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Shadow Priest DPS Rotation, Cooldowns, and Abilities (Legion 7.0.3)

Last updated on Jul 19, 2016 at 13:59 by Vlad 26 comments

Table of Contents

General Information

On this page, we list your Shadow Priest core abilities and how they should be used together (rotation) in World of Warcraft Legion 7.0.3. 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 also works on How To Priest.

1. Preface

The Shadow Priest rotation revolves around a build and spend/sustain style of play. You use abilities that generate Insanity until you reach the appropriate threshold (70 with the tier 7 talent Legacy of the Void Icon Legacy of the Void, 100 otherwise) to cast Void Eruption Icon Void Eruption and enter Voidform Icon Voidform. Once in Voidform, you use a slightly different set of abilities to stay in Voidform for as long as possible. Once you reach 0 Insanity, you exit Voidform and the process repeats.

Void Bolt Icon Void Bolt is the largest change to your playstyle when switching between Build and Spend/Maintain Phases (out of and in Voidform). When Void Bolt strikes a target (after a short travel time) it will refresh the duration of Shadow Word: Pain Icon Shadow Word: Pain and Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch back to their maximum, effectively meaning you should rarely have to manually refresh Shadow Word: Pain or Vampiric Touch on your target.

2. Single Target Rotation

The single target rotation relies on the following priority system of abilities, depending on which phase you are in.

This is the baseline rotation depending on its phase. Different talents grant it different nuances and result in slightly different rotations and priorities. We cover them all later on in the guide.

3. Multiple Target Rotation

3.1. Persistent Enemies

3.1.1. Against 2-3 Targets

Against a few targets, the Build and Spend/Maintain Phases are very similar to the single target rotation.

3.1.2. Against 4 or More Targets

When you begin having many targets, Mind Flay Icon Mind Flay is removed entirely in favor of Mind Sear Icon Mind Sear. Additionally, you will not have enough time to place both Shadow Word: Pain Icon Shadow Word: Pain and Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch on every target. Which DoT you should prefer to cast will largely depend on your tier 5 talent selection. If you have chosen San'layn Icon San'layn, you will want to prioritise Vampiric Touch on all targets. If you have chosen Auspicious Spirits Icon Auspicious Spirits or Shadowy Insight Icon Shadowy Insight, you will want to prioritise Shadow Word: Pain on all targets.

3.2. Short Lasting Enemies

If you are facing a moderate number of targets that will be alive for 20-30+ seconds, the same priorities for which DoT to cast based on tier 5 talents discussed above apply. Apply your DoT of choice once, and then simply use Mind Sear Icon Mind Sear. Do not re-apply DoTs after they fall off.

If there are a large number of targets or they will be alive for a very short amount of time, cast Mind Sear Icon Mind Sear straight away.

If you end up with enough Insanity to cast Void Eruption Icon Void Eruption and enter Voidform Icon Voidform, try to apply a DoT to a few (3-5) of the targets before casting Void Eruption to gain extra AoE damage on them and higher Mind Sear and DoT damage from being in Voidform.

4. Cooldowns

As a Shadow Priest, you have few cooldowns.

In addition to these cooldowns, you will have to understand when and how to best use a number of abilities that come from your talent choices. We elaborate on that below.

5. Optional Reading: Mastering your Shadow Priest

The Shadow specialisation revolves around a number of complex mechanics, all of which you need to understand very well in order to reach your maximum potential. In the sections that follow, we will go over all of these. However, even reading and following the advice given up to here will be enough to allow you to play at a high level.

5.1. Insanity

In addition to Mana, you have a resource called Insanity. Insanity is generated by many different things, and it is only used to enter Voidform Icon Voidform. During Voidform, your Insanity will be drained at an ever-increasing rate, and you will leave Voidform when your Insanity runs out.

Understanding how this resource works is key to playing your Shadow Priest at a high level.

5.1.1. Generating Insanity

The following is a list of abilities that generate Insanity, the baseline amount of Insanity generated, and when the Insanity is generated.

5.1.2. Insanity Generation Modifiers

There are several talents which modify the amount of Insanity generated by some (or all) abilities. These effects can stack and are multiplicative in nature.

If you were to cast Mind Flay Icon Mind Flay with Fortress of the Mind Icon Fortress of the Mind, Power Infusion Icon Power Infusion, and Surrender to Madness Icon Surrender to Madness up at the same time, this would increase Mind Flay's Insanity generation per tick from 2 to 9.

