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Spiritual Guidance: 8 reasons why your shadow priest DPS sucks

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Spiritual Guidance for discipline, holy and shadow priests. Every Wednesday, shadow priesting expert Fox Van Allen rains sheer purple destruction down on all who oppose him (such as those who dress cats in outfits).

It's pretty much a known fact that we shadow priests are looked up to the world over. (Especially by Tyler Caraway, but that's mostly just because he's very short.) The reasons behind the admiration are many, but one seems to be more compelling than the rest: Shadow priests are capable of doing stunningly awesome DPS. Big numbers are sexy. There's no denying it.

The unfortunate reality, however, is that not every shadow priest gets to realize their true potential. Tiny problems and mistakes hold them back. And though some of these problems are easily fixed, the fact that they're damn near impossible to guess at and diagnose on your own leaves a lot of shadow priests frustrated.

Without a doubt, there are an awful lot of potential pitfalls out there. If you follow me after the break, we'll talk about eight of the most common ones. More importantly, though, we'll suggest ways to overcome them and get your priest back on the path to greatness.

8. You're not using the right gems and enchants (or any at all).

We've all seen that guy muddling through heroics without gems or enchants. Usually, it's a conscious decision -- after all, "I'm only going to have this gear until I get an epic," "It's not worth the effort," or "Enchants and gems area too expensive."

There's just no excuse for that kind of thinking anymore. Enchants and gems are plentiful and cheap on the auction house, and they're only getting cheaper. Most importantly, though, those tiny little gems and enchants make up a huge portion of our DPS. On my raiding shadow priest, I get well over 750 intellect from gems and enchants alone -- nearly 20% of my total. And that doesn't even begin to consider the hundreds of points of secondary stats, Power Torrent, or profession bonuses (such as Lightweave).

If you're not sure what gems and enchants to get, don't worry -- it's not hard to figure out.
Gemming in the current patch 4.1 build is the same as gemming in 4.0.6 -- the Brilliant Inferno Ruby is almost always king. Enchanting is easy too, and with patch 4.1 increasing access to Maelstrom Crystals (and even more to be available once 4.2 hits), there's no reason to put anything but the best enchants on your epic gear.

7. You're not hit-capped.

Back when Cataclysm first launched, there was a darn good argument to be made for not capping your hit. Since patch 4.0.6, though, there's no excuse -- cap your hit. Aside from the fact that it's our most valuable secondary stat, when your spells miss, you waste valuable time and mana and risk losing important buffs.

For raiding shadow priests, the hit cap is 1,742 points (or +17%). For shadow priests who only run heroics, you can get away with a mere 615 (+6%). If you're a long way off from either target, reforge until you get there.

6. You're using the wrong trinkets.

Let's be honest: It's generally not hard to gear shadow priests. If something cloth drops, we can wear it (and to great effectiveness). If it's not perfectly itemized, we can reforge it. And since the value of our secondary stats (like crit, haste, and mastery) tend to be nearly equal in value, any random set of i346 heroic gear can be turned into something raid-ready.

There's one slot where choosing the right piece of gear truly matters, and that's your two trinket slots. The relative value of two similar item level trinkets varies wildly depending on the base stat on the gear and the trinket's proc.

Not sure what trinket is the best for you? Don't worry, there are resources. A few months ago, I wrote a column on the best pre-raid trinkets. And, of course, you can always check out Shadowpriest.com's list of the best trinkets currently available.

5. You're Mind Spiking.

A month or so ago, I was running a 5-man heroic on one of my alts. I wound up being grouped with another shadow priest. And while I'm about the last person to judge someone based on what Recount is telling me, I couldn't help but notice she was putting out a mere 4,000 DPS. Something was very wrong here.

During the next boss fight (it was Halls of Origination, so there were a lot of boss fights), I made an effort to watch what the shadow priest was doing wrong. Things started okay -- she Mind Spiked to open, and followed it up with her guaranteed Mind Blast crit. But then, after applying a few DOTs, she wound up Mind Spiking again. And again. And again. She was using it as part of her regular rotation to buff her Mind Blast casts.

