Shadow Priest DPS Rotation, Cooldowns, and Abilities — Shadowlands 9.0.2

Last updated on Nov 23, 2020 at 22:39 by Publik 6 comments
General Information

On this page, you will learn how to optimize the rotation of your Shadow Priest in both single-target and multiple-target situations. We also have advanced sections about cooldowns, procs, etc. in order to minmax your DPS. All our content is updated for World of Warcraft — Shadowlands 9.0.2.

If you were looking for WoW Classic content, please refer to our Classic Shadow Priest DPS rotation.

1.

Shadow Priest Rotational Primer

The Shadow Priest rotation revolves around a modern version of a builder/spender style of play that mixes in damage over time effects as well. You use abilities that generate Insanity and then spend that Insanity primarily on Devouring Plague Icon Devouring Plague. The spec is now more of a cooldown-based spec rather than a long ramping damage spec, after the rework turning Voidform Icon Voidform into a 1.5-minute cooldown, 15-second duration cooldown.

1.1.

Easy Mode

If the rotations below seems overwhelming to you, you might benefit from visiting our Easy Mode page which outlines a close-to-optimal rotation in simpler terms.

The content on this page is purely PvE-related. If you are looking for PvP Rotation Tips, please visit our PvP page below.

If you are completely new to Shadow and need more information on the abilities available to you, you can check out our Spell Summary page.

Void Bolt Icon Void Bolt is the largest change to your playstyle once you enter Voidform Icon Voidform. When Void Bolt strikes a target (after a short travel time) it adds 3 seconds to the duration of Shadow Word: Pain Icon Shadow Word: Pain and Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch on your main target as well as nearby targets. Though this helps delay having to refresh our DoTs, you will still have to manually apply them, especially out of Voidform.

1.2.

Shadowform

Shadowform Icon Shadowform is an aura that increases your spell damage done by 10%. 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).

1.3.

Covenant Switch

Use the button below to select your Covenant to see how that changes the rotation:

2.

Single-Target Rotation for Shadow Priest

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

  1. Cast Void Eruption Icon Void Eruption to enter Voidform Icon Voidform whenever you get at least 40 Insanity. This should be used on cooldown, even without Power Infusion Icon Power Infusion. Consider saving for 10s or so if adds are coming.
  2. Cast Power Infusion Icon Power Infusion on cooldown. Hold if Void Eruption Icon Void Eruption will be coming off cooldown in 10s or less.
  3. Use the rest of your cooldowns to line them up, this includes Covenant spells and trinkets.
  4. Use Damnation Icon Damnation or Searing Nightmare Icon Searing Nightmare to easily apply DoTs before applying manually.
  5. Apply and maintain Shadow Word: Pain Icon Shadow Word: Pain and Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch on your target, only refreshing them when they are about to fall off. If using Misery Icon Misery only refresh with Vampiric Touch. Make sure you are refreshing Vampiric Touch periodically to get the Unfurling Darkness Icon Unfurling Darkness benefit.
  6. Cast Devouring Plague Icon Devouring Plague when you have at least 50 Insanity. There is no optimal refresh point like traditional DoTs, you just want to make sure you cast this enough to get maximum uptime for the Mastery benefit AND you will not cap on your Insanity resource. Remember that refreshing Devouring Plague does NOT cause you to lose any damage. The damage left over in the old DoT gets carried over to the new one.
  7. Cast Void Bolt Icon Void Bolt on cooldown in Voidform as long as you will not cap on Insanity (below 85). Use this as you get a spare global out of Voidform with a Dissonant Echoes Icon Dissonant Echoes proc.
  8. Cast Shadow Word: Death Icon Shadow Word: Death on cooldown when the mobs are below 20% HP.
  9. Use Surrender to Madness Icon Surrender to Madness if the target will die within 25s and you currently are not in Voidform Icon Voidform.
  10. Use Shadowfiend Icon Shadowfiend/Mindbender Icon Mindbender whenever available, preferably when you have as much Haste as possible, or right before you enter Voidform Icon Voidform.
  11. Cast Void Torrent Icon Void Torrent when you have both Shadow Word: Pain Icon Shadow Word: Pain and Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch active and you are not in Voidform Icon Voidform.
  12. Cast Shadow Crash Icon Shadow Crash on cooldown, unless adds are coming in less than 10 seconds.
  13. Cast Mind Flay Icon Mind Flay in order to consume a Dark Thoughts Icon Dark Thoughts proc with Mind Blast Icon Mind Blast while channeling Mind Flay. If you have to you can also use this proc to help with movement.
  14. Cast Mind Blast Icon Mind Blast on cooldown. Note: you do not need to use both charges at the same time when in Voidform, just make sure to not stay at 2 charges if possible.
  15. Consume your Unfurling Darkness Icon Unfurling Darkness procs to make sure you do not lose the buff if you have this active/talented. Do not go out of your way to proc this every 15 seconds, see below for more detail.
  16. Cast Mind Flay Icon Mind Flay as a filler when all of the above spells can not be cast or do not have to be cast, interrupting it whenever a higher priority spell becomes available.
  17. Cast Shadow Word: Death Icon Shadow Word: Death when on the move, or spam Shadow Word: Pain Icon Shadow Word: Pain if Shadow Word: Death is on cooldown and you have to move.
3.