5.1.3. Insanity Drain

While in Voidform Icon Voidform, Insanity drains at a constant rate that increases every 1 second. It starts at 9 Insanity/second and increases by 0.5 Insanity/second every second until you exit Voidform. The exact formula is as follows:

  • drain = 9 + ((drain_stacks - 1) / 2)

For example, if we have been in Voidform for 20 seconds, we would have 20 drain stacks and would be losing: 9 + ((20 - 1)/2) = 18.5 Insanity every second.

The drain is constant over each second-long timeframe, similar to Energy generation but in reverse.

Unlike Voidform itself, which caps at 100 stacks, the "drain stacks" have no cap. Insanity drain will continue growing forever until you fall out of Voidform for one reason or another (0 Insanity or death).

There is one way to pause both the drain and the increase in rate of drain of Insanity. While you are channeling Dispersion Icon Dispersion, your stacks of Voidform will still increase, but your Insanity will not drain at all and the rate at which your Insanity drains will not increase.

5.2. Voidform and Lingering Insanity

As explained earlier on, the Shadow specialisation has the Voidform Icon Voidform mechanic (activated by using Void Eruption Icon Void Eruption) at its core. The key to doing effective damage as a Shadow Priest is by maximising not only how often you can enter Voidform, but also how long you stay in each Voidform.

While in Voidform, you have a 20% damage increase, but that is not all. For every second spent in Voidform, you stack a buff on yourself that increases your Haste by 1%, multiplicatively. The result is that being in Voidform longer allows you to stack the buff higher, resulting in more Haste and therefore more spellcasts.

Voidform ends when you run out of Insanity (as explained above), or when you die.

Moreover, when you leave Voidform, a buff called Lingering Insanity Icon Lingering Insanity is placed on you for up to 1 minute (or until you re-enter Void Form), which provides you with the Haste increase that you had at the end of Voidform. Therefore, the higher your Voidform stacks and Haste bonus, the stronger your Lingering Insanity buff will be, and the sooner you will be able to re-enter Voidform (due to the increased number of spells you will be able to cast).

Voidform can stack to 100 (+100% Haste). The amount of drain stacks (explained above) has no cap. This is important to remember, especially when using the Surrender to Madness Icon Surrender to Madness talent.

While in Voidform Icon Voidform, you will be using Mind Blast Icon Mind Blast, one of your strongest nukes, more frequently thanks to it having its base cooldown reduced by 3 seconds.

5.3. Void Bolt

Void Bolt Icon Void Bolt is only available during Voidform Icon Voidform, and at this time it is always your top priority spell.

It is a powerful nuke on an even shorter cooldown than Mind Blast Icon Mind Blast, that has the added benefit of refreshing the duration of your Shadow Word: Pain Icon Shadow Word: Pain and Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch on the target it is cast at upon impact. In single target situations, you should never have to manually re-apply Shadow Word: Pain or Vampiric Touch to your target during Voidform.

Against multiple targets, you will need to juggle what target you cast Void Bolt at to ensure that you keep both Shadow Word: Pain and Vampiric Touch ticking on as many targets as possible. You should always prioritise the casting of Void Bolt on a target that has both Shadow Word: Pain and Vampiric Touch ticking on it AND where both DoTs have enough time left to account for the travel time before Void Bolt reaches the target and refreshes the duration of both DoTs. Due to Shadow Word: Pain's extremely short duration of only 14 seconds, the maximum feasible number of targets you can keep refreshing your DoTs on by casting Void Bolt is 3.

5.4. Talent Synergies

There are many talent combinations between different tiers that pair so well together that they are highly recommended to be taken together.

5.4.1. Twist of Fate + Reaper of Souls

Both Twist of Fate Icon Twist of Fate and Reaper of Souls Icon Reaper of Souls activate at 35% health left on your target. The availability of Shadow Word: Death Icon Shadow Word: Death sooner (replacing some Mind Flay Icon Mind Flay/Mind Spike Icon Mind Spike filler casts) increases the damage potential significantly not only directly but also through increased Voidform Icon Voidform uptime, with Twist of Fate's damage bonus up for all of your other abilities to take advantage of.

5.4.2. Void Ray + Mind Spike (+ Shadow Crash)

In the case that you need to do AoE damage to adds at planned times, Void Ray Icon Void Ray will increase the damage done by the Mind Spike Icon Mind Spike detonation on all nearby targets by 50%. Additionally, once you have detonated the Mind Spike to do the AoE damage, you will likely be switching to Mind Sear Icon Mind Sear to help finish the adds off, a spell that also has its damage increased from Void Ray.

