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Spiritual Guidance: Going to the dark side

Dawn Moore

Silvermoon City records show that Dawn Moore was born and raised by a loving fire mage and holy priest. Fox Van Allen? He crawled out of an ethereal sludge and was raised by warlock cultists. Dawn once saved some puppies and bunnies from a burning zeppelin while simultaneously defeating Undermine drug lords. Fox? He tried to eat those same bunnies. Each Sunday in Spiritual Guidance, Dawn brings you information on how to walk, talk, and dance like a holy or discipline priest. Fox brings you trollish recipes for gnome genocide. Dawn Moore: the choice is clear. [Paid for by priests for Dawn Moore - nsfw]

It's about that time in a major content patch when things start to slow down. We've run all the 5-mans we can stomach, and in Icecrown Citadel we're starting to really close in on our goals as the 20% buff and our accumulated gear help to fill in the gaps of what we need to succeed. As this happens, your wish list of equipment is undoubtedly getting smaller; maybe you're done gearing up, or are just waiting for a few more pieces to drop. Maybe you're cursing my name for reminding you that you've had the most terrible luck at getting that wand, cloak, or whatever to drop. But regardless of where you are, I'm certain you've found yourself thinking, "hmm, I could use that for offspec."

Like most classes, priests are starting to think about where to go next. Do I gear out an alternative healing set? Should I collect more spirit items for Cataclysm? Do I spend my extra badges on PvP gear? (Dawn says yes! But that's another article.) How about honing out skills in that other healing spec we don't like quite as much as our favorite? Oh, and then of course, there is always the sweet seduction of the shadows.

Today, I've put together a little guide for healing priests who want to dabble in the darkness of the shadow tree. While there are notable differences between the styles of playing holy or discipline, the switch to shadow is more than just tossing on some hit gear and taking a trip to the trainer. But before we get started though, I have a small task for everyone.

"Task?" you ask? Yes, you see, I am preparing for the winter. Not the season though; more like a metaphorical winter describing the gap of time we have to wait before Cataclysm. I have often lamented to Frostheim my frustration at not having more information on my readers so I know how to best serve you all. I know at times I can be disconnected since I'm one of those raiders who plays WoW 400 hours a week, so I have some questions. (Note: There are only 168 hours a week.)

One thing to know before you answer: how you answer will not change the content I already write. You can expect a full Ruby Sanctum write up for priests when that is out. Current events and new Cataclysm information will be on my radar as well. But in addition to that, there is still a lot of time to fill, so I want to know what you guys are interested in. Ready? Let's go.





All right. Thank you for voting. will now use your information to take over the world from our secret bunker in New Mexico. Now we can move along to the guide.

How to look the part
As I said earlier, there is a bit more required to succeeding in your offspec than binding Shadowform to your bars, but while we have those in mind, let's talk about them from a healer's perspective. As far as talents go, nothing out of the ordinary is required of you as a healer when making the jump into the unknown. You can follow this build and Fox's Shadow 101 guide to get an idea on talents without much worry.

From here on though, things start to shift a little. I say this because I make the assumption that starting out, the majority of healers exploring shadow will not have a full set of shadow gear on hand (unless you were one of those disc priests who opted for the shadow tier 10 early on.) After that, I also don't expect you to regem every piece of gear you have, since you'll probably be sharing several pieces between your two gear sets. Because I've assumed this, I'm going to recommend that examine what kind of stats you are running with, and weigh out what you can sacrifice, and what you want to keep.

Hit -- First thing's first: you'll need to be hit capped. Hit is what allows your offensive spells to land on your opponents and do damage. Fox details this in his guide, but for quick reference, to raid as a shadow priest you'll need 263 hit rating as an Alliance shadow priest, and 289 as Horde. (The difference is due to the Draenei racial aura.) Ideally you'll have enough hit rating on all the items you've picked up to put toward your offset, but if not, use the gem slots on those hit pieces and fill them with yellow hit gems (orange works too, if you only need a little extra.) You'll only be wearing those pieces for shadow, after all. If you still have a deficiency after that, you can get more hit from food buffs, and enchants.

Trinkets -- The next thing to know is trinket selection. Good DPS trinkets are probably the single most important piece of gear a shadow priest can acquire to raise his or her damage numbers. That said, those trinkets are often in high demand and you shouldn't take one away from a main spec caster DPS class who needs it. If you've been fortunate enough to get a DPS trinket for your offspec, consider yourself lucky; if you haven't, look at your healing trinkets and determine what has the most spellpower reward on it. That is the trinket you'll want to use. For example, even though a Purified Lunar Dust gives a lot of stats to regen, the static spellpower on it is typically going to beat much lower level caster DPS trinkets, like this on-use trinket with hit rating.

Gear and stats -- Shadow priests favor two things very highly to do damage: spellpower and haste. They like other stats as well, but right now those are the stats to stack.

Now, the amount of spellpower on most gear is static (slight differences between items of the same slot generally occur when there is a difference in gem sockets) so you shouldn't see a dramatic shift in spellpower by switching between healing and damage gear. Your other stats however, will vary depending on what spec you were running when healing, and how you geared for that spec. Holy priests who have taken care to stack a lot of haste and nice balance of crit, will find it's easier shift to shadow without regemming. Bubble spamming discipline priests on the other hand, who will have little to no haste on their gear, will find it very difficult to push competitive damage in a raid. For this reason, if you have a lot of hit gear options available to you, try to swap out pieces with crit (like this) before pieces with haste (like this.)

