Friday, February 3, 2012

Advanced Shadow Priest DPS

[This post is outdated! This describes Shadow in patch 4.3. An updated guide for 5.0 is in the works. I'd rather not post crap though, so it'll be up when it's good and ready.]

This is a guide to preforming high sustained DPS against a single target that will survive for several minutes. This guide also assumes high-end normal Dragon Soul gear levels, and basic knowledge of spriest-related abbreviations and rotation/priority order. This guide is unlikely to be applicable to non-raid situations, or to non-raid-geared shadow priests.

DoT Uptime

Shadow priest DPS is based primarily off of DoT effects. The most basic and central skill for any raiding shadow priest is maximizing DoT uptime, and to a lesser extent, minimizing DoT casts. When a DoT is cast, one of two things happen:
  • If that DoT was not already active on that target, then it applies the DoT to the target. The game records your current spellpower, haste, crit and damage multipliers (Dark Evangelism, Empowered Shadow, Dark Intent, etc.) These values, if changed after applying a DoT, will not effect that DoT. For Devouring Plague, it will also strip the DP DoT off anything else it was on, if applicable.
  • Otherwise, it will refresh the current DoT, plus one tick, without delaying the next tick. Spellpower, haste, crit and damage multipliers are re-recorded. Shadow Word: Pain refreshes from Mind Flay also work this way.
Thus, it is optimal to refresh VT when it has exactly one tick remaining. Refreshing earlier wastes time on casting which could have been used for Mind Flay. Recasting later delays DoT ticks. The duration of this window of opportunity is 3.0 seconds, unhasted, or about 2.2 seconds with current gear. This window drops to 1.7-1.8 seconds for DoTs under Heroism. Use an addon which marks remaining DoT durations textually, and aim to refresh VT within that window. Remember to account for the cast time; you'll want to begin the cast early.

Due to Improved Devouring Plague, refreshing DP prematurely is not a damage loss if it is displacing Mind Flay. Use DP as filler when moving, or refresh when the time is low. If VT and DP conflict, VT is more important. However, this should not happen, as you can simply cast DP ahead of time to eliminate the conflict.

Plan for interruptions. When you will have to move (or Dispersion, or Divine Hymn, or...) it is a damage gain to refresh DoTs early if you would be unable to refresh them in the window of opportunity.

DoT Summary:
  • SW:P - Refreshed by Mind Flay.
  • VT - Reapply with <2.2 sec remaining. (Begin cast 2.2-3.3 sec remaining.)
  • DP - Reapply any time before it expires.
Buff Management and DoT Recasting

Next up is buff management. Dark Evangelism and Empowered Shadow both dramatically boost DoT damage. Managing them is the next skill to master for aspiring shadow priests.

Dark Evangelism will be at maximum potency for most of the fight, and should only become inactive at the start of the fight, or immediately following Dark Archangel. Thus, DoTs cast at those times are weaker than DoTs cast the rest of the time. Despite this, it is better to begin combat by applying all DoTs immediately (unless opening with 4pc t13; see below.) When Dark Archangel becomes available, hold it until you will not need to refresh any DoTs within the next 5 seconds. Dark Evangelism adds 10% DoT damage.

Empowered Shadow is often misunderstood by new priests. This is the buff gained by casting Mind Blast with at least one shadow orb. The potency of Empowered Shadow is the same, regardless of the number of shadow orbs consumed. As long as at least one orb was spent, you gain a full-potency Empowered Shadow. In current gear Empowered Shadow adds about 32% DoT damage.

These numbers are quite significant. If you have an active DoT that was cast without Empowered Shadows, and you gain Empowered Shadow, you should reapply all DoTs. Similarly, if you foresee the Empowered Shadow expiring, it is wise to reapply prematurely. These guidelines also hold for Heroism. (Note: While DP is obvious to refresh, some people dispute refreshing VT when gaining buffs. This is wrong. Always reapply VT when entering any buffs worth at least +20% DoT DPS. Due to DoT refresh mechanics and the cast time of VT, it's impossible to reapply it "too early" for a buff.)

