Shadow Priest Guide

Last update: 02/03/2011
Current patch: 4.0.6

A guide to this guide

Many of the WoW guides I’ve found on the internet is either incomplete, massively overcomplicated for the level of information I want, or out of date.  Much of the stuff I’ve found is either confusing to newcomers to the class or spec, contradictory (or out of date) and thus very confusing, or oversimplified and no use to the more advanced user, and in some scenarios, just plain wrong. To this end I’m going to try and keep things simple (from a reading point of view) and keep things readable and useful to all.
Firstly you’ll notice the last update field at the top of this page, this was the last time I edited and / or uploaded new content, the current patch is the most recent patch to which this post is relevant to (or an indicator that I’m being slack and need to update the page), if there are sections where the data is old I will aim to clearly mark them either at the top of the section or in-line with the out of date text.
Most of what I post here will be an assortment of information from other blogs, forums and websites, where I’ve ripped of large sections I’ll be referencing providing credit at the end.
I’ll be aiming to order stuff in roughly the order I think people will attack their characters makeup, or at least how I did, obviously some of the more advanced stuff would be tackled last but I’ll keep it grouped to aid my sanity.  I won’t be dealing with levelling (at least not here) I may aim a blog post at that some other time.
I’m intending to talk about class and spec specific patch updates in a blog post and then edit this post as a result, to avoid the confusion of not knowing when or what patch the information posted is relevant to.


First up, a glossary of terms, I’m not going to use the full name of each spell in the text as it adds too much bloat, here are all of the acronyms you’ll need, they’ll be second nature to you very soon…
Critical Chance
Damage over Time
Devouring Plague
Spell Haste
Spell Mastery
Mind Blast
Mind flay
Mana (regen)Per 5 (seconds)
Mind Spike
Spell Power
Shadow Word:Death
Shadow Word:Pain
Vampiric Embrace
Vampiric Touch


Blizzard have recently introduced a lock on talent tree’s after you chose to spend your first point you’ll be locked to that tree until you’ve spend 31 points, after that, you’re free to dump points in other trees.
The basic spec for shadow priest, often called the cookie cutter build, is generally accepted to be , you may notice the four glyphs, more on those further down.  These talents are pretty much considered mandatory; not taking them will impact your DPS.
This gives you the opportunity to spend two whole points on something which isn’t a mandatory talent; this is not a bad thing to the newcomer, as you’ve less opportunity of doing something silly.  Your choice of the final two talents is down to personal preference, I went for improved power word shield as I tend to use it quite a bit.

The primary role of a shadow priest is to do DPS, so by definition your main spells will be those spells which enable you to kick out the most DPS, don’t mistake this for not being allowed to use your other spells; I’ve heard shadow priests in the past tell me there’s no point healing in shadow spec as “the healing values without talents are too low to make an impact” this with a boss at 2% and the healer dead – trust me it can and does make a difference.  I’d put spells into three classes; primary damage spells, secondary spells; those secondary, spells which you’ll generally use to improve your (or your party’s) dps or survivability, and the tertiary spells which you’ll use very occasionally as a last resort. You can see from the pie chart below that your main source of damage in a (longish) fight are Mind Flay and Vampiric Touch, however when taken in view of the casting time in the bar chart you can see that VT and DP are the most important to keep up, additionally you need SW:P (I believe this doesn’t show up as it’s a one cast spell (in the perfect scenario) so would skew the graph.

Primary Spells (your main spells)

The main tools in you arsenal are
Mind Flay
Shadow Word: Pain
Devouring Plague
Vampiric Touch
Shadow Word: Death


Secondary Spells (those used as less frequently, or to buff other spells)

Mind Blast (bordering on primary, but primarily a buff spell)
Mind Spike (do not use this in normal dps rotation, it strips off your dots)
Dark Evangelism
Shadow Fiend
Power Word: Fortitude
Power Word: Shield
Shadow Protection
Cure Disease         
Mind Sear


Tertiary Spells

Diving Hymn
Hymn of Hope
Any other direct healing spell


DPS Rotation

There are two types of situations you generally want to consider, firstly for short lived mobs, which won’t survive long enough to get a couple of dots up us MS MS MB MS MS MS MB and so on, throwing in SW:D when the mob is below 25%
For longer lived mobs and bosses, I tend to go SWP, DP, VT, MF, MF, MB, VT, MF, DP, MF…. And so on to keep dots refreshed.  Now a few things of note here, I only use MB when I have at least one shadow orb, and only if the Empowered Shadow buff has lapsed (or is about to) else carry on Mind Flaying – note the buff is applied to you, not as a debuff to the mob.  Make sure you have SWD glyphed, and make sure you start spamming it, health allowing, when the mob is under 25%, there’s no point using it unless you’re short on mana otherwise (more on mana later).  The skill comes in choosing where and when to throw in the longer cooldown spells, like Dark Archangel, Shadowfiend etc. and how to adjust your rotations to allow for it, more on that later.

