone interested in min-maxing a Priest, even though I'm rather obviously angling for a min-max of talent points to support a very specific spell offered only to Night Elf Priests.  A lot of the stuff that I'm asserting will work in this build remains theoretical, meaning it hasn't been directly tested for results, but I'm fairly sure that the underlying theorycrafting is reasonably sound.

The biggest shift you need/want to make with pursuing a build like this is the notion that you have two choices for playing a Priest ... either Shadowform or Holy Healbot ... since this build is oriented around an optimized Damage Per Mana goal, rather than being a Damage Per Second powerhouse, which may very well be the best at leveraging Spirit to its advantage for sustained pressure, rather than spike, damage production.  So in that respect, the build plays a lot more like a (shielded) Arcane Mage rather than like the more stereotypical Holy or Shadow Priest.

Anyway, if you manage to have fun playing with the build ... please regale us with tales of your adventures and discoveries!

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Been a while since I posted an update to this thread.

Finally got my Night Elf Priest to Level 26 for Starshards Rank 3 and ... the damage output is still consistent across all 6 damage ticks.  There is no(t yet any) ramp up from the first damage tick to the last, meaning that the spell's damage isn't "backloaded" in a fashion similar to Curse of Agony for Warlocks where the damage ramps up over time such that the spell is at its most efficient when you get all the damage ticks in.

It's also kind of interesting how when soloing single PvE targets that are within -6 Levels of you (so XP and Spirit Tap on kill) that there is a decided advantage to doing a Power Word: Shield+Holy Fire+Starshards+Wand rotation.  Holy Fire has a long casting time, but you can spend that time "for free" if you're not already engaged.  Immediately follow the completion of casting Holy Fire with Starshards.  The interesting thing is that Holy Fire costs mana at the end of the casting, while Starshards costs mana at the beginning of channeling, meaning that casting the two spells in this fashion is extremely 5 Second Rule friendly.  Finish off the target with spamming Wand because after 6 seconds of channeling Starshards your mana recovery is 100% of Spirit because you haven't been using mana for more than 5 seconds.  Spirit Tap on kill has you back up to full mana and health in 15 seconds or less to engage your next target.  You almost never need to sit down to drink while soloing.

I'm sure that over the next 10 Levels from 26 to 35, Starshards Rank 3 will (again) slowly lose its efficacy once more relative to the HP totals of my Foes, but it's pretty awesome to be able to start burning stuff down with it again.  All I need for it to work effectively is to keep my shield bubble up and not be interrupted by knockdowns at this stage.

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Been slowly leveling and haven't yet reached the next performance breakpoint at Level 36.  Right now, my Priest is Level 29 and Starshards is working very nicely against targets that I can Spirit Tap to recover mana.  Aiming for a Spirit heavy build, rather than one that is Intellect heavy, is still the operating assumption, simply because of the inter(re)action(s) of the 5 Second Rule with a 6 second channel casting time for being able to recover more mana while casting than would be possible for chain casting spells with shorter casting times.

My current rotation to alpha strike a target to begin combat while soloing is to Power Word: Shield, Holy Fire, Starshards and then either repeat Starshards or simply melee or Wand.  The build plays an awful lot like an Ice Barrier Mage, except you throw Holy damage (to open) and then switch to an Arcane DoT and/or Wand to finish.  This would be consistent with a Mage using Ice Barrier, then Fireball, then Arcane Missiles before switching to Wand, in terms of spell casting behaviors and purpose.  The difference is that Ice Barrier has a 1 minute cooldown, while Power Word: Shield merely can't be reapplied for 15 seconds due to a debuff.  Fireball does Fire damage, for which there are Fire Resistances, while Holy Fire does Holy damage, for which there are no Holy Resistances unless using consumables for protection (Holy Protection Potions and the like).  Arcane Missiles is a 5 second channel cast, which almost but not quite is very friendly to the 5 Second Rule of spell casting, while Starshards is a 6 second channel cast, which out of the box is extremely friendly to the 5 Second Rule of spell casting.  Arcane Missiles checks crit chance and hit chance on each volley fired at the target, while Starshards works in an "all or nothing" fashion where there is a single hit check and a single Resist check for the entire casting (and I have now seen what happens when Starshards gets Resisted on cast).  In the case of both Arcane Missiles and Starshards, casting the spell IMMEDIATELY and instantly apply Threat, even before any damage has been delivered to your target.  As a Mage you want your Fireball to finish its flight time and "impact" for damage before beginning to channel Arcane Missiles (for reasons of alerting, tactical positioning and Clearcasting procs) ... while with Starshards you want to cast Starshards IMMEDIATELY after Holy Fire completes casting, since there is no flight time factor to consider with Holy Fire, which takes effect "instantly" upon completing casting.

As an opening move, although Holy Fire does less damage per mana spent, the casting time to "wind up" Holy Fire when opening from non-combat is essentially "free" time spent for ranged damage, particularly since the global cooldown finishes cycling while the 3-3.5 second windup to cast is progressing ... meaning that instant casting of Starshards after completing the casting of Holy Fire is not only possible, but from a 5 Second Rule of mana recovery cycling extremely prudent.

Against particularly strong or hard hitting (damage) opponents, my go to strategy is to Power Word: Shield and then WAIT about 10 seconds before starting my Holy Fire casting.  This ensures that the Weakened Soul debuff of Power Word: Shield is close to expiring by the time the mob I'm fighting is getting in my face which means that I'm free to recast Power Word: Shield a second time during the fight at a time of my convenience (usually right after it drops due to incoming damage).  That then gives me a very nearly 2-for-1 sort of use of Power Word: Shield to "refuse" incoming damage, and extend my survivability.

