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Shadow Priest DPS Rotation, Cooldowns, and Abilities (WoW 4.3.4)

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In this article, we list your Shadow Priest (WoW 4.3) core abilities and how they should be used together (rotation). We also explain when to use your various cooldowns. Then, we go deeper and present all the subtleties that playing a Shadow Priest will face you with. The other articles of our Shadow Priest guide can be accessed from the table of contents on the left.

1. Basic Single Target Rotation↑top

As a Shadow Priest, you should always have Shadowform Icon Shadowform active while DPSing.

The single target rotation for Shadow Priests is based on a rather simple priority system. It can best be summarised as:

  • Apply and maintain Shadow Word: Pain Icon Shadow Word: Pain on the target
    • it is automatically refreshed by Mind Flay Icon Mind Flay, so it should only have to be applied once.
  • Apply and maintain Devouring Plague Icon Devouring Plague on the target.
  • Apply and maintain Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch on the target.
  • Cast Mind Blast Icon Mind Blast on cooldown (regardless of how many Shadow Orbs you have).
  • Cast Shadow Word: Death Icon Shadow Word: Death
    • ideally, you should only cast this when the target is below 25% health, as its damage is then greatly increased;
    • it provides you with a small mana return, so it can be used, even if the target is above 25% health, if you need mana.
  • Cast Mind Flay Icon Mind Flay as your filler spell.

This basic priority does not take into account maximising your Empowered Shadow Icon Empowered Shadow buff uptime, because this is largely out of your control. We do cover the topic in more detail in a subsequent section that we highly recommend reading.

2. Basic Multiple Target Rotation↑top

The multiple target rotation depends on how many enemies you are facing and how long these enemies will live. Use the following guidelines, but do not hesitate to adapt your playstyle to your particular situations.

2.1. Persistent Enemies

If your enemies will live for a longer period of time, then make use of the following guidelines:

2.1.1. Against 2-4 Targets

Against 2-4 targets, you should attempt to keep your DoTs up on all of them (Shadow Word: Pain Icon Shadow Word: Pain and Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch, as Devouring Plague Icon Devouring Plague can only be on one target at one time) and then proceed with a single target rotation.

You should cast Mind Flay Icon Mind Flay in an alternating fashion between the enemies, so that it refreshes your Shadow Word: Pain on each of them. Mind Blast Icon Mind Blast should be used on cooldown.

While maintaining your DoTs up on multiple targets, it is best not to use Dark Archangel Icon Dark Archangel and simply maintain your stacks of Dark Evangelism Icon Dark Evangelism, as you will not have very much time to cast any of the spells that are buffed by Dark Archangel. For more about the general use of this cooldown, read the section below.

2.1.2. Against 5 or More Targets

Against 5 or more targets, you are better off simply channeling Mind Sear Icon Mind Sear on one of them or, ideally, on a tank or melee DPS who is in range of all of them.

2.2. Short-lasting Enemies

Against enemies that will die too quickly for your DoTs to be efficient (less than 15 seconds or so), you should simply use as many damaging abilities as you can, such as Mind Spike Icon Mind Spike, Mind Blast Icon Mind Blast and Mind Flay Icon Mind Flay.

If there is a large number of enemies, you can resort to channeling Mind Sear Icon Mind Sear.

3. Inner Fire Versus Inner Will↑top

You should be using Inner Fire Icon Inner Fire in nearly every imaginable scenario, since it increases your spellpower and your DPS.

Inner Will Icon Inner Will provides a small movement speed increase, so it can be used in a situation where moving quickly is of the utmost importance.

4. Cooldowns↑top

As a Shadow Priest, you only have one true DPS cooldown: Dark Archangel Icon Dark Archangel. Additionally, Shadowfiend Icon Shadowfiend can also be considered a DPS cooldown. In the following sections, we will outline their use briefly. Then, we will cover them in more detail in a subsequent section.

