Shadow Priest DPS Rotation, Cooldowns, and Abilities (WoW MoP 5.4)

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Shadow Priest Art Image
General Information

On this page, we list your Shadow Priest core abilities and how they should be used together (rotation) in World of Warcraft MoP 5.4. We also explain when to use your various cooldowns. Then, we go deeper and present all the subtleties that you will need to know if you want to excel at playing a Shadow Priest.

The other pages of our Shadow Priest guide can be accessed from the table of contents on the right.

About Our Reviewer

This guide has been reviewed and approved by Twintop, one of the main Shadow Priest theorycrafters, who runs Shadow Orbs and Mind Spikes and works on How To Priest.

1. 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:

  1. Cast Devouring Plague Icon Devouring Plague with 3 Shadow Orbs.
  2. Cast Mind Blast Icon Mind Blast if you have fewer than 3 Shadow Orbs.
  3. Cast Shadow Word: Death Icon Shadow Word: Death if you have fewer than 3 Shadow Orbs.
    • Shadow Word: Death can be cast twice before triggering its cooldown, and you should always do so.
    • Shadow Word: Death is only usable on targets who are below 20% health.
  4. Cast Mind Flay Icon Mind Flay on the target when Devouring Plague Icon Devouring Plague is up.
  5. Apply and maintain Shadow Word: Pain Icon Shadow Word: Pain and Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch.
  6. Cast Mind Flay Icon Mind Flay as your filler spell.
  7. Cast the second cast of Shadow Word: Death Icon Shadow Word: Death (which does not generate a Shadow Orb) if you are moving and cannot cast Mind Flay Icon Mind Flay.

2. 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 rather long period of time, then make use of the following guidelines:

2.1.1. Against 2-4 Targets

  1. Keep Shadow Word: Pain Icon Shadow Word: Pain up on all targets.
  2. Keep Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch up on all targets.
  3. Cast Mind Flay Icon Mind Flay when Devouring Plague Icon Devouring Plague is up.
  4. Cast Mind Blast Icon Mind Blast if you have fewer than 3 Shadow Orbs.
  5. Cast Devouring Plague Icon Devouring Plague with 3 Shadow Orbs.
  6. Cast Shadow Word: Death Icon Shadow Word: Death on low-health targets, in order to generate more Shadow Orbs.
  7. Cast Mind Flay Icon Mind Flay as a filler.

2.1.2. Against 5 or More Targets

Against 5 targets, maintain Shadow Word: Pain Icon Shadow Word: Pain and Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch up on all of them, and use Mind Sear Icon Mind Sear as a filler. Against more than 5 targets, ignore DoTs and simply channel 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

Keep Shadow Word: Pain Icon Shadow Word: Pain up on all targets, and use Mind Flay Icon Mind Flay as a filler.

Cast Shadow Word: Death Icon Shadow Word: Death on low-health targets, in order to generate more Shadow Orbs.

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 have few (and weak) offensive cooldowns. However, you possess several abilities that are useful for your raid.

  • Shadowfiend Icon Shadowfiend should, essentially, be used on cooldown.
  • Dispersion Icon Dispersion should be used to help replenish your mana or allow you to survive. We explain it in greater depth in our section dedicated to Dispersion.
  • Void Shift Icon Void Shift allows you to swap health percentages with your target. It can be used to save raid members, by trading your life with theirs, or to save yourself in the same way.
  • Vampiric Embrace Icon Vampiric Embrace is 3-minute cooldown with a 15-second duration. It causes all the single-target damage you deal to heal nearby allies for 50% of the damage.
  • Hymn of Hope Icon Hymn of Hope restores the mana of raid members, and also temporarily increases their mana pool. It is a strong raid cooldown, and you should consult with your raid leader before using it.

To read about these abilities in more detail, we recommend our detailed cooldown section.

You also gain several new abilities from your talents. You can read about these below.

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 and Devouring Plague

Each time you deal damage with Mind Blast Icon Mind Blast and Shadow Word: Death Icon Shadow Word: Death, you generate a Shadow Orb. Note that you can use Shadow Word: Death twice in a row, but only the first cast will grant you a Shadow Orb. You can have a maximum of 3 Shadow Orbs at one time. The only spells that cost Shadow Orbs to cast are:

You should always use your Shadow Orbs on Devouring Plague (barring some exceptional encounter mechanics where you may need Psychic Horror). The damage of Devouring Plague is based on the number of Shadow Orbs you cast it with. We advise you to always cast it with 3 Shadow Orbs.

