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Spiritual Guidance: The dawn of the age of shadow

Welcome to the Wednesday version of Spiritual Guidance, hosted by the shadowier-than-thou Fox Van Allen. Using information culled from his Real ID, Fox is 35 years old, thrice divorced and lives in a van down by the river.

When we last left off with our leveling guide, we were running around smiting things with abandon because ... that's just about all we knew how to do. Thankfully, the priest class gets exponentially more interesting and complex as you level.

In this latest installment of the shadow priest leveling guide, we're going to get you from level 20 to level 40. Why level 40? Because level 40 is when the game completely changes. We get Shadowform. We do more damage. We take less damage. We heal ourselves through causing pain. We're able to make that fateful decision to forsake the light in exchange for causing more destruction more effectively. We become the gnome-destroying (and eating) machines we always knew we could be.

In short, at level 40, priests become awesome.


The spells: levels 20 through 40

Throughout the leveling process, you'll want to visiting your trainer regularly. You can train to improve the strength of Mind Blast every sixth level (22, 28, 34, etc.) through the leveling process, and similarly improve the strength of Smite every eighth level (22, 30, 38). Beyond that, you'll also learn the following new spells at key milestones.

Level 20
  • Devouring Plague Damages enemies and returns a small portion of that damage back to you as healing. A key part of the shadow priest tool box, especially during the end game. Less useful while leveling due to its high mana cost; save it for instance bosses and elite mobs.
  • Fear Ward A highly useful, albeit highly situational spell. Fear can be a devastating attack in both PvP and PvE, and this spell makes you immune -- at least to one casting of it. If you're facing an enemy capable of fearing you, you should have this buff up.
  • Flash Heal An especially useful healing spell due to its 1.5-second cast time.
  • Holy Fire A damaging holy-tree spell that applies a minor, seven-second DoT. Given the limited number of spells available to you during the early levels, Holy Fire instantly becomes the preferred opener attack for level 20 priests. If you're looking to really ramp up your damage, this spell works especially well when paired with Glyph of Smite (hat tip to Pinochet for pointing this out last week).
  • Holy Nova An instant-cast, area-of-effect attack that simultaneously serves as an area-of-effect heal. The caveat, of course, is that Holy Nova isn't especially good at healing or damaging and only becomes useful when you have a large number of hostile or health-starved friends immediately surrounding you. Be judicious about its use: Spamming this spell is a great way to run out of mana fast.
  • Mind Soothe Another highly situational spell in the priest arsenal that most priests will never find themselves casting. Possibly useful for sneaking by enemies in close quarters, but enemies do have a chance to resist this.
  • Shackle Undead The priest crowd control spell. Since it's only usable against the undead, it's not as helpful as it otherwise could be. In situations where you're dealing with one too many undead opponents (questing in Duskwood, perhaps?), a well-timed cast could wind up saving your life.
  • *Mind Flay (Requires 10 talent points in the shadow tree.) Mind Flay's low mana cost and ability to reduce your enemies' movement speeds makes it an essential piece of the shadow priest arsenal. An excellent "second cast" attack that slows a hostile character's movement into melee range.
Level 22
  • Mind Vision One of the most underrated spells in the priest tool kit, Mind Vision allows you to see the world from your target's eyes. An effectively unlimited range makes this spell supremely useful for finding targets. Can't find that NPC you need to complete a quest? Want to know where that stealthed druid went? Simply use the following macro:
    /tar [character_name]
    /cast Mind Vision
Level 24
  • Mana Burn A spell that eats away at your enemies' mana and causes a slight amount of damage as well. Potentially useful in PvP against opponents with low mana pools (paladins?), but virtually useless in PvE situations.
Level 30
  • Mind Control This spell should be a lot more fun than it actually is. It rocks in concept: Cast this on an enemy, control their movements, cast their spells and walk them off a cliff. In reality, Mind Control tends to stink -- it's resistable; it breaks quickly, easily, and often; and it's useless in 99% situations. That other 1%? Any unfriendly character located on a dangerously high cliff.
  • Prayer of Healing A powerful area-of-effect heal. This spell is almost exclusively cast by priests healing raids and 5-man instances.
  • Shadow Protection A standard priest buff that increases resistance to spells from the shadow school. The spell is supremely useful in PvP and in PvE fights against enemies that deal large amounts of shadow damage. Its standard 10-minute duration can be frustratingly brief; many priests will use the minor Glyph of Shadow Protection to double the buff's length to 20 minutes.
  • Divine Spirit Another standard priest buff that increases spirit, thus increasing mana regen. You'll want this up at all times. Since both holy priests and shadow priests can talent into spirit increasing their spellpower (eventually), this spell gets better with age.
  • *Silence (Requires 20 points in the shadow tree; requires two points in Improved Psychic Scream.) Interrupts a spell cast and applies a spell school lockout to select targets. While this is a useful talent in PvP and PvE leveling, many priests may skip it because it also requires two talent points be invested in Improved Psychic Scream.
  • *Vampiric Embrace (Requires 20 points in the shadow tree.) The quintessential shadow priest buff that allows you to absorb up to 25% of the damage (when talented) you cause as healing. Shadow priests should grab this ability as soon as possible as it dramatically increases survivability.
Level 32
  • Abolish Disease A supercharged version of Cure Disease. Supremely useful against mobs that continuously attempt to apply disease effects.
Level 34
  • Levitate A useful non-offensive spell that makes otherwise deadly drops survivable. Similar in effect to the mage spell Slow Fall.
Level 40
  • Greater Heal A spell that combines a frustratingly long cast time with a spectacularly powerful heal effect. Much more effective when you talent the ability to have a lower cast time, but unless you're leveling as a healer, leave this spell off the cast bar.
  • *Shadowform (Requires 30 points in the shadow tree.) This is it. The reason you rolled a priest. Shadowform is the ultimate middle finger to everything good and holy about priests, a personal admission that your goal in life is destruction. Your shadow damage immediately increases by 15% when you enter Shadowform -- a massive DPS boost at the expense of one lone talent point. As if more was needed to sweeten the pot, you take 15% less damage in Shadowform, too. The only trade-off is that you won't be able to cast spells from the holy school while in Shadowform. That's OK, though -- the trade quite worthwhile. If you've been sinking talent points into the holy tree along the way, pay your priest trainer to reset your talents the moment you hit level 40. There are gnomes out there that need destroying, after all.

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