Playing a Shadow Priests
Shadow Priest became one of my favorite classes to play at the end of the Wrath expansion. I don’t really know what it was that really made me enjoy it so much, but it was just such a fun and powerful class that I really enjoyed it a lot and even ran a fair amount of arenas with some of my old guildmates.
Shadow Priests have a lot of similarities to Warlocks with their DoT’s and channeled spells as well their their tendency to be willing to deal damage to themselves in order to deal even more damage to their enemies. But, a Priest is still a Priest and that means they also have the capability to heal themselves and others, and of course they have access to that fantastic damage-absorbing bubble.
The life of a low level Shadow Priest can be quite boring if you aren’t wearing heirlooms and don’t have access to much in the way of gear beyond quest rewards and dungeon drops. From levels 10-20 you have only two spells that deal damage and one of those is a DoT with the other being a channeled spell that deals damage over three seconds (see above picture). At level 21 you finally get some more spells for dealing damage and things start to look good again as you start to kill things more quickly. If you’re feeling underpowered or bored, the best thing you can do is try to develop some more patience as it’s going to take you a while to feel more powerful. I’ll talk about a couple of things you can do to fix the issues in game further below as well, but just be aware that the life of a Shadow Priest is not one of total domination right from level 1, though it can get there soon™ as long as you’re willing to stick with it.
Important Spells & Abilities
- Smite (1): Smite an enemy for Holy damage.
- Shadow Word: Pain (3): Causes Shadow damage instantly, and additional Shadow damage over 18 seconds.
- Mind Flay (10): Deals Shadow damage over 3 seconds and slows the target’s movement speed by 50%.
- Mind Blast (21): Blasts the target for Shadow damage and generates 1 Shadow Orb.
- Devouring Plague (21): Consumes all of the caster’s Shadow Orbs to deal Shadow damage and additional Shadow damage ever 1 second for 6 seconds. Also heals the caster for 1% of their maximum health when it deals periodic damage. Damage and healing increased based on the number of Shadow Orbs consumed.
- Vampiric Touch (28): Deals Shadow damage over 15 seconds. Each time Vampiric Touch deals damage the caster gains 2% of maximum mana.
- Shadowform (24): Assume a Shadowform, increasing your Shadow damage by 20%, 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.
Smite is the damage spell that you start off with, and the one you’ll be spamming until you choose Shadow as your spec at level 10. Once you choose to become a Shadow Priest, Smite will automatically turn into Mind Flay and you will no longer have access to Smite at all. Mind Flay is your go-to spell once you have SW: Pain cast on everything. Shadow Word: Pain is your primary damage over time spell (DoT) and one that you’ll want to cast on everything you ever enter combat with. Ever.
Mind Blast is your first direct damage spell after you’ve lost smite, but it does have base 8 second cooldown so you won’t be spamming it. It’s also your primary source of Shadow Orbs which you finally get to use once you reach level 21. Devouring Plague is you second DoT spell, this one having the added benefit of restoring health to you while it deals damage, but it now requires you to consume Shadow Orbs to cast it so you’ll have to generate those Orbs through the use of Mind Blast which has a cooldown. You’ll get other methods of generating shadow orbs at higher levels, but for now this is all you’ve got. So you’ll be saving this for bosses when you’re running dungeons, healers or flag carriers in PvP, and rare spawns or whatever looks at you funny while you’re solo questing.
Vampiric Touch is another DoT spell, this one actually having a cast time where your others do not. You’ll mostly use this for pulling mobs, followed by an instant Shadow Word: Pain. Stacking DoT’s is what you’re focused on though, so you’ll want to be sure to stack as many DoT’s on as many targets as you can when you’re not plinking things off one at a time. Shadowform is more of a buff than a spell, increasing your Shadow damage, reducing damage done to you, and increasing your haste. You can’t cast Holy spells when you’re in Shadowform so you’ll leave the form whenever you try to heal yourself, but that’s not really that big of a deal thanks to its damage reduction, and you can always either simply reapply Shadowform after you heal or just wait to heal until the end of the fight.
- Flash Heal (3): Heals a friendly target.
- Power Word: Shield (5): Shields a friendly target, absorbing damage. Lasts 15 seconds. While the shield holds, spellcasting will not be interrupted by damage. Once shielded, the target cannot be shielded again for 15 seconds.
- Renew (26): Heals the target every 3 seconds for 12 seconds.
Flash Heal is incredibly powerful at low levels, as it can almost bring you back from nearly dead to full health even when it doesn’t crit; keep in mind this is a Holy spell so it will break Shadowform. It has a high mana cost, but a fast cast time so don’t be too afraid to use it, just don’t plan on casting it often. Power Word: Shield is your bubble, and it’s something you’ll want to be very familiar with casting as it does not break Shadowform.
