Choosing your character's race
Priest racial abilities disappeared way back when, so there really is no reason to try and argue that certain character races make for a better priest than another these days. You should pick a race that you're going to be happy with for the days and nights you want to put into this character.
That said, I'm going to give you some food for thought in case you're open to any of the races. I'll be looking at it from the perspective of "if you're going to be doing this, you might want to show this race." Obviously if your personal preferences direct you elsewhere, you should do that.
Draenei The most influential racial ability of the Draenei is Heroic Presence, their 1% hit bonus to party or raid group. As a healer, the hit won't do much for you, but if you look at the big picture, the hit is really nice if you want to support a shadow off spec later. Passively, the hit is a kind benefit to your party and raid, and Alliance raid leaders will usually arrange groups so that there is a draenei aura for everyone.
The other significant racial, Gift of the Naaru, is a free, scaling HoT on a three-minute cooldown. For healers, a spell like this is mostly a perk since you have so many heals at your disposal. Gemcutting and Shadow Resistance don't particularly impact gameplay that much, though the Shadow Resistance is nice in PvP.
Dwarf Stoneform is a handy self-defense cooldown, ideal for PvP and occasionally useful in PvE. The cooldown is a bit long, but poison and bleed effects are a big bane to priests since we can't remove either (unless you take Body and Soul to handle poisons.) The rest of the dwarven racials, other than Frost Resistance, are useless to a priest, since we only rarely use our weapons to attack.
Human Every Man for Himself is the big racial you have, and it's equally useful in PvE and PvP. Being able to shake off various disables and disorients in the game, whether you're up against a boss or another player, is going to help you get back to healing as soon as possible.
Humans also have Perception to help them out in PvP. The increased stealth detection will provide some first defense to preventing your bacon sandwich-body from being eaten by rogues and feral druids.
If you're the type of player who likes to min/max stat bonuses, the 3% spirit bonus from Human Spirit is a nice choice for priests of all levels. Other human racials won't directly effect you as a priest.
Night elf If you didn't know, I play a night elf priest. I always say this with a sort of sad longing in my voice because
I used to play Horde in complete honesty, night elf racial abilities aren't particularly ideal for playing a priest in the long run. However, if say ... you want to level up a priest before Cataclysm and race change to a gnome or worgen later, I think you'll find solo leveling is easiest as a night elf. Quickness will help you roll with some punches, and Wisp Spirit is there for when you get overwhelmed (or ganked.) Shadowmeld, combined with a Power Word: Shield and Psychic Scream, can get you through caves and large mob infested areas to quest items and NPCs without having to fight. It's ridiculously cheap, and so very right.
At level cap, Shadowmeld is also great if you want to be that guy in arena. You know, the guy (or girl) who starts a match on your rogue x priest team, thinking you're oh-so-clever stealthed in the starting area. Sure, it creates a bit of surprise and keeps you from getting focused to start, but I've never seen it work out to be much of a shocker. That said, Shadowmeld is actually pretty decent in PvP if you can sneak away and drop combat to drink or just five-second rule some mana back. Just wait til mages have it.
Blood elf Though I'm still not quite sure why blood elves can be priests (ever notice each of the city leaders represents a culturally respected class, yet priests are not represented?), the racials are great. Arcane Torrent will help curve how far you can stretch your mana pool while leveling and healing in PvE. In PvP, it serves not only as a great tool for restoring mana but as a powerful offensive silence that can seal the deal in an arena match.
Magic Resistance is handy for the right encounter, just like all the racial resistances. Arcane Affinity, on the other hand, won't make a big difference to you as a priest.
Forsaken Will of the Forsaken is a strong choice for PvP priest since it sort of, kind of, acts like Every Man for Himself, except as you can see in the tooltip it doesn't cover all effect. To offset that, it doesn't share a full duration cooldown with a normal PvP trinket, which you'll come to appreciate as a priest in PvP. Forsaken also have great-looking cast animations, which I wouldn't normally mention, except I know at least half a dozen priests who remind me of this all the time.
Other racials aren't too impacting for you as a priest. Shadow Resistance is nice of course, and I imagine Underwater Breathing will be good in Cataclysm. Cannibalize will spare you some mana in healing yourself up between encounters, but that's it. (Hint hint: It would be nice if it restored some mana, if you're reading devs.)
