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Spiritual Guidance: The top ten shadow priest glyphs


Welcome to the Wednesday edition of Spiritual Guidance, hosted by Fox Van Allen, consort to the shadows. Don't mind any distracting grunting you hear coming from under the floor boards. Dawn Moore isn't buried alive underneath there, I promise. She just needed to take today off. You know. For ... um ... I dunno, I think she's one of the Hollywood Squares this week. Who cares, whatever, she's gone.

Oh, hello shadow priests. Please come in. Shut the door behind you.

Have a seat. We need to talk.

I've been hearing rumors on about your top major glyph choices, and frankly, I'm concerned. It's telling me that the Glyph of Shadow Word: Pain is the most popular for shadow priests. Madness! And my god, are you really casting Flash Heal that often that you want to glyph for it?

Look, look, it's okay. It's not your fault. You're the victim here. You chose what you thought was a good glyph, and it's been letting you down. I can help.

After the break, we're going to run down the list of the top ten most popular shadow priest glyphs and pick them apart, one by one. Hopefully, in the process, we can get rid of your cookie cutter build and find you a great new set of glyphs that matches your play style.

1. Glyph of Shadow Word: Pain

According to wowpopular, more shadow priests take the Glyph of Shadow Word: Pain than any other. Its popularity can probably be pinned to two factors.

First, it used to be a much better glyph. In the old 3.2 days, the glyph was a damage-increasing necessity that made our ticks of Mind Flay more powerful. Given the state of shadow priest damage back then, it was all but required for raiding. A solid chunk of shadow priests still hold on to this as a relic of that time.

It also provides decent mana regen, especially when combined with a three-point investment in the Pain and Suffering talent. A lot of shadow priests still have it in their builds -- even yours truly. But that's not because it's an exciting or needed glyph. It's because we couldn't think of anything we'd rather have take it's place.

Just because it's popular, though, doesn't mean there aren't plenty of other options out there -- many of which will likely fit your play style even better. Before you go making any long-term decisions about whether or not to keep this glyph, consider the facts:

  • The Glyph of Shadow Word: Pain doesn't increase your damage. It should be obvious from the outset, but it's important enough to note -- don't take this glyph over one of the damage increasing ones. And you probably shouldn't even consider this glyph unless you're having mana management issues in raids.
  • The glyph doesn't scale in the end game. At all. Notice that its tool tip says the mana regen per tick is 1% of your base mana. For a level 80 priest, that's always going to be 38-39 mana per tick, since your base mana will always be exactly 3863. (Don't confuse base mana with max mana -- you're not seeing ~250 mana per tick!) In the end, this glyph is worth just over 64 MP5, regardless of your gear.
  • The glyph is useful only in raiding situations. Did you know that most non-boss solo encounters are meant to last around 10 seconds? You shouldn't be casting Shadow Word: Pain on short fights, and if you're not casting SW:P, how will you benefit from the glyph? Even if you do cast SW:P in soloing situations and in five-man instances, you'll probably see a max of three ticks. Since SW:P costs 22% of your base mana, and you'll only get 3% back with the glyph, it's a lousy investment amounting to little more than a tiny mana rebate on a lousy spell.
Final verdict: Don't get me wrong, it's not a useless glyph by any means. It just doesn't deserve the number one spot. It's a mediocre glyph for leveling, mediocre for PvP, mediocre for soloing, mediocre for five-man instances, but still a decent glyph for raiding -- if you need it.

2. Glyph of Shadow

In comparison to the Glyph of Shadow Word: Pain, the Glyph of Shadow is actually deserving of its spot in the top three. That's only because it's one of two glyphs that translates to a raw DPS increase. Still, as shadow priests progress deeper and deeper into the end game with better and more appropriate gear, it's value is getting dulled a bit. Let's take a look at the facts:

