6. Typical PvE Talent Setup
Unfortunately, there isn't a heck of a lot of room for creativity when it comes to the shadow priest spec. We have a lot of useful PvP talents in our shadow tree, but when it comes to PvE, we're pretty cookie cutter.
With 58 points in the Shadow tree and 13 in Discipline, this build prioritizes the talents most needed to preserve mana and maximize damage.
7. Talent Overview
There's no perfect one-size-fits-all shadow spec build. Still, most level 80 shadow priests will find great benefit out of the following talents:
Spirit Tap (3/3): For leveling priests, the three points you invest in Spirit Tap will prove quite valuable: More spirit after each battle means faster mana regen and less time spent chugging nectar or juice between battles. There may be a marginal benefit to end-game priests, keeping spirit, damage, and mana regen high during lengthy trash pulls.
Improved Spirit Tap (2/2): In early Wrath of the Lich King, this was something of a take-it-or-leave-it talent. With spirit seeing buffs in pretty much each patch, however, this talent has achieved essential status. I've personally seen near 50% uptime on the proc here, which averages out to a 5% buff to your Spirit.
Darkness (5/5): It's a flat 10% buff to shadow damage. A must have.
Improved Shadow Word: Pain (2/2): In end-game raiding and while battling instance bosses, Shadow Word: Pain is a must-have part of any rotation. During the 1-to-80 grind, though, it's not quite as useful. Max this talent out when you get to 80, but when leveling, you may find more benefit investing those valuable talent points elsewhere.
Shadow Focus (3/3): If there was a talent that increased your chance to hit with shadow spells by 3%, I'd tell you to take it. If there was a talent that reduced the mana cost of shadow spells by 6%, I'd tell you to take it. This talent does both. Take it.
Improved Mind Blast (5/5): As one of our few non-damage-over-time spells, Mind Blast is a key part of most rotations. It carries a hefty 8 second cooldown, but this talent slashes that to 5.5 seconds. It also gives you the ability to apply a handy debuff that limits your target's ability to heal -- an excellent talent for PvP.
Mind Flay (1/1): This gives you the ability to cast Mind Flay, a staple in almost every encounter you'll face as a shadow priest. Mind Flay's ability to reduce an enemy's movement speed is a must while soloing.
Veiled Shadows (2/2): This talent is worth maxing out once you get access to your Shadowfiend at level 66, since it allows you to call it more often. In addition, the reduced cooldown on Fade comes in quite handy if you find yourself leveling in a party.
Shadow Reach (2/2): The further you are from the bad guys, the more time you have to react when they attack you, right?
Shadow Weaving (3/3): This talent applies a stacking buff that quickly adds up to a flat 10% increase in your damage.
Vampiric Embrace (1/1) and Improved Vampiric Embrace (2/2): The ability to heal ourselves by dealing damage is one of the defining traits of the shadow priest class. Vampiric Embrace sets you up to heal yourself for 15% of the damage you cause, the improved version boosts that to 25%. It even gives health back to your party members. Max these talents out as soon as you can.
Focused Mind (3/3): This is one of the many mana cost-reducing talents in the shadow tree. I personally recommend maxing this out. If you never find yourself running out of mana, though, you could possibly skip a point in this and put it somewhere you think would be more useful.
Mind Melt (2/2): Boosts the critical strike chance of most your shadow spells. A definite must have.
Improved Devouring Plague (3/3): The damage boost to Devouring Plague you get with this talent is great, but being able to hit an enemy with 30% of the full DP damage up front is the real clincher here, especially in the end game. This talent is, effectively, the shadow priest's mini nuke. It's great for fights where there is a lot of movement, like Professor Putricide and Keristrasza, since you don't have to be standing still to cast DP.
Shadowform (1/1): This is double-edged sword that makes shadow priests what we are. Being in Shadowform provides us with massive buffs -- we deal significantly more damage, take less 15% less damage, and generate less threat. The trade off is that casting a holy spell throws us out of Shadowform. There's no point to being a shadow priest if you don't take this talent as soon as it's available. And it looks really, really cool.
Shadow Power (5/5): People with experience in playing other classes will recognize this talent. Without it, your critical hits will do 50% bonus damage. With it, your critical hits do 100% bonus damage. This is a must-have talent for a level 80 shadow priest (though it proves less important when leveling, due to the spec's otherwise low crit rate).
Misery (3/3): Misery increases your chance -- and everyone in your party's chance -- to hit with spells by 3%. It also increases the damage of your non-DoT shadow spells.
Vampiric Touch (1/1): This is a very powerful damage-over-time spell that will restore a chunk of your mana when you follow it up with a Mind Blast. A terrific, must-have part of the shadow priest's arsenal in all situations and play styles.
Pain and Suffering (3/3): When I leveled my first shadow priest to 80, I somehow missed this talent. Big mistake -- with this talent, Shadow Word: Pain basically becomes a set-it-and-forget-it spell. It's forgivable to pass on this talent while leveling, but once you're at 80, you can't live without it. (You can choose to roll the RNG dice and only put 2 points here, but I don't generally recommend it without sacrificing a gnome for good luck first.)
