How to play a Shadow Priest

You've given up all that is good and right as a priest and instead have chose to focus on the power of death. Good for you, we all need to be bad every once in a while.

While playing a healer can be immensely rewarding, it can also be incredibly demanding and stressful. Due to this, many priests have switched allegiances from light to dark, and now focus on the power of death. Many never even need to switch, as shadow is the strongest solo build and therefore the most common while leveling. Once you become a shadow priest many players find it hard to go back. DPS is in general easier and less stressful than healing, and much more addictive. It can become very competitive when trying to top the DPS meters, which is very different than healing.

Be prepared though, that while you can top DPS meters, if you do, you are probably not doing everything you could to help the group or raid. Shadow priests are great at damage, don't get me wrong. But to maximize their damage output they have to sacrifice doing several things. Don't worry, this will be discussed below in the utility and spell rotation sections.


Gear for DPS as a priest is slightly harder to get than healing gear, if only because you will be competing against other DPS priests, mages and warlocks for it while running instances. The gear you need to watch for should have +damage, intelligence, and spirit. These should come in at least pairs on all the items you collect. You also need enough stamina to take a few hits before you die, and resilience if you chose to PvP.

Intelligence and +damage are by far the most important stats as they will allow you to cast more damaging spells over a longer time that the other stats. To be truly effective you should aim to have at least a mana pool of 7000 and +600 damage by level 70. While stamina is important so that you can take a hit, you will likely get enough while focusing on the other abilities that you will not have to hunt it out on your own. The same holds true for spirit and as long as you get some, you will be ok. If you focus on these stats you will also likely gain some +Mana per 5 sec (+mp5) and + to spell critical hit, While nice to have in some degree, neither are critical as a shadow priest in any huge amount.

The exception to the above is if you participate in PvP in the battlegrounds or the arenas, or while leveling. If you are doing PvP you will need to focus much more on resilience and stamina. They become your primary concerns, while +damage and intelligence become secondary, and spirit and +mp5 become almost useless as the fights will generally not be long enough to require it. If you are leveling, focusing on spirit will help you reduce your down time significantly.


As a shadow priest, you will be spending the majority of your talent points in the shadow tree. The remainder of your talent points will end up either in discipline for mana efficiencies or in holy for some healing ability when you need to switch our of shadow form. The one talent that you really must have though is shadow form which becomes available as your 31st talent point is spent in the shadow tree. This ability defines the shadow priest allowing you to deal more damage, while taking less damage from melee attackers.

You can find a full list of all the talents and make your own decision on which ones are for you in our Priest Talent guide.

To find several shadow based priest builds or to submit your own, visit our wiki in the priest build section.


Shadow priests have something that most regular priests just don't have, utility. A normal holy priest can't put out significant damage, they can only buff, heal and provide some cc (against undead and some fears). A shadow priest can put out solid amounts of damage, regen the groups mana and health, buff, CC, chain fear, and heal in emergencies. As a shadow priest you need to remember all of these things. If you go into a group and JUST try to max DPS then you are doing a disservice to the group and giving shadow priests a bad name.

Make sure you use all your tools. Shackle undead targets, fear groups that are threatening to wipe you, use your regen abilities, and drop out of shadow form to heal if required. Even though doing these this will lower your DPS, they will help the group. Trust me, you will be invited back.

Spell Rotations

While it is easy to get carried away and just focus on your most damaging spells, you really should focus on the spells that will help the group the most. Therefore I am going to provide the most helpful rotation first, and then focus on the much simpler maximum DPS rotation.

The usual rotation to be the most helpful to your group is as follows:

Vampiric Touch - Shadow Word: Pain - Vampiric Embrace - Mind Blast - Mind Flay

You setup with all the DoTs first and then do your damage spells. Once the DoTs start to expire you recast them before returning to your damage spells. With this rotation you are keeping up your damage while returning mana and health to your group as much as possible. You can also cycle in Shadow Word death into the rotation, however your will tend to scare your healer.