This is a pretty extreme example, to be sure, but the point remains. Mind Spike erases all the DOTs active on your target. Once DOTs are rolling, the time to Mind Spike that target has ended. Save the spell for when you're soloing and to quickly nuke medium-health adds.

4. You're not Mind Spiking.

DOTs are a huge part of a shadow priest's damage -- nearly 50% in raid situations. It's absolutely crucial you keep them up at all times when facing down a raid boss. But what about when you're not in a raid? Sometimes, DOTs are not the best answer.

Consider this: Your strongest DOT is Vampiric Touch. By spending 1.5 seconds of cast time, you can apply a DOT that will tick for 24,000 damage over 15 seconds. That same 1.5 seconds could get you an instant 10k shot of damage from Mind Spike. Now ultimately, you can stack another two 10k damage Mind Spikes, guaranteeing that your a follow up cast of Mind Blast hits for 25k or more.

Ultimately, that kind of huge, fast damage is unsustainable -- it just costs way too much mana. But when you need to burn down an add fast, that expensive burst is absolutely perfect.

3. You're suffering from high lag or latency.

It's unfair. It's usually not your fault. It can cost you several thousand DPS on a given encounter. And if it gets bad enough, it'll even kill you.

It's lag, the delay between you entering commands on your keyboard and those commands reaching the server and actually happening. Sometimes it's caused by your cable company, sometimes its just an issue with the server, and sometimes it's because you are unfortunate enough to be trying to play in Australia. Thankfully, though, lag is a manageable condition:
  • Switch servers. It's not an option for some of you because of the emotional ties you have to your guild and your friends, but by moving your main to a server closer to you, you should be able to reduce your latency. Be sure to start a level 1 character on the server and test out your connection a couple times before you do -- no point spending $25 on a character transfer to a server that's worse than the one you're currently on, right?
  • Install an addon. I absolutely love the addon Quartz because of its ability to estimate how much time of each cast is lost to lag. With that kind of visual cue, you know the lag-adjusted time to start your next cast, minimizing the effects of lag to the best of your ability.
  • Try a ping-reduction service. A number of different services are available that let you connect to World of Warcraft via a SSH Tunnel. Without getting technical, these services streamline the sending of your data, allowing you to send and receive WoW data quicker. These services charge a monthly fee (Smoothping, for example, costs about $6/month), though many will let you try it out on a limited basis free of charge.
2. You're refreshing your DOTs too late.

A few weeks ago, we talked about the mechanics of shadow priest haste. Ultimately, the first draft was ... a little ... uh ... incorrect. (This was literally Tyler Caraway's fault. Literally. And I have the text messages to prove it.)

Here's the absolute, must-read takeaway about your DOTs: Refresh them after the second-to-last tick, but before the final tick. You'll buy yourself a new, full-length DOT without clipping the old one. Refreshing after the final tick can literally cost you over 1,000 DPS on a fight.

1. You're not using your cooldowns.

Shadow priests have several important abilities with lengthy cooldowns. The most important from a DPS perspective are your Shadowfiend, which provides several thousand DPS while active, and Dark Archangel, which buffs Mind Blast and Mind Flay (among others) by as much as 20%. These abilities provide huge DPS boosts, but some shadow priests only use them when they need mana; others don't use them at all.

Huge mistake. Being late with your Shadowfiend is a very small DPS decrease, but as with dropped DOTs, when you make it a habit of missing these cooldowns, the DPS loss adds up. Do you have an on-use trinket, or an on-use ability like Lifeblood? Don't forget to use that cooldown as well.
Are you more interested in watching health bars go down than watching them bounce back up? We've got more for shadow priests, from Shadow Priest 101 to a list of every monster worth mind controlling and strategies for raiding Blackwing Descent.

Filed under: Priest, (Priest) Spiritual Guidance

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