My last article was about raiding in general, but this time around I am going to talk about my favorite spec in the game: the Shadow Priest; with an emphasis on raiding. I have played a Shadow Priest since Day One of my WoW career (there is actually a pretty funny story behind it, as I wanted to be a mage, but my friends tricked me into being a priest because they wanted a healer), have always played shadow - NEVER holy or disc - and have raided extensively with the spec. More experienced players, let me warn you now - this guide is going to be more for new players or raiders, as there are extensive resources out there for those who already know how their way around the spec. This first part will tell you about the strengths and weaknesses of the spec, the utility one brings to a raid as a Shadow Priest, and the talent and glyph choices you should be making.
Before I start, I just want to say that Shadow Priests have a reputation for being one of the hardest spec to learn to play well. If you do not want to be dependent on add-ons to perform decently well in raids, or to have to be on your "A" game all the time to do good damage, then you should probably stay away from the spec. Shadow Priests are considered to be a DoT damage dealer, meaning that the bulk of our damage comes from Damage over time spells. About 50-60% of our damage on a single target boss fight comes from our three damage over time spells, and the rest comes from our nuke and channeled spells. What this means is that Shadow Priests have a lot of ramp up time before our damage goes into full swing, but once it gets going, it can be well sustained.
Shadow Priests have two major advantages over other damage dealing specs. One is mobility. Due to the fact that about 50-60% or so of our damage comes from DoTs, that means that we can move around a lot without taking a huge hit to our DPS due to lost casting time. Plus we have an instant cast nuke that can be used while running - but it is on a cooldown, does recoil damage, and provides such negligible damage that it is generally ignored unless moving or if there is nothing better to cast. The other advantage is high survivability. We have a debuff that can heal for 15%, 20%, or 25% of our health depending on your talent choices. Our Shadowform provides both a 15% damage increase and a 15% reduction to all damage taken. Inner Fire, a self only buff available to all priests, provides us with higher armor than any other cloth wearer in the game, and a bit of spell power to boot. And finally, we have Dispersion, a six second defensive spell that reduces any damage we take by 90%, and restores 6% of our mana per second for its six second duration. The only down side to this spell is that it pacifies you for its duration, but you can still switch in and out of Shadowform while it is active and it can be used while mounted without dismounting you.
Now, let's talk about the utility that Shadow Priests bring to a raid. Besides the raid buffs provided by all Priests, a Shadow Priest's main form of utility is the Replenishment buff. It restores 1% of 10 members of your raid's mana every five seconds for 15 seconds. This used to be provided only by Shadow Priests in The Burning Crusade, but now it is provided by many other classes. So, although it is considered a mandatory raid buff, it is not enough to guarantee you easy admittance into a raid. Our second, more unique form of utility comes in the form of the Misery talent. This talent provides a debuff that grants a 3% increase to the hit chance of all spells cast on the mob affected. This is also considered a mandatory buff, but can also be provided by Balance Druids in the form of Improved Faerie Fire; so if you lose out to a Moonkin for a raid spot, then too bad.
On to talent choices! Talent choices for raiding Shadow Priests tend not to be very varied. However, there are a few nuances that can affect your performance depending on your gear level, experience, etc. The first talent spec that I am going to show you is the most basic cookie cutter spec that you should probably stick to at entry level. I will provide two variations of the spec, although the differences are only slight.
This is the first entry level raiding spec, and the one that I recommend the most. Shadow priests have some of the most expensive spells in the game in terms of mana cost, so it is a good idea to spec into Focused Mind to reduce some of the cost, especially since you will likely have a hard time with resource management when you are new to raiding as Shadow. I also put points into Improved Vampiric Embrace. When you start raiding as a Shadow Priest, half of the game is watching your User Interface. Unless you have perfect memory and reaction time, you are going to be watching your DoT timer as much as you are watching what is going on around you. Therefore, you may end up taking some damage that could have been avoided were you paying better attention to your environment. Imp. VE will provide you with substantial enough healing to cover you until a healer can save your ass, or sometimes if a healer doesn't heal you at all. It may prove especially useful if you choose to use Shadow Word: Death at any point, too.
Now you may look at this spec and say, "What's the difference?" It looks exactly the same!" but it's not. I took the two points that were in Imp. VE and moved them to Veiled Shadows. As you get better at playing a Shadow Priest, your damage should obviously increase and therefore you are likely both producing more threat and using more mana by attacking more often due to greater efficiency or increased haste rating. Once you get better, Imp. VE isn't really a necessity, and Veiled Shadows should serve you better for two reasons. Reason Number One: Since you may be producing more threat, which could lead to you pulling aggro, - which isn't likely due to the massive amount of threat tanks now produce - you may want to use the Fade ability more often to reduce your threat. This talent lowers the cooldown of Fade by 6 seconds. With your threat lowered, you can go ahead and blow your trinkets or AoE that pack of trash mobs without worry. Now, for the second more important reason: a two minute cooldown reduction on your Shadowfiend. This will not only allow you to gain more mana more often, but it also provides a DPS increase that cannot be discounted if used correctly. With the cooldown reduction, you can use your Shadowfiend twice in most boss fights now. Just make sure to use the first one really early to guarantee that you can use it twice, even if your mana bar is still high. The DPS increase comes in the form of the Shadowfiend's Shadowcrawl ability, which teleports the Fiend to your target and increases its damage done by 15% for 6 secs, with a six second cooldown. You should make a macro for this ability, so that you can press one button to both summon the Shadowfiend and use the Shadowcrawl ability:
"Shadowfiend" #showtooltip Shadowfiend /cast Shadowfiend /cast [pet, nomodifier] Shadowcrawl
Here is the third and last spec, the one that I use currently. I wouldn't recommend this spec until you are geared enough to have about 18k-20k mana unbuffed. There are no points in Focused Mind, and both Imp. VE and Veiled Shadows are maxed for optimum survivability and damage. That extra lingering point has been moved to the Discipline tree and put into Inner Focus. I would recommend using this buff with DP because it is the highest cost spell, and a crit from the frontload damage would prove to be a real DPS boost. However, if you want to minimize your micromanagement, you can go ahead and leave that point in Focused Mind, as Inner Focus is RNG based and isn't a guaranteed DPS increase. You may have also noted that my glyphs for all the specs are the same. For the Major Glyphs, there really are no choices at the moment, so you should stick with the Glyphs of Shadow, Shadow Word: Pain, and Mind Flay, as they provide the highest DPS increase. However, in patch 3.3, the Glyph of Shadow Word: Pain will be changed to restore 1% of your base mana on each tick. Since we already have so many sources for mana, I will be switching that glyph out for any of the following: Glyph of Dispersion, Glyph of Shadow Word: Death, or Glyph of Mind Sear. The choice is yours. However please hold on to the Shadow Word: Pain glyph until then. For the minor glyphs, I would say Glyph of Shadowfiend and Glyph of Levitate are mandatory Minor Glyphs, but for the third glyph, pick whatever you want.
So now you know a little bit about the Shadow Priest, and how you should pick your talents if you want to raid. Next time around, I will be talking about raid preparation and addons, itemization, and finally damage dealing! So if you're interested in learning how to raid as a Shadow Priest, check out the next half to find out all you need to know to get started.