Another option, although not the best, is to go for full our damage. This is usually only viable when in PvP, so don't try in in group situations. In a group it is almost always better to do less damage but return mana and health to the group. The rotation would be:

Vampiric Touch - Shadow Word: Pain - Mind Blast - Shadow Word: Death - Mind Flay

With this rotation you essentially are swapping out VE for SW:D. This increases your damage output, at the cost of group benefits.

Threat and Shadow

Threat or aggro from MOBs leads very quickly to your death in a group or raid situation. Unfortunately while doing shadow damage you can generate threat extremely fast. Therefore you need to watch your threat level with a threat meter in groups at all times. Until one is built into the game, the best two to choose from are Omen or KTM. Since they work with each other very well, chose the one you like and stick with it.

To minimize the chance you will draw aggro from any other targets you should always pick your target by assisting the tank. Let them have a head start on damage and then start with your DOTs. Only follow up with Mind Blasts or Shadow Word: Deaths if you are sure the tank can hold the aggro, other wise move right on to mind flay which generates much less threat. Only move onto high threat spells once the tank has a sure lock on the target, or you have fade up to reduce threat if you pull aggro.

While it is tempting to DOT every target in the fight, and it can up your damage and utility greatly, only try this if you have a Paladin tank that is using consecrate to hold all the MOBs.

+Damage Coefficient

Just as important as the spells that you choose, the stats or the ability bonuses that you have, is understanding the coefficient in which the +damage applied to your spells. As stated in the basics section of our priest guide the full value of your +healing or +damage is not added. Each spell has a coefficient that gets multiplied by your total +damage to determine the amount added. To find out how much of your +damage will be added to each spell multiply the coefficient in the table below by your +damage bonus.

Priest + Damage Coefficients
Holy Fire (initial damage)
Mana Burn
Mind Blast
Mind Flay
Shadow fiend
Shadow Word: Death
Shadow Word: Pain
Vampiric Touch

What does all this mean? Well for one, since 110% of your +damage gets added to your SW:P and 100% to your Vampiric Touch, you need to use these. You will also notice that Mind Blast and SW:D have the same coefficient, so since SW:D is cheaper in terms of mana and an instant, don't be scared to use it, just be aware of your health. Mind flay gets a huge boost from your +damage so use it, many priests ignore mind blast all together to keep mind flay up more often. Lastly even though you are mainly worried about shadow damage, if most of your +damage effect all spell damage (some is +to shadow damage only) try casting the odd smite, as it gets almost twice as much of your +damage as mind blast or SW:D.

Things to Remember

  • As a Shadow Priest you will generate huge amounts of threat. You must have a threat meter running and make sure you stay below the tank. This can be hard at times if you are geared close to the same level or above the tank.
  • You best serve a group through your utility rather than pure max damage.
  • Never shield a tank since it will cause them to drop aggro!
  • Use a rank 1 shadow word: pain spammed 4 times on a target to stack your shadow vulnerability before moving on to your damage spells can up your initial DPS significantly.
  • In raids, you are best helping by either being in the healing group or caster group to restore mana to as many as possible.
  • It is critical to keep buffs up on everyone in the group.
  • Remember you can fear MOBs off of you if you are really stuck, just be cautious of your position as if you do this too close to other MOBS it may aggro them.
  • Remember that when things go wrong you can always drop out of shadow form to help heal.
  • All casters will love having you in the group for the 5% bonus from misery, but Warlocks will scream to have you for it and the bonus from shadow vulnerability.

For general Priest information, check out our complete Priest Guide.

Comments or questions? Email me ([email protected]) or post in our Priest forums!

To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our World of Warcraft Game Page.

Last Updated: Mar 13, 2016

About The Author

Byron 1
Byron has been playing and writing about World of Warcraft for the past ten years. He also plays pretty much ever other Blizzard game, currently focusing on Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone, while still finding time to jump into Diablo III with his son.


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