Priest Leveling: 1-29 Shadow

25 Jan

I covered Shadow Priests just a couple of months ago, but a lot of the feedback I got was from people who were having a much harder time than I was leveling their Priests. So rather than continuing on I deleted my Priest and started over to take another look at it with a special focus on watching my mana and my downtime.

What I found was that I did in fact have a lot of mana issues at various stages of play if I stuck to a specific rotation. I also found that I naturally change my rotations based on my mana without actively thinking of doing so. So I changed how I did that and tried to stick to specific rotations and watch my mana to see what works and what doesn’t in various situations.

Playing a Shadow Priest
In the past I’ve linked Shadow Priests to Affliction Warlocks as both classes/specs focus on using DoT’s and Drains for the majority of their damage, with some direct damage spells thrown in to help speed up the killing process. While the similarities are there, the classes actually play much differently while leveling. For example, on my Affliction Warlock I simply cast my DoT’s on my current target and then go find another target while I wait on the first one to die. With the Shadow Priest I can’t rely solely on my DoT’s because the biggest part of my damage is actually my drain (Mind Flay).

So basically, playing a Shadow Priest isn’t really like playing a Warlock, it’s like playing a Shadow Priest.

Shadow Priests have more survivability than any other DPS caster. You have defensive spells such as bubbles and heals, you have spells that heal you while you deal damage with them, and the spell you cast more than any other applies a slowing effect that means you’ll rarely have a mob close in to melee range before it’s dead. And if that wasn’t enough, you also have fear effects to send them all running away (or cowering).

Shadow-Specific Tips
In my previous Shadow Priest guide I mentioned that you have two types of DPS spells, but really you have three: channeled spells (Mind Flay), direct damage (Mind Blast), and DoT’s (Shadow Word: Pain). Knowing how those work and how/when to use them determines how effective you are at playing the class. The most important thing to do early on is to learn your spells.

Right now Shadow Priests have more trouble with mana issues than any other class in the game. Healers can run out of mana in no time if they cast the wrong spells, but Priests can run out of mana in no time even casting the right spells. The key is to know your spells. You need to be aware of how much damage your spells can deal, and how much mana it takes to cast the.

DoT = OOM: The first thing you need to know about playing a Shadow Priest is that even though DoT’s are a big deal for you, casting them is a complete waste of mana if they don’t have time to deal their damage. If you cast Shadow Word: Pain on a target and then promptly kill it within the next 2 seconds then congratulations, you just wasted your mana.

  • Mind Flay: 9% base mana
  • Mind Blast: 17% base mana
  • SW:Pain: 22% base mana
  • Devouring Plague: 25% base mana

Channel Time = Up Time: The next thing that you need to know is that Mind Flay is your best friend. The more you use Mind Flay, the less time you’re going to spend drinking in between pulls. Mind Flay deals great damage, it slows the target’s movement speed, and it has the cheapest mana cost of all of your damaging spells. You can cast Mind Flay 2.5 times for the same mana cost of a single Shadow Word: Pain, or 2.8 times for the same mana cost of a single Devouring Plague.

Important Spells & Abilities
Priests have a fair number of spells and abilities at their disposal, so it’s always good to know which ones you have available to you. I’m not going to list every spell that you get here, I’m just going to point out the ones that you’ll use at least fairly often while leveling. Number in parenthesis after spell names indicate the level at which you can train the spell.

Level 1-10

  • Smite (1): Smite an enemy for 33 to 35 Holy damage.
  • Shadow Word: Pain (4): A word of darkness that causes 66 Shadow damage over 18 sec.
  • Power Word: Shield (6): Draws on the soul of the friendly target to shield them, absorbing 177 damage. Lasts 30 sec. While the shield holds, spellcasting will not be interrupted by damage.
  • Inner Fire (7): A burst of Holy energy fills the caster, increasing the armor value from items by 60% and spell power by ??. Lasts 30 min.
  • Mind Blast (10): Blasts the target for 50 to 52 Shadow damage.
  • Mind Flay (10-Shadow Spec): Assault the target’s mind with Shadow energy, causing Shadow damage over 3 sec and slowing their movement speed by 50%.

Smite is your starting spell, and your primary nuke for your first 10 levels. Typical Priest leveling involves Smite-spam where you just cast this over and over until things are dead (2-3 casts in most cases). I would tell you not to get used to casting it since this is the only guide you’ll see it in, but you really don’t have any choice at this level. As a Holy spell, you cannot cast Smite in Shadowform.