Mana Conservation & Regen

There are several mechanics for preventing a Shadow Priest running out of mana, to the extent that if you’re out of mana, you’ve done something very, very, wrong (or silly).  In order of importance, here’s the spells I use to ensure I (and other party members) always have enough of the blue stuff:

Vampiric Touch should be up all of the time, it is one of your main sources of DPS and regens mana of both yourself and your party members.

Dark Archangel consumes your dark evangelism stack and gives you 25% of your total mana back, it’s also a dps boost on a shortish cooldown, for long fights wait till you’re sub 75% on the mana and hit it (so you don’t waste mana), for shorter fights, or if you’re confident you won’t run out of mana, hit it as soon as you get the stack of 5 evangelism

Shadowfiend – obvious – in long fights cast it early so that you can use it twice (make sure you don’t hit 100% mana or it’s a waste) it also gives a reasonable dps increase so look to use it even if you won’t go oom.

Shadow Word Death should only be used in your dps rotation IF you are short of mana or IF the mob Is below 25% and IF using it won’t kill you (or cause major problems for the healer) - it’s been changed to a execute spell but is also the shadow priest equivalent of life tap – with the masochism talent any damage above 10% of your HP will refund 10% mana – glyph SWD so you get two cracks when the mob is under 25% if it doesn’t die.  Now as someone who’s spent a lot of time healing, there’s nothing more annoying than having a tank on 10% health, the party (or raid) shedding health quicker than anorexic on a diet and an idiot Warlock sat in the corner self-harming with life tap, please don’t be a Warlocks,  think before you click things…
You definitely also want to glyph spirit tap, this gives you 12% mana if your SWD kills a mob, very handy for trash but exceptionally useful in boss fights where there are adds to kill.

Dispersion is excellent for mana regen, but stops your dps, this should be your last resort, and should be saved if the fight is a nasty one where you need to soak up a lot of damage.
If you’re really, really, screwed have the hymn of hope somewhere on your cast bar and hit that, I tend not to use it at all unless I’ve had to come out of shadoo form to help heal, or the healer is running dangerously low on mana.

Proper use of Cooldowns

There is no absolute answer here, use your common sense;  for some fights where there is an enrage or similar, but for ‘normal’ circumstances this is the general guidance:

Dark Archangel  gives a dps boost as well as mana, the timing of its use is entirely situation dependant.  If there is no danger of you running out of mana, pop it as soon as you have five stacks of Dark Evangelism  and reuse it immediately it comes off cooldown.  If you are in danger of mana depletion, use this at around 80%. Look to use this in conjunction with your other buffs, make sure you have at least one orb up to get the Shadow Orb Power boost from MB which will make your DoTs and other spells hit harder when cast.

Shadow Fiend similarly to Dark Evangelism, this gives a reasonable DPS boost, and should be used as soon as possible providing you do not need the mana, should you need to extend your mana casting it at around 80% (not at the same time as Dark Evangelism)will ensure you don’t waste any regen.

Mind Blast has been relegated to a buffing spell since 4.0 it didn’t do enough pure DPS to warrant normal rotational use it’s better as of 4.0.6 but still not as good as it used to be, it does however provide you with a nice Shadow Orb Power buff you should use MB whenever you have one or more shadow orbs up and the buss has, or is about to expire.

Dispersion is primarily a panic button spell, use it to stay alive.  It also returns mana with the drawback of rendering you incapable of doing any damage for its duration, if you have to use it for mana, try and make sure all of your DoTs are renewed before casting it.

Shadow Word: Death makes it into this section because it has an artificial cooldown of sorts, you should only use it in normal rotation if you’re running low on mana and it’s glyphed (it should be).  Else it should only be used on a mob under 25% health, and not if it’ll kill you.