Shadow Priest Opening Rotation

Shadow has no complex opener as it does not rely on cooldowns to do damage. Below you will find the basic opener which mostly follows the priority as listed above, with the exception of pre-casting Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch instead of Mind Blast Icon Mind Blast.

  1. Pre-cast Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch.
  2. Apply Shadow Word: Pain Icon Shadow Word: Pain.
  3. Cast Void Torrent Icon Void Torrent.
  4. Cast Shadow Crash Icon Shadow Crash.
  5. Cast Shadowfiend Icon Shadowfiend/Mindbender Icon Mindbender
  6. Cast Mind Blast Icon Mind Blast if you need more Insanity before casting Void Eruption Icon Void Eruption.
  7. Fill with Mind Flay Icon Mind Flay until you reach about 40 Insanity.
  8. Cast Void Eruption Icon Void Eruption when you have at least 40 Insanity.
  9. Case Power Infusion Icon Power Infusion as soon as you finish the Void Eruption Icon Void Eruption cast.
  10. Cast Void Bolt Icon Void Bolt.
  11. Apply Devouring Plague Icon Devouring Plague if you have enough Insanity.
  12. Use your Mind Blast Icon Mind Blast charges.
  13. Continue the regular single-target rotation.

When using Hungering Void Icon Hungering Void getting that first Void Bolt Icon Void Bolt off in Voidform Icon Voidform on the opener is essential to buff that first Devouring Plague Icon Devouring Plague. You typically always want to get 35-40 Insanity before casting Void Eruption Icon Void Eruption, that way a single Void Bolt is enough Insanity to get to that first Devouring Plague. Generally speaking delaying until 50 Insanity is not worth the extra time, especially with Bloodlust Icon Bloodlust/Heroism Icon Heroism running.

4.

Multiple Target Rotation for Shadow Priest

Shadow has quite a few decisions to make depending on how many targets you are fighting at any given time and how long they will live for. This rotation also changes heavily based on if you are using Misery Icon Misery or Searing Nightmare Icon Searing Nightmare.

Use the following list as a cheat sheet for the important target swaps:

4.1.

