Seri sez: Shadow for the Holy CL (Pre-3.0)

September 25, 2008

At one time, I had 10 Priests under my purview. Although there have been a few casualties, we are still legion; the Priest class is the largest in our guild and it’s my job to evaluate both the Holy and Shadow Priests. I’ve always been Holy, so when I took on a class lead role I knew I had my work cut out for me. Fortunately for you, you can now benefit from all of my hard work. By following these guidelines, you can whip those Shadow Priests into shape… or at least find out what sort of shenanigans they’ve been getting away with.

Reviewing Gear

Reviewing any character is a multi-step process. I like to start with their armory profile. Have a gander at their gear, and determine if it is appropriate for the level of content that you’re running. ShadowPriest.com has a great gear list that you can use to see if they are missing easily obtainable upgrades, but be warned that a lot of the “best” gear is haste gear, and Shadow Priests shouldn’t start stacking haste until they are up around 1400 Shadow Damage fully buffed.

Spell Damage: T6 Shadow Priests should have at minimum 1100-1200 Shadow Damage–more if you’ve been deep in T6 content for a while.

Hit Rating: Shadow Priests hit cap at 76 Hit Rating, with 5/5 Shadow Focus (more about that later).

Enchants: Make sure they have an enchant for all enchantable slots (helm, shoulders, cloak, chest, wrist, gloves, pants, boots, weapon) including rings if they are an enchanter. They should have spell power for bracers, gloves and weapon, though Soulfrost is also good to see. Chest can be +6 Stats or Mp5. I require Subtlety and Boar’s Speed for my Shadow Priests, but your policies may vary.

Gems: Spell damage, spell damage, spell damage. Shadow Priests can and should ignore set bonuses as needed to socket as much spell damage as possible. Gem choices may vary a little bit depending on stamina/haste needs, but if you see anything wacky like Spell Penetration or Spell Crit wield your clue-by-four with impunity.

Reviewing Spec

Next, tab over to their talent sheet. There isn’t a heck of a lot to look for here, because if you opened up your Shadow tree and face rolled on your keyboard you would be bound to get most of your points in useful talents. It’s not uncommon to see Shadow Priests sink 50+ talent points in Shadow. However, an optimal raid spec will be a little leaner to make room for a dozen or so points in Discipline. Things to look for:

PvP Talents: Make sure the Shadow Priest isn’t raiding with a PvP build, which will be characterized by things like Imp Psychic Scream, Silence and Shadow Resilience.

Inner Focus/Meditation: Remember I mentioned that Discipline tree? Inner Focus is a must-have. Meditation is a Seri recommendation, because every little bit helps for those endurance fights.

Vampiric Embrace: Completely optional for raiding. VE generates a ton of threat, making it only situationally useful. If your Shadow Priests are putting points in VE and Imp VE, make sure they’re not neglecting something else.

Shadow Weaving: 5/5 is not necessary. 4/5 will keep it up pretty reliably, and if you routinely stack your raid with more than one Shadow Priest they could even potentially reduce it to 3/5. This buff doesn’t stack (not in every sense anyway); the Shadow Priests share a debuff slot and can refresh each others’ debuffs.

Shadow Focus: With 5/5 Shadow Focus, a Shadow Priest only needs 76 Hit Rating. This makes it ridiculously easy for Shadow Priests to hit cap. Often, Shadow Priests will end up with a surplus of Hit Rating and can reduce the # of points spent on Shadow Focus.

Spell Hit Caps (courtesty of SP.com):

* 76 hit is the cap with 5/5 Shadow Focus
* 101 hit before you can go to 4/5 Shadow Focus
* 126 hit before you can go to 3/5 Shadow Focus
* 152 hit before you can go to 2/5 Shadow Focus
* 177 hit before you can go to 1/5 Shadow Focus
* 202 hit before you can go to 0/5 Shadow Focus

Reviewing WWS

If you are a serious raider, you’re probably already familiar with WowWebStats. If not, well, this section might not make a lot of sense but hopefully you can follow along. WWS reports are a bloated with information, and either adored or reviled by raiders. While I enjoy digging around in WWS to look at stats, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. WWS takes a lot of flak for creating unnecessary competition between raiders, but for me it’s a great tool for performance evaluation. The trick is knowing what to look at and what to not care about.

