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Spiritual Guidance: Shadow 101


Each and every Wednesday, Fox Van Allen takes the helm of Spiritual Guidance to corrupt and darken all those lame holy priests who want to hug their enemies to death. And to provide information and guidance or whatever. But mostly to corrupt.

Shadow priesting. Admittedly, it isn't easy to do and it sure as heck isn't intuitive.

When I first rolled my priest, I leveled it shadow because I was told by my roommate that's how you're supposed to do it. Frankly, I had no idea what I was doing. Of course, I was soloing most content, so I didn't know that I had no idea what I was doing. Things were dying and I (mostly) wasn't.

Eventually, I made it to Outland. I had just joined a leveling guild, and someone suggested that I should give some of these newfangled instances a try. So, one fateful day, I responded to a "LFM Hellfire Ramparts" and got my first few brutal lessons in World of Warcraft.

The first time around, I tried healing the instance despite the fact that most my talent points were in the shadow tree, which resulted in a frustrated tank berating me and dropping group. When I joined the next group as DPS, a not-so-kind paladin took quite a bit of pleasure in informing me that my DPS was probably about a fifth of what it could have and should have been.

Both of them were jerks, but they were ultimately right: I sucked. I was wearing green items with agility on them. I was wanding. I was using the wrong spells. Enchanting was a foreign concept; glyphs even more so.

I really could have used a crash course in shadow priesting. So, the plan is this: (1) Write a Shadow 101 column to explain the basics. (2) Find a Mr. Fusion Home Energy Reactor, install it in my grandmother's old Ford Taurus, and find a place suitable to drive 88 miles per hour. (3) Hand the column to the past me, along with a copy of Gray's Sports Almanac.

Oh, and I guess you can read the column too or whatever. That's cool.

1. What is Shadow?

Shadow is quite clearly the most awesome spec known to man (and dwarf). It is the priest's only spec dedicated to damage dealing. Originally filling a PvP and leveling niche in vanilla WoW, it is now a viable end-game spec.

2. Shadow benefits

  • Strong mana-regenerating abilities help make leveling less tedious.
  • Shadow priests self-heal through single-target attacks, providing an unusually high level of survivability
  • Shadow priests offer a number of raid-wide benefits, including party-wide heals, mana regen, and 3% improved spell hit.
  • In emergency situations, shadow priests can provide some (suboptimal) heals to the party.
  • Shadowform looks totally bitchin'.

3. Shadow drawbacks
  • Limited healing ability. To maximize the damage you deal as a shadow priest, you need to be in Shadowform. You cannot cast holy spells while in Shadowform, kneecapping your ability to provide heals to the party when needed.
  • A poor reputation. Shadow priests provided subpar damage throughout much of Wrath of the Lich King, leading many raid leaders to underestimate the value of the class. As such, some shadow priests find it difficult to find end game opportunities.
  • Sub-optimal damage. Because our class also has a healing spec, shadow priests are subject to a "hybrid tax," which puts our damage 5-10% behind that of other pure ranged DPS classes.

4. Stats to look for

Most magic-using classes in World of Warcraft share the same gear, but get vastly different levels of benefits from each stat. Thankfully, there is a lot of overlap between "good shadow gear" and "good holy/disc gear," so being able to do acceptable off-spec damage is often in reach.
  • Hit: Hit is a valuable stat for leveling priests and an essential stat for end game priests. The higher your hit rating, the more likely you will be able to hit enemies at a higher level than you. There is a "hit cap" of 289 for Horde shadow priests and 263 for Alliance priests provided they are a Draenei or will have a Draenei in their party -- that is, every point over 289 or 263 respectively will be wasted.
  • Spell power: Next to hit, spell power is the most important stat for shadow priests.
  • Haste: Recent changes to the shadow priest class make haste almost as important as spell power when it comes to dealing damage. Higher haste (1) reduces the amount of time it takes to cast non-instant spells, (2) lowers the 1.5 second global cool down (GCD) time that applies to instant-cast spells, and (3) shortens the amount of time between ticks of damage on our damage-over-time spells. The GCD cannot be reduced below 1 second, so there is a "soft cap" on Haste, but you shouldn't be able to reach it with gear that's currently available.
  • Critical strike: As one would guess, this increases the likelihood that your spells will hit for increased damage. This stat increases the critical strike chance on your spells. Beyond the obvious benefits of having a spell connect for double the damage, crits also proc useful talents like Improved Spirit Tap. Though there is a theoretical cap to crit, it is unrealistic to expect to come anywhere near it in real-world practice.
  • Spirit: Spirit governs the rate at which we regain health and mana both in and out of combat. Further, the Twisted Faith talent helps convert spirit to bonus spell power, giving the stat an extra kick in determining the damage we do.
  • Intellect: Intellect is an important stat in that it governs the size of our mana pool. It also gives us a slight benefit to our critical strike percentage. Overall, however, intellect does not provide enough benefits for us to actively chase after it -- most of the spell casting gear we pick up will have more than enough.

Stamina is valuable, of course, but you don't need to prioritize it over any of the above stats in end-game content. You will naturally acquire more stamina as you get better gear, and really, you shouldn't be getting beat down by monsters. That's the tank's job. Increased levels of stamina come in very handy while you level, however.

The stats above are listed in their general priority. In Patch 3.3, the accepted estimates for the values of each stat are as follows:

Hit (up to the 263 ally/289 horde cap) = 1.88 Spell power
Spell power = 1.00
Haste = 0.98 Spell power
Critical Strike = 0.76 Spell Power
Spirit = 0.59 Spell power
Intellect = 0.22 Spell power

This information is provided with a bit more detail in a former Spiritual Guidance column.

5. Stats to avoid

The following stats are not necessary for most shadow priests:
  • Spell penetration -- at least, for PvE shadow priests.
  • MP5: Though there is some benefit to having greater mana regen, shadow priests typically get enough mana from their other stats and talents. Occasionally, you will want to take or roll for an item with MP5 simply because of the value of the other stats.
  • Melee stats such as strength, agility, armor penetration, and expertise have next to no use in any situation. Even when you're out of mana, attacking things with your wand is generally more effective than causing physical damage with your weapon.

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