For simplicity's sake, I will refer to the priority list as a rotation; however, to term the shadow priest (spriest) "rotation" as such is a bit innacurate. Since spriest abilities have vastly different cooldowns and durations, even when movement is not involved, it is best to view the attack order as a list of priorities rather than a repeatable rotation.
Please refer to the following link if interested in my Shadow Priest Pre-Raid Best In-Slot Gearing Guide.
Generic PvE Talent Tree
The only variation you will generally find for the above PVE raid talent tree revolves around your character's hit rating and its interaction with the talent Shadow Focus. Every talent rank of Shadow Focus translates directly into 25 hit rating points. Therefore depending on your hit rating without Shadow Focus factored in, you can free up to 5 talent points from the generic build above. Here are the recommended talent builds for each spell hit rating (these ratings are without Shadow Focus):
- 101 hit rating or below
- 102 to 126 hit rating
- 127 to 151 hit rating
- 152 to 176 hit rating
- 177 to 201 hit rating
- 202 hit rating or above
Vampiric Touch > Shadow Word: Pain > Shadow Word: Death > Mind Blast > Mind Flay
Vampiric Touch (VT) - A spriest's main value to a raid lies in its ability to act as a "mana battery." VT achieves this effect by returning mana to all party members equal to 5% of any Shadow spell damage dealt (shadow wand damage does not trigger the mana battery effect of VT). For this reason, VT is the highest priority for a spriest. Raid leaders should place healers, or any mana starved classes, into the spriest's party to maximize the impact of VT's utility. It should also be noted that VT deals shadow DoT damage over its 15 second duration.
Shadow Word: Pain (SW:P) - A shadow DoT spell with an 18 second duration. Successful applications of SW:P always trigger a Shadow Weaving debuff if 5 talent points were placed into Shadow Weaving. Stemming from this, using SW:P (Rank 1) [25 mana cost] can be a very intelligent way to mana efficiently build Shadow Weaving stacks. Especially in solo play, spriests may want to spam SW:P (Rank 1) a few times while kiting a mob.
Shadow Word: Death (SW:D) - An instant cast spell (6 second cooldown) which deals moderate to high shadow damage. If SW:D does not kill its target, the spriest will take damage equal to the damage dealt to the target. Due to this functionality, a spriest should always consider their own health pool before using SW:D. If low on health, it is perfectly acceptable to skip this spell in the priority list until you can afford to take the recoil damage.
Mind Blast (MB) - A very high shadow damage spell with an 8 second cooldown. Cooldown can be reduced through talenting.
Mind Flay (MF) - A channeled shadow damage spell which reduces the movement speed of the target by 50%. This spell will serve as a filler cast during the spriest rotation.
Low Mana Rotation
Generally, when you want to conserve mana you simply remove SW:D and MB from your rotation. The result is the following:
Vampiric Touch > Shadow Word: Pain > Mind Flay
If you are nearing zero mana and you cannot even afford to do the rotation listed above, consider the following:
Shadow Word: Pain (Rank 1) to keep the Shadow Weaving stacks active > Wanding
In addition to the mana battery effect of VT, spriests were given another mana recovery ability in the Burning Crusade. Shadowfiend is a pet that priests can summon which returns mana equal to 250% of its dealt damage. Shadowfiend deals melee shadow damage and generally fits 10-11 melee swings within its duration window before dissipating. With each swing dealing roughly 100 base damage, you can expect to recover around 250 base mana each time. It is important to note the following about shadowfiend:
- Shadowfiend melee swings can crit.
- Shadowfiend melee swings can be dodged, parried, resisted partially, or miss entirely.
- Shadowfiend damage scales with gear and buffs.
- Shadowfiend damage can benefit from debuffs such as Shadow Weaving and Misery.
TIP: Remember to always prioritize Shadowfiend on adds during boss fights with adds due to the increased likelihood of hitting and the decreased likelihood of parries, dodges, and resists. Increasing Shadowfiend damage will increase the mana returned to the spriest.
Consumables / Mana Recovery
In addition to the two new priest mana recovery abilities implemented in TBC, there are other ways to recuperate mana. Perhaps the most prevalant means is of course the Super Mana Potion. As a spriest you will be using Super Mana Potions like they are going out of style, so be sure to stock up on them before raid times. Remember that potions can crit, so you should use your potion when you've spent enough mana that even critting with the potion wouldn't waste some of its mana recovery value. Generally, using the potion between 2.5k and 3.5k mana is a good idea (depending on gear).