Much of your rotation actually revolves around making the best out of your Shadow Orbs. As such, in addition to always casting Devouring Plague when you have 3 Shadow Orbs, you have to pay special attention not to waste any Shadow Orbs by casting Mind Blast or Shadow Word: Death when you have 3 Orbs.

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). Devouring Plague, however, cannot be "refreshed" since it lasts 6 seconds, and it cannot be cast freely. In best-case scenarios, you can cast Devouring Plague as often as every 11 seconds (if you are able to use Shadow Word: Death Icon Shadow Word: Death, and you receive procs from Divine Insight Icon Divine Insight), and normally you will get to cast it every 24 seconds or so.

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

DoTs benefit from your statistics at the time when the DoT was cast or refreshed. This means that the DoT will take into account your haste, spellpower, intellect, etc. at the time when you cast the DoT, and it will not be affected by any change in your stats while the DoT is running.

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.

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 both 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. If you benefit from a Divine Insight Icon Divine Insight proc, then you absolutely should cast Mind Blast, regardless of the state of your DoTs.

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.

It is, moreover, important to note that Mind Flay works just like a DoT would, and that if you are going to cast more than one Mind Flay after another, it is ideal to cast the new Mind Flay before the final tick of the current Mind Flay. In other words, it is ideal to clip the last tick of your Mind Flay with a new Mind Flay. This also applies to Mind Sear.

5.4. More on Cooldowns

5.4.1. Shadowfiend

Your Shadowfiend Icon Shadowfiend (or Mindbender Icon Mindbender, in case you have taken that talent), as a DPS cooldown, provides a small boost. Regardless of this, it should still be used more or less on cooldown, and not for necessarily for the mana returns that it offers.

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 - Jade Spirit Icon Enchant Weapon - Jade Spirit or Lightweave Embroidery Icon Lightweave Embroidery is beneficial.

It is ideal to cast Shadowfiend Icon Shadowfiend after Heroism Icon Heroism/Bloodlust Icon Bloodlust/Time Warp Icon Time Warp has been cast. This way, the Shadowfiend will benefit from the increase in attack speed for its entire 15-second duration. If you cast Shadowfiend before Heroism/Bloodlust/Time Warp, there will be at least a few seconds of its duration (before Heroism/Bloodlust/Time Warp is cast) during which the Shadowfiend will not have increased attack speed.

When Heroism/Bloodlust/Time Warp has already been used in the fight, or it will not be used for some time still, you should simply use Shadowfiend on cooldown.

5.4.2. 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 primary use is to avoid dying, to minimise the damage you take, and sometimes to bypass various deadly encounter mechanics.

While it does serve as a useful mana regeneration tool, you should never really use it specifically for this purpose.

5.4.3. Void Shift

Void Shift Icon Void Shift has a straightforward usage. It is an emergency cooldown (although you can also use it to handle some pre-determined encounter mechanics). If you are at or near full health, you can cast this on a raid member who has low health and is likely to be damaged again. Conversely, you can use this on a full health raid member if you yourself are low health and you are about to take damage again shortly.

You should always be mindful of the surroundings of the person who will have their health lowered, so as to make sure that you are not endangering them.

5.4.4. Tier 3 Talents

Solace and Insanity Icon Solace and Insanity works passively to boost your single target damage, provided that you are casting Mind Flay Icon Mind Flay on the target affected by Devouring Plague Icon Devouring Plague. So, in order to maximise the benefit you gain from this talent, make sure to cast Mind Flay on the target affected by Devouring Plague while the DoT is up. Using Power Infusion Icon Power Infusion (assuming you have taken this talent) shortly before applying Devouring Plague will allow you to get more Mind Flay ticks in, and will boost your DPS further.

Taking Solace and Insanity has some repercussions on your single-target rotation, in the sense that you should plan ahead of casting a Devouring Plague so that you will not have to interrupt your Mind Flay to refresh a DoT. Specifically, this means that both Shadow Word: Pain Icon Shadow Word: Pain and Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch should have at least 7.5 seconds remaining on their durations when you cast Devouring Plague.

If you have chosen From Darkness, Comes Light Icon From Darkness, Comes Light, you will have to be on the look-out for these instant cast, supercharged Mind Spike Icon Mind Spikes, and you must use them regularly. As you can tell, it is not a difficult task at all. Keep in mind, though, that you cannot have more than 2 procs from this talent at once, so if you have 2 procs, you need to quickly cast a Mind Spike in order to free up room for additional procs, and to avoid wasting DPS.