Renew is one you probably won’t be using all that often because it’s healing amount isn’t all that high and it’s a Holy spell so it breaks Shadowform. It’s a heal over time spell (HoT) so you can cast it prior to combat, cast Shadowform, and then go to town dealing out damage. But, if you need healing then you need healing and that’s all there is to it. If you find yourself in need of a HoT, then go ahead and cast it and just reapply Shadowform afterwards. The name of the game is killing things without letting them kill you, so if you need it then cast it.
Utility & Misc Spells
- Inner Fire (7): Increases armor value of items by 60% and spell power by 10%.
- Psychic Scream (12): Causes 5 enemies within 8 yards to flee for 8 seconds. Damage caused may interrupt the effect.
- Resurrection (14): Brings a dead ally back to life with 35% health and mana. Cannot be cast while in combat.
- Dispel Magic (22): Dispel Magic on an enemy target, removing 1 beneficial Magic effect.
- Power Word: Fortitude (22): Increases the Stamina of party and raid members by 10% for 1 hour.
- Fade (24): Fade out, temporarily removing all your threat for 10 seconds.
Inner Fire is your first buff, and it’s really good for both survivability thanks to armor increase as well as offense thanks to the spellpower increase. You should always have this buff active. Resurrection is how you bring people back to life. Dispel Magic you won’t use very often at all unless you’re fond of PvP in which case you’ll be using it all the time. Power Word: Fortitude is your second buff, and one that you should always keep active on your party and raid members for a 10% Stamina increase.
Fade will help to reduce the amount of threat you’re putting out if you find that your tanks aren’t able to maintain boss agro. Unless you’re in full heirlooms and your tank is in full whites or crappy quest rewards you shouldn’t have a whole lot of use for this spell early on. It’s good in PvP to make your opponent’s pets leave you alone, but that’s about as far as it’s going to take you.
Leveling a Shadow Priest
I’m going to give you a couple of sample rotations here. Note that these are damage rotations, so I’m not taking healing into account for the most part. If you’re fighting things that deal decent damage to you then make sure you have a bubble active and heal as necessary.
- Questing Single Target: Mind Blast, Vampiric Touch, Shadow Word: Pain, Mind Flay spam
- Questing Multi-Target: Mind Blast the first target, Vampiric Touch & SW: Pain all the targets, Mind Flay spam
- Dungeon Bosses: Mind Blast, Vampiric Touch, SW: Pain, Devouring Plague, Mind Flay x2, Mind Blast, refresh DoT’s, Mind Flay spam
Questing Single Target
Killing single mobs is pretty easy, though a bit slow when you’re first starting out. Prior to level 21 you only have SW: Pain and Mind Flay so you’ll DoT the target and then spam Mind Flay 2-3 times until they’re dead. Boring, but effective. After 21 things will start to pick up for you pretty well and you’ll be able to burn things down much faster thanks to Mind Blast and Vampiric Touch being added into the mix.
If you’re facing mobs that deal a fair amount of damage to you, then I would suggest casting PW: Shield after the first Mind Flay. You don’t really need to bother with it before then, and that should last you for most of the encounter and allow you to just heal up if necessary after the fight.
The rotation shown up there is strictly your damage rotation, it doesn’t include things that are going to keep you alive. The reason I didn’t include things like that is because the situation can be completely different based on which mobs you’re facing when you do it. In general, the point is to get your DoT’s rolling on all of the targets, Mind Blast when you can, Mind Flay when you need filler, and otherwise just stay alive while you let your DoT’s do their thing.
Your utility spells can be a real help in multi-target pulls, and so can your healing spells. Power Word: Shield is the most obvious example, and you should definitely use it when facing multiple mobs. I suggest you bubble as soon as the second target gets within melee range, or when you have three targets focused on you. Next up is Psychic Scream which will make up to 5 targets within 8 yards run away in fear. This is fantastic as a DoT user since your DoT’s generally won’t break the effect too early. The drawback to using Scream, unless it’s glyphed, is that when mobs run away they can also agro even more mobs which might put you in a dangerous situation. Practice using Psychic Scream and become familiar with the pros and cons of its effect so that you can judge for yourself when is a good or bad time to cast it. Typically, mobs that are humanoids are the ones you need to worry about fear agro from.
There’s also the case of your level 15 talent selection. If you chose Void Tendrils like I did, then you can wait until all of the mobs are close to you from your DoT’s, cast Void Tendrils to lock them all in place, and then take a few steps away from the mobs and open a can of shadowy pain. If you went with the Psyfiend then you can reapply DoT’s and use Mind Flay as mobs run back towards you every time it sends one of them running away in fear. If you took Mind Control then you won’t have much benefit for fighting multiple mobs beyond taking control of one and using them to beat the crap out of each other. Doing that takes your own damage away though unless you’ve made sure to apply DoT’s liberally before hand, and even then you never know how effective a mind controlled minion is going to be while leveling.
