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Shadow Priest DPS Rotation, Cooldowns, and Abilities (Legion 7.3)

Last updated on Aug 28, 2017 at 19:26 by Furty 245 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 7.3. 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 Author and Reviewer

This guide has been written by Furty, who has an illustrious history in the World of Warcraft raiding scene and race for World First. He has been a member of guilds such as Serenity, Midwinter, and many more, and is currently raiding in Future. He plays most classes at the highest level. You can follow him on Twitter and watch him play on Twitch.

This guide has been reviewed by Atroxe, a Shadow Priest who plays in Encore, and by DjRiff, a theorycrafter at HowToPriest. You can watch Atroxe play on YouTube and Twitch, and you can watch DjRiff stream on Twitch.

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 (65 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 add 3 seconds to the duration of Shadow Word: Pain Icon Shadow Word: Pain and Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch, effectively meaning you should rarely have to manually refresh Shadow Word: Pain Icon Shadow Word: Pain or Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch on your main target.

1.1. Shadowform

Shadowform Icon Shadowform is an aura that increases your Shadow damage done and reduces your Physical damage taken by 10%. While in Shadowform, you cannot cast Holy spells. You should always have Shadowform active (you only need to activate it once, and it will remain active until you die; entering Voidform Icon Voidform will temporarily deactivate it but then automatically reactivate it when you exit Voidform).

2. Single Target Priority

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

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 Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch (or simply Shadow Word: Pain Icon Shadow Word: Pain, without Misery Icon Misery), and then simply use Mind Flay Icon Mind Flay. 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 Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch (or simply Shadow Word: Pain Icon Shadow Word: Pain, without Misery Icon Misery) on your main target and cast Shadow Crash Icon Shadow Crash and Mind Flay Icon Mind Flay 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 Flay Icon Mind Flay 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. Important Notes

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.

5.1. Insanity

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.

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 = 6 + (2/3(n))
  • n = number of drain stacks

For example, if we have been in Voidform for 20 seconds, we would have 20 drain stacks and would be losing: 6 + ((2/3)20) = 19.3 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 a way to pause both the drain and the increase in rate of drain of Insanity. While you are channeling  Icon Void Torrent, your Insanity will not drain at all and the rate at which your Insanity drains will not increase (but your stacks of Voidform will increase). Dispersion Icon Dispersion can be used to pause the Insanity drain rate, but you will not gain stacks while this is active. We go into more detail about this below.

If you are playing with Mother Shahraz's Seduction Icon Mother Shahraz's Seduction you will begin your Voidform Icon Voidform with 3 stacks of Voidform but only 1 drain stack.

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 10% 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.

If you are talented into Lingering Insanity Icon Lingering Insanity, you will keep the Haste increase you had at the end of Voidform. This bonus will decay at a rate of 2% every second until it disappears entirely. Therefore, the higher your Voidform stacks and Haste bonus, the stronger your Lingering Insanity Icon 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). The buff persists even once you re-enter Voidform, adding to the strength of this talent.

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 adding 3 seconds to your Shadow Word: Pain Icon Shadow Word: Pain and Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch on your target (and other nearby enemies) upon impact. In single-target situations, you should never have to manually re-apply Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch or Shadow Word: Pain Icon Shadow Word: Pain to your target during Voidform. The recommended use for multi-target is to always cast Void Bolt Icon Void Bolt on the highest priority target, as the DoT extension will propagate to all nearby targets regardless.

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. Lingering Insanity + Legacy of the Void

Legacy of the Void Icon Legacy of the Void is a great talent, as it allows you to be in Voidform Icon Voidform more often, taking advantage of the 10% increased damage. Using Lingering Insanity Icon Lingering Insanity in combination with Legacy ensures you will always be Haste buffed whenever you fall out of Voidform, and it will help you get back to 65 Insanity as fast as possible.

5.4.2. 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 60 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

At 4+ stacked targets, it is a DPS and Insanity gain to drop Mind Blast Icon Mind Blast from your rotation.

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. You should apply Shadow Word: Pain Icon Shadow Word: Pain to all targets, and then apply Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch to any targets that will live for at least 10 seconds. If you are talented into Misery Icon Misery the maintenance of your DoTs is made much easier.

