Shadow Priest Guide (Updated for 4.0.3)  

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Welcome to ZAM's "How to Melt Faces: Shadowpriesting 101", written by the witty and devilishly handsome IDrownFish. So you decided to make a Shadow Priest, eh? Get tired lobbing fireballs, hiding behind pets, or swinging a sword? Do you want to bend the minds of your foes to your own ends, until they outlive their usefulness and are obliterated with the magical equivalent of a sledgehammer to the brain? Or do you just think that Shadowform looks really freaking cool?

All valid reasons to play a Shadow Priest!

Now, this guide isn't going to focus on leveling. It will assume you are already 85. Even if you aren't, much of the information here is still relevant. For example, spell priorities in a 75 dungeon will likely be the exact same as in an 85 heroic. So while this will be geared towards end-game, feel free to adapt any of this for your own uses.

Now, are you ready to delve into the finer points of Spriesting? Good. Let's get started.

History of the Class

This isn't something you "need to know", but I'm putting it here for posterity's sake.

The Shadow tree of the Priest class has always been a tree that was never as popular as its big brother Holy, or the awkward middle child Discipline. In Classic WoW, Shadow was a spec generally regarded as "for leveling". Very few guilds had a Priest whose goal in raids was to dps as Shadow. And for good reason. Back then, Shadow's damage was fairly low. The only reason someone would take them would be for the healing from Vampiric Embrace.

Then came BC, and with it the ability that turned Shadow Priests from that kid everyone picked last on the playground for baseball into an absolute requirement for the cutting edge of content. That spell? Vampiric Touch. Back then, VT worked differently than it does today. It was still a DoT, but as long as it was active, 5% of any Shadow damage dealt was refunded as mana to not just you, but everyone in your group. So if you cast a Mind Blast and it crit for 800, everyone in your party would gain 40 mana. It might not sound like a lot, but consider that you had DoTs out the wazzoo, Mind Flays going, Shadow Word: Deaths, and Mind Blasts, and it all added up quickly. As you can imagine, we became best friends with other spellcasters like the healers and nuke-happy mages.

When WotLK rolled around, Blizzard made a design change that went along with their "Bring the player, not the class" philosophy. Up until then, Shadow Priests' damage was limited in order to keep the mana gained limited. If they did competitive dps, and restored mana, then nobody would ever run out. So by keeping the dps under control, and thus sub-par to other casters, they were able to ensure that mana was always an issue.

But with WotLK, they brought Replenishment. Basically, instead of a percentage of damage gained as mana, when Mind Blast was cast on a target with Vampiric Touch active on it, up to 10 mana users in your party/raid would gain a buff called "Replenishment" which restored mana based on how much total mana they had, not how much damage you did. This allows Shadow Priest damage to be finally competitive, now that Damage =/= Mana.

As of now, Cataclysm brings a few changes, but nothing major like the past expansions have. So far, it looks like more of the same (which is, really, a good thing).

Your Role in Groups

The role of a Shadow Priest is damage. Your goal in a group is not to do the most dps, rather it is to deal as much damage as possible. There only real difference here is that you shouldn't be afraid to do things that will lower your dps on meters, such as use Shadow Word: Death and DoTs while moving.

World of Warcraft has three primary roles in a raid: Damage, Healer, and Tank. Tanks are to ensure that the boss attacks them, and not you or the healers. Healers are to ensure that when you and the tanks take damage (hopefully damage that couldn't be avoided), they heal you back up. And damage dealers, like yourself, are there to kill the thing.

An important thing to note is that staying alive always takes priority over damage dealing. If your options are "Stay in the fire and keep dpsing" or "Move out of the fire and survive", you better pick "Move" or I will personally hunt you down and punch your youngest living relative in the face right in front of you. The reason is that if you die from the damage, then your dps stops. You are of no further use to the raid, and in many cases will actually harm them by dying. But if you move out of the fire and live, you can continue to do damage later and do more damage in the long run.

Think of your family. Don't stand in the fire.


Ok, now that that's out of the way, let's talk what makes a Priest into the dark manipulative harbingers of chaos and destruction we all know and love: Talents!


