Shadow Priest 101: How to Melt Faces Effectively

First off, this thread is intended to be a compilation of Shadow Priest knowledge. It has information on talent specs, gear, enchants/gems, spell priority, and a few other tidbits. It is a co project between many of the priests on these boards, effectively. I know both Benegesserit and Woobsauce are working on similar information, and I hope to incorporate their work into this thread. This is mainly going to be a thread on PvE Shadow Priesting at level 70, though I could expand it to PvP if requested.

1. What is a Shadow Priest? (And Key Terms)
2. What are the key talents for a Shadow Priest?
3. What are the important stats for a Shadow Priest?
4. What gems/enchants are good for a Shadow Priest?
5. What sort of gear does a Shadow Priest wear?
6. What is some basic information on Shadow Priest spells?
7. What is a spell priority system, and how does it apply to Shadow Priests?
8. FAQ

1. What is a Shadow Priest? (And Key Terms)
Priests in World of Warcraft are a versatile spell casting class. They wear cloth armor and can use one handed maces, daggers, staves, and wands. A key part of priests is their ability to both heal and deal damage. The three priest talent trees are Discipline, Holy, and Shadow.

A shadow priest is a priest that embarks on the damage road. Most of their talent points are located in the shadow tree, with a few in Discipline. They deal exclusively shadow damage. Through abilities such as Vampiric Embrace and Vampiric Touch, they return a percentage of their damage done as health and mana to their party. Note that, again, +shadow damage and ONLY +shadow damage is a factor in deals of calculating these totals. +damage/healing offers no benefit over raw shadow damage for PvE DPS, and +healing is worthless.

Shadow priests, though capable of returning health to their party, are usually grouped with classes that can make the best use of the amazing regeneration of Vampiric Touch. Their job is to deal as much damage as they can (without pulling aggro, of course) to return the maximum amount of health and mana to their party and to maintain two important debuffs: Shadow Weaving (+2% shadow damage from all sources to the target, stacks 5 times) and Misery (+5% spell damage to the target).

Some shadow priest terms…
SW:P = Shadow Word: Pain
VT = Vampiric Touch
VE = Vampiric Embrace
MB = Mind Blast
SW:D = Shadow Word: Death
MF = Mind Flay
GCD = Global Cooldown
DoT = Damage over Time

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2. What are the key talents for a Shadow Priest?
Most of the key talents for a Shadow Priest are in the shadow tree. I’ll briefly touch over the main ones.

Spirit Tap (5 ranks) = This is an amazing talent for grinding. In raids, its use is more limited, as getting a killing blow is more difficult. However, if you are able to snipe a kill on an add, it offers a major mana return. You will either need to get this talent or Blackout.

Blackout (5 ranks) = This is a powerful PvP talent, but not much else. It offers a chance to stun non-immune adds in a fight, but obviously is worthless against bosses. Neither this talent nor Spirit Tap is critical, but you will need to pick one.

Shadow Affinity (3 ranks) = This is a mandatory talent. Maxed out, it offers a 25% threat reduction to all shadow threat caused. The current belief is that this affects VE as well, making it doubly valuable, as shadow priests are capable of producing an insane amount of threat.

Improved Shadow Word: Pain (2 ranks) = This talent increases the duration of SW:P by 33%, not only improving mana efficiency but also reducing the number of GCDs needed to maintain the DoT.

Shadow Focus (5 ranks) = Shadow focus is a talent that works exactly like spell hit. Every 12.6 spell hit is equivalent of 1% spell hit. Each point of shadow focus is worth 2% spell hit, or 25.2 spell hit rating. This should initially be maxed out for raiding shadow priests, though shadow priests at the Black Temple/Mount Hyjal level often drop a point of two from the excess of spell hit that is unavoidable. Against a boss, there is a 17% miss rate and 16% of that miss rate can be negated. Shadow focus removes 10% of this, leaving 6%, or 75-76 spell hit rating needed.

Mind Flay (1 rank) = This is your basic face melting spell, and an important part of your DPS between MB/SW:D cooldowns and SW:P/VT refreshes.

