What the heck can a Priest do?
Priests can fill two essential roles:
- Healing: Priests don't have the best survivability or mana efficiency, but they are very versatile healers with a variety of abilities to fit any situation. Other healing classes have their specialties, but Priests are the jack-of-all-trades of healing classes, with direct healing, heals over time, damage shields, and useful buffs.
- DPS: Though a properly specced holy/discipline Priest can put out reasonable DPS, shadow spec is where it's at. Shadow Priests put out DPS while healing and restoring mana to their party.
In either role, a Priest can be an asset to a PvE or PvP group -- but either way, their utility means they work best in a group environment. (Yes, all types of Priests can solo in PvE or PvP, but they really shine in group settings.) Plus, healers are always in demand! (And if you're really in need of an instance, even a DPS specced Priest can be an acceptable healer -- just don't try to main heal a heroic dungeon, and chances are you'll be fine.)What's it like to level a Priest?
Priests aren't the fastest levelers, no matter how you spec them. Up to level 40, you'll find your Priest to kill and advance more slowly than average. After 40, a Shadow Priest can pick up shadowform -- and the increase in both damage and survivability results in a noticeable improvement in leveling speed. However, even if you want to stick with a healing build, healing Priests have the abilities (and talent options) to solo at a reasonable pace. (It's still slower than average, but it's completely doable.)
A healing Priest may also be able to do a good amount of leveling in dungeons or in groups, which you may find faster and more efficient than leveling solo. However, this is completely dependent on the quality of the group -- leveling up with friends will be fast and fun, while leveling up with PuGs will be slow and agonizing.So, you still want to play a Priest?
The first step to creating your new Priest is choosing a race. Racial selection is a bit more important for a Priest than for other classes, as the Priest class has a selection of skills unique to players of a specific race (each race has two abilities, the first at level 10 and the second at level 20). So when considering a race, you need to take into account not only their standard racial abilities, but also their class racial abilities. Alliance players may chose from four races: Human, Dwarf, Night Elf, and Draenei. Horde players may chose from three races: Undead, Troll, and Blood Elf. The Priest's race-specific abilities are as follows:
- Desperate Prayer (Human, Dwarf): An instant-cast, mana-free self-heal on a 10-minute cooldown. An excellent skill for soloing or saving yourself in any emergency situation. If you want to play an Alliance Priest, this skill should make you strongly lean towards Human or Dwarf. You receive the first rank at level 10 (healing for 134 to 170 health) and the last rank at level 66 (healing from 1601 to 1887).
- Hex of Weakness (Troll): A curse that reduces healing and damage done by the target. This is a situationally useful spell that provides a small benefit. It's okay, but not a must-have. You receive the first rank at level 10 (reducing damage done by 2 and healing received by 20%) and the last rank at level 70 (reducing damage done by 35 and healing received by 20%).
- Starshards (Night Elf): a DoT doing arcane damage to the target. Though it's not a terrible thing to have an extra damage spell in your arsenal while leveling, it's not going to make or break your character. You receive the first rank at level 10 (doing 60 damage over 15 seconds) and the last rank at level 66 (doing 785 damage over 15 seconds).
- Symbol of Hope (Draenei): regenerates mana for 15 seconds for the Priest's entire party on a 5-minute cooldown. (Symbol of Hope is considered a Discipline ability and is thus castable in Shadowform.) A great group utility skill, even at high levels. You receive Symbol of Hope at level 10 and though there's only one rank, the ability scales with level, from 33 mana per 5 seconds at level 10 to 333 mana per 5 seconds at level 70.
- Touch of Weakness (Undead, Blood Elf): A debuff that reduces damage done and does shadow damage to its target whenever the target melees the Priest. It's nice for soloing and okay for PvP, but it's not a make or break ability. You receive the first rank at level 10 (reducing damage done by 2 and damaging the target by 8 whenever the target melees the Priest) and the last rank at level 70 (reducing damage done by 35 and damaging the target by 80 whenever the target melees the Priest).
- Chastise (Dwarf, Draenei): Does holy damage and stuns the target for 2 seconds (the stun breaks on damage) -- only works on humanoids. Extra damage certainly can't hurt for leveling and the stun can buy you time to heal or escape, if necessary -- but it does relatively low damage for a relatively high mana cost and is only usable on a small subset of mobs in the game. Again, not a skill that will make or break you. You receive the first rank at level 20 (doing 47 - 53 damage) and the last rank at level 70 (doing 370 - 430 damage).
- Consume Magic (Blood Elf): Dispels one beneficial effect from the caster and, in exchange, restores mana, on a 2 minute cooldown. There's only one rank, trained at level 20,but the mana returned increases with level. There's a lot of argument as to how useful this ability is. On one hand, sometimes the extra mana means the difference between casting the heal that saves the group and watching the tank die before your eyes. On the other hand, the buff Consume Magic removes (and it is random -- though it will only chose Priest buffs) may be needed. Depending on your play style, you may or may not appreciate this skill.
- Devouring Plague (Undead): A DoT that does shadow damage to the target and heals the caster, on a 3 minute cooldown. An excellent ability (though the cooldown significantly restricts its use) for leveling or DPSing. You receive the first rank at level 20 (doing 152 damage over 24 seconds) and the last rank at level 68 (doing 1216 damage over 24 seconds).
- Elune's Grace (Night Elf): Reduces the Priest's chance to be hit by melee and ranged attacks by 20% for 15 seconds, on a 3 minute cooldown. There's only one rank, first received at level 20. It's okay for PvP and soloing, but nothing spectacular.
- Feedback (Human): A buff that burns mana and does damage (equal to the amount of mana burned) to any target hitting the Priest. Lasts 15 seconds on a 3-minute cooldown. Rather situational, and the short duration/long cooldown makes it fairly useless.
- Shadowguard (Troll): A self-buff that does damage to anyone who hits the Priest. 3 charges. An okay ability, though the limited charges mean you're casting it constantly if you're trying to use it. The first rank is received at level 20 (doing 20 damage per hit) and the last rank is received at level 68 (doing 130 damage per hit)
Out of these options, Human, Dwarf, and Draenei are all strong choices for the Alliance (with Desperate Prayer providing Humans and Dwarves an advantage in leveling and solo-play, while Symbol of Hope provides Draenei with an excellent end-game buff ability) with Undead likely being the best choice for the Horde (Undead have no group utility abilities, but their racials will be of help when soloing).
However, in the long run, most of these abilities will not make your class significantly easier or significantly harder to play. If you have a strong preference towards a particular race -- go for it! You'll still be able to Priest effectively. I'll see you back here next Sunday for a starter guide on leveling your new Priest!