  • The Glyph of Shadow is still a "must take" glyph. You simply can't name three other glyphs that would benefit your shadow priest more than this one, regardless of your play style. Period.
  • The benefit you get from the Glyph of Shadow is dependent on your spirit and crit ratings. In 3.2, we were stacking both spirit and crit (not because we wanted to, really, but because it was forced on us in our tier), making this glyph especially valuable. Patch 3.3 saw better itemization for shadow priests, including a slew of gear that contains haste and crit rather than spirit. And, as shadow priests see less and less spirit in our builds, the bonus from the glyph gets less impressive. (Interestingly enough, the dependence on spirit makes this glyph a strong one for main spec healers who moonlight as shadow priests.)
  • The glyph works better for end game play than it does for leveling. You can add this glyph to your build at level 20, but it won't be of use to you until much later. The simple fact is that, in the early levels, you don't have a lot of crit and you're not casting shadow spells exclusively. Low level priests aren't especially likely to see this buff trigger.
Final verdict: Make this glyph a part of your build if it's not there already -- it's biggest strength is that it's useful no matter what you're doing with your shadow priest. It's decent for leveling (at least, in the later levels), decent for PvP, decent for soloing, a must have for five-man instances, and must-have for raiding. It's especially strong for people who play shadow as off spec.

3. Glyph of Mind Flay

The Glyph of Mind Flay underwent a major change at the end of last year. In the world of patch 3.2, the glyph was a pretty harsh trade -- it extended the reach of Mind Flay by 10 yards at the expense of the spell's snare effect. In patch 3.3, the extra range on Mind Flay became standard and the old Glyph of Shadow Word: Pain was renamed the Glyph of Mind Flay.
A little confusing, maybe, but here's what you need to know about the glyph:
  • If you run five-man instances and raids, this glyph is another "must take." It's "the other" damage-boosting glyph. Need I say more?
  • The glyph is useless unless you're casting Shadow Word: Pain. The glyph gives you a 10% damage bonus on your Mind Flay casts, but SW:P must be up on the target first. If your main goals in World of Warcraft keep you out of five-man instances and raids, you're probably not using the SW:P plus Mind Flay combo a lot (if at all). Since it's largely non-compatible with short fights, you may be better off with a more utility-oriented glyph if you spend the bulk of your time trying for Loremaster, for example.
Final verdict: Before you take it, evaluate how much SW:P factors into your play style. Generally, the glyph is mediocre for leveling, mediocre for soloing, decent for PvP, decent for five-man instances, and must have for raiding.

4. Glyph of Shadow Word: Death

I'll be honest: I was very surprised to see the Glyph of Shadow Word: Death named fourth most popular. It's been a long time since I've used the spell -- probably not since 2009, to be honest.

Before we get into the glyph, let's cover the basics of SW:D. It's a dangerous spell. You shouldn't use it in raid situations at all because it's guaranteed to cause significant damage to yourself. It used to be an okay filler for fights with a lot of movement, but since patch 3.3, Improved Devouring Plague has replaced it as the on-the-move spell of choice.

Still, there's got to be some reason why people take it, right? Right. It's still a good spell for leveling, and it's probably under-utilized in five-man instances. It may even see a comeback in Cataclysm if they fix the spell like they promised they would.

Final verdict: This is a decent glyph for leveling and a decent glyph for soloing. It's especially good for people running through old content. A lot of PvPers will appreciate the added 10% damage, especially when it means the difference between killing the target and a near miss. It's decent for five-man instances too, but only if you cast SW:D, of course. For raiding, though, the glyph is useless.

5. Glyph of Power Word: Shield

I've talked about this glyph before, most recently during my article about soloing Burning Crusade five-man instances. It turns a damage mitigation spell into a damage mitigation spell that also heals. An awful lot of damage-focused shadow priests skimp on the Power Word: Shield casts, which I think is a mistake.

While I admit that PW:S isn't necessary in all situations (and can even be detrimental in others), the glyph is still underestimated. Here's why:
  • Power Word: Shield is the only healing-type spell you can cast without getting kicked out of Shadowform. It's an elegant little way to sneak some healing into your usual rotation.
  • It can speed up soloing. Giving your blasts of PW:S a little bit more kick reduces the time you're out of the game healing. For some solo endeavors, you won't have to stop to heal at all with this glyph.
  • It's amazing for PvP. This glyph is all about survivability, and anything that boosts your survivability is going to boost your PvP game. It won't be useful in all PvP situations, of course, but you'll appreciate it when it is.
Final verdict: This is a really strong glyph for leveling, soloing, and PvP. It's much less useful in five-man instances and 10-man raids when you're not responsible for your own heals. In 25-man raids with a discipline priest, you should avoid casting PW:S as a rule -- and that makes this glyph useless in that case.

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