At level 4 you get Shadow Word: Pain which is your bread and butter DoT (damage over time) spell. You’ll use this one for the rest of your shadowy career, so get used to it, but it’s also one of the highest mana costs, so don’t just fling it around carelessly.

Power Word: Shield is your “bubble” spell, absorbing damage for you so that you don’t actually take damage. It’s a great spell while you’re leveling in this bracket or when you need to act as a healer. You’ll use it quite a bit while leveling, especially when you’re doing it solo. PW:S is a Holy spell, but it falls under the Discipline tree so it can be cast while in Shadowform. Use it on yourself when soloing, or on your tank when using LFG (unless your healer is a Priest, then leave the bubbles to them).

Inner Fire is your first real buff, and one you want to keep up at all times. It provides you with a bonus to your Armor which will make you take less damage in combat, and it also provides you with a nice Spellpower boost. While Inner Fire is a Holy spell, it’s listed under the Discipline tree so it can be cast while in Shadowform.

Mind Blast is your first shadow nuke, dealing decent damage with a fairly short cast time. The 8 second cooldown on it prevents you from spamming it, but if you wanted to just constantly nuke things to death then you would have rolled a Mage, right?

For choosing to become a Shadow Priest at level 10 you’re awarded use of the Mind Flay spell. Mind Flay is a channeled spell that deals a lot of damage over 3 seconds and also slows the target by 50% while it’s being channeled. This is your most mana-efficient spell, and the slowing effect is one of your best defensive tools by keeping melee mobs away from you.

Level 11-20

  • Power Word: Fortitude (14): Power infuses all party and raid members, increasing their Stamina for 1 hour. If the target is in your party or raid, all party and raid members will be affected.
  • Psychic Scream (14): The caster lets out a psychic scream, causing 5 enemies within 8 yards to flee for 8 sec. Damage caused may interrupt the effect.
  • Holy Fire (20): Consumes the enemy in Holy flames that cause 45 to 55 Holy damage and an additional 14 Holy damage over 7 sec.

Power Word: Fortitude is another buff that you want up at all times, which will increase your party’s Stamina for 1 hour. PW:Fort is another Holy spell found in the Discipline tree, so it can be cast while in Shadowform.

Psychic Scream is your version of crowd control and/or emergency button. It causes up to 5 targets around you to run away in fear for 8 seconds or until damaged. I like to use it while questing by casting SW:Pain on several targets to draw them to me and then using Scream to send them running away where I’ll pick them all off with either spells or my wand (assuming SW:P isn’t enough to kill them by itself). Just remember, the damage from your DoT’s will break the effect, so it’s best used before you start spreading SW:P, or when you’re taking a lot of damage and need a chance to escape.

I list Holy Fire here only because it’s a good spell to use in this leveling range when you’re pulling a boss or an elite mob with a lot of health. It does good damage and has a longer cast time than all of your Shadow nukes, and it also has a DoT effect for extra damage. You won’t use it anymore once you get Shadowform at 29, but until then it’s a decent damaging spell. Once you reach level 29 and pick up Shadowform you can forget that this spell exists.

Level 21-29

  • Fade (24): Fade out, temporarily reducing all your threat for 10 sec.
  • Dispel Magic (26): Dispels magic on the target, removing 2 harmful spell from a friend or 2 beneficial spell from an enemy.
  • Devouring Plague (28): Afflicts the target with a disease that causes 88 Shadow damage over 24 sec. 15% of damage caused by the Devouring Plague heals the caster. This spell can only affect one target at a time.

At level 24 you get Fade, to reduce your threat generated. If you’re solo questing then it doesn’t do much of anything for you. It has some small amount of value in PvP against player pets if used properly, but it really shines in dungeons so that you don’t draw agro, or to lose that agro if you do happen to draw it.

Dispel Magic is how you’ll get rid of debuffs that hit you, or how you remove buffs from enemy targets. You’ll probably use that one more for PvP in this level range, but it’s good to know you have it. If you do a lot of dungeon runs you’ll start to see debuffs around the level 30 range that are worth clearing off with this. As a member of the Discipline tree, Dispel Magic can be cast while in Shadowform.

