Of all the searches that I get on my blog in relation to the Priest class there are two questions that come up more than any other. The first is simply how to level one, which I’ve already started writing the guides for. The second is the topic of today’s post: how to deal with shadow priest mana issues.
After writing my 4.0.1 guide for leveling Shadow Priests I started to get a lot of emails from readers about the mana issues. I could tell we had some mana issues here and there, but overall it wasn’t all that bad for me. I started sending out advice, and in some cases it really helped while in others it didn’t seem to help much at all and I even had to suggest that some of them switch to a different spec for a while until mana issues were addressed by Blizzard.
A couple of months went by and with the Cataclysm release there was so much to do, so many toons to level, and so much gold to spend/make on the AH that I set the priest aside for a bit. Priests are now the second-most searched for topic on my blog right now, right behind Druids, and that prompted me to stop slacking on the priests and get back to finding out what’s going on with all of these mana issues.
But in order to figure out mana issues at all of the low levels I had to start over so I deleted the Human Priest and rerolled a new one, this time a female Dwarf for the sake of having some twirly braids of doom.
So in order to figure out what mana issues the Shadow Priest really has, I had to reroll a new Priest and look at how it performed at every level. So I took part in all different aspects of the game to find out not only what the performance was, but also to find out where I spent the most mana.
Knowing that the mana issues do exist I made a special effort to monitor and control the number of times I sat to drink in order to restore my mana. Every time I reached a level ending in 5 I would sell all of the drinks that I had in my inventory and purchase two full stacks of the new type of drink that had just become available, and then monitor their usage.
Activities: I had to look at it from the perspective of questing, running dungeons, and also PvP so that I knew where we spent the most mana, and why. Do we spend more mana when we’re alone or when we’re in a group?
Rotations: How important is rotation? Are some spells to be avoided, or some to be focused on?
Regeneration: I also needed to see how much mana I could regenerate on my own, both during combat and after. This includes regeneration from spells or effects that increase regeneration as well.
Consumption: Consumption refers to both the consumable drinks that restore mana outside of combat, as well as various types of mana potions.
Performance: Finally, I had to pay special attention to my performance to know whether or not it was possible to be effective at playing the class and spec while also being conservative with my mana. Do I lose DPS by not casting spells with the highest mana cost? How does spamming my cheapest spell(s) impact my performance?
Once I had my plan in place it was time to execute it.
During this level range I didn’t even bother buying drinks because the passive mana regeneration outside of combat is significantly increased by Blizzard to make low level playing easier for new players. You can empty your entire mana bar and it will refill itself in a matter of seconds during this level range so there’s no point at all in buying drinks. The only time I used a mana potion during this range was when I was participating in PvP, and even then I used a total of two Lesser Mana Potions.
The only time I really had mana issues was when I was either spamming Shadow Word: Pain on multiple targets (mostly PvP), or when I was forced to do a lot of healing via Flash Heal (mostly PvP).
As far as Rotations went, spamming Smite from 1-10 and Mind Flay from 10-15 were the cheapest options, and both very effective for killing single mobs. Using SW:Pain was often a waste of mana if I were fighting a single mob at a time. Casting SW:Pain on multiple mobs at once sped up the leveling process by killing more mobs in the same amount of time, though occasionally it could lead to “wasting” even more mana to cast a heal if the bubble wasn’t enough to keep me up on its own.
This level range was pretty similar to the previous one. You lose the increased regen outside of combat at level 15, but they do a good job of scaling it back as you level so it’s not like you’re suddenly constantly running out of mana and wondering what in the world is going on. I did buy my two stacks of Melon Juice as soon as I hit level 15, and I started to add the LFG to my leveling process since it had just opened up as well.
Of the two stacks of Melon Juice I hit level 25 after using 8 of them. I didn’t use any potions outside of PvP, save for single boss fight in which the Warrior Tank thought that his healer saying “OOM” meant that he should charge the boss and point his AoE at the rest of the group. Stupid Tanks + SFK = Suck.
I did have some mana issues starting out in LFG as I tried to find a decent rotation to use. It’s hard to set any one specific rotation that’s good for LFG because it’s going to vary in every group that you get into. If we had good DPS then DoT’s were a complete waste and I would cast nothing by Mind Blast and Mind Flay, but if the DPS was low then I would spam SW:Pain across all of the mobs and then Mind Flay to finish them off one at a time.
