Into the Shadows: The curtain goes up

The second post in a series on raiding as a Shadowpriest, it’s now time to focus on the details that make Shadowpriesting into more than just triple quadruple-digit+ DPS. There’s some tricks and common practices that can really help in getting the most out of your toon, and some of those will only become apparent through practice.

Before the pull

Make sure you have all the buffs you can from your raid. You will want Kings, Wisdom (in that order), Intellect, Fortitude, and Spirit buffs. A lot of times when there’s a few Arcane mages around and they are not making each other happy, you might get a Focus Magic. Make sure you keep Inner Fire and Vampiric Embrace up all the time. Check if you have a food buff and a flask active, those are substantial bonuses.

Opening up

The purpose of an opening rotation for Shadowpriests is relatively simple: you should end up with all your DoTs on the target, and 5 stacks of Shadow Weaving before applying Shadow Word: Pain. Since casting Mind Flay keeps SW:P rolling, you want to make sure it has the bonus from those 5 stacks, so that they stay on all the time.

I personally use the following order: Vampiric Touch, Mind Blast, Mind Flay, Devouring Plague, Shadow Word: Pain.

Some people argue that you should only do 2 ticks of Mind Flay to get DP on the target quicker, and that has merit. Experiment with it and see if you like it.
I don’t for the reason that before I apply Misery, I lack 3% hit and it’s always possible that one spell misses before that debuff is applied, and then I don’t have 5 stacks of Shadow Weaving when I hit SW:P.

Continuing your onslaught

Priority number 1 is to keep your DoTs up, and especially SW:P. The latter is refreshed by casting Mind Flay before SW:P expires. Be careful, as it takes a bit of time before the first damage from Mind Flay starts to tick, so if you refresh it in the last second it might expire anyway. Use it a little earlier to be sure.

Always refresh your DoTs as early as possible after they expire. Never re-cast a DoT before it runs out (“clipping the DoT”) or the last tick of the damage never happens. Refreshing a DoT a little later is less of a loss of DPS than losing that final damage tick. When you are starting out, are a bit unsure, or have some lag, it is usually better to err on the side of caution and refresh a bit later.

Mind Blast keeps up your Replenishment, but is not the most efficient spell. Once you have 4pT10, you might decide to cast Mind Blast less frequently, but do continue using it. Even with obscene amounts of Haste it takes a lot of effort to make it worthwhile to squeeze in more Mind Flays rather than use Mind Blast. Also, we provide Replenishment. And even if other classes bring it, and it seems totally unnecessary, you will cast Mind Blast to provide it. It is our sacred duty.

Trash compacting

Shades have it relatively hard on trash because our single AoE (Mind Sear) does not actually harm the target that we are targeting, just everything around it. This means that while our AoE is powerful, it quickly gets outstripped by Mages, Warlocks and Boomkins as they spam their respective spells.

In order to maximize some DPS on trash, I generally cast Fade just before the pull (as the tank runs in), hit Inner Focus (as the mobs are aggroed) and then bring on the Mind Sear. Doing this, I risk no initial aggro pulling from the AoE (certainly a risk for the other DPS) and using Inner Focus gets me a free Mind Sear which has 25% increased crit chance on its first tick.

After that, I generally cast Devouring Plague on the target that will live the longest (much health, not attacked) and use it as my “Mind Sear Totem”.

Healing with VE

Your Vampiric Embrace (especially if you have 2/2 improved vampiric embrace) will provide quite some healing, but most of it to yourself. This is a good thing, since it means you are a very survivable target. Healers will learn that you need less attention than the other DPS, which provides some good karma.

One thing to remember though is that it only works on single-target spells. When you spam Mind Sear to AoE, you get no healing from it. Zilch. Nada.


Another nice little trick is to use “pre-potting”. This means that as the tank runs in (before combat starts) you use a Haste or Wild Magic Potion, which will give you an edge at the start. The crit bonus of Wild Magic also seems to stick with your SW:P, so it’s double good. They last for 15 seconds, which should be enough to get all your openers in before it expires.

But because combat didn’t start when you used it, its 2 minute cooldown starts running, allowing you to use a second potion somewhere later in the fight. On DPS-critical fights like Lich King, Festergut and Blood Queen, this will come in handy.

Use of Inner Focus

Whole volumes have been written about the use of Inner Focus. It has 2 major benefits: the next spell cast becomes free (no mana cost) and it has a 25% increased Crit chance. Now, there are some factors to take into consideration:

  • Inner Focus does not activate the Global Cooldown. You can make a macro that casts it and another spell.
  • Any spell can be made free to cast.
  • DoTs (SW:P, DP, VT) are not affected by the increased Crit chance.
  • Channeled spells (MF, MS) only gain the Crit on the first tick.

Some people advocate using it with Mind Blast (to reduce its cost), Devouring Plague (to enhance the instant damage post) or Divine Hymn (For large emergency healing).

