At level 10, priests are given the choice between the three priest specs. By choosing the shadow spec, you're required to invest your first 31 talent points in the shadow tree. This somewhat limits your options with regard to your talent points -- most endgame shadow priests have similar talent builds (give or take a point or two). The following is my own level 85 shadow priest's talent build:
There are some talents that every shadow priest should take, there are some optional talents, and there are some useless talents. The following are the "mandatory" talents that every shadow priest should take:
- Darkness Increases your spell haste by 1/2/3%. This is the first talent all shadow priests should take; there's no reason not to max this out at three talent points.
- Improved Shadow Word: Pain Increases the damage caused by your Shadow Word: Pain spell by 2/4/6%. Since SW:P is a pretty standard shadow priest spell, this is a pretty standard talent to take.
- Veiled Shadows Decreases the cooldown of your Fade and Shadowfiend abilities. This talent is exceptionally useful, but only after you get access to your shadowfiend at level 66.
- Improved Mind Blast Reduces the cooldown on your Mind Blast spell from 8 seconds to 6.5 seconds (with a three talent point investment). Since the most recent patch (4.0.6), Mind Blast has become a high-priority shadow priest spell. It's generally worth investing talent points here.
- Improved Devouring Plague Causes Devouring Plague to instantly hit its target for 30% of its total periodic damage. A must-take talent.
- Twisted Faith With a two talent point investment, it increases all shadow spell damage by 2% and allows spirit to be directly converted to hit at a 1:1 ratio. Another must-take talent.
- Shadowform Shadowform is what makes a shadow priest a shadow priest. It increases shadow damage by 15%, reduces the damage you take by 15%, and increases the spell haste of you and everyone in your party/raid by 5%. This is easily the most valuable talent you'll ever sink a point into.
- Harnessed Shadows Increases the odds you'll generate a Shadow Orb. Shadow Orbs are like shadow priest currency -- by spending them, you increase the damage of Mind Blast and you give your DoT spells a 15-second buff. All endgame priests should be fully invested in this talent.
- Vampiric Embrace Allows 3% of the shadow damage you cause to be converted to party-wide heals. You, meanwhile, get 6% of the damage you cause as self-healing. That's a huge benefit, making this a must-take talent.
- Mind Melt Provides a boost to a number of spells -- Shadow Word: Death, Mind Spike, and Mind Blast. It's a worthwhile talent once you get Shadow Word: Death; it's a required talent once you get Mind Spike.
- Pain and Suffering Allows your casts of Mind Flay a chance to refresh Shadow Word: Pain, which alone is enough reason to take the talent. As an added bonus, the talent also reduces the penalty you take from Shadow Word: Death mis-casts.
- Vampiric Touch One of the key shadow priest DoT spells, Vampiric Touch deals damage and allows you the ability to spark the Replenishment mana-regen buff. Take this talent as soon as possible.
- Sin and Punishment PvE players should take this talent so their casts of Mind Flay will have a chance to reduce their Shadowfiend's cooldown. PvP shadow priests will like the secondary bonus, which causes a fear/horror effect when Vampiric Touch is dispelled.
- Shadowy Apparition One of the cooler abilities shadow priests have, Shadowy Apparitions allows your ticks of SW:P a chance to generate a shadowy double of yourself capable of dealing minor amounts of additional damage to the target.
- Dispersion A key survival and mana-regen ability. Dispersion turns you into a ball of shadow for 6 seconds, reducing the damage you take by 90% for the duration. You can't cast spells while "dispersed," but you do regenerate 6% of your maximum mana per second while in the Dispersion state.
- Twin Disciplines Since you'll do little (active) healing as a shadow priest, the key benefit here is that you'll increase the damage caused by your shadow spells by 6%.
- Mental Agility or Improved Power Word: Shield Neither are required on their own, but you'll need to invest two talent points in one of the talents to unlock the second tier of discipline spells. Take whatever appeals to you more: better shields, or cheaper spell casts.
- Evangelism For shadow priests, stacks of (Dark) Evangelism quickly build. Each tick of Mind Flay increases the power of your damage over time spells, up to 10% in total.
- Archangel For shadow priests, using the (Dark) Archangel ability consumes all stacks of Evangelism. In exchange, you instantly get 5% of your total mana back per stack (to the maximum of 25%). In addition, you get a 18-second buff to your direct damage spell casts: Mind Flay, Mind Spike, Mind Blast, and Shadow Word: Death.
- Silence is an exceptionally useful spell in both PvP and PvE, but you'll need to take two points' worth of the less-useful Improved Psychic Scream to get it.
- Phantasm powers up your Fade ability, allowing you to remove movement-imparing effects. It has limited use in PvE but finds much more use in PvP.
- You should also consider the ability Masochism, which allows your mis-casts of Shadow Word: Death to refund 5/10% of your maximum mana.
- Paralysis, which causes your Mind Blast critical strikes to root your opponents in place, is a terrific spell for shadow priests running content alone. Note that it only stops enemy movement -- they can still attack you if in melee range, and they can still cast spells/use ranged abilities.
- Psychic Horror is mostly a PvP ability -- it's a 3-second horror/fear effect, combined with a 10-second weapon disarm effect. (There are a few limited PvE scenarios where it comes in handy, too.)
- Inner Sanctum reduces the spell damage you take while Inner Fire is active and increases your movement speed while Inner Will is in effect. The talent is situationally useful as damage mitigation (in both forms).
8. Leveling as shadow
A few things to keep in mind on your trek to level 85:
- Carry along plenty of consumables. From Refreshing Spring Water to Highland Spring Water, the key to efficient shadow priesting is being able to regen your mana.
- Learn when to use damage over time spells. The key to being a successful shadow priest during the leveling process is to estimate how long your opponents will be alive. If they're going to be alive for a longer-term duration (greater than 20-30 seconds), you'll find it useful to apply damage over time spells. If enemies are dying quicker, you should prioritize direct damage spells like Mind Flay, Mind Spike, and Mind Blast. After all, if the DoT doesn't have time to get off a couple ticks, it's a wasted cast.
- Finish enemies off with Shadow Word: Death. This is harder than it sounds -- learning the correct timing for casting SW:D is a challenge that varies from situation to situation. Still, if the challenge is big, the payoff is bigger: SW:D can proc Spirit Tap (provided you have and use the Glyph of Spirit Tap). It's the secret behind efficient shadow priest mana regen while leveling.