Before we jump in, though, I want you to know that I'll be focusing primarily on crafting professions. This isn't because priests absolutely shouldn't take herbalism, mining, or skinning but because those professions don't offer a strong and direct benefit to priest gameplay. Gathering professions are great for saving money and making money, but the in-combat benefits are second-rate to those offered by crafting professions. This is why it's customary for hardcore players who take the game very seriously to train two crafting professions and obtain the materials for those professions through trade or an alt.
Still, if a gathering profession matches your needs and wants as a player, then take one, by all means. I am simply here to supply you with some advice on how to maximize your play when you're actively slaying internet dragons (or healing the people who slay internet dragons, as it would be).
Crafting professions in Cataclysm
Every crafting profession in the game is designed to offer a basic bonus to a player's stats. The professions are balanced with one another, and no one profession is designed to be better than another. That means all players, priests included, are pretty much free to select professions based on their tastes.
The only exceptions to this are for the professions blacksmithing and leatherworking. Both these professions offer the same kind of base stat bonuses that other professions do, but none of the extra crafting abilities can be used by priests, so there's not much point in investing so much into them. Dedicated min-max shadow priests may consider training leatherworking because leatherworkers have access to an exclusive intellect bracer enchant (Draconic Embossment), while all the other bracer enchants are weak in comparison. To the average player, however, that level of dedication is hard to justify, especially if you're a healer.
Now at the start of Cataclysm, most of the bonuses of each profession are going to buff attribute stats (intellect or spirit, for example) by about 80. I want you guys to remember that in Wrath, all the stat bonuses granted by professions were buffed about halfway through the expansion when new, epic jewelcrafting gems were released. This included ring enchants and jewelcrafter-only gems, so I want you guys to keep that in mind since I expect the same thing to happen in Cataclysm. Don't assume that all these professions won't scale when epic gems are released later.
In the long run, the biggest draw of alchemy is Mixology, which increases the strength and duration of your flasks. If you choose to raid in the expansion, the usage of flasks is a courtesy that is expected of all players; as an alchemist, you'll save money by extending the duration of your flasks. The strength of the flasks is your attribute bonus, though, so you have to make sure a flask is on at all times to be getting your "passive" bonuses.
You'll also be able to make cauldrons in Cataclysm, which lets players in your group buff themselves as though they had used a single flask. The practice of using cauldrons will probably be exclusive to guilds (where your guild will likely help you finance the supplies to make them or give you something back in return). If you mostly just pug or do 5-mans, you shouldn't worry too much about them.
Alchemists can also craft an alchemist-only trinket called the Lifebound Alchemist Stone. Since trinkets are pretty hard to come by in the early half of an expansion, this is definitely a toy to consider. In the long run, I expect most players to replace it with something a bit more tailored to their class, but at the start of the expansion, it will be valuable. It will hold some appeal for healing priests for a few reasons. First, the trinket increases the effectiveness of mana and healing potions by 40 percent. This is quite attractive to priests, since we'll find mana in short supply as healers. With the trinket equipped, players will get about an extra 4,000 mana from their Mythical Mana Potions.
The Lifebound Alchemist Stone also buffs stamina and mastery. Stamina isn't really a stat we need to prioritize as healers, though it will increase our survivability (and the cap of our Divine Aegis, if you're really into numbers.) Mastery, on the other hand, could be quite interesting for healers. The trinket gives 213 mastery rating, which will raise your mastery as it reads on your character sheet by a bit more than 1. You'll recall that a point of mastery for discipline raises our shield absorption by 2.5 percent, while holy gets an extra 1.25 percent added to its direct healing in the form of a HoT. This trinket has more than a point of mastery, so it alone will buff your healing or absorption by about 1.5 or 3 percent.
Enchanters get ring enchants that non-enchanters can't. There are a few different enchants, but priests will want to grab the intellect one most of the time. There isn't a spirit ring enchant, but a stamina one can be used for PvP.
The benefits of enchanting should stay pretty stable during the expansion, since enchanters don't get as many little things to play with as the other professions. You won't get to use the early crafted gear, but you also won't need to worry about upgrading those items later in future dungeons; you just get your stats, and that's that. Add to this that it's a lot easier to obtain the materials for your crafting, and this profession is quite appealing to players who want low-maintenance raid bonuses.
Oh my poor, beloved engineering. I went to you for your Nitro Boosts, and you gave me so much more than I could have ever imagined. I'll always remember you in your youth when you kept me safe. /cry
Ahem ... If you didn't hear, Nitro Boosts had their chance of failure increased and can now fail inside dungeons, too. Using them now to get your priesty butt out of a sticky situation risks endangering you or your entire party. Just imagine the possible disasters that can result from you pinballing around the dungeon.
