Precursor to leveling in Cataclysm

Considering that we are coursing at the release of patch 4.0 at high speed, it’s time to take a look at leveling our Shadowpriests in Cataclysm. In leveling a character, (mana) efficiency and survivability are more important than the buffs and raid utility we bring. This holds true even if we do some instances here and there, but since most of us have a dual spec, it would not be too hard to create a second spec to cover this if needed.

Note that this is just a precursor, and that my insights are based on what I’ve heard of the Beta, our new talent specs and the toughness of the mobs we are expected to encounter. I will make a new version of this post at the release of 4.0, since we can expect numbers to be more final then.

Leveling goals

  • Killing normal (Level -1 to Level +1) mobs at the highest speed possible, while
  • Maintaining a low downtime, while
  • Remaining able to survive accidental pulls and the occasional special mob

Stat priorities

The current consensus on is that Mastery’s scaling is currently an issue. Without the Harnessed Shadows talent, Mastery is just not very good, and even with this talent it is about 30% as good as Critical Strike rating. We will expect to take a Crit on us here and there from mobs, but even that won’t make the Orbs stack up fast enough to care too much.

Since we are not tackling mobs more than 2 levels higher than us, Hit is also less of value while leveling. In fact, it might be better to go for Spirit instead, since it provides Hit as well as increasing our out-of-combat mana regen, which means less downtime.

Intellect remains king, not just because it provides Spellpower (our best scaling stat) but also more mana. And as we level up, we will burn through mana quicker, meaning that a larger mana pool is very desireable. We will have 8% Haste baseline from our talents, but more haste makes for a higher killing speed, which is also good.

Last on the list is Crit, which increases our damage but no longer triggers any special abilities.

In short: Intellect > Haste > Spirit (until about 6% Hit is achieved) > Crit > Mastery (avoid if possible)


In the latest build of, it seems Mind Melt is back to providing a reduction in cast speed for Mind Blast until it is Instant, where it has been building up to 100% Crit chance instead. I have no idea whether this is a bug, or the increased Mastery scaling of the latest Beta build made Blizzard decide that 100% Crit, 3-Orb Mindblasts for 50K were a bit overpowered...

Edit: Most likely it was a confusion between the Crit bonus on Mind Spike and the Casting speed bonus from Mind Melt. If so, 3xMsP+Mind Melt = 100% Crit Instant-cast 3-Orb Mind Blasts. Ouch.

In any case, I will probably level using the following talent spec:

This spec has no Harnessed Shadows (since I believe Mastery won’t amount to much until level 85 at this point), and 3/3 Mental Agility to conserve mana. Since Crit rating is very high at level 80 and with current gear, I expect that until about level 83, mana issues will be small if Shadowfiend and Dispersion are used often enough.

As soon as possible, I would dip into Evangelism and Archangel, to provide damage boosts and additional mana return.

For utility in dungeons I would make a second spec to include Improved Psychic Scream, Silence and Psychic Horror. Using the glyph that makes your Fear cause people to tremble in place rather than run around, we have solid CC available for both leveling and in dungeons. Silence will give us an interrupt and also allows us to pull casters in while leveling. Psychic Horror makes hard-hitting mobs that wield weapons a little less dangerous.

Casting and Resting

In the beginning, we probably won’t need to use all our DoTs. At level 80 and with ICC gear, level 80 normal mobs die from just a single SW:P. However, I expect mobs in the first level 81 zone to be quite a bit tougher, not unlike how the level 60 mobs in Hellfire Peninsula were nastier than in Silithus.

I’d say to put up a PW:Shield on yourself, and use Vampiric Touch and Mind Blast on your first target. This will trigger replenishment for yourself and do a good chunk of damage. If the mob brings friends, Mind Sear will take care of them.

Once you have Evangelism and Archangel, the fun begins. The first mob (preferable an outlier) gets VT+MB. Then Mind Flay it to death, which will likely stack Evangelism to 5 (at two Mind Flays or so). Then apply PW:Shield again on yourself, Devouring Plague on a mob with friends and begin Mind Searing.