Dispersion and its many benefits

Dispersion as a raid tool has many functions. One of these is to provide mana in case that we need it, and it also provides a 90% reduction in damage taken in its 6 second duration. There are many fights in which you will have ample opportunity to use this spell while on the move (such as during Rotface ooze explosions, Putricide Tear Gas, Onyxia Deep Breaths and many more).

If you are going to suffer massive damage, such as the large AoE from Festergut or Lich King’s Vile Spirits, be sure to pop it in time. I died a few times when I was slow on hitting the button and lag made the spell go off after I was already hit. WoW is one of those games where spells are cast when you release the button, not when you press it. So if you have sticky fingers, better Disperse a second earlier.

If you happen to have the Glyph of Dispersion (mandatory for Vile Spirit soaking or eating up Algalon’s Big Bang) you also have the benefit of using Dispersion to gain mana when running between trash packs. This lowers your downtime on trash significantly.

Making your healers your best friends

One of the things we often are clamoring against is to be seen as healers. But sometimes an encounter demands a lot more. Fear Ward and Mass Dispel makes the Horror from Blood Queen a joke, and a Divine Hymn during XT’s Tympanic Tantrum every other time makes the pressure on healers a lot less. Mind Control on the Warbringers at Thorim for the speed buff if no less a skill than MC tanking Instructor Razuvious.

The key is to communicate with your healers. Often a raid’s healers communicate through a separate channel, discussing positioning, who heals whom, and in what order life-saving cooldowns will be used. Join them in the discussion, if only to offer a Divine Hymn in crisis situations.

You won’t be expected to cover for a fallen healer, that’s not the point. But having healing cooldowns and using them wisely, while being a very survivable DPS, can earn you the respect of your healers. And this way you can contribute more to the survival of the raid and getting an encounter done, which has a value all its own.

Death and Revival

Sometimes there will be a wipe announced, and it’s time to prepare for your inevitable death-pose. Make sure to run as close to the door as possible (a safe spot to be rezzed) and die quickly. Needlessly lengthening a battle not only eats into the time before you can attempt the boss again, but you run the risk of having any Shadowmelded healers discovered and eaten.

After release, begin running towards the instance portal. Most raids announce the rezzes, allowing you to run in if yours will take a while. If you do get a rez, run to the safe spot with the rest of the group and pop Hymn of Hope near the healers. They will need the extra mana to get everyone rezzed and healed up quickly.


There’s more than meets the eye to being a Shadowpriest, some of the examples I illustrated here. I am sure there are many more tips and tricks, and I will try and get these in a next post. For now, this will do in giving you a head start when beginning your raids, or boosting your performance and reliability to your raiding team.

7 Responses to “Into the Shadows: The curtain goes up”

  1. My starting rotation lately has been VT->SW:P->DP->MF->SW:P it starts with 2 delayed damage spells, giving the tank time to get agro, gets misery up nice and early(everyone will appreciate it), but still give 1 buffer(VT miss or knockback eating a tick). Later replen, but if someone is hurting for mana less than 10 secs in they need to GTFO.

    • That’s certainly an option, but it will be slightly less DPS as you are likely to clip a tick of SW:P when refreshing it. Also, it invalidates pre-potting as the bonuses from the potion are gone when you refresh the SW:P.

      With a VT->MB starter, the first damage isn’t in until about 3 seconds into the fight, which is more than enough for tanks to get aggro – I never have issues with it in any case.

      I will check if I can find the link with the calculations on various opening rotations; I don’t think a rotation that includes re-casting SW:P came out too good, but you never know.

      Edit: (Maximizing DPS starter sticky)
      Lots of discussion on the opening rotation; differences on what to start with seem to make a 100 or so DPS disparity, but the old standby I mentioned seems to be one of the top options.

  2. As a reformed healer, I constantly on the lookout to make my healers’ jobs easier without giving up DPS, so on a fight like Sindragosa, where I may be Ice Tombed (and unable to DPS) I throw a Renew and a Gift of the Naaru (sorry lesser races…8-P) on myself just before I freeze.

    Then, when I get freed, it’s just a matter of popping back into shadow form and continue melting faces.

    • It can actually be even easier. You see, I hope I get Icetombed at least once during the fight, so I can use Dispersion for some mana regains. You see, the iceblocks count as a stun, and Dispersion can be cast while stunned. I wait in the iceblock until the choking debuff begins, then pop Dispersion. I will take a maximum of 2K damage, so I will come out of the iceblock with guns blazing and mana refilled.

  3. […] Into the Shadows: The Curtain Goes Up – Natarumah at Twisted Faith – The second installment of a fairly detailed and approachable introduction to playing a shadow priest. […]

  4. Rotation: VT>DP>MB>MF>SW:P – I’ve been using this for a while now.

    • Is also a very valid opener, as long as you have 5 stacks of Shadow Weaving when SW:P goes up. The only dilemma is that putting DP later in the opening means its initial burst (the part of its damage done immediately, not the DoT) is increased by more stacks of Shadow Weaving.

      It’s only a very small difference, but when you min-max, it might be just enough.

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