9. Spell Priority

In our earliest moments as shadow priests, we have to rely on the ultralame holy spell Smite -- it's pretty much our only option for a while. Thankfully, as we level, we get a lot of useful shadow spells.

I talked a lot about rotations in a previous article -- there are different rotations for different situations. Here are the basics for the typical level 80 shadow priest facing a heroic or raid boss:
  • Vampiric Touch: One of our most powerful damage-over-time spells, you pretty much want to make sure that VT is up all the time on your main target. Even when dealing with trash pulls, I open with it: It doesn't do damage up front, so the threat is limited, and it takes time to cast, which lets a tank build up aggro.
  • Devouring Plague: Our other powerful damage-over-time spell, again, you want this up at all times. It's an instant cast, which means you can refresh this when running, and with Improved Devouring Plague, it deals a healthy chunk of damage up front. It's a great spell to include even in shortened fights.
  • Shadow Word: Pain: This is probably the weakest of our damage-over-time spells. The bad news is that it's virtually useless in short fights. In long fights, however, you need only cast it once (only after getting five stacks of Shadow Weaving, please!) and it will continuously refresh every time you cast Mind Flay provided you followed my talent advice on the previous page. There are only two situations where you should ever recast this spell: immediately after using the Nevermelting Ice Crystal (the bonus crit lasts throughout refreshing) and if SW:P drops off the target because you were stunned, running, or otherwise unable to cast Mind Flay in time.
  • Mind Blast: As the only spell of ours that can realistically hit for five-digit damage, Mind Blast holds a special place in my heart. If all three DoTs are ticking, you should be casting Mind Blast if you can. There are some possible exceptions for end-game raiders decked out in full Tier 10, but for the most part, keep this in the rotation.
  • Mind Flay: This is your filler spell. When you're not casting anything else, Mind Flay. It's not a huge damage dealer, but it's mana efficient and it refreshes Shadow Word: Pain. I strongly recommend against clipping your channel of the spell, especially to cast Mind Blast -- it's mana inefficient and difficult to time when you have latency issues.
  • Mind Sear: Because it doesn't hurt the enemy you target it on, our multi-target AoE spell is only worth casting when facing groups that are four-or-more deep. For especially weak enemies, though, you may find that casting Mind Sear is more efficient than your other options when you're facing groups of three.
A note about Shadow Word: Death: In raid situations, SW:D has very limited use -- because of its poor damage output, it's good only when you're running and can't cast anything else. Of course, in raids, you take damage every time you use it, so never cast it when you're low on health. It's useful as a finishing move on trash, but a word of warning: If you have latency issues, you may have a lot of problem timing its use to avoid hurting yourself.

Oh, and don't forget to toss your adorable little Shadowfiend out there whenever it comes off cooldown.

10. Gems

For end-game players, there are only a handful of gems worth using. You have three priorities when choosing gems: (1) meet your meta gem activation requirement, (2) gem up to your hit cap, (3) when hit capped, gem for spell power.

Colored Gems

If you're a new level 80 and a bit hard up for cash, you can easily get away with using some lesser gems -- the Runed Scarlet Ruby makes a highly cost-effective replacement for the Runed Cardinal Ruby, and you only lose 4 points of spell power by making the switch. And, of course, jewelcrafters should use their improved Jeweler's Gems, like the Runed Dragon's Eye.

Meta Gem
  • Chaotic Skyflare Diamond: This is really the only choice for a PvE shadow priest. Remember that it takes at least two blue gems to activate the bonus, so keep at least two Purified Dreadstones in your equipment at all times.
Socket Bonuses

Socket bonuses are always worth chasing after (at least 99.5% of the time) when the sockets involved are yellow and red. Things get a bit trickier with blue sockets, since Purified Dreadstones represent a notable drop off in damage-dealing ability from their red and yellow brethren. The general rule of thumb is this: Put a Purified Dreadstone in a blue socket only if the socket bonus is +6 spell power or better; otherwise use a Runed Cardinal Ruby. (For items with two blue sockets like the Mag'hari Chieftain's Staff, that requirement doubles to +12 spell power.)