I believe Mind Sear counts as a periodic effect, so it gains the DoT bonus from Evangelism. This will make killing a group of mobs a lot quicker, while the Devouring Plague plus VE healing should cover any hits that do go through. Just before Evangelism wears off, hit Archangel.

This will trigger a 5% mana returns as well as increasing the damage of your Direct Damage spells. Since most mobs you were just fighting are below 25%, you can serial-SW:Death them or use an Instant Mind Blast to finish one off.

Most likely this scheme will allow you to take down quite some mobs down at once, making for quicker quest completions and grinding of mobs that drops something you want (say, cloth). I think that if we can time our Downtime by drinking in between Archangel cooldowns, we could use Archangel both as a Mana cooldown when we finished a kill, while setting us up for more damage on our next target.

From level 83 on I can see mob toughness becoming much higher, and it might no longer be possible to kill larger groups of mobs at once. In this case, we can still make good time using single-target DPS. If we know the remaining DoTs on the target will kill it, it’s probably safe to rely on VE to heal us up while we line up DoTs on a second target.


I can see a lot of interesting leveling schemes emerge based on what talents we will have available at 80-83. The introduction of Evangelism and Archangel certainly provides us with “leveling timers” and the ability to use them offensively and for mana returns.

Since our mana pools are expected to soar, they might return more mana than we use up in the beginning, leveling flat at about level 83 when the reductions we suffer in our ratings catches up as we need more and more spells to kill our foes.

Above all, stacking Intellect for spellpower and mana will provide us with reasonable killing power while keeping our downtime relatively low. But at level 83+, expect hell to break loose and mana efficiency to go down the drain.


4 Responses to “Precursor to leveling in Cataclysm”

  1. Thanks for all this info on Cata stuff! I haven’t had time to do much PTR, nor am I on the beta (sigh), so am just taking in every shadow priest-centric Cata bit of info I can. An alternative spec with some emphasis on a little bit of CC sounds like a really great idea, though I’m not sure if I’m going to opt for the versatility of being able to queue as healer as well. I guess it’ll depend on who I’m leveling with D:

    Any thoughts on the latest change to Mind Spike causing high threat?

    • The latest change has given Mind Spike a High Threat component; back in the days I believe Mind Blast used to have it as well. This does make Mind Spike a bit of a weird spell.

      First off, has the same coefficient, deals more damage and has no cooldown. So it is superior to Mind Blast in every way. Because we weren’t supposed to use it so often, they put a high mana cost on it before. I believe the original design intent was for us to use it on adds that had to die quickly and we did not have time to put up DoTs.

      But now the mana cost is lower than Mind Blast, but causes high threat.

      What this does is make it unusable to kill those adds with, as they will all come running to you at high speed; it also is hard to use in your regular rotation because you’d spend more time watching Omen than your surroundings.

      I am sure it is going to change yet again, because as I see it the only 2 purposes are PvP (if locked out of the Shadow school) or specifically kiting adds (like on Velithria Dreamwalker) or tanking (Kelliseth).

  2. Yeah, at the start of beta, I saw that MB had a high threat component to it. And I was all like “woo, vanilla wow-stylez”. I guess we will see how things pan out…

  3. Hey appreciate reading this highlight and informative post to help me catch up a bit on playing Shadow again after been away from WoW for almost a year thus haven’t played WoW or kept up with anything in all that time.

    Since i used to read your blog for a long time as a lurker and learning much was never much a commenter. So recently coming back to WoW for Cataclysm and playing some my other characters needed to re-learn a bit to play Shadow. So i stopped by my familiar reading spot to your blog here and skipped back a several weeks enough to be able to reach and catch up a bit on playing Shadow again.

    So thanks again for writing helpful and informative information that even old blog content can be informative long after its been written for others just getting up tp speed.

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