Last up we have our other Shadow DoT for this level range, Devouring Plague. The great thing about this one is that it also heals you for 15% of the damage that it deals. While that might not be a huge amount of healing by itself, when you combine that with the 15% damage reduction from being in Shadowform and the ability to bubble and/or heal yourself you can really start to see just how powerful a Shadow Priest can really be. But just so you don’t forget, Devouring Plague is the highest mana cost spell you have so don’t cast it when it’s not needed.

Leveling a Shadow Priest

  • Questing Single Mob: Mind Blast, Mind Flay, Mind Flay
  • Questing Multi-Mob: (First target) Mind Blast, Shadow Word: Pain – (Adds) SW:Pain, Mind Flay
  • LFG Trash Rotation: Shadow Word: Pain (all targets), Mind Blast/Mind Flay (as needed)
  • LFG Boss Rotations: Shadow Word: Pain, Devouring Plague, Mind Blast, Mind Flay x3, Mind Blast

The rotations I had in my last guide suck. They didn’t suck for me, but they sucked for a lot of my readers. Why? Because not everyone loads their toons with enchanted gear from level 1. My level 1 toons generally have around 760 Mana, and I usually top 1,000 by level 8-10 to give you an idea of what I’m talking about.

So if you were following the previous guide, please accept my apologies for leading you astray. Now, on to rotations that actually work.

I’ve got a few different rotations here so that you can find one that fits your play style. The rotation I don’t mention is the one you use prior to level 10, which is simply spamming Smite until everything is dead. Once you get to level 10 these options start to open up for you.

The first rotation up there is what I typically do. It costs 35% of your base mana in total. It will basically kill any mob you come across while questing. If you find that it’s not enough then you can either use your wand to finish them off or add either a third Mind Flay or a second Mind Blast.

The second rotation is one I use when I know I’m going to pull more than one mob just because of how close they are to each other. It costs 39% of your base mana to kill the first target, and another 31% for each additional target. The damage from SW:Pain is almost enough to kill any mob you find while questing, but you don’t want to sit there taking damage from multiple sources while you wait the 18 seconds it takes for SW:Pain to do its full damage. So by loading another damage spell into the mix as well you significantly lower the amount of time it takes to kill them. If you’re facing more than 2 mobs, be sure to cast SW:P on all of them before you cast the Mind Flay on your second target.

When it comes to trash in LFG you need to make a decision based on how quickly the group is killing the mobs. If the mobs die quickly then just use the single mob questing rotation instead. If it takes more than 10 seconds for the mobs to start dying though, go ahead and use the LFG Trash Rotation, which is to spam SW:Pain on all of the targets and then pick one of them to start burning down with Mind Blast and Mind Flay casts. I’ll generally Mind Blast one of the targets with less health to speed its death, and then I’ll start the Mind Flays on the mobs that have the most health.

Also, when using LFG I like to cast Fade before it becomes an issue, so I’ll cast it right after spreading SW:P to all targets during trash. Boss fights are based on how well my tank has done with threat so far. If he’s good on threat then I’ll Fade after the second Mind Blast, otherwise I’ll do it after the first Mind Blast.

Talent Spec: 29 Shadow Priest

I’ve got two talent specs for you to choose from here. The one that I prefer is the one on the left which puts two points into Twisted Faith for a 2% increase to Shadow Damage and counts all of my Spirit as Hit. The second option uses those two points to max out Improved Mind Blast which reduces its cooldown by 2 seconds and reduces healing on the target by 10%. I don’t like to miss, so I prefer to get Twisted Faith early, but if you would rather get more Mind Blast casts in then feel free to choose Option 2.

  • Darkness 3/3: Spell haste increased by 3%.
  • Improved Shadow Word: Pain 2/2: Increases the damage of your Shadow Word: Pain spell by 6%.
  • Twisted Faith 2/2: Increases your shadow spell damage by 2%, and grants you spell hit rating equal to 100% of any Spirit gained from items or effects.
  • Improved Mind Blast 1/3: Reduces the cooldown of your Mind Blast spell by 0.5 sec., and while in Shadowform your Mind Blast also has a 33% chance to reduce all healing done to the target by 25% for 10 sec.
  • Improved Devouring Plague 2/2: Your Devouring Plague instantly deals damage equal to 30% of its total periodic effect.
  • Shadowform: [Instant cast] Assume a Shadowform, increasing your Shadow damage by 15%, reducing all damage done to you by 15%, and increasing all party and raid members spell haste by 5%. However, you may not cast Holy spells while in this form.