Also of note for AoE situations: Empowered Shadow effects Mind Sear ticks, but Dark Evangelism does not. Consider holding a shadow orb in anticipation of an upcoming AoE phase, or for prolonged AoE, consider rolling SW:P on 2-3 targets for the orb procs.

Gaming Mastery buffs will not be covered in this article, as such trinkets are sub-par in current raids, even when used well. If you use one, I recommend Google-ing: shadow priest game mastery proc.

Buff management summary:
  • Re-cast VT and DP when entering buffs worth at least 20% DoT DPS. SW:P updates automatically.
  • Re-cast VT and DP before losing buffs worth at least 20% DoT DPS.
Mind Blast and Shadow Orbs

There are three common schools of thought relating to using Mind Blast: use immediately, wait for 1 shadow orb, or wait for 3 shadow orbs. To put it simply, waiting for 3 shadow orbs is wrong. Use Mind Blast whenever it is available and you have at least 1 Shadow Orb.

See my detailed analysis here, if interested.

Clipping Mind Flay

Mind Flay is the shadow priest filler spell, used only when no other spell needs casting. Due to being channeled, it is possible to interrupt MF mid-cast, and still gain part of its benefit. We call this "clipping".

Interrupting MF with a new MF causes no damage loss; like DoTs, it refreshes with an extra tick and will not delay the next tick. Because channeled spells do not work properly with the spell queue, whenever you cast MF back-to-back, you should clip it.

Interrupting MF with anything else, in a perfect world, does not have to waste any time. In practice, however, any spell following MF, clipped or not, wastes a small amount of time. There are two "perfect" times to clip MF: immediately following the second tick, and immediately following the completion of the channel. Clipping after the first tick is impossible due to the GCD. Whenever you need to interrupt MF for another spell, aim for after 2 ticks or after completion.

Despite all efforts to the contrary, there will always be some variability in latency, and in your own reaction times. This is devastating if it causes you to clip immediately before a tick. Aim for a split second after the tick, just in case. (This can be worth about 1.5-2k DPS.)

Even when your clips do occur shortly after a tick, you waste a non-zero amount of time with every clip. For this reason, you should aim to clip as rarely as possible. Since casting DP early is DPS-neutral, you can use DP as "glue" to connect multiple interruptions together, if they're less than 1 GCD apart. For example, if you need to cast VT at time X, and MB at time X+3, then casting VT-DP-MB makes more sense than attempting to cast VT-MF2-MB. (MF2 refers to Mind Flay, clipped after the second tick.)


As a caster, we don't like having to move. As raiders, we have to move. This is a conflict. Most spells cannot be cast while moving. The four spells we can use to fill movement time, in order of desirability, are: Shadowfiend, Devouring Plague, Shadow Word: Death, and Shadow Word: Pain.

For short bursts of movement (1 sec or less), use DP to cover the gap. For longer movement, and because DP cannot be cast back-to-back (you get an error message preventing this) alternate DP and SW:D, starting with DP. Cast SW:P instead of SW:D while moving if it's not active on the target.

Movement summary:
  • For non-execute phase:
    • 1 GCD - DP
    • 2 GCD - DP, SW:D
    • 3+ GCD - DP, SW:D, DP, -wait-, DP... repeat. This can be taxing on mana, however the damage gain outweighs the loss from needing to use SW:D rotationally after movement is complete.
  • During execute phase, with SW:D off cooldown:
    • 1 GCD - SW:D
    • 2 GCD - SW:D, SW:D
    • 3 GCD - SW:D, SW:D, DP.
    • 4 GCD - SW:D, DP, SW:D, DP. While this does delay the next pair of SW:D casts, the damage gain from casting while moving outweighs the loss from delaying SW:D.
    • 5+ GCD - DP, SW:D, DP, SW:D, DP, -wait-, DP... repeat. Same as above.