Vampiric Touch has a duration of 24 seconds, longer than Shadow Word: Pain's 18-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 (20/65 if you have Legacy of the Void Icon Legacy of the Void, 50/100 otherwise), only replacing fillers like Mind Flay Icon Mind Flay 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 (further increased by Fiending Dark Icon Fiending Dark). 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/TimeWarp is cast or Voidform is entered) during which the Shadowfiend will not have increased attack speed.

You should try and use Shadowfiend Icon Shadowfiend with Voidform Icon Voidform stacks for the increased Haste. If you are playing without Surrender to Madness Icon Surrender to Madness, you should aim for 10+ stacks. If you are playing with Surrender, the higher the stacks the better. It is ideal to time Shadowfiend Icon Shadowfiend for the last 30 seconds of Bloodlust Icon Bloodlust.

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.

5.6.2. Dispersion

Dispersion Icon Dispersion is an interesting ability on a 2-minute cooldown (80 seconds with full Artifact). 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 Icon Dispersion's primary use is to extend the duration of Voidform Icon Voidform. This is especially important for Surrender to Madness Icon Surrender to Madness, and will be discussed in the Surrender to Madness section below.

Dispersion Icon Dispersion's secondary use is to avoid dying, to minimise the damage you take, and sometimes to bypass various deadly encounter mechanics (such as clearing the Nightmare Brambles on Cenarius).

5.6.3. Void Torrent

 Icon Void Torrent is an ability granted to you by your Artifact,  Icon Xal'atath, Blade of the Black Empire. This ability has several properties worth explicitly noting.

  •  Icon Void Torrent is a channeled spell lasting for 4 seconds on a 60-second cooldown.
  • The number of ticks done by Void Torrent scales with Haste, meaning that the more Haste you have, the more ticks, and therefore total damage, it will do.
  • Insanity will not drain and the rate of drain will not increase while  Icon Void Torrent is active.

 Icon Void Torrent's primary use is to extend the duration of Voidform Icon Voidform. This is especially important for Surrender to Madness Icon Surrender to Madness, and will be discussed in the Surrender to Madness section below, but is also valuable during other Voidforms. For these, you should use Void Torrent early on in Voidform as long as the following criteria are met:

If you have large Haste buffs up, such as Power Infusion Icon Power Infusion, Berserking Icon Berserking, or Bloodlust Icon Bloodlust, you can alter your timing on when you use  Icon Void Torrent in order to gain as many stacks as possible. For maximum effect, the entirety of Void Torrent must occur while the buff is still active, i.e., at least 4 seconds before they will fall off. When in doubt, use Void Torrent as early on in Voidform as possible.

From 0% Haste as a baseline, you will gain an extra tick of  Icon Void Torrent during the channel for each additional 25% Haste you have.

If you are using the Tier 20 4-piece bonus, you should aim to use  Icon Void Torrent and Mindbender Icon Mindbender on cooldown with Voidform Icon Voidform.

5.7. More on Talents

5.7.1. Tier 6 Talents

Power Infusion Icon Power Infusion should be used to extend Voidform Icon Voidform duration, and not as a traditional cooldown. It should be used at 20-25 stacks (minimum) of Voidform Icon Voidform and timed to expire as you are about to fall out of Voidform Icon Voidform. Power Infusion Icon Power Infusion should be used with at least 30 stacks of Voidform Icon Voidform if you are using the Tier 20 4-piece bonus.

Misery Icon Misery should be used in situations where you are always casting fresh DoT effects. For example, very add heavy encounters such as Il'gynoth, or Mythic+ dungeons where you are moving from pack to pack.

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 Icon 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 are using Surrender to Madness Icon Surrender to Madness, the usage of Mindbender will change slightly when the Surrender to Madness buff is active. This will be discussed more in our section outlining Surrender to Madness.

If you are using the Tier 20 4-piece bonus, you should aim to use  Icon Void Torrent and Mindbender Icon Mindbender on cooldown with Voidform Icon Voidform.

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 65 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 65 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.

Shadow Crash Icon Shadow Crash should be avoided, even for AoE, as it the tradeoff and loss of damage via Legacy of the Void Icon Legacy of the Void is almost never worth it.

With Surrender to Madness Icon Surrender to Madness, you will die. Horribly. Surrender to Madness allows you to reach high stacks of Voidform Icon Voidform AND drain stacks. With good gear and being in execute range, it is possible for 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, in addition to using  Icon Void Torrent as normal. Doing so will buy you extra time 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, Mind Blast Icon Mind Blast, AND  Icon Void Torrent are all on cooldown and you are in danger of reaching 0 Insanity).