I decided to switch things up a little bit this time and I found in leveling the new Priest that it was better for me to start with Darkness for the increased Haste and then fill in with Improved SW:Pain after. You can do them in either order, but I like how good that Haste is at low levels.

From there I suggest going Twisted Faith first to improve our hit chance. I used to not worry about Hit very much at all while leveling, but after leveling my Rogue I’ve seen the real value in hit while leveling, so I suggest you go ahead and pick this up now. Improved Mind Blast shortens the cooldowns for one of our nukes, and has a PvP’ish benefit to reduce healing as well. If you don’t like Twisted Fate, feel free to move it’s points over to this for now and then fill TF in at later levels where the hit will be more important. You’ll want 3/3 here eventually anyway so that choice is yours.

Improved Devouring Plague won’t help you much when you first start putting points into it, because you won’t actually get the spell until level 28 though I’m suggesting you take the points in this talent at 25 and 27. Even though those points get “wasted” for a few levels it will pay off once you get the spell.

At level 29 we get the signature Shadow Priest ability, Shadowform with a 15% damage increase, a 15% reduction of damage taken, and a 5% Haste buff that we grant to our whole party.


Prime Glyhphs

In the previous guide I had SW:Pain listed first because I’m a DoT spreading fool. Taking another look at things while paying attention to my mana and all though, I have to say that Mind Flay takes the top slot because it’s going to be cast more often. I believe in Patch 4.0.6 they’re also changing the glyph so that it’s a straight damage increase, taking away the SW:Pain requirement. Shadow Word: Pain is still a great glyph though, especially if you’re looking at doing some LFG runs for those boss fights and large trash packs.

Major Glyphs

  • Glyph of Psychic Scream: Targets of your Psychic Scream spell now tremble in place instead of fleeing in fear, but the cooldown of Psychic Scream is increased by 3 sec.
  • Glyph of Fade: Reduces the cooldown of your Fade spell by 9 sec.

I have two options for your Major glyphs as well. I’m going to rank Psychic Scream above Fade here strictly because Fade has no use (at this level) while soloing. If you’re a solo quester, go for the Scream. If you’re going to do a lot of dungeon runs or if you like to PvP a lot, then I suggest you go with Fade first instead. Again, you’ll end up using both of them eventually, so you can’t really go wrong here.

HOWEVER – If you’re low on cash or glyphs are really high in price on your server, ignore your Major glyph for right now and wait until you can use the Glyph of Spirit Tap at level 32.

Minor Glyphs

Two options for Minor glyphs too. Since you’ll use PW:Fortitude both soloing and in groups, it’s the clear winner for me. Fading will only be used when you’re in a group. Just from the frequency of casting them I’d go Fortitude over Fading, but either one will work. Minor glyphs are just that, minor, so don’t worry about screwing this one up as neither one really provides any significant benefit.

Again, if glyphs are high priced or you’re low on cash, you might want to wait until level 34 and use the Glyph of Levitate to remove the reagent requirement from the spell.

Gearing Up Your Priest
As a typical caster you’re most interested in Intellect since it increases your total mana, your spellpower, and your spell critical strike chance. However, unlike most other DPS casters you also benefit from Spirit. If you put points in the Twisted Faith talent then your spirit counts as Hit rating which is a nice bonus, but Spirit is also the stat that determines your mana regeneration rate. As the class and spec with the most mana issues in the game right now, you can use all the mana returns you can get your shadowy fingers on.

Mana Issues: Intellect > Spirit >= Haste > Crit
No Mana Issues: Intellect > Haste > Spirit > Crit

Intellect is the most important stat because it has a more direct effect on your performance than any other.

I listed Spirit and Haste as being roughly equal because even though Haste is actually a better stat for your DPS, Spirit plays a big role right now in our poor mana regen and has the benefit of giving Hit if you’re specced for it as well.

Now that all of our spells can score critical hits, including our DoT’s, Critical Strike Rating has become more appealing. I wouldn’t rank it higher than the others with the possible exception of Spirit if you’re having no mana issues at all, but it definitely has an impact and the more you have the better. I would take all of the other stats over Crit though, unless it’s truly an absurdly large amount of Crit for your level (not likely).