11. Glyphs

Major Glyphs

If your goal is maximizing your damage as a shadow priest, there are only a few glyphs worth taking. The first two are pretty much mandatory; you can take your pick of the last two.

  • Glyph of Shadow: As a level 80 shadow priest, you really can't do without this one. Save binding it to yourself until you actually get Shadowform, of course.
  • Glyph of Mind Flay: Mind Flay and Shadow Word: Pain go together like Nutella and Marshmallow Fluff -- they just make each other that much better. Anyone who plans to face a heroic- or raid-level boss needs this glyph.
  • Glyph of Shadow Word: Pain: This glyph is admittedly a bit disappointing. It returns a portion of your base mana with each SW:P tick, but that only amounts to about 39 mana every few seconds. Still, almost all raiding shadow priests take it because it's the least bad of all the other options.
  • Glyph of Dispersion: I didn't include this glyph in my original list because it doesn't really fit my play style, but there are no doubt plenty of shadow priests out there who will find it invaluable (as evidenced by the number of commenters below touting it). Dispersion is all about mana regen and survivability, and this glyph gives you more of each. If you want to take it, take it at the expense of the Glyph of Shadow Word: Pain. Just remember, you can't cast spells while in Dispersion, so your DPS drops noticeably for those six seconds.
Minor Glyphs

Honestly, there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to minor glyphs. None of the minor glyphs affect DPS, so just choose the ones you find most convenient to have:

  • Glyph of Levitate: This is probably the most recommended minor glyph for shadow priests. You don't use it in boss fights (they fixed the bug in heroic Northrend Beasts), but it's very handy for avoiding death when you do something stupid, like accidentally jump off the side of Thunder Bluff. (Yes, I've done it about three times now.)
  • Glyph of Shadow Protection: I think Prayer of Shadow Protection is a pretty obnoxious spell. The effect is great of course, and it's super useful in Icecrown Citadel. It's just that the 20 minute duration is extremely limited for no logical reason whatsoever. This glyph puts an extra 10 minutes on the spell, rendering it marginally less annoying. (Seriously, Blizzard -- could you please make this spell last 60 minutes like Prayer of Fortitude and Prayer of Spirit do?)
  • Glyph of Shackle Undead: I added this to my shadow priest shortly after Icecrown opened and it became clear that Shackle Undead would be again have some use as crowd control. Honestly, I haven't used it much since those early few days, but it's still useful to take a web-spinning Nerubian out of the equation. (So long as a loladin doesn't come along and whack it free. Which always happens. Which is why I don't use it anymore.)
  • Glyph of Shadowfiend: Though it finds far greater use in PvP, this glyph does find some PvE use as something of an insurance policy -- if the Shadowfiend dies, you still get some of that mana you'd be missing out on. It's of highly marginal use, but then again, that seems to be the point of minor glyphs.
  • Glyph of Fading: If you find yourself having to Fade your way out of aggro a lot, you might have some benefit to this 30% mana reduction on the spell.

12. End Game Enchants

That about wraps things up for Shadow 101. I tried to be as concise as possible here, so of course, I probably missed a couple great tips, pointers, and facts for the shadow priest who aspires to the Fox Van Allen level of greatness (not that I'm a conceited narcissist or anything).

If you're looking for even more information about how to take your game to the next level, you may want to spend a few minutes visiting Shadowpriest.com and the Elitist Jerks Priest Forums -- both are great resources for someone willing to take the time to decipher the mounds of information and data within. And, as I've found by reading the comment sections of columns here, your fellow WoW.com readers are also terrific sources of information. As such, I encourage my fellow spriests out there to pick up where I left off and throw a good tip or two into the comments below.

Use the information in good health, my dark soldiers! (Just don't do anything I wouldn't do.)

Hunger for more information about bending the light to your advantage? More interested in watching health bars go down than watching them bounce back up? Think it's neat to dissolve into a ball of pure shadow every few minutes? The darker, shadowy side of Spiritual Guidance has you covered.

Totem Talk: Restoration 101