Friday, February 10, 2012

Shadow Priest Basics

[This post is outdated! This describes shadow in patch 4.3. An updated guide for 5.0 is available here.]

My previous post was an advanced guide to shadow priest DPS. This post is to help new shadow priests get started. If you just turned 85, or you're just now becoming a shadow priest after a lifetime of healing, this is a guide for you.


As of patch 4.3, Priests desire gear with the following stats:

  1. Intellect
  2. Spell Power
  3. Haste (until 30% haste)
  4. Hit or Spirit (until cap - 17% for raids, 6% for heroic 5mans, 4% for PvP)
  5. Haste
  6. Critical Strike
  7. Mastery
This order of desirability will change when you reach raid-ready gear levels, particularly if you pick up certain proc-trinkets, or the shadow tier-13 4-set bonus. New shadow priests should prioritize stats in this order though.
A common question regarding shadow priest gear is "do we take hit cloth or spirit cloth?" The answer is both. Hit and spirit are equally valuable for shadow, so treat them just the same when you decide whether to take an item or not.
You'll want to enchant your gear before heading into a raid. Use the following enchants, unless your profession gives you a better one:
Be sure to fill your sockets. If you can't afford rare gems, buy cheaper uncommon gems instead. Very few people are willing to drop the huge amount of gold to buy epic gems. In general, the lower-quality gems you're using, the more important it is to match the socket color. (Socketed items come with a Socket Bonus, some bonus stats you get for filling the sockets with gems of the same color. You are not required to socket gems that match the color; sometimes filling in with red gems is better.)
If you can't afford the recommended gem for a given slot, you can use Reckless in red sockets, or use Reckless/Purified in Yellow/Blue sockets even when the socket bonus is small.
Wear the following glyphs. Listed in order of importance within each category.
  • Mind Flay - Mandatory.
  • Shadow Word: Death
  • Shadow Word: Pain
  • (Dispersion) - Optional: Can be helpful on some fights to protect against damage or regain mana. I recommend replacing Shadow Word: Pain if you decide to use this, however it has been argued that replacing Shadow Word: Death may be viable as well.
  • Spirit Tap
  • Psychic Scream - Mandatory for 5mans.
  • (Mass Dispel) - Optional: Helpful on some fights if you need to dispel your party or foes.
  • (Psychic Horror) - Optional: Helpful in 5mans if you spec into Psychic Horror.
  • (Inner Fire) - Optional: Helpful if you pull aggro or otherwise take physical damage.
  • Fading - Only minor glyph with any significant effect in combat.
  • (Others) - Optional. None of the others have a significant impact on combat.
Standard spec: 8/0/31 (+2) - Use the spec in the link, and spend the leftover two talent points in whatever you like. Psychic Horror is a good choice for 5mans.
Commonly, I get asked by new shadow priests what the rotation is. My answer is, invariably, it depends. Use the following priority list for boss fights:
  1. Vampiric Touch
  2. Shadow Word: Pain
  3. Devouring Plague
  4. Shadowfiend
  5. Dark Archangel (with 5 Dark Evangelism)
  6. Shadow Word: Death (if target is below 25% HP, or you're low on mana)
  7. Mind Blast (with at least 1 Shadow Orb)
  8. Mind Flay
Try to re-cast DoTs only when they have less than 3 seconds remaining.
For trash, use Mind Sear if it is likely to all die within a few seconds, or if there are 4+ foes. Beware, this can break crowd control spells. If you need to avoid breaking CC, or if the foes are spread out too much, you can't use Mind Sear.
If you can't use Mind Sear for trash, you have two options. In both cases, use Shadow Word: Death to finish off low-HP foes.
  • If the trash is likely to live for at least 15 seconds still use your boss rotation. Try to keep Vampiric Touch active on everything.
  • If the trash will probably all die faster than that, use Mind Spike 3 times, then cast Mind Blast. Repeat until everything dies.
Make sure you have the following buffs on you. These are all buffs you can supply to yourself.
Moving Forward
As you go from fresh 85 to raid-geared, you'll encounter some changes.
With rising stats and set bonuses, you'll have fewer issues with mana due to more shorter Shadowfiend cooldowns. Due to this, you'll be able to use Devouring Plague to deal damage while moving without going OOM, and you'll be able to stop using Shadow Word: Death for the mana return. You'll also be able to take over or assist in healing for a longer, but still short, time if necessary.
With rising mastery, your Empowered Shadows buff becomes more important to maintain. There's a section labelled 'Buff Management' concerning this in the Advanced Shadow Priest DPS guide from last week.
Haste will also begin to taper off in value, and likely be surpassed by mastery, particularly as you get better at managing Empowered Shadows. In general, try to hit 30% haste without going too far over that, and use Reforging to convert your excess to mastery, where possible.
Q: Help! I'm out of mana all the time and my DPS is terrible!
A: Shadow priests have mana problems at very low gear levels (fresh 85). Make sure to use your cooldowns whenever they become available; they don't just boost your damage, they also restore a lot of mana. Use Shadow Word: Death to finish off low-HP foes, or even use it on high-HP foes if you're running out of mana. Intellect, Hit, Spirit, Haste and Crit on gear all help your mana last longer. The 2-piece tier-12 bonus helps immensely and can be bought for Justice Points. Make sure to only re-cast DoTs when they're almost over (and not if the foe is about to die). Use Mind Flay to refresh Shadow Word: Pain instead of re-casting it. Use Dispersion if you can't DPS (for example, between fights.)