Trolls Berserking is the best racial ability trolls have to offer, and it's definitely not bad, as healing priests can use haste in all sorts of panic situations to get more heals out. Ideal for PvE and PvP.
Regeneration will help your survivability a little, and Da Voodoo Shuffle creates a noticeable difference when you're waiting out a stun lock in PvP. The rest of the troll racials aren't going to help you out much.
Choosing your professions
All gathering professions are great for making you a little money on the side, but as a priest the bonuses from any of them are limited to a single passive or on use ability.
Crafting professions, on the other hand, offer various (or few) perks in addition to the bonus abilities. Some are better than others.
- Alchemy Alchemy is probably one of my favorite professions for soloing, so from a leveling perspective, this might be just what you want while leveling your priest. A healthy supply of mana potions (or an endless one) means you'll be able to down them like a box of White Cheddar Cheez-its, with none of the regret. You can also pretty much always have a flask on for whatever you're doing, which gives you an edge while even doing daily quests. Alchemist trinkets are also pretty longlasting in their usefulness, and I'd expect to see equal quality Philosopher's Stones in Cataclysm. Oh, and don't forget Mixology.
- Blacksmithing Almost all the recipes you can make from this profession will be of no use to you, so unfortunately that means you will only be able to reap rewards from the bonuses in the case of this profession: that is, an extra gem socket on your gloves and bracers.
- Enchanting Enchanting will help to reduce the cost of your enchants and let you keep current while leveling. (As a note, being able to constantly update your enchants while leveling will give you a huge edge against mobs that are higher levels. Very important as a priest.) At level cap, the only advantage you'll get as a priest is the extra stat bonuses to rings (spellpower, or stamina which is good for PvP.) Not too exciting, but it equates to a couple of extra gems.
- Engineering My favorite profession as a raider (and great if you want to be cheap in world PvP?), engineering won't always directly influence the healing you do as a priest, but it will give you a lot of toys that are handy to the priest in general. For example, we won't see any baseline movement speed increasing abilities until Cataclysm (and even then, only at higher levels), so things like Nitro Boosts to boots are handy. While leveling up, the explosives and target dummies are extremely useful when you're squishy and short on mana.
- Inscription Inscription will make you a bit of money through the crafting of decks and glyphs. As a priest, though, I've never found Darkmoon cards (like this one) to be particularly glamorous for priests, but we may see differently in the next expansion. While leveling up, inscription was more of a headache, due to the bag space requirements and the lack of additional benefits from glyphs. Shoulder enchants are on par with other profession bonuses
- Jewelcrafting The money-making profession of choice, jewelcrafting will give you a the most flexible options in maxing out your stats at higher levels in any way you want, since you can get jewelcrafting gems in various types, not just spellpower like some profession bonuses are limited to. While leveling, or when you first hit max level, there are a lot of useful recipes (particularly trinkets.) It helps if you have a main character to help finance leveling this profession in the middle levels, since it can be quite costly for lower levels.
- Leatherworking Like blacksmithing, you won't find many recipes in your spell book that you can equip. The fur lining to your bracers at higher levels are powerful enchantments if you're into min/maxing stats. Armor kits are helpful while you level up, but they're also BoE, so there is nothing to keep you from getting those as any other profession.
- Tailoring This profession will seem like a natural crafting choice to priests since we wear cloth armor. Especially while leveling up and at various times during new content (when new recipes are released), you'll find there are many patterns you can use for yourself. Some of them may even be best in slot. In addition to that, cloak embroideries that return mana or grant bonus spellpower are extremely powerful stand-ins for trinkets. Quite handy when you can never seem to win that one trinket.
Finally, in the pre-selection process for those you who are working on an alt character, there are a few potential heirloom item options that you can choose from. Check out this list and consider picking up a few of them that suit your priestly leveling goals.
- Tattered Dreadmist Robes (40 Emblems of Heroism) This is the best heirloom purchase you can get if you plan on leveling up a priest. The experience bonus plus good stat allocation as you level up means you'll never have a reason to take it off. Grab it.
- Tattered Dreadmist Mantle (40 Emblems of Heroism) The primary reason to get these shoulders is the experience bonus, but the stats scaling with each level gives a noticeable advantage. I found that I had a noticeably easier time managing my mana while soloing and healing 5-mans when I had both these and the Tattered Dreadmist Robe equipped.
