So now it's time to talk leveling. I've been thinking about how to have this conversation with you guys for a while now because I knew I was going to be the bearer of bad news. Basically, here's the deal: You'll want to level as shadow.
Now stop, stop! Don't feel betrayed my fellow priests. I'm still going to supply you with advice on alternatives, but my wholehearted recommendation to every priest going from 80 to 85 is to level shadow. I think this will allow for the most pleasurable leveling experience due to the pacing and effectiveness of it. Leveling as disc or holy by questing is just an exhausting process, and though you'll think everything is fine the first two levels, by the time you get to level 83, you'll be pulling your hair out. The increased damage healers get from Chakra or Evangelism will not scale upward enough to compare to the damage a DPS class can do, and it takes four to five times longer to kill a single mob as a healing spec than a damage spec. Combine that with the amount of damage higher level mobs hit for and you'll usually find yourself dead if you have to fight more than one opponent at once. It's not pretty.
What about healing through the random dungeon finder? Well, that's riddled with problems, too. As I said last week, the new dungeons require a lot more coordination, preparation, and patience. Even a peon would know the average PUG doesn't stand a chance, so expect many of your groups to disband or lose some vital component (*cough*tank*cough*) after the first trash wipe. If you have friends who you can clear dungeons with, then that will help, but I still wouldn't rely solely on dungeons to level up. Experience from quests is so significant, and since you have to discover dungeon portals before you can queue for them anyway, you might as well quest while you're out in the zones.
Quests are hands down the best way to level in Cataclysm due to the experience they reward. That's why shadow is the way to go. However, I know there are a bunch of you who are tried-and-true healing priests and you're happy to level up at a slower rate if it means not having to Mind Flay. If that's who you are then fine, let's do this.
Where to level
So as I said before, you'll be questing. (You can still heal dungeons, of course, but don't plan for them to be more than a break from the leveling.) Since I already mentioned trash mobs are lethal at higher levels, it's best if you complete both level 80 zones, Mount Hyjal and Vashj'ir. These zones are roughly equivalent to Borean Tundra and Howling Fjord in Wrath, serving as two possible locations for players to start their level 80 characters when Cataclysm launches. As a healing priest with dinky damage, it's in your best interest to do these zones, because the health and damage of mobs will be lower than what you'll find later. Anyway, if you complete both these zones in their entirety, you should have no trouble getting to about level 83.
From there, you can quest through Deepholm, and that should get you through most of level 84. To get to 85, you can mix in some dungeons or work on the precursor quests that lead to Twilight Highlands.
Some things you should know is that every quest hub starts in your faction's capital and the quest givers will typically direct you to a portal that will transport you to the quest hub. Without the bread crumb quests in the capital cities, you won't really be able to start questing in any of the zones, so don't just fly to the zone expecting to get started. (Or swim, if you're going to Vashj'ir ... it ends tragically, I promise.) Everything is very linear and requires you to start in the right starting spot. Also, there are level requirements for all the zones after Hyjal and Vashj'ir, so don't expect to just dive into a high-level zone.
- Deepholm requires 82.
- Uldum requires level 83.
- Twilight Highlands requires level 84.
How to level
You may remember I wrote some leveling guides this past summer to help players out for new priests they wanted to make before Cataclysm. The whole thing was quite a learning experience for me, and I've since decided that I probably overcomplicated everything with detail.
I think I should stress that when you're leveling, you don't actually need to min-max our rotation for quest mobs. Priests have a pretty large collection of damage spells, when you factor in the shadow spells, but using all of them to get the maximum amount of damage per second is far from necessary. In fact, if you incorporate your entire damage toolbox into each pull, you'll actually find you only cast Smite a few times, which doesn't share much synergy with the points we put into Chakra or Evangelism.
There are a lot of different ways you could play. You might also really hate sitting to drink, for example, so you might use a rotation of spells that focuses around using the most cost-effective spells more so that you can stretch out how long it takes to burn through your mana between your cooldowns so you don't need to sit too much. Just use some deductive reasoning.
This idea goes for talents, too, since there are a ton of of talents you can use for leveling that vary in their effectiveness based on how you're leveling (e.g., by yourself, with a friend, or with a group.) A talent like Reflective Shield, for example, is one you might consider taking if you are questing entirely by yourself, but if you're with a friend, you'll be wasting those talent points each time he holds threat (which he will, if he's a tank or damage class.)