When you’re fighting bosses in dungeons the main thing you want to focus on is keeping your DoT’s active. Following that, you want to be sure you’re casting Mind Blast every time it comes off of cooldown so that you’re generating Shadow Orbs to use with Devouring Plague. It’s up to you whether you want to keep a 1 Orb Plague running most of the time, or if you’d rather wait to have 3 Orbs before you cast it each time to make it more effective. Which you do is up to you, I typically make the decision based off of how quickly we’re dealing damage to the boss. If he’s going down fast then I’ll just go for a 1 Orb, but if it’s going slow then I’ll wait for 2-3 Orbs.
As you get access to more and more ways of generating Shadow Orbs you’ll want to make sure you’re using a 3 Orb Plague whenever possible, but at this stage in the game you’ve only got one way to generate orbs and it has an 8 second cooldown that you can’t do anything about. You get your next Orb generating ability at level 46, and your final generator in your mid-70’s.
- Void Tendrils: Summons Shadowy tendrils out of the ground, rooting up to 5 enemy targets within 8 yards of the caster for 20 seconds. Killing the tendril will cancel the effect.
- Body and Soul: When you cast Power Word: Shield or Leap of Faith, you increase the target’s movement speed by 60% for 4 seconds.
Void Tendrils is the one that I suggest because I feel it gives me the best control of the situation. Psyfiend is a good choice as well, and one that I’ve seen a lot of Priests use in PvP especially. Dominate Mind is a really fun ability for PvP, but not a whole lot of use in PvE until you get above level 80. Which one you choose is really up to you, as always, but my personal preference is Void Tendrils as I’ve had it be incredibly beneficial in solo questing, dungeons, and PvP as well.
I chose Body and Soul for level 30 because I feel it offers the most consistent movement opportunities for all situations and overall it just felt like the better choice to me, personally. I think the other two both offer viable movement functionality, with the first two being more appealing from a leveling perspective than the third. I suggest B&S, but I think you should play with both of the first two a bit and decide for yourself which one you would rather roll with.
- Glyph of Reflective Shield: Causes 45% of the damage absorbed by Power Word: Shield to reflect back to the attacker. This damage causes no threat.
- Glyph of Mind Flay: Your Mind Flay spell no longer slows the target. Instead, each time Mind Flay deals damage you will be granted 15% increased movement speed for 5 seconds, stacking up to 3 times.
- Glyph of Psychic Scream: Targets of your Psychic Scream and your Psyfiend’s Psychic Terror now tremble in place instead of fleeing in fear.
Glyph of Holy Nova: Teaches you the Holy Nova ability which causes an explosion of holy light around the caster dealing Holy damage to all enemy targets within 10 yards and healing up to 5 allies within 10 yards. These effects cause no threat.
There are a lot of things to take into consideration when it’s time to pick your first primary glyph. I’ve listed these in roughly the order I would suggest taking them in. Reflective Shield gives you some sure damage potential and can help with those multi-target situations when you have several mobs attacking you at once. The damage on it can be iffy, but it’s still effective if not fantastic. Mind Flay does nothing for you performance-wise, but it does offer movement which can be very useful.
Psychic Scream is a really good option if you want to take advantage of your fear effects without the risk of pulling additional mobs. The drawback is that they don’t run away from you thus there’s no separation so once the fear wears off they’re right back in your face from the start. If you’re going to roll with Psyfiend instead of Void Tendrils, then I would suggest using this glyph as there’s a really high chance that Psyfiend is going to get you killed if you just let it fear everything left and right.
Holy Nova is another one that’s not really right up our alley because it focuses on a Holy spell which breaks us out of Shadowform, but at the same time it does give you ready access to an AoE spell at level 25 which you wouldn’t otherwise have until level 74 when you get Mind Sear. If you like to kill things AoE style, then this is a glyph you might want to consider since it also heals you at the same time that it deals its Holy damage to those around you.
For Priests, all of our minor glyphs are purely cosmetic or vanity and have no impact at all on gameplay. As such, use whatever you want. My personal preferences are Shadow Ravens which changes the appearance of your Shadow Orbs to be Ravens instead, and Shadow which reduces the transparency of Shadowform so that you see more of your character’s actual appearance while in Shadowform.
Gearing Up Your Shadow Priests
Gearing up your Shadow Priest at this stage is pretty simple because there’s not a whole lot to choose from in the first place and you’re not all that needy either. You’re looking for these:
Spellpower >= Intellect > Haste > Crit > Spirit
If you’re interested in knowing which heirlooms you need to get for your Priest, and which enchants to put on said heirlooms, I give you my: Heirloom Guide.
