I often feel that of all our Shadow Priest spells, Vampiric Embrace is the spell that is really only understood by those who have played a Shadow Priest.
Most people know that a Shadow Priest gets back a bit of passive healing while they deal damage. But Vampiric Embrace hasn’t been a hot topic during Wrath of the Lich King. We’ve talked about Dispersion and Mind Sear a lot. And so we should: they were new and interesting.
We’ve always taken Vampiric Embrace for granted. It’s one of our defining abilities, as important as Shadowform to my way of thinking.
The last time I remember really thinking about Vampiric Embrace was right before Wrath of the Lich King was released back at the end of the Burning Crusade. Up until then I think (from memory) Vampiric Embrace was a spell that we would cast on our target, it cost mana, only lasted for about a minute and any damage that we did to that target would heal back both the Shadow Priest and their four party members for 10% of the damage dealt. You could spend talents and I think you could boost that amount to almost 20%. So much has changed.
Mostly Vampiric Embrace was a bit of an annoyance. One that lazy Shadow Priests forgot about and one that smart Shadow Priests could use with a bit of planning to benefit their party and help keep themselves healthy during raid encounters.
And boy did we need it. Back then Shadow Word: Death, our instant spell with a very nasty 100% backlash, was part of our regular casting rotation.
In fact when I was first learning how to Shadow Priest I was given the advice to try and follow up a Shadow Word: Death cast with a Mind Blast. This way we would drop to a third health (from SW:D) and then prop ourselves back up to say half health with the Vampiric Embrace heal (from Mind Blast damage).
Still a distracted Shadow Priest could easily kill themselves by following their “rotation” and not paying attention to incoming environmental damage. And on a fight were the raid’s DPS was artificially boosted? We would often slip up and kill ourselves.
But I’m getting off track. Someone changed the numbers in the lead up to Wrath and for a very short time the amount that Vampiric Embrace healed was boosted to 25% of damage to the target… baseline. I think they may have increased it to a raid wide effect too briefly. Remember this was in the days when they were trying to simplify raid composition and buffs.
The TLDR version is that for about a week or two during the lead up to Wrath even Shadow Priests would admit “Vampiric Embrace is OP”. The nerfs were fast and furious. Shadow Priest DPS was increasing and nobody wanted to make healers obsolete.
Numbers were changed. But the most important change to the spell split the healing returns: the Shadow Priest would receive a much bigger heal from Vampiric Embrace, and the rest of their party would get a little bit. Vampiric Embrace existed to help keep Shadow Priests alive all on our own. It helped keep us independent.
I loved this change. I wanted to feel the effect of my own Vampiric Embrace spell, and I wanted some control over my own health bar. Just as Warlocks have both Life Tap and Drain Life, I wanted to know that I could choose to hurt myself with Shadow Word: Death, but that I could also heal myself in part with Vampiric Embrace – and, as the encounter demanded drop one or both from my spell casting altogether.
I loved all the changes made to Vampiric Embrace to make it more useful – to more than just long boss encounters that is – during Wrath of the Lich King. First Blizzard dropped the mana cost and then extended its duration to 5 minutes. Then it became the self buff, an aura, that we have now. No longer did we have to focus fire one target to receive the benefits. It became great for instances and 3-4 mob pulls.
Most of these changes made Vampiric Embrace an easier spell to use, and like Shadowform and Inner Fire it became a pre-fight buff rather than a decision you would make mid-combat.
See a Shadow Priest? Well assume they have Vampiric Embrace active. You won’t get one without the other.
But while Vampiric Embrace was going through a series of minor usability improvements it didn’t get much press. When, during Wrath of the Lich King, did you read a raid strategy guide that even mentioned the words “Vampiric Embrace”. I can think of only one fight in which Vampiric Embrace was noticeably useful to the raid’s success: Heroic Anub’arak in Trial of the Crusader.
As a member of a moderately successful guild I can tell you that we spent about 4-6 weeks working on that encounter and it was a doozy. Heroic Anub’arak, Heroic Lich King and Heroic Halion are the only encounters that I haven’t completed this expansion and I can tell you that I’d much prefer to be wiping on Heroic LK or Halion instead of Anub’arak.
Need to keep a party at near death indefinitely with a tiny trickle of heals keeping them alive? Vampiric Embrace to the rescue!
Meanwhile Blizzard have struggled to move Shadow Word: Death into its “rightful” place as an execute: a spell with no place in our rotation until our target is under 25% health. Unfortunately they haven’t been very successful. We dropped Shadow Word: Death out of our rotation back when we lost our Tier 7 four piece set bonus and we haven’t been harming ourselves with it until very, very recently.
It’s no wonder that over the space of two years Shadow Priests have been some of the most reliable, resilient (no, not the PVP kind!) clothies standing at your back.
We don’t die. We haven’t been killing ourselves with the backlash from Shadow Word: Death since we dropped it and we’ve been keeping ourselves alive with hymns, Dispersion and Vampiric Embrace.
Obviously we’re doing too good a job.
It surprised me when I read Natarumah’s Survivability and DPS at stake post in which he outlines the direction that Blizzard are taking with Shadow Priests, Mastery and Vampiric Embrace in Cataclysm.
Vampiric Embrace is taking a pretty significant numbers hit. In Cataclysm we can expect to receive only 6% of our damage done to return back to us as a heal. And only 3% to go to our party members. Even if you assume our damage output will increase, that’s a significant reduction.
Natarumah points out that this puts Vampiric Embrace in a very weak position when you compare our self heal to those given to other classes like Warlocks.
I was a bit put out when I first saw Ret Paladins get their passive self heal with Wrath of the Lich King. I was a bit put out when I discovered that Death Knights were prone to self heal through damage. And I’m certainly not welcoming the news that our once unique utility ability is now the weakest self heal of the lot.
I understood what the Shadow Priest was in Wrath of the Lich King. We were the steady, dependable and slightly evil caster at the back that never did the most damage, but somehow steps out of the shadows as the last one standing. We had close ties to our Holy and Discipline brothers and sisters and often recited our Hymns when they couldn’t.
I was less comfortable with the power of our new and somewhat awkward AoE, Mind Sear, and never really liked the idea of being the one everyone looked to during AoE phases. I’m not sad to see Mind Sear nerfed in the lead up to Cataclysm.
We weren’t bursty. Never have been. As Shadow Priests we planned out in advance, independently. Like any serious DoT class we’d spread our damage around, prepping for a target switch long before our raid leader called it.
Natarumah is worried about our DPS nerfs, and to a certain extent I share that concern. But I’m more disturbed by weakening of Vampiric Embrace.
What will this mean for leveling?
If our self healing becomes both totally passive and of no real significance (read: it won’t save our life) and we lose our Hymns (our ties to our better selves) I’m not sure if Cassandri will even feel like a Shadow Priest anymore.
I know she’ll look like one, but will she still feel that way?
I can’t help but ask myself: what are we without Vampiric Embrace?