- Exquisite Sunderseer Mantle (200 Stone Keeper's Shards; PvP item) These PvP shoulders give the same experience bonus as the Tattered Dreadmist Mantle but have a different stat allocation for PvP. They are usually quite affordable, since many players sit on a stash of Stone Keeper's Shards without realizing it. You also get the perk of looking a little less like a warlock while wearing these.
As a PvP option, you're mostly cashing in on these for the stamina. The resilience supposedly takes the edge off, but I have to admit I didn't notice it doing much for me as a low level healer in a battleground full of rogues. If you plan to PvP, you could definitely consider these, but they're far from necessary to level in battlegrounds.
As a PvE option, these shoulders are actually pretty decent even if you miss out on intellect and spirit. The crit and spellpower scale well, and the stamina makes them useful for soloing as a squishy priest (especially if you're on a PvP server.)
- Devout Aurastone Hammer (50 Emblems of Heroism) This heirloom mace is a good general purpose weapon choice for a priest who wants to solo by questing, healing through the random dungeon finder, or PvP. The stats are good, and since it's a one-handed weapon, you'll have a lot of options to customize your stats with an off-hand that has mana return, hit or an on-use effect.
- Dignified Headmaster's Charge (65 Emblems of Heroism) I didn't try out this heirloom while leveling my priest so I can't vouch for it, but the stats are perfectly acceptable for anyone who wants to rock like a 'lock. Intellect is always a strong stat as a healer, and the crit and spellpower will be handy for soloing, 5-mans and PvP.
- The Blessed Hammer of Grace (250 Stone Keeper's Shards; PvP item) I would only recommend this mace if you want to do a full level up through battlegrounds, and even then I'm still not convinced of its quality. Swapping between this and the Devout Aurastone Hammer, I always felt like I was giving up a lot in longevity, which is one of the biggest struggles you're going to have at lower levels. The MP5 just doesn't feel significant when your mana pool is so low and encounters aren't that long. Worst thing about it is I often found quest rewards were more useful to slot than this mace.
- Grand Staff of Jordan (325 Stone Keeper's Shards; PvP Item) This PvP item on the other hand is fantastic for solo leveling. Smite spammers can certainly benefit from the hit rating, especially since it's hard to find hit gear during the first 60 levels unless you're deliberately looking for it.
- Discerning Eye of the Beast (50 Emblems of Heroism) If you plan on soloing, this trinket is going to be your best friend to get up to 80. The mana return bonus only works when you land the killing blow, so if you want to play healer while PvPing, questing with a friend or using the random dungeon finder, this trinket will quickly lose its luster. As a solo player, though, it scales nicely with all the gear and levels you acquire. The best part is that the trinket isn't unique, and thus you can equip two, which do stack. There is also no internal cooldown, so if you kill a few mobs in succession, you'll see a return for each one. This is the way to solo a priest.
- Swift Hand of Justice (50 Emblems of Heroism) I only list this trinket as a contrast to the Discerning Eye of the Beast. I don't recommend this, and here is why: The way I see it, while yes, you will need to heal yourself and this trinket would certainly assist with that, you are a squishy, cloth-wearing priest. Our health pools are lower, even with Power Word: Fortitude, and our armor is lower, even with Inner Fire. When I'm leveling a priest solo, I find that the times that I need to heal myself or risk annihilation are during the fight, not after. So for this reason, the trinket would only be helping us during multi-mob encounters, which I try to avoid as much as possible unless I overpower the mobs by a fair amount.
- Inherited Insignia of the Horde (Alliance version) (250 Stone Keeper's Shards; PvP Item) If you're going to PvP anywhere while leveling, make sure you grab this. It'll save you the honor of having to buy a non-heirloom, five-minute trinket.
- Dread Pirate Ring (Kalu'ak Fishing Derby) Unlike the heirlooms above, this ring can't be acquired by grinding. Before you find this prize, you'll need to win th Kalu'ak Fishing Derby, which requires a little bit of skill and a great deal of luck. If you're fortunate enough to get this ring, it will be a nice addition to a leveling priest's ensemble of gear.
This wraps up the second installment of my discipline and holy leveling guide. Next week we'll actually get started on the levels and tackle how to get from 1 to 40. See you next week!
Want to find more great tips for carrying out your priestly duties? Spiritual Guidance has you covered with all there is to know. Check out Holy 101 or Disc 101 for an introduction to healing as a priest; for the party-minded healer, check out a priest's guide to tanks.