Spiritual Guidance: Starting a shadow priest from scratch

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Spiritual Guidance: Starting a shadow priest from scratch

Like all shadow priests, Fox Van Allen is a resilient sort. He has few weaknesses: accidentally dropping Shadowform by casting a holy spell; the silver arrow from the far upper left room in level 9; and his own gargantuan ego. By comparison, Dawn Moore's weaknesses include scratchy sweaters, Shadowfiend bites, and the nasty case of the sniffles she gets when the thermostat dips below 67. The Sunday edition is all about warmth, hugs and kisses. Today is Wednesday.

It was a cold December day when the respawn timer ticked, creating the most elite shadow priest to ever grace the Wednesday version of Spiritual Guidance.

"Surely, he'll make a fine holy spec priest one day," the nurses assumed. "Such fortitude! And, why look, he can cast Smite already!"

"In between sips of milk, of course."

"Of course."

Those of us who already made the journey from level 1 to level 80 no doubt have some mixed feelings about the earliest, most formative years of our shadow priest. Heck, even mages, balance druids, elemental shaman, warlocks know the same pain. Starting a new caster can be a repetitive experience.

The good news, of course, is that World of Warcraft is revitalizing the leveling process in Cataclysm. They're giving us Shadow Orbs and refurbishing our talent tree to make shadow priests feel more like shadow priests. That's great. I can't wait for the change.

But still, if you haven't started a new priest in the last few months, you may have missed some of the more recent changes to the leveling process. It really is better now, and I can honestly say there's been no better time to start a priest. Why wait until Cataclysm?

(And don't you dare say because you want to roll a gnome.)

Playing dress up

If this priest is going to be your first character ever, well -- you've got your work cut out for you. It's a long, though ultimately rewarding road. Keep an eye out for equipment with bonuses to spell power, hit, intellect, or stamina. Even spirit is okay. Avoid stats like strength and agility, since you obviously don't need them. If the green item that drops doesn't work for you, sell it on the auction house for a few gold and then use the money to buy green items that do.

For most of you, a new priest will be an alt. You'll be loaded with advantages if you have the Emblems of Triumph to spend.

Any new shadow priest should be showered with love (read: heirlooms). The Dignified Headmaster's Charge is the heirloom two-handed weapon of choice to send your aspiring priest, but to give it an extra (and very noticeable) kick, have it enchanted with either Enchant Weapon – Spellpower (+30 spell power) or the slightly more affordable Enchant Weapon – Healing Power (+29 spell power).

For your shoulders, the Tattered Dreadmist Mantle is great (but note that the Sons of Hodir enchants won't work on it if your toon isn't level 80). As for your chest, you should go with the matching Tattered Dreadmist Robe. You should have it enchanted with Enchant Chest - Greater Stats (for the extra health and mana), Enchant Chest - Major Health (for +100 health) or Enchant Chest - Major Mana (for +100 mana). I prefer Greater Stats, but they're all valid choices.

The best enchants for heirlooms are generally semi-rare old school vanilla enchants. On most established servers, you can easily find the scrolls on the auction house (or an enchanter in [2. Trade]), but be prepared to pay a lot of gold.

Buy yourself a Lesser Magic Wand off the auction house, or make one if you're an enchanter. They're dirt cheap on almost every server. Equip it as soon as you can (level 5), and use it to attack enemies if you're running low on mana.

And, of course, no outfit works without accessories! Pick up the Swift Hand of Justice and Discerning Eye of the Beast trinkets -- the latter is especially good for the mana return.

Make it work, people. (Ahem.)

Oh, and while you're sending your new shadow priest a bunch of shiny new toys, be sure to go to Wintergrasp and pick up a couple of bind on account Wintergrasp Commendations. Each one is worth 2000 honor, and that much honor can buy some exceptionally useful PvP gear in the early going. Even if you don't like to PvP, some of the gear is super useful and well itemized.

The earliest levels (1 - 9)

Whether you're able to take advantage heirlooms or not, taking on the earliest of early levels will be pretty much entail the same experience. The only slight difference: Overpowered heirloom wearers will kill enemies slightly faster.

Now, you might say, "hold up, Fox. You may be the sexiest, most imaginative shadow priest of all time, but you're forgetting something. New priests will spend all their time drinking water to regain mana."

That certainly used to be the case, but there was a major change in Patch 3.3.0 (emphasis mine):

Patch 3.3.0 notes
A number of changes have been made to World of Warcraft's introductory experience, including updated character and class information at the character-selection screen, more robust tooltips with images, improved health and mana regeneration at lower levels, and adjustments to various classes designed to make it easier for players to get started.