Q: DoTs don't seem to be worth it, everything dies too fast!
A: Shadow has a hard time dealing significant damage to anything that doesn't survive for at least 15 seconds. Use Mind Sear or the Mind Spike/Mind Blast rotation on foes that will die quickly.

Q: I can't seem to do more than 20k DPS, and I'm doing everything you said here.
A: You've mastered the basics! Time for some advanced lessons: see last week's article.
There you have it, a simple, direct guide to shadow priest basics. Was this helpful? Did I forget something? Tell me in the comments. Also, if this was helpful, pass it on to other shadow priests you know.
Next Friday, I'll post a fight-specific breakdown of things you can do to help your DPS and your raid in Dragon Soul.


  1. "Hands: Haste - Made by enchanters."
    Actually 65 Mastery is the best enchant for hands, although a new shadowpriest may need the haste to reach a cap.

    "(Dispersion) - Optional: Can be helpful on some fights to protect against damage or regain mana. Replace Shadow Word: Pain if you decide to use this."
    I choose to replace Shadow Word: Death in this situation, seeing as it's only 1 more additional cast when the boss is below 25% and Shadow Word: Pain is going to run the whole fight.

    "Mind Sear if it is likely to all die within a few seconds, or if there are 5+ foes"
    I find it's more dps to Mind Sear at 4+, Multi-dot with 3. Also Mind Sear is only good if they're grouped up, otherwise may as well multi-dot. Might wanna mention that Empowered Shadows also boosts your Mind Sear so sometimes it's worth trying to fish for a shadow orb.

    1. "Actually 65 Mastery is the best enchant for hands"

      According to my sims, 50 haste tends to outweigh 65 mastery at very low gear levels, which is who this basis post is aimed at.

      "I choose to replace Shadow Word: Death"

      Similarly, many beginner spriests have trouble maintaining mana, and so I wouldn't recommend they drop the SW:D glyph for dungeons, as it would force them to drink more. I'll double check my numbers and add a note for raid settings if applicable, although last time I evaluated it SW:D was offering more DPS than SW:P, even on "normal" fights. And in DS, many fights have numerous adds to use the the SW:D glyph throughout the fight.

      "I find it's more dps to Mind Sear at 4+, Multi-dot with 3."

      For low gear levels, I bet you're right. I'll change that.

      In my personal use though, I multi-DoT all the way up to 5 at a benefit, and my sims predict 6-target multi-DoTing to be a slight gain under perfect execution(assuming they will all live a long time.)

      I may add a section to this "moving forward" or "raiding" or something, on the differences between the raid environment and dungeons.