In most cases where you would take Mind Spike for the AoE damage, Shadow Crash Icon Shadow Crash will also be valuable since it does a large amount of damage at about the same cadence as Mind Spike. You can use it as a gap filler if adds appear too quickly or as an extra burst of damage to ensure the adds you are using Mind Spike against will die more quickly.

5.4.3. Surrender to Madness + Reaper of Souls + Twist of Fate

If you want to get the highest stacks possible from Surrender to Madness Icon Surrender to Madness, you are going to need high Insanity-generating abilities available as frequently as possible. With the increased Insanity generation from Surrender to Madness, Shadow Word: Death Icon Shadow Word: Death will generate 90 Insanity on every cast. With 2 charges available, this gives you a very powerful emergency Insanity generation button to plan the rest of your rotation around when you know there is a lull of Insanity generation coming that may force you out of Voidform Icon Voidform (and kill you).

Twist of Fate Icon Twist of Fate is the other third of this combination, not only because of the reasons listed above, but also because at very high Insanity stacks you will be casting spells more frequently than at any other point in the encounter. This is the optimal time to have the constant damage boost applied via Twist of Fate.

5.5. Void Eruption and DoTs

Void Eruption Icon Void Eruption fills multiple roles for Shadow. Most notably, it allows you to enter Voidform Icon Voidform after a 2-second (lowered by Haste) cast time. This can be done without an active target.

The second role it plays is it does a moderate amount of AoE damage based on what targets have your Shadow Word: Pain Icon Shadow Word: Pain or Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch ticking on them. For each Shadow Word: Pain or Vampiric Touch that is on a target, a bolt of damage will fly towards that target. There is no cap to this effect meaning that in a multi-target situation it is best to have as many DoTs out on all available targets as possible before casting Void Eruption.

The challenge comes from Insanity management, not delaying your entry into Voidform, and casting Void Eruption quickly enough so that DoTs on targets do not have a chance to fall off.

5.5.1. Single Target

When facing a single target, you should make sure to refresh your Shadow Word: Pain Icon Shadow Word: Pain and Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch if they have less than ~5-7 seconds remaining (depending on your Haste level, both from gear and from buffs like Lingering Insanity Icon Lingering Insanity) on them when you are ready to enter Voidform. You only need to re-apply a DoT that is lower than this threshold, not always both. This is because Void Bolt will not be available immediately upon entering Voidform, as it has a 2 global cooldown cost to start. That delay coupled with Void Bolt having a travel time before it can refresh DoTs, and Void Eruption Icon Void Eruption having a 2-second (hasted) cast time means you need to allow a little bit of extra time remaining to ensure that you will not end up having to spend time in Voidform reapplying your DoTs.

5.5.2. Multiple Targets

You will have a difficult time keeping both Shadow Word: Pain Icon Shadow Word: Pain and Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch constantly up for more than 3 targets at any given time when trying to enter Voidform Icon Voidform. For 4-6 targets you should apply Vampiric Touch to all targets first, then apply Shadow Word: Pain to 2-3 immediately before casting Void Eruption Icon Void Eruption for maximum effect.

Vampiric Touch has a duration of 18 seconds, longer than Shadow Word: Pain's 14-second duration. For many targets (6+), to maximise the amount of damage that Void Eruption will do, you should begin casting Vampiric Touch on as many of them as possible starting around half Insanity (20/70 if you have Legacy of the Void Icon Legacy of the Void, 50/100 otherwise; this will also be lower if you have Shadow Word: Void Icon Shadow Word: Void), only replacing fillers like Mind Flay Icon Mind Flay and Mind Spike Icon Mind Spike with Vampiric Touch.

5.6. More on Cooldowns

5.6.1. Shadowfiend

Your Shadowfiend Icon Shadowfiend (but not Mindbender Icon Mindbender), as a DPS cooldown, provides a small DPS boost.

The damage that the Shadowfiend deals is based on your current stats (most importantly, your Spell Power and Haste), so using it when you have important procs is beneficial.

It is ideal to cast Shadowfiend after Heroism Icon Heroism/Bloodlust Icon Bloodlust/Time Warp Icon Time Warp has been cast, while you are in Voidform Icon Voidform. This way, the Shadowfiend will benefit from the increase in attack speed for its entire 12-second duration. If you cast Shadowfiend before Heroism/Bloodlust/Time Warp or outside of Voidform, there will be at least a few seconds of its duration (before Heroism/Bloodlust/Time Warp is cast or Voidform is entered) 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 inside of Voidform.

