Spiritual Guidance: Shadow priests and leveling in Mists of Pandaria

Spiritual Guidance Shadow priests and leveling in Mists of Pandaria MON

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Spiritual Guidance for discipline, holy and shadow priests. Dawn Moore is a discipline priest by reputation, but still enjoys melting faces as shadow and bugging her raid to click the Lightwell as holy.

"I have a bad feeling about this."

That's what you should be saying to yourself after reading my name in the byline. (If you're smart, that is.) Anyway, if you missed the news, your beloved Fox Van Allen has stepped down from his position as WoW Insider's resident shadow priest columnist. He's moved on to writing about iPods or something, which means you're stuck with me for now. I will do my best to make this as painless as possible.

So Mists of Pandaria is just two weeks away now, and while I'm far from considering myself an expert shadow priest (more on that later) I've leveled a few shadow priests to 90 on the beta in preparation for the race to level 90. In the process I think I've figured out some of the nuance, so I thought I'd share it so you can start thinking about how you'll get your own 85 shadow priest to level cap.

Incase you've been living under a rock ...

By now you've probably logged onto live and experienced the changes that came along with patch 5.0.4 yourself. If you didn't however, there are a few things you'll notice right away.

  • You can no longer cast Devouring Plague freely. The spell no longer uses mana as a resource, requiring Shadow Orbs instead. The more orbs you have, the more powerful Devouring Plague will be. In saying that, I should mention that Shadow Orbs are no longer created through the use of Mind Flay or Shadow Word: Pain. Instead, one Shadow Orb will be created whenever you cast Mind Blast, or use Shadow Word: Death on a target under 20% health.

  • Vampiric Embrace has been reworked into a cooldown. You will now heal you and your party for the same amount of damage you deal, but you can only do this for 15 seconds at a time with a 3-minute cooldown.

  • Shadow Word: Death can't be cast freely either, unless you inscribe the Glyph of Shadow Word: Death.

There are lots of other changes, some big and some small, but these three jump out immediately if you try to play your shadow priest the way you did in Cataclysm or even Wrath. Now that you know, you won't need to panic.

Glyphs and talents for leveling

These are my personal recommendations for leveling. If you prefer something else, explain why in the comments!


  • Glyph of Dark Binding This glyph might not seem necessary at early levels, but once you start facing off against stronger mobs you'll be happy you can heal without dropping Shadowform.

  • Glyph of Vampiric Embrace Survival is key in leveling, and additional healing is always a good thing.

  • Glyph of Power Word: Shield I haven't had a chance to actually use this glyph in leveling yet, but I think it will help with survival and reduce the amount of GCDs you spend on heals. If you're curious, the reason I haven't tried this on beta yet is because I was using Glyph of Shadow Word: Death to alleviate a bug where without the glyph, Shadow Word: Death wouldn't hit for the right amount of damage.


  • Level 15 Void Tendrils This is the best talent for ensuring that you squishy, shadowy body doesn't come to harm.

  • Level 30 Body and Soul or Angelic Feather It's your preference between these two. I prefer Angelic Feather because around level 88 and 89, the quest mobs you fight get a lot stronger and I found myself wanting to use Power Word: Shield exclusively for survival, not utility. You can also use it for longer than you can Body and Soul, though it takes some practice to aim.

  • Level 45 Mindbender All three level 45 talents have their place, but I think Mindbender is the most effective for leveling and pulling multiple mobs at once. Both Surge of Darkness and Shadow Word: Insanity require some micro management on your part, where as Mindbender will offer additional DPS in a fire and forget fashion.

  • Level 60 Desperate Prayer or Angelic Bulwark Here's another talent tier where personal preference will be the deciding factor. I used Angelic Bulwark since it's passive and has a shorter cooldown, but Desperate Prayer heals for a lot more than Renew or Prayer of Mending and serves as good filler between Vampiric Embrace cooldowns.