4.1. Dark Evangelism and Dark Archangel

Dark Archangel Icon Dark Archangel is your only true DPS cooldown. It consumes your stacks of Dark Evangelism, granting you a buff that increases all damage you deal with Mind Blast Icon Mind Blast, Mind Flay Icon Mind Flay, Shadow Word: Death Icon Shadow Word: Death and Mind Spike Icon Mind Spike by 20%, as well as granting you some mana.

In short, Dark Archangel should be used on cooldown, provided that you can make good use of the time (you do not need to refresh your DoTs or move).

4.2. Shadowfiend

Shadowfiend Icon Shadowfiend deals some damage to the target, as well as granting you some mana. It should, essentially, be used on cooldown.

4.3. Dispersion

Dispersion Icon Dispersion is not a DPS cooldown in and of itself (it is actually a DPS loss to use it), but it has a very important role for Shadow Priests. Its usage requires more explanation, so please check our section dedicated to Dispersion.

5. Optional Read: Mastering Your Shadow Priest↑top

Shadow Priests have a relatively simple rotation. However, there are several things you must understand in order to play your character to its full potential.

5.1. Shadow Orbs

Shadow Orbs Icon Shadow Orbs are an integral part of the Shadow Priest gameplay. Essentially, each time you deal damage with Shadow Word: Pain Icon Shadow Word: Pain and Mind Flay Icon Mind Flay, you have a 10% chance to generate a Shadow Orbs Icon Shadow Orb, up to a maximum of 3. If you then cast Mind Blast Icon Mind Blast or Mind Spike Icon Mind Spike, your Shadow Orbs will be consumed, increasing the damage of that Mind Blast or Mind Spike by 10% for each orb that you had.

Additionally, and most importantly, whenever your Shadow Orbs are consumed, you gain another buff, Empowered Shadow Icon Empowered Shadow, that increases all your periodic Shadow damage by 29%, for 15 seconds. Despite what the tooltip may suggest, you gain the full 29% increase regardless of how many Shadow Orbs were consumed.

The key to playing your Shadow Priest optimally is to ensure that your Empowered Shadow buff has a very high uptime. Generally speaking, if you are using the rotation we advise above, then you should have 100% uptime on Empowered Shadow. This is because the buff has a 15 second duration, Mind Blast Icon Mind Blast has a 6.5 second cooldown (and it should always be used on cooldown) and Shadow Orb generation rate is fairly good. This ensures that you will have at least one Shadow Orb each time you cast Mind Blast, thus refreshing your buff long before it expires.

There is a single situation where you will not easily have the buff up, namely the start of the encounter. It is up to you to choose between ignoring the buff for the first few seconds or using an unusual opening rotation to force a Shadow Orb to spawn. We will detail this in a subsequent section.

5.2. Refreshing Your DoTs

As a Shadow Priest, a great part of your DPS comes from your 3 DoTs (Shadow Word: Pain Icon Shadow Word: Pain, Devouring Plague Icon Devouring Plague and Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch). For this reason, you must strive to maintain 100% uptime on all of them.

As a general rule, you should aim to refresh your DoTs just as they are about to expire (before the final tick of the DoT).

There are a few subtleties that you should understand, though, to maximise the damage you gain from your DoTs. Namely, you must understand how your DoTs are affected by your current buffs and procs and you must also understand what DoT clipping is.

5.2.1. Dynamic Power of DoTs

Your DoTs take into account all of your statistics at the time when the DoT is cast (this is only important for Devouring Plague Icon Devouring Plague and Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch, though, since Shadow Word: Pain Icon Shadow Word: Pain is updated each time it is automatically refreshed by Mind Flay Icon Mind Flay). This means that a DoT cast while under the effects of self buffs and procs (most importantly Empowered Shadow Icon Empowered Shadow and Dark Evangelism Icon Dark Evangelism) will be very strong for its entire duration, even if these buffs and procs expire in the meanwhile.

Conversely, gaining new buffs or procs will not affect the DoTs that you have on the target at the time. Those DoTs will continue to work based on your original statistics.

