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Spiritual Guidance: So you wanna play a priest, part 3, levels 1-40

Dawn Moore

Spiritual Guidance is a fickle being that simply cannot be won over with chocolates and a reservation to the fanciest restaurant in town. Though Fox Van Allen might sport a silk (snap-on) tie and offer a second glass of corky but rather impressive claret, it is Dawn Moore's singing compulsion that makes the column coo its priestly secrets.

With all the preliminary work laid out, this week we'll be finally be getting started on the actual leveling aspect of my multi-part leveling guide. This week we'll be covering abilities, rotations, talent builds, and gear upgrades for the first 40 levels of the priest class. So if you dream of smiting your enemies with divine fire, and giving yourself a small tan in the process, hit the jump!

Before I get started, I want to provide a few disclaimers that should be considered while using this guide. This is not a speed leveling guide. It will not tell you what quests to do, what zones to go to, nor will it attempt to calculate the most effective way to level as a priest. Frankly, unless you're being power leveled by a higher level character, I don't believe that one method of leveling is superior to another. My own personal experience tells me that, in terms of experience per hour, using the random dungeon finder is abysmal in comparison to questing. Yet I have had many people tell me their experience is the opposite, and they find RDF faster than questing. Who's right? It doesn't matter. Whatever holds your attention is what you should do. This guide will try to accommodate that.

Another thing you should take to heart is that this guide accompanies Fox's shadow priest leveling guide, meaning my goal is to assist you in leveling a priest using the discipline or holy tree, not the shadow tree. This means I won't discuss dipping into the shadow tree (much) but if you are soloing and want to, don't let me get in your way.

Got all that? Let's get started.

Priest abilities
The following is a list of the spells you'll be getting as you level up and my thoughts on them from a leveling perspective.