Shadow priests have three DPS cooldowns, not including use-trinkets (which aren't prevalent in Dragon Soul, anyway): Shadowfiend, Dark Archangel, and Volcanic Potion. Usage depends on whether or not you have 4pc t13.

No 4pc t13: Use SF and DA whenever they become available. SF will lose some damage if you switch targets shortly after casting it, as it will switch with you, causing it to lose melee swings to movement. DA will lose some damage if you need to recast DoTs shortly after casting it, or need to move during its duration. Using them at the same time is irrelevant. Both combine well with Heroism, and you should use your Volcanic Potion with Heroism as well. Shadowfiend only benefits from Heroism if it is summoned before Heroism is cast.

4pc t13: With the set bonus, SF generates 3 shadow orbs every hit. When doing the "normal" rotation, most of these will be wasted, due to the Mind Blast cooldown. Instead, save SF until you will not need to move or change targets within the 15 second SF duration. (If a fight's mechanics are such that this is an impossibility, consider using 2pc t12 instead, if available.) Use it, then use the Mind Spike burst DPS rotation until you've cast 2 Mind Blasts. Remember to /cancelaura Mind Melt twice right before Mind Blast. Reapply DoTs afterwards. On some fights, it is helpful to open with this; Mind Flay until DA is available, do not apply DoTs until afterwards. Other than at the start of a fight, holding DA to sync with SF, and holding SF to sync with DA are both a damage loss.

Sample Mind Blast macro for use with 4pc t13:

Serious shadow priests should carry and use Volcanic Potions on progression fights. While I explained when to use a Volcanic Potion mid-fight in the above section, you can also use a second Volcanic Potion at the beginning of the fight. Nearly all potions share a 1 minute cooldown, with a catch: the cooldown will not begin unless or until you're out of combat. If you drink a Volcanic potion shortly before the fight begins, you'll start out with the 1200 Intellect buff, and about 1 minute into the fight, you'll become able to drink one again. This technique is known as pre-potting, and can be done with any potion.


Shadow priests offer serious healing support in short bursts. When planned in advance with your raid, this can greatly aid progression. See my full article for whens and how-tos.


Whew! There you have it, all the non-fight-specific advanced shadow priests rotational topics I could think of off the top of my head. Did I forget anything? Did this help? Leave a comment, us bloggers love to know people are reading our stuff.

Also, if anyone from Blizzard sees this, feel free to use the "Dark Archangel" image I made to give us an alternate spell icon in Shadowform.


  1. Few things:

    Mind blast- waiting for orbs for emp shadows is more about Dot time left vs Emp shadows. If you cast Vt @ 2 secs on es and do still has 14 secs to go, you would still cast the next mb on cd and hope for an orb within that 14 sec but you would not hold MB for the orb there.

    Movement during execute- that rotation suggests that you will always have sad when moving or implys saving it for movement. Fact is during execute you will be casting SWD on Cd and very lilly nvr have it when you need to move. Fight dependent but there should be some note of that.

    4pcT13- you need to /cancelaura mind melt x2 cause it's a stacking buff.

    1. All good insights, thank you.

      "4pcT13- you need to /cancelaura mind melt x2 cause it's a stacking buff."

      Particularly this, I didn't forget to write that, because I didn't even know that; thanks for the tip.

  2. Just curios, why would you /cancel aura?

    1. Mind Blast takes just as long to cast with Mind Melt up; its cast time is the same as the Global Cooldown, so even when it's instant, you still have to wait just as long afterwards. ...but if it IS instant, then there's no chance for your shadowfiend to get a melee swing in after the preceding Mind Spike.

      Canceling Mind Melt greatly increases the average damage of the Mind Blasts in your burst phase, without reducing the total number of spells you can use.

  3. "On some fights, it is helpful to open with this; Mind Flay until DA is available, do not apply DoTs until afterwards. Other than at the start of a fight, holding DA to sync with SF, and holding SF to sync with DA are both a damage loss."