I've leveled another priest through to level 10 just to see the new regen rate for myself, and it's a refreshing change. Few low-level priests will ever find themselves needing to stop to drink to get their mana back -- they can just chain pull and collect whatever silly animal part they need to complete a quest.

Smite, lol

Let's take a quick moment to detail the spells you have in the toolbox on your way to level ten:
  • Power Word: Fortitude A buff to stamina that you start the game with.
  • Smite A basic attack. You start the game with it, and can upgrade its strength at level 6.
  • Lesser Heal A basic heal. You start the game with it, and can upgrade at level 4.
  • Shadow Word: Pain The original shadow priest DoT. You first learn it at level 4.
  • Power Word: Shield Damage mitigation. You first learn it at level 6.
  • Fade Threat reduction (not threat elimination). You first learn it at level 8. It's not very useful when leveling solo.
  • Renew Heal-over-time spell. You first learn it at level 8.
Looking down the list, you learn two things. First, you learn you need to head back to a trainer every two levels (4, 6, 8, and 10) to learn new spells (or upgrade your old ones). Secondly, you learn that you're only going to have two offensive spells at your disposal: the Smite spell you start the game with and Shadow Word: Pain which you'll learn about fifteen or thirty minutes after that.

If you've gone the heirloom route, most baddies will die after a few casts of Smite. There's not much use for SW:P at all -- you're just mindlessly casting Smite at anything that moves. I created a flow chart to better illustrate the process of getting to level 10:
Easy to follow. That's your attack plan in 90% of situations. If you find yourself running out of mana anyway, you should use your wand (if you have one). Use your melee weapon as a last resort.

To be fair, if you don't have heirlooms or somehow manage to pull multiple enemies, you might find a use for Shadow Word: Pain. It's a good DoT so long as the fight lasts long enough for it to expire. For the most part, though, you're a dirty lolsmiter.

(We're merely using – and certainly not embracing -- the light here just to further our shadowy futures! Don't expect me to give too much love to the light in the future. It makes me feel dirty. In a bad way.)

Staying alive

The Power Word: Fortitude is a great buff for soloing -- it boosts your maximum health. To make things easier on yourself, cast PW:F on all your fellow friendly players you see in the starting area. They'll often reciprocate the good deed by casting their class-specific buff on you. The early going is much easier if you're walking around with Mark of the Wild or Arcane Intellect.

Try not to run out of mana. Yes, I know that's easier said than done, but if you're at less than 20% of your max, you should switch over and attack mobs with your wand. Why? I find that it's a good idea to have at least enough mana for a heal at all times.

Non-hybrid classes need to use things like bread and bandages to stay healthy. We've got healing spells. And since you won't get locked out of them until you get Shadowform at level 40, you might as well abuse them if you need them. Power Word: Shield is great to cast before a battle to keep you from getting hurt, but it's a pretty big mana sink to use on a consistent basis. It's great in a clutch if you need to stop damage for long enough to heal, but remember, it has a 15-second cooldown. Renew is a good choice to combat slow, steady attacks -- just don't wait until the last moment to apply the spell or it may not be enough. If all else fails, you also have Lesser Heal, but honestly, if Renew and Power Word: Shield aren't doing it for you, you've probably bitten off more than you can chew.

Level 10: An actual shadow spell you can use!

Yeah, for real. Level 10 is when you finally get to learn Mind Blast, which will be a key player in your shadow rotation up through to the end game. Just as importantly, though, level 10 is when you start to earn talent points. Here's our basic strategy: We're going to create a leveling build as we go, and then completely redesign our talent tree at level 40 so we can grab Shadowform ASAP.

There are a few viable options for spending that first talent point. Darkness is a solid shadow priest talent, but you'll probably want to wait until you're casting more shadow spells to pick it up. Spirit Tap is a great leveling ability to help get your mana back quicker that you should consider investing in early. And as much as I hate to admit it, the other viable option is in ... the holy tree. Since you cast smite so damn much, you may benefit from the extra percentage point of crit that Holy Specialization gives you.

Okay, so we've rolled up our sleeves and gotten the basics taken care of. Our new shadow priest is on his (or her!) own two feet, ready for the game to truly begin. Leveling guides are srs bsns, and we've got a long road ahead to get our priest to level 80 by Cataclysm.

We'll pick this back up later, and maybe even get some input from Dawn. Just as soon as we turn that thermostat back up over 67, of course.

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? Hate gnomes? The darker, shadowy side of Spiritual Guidance has you covered.
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