  • Lesser Heal -- Level 1 -- This will be your most cost effective heal at lower levels.
  • Power Word: Fortitude -- Level 1 -- A party buff you should keep on yourself and party members at all times.
  • Smite -- Level 1 -- This is your go to damage spell until level 10, so just keep spamming it without hesitation. The mana cost is low in the early levels, and you can work on your complexion in the process. (Just turn down your graphics settings if you start to burn.)
  • Shadow Word: Pain -- Level 4 -- Using DoTs while leveling can be very efficient way to deal damage, or be very wasteful. Be thoughtful about applying them. Are you opening with a DoT on a single enemy target and then casting offensive spells until it collapses? If so the DoT probably isn't ticking its full duration which means you're wasting mana. On the other hand, if you are fighting two enemies, you can place a DoT on one while offensively casting at the other. This will usually lead to the DoT ticking its full duration and will be the most efficient. On the other hand, some players like to be less efficient in order to kill things faster (apply DoTs to everything, cast them down, mana be damned) and then drink for longer between pulls. It's up to you how efficient you choose to be, just make sure you're aware of alternatives.
  • Power Word: Shield -- Level 6 -- The effectiveness of Power Word: Shield is varied while leveling at low levels. As far as raw absorption goes, the shields aren't too strong early on. Later when you can spec into discipline, it still takes quite a while before our shields are absorbing anything close to the damage a heal mends. That said, when soloing a shield provides some protection against pushback and should be viewed more as a utility. You don't need to always wear a shield, but if you're facing multiple mobs it's a good idea to use one. When healing others, you can use it to quickly stabilize incoming damage and use the time before the shield breaks to heal yourself or ally up to full.
  • Fade -- Level 8 -- You won't need this if you're soloing, but in any party situation you'll need to use this early on to drop healing aggro.
  • Renew -- Level 8 -- Much like DoT application, make sure that your HoT application is conscientious. You don't need to top players off with HoTs the way meter hogging healers do at level cap. If you need heals on yourself of another player but need to be doing something else (direct healing or damage) then use a HoT as a way of multitasking. You can use it to help steady your falling health when you're fighting multiple or hard hitting enemies, but you probably won't find many occasions at the lower levels where you need a HoT plus direct healing to keep someone alive.
  • Mind Blast -- Level 10 -- Mind Blast is an ability that will shift up and down as far as being the most effective DPS spell for you to cast. The quick cast time and cooldown makes rather ideal as a finishing move, though if you choose to simply use it whenever it is off cooldown you won't be alone.
  • Resurrection -- Level 10 -- You'll find use for this in groups, hopefully. Obviously if you're dead first ... well you get what I mean.
  • Inner Fire -- Level 12 -- Another buff, you'll want to keep this up on you at all times, especially when soloing.
  • Cure Disease -- Level 14 -- Many new players don't often think to dispel, so break that trend by keeping this ability on your bars. Make sure you pay attention to debuffs on yourself and your allies and you can often stave off a lot of damage in the process.
  • Psychic Scream -- Level 14 -- A utility that can save you or kill you. While leveling, this spell is a good way to escape a situation when you're overpowered by enemies, or when you just need to buy yourself more time (more time to bandage!) Just try to avoid using this spell if you're in a spot where it will aggro even more mobs.
  • Heal -- Level 16 -- In the long run, this spell replaces Lesser Heal. When you first get it, you can continue to use Lesser Heal (since Heal restores quite a lot more health than you usually need) but eventually you can switch to just using this one.
  • Dispel Magic -- Level 18 -- You won't have many uses for Dispel Magic at lower levels (much like Cure Disease) but on the occasion you do it's a good practice for healing later. Dispelling is just as important as healing, in many cases.
  • Devouring Plague -- Level 20 -- This powerful DoT is only usable on one target at a time, but despite this it towers over Shadow Word: Pain in terms of damage done. Always keep it up on an enemy target if you're soloing, especially since it heals you in addition to dealing damage.
  • Fear Ward -- Level 20 -- Fear Ward will absorb one fear effect on your target, but at low levels it doesn't have much purpose. There will occasionally be bosses or mobs that fear you, but only if you're dying to those enemies repeatedly will you usually find usage for this spell. I always find if I get feared, then put it up, the fear effect never gets used again.
  • Flash Heal -- Level 20 -- Flash Heal is a quicker version of Heal that is technically supposed to cost more in mana resources. This isn't always true, but it's good to view this spell as an emergency heal for when you need to catch up or stay ahead on healing.
  • Holy Fire -- Level 20 -- Your best and most powerful damage spell as a holy or discipline priest is Holy Fire. The cast time puts it between Mind Blast and Smite, but the mana cost really makes it worth it. As soon as you get this spell, anticipate using it every time you can.
  • Holy Nova -- Level 20 -- Your first AoE spell has a decent damage and healing component. If you want to glyph it, it's even stronger. This spell is ideal for when you want to heal or hurt multiple targets, and since it heals while damaging, it's quite handy if you're in a bad situation with multiple adds. You can quickly burn through your mana spamming it though (as it's instant cast) so just remember that the fewer targets you have in the radius of your spell, the less effective it is.
  • Mind Soothe -- Level 20 -- You can use this to sneak by certain mobs, or to try and reduce the likelihood that you'll chain pull extra enemy mobs when engaging. Don't underestimate this ability, it's very powerful in vanilla content.
  • Shackle Undead -- Level 20 -- This spell won't be much good to you unless you're questing or partying in a zone with undead mobs. In such a situation though, crowd control is an ideal way to control incoming damage.
  • Mind Vision -- Level 22 -- When questing this is a good way to find quest mobs. When in a dungeon it's a good spell to scout ahead with or find out what way you might need to go in the maze-like vanilla dungeons.
  • Mana Burn -- Level 24 -- You won't use this spell too much, but it's there.
  • Divine Spirit -- Level 30 -- This buff should be quite handy toward improving your mana regeneration at low levels, so be sure to keep it up like Power Word: Fortitude and Inner Fire.
  • Mind Control -- Level 30 -- Like Mana Burn, you won't use this spell much either.
  • Prayer of Healing -- Level 30 -- Prayer of Healing is an incredible 5-man dungeon spell, but it's quite costly as well. Make sure that when you use it, you actually need to collective firepower of this spell for your party. If you don't heal at least 3 players, you're better off healing players individually.
  • Shadow Protection -- Level 30 -- Just another buff you can keep up, though this one is only necessary if you are facing enemies that use shadow damage.
  • Abolish Disease -- Level 32 -- This is the updated version of Cure Disease. For the most part you can just replace Cure Disease with this on your bars, since the instances where you'd need to spam Cure Disease are not ones you'll be running into leveling up.
  • Levitate -- Level 34 -- Make sure to pick up a glyph for this spell so you can utilize it. Especially if you're soloing, this spell is really helpful for getting around and making escapes.
Efficiency and "rotations"
Mana efficiency is going to be the most important thing you can learn while leveling. You will drink a lot and priests don't even get free water! If you're soloing, even as a disc or holy, I suggest you drop your first few points into Spirit Tap. If you're questing with a friend as a pocket healer or holding up the group in the dungeon finder, mana will be a bit of an issue starting out. It will be a while before you have enough points in disc to take Meditation, or if you're holy, Improved Healing, so until then be prepared to stand around doing a lot of nothing or sit around afterward doing a lot of drinking.

That all said, I thought it would be a good exercise to sloppily toss around some simple math and determine what spells do the most damage or healing for the mana cost at level 10, 20, 30 and so on. With each level, you acquire new spell ranks these efficiencies would change, so I've just written things up for you to see at the end of each bracket. You'll notice certain spells swap around a lot, and that has to do with when new ranks are learned. For two levels, one spell might be better than another (Flash Heal and Heal/Greater Heal go back and forth a lot, for example) and that will last until the next rank of the other spell is learned. On the other hand, certain spells are always more efficient than others (like Holy Fire for damage) and those spells should sit at the beginning of your priority.