2-3 Target Priority

  1. Use Shadowfiend Icon Shadowfiend/Mindbender Icon Mindbender on cooldown.
  2. Cast Void Eruption Icon Void Eruption whenever available.
  3. Use Surrender to Madness Icon Surrender to Madness if the target will die within 25s and you currently are not in Voidform Icon Voidform.
  4. Cast Void Bolt Icon Void Bolt at high priority to keep up Hungering Void Icon Hungering Void if talented Make sure you do not cap Insanity.
  5. Cast Devouring Plague Icon Devouring Plague to dump Insanity.
  6. Cast Searing Nightmare Icon Searing Nightmare to dump Insanity instead of Devouring Plague Icon Devouring Plague outside of Voidform Icon Voidform.
  7. Cast Void Bolt Icon Void Bolt if you will not cap Insanity.
  8. Cast Shadow Word: Death Icon Shadow Word: Death on cooldown when the mobs are below 20% HP.
  9. Cast and maintain Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch on all targets if they live for 6 seconds or more (which applies Shadow Word: Pain Icon Shadow Word: Pain too if using Misery Icon Misery). Make sure you are doing this periodically to get the Unfurling Darkness Icon Unfurling Darkness benefit.
  10. Cast and maintain Shadow Word: Pain Icon Shadow Word: Pain on all targets. Disregard this step if you are using Misery Icon Misery or Searing Nightmare Icon Searing Nightmare.
  11. Cast Shadow Crash Icon Shadow Crash if talented.
  12. Cast Void Torrent Icon Void Torrent when you have both Shadow Word: Pain Icon Shadow Word: Pain and Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch active and you are not in Voidform Icon Voidform.
  13. Cast Mind Blast Icon Mind Blast.
  14. Use Mind Sear Icon Mind Sear to fill.
4.2.

4-6 Target Priority

  1. Use Shadowfiend Icon Shadowfiend/Mindbender Icon Mindbender on cooldown.
  2. Cast Void Eruption Icon Void Eruption whenever available.
  3. Use Surrender to Madness Icon Surrender to Madness if the target will die within 25s and you currently are not in Voidform Icon Voidform.
  4. Cast Void Bolt Icon Void Bolt at high priority to keep up Hungering Void Icon Hungering Void if talented Make sure you do not cap Insanity. Stop casting this at 5 or more targets.
  5. Cast Devouring Plague Icon Devouring Plague to dump Insanity if you are not talented into Searing Nightmare Icon Searing Nightmare.
  6. Cast and maintain Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch on all targets if they live for 6 seconds or more (which applies Shadow Word: Pain Icon Shadow Word: Pain too if using Misery Icon Misery). Make sure you are doing this periodically to get the Unfurling Darkness Icon Unfurling Darkness benefit. Drop this at 5+ targets inside Voidform Icon Voidform.
  7. Cast and maintain Shadow Word: Pain Icon Shadow Word: Pain on all targets. Disregard this step if you are using Misery Icon Misery or Searing Nightmare Icon Searing Nightmare.
  8. Cast Shadow Crash Icon Shadow Crash if talented.
  9. Cast Void Torrent Icon Void Torrent when you have both Shadow Word: Pain Icon Shadow Word: Pain and Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch active and you are not in Voidform Icon Voidform. Past 4 targets you should only keep using this if talented into Twist of Fate Icon Twist of Fate.
  10. Dump Insanity using Searing Nightmare Icon Searing Nightmare if talented, only cast this twice per Mind Sear Icon Mind Sear channel.
  11. Use Mind Sear Icon Mind Sear to fill. Recast after two Searing Nightmare Icon Searing Nightmare casts if talented.
4.3.

6+ Target Priority

  1. Use Shadowfiend Icon Shadowfiend/Mindbender Icon Mindbender on cooldown.
  2. Cast Void Eruption Icon Void Eruption whenever available.
  3. Use Surrender to Madness Icon Surrender to Madness if the target will die within 25s and you currently are not in Voidform Icon Voidform.
  4. Cast Devouring Plague Icon Devouring Plague to dump Insanity if you are not talented into Searing Nightmare Icon Searing Nightmare.
  5. Cast and maintain Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch on all targets if they live for 6 seconds or more (which applies Shadow Word: Pain Icon Shadow Word: Pain too if using Misery Icon Misery). Make sure you are doing this periodically to get the Unfurling Darkness Icon Unfurling Darkness benefit. If fighting 8 or more, you can safely stop casting Vampiric Touch if talented into Searing Nightmare Icon Searing Nightmare. See the below section for more detail.
  6. Cast and maintain Shadow Word: Pain Icon Shadow Word: Pain on all targets. Disregard this step if you are using Misery Icon Misery or Searing Nightmare Icon Searing Nightmare.
  7. Cast Shadow Crash Icon Shadow Crash if talented.
  8. Dump Insanity using Searing Nightmare Icon Searing Nightmare if talented, only cast this twice per Mind Sear Icon Mind Sear channel.
  9. Use Mind Sear Icon Mind Sear to fill. Recast after two Searing Nightmare Icon Searing Nightmare casts if talented.

