Shadow Priest Guide (3.3)
Hello and welcome to the Tankspot Shadow Priest Guide! My name is Aliena, and in this video I'll be covering all there is to shadow priest talents, gearing, and DPS. This guide is accurate as of patch 3.3.0; future changes may adjust stat priorities, rotations, or other aspects of the class.
Shadow is one of the two major damage-over-time based damage specs, along with affliction warlocks. On any given fight, most of your damage will come from your three DoT spells: Vampiric Touch, Shadow Word Pain, and Devouring Plague.
Vampiric Touch is the highest DPS spell of the three and will tick the hardest, base every three seconds for fifteen seconds. It is also the only one with a cast time, base 1.5 seconds, which you'll need to consider when reapplying to try and maximize uptime on your target. Vampiric Touch scales with spell haste, so besides the cast time being shorter, the time between ticks will also decrease. For example, with 25% haste, Vampiric Touch will tick every 2.4 seconds, and remain on the target for 12 seconds total.
Devouring Plague comes second in DPS but has the best damage per cast time, since it ticks for base 24 seconds on an instant cast spell. Devouring Plague can only be placed on one target at a time -- applying it to a second target will remove the DoT from the first. Like Vampiric Touch, Devouring Plague will scale with your spell haste, so the actual period and duration will likely be lower.
Shadow Word: Pain does the least DPS of our three dots but is generally the easiest to manage. With a proper spec, casting Mind Flay on a target will refresh the duration on Shadow Word Pain to the full 18 seconds, which means as long as you're able to squeeze one Mind Flay in before the duration expires you can keep a single cast of Shadow Word: Pain ticking indefinitely. As of 3.2.2 there's currently a long-standing bug that will cause Shadow Word: Pain to drop off if there's time left on the spell but it won't tick in the time remaining; that is, since it ticks every 3 seconds regardless of the duration shown due to refreshing it, there may be times when there are 1-2 seconds left on the spell but it won't tick again before falling off. If this happens, the spell will fall off the target even if you think you still have a second to refresh it again. It's always best to try and refresh it when you have at least 3 seconds left. Note that Shadow Word: Pain does NOT scale with your haste; it will always be 3 seconds between ticks.
Shadow priests round out their arsenal with two standard direct damage spells and one channeled direct damage spell.
Mind Blast is our standard nuke and hits relatively hard for a 1.5 second cast. With a proper spec, it has a 5.5 second cooldown. Casting Mind Blast on a target that also has Vampiric Touch applied will provide you and your raid with Replenishment. In most raid settings, it's very important to make sure you're doing this at least once every 15 seconds to keep Replenishment up.
Mind Flay is your bread-and-butter filler spell, and will usually account for roughly a quarter of your total damage depending on the mechanics of the fight, though it has a few peculiarities. Before haste effects, it channels for three seconds and ticks once every second after casting; as haste reduces the channel time, the time between ticks is reduced proportionately. It's worth noting that unlike normal cast-time spells, channeled spells do not benefit from server-side spell queuing; basically, this means you can't continually spam the next spell you want to cast while channeling Mind Flay, or else you'll cancel your Mind Flay mid-cast. It's highly suggested you find an addon like Quartz that measures latency on your cast bar, so you can accurately know when it's safe to click your next spell. It takes some practice to minimize the time between Mind Flay and other casts without clipping the final tick of Mind Flay.
Shadow Word: Death is usually not used as long as you're able to stand still and cast your other spells. However, since it's instant cast, it's an excellent spell to throw out when you have to move and are unable to cast Mind Blast, refresh a DoT, or channel Mind Flay. It usually hits for about 80% of what Mind Blast would hit for, and properly specced, you will take damage equal to 70% of what you dealt with Shadow Word: Death.
Besides these primary damage spells, shadow priests also regularly employ a few other spells. Shadowfiend -- which at best, has a 3 minute cooldown -- does a fair chunk of damage and restores up to 50% maximum mana, though its use must be timed properly, as if it dies quickly due to an unfortunate AoE attack, it won't restore anything.
Vampiric Embrace is a self buff that causes 15% of your single-target damage to also be healing to yourself and 3% of your damage to be healing on the rest of your group. In most situations the group healing is insignificant, but the healing on yourself can be very useful in surviving incoming raid damage. Vampiric Embrace can also be improved to heal 25% and 5% of your damage on you and your group, respectively. It's worth noting that damage caused by Mind Sear does not work with this skill.
