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Spiritual Guidance: Early Cataclysm for shadow priests


Every week, WoW Insider brings you Spiritual Guidance for discipline, holy and shadow priests. The cataclysm is now, and Fox Van Allen demands you take sides! Do you stand with Team Fox in rejecting gnome shadow priest alts for now and all eternity, or do you, like, have a stupid little tea party with gnomes, sparkles, and fairies vomiting rainbows all over the damn place?

Cataclysm is here! Cataclysm is here! That's not exactly anything new, though -- it's been here for at least 36 hours now. Which means, of course, that I've been awake for well over 36 hours, playing World of Warcraft the whole time. Here are some fun facts about my current state that I've been able to glean from the internet:
  • After 17 hours without sleep, people behave similarly on tests as those with blood alcohol levels of 0.05.
  • After 21 hours, people test similarly to those with blood alcohol levels of 0.08.
  • Minor halluncinations typically begin after 36 hours, with visual hallucinations appearing at around hour 60.
But hey, I know you're not here to listen to me babble about what appliances in my house keep talking to me and what they keep saying. You're here because you're doing the same thing I am -- feverishly leveling that shadow priest of yours from 80 to 85, and quite possibly, starting a new goblin or worgen. And you want information. How exactly do these shadow priests work in Cataclysm?

That's what this column is all about: all the basic information you'll want to know for that epic grind to level 85.

Job number one: Reset your talent tree for leveling

Yesterday's release of Cataclysm -- not patch 4.0.1, not patch 4.0.3, not patch 4.0.3a, but real, honest-to-goodness, full release Cataclysm -- means the focus for players sitting at the old level cap of 80 has changed. The game is no longer about running Wrath dailies, running Wrath heroics, and kingslaying. It's about leveling. A new focus means a new talent tree editing.

This talent tree build represents what I consider to be the best talent tree for Cataclysm leveling. It sacrifices points in Improved Mind Blast to put points in Paralysis. The latter talent is essential for speedy, efficient solo leveling; when combined with a strong "leveling" rotation, it all but guarantees that mobs will be dead before they reach you. (More on that rotation later.)

Once you start leveling, your first priority is going to be to dive deeper into the discipline tree to take two points' worth of Evangelism (at levels 81 and 82), and then one point worth of Archangel at level 83. These two set you up for both stronger DPS and a healthier mana pool, making them must-haves. The level 84 talent point is not of much consequence -- put it into whichever talent seems most valuable to you (either Improved Mind Blast, Inner Sanctum, or Mental Agility).

Once you've hit that magical level 85 and feel the need to start running heroics, you may want to revisit your talent tree one more time (hope you have gold saved up!). Silence is incredibly valuable to have in Cataclysm heroics, and Psychic Scream can be glyphed to provide some serious (and safe) crowd control. Paralysis largely loses its value in heroics, so we can cannibalize points from there. This level 85 tree represents a pretty good starting point for your level 85 heroic-running build -- feel free to tweak it as you prefer.

Did you just start a new goblin or worgen? You may want to check out last week's column, which helps you decide what talents to take when.

Reset your glyphs for leveling

I covered glyphs here in Spiritual Guidance a few months ago, if you want some more detailed information. For those who are leveling, there are a few must-have glyphs:

  • Glyph of Dispersion Fast mana regen is key to efficient leveling and strong heroic performance -- much more so than any DPS talent. Dispersion is better than sitting to drink, right?
  • Glyph of Shadow Word: Death In Cataclysm, mana regen and strong DPS revolves around Shadow Word: Death. It's your strongest spell (if cast when your enemy is under 25 percent health), and when it connects for a kill, can proc Spirit Tap for huge amounts of mana regen (if you take the glyph below). This glyph gives you a "do over" if your first attempt at a kill through Shadow Word: Death fails without having to wait out the cooldown timer. Definitely take it for leveling; consider keeping it for heroics.
  • Glyph of Spirit Tap On some servers, this glyph is nastily expensive. But there's good reason behind the cost -- it's a really valuable glyph for us shadow priests during the leveling process. It allows us to get a significant amount of mana back through Spirit Tap when we successfully kill a foe (that gives experience or honor) with Shadow Word: Death.
  • Glyph of Inner Fire To be sure, the benefit you get from the Glyph of Inner Fire is modest -- it cuts the amount of physical damage you wind up taking by maybe 3 percent. Still, that's probably more useful than your other major glyph choices for leveling.
  • Glyph of Psychic Scream If you get overwhelmed while soloing, or even while running instances, crowd control can be a lifesaver. The standard version of Psychic Scream sends enemies scattering in fear, which often results in aggroing extra mobs you're ill equipped to handle. By taking away enemies' ability to run when feared, this glyph turns a once-dangerous last-ditch spell into an anytime shot of crowd control. It's great for soloing and great for instances.

