Spell priority redux

spell_shadow_brainwashWe’ve had a lot to swallow in the past few patches, and with the coming of Wrath. We’ve had Devouring Plague and Mind Sear added. Some spells became more powerful (Mind Flay), while others less so (Shadow Word: Death).

This means it may be time to take another look at the spell priority we Shades are using. I personally still struggle with a good priority, because I am too used to putting Shadow Word: Death on cooldown, and not used to keeping Devouring Plague up all the time. So I put my thoughts here on the matter, and perhaps we can figure out together what would be the best thing ™.


The following assumptions are made when thinking on this, as a lot of our spells are either talented, or rely heavily on talents to be viable.

  • You have put points in Mind Flay, Vampiric Touch and Shadow Form. Redundant to say perhaps, but still…
  • You have 3/3 Pain and Suffering (Refreshes the duration on Shadow Word: Pain when you cast Mind Flay).
  • You have put points in Shadow Weaving.
  • We are still working on a priority system, not a cast rotation. It still requires a functional brain to be a Shadowpriest.

Single-target rotation

On a single target, whether in a 5-man dungeon or a raid, you can be sure it dies fast. So fast, in fact, that our DoTs hardly get the time to tick fully, if even that. This means that in order to get the most out of our abilities, we have to prioritize getting our Replenishment up, and then blasting with full force.

This leads to casting Vampiric Touch first, then Mind Blast (to activate Replenishment) and then casting Mind Flay until Mind Blast becomes available again, or VT needs refreshing. Don’t bother with Shadow Word: Death until the very end, when you see that the mob needs at most a second or two to die.

In most cases, even a Mind Blast will not be fully casted before the target dies, hence the use of an Instant spell.

Multi-target rotation (up to 3 targets)

In a situation where there are multiple targets, or a series of pulls without a break in between, the priorities change. First, Replenishment must be up, Shadow Weaving must reach 5 stacks, and then we need to squeeze out as much DPS as we can.

So the start would be to cast Vampiric Touch, then Mind Blast, then Devouring Plague. Then cast Shadow Word: Pain on the first mob, and rotate SW:P on all mobs in the pull. By now it will be time to refresh Replenishment again. Mind Flay targets until they die, and go to the next mob as each dies. If you can, sneak in a SW:D to finish off targets.

This makes sure that your Shadow Weaving stays at 5 stacks, so that your DoTs on secondary targets and beyond are maximized.

You can replace Mind Flay with Mind Sear if you estimate that the primary target will not die soon, but in my experience your target(s) may die very soon after you finish dotting everything up. Or, you could not dot up secondary targets, and simply Mind Sear right after dotting up your primary target.

Multi-target Rotation (Many, many whelps)

From the start it is as above, except that you Mind Sear after Dotting up the primary target. Make sure that Replenishment and dots stay up on your primary target, but just AoE nuke the hell out of everything else. At about 4 targets your Mind Sear will give you a sweeter deal than multi-dotting, mana-wise, and it’s basically a short breather break for us between heavy dotting fights.

Boss rotation

Since bosses have oodles of health, just make sure all dots are on the target, and that you have 4 or 5 stacks of Shadow Weaving up before putting up Shadow Word: Pain. From there on, it is simply a matter of refreshing dots whenever they are at their last tick, and using Mind Flay as much as possible, as this is now our main spell, like Frost Bolt is to Frost Mages.

In essence, we can consider ourselves (playstyle-wise) as a mix between Affliction locks and Frost Mages. We have plenty DoTs to keep our eye on, and in between we spam Mind Flay.

The cinch

What I have problems with, and with me more Shades, is that we have to watch several cooldowns and durations:

  • Shadow Word: Pain (Did it fell off? Bad Shade! Reapply…)
  • Vampiric Touch (Big-ass DoT and central to Replenishment)
  • Vampiric Embrace (On AoE heavy fights, to spare the healers)
  • Mind Blast (Damage, and triggers Replenishment, has a cooldown)
  • Devouring Plague (Has a cooldown)
  • Shadow Word: Death (Has a cooldown)
  • Keep up 5 stacks of Shadow Weaving
  • Shadow Fiend at about 85-90% mana (so it becomes available again during a longer fight)
  • Dispersion when targeted, caught in a stun/DoT/etc, or when low on mana
  • One mana pot (1!) per fight
  • Mind Flay away (It’s no longer a filler spell, but with all other things to watch, we may neglect it accidentally)

As you can see, Shadowpriest DPS is everything but simple. It wasn’t easy to begin with, and it has not become simpler.