Dispersion, our 51 point talent, is a bit of a double edged sword: it silences for 6 seconds, rendering us unable to attack, while restoring 36% of our maximum mana and reducing all incoming damage by 90%. Ideally you should not use this during times when you could be DPSing, but timed during phase changes and other downtime it can be a great mana restoration tool, and it's always useful as a panic button if you're about to die. It has a cooldown of two minutes.
Mind Sear is a very powerful AoE spell with an interesting quirk; it's a 5 second channel on a primary target that ticks every second on every enemy within 10 yards of the target, while leaving the primary target completely unharmed. While usually this amounts to little more than one target in an AoE pack taking less damage than the rest, it does mean you can, say, channel it off a CC'd target that you don't want to break while AoEing everything around it. Usually you only want to use Mind Sear when there are at least 3 targets that will be hit by the spell -- that is, 4 or more in the pack, since one will not be affected. Even then you may want to put Vampiric Touch on every target first.
Talents & Gearing
Before we dive into spell rotations and strategy, let's cover proper talent spec and gear choices -- after all, if you aren't talented or itemized properly, you're hurting your own DPS before you even start.
Like all priests, even Shadow has to put some points into the Discipline tree first. The choices are very simple; your first five should go into Twin Disciplines, which along with instant casts, notably also increases damage done by Mind Flay. The second tier has Improved Inner Fire for additional spellpower and Improved Power Word: Fortitude for buffing purposes and for the personal stam bonus. The third tier houses Meditation, which is absolutely necessary if you don't intend to go out of mana two minutes into the fight. You might be tempted by Inner Focus; for now, leave those 13 points in Discipline and we'll talk about that later.
Moving into the shadow tree, there are a lot of flat damage increases and passive abilities that are no brainers; we'll get all of those then talk about other options later. Darkness is a clear damage increase, followed up in Tier 2 by Improved Shadow Word: Pain for more damage on that spell and Shadow Focus for some free spell hit and a small mana reduction on your shadow spells.. Pick up Mind Flay, of course, and 5 points in Improved Mind Blast to lower its cooldown to where it needs to be.
Tier 4 houses two absolutely necessary talents and one very useful one: Shadow Weaving is another raw shadow damage increase, and Shadow Reach gives you a little extra range. Veiled Shadows is occasionally skipped over, but I personally would always take it: besides the little extra damage you get from popping Shadowfiend on cooldown, having it as a three minute cooldown instead of 5 minutes makes your mana management a lot easier, and in some fights it can get a little tight, especially with refreshing DoTs more often with haste scaling. I highly suggest it.
Three points in Focused Mind will also help your mana situation somewhat with cost reductions on Mind Blast, Control, Flay, and Sear, and of course put one point in Vampiric Embrace. The damage and critical strike chance increases from Improved Devouring Plague and Mind Melt in tier 6 make them easy choices, but not as easy as Tier 7, with the absolutely vital Shadowform, and Shadow Power to increase your critical strike damage bonus. Misery provides us a solid self buff to Shadow Word Pain, Mind Flay, and Vampiric Touch, and a vital raid debuff of 3% hit. Vampiric Touch waits for you in Tier 9 along with Pain and Suffering, which is necessary for the refreshing of Shadow Word: Pain via Mind Flay. Twisted Faith in Tier 10 lets 20% of your spirit work for you as spellpower while increasing Mind Blast and Mind Flay damage if Shadow Word Pain is on your target. Dispersion rounds off the necessary talents at the bottom of the tree.
At this point, you have seven points left over. I highly recommend placing two points in Improved Shadowform; the pushback reduction isn't usually that crucial for raiding, but it's an extremely nice thing to have nonetheless, and the snare removal via fade is a nice bonus. From here you truly do have options, as there are not many solid DPS boosts from the points you have left. You could place the five points in Spirit Tap and Improved Spirit Tap for some additional mana regeneration and a very small spellpower bonus from the additional 10% maximum spirit you gain (keep in mind, with full talents and glyphs, that 10% maximum spirit effectively means 5% more of your spirit as spellpower when the buff is up; on a well geared priest, this is usually no more than 30 spellpower). While priests do have threat reduction inherent in Shadowform, taking Shadow Affinity makes pulling aggro on a mob almost unheard of, which can be useful for large aoe situations and allow you to DPS earlier and safer. Improved Vampiric Embrace can make for some very substantial healing on yourself, which can be nice for big raid damage fights. You could pick up Improved Psychic Scream and Silence if you wished -- note that Silence now also acts as an interrupt on NPCs, which means you can use it in raid fights where interrupts are necessary, though it does have a large cooldown. You could pick up Psychic Horror for only one point as a fun option, or throw a point in Inner Focus back in the Discipline tree if you'd prefer that. Really, what you do with the final points is up to you and what you'd like to have.