Hymn of Hope & Divine Hymn should be used sparingly, if at all, they have long cooldowns and are purely situational, have them on the cast bar, but only use them if your party is in dire straits on the health or mana front

Class specific cooldowns (beserking for trolls) give a big boost, in my case haste and should not be ignored, usual rules apply on the situation, else it’s as early as possible, try to combine beserking with other damage buffs as the increased haste gives a good multiplier.



The mechanics of a class are what makes it unique, specialisations and playing styles further impact this uniqueness.  These are the main issues you should be concerned with


Hit Cap 7% for Heroics, 17% for Raiding (17% = 1742 hit rating at level 85)

The hit cap which was  before Cata, and now is again the single most important attribute of a Shadow Priest, there was a brief foray into uncertainty around hit when Cata was first released but 4.0.6 saw the hit cap reinstated as a must have.  It’s  17% for raiding and 7% for heroics, once you reach the hit cap, any further stats in Hit (or Spirit) are wasted.  The basics of hit are that you have a chance to miss every mob you fight, this increased the higher that mobs level is, if you miss with a spell it does no DPS whatsoever.


Clipping and DoT Ticks

Clipping is where the last tick of a DoT is wiped off by the new refresh of the DoT it is being replaced with, this no longer is as much of an issue as reapplication of a dot simply extends the existing DoTs life and the ticks continue, you should still aim to re DoT as late on in the DoTs life as possible without letting it lapse
Mind Flay, for all intents and purposes should now also be considered a DoT, however you can still cancel the channelling effect, ensure the last MF has finished before recasting.


Haste and DoT Ticks 

Haste now increases the speed at which a DoT ticks, the more haste you stack the more DPS you’ll do, theoretically this will lead to ‘Haste Plateaus’ where more haste doesn’t increase DPS until a certain level is reached to enable another tick of a DoT, however the figures being shown from combat logs and SimulationCraft show this not necessarily to be the case, I suspect this is due to the duration of DoT ticks for different spells varying slightly which smooth’s this plateau effect as you can see from the Haste / tick rating tables below

Vampitic Touch

Shadow Word: Pain

Devouring Plague
Imp. Devouring Plague


Stat Priority

There are a few things to note  about stat weights, firstly they are variable, as your gear evolves, so do they; secondly they are unique to you and your gear, this means that the websites proclaiming the definitive stat weights for your class are, at best, an approximation of an approximation – unless they’ve been calculated with your stats in mind they won’t necessarily be applicable to you; finally, and probably most important, the weightings are a reference, and nothing more – unless you are absolutely perfect in your DPS rotations and positioning, your play style will have a far bigger impact on your DPS, use the stats as a framework for improving your overall performance, but don’t expect getting your stats right to instantly make you hit 18k DPS.
Stat weights will vary with your gear (and the level of the mob you’re fighting) I’ve knocked together this graph to try and illustrate this from the five examples I made for my last post.  Notice how Mastery gains in importance as your gear (or buff level) improves.  You’ll also notice that Spirit and Hit are useless to me in heroics, that is because I’ve reached the hit cap (Spirit gives hit with the Twisted Faith talent).  The other weights vary as your stats change, this is why it’s important to run a simulation yourself, I’d even go so far as to run one each time your gear changes so that you understand what the implications are.  If you’re a more serious raider, you might want to play around comparing what your performance should be like with and without raid buffs so that you can adapt your unbuffed gear to give you the best performance when in a raid.  You can download the full Theorycraft results from here, and have a read in more detail on my blog posts here and here

As a rule of thumb, you need to get gear with Intellect, Haste and Crit on it (assuming you’re at the hit cap), in that order and you can pretty much ignore any other stat.  These are the primary stats which will have an impact on your DPS but I can’t stress highly enough that these priorities change as your gear gets better.
To prove my point on why one stat is better than another I ran a number of simulations with different gear levels and different situational parameters (full reports linked above) here are the stat weightings for each

Mystic, heroic, normal
Mystic, heroic, full buffs
Mystic, Raid, full buffs
t11 10 man, raid, full buffs
t11 25 man, raid, full buffs

This basically means Int is at least TWICE as important as any other stat (you don't get much with spell power any more) you should look to reforge Crit and haste where.  This really reinforces the need to understand your own gear as the dynamics of your stat weights will be changing constantly.