Forget Trash: When reviewing your Shadow Priests, drill down to individual bosses. While it might be useful to take a quick glance at the trash stats, trash is not optimal for performance tracking for casters–especially casters that rely on DoTs for a lot of their damage.

Don’t Forget Mobility: A lot of boss fights are about mobility, and the more time folks spend repositioning themselves the less time they spend DPSing. Pick low mobility fights as your ‘benchmark’ fights when looking for raw DPS numbers.

Spell Rotation: Shadow Priest spell rotation is done by priority rather than casting things in a set order. The idea is to keep Shadow Word: Pain and Vampiric Touch up at all times, Mind Blast whenever the cooldown is up, Shadow Word: Death whenever it’s safe and otherwise Mind Flay. Ideally, the SP should be using a DoT timer and refreshing SWP & VT right as they wear off. Because VT has a shorter duration than SWP, it should be refreshed whenever it needs refreshing rather than waiting until SWP wears off. When looking at an individual Priest’s stats, look for the ‘Dots’ field for SWP and VT. These numbers should be the same if not close to the same. If there are significantly fewer VT ticks than SWP ticks, that means they are refreshing both DoTs at the same time rather than independently. Bad SP, no biscuit!

Calculating DoT Uptime: DoT Uptime is defined as ‘the amount of time DoTs are kept up’. This isn’t something you’ll want to do after every raid for every boss, but I like to spot check folks here and there–sort of like a pop quiz for Shadow Priests. The formula is pretty simple (it’d have to be, because I suck at math):

DoT Uptime % = (# dot ticks * 3) / fight-duration-in-seconds * 100

So, let’s say a fight is 4 minutes long and during that 4 minutes a SP had 80 ticks of SWP:

80 * 3 = 240
240 / 240 = 1
1 *100 = 100%

There you have it. 80 ticks of SWP in a 240 second (4 minute) fight is 100% DoT uptime. That’s pretty optimistic though, let’s take a real world (such that it is) example:

These screenshots are taken from an actual WWS report, for a Teron Gorefiend fight. This particular priest died during the fight, but was present for 97%. We’ll use the amount of time she was alive for our calculations… after all, we can’t really hold her accountable for keeping DoTs up after she died. As you can see from the first picture, she was alive for 3 minutes and 47 seconds, which is 227 seconds according to my calculator widget. Next, look for the SWP ticks on the ‘dots’ column of the damage out breakdown: 71. Plugging it in:

71 * 3 = 213
213 / 227 = .938(ish)
.938 * 100 = 93.8%

So, for this Gorefiend attempt this Shadow Priest’s DoT Uptime was 93%… I should give her a cookie. I love to see DoT Uptime over 90% but anywhere in the mid-80’s is acceptable for mobility fights (which Gorefiend is not).

What else can WWS tell you? All sorts of things. Just looking at the above images, you can see that our guinea pig’s DPS for that fight was 1264 and that her VT/SWP ratio was pretty close. If anything, I’d suspect that she was waiting for VT to wear off before re-casting. Since VT has a casting time, you can start casting it before VT actually wears off (without clipping the last tick) as long as you’re watching the dot timer. WWS will also show you buffs gained, so you can tell whether someone was using a flask, how often they used buff food, mana potions, their Shadowfiend and more.

Personal Observation

Last but not least: the often underestimated personal observation stage of the review process. Does the SP show up for raids on time and stocked with all the consumables and reagents that they need? Do they help with buffing Fortitude and Shadow Protection as needed? Are they dying a lot, and if so is it because of threat issues or poor situational awareness? Are they following instructions? Going AFK frequently? Zoning out on trash? Managing their mana/cooldowns well? Set them as your focus target for an hour or so if needed to keep an eye on them.