Also, we suffer from a few bugs; a big killer for us is the fact that Mind Flay’s damage ticks no longer are spread evenly among its 3-second duration, but rather one at the start, and 2 close to the end. This means that if you accidentally clip the tail end of channeling Mind Flay, you may actually be cutting off 2 ticks of damage. That is a lot!

Also, you may have noticed that the channeling animation goes on slightly after your castbar and addons tell you that you are done with channeling; the same has been observed with Mind Sear, but less obvious. This means that the spell may actually be ticking a second after you finish casting. This means that you also can’t always rely on addons to tell you when to cast the next spell.

You’ll just have to verify with your own eyes when you stop channeling, and then chain the next spell.


I admit that I have issues learning the new “ways of the shade”. Perhaps it is lack of practice, perhaps sentimental clinging to the old idea of the Mana Battery which subconsciously makes me choose to keep up Replenishment rather than focus on full DPS. And perhaps my gear is just not up to snuff enough, making it a bit harder to choose what to cast, as our various abilities are not clear-cut different enough.

But I’ll get back in the saddle and learn it, as should we all.

What are your thoughts? What rotations do you use?

Do you feel it is easier, or more difficult?

Let me know! Share your ideas. :)


4 Responses to “Spell priority redux”

  1. Hehe, lots of things are messed up there :)

    This leads to casting Vampiric Touch first, then Mind Blast (to activate Dispersion)
    Vampiric Embrace (Big-ass DoT and central to Replenishment)
    Vampiric Touch (On AoE heavy fights, to spare the healers)

    “Shadow Fiend at about 85-90% mana (so it becomes available again during a longer fight)”
    I’d say closer to 60-70% as if fiend survives he will fill your manapool. Using sooner means you’ll waste tons of mana as it “overflows” your manapool.

    Also, having 5 stacks of SW before applying SWP is a must. Also reapplying it is a good idea if you get some environmental buffs like spark stacks on Malygos or charges on Thaddius.

  2. Whupps ^_^ Fixed it!

    As to the Shadowfiend, it may differ depending on when it is in a raid or not. At 85-90% when I cast it, and I continue casting in a normal rotation, I end up being just about full (including still casting at full power). If I would pop it later, it brings me to about 50% mana instead. It does not die, but it seems to return a lot less mana then it used to somehow.

    And yeps, agree with the 5 stacks of SW. It sometimes does take a bit of weighing in how long the fight will last. If you hold out too long, so to say, a lot of the SW:P is wasted.

    Gladly, in raids this should pose less of a risk. In 5-mans however, it requires a bit more thinking-ahead.

  3. If I remember correctly then each successful fiend hit returns ~4% of max mana. On average fiend does 10 hits so in total it should return ~40% of max mana. If you manage to have your fiend out just before bloodlust he’ll return much more than that :)

  4. Yes, also there is another, much simpler explanation why this happens too.

    First off, spells were changed to be a percentage of base mana; this number goes up until level 80. At level 80 your base mana no longer changes, and thus your spells stay the same cost.

    Until that time, every level you gain, spells become more expensive in terms of absolute mana, because your base mana goes up. However, because we don’t get much gear upgrades until 80, our maximum mana does not change much.

    So our spells are more expensive, while our fiend still returns 4% of max mana.

    To illustrate, some fictional numbers:

    I am level 79, with base mana 4000, which becomes 10,000 mana after gear and such.
    I cast a spell that costs 5% of base mana, which is 200.
    I can cast this spell 500 times before my mana runs out.
    Shadowfiend returns 10×4% max mana, which is 4,000 mana.

    Now I ding 80, base mana goes to 5000, max mana becomes 11,000.
    I cast a spell that costs 5% of base mana, which is 250.
    I can cast this spell 440 times before my mana runs out.
    Shadowfiend returns 10×4% max mana, which is 4,400 mana.

    In other words, because Shades typically had low mana pools before, we got beaten by the ugly stick after everything got changed to % of maximum mana. We just never noticed, because we were max level.

    After gaining a few levels, our mana pool barely increased, but the cost of our spells (% of base mana) kept going up and up.

    Now we are 80 again, and our mana pools seem to draw equal to mages and shamans (16-20k max mana abouts?) we finally get some proper return from the fiend, and can cast spells chain-linked again ^_^.

    Anyway, on with the show!

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