    So in theory then.. on some fights you would cast MF until DA is available, then use SF then mind spike burst rotation -including remembering to /cancelaura mind meltx2 before MB and do this until you have casted two MB..

    am I on the right page? lol

    and now this waiting for SF until DA is up is only at the start of the fight yes? for the rest of the fight once SF comes up I hold it till Im gonna be stationary for the duration of SF, then cast SF and move right into the Mindspike rotation yes?

    and the sitation "on some fights" - how will I know when this applies?

    Sorry i have lots of questions as Im trying to maximize my DPS :)

    1. Yes, you have understood correctly.

      While it is a general damage gain to use the burst rotation, if your opportunities to stand still for that long are too rare, you may end up holding on to Shadowfiend for most of the fight. A similar problem arises if very few targets will survive for the full 15sec, or if you will rarely Mind Flay (the Blackhorn fight, for example.)

      Generally, use it on every fight, except the ones you can't.

  4. Using the buff management theory (where you speak about reapplying dots with Empowered Shadows etc), can you please
    suggest an opener without the T13 4 set, only the opener though as i know it continues on to the priority list. I am currently using the:
    VT - SW:D - DP - MF2 and continue 'til SO proc - DA, SF, Trinket, Volc Pot - Beserking (Troll Racial) - MB - MF2 - Reapply VT - Priority List.

    Also do you have any macro help sources or can you explain how to insert the Beserking buff into my DA, SF, Trink, Volc Pot Macro.

    One more thing, I am pulling about 21-22k Dps on dummies, what kind of Dps will I need to attempt all HM's?

    Thankyou :)

    1. -Openers-

      If I were to open a fight without the T13 bonus, I would use VT - SW:P - DP - SF - MF (until shadow orb) - Misc. Cooldowns (Racial, trinkets, etc.) - MB - VT - DP - Archangel.

      By leaving Archangel up until after the empowered DoTs, you gain more DoT damage than you lose in Mind Blast damage. Since Shadowfiend's damage doesn't depend on Archangel, Empowered Shadows, or Dark Evangelism, it can be used earlier.

      Also, I don't understand why you're using Volcanic Potion in your opener. You should be pre-potting. I can't believe I forgot to mention that above. I'm adding a section on pre-potting to the article, right after the Cooldowns section.

      That said, I haven't put a great deal of thought into non-T13 openers. The Dragon Soul normal mode and early heroic fights have pathetically low DPS requirements, and the late heroic fights are such that DPS done immediately at the start of the fight is nearly irrelevant.


      I actually wrote a post about macro construction earlier this month:

      It does not, however, specifically cover macro basics, such as which abilities can be macroed together.

      This ought to do what you want:

      /use 13
      /use Volcanic Potion
      /cast Archangel
      /cast Berserking
      /cast Shadowfiend

      Notes: /use 13 uses the trinket in your upper trinket slot. Replace with /use 14 for the bottom slow instead, if necessary. Also, as Shadowfiend is on the global cooldown, Shadowfiend won't cast if you're in the middle of a GCD, but the others will.

      -DPS Requirements, and Dummies-

      Unfortunately, due to weekly server maintenance, I couldn't log on to see what my own dummy DPS is like. I can say that, in general, I do dramatically lower DPS at the dummies than I do in a raid. (So, if you're a bit low, don't worry too much.)

      As you probably know, you need about 26k for normal mode Ultraxion. If you can do that, then none of the early heroic modes will give you trouble.

      H Zon'ozz is brutal on healers, and any increase DPS during the black phases will improve your odds, but the minimum to beat berserk isn't very high. Similarly, burst AoE on the faceless one adds on H Yor'sahj is important, but there's not a very high overall DPS minimum.

      H Ultraxion demands 37k, H Spine demands 1024k/18sec (57k burst DPS) on the burst phases, and we're still wiping to berserk timer and only narrowly beating the 4th Cataclysm cast with 80-100k DPS each on H Madness.

      All of the numbers I have posted are assuming no nerf. Right now, the nerf is at 20%, so multiply all requirements by 0.8. For people reading this in the future, multiply by 0.75 for 25% nerf, or 0.7 for 30% nerf.