For any amount of targets if you find yourself using Psychic Link Icon Psychic Link be sure to keep Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch active on as many targets as possible before casting Mind Blast Icon Mind Blast. This talent is generally inferior to Auspicious Spirits Icon Auspicious Spirits in almost every scenario, so use with caution.

5.

The Multiple Target Rotation Further Explained

The goal when fighting multiple targets is to maintain your DoTs on as many targets as is reasonable in that specific situation, as well as hitting as many targets as possible with Shadow Crash Icon Shadow Crash and Void Eruption Icon Void Eruption. As long as targets will live long enough, it is advised to begin by applying your DoTs. The key to our multi-target rotation fundamentally requires you to use Misery Icon Misery or Searing Nightmare Icon Searing Nightmare, otherwise you will spend far too much time DoTing enemies. This is an important trade-off because having DoT effects on targets means we get that mastery increase when not in Voidform Icon Voidform, which is a lot of damage to pass up.

When using Searing Nightmare Icon Searing Nightmare you generally only care about Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch for the mastery benefit. Therefore around 5+ targets when talented you should stop casting Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch outside of Voidform Icon Voidform when you cannot dump with Searing Nightmare.

When starting off the multi-target rotation your first instinct should be to spread your DoTs to as many targets as possible. When using Misery Icon Misery this is as simple as casting Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch on every target that will live long enough. If there are more than 3-4 enemies you should try and get into Voidform Icon Voidform ASAP to start weaving in Void Bolt Icon Void Bolt, otherwise by the time you DoT every mob you will have to re-DoT them again. If you find yourself hitting this point often, that is a good indication that you probably should have taken Searing Nightmare Icon Searing Nightmare instead, as it easily spread SW:P to everything and you can just focus on that. If you can also maintain Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch on targets while weaving in Searing Nightmare Icon Searing Nightmare casts that is ideal, but stops being easy once you get to 6 targets.

While using Searing Nightmare Icon Searing Nightmare your general rotation will be to cast two Searing Nightmare Icon Searing Nightmare per Mind Sear Icon Mind Sear channel. Depending on if you are using Hungering Void Icon Hungering Void you will continue to weave in Void Bolt Icon Void Bolt casts (see above charts for cutoffs). Mixing these two you will cast Void Bolt after your two Searing Nightmare casts before starting your next Mind Sear channel.

Note that while using Searing Nightmare Icon Searing Nightmare you should never be spending Insanity on Devouring Plague Icon Devouring Plague once you start fighting 3 or more stacked mobs when outside of Voidform Icon Voidform. At 4 targets you drop Devouring Plague Icon Devouring Plague completely with this talented.

6.

Mythic+ Rotation

For specific tips about playing Shadow Priest in Mythic+ feel free to check out that dedicated page below. From a rotation standpoint you can use the multi-target rotations above for your dungeon content as a Shadow Priest.

7.

Important Notes for Shadow Priest

7.1.

Devouring Plague Refreshing

Devouring Plague Icon Devouring Plague is a DoT unlike anything the game has ever seen before, and as such it is important that you understand how it works at a high level in order to not misuse its unique effects.

When refreshing Devouring Plague Icon Devouring Plague you do not need to worry about doing this at a specific time, and that is because whenever you do refresh the spell it rolls over any damage remaining on the ticks and adds that in the form of a modifier to the new DoTs ticks. This effectively means that when you are in a case where you often hit or get close to 100 Insanity (referred to as capping) you can freely refresh Devouring Plague and not lose any damage assuming the target lives for the full DoT duration. It is important to note that no part of this process is snapshotting state, but rather converting future damage ticks into a modifier value to the new ticks. Because of this period Intellect and Haste changes do not change how the rollover happens, it always works the same way regardless.

