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Shadow Priest in the Shadowlands: Class Recommendations and Spec Highlights

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Update: the Shadow pre-patch guide is ready and you can check it out here:
Shadow Priest Shadowlands Guide

We're continuing our look at the class changes and highlights coming in Shadowlands and the pre-patch, helping players make the choice on which class to play, as we move to one of the specs with the most changes so far, Shadow Priests. Our guide writer Publik went all out for this one, as there's a lot to cover, and we also have videos for the various sections to enhance the overview. We have a look at changes to spells, new baseline  and original spells, all the Covenant ability options, talents, legendary effects, the works. Publik seems very happy with the changes and is quite excited for the spec in Shadowlands, so you should seriously consider Shadow as a pick!

Exciting Changes for Shadow Priest in Shadowlands

One of the best new features in Shadowlands is Covenants, but unfortunately for Shadow Priests none of these abilities are particularly exciting and most don't even interact with our spec right now. That being said, Shadow Priest plays like a brand new car in Shadowlands and has some exciting new abilities that have been added alongside old ones returning. Let's go through some of these changes in this article.
 

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Changed Spell Functionality

  • Voidform Voidform. This change is HUGE. Whatever you thought about Shadow Priest in BfA or Legion its time to give this another spin because this specific change makes it play like a whole different beast. We are no longer a "slow ramp" DPS class, but now have a way to control our damage and have periods of large impactful damage and it just feels great to play.
  • Mind Flay Mind Flay. The duration was increased here mostly to make things feel better with our new Dark Thoughts Dark Thoughts passive, which is awesome. 
  • Mind Sear Mind Sear. The duration was also tweaked here which not only helps with Dark Thoughts Dark Thoughts but also makes it much easier to cast Searing Nightmare Searing Nightmares in a single channel.
  • Shadowy Apparitions Shadowy Apparitions. A much needed rework to the spell to make it feel impactful, and man is it cool to see all the spirits fly!
  • Void Eruption Void Eruption. Cast time to get into Voidform Voidform is now 1.5s baseline which is awesome! This brings what used to be a talent baseline into the spec.

New Shadow Priest Spells

  • Dark Thoughts Dark Thoughts.This has a large potential to give some very interesting decisions to your Shadow Priest gameplay, especially considering that you can potentially bank up these charges and blast them into a single target for big priority target damage. Once they get the tuning right this can be the cherry on top of the other changes brought to the spec.
  • Devouring Plague Devouring Plague. The master disease DoT is back! This time with a twist on the insanity mechanic...it COSTS insanity. This change brings Shadow into the likeness of a builder spender spec, but now with Devouring Plague Devouring Plague as the core spender and damaging ability of the spec. In addition to being a massive DoT it also does a reasonable amount of upfront damage, giving us some real burst potential when activating Voidform Voidform.
  • Mastery: Shadow Weaving Mastery: Shadow Weaving. Out with the old and in with the new, our old Mastery didn't really change what we did and no one really cared about it, but now this Mastery gives a heavy reliance on DoTing as many target as possible with our Void-y goodness, which just plays so much more into the specs fantasy, and gives us a great stat to shoot for in addition to just going for Haste.

New Baseline Priest Spells

  • Desperate Prayer Desperate Prayer. A great self-healing option brought back to our kit baseline that also functions as a mini-DR. All around great spell to have!
  • Mind Soothe Mind Soothe. Very interesting return for this spell that could give us some much needed utility in Mythic+ to let your group skip past certain mob packs that you don't want to kill. You can cast this on as many mobs as you want and it works for your whole party!
  •  Power Infusion Power Infusion. Another spell that was brought back...kind of. It no longer gives us insanity generation like it did in Legion, and unfortunately the cooldown is de-sync'ed with Voidform Voidform which is just really disappointing. We now have 3 cooldowns: Shadowfiend Shadowfiend (3m CD or 1m CD with Mindbender Mindbender ), Power Infusion Power Infusion (2m CD), and Voidform Voidform (1.5m CD).
  • Shadow Word: Death Shadow Word: Death. More baseline execute is back in business for Shadow Priests, and with Death and Madness Death and Madness talented you can truly be an execute machine, provided you don't accidentally kill yourself with it.
     

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New Covenant Abilities

Night Fae Ability - Fae Guardians Fae Guardians  - 1.5min CD

Call forth three faerie guardians to attend your targets for 20 sec.