Improved Mind Blast (5 ranks) = This talent reduces the duration of the Mind Blast cooldown in increments of 0.5 seconds. As such, it is typically only useful as 1 point or 4 points until you have spell haste gear, as it reduces it to a 7.5 second cooldown (5 GCDs) or a 6 second cooldown (4 GCDs). This is a staple of MB heavy casting. With sufficient spell haste, 5 points becomes viable as it allows for a MB -> MF -> MF -> MB, if the MF is down to a 2.75 second channel.

Shadow Reach (2 ranks) = Provides a greater range on all shadow spells, allowing you to attack the boss from farther away. This is extremely important due to MF’s short range.

Shadow Weaving (5 ranks) = Each point provides a 20% chance for a shadow spell to leave a debuff that increases shadow damage taken by 2% and stacks 5 times. 4 points is sufficient to maintain a full stack, and shadow priests who take 5/5 do so for PvP purposes or to insure a fast stack. This is a major debuff for not only shadow priests but also warlocks.

Focused Mind (3 ranks) = This talent increases the mana efficiency of MB, MF, and Mind Control. The Mind Control part is not important, but the MB and MF reduction is powerful.

Vampiric Embrace/Improved Vampiric Embrace (1 rank/2 ranks) = VE is a debuff placed upon a target that returns 15% of all damage dealt to that target to the shadow priest’s group. Each point in Improved VE increases that by 5% (to 20%/25% respectively). VE is mandatory for Shadowform. Improved VE is a matter of personal preference (and I find it quite useful).

Silence (1 rank) = This spell requires two points in Improved Pyschic Scream and thus is typically not gotten in serious raiding builds. However, it can be useful in stopping adds from casting (necromancers in Hyjal is one of the best examples). Take it if you wish, but it will not affect your DPS in any shape or form.

Darkness (5 ranks) = 10% extra damage, health, and mana returned. Enough said.

Shadowform (1 rank) = This is why shadow priests look cool. 15% extra damage and a physical damage reduction. Get it.

Shadow Power (5 ranks) = Each point increases the critical strike chance of both of your offensive and crittable spells by 3%. As such, each point is worth 66.3 spell crit rating. It is not a substantial damage increase overall, but it IS a damage increase.

Misery (5 ranks) = 5% extra spell damage from all sources. Mages, warlocks, elemental shamans, moonkins, etc, will love you for this debuff. Max it out.

Vampiric Touch (1 rank) = This is the reason shadow priests are raid viable. It is a 15 second DoT that returns 5% of the damage done as mana to the group (including the priest). This is often equivalent to 200-300 mana per 5 seconds to the shadow priest’s group. Get it.

In the Discipline tree…

Wand Specialization (5 ranks) = Why are you wanding? Get this for grinding or if you don’t wish to resist a fear at a bad time.

Unbreakable Will (5 ranks) = Mostly a PvP talent, can both hurt and hinder PvE (resisting a fear when your tank misses the stance dance = bad, resisting a remote toy = good). Neither this nor Wand Spec will really affect PvE.

Improved Power Word: Fortitude (2 ranks) = Might as well get it. This tier is unimpressive.

Improved Power Word: Shield (3 ranks) = Might as well get it. This tier is unimpressive.

Inner Focus (1 rank) = This should be used for one of two spells during a fight: Devouring Plague or SW:P. It’s a free cast every three minutes.

Meditation (3 ranks) = This talent offers 30% mana regeneration from spirit to continue while casting (in 2.3 currently 15% on live). This will equate to something like 60 mana per 5 over not having it.

The “average” raiding shadow priest spec is this, or something close to it. Spirit Tap and Blackout are interchangeable. A point or two from Shadow Focus/Shadow Weaving/Shadow Power can be moved to Improved MB.

3. What are the important stats for a Shadow Priest?

Spell hit: Point for point, 1 spell hit rating returns a larger increase in DPS than anything else. However, this is because spell hit can become capped, and IS capped very quickly for shadow priests. Against a boss type mob, you will have your spells resisted 17% of the time. 16% of this can be negated via spell hit. Of that 16%, ten can be negated through talents alone, meaning 76 spell hit rating is needed. For every 25 points of spell hit rating above this cap that can not be avoided, you can drop a point in shadow focus to spend elsewhere. However, never itemise for spell hit unless you need 4-6 spell hit rating to drop another point in shadow focus and have an item that gives a +damage bonus with a yellow socket.