If you have the Tier 18 2-Part or 4-Part Set Bonus, you should use your Shadowfiend or Mindbender on cooldown (regardless of if you are in Voidform or not), making sure never to delay them. The Tier 18 2-Part bonus reduces the cooldown of Shadowfiend and Mindbender down to 20 seconds, pushing it to the top of priority list, while the Tier 18 4-Part bonus increases the importance of using Shadowfiend/Mindbender as frequently as possible. This is because when they fade, you gain 700 Critical Strike, Haste, and Versatility for 15 seconds. Usage of Shadowfiend/Mindbender on cooldown is vital to try and keep the uptime of this buff as high as possible.

5.6.2. 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 60%.
  • It can be used while stunned, feared, or silenced, and it clears all snare and movement-impairing effects.
  • You cannot be snared, and movement-impairing effects cannot be used on you while Dispersion is active.
  • If you are in Voidform Icon Voidform, your Insanity will not drain and the rate of drain will not increase while Dispersion is active.
  • 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. Dispersion's secondary use will be discussed in the Surrender to Madness Icon Surrender to Madness section below.

5.7. More on Talents

5.7.1. Tier 6 Talents

Power Infusion Icon Power Infusion should be treated as a DPS cooldown, and used as often as possible while inside Voidform Icon Voidform. The benefit of the cooldown is increasing the rate at which you cast spells and increasing the amount of Insanity you generate.

Shadow Crash Icon Shadow Crash should be used as frequently as possible for the Insanity generation that it gives, but can safely be held onto if you know there will be many targets appearing soon. There is a 3-second travel time, regardless of distance, before Shadow Crash does damage in the targeted area. It is therefore possible to precast Shadow Crash (if you know the location the targets will be at in the next 3 seconds) and begin casting other spells while the crash is en route. This is especially helpful if you need to enter Voidform before the crash lands, or if you want to use another ability, such as Mind Sear Icon Mind Sear, soon.

Additionally, you can use Shadow Crash before pulling a boss to build Insanity. Insanity automatically begins to drain at a rate of 1 Insanity/second after 30 seconds of being out of combat. If you find yourself with a lot of time between pulls you could easily use Shadow Crash enough to ensure you will enter Voidform Icon Voidform within a few global cooldowns of engaging the boss.

Mindbender Icon Mindbender generates a large amount of Insanity over its uptime. It should be used on the pull if you are starting an encounter with little to no Insanity to help you reach your first Voidform quickly as you will not have any stacks of Lingering Insanity Icon Lingering Insanity at the start of a fight. After this first use, you should try to use Mindbender on cooldown if possible, if you have the Tier 18 2-Part Set Bonus. If you do not have this bonus, you should only continue to use Mindbender while in Voidform, as the Insanity generated will help keep you in Voidform for a longer period of time. Do not use Mindbender at the very beginning of a Voidform, if you can avoid it. The reasoning behind this is twofold.

  • The speed at which Mindbender swings is based on your Haste levels. You have more Haste towards the end of Voidform than you do at the beginning, meaning that your Mindbender will be able to attack more times and generate more Insanity (as well as do more total damage), thereby allowing you to stay in Voidform longer.
  • Due to the slower drain of Insanity at the start of Voidform, much of the Insanity generated by Mindbender at the beginning will be lost to overflow and not benefit you at all.

The exact threshold you should use Mindbender at will depend on many factors but, in general, around 10-15 stacks of Voidform is a good place to use Mindbender. For longer fights, in order to ensure maximum usage, it may be better to use it closer to on-cooldown instead of waiting a few seconds.

5.7.2. Tier 7 Talents

With Legacy of the Void Icon Legacy of the Void, you are able to enter Voidform Icon Voidform at 70 Insanity rather than at 100 Insanity. While one distinct advantage this talent has is that you can quickly re-enter Voidform, this does not mean it is always best to enter Voidform right at 70 Insanity. This gives you a bit of a buffer so that a last-second Mind Blast Icon Mind Blast cast, Shadowy Apparitions Icon Shadowy Apparitions striking targets, or the need to re-apply Shadow Word: Pain Icon Shadow Word: Pain or Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch to targets before casting Void Eruption Icon Void Eruption does not result in wasted Insanity. Additionally, starting out Voidform at 70 Insanity puts you at a disadvantage when it comes to maximum length spent in Voidform and the maximum number of stacks you will be able to achieve, as you are already in a large deficit from your maximum Insanity. Typically, for all of these reasons, it is advised to enter Voidform somewhere between 80 and 90 Insanity.

Mind Spike Icon Mind Spike is very niche in its use but can produce some on-demand (with ramp-up/planning) AoE damage. The ideal case for use is when you have a main target and at least one long-lived off-target, plus regular spawns of other targets. You should use it as follows.

