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Spiritual Guidance: The basics of shadow priest PVP

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Spiritual Guidance for discipline, holy and shadow priests. On Wednesdays, shadow priesting expert Fox Van Allen regularly insults normal people, so you should never take his writing seriously. Fox encourages you to follow him on Twitter.

I've been writing the shadow version of Spiritual Guidance for over a year and a half now. In actuality, it seems like forever -- like I've covered every topic multiple times. And yet, in all those columns, there's one topic I've never really taken the time to address: shadow priest PVP.

There's a reason, of course. PVP in and of itself is a damn complex subject. With a PVE encounter, there's some randomness, but it's all contained within a predetermined set of variables that you can research on a resource such as Wowhead. You may not know when Onyxia is gonna use her Deep Breath ability, but you know it's coming.

PVP is different. You don't know what your opponent is thinking (if he's even thinking at all). Some battleground teams head into battle looking for a street fight, hoping to win with raw brutality and no real strategy. Other teams choreograph their movements and communicate through Ventrillo or Mumble, approaching each battle like amateur Douglas MacArthurs. There's no algorithm that tells you how your opponents will act and react to what you do.

I'm far from a PVP expert myself, so I can really only offer you some of the PVP basics to get you started. If you're looking for top-level strategy, check out Blood Sport. If you're looking to get your feet wet and start exploring the other side of the World of Warcraft game ... read on.

Gearing up for PVP

If you take nothing away from this section, take away this: You need resilience gear. Need it. Just as it's important not to PVE in PVP gear, you shouldn't be PVPing in PVE gear. Unless, of course, you like to die. Beyond that, it's worth noting that you need a lot less hit in PVP than you do in PVE to be guaranteed a hit -- a mere +4%. This can be accomplished with 410 points of hit rating (308 for a draenei).

Spell penetration is another important stat in PVP. See, most players start with a base resist to shadow spells of 195 thanks to abilities such as Resistance Aura. This is the accepted minimum spell penetration hurdle -- if you're going to PVP, you need at least 195 points of spell pen through gear and enchants to counter Resistance Aura. Some shadow priests go beyond this up to 240 due to the extra spell resist enjoyed by mages via Mage Armor. Without enough spell pen, the amount of damage you do will be harshly cut, and worse yet, your opponents will be able to resist some of your crowd control efforts.

Ultimately, you should be working toward your Ruthless Gladiator's Raiments. Something akin to the tier set for PVP, the two-piece bonus gives you 400 bonus resilience and 70 bonus intellect; the four-piece bonus gives you 90 bonus intellect and reduces the cast time of Mind Blast and Mind Spike by 5%. There are five pieces in the set; you should really work to grab all five.
Be sure to grab those gloves first -- being able to take 3 seconds off the Psychic Scream cooldown is an especially tasty bonus. As an added bonus, Gladiator PVP gear almost always looks badass. Take a look at this season's Gladiator set:

Tonight we dine on turtle soup.

While you're earning those conquest points for your Ruthless set, be sure to pick up a few pieces of the Vicious Gladiator set. You'll be able to spend your honor points for them, or grab them from the new boss in Baradin Hold, Occu'thar.

Of course, you'll have to put in a lot of work in battlegrounds and arenas to get your Vicious/Ruthless Gladiator set. For those who just want to get their foot in the door, patch 4.2 introduced the Bloodthirsty Embersilk PVP set. Clocking in at a respectable ilevel 358, this eight-piece ensemble will put you damn close to gear parity with all those suckers (er, hard workers) who spent all of patch 4.1 grinding for their PVP gear.
Like the Ruthless Gladiator set, the Bloodthirsty Embersilk set offers a two-piece bonus of 400 resilience. There's no four-piece bonus.

Since more people PVE than PVP, PVP gear is usually harder to find on the auction house, and more expensive to boot. Your best bet here is to make these pieces yourself or find a friend/guildie who can. The patterns are purchasable in Stormwind/Orgrimmar -- no Firelands dailies required -- but many of them will cost you eight Bolts of Embersilk Cloth each.

Oh, and no PVP set would be complete without a trinket that removes movement-imparing effects. We'll talk about this a little more later, but just take my word for it for now.

Offensive shadow priest PVP spells/talents

If PVE is all about doing a lot of damage and doing it quickly, PVP is all about controlling the situation around you to the best of your abilities. That's not to say that there isn't a time or place for nuking -- there absolutely is. Still, most PVP encounters are won and lost by the smart use of crowd control.