Twisted Faith (5/5): Another two-pronged talent -- it gives your spirit stat some real teeth, and it increases Mind Flay and Mind Blast damage by 10% when Shadow Word: Pain is active. This all works out to a massive damage boost in end-game instances and raiding.
Dispersion (1/1): Dispersion is our "fifty-one point talent," which is typically synonymous with "bad-ass nuke." For shadow priests, it doesn't quite work out that way -- Dispersion is a damage mitigator. This is an amazing talent in PvP, but it has great use in PvE too: it negates an awful lot of damage if you fail to get enough stacks of Inoculated fighting Festergut or get caught in Kologarn's hand, for example. It makes you unable to cast spells for 6 seconds, but during that time, you restore 36% of your max mana.
Twin Disciplines (5/5): Boosts the damage of your instant-cast spells like Shadow Word: Pain and Devouring Plague.
Improved Inner Fire (3/3): During the leveling process, Inner Fire is a great way to reduce the damage you take. Once you get to level 71, Inner Fire provides an invaluable boost to your spell power, making it useful even when you're not taking damage. A great talent to take.
Improved Power Word: Fortitude (2/2): The buff that comes with this talent isn't especially sexy to a level 80 priest, but you really can't get away with not taking it. It's important for 10-man content where you wind up being the only priest in the party (a perpetual niche for the shadow priest), because the tank needs all the extra health they can get. In 25-man content, there will almost always be a priest healer with this maxed out, so the use diminishes there. Regardless, you need to invest 10 talent points in the first two Discipline tiers to gain access to the far more valuable third tier. No matter how you slice it, this talent is generally better than the other possible options.
Mediation (3/3): This talent lets you restore mana while casting, an incredibly useful ability during heroics and in raids. I personally recommend putting three points here, but if you're finding that mana consumption is not a huge issue for you, you can safely drop down to 2/3.
The "optional" talents:
Inner Focus (0/1): A number of shadow priests opt to take this talent. What it basically works out to is a free spell cast every 3 minutes, with a increased chance for that free spell to crit. Admittedly, it's quite satisfying to combine Inner Focus with a spell that hits large numbers of targets multiple times, such as Mind Sear (or even Divine Hymn as a great emergency heal). Just be sure to time your button press right -- if you activate Inner Focus immediately before a channel ends instead of after, you'll waste the effect.
Silence (0/1): This talent can prove useful while leveling, but it's pretty useless in end-game situations -- way too many enemies are immune. You have to spend a point in Improved Psychic Scream to get it, too, which is another talent with only marginal use at level 80.
Improved Shadowform (0/2): A lot of shadow priests take this talent, I choose to skip it. There are two main reasons: (1) I don't find a lot of situations where I'm rooted in PvE, and (2) I don't experience a lot of spell push back when raiding, except for some trash pulls. If your own experience finds different, feel free to experiment with this to see if it boosts your DPS.
Psychic Horror (0/1): Primarily a PvP talent, this fell into favor during the days of the heroic mode Faction Champions encounter. You might still find some use out of it, but you'll probably be better off looking elsewhere.
Remember, these are only suggestions for filling out your talent tree -- feel free to play with these talents to find the right build for you. Don't be afraid to test things out, either -- when you consider the amount of money most raiders pay for flasks, gems, and enchants, the cost to visit a trainer and reset your talents becomes almost negligible.
8. Leveling as Shadow
It's a dirty little secret of all those holy spec priests: they all probably spent a heck of a lot of time embracing the darkness while leveling. After all, Smite is a pretty lame spell when it comes to dealing damage.
Whether you're a devoted shadow priest or a holy spec taking the easy road to level 80, here are a few points advice for the leveling shadow priest:
- Carry plenty of consumables. We have a lot of mana regen abilities, but you'll still need to drink every now and then, especially in the early levels. While no one likes getting taken out of the action to drink, just think -- your holy and disc brethren need to drink way more often. (Now wipe that smile off your face and go back to killin'.)
- Get the Glyph of Inner Fire. Us shadow priests are a cloth-wearing class, which means we have a tendency to get the living snot beaten out of us. Inner Fire is one of our main sources of protection -- we really need to keep it up at all times. You can bind the Glyph of Inner Fire to yourself at level 15, so get it as soon as you can. And drop it the moment you hit level 80 for the Glyph of Shadow Word: Pain.
- Pick up some heirlooms. If you've already got a level 80, treat your baby spriest right -- buy him or her some sweet gear with those spare emblems. The Dignified Headmaster's Charge is your weapon of choice, while you'll want to put a Tattered Dreadmist Mantle on your shoulders and a Tattered Dreadmist Robe on your chest for the spell power and experience bonuses. And don't forget to pimp the gear out with some old school vanilla wow enchants before you send them -- Enchant Weapon - Spellpower is highly recommended for those early levels.
- Eat Gnomes. This is more applicable to my friends in the Horde, but even dwarf priests can appreciate what terrible freeloaders those little beasts are. Remember: Gnome meat lets your Shadowfiend grow nice and strong! Yum.