Damage: Damage is your bread and butter stat. It, once hit capped, is the one and only stat worth getting in the sense that every other stat is translated to damage to see it’s value. For purposes of other comparisons, one spell damage will be considered the baseline. It does not matter whether the damage is shadow damage only or generic damage, both offer the same value and hence take whichever is higher (if all else is equal).

Spell Crit: Spell crit affects every single shadow priest spell that can crit. Yes, both of them. Only MB and SW:D are affected by spell crit, and they only crit for 150% damage, meaning that spell crit is a fairly weak stat for shadow priests. The current accepted conversion is roughly 6 spell crit rating = 1 damage. Yes, it’s that weak. And it does nothing if you are not using MB or SW:D.

Intellect: Intellect is only useful as it converts into spell crit. Assuming kings, it’s about 20 int per damage. Again, a weak stat.

Spirit: Spirit helps regenerate mana with Meditation (which is getting buffed in 2.3) and also adds damage via improved Divine Spirit. 9 spirit is equal to one damage, assuming kings, along with the regen benefits.

Mana per 5 Seconds: This helps regenerate mana. Good if it’s on a piece, but not needed.

Stamina: You only truly need a baseline hp level on Doomwalker and Naj’entus, both of whom you can wear PvP gear for. Ultimately, don’t worry about it too much.

4. What gems/enchants are good for a Shadow Priest?
For gems, shadow priests have it fairly easy: +damage. Runed <blank> are your friend, whether it is the 7, 9, or 12 damage variety. It is very rare that a socket bonus is worth following (unless it requires all red gems). Essentially, any socket is a home for your runed friends.

It is important to note that the current metagem for shadow priests, the Mystical Skyfire Diamond, requires more blue gems than yellow gems. Thankfully, shadow priests generally don’t use any yellow gems, meaning that swapping one runed gem for a glowing gem will activate the meta.

For enchants, I’ll break it down slot by slot…

Head = [Glyph of Power]
Shoulders = [Greater Inscription of the Orb] or [Greater Inscription of Discipline]. The [Zandalar Signet of Mojo]should be used in place of the Scryer enchant, if possible.
Cloak = Subtlety (-2% threat)
Chest = (Enchant Chest – Restore Mana Prime), (Enchant Chest – Exceptional Stats), (Enchant Chest – Major Spirit)
Bracers = (Enchant Bracer – Spellpower)
Gloves = (Enchant Gloves – Major Spellpower) or (Enchant Gloves – Shadow Power)
Leggings = [Runic Spellthread]
Feet = (Enchant Boots – Vitality) or (Enchant Boots – Boar’s Speed) for movement heavy fights
Rings = (Enchant Ring – Spellpower)
Weapon = (Enchant Weapon – Soulfrost)

5. What sort of gear does a Shadow Priest wear?
Once a shadow priest has sufficient spell hit, damage is the key stat. Spell crit provides some use, but not nearly as much as damage. I believe current calculations have 6 spell crit rating equaling 1 damage under the heaviest MB/SW:D casting. Essentially, shadow priests want damage first, and mana per 5 second. Spirit is useful for extra damage (through Improved Divine Spirit) but should not be sought out.

Here is a list of pre-raid gear that is attainable without stepping into Karazhan. The PvP based items take longer than the others to obtain, but offer a large stamina boost at the cost of very little damage (only a 1 damage loss on the bracers for a 370 health, for example). Credit to Wootsauce for most of the new items.