  • Continue to cast Mind Blast Icon Mind Blast at your primary target on cooldown, otherwise doing your rotation as normal.
  • For filler spells, cast Mind Spike Icon Mind Spike on your long lived off-target at least once every 10 seconds to ensure that you
    • Continue to build stacks of Mind Spike on this secondary target.
    • Do not let the debuff fall off.
  • Depending on how quickly adds will appear, you may want to cast Mind Spike on this off target more or less frequently, making sure to reach 10 stacks just before you need to detonate. Casting spare Mind Spikes at your primary target is completely fine during this.
  • Once the adds are grouped up, cast Mind Blast at the secondary target to detonate the stacks and do damage to the group.

As mentioned above, Mind Spike is very powerful in combination with Void Ray Icon Void Ray as the damage of each stored Mind Spike will increase as your Void Ray stack count increases. If you take Void Ray make sure the buff does not drop.

With Surrender to Madness Icon Surrender to Madness, you will die. Horribly. For very short encounters (~2 minutes) it is worth using Surrender to Madness outside of Voidform Icon Voidform in order to significantly reduce the initial ramp up for your first (and only) Voidform.

Surrender to Madness allows you to reach incredibly high stacks of Voidform AND Drain Stacks. With good gear and being in execute range, it is not difficult for most players to reach Voidform's stack cap of 100 and continue going with the drain stacks continuing to increase.

One important way to help counter this ever increasing Insanity depletion is by using Dispersion Icon Dispersion as an offensive cooldown. You should use Dispersion as early in your Voidform as possible so that it is back up and usable a second time at very high stacks (~120+). This will effectively buy you an extra 12 seconds of DoTs ticking and damage being dealt before you exit Voidform and die. You can delay Dispersion by a few seconds if you know there is a period of low Insanity generation coming up (i.e., Shadow Word: Death Icon Shadow Word: Death, Void Bolt Icon Void Bolt, AND Mind Blast Icon Mind Blast are all on cooldown and you are in danger of reaching 0 Insanity).

When you reach high stacks of Voidform, you will begin dipping dangerously low on Insanity near-constantly. During these valleys where Void Bolt and Mind Blast are both on cooldown and you have no other high Insanity generation abilities you should use a single Shadow Word: Death as a filler to help top your Insanity off while waiting for other abilities to become available. Do NOT double tap Shadow Word: Death during Surrender to Madness, but keep at least 1 charge of it on cooldown at all times. This is your emergency Insanity generation button, and you need to treat it as such.

5.8. Using Repudiation of War, the Priest Class Trinket

For Shadow, Repudiation of War Icon Repudiation of War is a substantial single-target damage increase. Each time Mind Flay Icon Mind Flay ticks on a target, that target gains a debuff that stacks up to 5 times, lasting 10 seconds, that increases damage taken from Mind Flay, Mind Sear Icon Mind Sear, Mind Blast Icon Mind Blast, and Mind Spike.

Due to this trinket's effect being a debuff to a specific target rather than a buff on yourself, switching targets requires a bit of planning to get a full 5 stacks (via 5 ticks of Mind Flay) on the new target so that your Mind Blast is able to do increased damage.

This trinket pairs very well with Void Ray Icon Void Ray as your single-target filler cast damage, Mind Flay, will be able to receive a damage boost from both sources.

5.9. Using Nithramus, the All-Seer, the Legendary Ring

The Legendary Ring, Nithramus, the All-Seer Icon Nithramus, the All-Seer, has a raid-wide on-use that, when used, will cause all DPS in your raid group to activate their Legendary Ring's effect. This effect takes all damage done for the next 15 seconds and releases a portion of it at the end of the duration for AoE damage, centered around whichever raid member activated the on-use initial. The activator will usually be melee.

This on-use effect is on a 2-minute cooldown. You should save any cooldowns you have, such as Power Infusion Icon Power Infusion or Berserking Icon Berserking, to use when the Legendary Ring's on-use effect is used. If at all possible, be in Voidform Icon Voidform at this time. If you do not have the Tier 18 2-Part Set Bonus, it is also advisable to save your Shadowfiend Icon Shadowfiend/Mindbender Icon Mindbender for use during this time as well. If you do have the Tier 18 2-Part Set Bonus, continue to cast Shadowfiend/Mindbender on cooldown without any delay.

6. ChangeLog

  • 19 Jul. 2016: Corrected the duration of Vampiric Touch from 24 to 18 seconds, which was a change that came in a recent hotfix.
  • 18 Jul. 2016: Updated for the Legion pre-patch.
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