Final Thoughts

Even though we Holy Priests are healing specialists, that doesn’t mean that we have to be ignorant about how the ‘other half’ lives. My studies of Shadow Priest tactics/gear have made me a stronger player in general, not to mention a stronger Class Lead.

Looking ahead, there are significant changes coming in patch 3.0 that will affect Shadow Priest spec, rotation & gear needs. I’ve been keeping an eye on these developments, and once things stabilize I’ll post a new guide for 3.0.


  1. A really wonderful post. I enjoyed.

    I also agree, in general, that someone at the mid/high end of raiding should know the ins and outs of all of the different parts of their class. Holy paladins should at least know about tanking, holy priests should know about shadow, etc.

  2. @ Crutchx — Meh, different strokes for different folks. I feel it is important for a class lead to be familiar with all their class’ specs, but I don’t expect my minions to know everything about everything. If they did, I’d be out of a job. >.>

  3. “Shadow Priests can and should ignore set bonuses as needed to socket as much spell damage as possible.” – Yes and No. It depends entirely on the socket bonus and the gems that can be used to obtain it. A good example for WHEN to socket for your bonus would be your T6 helm. Using epic gems (which you should be, at this point), you exchange +1 spell damage for 7 stamina. This decision is just flavor, but it is *NOT* a terrible idea to socket for your bonus.
    Another example are the legs off of Kalecgos (the healing ones that exchange to damage/haste). In the yellow sockets you place Dmg/Haste gems, in the red you place a pure +dmg. You’re exchanging 7 damage for 10 haste when you do this, which at that level of content should be a bigger DPS/mana return boost than the plain 36 damage from 3x +12 damage gems.
    T6 loves are yet another example of when to socket for your bonus. T6 bracers can go straight +dmg, or haste/dmg. That is another bit of flavor (if you value haste over damage at your gear level).

    A shadow priest that sockets for their bonus isn’t misinformed or poorly itemizing their character, in some cases it’s a bigger boost, or the trade off is insignificant or “flavor” (in the case of T6 helm). Whether or not it’s worth it to socket for your bonus depends entirely on the bonus itself, and what you’re giving up to gain it. It’s very case-by-case.



    Inner Focus is less important than Meditation. Meditation is less important at lower gear levels (ie: kara/gruul/mag/za), gains importance at mid-level content (ssc/tk), and becomes required in high level content (bt/hyjal/swp). This is because when you first start gearing a shadow priest (if you’re “doing it right”) you wont have much gear with +spirit, it’ll be mostly ‘warlock’ gear (stam/int). As you progress, you’ll be picking up items more priestly, including the new badge leggings, which have spirit on them.

    Vampiric Embrace – it’s required for Shadow Form. 🙂 Imp VE is the only thing you should worry about – shadow priests should only *NEED* to take it when in Sunwell, because of the massive amount of raid damage there is aswell as threat being less of an issue at that level of content (Shadow Priest damage output doesn’t change too much from BT/Hyjal to Sunwell).

    Just a little bit I felt I needed to nit-pick about. 😉

  4. @ Estrela – Thanks for your comments. It wasn’t my intent to say ‘you must socket only spell damage or you fail’ so I probably could have worded that better. You’re right, there are times when you may want to take advantage of a socket bonus. And, yes, it’s Imp VE that’s fairly optional, not VE. Good catch. 🙂

  5. This was an excellent read from a future shadow priest’s point of view. I’ll be switching mains for the expansion and I’m currently looking for active blogs to help me on the transition.

    Yours doesn’t quite fit into the category but is a great way to educate me about how the other half (well, two thirds or something like that) lives. Would you lovely ladies be able to recommend me any snarks from the gloomy side of priesting?

  6. @ Sinsin – I haven’t really been following Shadow blogs since it’s not my spec of choice, but I know Dwarf Priest tends to lean toward Shadow content. I also recently started watching Misery. There seems to be some good Shadow content there!

    I’d say start with those two and browse their blogrolls for more suggestions.

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