This raises the question of when and how it is best to refresh your DoTs. For example, is it worth refreshing a weak DoT (that still has more than a few seconds on its duration) simply because you gained extra buffs? To answer this question, you also have to understand what DoT clipping is.

The following section should answer all other questions you may have.

5.2.2. DoT Clipping

DoT clipping refers to the action of refreshing a DoT before its final tick has occurred. If you refresh a DoT while it had 2 or more ticks left, all ticks except for the final one will be "wasted". The final tick will be added to the new duration of the DoT (which will, therefore, be extended to include it). Furthermore, the final tick of the previous DoT, when becoming part of the new DoT, will be modified to your current statistics, and not the statistics of the old DoT.

What this means, in simpler terms, is that:

  • If you refresh a strong application of a DoT with a weaker one, between its penultimate and last ticks, the final tick will become weak.
  • If you refresh a weak application of a DoT with a stronger one, between its penultimate and last ticks, the final tick will become strong.

As a result, if your DoTs have been applied under the effects of Empowered Shadow Icon Empowered Shadow and Dark Evangelism Icon Dark Evangelism, you should refresh them right before their final tick, unless you are no longer under the effects of these buffs, in which case you should let them fully expire before refreshing them.

If your DoTs have been applied without Empowered Shadow, you should generally refresh them as soon as you gain the buff (even if they have a long time still left on their durations), as the gain from this buff is great. It is, however, also possible to simply refresh them before their final tick, as this will not have a very high impact on your DPS (and this should generally only happen at the start of the fight).

5.3. More on Single Target Rotation

To better understand how you will put into practice the priority listed at the start of this guide, we will quickly walk you through it.

You should apply and refresh your DoTs on the target, based on the above guidelines (essentially, just as they are about to expire). Then, if all your DoTs are ticking, you should use Mind Blast Icon Mind Blast as soon as it is available. The situation will rarely occur when a DoT will need refreshing just as Mind Blast Icon Mind Blast comes off cooldown, but if it does happen, we recommend casting Mind Blast first.

Then, when Mind Blast is unavailable and your DoTs do not need to be refreshed, channel Mind Flay Icon Mind Flay on the target. When a higher priority action is needed, simply interrupt your current Mind Flay and perform it. Indeed, it will prove a sizable DPS increase to interrupt Mind Flay as soon as you need to cast something else. It is useful to have a cast bar addon that allows you to see when Mind Flay ticks, as it is most beneficial to interrupt it right after a tick.

5.3.1. DPSing on the Move

As a Shadow Priest, moving is rather detrimental to your DPS. Other than moving as smartly as possible, minimising the distance you have to travel, there are three things you can do while moving:

  • Cast Devouring Plague Icon Devouring Plague. Despite the fact that this is a DoT, thanks to Improved Devouring Plague Icon Improved Devouring Plague it deals some instant damage when it is applied. This makes it your best instant cast spell (after Shadow Word: Death Icon Shadow Word: Death, when the target is below 25% health), so you should feel free to spam it even if it the DoT portion of it does not need to be refreshed.
  • Cast Shadow Word: Death Icon Shadow Word: Death if either of the following is true
    • the target is below 25% health;
    • you are very low on mana.
  • Cast Dispersion Icon Dispersion. You should do this only if your mana is low and you are looking for a time to cast Dispersion where it will have the smallest negative impact on your DPS.

5.4. Opening Rotation

As you can see from the above sections, maintaining a high uptime on the Empowered Shadow Icon Empowered Shadow buff is important. While this buff will be automatically refreshed for most of the fight without you having to perform any special actions, the start of the fight is different.

Unless you have the luxury of starting the fight with one or more Shadow Orbs Icon Shadow Orbs (from trash mobs before the boss, for example), it will take a few seconds or more for your first orb to be generated. Therefore, you can choose whether you want to start the fight by applying your DoTs without the Empowered Shadow buff (and missing out on the damage bonus) or trying to force a Shadow Orb to spawn by doing a slightly unusual rotation. Below, we present you with both options for your opening rotation.