Please take note: these are not rotations, they're more like efficiency guidelines; just some things to consider so you don't get stuck using the same rotation of spells from level 1 to 80. I say this because I often feel like players get stuck in rotations based on the order we get spells, as opposed to what is actually best for us to use. Still, if a situation calls for you to use one thing versus another, you should go with your instinct.

Level 10 (1-10)
Not long ago Blizzard made leveling through the first 10 levels of every class easier by lowering the energy costs and cast times of many class abilities. Smite and Lesser Heal are the most buffed spells we've received. For this reason you shouldn't find too much trouble getting through the early content, even if you're playing solo.

Damage: Shadow Word: Pain > Smite > Mind Blast

Again, keep in mind whether you're using Shadow Word: Pain efficiently or not. Smite is extremely mana efficient in the first 10 levels so it's only trumped by Shadow Word: Pain if your DoT is ticking its full duration. Mind Blast will arrive pretty late in this first bracket of spells but it's not very effective in comparison to the buffed up Smite.

: Lesser Heal > Renew > Power Word: Shield

Lesser Heal will easily overcome Renew and Power Word: Shield in output so if you're healing yourself or a friend, reserve the latter two for situations when you're using them as utilities instead of heals.

Level 20 (11-20)
You'll see your first AoE spell at level 20 with Holy Nova, but you'll need to keep in mind that the efficiency of such a spell goes up with the more targets the spell affects. For both healing and damage, Holy Nova is not more effective than the spell before it unless it damages or heals at least 3 targets. For healing, Holy Nova is limited since it can only heal 5 people at most. For damage though, the amount of enemies you can hit is infinite, so if you round up enough mobs it can be extremely efficient for dealing damage.

Damage: Holy Fire > Devouring Plague > Shadow Word: Pain > Mind Blast > Smite > Holy Nova

Devouring Plague is an incredibly strong spell, so strong I actually recommend using it even if you don't foresee all the ticks going off.

Healing: Flash Heal > Heal > Renew > Power Word: Shield > Lesser Heal > Holy Nova

Like I said, Flash Heal trumps Heal on efficiency as soon as you get the first rank of it, but in another two levels (level 22) when you get the next rank of Heal, it will beat out Flash Heal again. In these situations, since good healing is a lot more about just getting the heal to the player who needs it at the right time, you should decide what you're going to use for your bread and butter spell and just stick with it. If you go with Heal you'll probably need to precast and cancel more though, but that will be good practice for Cataclysm!

Level 30 (21-30)
Once the third bracket is measured, you start get a better idea of the best spells to be using by efficiency. Holy Fire is always on top for damage to mana. Devouring Plague is never too far behind. Heal and Flash Heal continue to be at odds while Renew and Power Word: Shield linger in the middle.

Damage: Holy Fire > Smite > Devouring Plague > Mind Blast > Shadow Word: Pain > Holy Nova

Healing: Heal > Flash Heal > Renew > Power Word: Shield > Prayer of Healing > Lesser Heal > Holy Nova

Prayer of Healing follows the same rules as Holy Nova: it is only effective to use if you're healing three or more players. If you're just healing two people, it's better to individually heal them.

Level 40 (31-40)
There aren't too many new spells by this level so it becomes a lot more about juggling the different ranks.

: Holy Fire > Mind Blast > Devouring Plague > Smite > Shadow Word: Pain > Holy Nova

Healing: Greater Heal (Heal) > Flash Heal > Renew > Power Word: Shield > Prayer of Healing > Holy Nova

One thing to make note of is that the moment you get Greater Heal you should never cast Heal again. The spells have identical mana costs yet one heals for much more.

The general "rotation"
Begrudgingly, I do feel somewhat inclined to give you a demonstration of something you might kind of, sort of be allowed to call a rotation. Based on the patterns of efficiency I've already listed above you should be able to form your own rotation or priority system, but in case you didn't here is one you can generally stick to for the first 40 levels:

Holy Fire > Devouring Plague > Mind Blast > Shadow Word Pain > Smite

Greater Heal or Heal > Flash Heal > Renew > Power Word: Shield > Lesser Heal

Keep in mind a rotation usually sets out with a goal to maximize something. In my case, I am maximizing mana efficiency because I feel mana is the biggest concern to a leveling priest. Other things like cast time aren't weighed in. If you absolutely hate casting anything over 2 seconds, then find something that works for you; it won't do you any good to try an level a priest if you're falling asleep. We all play this game for different reasons.

Rotations and priorities generally take a back seat in times of crisis or panic anyway, so it's not like you won't be occasionally breaking from this anyway. Again, if you need something different for a given situation (like AoE) you should use it.

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