Starting off with my current favorite, Fae Guardians is the first and only Covenant ability that has some interaction with our new Shadow Priest toolkit. While this ability is active you get 3 main effects depending on abilities that you cast.

  • Wrathful Faerie: Direct attacks against the target restore 0.5% Mana or 3 Insanity. Follows your Shadow Word: Pain Shadow Word: Pain.
  • Guardian Faerie: Reduces damage taken by 10%. Follows your Power Word: Shield Power Word: Shield.
  • Benevolent Faerie: Increases the cooldown recovery rate of a major ability by 100%. Follows your Shadow Mend. (Note: Automatically gives you this benefit after activating the ability.)

TLDR this ability is giving us more insanity over the duration which we can use to cast more Devouring Plague Devouring Plagues (or Searing Nightmare Searing Nightmares if talented) and also giving us more casts of Shadowfiend Shadowfiend or Mindbender Mindbender, not to mention the fact that the animation is quite awesome as well.


Necrolord Ability - images?q=tbn:ANd9GcSAUSRMybRbhLGHGyCjqLV Unholy Nova - 1m CD

An explosion of dark energy infects enemies within 15 yds with Unholy Transfusion, and heals up to 6 allies. Unholy Tranfusion: Deals Shadow damage over 15 sec. Allies who damage this target are healed for (4% of Spell power).

Next up is one of many boring Covenant abilities for Shadow Priest. Even though this puts a DoT on our targets it has no interaction with any of our abilities that interact with DoTs, making this a "use on CD" ability that you don't need to think about, as long as your are in melee range. Hopefully this gets changed to have some good interaction with our spec considering it is a DoT after all!
 

Venthyr Ability - ability_revendreth_priest.jpg?35789 Mindgames - 45s CD

Assault an enemy's mind, dealing Shadow damage and briefly reversing their perception of reality. For 5 sec, the next X damage they deal will heal their target, and the next Y healing they deal will damage their target. Reversed damage and healing generate up to 20 Insanity.

From a PvE perspective this is easily our worst Covenant ability right now. I can definitely see the potential for the PvP power of this ability, but unfortunately that was done at the cost of its usefulness in raiding. Similar to Unholy Nova for Necrolords, you won't really notice casting this and in fact in AoE it isn't even worth casting this ability. Really hoping they give this ability some love from the PvE perspective because I would love to go Venthyr for their aesthetic! 
 

Kyrian Ability - Boon of the Ascended Boon of the Ascended - 3m CD

Draw upon the power of the Ascended for 10 sec, granting you access to Ascended Nova, replacing Mind Flay with Ascended Blast, and increasing movement speed by 50%. Upon expiration, releases an Ascended Eruption: Explode for Arcane damage to enemies and healing to allies within 15 yds, based on number of targets. Damage and healing increased by 3% for each stack of Boon of the Ascended.

This option is the ugliest of the four in my opinion. When using this ability you STOP being a priest for 10s and shift into being a Kyrian. Kind of a neat idea, but in practice it just feels super disjointed to the spec and doesn't fit in well to our rotation and is sloppy to play with. Not to mention you have to be within 8yds of all your targets to get the maximum benefit out of using it...which is just super odd as a ranged class.

If you want some more information on what Covenant is best for you, check out my videos on each one here:


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Talent Changes

There were a ton of talent changes going into the Shadow Priest rework, so let's start with what all has been removed in Shadowlands.

Talents Removed

  • Shadowy Insight. Reworked into our Dark Thoughts Dark Thoughts passive
  • Shadow Word: Void. Now given 2 charges of Mind Blast inside of Voidform Voidform baseline
  • Dark Void. Reworked into Searing Nightmare Searing Nightmare (see below)
  • Shadow Word: Death. Reworked and made baseline
  • Shadow Crash. Redesigned
  • Lingering Insanity. Removed
  • Dark Ascension. Removed