Due to the mechanic of VT, increased damage increases returned mana. For this reason it is suggested that you use consumables that increase your damage/mana recovery. Remember that a flask is equal to 1 guardian elixir and 1 battle elixir (you cannot have a flask and any elixir on at the same time). I recommend the following buffs ranked for effectiveness with a spriest considering damages impact on mana recovery:
Food Buff (Max: 1)
1. Poached Bluefish (+23 Spell Damage, +20 Spirit for 1 hour)
1. Blackened Basilisk (+23 Spell Damage, +20 Spirit for 1 hour)
1. Crunchy Serpent (+23 Spell Damage, +20 Spirit for 1 hour)
Battle Elixir (Max: 1)
1. Elixir of Major Shadow Power (+55 Shadow Spell Damage for 1 hour)
2. Adept’s Elixir (+24 Spell Damage and Healing, +24 Spell Crit for 1 hour)
Guardian Elixir (Max: 1)
1. Elixir of Draenic Wisdom (+31 Intellect and +31 Spirit for 1 hour)
2. Elixir of Major Mageblood (+17 mana per 5 seconds for 1 hour)
Flask (Max: 1, Alternative to Both Battle and Guardian Elixirs)
1. Flask of Pure Death (+81 Shadow for 2 hours)
2. Flask of Supreme Power (+71 Spell Damage for 2 hours)
Weapon Buff (Max: 1)
1. Superior Wizard Oil (+42 Spell Damage for 1 hour)
Healthstone Cooldown (This is situational based on if health or mana is more valuable for the boss encounter)
1. Demonic Rune (901-1500 mana at the cost of 601-1000 health)
As you likely already know, DoTs do not do damage on application but rather on intervals spaced out evenly amongst its duration. The final damage "tick" of a DoT occurs on the expiration of the DoT duration; For this reason, it is important that when reapplying DoTs that you do not "clip" the previous application. It may not seem super intuitive, however, clipping a DoT can have material reductions in your DPS. For example:
- If you clip immediately before the final tick of SW:P, you will lose roughly 4.8% of the damage you would have dealt per minute if no clipping occurred.
- If you clip off one second of every VT duration, you will lose roughly 2.8% of the damage you would have dealt per minute if no clipping occurred.
Clipping Mind Flay
You will notice when doing your rotation that MF is a critical component to getting maximum DPS. As the spell is channeled, you cannot simply spam the ability repeatedly or else it will recast thus wasting mana. To best accommodate for this reality, it is highly recommended that you utilize the following MF macro using the image of Mind Flay rather than #showtooltip:
This macro will prevent you from casting MF until the previous cast has completed in its entirety. This prevents the inadvertant clipping of the final MF tick./cast [nochanneling:Mind Flay] Mind Flay
However, clipping MF is ideal in certain instances because the cooldowns of SW:D and MB do not perfectly align with MF's channeling duration. As a result, you will often want to clip the above MF macro by casting SW:D or MB before the channel completes entirely. As with clipping DoTs, MF deals damage periodically throughout its cast and, therefore, the highest DPS when clipping MF will occur with minimal time lapsed between a MF tick and SW:D/MB coming off cooldown.
Impact of Trinkets on Rotation
In the event that your character has an on use +Spell Damage trinket a few considerations should be made for determining its optimal use. Of course, maximizing uptime is a great way to get utility out of a trinket; however, look out for the following:
- You should always have 5 stacks of Shadow Weaving prior to using your trinket
- If your other trinket is Darkmoon Card: Crusade, you should have 10 stacks of increased spell damage prior to using your trinket
- Consider when consumables such as the Leatherworking Drums are used
- Consider when Bloodlust is used
Download a threat meter and ensure that you do not go above the tanks. One of the best ways to prevent that from happening is giving a tank a few moments to gather the boss and move into proper position. A few seconds of inactivity to begin a fight can be very impactful in allowing you to DPS normally throughout the remainder.
Some more specific tips on managing threat:
- On fights with heavy AoE damage do not use VE. For example, during Gruul the healing produced by VE will significantly increase the threat generation of a spriest.
- Enlist a paladin to buff you with Blessing of Salvation to reduce your threat generation by 30%.
- Fade is an ability that priests can use to drop threat and should certainly be used if you ever pull aggro of the boss.
- As always if threat generation is an issue for you, you can choose to enchant "Subtlety" on your cloak. The 2% reduction in threat generation can go a long way especially for spriests who are particularly prone to out threat tanks.