Those are the key leveling glyphs -- two prime and three major. They also work extremely well for running Cataclysm heroics. Your final prime slot is best resolved for either Glyph of Mind Flay or Glyph of Shadow Word: Pain. As for your minor glyphs, they're still as cosmetic as ever -- just keep whatever you had set in Wrath.

Know your new stat priorities

The last time we talked about stat priorities, patch 4.0.1 had just come out. A lot has changed since then -- most notably, mastery has been buffed and Shadow Word: Death has been nerfed.

In a moment, I'll provide you with some basic pseudopower numbers, which will be helpful for choosing gear at level 85. Before I do, however, I want to remind you that these numbers are not etched in stone; stat values fluctuate based on your current gear. Between my own playing around with SimulationCraft and what's available thanks to testers at, I've come up with the following preliminary numbers for post-4.0.3a play:

1 intellect = 1.00 PP (standardized)
1 spellpower = 0.79 PP
1 haste = 0.50 PP
1 critical strike = 0.40 PP
1 mastery = 0.39 PP
1 spirit = 1 hit = 0.37 PP (for each point under the hit cap)
Note that these numbers apply for level 85 players only. Yes, spirit and hit look surprisingly (and suspiciously!) weak when compared to the rest of the stats. There's a chance these numbers could be off -- if you're interested in deeper specifics about this, check out Until that debate is settled, though, here's what you should keep in mind:

  • There's no need to stack hit until you're ready to raid. In the final days of Wrath, you needed a hit rating of 446 to be guaranteed a hit against a raid boss (420 for draenei). Once you start leveling in Vashj'ir and Hyjal, you can be guaranteed a hit on virtually every mob with less than half that. Don't worry about the debate over hit until you're ready to raid.
  • Focus on stat priority, not stat weighting. If you take nothing else away from this section, take away this: Intellect is more important than spellpower, which is more important than haste, which is more important than crit, mastery, and hit (the three of which are valued approximately the same).

There's a new hit cap in town

Remember, the amount of hit you need to be "capped" varies depending on your level -- each time you level, you'll need more hit. At level 80, it takes a mere 446 to be capped to the point where you're guaranteed a hit against a boss. At level 85, it takes 102.4 points of hit to raise your chance to hit by 1 percent. This means you'll need 1,741 points of hit to be guaranteed that every spell cast lands against a raid boss. Draenei need a mere 1,639.

Remember, Twisted Faith will convert your spirit (gained from items or effects) to hit. The important "hit chance" number will be found under the Spell tab in your stats, and not the Melee or Ranged tabs.

Reforge to buff haste and critical strike

As I mentioned above, hit is far less important during the leveling process. If you want hits to land extra hard against your foes while leveling in Vashj'ir and Hyjal, go ahead and convert a solid chunk of your hit and spirit to haste and critical strike, if you can.

If you want more information on reforging in general, check out this summary by WoW Insider's own Gregg Reece.

Meet your Cataclysm gem lineup

With each new expansion, a number of new gems are introduced, and Cataclysm is no exception. While the tried and true Wrath gems will always be an option for those on a budget, if you're looking for the most powerful gems and have the money to spend, these are the top-of-the-line Cataclysm gems to keep and eye out for:

