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Spiritual Guidance: Shadow Priest 101


Every week, WoW Insider brings you Spiritual Guidance for discipline, holy and shadow priests. On Wednesdays, the shadow-minded Fox Van Allen takes over for the discipline-oriented Dawn Moore. Fox -- the Reagan '84 to Dawn Moore's Mondale; the communion wine to Dawn's flavorless communion wafer; the Charlie Sheen to ... that other boring guy with the fat kid.

When I tell people that I write for WoW Insider, they often have a lot of questions. "What does Mike Sacco's hair really smell like?" "What's Tyler Caraway's deal?" "Can I have Dawn Moore's personal cell phone number?" I answer them all, of course (seriously, it smells like strawberries; he's overcome with Fox-induced hero worship; and no, you can't!). Today, though, I want to answer the one that comes up most often: "Do they let you write about whatever you want?"

In short, yes. My employers are gracious folks, who seldom resort to physical violence against their writers. Every once in a while, though, the editorial gods issue an edict from their digital version of Mount Olympus. Three months ago, that edict was "now that Cataclysm is out, write a [your spec here] 101 article."

You see, lots of World of Warcraft players are interested in reaching out and trying new specs, but are overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information they need to get started. They want to know all about talents, gems, and what the spec is all about, but they don't want to sift through 50 articles to get the information. They want the Cliff Notes version. And that's precisely what the 101 series is all about.

All my fellow writers here finished their Not as Cool as Shadow 101 articles back in December or so. Since I was too busy staring at my own reflection to get it done in time ... well, here it is, three months late: Shadow 101.

1. What is shadow?

Many people assume priests are just about healing, and that's simply just not true. Shadow priests sacrifice power in their healing ability to increase the power of their damage-causing spells.

Shadow priests has come a long way over World of Warcraft's 6-year history, evolving from a primarily PvP-oriented spec to one of the most powerful PvE specs currently available.

2. Shadow benefits

There are a number of absolutely amazing benefits to being a shadow priest.

  • Ease of leveling While it's certainly possible to level as a holy or discipline priest, most players find the leveling experience to go the most smoothly in the shadow spec. Simply put: If you're going to be playing solo, you should strongly consider rolling a shadow priest over a holy or discipline one. (Or at least, you should consider making it one of your dual specs.)
  • Easy to gear If it's cloth, we can wear it. We gain some level of DPS benefit from all of the secondary stats found on cloth armor: haste, critical strike, spirit, hit, and mastery.
  • Excellent buffs Shadow priests offer their allies strong party-wide buffs: increased stamina, increased resistance to shadow spells, and a 5% casting speed increase, all while providing a constant-but-minor amount of party-wide healing through dealing damage.
  • Can provide emergency heals While playing as part of a group, shadow priests can provide some (limited) direct healing if there is an urgent need. A quick-thinking shadow priest can save a party from what would otherwise appear to be a sure wipe.
  • Visual appeal Between the hazy purple glow of Shadowform, creating an army of shadowy clones, gracing your form with a pair of darkened wings, and being able to transform into a pure shadowy ball that's largely impervious to damage, shadow priests have some of the most visually appealing abilities in the game.
  • High damage per second potential In the current build of Cataclysm (patch 4.0.6), shadow priests are one of the strongest damage-dealing classes in the game.
3. Shadow drawbacks

Of course, as awesome though we may be, there are a few drawbacks to being a shadow priest. They include:
  • Weak healing ability Shadow priests can fire off a large number of healing spells. There's a cost, however: Healing as a shadow priest costs more mana, is less powerful than the healing provided by a holy or discipline priest, and requires you to drop out of Shadowform (which costs your group its 5% speed buff).
  • Difficult to perfect Shadow priests use a number of damage-over-time spells, and managing them all can be exceptionally difficult for a beginning player. The more you practice, the better you'll get, though only a small, select handful will truly achieve shadow priesting greatness.
  • Long waits As a DPS spec, shadow priests can expect long waits to obtain a slot in an endgame random dungeon finder group. Healing priests often wait less than 10 minutes; shadow priests can expect waits of 30 minutes or more.
  • Jealousy Everyone is secretly jealous of the cool kids, and in World of Warcraft, nobody brings the cool quite like a shadow priest does.
4. Stats to look for

Shadow priests are only capable of wearing cloth gear. Thankfully, virtually every piece of cloth gear available (after level 20 or so) contains at least one useful stat for a shadow priest, if not more.
  • Intellect Intellect is easily a shadow priest's best stat. It increases your maximum mana, it makes all your spells more powerful (that is, gives you more spellpower), and it lets you crit (deal double damage) more often. If given a choice, always prioritize the gear with intellect.
  • Spellpower Almost exclusively found on spellcaster weapons, spellpower is a shadow priest's second-best stat. Like intellect, it increases the raw power of your spells, but it does nothing to increase your maximum mana or chance to critically strike.
  • Haste The more haste you have, the faster you're able to cast spells and the faster your damage-over-time spells will tick for damage. And, obviously, the faster you're casting spells, the more damage you're dealing per second. And that's what DPSing is all about.
  • Hit/Spirit The higher your opponents' level, the harder it will be for your spells to connect for damage. Hit rating increases the base chance that your spell casts will be successful. Through the talent Twisted Faith, shadow priests are able to convert spirit directly to hit on a 1:1 basis. Endgame priests usually want to cap their hit -- that is, carry a hit rating that guarantees a hit 100% of the time on any boss-level enemy.
  • Critical strike The more critical strike you have, the more often your spells will hit for double damage. Crit is not a shadow priest's best stat, but it's still competitive with haste and mastery.
  • Mastery A stat found only on gear obtained after level 80, mastery improves the power of your damage over time spells. Like crit, mastery is a relatively competitive stat -- the best endgame shadow priests achieve a delicate balance of mastery, crit, and haste to maximize damage.
  • Stamina Stamina increases a shadow priest's maximum health. Generally, shadow priests do not actively seek this stat out through gemming and enchanting. We accept that our gear will have a base level of stamina on it, and we accept that for a DPS role, that level of health is more than adequate.
The stats above are listed in the order of their general priority. While the relative stat values of spellpower, haste, crit, and mastery vary from shadow priest to shadow priest, I have created a general rule of thumb that the average level 85 shadow priest can use to compare gear choices:
Intellect = 1.0 (standardized)
Spellpower = 0.75
Haste = 0.39
Spirit/Hit = 0.37 (up to the hit cap)
Crit = Mastery = 0.35
5. Stats to avoid

Priests are a caster class and thus benefit from virtually all stats found on cloth gear (as shown in 4, above). Priests should never melee, and as such, should avoid stats that favor melee/tank classes: agility, strength, attack power, expertise, and dodge.

If you are a strictly PvE priest -- that is, you focus on attacking monsters, not your fellow players -- you should avoid the PvP-oriented stats such as resilience and spell penetration. If you do participate in PvP, resilience is a tremendously useful stat.

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