The only other time I had problems with mana were in certain instances (Shadowfang Keep) where I had to stop DPS and switch over to healing to make up for extra damage that people were taking from doing stupid crap like standing in AoE’s. I did run into some mana problems in PvP here as well, but not quite so much as I was before. I don’t think the PvP experience was changed so much because anything had changed in my class, I think it was simply the makeup of the teams and how the matches played out.
Performance definitely didn’t slacken by conserving mana here as I never dropped below #2 on the PvP charts and the only people that beat me in LFG were tanks with their low level AoE.
This level range was one of the big tests on mana. You get some great new spells in this range and some good talents to go along with them. You also get access to glyphs, finally, which gives us one of our best forms of mana regen I’ve come across so far.
Of the two stacks of Sweet Nectar I hit level 35 after using 22 of them. I used 5 Mana Potions outside of PvP (where I used my left over Lesser Mana Pots just because I had them), typically during boss fights.
The numbers on the Sweet Nectar are going to be slightly skewed because I did end up healing two instances in this level range with my Disc offspec. I used 6 of them during those two runs, but with 16 used in the Shadow spec I’m sure at least some of those 6 would have been used with the Shadow spec as well.
Part of the increased mana usage in this range is that we get access to Devouring Plague which is our highest cost DPS spell that we have, matching Flash Heal for mana cost. The spell is very powerful and it has a healing effect while it deals damage which makes it extra appealing.
When it comes to boss fights in LFG I don’t hold back, I unless everything I’ve got. So rolling both DoT’s (our too most costly spells), Mind Blast on cooldown, and spamming Mind Flay in between cooldowns, I was burning through mana pretty quick. I never ran out of mana in any situation, including PvP, but there were two boss fights that I possibly would have ran out of mana had I not used a potion when I saw myself get to around 25-30%.
The Glyph of Spirit Tap was without a doubt the best decision I made concerning mana. It took me a while to get used to sniping kills with Shadow Word: Death, but as I got to the end of this level range I had it down pretty good. You trigger the glyph by using SW:Death to deliver the killing blow to a target. At first I was trying to conserve my mana by never interrupting another spell or a Mind Flay channel to cast SW:D, but I found through testing that it was worth it to cancel whatever I was doing to get it off.
As for performance, the only person who beat me on DPS was a Hunter in one of my PvP matches. In LFG I did have some tanks that pulled ahead of me a couple of times, and one Warlock could top me on trash packs with his AoE.
This is the level bracket where I kissed my mana problems goodbye. The most important lesson I learned was when to time my SW:Death casts to trigger that Glyph of Spirit Tap. Once I had the timing down in LFG, the only time I ever dropped below 65% mana was during boss fights, and even then only when one of the DPS was slacking or dead, causing the boss fight to take longer than normal.
I did so some more healing in instances with my Disc spec, and as Disc I used over 30 of my Moonberry Juice, mostly because I had a string of dungeons where my tanks were mostly Druids and a couple of Warriors. Druid tanks seem to take an insane amount of damage to where I’m casting Flash Heal frequently just to keep them alive. The Warrior tanks seem to share a common goal of pulling more mobs than they can effectively tank. I used two potions during those healing instances as well.
As for the Shadow spec, I used a total of 5 Moonberry Juice and all of those after boss fights. When the boss doesn’t have any adds, there’s nothing that you can use your SW:Death on to generate additional mana, so until you get towards the top end of this level range you tend to burn through a lot of mana during boss fights. Again, rolling two DoT’s at all times, Mind Blast on cooldown, and spamming Mind Flay in between adds up over time. The only time I used a potion as Shadow was when I needed to drink after a boss fight and the impatient tank decided it would be a good idea to pull the next trash pack, so I downed a potion instead and then went back to fighting.