With Cataclysm and 4.0, they have greatly reduced the amount of talents in a tree, and have removed many unnecessary/un-fun talents. You hear that, Shadow Weaving? I hope you're burning in the deepest pit of Hell where you belong right now.

The cookie-cutter PvE build at 85 is this: Linky.

For level 80, check out here.

There are a few free points floating around in there. Two, to be exact. Where you put them is all a matter of preference. I like to put them into Phantasm, for situational use in raids. However, they can go wherever you want. Some like to put them in Psychic Horror + 1/2 Imp. Psychic Scream for PvP, others like Paralysis. Whatever floats your boat, I'm not judging.

Prime Glyphs

The three Prime glyphs agreed upon are thus:

A note about Shadow Word: Death. When 4.0 first hit, as long as the target was under 25%, you could spam that thing till either you or the target died. And since it did a ridiculous amount of damage, chances are the target would die before you did. And you would be so high up on the dps meters, the others in your raid would likely murder you, too.

However, Blizzard doesn't like us having fun decided that that was overpowered (which it was), and nerfed it in a hotfix. Now, as long as the target is <25% health, you can only cast SW:D twice before it triggers a cooldown . Which is something you should do, whenever available.

Major and Minor Glyphs

These won't change your dps at all, or by so small an amount as to be insignificant. Use whatever the flip you want here.

No, really.

Personally, I like to use Fade, Inner Fire, and Mass Dispel for Major, and Fading, Fortitude, and Levitate for Minor. Dispel Magic is also a good major choice, especially for 10 man raiding where you may be the only one who can dispel. You should honestly have most of the choices available to use and change them as needed.

Actually, forget what I said above. Levitate is required, just because the world needs more people casting Levitate.

Spell Priorities

Let me say this first and foremost: We do not have a rotation. We never have. We use a priority system.

What this means is that you have to make decisions on the fly about when to cast which spell based on what is happening, how much time is left on your DoTs, cooldowns, etc.

As a general rule, follow these priorities. Spells are listed as Most Important to keep active/on cooldown to Least Important.

  1. Shadow Word: Death (if target is below 25%)
  2. Shadowfiend
  3. Devouring Plague
  4. Vampiric Touch
  5. Shadow Word: Pain
  6. Mind Blast
  7. Mind Flay
  8. Shadow Word: Death (If target is above 25%, mainly used for mana regeneration when not in execute phase)

This isn't as complex as it looks. Basically, keep Shadowfiend on cooldown. Keep DoTs up. Always. When those two are taken care of, keep Mind Blast on cooldown. And if you have nothing else to do, Mind Flay.

If you're moving, keep the instant DoTs up (SW:P and DP) and use Shadow Word: Death on cooldown. Oh, and enjoy your small army of clones.

Once the target drops below 25%, keep SW:D on cooldown. Always. Take care of other stuff between the cooldowns.

And that's pretty much it. If this is too much to remember, remember the simple rule of "ABC: Always Be Casting". It's the easiest thing I've found to help me out.

DoT Clipping

With the changes to the DoT system it is now not a bad thing to clip DoTs. Before if you reapplied a DoT early you would lose ticks and DPS. Now that is not the case, well for the most part. If you cast and it lands when it only has one tick left you just get a longer length new spell and don't lose any DPS. If you cast with a few ticks left you lose all but one of the remain ticks as the new system doesn't clip the last tick of a DoT. To repeat if you recast before the very last tick, as in two ticks early, you will lose DPS. So now you have to have a rough idea of when your DoTs are ticking over the course of their duration. In general reapplying DoTs when they are at two seconds left is a good idea.

This of course doesn't matter if the boss is going to go out of range or you are going to have to change targets in the next few seconds. If one of those is the case then you should clip to increase Dot uptime while the boss is either out of range or not the primary target and can still take damage.


NYI When gemming/reforing it is generally preferred to go Spirit over hit to make sharing DPS and healing gear simpler.


11/28/10 Spelling, a typo in Spell Priorities with regards to SW:P and DoT Clipping
11/26/10 Added the Spell Priorities section.
11/26/10 Added Intro and Talents sections.
11/26/10 - Page created by IDrownFish. And so it begins...

Parts of this page were originally written by IDrownFish.

This page last modified 2010-11-28 04:19:34.