  • Brilliant Carnelians are the red gems that buff your intellect. The standard version, Brilliant Carnelian, gives you 30 points of intellect. The Perfect Brilliant Carnelian gem will give you 35 points, and the Brilliant Perfect Carnelian gem will give you +40 intellect. Remember that gems will command high prices in the early days of Cataclysm, so unless you're gearing for progression raiding, skip the Brilliant Perfect Carnelian cut in favor of the cheaper +30 and +35 versions. And, of course, Runed Cardinal Rubies will always be an option if you're exceptionally money-concious. Given the value of intellect above all other stats, you'll probably want to fill every slot you can with a red intellect gem, regardless of slot color or bonus.
  • Reckless Hessonites are the orange gems that buff your intellect and haste. If you're in need to fill a yellow gem slot for an especially valuable slot or meta gem bonus, then the plus 15 intellect and 15 haste Reckless Hessonite is the way to go. Remember, though, you're likely to get more mileage out of putting a Brilliant Carnelian in pretty much every slot.
  • Purified Nightstones are the purple gems that buff your intellect and spirit. These are the go-to gems for filling a blue gem slot if you're after a relatively good slot or meta gem bonus. A Purified Nightstone provides 15 intellect and 15 spirit.
  • The Ember Shadowspirit Diamond is going to be your Cataclysm meta gem of choice ... probably. The Ember Shadowspirit Diamond provides 54 valuable points of intellect and a valuable 2 percent bonus to your max mana. It requires you have two yellow gems equipped to activate, which is much less of a burden than some of the other meta gems that require "more blue gems than red gems." For those on a budget, the Insightful Earthseige Diamond (+21 intellect with a proc that gives you 600 mana) is a viable option.

New for Cataclysm: Off-hand enchants

Shadow priests are not only being treated to new, stronger gems in Cataclysm, but to new and stronger enchants as well. I won't list them all here for space reasons, but I did want to point out that you can now have your off-hand items enchanted. That's no small benefit -- Enchant Off-Hand - Superior Intellect is worth a whopping +100 intellect.

Some other notable enchants for shadow priests include Enchant Boots - Lavawalker (for a valuable run speed increase) and Enchant Weapon - Power Torrent, which has a great +500 intellect proc.

Your new Cataclysm "rotation"

Here's the meat and bones of it all -- the Cataclysm rotation. I know I've said this a lot, but it's a really important point: Once you graduate past level 80, mana regen becomes more and more of an issue. That means you'll need to be smart about your casts. Don't go around casting your full complement of DoTs on trash enemies -- things usually die too quick for DoTs to be mana-efficient. If you're soloing, rely heavily on Mind Flay, because it's your cheapest cast.

Other than that:
  • Soloing? Open with Mind Spike. Once you get to level 81, you get access to the new spell Mind Spike. Properly talented, it does two really awesome things: It reduces the cast time of your next Mind Blast by 50 percent, and it increases the crit chance of your next Mind Blast by 30 percent. These effects do stack, so casting Mind Spike as an opener twice means your next Mind Blast will be an instant cast that's more likely to crit than not. If you can, get max distance from what you want to pull, cast Mind Spike twice, and then use your instant cast Mind Blast. In the early Cataclysm leveling process, you're almost guaranteed a crit, which means you're almost guaranteed to inflict Paralysis if you've taken that talent. (Remember, Paralysis only stops movement, not attacks -- it's useless if you're still in melee range of what's paralyze.) Be careful to only use Mind Spike as an opener, though; it will extinguish any DoTs you have active on that target.
  • Don't forget Replenishment -- you'll need it. An alternative opener that works really well is Mind Spike + Vampiric Touch + Mind Blast, especially in early leveling (levels 81 and 82) when your crit rating is still high. You're still likely to cause Paralysis, but at the same time, you're starting each encounter by proccing Replenishment. The extra mana regen is great at reducing downtime.
  • Running full DoTs? Maybe not. Are you battling a boss? Then you should try to keep your DoT spells -- Shadow Word: Pain, Vampiric Touch, and Devouring Plauge -- up as much as possible. If you're not fighting a boss, applying all three DoTs is usually a huge waste of mana. Vampiric Touch gives you the biggest bang for your mana buck on short fights, so if you choose only one, make it VT.
  • Abuse your cooldowns. There are two cooldowns you're going to be very familiar with: the one on your shadowfiend, and the one on Archangel. Both of these offer you a large amount of mana regen (shadowfiend is mana regen over time; Archangel provides an instant chunk of mana). If you're not at max mana, use the cooldown ASAP.
  • New Mind Blast rule: 3 orbs or 15 seconds, whichever comes first. The bolded part says it all: In an extended encounter, you should only cast Mind Blast when you have three orbs active or to refresh Replenishment or Mind Blast.
  • Try to land the killing blow with Shadow Word: Death every time. With the Glyph of Spirit Tap, Shadow Word: Death becomes a key mana regen tool. This holds true regardless of level -- it's the shadow priest's new best friend.

Are you more interested in watching health bars go down than watching them bounce back up? Think it's neat to dissolve into a ball of pure shadow every few minutes? Hunger for the tangy flesh of gnomes? The darker, shadowy side of Spiritual Guidance has you covered (occasionally through the use of puppets).

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