Martyrdom has turned out to be less "exciting" of an option than I had hoped for Clearcasting procs, if only because there seems to be plenty of interrupts that will take effect through both Power Word: Shield and through Martyrdom.  Knockdowns and Stuns in particular seem to override the protection offered by Power Word: Shield and Martyrdom, since both will interrupt spell casting regardless of the protection offered.  So while it may be effective against a Rogue's Kick attack or a Defias Knuckleduster's "slam" for Interrupt, alternative means of interrupting spell casting are certainly available and effective.  Since Starshards rank 3+ follow the Curse of Agony model for damage (2/18ths, 2/18ths, 3/18ths, 3/18ths, 4/18ths, 4/18ths damage ticks over 6 seconds) you really lose out on Damage Per Mana efficiency if Starshards isn't able to channel for the entire 6 seconds of casting time due to the "back loading" of the damage production.  However, Starshards produces so much damage in such a short amount of time that against most mobs I'm fighting there is simply no reason to cast Shadow Word: Pain at all.  The one exception that I encountered so far was actually the Venture Co. Machine Smith up by the water wheel in Stonetalon, who would summon a Harvest Reaper with Elite Boss health totals that would hit for absurd amounts of damage if the Machine Smith wasn't damage spiked to death in under 10 seconds.  Adding insult to injury, the Machine Smith, if left alone would summon MULTIPLE Harvest Reapers if they lived long enough to keep casting.

So realizing I needed to "spike" the Machine Smith as fast as possible, I switched from my more usual "relaxed" style of producing damage in the most efficient manner possible over to producing as much damage as fast as possible and not worrying about the mana costs.  This meant adding a "melt faces" component into the usual rotation and opening from "maximum range" where a line of sight to target was ensured for the entire time the Machine Smith would be closing to come at me, resulting in:

Power Word: Shield, Holy Fire, Shadow Word: Pain, Mind Blast, Starshards, Wand

Very mana inefficient, but it delivered the necessary damage spike in a short enough span of time that the Machine Smith didn't get to (instant) cast his Harvest Reaper cheat that has health and hits like an Elite without actually having an Elite symbol marker on its portrait.  Given the (successful) results, I wasn't going to complain about spiking down a serious threat before he could play his cheater card while costing me far more mana than he was worth.  Just one of those edge case adaptations that worked out successfully given the constraints of the encounter.

So overall, the experiment is working out remarkably successfully as a solo leveling build.  Next up for my Priest is dealing with Rethiel the Greenwarden's quest line (because I want to do ALL the content this time through), along with finding Sida's Bag around Ironbeard's Tomb, looting 6 Giant Crocolisk Skins and dealing with Whelgar's Expedition and the completion of The Absent Minded Prospector quests in The Wetlands.  Once I've done that, I'll be taking on the Elite Wetlands quest chain and then going LFG for a BFD group to get that dungeon off my To Do list before turning to finishing up Duskwood and then Ashenvale before moving on to clearing The Stockades in Stormwind.  Then it'll be on to Refuge Point (Arathi), Southshore (Hillsbrad), Nijel's Point (Desolace) and Stranglethorn Vale (guess...) as the next zones to start clearing my way through as I keep leveling my way on up.

The one thing that I can say is that despite the "decay" in effectiveness of Starshards over each 10 Level span before getting to the next rank of spell, the entire build does feel like it is getting progressively stronger and stronger with each level up and added talent point.  The growth is somewhat subtle, but it doesn't feel like a "two steps forward, one step back" kind of progression.  At this point, I'm REALLY looking forward to being able to respec at Level 34 to having just Holy talents up through 5/5 Spiritual Guidance and then spending 35-39 on getting Spirit Tap back before finally turning back to Discipline and working my way further down the talent tree than just Wand Specialization and Martyrdom, starting at Level 40.  By that point, I should have my build thoroughly grounded in being based around Spirit with useful doses of Spell Power from Black Mageweave and Dreamweave items that I'll be able to Tailor by those Levels.  All of that combined should start to REALLY boost the DPM (Damage Per Mana) potential of the build.

At the present time, the build plan remains to invest in a 21/25/5 arrangement of talents which is capable of operating as a medic/healer when necessary, although the preference remains (certainly while soloing) to produce the most efficient DPM possible.  I have toyed with the notion of moving a couple talent points around to invest in Searing Light instead of Holy Reach, but to be honest, I don't think shifting 3 talent points for an extra +10% damage and a 0.1 second casting time reduction for Holy Fire (only, since I essentially don't use Smite at all) and Heal+Greater Heal really makes for a good tradeoff.  Have a look and decide for yourself if you think such a configuration would be superior.

So yes ... I'm still enjoying playing my Night Elf Priest.  The only problem I've got is a slow rate of progress due to playing 8 characters in parallel and trying to keep them all "together" on their progress so I don't miss out on stuff.  It may be slow going, but it's building up quite nicely over time, such that I have no worries about being able to afford Mounts for everyone at Level 40 (and/or very shortly thereafter).  And this is including leveling up every Profession and taking every Class Skill along the way, which under the circumstances winds up being the most efficient way to do things.  By the time I get everyone into the mid- to late-50s, I'm going to have an "army" of well rounded characters who have plenty of resources at their disposal who are ready to go on to bigger and better things.  I'm already getting the occasional invites to Guilds on Darrowshire after running Elites and Dungeons with people, so I must be doing something right (aside from progressing slowly through content that is).

So far ... Elune's Spirit Guide has been remarkably successful for me as a build strategy.  Only (a lot more playing) time will tell if that trend will continue to hold in the way that I'm expecting it to.

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