Spell Focus: Shadow Word (Death)

Today I will start a new feature, where I introduce, explain and theorycraft on a specific spell in our arsenal. We’ll discuss the spell, what stats and talents affect it, what gear may have a special effect on it, and what the spell will look like in Wrath of the Lich King. Mind you, this is not high-brow theorycrafting, just the basic workings.

The first of our withering spells to make the spotlight is also our most double-edged sword – Shadow Word: Death.

The spell

Initially meant to be a “finisher” spell, Shadow Word:Death deals a sizeable amount of damage to our target. However, if this fails to kill our target, we take backlash damage equal to the amount of damage we dealt to the target.

  • 42% coefficient, meaning 100 +Shadow damage will increase the damage dealt by 42.
  • Shadow Word: Death has a 12 second cooldown.
  • Shadow Word: Death can achieve a critical hit, and deals +50% damage.
  • Procs Shadow Weaving.


There are several talents in both the Shadow and Discipline trees which affect the use of Shadow Word: Death.

  • Mental Agility (requires 15 points in Discipline): Reduces the mana cost of your instant cast spells by 2% per point. (Max 10%)
  • Shadow Reach (requires 15 points in Shadow): Increases the range of your offensive Shadow spells by 10% per point. (Max 20%)
  • Shadow Power (requires 30 points in Shadow): Increases the Critical Strike chance of Shadow Word: Death and Mind Blast by 3% per point. (Max 15%)

General Use

Even though it was meant as a “kill” spell, Shadowpriests currently use it in their standard rotations; most healers are aware of the fact that Shadowpriests routinely hurt themselves with this spell.

Generally, the best way to use this spell is after your DoTs and VE are up, and then unleashing this spell. By casting Mind Blast as the next spell in the row, the damage dealt will heal back quite a chunk of the damage you suffered from SW:D.

Tips and Tricks

It is best not to use this spell in fights where you will suffer a lot of AoE damage, or where casting spells has a penalty to you which is severe (such as Zul’jin’s Eagle phase, the Curator while evocating, or parts of the Reliquary of Souls fight in BT).

In PvP it is more usable as a kill spell, but can also be very well used as a “scare” tactic. Especially if a foe is not yet aware of your presence, the loss of a sizeable chunk of health sometimes induces a panic in enemy players. Even though you suffer some backlash damage, in my experience this discomforts me a lot less than my enemies.

An unpopular tactic in PvP is to use this spell at low health, so that the backlash kills you. This way, the opponent does not get a killing blow nor honor. Although considered cowardly and “cheating” an opponent out of his honor, this method can also be used to expediate a trip to the graveyard in case of low health and mana, so you are back in the fight quicker.

How will it be in Wrath of the Lich King?

Like all our spells, Shadow Word: Death will cost us a % of our base mana instead of its listed mana cost. In addition, the Shadow Power talent will give substantially less critical strike chance (a maximum of 10%). In return, this talent will now reduce the backlash damage taken by up to 30% if fully talented.

As Wrath sees us probably focusing slightly more on Critical Strike than before, the power of this spell will increase. The talent’s focus on also preventing some of this damage caters to us using it as a bread-and-butter spell, with less risk of one-shotting ourselves when a critical hit produces damage numbers greater than our maximum health.

With patch 3.1, the talent Blackout was removed, negating a Shadowpriest’s ability to Stun foes.

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