Glyphs are less ambiguous. All shadow priests should have Glyphs of Mind Flay, Glyph of Shadow Word Pain, and Glyph of Shadow; the end effect of this set is 30% more of your spirit as spellpower on non-periodic spell criticals, 10% more Mind Flay damage when Shadow Word: Pain is on your target, and 1% of your base mana restored every time Shadow Word Pain ticks. The only other real option for shadow priests is Glyph of Dispersion, which takes 45 seconds off of the cooldown for the spell. For some particularly mana intensive fights, such as Yogg-Saron, or fights in which dying is somewhat likely, such as Faction Champions, it may be worth replacing Glyph of Shadow Word Pain for Dispersion, but it's debatable at best.
As of 3.3 and the scaling of two of our DoTs with haste, as well as higher spirit to spellpower conversions, gear and stat priorities have shifted fairly dramatically from what they've always been in the past. The basic rules are as follows: Point for point, spellpower and haste are roughly equal. Five points of critical rating are worth as much as four points of spellpower. 2 points of spirit are worth roughly one point of spellpower. Before your hit cap, one point of hit rating is worth as much as two spellpower. Hit cap is always your first priority: For most priests this is 11% hit after your talents and the Misery debuff, which adds up to 293 hit rating. If you're a draenei, or have one in your group, this number drops to 10%, or 262 hit rating.
Gemming and Enchants
Gemming is an exercise of weighing the set bonus to see whether it's worth using other gems instead of Runed Cardinal Rubies. If the use of one yellow gem will get you a spellpower, crit, or haste set bonus, you should use a Reckless Ametrine. If the use of a blue gem will get you a set bonus worth 7 or more spellpower, you should use a Purified Dreadstone. You will always need to have at least two Purified Dreadstones in your gear to activate the preferred meta gem, the Chaotic Skyflare Diamond, which has 21 crit rating and a 3% increased critical strike damage bonus. In red sockets, or if the set bonus is not worth taking, you should use a Runed Cardinal Ruby.
Enchants are largely a simpler story. In all slots, you should choose the option that provides the most spellpower. Best options for slots in which this is not immediately obvious are +10 stats to chest and 23 haste to cloak unless you're a tailor, in which case you should use Lightweave. For boots; if you need the hit rating, Icewalker is a fine choice, but if you don't, the speed increase from Tuskarr's Vitality will almost always result in more DPS than the 12 crit rating would. Trust me, run speed IS that good for DPS, even if you can't measure it on your character sheet. Engineers, of course, should use their Hyperspeed Accelerators, Nitro Boosts, and Springy Archanoweave options for all of those slots.
Now that you've got a proper spec and you're geared correctly, it's time to learn how to actually deal damage as a shadow priest. Shadow Priests work through a priority system, as there is no truly set rotation that we can use due to incongruous timers between all of our dots and cooldowns. In a nutshell, we DPS by making sure everything is applied to the target and/or on cooldown, and filling in downtime with Mind Flay. The priority is this: Vampiric Touch > Devouring Plague > Shadow Word: Pain > Mind Blast > Mind Flay; that is, if Vampiric Touch is on the target, cast Devouring Plague; if both are, apply Shadow Word: Pain; if all your DoTs are up, cast Mind Blast; and if Mind Blast is on cooldown, use Mind Flay until a DoT needs to be refreshed or you can cast Mind Blast again. It's a fair number of timers to watch and can take some practice to work out properly, but it's a lot of fun once you get the hang of it.
The true strength of the shadow priest class, however, comes not from our single target damage, but from the fact that we can roll DoTs on multiple targets and be doing damage to all of them at the same time, even if there aren't enough to make proper use of Mind Sear. In general, if there are two to four targets to fight, you should be maintaining Vampiric Touch and Shadow Word: Pain on all of them, plus Devouring Plague and Mind Blast on the primary target. Maintaining so many DoTs and reapplying them as necessary is very tricky and will take practice, and in fact was made even more difficult with the DoT haste scaling, but the reward is evident in your DPS. Stick with it and you'll be working the meters in no time.
This concludes the TankSpot Shadowpriest guide. Thanks for watching this movie! As always, feel free to ask questions or add suggestions either on YouTube or in the thread on TankSpot.com. Also, TankSpot Donors can download all of these movies in High Definition directly from our servers -- so if you'd like to learn more about that, just click the second link in the movie information box!