Helm = [Spellstrike Hood]
Neck = [Natasha’s Arcane Filament] or [Natasha’s Ember Necklace] or [Vindicator’s Pendant of Dominance]
Shoulders = [Frozen Shadoweave Shoulders]
Cloak = [Cloak of the Black Void] or [Cloak of Woven Energy]
Chest = [Frozen Shadoweave Robe]
Bracers = [Bracers of Havok] or [Vindicator’s Dreadweave Cuffs]
Gloves = [Studious Wraps] if you’re doing heroics. [Tempest’s Touch] or [Jaedenfire Gloves of Annihilation] if not.
Belt = [Girdle of Ruination] or [Akama’s Sash]
Leggings = [Spellstrike Pants]
Boots = [Frozen Shadoweave Boots]
Rings = [Signet of the Violet Tower], [Seal of the Exorcist], [Seer’s Signet], [Evoker’s Mark of the Redemption], [Manastorm Band], [Cobalt Band of Tyrigosa], [Khorium Band of Shadows]
Trinkets = [Darkmoon Card: Crusade] and [Icon of the Silver Crescent], although [Mark of Defiance] or [Item ‘get in-game item linkquagmirran’s eye’ not found!] also works until you get those.
Weapons = [Gavel of Unearthed Secrets] or a blue dagger/mace with +120ish damage
Offhand = [Orb of the Soul-Eater] (or [Tome of Shadow Force] until then)
Wand = [Carved Witch Doctor’s Stick] is the best wand in game for a shadow priest. [Wand of the Netherwing], [Illidari Rod of Discipline] (requires an epic flying mount), or a wand of Shadow Wrath also work pre-heroics. Best Raiding Gear Available has a ranking of the raid gear, although I cannot completely vouch for it’s accuracy. That entire site has a good deal of information, if you can deal with struggling through some of the posts.

6. What is some basic information on Shadow Priest spells?
Shadow Priests are fairly interesting in that most of their scaling comes from talents, which vastly amplify the coefficients of spells. Shadow priests have three types of scaling. The first is DoT scaling, which applies to SW:P and VT. A DoT coefficient is usually based upon five ticks = 100%, though I’ll explain exactly how the main two Shadow Priest DoTs scale. The second is direct damage scaling, which applies to MB and SW:D. The third is the scaling of MF, which is a tad odd and will be addressed fully.

7. What is a spell priority system, and how does it apply to Shadow Priests?

Sorry, it doesn’t quite work like that. Shadow priests may have specific combinations they like to cast (such as MB -> MF -> MF -> MB) but they are part of a general priority system. This priority system is a way to determine what spell to cast next. It is a method to juggle essentially four cooldowns (MB, SW:D, VT, SW:P).

The spell priority that is generally accepted is…

1. VT
2. SW:P
3. MB
4. SW:D
5. MF

This means you always maintain VT, and then always maintain SW:P. If both of these are ticking, use MB if it’s up, and then SW:D. Only MF if all four other spells are on cooldowns.

NOTE: This is a maximum DPS priority list. At lower gear levels, it is common to simply use…

1. VT
2. SW:P
3. MF

8. FAQ
Q: How much minimum mana do I need?
A: You need enough damage to last between mana potions and shadowfiends. Beyond that, you do not NEED a set amount of mana. A shadow priest’s mana pool scales with his damage, not intellect.

Q: How much minimum health do I need?
A: 6800 for Doomwalker and 8500 for Naj’entus. Both of these values are raid buffed. In both cases, a Power Word: Shield can cut off some of the incoming damage. Outside of those fights, maximum health will rarely be an issue.

Q: How does Shadowfiend work?
A: The shadow fiend is summoned at your target and generally attacks 10 times. For each point of damage that is does, you gain 2.5 times that in mana. The damage done is increased by your own spell damage (65% over the duration, or 6.5% per hit) and also by debuffs on the target (Shadow Weaving, Misery, Curse of Shadows, etc.) It has a high resist and avoidance rate.

Q: What kind of group should I be in?
A: It depends on your raid. Shadow priests are generally clumped with mages and other casters and then with healers on some fights. You’ll want to have a shaman for Wrath of Air and Mana Spring in your group (Resto offers Mana Tide and Elemental offers Totem of Wrath as well).

If there are any other questions that should be answered, list them and I’ll do my best. If anyone has good information to offer on haste rating, I’d love to hear it. My guild is 5/5 Hyjal and 5/9 BT with absolutely no spell haste item drops, thus I have been unable to test anything.

And, of course, if I’ve messed something up, please yell at me and I’ll fix it.

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