  • Level 75 Twist of Fate You can keep Twist of Fate going for a mighty long time with the amount of dead creatures you'll leave in your path to 90.

The basics

The most efficient way I found to level as a shadow priest is pulling several mobs at once and then multitasking between each one. How many you can handle at once is up to you, and how engaging you want the process to be (try starting with three and work from there). I understand not everyone wants a stressful or even efficient leveling process, but when you've got as much firepower as a shadow priest does, it would be a pity to spend it just fighting one mob at a time. Don't forget to use Void Tendrils to manage multiple mobs; it's a fantastic leveling talent. Mindbender also helps to whittle things down.

You'll want to use Mind Blast as much as possible, but after that multi-DoT your enemies with Shadow Word: Pain and Vampiric Touch. For normal quest mobs, Devouring Plague can be used with just two Shadow Orbs to great effectiveness. On stronger mobs, such as elites or named quest mobs, you can go ahead and wait for your third orb since they take longer to burn down. Use Shadow Word: Death as you normally would, though you may want to hold its execution in higher priority now since it generates Shadow Orbs in addition to juicy damage.

Vampiric Embrace is your go to spell for healing, but with a 3-minute cooldown you'll often find yourself in situations where you still need more health. So from there, Power Word: Shield is the next best thing. Like I said earlier, I found myself using Power Word: Shield more and more as I gained levels. Oddly, I never seemed to suffer any mana problems from doing this (or anything as shadow, for that matter).

With the Glyph of Dark Binding, you'll have the option of using Renew and Prayer of Mending on yourself too. Just keep in mind that neither of these spells are life savers the way Vampiric Embrace and Power Word: Shield are. Instead, they'll serve you the best if used regularly, as though they were maintenance workers for your health bar.

And when everything is bad ... You should know to use Dispersion by now.

Using Shadow Orbs

When I first started leveling on beta with the new shadow priest changes, I always waited until I had three Shadow Orbs before I'd use Devouring Plague. I thought that more damage was best at the time. Turns out it might not have been.

Devouring Plague with three Shadow Orbs is an extremely powerful spell. Whenever I used it on a mob that had already taken some damage, the poor thing would just melt away in a matter of seconds. Seeing this, I instinctively started to reserve my Devouring Plague for pulling new mobs that were at 100% health, instead of something at 60% health which would die after a few ticks. But after playing like that for a while, I realized my method was flawed; I'd sometimes end up only using Devouring Plague on every third mob.

So I decided to experiment with using only two orbs instead of three ... The results were great. I was able to use the spell more regularly and as a result things were dying much, much faster. Leveling seemed to have rhythm, instead of being awkward and clunky.

I didn't experiment much with one orb Devouring Plague, but I think the important thing to stress here is that you shouldn't have that completionist mentality about Shadow Orbs, or at least you shouldn't with leveling. Leveling is more about min/maxing your time than your damage.

Warning: contents may be terrible

Have you ever had one of those chats in a class or job where the authoritative figure basically tells you that they have no idea what they're doing, without explicitly saying so, then reassures you that you'll all work through this together anyway? Yeah... So here's the deal, I haven't played shadow with any seriousness since Wrath of the Lich King. Because of this, I don't currently consider myself all that qualified to tell you about competitive play or min/maxing. Fortunately, it looks like I'll end up playing shadow just as much or more than I play discipline or holy in this next expansion. Once that happens, I expect I'll be better equipped to aid you.

Until then, I'm going to do some investigative work and see what kind of information I can get from shadow priests who participated in raid content on the beta. I figure first hand accounts will be worth a lot while shadow theorycrafting is still being finalized by the math wizards and Simcrafters. I apologize if the information I have provided so far is not especially concrete, but I would rather wait to give you the right information than give you the wrong information now. Until next time!

Are you more interested in watching health bars go down than back up? We've got everything a shadow priest will need, from the basics of shadow priest PvP and advice on gearing up for Raid Finder raids to the hottest trinkets and weapons for today's shadow priests.