A standard way of opening the fight, that will result in slightly lower Empowered Shadow uptime:

  1. Apply Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch, Shadow Word: Pain Icon Shadow Word: Pain and Devouring Plague Icon Devouring Plague on the target.
  2. Cast Mind Blast Icon Mind Blast (unless you were extremely lucky and your first tick of Shadow Word: Pain spawned a Shadow Orb, you will not gain the Empowered Shadow buff).
  3. Channel Mind Flay Icon Mind Flay until Mind Blast comes off cooldown. At this point, you will almost certainly have one or more Shadow Orbs present, and from here on the Empowered Shadow buff should more or less be always on.

A different way of opening the fight, that will ensure a faster generation of Shadow Orbs and a faster application of the Empowered Shadow buff:

  1. Apply Shadow Word: Pain Icon Shadow Word: Pain on the target.
  2. Channel Mind Flay Icon Mind Flay until you gain a Shadow Orb.
  3. Cast Mind Blast Icon Mind Blast.
  4. Apply Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch and Devouring Plague Icon Devouring Plague.
  5. Proceed with your normal rotation.

5.4.1. 4-Part Tier 13 Set Bonus

The 4-Part Tier 13 Set Bonus causes your Shadowfiend and Shadowy Apparitions to grant you 3 Shadow Orbs Icon Shadow Orbs each time they deal damage. Regarding Shadowy Apparitions, this is entirely out of your control and will just result in being a DPS gain throughout the fight.

The Shadow Orbs generated by your Shadowfiend, however, can be put to better use, both at the very start of the fight as well as later on.

At the start of the fight, this set bonus is extremely useful in allowing you to essentially start with the Empowered Shadow Icon Empowered Shadow buff right away. You should perform an opening rotation like this:

  1. Cast Shadowfiend Icon Shadowfiend.
  2. Cast Mind Blast Icon Mind Blast. This will grant you the Empowered Shadow buff.
  3. Apply your DoTs to the target.
  4. Channel Mind Flay Icon Mind Flay until your Mind Blast Icon Mind Blast comes off cooldown.

From here, you can continue with your normal rotation.

During the course of the fight, you will obtain higher DPS by using this rotation each time your Shadowfiend is active:

  1. Cast Dark Archangel Icon Dark Archangel (with 5 stacks of Dark Evangelism Icon Dark Evangelism).
  2. Cast Mind Blast Icon Mind Blast.
  3. Cast Shadowfiend Icon Shadowfiend.
  4. Cast Mind Spike Icon Mind Spike.
  5. Cast Mind Spike Icon Mind Spike.
  6. Cast Mind Spike Icon Mind Spike.
  7. Cast Mind Flay Icon Mind Flay (interrupt it as soon as Mind Blast comes off cooldown).
  8. Cast Mind Blast Icon Mind Blast.
  9. Repeat steps 4-8 until your Shadowfiend runs out.

During this time, your DoTs will not be on the target (remember that Mind Spike Icon Mind Spike consumes all your DoTs), so you will have to reapply them as soon as your Shadowfiend runs out.

5.5. Notes on Cooldown Usage

As a Shadow Priest, you have 3 cooldowns. In this section, we will provide you with everything you need to know about how to use them.

5.5.1. Dark Evangelism and Dark Archangel

Each time you deal damage with Mind Flay Icon Mind Flay, you gain a stack of Dark Evangelism Icon Dark Evangelism, increasing your periodic Shadow damage by 2% per stack, up to a maximum of 5 stacks.

Dark Archangel Icon Dark Archangel is your only true DPS cooldown. It has a 1 minute and 30 second cooldown. Using it consumes all your stacks of Dark Archangel, providing you with an 18 second buff that increases the damage done by your Mind Blast Icon Mind Blast, Mind Flay Icon Mind Flay, Shadow Word: Death Icon Shadow Word: Death, and Mind Spike Icon Mind Spike by 4% for each stack of Dark Evangelism that you had. Additionally, Dark Archangel restores 5% of your total mana for each stack of Dark Evangelism that you had.