The lost of rocket boots leaves us with just the Synapse Springs glove tinker. This enchant gives a huge intellect buff on use and is quite handy if timed with your mana return cooldowns like Shadowfiend. And since the cooldown is only 1 minute long, you can still use it as a temporary buff to your spellpower and HPS. If you use it every cooldown as a throughput bonus, it actually grants more intellect than all the other professions (96 intellect as opposed to 80.) Engineers can also use the Z50 Mana Gulper tinker for their gloves, which will buff the strength of Mythical Mana Potions, similarly to how the alchemist's stone does.
In addition to the glove tinkers, engineers can also craft a special, engineer-only helm that can stand in for your tier 11 helm. Priests will want to select the cloth helm, Lightweight Bio-Optic Killshades, and then have the option of filling the cogwheel sockets with very strong, engineer-only "gems"; spirit, haste, crit, and mastery are all options.
Take a look at Darkmoon Card: Tsunami. Like it? This is the new way scribes will be making non-scribes cry this expansion. The item is BoE, so anyone can get one, but it's just going to be very expensive for nonscribes to obtain, especially early in the expansion when trinkets are hard to come by.
The exclusive benefits that scribes get are going to come in the form of shoulder enchants, which for priests are the Felfire Inscription. These enchants not only give the +80 stat bonus, they give scribes an edge on stats while the rest of us scramble to get our Therazane reputation up to exalted so we can purchase Greater Inscription of the Charged Loadstone. So if you hate doing dailies, inscription is the way to go, Mr. Lazy Priest.
Just as they did in previous expansions, jewelcrafters will get their extra stats through jewelcrafter's gems. You actually get 81 extra stats, because of the way the gems add up, but that's hardly a reason to pick this profession over another.
Now, just like engineering and inscription, jewelcrafters have an opportunity to make their early expansion gearing easier in the form of jewelcrafter's trinkets and BoE rings and necklaces. The rings and necklaces are all right if you have nothing else, but I don't expect players to use them for very long. The trinkets, on the other hand, I could see players using for most of the first tier in Cataclysm just because trinkets are so hard to come by. These two figurine trinkets, Jeweled Serpent and Dream Owl, aren't a first choice for healers, but they're definitely better than most of the junk you'll pick up questing.
Lastly, there is tailoring, the obvious choice for priests in the eyes of many. Tailoring is the only profession that will let you put together an entire set of starting gear, but after the first tier, the gear will become useless. That leaves cloak embroidery as the long-lasting bonus for tailors. Both Lightweave Embroidery and Darkglow Embroidery have made a return for Cataclysm, and priest healers can use either one to pump up their output or mana return. Given the new mana system, I expect priests will want to stick with Darkglow most of the time.
Tailors also stand to make a lot more gold this expansion. Dreamcloth (the cooldown cloth tailors make) is BoP, so if a non-tailor needs something made (either a normal piece of gear, or one of the BoE leg enchants), the tailor has to use his or her own cloth to craft it. This means tailors will need to stay on top of their cooldowns to craft anything and should be able to charge quite a hefty sum to players looking to get crafted BoE pieces made.
As I said earlier, all the professions are balanced around each other, but at the start of an expansion, there are definitely better choices than others. For mana regen, tailoring is the obvious choice. Darkglow Embroidery has a 1-minute internal cooldown, so you'll be getting back an extra 800 mana per minute. It might not seem like much but it's about double what engineers can get by using their Synapse Springs, and much better than all the other professions for mana. If you're most concerned about gearing on the other hand, jewelcrafting is a good choice because trinkets are the hardest items to get in my experience, and good trinkets generally solve a lot of early mana problems anyway.
Engineering and tailoring are both good if you switch to shadow frequently, because the bonuses for both buff intellect, as opposed to spirit. Inscription will save you time and make you money early on, but in the long run, it won't do much for you outside the passive bonuses.
And we're done. Next week, I'll be starting WoW Insider's beloved 101 guides. I haven't picked which one will come first (holy or discipline), so if you guys want to duke it out in the comments on which one I should do first, feel free.
Want more tips for carrying out your priestly duties? Spiritual Guidance has you covered. Check out Cataclysm beta roundup for a walk through on what priests are receiving in Cataclysm; and in preparation for your leveling excursions, check out Levels 80 to 85 as a priest.