This mechanic is mostly passive, but can be used to your advantage if you want to burst down a specific target. By banking up 100 Insanity you can use two Devouring Plague Icon Devouring Plague casts back to back and get a new DoT with much more powerful ticks in the same amount of time as a single Devouring Plague Icon Devouring Plague. Otherwise if your target will live you should always prioritize keeping the DoT active on the target for as long as possible for maximum benefit with our Mastery. While maximizing this make sure you are also NOT capping on Insanity. Juggling these two conditions will be how you master this spell.

For most types of content you should play completely normally, there is nothing to game with how this works unless you are trying to burst something down specifically. Just play normally and enjoy not losing damage when you would have otherwise capped Insanity.

If you want to see this change explained in video form I go over this in more detail in this video.

7.2.

When to use Dark Thoughts Procs

Dark Thoughts Icon Dark Thoughts gives you passive procs of Mind Blast Icon Mind Blast as you channel Mind Flay Icon Mind Flay or Mind Sear Icon Mind Sear. Currently the proc rate is 3% per DoT when channeling Mind Flay (maximum of 9%) and 1.5% per DoT per target when channeling Mind Sear (maximum of 4.5% per target). Ideally you should always try to use theses charges quickly and while channeling one of your two filler spells, but do not be afraid to use one of these charges to help move as well.

7.3.

When to refresh Vampiric Touch with Unfurling Darkness

The Unfurling Darkness Icon Unfurling Darkness can be a bit awkward to play around, but if you think of it less as having to cast an extra Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch and more like a cooldown you press every 15 seconds or so that should make more sense. Generally you want to try and use Vampiric Touch every 15 seconds to proc this "extra" damage, and then re-cast Vampiric Touch again (ideally on a different target to help with DoT uptimes) for that damage bonus. You only have 8 seconds to use this free cast, so use it wisely.

Depending on how much other stuff to do, you do not really need to go out of your way to cast this every 15 secondss, especially if this means losing Devouring Plague Icon Devouring Plague casts. It is mostly just going to be passive damage naturally as you refresh your Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch and then re-cast it for the benefit. Just do not let the buff expire and play naturally and you will be optimal.

7.4.

How to use Unholy Nova

As a Necrolord you get access to the Unholy Nova Icon Unholy Nova ability. This is quite a unique ability to the game in that it is an AoE Bomb that applies Unholy Transfusion Icon Unholy Transfusion to enemies around that target, scaling based on the amount of targets you are fighting. Specifically as you add targets the damage is adjusted (snapshot on initial hit) based on the square root of the number of targets.

So for example, if you are fighting one target the DoT might hit for 500 damage per tick for the full 15 seconds. However, if you add another target, it hits for ~353 per target for a total of 706 (353*2) damage. So as you add targets the damage goes up, it just changes how much each mob gets hit for.

Understanding how this works is crucial to optimizing your use of this spell, failure to do so can cost you lots of damage. The key to this mechanic that is not intuitive, is that the scaling DOES NOT adjust dynamically as targets die. This means that if you initially hit 3 targets with the DoT, for the remainder of the DoT it will always tick as if 3 targets are out, even if one or more dies. This same rule applies to critters, so make sure to clear those out before casting Unholy Nova Icon Unholy Nova.

7.5.

Regarding Mind Flay and Mind Sear

The status of Mind Flay Icon Mind Flay and Mind Sear Icon Mind Sear within the rotation is generally that of what we refer to as a filler. This means that most of our other spells take priority over them whenever you get to cast them. A question that pops up quite often is whether or not a Mind Flay/Mind Sear cast has to be completely finished before casting the next spell on the priority list. The answer to that is a simple no, due to the way that channeled spells work in this game nowadays. During your Mind Flay or Mind Sear casts, if a more important spell ever becomes available, there is no punishment to cancelling them. For a more detailed explanation as to how and why it works like this, we recommend checking out the FAQs.

7.6.