You'll also want to avoid swapping out combined haste and crit pieces (like this) for hit pieces as much as possible. This is because the combination pieces will typically not have spirit on them. Spirit is not bad for shadow priests, but it is not something to stack either; so if you were a disc priest who diligently avoided taking gear with spirit on it, you'll probably have a better balance of base haste and crit on your gear before gemming. On the other hand, if you're a holy priest or just any healing priest who took our tier 10, you'll probably be inadvertently running really high on spirit. This isn't a bad thing, as when combined with your trinkets, you'll find you have an unfathomable amount of mana regen as a shadow priest (you'll likely never have to use Dispersion except as a self-preservation tool.) So, as with picking between haste and crit, if you have the option to, drop your gear with spirit on it before you drop haste and crit combination gear.

Meta gem -- There is only one good choice for shadow priest meta gem: Chaotic Skyflare Diamond. (Hah! Insightful Earthsiege Diamond - you can't win this time!) So with this in mind, if you're saving your frost emblems up for a piece of shadow T10, grab the helm first so you don't have to worry about replacing the meta gem in your healing helm. Even if your meta gem happens to be an evil mastermind.

Glyphs -- There are two major glyphs you'll want: Glyph of Shadow and Glyph of Mind Flay. Neither of these are optional glyphs, and they'll be essential to pumping up your DPS. From here though, Fox recommended two glyphs in his Shadow 101 that I would not recommend to you, since they both have to do with regen: Glyph of Shadow Word: Pain and Glyph of Dispersion. Now, if you actually compiled a full set of shadow gear and you're swapping out almost every single piece of gear for your shadow set, then by all means, continue to start with what Fox said. However, I find that since I am always peachy on mana as a healer moonlighting in the shadows, Glyph of Mind Sear is a better option for DPS.

It does depend on how you use Dispersion though; if you find yourself getting into more trouble as a DPS than as a healer, you can keep the Dispersion glyph for survival instead of mana regen and pop it when you're somehow in fire. (Did you know that DPS don't stand in raid fire made out of Lightwell?)

Gems -- If you are good on hit, and have shadow exclusive pieces that need to be gemmed, the rule I follow is this: for socket bonuses that are +7 or more spellpower, activate the bonus. To do that use these gems:

If the gear has a socket bonus that is less than +7 spellpower, ignore it and socket more Runed Cardinal Rubies.

Now let's talk about how to be a DPS.

How to act the part
The first thing you have to understand when switching to shadow spec is that the entire mentality of the game is different. Listen carefully: your new objective is to kill things.

Now you are probably glaring at me right now for saying that, I can feel it through my screen. But wait! Let me explain what I mean! Obviously your job is to do damage, you know that, but think about it: you're a healer in your heart. That means you'll be doing things like glancing at your party or raid frames a little more than any rogue has ever done. Maybe you'll call for heals in vent like that guy. Maybe you'll bubble yourself because you don't trust that pudding-brained disc priest your guild picked up last week to shield you. Why didn't they listen to you? His brain is made of pudding! If he tilts to the side butterscotch comes out! Does that sound anything like you? Yeah, that's what I thought.

In my experience, I have never met a healer who wasn't the tiniest bit of a control freak when it comes to preserving the size of little green bars. Even the most relaxed and chill healers have trouble dropping their HoTs for DoTs, and frequently helicopter heal while DPSing. That is something you're going to have to rid yourself of. It's great to channel your healing awareness into your Divine Hymn usage, or knowing when to pop Dispersion or a Power Word: Shield if healing is strained. But you shouldn't, in most circumstances, drop your shadow form to heal. If the majority of your healers are standing you have to:

Trust your healers.

Say it with me: trust your healers. That's good. One more time. Good.

You see, every time you shield yourself, or worse drop shadow form to heal, you are losing precious DPS. I don't expect you to be a meter whore of course, survival is important, but I do expect that you hold true to your job. If you are in shadow spec, it is your job to do damage. That means believe that the other healers will be okay without you, and keep tossing DoTs and melting faces. I've said it before, I'll say it again: "Act well your part, there all the honor lies."

From here on, things are pretty easy to write but may take time for you to master. Be patient. You can follow Fox's advice in Shadow 101 and should find success. Here are some tips from me though:
  • When you first hit up the target dummies to test your DPS, don't be distressed. Buffs from consumables and your party or raid play a big part in shadow DPS; you'll need to be in a group to get a good idea of what your damage throughput will be. I've heard Rawr is good for estimating DPS, but a talented shadow priest friend may be able to help you too.
  • Remember to shift into Shadowform and don't forget to put Vampiric Embrace on your bars next to the rest of your buffs so you don't forget to use it. It may sound stupid but when you're not used to being a shadowy blob, it's easy to forget to be a shadowy blob.
  • Knowing when to move between damage is one of the first things you'll need to learn as a shadow priest. Shadow Word: Death isn't much for damage, but it's a great filler when you are busy moving. You can also use it when your DoT leave you with some awkward amounts of extra time before they need to be refreshed.
  • You'll probably want to get a DoT timer addon to watch your dot durations.
  • The key to DPS is your DoT uptime. If your DoTs fall off or you clip them, you'll hurt your DPS. The priority is Vampiric Touch > Devouring Plague. Shadow Word: Pain should never fall off if you're diligent.
  • Don't clip the end of Mind Flay to apply a new DoT unless the DoT is Vampiric Touch. Never let Vampiric Touch fall off!
  • Mindblast when it's off cooldown unless you have 4-piece shadow T10. If you do end up getting 4 pieces of shadow tier, you'll want to look into a different talent build. Fox talks about why in one of his recent articles.
So now that you've got this shadow thing down, have some fun exploring the ways of DPS. Perhaps you will learn something new and interesting about playing a DPS class you didn't know before; or maybe you'll hate it. If that happens, tell your raid leader to get ol' pudding brain to build an offset instead, and you can go back to healing him.

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, or for the party minded healer, check out A priest's guide to tanks.

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