When you reach high stacks of Voidform Icon Voidform, you will begin dipping dangerously low on Insanity near-constantly. During these valleys where Void Bolt Icon Void Bolt and Mind Blast Icon Mind Blast are both on cooldown and you have no other high Insanity generation abilities, you should use a single Shadow Word: Death Icon 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 Icon 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.

When your total Haste reaches about 122%, you will be unable to cast two different abilities between each Void Bolt Icon Void Bolt. It is at this point that a 1 global cooldown rotation becomes mandatory.

  1. Cast Void Bolt Icon Void Bolt.
  2. Cast Mind Blast Icon Mind Blast.
  3. Cast Void Bolt Icon Void Bolt.
  4. Cast a filler ability. This may include (in priority order):
    1. Shadow Word: Death Icon Shadow Word: Death
    2. Shadow Word: Void Icon Shadow Word: Void (if you have taken this talent)
    3. Mind Flay Icon Mind Flay
  5. Repeat from #1.

If you have selected Mindbender Icon Mindbender as your Tier 6 talent, you will want to use it twice during Surrender to Madness Icon Surrender to Madness. The first time will be early on (below ~30 stacks). The second time will be about 20 seconds before you are expecting to fall out of Voidform Icon Voidform. This second use will require a judgement call on your own and will come mostly from experience. As a general rule, when you are at high Voidform stacks (~90+) and feel as if you are having trouble keeping your head above water, so to speak, you should use Mindbender and know that this is your final push before Voidform will end and you will die. Horribly.

If you have selected Power Infusion Icon Power Infusion as your Tier 6 talent, you will only use it once during Voidform Icon Voidform. As with Mindbender Icon Mindbender above, when you are at high Voidform stacks (~80+) and feel as if you are having trouble keeping your head above water, so to speak, you should use Power Infusion and know that this is your final push before Voidform will end and you will die.

When playing with Surrender, this is how you should proceed:

  1. Refresh DoTs.
  2. Activate Surrender to Madness Icon Surrender to Madness.
  3. Enter Voidform Icon Voidform.
  4. Cast  Icon Void Torrent.
  5. Cast Void Bolt Icon Void Bolt.
  6. Activate Dispersion Icon Dispersion.
  7. Normal Voidform Icon Voidform priority.
  8. Cast  Icon Void Torrent when it comes off of cooldown.
  9. Activate Power Infusion Icon Power Infusion when you need it.
  10. Activate Dispersion Icon Dispersion when you need it.

If you can get to Dispersion Icon Dispersion without using Power Infusion Icon Power Infusion, this is ideal, however, it is difficult after the Surrender to Madness Icon Surrender to Madness nerfs. It is safer to use Power Infusion Icon Power Infusion when Dispersion Icon Dispersion has ~15 seconds left on its cooldown. Once Power Infusion Icon Power Infusion ends, follow normal priority until you have used up your Shadow Word: Death Icon Shadow Word: Death charges, then Disperse.

6. ChangeLog

+ show all entries - show only 10 entries
  • 28 Aug. 2017: Updated Void Bolt section.
  • 14 Jun. 2017: Added a few notes about the T20 4-piece bonus. Ready for 7.2.5.
  • 13 Jun. 2017: Page is not yet completely updated for 7.2.5. More changes to follow very soon.
  • 17 May 2017: Fixed drain stacks example to match provided formula.
  • 01 May 2017: Small update to Power Infusion description.
  • 28 Mar. 2017: No changes needed for Patch 7.2.
  • 10 Jan. 2017: Full overhaul. Revised formatting, updated for 7.1.5, and added additional information.
  • 31 Oct. 2016: Slightly improved the Shadowform mention at the start of the guide.
  • 25 Oct. 2016: Added a mention of Shadowform (you should always have it active).
  • 10 Oct. 2016: Made various updates and improvements to account for the repeated changes to Dispersion and Void Torrent.
  • 25 Sep. 2016: Updated the page to account for the fact that you no longer gain Voidform stacks while Dispersion and Void Torrent are active.
  • 29 Aug. 2016: Updated for Legion's launch.
  • 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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