Spellpower and Intellect are your focus since they will determine how much raw damage you do. Haste comes next because it will give you more damage from your DoT’s and also speed up the channel time of Mind Flay which means you’ll do more damage in a shorter amount of time. Crit is good because you are a DoT focused class, and every time a DoT ticks to deal its damage it has a chance to crit for extra damage, so increasing your chance to crit is always good. Spirit belongs on the list because you’ll get 100% of your Spirit counted towards Hit and while that’s not a huge concern while leveling it does suck when you’re sitting there spamming Mind Flay on a mob 5 times before the thing actually hits it; trust me, it’s happened to me plenty of times.
Overcoming Boredom & Weakness
Because of the way Shadow Priests learn their spells early on, it’s easy for you to feel weak or bored if you’ve played other DPS classes that have more access to harder hitting spells right out of the gate. Also, besides the ability to DoT multiple mobs at once, you don’t get an AoE damaging spell until level 74 which can sometimes make it feel as if it takes you “forever” to gain a level as you kill things one at a time. So here are a few things that you can do to make your Shadow Priest level experience a little bit more enjoyable in the early levels.
In the Mist of Pandaria expansion, Undead traded in their ability to breath underwater for 10 minutes for an ability called Touch of the Grave which gives all of your attacks and damaging spells a chance to drain the target with Shadow damage and heal you for the same amount. This ability has roughly a 7% chance to proc for every spell you cast and every damage tick from your DoT’s. While you’re in Shadowform you also receive a 20% increase to Shadow damage which will also increase the damage of Touch of the Grave. Sure, 7% isn’t all that great of a proc chance, but the damage on it can really help in an otherwise slow to kill spec thanks to none of you’re pre-21 spells dealing direct damage. The healing you get from it is helpful too, of course, though that’s not really a big reason for you to take it as a Priest since you have healing spells readily available anyway.
You could also pick another race which gives you a racial ability that impacts damage such as Orc, Troll, or Goblin. Undead is what I went with and I have noticed a difference between my Undead’s damage even without wearing any heirlooms compared to a Draenei that I have in full heirlooms. The base damage is clearly in favor of the one wearing heirlooms, but the spikes of damage from the Undead racial are definitely noticeable during the low levels where it’s really an issue, and I’ve had mobs go from full health to 30% in a single tick of SW:Pain thanks to a Touch of the Grave proc that added to the damage.
Roll a Panda
The only reason I mention the Panda is because they have a racial ability that extends the duration of their Rested bonus to experience. So if you’re having a hard time leveling your Priest you can play the toon until they run out of Rested bonus and then shelf them for a few days to build it back up. It won’t really help you perform better, though they do have a stun that could be useful as well, but if you’re struggling to get through the levels then building up and maintaining rested might be the way for you to go.
Things really do get better for you once you hit level 21, so simply pushing through it until you get access to more spells might be enough that you won’t need to bother rolling a Panda.
You can also choose Engineering as one of your professions and make use of their explosives for additional damage, which also happens to be AoE damage. These work especially well if you’ve also chosen the Void Tendrils talent for level 15 as you can gather mobs close to you with your DoT’s, root them in place with Void Tendrils, and then use an explosive on the group while they’re rooted in place. Explosives come in two varieties, one that just deals damage and one that deals a bit less damage but also applies a stun effect. Since Void Tendrils remain in place for 20 seconds or until they are destroyed, using bombs that also stun the targets means your Tendrils will remain alive longer as well.
I like having access to bombs for the extra damage, but their cooldown does get a little tiring after a while and using them frequently means having bag slots devoted to carrying them around which might be an issue for some people as well. On the plus side, bombs do decent damage for their level, they’re easy to make and maintain supply, and they provide you with both AoE damage and crowd control that you may otherwise be lacking.
Glyph of Holy Nova [Avoid]
At level 25 you can get the Glyph of Holy Nova which will give you ready access to a spammable AoE spell, though it does have the drawback of not being usable in Shadowform. However, I tested this glyph at level 25 against a group of eight mobs that were all level 12-14. Care to guess how effective Holy Nova was against them? The spell did an average of 25 damage to each mob per cast, and I had to cast it 43 times in a row in order to kill the eight mobs. Unless you think that casting a spell 43 times just to kill some mobs that are half your level is a good thing, I suggest you stay away from this one.
I was really hoping that this glyph would be the magical answer to my AoE concerns, but it turned out to be a huge disappointment. It’s very much like the Glyph of Corpse Explosion for Death Knights which similarly gives them access to an AoE spell at the cost of the Major Glyph slot, but even at level 67 that spell does a whopping 125 damage to mobs which is ridiculously low. If my experience with these two classes is any indication, I highly recommend that you stay away from glyphs that give access to new spells for all of the classes as the results have be terrible.