Posted by on January 25, 2011 in Caster, Class, Guide, Leveling, Priest


15 responses to “Priest Leveling: 1-29 Shadow

  1. Tracey

    January 25, 2011 at 1:51 PM

    Just an aside, but THANK YOU for using full spell names in your guides. So many bloggers abbreviate to the point that a reader unfamiliar with the class can’t follow at all – it’s refreshing to see actual spell names, and it leads me to read even articles on classes I’m not expecting to play. Well done, sir!

    • Psynister

      January 25, 2011 at 3:27 PM

      It drives me crazy too! I fall into abbreviations now and then, but I try to resist and correct myself, or at least make it plain what spell I’m talking about. Like SW:Pain instead of spelling the whole thing I think is acceptable.

      When I read up on a new class though and I see a blog that uses nothing but the abbreviations I have no idea what’s going on.

  2. nostalgeek

    February 9, 2011 at 5:19 PM

    This is fun to read.
    I leveled a Shadow Priest back in vanilla launch so it brings back a lot of memories.

    I noticed you mentioned rogue and hit which probably means you’re leveling Combat. I’ve been wondering if you were going to do a Rogue guide and was hoping for Subtlety but oh well!

    • Psynister

      February 9, 2011 at 7:36 PM

      There probably won’t be a Rogue guide for a while as I’m not really feeling the Rogue right now. I”m sure I’ll get around to it eventually, but I don’t have any Rogue plans right now other than my level 10 twink.

  3. Mayavi

    March 11, 2011 at 11:36 AM

    Hi Psynister, I cannot express how grateful I am for this post. I have scoured the internet for a decent, concise and helpful post for shadow priest leveling and I have to say this is the first one I have come across with everything needed for an alt. I have bookmarked your site and I will refer to it time and time again as I discover the dark side of the light. Again, thank you so much and keep up the good work.

    • Psynister

      May 17, 2011 at 3:44 PM

      Mayavi, I somehow missed your comment!

      I’m glad you found the guide helpful. I’ve finished up the leveling guides for the Shadow Priest up to 85, so you should be able to find any other information you’re looking for in those. If you still need help with anything else, feel free to send me any questions you have and I’ll be happy to answer.

  4. Marlinka

    June 29, 2011 at 5:26 AM

    Just for fun I’m levelling a shadow priest using ONLY quest rewards – no heirlooms, no gear from AH, just rewards and drops. Boy do I feel weak! I’m level 20 and to kill a typical mob my level takes a Mind Blast followed by 5 or 6 Mind Flays. Mana isn’t a problem, just my spells don’t do much damage. At level 20 I’ve got 907 HP (buffed), 997 Mana, 50 spell power and 4.37% crit chance.

    The good thing is that it’s really teaching me to play the class :)

    • Psynister

      June 29, 2011 at 8:50 AM

      When you’re dealing with weak gear, you might want to go ahead and use SW:P and work on two mobs at once. It’s a bit more mana intensive, so you’ll end up drinking more, but combat itself will seem better. Just a thought.

  5. Marlinka

    June 29, 2011 at 5:29 AM

    Sorry, that should be 67 spell power. Still nothing compared with using full heirlooms with +30 SP on the staff :)

  6. Paul

    November 24, 2011 at 8:05 PM

    A very nice guide, ty:)
    I just have levelled a mini priest to 15 and stepped enthousiastically into a dungeon (Deadmines).
    It was terrible dps, not even 20 dps overall. My mini hunter performed 4x better!
    No heirlooms were used, no ah items either, because I started on a fresh realm.
    Besides, I am not interested in speed levelling and I think it is fun to do the best with the stuff you found.
    Shadow priest and mana:(… I made the mistake to dot all mobs with SW: Pain on each occasion and went oom constantly. Now I see more clearly why.
    To be careful with certain high cost spells is interesting, but I hope the damage will improve soon.
    Can`t wait to bring your analyses in practice:)

    • Psynister

      November 24, 2011 at 10:15 PM

      Hey Paul, I’m glad you’ve found a little help here.

      Not casting those high cost spells is especially important at low levels when everyone’s DPS is so high in comparison to mob health because your spells are basically wasted since they don’t have time to deal their damage. Save SW:Pain for boss fights and you should see some improvements from that alone.


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