To put it simply, you should use Dark Archangel on cooldown, as many times as possible during a fight. There are a few things to keep in mind, however:

  • Dark Evanglism buffs the damage of your DoTs, so try to make sure that your DoTs are always refreshed or applied while you have 5 stacks of the buff.
  • Dark Archangel buffs the damage of your non-DoT spell casts, so make sure that you are casting as many of these as possible while the buff is active. Ideally, you should not waste any time refreshing DoTs while the buff is active.
  • Try to use Dark Archangel during Heroism Icon Heroism/Bloodlust Icon Bloodlust/Time Warp Icon Time Warp or other moments when the boss is taking increased damage.

5.5.2. Shadowfiend

Your Shadowfiend Icon Shadowfiend, as a DPS cooldown, provides a small boost. Regardless of this, it should still be used more or less on cooldown.

The damage that the Shadowfiend deals is based on your current statistics (most importantly, your spellpower), so using it when you have procs from Enchant Weapon - Power Torrent or Lightweave Embroidery is beneficial.

Regarding Heroism Icon Heroism/Bloodlust Icon Bloodlust/Time Warp Icon Time Warp, the Shadowfiend benefits from the increased attack speed, but only if it is already summoned when Heroism/Bloodlust/Time Warp is cast.

5.5.3. Dispersion

Dispersion Icon Dispersion is an interesting ability on a 2 minute cooldown. It provides you with several benefits during its 6 second duration:

  • All damage you take is reduced by 90%.
  • You cannot be snared or slowed.
  • You gain 6% of your total mana each second.

As a drawback, while Dispersion is active you cannot attack or cast any spells. Your DoTs will still deal damage, though.

Dispersion's uses are two-fold. Firstly, you should use it to avoid dying, to minimise the damage you take and sometimes to bypass various deadly encounter mechanics.

Secondly, you should use it as a mana regeneration tool. You will find more information on this second use in the section below.

5.6. Mana Management

As a Shadow Priest, you are dependant on mana in order to do DPS. Your DoTs are extremely costly, and mana will be a problem especially on fights where you are trying to keep your DoTs up on several targets.

Fortunately, you have a variety of means to regain mana.

5.6.1. Dispersion

Dispersion Icon Dispersion should be used as often as possible, in order to restore your mana, while sacrificing as little DPS as possible. This means you should try to use Dispersion during phase transitions or moments where the targets are not attackable.

Otherwise, make sure you use Dispersion immediately after using Mind Blast Icon Mind Blast and while none of your DoTs need to be refreshed. In this way, Dispersion will essentially take the place of Mind Flay Icon Mind Flay in your rotation, which is your weakest spell.

Keep in mind, also, that the Dispersion buff can be cancelled, should you wish to end it early in order to resume DPS or cast some other spell.

5.6.2. Shadowfiend

Your Shadowfiend Icon Shadowfiend will restore mana to you with every attack it performs. You should be using this as a DPS cooldown, so you will be getting the mana-returning benefit anyway.

5.6.3. Shadow Word: Death

Shadow Word: Death Icon Shadow Word: Death should normally only be used when the target is below 25% health, as it deals much increased damage at that time.

However, thanks to your Masochism Icon Masochism talent, each time you cast Shadow Word: Death Icon Shadow Word: Death (and damage yourself with it, which is a natural byproduct of casting this spell), you instantly gain 10% of your mana. This is a useful means of mana regeneration when the target is below 25%, but it also means you can use it when the target is above 25%, if you are running low on mana and your mana regeneration abilities are not going to be available imminently.

5.6.4. Dark Archangel

Each time you use Dark Archangel Icon Dark Archangel, you instantly gain 25% of your total mana. Since you are using this ability more or less on cooldown, the mana return will benefit you passively.

5.6.5. Hymn of Hope

Hymn of Hope Icon Hymn of Hope is more of a raid cooldown than a person mana regeneration cooldown. It offers no DPS gains whatsoever to you and, unless the other healers or the raid leader require you to use it to boost their mana regeneration, you should not have to use it.

Regardless of this, you should keep it in mind as a last resort.




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