Gemming your equipment can be a costly business, especially as the economy hasn’t quite settled down yet, as another rule of thumb look to go for the cheaper gems for gear you’re going to be replacing quickly, if it’s something you’re likely to keep for a long time, or you’re filthy rich then by all means go for the best in slot – don’t skimp if it is gear you’re going to keep long term, the additional few points on each gem mount up:  I’ll leave it to you to decide what constitutes an item that you’ll keep, for a casual player it might be an epic gained from faction reputation, for a hardcore raider it’s going to be the top tier or other best in slot item.
You should aim to use gems which give you the biggest benefit in line with the stat priorities above (or better still work out your own priorities using SimulationCraft), the however is complicated by the slot bonuses and meta gems – you can use any gem in a slot, but only one matching the colour requirement for the slot will activate the bonus.   And to further complicate matters, meta gems require a certain colour combination of other gems before they become active, you need to work our which gives you the biggest boost – get the pencil and paper out and do the maths.
I’m not going to do as other guides do and tell you the exact gems enchants or anything else to get, you know the stats you want, you know your gear, you’re an intelligent kind of priest, have a look on Wowhead and work out what suits you best.  If prices are a bit much for the top gem, consider the second best for any gear that you’re expecting to change quickly.



Enchanting, like gemming, can be expensive; as with gemming you should aim for your stat priorities and may want to choose cheaper enchants for gear you won’t be keeping.  Make sure you keep a supply of dust and crystals to punt at your friendly enchanter, and remember to tip, even if they don’t ask for it – levelling enchanting is an extremely costly business.



Reforging is critical to upping your DPS, it allows you to take the stats on items that you don’t need and turn them into the stats you do.  There are a few catches to this,  firstly, you  can only reforge the secondary stats of an item, secondly you can’t reforge to any stat which is already on an item, and thirdly you can only convert half of the unwanted stat to the wanted stat.
It’s unlikely that you’re going to find any items which don’t have Intellect on them already, so you’re going to be reforging in line with your stat priorities to Haste and Crit (and then mastery if you can’t do either) you should be taking stats from Spirit then Hit (assuming you’re at the hit cap) then Mastery then Crit (generally, but do check your stat priorities as this does vary), in that order and converting them to Haste if at all possible.  In some cases there will be no need to reforge an item, don’t feel obliged to do it for the sake of it.
Play around with reforging, you may get to a level of Haste which you feel is too much and prefer to go for Crit – it’s not set in stone so simply go back and change it if you get it wrong.



Glyphs come in three forms; prime, major, minor.  In my view Blizzard have missed a trick here to make classes more customisable by the user, you’re not spoilt for choice as a shadow priest or any other class for the Glyphs which make a difference, the lesser glyphs are pretty pointless in most cases.
The Glyphs I run with are
  • Spirit Tap
  • Fear Ward
  • Fade
  • Shadow Fiend
  • Shadow Word Pain
  • Shadow Word Death
  • Mind Flay
    Only the latter three offer a dps boost, so the others, to some degree, are optional

    Consumables - Potions, Flasks, Food

    Clearly you want to use consumables to augment your stats in the same weightings as the stat weights above suggest, they are however far less permanent than enchants and gems or reforging so it provided you the opportunity to buff certain stats depending on the buffs that are available, you may want to cap your hit at 7% or perhaps 10% so as not to waste too much for heroic, and then use a spirit or hit flask to boost you towards 17% for raiding

    Flask of Draconic Mind is the obvious boost at +300 Int under normal circumstances
    Elixir of Mighty Speed gives you a good haste buff
    Elixir of Impossible Accuracy for the hit buff as discussed above
    Flask of Flowing Water for spirit which gives hit
    From a potions point of view, you need healing pots, they’re generally an “oh crap” type use so instant effect heals are what I’d recommend.  From a mana point of view, and you shouldn’t be needing them, you need to consider whether you want an instant (but smaller) effect with Mythical Mana Potion or whether you need more, or can afford some downtime and you need healing Mighty Rejuvenation Potion works well or Potion of Concentration for lots of mana.

    From a food point of view the same principles apply, if you’re raiding you’ll generally find someone’s providing a feast, if not have a look at and pick the foods you want and get a stack or two of each.

    Consider elixirs, which don’t persist through death, for one off hard boss fights, or heroics where you feel under-geared.


    Whilst I dabble with professions, I’d hardly class myself as a craftsman… so rather than do rafts of research and testing I’ll plagiarise reference someone else’s fine work; Fox van Allen wrote an excellent article in a recent blog here which lists the best DPS boosts you can get.


    And finally…

    Have I missed anything? Have I got anything wrong, would you like to see another section on something? Or any other comments, please feel free – you can contact me via email, twitter or leave me a comment on the site.