To that end, one of the most powerful PVP abilities a shadow priest has is Psychic Scream. It's primary use is a fear -- use it in PVP, and you'll send your foes scattering and unable to act for a full 8 seconds. Of course, it also acts as a solid interrupt. If you're serious about PVP, you'll want to take Improved Psychic Scream to cut 4 valuable seconds off the spell's cooldown. In battlegrounds especially, fearbombing is a powerful tactic -- running into the enemy lines and casting Psychic Scream as soon as you're within range of five enemy players.

Along the same lines of Psychic Scream is Psychic Horror. It's a horror effect rather than a fear effect -- you're only affecting one target, the period of action lockout is shorter (3 seconds), and the victim is rooted in place rather than sent running. While it may be weaker than Psychic Scream in some respects, it's stronger in others -- specifically, Psychic Horror disarms its victim for 10 seconds. It's an especially powerful tool for hampering a melee class that gets just a little too close to you. The only downside to Psychic Horror is its lengthy 2-minute cooldown. This can be cut down to 90 seconds via the Glyph of Psychic Horror, though, if you choose.

Mind Control is situationally useful in PVP. You can't use it to burn through your enemies' cooldowns like you can in PVE, but you can use it to change your foes' positioning. I like to use it to position them right over a bottomless chasm in Eye of the Storm. Cheap, but effective!

Take the healer out of the game

Enemy healers are the bane of any arena or battleground team's existance. They can, with little effort, wipe out tons of damage you've inflicted. Sorry, Dawn Moore, but there's no way around this one -- healers must die. They must die first, and they must die brutally.

How do you kill a healer who's healing herself? Well, the easiest way would be to stop her from healing. Aside from the offensive abilities already mentioned, there are two great tools we have to achieve this: Silence and Mana Burn.

Yes, you heard me -- Mana Burn. If you've never PVPed, I can almost guarantee you've never used the spell, as NPCs have seemingly infinite mana pools. In PVE, though, forcing your enemies' healer to run out of mana before yours does is a tried-and-true path to victory. It has a long, 2.5-second cast time, but the effect is powerful -- you slice off 10% of a healer's max mana and cause damage that needs to be healed. Believe me, healers do not like being Mana Burned. They do not like it at all.

Perhaps the most important offensive PVP ability, though, is Silence. It costs three talent points to unlock, but being able to lock an opponent out of casting spells for 5 seconds is worth each and every point you spend. While you can obviously use Silence on any offensive caster, its most effective use is on healers, especially when their services are desperately needed.

Defensive PVP talents and how to counter them

All those abilities above sure make shadow priests sound overpowered, right? I mean, between Psychic Scream, Psychic Horror, and the rest, your opponents will never get a chance to act, right?!

Well, not quite. One of the most important aspects of playing PVP is the defensive cooldown. Many classes and races have abilities to remove fears and stuns. In battlegrounds and arenas, the opposition will be carrying around PVP trinkets. Humans will be using Every Man for Himself; undead will use Will of the Forsaken. Mages can Ice Block. Fellow priests have Fear Ward (you do too, so use it!). The list is far too long to complete here, so let's just say the point is this: Other players can easily escape your crowd control efforts.

More correctly, they can escape your first few efforts at crowd control. Smart PVP is often about forcing the opposition to burn their cooldowns, taking their options off the table one by one until they're helpless to your or your teammates' attacks. It's something akin to chess, where you're trying to anticipate your opponents' next moves and using your foresight to trap them. (If you're interested in learning more about this, you'll love reading C. Christian Moore's stuff.)

As a shadow priest, you have a large number of counters yourself. Dispersion is probably the effect you're most familiar with -- casting it removes all snares and stuns. (You may want to create a macro to end Dispersion early -- 6 unanswered seconds is often too big a gift to your opponents.) Fade is another great tool when paired with the Phantasm ability. And, of course, don't forget the ridiculously powerful Mass Dispel -- if you can cast but your teammates can't, the ability can be a lifesaver.

... and that's just the beginning ...

PVP is a whole different dimension to the game, one that can take years to master. It's not just a matter of being able to play your own character well; it's being able to figure out what's going through the mind of your opponent that's key. Players who can stay one step ahead are PVP gods. Far easier said than done, of course.

If you're hungry -- nay, starved -- to learn more about shadow priest PVP, try the following resouces:
If you have a favorite PVP resource, be sure to take a moment and list it below in the comments section. Good luck on the battlefields, my fellow shadow priests.

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, PvP, (Priest) Spiritual Guidance

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