We also get access to a talent called Masochism at the high end of the level range. This talent (rank 2) gives us 10% of our mana back anytime we deal damage to ourselves with SW:Death (meaning the target didn’t die, so the Glyph of Spirit Tap isn’t triggered) or when an attack hits us for more than 10% of our total health. SW:Death costs 12% of our Base Mana and casting it is either going to refund us 10% of our Total Mana if it doesn’t kill them, or 12% of our Total Mana if it does kill the target. So now you’re basically in a win-win situation with casting SW:Death whenever it’s not on cooldown. Once you’ve spent points in this talent your mana issues on boss fights ease up a lot as well, allowing you to get 10% back any time SW:Death is on cooldown.
At this point I had pretty well given up on pulling more than 2-3 mobs at a time while questing. A lot of times I would just take them on 1v1 and burn them down before moving on to the next target. Occasionally I would pull up to five targets at once when I had quests to kill 10-20 of a certain mob just to make it go by quicker, but otherwise I used a simple rotation of Mind Blast, Mind Flay, SW:Death or Mind Blast, SW:Pain, Mind Flay, SW:Death if the mobs had too much health for the previous rotation to finish them off.
As for performance, I really started to get outdone when it came to PvP in this bracket, but I think I only ran three battlegrounds in this range because the experience in LFG was just too good to pass up. In LFG I continued to dominate the charts until I started running into Arcane Mages. Low level Arcane has some crazy burst damage and all the Arcane Mages I saw were very good at playing the class and spec. I don’t care if they only have to push 2-3 buttons to deal their damage, they do it well. As I got closer to 45 I also found a couple of Balance Druids who were able to beat me on the charts.
Note that me mentioning topping the charts here isn’t me boasting of my greatness here, it’s to point out that you can perform well while paying attention to your mana. You don’t need to worry about throwing DoT’s on everything that moves, but at the same time you can still do that and stay comfortable with your mana levels so long as you’re taking advantage of opportunities to get your mana back with good use of your spells.
So what I found out overall was that the key to mana management with a Shadow Priest is closely tied to your level due to the abilities you have available to you. At early levels the best way to conserve your mana is to only cast your DoT’s when you have to; otherwise focus on Mind Blast and Mind Flay as they’re your cheapest DPS options.
Once you gain access to Shadow Word: Death the best thing you can do is to start watching your target’s health to get a feel for how quickly the mobs are dying. Once you know about how fast the mobs are dying you’ll be able to judge your SW:Death casts to ninja all of the killing blows you can. If you end one fight with less than full mana and you start another one, throw in an early SW:Death cast to trigger Masochism (once you have it) to get an early mana restore, and then try to snipe a mob with another cast once it’s off cooldown for more mana.
Once you’re comfortable with stealing kills with SW:Death you can feel much more secure in spreading your DoT’s around to multiple targets without having to worry about running out of mana. If you do this while solo questing a good way to get your mana back after fighting a large group is to fight a single target. Pull them with SW:Death, follow that with SW:Pain and then channel Mind Flay. If you’re worried about the mob hitting you then kite them around while you wait for your DoT’s to get them below 25% of their health and then cast SW:Death again to finish them off. Doing this will restore a total of 22% of your total mana, and you can repeat that as many times as you need until you reach a comfortable level. I used that method a few times in my upper 30′s just to see how easy it would be to top myself back off after a big pull. The answer: very.
There are two other things I want to point out real quick since they don’t really fit in anywhere in particular. First is that the Twisted Faith talent grants you Hit Rating equal to your Spirit. By stacking Spirit on your gear you increase your chance to hit with all of your spells while also increasing the amount of mana that you regenerate. I don’t stack Spirit above Intellect or Haste, but I do pick it up whenever I get the chance for the regen. The other is a very simple, fairly minor thing, but it’s called a Basic Camp Fire. If you purchase the Cooking skill then you can create a camp fire any time you’re out of combat that gives you a dinky little buff of +4 Spirit for 1 minute. I dropped a camp fire before every boss fight during the levels that I had mana issues. It’s nothing special, that 4 Spirit isn’t going to make a big difference, but every little bit counts if you’re having real problems.
If you’ve had trouble with mana on your Shadow Priest, see if some of the things I’ve said here can help you out. If you find that you’re still having problems, let me know what level you’re at and what kind of problems you’re seeing and I’ll be happy to help you find a solution.
If you’ve found some good ways to fight the mana problems yourself that I didn’t cover, please share those with us in the comments so that we can spread the good word.