Searing Nightmare Usage

Searing Nightmare Icon Searing Nightmare is by far the best tool we have for mass AoE damage and DoT spreading. This will be your go-to option for most AoE types of content due to how strong it is. When using this talent you typically want to start a pull with at least 30 Insanity so that you can do a quick Mind Sear Icon Mind Sear cast followed by a single Searing Nightmare to get Shadow Word: Pain Icon Shadow Word: Pain ticking as fast as possible. Then depending on how long the mobs will live you can either use your cooldowns here, or maybe even cast a few Vampiric Touch Icon Vampiric Touch DoTs before continuing on to spamming Searing Nightmare.

With our haste levels it can be possible to get 3 Searing Nightmare Icon Searing Nightmare casts off within a Mind Sear Icon Mind Sear channel, but because our haste is constantly fluctuating with various spells and effects we recommend only ever casting Searing Nightmare twice per Mind Sear channel. If you try to go for the third, but fail to do so, you end up delaying that next Searing Nightmare by several additional GCDs, which is not a good idea.

Make sure and weave in Void Bolt Icon Void Bolt casts in between this cycle of Searing Nightmare Icon Searing Nightmare and Mind Sear Icon Mind Sear. This will look something like this:

  1. Void Bolt Icon Void Bolt
  2. Mind Sear Icon Mind Sear
  3. Searing Nightmare Icon Searing Nightmare
  4. Searing Nightmare Icon Searing Nightmare
  5. Void Bolt Icon Void Bolt
  6. Mind Sear Icon Mind Sear
  7. Searing Nightmare Icon Searing Nightmare
  8. Searing Nightmare Icon Searing Nightmare
  9. repeat...
7.7.

Surrender to Madness Usage

Surrender to Madness Icon Surrender to Madness is a great tool to have in your rotation and allows you to get a second usage out of our major cooldown, Voidform Icon Voidform. This talent will primarily be used in Mythic+ Dungeons where mobs die in a very controlled way, so you can easily predict how long until a target will die. If you are a little afraid of the dying component of the talent, it is important to note that the value comes mostly from the Voidform Icon Voidform creation, which you keep even if the target you casted Surrender to Madness Icon Surrender to Madness dies, you just lose the cast while moving and Insanity generation increase.

To get maximum value out of this talent you want to make sure to only use it while Voidform Icon Voidform is not already active, otherwise you do not restart the buff.

We recommend using an addon like Exorsus Raid Toolsthat has a built in Time to Die tracker to help you estimate when a mob will die for optimal usage of this talent. Check out the addons page for more useful Addons.

7.8.

Optimizing Mindbender/Shadowfiend Usage

Both Mindbender Icon Mindbender and Shadowfiend Icon Shadowfiend are guardians that scale with your stats, which means that using them in combination with, for example, Intellect, Haste, or Mastery procs is ideal. However, for both it is not ideal to delay them too much in order to accomplish this. They are not big enough damage increases to warrant doing so and maximizing the amount of casts is more important. If you lost a Mindbender/Shadowfiend cast because of delaying it too much, then that will almost definitely not have been worth it. This is especially true for Mindbender, which has a short cooldown of 1 minute.

There is an additional aspect to bear in mind here, however. Both Shadowfiend Icon Shadowfiend and Mindbender Icon Mindbender generate an amount of Insanity whenever they hit their targets. Shadowfiend only generates 3 Insanity per hit and so does not really add much in the way of Voidform Icon Voidform duration. Mindbender on the other hand generates 5 Insanity per hit, which is a considerable increase.

As a general rule of thumb you will want to use Shadowfiend Icon Shadowfiend or Mindbender Icon Mindbender right before casting Void Eruption Icon Void Eruption before going into Voidform Icon Voidform. You want this Insanity rolling when you need it, and not waste GCDs inside of Voidform.

8.

Changelog

  • 23 Nov. 2020: Update rotation for all Covenant abilities and changes for Shadowlands launch.
  • 19 Oct. 2020: Clarify Unfurling Darkness usage.
  • 12 Oct. 2020: Page updated for the Shadowlands pre-patch.
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