There really is no fast way to level as a healing priest, so enjoy the flexibility you get from making the decision to take your time by doing it your way. I'm not going to tell you how to enjoy your game, and leveling as holy or disc might actually help you better learn the full extent of your class as a healer (which is particularly handy if you want to PvP). When you get to level cap, you'll find more precise guides from me which will help refine things you're doing right and correct things you might have been doing wrong. Learn what works through trial and error.
All the details
That said, I'm not going to throw you guys to the foxes by stopping here. I'm still going to provide you with a few lists that suggests things you wouldn't ordinarily use as a healer but will want to consider for your questing spec. First up are the different talents you can consider in your builds.
- Inner Sanctum This talent makes you run faster with Inner Will. Anyone whose ever run back from a wipe and seen a ret paladin slowly creep ahead of the group knows that those little speed buffs do add up. Running faster when you level, especially in places where you can't mount, will buy you time.
- Reflective Shield I already mentioned this talents in my example, and I do recommend it for solo play. It will up your damage without costing you any more mana than you were already spending.
- Test of Faith Just max this out if you're planning on soloing. You'll be surprised how easy it is to fall below 50 percent of your health. Actually, if I haven't said this already, this talent is a million times more effective in Cataclysm than it was in Wrath, and you might want to use it even when you're not leveling, if you can spare the points.
- Improved Shadow Word: Pain You'll be using Shadow Word: Pain to chip away at each mob you fight, so this talent is worth considering.
- Veiled Shadows 60 seconds less doesn't mean too much in dungeons, but it's really helpful when you're leveling. This is a favorite choice of mine for leveling.
You can skip talents that are only applicable when conducting focused healing (Strength of Soul, Serendipity) or group-oriented healing (Circle of Healing, Lightwell, Spirit of Redemption.) Also notice I didn't recommend all the PvP talents available to healing priests. This is because not all PvP talents are necessarily good choices for leveling, since most mobs do not have cooldowns to blow on you, and the single strikes of damage they do aren't usually that big. Both Blessed Resilience and Focused Will assume to some extent that you're receiving an onslaught of damage, which will really only be the case if you plan on trying to pull multiple mobs at once.
There are also some glyphs that you might want to consider for leveling.
- Glyph of Divine Accuracy This glyph is a no-brainer, since it will keep your Smite from missing.
- Glyph of Holy Nova Though Holy Nova spam is a tried-and-true method for holy and disc priest leveling, it's not as effective in Cataclysm. This glyph will help. Since it won't always be the most effective way to down mobs, you might find yourself swapping this one in and out.
- Glyph of Psychic Scream A must-have glyph for any holy or disc priest planning on going solo and a handy way to CC enemies so your melee DPS leveling partner doesn't have to continually chase after mobs attacking you.
- Glyph of Shadow Word: Pain Shadow Word: Pain is an expensive spell for healing priest; this glyph will help it go further.
- Glyph of Smite The cooldown on Holy Fire makes this glyph a lot less satisfying to use than you'd think, but a buff to what will probably be your primary damage spell is still a buff you can appreciate.
- Glyph of Spirit Tap This interesting new glyph could help out your mana a bunch if you're good at sniping killing blows with Shadow Word: Death. Twelve percent is a good chunk of mana, and even if you only get it off every other mob you kill, that could be the difference between sitting to drink or moving along. You could even consider combining this glyph with the next one ...
- Glyph of Shadow Word: Death This will buy you more opportunities to use Shadow Word: Death, just in case you misfire.
As for gear, you're going to see a lot of upgrades as soon as you get to Hyjal or Vashj'ir, if you're wearing anything less than item level 277 gear. If you're decked in 264, you'll see a lot of immediate side grades, and anything less than that will be replaced with the very first quest reward. If you are in 277 gear, you'll start seeing upgrades form quest blues and weapons in Deepholm.
And that's honestly all there is to it. Obviously, there is no special tactic to reading or completing quests that priests have, so get out there, and good luck. If you have any questions or additional contributions to help out other priests, leave them in the comments, as usual.
Want more tips for carrying out your priestly duties? Spiritual Guidance has you covered. Check out Holy 101 or Disc 101 for an introduction to healing as a priest; for the party-minded healer, see a priest's guide to tanks.