Talent Changes and New Options

  • Death and Madness Death and Madness. Holy mother of execute is this talent fun to play with. You become an execute machine and can really pump out some awesome damage....just be careful not to kill yourself with this ability, it can hit you really hard!
  • Unfurling Darkness Unfurling Darkness. On its own this might sound a little...weird. But paired with other talents like Misery Misery and/or Psychic Link Psychic Link makes this incredibly fun to play with.
  • Searing Nightmare Searing Nightmare. As if having Devouring Plague Devouring Plague wasn't already a good enough option to spend our insanity, this talent gives us an AoE spender as well. You become an absolute AoE mad genius with this spell and it really helps to spread our SW:P out as well.
  • Psychic Link Psychic Link. This is a defining talent for Shadow Priests as it really gives us a bonus is spread target cleave which has always been a great strong suit for the spec, this talent just takes that to another level.
  • Shadow Crash Shadow Crash. Kind of out of left field we got some interesting Shadow Crash Shadow Crash changes that make it a weird hybrid Single Target and Stacked Cleave ability. Not sure where this could be used, but we'll see.
  • Damnation Damnation. You like multi-target? You like DoTing? Well here is the talent for you! Gives us a great option for quickly DoTing a target and we can even do it on the move. PvPers are probably rejoicing everywhere.
  • Ancient Madness Ancient Madness. Not the most exciting talent in the world, but gives our Voidform Voidform some extra oomph to really make it decimate our targets.
  • Legacy of the Void Legacy of the Void. This is Blizzard's attempt at still fitting in "old shadow priest" into the existing talent tree, but it still has lots of work to be done before it gets there. But with enough tuning and changes it might make sense.
  • Surrender to Madness Surrender to Madness. What used to be a very dull and not-worth-the-risk option is now a power-house of an ability due to the fact that it gives you a "free" Voidform Voidform when used, and even if your target dies (which consumes the insanity generation portion of the cooldown) you still keep the full Voidform Voidform, giving you a huge boost in Voidform Voidform uptime.

Now our talent tree looks something like this:

Level 15 TalentsFortress of the Mind Fortress of the Mind / Death and Madness Death and Madness / Unfurling Darkness Unfurling Darkness;
Level 25 Talents: Body and Soul Body and Soul / San'layn San'layn / Intangibility Intangibility;
Level 30 Talents: Twist of Fate Twist of Fate / Misery Misery / Searing Nightmare Searing Nightmare;
Level 35 Talents: Last Word Last Word / Mind Bomb Mind Bomb / Psychic Horror Psychic Horror;
Level 40 Talents: Auspicious Spirits Auspicious Spirits / Psychic Link Psychic Link / Shadow Crash Shadow Crash;
Level 45 Talents: Damnation Damnation / Mindbender Mindbender / Void Torrent Void Torrent;
Level 50 Talents: Ancient Madness Ancient Madness / Legacy of the Void Legacy of the Void / Surrender to Madness Surrender to Madness;

This is my favorite part about the Shadow Priest rework, hands down. Having these options about where to put our damage and how we deal it is great to play with and gives you lots of answers to various dungeons and raid designs.
 

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Legendary Effects

While there are other generic Legendary effects, I'm only going to touch on the ones specific to Shadow Priest (although you can check out the rest of the Priest ones here and generic ones here).

  • Shadowflame Prism Shadowflame Prism. Great synergy with the Night Fae Covenant ability and the Rabid Shadows conduit could make this particularly strong for that Covenant, but otherwise probably won't be used much and isn't that exciting.
  • Eternal Call to the Void Eternal Call to the Void. Tentacles are back! This is a returning artifact trait from Legion that gives us some flavor back to our spec, but doesn't provide that much interaction and unfortunately doesn't work on AoE right now (only spawns from Mind Flay Mind Flay , not Mind Sear Mind Sear).
  • Talbadar's Stratagem Talbadar's Stratagem. An interesting addition to the Legendary catalog that when paired with Psychic Link Psychic Link + Misery Misery + Unfurling Darkness Unfurling Darkness can be a real interesting combination.
  • Painbreaker Psalm Painbreaker Psalm. Right now our weakest option, but can provide some cool playstyle choices if paired with Death and Madness Death and Madness. Could be a solid Mythic+ Contender.

I've gone over each legendary that Shadow has in detail in the videos below:

 

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Conclusion

Shadow Priest is a monster of a spec to play in Shadowlands. If you have ever enjoyed decimating your targets with Shadow and Void energy, you NEED to try this spec out in Shadowlands. You have lots of different ways you can deal damage depending on the playstyle you want or need, and the spec has a great sense of flow and never has dull moments.
 

Check out Publik's other content here:

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Other Spec Highlights:

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I actually like all the covenant abilities, but that's because I moved away from Shadow in part because they nerfed much of the ability of spriests to off-heal as a passive effect of their dps. Yes, I get that that was done in part to give spriests a distinctly different role, but healers gots to healzzzzz!!!

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