If you have chosen Mindbender Icon Mindbender, simply use this ability as many times as possible during the fight.

5.4.5. Tier 5 Talents

Power Infusion Icon Power Infusion should be treated as a DPS cooldown, and used as often as possible. As we mentioned above, if you are able to cast this just before a Devouring Plague, in case you have taken the Solace and Insanity Icon Solace and Insanity talent, that will greatly boost the efficiency of both talents.

Twist of Fate Icon Twist of Fate causes its effect passively, so you do not need to concern yourself with it.

Finally, procs from Divine Insight Icon Divine Insight should be used right away. This will increase your Shadow Orb generation, allowing for higher Devouring Plague Icon Devouring Plague uptime. This is especially useful on fights with multiple adds, where you will get a large amount of procs (assuming that you have Shadow Word: Pain Icon Shadow Word: Pain up on multiple targets), allowing you to cast Devouring Plague a lot more often.

5.4.6. Tier 6 Talents

Simply use the ability granted by your Tier 6 talent (Cascade Icon Cascade, Divine Star Icon Divine Star, or Halo Icon Halo) on cooldown, whenever you can damage multiple targets with it.

5.5. 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.

5.5.1. Vampiric Touch

Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch is your primary means of mana regeneration. Casting it costs 3% of your base mana, and it returns 2% of your maximum mana with each tick.

If you are low on mana, and there are several adds alive that will live long enough for Vampiric Touch to tick more than 2-3 times, then you can apply the DoT to all these targets, which will quickly replenish your mana pool.

5.5.2. Dispersion

Dispersion Icon Dispersion should never really be used for the mana regeneration that it offers, although this is a nice benefit. As such, you should use Dispersion for its damage-reducing component, and you should try to use it in such a way as to sacrifice 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.

5.5.3. 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.

5.5.4. 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.

6. Changelog↑top

  • 10 Sep. 2013: Patch 5.4 update.
    • Updated the single target rotation to suggest using both available casts of Shadow Word: Death Icon Shadow Word: Death immediately, and also removed using Shadow Word: Pain Icon Shadow Word: Pain as a filler from the single target rotation.
    • Improved the multiple target rotations, especially by adding that you should use Shadow Word: Death Icon Shadow Word: Death on low-health targets to gain more Shadow Orbs.
    • Updated the description of Hymn of Hope Icon Hymn of Hope to specify that this spell now prefers restoring mana to healers over casters.
  • 02 Aug. 2013: Added a mention of the fact that it is ideal to clip the final tick of Mind Flay Icon Mind Flay and Mind Sear Icon Mind Sear when chaining more than one cast of these spells.
  • 20 May 2013: Patch 5.3 update: nothing to change.
  • 07 May 2013: Made several updates.
    • Added casting Shadow Word: Pain Icon Shadow Word: Pain while on the move, as a low priority action, to the rotation.
    • Made keeping up Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch higher priority against multiple targets.
    • Improved the sentence that mentions how often Devouring Plague Icon Devouring Plague can be cast.
    • Clarified that Dispersion Icon Dispersion should not be used as a mana regeneration ability.
    • Added Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch to the list of mana regeneration tools at your disposal.
    • Added mention of the importance of using Divine Insight Icon Divine Insight procs immediately.
  • 27 Apr. 2013: Improved the single target priority greatly. Also updated the Shadowfiend section to state that it is ideal to use the Shadowfiend after Heroism Icon Heroism/Bloodlust Icon Bloodlust/Time Warp Icon Time Warp has been cast.
  • 26 Apr. 2013: Fixed an error. The DoT refreshing section was incorrectly stating that the power of DoTs is dynamically updated when changes to your Intellect occur.
  • 12 Apr. 2013: Modified the explanation of the relation between Shadowfiend Icon Shadowfiend and Heroism Icon Heroism/Bloodlust Icon Bloodlust/Time Warp Icon Time Warp to reflect the fact that it essentially does not matter when you cast Shadowfiend.
  • 10 Apr. 2013: Improved the single target and multiple target rotations. Updated the Dynamic Power of DoTs section to account for the fact that Intellect (Spellpower) buffs instantly affect your existing DoTs.
  • 26 Mar. 2013: Made several small improvements
  • 13 Mar. 2013: Improved explanation for usage of Solace and Insanity Icon Solace and Insanity and Power Infusion Icon Power Infusion.
  • 04 Mar. 2013: Patch 5.2 update.